Thursday, March 31, 2022

Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck

Violette is young, energetic, athletic, and smart. She is also half-British, half-French and staying with her aunt in France as the country is invaded during WWII. Quickly hustled away with her younger brother, she vows to return to France but her life is complicated. When she finally gets the chance to return with the Special Operations Executive, parachuting into France to help out with the Resistance, she is thrilled but knows that it means her child may grow up without a mother. 

Virginia is an American married to a Frenchman and living in France. When the country is invaded and then occupied, she could easily escape to Florida and sit out the war. But, she won't even entertain the idea. Philippe is everything to her. When Virginia and Philippe realize they can help with the Resistance by working to house soldiers who have been shot down or escaped from Germans, they are happy to have the chance to do their part.

Although they have very different lives, the two women cross paths when they're caught and imprisoned. But, will their fates be the same? 

If you hang around here much, you might recall that I took a writing workshop in August of last year and Erika Robuck was one of the guest speakers. She talked a little about Sisters of Night and Fog, at the time, although I don't think it had an official title, yet. The Invisible Woman (link leads to my review) was either about to be released or just had been and she talked about how she discovered the stories of Violette and Virginia during her research about Virginia Hall for The Invisible Woman

Although much of Sisters of Night and Fog has been fictionalized to fill in the gaps, their general storyline is based on the true stories of these remarkable women who risked their lives to fight the Nazis. 

I had trouble getting into the story, initially, but it was my problem, not an issue with the book. I wasn't in the mood to have my heart broken and a little piece of your heart is always shattered when you read about WWII. There was so much cruelty. But, there was a great deal of heroism, as well. and Sisters of Night and Fog is absolutely a story of women willing to lay down their lives in the service of others. 

Highly recommended - I can't say much more without giving away plot points and details that are best revealed slowly but while Sisters of Night and Fog is definitely heartbreaking, it is also uplifting and awe-inspiring to read about the courage of these two women and the people they worked with. I recommend reading it during a time when you're feeling like you can handle intrigue, tension, danger, and sadness. I was fighting depression hard this entire month (improving, now) so I kept picking the book up and setting it aside to read lighter fare but when I finally felt up to it, it was difficult to put down. 

I have a feeling Violette and Virginia will stick with me for a long time and I'd like to read more about them. Obviously meticulously researched and another beautifully written book by Erika Robuck, if a tiny bit overlong. Be aware that the book tells their stories from the beginning of the war to the end and their work was later in the war, so much of Sisters of Night and Fog feels like backstory if you're expecting to jump right into the action, as I was. Initially, I thought the book started too far back in time but I trusted the author's timing and it turned out that you really do need to understand where they came from.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!

©2022 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, March 28, 2022

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Artful Memories by Jane Chipp and Jack Ravi
  • The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
  • Round the Bend by Nevil Shute

All three of these were purchased and now I'm back on my book-buying ban, pinkie swear. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Birds by Miranda Krestovnikoff and Angela Harding
  • The Eighteen-Carat Kid and Other Stories by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Fault Lines by Emily Itami
  • The Maid by Nita Prose
  • Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley

Currently reading:

  • Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck

I suspect the reason I've been picking this book up and putting it aside for weeks is because I feel like it started too far back in time, although it might just have been my mood. We're getting a ton of backstory about two women who apparently end up in concentration camps. There's the war timeline in WWII and a second timeline in 1995 in which two women are returning to the concentration camp. I'm about 1/3 of the way into the book and while there have been some exciting/tense scenes, I keep thinking, "When are we going to get to whatever they did to lead to their imprisonment? Where's the meat of the story?"

Having said all that, Erika Robuck's writing is stellar. I'm presuming the backstory for both women will all become relevant, at some point and after a couple weeks of it not being the right read for the moment, I'm finally really getting into it. 

The other books in which there are bookmarks have not been touched, this past 2 weeks, and some for much longer, so I'm thinking about clearing my Goodreads "Currently Reading" shelf and putting those other books back in the Currently Reading file when I get back to them, rather than having them linger and glare at me. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

Clearly, I still am not in the mood to review. Because Sisters of Night and Fog is a book I received from the publisher, I will review it when I finish it but I will likely just do a round-up post with the rest of the titles I've read in March. 

In other news:

I finished watching Being Erica and absolutely loved the way it was wrapped up (there are 4 seasons). If you're unfamiliar with it, Being Erica is a Canadian series about a 30-something gal whose life is a mess. She goes into therapy and her therapist has the ability to send her back in time to relive her regrets. So much fun.

I'm still watching Chicago Fire. I'm close to the end of Season 3. I don't know if there are still quite so many episodes per season but I'm on episode 21 of Season 3. Wow, that's a lot of episodes. I think the current season is something like the 14th, so I have a long way to go. 

