Friday, October 30, 2020

Fiona Friday

Still not willing to cook tacos. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Matrimony, Inc. by Francesca Beauman

Matrimony, Inc: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right: A Story of America Looking for Love by Francesca Beauman is the story of the evolution of personal ads, the resistance to them (via editorial articles, in particular), and why they came into being and continued with only one fairly significant gap in the growing United States. 

I found that the text was slightly clunky, which made for slow reading, yet the reasons people advertised for husbands and wives (and sometimes for less moral purposes) and how they played out were particularly fascinating. 

Starting with personal ads in the 18th Century, when there were more men than women and the odd man without social connections advertised, the book continues through the years when large cities were exploding and people found it difficult to meet likeminded people of the opposite sex or were lonely after immigrating. And then, of course, there were the men who went West to farm or seek gold and found that the only way to obtain a wife was to advertise in the big cities and hope someone would be willing to travel to join them. Matrimony, Inc. finishes with a chapter on modern dating, from the Swinging Sixties (when marriage was not the objective) to computer programs like and apps like Tinder. The bulk of the book, however, is about newspaper personal ads. 

I particularly liked reading the full story of a personal ad and how things turned out (when a marriage was long-lasting, especially), when available. Because few people kept journals or diaries in the early years of the country, there's often no way to know whether or not a match was even made, much less successful, via the earlier ads. 

The author also talks about people who used the ads for fraudulent purposes, like asking numerous applicants for money for a train ticket so the advertiser and respondent could meet (and then just keeping the money), and serial killers who advertised and then murdered. Belle Gunness is a notorious female serial killer whose gruesome story is told in Matrimony, Inc. It gave me the shivers. 

Apart from the writing style, I had only one complaint about Matrimony, Inc., and that may be amended in the final print version (my copy is an ARC): the personal ads reproduced in the book are mostly too small to read. This could have been worked around if the author had put the entire text of the ad below it (although it's nice to see them, even if you can't read them). She did often put excerpts in the text but seldom the entire ad. After a good bit of eyestrain, I decided to give up on trying to read them. However, I don't have access to the final copy so I can't say whether or not they enlarged the personal ads that are reproduced in the book. 

Recommended - Very entertaining, if not the smoothest read. I enjoyed Matrimony, Inc. enough that I'm interested in Beauman's earlier book about British personal ads, Shapely Ankle Perferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Ad 1695 - 2010. I imagine that, given the delightful British turn of phrase, there could be some very interesting material in that book. 

Interesting side note: Francesca Beauman is the owner of Persephone Books in London. Cool. 

My thanks to Pegasus Books 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Wreck by Meg Keneally

I read about The Wreck by Meg Keneally on Marg of Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Instagram feed (Instagram is becoming a major influence for me, in recent months). The cover caught my eye, at first, because we visited a spot on the Australian coast where a shipwreck took place. It was not the same location as that in which the wreck of the story takes place and the circumstances in The Wreck are fictional but I liked the idea of reading about someone who was the lone survivor of a shipwreck and how she survived. 

As it turns out, much of the book is about what happens before the main character even goes aboard a ship. Sarah McCaffrey's family has fallen on hard times since machines made the spinning and weaving her parents did for a living in Manchester, England obsolete. Then, tragedy strikes when her entire family attends a peaceful protest. 

Angered by the senseless murders they've witnessed and the starvation they've both experienced and observed, Sarah and her brother move to London, where they join rebels who plan to participate in a dangerous plot. 

****Possible spoiler warning: Please skip down to the recommendation line if you're concerned about the potential for learning a bit too much about this book before reading. ****

When plot is foiled, Sarah has no choice but to run. She hides out on the ship of a sympathizer and then ends up traveling to Sydney, Australia. But, near the end of her journey, the ship crashes into the rocks of a cliff outside Sydney Harbour. 

Alone again, now in Sydney and living under a new name, Sarah is fortunately taken in by a wealthy woman and given work. But, when the truth of her past comes out, what will happen? Will she be hanged as a traitor or protected by those who have helped her in the past?

