Sunday, September 03, 2023

Everything I Read in August, 2023 (in brief)


96. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs - Quite possibly my new favorite middle grade book by Gibbs, Charlie Thorne is a 12-year-old girl who is as brilliant as Einstein. And, that will come in handy when the CIA snatches her off a ski slope to help them find a missing equation written by Einstein himself. In the right hands, it could be a miracle. But, if someone dangerous finds it first, it will mean disaster. Charlie has used her intelligence to pile up money and her high IQ has been taken advantage of by so many people that she has no interest in much of anything but fun. She's not even all that intrigued by the challenge of finding Einstein's equation. But, as the clues stack up and Charlie realizes how useful her brain can be in a positive way, she learns that working hard and learning are not just an improvement on goofing off but the only way she and her friends in the CIA can survive. A massively plot-twisty, wild ride. This is middle grade but better than most adult thrillers I've read.

97. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 1 by Kousuke Oono - Tatsu used to be known as "The Immortal Dragon," a dangerous and deadly member of the Yakuza. But, now he spends his days cooking, cleaning, taking lessons, and playing with the cat. He still frightens people, but this is where the comedy comes in. He speaks like a criminal and people will think he's about to reach for a knife and instead he'll whip out something harmless like a coupon. He meets another former Yakuza from his disbanded family and takes him to a cooking class. He wears an apron everywhere and when he runs into other Yakuza, he shocks them by doing benign things like feeding them tea and sandwiches. There are a number of individual stories but they all add up to quite a funny read about a guy who is completely dedicated to his newer, gentler life. 

98. A Man and His Cat, #5 by Umi Sakurai - In #5, little Fukumaru looks through a glass door and sees a cat he recognizes as the cat who was in the next cage at the pet shop. But this kitty looks beat up and lost . . . and the kitty is outdoors where it doesn't belong. Worried, Fukumaru runs out the door when Mr. Kanda opens it. He wants to find his former neighbor and help. But, instead, Fukumaru becomes lost. Mr. Kanda is beside himself but spends his hours looking for Fukumaru and puts up a poster in the pet store. When the clerk who used to cuddle Fukumaru finds out he's missing, she gives him advice and joins in the search. Meanwhile, Fukumaru is getting into fights and finding that the world outside of his home is cold and cruel. But, he never stops believing that his daddy will find him. Wow, this one was a tearjerker! The author once lost his cat and there was clearly some emotion he was mining. Anyone whose beloved pet has gone missing will relate. 

99. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 2 by Kousuke Oono - In this second volume, Tatsu decides that he's becoming a little soft and decides to get back into shape. He begins by using a hula hoop in his apartment but his wife puts a stop to that and he follows the neighbors to a gym. At the gym, he is hilariously scary as his words sound like the words of a killer as he follows along with his neighbors, getting into various poses to get into shape. I can't recall if it was the first or second volume in which his cat created chaos but that was another fun scene. The cat got into everything, knocked stuff over, and as the neighbors walked in, Tatsu is covered in wine. So, the cat is also a fun addition, although often it's just peeking around doors. 

100. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 3 by Kousuke Oono - Among other stories in this volume, Tatsu runs into some of his former Yakuza family. In the usual, "This is about to be scary" scene, things become comical when the older man shows off his new dog and Tatsu's neighbors observe that that the dog is kind of skinny. The older Yakuza, also retired, says his dog hasn't been eating well. Tatsu to the rescue! He whips up a meal for the dog with clam broth and other healthy ingredients and the dog digs in. There's also a big fight with a nasty insect that I'm trying to forget about. So far, I am loving this series. I bought 6 or 7 of them (I know, I know) and read two on vacation, the third when I was too tired to move after arriving home. I think I'll save the rest to spread out and enjoy over the coming months. 

101. The Dirty Dozen by E. M. Nathanson - A fictionalized account of a real-life event in which rapists, murderers, and other criminals are released from their date with the hangman and trained for what's basically a suicide mission in occupied France during WWII, just prior to D-Day, I found the creepy, misogynistic, yucky-people factor ranked way up there with Lolita and A Simple Plan. So, it took me a month to read The Dirty Dozen because I had to take breaks from it. But, in the end it was a really good story and I'm looking forward to viewing the movie, which I've never seen, very soon. Side note: "The Filthy Thirteen", the real-life criminals who were trained and sent on a dangerous mission, were led by a man from my hometown in Oklahoma. I'm hoping there's a book about them somewhere. 

102. The River of Doubt by Candice Millard - The true story of Teddy Roosevelt's dangerous journey into the Amazon, The River of Doubt was the first selection for a new book group I was invited to join recently. I'd read about Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon in other books about the Roosevelt family, but just in passing. So, I knew about the journey but not in any detail. The River of Doubt is quite in-depth. It begins by describing how downcast the former president was, after losing his attempt at a third term as president. When he was invited on a speaking tour in South America, he looked at it as an opportunity to get away and forget about his loss. The Amazon trip was kind of tacked onto his agenda and then it became something entirely different, a trip to uncharted territory where the explorers encountered dangerous insects and animals, disease, natives who tend to kill visitors/enemies (and sometimes eat them), plus rapids and waterfalls that their dugout canoes couldn't handle, and eventually a lack of supplies. Utterly fascinating. I liked it more than the other group members, I think, but discussion was fun. 

