Friday, December 02, 2022

Everything I Read in November (in brief)


1. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo - I didn't realize this classic children's tale of a horse that serves in WWI was a book (although I'd heard of and not seen the movie or play) until I randomly bought a couple books by Morpurgo because they had cats on the cover and a friend informed me that War Horse was one of his better books. The tale of Joey is told from the time he arrives at a farm after being purchased by a farmer who always gets drunk on market day, through his breaking and training by the farmer's son Albert, and then through his years after being sold to the British army for service in WWI, including hauling artillery and carts full of the injured, staying on a French farm, then working for the Germans until he is wounded and ends up in familiar hands. A lovely story told from the viewpoint of the horse and definitely my favorite by Morpurgo, so far. 

2. Spy x Family #8 by Tatsuya Endo - Oh, no! The next Spy x Family book won't be out till March of 2023. I am so bummed. I might just have to start back at the beginning to fill the time between. In Spy x Family #8, Yor (the mother in the fake family and an assassin) is charged with going on a cruise where she'll be protecting a woman whose entire family — except for her baby — has been killed. But, fake daughter Anya and husband Loid have won a cruise on the same ship so she has to keep a low profile. As it turns out, the enemy is everywhere and meeting up secretly with a boat that will take the endangered woman and her baby to safety is going to be nearly impossible. I've given every single one of the books in this series 5 stars . . . till this one. The last 25% or so is almost entirely fight scenes between Yor and the enemy and I find those a bit hard to follow. And, it's a bit more serious than most, although it has moments of levity. I still loved it, just not 5 stars' worth. 

3. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb - Nonfiction in which the author, a psychologist and talk therapist,  intertwines stories of her own therapy patients with the tale of how a crisis sent her into therapy herself. All of the stories are at least partially fictionalized out of necessity (because therapy is private) and maybe a bit too perfectly wrapped up but effective. My favorite patient was John, who called everyone "idiots" and was quite a jerk but softened as his truth emerged. 

4. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute - The story of a 70-year-old Englishman who has gone on a fishing trip to France. WWII has begun but he's unconcerned till the Germans invade France and he decides it's time to leave. He is asked to take two children with him on the journey to England and it begins well enough but then things go wrong, transportation is held up or halted, the Germans move in faster than expected, and he keeps picking up more stray children on the journey. A tense, heartwarming, vivid tale of the hardships of war and the kindness of a character who goes out of his way to ensure the safety of strangers' children. A new favorite, both in the WWII category and books by Nevil Shute, published in 1942, when the war was ongoing. 

5. Spy School: Revolution by Stuart Gibbs - There's a new enemy for the CIA to fight, hundreds of years old and bearing a grudge. Now that SPYDER is out of the picture, the Croatoan is free to create mayhem and do damage. It appears that Erica Hale is involved. But, when Ben is asked to help capture her, he's hesitant. He knows Erica well. Surely, she wouldn't join an evil spy organization. In his search for Erica and the Croatoan, Ben uses his natural skills and his understanding of his friend. But, when he asks another friend for help, things become tangled up. Who is a friend and who is an enemy? A wild adventure around the Washington DC area and over to Mt. Vernon. Interesting side note: some readers of this lengthy series (I believe this is #8) found the Croatoan hard to buy into. I had no such trouble. The absurdity is part of the point, although I appreciated the author's note clarifying whether certain details were true or false, since American History was involved. 

6. There There by Tommy Orange - A diverse cast of Urban Natives comes together for a Pow-Wow that has been scoped out as a decent place to rob, due to the prize money offered in gift cards. It doesn't take long to figure out that something tragic is going to occur, but first you get to know the cast of characters (which is quite large) and their backgrounds. Notably, almost everyone is either facing the challenge of poverty, discrimination, and/or alcoholism somewhere in their family. At one point, the author talks about how easy it is to become an alcoholic Native American. Alcohol, he says, is cheap and it helps you forget. This was a rough read for me but an impressively written story. I've mentioned the fact that I don't drink, on this blog. What I probably haven't said is that a Native American family friend is the reason I've avoided alcohol, as I had a front-row seat to his self-destruction. He died at only 49 after many previous accidents that came close to killing him, all drink-related. When he wasn't drinking, he was a charming, well-educated, successful guy. Otherwise, my only problem with the book was that the chapters could have used dates for clarity, as the story went from the 70s to present day and could be a bit confusing, time-wise. Read for Native American Heritage Month and highly recommended. 

7. Cable on Academe by Carole Cable - A book of comics on life as a university professor, bought eons ago, when we were occasionally returning to Ann Arbor, Michigan and Husband was working on the research for his PhD. I'm emptying a shelfing unit to pass on to my younger son and came across this book. While I read Cable on Academe when it was new to us, I figured I should give it a quick reread before parting with it. Lots of fun pokes at academia, some very outdated but I'm old enough to understand them. Published in 1994. 

8. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken - A multi-generational story that begins with the unusual discovery of a live woman in a graveyard. Bertha Truitt has been found unconscious but once awakened she remembers her name and is cagey about her life and how she arrived in Salford, Massachusetts. She chooses to stay in the small town in which she's appeared and opens a candlepin bowling alley. From there, the reader follows her family line and the changes that take place in the bowling alley over the years. A unique story with a sense of humor. I noticed Bowlaway's ratings are meh at Goodreads. In truth, I felt like it dragged a bit. But, I still loved it. I particularly loved Bertha and missed her when she was no longer part of the story. 

9. Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories by Ann Beattie - Each of the stories in Where You'll Find Me is a window into the world of a set of characters for just long enough to get an idea what may be next. These are the kind of stories that irritate people who aren't regular short story readers because their endings are abrupt and leave what follows to the reader's imagination. I enjoyed them for their simplicity, the turn of phrase, and the occasional bit of wisdom, but like another volume of short stories I read not long ago (probably in 2021), the sheer quantity of characters who were unfaithful got on my nerves a bit. Still, excellent writing (also outdated; published in 1986 and you can't miss it when music and items contemporary to the time are mentioned). Most of the characters grew up in the 60s and 70s and each story is a peek into their romantic or familial struggles. Favorite sentence:

It's a bright day, and the sun shining through the kitchen curtains, patterned with chickens, gives the chickens an advantage they don't have in real life; backlit, they're luminous. 

10. Happening by Annie Ernaux - A memoir of the author's abortion in 1960s France, when abortion was outlawed and the only options were shady back-alley abortions or self-administered injury. Finding herself pregnant during her college years, Ernaux knew immediately that she couldn't go through with a pregnancy. Not only would it ruin her plans but she was the first of her working-class family to go to college and it would devastate her parents and humiliate them. The most interesting part of this book, I thought, was that her personal physician wouldn't even look her in the eyes when she said she needed to end the pregnancy but when she later informed him that she was going to get an abortion, he prescribed penicillin to take before and after and gave her clear instructions. He didn't want to go to jail but he also didn't want her to die. The author also mentioned that having an abortion freed her to have a family when she was ready. A very emotional read, written nearly 40 years after the abortion. 

11. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway - Yes, this is my first time reading this classic! And, I confess, I liked it more than some of Hemingway's other writings. The "I'm a man; I can take pain and I will not be defeated and I'll keep doing manly man things like arm wrestling till I die," was all there but it felt a little different than it does in some of his books and stories because of the age of the protagonist. Also, I've never paid attention to any detailed description of the book, so I found it surprising. I was sure X was going to happen but instead Hemingway went to Z with a whole lot of Y in between. No, I haven't gotten into some eggnog. As far as Men Proving Their Manliness stories go, I also liked this better because the man himself was on a losing streak and so dirt poor that if he didn't fight hard to catch a fish he was probably going to starve, sooner or later. It felt like his battle with the marlin was a close to being a necessity, in other words, although I can see why some guy on Goodreads said, "Good grief, worst book ever. Just let the fish go, already." 

Wow, what a contrast with October! I read a lot fewer books because I had a couple weeks of recharging after reading 20 books the month before (and Bowlaway took me quite a while to read) but I liked or loved everything I read so I consider November an excellent month. Pied Piper is easily my favorite but I wouldn't tell you not to read anything in this pile. I considered trying to bump up my numbers with an easy read or two because I ended the month smack in the middle of Leviathan Wakes, the first in the Expanse sci-fi series. But, in the end I decided that was silly. 11 books is fine and the number of books read is less important than the quality. So . . . I'm happy. How was your reading month?

