Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams and Tara Nicole Whitaker

In Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams (the singer) and Tara Nicole Whitaker, a little girl sings about her goldfish, Sal, and why they're the best of friends. As she's talking about Sal and how she gives perfect bubble kisses, the heroine (the little girl on the cover) is swept into a fantasy world in which she has become a mermaid and the goldfish is no longer trapped in a bowl but free in a large body of water.

The entire book is a single song and it comes with both a CD and a QR code that you can scan with your phone or tablet. I mentioned Bubble Kisses when it arrived and at the time, I thought it was very strange that it had a CD because most people don't have CD players, anymore. Mine is in the garage, somewhere, and I have no idea how to load music to a phone so I have to listen to the radio in the car and thought I'd have to pull out my old car to listen to it! But, I hadn't bothered to take the CD out, yet, so I didn't realize there was a QR code behind it (although that was probably in the publicity material and I just forgot).

At any rate, all that's to say that I was wrong and unless you have no phone, tablet, DVD player, or CD player, you're going to be able to listen to the song. I presume probably 95% of people have access to at least one of those.

The song is kind of an upbeat, jazzy song that . . . sorry . . . reminds me of a 1950s television advertisement. I can't think of anything else to compare it to. I can easily imagine my eldest granddaughter bobbing to the song when she was a little bit younger (she's 5 and reading at 3rd grade level, now) and I have a feeling my youngest granddaughter would enjoy it, too. It's definitely got the sound of a children's song, a little repetitive and very cheerful.

Recommended but not a favorite - Maybe one of the best things about Bubble Kisses is the fact that it has an African American heroine. I really appreciate the fact that children's publishers have been working hard at embracing diversity in the stories they acquire, in recent years. I do like the upbeat music, the quirky but charming illustrations, and the fantasy of the story. The only thing I dislike is the fact that it's written as a song and if you just want to read the book aloud, it's going to sound a little weird. That keeps it from being a favorite because I love to read aloud to children and a good story that's readable will always be my favorite. But, it only takes one listen to catch on to the rhythm and for children who love to dance and sing, Bubble Kisses will make a cute and fun addition to a home library.

©2020 Nancy Horner All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay - from Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for review

Well, heck. Who knew the books were just going to keep trickling in? LOL It's getting pretty hilarious, at this point. Not a problem, though. I am no longer requesting any books at all but if one shows up, I'll read it and talk about it. It's just what you do if you love books, right?

Incidentally, I don't know when they'll arrive but speaking of things that are just part and parcel of the booklover experience, I went to Book Outlet in search of a particular book (I don't even remember what book, now) and bought a small pile. I have been avoiding Book Outlet for so long that I got the name wrong. They've been through at least 2 name changes since their beginning and I tried Book Closeouts but met a dead end. Anyway, I had a hilarious cartload that I fortunately pared down dramatically before actually buying. When you just look at fiction, in general, and go through 100 pages of book titles? Well, let's just say I saw a lot of books that I knew to be on my wish list.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
  • Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
  • Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen

I stopped in the midst of reading Devil Darling Spy for a humor break (Stranger Planet). The quick version is that Devil Darling Spy is about the attempt to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on a biological weapon and there is some cruelty (giving people a deadly disease, using them as test subjects) that was almost unbearable to me, especially in a time during which a deadly disease is spreading. That may not bode well for the eventual reading of The End of October by Lawrence Wright, a dystopian plague book, but I guess we shall see.

Currently reading:

  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I finished Devil Darling Spy in the early evening, yesterday, and then watched Husband TV (whatever he happened to flip to, mostly Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) followed by a little of A Midsummer Night's Dream from the Globe Theatre. I didn't spend much time reading after that, but I'm definitely enjoying Northanger Abbey, so far. Jane Austen is a good palate cleanser. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Last week's free streaming from the National Theatre was Small Island. We managed to watch half of it on Tuesday night but on Wednesday we were both too tired to finish it. Fortunately, I still have the book sitting unread on my shelf and I've seen the mini series starring Ruth Wilson. I think I'll move Small Island by Andrea Levy up on my stacks. The play was great, a nice blend of darkness and humor. I recall the mini series as somewhat heavier but from both I got the sense that Queenie was a mensch, a character who wasn't given the best set of circumstances to live with but did the best she could with her lot in life and always with kindness. I wish we'd been up to finishing the play but I'm glad we saw the first half, at least.

I'm still watching Downtown Abbey, Season 1, usually while eating lunch so I only tend to watch half an episode at a time. It's going to take a while to get through the entire series. I enjoy being swept into the world of Downton. It's so blissfully escapist, a world in which women moan together over the horror of losing a maid. We're now at the point that Mrs. Patmore is getting her vision fixed, Mary has hesitated to give Matthew an answer about marriage since finding out her mother just might give birth to an heir after all, and poor Edith. Sigh. Edith always did me in. My one biggest wish was for Edith to find happiness when I found out the series was coming to an end. I haven't seen the movie, incidentally.

I've been away from my Coursera class (Postwar Abstract Expressionism) for about 2 weeks, now, so this week I'll dive back into it. I did finish my attempt at a Mark Rothko painting and the result was disappointing. I love the colors I ended up with (the final layers were deliberate, although at times I intentionally just blindly grabbed a paint tube and let chance guide the layers of color) but I don't think it has the characteristics that make a Rothko something worth standing in front of and staring at. That's undoubtedly at least partly because I still don't have all the supplies I need for oil painting, so I went with watered-down acrylic, again. I'll give it another shot when I get what I need for oil painting. I'm learning a lot from this course and I feel like I get as much learning out of the failures as I do from my more successful hands-on lessons.