103. Felicity by Mary Oliver - While packing up the books stacked on my library floor (I was tired of looking at them and tripping over them), I came across Felicity and set it aside in my "Read This Right Away" pile. As the title indicates, it's a happy book and mostly about the joys of being in love. There are lots of tender love poems. I personally think Mary Oliver was at her best when describing the natural world, her love of it, its harshness, etc. So, Felicity wasn't a favorite. But, you honestly can't lose with Oliver. Even a book I don't describe as a favorite was a terrific read. She was a wonder, with such a unique eye for beauty and the senses. 

104. He Started It by Samantha Downing - One of those rare books with a cover that made me think I had to read it (it looks, shall we say, explosive), I noted that the general rating was only average before I bought a copy and went for it, anyway. I have no regrets, although I am left with questions. The story is that twenty years ago, Eddie, Beth, and Portia went on a road trip with their Grandpa. One of the unanswered questions is "Why?" But, I didn't realize I never knew the why till I closed the book. Now, in the present, they're required to repeat the road trip and this time take Grandpa's ashes along. Should they fail, they won't receive their inheritance. And, it's a pretty substantial inheritance. I liked the story for the road trip/people annoying each other/weird stops/everyone's up to something aspect. To say more would give too much away but I will say I hated the ending even though I sort of predicted it (without a particular twist that did surprise me). But, I found the book compelling enough that I didn't care. I've just rewritten the ending in my head. And, I would definitely read more by Samantha Downing.

105. The Duke Gets Desperate by Diana Quincy - Raya Darvish has been corresponding with her cousin, who married a duke and was then widowed. Unfortunately, her cousin has died by the time she arrives in England for a visit. There, Raya finds that she has inherited her widowed cousin's castle. Anthony Carey, the Duke of Strickland should have inherited but his father let the entail lapse. In a classic hate-to-love trope, "Strick" falls for the beautiful Arab-American and tries to find a way to buy back his castle while Raya, who has an uncommonly sharp business acumen, is finding ways to keep the estate viable. I accepted this ARC (thanks, Avon!) because I've missed reading the occasional romance, and I really enjoyed the storyline. It's a bit spicy and I prefer clean romance that tiptoes around the bedroom but I have no problem just skimming or skipping the scenes I dislike. Fair warning: the duke likes to talk dirty so it can be a bit vulgar. I didn't care. I love stories with strong, smart women and the setting is the Gilded Age, when the nobility was struggling with the upkeep on their castles so Raya's ability to come up with money-making ideas worked well in this setting. 

106. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 4 by Kousuke Oono - The 4th volume of this hilarious manga series begins with Tatsu trying to buy a fish then chasing the cat who steals his fish until . . . well, you'll have to see what happens. As with all of these books, there are a number of stories and Tatsu is almost always wearing his apron (there's one time he actually just wears regular clothing), which hasn't yet ceased to make me smile. He shows a visitor how to cook steak like the Japanese, goes to an amusement park with his wife, and freaks people out when he speaks, including small children. I didn't think I could love any manga as much as I love the Spy X Family books but The Way of the Househusband series is every bit as fun. 

I didn't read all that much, this month (ugh, this whole year I've been reading painfully slowly, although vacation contributed, this month) but wow, did I have fun. I was trying to hold off on reading more of the Househusband books till next month but when I realized I wasn't going to finish the only book with a bookmark in it and that I kind of needed a breather from it anyway, I grabbed Vol 4 and I have no regrets. As to the rest . . . yep, I liked or loved everything. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Charlie Thorne as I like an action-packed book and Stuart Gibbs never lets you down. But, there were no duds or DNFs, this month. 

©2023 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 01, 2023

Everything I Read in July, 2023 (in brief)


85. Harry and Sue by Larry Baker - Harry and Sue were in love but a single, fateful decision ended their romance. 40 years later, Harry is a taxi driver living in a boarding house. He still isn't over Sue. On a rainy night, someone waves him over and invites him into the closed Centre Theater and gives him a tour. Inside the theater there are many ghosts and the manager wants Harry to move in. But, one of the ghosts (Houdini) warns Harry that it's a trap. Why does the theater manager want Harry to move in? Will Harry ever see Sue, again? And, what's up with all the cats? Suspension of disbelief is required and the middle is a little big saggy but ultimately, I found the ending of this story so satisfying that I was very glad I read it. 

86. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit - How have I missed out on this incredibly warm, sweet, funny, sometimes frightening classic? I have no idea, but now that I've read it I'm certain it will stay in my heart forever. Roberta, Phyllis, and Peter are surprised when strangers arrive at their door, their father hastily leaves, and their mother goes pale. What has happened? They're accustomed to a life with servants in a large house but shortly after bad news on the doorstep, they pack up their things and move to a house in the countryside, where they must do with a single woman coming to help and Mother is now feverishly writing stories. Left mostly to themselves, the children become captivated by the nearby railway. They make friends, have adventures, and are courageous when necessary. The ending had me in tears. I would have eaten this up as a child and read it over and over again. 

