Monday, October 25, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Walrus Song by Janet Lawler and Timothy Basil Ering (illustrator) - from Candlewick Press for review

Just one arrival and, of course, I sat right down to read it because I adore children's books. It's a good one. I'll be reviewing it when it releases in November. I remember only one childhood story with walruses in it and I cannot manage to summon the title but I think I love this book partly because I can't think of a single other book specifically about walruses that I've read and reviewed. Walruses Need Love, Too! 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols
  • Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
  • Walrus Song by Janet Lawler and Timothy Basil Ering

The following is Isabel's contribution to today's Malarkey (she walked across my keyboard):



Currently reading:

  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Throwback: The Chaos Loop (Throwback #2) by Peter Lerangis

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I'm already thinking about challenges for next year. This year's challenges . . . well, some went pretty well (Gone With the Wind — check! Book-buying and library ban —very good! Native American books — totally dropped the ball). I like choosing a very large challenge book, like GWTW; that's gone well in recent years. I'm waffling between Dune and the full version of The Count of Monte Cristo, at the moment, but that may change. The version of The Count that I've been reading all my life is condensed. I didn't even realize that till a few years ago so now I want to read the longer version. But, Dune is one I've wanted to read for as long as I can remember, so . . . 

Waffle, waffle. 

Since I finished The Sundial, I haven't felt much like reading. I pick up a book and drift off, thinking about things that need to be done or just daydreaming. Ugh, I hate that. Walrus Song was a welcome arrival because it allowed me to read a book from start to finish without my mind wandering. After a few days of reading one short story or only a handful of pages, I picked up the wrong Throwback book and was enjoying it. Then, I realized there was a reason the author talked about some important time travel activities that took place without going into detail. He did go into detail elsewhere. There's an entire other book. 

So, I set aside #3 and picked up The Chaos Loop, which is Throwback #2. It's so much fun that I read half of it and then I started thinking about the astronaut book that I've been reading only on my bike and how last week I never did get around to biking and how I'm almost out of books to review and missed the readathon, this weekend, and blah, blah. Net result: I've decided to take a few days off from blogging to try to finish some books so I'll have something to review — and hopefully manage to get back on that bike. A lot of my reading time has been replaced by art time, so I need to also work at figuring out how to squeeze both into a day. Sometimes, it just might not happen, but we shall see. 

My next post will be Fiona Friday and then I'll be back to normal blogging, next week. 

Happy reading!

©2021 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 22, 2021

Fiona Friday - Conked out

I like to think the pattern on the pillows that came with our couch is of stacks of books. 

©2021 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 20, 2021

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Mrs. Halloran frowned. "When, Fanny?" she asked. "When did all this happen?"

"Just now—this morning. It was just getting light."

"No," Mrs. Halloran said. "There are no gardeners working on the hedges yet. Your brother wants me to speak to them today."

"On a ladder," Aunt Fanny said. 

"Quite impossible," Mrs. Halloran said. "You may very well have seen your father; I would not dream of disputing a private apparition. But you could not have seen a gardener trimming a hedge. Not here, not today." 

~from p. 30 of The Sundial

I love Shirley Jackson's writing and I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened The Sundial. I thought I was about to read another suspense novel in the same vein as The Haunting of Hill House. While there is definitely a suspense factor, I think the book is particularly enjoyable for the way the author stabs at the ridiculousness of humans. 

Aunt Fanny, as in the quote above, has gone for a walk in the garden on a foggy morning. After becoming lost, she gets a message from her long-dead father. The world is about to end in flames. Nobody will be spared but those inside the sprawling mansion in which Aunt Fanny lives with Mrs. Halloran, her husband, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, a few hired people who are almost part of the family, and the servants. 

At first, everyone is skeptical. But, as time goes by it becomes clear to everyone exactly when the world is going to end and they begin preparing. As they do, guests show up and it seems wrong to cast them out to certain death, so they're allowed to stay. One of them actually climbs over the gate and in sharing how she got in, spouted another of my favorite quotes. 

"When I am visiting a place," Gloria said, "I don't like being locked out, even if they don't know I'm coming." 

~p. 63

Highly recommended - Oh, my gosh, what a hoot. I was expecting suspense but this book is witty, thought-provoking, and at times hilarious. And, you can't beat the sheer precision and stylishness of Shirley Jackson's writing. Is the end of the world really coming or are all the inhabitants of the household deluding themselves? Does what Gloria sees in a mirror with oil poured onto it confirm Aunt Fanny's message from her father? Who will stay and who will go? 

This one is a serious keeper, a great read to usher in fall, and there's a lot of discussion-worthy material in it because each of the characters is very flawed in his or her own way. There's also the interesting question of what one would do if given the option that one of the characters is offered — take a large check and the chance that the world really will end and you'll die in two weeks, or stay and lose out on the money but maybe survive an apocalypse. 

A couple interesting side notes: The Sundial is apparently a book that was chosen as a special read for this year's RIP Challenge. Humorously, I'd already pulled it off my shelf and put it in my bedside TBR before people started posting about the RIP. While I planned to read it, though, I imagine that the fact that I was seeing it everywhere nudged me a bit so I'm grateful that other people were talking about the book. I didn't read any of the reviews in order to avoid spoiling the reading.     

Having read a handful of Shirley Jackson's books or books of her writings, now, I think I can finally put her on the Favorite Author's list. And, I definitely want to go back and read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was the first Jackson work I read and —believe it or not— I didn't like it, although I don't remember why. But, now that I'm familiar with Jackson's style and have figured out that her books are about people, their oddities and flaws, and how they can get worked up over nothing, I think I might enjoy it more. I donated my copy, unfortunately. Silly me. 

©2021 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 18, 2021

The Apothecary (The Apothecary #1) by Maile Meloy

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy is the first in a magical Young Adult series set in the 1950s. Janie Scott's family has moved from Los Angeles to London after her parents — both in the film industry — are accused of being Communists and feel obligated to leave the country. In London, Janie feels totally out of place but she's fascinated by Benjamin Burrows, the son of the local apothecary, an unusually defiant student who pointedly refuses to get under the table for atomic bomb drills. 

When the apothecary's shop is invaded and he disappears, Janie and Ben set out to find him and discover the apothecary's Pharmacopoeia, the book filled with magic potions that Russian spies were seeking when the apothecary disappeared. To find Ben's father, keep the Pharmacopoeia out of Russian hands, and prevent nuclear disaster, they will have to try some magical potions that do amazing things like turn people into birds. 

