Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Way We Weren't by Phoebe Fox

I don't think I've ever read a book quite like The Way We Weren't by Phoebe Fox. As a teenager, Marcie Malone found out she was pregnant just before graduation. Her boyfriend handled it well, suggesting that they should marry and deal with the pregnancy together. But, that meant giving up all of her plans. Marcie knew exactly where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do for a living and all that ended the moment she saw two pink lines.

Decades later, Marcie and Will are in their early 40s and have never had a child. The first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and they never managed to get pregnant, again, till now. But, the recent pregnancy wasn't as welcomed by her husband and ended in miscarriage, as well. On her way back to work after a few days off to recover from the miscarriage, Marcie inexplicably passes her exit and keeps driving, all the way from Atlanta to Florida. There, she is taken in by an elderly curmudgeon named Herman Flint who has his own issues to deal with. When Marcie ends up staying in Florida to consider her options, she slowly works her way into the heart of locals and eventually figures out why Flint is such an angry old man. 

As her stay in Florida keeps getting extended, she also meets a potter who is carefree, refuses to be boxed in by a traditional job, and encourages Marcie to return to her artistic roots. Will Marcie ever return to her career in hotel management and her husband? Or will temptation and frustration with a life gone in a totally different direction from her plans draw her away? Can Marcie help Flint resolve his own issues and start enjoying his life, again? 

There are some little side things happening that fill out this story. The turtles on the cover are relevant and there's a hurricane that hits the island where Marcie is staying. And, Marcie comes up with some creative ways to deal with a problem she encounters. 

Recommended - I found The Way We Weren't utterly engrossing. I couldn't wait to get back to it, each evening. My life went off the rails much like Marcie's, but for much different reasons. So, I could relate in some ways to her struggle. And, I think since it's not particularly graphic, women who've been through miscarriage and/or infertility will feel seen and understood when they read it, not doubly traumatized. So, I wouldn't say it needs a trigger warning. 

I did think the story took a slightly odd turn about 3/4 of the way into the book (and I had a few minor plot or detail quibbles — very minor) but I also felt like . . . OK, this was Marcie feeling her way, rocked by her recent loss and confused, trying to make a decision about who she was, who she wanted to be, where to take her life, next. So, while it seemed like there was a strange tack in the direction of the story, in the end it felt right because she needed that experience to help her figure out what's next. I loved this story and found it relatable and fresh. I'll be looking for more by Phoebe Fox!

My thanks to Berkley Books 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols

This will just be a quickie review because I don't like to say much about books that I didn't love. Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols is a book I bought after a friend begged me to read it (the author is a friend of her family) and then she chose it for our F2F book group's selection. I didn't go to the meeting and have only actually been once since before the pandemic but I read it so I could share my thoughts with her. 

Lost Love's Return is about an American soldier named Peter who is injured during WWI. He and a British nurse, Elizabeth, fall in love. But, when he's shipped out without time to tell her he has to leave or give her his address and he realizes he doesn't know how to get in touch with her at all — doesn't even actually know the name of the hospital where she works — they completely lose touch and he ends up in a loveless marriage back home, an ocean away from her. 

Decades pass before he's able to track her down with the help of his son. What will Peter find when he finally reunites with the love of his life?

Neither recommended or not recommended - OK, so my personal opinion is that Lost Love's Return brings nothing new to the table. There is no new insight about WWI and the love story is both predictable and one that's been done, before. Having said that, there was a point that I found myself enjoying the story and it has high ratings at Goodreads. So, I wouldn't tell anyone not to read it. There's a sweetness to the romantic storyline; it's just nothing new or special, in my humble opinion. Also, I was a little frustrated by the fact that all of the men who were main characters were tall, strong, blond, and handsome but most of the women were either unattractive or highly self-critical, except for Elizabeth. And, the men kept getting women pregnant. It was just a little trite in that way and felt like a total guy book, to me. I also thought there were a few problems with the British English but that's not necessarily something that will jump out at everyone. I opted not to rate the book at Goodreads but now that I've had time to let it marinate, I'd say it's . . . average? Not horrible, not great, just OK. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Reading glasses are not edible

But, they must be tested to make certain. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

For my American friends . . .

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

I bought What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver when a bunch of my fellow writing workshop participants gushed about Carver's short stories and how much they loved them, back in August. I've heard of Carver, of course, but I had not paid much attention to him because this was the first time I'd ever really encountered anyone who felt like Carver's a must-read. And, they all seemed to think he was a must-read. 

At any rate, I finally got around to reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and I have to tell you that it wasn't an immediate love story. At first, I was kind of perplexed. What was he trying to say? Why did his short stories leave so much to the imagination? Is this something I personally should strive for or is it just some rare skill that makes you want to talk to anyone you can find who's read the same stories? 