****Spoiler warning ends****

Highly recommended - It took me a little while to get into The Wreck because the beginning part was not quite what I expected, but it was a fascinating piece of history (the peaceful rebellion that ended up in a slaughter) and once I adjusted to this important background I couldn't put The Wreck down. I started it one night and then spent hours reading on the patio and finished it the next day. I liked Sarah and cared about what would happen to her. Her life is harsh but she's a survivor. 

The author talks about the various pieces of history that she drew from and her inspiration in notes at the end of the book, which I appreciated because till then I didn't know what was factual and which parts were Sarah's fictional story alone. In the end, The Wreck was not only a fabulous read but a learning experience — my favorite kind of historical fiction. I will be looking for more books by Meg Keneally. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Slade House by David Mitchell

I don't want to say too much about Slade House because it's a novel that's best left a bit mysterious for the sake of letting things unfold. I like that feeling of not knowing quite what's happening, at first, and then slowly figuring it out. So, what I will say is that it has to do with a house in England, a set of twins, and the horrible thing they'll do to stay alive. There's a little iron gate that only appears every 9 years. What's behind that gate? Does it really exist or is it an illusion? What happens inside the house? And, is there any way to stop the twins from their evil doings?

Slade House is a perfect fall read, a blend of paranormal and horror but one that didn't give this wimp nightmares, thank goodness. 

Highly recommended - Phenomenal writing, seriously creepy, deliciously unsettling and atmospheric. The ending is immensely satisfying. Currently kicking myself for not getting around to reading David Mitchell sooner. I've got some of his other books on my shelves (although, to be honest, I have so many books that they won't be easy to find). I'll be digging for more, soon. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Fiona Friday - Peek

Her left foot looks like part of her jaw but that's an illusion. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

My friend Susan asked if I'd be interested in borrowing her copy of The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox and I jumped all over it. A book with "witch" in the title for October reading? Yes, please!

The Montrose family has had to flee Boston after a scandal made them notorious and they became social pariahs. Now living in what was meant originally to be their summer home, Lydia, Catherine, and Emeline must adjust to life in the country, with only a small village nearby. The house is new, yet Lydia finds herself hearing strange sounds and seeing people who shouldn't be there while young Emeline claims to be playing near the pond with a little boy nobody else can see. Are there ghosts nearby or is there a genuine reason for the things the girls are seeing and hearing?

Meanwhile, Catherine is determined to find someone to marry, even if it means interjecting herself in the growing relationship between Lydia and their father's business partner, a young man with a mysterious past. And, Lydia finds out that she has a secret of her own. Unbeknownst to her, she's inherited something from the ancestor who was killed in the Salem Witch Trials. She's a witch with special powers. 

Lydia's powers are a surprise to her and she can't save everyone. But, when death and danger threaten the Montrose family, Lydia discovers that she has a greater ability to protect her family than she could have imagined. 

Highly recommended - I could not put this book down. It was a cold, rainy day when I picked up The Witch of Willow Hall, absolutely the perfect weather for reading an atmospheric book. I read somewhere that The Witch of Willow Hall is Hester Fox's first book but I don't believe it. First published book, maybe. Her writing is mature and often so stunning I found myself rereading sentences. I doubt it's anywhere close to being the first thing she's written. 

Note on the spookiness level: If you like to be absolutely terrified, this isn't the right book. It's a slow, gentle sort of ramping up of fear of what will happen as things grow worse. I liked it because I'm prone to nightmares and it didn't give me nightmares at all, although I did literally get a shiver up my spine, a time or two. 

Also, it's worth mentioning that the scandal that drove the family from Boston is, in fact, genuinely scandalous. Often these books with a secret that's held back lose a little something when you find out the scandal or secret is . . . meh, whatever. Not so in The Witch of Willow Hall


©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mini reviews - The People Speak, ed. by H. Zinn, Cat Knit by Jacob Grant, and Writers and Lovers by Lily King

None of these books felt like they needed a page of their own but after writing the mini reviews, I find that I wrote more than expected about all of them. Sorry about that. Bit wordy. 

I'm not going to repeat all the subtitles on this book and just leave it big enough for you to read them. The People Speak, edited by Howard Zinn, is a slim book of readings that were dramatized by well-known people at a celebration of the anniversary of Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I have not yet read the original book but figured this was a way to dip into it and get an idea of how Zinn views history after A People's History of the United States was panned by our current president. 