You should be able to click on images to enbiggen, btw. 

©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, November 03, 2022

Everything I Read in October (in brief)

Click on images to enlarge. 


111. The All of It by Jeannette Haien - A book I've owned forever, probably bought at the salvage store in the 90s (yikes), The All of It is a short novel about a priest, a woman, and a dying man. Enda and Kevin have a secret and he's about to confess to the local priest. But, he dies before he gets the chance. So, Enda offers to share their story, but not in a confession booth and only on her terms. The priest listens and as he patiently hears her out, he admires her beauty. It seems the priest has had a crush on Enda for years. But, the secret is shocking. Or, is it? As the story is revealed, the priest makes an irrational assumption about the couple that may ruin the day. Interspersed with this story are chapters in which the priest is fishing at a local castle in the rain, reflecting on the story that Enda has shared and angry. But, is he angry with Enda or himself? Well, it's worth reading to find out. The ending is absolutely lovely and this book is a little gem, in my humble opinion. 

112. The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas - Another book I've had a long time, I'm assuming this one came from the bargain section of Barnes & Noble, bought back in my shopaholic days. It's pristine and looks like the typical bargain fare. The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment was published in 1972 and it's the work of a writer who attempted to reach enlightenment using psychedelic drugs (so . . . not an easy option, now, unless you like breaking laws). Basically, hippie mumbo jumbo about getting happy vibes but the undercurrent is about love and acceptance and there are a few sage bits of advice if you can put up with all the babble about energy. 

113. Many Different Kinds of Love by Michael Rosen - The story of wildly popular British children's author Rosen's experience with a dangerous case of Covid in March of 2020. Beginning with the story of how his wife got a doctor friend to bring a pulse oximeter to their house and told them to go straight to the emergency room, the book describes his 47 days in a coma via the notes written in an Intensive Care Diary kept by the nurses who cared for him (so he'd have a record of the time he was unaware of what was happening to him), notes from his wife to friends and relatives, and the tale of his recovery in verse by the author. An emotional read. Having been in a coma for weeks, Rosen is still occasionally told that Covid is a hoax, that he must have had some other illness, etc. Those comments and the fact that the government considered older folks (he was 72) expendable naturally upset him. And, he was left with some long-term damage. But, he is an upbeat guy and Many Different Kinds of Love is a really beautiful, inspiring read, in the end. 

114. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - Much beloved by a couple friends of mine, this book seems to have mostly high ratings but some sharp polarization amongst those who consider it trite. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can't imagine a child asking the type of questions that are posed but it's about love and acceptance (including of one's self) so, yeah, it is a bit heavy on platitudes. But, the illustrations are fabulous so I liked it. I particularly liked the way the animals care for each other, although some are wary of each other in the beginning. 

115. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon - My first creepy read of the fall season, The Winter People begins with someone seeing a "creeper" in the woods, a dead person returned to life, and describes the disappearance of a little girl in 1908, alternating with the story of a missing woman in the present day. Both lived in the same farmhouse in Vermont near a formation called The Devil's Hand. What's become of Alice? Her two daughters are determined to find out. In their search, they find some surprising hidden clues and a relative they didn't know existed. Who or what is lingering in the closet and does it have an appetite for humans?

116. The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson - A tiny book with three short stories, just 55 pages long. "The Missing Girl" is about a girl at summer camp who says she's going out and doesn't return. Days later, her roommate finally reports her missing and nobody seems to know much about her. "Journey with a Lady" is about a boy who goes alone on a train trip to his grandparents' and is surprised when a lady pretends he's her son until he realizes the police are after her. "Nightmare" . . . I just read all three, this morning, and I've forgotten the final story. Not the best of Jackson but I love her writing, even if the stories didn't amount to much. 

117. Bunnicula: The Graphic Novel by Howe, Dorkin, and Gilpin - Friend Jenn posted a photo of the new Bunnicula graphic novel and I jumped right on it and bought a copy. My kids and I laughed till we had tears streaming when we read the Bunnicula series during their childhood. So, I thought it would be fun reading the new graphic novel. While I didn't laugh the way I did when I read the series, I was thoroughly entertained and loved the addition of the visuals, which were beautifully done. Highly recommended, whether or not you've read the original stories. 

118. New Kid by Jerry Craft - A banned book (a graphic novel) that I bought during Banned Books Week but didn't receive till after it was over, New Kid is about a black boy who goes to a fancy school with mostly rich kids. There's a little diversity but being black and on financial aid both set him apart. I have heard this book is accused of containing Critical Race Theory, which would mean the history of the structural racism that exists in our country. Nope, none of that. Slavery is mentioned maybe once, and obviously race/prejudice comes up but naturally, through characterization. New Kid is really a book about being new, finding friends, kindness, discomfort with being a fish out of water, etc. I literally laughed out loud several times. It's sweet, funny book by a guy who clearly gets interaction in middle school and just the everyday challenges of being a kid. I loved it and would eagerly hand it to any child without qualms. It doesn't deserve to be on any banned list. 

119. Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman - Told in three parts, Skylight Confessions begins with Arlyn, who decides she'll marry the next man who comes along and speaks to her. John is lost when he asks her for directions. The first part is about their marriage, their son Sam, daughter Blanca, and a death. The second part involves a haunting, a new wife, a nanny, and Sam's growing drug use. The third part pulls it all together with Blanca now grown and returning home for a funeral. If I'd known there was a death from breast cancer in this book, I'd have put it in the donation box. But, I continued to read and I'm glad I did. It's a very rare book that leaves you with such a deep impression of the characters that you can rattle off the names of every single one of them. I really loved this story and found it had characteristics similar to Sarah Addison Allen's in its magical touches, both real and imagined. 

120. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - The second in the time travel series that began with Doomsday Book stars Ned Henry, who has been tasked with repeatedly traveling to Coventry, England before and after the night of the bombing during WWII to search the Coventry Cathedral and various jumble sales in order to find a single item. Unable to locate it and suffering from exhaustion due to too many time jumps, he's sent to Victorian England to rest. Instead, he gets caught up in the saga of a missing cat, ends up on a boat with an Oxford don, a young man in love, and a bulldog, and himself falls for a beautiful time traveler who may have thrown an incongruity in the timeline. Can Ned and Kindle (aka Verity) right the wrongs caused by the incongruity or will they get stuck in Victorian England forever? Loads of fun, sometimes leaning slapstick, and makes me want to go back and read the first book. There are two more books that carry on the time travel and refer back to the Oxford Time Travel books, although they're labeled as a separate duology. Interesting side note: I read Doomsday Book in 2010 and I still remember the vivid description of Medieval stench, although I didn't recall much else. This series does need to be read in order. 

121. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson (e-book) - After I closed To Say Nothing of the Dog, I felt drained and couldn't think of anything at all that I wanted to read so I flipped through my e-book library and found this graphic novel that's been sitting in my iPad for years. Kamala Khan is a Muslim teenager living in Jersey City, NJ. She's nerdy, loves Avengers fan fiction, and dreams of being Captain Marvel. She has two best friends but is mostly an outsider. One night Kamala — trying to be a joiner by attending a party — gets caught in a strange fog and suddenly develops the power to shape shift. She can make herself larger or smaller or grow a single oversized fist. She's able to save someone from drowning on her first night as a superhero. But, it turns out that having superpowers is not all it's cracked up to be and having a secretive second life just gets you grounded repeatedly. Told in 5 parts. I absolutely loved this story. Kamala is sweet and vulnerable but summons her inner strength. 

122. The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart - Ravani is a lonely only child with no friends and a persistent bully making his life miserable. When he sees 7 children show up at the empty house across the street in the middle of the night, he's curious. And, when he gets to know Virginia after he leaves her a couple of surprising gifts, he feels like he's finally found out what friendship is all about. But, Virginia and her 6 siblings have a secret and there is a man hunting them. Will Ravani's friendship disappear, only to leave him back where he was? Set in a town called Slaughterville, the story has some unsettling descriptions of the local slaughterhouse, which might upset some children (it would have given me nightmares) but if middle graders can handle the gruesome bits, the story is a beautiful tale of friendship, found family, and finding your inner courage. 