87. Heartstopper, Vol 2 by Alice Oseman - The continuation of Nick and Charlie's story. Reminder: Nick has dated a girl in the past, while Charlie was outed as gay before he was ready. Nick was surprised to find himself attracted to Charlie in the first book. In the second volume of Heartstopper, Nick is trying to figure out what's going on. What does his attraction to both males and females mean? He reads up on bisexuality and then slowly comes to terms with who he is with the help of his ex-girlfriend and Charlie. This book is mostly about how individuals often have to go through the process of accepting their sexuality if it's confusing to them, but also then must figure out when and how to come out as gay, bisexual, etc. Charlie and Nick's ex, who also happens to be gay, are very helpful and encourage Nick to take his time and only let people know when it feels right. Another sweet entry in this series. 

88. Eloise and the Big Parade by Lisa McClatchy - Eloise and Nanny go to their 4th of July parade, where Eloise is so excited that she is a bit of a troublemaker, climbing where she shouldn't, stepping out into the street, catching as much candy as she can. An easy reader that was sent to me by mistake and which I will find a new home for but definitely a cute book for a new reader if you're looking for something specifically related to Independence Day celebrations in the US. 

89. Firefly: The Unification War, Vol 2 by Greg Pak, et al - The second in the series has Mal captured by Boss Moon (the Unificator who was trying to kill Zoë and Mal in Vol 1) and then crash-landing on a planet with some pretty creepy giant bug-looking critters, Zoë running a rescue mission, and the rest of the crew trying to help in different ways. There was a lot going on in this particular storyline but it was fun. The author, Greg Pak, does a great job of sneaking in some of Mal's typical wit and when Jayne is captured, the Tams do a great job of briefly convincing his captors that Jayne is Wash, which is also quite funny. Very entertaining. 

90. Heartstopper, Vol 3 by Alice Oseman - In Volume 3 of the Heartstopper graphic novel series, Charlie and Nick go on a school trip to Paris. While there, they discuss whether or not they should tell their friends they're dating. Meanwhile, other relationships are brewing. One of Charlie's friends is falling for a trans girl and the two adult male chaperones are eyeing each other. In a new development, Nick is worried when he realizes Charlie hardly eats at all. The thing I particularly love about this series is that it's about the emotional impact of being LGBTQ and it also focuses on LGBTQ relationships so there's a lot of unique representation. And, in spite of the fact that Nick and Charlie's relationship is progressing, this volume still doesn't go beyond a little kissing, hand-holding, and fully-clothed playful wrestling. 

91. The Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton - The 2nd in the Adventure series stars the children from the first book (Phillip, Dinah, Jack, and Lucy-Ann) along with a new girl, Tassie. During summer break, Phillip and Dinah's mother rents a cottage with a castle on the hill above. When Jack spots a pair of golden eagles, he's convinced that they must be nesting in the castle and the children go to investigate. Their new friend Tassie helps them find their way into the castle. But, when Jack spends the night at the castle so that he can photograph the eagles in their nest, he discovers that he's not alone. And, when the children arrive and discover something strange is going on, they are all in peril. This is such a fun series. Childhood me is sad that Enid Blyton's books were not available to read at the time. Adult me is happy to catch up. 

92. Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen - During the summer of 1959 in Wisconsin, someone is molesting and murdering young girls. Sally O'Malley thinks she knows who the killer is. But, during a summer in which she and her sister Troo are mostly left on their own after their mother becomes dangerously ill, their stepfather stops coming home, and their older sister is too busy with beauty school and her boyfriend to look after them, Sally will uncover a lot of surprising secrets. Really enjoyed this book and hope to read more by Kagen. It was my stationary biking book and it's worth mentioning that the characters and scenes were so vividly drawn that I never had any trouble remembering where I was in the story, in spite of reading it in small chunks over several weeks.

93. The One by John Marrs - The world has been revolutionized by the discovery of DNA-matched romance. But all is not as perfect as it seems in the world of matched souls. What will happen to each of the individuals matched in The One, including a woman who is matched to a serial killer? I'm not a big fan of thrillers and don't particularly find murder entertaining (although the unraveling of clues can be fun) but I reviewed a John Marrs book, a few years ago, and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to read more. There are a lot of characters to follow in The One and a good half to two-thirds of this book I kept wondering where the author was taking me, although I was thoroughly engaged in the various couple stories. The last third pulled everything together in a satisfying way. 

94. Heartstopper, Vol 4 by Alice Oseman - In this 4th volume of the Heartstopper graphic novel series, Charlie and Nick are separated during the holidays. Meanwhile, Nick is becoming more concerned that Charlie has an eating disorder and he researches what to do about it, what to say, and how to help Charlie get treatment. I was planning to stop at #4, figuring this series would continue on for a long time, but then I read the author's note saying that #5 would be the last in the series. So, I've pre-ordered it and am very much looking forward to the last entry in the story of Charlie and Nick. As always, the book remained clean and was more about emotion than physicality. Any tussling is done fully clothed but there's mostly just kissing and hand-holding. It's a nice, clean series that I'd recommend to anyone. 

95. Firefly: The Unification War, Vol 3 by Greg Pak - The final entry in the Unification War series is again chaotic and, admittedly, my least favorite. The former Browncoats are worried about an upcoming land war and their enemy has landburners, a device that was outlawed after they were used to destroy entire planets. To save their own hides, they'll have to try to capture the landburners. Also, Mal's mother shows up and she's one tough cookie. To be honest, I absolutely hated Mal's mother being brought into the story. Plus, I found this entry a bit harder to follow, although the art in this series is wobbly and it's often hard to tell the characters apart. I'm still glad I read them. It was nice to revisit Firefly. 