The further I got into the book, the more I began to love Raymond Carver. And, it's for exactly the same reasons that I was perplexed. He leaves so much to the reader's imagination that you get a bit of an enjoyable brain workout. For example, in the first story the contents of a man's house are outside on his lawn and driveway. The bedroom is set up as it was inside, with side tables and lamps in their proper places. The living room furniture is placed so that you can sit on the couch and look across to the TV. A young couple comes along and wonders aloud whether all these items are for sale. They could sure use some inexpensive furnishings to fill out their new home. Then, the owner comes outside, sits with them, and gives them his asking price for each item. The young woman has already planned to ask to pay less and he takes each of their offers with no argument. In fact, they sit around like they've known each other forever. And, that's it. That's the story.

So, you can see how much he leaves for the reader to think about. Why would someone empty the contents of his house and sell them cheaply? Has he lost his job? Is he about to lose his home? Has he gotten divorced and, knowing his ex is going to get the house and its contents, decided to sell everything cheaply for revenge? Is he dying, so no longer finds possessions important? So many questions and none of them are answered, of course, or you wouldn't have them in the first place. But, it's the missing information that makes Carver such an amazing read. That, and his minimalist writing style, which is punchy and clear and draws you in. 

Highly recommended - I'm going to be watching for more Carver when I give myself a break to buy books. I am utterly fascinated and besotted with his writing and the way it makes my mind churn. Someone at Goodreads put it much better, calling these "slice of life stories that go nowhere and end ambiguously." Jason Koivu is the name of that reviewer. Ah, he stated it perfectly and while he seems to agree that it makes no sense why such ambiguity is so compelling, you can't help but admire and enjoy them. Or, in Jason's words, "[. . . ] for some damn reason I loved them." Yeah, that. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House by Michael Poore

When I tossed Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House by Michael Poore into my online cart, this summer, I probably did so because of two words: "time travel". I am a sucker for all things time travel and I have developed a passion for middle grade books, in recent years, as well. Good decision. I adored this tale of two girls, a time-traveling rocking chair, some missing children, and the woman everyone knows as the witch who ate the missing kids. 

Amy's parents are scientists, so they know that the mining that's about to take place in their town will release dangerous chemicals. To try to prevent the mining from happening, they're camping out on a big red X, where the drilling is set to begin. 

Amy has a friend she calls "Moo" because her friend always wears a hoodie with a cow face and ears on the hood. Moo can't move without help and she can't speak. But, Amy hopes someday she'll be able to. In the meantime, she's happy to just visit Moo, read her poems, chatter at her, and take her across the road to watch the wild cows in the pasture. "Mooo," is the only thing Moo can say, another reason for the nickname Amy has given her. 

After Amy is hit by lightning on her way home from Moo's house, she develops the ability to see the spirit within people and trees and even rocks and water. She's also suddenly able to hear Moo's thoughts. When they go for a walk and get lost in the forest — the forest in which the child-eating witch is known to live — they find a crooked old house that's unoccupied. Amy and Moo can communicate nonverbally and they can also see time. So, they decide to travel through time by tying a bunch of old things to a rocking chair (the effect of the time each object has been around, added to each other object's time is cumulative — eh, just read the book for the explanation).

Back in the 1980s, they find out the true story of a missing boy named Oliver, the other two children who disappeared, and the witch. But, can they get back to their own time? And, what will happen with the huge machine called Duke and the big red X? Will Amy's parents get smushed by a giant digger? 

Highly recommended - I could not put Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House down and didn't get much sleep, last night. I imagine I'll return to it when I'm in the mood to for light-hearted time travel. As a child, I would have read it over and over and over again for the time travel, wit, magic, and sweetness. As an adult, I figure there's no sense kids should have all the fun. Of course, there's an environmental message but it's also a tale of family, kindness, and friendship. 

Funny thing . . . I did not recognize the author's name but I loved this book so much that I looked up the author when I closed the book. He's only written three books but — surprise! — it turns out I've read one of the two grown-up novels he's written and I was every bit as unable to put it down as I was this one. I love his wacky sense of humor and wild imagination and I hope the author will write more books for children. This book is special, in my humble opinion. 

Side note: I read the other book by Michael Poore, Reincarnation Blues, while on vacation in South Africa. And, even after getting up at 4AM to go "on safari" (if that's the right way to describe driving around a national park to see the wildlife), I couldn't put the damn book down at night. My memories of South Africa are inextricably tangled up with my memories of Reincarnation Blues because of that. And, that's not a bad thing, since I found the book so entertaining and the time change meant I couldn't sleep, anyway. I am definitely going to want to hunt down a copy of Michael Poore's third book. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley - Sent by friend
  • Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner - from St. Martin's Press via Austenprose
  • The Way We Weren't by Pheobe Fox - from Berkley for review
  • Dragon Legend (The Dragon Realm Series #2) by Katie & Kevin Tsang - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan - from HarperCollins for review

My childhood best friend surprised me with the copy of Scarlett and I can't wait to read it. I'll have to put it on my list of chunksters that I want to try to tackle in 2022. We've been having fun discussing books, lately. 

Bloomsbury Girls is by the author of The Jane Austen Society and the release date isn't till May of 2022 but I can sneak it in earlier if I want to, just because, right? The Way We Weren't has a weird story behind it. I had it scheduled for tour and then realized it hadn't arrived so I contacted the publicist to tell her it wasn't here and I couldn't possibly make the tour date. She replied that they weren't sending out paper ARCs. And, then it showed up in the mail so maybe I asked specifically for a paper copy and it wasn't noted? I know some publishers are doing mostly e-galleys, now, and will maybe or maybe not consider sending you a paper copy if they feel like it (or have one at all). At any rate, I did well and truly miss the tour date but I'm hoping to start it next. We'll see if it takes. 