123. You Wait Till I'm Older Than You! by Michael Rosen - After reading Rosen's Covid memoir, I wanted to see what his children's books were like so I ordered one, along with a second memoir about his search for the relatives who were never heard from after WWII. You Wait Till I'm Older Than You! is classified as poetry and some of it does seem like it's written in verse. But, it felt more like a book of anecdotes to me. Many were from his childhood but others, including one of my favorites, were stories from his adulthood. My favorite was Rosen's tale about the stupidest thing he's ever done, which took place in France and involved a car, a child, a ditch, and a couple of French Farmers. It's very similar to an anecdote my husband tells. A fun read. The author was such a typical boy, getting himself into trouble in creative ways. 

124. The Missing: The True Story of My Family in WWII by Michael Rosen - We were sitting in an ER when I read The Missing (all is well, no worries). I brought 5 books in a tote but the chair was hard and there was a lot of chatter so I chose the lightest read (easiest read not lightest subject, obviously) I could find. The Missing tells about how Rosen heard about his Polish relatives who had disappeared, from his childhood on, and always wondered what had become of them. As an adult, he decided that he needed to find out what had become of his family members so that they could be remembered. What follows is the unfolding mystery as Rosen dug into various records, read books (some in French, as two of the families had gone to live in France), and eventually found the answers. It's a children's book, again, and absolutely one of the best tales of finding missing Jewish relatives who disappeared during the Holocaust that I've read. I particularly loved the way the author explained things to children without condescending. Highly, highly recommended. 

125. Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop's Battle for America's Soul by Michael Fanone and John Shiffman - Made famous by two photographs showing him fighting for his life on January 6 as he was dragged into the furious crowd, Michael Fanone relates his history as a police officer, describes his experience on January 6 in detail, and tells about the aftermath. What an interesting man. I've seen Fanone on TV and he's so well-spoken and intelligent that I never would have suspected he was a drop-out who later got his GED for the sake of getting into the police academy. Similar to Michael Rosen's Covid coma experience, Fanone has faced a lot of pushback with people telling him his body camera footage was faked, that the Insurrection didn't happen or was done by people from Antifa dressed as Trump supporters, etc. The fact that they tased him repeatedly (to the point that he had a mild heart attack) and tried to take his gun to shoot him tells a different story. Highly recommended, a really engrossing read. 

126. The Nesting by C. J. Cooke - Lexi's boyfriend has asked her to move out after her suicide attempt has caused the loss of her job and medication has given her hallucinations. With nowhere to go, she rides the Tube and happens to overhear talk of a nannying job in Norway. She applies and goes off to take care of two little girls whose mother recently committed suicide. Their father Tom is an architect who is determined to finish the summer home he originally began building for his wife, Aurelia. When Lexi finds hoof prints in her bedroom and hears a voice calling her from the basement, she thinks she's still having hallucinations. But, then she hears about the Norwegian version of Mother Nature and how it takes vengeance on people who alter the land, something Tom has done. Did Aurelia really commit suicide or was she chased by an evil spirit? This book was so genuinely frightening that I had to stop reading it at night. Fortunately, Dewey's Readathon conveniently gave me an excuse to finish the book in the daylight. 

127. Spy School Goes South by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #6) - Former Spy School student Murray Hill has been held in the school's jail because the evil group SPYDER keeps springing him from juvenile detention. Now, he says he knows where SPYDER's leaders are hiding and he's willing to take student Ben Ripley there, but not anyone from the CIA. Ben and his constant companion Erica head to Mexico but things go wrong immediately. Will Ben and Erica be able to thwart SPYDER's latest efforts? From the always plot-intense, exciting, adventurous middle grade series, another edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. This is my all-time favorite middle grade series. I think I'm totally out of Spy School books, now, so I may have to order another. 

128. Recursion by Blake Crouch - A scientist and a wealthy man discover a way to copy memories and implant them into a brain. The original intent of the scientist's invention, a "memory chair," is to help Alzheimer's patients. But when the wealthy man decides to use the chair for his own purposes and discovers a way to relive time, he begins a cascading set of actions that will lead to the utter destruction of the world unless the scientist and the man she loves can figure out a way to prevent everyone from remembering past timelines. A wild ride and another great one from Blake Crouch. I have not yet found a book by this author that I didn't love. 

129. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico - Two novellas in one book. In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Harris, a widowed London charwoman, sees two beautiful Dior dresses and decides she must scrimp and save then travel to Paris to buy a Dior dress of her own. When she gets to Paris, she charms nearly everyone she meets with her down-to-earth honesty and warmth. In Mrs. Harris Goes to New York, Mrs. Harris and her friend Mrs. Butterfield accompany one of Mrs. Harris's clients to New York and get themselves into a tangle when they try to do a kindness without thinking it through. Again, Mrs. Harris charms everyone. Such a pleasant couple of reads! 

130. A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz - The "kid" of the title is a baby goat, not a human child. Joe's mother works in a millinery and during the daytime Joe stays with Mr. Kandinsky and his assistant. Mr. Kandinsky is a kind man and a bit of a storyteller. Since Joe's father is working in Africa, Mr. Kandinsky studies up on African animals and tells Joe all about them. But, his stories can be a little bit on the fantastical side. When he tells Joe about unicorns and how valuable their horns were (allegedly the reason they can no longer be found), Joe decides he wants a unicorn. In the market, he finds a unicorn — really, a sickly goat that appears to have a single, stubby horn. Joe and his friends take care of the goat but it never becomes healthy. Meanwhile, Mr. Kandinsky's assistant is building himself up in order to try to earn money wrestling so that he can give his fiancée a diamond ring. Not much happens in this quaint story but it has a unique atmosphere and very interesting characters so I enjoyed it. 

It would be almost impossible to choose favorites, this month, because it was just that good. I liked or loved everything I read and I was clearly in a reading mood all month, apart from one day when I had a high fever (that sucked). Several of these are graphic novels, two are memoirs (and the Guide to Enlightenment has some bits of autobiography), two included time travel, at least three were creepy, and then there were my usual upbeat and adventurous middle grade reads. Just a fantastic, all-around reading month for me. Feel free to ask me questions about anything. I think that would be easier than trying to choose 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.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Everything I Read in September (in brief)


100. Sidney Nolan Foundation Collection by Peter Haynes; photography by Robert Little -  The Sidney Nolan Foundation Collection is a collection of paintings by Australian artist Sidney Nolan, probably best known for his Ned Kelly paintings, although I might be projecting because the Ned Kelly paintings were the only paintings I'd seen by Nolan before I opened this book. The book is about the collection at Canberra Museum and Gallery, how Nolan started as a poet and became a painter, abandoned hopes of classical training in Paris during his time in the Australian military, and how the landscape and loneliness during his military years influenced his art. There's more, of course, and it was utterly fascinating. I asked my husband to buy me a book about Sidney Nolan's paintings because I knew he was going to be in Canberra, where the Foundation Collection is displayed. But, I knew little more than the fact that I liked the Ned Kelly paintings, which I admire for their vivid colors and sense of humor. While the art lingo sometimes slowed me down, I absolutely loved reading about Nolan's growth as an artist and his particular interest in Australian storytelling and landscape. 

101. Spy x Family #7 by Tatsuya Endo - Yes, of course I had to squeeze in my monthly manga! I am still loving this series. I have one more pre-ordered. It's difficult to describe the installments because there are several stories within each installment but in this case the main story begins with the son of Donovan Desmond (evil bad guy whom spy Twilight is tasked with getting close to in order to learn his nefarious plans). He has a meeting with his father that Twilight intends to exploit. One of the hilarious recurring themes in the latter books is Yor's inability to cook, Yor being Twilight's fake wife, who is also an assassin. Everyone tries to get out of eating when she cooks. I've also loved the addition of the dog that sees into the future because it enables the telepathic child in Twilight's fake family to occasionally see what's about to happen by reading the dog's mind. Such a fun series. I intend to keep these for a future reread and am so glad my librarian friend recommended them. 