This month was not my best because I was, and am, immersed in a 500-page book that's a bit dense and also has such appalling characters that I've had to routinely take breaks from it. I'm a little over 2/3 of the way into that, so it will show up in my August post. Meanwhile, most of the rest of my reads were books that were read on the side (as breaks from the dense book), with the exceptions of Harry and Sue, which I read at the beginning of the month, and Whistling in the Dark, my stationary biking book. Having said that, as usual I liked or loved everything I read. I have gotten very good at abandoning books that I'm not enjoying. The only one that was iffy was The One. The first 2/3 of it were just baffling. I thought it was a serial killer book . . . and there is a serial killer. But, it was about the couples who are matched and the serial killer just happens to be among those who are coupled. Once the author began to show the consequences and it began to make more sense what the book was about, I really enjoyed it. 

©2023 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.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Everything I Read in June, 2023 (in brief)


74. The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center - Katherine Center's debut is about a pregnant woman who is engaged to her unborn child's father. When he abandons her and a good-looking neighbor steps in to help, Jenny realizes what she was missing in a relationship. But, is she too stung to move on to a new romance? Sweet, predictable romance feels secondary to the story of pregnancy and single motherhood but I loved the romance so much that I plucked the book off my stationary bike to rush through it. Apart from the focus on being a new mother (which I confess bored me a bit), my only complaint is that Jenny got a lot of help financially and was able to stay home on her own with no job. Maybe the author thought adding a financial struggle would be too much but that aspect felt unrealistic to me. Most single mothers have finances to deal with as well as the ordinary stresses of new parenthood. 

75. Did I Ever Tell You This? by Sam Neill - I ordered Sam Neill's new memoir before Book Depository was shut down because I've been following him on Instagram for some time @samneilltheprop and find him charming and full of joy. Did I Ever Tell You This? was written during the pandemic, as Neill was going through chemotherapy, and while he occasionally mentions realizing that he might not survive his illness, the book is generally an upbeat, chatty, and warm book of anecdotes, mostly about growing up, the joys of work, farming, and making his own wine, and his love of people and animals. He's a good storyteller and I kept turning to tell my husband anecdotes from the book, so he finally went off to fetch The Dish, my all-time favorite movie, which just happens to star Sam Neill. It worked if he was trying to shut me up. I highly recommend both the book and the movie. 

76. The Dead of the Night (Tomorrow series #2) by John Marsden - The second in the Tomorrow series, which begins with Tomorrow, When the War Began, has the remaining teenagers angry and hurting after their friend Corrie was injured and Kevin never returned from taking her to town for help. After a month recovering, Ellie suggests that they go in the other direction from their camping spot in a place known as Hell. They leave one of their band behind to feed the animals and find a large group of people who call themselves Harvey's Heroes. While they begin to settle in, they want to go back to bring their friend Chris, in spite of the fact that the males are separated from the females and the chores are also divided in a sexist way. But, when the "heroes" go on a mission and it ends in tragedy, they're forced to run for their lives. Back in Hell, they find that Chris is missing. And, then they get tired of recovering, again, and go on a mission in the dead of the night. So good. I love this series and I'm glad I bought the boxed set for rereading.

77. The Shadow Hero (The Green Turtle Chronicles #1) by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Lieu - A remake by graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang of a story first told in a set of 5 comic books at the dawn of their popularity, The Shadow Hero tells the story of the Green Turtle, a teenager whose father runs a grocery store in their city's Chinatown district. When Hank's mother is saved by a superhero, she decides her son must become a superhero, as well. But, there's more to being a superhero than a fancy costume. After his first attempt at saving the day ends in disaster, Hank is trained to fight by his uncle and sets out to end the corruption that has his family paying a crime family to stay in business. I think this is my 5th graphic novel by Yang and I love his sense of humor. Also, very cool that he found the first Asian superhero and updated the story. 

78. The Expanse: Origins by James S. A. Corey et al. - A graphic novel tie-in to the television series, The Expanse: Origins tells the backstories of the main cast of characters. Each had some sort of traumatic experience that led them all to end up together on the Rocinante. While not the greatest graphic novel, I'd like to read the second in the Expanse series, soon, and it was a good refresher course on the characters as they've faded a bit from my memory since I read the first in the series. 

79. The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again, Today (#1) by Hitsuji Yamada -  A manga that's not at all what it sounds like! The so-called "Masterful Cat", Yukichi, is an oversized cat who walks on two legs, cooks, cleans, and goes grocery shopping. Saku took him in as a kitten and the kitten was horrified by her sloppy apartment and tendency to over drink. So as he grew larger, Yukichi set about putting Saku's life in order. Now, the cat does most of the cooking, including preparing delicious lunches for Saku. When Saku finds out her boss has seen her messy apartment in the past, she is utterly horrified. He knows she has a cat. Has he seen the size of Yukichi? How will she keep people from finding out her cat is so unusual and that her life isn't at all what they believe? Very entertaining! I may continue with this series. It's ridiculous and delightful. 