Each reading has an introductory part and then a writing or speech from the book, which apparently uses primary source documents. Zinn takes the actual words of either the oppressed or the oppressor, giving the reader a clear viewpoint of how those who suffered did so because they had no voice. 

The most glaring and horrifying example, to me, was a letter by Christopher Columbus in which he describes the Arawak natives of Hispaniola as generous, well-built, handsome, and unfamiliar with weapons. His conclusion: "They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." He did more than that. He wiped them out entirely. 

Recommended especially if you want to get a taste of Zinn's way of viewing history without diving into the longer book. I'm looking forward to reading A People's History of the United States but I have quite a few other nonfiction titles ahead of it in the queue, so it was nice to at least get a peek at what I'll be getting into. 

Cat Knit by Jacob Grant is a picture book about a cat (Cat) with a human (Girl) who is into knitting. When Girl brings home a ball of yarn, Cat finds that it's a delightful toy and has a great time playing with it. Then, Girl takes it away and turns it into something entirely different: a sweater. 

Frustrated with the new shape of his old toy, Cat wriggles out of his sweater with the help of a branch. But, it's snowy and cold outside and once that sweater is off, Cat becomes aware of just how nicely it suited the purpose. He decides it's OK to be friends with Yarn in its new form.

Finally, Girl brings home several more colorful friends and the final image is one of Cat wearing not only his new sweater but a hat and booties. The expression on Cat's face is golden. 

Highly recommended - There are few words in Cat Knit and simple but expressive illustrations of the cat. I loved it and I'm glad I happened across this book and bought it on a whim. It'll be a fun one to read to the grandkids when I see them again. 

Writers and Lovers by Lily King is a book that I've been looking forward to reading since its release, mostly because I was so completely blown away by Euphoria. And, I liked it a lot but I didn't love it. Maybe my expectations were a little too high. 

It's 1997. Casey has had a crushing experience with a lover and lost her mother. She has been working on a novel for years. To support her writing habit, she's living in a moldy garage apartment that used to be a potting shed and working as a waitress in a fancy restaurant. Casey begins dating two different men but each comes with his own complications. 

I'm going to stop there. There are some other things going on, like the fact that Casey can't pay her bills even while living in a crappy little hovel, but I think it's worth saying what I liked and didn't like and leaving it at that. 

What I loved: Writers and Lovers could easily be used as a lesson in writing. While Casey is finishing her novel and then pitching it to an agent, you get a very good look at the craft of writing. I also liked the realism of the love triangle. It didn't feel manufactured. In fact, I was certain that Writers and Lovers is a fictionalized account of the author's own experience and when I looked her up, I found that I was likely correct. Maybe the countries she lived in were different but it sure seemed like there were some parallels. 

What I disliked: There were times I had no idea what she was talking about when Casey was at work — and I've been a waitress. I guess waiting tables isn't the same across different types of restaurant. There was also a picky detail about a health crisis Casey went through that ticked me off because it was just wrong; I've experienced it and that's not how it works. Again, I think she has likely had a similar experience but she just didn't look into how that particular thing would be handled. It's a little harder to write off mistakes when you've been through what's written wrong and know it would be pretty easy to find out the details. 

I read Writers and Lovers specifically to discuss it with an Instagram friend. She liked it a lot more than I did. We have both written fiction and appreciated the technical details about writing. When you write fiction, you will often hear that it's self-indulgent to write about writers; we'd both heard that advice. But, we agreed that she handled the characterization of a writer better than most and it didn't feel annoying in any way. The writing aspect was quite informative. 

Recommended, but not a favorite

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders

In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders is a collection of short stories and if you know anything at all about George Saunders' writing, you'll know without my saying so that it's nuts. And, that's what I love about Saunders. 

They say, in the many quotes of praise at the front of the book, that Saunders is brilliant, a genius, wildly original, playful, brutal. He's all of that. What he's not is an author who can be put in a box. 