And, finally, I hope everyone who reads my blog is handling the continuing Covid-19 mess well. Kiddo finally has started going to the office to work and is absolutely loving his new job. Husband still only goes 2-3 days per week and works from home, the rest of the time. We had begun to spread our wings just a bit (going to the store a little later in the day, for example) but not much had changed for us, otherwise, before our state's spike. We made a decision early on that we were going to stay in lockdown mode as much as possible until there's a vaccine and we have worn our masks everywhere since we finally managed to acquire some (I am super grateful to the two friends who made us fabric masks during the time that it was impossible to acquire them, otherwise). The one area in which I've been slacking is mail. I no longer set the mail outside to air out. It would get warped by the humidity, so that would be pointless. I do wash my hands thoroughly after handling it, though.

I hope and pray that a vaccine will be found as soon as possible and that we will have learned to appreciate normal life a little more, when this is over.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Fiona Friday

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society takes place in Chawton, England, Jane Austen's final home. The great estate inherited by Jane Austen's brother, Edward Knight, is a shadow of its former self, the tenant income having dwindled. There are two remaining relatives. One is dying; the other is agoraphobic and unmarried. There will be no more Knights to carry on the legacy. The Austen-related memorabilia at a separate estate has already been auctioned off and a Sotheby's employee is eager to get his hands on more.

During and a little after WWII, we get to know a few Jane Austen-obsessed people who live in the village of Chawton (and one American actress) in The Jane Austen Society. Each of the main characters has developed a love of Austen's writing, mostly due to the influence of a friend or relative. When they realize they have Jane Austen in common (and not merely because of the nearby estate that her brother inherited), they come up with a plan to create a society for the sake of preserving a little of the history remaining in Chawton. Will they succeed? Or will a spiteful, dying man ruin the legacy and send the last Knight relative out to fend for herself?

There's much more to The Jane Austen Society than the attempt to preserve the house. They don't even actually become a society till nearly halfway through the book. In the first 125 pages or so, you get to know the individuals and the trauma they've each had to endure: a housemaid at the Knight estate, a teacher, a doctor, a farmhand, and an actress. Each has found escape and solace in the worlds created by Austen; each has favorite novels and passages.

The Jane Austen Society is a very character-driven novel. While I'm not normally big on character-driven novels unless a lot happens and it does take a long time before the storyline really cranks up, after all of the characters have been very thoroughly introduced, I really enjoyed every minute of the reading and loved the denouement.

Recommended - Slow of character development, by the time The Jane Austen Society really gets going, you're completely invested in the lives of the characters, their potential to fall in love, and their possible upcoming battle with a distant heir. I would especially highly recommend The Jane Austen Society to devoted fans of her work. I haven't read all 6 of her novels, just 4 of them. I loved all of the novels I finished. One that I attempted to read fell flat for me and I'm hoping to read the last one, Northanger Abbey, soon. So, there were times that two of the characters would be conversing about various scenes and I either didn't recall them in such detail or hadn't read them, yet, but the characters mostly stuck to discussion about Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, with an occasional dash into Mansfield House (the one I abandoned) so I followed most of it just fine.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press and Laurel Ann for the review copy!

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow is the story of two high school juniors, Effie and Tavia, who are unrelated but living as sisters. Effie's mother used to play a mermaid in the Ren Festival and Effie plays a similar role. Each year, she is Euphemia and her courtship is a story that continues from one season to the next. Effie doesn't know who her father is but she wonders if she's a real-life mermaid. However, her grandparents, who put her with Tavia's family for her safety, won't answer her questions about her father.

Tavia is a siren who thinks if she tries hard enough she might be able to communicate with her deceased grandmother, after hearing that even a dead siren can speak through bodies of water. To avoid talking when she gets the urge to make one of her siren calls, Tavia has been faking a condition for years in which she seemingly loses her voice regularly. When she doesn't want to speak, she signs, instead. Effie uses sign language to communicate when she's playing a mermaid so she's able to translate for Tavia when she chooses to sign. Tavia worries about the fact that being a siren could put her and her family in danger. The public sentiment is that it's best to mute sirens. So, she has a secret support group where she lives in Portland and she keeps the fact that she's a siren quiet, otherwise.

There is a gargoyle living on the roof of the home where Effie and Tavia live, which Tavia believes to be there for her protection. But, nobody really knows. Meanwhile, strange things are happening with Effie. Occasionally, her skin peels off, revealing scales, her hair will do a weird floaty thing where it looks like it has a life of its own, there's a weird effect around her like she's looking through water, and recently people have been turning to stone when she's nearby. What is Effie? Is there any way she can find out whether she's a mermaid or a sprite or some other mythological creature? What can be done about the people turning to stone?

There's a lot more going on in A Song Below Water but it's best to actually read the book and find out all those details, although I'll share a few that I found interesting. Effie and Tavia are both black and Tavia is obsessed with the wildly popular Instagram account of a woman who does tutorials on how to style black hair, for example. What does that have to do with anything? Well, I can tell you from both the book and my experience as a person who has lived in a state with a high black population for decades that hair is very, very important to black women. At times, I've found myself envious of the elaborate things they can do with their hair. They style it like sculptures! Seriously, it's amazing.