80. The Arrival by Shaun Tan - Shaun Tan blows my mind every time. A beautiful, wordless story about a man who escapes his home during a dark time but must leave his family behind. In his new country, he seeks a place to stay and a job and is aided by the kindness of strangers. Heartwarming and gorgeous.

81. The Adventures of Little Tiger by Marielle Sohier - A throwback read . . . way back. This is probably one of the first chapter books I owned, a small book that's 249 pages and heavily illustrated. Little Tiger is a cheerful little guy who loves color. He sets out to bring the beauty of the outdoors inside by painting his walls a cheery sunflower yellow. From there, the story follows Little Tiger visiting with friends, taking a ride on the back of an alligator, going on a submarine ride, flying a helicopter, vacationing in Venice, visiting the mountains and the North Pole, and returning home (among other adventures). It's a crazy "one thing leads to another" type of story in which you never know where the main character is going to end up next. But, it's the illustrations that really take me back. I still love it. The Adventures of Little Tiger is a wild ride and extremely colorful. 

82. The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain - Albert is about to turn 65. For 50 years, he's been a postal worker and lived in his family home after the love of his life said he never wanted to see Albert again. At the time, being gay was illegal in Britain. But, now, as he's on the verge of retirement, Albert's decided it's time for a change. To begin with, he reaches out and becomes fast friends with a single mother, Nicole, and her daughter. Nicole is also an outcast as a black single mum in a new town, but she's working hard to become self-supporting. She has been abandoned by the father of her child and recently fallen for a man whose parents think he could do better. As Nicole encourages Albert to come out of the closet and chase his dreams, Albert encourages Nicole to be forthright in her own relationship. There were some scenes I found uncomfortable but this is the sweetest book. I lost track of how many times it brought me to tears. And, I think the author did a fantastic job of showing that we're all humans and in this together. I would love to read more by Matt Cain. 

83. Firefly: The Unification War, Part One by Greg Oak, Dan McDaid, and Marcelo Costa - The first in a series based on the Firefly television show. When Serenity is attacked, the crew has no choice but to land on the closest planet. They need money to replace their engine, so they go in search of jobs. There, they find a religious faction that needs protection from bandits. Meanwhile, the Unificators, the people who shot Serenity's engine, are hunting Mal and Zoë, whom they consider war criminals. From the cover: "War can make villains of even the best men, and Mal's quest for redemption will put him at odds with his own crew, forcing him to make a choice: fix the past or fight for the future." Nicely stated. I thought it was a fun graphic novel and I'm glad I have two more of them, although I think there are quite a few more in the series (10 or 12). 

84. Heartstopper, Vol. 1 by Alice Oseman - Another first in a series! I started a lot of new graphic novels, this month. Heartstopper is a perfect example of why LGBTQ books need to stay on school shelves, especially if they're as sweet and thoughtful as this graphic novel. Charlie is openly gay after being outed a couple years prior to the beginning of the story (not by choice). He's very smart and a quick runner so when Nick sees him running, he tells Charlie there are some openings on the rugby team and invites him to come to practice. Nick is a big, athletic guy with a lot more confidence than Charlie but as their friendship develops, Nick begins to realize that he likes Charlie a bit more than he thought possible. A seriously sweet romance that does not go beyond kissing and does a great job of showing how people come to the realization of their sexuality at different ages and stages. Charlie knows he's gay; Nick is figuring himself out. I think any teenager can relate to the emotions, confusion, and general angst of this story, regardless of their orientation. 

What a month. I began in such a terrible reading slump that I had only read three books by the three-week mark. To try to shake myself out of it, I started reading a bunch of graphic novels, a manga, a children's book from my childhood, a wordless book. The easy reading finally did the trick and I ended the month content with what I'd read, although most of my books read didn't involve a whole lot of words. 

The rams are a reference to Sam Neill, by the way, as he was in a movie entitled Rams. We had a brief journey into the world of Sam Neill films, including Rams, after I finished Did I Ever Tell You This? but, unfortunately, it didn't last long because the spouse was disinterested and I usually watch TV only in the evenings, so compromise is necessary. At any rate, this was the typical month of "liked or loved everything" and while I did abandon one book at the first of the month, when I could barely stay awake to read and couldn't concentrate when I did, that book was just fine after I emerged from my reading slump and is my first finished book for July. Come back at the end of the month and I'll tell you all about it. 

©2023 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, June 01, 2023

Everything I read in May, 2023 (in Brief)



59. Wished by Lissa Evans - A middle grade story about 3 children who discover magic candles in the home of an older woman who is watching them temporarily. Each candle will allow someone a wish but only so long as the candle is burning. When the older woman (can't remember her name but she's a fun character) finds out about the candles, she sets out to fulfill a list of adventurous wishes written in her childhood and the children are swept along. Loads of fun. Lissa Evans can't write a bad book, in my humble opinion.

60. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner - (e-book/Hoopla) The Lost Apothecary was recommended to me by the librarian who runs my Zoom book group, but when I say "recommended," I mean that I was intrigued in spite of what she had to say about it. What was most interesting to me was that there was a storyline that included mudlarking, something I've been interested in for years. However, she did say it was badly written and I agree. It was flawed in many ways and there were historical anachronisms. But, I still managed to enjoy it enough to finish and that same librarian said Penner's next book is better so I'm probably going to give her another shot. 