102. Alan Cleaver's Hodgepodge by Alan Cleaver - This adorable book is handwritten (no typeset; it's all literally written by hand), hand-illustrated, and hand-bound. I somehow happened across it at Etsy and while it's a bit pricey, it is worth every penny. The author has illustrates various walking paths in Cumbria, UK, the sites of historical interest nearby, legends and history attached to these areas (including ghosts and fairies), and even where it's best to park and the level of walking strength required. For anyone considering a walking holiday in the area, it's a goldmine. Otherwise, it's a delightful read and the author is a gem. 

103. They Want to Kill Americans by Malcolm Nance - As I said in a lengthy post at Goodreads, this book is scary as hell. It talks about the history of militias, how and why many of the groups with racist ideologies grew during The Former Guy's administration, who they believe doesn't deserve to live and why, and how people have already committed murder in the name of such beliefs. The hardest part to read is probably the bit about QAnon as it's effing nutso and just difficult to process how people can not only believe the false information they're being fed but feel angry enough about it to openly say more than half of Americans deserve to die. Most fascinating to me was the history of some of the false information they've been fed. The sex trafficking and drinking of the blood of children, for example, is a story that dates back to Medieval times and is based on anti-Semitic tropes that have been altered and regurgitated for hundreds of years. They weren't true then and they're not true now, but people continue to believe these stories in spite of the fact that absolutely none of Q's predictions have come true. Crazy, but nicely described if you can bear it. 

104. Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King - A children's book (chapter book for older elementary, I'd say) about censorship, Attack of the Black Rectangles is about 3 friends who notice there are blacked-out words in their copies of The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Curious about why anyone would black out words, they seek out copies without the marks censoring them and find out the words someone doesn't want them to read, who did the blacking-out, and why they chose to do so. When they get answers, though, they aren't given the action they request. They want new copies of the book that are uncensored and are willing to confront those in charge in order to stop future censorship. A timely story that's thought-provoking. I found the children a little too wise and perfect but the way they were brushed off by those in authority definitely rang true. 

105. Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig - Evie has always known she can talk to animals telepathically, some more easily than others. And, her father has always told her not to use this unusual ability, known as "The Talent". But, she didn't know why. Suddenly, things begin to change. Evie finds out she is not alone in having The Talent and that if it becomes known to a certain evil bad guy, she and anyone else who can talk to animals will be in terrible danger. I thought this book started out a bit slow but then it became tense and exciting. A children's chapter book with some wonderful illustrations. 

106. Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen - Ever since I happened across a free ARC of Garden Spells at my former library I've been a fan of Sarah Addison Allen. In Other Birds, Zoey arrives at a condo belonging to her late mother on Mallow Island in South Carolina, where she'll spend time until her freshman year of college begins in Charleston. Zoey has an invisible bird named Pigeon and a cheerful personality. She sets out to get to know her neighbors and when one of them dies, her ability to not only make friends but unify the group turns them into a makeshift family. But, there are ghosts at the Dellawisp, someone is sneaking around unlocking doors at night, and all of the residents each have a past and ghosts of their own. A story of wounded souls, living and dead, and the healing power of friendship. I absolutely loved Other Birds. No surprise there. 

107. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken - I love Al Franken. This is an older book, published in 2003 and focusing mainly on a handful of conservative personalities including Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich as well as the then-president George W. Bush. Franken not only dissects some of their book contents but also goes into various lies that have been spread by the right-wing media and then unaccountably bled into its more liberal counterparts as they picked up stories without fact-checking them. Stories about Al Gore that are false were among the most interesting to me because at one point I believed them but had taken the time to look up the details and discovered in what way they were false and how they'd come to be distorted (like the "I invented the Internet" lie — Gore never said he invented the Internet; he said he was instrumental in funding the development of the Internet). I laughed, I cried, I got pissed off. A fascinating read and while dated because some of these people are no longer mainstream (one being dead), it was interesting to see that some lies from 20 years ago are being recirculated or revamped to fit the current times but still basically the same falsehoods. Franken is well-educated and a number freak, which I love, so he backed his words up with raw numbers. 

108. 48 States by Evette Davis (e-book) - A dystopian novel set in a world in which two states have become corporate entities specifically with the objective of making the US completely energy independent after two terrorist attacks have killed off the President, VP, and some of the cabinet, leaving a lower cabinet member as the new President. River, a widow with a mother in child back in Idaho, works in "The Territories" as a trucker since the death of her husband left her in debt. An Army veteran who has had a rough life, River is tougher than the man she comes across one night on a dark road. Finn Cunningham is a hydrologist and he's found something fishy in the water of The Territories. Although he had permission to enter, someone has shot him and he barely survived. Together, River and Finn will go on the run to find the only person they think can help them. But, the oil company CEO who talked the new President into making the two states territories is greedy and willing to kill to get more land. A fun read with plenty of action but a little over-the-top, at times. I enjoyed it. 

109. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson (e-book) - Formerly published under the name James Dawson, author Juno is a fully transitioned transexual. This Book is Gay is kind of a slog, if you ask me. I read it for Banned Books Week but it's graphic and goofy and sometimes just flat wrong. Having said that, it's basically a book that feels like sitting through 3 hours of one of those junior high assemblies (I'm old; I know it's middle school, now) in which wiggly pre-teens learned about their bodies. Only, in this case the focus is more on the LGBTQ crowd with a little of the + and I. It was kind of gross, at times. Do I think it should be banned? Absolutely not. Although anyone can read it, I'm sure the book must be especially reassuring to youngsters who are confused about their sexuality or gender or afraid to admit their realizations. I did have some problems with some of the author's advice and would recommend that if a child wants to read it, parents read along/ahead/after so that it can be discussed. I found it morally shady so I'd hate for either of my children to have read it without some sort of guidance as to our own thoughts.

110. Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright - Mostly a history book about fascists past and present, Fascism: A Warning begins with the lead-up to WWII and the author and former Secretary of State's own part in it as a Czech whose family fled to London before the war, returned, and then felt obligated to leave permanently after Czechoslovakia was absorbed into the USSR, the second time staying in the US and becoming permanent citizens. She talks at length about the rise to power of Hitler and Mussolini —where they came from, what influenced them, how they came into power and then immediately removed regular civil servants to replace them with loyalists, made it impossible to hold a fair election, and created a state press. She also goes into similar histories of Rodrigo Duterte, Victor Orbán, Kim Jong-Un and his father and grandfather, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump. The book was published in 2018 and Albright has since died but her concerns didn't even quite go deep enough, in my opinion. In fact, while she had personal experience with fascism and much of her family was killed in the Holocaust, Albright stays fairly neutral. But, she's very blunt about The Former Guy's mistakes in foreign policy and the danger of his cozying up to strongmen, isolationism, and abandoning allies and treaties. A fascinating read. Things have gotten both better and worse in the US since publication. Anyone who is concerned that the 2020 election was "stolen" should read this book to see how and why pretending an election was stolen and then actually stealing those of the future when one's power becomes unstoppable is a common tactic. 

Not pictured was my single DNF:

DNF: Court of the Vampire Queen by Katee Robert - Probably the dirtiest book I've ever attempted to read, Court of the Vampire Queen was sent to me unsolicited by Sourcebooks and I decided to give it a go thinking, "I'll shake up my reading a bit!" Long ago, I enjoyed Colleen Gleason's Victoria Gardella Vampire Hunter series but few other vampire books have worked for me. The publicity information sent with Court of the Vampire Queen indicated that it was going to be pretty graphic and I generally skim graphic sex scenes because I don't think they typically contribute much to story. Well, golly. It was a lot more than I could handle. I made it to page 100 out of nearly 500. The storyline is that Mina is half human, half vampire. Her father has sent her to breed with a pure vampire as the purebred numbers are dwindling. But, the pureblood is trapped, like Mina. I kind of wanted to know what would happen but just couldn't tolerate the fact that the book is about 90% sex and the language was gross. Just not for me. 

This was kind of an unusual month, heavy on the nonfiction. I guess that's just what called to me. 

Updated to X out a book I did not read, this month. I was going to use that extra book within the stack in reverse to represent one of the e-books but then I decided to print out the cover instead and forgot to remove the book when I laid everything out. I've already loaned one of these to a friend so I can't retake the photo. Oopsy. 