Highly recommended - Magic, adventure, and a touch of romance make The Apothecary a total delight. I'm kind of disappointed that I only have the first book in the series. The next two don't get quite the ratings the first does at Goodreads, but I enjoyed The Apothecary enough that I'd still like to read on. I just looked and my library system does have the second book, but not the third. I need to drop off donations, anyway, so I'm tempted to check it out in spite of my library check-out ban —  part of my book-buying ban. I haven't checked out a single book since the pandemic began so one can't hurt, right? Right?

©2021 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 15, 2021

Fiona Friday - Getting in the spirit

©2021 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 14, 2021

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Oh, Daphne. You sure could write. 

Near as I can tell, The Birds and Other Stories is my 9th read by Daphne du Maurier and it's my second deliberately spooky/atmospheric read for fall in 2021. I never did figure out how to sign up for this year's RIP Challenge, but that's OK. I've become so accustomed to reading at least one or two books that are spooky, witchy, atmospheric, or scary to usher in autumn that I do so by force of habit. I'm not in touch with Carl, who started the RIP and helped me form this habit, but I'm grateful that he started it as it helps to make those last hot, sticky days of summer feel like they pass a little more quickly. Our second cool front is finally on its way, this weekend! 

Back to Daphne. I've had The Birds and Other Stories on my TBR for a year or two but it didn't click for me till last week. I loved all but one of the stories. Unfortunately, the least enjoyable of them was the longest. It was more odd and mysterious than creepy or frightening. But, the rest were suspenseful, spooky, atmospheric. Du Maurier had a knack for building tension in the most unexpected ways. Summaries of the stories follow with my thoughts below in italics:

The Birds - The most well-known story, thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, is different from what I know of the movie (I've only seen bits and pieces). A farm hand, injured in the war and only able to perform the easier chores, is shocked when he hears a tapping at his window one night and is attacked by birds, then discovers that his children have left their windows open and are being attacked, as well. The next day, he realizes the birds are hovering offshore, waiting to attack when the tide comes in. So, he rushes his children home and boards up all of the windows. The family hunkers down during the evening attack while the farm hand worries about supplies. How will they survive if this continues? They have barely any food left and there seems to be no end in sight to the attacks. 

I can see why this story is a classic that has given plenty of people a fear of birds. Absolutely kept me on the edge of my seat. 

Monte Verita - When the beautiful wife of the narrator's friend disappears into a strange mountain complex, he's determined to wait for her to emerge. But, she'll only communicate with him in writing and she says she's never coming back to him.

This is the longest story that asks, "Will the man ever figure out how to get his wife to emerge?" and "Do the people inside this complex stay forever young, as the nearby villagers have told him?" A strange story that I didn't particularly enjoy. 

The Apple Tree - When a man's wife dies and he notices that one of his apple trees looks like her, he wants it cut down. But, his gardener is determined to keep the tree alive as it's blossoming for the first time. Each time a piece of the tree enters the house, something goes wrong. Is the tree out to get him? 

One of my favorites. I will never think about apple trees in quite the same way. 

The Little Photographer - A Marquise on holiday with her children and nanny is captivated by the local man who runs a photography business. Bored with her life, she begins meeting him during siesta time on a cliff where he likes to take photos. But, what will happen when her husband decides to come to the seaside a little earlier than expected? 

Trouble, that's what. Good story. The tension is in the fact that they could be caught at any time, but then something shocking happens. 

Kiss Me Again Stranger - When a mechanic goes to see a movie, he falls for the usherette and they take a walk together. A few strange moments intersect with a news article, the next day, and he becomes aware of the danger he was in. 

Another story with a good shock factor. It doesn't feel entirely creepy till the end; you just get the sense that something is off. 

The Old Man - The narrator has been advised to stay away from "the old man" who lives near the lake. Did he kill his children?

The surprise twist ending totally caught me off-guard. Not my favorite. In fact, I'd totally forgotten what this one was about and had to flip through the book. 

Highly recommended - The second book of short stories I've read by du Maurier (Don't Look Now is the other; link leads to a mini review). Of the two, The Birds is better in my humble opinion. Only one story fell totally flat for me and the last story felt like it had a bit of a cheap twist. 4 of the 6 were exceptional. And, as I said in my mini review of Don't Look Now, Daphne du Maurier's books are always worth reading because her writing is stellar.

This is my favorite cover of The Birds. My copy looks like the one at the top of the post. 

©2021 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 12, 2021

Throwback by Peter Lerangis (Throwback #1)

All Corey Fletcher needs to travel through time is an artifact from the past. After Corey time travels by accident a couple times, he discovers that the ability to time travel runs in the family and sets out on a mission to save his grandmother, who died on 9/11 in the collapse of one of the Twin Towers. 

But, then something goes terribly wrong and Corey ends up stuck in 1917, hunted by a street gang, and befriended by a cowboy named Quinn. In order to end up back home, Corey will have to find an artifact from his own time. Will Corey be able to find his way home?

Recommended but not a favorite - I liked Throwback but didn't love it. However, I'm a big fan of time travel so I checked the ratings on this series before buying them and the latter two in the series have better ratings than the first book. So, I'm really looking forward to them, in spite of the fact that I wasn't thrilled with Throwback

All three books from the Throwback series were purchased when I placed that Husband-approved book order, a few weeks ago. I'm determined to make it to the end of the year without making any more book purchases at all. 

©2021 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 11, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left, above - click on image to enlarge):

  • The London House by Katherine Reay - from Harper Muse for tour

Recent arrivals stacked above (all purchased), top to bottom:

  • The Complete Two Pints; Charlie Savage; and, Love -   all by Roddy Doyle
  • The Burning Chambers by Kate Moss
  • The Autumn of the Ace by Louis de Bernières
  • Stories from Suffragette City by various authors, ed. by M. J. Rose and Fiona Davis
  • Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

The Autumn of the Ace is the 3rd in the Daniel Pitt series. You might remember if you hang out here often that I recently read the 2nd. It was the desire to finish this series that compelled me to look Autumn, etc. up at Book Closeouts and I was utterly shocked to find the final book in the series. So, I looked up the Spy School series and found almost all of those books, as well. Then, I just kept going, looking up favorite authors and then flipping through fiction. I can get myself in all sorts of trouble that way. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Throwback by Peter Lerangis
  • The Boatman and Other Stories by Billy O'Callaghan
  • September Moon by John Moore
  • The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
  • The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Throwback and The Apothecary are both the first in a series by the same name as the title. I don't have any more of The Apothecary series but I have two more Throwback books. They arrived with my last order (blessed by spouse) and I've posed them with the first book so I'll share that photo when I review Throwback

The two books of short stories were both fabulous. I've already reviewed The Boatman (link below) and hope to get to The Birds, soon. And, September Moon (also already reviewed with link below) was also a terrific read but an unusual one because we're so accustomed to the worst possible outcome in fiction, I suppose. Bad things happen but they always work out in September Moon. I so enjoyed how relaxing that made the reading. The Apothecary was good, clean fun, very adventurous and magical with a touch of romance (YA). The rest of the series doesn't get quite the positive reviews of the first book so I'll have to think about whether or not I want to eventually read on. 