There are also many references to being black and how that makes a person vulnerable. At one point, Tavia has a run-in with the police. She's doing nothing wrong and yet she somehow ends up with a warning. Why? Because she's black, nothing more, nothing less. Morrow does an excellent job of showing how difficult it is to live with the fact that being black can be a death sentence.

The author also touches on the cliquishness and popularity of certain people with the eloko characters. I had to look up elokos (they're from African mythology -- a kind of forest spirit that's a bit hairy-looking if you google it) and the way the author portrayed them was not at all like what I found on the Internet. Not that that mattered. The point was that in this world, elokos are the popular crowd. They make a delightful trilling sound and they have a melody that they can show off by blowing on the bell each individual wears around his or her neck. It's a detail but one that will undoubtedly resonate with young readers who've experienced being on the outside of the "in" crowd.

Recommended - I think I mentioned the fact that I had difficulty getting into A Song Below Water but once I became accustomed to the author's voice, I had no problem in my Monday Malarkey post. It's worth it to stick out the beginning, when the author is setting things up and parts of it are a little on the confusing side. Once I became accustomed to it, I found Tavia and Effie's world fascinating, unique, and a little weird ("Keep Portland Weird" is oft-repeated; it's clear she chose the setting very deliberately). I also loved the way many very timely subjects were treated. Could the idea that the public sentiment that it's best to mute sirens be a comment on how the white world tries to silence black female voices? I think so. There's quite a bit of depth to A Song Below Water. And, as a side note, the gargoyle was a surprisingly fun character.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Quick note, up front. I have an ARC of What You Wish For by Katherine Center and the release date noted on the cover is July 14 so it's not out yet, but it will be soon.

In What You Wish For, Samantha Casey is a librarian at an elementary school in Galveston, Texas. It's a happy place that's privately owned and run by the same couple from whom Sam rents a garage apartment. The school is in an older building with cheery painted walls and a beautiful mural, a butterfly garden, and big plans to build an adventure garden for which the funds have already been raised.

But, then tragedy strikes and a new principal is brought to the school. Sam not only knows the new principal, Duncan Carpenter, but once had a terrible crush on him. In fact, she left her previous job when he didn't respond to her attraction and Duncan was on the verge of becoming engaged. She knew him as an enthusiastic, goofy, entertaining and fun-loving teacher. Now, he's anything but fun. When Duncan swoops in, all he talks about is how he's going to improve security and his plans to paint everything gray for better visibility. He is no longer the life of the party; he's become severe and humorless.

Meanwhile, as Samantha reflects back on a time when she and Duncan Carpenter were working at the same school in another state, she is reminded of how different she is. At the time, she dressed in unobtrusive colors that fit her personality. When she left because Duncan had found love elsewhere, she decided not only to start over but to change herself. Now, she is colorful and full of life in a way she wasn't, before.

What happened to change Duncan Carpenter from a fun-loving guy to a humorless man who is only focused on security? Did Duncan marry the woman he was about to become engaged to when Samantha left town? And, most important, what can Sam do to change Duncan's mind about using the school's hard-earned funds for security instead of the adventure garden they've been planning to have built? And, if she can't change his mind, can she find a way to drive him out of the job?

Recommended but not a favorite - Since the focus in What You Wish For is clearly on the two characters and it's obviously a contemporary romance, I don't think it's really a spoiler to say that eventually you find out Duncan is single and Sam and Duncan begin to interact in a flirtatious manner. What You Wish For is a clean romance, though, so it's based on personalities rather than the mostly-physical attraction of something like an Avon romance.  I like that and I liked the romance, once we got to that point, but I found the story a little contrived so it was not a favorite. Romance fans might be able to look past what I considered the story's flaws.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (link leads to my review) was one of my 2019 favorites and I still have two of Center's backlist titles to read. I'm looking forward to reading them, in spite of the fact that What You Wish For wasn't a favorite. It was a fairly quick, fluid read and she's a good writer. I just found the characters a little too over-the-top for my taste, the story way too predictable.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press for the review copy!

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, 
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD, and
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo - all purchased
  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts - from Workman for review

I must have signed up for How to Astronaut through Shelf Awareness, and it would have been quite a while ago because I have accepted only one book for review in the past month or two (a children's book that I'll be reviewing next week). I'm not even looking at my Shelf Awareness newsletters, specifically to stop myself from signing up to review anything. So, How to Astronaut was definitely a surprise arrival. The rest were purchases. I now have a stack of 4 books about race/racism to work on and plan on reading one of them very soon with two friends. Stranger Planet was a pre-order and I will undoubtedly whip through that, this week. I could have read it this weekend but I opted to save it for a few days. And, anyway, I'm enjoying the book I'm reading so I wasn't looking for a distraction. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Just the one book finished but I'm close to finishing my current read. 

Currently reading:

  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

I was unsure about A Song Below Water when I began reading it. There were things about the story that I found confusing and it took a while to become accustomed to the writing style. But, once I got over that hump I've enjoyed it immensely and I'm actually trying to type as fast as I can so I can get back to reading it. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Last week was a dud. I mostly slept a lot. I didn't even watch TV or read much. I did manage to come close to finishing a painting, but I'm not quite done. Hopefully, this week will be a more productive one.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Fiona Friday - Fun with ribbon

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Back when I had feelings, my self-esteem was a toilet. It caused me actual physical pain to know that someone didn't like me. I mean, it still does, but I'm better insulated by drugs these days. A handy trick is to think long and hard about what the person who hates you would realistically add to your life if they were actually to be a part of it. Most people really do have absolutely nothing to offer you. Pull out the abacus and make a pros and cons list if you have to—I'll wait. If you require a push to get started, here's an example from a recent entry in my diary about some asshole I don't miss anymore:

pro: once made me laugh at a dad joke

~pp. 73-74

OK, so up front you can see that when I use the word "rude" in the following paragraph about Wow, No Thank You, swear words are among the things I'm referring to (um . . . crude fits in there, too, but it's what Samantha Irby is known for, so either you want to read the book or you don't).