We also watched Weekend at Bernie's, this weekend, after the whole Clarence Thomas thing ("Is he really alive or are they going to do a Weekend at Bernie's to keep the judicial slot?") and subsequent memes reminded us of what a fun movie it is. 

And, that's it. I confess to otherwise spending a bit too much time doomscrolling the news about Ukraine. They're using white phosphorous, now? OMG. I wish I could understand why we can't do more to help (you know, apart from trying to prevent WWIII or a nuclear attack). I just read President Biden's Warsaw speech, a few hours ago, and was mightily impressed but I felt like, "OK, now do the unity thing back home." By all accounts I've read (I read many news sites, not only American), Biden has been the unifying force the world needs, at this moment. Nice to know. 

©2022 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, March 25, 2022

Fiona Friday

These are the only photos I've taken of the kitties, lately. I spend so much of my time watching Isabel (top) to see if she's still twitching (she is, unfortunately) that I forget to pick up my camera. She is energetic and lovable and eating well, but I'm worried out of my mind. Fiona is happy as ever. She still doesn't like being pilled and will clamp her teeth together but other than that she's incredibly easy to pill. Once I pry her jaws apart, I just pop the pill at the back of her mouth. I don't even have to pick her up or chase her down. I just walk right up to her, open her mouth, pop the pill in, and hand her her treats. If you're going to have to pill a cat for life, this is the kind of cat you want to end up pilling. 

Hope all are well. 

©2022 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, March 18, 2022

Fiona Friday

©2022 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, March 17, 2022

Everything I read in February (in brief)


19. Knight's Castle by Edward Eager - A classic English children's book about a boy who is transported through time when he makes a wish while holding a beat-up old toy soldier that has been passed down through generations of his family. He travels back several times with cousins and sibling but his wish can't come true unless he proves himself. Very fun and a bit goofy.
20. Letters of Note: War by Shaun Usher - A collection of letters written either about or during times of war. Some are funny or fascinating or horrifying. One moved me to tears. 
21. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman - This seems to be my year for reading banned books. I bought The Complete Maus after hearing a Tennessee school board had removed it from their curriculum for spurious reasons. An important book that brings up lots of discussion-worthy topics, not just the Holocaust (although that's what it's mainly about and the graphic novel presentation is an excellent way to show its horrors) but also suicide and difficult relationships between parent and child.
22. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman - A collection by the poet who became famous for her poem at President Biden's inauguration (included in the book). I felt like she was at her best when describing the frustration and pain of being Black. But, in general, I struggled with this particular collection and felt like it would have been better on audio. Even the inauguration poem, which I loved when she read it, left me flat. So, clearly I needed to hear it read. 
23. Store of the Worlds by Robert Sheckley - A collection of short stories that are satirical, humorous, off-beat, absurdist . . . and mostly sci-fi. This is a 5-start collection that I'm certain I will return to. 
24. The Arrow Book of Funny Poems, collected by Eleanor Clymer - A very silly book of poetry from my childhood, reread to see if it still holds up. Yes, it's every bit as goofy and fun as it ever was. 
25. Spy x Family #2: Mission Start by Tatsuya Endo - The first Spy x Family graphic novel was set-up. The second shows the characters in action, although not successfully. I am absolutely loving this series.
26. The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo - Based on real events from WWII. When families along the English Coast have to leave their homes so that soldiers can practice beach landings and a cat is left behind, the main character keeps slipping back into the danger zone to search for her. The MC is unlikeable, at first, but softens up so I ended up enjoying this middle grade story. 
27. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates - The story of a slave in the American South (he refers to fellow slaves as "the tasked") who discovers he has a special ability and becomes involved in the Underground Railroad. I liked this book mostly for the vivid portrayal of the horrors of slavery. I was less enamored with the magical realism, which I thought detracted from the theme that no man should be slave to any other. 
28. The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis  - A contemporary/historical novel about women living in the Barbizon Women's Hotel in the 1950s and a modern journalist who is determined to tell the story of those who stayed for decades and were grandfathered in when the building went condo. A bit contrived, as a friend said, but I still eventually became swept up in the story and enjoyed it. 
29. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Nonfiction about the American caste system that puts Blacks firmly at the bottom, the structure that has kept them from thriving, and the recent rise of white supremacism, thoroughly researched. By far one of the most important books I've read. I've recently seen Caste on a banned book list. There can only be one reason to ban this book: someone doesn't like what it says. But, there's no disputing the depth of research involved. Fascinating, infuriating, discussion-worthy.
30. Blame by Simon Mayo - An unusual dystopian YA in which families are imprisoned for the crimes of their parents and a teenager who is determined to break herself and her family out of the prison in which they are cruelly held with a band attached to their spine that identifies them as people who are held for "heritage crimes". Quite a rollercoaster ride, as all of the books I've read by Mayo have been. 