61. On the Horizon by Lois Lowry - A short book in verse that tells of the author's childhood in Hawaii and then Tokyo. It's about WWII, the USS Arizona, and Hiroshima, the horrible loss of life, and a surprising friendship made many years after the war. It's a tearjerker. I loved it. 

62. The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton - The first in a series of 8, I bought this boxed set after years of hearing British friends gush about how much Enid Blyton's books meant to them as children.The Island of Adventure is about 4 children who meet during the school holidays at the house of a master (teacher) who is helping them work on their weaknesses. After cramming, Phillip invites Jack, his parrot Kiki, and his sister Lucy-Ann to Craggy Tops, the half-ruined home on a cliff where he lives with his aunt, uncle, and sister Dinah. The children have fun playing on the shore and in caves but they want to visit the Isle of Gloom, an island that's only sometimes visible off shore. After learning how to sail, they sneak off to the island using the handyman's sailboat and there they make a surprising discovery that will put them in terrible danger. Another great middle grade adventure . . . and now I get the appeal of Enid Blyton. 

63. The United States of McSweeney's: Ten Years of Lucky Mistakes and Accidental Classics, ed. by Nick Hornby and Eli Horowitz - A 10-year "best hits" type of book, and one that is heavily panned by those who are regular McSweeney's readers for repeated best-of stories rather than the use of newer ones. They were all new to me so no biggie. As usual with McSweeney's, there were stories I loved and some I didn't care for. One just lost me completely. My absolute favorite story was "The Ceiling" by Kevin Brockmeier, a story about a strange darkening in the sky that slowly lowers itself to earth. The ending made me wish I had a friend who'd read it with me so I could discuss. Coming in a close second was a story called "I Understand" by Roddy Doyle. No surprise. I love everything Doyle writes. 

64. An Astronomer in Love by Antoine Laurain - In the 18th century, Guillaume Le Gentil has embarked on a journey from his home in France to Pondicherry in India to view and make calculations based upon the Transit of Venus, an event that will occur twice in his lifetime and then not for over 100 years. In modern-day Paris, a real estate agent named Xavier has been asked to remove a chest from an apartment he sold when the previous owners ignore the new owner's request. In it, he finds a copper telescope, which he sets up on his balcony. Le Gentil is met with all sorts of disaster while Xavier is just trying to find happiness and keep his young son Olivier occupied on the weekends when he has custody. But, are both Guillaume and Xavier destined to find love? The title kind of gives you a hint. Once again, Laurain has knocked it out of the park. I loved both the historical storyline (based on the life of Le Gentil, who was real and equally unlucky) and the modern one. This is quite unusual. I tend to like either one or the other in novels with two storylines that are interconnected. (ARC - My thanks to Meryl Zegarek for the review copy)

65. A Man and His Cat #4 by Umi Sakurai - The 4th in the manga series has Mr. Kanda run into an old rival who has inherited a cat from his flighty mother. Mr. Kanda offers to help him learn how to care for a cat as the man has never owned a cat, before. When Mr. Kanda sees the cat, an exotic like Fukumaru, he suspects it is one of Fukumaru's siblings and asks if the cats can get together to see if they recognize one another. This is a manga series with surprising depth as it isn't just all goofy cat antics and a gushy cat owner (although there's plenty of that). Each entry delves deeper into both Mr. Kanda's story and Fukumaru's kittenhood.

66. Exquisite by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera - A children's picture book about the life and poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks that focuses on her passion and determination, which led to a Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry book. Wonderful story about hard work and focus leading to a wonderful outcome with gorgeous illustrations. My only complaint is that there's a single poem by Brooks and I would have preferred it if the book had 3 or 4 more.

67. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell - Iris owns a small vintage clothing store in Edinburgh and is seeing a married man. Her life is tolerable if unexciting until the day she gets an unexpected phone call. Esme Lennox is being released from Cauldstone Hospital, a mental facility in which she's been locked up for 61 years. Iris has never heard of her, the sister to her grandmother Kitty, who said she was an only child. Esme has nowhere to go because the hospital is closing for good, so Iris ends up taking her on till she can find a home for her. But, in the short time she's with Esme, she can sense no mental illness and she does notice a resemblance to her own father. I won't share any spoilers but the ending is both vague and explosive. I had to look up other opinions of what had happened. Not my favorite by O'Farrell but it's excellent. It does require a bit of concentration to figure out what's going on, at times.  

68. Maizy Chen's Last Chance by Lisa Yee - I read a positive review of Maizy Chen when I was thinking about Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander month and wondering what I should read that fit the bill. It's middle grade (which I love) so I bought it on impulse. Good decision. Maizy and her mother have traveled from Los Angeles to Last Chance, Minnesota due to her grandfather's declining health. There, she makes new friends, learns about her family's restaurant and history, and experiences racism. The story of how an ancestor named Lucky came to the US from China and eventually opened the family's restaurant is a story within the story told by Maizy's grandfather and it's handled so beautifully that I can see why the book has won so many awards. It did take me a good 25 pages to get into the story, but then it just kept getting better. I laughed, I cried. I loved this book. 