First, in case you missed the word "essays", this is a book of essays about author Samantha Irby's life. Anything is game. She writes about her childhood, the friends who helped her survive after her parents died, the places she lived and the people she lived with, her many jobs, the people she dated (Irby is bisexual) and life with a woman who has two children of her own.

I know I've mentioned this before, but I love that cover. I love, love, love that cover. Apple green is my favorite color and it's just a tad darker than my favorite so the color alone grabbed me and then the image of the bunny looking awkward and adorable . . . well, I had to know what it was about. I'd never heard of Samantha Irby, a memoirist and comedian, but I enjoy humorous essays and the one thing everyone said about Wow, No Thank You was: "It's funny."

I love a book that makes me laugh but it's even more important to laugh when you're on lockdown in the middle of a plague, people are rioting, and it seems like nobody's actually doing anything concrete to stop the virus (and some are also against calling a halt to racism), then once they start letting people loose they don't bother to mandate the damn masks to try to stop coughs and sneezes at the source, instead letting people go right ahead and spread the virus at will so more people can die because a small percentage of whiners can't be bothered to put a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth to help stop people from dying. I mean, who doesn't need a laugh, right now?

I, for one, needed this book. It's crude, yes. There's talk of body parts and the author's sex life and her Crohn's disease. So, sometimes it can be a little gross or shocking, but even then it's entertaining. Samantha Irby is genuinely funny. I love her writing style. My absolute favorite essay is "Detachment Parenting" about what it's like to live in a house with two children and have to interact with them while not totally claiming them as your own.

Side note: I had no idea the author was black and/or bisexual when I bought the book. I bought it purely on the basis of the words, "It's funny." But what timing! It wasn't until 3 or 4 days after I finished the book that I realized, "Hey, black author! LGBTQ! Pride month!" What's funny about that is that, of course, I've been reading about this black woman who dated both men and women while people are passing around lists of books by People of Color and stacks of books for Pride month and even while I was reading it, I was looking around at my stacks, thinking I needed to find something to read for Pride month and needed to buy some books by POC. While I was reading something that fit the requirements for both. Sometimes I think my mother dropped me on my head as a baby.

Highly recommended - Whip-smart, hilarious, and quite rude. Just what I needed to read during a year like 2020. I love Samantha Irby's self-deprecating sense of humor. Also, I'm convinced that we could be the best of friends because of our mutual love of black licorice, cats, and books. She's a lot more interesting than I am, though, so maybe not.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hanna Arendt
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The Dude Diet by Serena Wolf

All of these were purchases. I finally managed to find some of the titles about racism that I've been looking for (Just Mercy, Stamped from the Beginning). Two more are on their way or will be shortly. The book on totalitarianism is one I've been thinking about getting for several years. It's not only thick but dense, so it will not be a quick read, I'm sure, but I'm looking forward to it. I have some similar titles that might take priority. I'm a moody reader, so who knows what I'll end up reading first. How Democracies Die has been sitting here for quite a while. 

The Dude Diet is a book we checked out from our local library a couple years ago and really liked, although I think we only tried 2 dishes. I copied the recipe that we most loved and then we made it a few times and . . . sigh . . . no idea where it disappeared to (it's a chicken shawarma recipe). We've tried other recipes online and they just weren't as good so, yes, I mostly bought this book for one recipe but I've flipped through it and I'm sure there's more we'll enjoy. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

As I'm typing, I haven't actually finished The Jane Austen Society but I'm close. Wow, No Thank You was such a fun read. I hope to get that reviewed, this week. 

Currently reading:

  • Nothing

I don't know what I'll be starting after The Jane Austen Society. I have, I think, 3 or 4 remaining ARCs so I'll probably be choosing from the ARC pile but The Jane Austen Society and Bubble Kisses (children's book) are my last remaining scheduled review books so if I feel like inserting a choice from my personal library when I'm done with TJAS, I will. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

We did get around to turning on Coriolanus (a free streaming from the National Theatre) but it was late on the last night available and I was too tired to focus. I had to keep asking Husband what was going on. The people were hungry. Someone was rebelling. Tom Hiddleston got into a fight. It just felt like a lot of people were yelling at me in a foreign language. You have to pay attention to Shakespeare to get what's going on and I kept drifting off, thinking of what I needed to do the next day or whatever. I took a couple of photos off the screen, turned it off, and went to bed. Would I go to the theatre to see it? Oh, absolutely. And, in truth, when I'm paying money for a ticket to a stage production, I'm definitely paying attention to what's going on, sleepy or not. It wasn't Tom's fault I was inattentive. This week's production is The Madness of King George. Fingers crossed we get to it in time. We've been waiting till the last minute and that's a bad, bad idea.