©2022 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, March 16, 2022

Everything I read in January

I reviewed all of the books I read in January so I've just linked to the full reviews.  This photo is a little hard to see because I can't lighten it without washing out the image of Unspeakable, but you should be able to click to enlarge it. January was a very good month with an eclectic mix of children's books (one of which was by a high school friend), a classic, a feminist work, some nonfiction including books about art, and one book from a banned list. 


©2022 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, March 14, 2022

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (clockwise from left):

  • The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps: 1939-1945 by Lawrence Ward - purchased
  • Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck - from Berkley Books for review
  • Slightly Foxed #73: Spring 2022 - from subscription
  • Strongmen by Ruth Ben-Ghiat - purchased after friend talked about it
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - purchased for F2F book group discussion

OK, yes, I broke my book-buying ban, again. But, I'm back on the proverbial horse. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
  • Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen
  • The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow
  • The Giant's Necklace by Michael Morpurgo
  • The Summer of Broken Things by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

At least I've been reading (if not posting about books). And, all of these were enjoyable, although I don't think any got 5 stars, except maybe The Poppy Factory

Currently reading:

  • Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

I have some other bookmarks in books but this is the only one I'm currently reading. I started Sisters of Night and Fog and realized I needed to set it aside briefly but plan to read it next. I can't recall why; it's already shaping up to be an excellent read but perhaps it was too heavy for a day in which I was sobbing harder than usual over the bombings. I'll start over from the beginning when I read it, probably tomorrow. 

Black Brother, Black Brother is going to be a quick read. The main character is a 7th grader so I'm not exactly sure how to classify it. 7th grade is a bit too old for middle grade, but it doesn't quite feel like a YA, either. Maybe YA Lite. Regardless, I'm enjoying it for the way the main character has chosen to stand up for himself by challenging himself physically rather than lashing out at anyone. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news (aka, "Where ya been?"):

Last week was one of those weeks that I tried to write a review and stared at the screen for hours. That was Monday. On Tuesday, I sat down to try again and found myself still unable to write. So, I walked away from the computer for a week. I've periodically checked email but just realized that I haven't even done that for at least 3 days. So, that's why there were no blog posts, last week, not even a Fiona Friday. In fact, I might have put up a Fiona Friday photo if I hadn't been hauling a cat to the vet. Isabel is still on antibiotics after a month, still twitching, but we haven't done follow-up blood work, yet, or further testing. Two more weeks till her next visit (approximately — since going to the vet means I have to catch her and she is too clever for her own good). 

I'm on Season 3 of Chicago Fire. I don't know why that show is able to serve as my escapist bolt hole, but it is. When the news is unbearable, I turn on another episode of Chicago Fire. My husband can't bear to watch it. "It's so stupid," he says. To that, I have to say . . . well, yeah. Maybe that's why it's so great for escapism. I've noticed something interesting about the show that I never noticed when watching it every week or so (I'm not good at tuning in at the right time for anything, unfortunately, so I've never seen it regularly for an entire season). They have a tendency to run a storyline for a few episodes and then just drop it with no mention ever again. For example, Shay decided she wanted to have a baby, talked her dad into paying for in-vitro treatment, and went through with it. That took several episodes. Then, she found it out didn't take, was envious of the pregnant girlfriend of her best buddy for a short time and . . . nothing. It was never again mentioned. That happens a lot and once you've noticed, it's hard not to keep a running list of all the abandoned storylines, but I don't care. It's a bit of a soap opera, typically, and while it'll never quite be the joyful viewing that Emergency! was, I still love it. 

I'm also on the third season of Being Erica and it's taken an unusual turn, this season. Otherwise, it's all been news of Ukraine and I confess that there have been only a couple of news reports that didn't have me in tears. I've read comments to that effect from other people on social media, along with the fact that people feel similarly helpless watching an entire country being heartlessly bombed. At the same time, my admiration for Ukrainians is unbounded. What an amazingly strong, resilient, hopeful people. I want to be as tough as a Ukrainian. But, mostly, I want Putin defeated so they can go home in peace and rebuild their country. 

©2022 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, March 04, 2022

Fiona Friday

Photos of the two kitty girls relaxing harmoniously are always favorites. 

©2022 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, March 02, 2022

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

I bought a copy of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (both the Pulitzer-winning original and the follow-up in one volume) after reading about Maus's removal from a curriculum in Tennessee. I'm sure you've all heard about that if you're in the US. I've had it on my wishlist for years and at one point actually owned a copy of the original with a cover that was falling off but got rid of it without reading it during one of my book purges. At the time, I didn't know what it was about; I'd bought it used on a whim when I'd never read any graphic novels or biographies, probably out of curiosity. Then, I didn't get around to reading it. 