Currently reading:

  • Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols (e-book) - for F2F discussion

Still also reading How to Astronaut by Terry Virts. Also still getting hollered at by the cat while I read and bike. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

We watched a couple episodes of Blake's 7 and I'm pretty sure that's literally all I watched. Husband asked for subscription to a sports channel for his birthday so the rest of the time the TV was on, it involved some sporting event or other. 

Wait, I'm wrong! We watched one episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and the spouse got a recipe that interested us from that particular episode. I hated it. Nice try, though. 

Most of my spare time has been spent on art videos, although I haven't done all that much. There's an annual event called "taster sessions" — which is pretty much what it sounds like, just two weeks of free videos that give you a taste of the courses you get if you buy the year-long membership to this thing called Lifebook. I've only actually tried a couple of the projects. Some I just watched. I found the sheer quantity so overwhelming that I just chose the few that interested me. Two were abject failures; two went well. I haven't decided if I'm going to buy the yearly membership because many of the tasters lean "crafty". But, I have learned a few new techniques and there are a couple artists whose classes pique my interest enough that I think it might be worth the annual fee for the sake of being able to watch them over and over again, even if it's just 3 or 4 artists whose courses I want to keep. Once you buy a year's membership, you allegedly have access to the classes for life (I don't honestly trust the words "for life" when it comes to online content, but . . . a year of access is fine). Anyway, still thinking about that.

I also took a course from London Drawing School on the art of Julie Mehretu and did the warm up and the regular exercise. I'd never heard of Mehretu but I really love the London Drawing School courses and I found this course particularly interesting because her art is so very, very different from anything I've done. It looks chaotic and meaningless, just crazy-looking stuff. But, the instructor, Lucy McGeown, did an exceptional job of explaining the meaning of Mehretu's abstracts and showing how to imitate her art. I came out of it just glowing with the joy of having learned something completely new to me.

Meanwhile . . . the only other thing I've been up to of any significance is trying to get Christmas gift purchases done and dusted because of the anticipated shortages and the new rules slowing down the mail (massively peeved about that and hope it can be undone, at some point). I made good progress on that, this week. 

I'm also already pondering my goals for 2022 reading and I think I've settled on a personal challenge that will be fun, the "Pick a Pile Challenge". As if that isn't obvious, it has to do with the fact that I have books stacked on the floor and those stacks line two walls of my home library. It occurred to me that there's a lot of variety in each stack, so why not challenge myself to pick a pile and stick with it till I've read them all? What do you think? Sound fun? 

©2021 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 08, 2021

Fiona Friday - Izzy is helpful

Wrong place, Mom. I'll move it for you. 

©2021 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 06, 2021

September Moon by John Moore

September Moon by John Moore is a book I ordered secondhand from Across the Pond for a buddy read hosted by @the_unhurried_reader of Instagram in 2019. Unfortunately, it didn't arrive till October of that year and the buddy read was by then over, having finished at the end of September. I've been eager to read it during a September ever since, but I must have been too booked up in 2020. 

September Moon tells the story of the harvest of hops in England's Hertfordshire. During the month, itinerant workers — some Welsh, many traveling Romany, one an older man who has been harvesting all his life — arrive to do the harvesting. This is not a fast-placed, tightly plotted book, but at the same time there's no waste of words and the writing is lovely enough to suit anyone who enjoys literature. Instead, what you get is a farmer with chest pains; his son who had a fling with a "gipsy" girl [I'm going to continue with the spelling and usage of the word "gipsy" for convenience and to match the book, although I know Romany is the proper term] and tries to resume their affair but finds that her personality has changed; the Gipsy King who is challenged by the other tough-guy gipsy; the farmer and would-be inventor who is not a natural to farming, frequently loses money on crops and attempted inventions, and tends to drink off his profits at the local pub; and, his half-French daughter who has returned from London and whom the villagers suspect left in the first place because she got in trouble with a boy. There's also the threat of a spreading fungus ruining the crops. 

Published in 1957, September Moon is a total comfort read. The tension is ever-present and there are plenty of questions to keep the pages turning, but in the end nothing awful happens. Literally nothing. All the fighting and drama and knives flashing by moonlight, the one farmer's illness and the other's threatened loss of his farm. Well, there's bloodshed and danger, but no tragedy and the plot twists are comfortable rather than nerve-racking. I think it'll be great going into the book in future Septembers knowing that it's that kind of read, taut enough to make the pages fly but pleasant enough to read when you're stressed out and just want to find something enjoyably tense in which nobody dies. 

Highly recommended but apparently out of print - I checked to see if there are any newer copies available and it looks like the only available options are secondhand. Abe Books has quite a few but the first one to pop up is in a shop in Melbourne, Australia, so perhaps it was never published in the U.S. At any rate, if you're ever looking for something that is enjoyable to read and not in the mood for anything horrible to happen, September Moon is perfect. If I didn't happen to still be on that book-buying ban (I am determined to make it to the end of the year without buying another single book, in spite of having broken my ban a time or two), I would see if I could find some other secondhand books by Moore. But, I won't. Maybe next year. 

©2021 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 04, 2021

The Boatman by Billy O'Callaghan

Even without Mei in the room, her presence blocked out the space the way sand fills an hourglass, turning everything slow. That's how I wanted it to be, and that at least was what I'd have, but I knew from before, from having already lost her once, such ghosts tormented as much as consoled. We'd taken an important step in reconnecting and had sworn we wouldn't let that flag, so that it would be different this time, better even if still a long way from ideal, but keeping our promise meant condemning ourselves to a famished life, to the scraps that could nourish only the most fragile of hearts. 

~from "Ruins", p. 44 of The Boatman

I chose an excerpt from the story "Ruins" in The Boatman by Billy O'Callaghan at random because when I was reading I was so immersed that it never occurred to me to get up and look for flags to mark favorite passages. Instead, I read them over and over for their sheer beauty. But, this is what you most need to know about The Boatman: it is carefully, meticulously crafted, rhythmic and melancholy and absolutely stunning.