The playfulness comes in his ability to make up some weird, often otherworldly, paranormal, or alien situation that he uses to make a point. And, when you figure out that point, you see that he has some very important things to say about people, corporations, the way we're treating other humans and our world. There's an undercurrent of warmth and compassion but sometimes you have to wade through some horror to get to it. 

Highly recommended - Crazy unique, darkly funny, sharp, surprising, disquieting, thought-provoking, and genuinely weird. In Persuasion Nation is my fourth George Saunders read. I grabbed In Persuasion Nation when I was placing a Book Outlet order and discovered he had two titles available (I bought a copy of the second one, which I've read, and sent it to my eldest son). This book has solidified Saunders as a favorite author. I will make it a goal to read everything he's written. 

In case you're wondering, the planter just seemed fitting when I was posing this book for IG because it's a little weird. I haven't been able to find the seeds I want to plant in it but eventually it'll have some cool, cat-friendly green stuff growing out of its noggin. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • I is for Illuminati by Chris Vola - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Wreck by Meg Keneally,
  • Toby's Room by Pat Barker,
  • Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley,
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and 
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - all purchased
  • The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris - from Gallery Books for review
  • Earthlings by Sayaka Murata - purchased
  • Matrimony, Inc. by Francesca Beauman - from Pegasus Books for review

Not pictured:

  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - purchased as e-book

Quite a stack. I have one more book I want to buy for a challenge I'm going to participate in, next year (and I'll buy one each month for that, since I own none of them) but I think it's about time to put myself back on a book-buying ban, otherwise. 

I generally don't buy e-books, anymore, since I'm not a fan of reading electronically and have way too many books already languishing in my Kindle app, but I made an exception for Mexican Gothic when it went on sale for $2.99, yesterday. I've been intrigued by the storyline since the first time I read about it (probably on Instagram) and I've read numerous reviews, in the past month or two. It's pretty polarizing, which I like. Will I love it? Will I be bored? It'll be fun to find out. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Song of the Court by Katy Farina
  • Cat Knit by Jacob Grant
  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
  • The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
  • Slade House by David Mitchell
  • The Wreck by Meg Keneally

Cat Knit is a children's book that I bought on a whim because cat. It takes about 2 minutes to read but it's super cute. Slade House is a horror/paranormal novel I've had sitting around for years and it caught my eye when I was looking for something creepy to read. It was my second book for fall spooky reading after The Witch of Willow Hall, which a friend sent and I absolutely loved. The Wreck started off slowly but once I got into it I simply could not bear to put it down until I was no longer able to keep my eyes open (and then I woke up way too early so I finished it off). This was a great couple of weeks of reading.

Currently reading:

  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

I finished The Wreck early this morning, so I haven't yet chosen my next fiction read. The Great Influenza is excellent but I didn't read more than a handful of pages, this week, so it's going to take a while. No biggie. It's one from my personal library and has no attached obligation to be read by any particular date so I'm going to add another nonfiction title to the current reads, as well, but I haven't decided which one, Matrimony, Inc. or I is for Illuminati. I want to finish both before the end of the month so the order doesn't really matter. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I'm still watching COBRA on Sunday evenings but that's the only regularly scheduled program on my watch list, right now. Otherwise, there's not much TV viewing going on. Streaming-wise, I started watching Schitt's Creek. So far, so good. I don't find it laugh-out-loud funny but I'm enjoying it. 

I chose Knives Out to watch, on Friday evening, and we both loved it. And, last night we watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off when it came on after . . . maybe the news? I don't remember. We just happened to have the TV on and Ferris Bueller is an old family favorite so we stuck around for it. 

It's occasionally chilly out there and we're loving the porch-reading weather. I spent a couple hours outside reading The Wreck, yesterday. In the end, it got a little muggy and the biting things began to emerge but the cool air was fabulous while it lasted. 

I haven't done any painting at all for a couple weeks because I decided I need to get a grip on my supplies and painting area, which lately has been just a stretch of the kitchen counter. In order to do that, I started emptying dresser drawers of Kiddo's clothing. He left quite a bit behind. I've got a drawer for sketchbooks, painting pads, and other paper. I have one for vintage ephemera and another with shoeboxes into which I've sorted various paintbrushes and doodads. It turned out to be a much bigger job than I intended and in the process I realized that I need to clean off the table I bought specifically for painting, which is currently buried in canvases, paintbrushes, notebooks of ideas (photographs, for example, of things I might like to try painting), etc. It's a mess. 