Dragon Legend by Katie and Kevin Tsang is the second in a middle grade series. I absolutely loved the first book, Dragon Mountain, and I'm so excited to read on! And, The Christmas Bookshop is my one and only Christmas book, apart from a set of Christmas short stories that I've been eyeing (on my own shelves). I love Jenny Colgan's writing and, wow, I'm saying this about everything but I'm really excited about all of these arrivals. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy
  • Spy Ski School (Spy School #4) by Stuart Gibbs
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (short stories) by Raymond Carver 
  • Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday
  • Red is My Heart by Antoine Laurain and Le Sonneur 
  • Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House by Michael Moore

This has been a great month, so far. It took me 8 days to finish one of the books I read (not sure which one; I just remember the 8 days) but since then things have gone well. And, whatever that book was, it was good; I must have had trouble finding time to read because they've all been great. 

Currently reading:

I'm between books but the two at the top of my list are The Way We Weren't and Dragon Legend (Dragon Realm #2). However, I started Dragon Legend and couldn't remember some key details from the first book, Dragon Mountain (although I remember the general storyline and how the book ended) so I'm going to reread Dragon Mountain, first, to refresh my memory. Since I gave the first in the series 5 stars, this will not be a hardship. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news: 

I watched a couple movies and I was sure it was going to be a Buried in TV week because the spouse was traveling, but nope. I've even been forgetting to watch Chicago Fire. I think I've managed two episodes, this season. 

Open by Christmas is about a successful woman who was her class valedictorian. During her graduation speech, she broke out in song and was traumatized by the laughter of her fellow grads. Now, years later, she has found a sweet note tucked into one of her textbooks from her senior year. Who wrote a romantic note to her but didn't sign it, all those years ago? She's determined to figure it out while she's home for the holidays. 

I liked this one but it would not go onto my favorites list. It was cute, though, and I'm always so there for the happily ever after kiss. Oddly, it was Huzzybuns who turned this one on. 

Next up on the channel was My Christmas Family Tree but Huz can only take one Hallmark movie per night (possibly, per week) so he turned to hockey or football and I drifted away, then watched My Family Christmas Tree when he left town. 

Vanessa Hall has had her DNA checked and is surprised to find that she has a paternal match. She never knew who her father was and her mother died when she was 9 years old, so all she's ever had as family since then was a nice old couple who fostered her. Encouraged by her best friend, Vanessa calls her birth father and meets up with him. He invites her to join his family for the holidays. 

This is totally my favorite kind of story, the trope in which someone gets a new family, whether by connecting up with a birth parent or simply meeting a group of people with whom she creates a makeshift family unit. And, I knew it was going to be sweet and that I was going to love it so much I started crying during the set-up and pretty much snuffled all the way through it. I loved it; it was perfect. And, I noticed that Norwegians were tweeting about their appreciation for the references to Norwegian food and tradition, the night it premiered (when Huz was watching whatever sport . . . I think, actually, it was our mutual alma mater playing football). This is definitely one I'll watch again, during future Christmas seasons. 

I attempted to watch a third Hallmark movie but it was terrible, just a bad, bad script. And, then I got sucked into housework and art and reading and spent way too much time on social media (so I'm challenging myself to avoid it, this week). And, on the weekend, we spent a few hours each day kitty sitting this little guy, who is about 3 months old and the most lovable, smoochy, head-butting purr machine I've ever encountered:

He's the kitten of a friend of my son and daughter-in-law, so only staying with them temporarily. Boy, was he fun to play and snuggle with! Their two grown cats hid from us but this little guy, Binx, is a people kitty. 

As to this week . . . Thanksgiving is a bummer for us. We only have our son and daughter-in-law nearby. The rest of the family is far flung so it's usually just the two or four of us. I loved the big family gatherings of my childhood and will never stop missing them. If you're an American, I hope you're surrounded by loving family, 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Fiona Friday - Perky

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday

In Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday, Daniela Martinez is an New York professor who studies 19th century literature, teaches, and is hoping to get tenure, soon. She's recently been stung by her husband's infidelity and decided she is "Post-Men". She has no interest in a relationship, has written a list of things she'll never do for a man again, and just wants her husband Vince to sign the divorce papers. Then she and her little dog, Max, can move on. 

Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the duchy of Aquilla is not actually a duke, not yet. He's a baron who has been dubbed the "Depraved Duke" and he honestly doesn't want to be a duke at all. But, he's at loose ends since his fiancée decided to marry someone else. As Duke, Actually opens, he's in New York to meet someone his parents want him to marry.

Max (the baron, not the dog) and Daniela have mutual friends who are going to get married and Daniela already met Max when she went to Eldovia to visit her best friend Leo, who is marrying Princess Marie, Max's former fiancée. She knows the baron's reputation but he's not really in the mood for a socialite's party and and would like to see Dani. And, Dani could use a bit of handsome arm candy at the faculty Christmas party, if only to show Vince she's not pining away for him.