A few of the stories:

"The Border Fox" - A young man goes over the border into Northern Ireland with a group, to make a delivery. A tense story of subterfuge, violence, and budding romance. 

"The Boatman" - Two men walk to a graveyard to dig the grave of the boatman's daughter, who died very quickly after becoming ill. "She was only young," her uncle keeps repeating. A heartrending tale of grief and the physical labor that becomes a part of the grieving process. 

"Beginish" - A young couple, madly in love and still newlyweds, work hard at two jobs each to save money for a proper holiday. When they decide to stay close to home and camp out on an abandoned island, the man from whom they rent a boat is friendly though mildly concerned. But, neither he nor the young couple expect the tragedy they're about to encounter. 

"Love is Strange" - A teenager is compelled to help an elderly neighbor who regularly struggles up the hill to her home with her purchases. A few years later, he goes out with a neighbor girl and they talk about the old woman. 

I realize, after writing about these 4 stories, that all of them are favorites from the dozen in the book. But, I can't think of any story in The Boatman that I disliked. "Beginish" was the one story in the collection that I could imagine expanded to novel length and perhaps even turned into a movie. It's tragic, as are many of the stories. But, I was so swept away by the incredible beauty of O'Callaghan's writing that for once I thought more about the sound, rhythm and uniqueness of his wording than about the direction each story took. Having said that, all are compelling and at least two had an "edge of your seat" feel. 

Speaking of tragedy . . . if you've hung around here for a while, you know I generally rate anything tragic that lacks a glimpse of hope lower than I do those that give you some sense of light at the end of the tunnel. I gave The Boatman 5 stars, which just goes to show that truly amazing writing will win out, even if a story is gut-wrenching. That surprised me, actually. 

Highly recommended - This one's going on the good shelves and I will definitely return to it for future rereading. 

Important note: I posted about this book on Instagram, yesterday, and one of the photos I posted was of the book posed with a record album (vinyl, that is) and music box that my mother brought home from Ireland, way back when I was a tiny tyke. I listened to the album as a child and remembered the tune to the title song but none of the words. After I posted, I found the title cut on YouTube to listen to and hoo boy, it could be considered extremely offensive in some quarters. It's about a man going off to join the IRA. Since I don't mean to take sides in any way, that post will come down. I was really shocked. It has such a jaunty tune that I had no idea what it was about. In fact, the words "where the helmets glisten in the sun" was one of those phrases that my little-kid brain turned into something else, although there is no such thing as a "Hal man" that glistens in the sun . . . and I didn't remember what my mind had turned it to till I heard the song for the first time in decades. Apologies to any Irish citizens who may have seen that post and found it offensive. 

©2021 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 01, 2021

Fiona Friday - Wants on lap, plz

©2021 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, September 29, 2021

Gobbolino the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams

I bought Gobbolino the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams when someone I follow on Instagram gushed about it. Gobbolino the Witch's Cat is about a kitten with just a touch of magical ability, thanks to the fact that he was born to the cat of a witch who lives in a mountain cave. But, he has no interest in growing up to be a witch's cat. His heart's desire is to be a beloved house cat with a family, a nice bowl of cream, and a place to nap by the fire. 

I can't actually remember if Gobbolino sets out on his own or not. However it happens, he ends up in a creek, swimming toward a dangerous water wheel and barely saved by some children. The children take him home and it appears that he's found the place he dreamed of until sparks come from his whiskers and the adults realize he's a witch's cat. Nobody wants a witch's cat, so he's kicked out. 

This pattern repeats with Gobbolino finding a home in an orphanage, with a troupe of puppeteers, and various other places. But, each time someone figures out that he's a witch's cat and he's turned out over and over again until, finally, he ends up finding his sister — a cat who never had any doubts at all that she would find a witch of her own. The witch threatens to throw him down the mountain because he's useless as a witch's cat, but Gobbolino is able to get away. Unfortunately, he ends up right back in the creek and now, thanks to the witch, he can no longer swim. Will Gobbolino ever find a home with people who love him and a place by the fire?

Recommended but not a favorite - As evidenced by the fact that my copy is an anniversary edition, Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, published in 1942, is apparently a classic . . . presumably in the UK. I'm pretty sure I bought it from Book Depository, although it was last year so I'm not positive about that. And, I can see why it's a classic. I would have loved it as a child. As an adult, though, it fell a little flat for me. I found the "found a home, kicked out, found a home, kicked out" repetition a bit exhausting. As a youngster, though, I probably would have enjoyed it for the way Gobbolino's story comes full circle and he does, indeed, find a happy home. It's a lovely story and one I'll save for my grandchildren to read. It's just a little too simplistic, even for this middle grade-book-loving reader. 

©2021 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, September 28, 2021

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke tells three interconnected stories. In 1998 Liv, a single mother of three, takes an art commission to paint a mural inside a 100-year-old lighthouse on an island in Scotland. Since her husband died, life has been rough and she's barely been able to support her family. But, this job should keep her going for a while. 

The lighthouse has a hole that leads to a cave where people accused of witchcraft were tortured in the 17th century; and, superstition on the island runs deep. When a child knocks at her door, has Liv found a wildling? Wildlings are supernatural beings that take the place of children, allegedly due to a curse by the witches who were executed in 1662, and they have been accused of causing the deaths of entire families for centuries. 

In 2021, Luna receives a startling call. Back in 1998, her mother Liv and both of her sisters, Clover and Sapphire (Saffy), went missing. Now, Clover has reappeared and Luna is her only known relative. But, when Luna travels to Scotland from her home in Coventry, she is stunned to find that her little sister is the same age she was when she disappeared, rather than a 30-year-old woman. And, she has a mark on her leg that is known to be the mark of the wildling. Is Clover really her sister or a strange being that took her place? Is Luna in danger? 

There's also a third storyline that intertwines, but it's a lesser part of the story. In 1998, Saffy has found the grimoire (a book of magic spells, although it reads like a diary) of a man from 1662. Since there's little to do on the island and not a lot of reading material but Saffy is an avid reader, she reads the grimoire. It describes the accusations of witchcraft that took place on the island and the confessions and deaths of the women accused. 

Highly recommended - Creepy, atmospheric, fascinating, sometimes a little scary, well-written and very meaningful. I didn't find The Lighthouse Witches extremely scary but there were some violent and disturbing scenes so I was also a bit surprised not to have any nightmares at all while I was reading it. In the end, the really great thing about the book is that it has a very satisfying ending (in my humble opinion) and an exceptional theme, really an indictment of cruel misogyny, the author's point being that the world needs to stop persecuting women for simply existing. I loved the depth of meaning and will be watching for more by this author, for sure. 