I got my second Covid haircut at home on Friday. And, when I say that, a "Covid haircut" is not a one-time thing. I cut the length and then hack away at it for days, trying to shape it based on what I've observed of how my hair magician layers my hair. It's . . . not great-looking, ever, when I cut my own hair but I used to do it all the time when I was young and broke so I can cope with not going to a stylist till there's a vaccine. This time, I asked Huz to cut the length for me. In hindsight, I probably should have had him do it when my hair was dry. My hair is naturally curly and when wet it curls into little ringlets. If you cut straight across, you're not cutting a straight line. You have to pull down on it with a comb to cut it straight and it isn't easy. I neglected to tell him that. The fix-it job was something. I have very short hair, now. That's OK, though, because it's getting hot and humid. This is a good time for short hair.

I read an excellent article about Covid, this week, and before you roll your eyes and walk away, it had something important in it that I haven't seen elsewhere. That is the fact that scientists don't yet know what quantity of Covid antibodies is protective (will keep you from getting it again). Apparently, the level of antibodies people have can vary dramatically. So, please keep wearing your masks, even if you think you've had Covid. Most of my friends who are convinced they had it (whether they were tested or not) admit they've given up wearing masks. I know masks are miserable to wear, especially in the heat, but the more of us that wear them, the quicker we'll get the virus under control and be able to live a slightly more normal life while we wait for a vaccine or herd immunity or both. The article said the most important thing to remember is "time and dose". The longer you're around people, the higher the dose of virus that you get from someone who has it, the more likely you'll get sick.

A note: One friend said she's come close to passing out from wearing a mask twice and I find that I have a little trouble breathing with a mask on, although when I first had to wear a mask, I wore the only thing we had at the time -- a dust mask from the hardware store that we found in the garage. It was by far the worst. I found fabric with a filter works better for me. But, because of the time and dose concept, I think it's fine to pull the mask away from your face briefly if you begin to feel faint. It's good to know that if you have Covid and don't know it, you're less likely to give it to someone if you keep that mask on and only pull it away if you're desperate. I actually walk slower when wearing a mask. That seems to help.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid exposing yourself as much as possible. We have to be careful not to become complacent. Live long and prosper.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Fiona Friday - Gaze

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Minis - The Malady of Death by M. Duras, Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan, All Systems Red by M. Wells, and Jacob the Baker by N. benShea

I have not finished any ARCs, lately, and I don't actually have long to go before I'm totally ARC-free, apart from older titles from last year's slump (partly deliberate; partly a plague thing, since many publishers temporarily shifted to e-galleys only). So, it's mini review time! All of these are under 200 pages.

The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras is only 60 pages long, novella length at best, and that's why I read it. This year has been my most sluggish reading year in ages and I just needed to feel like I was reading productively, if only for a short time.

The story of a man who hires a woman to spend several weeks with him by the sea, The Malady of Death is very erotic, like everything else I've read by Duras. The male protagonist claims to have felt no love or desire in his life and is apparently trying to find out if he can acquire them. His lack of love is what the female, who claims not to be a prostitute, calls "the malady of death" — perhaps because there's something dead inside him.

Interesting, weird, thought-provoking, and a little unsettling, The Malady of Death is pretty much just a woman lying naked on white sheets with the sound of the black sea, the man exploring her body, without any feel for how time is passing. I'm sure the black and white emphasis is relevant. In the last few pages, the author describes how she believes the story should be staged if put on as a play or filmed.

Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan is my first by Narayan and I was impressed and delighted but thrown by the fact that I thought it was going to be about the Talkative Man, the narrator. It was not. Instead, the narrator tells the story of a man he encountered in the past.

When a stranger arrives in Malgudi (a fictional town in India) and takes up residence in the train station's waiting room, the Talkative Man (whose name is only mentioned once — mostly he goes by TM) is asked by the station master to find the stranger lodgings so that the station master won't lose his job if an inspection takes place.

The stranger, Rann, is disinterested in everything he's shown so TM moves him into his lavish home. But, what is Rann up to? He claims to be doing a job for the UN and writing a book. But, there's something shifty about this secretive world traveler. When TM figures it out, he comes up with a plan to save the young lady Rann is planning to run away with, a girl he's known since she was a baby.

Wonderful writing and not among the books Narayan is best known for. I can't wait to read more by him.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is the first in the Murderbot Diaries series. Murderbot is what the part-human, part-robot narrator calls itself (it is neither male or female).

Murderbot is a security unit that has hacked its own governor module, meaning it isn't entirely controlled by outside forces. Instead, it can download updates to its system, shove them off to the side without actually inputting them, and pretend to follow the rules. When not on duty, it spends time watching videos.

Murderbot is not a big fan of humans and just wants to be left alone. But, on this particular job, the humans are friendly, a team of scientists conducting tests on a planet, where their corporate sponsors want to find out if mining the planet's resources will be profitable. There are two teams of scientists on the planet but when communication with the second team is suddenly lost, the scientists must find out what's going on.

All Systems Red is by far one of my favorites of the year, so far, for the action, the humor, the plot. I loved everything about it. I bought the first two (novella length) books in the series after a friend recommended them and then after reading All Systems Red, I bought the next two. And, you may have noticed that I bought the first full novel, last week. So, now I've got the entire series and I can bake my brain on Murderbot books, the next time I need a wild escape.

And, finally, this last book is one I bought from a salvage store, back when we had one that occasionally received book stock. Just an FYI, this is not the cover of the book I own but I couldn't find a decent image of the correct cover.

Jacob the Baker: Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World by Noah benShea is the story of a man who writes down little bits of wisdom that pop into his head. He's also, of course, a baker. When he accidentally bakes one of his little bits of wisdom into a loaf of bread, the woman who bought the loaf of bread shows up to ask if he can share more bits of wisdom in further loaves to be given to her friends.