The baron is happy to accompany her and stick to her terms. He likes Dani. She's got no interest in his money or title, unlike most people. After the faculty party, they start a long-distance friendship (by text and phone), make resolutions and help each other figure out how to fulfill them, and then slowly, slowly find that they're becoming best friends. But, when their friendship turns into the kind of attraction that neither was hoping for, what will happen?

Highly recommended - Duke, Actually is a little longer than most of the romance novels I think I've read but I loved that because I enjoyed the witty banter between Dani and Max and kind of wanted to stay in their world for as long as possible. Plus, I think the slow development of their friendship and even slower realization that they were becoming physically attracted to each other after about a year of platonic friendship felt more realistic to me than most romance novels. There's a lot of sex talk and some scenes I found uncomfortably graphic, but as I've said before . . . I prefer a book that tippy-toes around the bedroom scenes, so that's a personal thing. In general, I think romance lovers will enjoy this sweet, modern fairytale of a growing love between an ordinary gal and a peer of the Eldovian realm.

My thanks to Avon for the review copy! Duke, Actually was just released this week so you can find it online or in bookstores near you. 

Note: I avoid reading other reviews and don't read teaser chapters (there's one at the end of the book) so I didn't realize till after I read Duke, Actually that it's the second in a series. It obviously stands alone perfectly well. But, now I really want to go back and read about how Leo ended up with Princess Marie! 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Walrus Song by Janet Lawler and Timothy Basil Ering

Where is Walrus? 
On a floe. 
Hop flops. He plops. 
Where did he go?

Walrus Song by Janet Lawler and Timothy Basil Ering (illustrator) is a gorgeous children's rhyming picture book about walruses that I'm absolutely in love with. 

Some of the things children will learn about in Walrus Song:

  • Herding/socializing behavior
  • How big a walrus is and about the fat layer that keeps them warm and stores energy
  • What walruses eat and how they hunt for food
  • How they play with birds(!)
  • The growth of tusks and how they're used to lift a walrus from the water and chip ice to make space to dive
  • How they use their flippers to walk and fight
  • The sounds they make
  • Mothers and babies: how often walruses give birth and how long they stay with mother
  • The danger of global warming to walruses

All of this is told in simple, rhyming text. But, there's also an explainer section at the end of the book that goes into greater detail about what various lines mean. For example, the line saying Walrus is "on a floe" describes the meaning of the word floe (an ice sheet). And, a line describing the way a walrus swims, "Twirling, whirling, flippers swirling," is further described in the explainer section in this way:

"A walrus swims by wiggling its whole body and stroking with its back flippers. It steers with its front flippers."

I took an interior shot to show you just how gorgeous the illustrations are (you should be able to click on the image to enlarge):

Highly recommended - I've read and reviewed a lot of children's books and I'm sure some of the animal books I've read (along with a single book I remember from my childhood) have had walruses in them along with other animals. But, Walrus Song is the first book I've read that's totally dedicated to walruses. I enjoyed learning about them and I think little ones will appreciate the gentle rhythmic text while they're still small enough to sit on laps, then will enjoy learning more about walruses as they grow. Walruses need love, too! Walrus Song would also be a great book for libraries and classrooms, since it has some nice added details in addition to the lovely story showing a walrus throughout its day. 

My thanks to Candlewick Press 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 15, 2021

How to Astronaut by Terry Virts

How to Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know Before Leaving Earth by Terry Virts is exactly what the author describes in the subtitle. He talks about everything involved in becoming an astronaut, both now and when he was in training. Virts worked both on the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). The space shuttle program ended some time ago, so that gives you a vague idea of the timing. 

Terry Virts began his career as a fighter pilot and then later moved on to the astronaut training program. So, he knew his physics and knew how to fly, had lived with intense pressure to perform with accuracy and lived with a certain amount of risk. But, danger as a fighter pilot and its intensity level of training paled by comparison to the training to become an astronaut. 

In How to Astronaut, Virts walks readers through the process of becoming an astronaut, from learning to speak Russian (now an absolute requirement because Americans and Russians work together and the ISS missions take off from Russia) to learning to handle weightlessness, to practicing space walks. He also talks about such everyday things as the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the experiments they perform, how they exercise and why a certain amount of daily exercise is crucial to an astronaut's health, how to use the bathroom in space, how they keep clean, and (yuck) how they clean the toilet. He describes disasters that have taken place and what happens when one does (for example, the loss of a supply ship that blew up and how it impacts astronauts on the ISS). There are a lot of interesting details that I found utterly fascinating. 

Updated 11/16/21

After yesterday's news about the Russian anti-satellite missile test and the resulting scramble to safety by the ISS crew members, it occurred to me that I needed to update my review of How to Astronaut because space debris and its dangers are discussed in the book. In fact, I think I can safely say I would have been concerned about Russian aggression but otherwise probably not blinked at the news if I hadn't read this book. But, space debris is a significant danger both to the International Space Station and future hopes for space travel. Terry Virts goes into some detail about how different countries have handled such tests, the preferred method being to only do them at such a height that the resulting debris will reenter the atmosphere and burn up harmlessly. Otherwise, it remains in orbit around the Earth perpetually and because of that, the ISS has to make maneuvers several times a year to avoid debris, which could not only damage the space station but kill everyone in it. 