I did have one issue with the book. The grimoire excerpts read like a contemporary diary to me. In fact, it took me a long time to figure out that that particular storyline took place in 1662 as it lacked a date label, although Saffy may have mentioned it being from that time period. I considered that a minor issue as she did a fantastic job of interconnecting the stories and eventually the time period does become clear, even if the language feels off. 

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy! 

As you can see, I was finally able to take an outdoor photo after a long, hot, wet summer. It's warmed back up but we cooled off for 3 or 4 whole days! Wow, was that fun. 

©2021 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, September 27, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (above):

  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, and 
  • Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey by Elena Ferrante - from Square and Off-Square Books in Oxford, MS
  • Nazaré by JJ Amaworo Wilson - unsolicited from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc.

And, two more recent arrivals (below):

  • The Autumn of the Ace (Daniel Pitt #3) by Louis de Bernières and 
  • The Boatman and Other Stories by Billy O'Callaghan - both purchased

The two purchases in the top photo were . . . kind of a bribe? My husband has noted that the not-going-anywhere-but-places-I-absolutely-must thing (the Delta variant has been ravaging our state and we're still lingering at a mere 43% fully vaccinated) has been getting to me. He planned to spend some one-on-one time with Kiddo so I was not intending to tag along on their trip to Oxford to meet up with his sister's family. But, at the last minute, Huz talked me into going by seducing me with the promise that he would pay for any books I wanted so they wouldn't count (because, you know, "book-buying ban"). So, I grabbed the #1 book on my wishlist, the George Saunders, and an off-price book on writing by Elena Ferrante. 

The two purchased books in the lower image are the reason "book-buying ban" is in quotation marks. OK, well, so I looked at Book Outlet just to see if they had the third in the Daniel Pitt series, after finishing #2. They did! So, I looked up The Boatman and Other Stories. It was there, too! And, I just read Spy School and wanted to continue on. They had most of the books!!! I wasn't going to place an order but I told my husband about how disappointed I was not to be able to place an order, since they had quite a few books on my wish list. Guess what he said? "You've done very well, this year." I said, "You mean with my book-buying ban?" and he said, "Yes." And, then he told me it wouldn't bother him if I placed an order. Pardon me while I enthuse. 


So unexpected. Anyway, there were more books in that order than the two I've shown but I've already decided to continue my book-buying ban into 2022 so I think I'll save the rest of the arrivals to share with you later. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Golden State by Ben H. Winters
  • Gobbolino the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams
  • Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke

This felt like a really good two weeks. 

Currently reading:

  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts
  • The Boatman and Other Stories by Billy O'Callaghan
  • September Moon by John Moore 

How to Astronaut has become my stationary bike book so I don't read much. Half of my time on the bike is usually spent explaining myself to Isabel, who naps in the room with the exercise bike and absolutely hates the sound of it (it has a squeaky seat) but thinks she can convince me to stop biking and give her head rubs, instead. Funny cat. 

I'd totally dropped the ball on my goal to constantly have an anthology or collection of short stories going at all times, a couple months ago. Billy O'Callaghan has got me back to work on that goal. And, it's no work at all. His writing. Oh, people. If you like short stories, you really need The Boatman. And, September Moon is a book I bought for a readalong in 2019. Unfortunately, I had to order a secondhand copy of the book from Across the Pond, so it didn't arrive till September was over. I don't know why I didn't fit it in last year, but I'm happy to finally read it during the title month. It is a fabulous read, incidentally. My reading is totally rocking, right now. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

Um . . . there isn't any? No, wait, there's a little. Oxford was fun and I am so freaking excited that my niece from Colorado will be attending Ole Miss, next year. We'll have another relative in the state!!!!  She's already planning to come down for visits!!!! When you move 500 miles from home and then almost your entire family moves even farther away, there can be nothing more exciting than to have family move near you. Also, any excuse to go to Oxford is a good one so we'll drop by to take her out for a meal, now and then. The only bad part of this is that we have to wait a year. She's still a senior in high school. 

And, the only other news I can think of is that I'm taking a gazillion art classes, including a two-week "taster session" that's free (to entice you to buy the full years' worth of classes), an abstract course, a geometric drawing course, and . . . coming up . . . one about David Hockney's art. So, I'm still just watching Chuck while I eat my lunch. We didn't even manage to squeeze in an episode of Blake's 7, last week. Oh, well. Maybe we'll fit one in, this week. 

©2021 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, September 24, 2021

Fiona Friday

My favorite photos of the week. The cool air won't last long but we're enjoying the smell of fresh air while it lasts. 

©2021 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, September 23, 2021

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

I had to blow this one up extra large so you can enjoy the fake leaves. As you can see, we're still green as Ireland, but we had the good fortune of experiencing an unseasonal cold front, yesterday (still cool, today, and maybe for another day or two, yay)! Happy Autumn!! The words feel real, for once. :)

Golden State by Ben H. Winters takes place in a near-future world in which the former California is now a country and lying is illegal. The main character, Laszlo Ratesic, works for the Speculative Service in the Golden State. Here's an excerpt from the cover flap of Golden State:

. . . the Golden State [is] a place where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life and governance impossible. In the Golden State, knowingly contradicting the truth — speaking a lie — is the greatest crime. Stopping those crimes is Laz's job. 
    Why, then, has he been ordered to the front lawn of a Los Angeles mansion, where the body of a roofer has fallen, irrefutably dead? 

At the same time Laszlo is given this unexpected job that feels like it doesn't fit the normal parameters of his work, he's assigned a rookie to train. But, the rookie appears to be much more talented at sensing lies than he is. Is there something more to this accident than meets the eye?

Of course there is. But, obviously I'm not going to say any more because I don't want to ruin it for you. 

Highly recommended - Wildly creative and clever writing about a society where lying is the greatest crime but the truth that is known is built upon lies. The only thing I didn't like about this book was the ending. But, then I sat with it for a while and decided it was actually perfect in that it fit the storyline and was just . . . right. It simply wasn't how I'd imagined it would end and I had to adjust my expectations to fit. 

Notably: this book appears to be a response to years of an American administration in which lying became the norm and the division between the parties so deep that one had to choose to either believe the lies and continue to feed them or choose to refute them — and there was no in-between. So, I guess it's also a satire in that it pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the current political state in the US and possibly serves as a warning that lies can only last as a foundation for so long before everything comes crashing down. That's my interpretation, anyway. 