©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, September 01, 2022

Everything I read in August (in brief)

Everything I read in August (in brief) 

88. In Five Years by Rebecca Searle - I was expecting a fluffy romance with a touch of time travel, judging from the reviews I read (which must have been more vague than I realized). In Five Days is not fluffy at all. Instead, it's the story of a woman who has a very tight life plan from which she cannot bear to vary. She knows the age she wants to be proposed to, marry, move to her chosen part of New York, have children, and become a partner in her law firm. Everything is going to plan but on the night she gets engaged she wakes up 5 years in the future with another man and a different engagement ring on her finger. She is absolutely certain the experience was real, but what does it mean and why isn't she married to the man she just became engaged to, 5 years from now? Content warning for cancer patient. I struggled to get through this as one of the characters is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the same cancer my mother dealt with. A good story and sometimes quite fun but also heartbreaking and not at all what I expected. I liked the ending. 

89. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin - Probably my favorite of the month, this slim book contains two essays, one of which was a letter to Baldwin's nephew. In it, you learn about how Baldwin originally planned to become a minister and started preaching while still  young but then became disillusioned. You hear about his visit with one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam and how he was, again, at first enthusiastic but then zoned in on the flaws of their philosophy. I had never thought to look up why Malcolm X used the X in his name but Baldwin describes it as a way to separate from the names acquired from owners during the years of slavery. Fascinating. He talks about racial injustice and how what appears on its surface to be the demeaning of a particular class of humans based on their skin color in reality demeans us all. I think part of the reason I loved this book is the fact that much of what he says in it I've said myself, of course less eloquently. I love Baldwin's writing and ordered a couple more of his books so watch this space for future reads by him. 

90. Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs - In the third and final entry in the Moon Base Alpha middle grade series, Dashiell is asked to help solve the latest possible crime when Lars Sjoberg's lutefisk is poisoned with cyanide while disaster is unfolding at the base. It is difficult to narrow down the possible murderers when absolutely everyone dislikes the victim, but Dashiell's skill at deduction is better than average. As I was reading Waste of Space, I realized that there's only so far the author could have taken the series and that this was, in fact, a good stopping point (much as I'll miss the series). Because I've bought most of my Stuart Gibbs books from Book Outlet, I missed a couple from the Spy School series and to help fill in my craving for middle grade books, I went ahead and bought the two I had skipped over. I have become a huge fan of Stuart Gibbs. His books are adventurous and funny. I've loved every single one I've read. 

91. Space Cat by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone - I know I'm way behind on this but I finally downloaded the Hoopla app after my friend Brittanie (A Book Lover, no longer an active blogger) read this book and recommended it. A children's book published in 1952, it tells the tale of a cat who becomes the friend of a pilot and astronaut, who names the cat Flyball. Flyball is an adventurous cat so he doesn't even mind the squashed feeling he gets when he's taken for a ride in his friend Captain Stone's plane and he has a great time when he sneaks into a rocket ship for a test flight. Why not take him to the moon? Captain Stone has a special space suit made for Flyball and takes him along to the moon, where he learns to deal with low gravity, discovers life, and saves the captain from disaster. A fun children's book, of course outdated but who cares? E-book, so not pictured above. 

92. Heard It in a Love Song by Tracy Garvis Graves - I loved The Girl He Used to Know (read it in a single day, which seldom happens) and liked On the Island so I picked up Heard It in a Love Song off a free ARC cart at my library when I saw the author's name. Josh is waiting for his wife Kimmy to produce the papers that will finalize their divorce. He and Kimmy have worked out how to split everything, including the custody of their daughter. But, she seems to be dragging her feet. Layla has been divorced from Liam for 6 months and is still feeling stung but enjoying the time singing and playing guitar in her home studio when she's not teaching music at elementary school. Josh's daughter Sasha is one of Layla's students. And, when they find that they're both in need of some space but occasionally lonely, they start spending time together — and Layla occasionally watches Josh's dog, Norton. Are they both too wounded to give love another try? An average read, in my humble opinion.

93. The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami - The Nakano Thrift Shop doesn't have the best ratings at Goodreads and when my friend Brittanie handed it to me, she said it was "OK," which implied nothing special. Still, I like the quirkiness of Japanese lit, even if sometimes the plotting can be so everyday as to fit the word "dull". It was the ending of The Nakano Thrift Shop that made the book for me, in spite of the rest plodding a bit. Mr. Nakano owns the thrift shop. His sister is an artist who frequently drops by, and Takeo and Hitomi are the employees. Not much happens in the thrift shop but Takeo and Hitomi are equally awkward and develop a relationship outside their employment. But, they can't seem to figure out how to  be a couple. The ending is similar to an Epilogue, in that it takes place years after the thrift shop has closed and the characters have gone their separate ways but first you follow Hitomi in her new employment, then everyone gathers together as Mr. Nakano opens a new store. That final chapter made the book feel complete and meaningful, to me. 

94. The Life and Times of Elizabeth I by Massimo Rossaro - Quick note, the "I" after Elizabeth is not in the title. I added that for clarity. The Life and Times of Elizabeth is a picture book from a series, published in 1966. I bought my copy at the recent library sale because it has some gorgeous paintings that I'm hoping to use in collage but I had to read it first, of course. There's very little about Elizabeth I's childhood in The Life and Times of Elizabeth, although the author does mention that he thinks the fact that two people important to Elizabeth were beheaded by the time she was 8 years of age (the first being her mother, Anne Boleyn) traumatized her and possibly convinced her that marriage was dangerous. A childhood friend said she had never wavered from her decision to stay single, first declared as an 8-year-old. The rest is mostly about her time as queen, till her death at the age of 70. I've read little about Elizabeth and found the book very informative. At only 65 pages and with tons of illustrations, it's not an in-depth analysis but more of an overview, and yet the author did a good job of digging into the Queen's emotions, her cleverness and knowledge, her use of marriage propositions to build alliances, and her skill for economics. A fun afternoon's reading. 

95. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker is a book I bought because I'd read so many gushy reviews of it. Duchess is 13 and cares for her little brother, Robin, as if she were his mother because mom Star is a broken woman. Sheriff Walk keeps an eye on them and helps whenever he can. Now, the man who tore their family apart by accidentally killing Star's sister Sissy, Vincent King, is getting out of jail after 30 years. When Star turns up dead, King is the only suspect. But, there's another man in the picture and he's out to get Duchess. Even traveling 1,000 miles to stay with her grandfather may not stop Dickie Darke from taking his revenge on Duchess. I don't want to give too much away so the bottom line is that I found the writing style miserably choppy and sometimes even didn't understand a sentence or two so I'd have to reread them. But, what made this book stand out was the characterization. Whitaker tears at your heartstrings with his characters, so real in their pain that you can practically touch them. Duchess Day Radley, Outlaw, is what Duchess calls herself. She is one tough cookie, and she needs to be because her world is harsh and it just keeps getting worse. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel. The ending is bittersweet but I closed the book a bit relieved that the author ended on a note of hope. 

96. Trumpocalypse by David Frum - My biking read for part of the month, the follow-up to Trumpocracy (link leads to my review), which was about the first year of Trump's presidency. Trumpocalypse was, I believe he said, a book about "What do we do now?" in which Frum looked back at some of the many changes made by The Former Guy (most of which he considered destructive), ahead to the post-Trump years, and made suggestions for how we should recover our integrity and leadership role in the world. Frum is a staunch conservative so I don't always agree with what he has to say but I pretty much found myself agreeing with a good 90% or more of what he said in this book. And, the last 10 pages or so, in which he predicted that The Former Guy would lose the election and described why he thought that turned out to be prescient. I thought his suggestions were excellent. He mourned the loss of the old Republican Party and its principles and described how very, very important it was to make sure TFG didn't get a second term. One of the most interesting conclusions he came to was that the so-called "Deep State" is merely the rule of law. That makes total sense. 

97. Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs - I've already mentioned that I decided to order the Spy School books I skipped over because I didn't own them (I bought two). Well, naturally, I had to dive into one. In Spy Camp, Ben Ripley receives a warning note from the evil group Spyder saying that if he doesn't join them within a stated deadline, they'll kill him. To force his hand, they kidnap some of his fellow spies and friends. But, why is Spyder so determined to make him a part of their team? Something seems fishy and Ben is determined to unravel the evil plot. As always, massively entertaining. I don't think I've ever given one of Gibbs' books less than 5 stars because they're so well-plotted and gripping but also funny with a main character who has no interest whatsoever in being one of the bad guys, though they keep trying to tempt him away. 