I'm missing the painting and the counter has since been buried in actual kitchen implements, so I may clear off that stretch of counter and do a little painting in between days spent working on cleaning up the paint table, since it's it's going to take a while. 

What's up in your world? Will you open your door to trick-or-treaters, this year? 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Fiona Friday - Anyone want a fish taco?

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez is a young adult novel about the daughter of immigrants who has experienced trauma, feels like the lesser child in her family, and doesn't understand why her parents behave the way they do. 

Olga was the good daughter but now she's dead and her sister Julia feels like her life is spinning out of control. Her mother is overprotective and won't let her have any privacy. Her father is mostly silent. Everyone has been crushed by Olga's death. When Julia finds some unexpected possessions in her sister's room, Julia is determined to uncover Olga's secrets.

Grief, controlling parents, LGBTQ, racism, sexism, depression and anxiety, xenophobia, and teenage romance — there's a lot going on in this book. I didn't care for Julia's crudeness but I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter had the ring of truth. And, even though she's a hot mess, Julia still managed to show her sense of humor. 

Recommended - I've had an e-copy of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter for several years (yes — gasp! — I read an e-book!) A friend chose it as a discussion book when I was in a Facebook discussion group but I was unable to fit it in, at the time. And, I do think it would have been a terrific group read. It's an emotional story, especially if you've experienced and can relate to Julia's grief. In fact, I think it would be a perfect book for a mother-daughter discussion group because it's the kind of book that will open up opportunities with a teenager to allow her to discuss her frustrations. 

I gave it ⭐⭐⭐⭐. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I bought Becoming by Michelle Obama on a whim. It's been much discussed since its release and I've consistently heard nothing but good. But, not being a huge fan of memoirs, I resisted buying it or checking it out. Without bothering to find out, I think I must have assumed that the book was about her years as First Lady.

Well, I was wrong about it on all counts. First, it's the story of Michelle Obama's life, from how protective her brother was when she was a baby to her school life and how her jobs evolved, through to her years as First Lady. She talks about how her parents were never able to buy a place of their own so they lived in the cramped second floor of her aunt and uncle's home on the South Side of Chicago. She talked about the exodus of white people from the area and the schools she attended. She talked about her parents' rather laid-back assurance that their children could and would succeed and how they devoted their lives to making certain they had all the opportunities required to do so. She spoke about the schools she attended, the discouragement she ignored, how she met Barack Obama, and a little about his life. 

She shared her struggle with infertility and her frustrations and insecurities in life and in the working world. And then, of course, came the political years. You don't have to read very far into Becoming to find out Michelle Obama will never, ever go into politics. She went there as a supportive spouse but her family, especially the children and how their father's busy political life (and later life in the White House) would effect them, was always her main concern. I'd heard that her mother stayed in the White House and that relates to the way family permeates her story. She didn't want her children to miss out on having their grandmother near during their formative years, so she moved her mom into the residence. Michelle's mother kept a low profile and wouldn't let the Secret Service follow her around, so I understand now why I was never entirely sure that rumor about her mom living in the White House was true. 

I particularly enjoyed learning about how life in the White House works, what the current president pays for and what's provided, and the little details like how much work (on the part of the Secret Service) goes into stepping out on the balcony to get fresh air. 

I think everyone I know has read Becoming but if you haven't, it's worth the time. I already admired Michelle Obama as a First Lady but I found out she did even more than I was aware of. A lot more, actually. She was about as close as you can get to my hero, Eleanor Roosevelt. Both were indefatigable in their pursuit of programs to improve the lives of people both in the US and around the world. 

Highly recommended - Well-written and so heart-felt that you can't help but find yourself immersed and unwilling to put the book down till you must. At least, that's how I felt. Becoming is long at around 400 pages but it's quite a fascinating read. I've always known there are various reasons for the different cars in the presidential motorcade but she describes what each of the cars carries, what it's like to live in the White House, the challenges that a First Lady faces, how Barack Obama's days went, what effected him most deeply, how they made various decisions about their children, and which former presidents and first ladies were the most helpful to her. It's funny that a book I thought I would find so-so charmed me so thoroughly. 