I've also read the "Last Policeman" series by Ben H. Winters. Golden State made me want to read everything he's ever written and go for a reread of The Last Policeman. Here's a link to my review of the final book in the Last Policeman series which also contains links to the first two, for anyone who may be interested:

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

©2021 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, September 21, 2021

So Much Life Left Over (Daniel Pitt trilogy #2) by Louis de Bernières

So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières is the second in a trilogy, following The Dust That Falls from Dreams. I don't know if I realized that when I bought it or just ordered it because I enjoyed The Dust That Falls from Dreams so much that I wanted to read whatever the author wrote next but I went into the reading blind and it took a while for the lightbulb to click on. I kept thinking, "This character feels familiar," but not fully getting it and then one daffy character finally made it clear to me. 

Here's a link to my review of the first book but I'll revisit it in a paragraph:

The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières

In The Dust That Falls from Dreams, we met the McCosh family, the four daughters, nutty mother, inventor father who sometimes is flush with money and as frequently in debt, and their neighbors, the Pendennis family (with four boys) and the Pitts, who have two sons and lost two in the Boer War. As you're getting to know the McCosh family and all of the young men, WWI breaks out and the families with males in them bear terrible casualties. 

In So Much Life Left Over, Daniel Pitt has married Rosie McCosh and they've moved to Ceylon, which he considers paradise. She's not entirely sold. Daniel's days are fulfilling. He works in a tea factory and occasionally goes riding to check the tea plantation. He's in love with his wife and they have a little girl whom he adores. Rosie works in a clinic but is disappointed that the locals don't trust modern medicine and will not generally come for help until it's too late. Their life isn't perfect but they're content. 

Possible spoiler warning. I've tried to keep spoilers out of this review but if you're planning to read it soon and don't want to know any of the important plot points, skip down to where I say it's safe. 

But, everything changes when Rosie's second pregnancy ends disastrously. Daniel is heartbroken but copes with the loss. But, Rosie's entire personality changes as she's unable to come to terms with her loss and immerses herself in her religion, leading Daniel to eventually find comfort elsewhere. Eventually, she insists on returning to England, using concern for her father's health as her reasoning. 

Back in the McCosh home, their marriage falls to pieces and Daniel feels obligated to leave but Rosie stubbornly refuses a divorce in spite of wanting nothing to do with him. There are all sorts of interesting complications and once again, the men end up going to war in some fashion, this time WWII. 

As in The Dust That Falls from Dreams, there are some very graphic and disturbing war scenes, but most of them are told on reflection through a character who lives under the McCosh house till they kick him out (but still occasionally sleeps in the wheelbarrow between chores) and who survived tremendous horrors during WWI. I spent a good portion of the book thinking those scenes were entirely unnecessary and I'm still uncertain they were crucial, although they do inform the character's future actions. 

It's safe, now. No potential spoilers from here on. 

What I loved most was getting to revisit the craziness of the McCosh family. Rosie is probably the least interesting (Sophie will always be my favorite) but that's fine because this novel is really Daniel's story and apparently the final book, The Autumn of the Ace, continues from his viewpoint. I have a vague recollection that the first book was told from more than one POV but I'm not certain about that. At any rate, it's the "Daniel Pitt series" so he was in there somewhere. In So Much Life Left Over, Daniel's brother Archie comes in and out of the picture, as well. 

While So Much Life Left Over is the story of a marriage that falls apart, it's also a tale of how war leaves its imprint on the survivors — how they deal with loss and pain in very different ways. 

Highly recommended - I love the mix of realistic, sometimes incredibly dark and gory writing with humor in this series. There's far less graphic war description in So Much Life Left Over than the first book, thank goodness. Most of the darkness in this entry of the trilogy comes from the difficulty of the relationship and I think the war scenes (from the POV of a gardener nicknamed "Oily" Wragge) could easily be skimmed if the graphicness undid you in The Dust That Falls from Dreams

This trilogy absolutely needs to be read in order and the lack of mention that it's from a trilogy serves as a perfect example of why publishers should make it very clear on either the cover or spine that a book is part of a series. I like to go into the reading of a book blind because I've had too many books spoiled by the cover description, so I didn't flip to the cover to verify my suspicions till p. 50. If it said, "Daniel Pitt #2" on the cover or spine, that would have been enough to clue me in. I started to recognize characters pretty early on, but it still took me the full 50 pages to fully realize I was reading a follow-up to a book that was a favorite in 2015. 

I read a single 2-star review because I was curious what other readers disliked (although the book has a pretty high rating at Goodreads) and, sure enough, the reader was dismayed that he didn't realize the book continued the story of the families in The Dust That Falls from Dreams. In his case, it took about half the book to become aware of the connection. I feel fortunate that I figured it out quickly, by comparison. 

A couple potential trigger warnings: stillbirth, graphic war scenes

©2021 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, September 17, 2021

Fiona Friday - Paws to appreciate

©2021 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, September 15, 2021

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I had mixed feelings about South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. So mixed, in fact, that I couldn't talk myself into rating it at Goodreads. 

South of the Border, West of the Sun is told in first person from the viewpoint of Hajime, an only child who feels out of place until he meets Shimamoto, who is also an only child. They remain playmates and friends for years, till his family moves away and they lose touch. Over the years, Hajime meets (and sleeps with) many women but Shimamoto has a special place in his heart and he even follows a woman who looks like her and has her same limp, at one point. He marries, has two children and his jazz bar becomes a success. He's mostly content. 

Then, Shimamoto reappears in his life, having seen an article about his jazz bar. Hajime is every bit as drawn to her as he was when they were young. She is different, more beautiful, no longer limping, and mysterious. There are questions she won't answer, things he doesn't know about her. Will Hajime stay faithful to his wife? Or, will he leave her for Shimamoto? 

Meh - I still don't feel like I can rate this book. I found it compelling enough to finish and I think that's mostly down to Murakami's writing. He does know how to suck you in. But, Hajime is kind of a yucky person. He's selfish when it comes to women, taking what he wants from them but giving little in return. You can't really root for him. And, Shimamoto's mysteriousness made her feel more like a vague outline of a character than one with color and depth. She was so incomplete that I closed the book unsure whether she was real or a figment of the main character's imagination. 

After a week and the decision that I'm definitely not going to rate the book, what most stands out for me is the feeling I'll forget about it pretty quickly. The one thing I really loved about the book was the use of motifs. But, here I must confess that I didn't know the word "motif" as it relates to literature. I'm probably the last to find out about this but OK. Here's what google told me after I read about the book and the word "motif" came up.