98. A Warning by Anonymous (Miles Taylor) - As most of the books I've read about The Former Guy have been, A Warning is outdated, published in 2019 to warn people of the 45th president's dangerous lack of judgment or even interest in the job, his carelessness with national secrets (hoo, boy, are we learning more about that or what?), his frequent rages, his insistence on loyalty and the shrinking number of people who were staying in the administration to provide guard rails against him but believed in conservative policies. Like David Frum, Taylor said there was no such thing as the Deep State, although he's partisan enough to slip in comments about the media attacking TFG (as if he didn't deserve it . . . come on). Instead, he calls those who tried to stop TFG from doing harm the "Steady State" and laments the times that they weren't able to stop him or help him control his worst instincts. Interesting but not as good as Trumpocalypse. I think I may be done reading about TFG, although when I said that on Twitter I was besieged with recommendations and at least one is very tempting. 

99. I for Isobel by Amy Witting - Isobel has an abusive mother and a father who usually just ignores her venom. Growing up with a mother who believes she can do nothing right, Isobel believes that the things she loves and desires to accomplish are bad because she is bad. When Isobel experiences a moment of grace in church and becomes good temporarily, she realizes that her mother feeds off strong reactions. But, it isn't till both parents are dead and she has to work for a living that she begins to rediscover the possibilities lost to her in childhood. Kind of a difficult read because it's a bit jumpy and the cruelty is exhausting but the ending, when Isobel meets someone from her past and an incident is reframed as something positive rather than negative, is absolutely beautiful and moving. Really enjoyed this and hope to read the follow-up, soon. 

I don't have a working color printer so the printout of the Space Cat cover, at upper left, should have been blue but you work with what you've got. 

©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, August 02, 2022

Everything I read in July (in brief)


July Reads, 2022

78. Spy x Family #6 by Tatsuya Endo - Twilight and his fellow spy Nightfall (who wants to take the place of his current fake wife, the assassin) must enter a tennis tournament and win in order to get their hands on an important object that contains a document they need to save the world from the brink of war. But, Nightfall's crush on Twilight may prove a hazard. More Spy x Family fun. I love this manga series. 

79. Rage by Bob Woodward - Rage is the second of three books written by Woodward about Donald Trump's presidency. The first, Fear (link leads to my review, the last of several in the post) felt a little disjointed but I just reread my review and it looks like I got plenty out of it. When Woodward was researching Rage he had the advantage of the president's disappointment with Fear. To ensure that he was well represented, Trump allowed Woodward to repeatedly interview him — 17 times, in all. So, instead of secondhand descriptions, Woodward got direct quotes. He describes the hiring and firing of General Mattis and Rex Tillerson, Trump's frustration with the Mueller investigation and the bizarre ending to it, and how Rod Rosenstein was blamed for Comey's firing and came to the decision to hire a special prosecutor. But, most importantly, he describes the challenge of Covid and how the president completely hosed the job of leading the country through the early days of a pandemic because he was too busy worrying about the next election. Rage is a much better book than Fear but Trump's rambling might make you want to poke your eyes out. He really has no focus whatsoever. 

80. Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs - When the Base Commander for Moon Base Alpha goes missing, everyone frantically searches for her and even 12-year-old Dashiell (who solved the mysterious death in Space Case) is mystified. Meanwhile, the wealthy Sjoberg family seems to be up to no good as they've gone into hiding. Could they be involved in Nina's disappearance? Another fun entry in the Moon Base Alpha middle grade series. This series is a trilogy and I've already begun reading the final installment. I'm disappointed that it won't continue beyond the three books. 

81. Greenglass House by Kate Milford - In a fictional area known for its smugglers sits Greenglass House, an inn with beautiful stained glass windows, regular customers from the smuggling crowd, and a lengthy and storied history. 12-year-old Milo is looking forward to a quiet Christmas with no guests when the bell rings and rings again till the inn is filled with a secretive crowd and things begin to go missing. Who is stealing, why, and what are they really after? Fun but a bit slow for me, however, I was feeling a little slumpy when I read Greenglass House. The first in a series. 

82. 300 Minutes of Danger by Jack Heath - A series of adventurous short stories by the Australian author who has written several similar books. I've read one other, 400 Minutes of Danger, and the stories were all interconnected. In 300 Minutes of Danger, there are some interconnections but no final conclusion that ties them all together. This was my stationary bike book for part of the month. 

83. Still Life by Sarah Winman - As WWII is drawing to a close, a young man and an elderly woman meet in Italy. She is an art historian, he a British soldier. They become instant friends but then he returns to Great Britain, where his wife has moved on without him and given birth to a child by an American to whom she is completely devoted in spite of the fact that he hasn't returned to her after the war. When the young man inherits an apartment in Florence, he takes the child and a friend and makes a new life. Over the years, he and the elderly historian cross paths many times without actually meeting. A very understated and lovely story about life, love, friendship, and the beauty of Italy. 

84. Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano - Author Finlay Donovan's romantic suspense books haven't sold well, she's broke, the bills are piling up, her ex-husband is attempting to gain full custody of the children and has fired the nanny, and her latest manuscript is late. When she goes to talk to her agent at a Panera, someone overhears her and thinks she's a contract killer. She's slipped a note offering her a great deal of money to kill the woman's husband, who is a very bad man. Finlay doesn't really mean to kill him but when he winds up dead in her van and she and the nanny bury him, they must investigate and figure out how to give back the money when a second hit job is requested. Again, I was in slump mode so it took me a while to get into this book but I loved it in the end. 
85. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken - A British children's classic published in 1962. Sylvia lives with her elderly aunt but is going to live with her wealthy cousin Bonnie at Willoughby Chase while Bonnie's parents leave the country to seek a cure for her ailing mother. Miss Slighcarp will be their governess. But, when Miss Slighcarp shows up, it turns out she was not a great choice for governess. She begins selling off everything in the house, burns Bonnie's parents' will, and sends the children to a boarding school where they work as slave labor and are barely fed. With help from a friend, they will try to escape. But, is it too late to recover Bonnie's home? And, are her parents really dead? Really, quite gripping. I enjoyed this book immensely. 

86. Mac B, Kid Spy #1: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett (reread) - I read this book as an ARC, a few years ago, so I was thrilled to see that my daughter-in-law had found the series and bought 3 of them for my granddaughters. It's the 1980s and Mac gets very good grades (but has terrible handwriting). The Queen of England calls him and requests his help finding a missing part of the Crown Jewels, a royal spoon. Very silly and I loved it just as much the second time. 

87. Mac B, Kid Spy #2: The Impossible Crime by Mac Barnett - Mac is trying to beat an arcade game when the Queen of England calls and asks for his assistance again, this time because the Crown Jewels are under threat of theft. Locked into a room with Mac and a beefeater, they still go missing. Never fear, Mac is on the job with the help of one of the queen's corgis. Loads of fun and I meant to read the third book but I had to run an errand and when I returned it had been packed (serves me right for waiting till the last day of vacation to read the books). 

So, that's 10 books but actually . . . I didn't realize Sunday was July 31. I'd already moved on mentally to August, by then, and it wasn't till after I photographed my stack (sans the final book finished when I woke up at 4am on Sunday) that I found out it was still July. Ah, well. No biggie. I've got a start on my August stack, then. 

I had one DNF, this month: A Lite Too Bright by Samuel Miller. I believe it's a YA. I made it 84 pages and will probably give this one a second go as I started reading it during the worst of my slump and then I started packing for vacation (in Cape May, New Jersey) and decided I needed a quick read that I could finish before we left so I could just take a couple short books along. That didn't happen. I ended up finishing Finlay Donovan is Killing It in Cape May and then reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and the two Mac B, Kid Spy books. I almost finished In Five Years on our second leg of the flight home but had about 30 pages to go when I crashed. However, this is by far the best I've ever done on a vacation, reading-wise, so I'm celebrating that milestone. 

If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Still Life because it was such an immersive story and a pleasurable setting (Florence, Italy, mostly). I liked everything I read in July. Nothing absolutely blew me away this month, though. 

Isabel says: "Smells like treason." 