This begins Jacob's notoriety as a man of wisdom, from whom people seek answers. Jacob is patient with those who ask him for his thoughts, but sometimes he just wants to be alone. Still, he feels like it's important to share what he understands about life.

When I opened this book and started reading it, I thought I was going to hate it. I liked Tuesdays with Morrie, a similar kind of book, but generally speaking I'm not a fan of books filled with platitudes. And, yet, I enjoyed Jacob the Baker, primarily because of the protagonist. Jacob is very human. He's just a naturally philosophical guy. If he doesn't know the answers, he's not afraid to say so.

I liked all 4 of these books but All Systems Red and Talkative Man were 5-star reads, Jacob the Baker was interesting and somewhat meditative but not a book I'll hang onto, and The Malady of Death is a book that's a little too creepy for me, but definitely thought-provoking.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Miscellaneous photographs

I don't feel like reviewing anything and everything I have to review is backlist, anyway (no hurry), so here are a few photos.

Herb and cheese scone with cat:

Isabel was obsessed with the smell of the herb and cheese scones Huz made after we watched the Bread Ahead Bakery Herb and Cheese Scone tutorial (link leads to the YouTube tutorial). And, you can see how beautifully they turned out. After we watched that tutorial together, I heard Husband listening to another tutorial by the same chef while I was typing up my Monday Malarkey post. He cooked focaccia on Monday and it was nearly perfect, as well: fluffy, light, with a perfect, crispy golden crust. I highly recommend those Bread Ahead tutorials if you enjoy baking.

Lavender and mums:

A recent favorite photo from our patio pot garden. I thought the colors were so pretty together.

Something I recently painted (at Jeane's request):

That's the painting I said was done in imitation of de Kooning. It doesn't look at all like a de Kooning and I didn't even use the right type of paint (he worked in oil; I used acrylics and made some little adaptations to try to imitate certain effects) but half the goal was to get an understanding of the process and I feel like I succeeded in that. You can't probably tell but it has 5 or 6 layers and quite a bit of texture from all the scraping, dripping, scratching, and building up of those layers.

A rainbow for Pride month:

After a recent storm, we spotted a rainbow from our back patio. I think it was June 1. It seemed apropos.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry and
  • Network Effect by Martha Wells - both purchased
  • Laura Theodore's Vegan for Everyone - drawing win via Instagram
  • Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams and Tara Nicole Whitaker - from Sterling Children's Books for review 


  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad - purchased
  • Center Ring by Nicole Waggoner - drawing win via Facebook group

That's a lot of arrivals for a girl who claims she's not getting much, these days. I did mention The Great Influenza was coming, last week, but I forgot about (or didn't know I was going to buy) the rest. Network Effect was on my wish list and I finally found a copy at the right price. I have been expecting the vegan cookbook, which I won from a vegan recipe account at Instagram that I follow but it took so long to get here that I totally forgot it was coming.

Bubble Kisses has a music CD and after getting it I thought, Ack, I have no idea where I can listen to it. Husband has been disinterested in hooking up the CD changer since we moved (as I recall, it has 6 slots for CDs) and my car doesn't have a CD player, which is the one thing I hate about my car. I have a substantial collection of music on CD and no interest in fussing around with music on a phone. I may have to take a drive in my old car to listen to the Bubble Kisses CD. Husband is home half the time, anyway. I can steal back my old car from him. He won't notice.

I heard Me and White Supremacy is a good book and had just added it to my mental wish list hours before a friend mentioned that it was on sale. Nice timing. Center Ring is the first in a trilogy and I won it from a book group on Facebook. I've been curious about it for a long time and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert
  • Jacob the Baker by Noah benShea

Like a lot of people, for the past two weeks I have been totally obsessed with the news about the protests, the rioting, the unconstitutional attack on peaceful protesters, that ridiculous walk to hold up a Bible the president said wasn't even his. It was hard to concentrate on anything else. So it took me 10 days to finish a book but I think I'm getting back in the swing of things, now. After I read Unflappable, I grabbed a very quick read that I bought way back in the 90s, when we had a salvage store that occasionally got book stock from fires, floods, etc. I just needed to read something short and sweet and Jacob the Baker fit the bill. Now, I'm back to my regularly scheduled reading. As I mentioned on Saturday, it still feels like reading for enjoyment and chattering in the normal way is just not what I should be doing. But, I'll be more free to read whatever, whenever, soon.

Currently reading:

  • Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Loving both. Since I wasn't reading much (maybe 20 or 30 pages per day, for a while . . . sometimes none), I didn't get around to reading from Wow, No Thank You till Saturday night but what a fun read. Even when I can't relate to the author (a millenial), I'm still entertained. I am so glad that bright cover caught my eye and I read the reviews. The Jane Austen Society is historical fiction that begins in the 1930s and moves forward in time (so far). I've only read about 30 pages but I loved it from the first page.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

I already told you we mostly watched news, so there's that. We haven't yet seen this week's National Theatre free streaming production but it's Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston. I viewed the trailer and it looks intense. Maybe too intense for this moment, but I'll still give it a go. It may be last minute, though, as we have Tropical Storm Cristobal moving in. An outer band is rolling through, as I type. It's gusty and dark but those outer bands are always deceptive. One minute it's dark and foreboding, the next minute the sun is shining. I'm glad I've gotten into the habit of pre-posting my Monday Malarkey (it's Sunday, as I write) because it seems likely my computer will be unplugged, tomorrow. This storm is moving very, very slowly.