For those who don't know, Maus I: A Survivor's Tale is a graphic memoir about author and artist Art Spiegelman's parents' experiences leading up to and during WWII and the author's difficult relationship with his father. Art Spiegelman's father was a Polish Jew. Maus I first tells the story of how his parents met, married, and started a family as Hitler was coming into power. During the early years of the war, Art's parents either managed to find jobs, hide, or escape arrest numerous times but had many harrowing close calls. The book goes back and forth between Vladek Spiegelman's experiences and Art's determined effort to get the full story of what happened to his family, including a brother who died during the war, out of his father and try to locate his mother's diaries. 

The second book, Maus II, describes his father's experiences in a concentration camp after he and his wife were imprisoned and separated. Again, it goes back and forth in time as the author deals with his difficult father and gradually learns the complete story. 

I chose to buy The Complete Maus so I could judge its merits for myself after reading that the Tennessee school board members had complained about nudity, violence, and profanity in the book. My questions were, "How much nudity and profanity are there in the book(s)? Is anything portrayed genuinely offensive or is the storyline important enough to negate any negative aspects?"

First of all, you must know that we're talking about people portrayed as mice (Jews), cats (Nazis), and other animals (pigs were, I think, Poles who were not Jewish, but I'm not certain), except when he portrays his mother's suicide. In that case, he reverted to human images and showed a partial image of his mother's naked body in the bathtub, where she took her life. I counted a total of 7 instances in which profanity was used, all of which are words heard regularly on TV. When the Jews were forced to stand around naked, you do see tiny little man parts on the mouse bodies. And, yes, there are images of legs and feet when Nazis hanged Jews, either as punishment or for sport. All of this is less offensive than the factual horror of what the Nazis did, of course. Who cares about a few bad words and a little nudity when Maus has, as teachers say, told the historical truth of Nazi cruelty effectively?

Highly recommended - There is nothing in The Complete Maus that kids today haven't seen when it comes to the items school board members in Tennessee found offensive, and Maus is an important book, one that not only describes the Holocaust and its horrors but also portrays a difficult relationship between father and son that likely has made a lot of people with equally difficult relationships feel a little less alone. Suicide is a third topic that is addressed, although only marginally as his father describes his mother's battle with recurring depression that first began as postpartum depression. 

©2022 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, March 01, 2022

The Runaways by Holly Webb and Knight's Castle by Edward Eager

Both of these books are middle grade and (surprise!) I read an e-book! You know how often that happens. 

The Runaways by Holly Webb is a WWII story about a young London girl whose mother refuses to evacuate her to the countryside when war is coming. She is a widow and wants to keep her remaining family (two children, one of whom is a teenager) close and needs help running her shop. 

Molly is already upset about her friends leaving when she finds out her mum is going to have the dog and cat put to sleep in preparation for possible bombing. So she packs up, takes the animals, and runs away. 

The cat gets out of her basket and runs back home (which naturally gave the cat lover in me anxiety) but Molly continues on with the dog and eventually comes across two children who are also runaways but from an abusive home. The three travel together until they find a place to settle. But, even that may not end up well. 

Recommended - I thought The Runaways was a very good story, although the writing was occasionally a bit awkward. The occasional awkward sentence, though, certainly wasn't enough to stop the momentum. I felt like you really got a feel for the hunger, the dirt, the grief, and the general horror of war in The Runaways and I'll be watching for more by Holly Webb. 

Knight's Castle by Edward Eager is an older book, the second in the "Tales of Magic" series, copyrighted in 1956. It sat on my wish list for many months (because of last year's book-buying ban) after I read that it was the childhood favorite of an author I admire. 

After I added the book to my wish list, I threw away the interview in which Knight's Castle was mentioned, so I have no idea who recommended it but she said she'd been waiting for it to have it's time in the sun as she thought it was better than Harry Potter. While I'm not a huge fan of Harry Potter, I tend to disagree, but I still enjoyed Knight's Castle.

Knight's Castle is the story of a boy who has a collection of toy soldiers that have been passed down through his family. The oldest one is in terrible shape but when the boy closes his hand around it and makes a wish, he's transported back in time and the way he's positioned the toy soldiers around a play castle is how they are when he materializes in this magical world and the toys become human. 

There's a whole backstory with the boy, his sister, and two cousins. The boy and his sister end up at their cousins' house because something's wrong with their father and he must urgently go to the hospital.The boy is originally transported through time when he makes his wish and then the other children eventually begin to travel back in time with him. But, his wish can't come true until he proves himself worthy. And, he's running out of time.

Recommended - While I wouldn't call Knight's Castle a favorite, I enjoyed it enough to wish I had the entire series to read. I always enjoy time travel and there's a silliness to the book that tickled me. When the soldier's talk, it's like they're trying to speak as if they live in the Middle Ages but they don't quite know how, so it's a bit gibberish and quite funny. I can definitely see how this story would have left an impression on a child. 

©2022 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.