What is a motif in literature? 

Motif is a literary technique that consists of a repeated element that has symbolic significance to a literary work. Sometimes a motif is a recurring image. Other times it's a repeated word, phrase, or topic expressed in language. 

In South of the Border, West of the Sun, there are a large number of words or motifs that are repeated: rain, the color blue, and looking out at a graveyard are a few I recall. I don't always know what various images stand for in literature (so I often end up looking them up — I looked up crows as a metaphor when they appeared in a particular scene, for example). 

This may be simplistic on my part but I'd rather an author show or tell me what he's on about. And, yet, I thought the use of motifs was effective. So, while I didn't love the book, primarily because of Hajime's selfishness, I don't regret having read it. And, good grief, you could spend loads of time reading everyone's analysis of this book.

Some bits of information I found helpful:

The ‘South of the Border’ of the title refers to the popular 1939 song recorded for a film of the same name. As children Hajime and Shimamoto used to listen to a Nat King Cole recording of it (although in reality, Cole never recorded the song). Not knowing it refers to a trip to Mexico, Shimamoto used to wonder about what magical place lay south of the border. “Something beautiful, big and soft”. The ‘West of the Sun’ refers to a form of hysteria Shimamoto says afflicts people living in Siberia, possibly similar to Piblokto, where for no reason they abandon their life in difficult conditions and wander westward, usually dying of exposure.

--from We Need to Talk About Books

And, from Google:

"South of the Border", meaning a life of convention, possibility, and ultimately, disappointment, and "West of the Sun", meaning taking a step beyond reason, and in doing so risking everything [...]

Clearly, I'm going to need to read more Murakami. I've mostly read his short stories and nonfiction. I'll try to tackle one of his longer novels when I can fit it in. 

©2021 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, September 14, 2021

Ungifted by Gordon Korman (Ungifted #1)

Ungifted by Gordon Korman is the story of a middle school troublemaker who goes a bit too far. When Donovan causes an accident that will cost the school district a great deal of money in repairs and then is accidentally sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (a school for the gifted), he decides the school is an excellent place to hide from the superintendent, who knows what Donovan looks like. 

When it turns out that Donovan's averageness is a bonus to the robotics team and the school in general, everyone wants him to stay. But they know he doesn't belong; he's definitely not gifted. Will Donovan be able to remain at the school long enough to help the Academy's robotics team win the annual robotics competition?

Shifting between a number of different viewpoints, the reader gets to see what it's like to be an average guy who likes pranks and ends up in a school for the gifted, how a couple of his teachers view him, and life as a very gifted person through the eyes of some of his classmates. 

Highly recommended - I love Gordon Korman's books and Ungifted is a new favorite. I've read the follow-up book, Supergifted, out of order (I got it as an ARC, a few years ago). It stood alone fine but I've wanted to read Ungifted since then and I was not disappointed. Korman is a gifted writer. I love his blend of smart, wacky, and humorous storytelling. 

Click here to read my review of Supergifted

©2021 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, September 13, 2021

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals:

  • Not a darn thing. So, I've decorated the top of this post with a purple and green thing I painted-slash-collaged. I figured you get to see plenty of cats. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Long and Living Shadow by Daoma Winston
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  • The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
  • So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières

Apart from The Long and Living Shadow, which was a stinker, this was a pretty good 2 weeks. 

Currently reading:

  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts 
  • Golden State by Ben H. Winters

I just finished So Much Life Left Over and picked up Golden State because it was beside the bed, just to see if it was any good. Wow, it's a grabber and it's 12:30 AM but I can tell you I would love to stay up reading more. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

We arrived on PBS about 15 or 20 minutes into the first episode of Guilt, last week, and were both utterly transfixed, although I skipped the second episode to take a bath and made the husband tell me what happened. Admittedly, I couldn't always understand the characters because of their accents (it takes place in Edinburgh) and I didn't bother putting up subtitles so there were subtleties that I probably missed but I thought it was loads of fun the way new and unexpected deceptions continued to unfold. 

It says "Season 1" on this image so I'm guessing that means there's more to come? At any rate, we're really enjoying this "darkly delicious tale of a botched hit and run." I think it's a great blend of suspense with dark humor. 

At some point, this week, I watched News of the World by myself because I figured my husband wouldn't be particularly interested in it. It's based on a book I've read not once but 2 or 3 times, so I've been curious about the movie for quite some time. 

I recognized some changes (I recall the captain being offered a gold coin for the job of taking Johanna to her relatives, for example, and there's no money involved in his journey in the movie) but there were times I couldn't recall whether or not the screenplay had deviated from the novel. 

I thought it was a decent, if not brilliant, adaptation and I enjoyed it but I definitely like the book better. 

Otherwise, I avoided the TV. Since I cleaned out the breakfast nook last weekend, and now I have to drag out supplies to do any artwork, I also haven't done much painting. In fact, the one thing I painted was a failure and went out with the trash, although I'm working on a collage (not the one above, which may or may not be finished). But, the cleaning job paid off when we were able to invite younger son and daughter-in-law over for Sunday dinner and we had this nice table with flip-up leaves (the table that used to be my art table) handy. My intent was to clean the dining room on Saturday but I was diverted by other tasks, and it was nice to actually use the breakfast nook for eating! I don't think that's every happened before in our 9 years at this house. We've always eaten in the dining room or on the patio, sometimes on the couch. 

Speaking of the patio, it was briefly cool enough for outdoor time so we sat outside for a bit on Saturday, yay! Unfortunately, the heat and humidity are back and eating outside was not an option, today (Sunday). The hint of a coming autumn was uplifting, short-lived though it was. I'm always happy to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall. 

©2021 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, September 10, 2021

Fiona Friday

Zzzz with bonus blep. 

©2021 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, September 09, 2021

The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen

First things first. Does that cover rock, or what? I love it. 

The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen is a historical romantic mystery. Since Amelie's parents died, she has lived and then worked with her Aunt Sally as a matchmaker and columnist for The Marriage Gazette. She would love to find romance, herself, but for now she's satisfied with living in a building owned by Aunt Sally (near her beloved cousins, Eva and Charlotte) and being an independent woman. 

Michael Baker is a detective working for Scotland Yard. His partner and brother-in-law has recently been killed in the line of duty, leaving his sister widowed with a baby. Michael is convinced that he could never marry and risk leaving a widow, as well. 