Don't mind me. I'm just repeating what the cat said. Everyone got involved in this flatlay:

©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, July 01, 2022

Everything I Read in June (in brief)

June Reads, 2022 — A long post!!!

63. The Autumn of the Ace by Louis de Bernières - The third and final book in the Daniel Pitt trilogy describes the latter part, or the "autumn" of the former ace pilot's life, from middle age to his death. Daniel takes a lengthy detour to Canada,  becomes determined to repair the fractured relationship with his eldest son, and lives to a grand old age. A very satisfying ending to the series. 

64. Spy x Family #5 by Tatsuya Endo - I don't remember a thing about this particular entry except that I enjoyed it every bit as much as the others and the focus was on the brother of the spy's assassin wife and young Anya's continuing attempt to get close to the weathy son of the man who is at the heart of the spy family's mission. I only have two more books till I'm out of entries in this series but another one will be released in the fall. 

65. The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock - In the 14th century, a man sees a boy climbing a tree and asks him to accompany him on a journey to retrieve a series of relics. Boy, who is otherwise nameless, has a hump on his back and has been bullied and ostracized all his life. But, during the journey in a land recently ravaged by plague, Boy discovers that the man, Secundus, and even Boy himself hold surprising secrets. OK, this is one I want to babble about. I had only read a few pages when I realized this book was going to be special. When I set it down, I saw the Newbery medal I'd overlooked upon picking it up to read. Well . . . I agree with whoever chooses the Newbery winners. I particularly enjoyed the historical setting. An author's note at the end of my copy gives a little extra perspective to the time period in which Boy is set. 

66. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier - The story of a friendship between two women, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpott. Mary is destitute but helps keep her family afloat by collecting fossils from the beach near her English home. Elizabeth and her sisters are spinsters who have been set up in an inexpensive home after their brother marries and decides London is too expensive a place for them to remain. Mary and Elizabeth have dramatically different backgrounds but both have an interest in fossils. They become fast friends as Mary makes the stunning discoveries that will change the way people view history. Based on real-life characters. I don't how much of this story is true but I read it specifically because I'd heard of Mary Anning and wanted to learn more about her discoveries. 

67. You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh - I was doomscrolling about a week after the horrible massacre at Uvalde and upset about the fact that likely nothing would change when I saw someone on Twitter ask what others were doing to deal with the stress. One woman posted a photo of You Are Here and said, "I'm reading Thich Nhat Hanh." I've read two books by Hanh and thought, "Oh, perfect. That's just what I need," then immediately ordered a copy. Even knowing how much I've been comforted by past reads, I was somewhat shocked at the quick transformation from ball of stress to calm and happy that readings about being mindful and present caused. I'm reading a 365-day book of very short excerpts of Hanh's work, now, because I wanted to keep that positivity going in my life. 

68. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel - I loved Station Eleven and so did Carrie of Care's Books and Pie, so we decided to buddy read Sea of Tranquility to keep the joy going. What a fascinating book! As in Mandel's other books, you jump from one set of characters to another in different time periods. But, one person keeps showing up in all of them. It turns out he's a time traveler who has gotten the job specifically because of a strange occurrence that he's discovered. I wouldn't have thought of the word "meta" but ***possible spoiler -- highlight to read*** there's an author character who is clearly Emily experiencing a pandemic after having written about one and writing sci-fi to entertain herself. I absolutely loved every minute of this book. 

69. The Nine Lives of Montezuma by Michael Morpurgo - A middle grade story about a boy who discovers that his family's farm cat has given birth to four kittens. One is already dead and, instead of getting the cat fixed, which was more than doable when this book was published in 1980, the father regularly drowns any kittens who appear. Sure enough, he goes to drown them. But, he misses one and Montezuma, "Monty" for short, becomes the boy's beloved pet. Because Monty's an indoor-outdoor cat (made to go out at night), he experiences many dangers and often comes close to death. If anything, this book is a testament to why cats should be neutered and kept indoors. It eventually becomes more tolerable and the ending is sweet but the father is never kind to poor Monty, making for uncomfortable reading, if unfortunately too true to life. I still have at least one more book by Michael Morpurgo, maybe two, and I will read them. But, while I enjoyed this story for its heartwarming pet love aspect, it was a bit too harsh up front for me and it would have turned me into a sobbing puddle as a kid. I love cats and can't imagine I would have tolerated reading about kitten drownings.

70. Autumn by Ali Smith - The first book I bought by Ali Smith was Spring and, at the time, I didn't realize it was the third in a series but it stands alone, so no biggie. And, I loved it so I ordered the first two books, Autumn and Winter. Autumn is the story of an unusual friendship between an elderly man and a young girl. He tells her stories, quizzes her, and encourages her to read. She's already a very smart girl but he encourages her reasoning skills and she finds herself loving him in a way she can love nobody else. While the friendship is at the heart of this story, it's also about Brexit and cruelty to immigrants. But, Smith tackles the heavier topics in a roundabout way and with such brilliant writing that, again, I couldn't put the book down. I'm afraid I'm turning into an Ali Smith fangirl. 

71. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs - Space Case is about a group of people living on the first moon base, the first in the Moon Base Alpha (MBA) middle grade trilogy. Most are scientists of some kind, some are single, some have their families with them. Dash and his sister Violet are among the handful of children on MBA. When Dash overhears the base physician, Dr. Holtz, talking enthusiastically about an important discovery that he'll reveal the next day, then Dr. Holtz is found dead outside the main airlock, Dash is convinced that he was murdered. But, the base director wants to hush up his death to prevent damage to the MBA program. Can Dash find evidence that Dr. Holtz was murdered and figure out what his exciting discovery was? Ugh, I love every book by this author. I ordered the second in the series and will read it soon then probably pass them all on to my eldest granddaughter, who I'm happy to report is an avid reader!

72. The Cat Man of Aleppo by Latham, Shamsi-Basha, and Shimizu - This picture book is the true story of a Mohammed Alaa Aljaleel, who lived in Aleppo during the lengthy years of bombing while his family members escaped to other countries. After deciding to stay and continue his job in EMS, Alaa realized there was something else he could do. He began to feed the cats that had been left behind and were living in the rubble, often starving. As time went on, more cats showed up and the job became too much for his budget, so he sought out donations that enabled him not only to house and feed cats, but also to build a playground and pay for other improvements to the lives of remaining locals. A lovely, heartwarming story that will give you hope. 

73. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris - After the Civil War, a man who has been living off the occasional sale of parcels of his land finds two freedmen on his property. His offer to pay them to help him farm his land is rebuffed at first, but then the brothers change their mind and a friendly work relationship develops. But, in the Deep South, paying Black men to work when soldiers home from fighting the war are having difficulty finding jobs turns the town against him and his family. There's a lot more to the story that I'm leaving out due to spoilers but I thought this was an excellent debut, although I predicted a few plot points before they occurred and that kind of wrecked bits of it, for me. 

74. Blue Horses by Mary Oliver - Another comfort read. I love Mary Oliver's sense of humor and her adoration of nature. Blue Horses was balm to the spirit after a week of terrible news. At a mere 79 pages (many of which are blank) it's a quick read, although not one I intended to whip through — but, I needed it, so that's fine. I think I'll keep this one by the bed and reread a poem per day. 

75. Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer - Barrister Frank Amberley is visiting his wealthy aunt, uncle, and cousin when he comes across a recent murder scene. The dead man is the butler for a man named Boris Fountain and his half sister, Joan. Fountain inherited his uncle's estate a few years prior and kept on the staff. But, why would someone want to kill his butler? The first clue is at the scene, a woman standing by the car. It's clear she isn't the murderer so Amberley keeps her presence to himself and, as he begins investigation and more dead bodies turn up, the plot becomes more twisted. Not the best mystery and a lot of the characters were surly but I enjoyed it for the English setting and manners. 

76. The Magic World by E. Nesbit - I chose The Magic World as my most recent Stationary Bike Read and it turned out to be a pretty perfect choice for several reasons. It was a beat-up book (probably from a library sale) so breaking the spine to make it easier to prop open wasn't a problem; it had already happened. It's a book of short stories. Some were longer than others so I might only end up reading half a story but some I could read in a single biking session. And, it was wildly imaginative so it kept me entertained. I'll probably pass this on to my granddaughters, as it's a wholesome and magical book that I think they'll enjoy. The Magic World was originally published in 1910. 

77. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams - Queenie is a 3rd generation Jamaican-British Londoner who dates only White men, and that can be a problem. White men who date Black women have a tendency to fetishize them. When Queenie's boyfriend Tom says he wants to take a break (insisting that she must move out, since only he can afford the rent), she's devastated but figures they'll get back together after the 3-month break ends. But, Tom won't respond to her calls or texts at all and her response to the loneliness and unsettled feeling is to sleep with a series of men who are abusive or simply users, leading to a breakdown and the loss of her job. Her Jamaican family is against the concept of therapy but her friends encourage her to get help. Will Queenie get back on her feet again? I absolutely loved this story of dealing with a mental health challenge and facing your fears with the help of a loving circle of friends and relatives. It's also about life as a minority woman and its challenges. There's much to talk about in Queenie

OK, so, wow. Quite a surprisingly good month.  The constant dumpster fire of horrible news in America got me down, on occasion, so there were quite a few comfort reads in this batch. Middle grade reads are always comfort reads for me. They're so adventurous! All of these books were in the "liked or loved" category and the only two that made me squirm for one reason or another were The Nine Lives of Montezuma because of the cruelty to animals without any mention that animal reproduction is the responsibility of pet owners and The Sweetness of Water because I got a little tired of it and predicted a few too many plot points. But, I expect big things from the author of The Sweetness of Water. That was some fantastic writing for a debut novel. And, I thought The Nine Lives of Montezuma improved a bit, as it went on, although it could never be a favorite. I should add that it's beautifully illustrated. 

Absolute favorites were The Book of Boy, Sea of Tranquility, You Are Here, Space Case, and Blue Horses. But, wow, I had such a fun month! I wouldn't tell you not to read a single thing I read. I did have one DNF after less than two dozen pages: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. I disliked both the writing style and where the story was clearly headed. Only a few pages in, I remember thinking, "I'm not enjoying this at all." I stuck it out for a while longer and disliked it so much that it went straight into the box of books I'm saving to exchange (if we ever make it to the secondhand store in Nashville) or donate. 

©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, June 03, 2022

Everything I read in May (in brief)



54. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean - The famous novella that became a Brad Pitt movie is paired with some of Maclean's other stories. "A River Runs Through It" is the best, hands-down, the story of a family of fly fishermen and how the brothers Maclean's lives diverged with one happily married and the other an alcoholic who met a bitter end. I loved it when he waxed eloquent about the beauty of nature but some of the fishing scenes were a huge yawn. The other stories had some similarities in that the men were all very much manly-man types, trying to outdo each other in strength and endurance. There are some raunchy bits but nothing overly graphic; it's mostly talk about things men do when they've been deprived of womanly company and stuck with a bunch of men in the forest. My thanks to Carrie for passing on your copy to me!

55. Spy x Family #4 by Tatsuya Endo - The 4th in the manga series, in which the daughter of the spy family is looking for a dog to adopt. She ends up with a dog trained in spycraft who can see into the future. Since the daughter is a telepath, she can read the dog's mind and see what's about to happen. When she finds out her spy father is going to be killed, can she save him? Always entertaining; I love this series. 

56. The Stranger by Albert Camus - A classic I grabbed at our latest library sale, the story of a man who is cold and emotionless but also a little strange. And, his inability to communicate gets him into even bigger trouble after he murders a man. This was a book I wanted desperately to talk about and, thank goodness, I have the smartest beautician on the planet, so I got to discuss it with her while she was highlighting my hair. I wondered if perhaps the murderer was neurodivergent or psychotic. His inability to understand other people's signals and know how to communicate hinted at the former possibility, his coldness at the latter. An interesting read.

57. Spring by Ali Smith - A grieving elderly man goes to Scotland on a whim, where he considers suicide. And, a girl with the ability to slip into places she doesn't belong intrigues a woman who works in a refugee detention center in England. The detention guard and the girl end up also traveling to Scotland and meeting up with the man. Beyond that, I think most everything is a spoiler but the book is about unnecessary cruelty and injustice and how easy it is to treat people like animals as well as the kindness of people who help others in desperate situations. I loved Spring so much that I ordered the first two in the series, Autumn and Winter

58. Fuzz by Mary Roach - The book I keep thinking about and talking about the most, which has surprised me since I found parts of it a wee bit dull. Fuzz is about what happens when animals "misbehave", chiefly wild animals like bears and elephants. The author travelled the world to find out how things like bear and elephant attacks are handled, what's being done to try to keep the animals from raiding farms and villages or garbage cans in cities, and how scientists are trying to find ways to get animals to scurry off the road more quickly to avoid being hit by automobiles. Fascinating and discussion-worthy. 

59. Spy School: British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs -  I haven't read all of this series in order and usually I don't consider that a problem but Spy School: British Invasion referred back to the previous book more than usual. I think the previous one was Spy School: Down South. At any rate, the book begins in Mexico, where several people have been injured in a battle with the evil SPYDER organization. A key that leads to the identity of the elusive head of SPYDER is found and the trail leads to London and then Paris for another action-packed adventure in an attempt to bring down SPYDER once and for all. Loved it. I've love this entire series, so far. They're quick, humorous reads. 

60. Firefly Forest by Robyn Frampton and Mike Heath - I confess, I bought this book from the $1.25 store (it used to be the dollar store) specifically for the gorgeous photographs, which I plan to rip up and use in collaging. But, I had to read it, of course, before dismantling it. Firefly Forest is a wistful story about imagination by a woman who created a miniature village in the forested area of a Kansas City park. Intrigued, people began to visit just to see the miniature doors and scenes that she was installing and eventually a documentary was made about the village in the forest. The text, I am sorry to say, was not great. I found it choppy and weird, though imaginative. It's the photos that really turn me on. This magical little creation of the author's is definitely something I'd like to see in person. 

61. The Backward Season (Wishing Day #3) by Lauren Miracle - It's not unusual for me to read a series book out of order and I also found The Backward Season in the $1.25 store. In the first two books, sisters Natasha and Darya have made wishes on their "Wishing Day", which occurs a few months after a girl's 15th birthday in their small town. Now, it's Ava's turn and her goal is to restore her mother's childhood friend, Emily, to the picture. Emily went missing after her best friend Klara made a selfish wish. Klara is mother to the three girls (Ava is the youngest) and she has suffered depression and doubt since her best friend disappeared, leading her to abandon the family. Can Ava undo the damage? I thought the author did a good job of describing what had happened in the first 2 books, although there was one character whose mysterious story didn't make sense to me till the end. I did have one problem with the storyline that confused me enough that I chose not to rate the book, but I finished it so it earns at least an average rating, if not better. It's nicely wrapped up and I'm sure anyone who has read the first two will enjoy it. 

62. Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell - When a professor publishes a novel by a student who disappeared just after turning it in as her thesis, it blows up his life. The novel describes details of a real-life murder scene that were never released by the police. And, the missing student is alive and well but fears for her life. Why? Who would want to kill her, too? Kind of predictable and I had an issue with the story. Why would someone who is trying to stay in the background because she fears for her life dye her hair "an unnatural shade of red" so that she stood out in a crowd? So, not a favorite but I enjoyed it enough to finish. 

May was not a great month for quantity and I only loved a few of the books I read, so I'm hoping June will be a lot better. I have to say that I am grateful once again for the middle grade books that saved me from a slump. I read the beginnings of several books and then just sputtered out, including 200 pages of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which I was enjoying till that point and then just suddenly couldn't talk myself into reading. Weird! It's memorable enough that I think I could pick it up again at any time with no problem so I've left the bookmark in place. I didn't last as long in the other books I abandoned, all of which I will eventually read but just wasn't in the right mood to read at the time. Fortunately, as I said, when I picked up the Spy School book, it saved me and my urge to read was restored. 

TL;DR - Favorite of the month is Spring by Ali Smith because it was the most meaningful story and the one that most thoroughly swept me away. Fuzz was the one I prattled on about the most. The Stranger was the one I most wanted to discuss. The Spy School and Spy x Family books were terrific, as always. And, I enjoyed most everything else enough to finish. Except, perhaps, Firefly Forest — and I only disliked the text, in that case; I loved the photos. 

©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.