69. Aliens in Underpants Save the World by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort - This children's picture book was an impulse purchase from Book Outlet when I went looking for a specific book. I have a thing for aliens in children's books because they're just so dang cute. In this rhyming tale, aliens wearing underpants discover that a dangerous meteor is headed toward Earth. What can they do to save the day? Spoiler: they stitch a bunch of underpants together and use them to alter the meteor's path. Super cute illustrations are marred a bit by awkward rhyming and I got the impression that there's a previous alien book that describes how they got their underpants in the first place so it felt like something was missing but I still really enjoyed the book. I like silliness and would have loved to read this to my kids if it had been around when they were little. 

70. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole - (Audio) I've wanted to read this book for years, mostly out of curiosity. I knew it was a true story so it always baffled me that it was so frequently banned. What motivated me was reading banned book lists from Florida counties in which Tango came up several times. I was hoping my library would have the ebook but all they had was the audio. So, a controversial kids' book has just become my first Hoopla audio borrow (it's a whopping 8 minutes long). It's so sweet! There is nothing sexual whatsoever in this story. Two male penguins are affectionate (nothing beyond that) and they desire to hatch an egg like the other couples. It's a penguin couple who can't seem to deal with more than one chick that ends up having an extra egg taken from them for the male couple to hatch. So, it could be argued that Tango wouldn't have survived without their care. What a lovely story. 

71. What About Will by Ellen Hopkins - A middle grade novel written in verse about two brothers. 17-year-old Will has had a Traumatic Brain Injury that damaged his facial nerves and has changed his personality. Now, he's angry and sullen. To complicate matters, Will and his 12-year-old brother Trace are both frustrated that their mother has left the family to go on the road with her rock band and their father works long hours. Will is supposed to drive Trace to school (they attend the same school, in spite of their age difference) and ball practice. But, Will is unreliable and sometimes out of it, even when he does show up. Trace suspects his brother is buying drugs but neither of his parents are listening and Trace is careful about what he says because he wants to protect Will. But, then things spiral out of control. I liked this book but I kept aging Trace up mentally, in spite of the fact that he's in Little League. I don't know why I did that but it just felt more like YA to me. My first by Hopkins and I want to read more. I don't think this title has been banned but at least one county in Florida has banned nothing but books by Hopkins. So, now I want to read them out of curiosity.  

72. Spy x Family #9 by Tatsuya Endo - This 9th volume of the manga series finishes the story told in #8 with Yor defending a couple and their child on a cruise ship and Anya helping to save the day when it turns out the bad guys are trying to blow up the ship with numerous bombs having been planted. Back at home, Anya's friend Becky visits and swoons over Anya's "father". There are a number of other stories — too many to go into — but suffice it to say, this entry made me smile a lot. Still loving the series and I'm looking forward to #10 coming out in the fall. I've already pre-ordered it. 

73. Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Four interconnected stories about time travelers and the people who work in the cafe from the author of the original Before the Coffee Gets Cold, which I absolutely loved. This book of tales is every bit as heart-tugging as the first book but because there are several stories and they intersect, you have a lot of characters to keep track of. I had to occasionally sit for a minute and think, "OK, who is this person that was just mentioned?" Part of the reason for that is the prevalence of characters whose names begin with the letter K. It's easy to get all of those K names tangled up in your brain. At any rate, I enjoyed the book and absolutely loved the ending. 

©2023 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, May 03, 2023

Everything I Read in April, 2023 (in brief)


All reads are pictured except for 16 Words, an ebook. Flatlay image at bottom. 

42. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (Tomorrow #1) - Ellie invites her friends for a week in the Outback during a holiday and they have a delicious time fending for themselves, lying by the river, and checking out the area known locally as "Hell". But, when they return, they discover that Australia has been invaded, their families taken prisoner. Should they retreat to their new home in the Outback and hide or do their part to fight the war? An explosive YA series with my favorite gutsy heroine of all time. Ellie and her friends are amazing. I'm excited to finally get around to rereading this series.

43. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh - Paul Pennyfeather is studying for the clergy at Scone College, Oxford, when an unfortunate event occurs and he's sent down (kicked out) for indecent behavior. But, he's British so he bucks up and finds a job as a master at a school in Wales. From there, he works as a tutor and then falls in love; then, he has an even steeper fall from grace. I said, "Oh, poor Paul," a lot while reading this book, but the ending is very satisfying and now I really want to read more Waugh. 

44. The Urban Sketching Handbook: Drawing Expressive People by Róisín Curé - The author mentioned this book in a free workshop I was taking (her class was one of my favorites) so I grabbed a copy. Curé talks about how to quickly sketch what you see and tips on how to finish up the bodies of people who don't stick around quite long enough, as well as how to paint with a minimal palette and things to observe like the way the light creates a crown at the top of a head and washes out color on the body. If you're interested in urban sketching, I highly recommend it. 

45. A Man and His Cat #3 by Umi Sakurai - The third in the manga series goes further into detail about all of the main characters: Mr. Kanda, Fukumaru (the cat), his dearly departed wife, and his best friend. We learn why he teaches instead of doing piano performances, Fukumaru's kittenhood, and a little about his best friend that makes him seem less the villain and more an immature guy but a loyal buddy. I loved this particular entry. 