Amelie and Michael first meet when the detective begins investigating a man by the name of Radcliffe, whom he suspects of murdering his wife. Amelie is watching Radcliffe and a dinner guest she set up with him from outside a restaurant, just to make sure they're getting along okay. She is surprised to find that the anonymous man for whom she arranged this meeting is a man from her book club whom she knows to be a recent widower. When Michael spots her and brings her in for questioning, she offers to bring the detective to her book club and introduce him as a family friend to aid his investigation. And, then she gets a little too involved in the investigation, becoming the love interest of Radcliffe for the sake of trying to get information out of him. 

Is Radcliffe the gentleman solicitor that he appears to be or a murderer? Has Michael put Amelie in terrible danger? What will happen when Amelie and Michael find that they are attracted to each other? 

Highly recommended - What an immensely entertaining read. Although there's a murder mystery wrapped up in this historical romance, the tone is light-hearted. Amelie is naive and Michael just a little bit jaded but she's such a charming innocent that he can't help but find himself drawn to her. 

There were a couple things that irritated me (the time period is never specifically mentioned) or felt off (anachronisms to the time or place), but they were not enough to knock this book down from the 5 stars I felt it deserved. I mentally placed the story around 1890 and then eventually the Arts and Crafts movement is mentioned and I thought, "Aha! At the very least, I'm close." I've only recently read up on the Arts and Crafts movement after finding out a stained glass window I bought from a salvage store hails from that time period. If you follow me on either Facebook or Instagram, you'll see a corner of the stained glass in the background of the image I posted of this book and that's why. 

Nancy Campbell Allen is new to me but I'll be keeping an eye out for more of her books. My thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy!

©2021 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, September 08, 2021

Mini Reviews - Once Upon a Goat by Richards and Barclay, Pastoralia by G. Saunders, The Long and Living Shadow by D. Winston

I don't feel like any of these require a lengthy review, so here we go again with the mini reviews.  Pardon my mostly-absent week. I spent the entire Labor Day weekend cleaning out my breakfast nook, which I'd turned into a very messy art studio. It had gone well beyond acceptably disordered, so I've moved everything out and now we're just pondering how to bring everything back but make the room orderly. We want to find a storage solution for all the paint, brushes, etc. that is attractive but it may take some time to find. At any rate, I needed a day to recover after spending the weekend hauling canvases, bottles, brushes, and boxes of paint to another room. 


Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards and Eric Barclay is an adorable picture book in which a king and queen long for a family. When they ask their fairy godmother for a child, the king makes the mistake of saying, "Any kid will do." 

And, a kid is exactly what they get, a baby goat. At first they're horrified and even decide to cast the kid out of the castle after he causes too much chaos and eats the royal roses. But, then it begins to rain heavily and they feel bad about sending the poor little guy out on such a rough night. After bringing him back inside, he slowly becomes part of the family. And, then their fairy godmother returns and sees her mistake. 

Out in the countryside, the fairy godmother peeks around a tree and, sure enough, there's the baby the king and queen asked for — living with a mother and father goat. She intends to switch them but the king and queen have become so attached to their kid that they come up with an alternative solution. Hint: it means the castle is never tidy. 

Recommended - While the storyline in Once Upon a Goat is predictable to an adult, it's super cute and I can imagine it tickling small children. I love the illustrations, love the kindness of the king and queen and their willingness to tolerate a messy castle because they adore their little goat, much like parents who put up with the messes that come with having small children. 

Pastoralia by George Saunders is a book of short stories with one novella. As in many of his collections, there's a "theme park going downhill" story, the novella of the title name, "Pastoralia", and it was my favorite. A man and woman are living in cave, each with his and her own Separate Area into which they retreat at night. They're not related, not attracted to each other. They're supposed to just grunt all day, skin and cook their daily goat, pretend to eat bugs and paint wall art. With fewer visitors coming, they fear they'll lose their jobs soon and occasionally their daily goat doesn't show up in their slot so they must eat crackers, instead. 

Meh - Saunders' theme park stories are wildly creative and absurd. I tend to love them, even the ones that get a bit . . . violent (his earlier work, especially). But, the rest of the stories in Pastoralia didn't thrill me. In fact, I had to flip through the book to remind myself what the others are about and found that I was reading much farther than I should do in order to nudge my memory. 

At any rate, I love George Saunders casual, humorous, satirical writing. But, apart from "Pastoralia", this one just didn't do it for me and it's now my least favorite Saunders book, much as I love him. Second to Pastoralia would be Lincoln in the Bardo [unpopular opinion], which was too scattered for my taste, although someone at Square Books in Oxford, MS told me that Saunders had the audience do voices from Lincoln in the Bardo when he came for a reading and signing. They say his visit was a total hoot. And, my "least favorite" is still worth keeping for the novella. I am getting close to having read all of his books, now.

I like the pulp-fictiony cave woman cover shown above, although the woman who lives in the cave with the narrator is described as fifty-something and not particularly attractive, at least to the man who plays her Partner in Cave. My copy has a deer on the cover. I'm not sure of the point of that and I'm not reviewing for anyone since this is from my home library, so I've opted to put up the cover I like. 

The Long and Living Shadow by Daoma Winston almost doesn't deserve a review. It was seriously awful. But, I finished the book for a couple reasons. 

1. The Return by Daoma Winston, a book that once belonged to my mother, is one of my all-time most reread books. I've read it periodically since . . . maybe my early teens? It's a romantic suspense that takes place in a mansion on a cliff, very gothic and moody and truly suspenseful. I've been considering another reread. I recognized similar elements in The Long and Living Shadow and felt like I needed to keep reading to figure out why a book that was similar in so many ways was such a dud by comparison with another title by the same author. More on that in a minute. 

2. It was short. Mercifully short at something like 157 pages, thank goodness. It truly was a terrible work of writing.

Not recommended - Pass this one up if you see it at a library or garage sale. Dreadful, repetitive, and predictable. The spooky house really wasn't and the greedy relatives were transparent. Possibly the worst thing (the element that most likely made it pale by comparison with my old favorite) was ineffective repetition. Everyone was pudgy but the heroine, who was delicate. The title was repeated a gazillion times, and so was mention of whether or not the widowed heroine was "grown up" at 23. On the plus side, she developed confidence as the book progressed and the book has a bang-up ending. But, that wasn't enough to redeem it. 

This is another one for which I've switched out the cover image. I think my copy must be a reprint as it was published in 1971 and my copy looks very 80s, with the heroine dressed in a feathered gown. In reality, she was a hat-and-gloves-with-suit type of gal, very conservative. The cover above doesn't entirely fit, either, but it does hint of the gothic feel, while the cover image on mine looks like it came straight out of a music video. 

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