I started rewatching Downton Abbey from the beginning, this week, mostly for comfort. It was refreshing to see the Dowager Countess saying, "What's a weekend?" and admiring all the beautiful clothing. I think the Edwardian age is my favorite for fashion amongst the wealthy. Also . . . snooty Mary before she mellowed, William before the Great War, Matthew arriving at Downton and stubbornly refusing to let the servants pour his tea or help him on with his coat. Ahhh, the refreshing familiarity of an old favorite.

We've also started watching cooking tutorials by the chef and owner of Bread Ahead Bakery in London's Borough Market. I don't know how I happened across his account on Instagram, but I watched one of his live videos and enjoyed it, so I watched another. Husband was nearby and overheard it. He's the cook; I just enjoy watching cooking shows but don't actually do the work. So, when I discovered there was a tutorial for scones with herbs and started to watch it on my phone he said, "Wait! Let's see if it's on YouTube." It was. We watched it. He cooked some, today. They were absolutely fabulous.

And, if you remember me saying last week's painting for my Abstract Impressionism class was laughable . . . well, I finished it and I actually liked it enough to hang on the wall. So did Huzzybuns. What a shock, after working on it for days and thinking it was just a mess. The final couple of layers took it from a mess to looking like it was decently composed (although I still see things I'd change if I hadn't decided I was done and glossed it).

But, next up was Jackson Pollack and talk about a disaster! I made the mistake of sending Husband for paint. That did not work out well at all. I'll try again when I can get the colors I really wanted in the first place, but for now . . . on to Mark Rothko.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day, Bloggiversary, and Other Thoughts

I'm combining Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day with a bloggiversary post because . . . well, why not? I often miss the actual day of my bloggiversary but at least this time I'm thinking about it. In recent years, I've actually gone out to buy a chunk of pretty cake and thrown sequins or some other colorful bobbles around a cake plate then lit the appropriate number of candles for my bloggiversary photo. There would have been 14 candles, this year (or a 1 and a 4 candle, since the number is getting to be a bit much for a single slice of cake). But, of course, we're isolating due to the pandemic, so I'm not running anywhere to buy a chunk of rainbow cake and you get a cat munching on celebratory grass, instead. No candles, no cake. It's better than nothing.

This is also, of course, the anniversary of D-Day and it always feels weird to me to put up an enthusiastic, "It's My Bloggiversary!" post on a day that should really be quite solemnly held in the memory of those who fought for our country. This seems even more relevant during a time when our democracy appears to be in peril. The boldness of the brutality inflicted on innocent protesters, the outright lies about events clearly recorded, and the lack of empathy or proposed positive action by our country's leader, all are absolutely shocking. I am grateful to my international friends for expressing their mutual distress and solidarity with Americans seeking change.

My reading is currently very scheduled and, like everything else in life, it feels all wrong for the moment. Seriously, everything feels wrong, right now. All this is to say that while it might look like business as usual at my blog, my heart is elsewhere. I would prefer to be reading about systemic racism and my part in putting an end to it, right now. And, I will do so as soon as possible. I've been unable to locate the books I most want to acquire (I'm not willing to go to the library, for now) but I have a smattering of titles by authors of color, one of which will be released soon, so I'll gather those when I'm done with my scheduled reading. In the meantime, I stand with peaceful protesters.


©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert

"I have just demonstrated one of the many advantages of being a big woman," she said, loosening her grip. "Would you like me to let you up?"
"No thanks. I like it down here."
"You're lying in a pool of wine." 
"It's called marinating." 

~p. 113

When author Suzie Gilbert sent out a promo email about her first novel, I remembered her name and her nonfiction book about bird rehabilitation, Flyaway (link leads to my review), even though it's been literally a decade since I read it. I loved Flyaway that much. So, I was very excited to find out the author has written a novel with a character who is a wildlife rehabilitator. I wrote back to tell Suzie how much I still remember loving Flyaway and wish her luck on her new release. She asked if I'd like a copy of the new book, Unflappable, and I enthusiastically replied that I would. So, full disclosure, the author sent me my copy of Unflappable. I almost never accept books directly from authors because I'm honest about books, no matter where they come from, and in my nearly 14 years of blogging, a few feelings have been hurt (not my intent, of course). But, I'll make an occasional exception.

In Unflappable, Luna is a bird rehabilitator who decides to leave her billionaire husband, who is really not a very nice man nor a person whose businesses have been good for the environment. In order to try to lure her back, he has a bald eagle named Mars stolen. Mars was snatched from a nest and raised by an individual (illegally, I presume) so he can't be released into the wild. Luna is fond of the eagle and even wears a silver bead with one of his feathers around her neck. When she steals back the eagle her husband has had stolen, Luna knows he has the money and connections to track her down. So, she goes on a road trip using her network of wildlife rehab friends as an underground railroad of sorts. She plans to take the eagle where nobody can interfere with him.

A socially awkward guy named Ned has been told he needs to do community service by the IT company he works for and he coincidentally shows up when Luna is in desperate need of help stealing an eagle and escaping. In his classic car, they head out of Florida. But, Ned's car is a little too obvious. He'll need to pass Luna off to someone else and head home so they can't be tracked. In a comedy of errors, Luna and Ned find themselves having to constantly update their plans while a friend who rehabs cougars and keeps armadillos in his house has fun scaring Adam, the billionaire, soon-too-be-ex.