Here are my favorite failed attempts to pose Becoming with Izzy. I like it when I manage to get her to put a single paw on the cover of a book but she just wanted to climb on it, the day I was trying to get an Instagram shot. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Fiona Friday - Awww

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I've been reading mostly backlist titles, in recent months, and Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix is waaaay backlist, written and published in the late 90s but timeless. You'll especially appreciate it if you lived through the "modern" 90s time period. There are two time periods in this exciting middle grade book. 

I will say . . . I so enjoyed not realizing what I was getting into that I recommend skipping down to the recommendation line if you're interested in reading this book and want to be totally surprised. I may have mentioned a few spoilers — or, at least, things that could spoil the reading if you want to go in totally blind. So, I'll add a spoiler warning. Notably, what I thought I was about to read was another pandemic book but set in 1840. I was so excited when I found out that was not what the story was about at all. 

Quick synopsis for those who choose to skip the longer description: In 1840, diphtheria breaks out in Clifton, Indiana. But, nobody is able to leave for help. Jessie's mother knows the children will die if someone doesn't escape the confines of their village, so she sends Jessie on a dangerous trip to the outside world. Will Jessie be able to find help before it's too late? 

WARNING!!!! There may be spoilers in this review. Please jump down to the recommendation line if you want to go into this book blind!!!!

In 1840, Jessie has spent all but two years of her life in a small village, knowing only that her father was unhappy in Pennsylvania before they arrived at Clifton, Indiana to live. She was two when they arrived and doesn't remember her previous life at all. So, when a diphtheria outbreak threatens her friends and beloved sister, she is shocked to find out that her life is not at all what it seems and that leaving will be dangerous. 

But, she must leave if anyone is to have hope of survival. Because outside of her home, it's the 1990s. Her home is considered a living historical village and it's an investment for the owner. It suits his purpose to keep them isolated from modern life and nobody has been able to escape. 

Jessie's mother is a former nurse. Early on in their life at Clifton they were able to get modern medications but over 10 years later the village's access to modern medicine and technology has been cut off, maybe to make the village more authentic? She doesn't know. All she knows is that diphtheria can be cured but she doesn't have the medicine, there are guards and fences that nobody has been able to get past and those who've tried have been punished. And, Jessie's mom no longer fits in her 1980s clothing. Jessie is their only hope. 

Dressed in her mother's modern clothing from the 80s and carrying a bag of food and a phone number, Jessie sets off. Even when she escapes, there are constant dilemmas because nothing is the same as her home. Even a loaf of bread (in a plastic bag?) is confusing. Will Jessie be able to find the man whose number she's been given? Will she be able to stay safe in the modern world, where dangers lurk around every corner? When things go wrong, who will she turn to? 

It's safe now! You can come out from behind the couch. No spoilers below.

Highly recommended - I loved this book! Jessie is a convincing character. Her confusion when she's confronted with the unexpected, her fears, and the manner in which she handles her dilemmas are all believable. In fact, they're so believable that I sometimes found myself kind of talking to the book, urging Jessie to do something different. This was definitely a 5-star read. 

When I went to rate the book, I discovered that my dearly departed friend Tammy had also rated the book 5 stars. Aw, man. I miss Tammy. She was a big fan of middle grade and YA. Running Out of Time is a quick and easy read but it packs such an emotional punch that I do think older readers will enjoy it for the way it makes you think, if they're not annoyed by the age of the protagonist and the writing geared to middle graders. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

I bought and read Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse after finding out there was going to be a "buddy read" (really, a small group discussion) on Instagram. I ordered the book, signed up for the group, and dived right in. It's apparently classified as Young Adult but it didn't have the feel of a YA. It was much like any other WWII book I've read, with plenty of tension although lacking any harrowing scenes like torture. 

It's 1943 in Amsterdam and Hanneke Baker rides her bike around town delivering goods bought on the black market. She's doing it as part of her day job and she knows there's some danger but so far she has had few problems beyond the occasional attention from German soldiers — not for what she's doing but because she's a young lady. 