I also neglected to mention how Virts goes into the realities of long-term space travel (radiation danger, in particular) and why travel to Mars is plausible but what would be involved in such a mission, including the supplies necessary, the need to find a way to protect astronauts from space radiation, how such a ship would need to be assembled, and the best way to fuel a long journey. On that same note, he goes into what it would take to do space travel along the lines of what we've seen in science fiction TV and movies and why it's unlikely we'll ever encounter other living beings outside of Earth — because of the sheer length of time it would take to get to the closest potentially habitable planet. Fascinating stuff. 

And, one last thing . . . Space Force. I was dubious about the concept of the Space Force, thinking it some weird thing that the last president came up with to look cool, until someone I know explained to me that the job of the Space Force is protecting our satellites and was formerly the mission of the US Air Force but merely separated into its own unit to focus on that particular mission. Yesterday's anti-satellite missile test shows why it's necessary. Having said that, I still think it is badly named and has been poorly described to the public and that's probably the main reason so many people have scrunched their faces up and wondered aloud at why it even exists. There was not yet a Space Force, at least in the early part of How to Astronaut, but the author hinted at the fact that it might be coming. I can't say whether or not the references to a potential space force have been updated because I don't have a final copy of How to Astronaut but I did find it of interest that he knew it might be coming. 

Highly recommended - Especially recommended for fans of all things outer space/NASA and nonfiction lovers. My husband has recently met a former astronaut so I had a lot of fun telling him what I'd learned about the process of becoming and being an astronaut and he's planning to read the book soon. My only problem with the book was that occasionally I got lost in the science and felt like I was drowning in acronyms. There are far too many acronyms!!! But, that just goes with the territory if you're an astronaut, apparently. 

The most interesting anecdote, in my opinion, was one about learning to deal with zero gravity. Back in his early training days, there was still a plane that went up and arced down in a parabola to cause a few minutes of weightlessness. You may have seen Howard Wolowitz, the astronaut character from The Big Bang Theory inside the padded plane when he was doing his training. That's exactly what Virts describes; however, this type of training is no longer done in the US and the reason why is what's most interesting to me. Virts says the US had been doing this for decades and it was affordable. But, then someone decided to privatize the zero gravity training and it became, in the process, dramatically more expensive. Instead of bringing back the old program, now canned, they eliminated it completely. So, if you want to get zero gravity training in the old plane-dropping-precipitously way, you have to go to another country. 

Having said that's my favorite anecdote (it's partly because I'm of the opinion that privatizing government work is generally, although not always, a bad thing — and I have a business degree so that's the kind of thing that really piques my interest), there are a lot of entertaining and fascinating stories in How to Astronaut and I'm glad I read this book. Terry Virts keeps it light-hearted and has a great sense of humor. 

I received an ARC from Workman Publishing in 2020 and it kept moving from one TBR pile to another till I finally decided its time had come. My thanks to Workman for the ARC! How to Astronaut was published in September of 2020, so it's readily available for purchase. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy

In Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy, we meet Augusta "Gussie" Travers. Gussie is an adventuress, writer, and photographer using Kodak's newfangled portable camera. It's 1897 and her family is the social climbing variety, her father a banker who has managed to marry off one of his daughters into New York's high society; a second daughter will marry soon. Gussie's readers know her only as "Miss Adventuress" and the family worries about damage to their reputations if her traveling is exposed. 

As the book opens, Gussie is in Deadwood, South Dakota with a paid companion but she knows she will need to return home, soon. She just has one last place to photograph. After things get a little complicated and Gussie arrives home barely in time for an important event, everything goes downhill and the family decides Gussie must go stay with her aunt in Chicago till the fervor dies down. They hope everyone's memories will be short. But, Gussie is not interested in being stuck with a stodgy aunt in a town everyone's familiar with. She wants to go somewhere exotic. 

With a guarantee that her adventures will continue to be published, Gussie sneaks away to India. There, her childhood friends Gabriel (aka "Specs") and Catherine live. Specs is a doctor and his sister Catherine has been recently widowed. They're happy to see Gussie but there's one small problem: there's an ongoing outbreak of bubonic plague in the area. And, then, a second problem arrives when Gussie realizes she is in love with Specs. 

Will Gussie and her friends be able to stay safe from the plague? When Gussie also finds herself falling in love with India, will she be able to convince herself that it's possible to both settle down and still have an adventurous life? Or, will everything be halted by the arrival of her Uncle James, who has been tasked with chasing her down and bringing her back to Chicago?