Meanwhile, it's not just Adam that Luna and Ned must evade. A Fish and Wildlife agent, the police, and Adam's henchmen are all trying to track down Luna. Most of these people don't really care about the eagle (although the story serves to delineate people who are driven by strict legal guidelines versus those who only have the needs of the animals in mind) so the concept of the road trip to get the bird safely to Canada and then reunited with its bonded partner is maybe a bit far-fetched but that doesn't matter. The ending is ultimately satisfying and the fun is in the chase, capture, escape, chase rollercoaster ride. There's plenty of action for those who love a plot-driven book.

Highly recommended - What a ridiculously fun read: part road trip, part escape thriller, part romance with a theme about the importance of caring for all life, even the individual animal that's been hit by a car or knocked itself out on a window. I loved the author's sense of humor and I particularly liked the character Warren. You have to read the book to appreciate him; he's a fun character. There was only one thing I disliked about Unflappable, and it was mostly down to an editing problem. Occasionally, there would be a flashback but it was not separated from normal text by italics or some other method to show the change of timeline, although the clue was usually a lack of quotation marks in remembered dialogue. No matter how many times that device was used it always, always threw me and I'd find myself rereading to try to figure out what was going on. It was annoying but not a big deal.

There was also a huge cast and you had to keep getting to know new characters but, again, that was a shift that happened now and then because of the lengthy road trip and, ultimately, I grew to enjoy meeting the various rehabbers as they were introduced. So, while it presented a challenge to the memory (as when a character at the beginning is suddenly brought back and you struggle to sort through all those characters to remember him or her) it was not a big deal. And, it certainly gives the reader an interesting peek into the variety of wildlife rehabilitating specialties.

Fiona Friday will be moved to Saturday because I thought it was important to review Unflappable, ASAP. I meant to get to it in May. My apologies to the author for the delay and many thanks for the review copy!

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • The End of October by Lawrence Wright - purchased

Just the one arrival, this week. The End of October is a pandemic novel and I've been in the mood for more pandemic-type dystopia, partly out of curiosity for how such a thing is handled by various authors. I think I've mentioned that I'd love to reread Mike Chen's A Beginning At the End to see it from a different viewpoint, since I read it just before the pandemic reached us. There are things he got right that I would have never considered if I were writing a pandemic novel. Anyway, The End of October is getting a lot of buzz and I read that it's similar to what we're going through, so I decided to grab a copy. I also ordered a copy of the John Barry book a lot of people are buying about the Spanish Flu. I think it'll be here in a day or two. Otherwise, I've put myself back on a book-buying ban, for now.  Except, there are some Black Experience-type books like How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi that I might allow myself to buy soon because I'm white and trying to understand what my part is in stopping racism in America. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes

I can't say this was a bad reading week because I'm enjoying what I'm reading but ugh, it was not productive.

Currently reading:

  • Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
  • Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert

I'm typing this on Sunday, as I often do, and I don't know if I'll finish Unflappable or not, tonight; I'm about halfway through. I'm immensely enjoying both of these books. Wow, No Thank You sat on the nightstand for most of the week, unfortunately, for the same reason that I haven't finished Unflappable. It was just one of those weeks during which I would get sleepy and drift off while reading but then wake up as soon as I turned off the light and toss and turn and toss and turn and then wake up early so that I'd be sleepy at bedtime, again. Kind of a vicious cycle type of thing. 

But, I am also loving Unflappable, a novel about a bird rehabber who decides to leave her billionaire husband. To try to lure her back, he has his people steal a bald eagle that she's fond of and then she steals it back and goes on a road trip, using her network of wildlife rehab friends as an underground railroad of sorts, to take the eagle where both her wealthy husband and authorities can't interfere with him. It's absolutely delightful. She's being driven in classic cars by an IT nerd who just happened to show up to do volunteer work as she was in need of help escaping from the wide reach of her husband, the kind of guy who can buy information and easily track a person down. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

My Post War Abstract Expressionism lesson of the week (taken via Coursera) was on Willem de Kooning. I think my personal attempt at imitating de Kooning is pretty laughable. It was supposed to be done in oil because that's what de Kooning used and you can't really get the same effects from acrylic. But, while I have some oil paint from years back, I don't have things like turpentine and brush cleaner and other basic supplies. So, I tried to imitate using acrylics. The result was pretty bad, but I do think I learned a few things and maybe kind of get what's special about de Kooning, now, so that's cool.

This week's free streaming production from Britain's National Theatre was This House. It's still available through Wednesday, I believe, and I highly recommend it if you like a very classically British play about politics. It takes place in the 1970s. The Labour party has just come into power with a margin so small that they can't really accomplish anything, so they're trying to figure out how to gain more power as the play opens. Meanwhile, the Tories are plotting how to weaken them.

The quote on that image, at left, is accurate. It's both funny and moving. If you're American, you'll see the differences and similarities between our political systems. There were a few things I didn't understand. I still need to look up "pairing" to see what that's all about, for example. But, I understood most of it and we thought it was a terrific production with some great actors. The man on the right, shaking hands on the blue/Tory side, was in Downton Abbey and I recognized a few other actors but I'm not sure where I've seen them.

I also finished watching Upload (loved it!) and we watched a single episode of Life on Mars, which unfortunately becomes rather repetitive, after a time. Is Sam in a coma or not? Is he imagining the sound of voices he knows or are they real?

I also discovered Sam Neill's hilarious Instagram account. Check it out if you're on IG and haven't already found him.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.