On one of her deliveries, she's asked to help find a missing girl, Mirjam, who was staying in a hidden room at a widow's home. The widow has lost her entire family, misses her young companion, and is worried about what's become of her. Hanneke is hesitant but reluctantly agrees. Then, she begins to look into Mirjam's life for clues and it's there that she comes across something unexpected, the brother of the man she loved and intended to marry. He knows the young woman Hanneke wants to talk to and invites her to a dinner party, where she can ask her questions. 

At home, Hanneke's parents are unemployed and one is disabled. So, Hanneke is the sole income earner in her household and it's this that she thinks about at the dinner party.  When no food appears and the "dinner" turns out to be something else entirely, a meeting of one little faction of the Resistance, Hanneke is not interested in helping out. How can she? She is responsible for her parents and they would be helpless without her. Even staying out past curfew makes them crazy with worry. 

The main questions are always whether or not Hanneke will be able to locate Mirjam, what became of her after she left the widow's house, why did she leave, will Hanneke join this Resistance group, can Hanneke trust the Resistance members or are they hiding something from her, and will Hanneke's new Jewish friends be able to survive the war or continue working at the local detention center and nursery, from which they know people are regularly being deported to concentration camps. It's a little harrowing, at times, but only a few scenes are particularly frightening.

Recommended but not a favorite - I love WWII books, enjoyed Girl in the Blue Coat, and gave it 4/5 stars but it's not a favorite WWII read because it felt more like a mystery than a WWII book, in a way. And, yet, it becomes more interesting as the story progresses. It was particularly fascinating to be in the head of someone with Hanneke's dilemma about her parents and just how much danger she could or should put herself in. I often wondered what I would do in her situation. I don't think one can really know till the circumstances exist in real life.

There are a few unexpected twists and the ending is definitely surprising (what became of Mirjam). It leaves you with a question that I can't mention because it's a spoiler but I didn't feel like it was one that annoyed me. It's simply unknowable. 

I especially enjoyed being part of a small group discussion. I felt like I got a lot more out of the book by reading other readers' thoughts, just as in an F2F discussion group. The only problem I had with this particular type of group is that sometimes it's easy to fall behind. At least in this case, the discussion moved quickly. While you're reading a discussion question, answering it, reading other replies, and then formulating your own thoughts to those replies, it can feel like you have to race to keep up with the conversation. But, I enjoyed it so much that I plan to keep my eyes peeled for more buddy reads, especially while my F2F group isn't meeting (in person or otherwise). 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Song of the Court by Katy Farina

Song of the Court by Katy Farina is a children's graphic novel. Arietta sells flowers at her local castle market. She doesn't have enough money for seeds, so she decides she has no choice but to sell her grandfather's violin. But, then she runs into the princess outside the music shop. Princess Cassia is looking for musicians for her upcoming birthday party and assumes Arietta can play the violin in her hands. 

Arietta doesn't know how to play the violin but she agrees to play because she really doesn't want to part with the violin, which brings back fond memories of her grandfather, or disappoint the princess. So, with the help of a friend she takes a crash course in violin playing. She progresses quickly but at the party she's horrified to find out someone else has chosen to play the same song, the only song she knows. 

I won't give away the ending but it's sweet and I have a feeling I would have absolutely loved this book as a small child, both for the main character's determination to learn an instrument and the friendship with a princess. 

Recommended - A cute graphic novel with a great theme about putting your mind to something and accomplishing it. The age range for this book is listed as 4-8 years so it can first be read to a little one and then part of their intro to reading. I did occasionally find some of the characters' expressions confusing (I'd misread them and then figure out my mistake through the text) but that didn't cause much trouble as it always quickly became clear. Especially recommended for little girls who are interested in music, royalty, or that "You can do it if you put your mind to it" theme with some nice friendship on the side. 

I received my copy of Song of the Court from Sterling Children's Books in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks!