Recommended - While I thought Every Word Unsaid was a bit overlong (it could have been trimmed by at least 50 pages, in my humble opinion), I liked Gussie from the first page. She's headstrong in a good way, a very likable character, and I liked the secondary characters, as well. I also found the author's vivid descriptions of India enchanting; she made me want to jump on a plane. It was clear the author has spent some time in India; she didn't just look it up on the Internet. One note: the conflict in the book is mostly internal. Gussie has been told she's not good enough since her family started climbing the social ladder and she rejected their wishes to be a compliant daughter in search of a wealthy husband. Her experiences in India force her to confront herself and her dreams and question whether it's time for a major change. But, it's also a nice, clean novel of romance and friendship and an examination of social constructs and how they impact individuals, particularly women. 

Bethany House is a Christian publisher, so there is some mention of God and Jesus. I didn't find it preachy, although there is an uptick in talk of Christianity and God's will for various characters that some might consider a little heavy-handed in the last 100 pages. I'm a Christian, so talk of faith and God's will, etc., doesn't bother me, although I did find it interesting that there were only a few vague references to God till that last quarter of the book. If that kind of thing bugs you, I think it's worth overlooking; the writing really swept me away and judging from the author's note, she did her research. I really loved the learning experience; I spent a lot of time looking up various sites, types of carriages, etc., on my phone, and there's more I want to look up that I put off while reading. I love that!

My thanks to Bethany House and Laurel Ann of Austenprose 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

The London House by Katherine Reay

In the prologue to The London House by Katherine Reay, it's the 1940s in Occupied France. A woman named Caro has gone to the House of Schiaparelli to give her Jewish friend money and encourage her to escape the country before it's too late. But, then a dangerous traitor shows up and grabs Caro. He's going to turn her over to the French police, the Milice, who are known to be even more brutal than the Germans. 

In present-day Boston, Caroline Payne (great niece of Caro in the prologue) is working when she gets a call from an old college friend, Mat. Now a college instructor working toward tenure, he has developed a side business that he hopes will get him onto tenure track, researching family histories and writing about how history sends ripples through families. He's in Caroline's building and wants to talk to her because her family came up while he was researching a German family whose Nazi ancestor was connected to the disappearance of Great Aunt Caro, whom Caroline is named after and has always been told died at the age of 7 from polio. 

Mat has a different story to tell and the documentation to prove it, a letter by a British dignitary who informed her great-grandparents that Caro ran off with her Nazi lover. Mat has already approached her father to tell him that the story will include her family but it's not meant to be incriminating; it's about how the pain of the past reverberates through the generations and how people move on with their lives after tragedy. Caroline's father has threatened him with a lawsuit. 

Caroline has a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the idea that her great aunt lived to adulthood. But, once she does, she decides to visit the family's ancestral home in London's Belgravia, where there are letters and diaries that can give her clues. She only has a limited amount of time to get the research done before Mat's article is submitted and she's also on a tight schedule to return to her job. 

Did Caroline's great aunt, her grandmother's twin sister, betray the family and her country? Or, is there more to Caro's story? Will Caroline be able to untangle the clues from the past that will lead her toward the truth?

Highly recommended - I loved The London House. The story is a very believable one because some things about WWII simply could not be known till recently and it makes sense that one may have had to know where to find clues — and couldn't necessarily find answers in any official sense. I loved the way Caroline slowly uncovered her great aunt's story, the Nazi lover's (in the process), and in so doing changed the direction of both her friend's article and her family's understanding of their history. Also, there is a touch of romance and it unfolded slowly and believably. 

My only problem with this book is an issue a lot of Americans probably won't have. The writing and dialogue by British characters doesn't contain any particular use of Britishisms and lacks a British cadence. So, everyone sounded American to me. I think that's an extremely minor issue because the story swept me up so thoroughly that I didn't really give the dialogue much thought. However, it did eventually jump out at me. I still highly recommend The London House, even if you've been to the UK a bazillion times. It's a good story and I found it nearly impossible to put down. 

My thanks to Harper Muse, Katherine Reay, and Laurel Ann of Austenprose for the review copy!

Interesting side note:

Goodreads has some additional description that I found interesting (I opted not to read the publisher's description but saw this when I went to rate the book):

A stand-alone split-time novel
Partially epistolary: the historical storyline is told through letters and journals

"Stand-alone split-time" is a new descriptor for me. I usually call the split-time books a "contemporary historical mix". Also, the fact that much of the book is told through letters and diary entries is crucial, so I'm glad I glimpsed that for the reminder. Now you know. If you're an epistolary fan, you'll undoubtedly enjoy the way this story is told. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (above, left to right):

  • Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy - from Bethany House for tour
  • Duke Actually by Jenny Holiday - from Avon for review
  • Red is My Heart by Antoine Laurain + Le Sonneur - from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc. (unsolicited and much appreciated)
  • Jane and the Year Without A Summer by Stephanie Barron - from SOHO Crime for tour

I may have squealed a bit when Red is My Heart showed up because I've read two Antoine Laurain books and loved them both. OK, yes, I did squeal just a little. Jane and the Year Without a Summer came with swag!!! I almost never get swag. Actually, I almost never get books, anymore (by comparison with a few years ago; my choice, I'm not complaining) so opening a box with more than just a book was especially fun. 

Swag shot (click on image to enlarge):

Contents - Jane and the Year Without a Summer book and tote bag, Jane Austen cookie cutter, tea and tea strainer with a cute little Jane Austen charm on the chain, and Jane Austen 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Cool, or what?

And, there's more (below):

My 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar arrived! Also, Projections (which I totally forgot I ordered) is a boxed set of sci-fi stories that I'll probably save for the New Year to keep that short story fun going a little longer. Last year, breaking open the seal on my daily short story was the highlight of Christmas season. It was just so much fun! Also, I have to put in a word for Hingston & Olsen Publishing. I had a question and the prompt and courteous response was a joy. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Throwback #2: The Chaos Loop by Peter Lerangis
  • Unaccustomed Earth (short stories) by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Throwback #3: Out of Time by Peter Lerangis
  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts
  • The London House by Katherine Reay

Currently reading:

  • Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy
  • Spy Ski School (Spy School #4) by Stuart Gibbs


Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

OK, this is surprising. I've been watching movies. Maybe not on the level most people do, but there were a few days that I felt like movie-watching so there you go.

The first movie was a family event. I've never seen the Dune movie that everyone says was such a flop (in the 70s?) and I haven't yet read the book, but I've wanted to read it for as long as I can remember and it's probably going to be one of the books I challenge myself to read in 2022. So, naturally I wanted to see the new movie. Husband tolerated it but spent a lot of time playing on his phone. 

My thoughts: I loved the beauty and expansiveness of the film but I kept thinking of the line from Stripes: "Lighten up, Francis." Some of those characters could have used a little sense of humor. But, maybe the book is equally serious. I also felt like there were clearly some subtleties of characterization that were missing and since then, I've read a lot of Dune readers' thoughts about how much of the story is told internally and why that must be so hard to portray on screen. That's one reason I feel like I really want to read the book even more than before. I want to understand the things that felt skimmed across and read the details that were clearly missing. And, then I'll watch the movie, again (if I can -- hope it continues to stream for a while). 

Hubby was away on business, last week. So, I took advantage of his absence to watch San Andreas. Disaster movies are not his thing. He would never watch this with me. It was good therapy. For one thing, it was so over-the-top that it was a bit laughable. For another, the young romance was sweet. I didn't care so much about the storyline about The Rock and his ex, although I did get a bit of satisfaction from watching Ioan Gruffudd's character get smushed by a cargo container. If you've been following the news about his upcoming divorce and the new, younger woman in his life (such a cliché), you know why. 

Most of the rest of the movies I watched were not complete. I just tuned in to The Hallmark Channel and watched whatever happened to be playing, which is always relaxing. I will always probably shout at the TV when a Hallmark movie is on. "Dead parents!" and "Ooooh, someone's got to decorate for the gala/festival! Surprise!" Also, there's always, "Snowball fight!" and "Kiss her! Just kiss her and then the credits can roll!" It's a little Rocky Horror, the way I get revved up watching The Hallmark Channel. But, at the same time, I feel soothed by sappy romance.

I did manage to watch one Hallmark movie in its entirety, Next Stop, Christmas. Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd in a time travel movie! Oh, go ahead and try to stop me. There was no way I was missing that one. I even thwarted the spouse's efforts to watch his alma mater (football, yuck, not my thing), although those games go on forever and it was still on when the movie ended. I loved this cute time travel story and found it very satisfying the way the main character changed her current life by going back in time. Also, I'm all for anything with an old-fashioned train in it. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Fiona Friday - Everything is a toy

I got some swag (more on that in next week's Monday Malarkey) and it was no surprise that the tea infuser quickly became a toy after I set it on the floor to do a flatlay photograph. It's a terrible photo but it was such a cute moment. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Throwback #2 and #3 - The Chaos Loop and Out of Time by Peter Lerangis

These two reviews describe the second and third in the Throwback middle-grade trilogy by Peter Lerangis. I've reviewed the first book, here:

Throwback by Peter Lerangis

In Throwback #2: The Chaos Loop, Corey finds out he had a great uncle who died just before the end of WWII and that his maternal grandmother and grandfather met after her escape from Europe to South America. Corey's best friend Leila's family was also affected by the Holocaust. When Corey decides to try to help facilitate the failed attempt on Hitler's life (a bombing attempt that failed because of timing), Leila agrees to go with him. 

Reminder: Corey is a "Throwback", a rare time traveler who can cause changes in history. Leila can time travel and so can Corey's grandfather, but neither of them are Throwbacks. In The Chaos Loop, Corey's grandfather can no longer time travel because it can change your DNA if you travel too much and he was starting to sense changes in his body. 

Corey ends up going back to three separate time periods. He sees Hitler during his days as a struggling artist and homeless man in Austria, as the Fuhrer well into WWII, and, right before the war ends, Corey meets his great uncle. Will Corey be able to change time and save millions of lives? Will he be able to continue traveling through time without it turning him into some kind of strange creature? 

Highly recommended - I thought the first Throwback book was only so-so, although I enjoyed the adventurousness of it. But, The Chaos Loop was full of action-packed tension and I finished it within a couple days. In each of the books, I learned something new about history but I especially enjoyed learning about the bombing attempt on Hitler's life. I knew it happened but have never read any of the details, before. 