Just for fun, here's how I posed the book for Instagram, followed by a "behind the scenes" image. I had to keep telling Fiona to stop chewing on the flowers. 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • Song of the Court by Katy Farina - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox - sent by my friend Susan (thanks, Suz!)
  • A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and 
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-William - both purchased
  • All About Us by Tom Ellen - from HarperCollins for review

As usual, quite a hodge-podge, here. I ordered A People's History of the United States after hearing our current president say Zinn's approach to history is the wrong one. You'll see farther down that I also got a book with excerpts from A People's History called The People Speak and have already read it (not difficult; it's about 82 pages long). I knew nothing about Zinn but it appears that he has chosen to portray history from the viewpoint of the oppressed and, occasionally, the oppressor's own words using primary sources — for example, a horrifying letter from Christopher Columbus describing how easy it would be to "subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want," referring to the natives of Hispaniola, who were totally wiped out. Yikes. 

As to the others . . . Queenie has been on my wish list for a while and I decided to place a Book Depository order, which is slowly trickling in. I'm really looking forward to The Witch of Willow Hall for some spooky October reading, and the remaining two books are among those I mentioned accepting for review, 2 weeks ago. All About Us is an October release, and Song of the Court is out tomorrow, so I'll read that tonight. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson
  • Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
  • In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
  • The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known - Ed. by Howard Zinn

All of these were good or great. I've had little patience for anything that doesn't grab me immediately, this year, and the payoff is that I'm really enjoying my reading. Nothing has gotten a below-average rating because if I think it's less than average, I abandon it. I highly recommend doing this, especially if you're having trouble with a reading slump. The Magic in Changing Your Stars and Running Out of Time are both middle grade books and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is YA. 

Currently reading: 

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

I'm considering ditching The House of the Seven Gables, for now, because it's good but not the spooky read I was hoping for. I've set it aside for at least two days, now. I'll have to think about whether or not I want to continue hacking away at it. Writers and Lovers is one I had on-hand and I commented about how much I enjoyed Lily King's Euphoria to an Instagram friend. She asked me to hurry up and read Writers and Lovers so we could discuss. Why not? It's good, so far. And, I'm learning a good bit from The Great Influenza, which is not only about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 but also the state of medicine in the United States from the mid-19th Century up to the time of the pandemic and how rapidly things changed, the people and institutions involved in that dramatic change in medicine, and the reason influenza is so dangerous and we have to get new flu shots yearly. It's a little bit of a slog, at times, but worth the time investment. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

Hmm, is there any other news? I guess a little. We went on a day trip on Saturday. Unlike most people, we really have pretty much stayed in lockdown mode or close to it. After our state's mask mandate began to work, though, we did at least feel comfortable shopping during regular hours instead of getting up to do the grocery shopping at 6 AM. The mask mandate unfortunately expired but I predict its return in about 3 weeks. It doesn't take long for the uptick after people fling the masks and other precautions aside. 

Anyway, our day trip was to Rocky Springs, a site off the Natchez Trace with camping, hiking, and some very interesting historical interest. Rocky Springs was the name of a town that was on that site in the 19th century. All that remains is a smattering of objects (a safe, a cistern), the church (still in use), and the cemetery, which is surprisingly well-tended. The campsite is in terrible shape, unfortunately. The bathrooms are closed, the trash cans and fire pits overflowing with trash, the amphitheater unmowed and the trail a bit overgrown with weeds that tickle and fling up little itchy-biting bugs. I got a lot of mosquito bites. But, we had a nice picnic and enjoyed our little hike. 

I started watching COBRA on PBS, last night, and so far I'm enjoying it. We've gotten to the point in life that we normally crash early (although neither of us are quick to fall asleep) so 9:00 feels late to watch TV, now. That cracks me up. Point being, the spousal unit went on to bed without me so I watched it on my own. I like disaster-type movies/shows, so I think I'm going to love it.

Art-wise, my last project was a bit of a failure. I used to sketch people all the time, but I haven't done so in years. So, I decided my next project should be an attempt to paint a portrait. But, then I decided maybe it would be best to start out by doing a collage and just painting over a photograph. I printed and cut out a lovely Edwardian woman, sprayed her with matte fixative, pasted her to some watercolor paper, and then painted over the photograph. Ugh, she looks like a cartoon character. I may work on her some more to see if I can give her some definition but at this point it's just a big disappointment. 

What's new in your world? 

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Fiona Friday - Meowdeling

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.