Warning: There are spoilers for The Chaos Loop in the third book's description, so skip down to the recommendation line on the third book's review if you want to avoid knowing what happens in The Chaos Loop but want to read my general thoughts about Throwback #3: Out of Time

Second warning!!! - Skip down to the recommendation line and don't read the review of Throwback #3: Out of Time if you don't want any spoilers for The Chaos Loop!

In Throwback #3: Out of Time, the worst possible thing has happened. Corey has suddenly turned into a wolf-like creature and his actions during previous time travel have messed things up in the present. Now, his grandmother never met his grandfather, his mother doesn't exist but his dad has a son by the woman he married instead, and his paternal grandfather is married to someone else. Corey shouldn't even exist! But, he does, as a mangy animal who can talk, and Leila oddly remembers him. Normally, when someone changes time, the people who exist in the new timeline are unaware that things were ever different. But, Leila is somehow able to always remember the other threads of time. 

Corey and Leila go looking for help from his grandfather and he doesn't remember a Corey at all, just a grandson named Gregory. But, he has some ideas and another time traveler has offered her help. After they figure out the only way that it's even remotely possible to change Corey back is to restore the timeline, Corey and Leila go back to WWII and also to the 19th century to talk to Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed Central Park. 

Will Corey and Leila be able to figure out how to restore time? Or is Corey stuck in the body of an ailing wolf-like animal for the rest of his life . . . which might not be long. 

Highly recommended - Wow, what a wild ride. Out of Time is a rollercoaster that kept me on the edge of my seat. I read it in a single evening, which is very unusual for me. I just couldn't bear to put it down. I had to find out what was going to happen! And, I have to say, it was one of the best finales of any trilogy I've ever read, satisfying yet surprising in some ways. I loved it and would recommend this whole series to any adventure-loving child or grown-up. 

Worth mentioning: The first book, which I didn't like as much, did get lower ratings. So, my opinion is a common one. But, I bought the entire trilogy based on the ratings of the latter two and the fact that time travel is totally my jam. I'm so glad I trusted my instincts on this purchase. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

The whole time I was reading this collection of short stories, I was wondering what took me so long to get to it. I've had an ARC (which came from a free cart at the library, not the publisher) since 2008 and have set it on my bedside TBR pile numerous times, but it always has ended up getting reshelved and saved for another day. I'm glad I finally read it as it is 5-star brilliant. I can still see the characters in my head and it's the kind of book in which the stories are so thorough that you need to let them sit and roll around in your head before moving on to the next. That's my favorite kind of story. I like stories that make me think, make me even wonder where the characters are, now, or what happened after. 

Some features of the stories in Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri:

  • Main characters  who have Indian parents who have emigrated to the US.
  • MCs who have traveled regularly to visit grandparents in some part of India.
  • Challenges of standing out and how that discomfort feeds into the large communities of Indian immigrants (the way they stick together as a community) in the US and possibly the reason some return to India.
  • Mixed marriages (usually Indian/American and a Caucasian) and the things individuals in these marriages can't understand about each other. 
  • The pressure of parental expectations — specifically Indian parents, who tend to have driven children in fields like law, medicine, and engineering and expect their children to do the same or the pressure of keeping to tradition. 
  • Fathers who are distant and mothers who spend their time cooking elaborate Indian meals.
  • Frequently, the loss of a parent. 
  • Characters who stopped over in London before moving on to the US or end up there or another country, where they feel comfort in being absorbed by the multinational crowd. 

There are two sections of the book and the second part is told in 3 interconnected stories, each from a different point of view. The first is that of a boy whose family lived in the US, moved back to India, and has returned. Then, the viewpoint of a girl who had a crush on that boy, didn't forget him when he left, and is baffled when his family moves in with hers temporarily when they return to the US. The final story tells about how they meet in Italy when she is 37 and he's 40. 

Trigger warning for woman dying of cancer: The final section spends a little too much time on the mother with cancer. For some of us, this hits a little too close for comfort. I will not read this book again, partly because of that. 

Highly recommended - I can see why Lahiri is an award-winning author and I look forward to The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies, both of which I have on my shelves. In spite of my warning about that last section, the stories are phenomenal, the characters well-rounded, their conversations and thoughts and concerns believable. I didn't think the stories always had strong endings, but I thought they were otherwise excellent. 

Having highly recommended the book, I will also add that I gave it a 4/5 at Goodreads for bumming me out, particularly in that final section. I like a bit more light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. But, the writing style, the depth of detail in particular, is 5-star and that point off is merely about how the book made me feel. Rating books is always subjective, of course. The bottom line, though, is that Unaccustomed Earth is worth reading and a very impressive collection. 

Note: I thought this was my first by Lahiri but then I looked up her work because I couldn't remember the latter of the two titles still on my shelf and I was reminded that I read The Lowland by Lahiri in 2013. Link leads to my mini review, which notably says this:

I did, however, feel like The Lowland was written in what I'd call the Bummery Things Happen mode of literature. 

So, the feeling of being bummed by her writing persists. And, yet, it's so good that I will definitely read the other two books I own. Also, here's a cat with Unaccustomed Earth because I'm here to give you all the cat content. 

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.