46. Tell Me the Truth About Love by W. H. Auden - Lots of rereads, this month. I heard Tom Hiddleston reciting "Funeral Blues" recently and that made me crave some Auden. Fortunately, I already had Tell Me the Truth About Love on my shelf. Some of the poems in this slim collection are actually kind of funny. Some perplexed me. Nothing beats "Funeral Blues" for moving, emotional poetry, though. And, oddly, even Tom Hiddleston (who is fabulous) doesn't hold a candle to John Hannah's reading in Four Weddings and a Funeral. I can't even watch the clip on YouTube without tears. 

47. Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, Ed. by Gary D. Schmidt, Illus. by Henri Sorensen - The "Poetry for Young People" series is wonderful: poems by well-known poets with a brief explanation and gorgeous illustrations. I wish I'd bought them all when they came out. I got one or two for review, at the time, and bought at least one more but that's all and now they appear to be out of print. I am a Frost fan so I reread this one, now and then. I love the explanatory paragraphs. While Frost's poetry is very straightforward, the introductory writings add a bit of depth and meaning to Frost's words. 

48. Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly by Murray Bail - I bought a battered (and very grubby) used copy of this book after reading the exhibit book my husband brought back from Canberra, where I sent him to view the Sidney Nolan collection. I wanted a book specifically about the Ned Kelly paintings, which wasn't what I got from the exhibit book, although it was fascinating. In Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly, the essays describe Ned Kelly's life and why Nolan chose to tell his story through paintings but how some of his paintings were actually about himself. The two books are quite different and I'm glad I read both. 

49. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain by Will Walton - Author Andrew Smith recommended I Felt a Funeral in My Brain on Facebook and I've found his recommendations are generally worthwhile, so I bought a copy and then . . . it didn't click. 3 or 4 years later, I picked it up again and loved it. Avery is 16, gay, a poet with an alcoholic mother and a grandfather who is also hiding an alcohol problem. His grandfather is like Schrodinger's cat in this book . . . he's dead, he's alive, he's dead. That's because it leaps around in time and is written in what feels like an experimental form. It's a bit of a head trip but it's about grief, addiction, being LGBTQ, poetry, and just being a 16-year-old trying to make sense of everything. Another great recommendation. I'm glad I finally read it. 

50. The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George - My Side of the Mountain by this same author is one of my childhood favorite books. So, I was surprised how much I disliked The Cats of Roxville Station. In the beginning, it sounded like it was going to be a sweet story about a feral cat colony that hangs out at a train station where an old lady feeds them. A little boy is drawn to one of the cats, Ratchet. Ratchet has been abused and dumped so the natural expectation is that the boy will slowly gain her trust and adopt her. But, the boy's foster mother is a cat hater and, the author being a naturalist, much of the book is dedicated to the hardships of feral life. What ruined the book for me was the sheer quantity of cruelty and death. At least two people try to poison all of the cats (and do succeed at killing some of them) and when Ratchet has kittens, a tomcat eats some of them. This is an early middle grade book. It would have traumatized me to read this as a child and it's kind of haunting me now. Not for sensitive cat lovers. 

51. Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson, Ed. by Frances S. Bolin, Illus. by Chi Chung - Yet another reread. National Poetry Month is always a good excuse to revisit volumes of poetry that are sitting on the shelves. Emily Dickinson is not one of my favorite poets, but there are certain poems or even just lines (like "Hope is the thing with feathers") that resonate with me, so I haven't counted her out entirely. And, I do love this children's series, which I feel makes poetry more accessible. In this particular volume, words that children may not know within each poem are defined and there's an excellent intro about the poet. 

52. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - The first in a series that I find a bit difficult to define. Paranormal, crime procedural, fantasy . . . all of the above. A constable in London discovers he has a special ability when he interviews the witness to a murder and the witness turns out to be a ghost. And the murder is only the beginning (there's a lot of murder in this book). I loved the history, the setting, the magic, and the author's sense of humor. I bought this book in a London charity shop about 7 years ago and liked it enough to order the next three in the series. 

53. Scout Stories #2 by Nick Carr (zine) - The second zine by a location scout, in which he shares more anecdotes from his time scouting. He tends to butt up against a lot of irascible homeowners who are either irritated by nearby film sets, have to be convinced to let a movie or series shoot happen on their property, or are fine with whatever filming is to be done, but it'll cost. I'm really enjoying these zines and wish he would just publish a big, fat book of his anecdotes but the zines will do. 

54. Toast by Nigel Slater - I read about Toast in The Guardian and added it to my mental wish list, a few months ago. When the announcement came out about Book Depository's closing, I decided to go ahead and order it. What I liked about the book was how his family influenced his love of food, desire to cook, and choice of profession. I don't think I've ever read about a more incompetent or less interested cook than Slater's mother and his stepmother's cooking was quite the opposite. Both were fascinating characters. What I disliked about the book was that it grossed me out. There were far too many horror stories of what people do in restaurant kitchens and way too much about his sexual experiences (not necessarily where he was involved, but a good bit of walking in on people or sheer voyeurism). 

55. Cat Massage Therapy #1 by Haru Hisakawa - I'm almost embarrassed about the fact that I bought such a silly manga, but the fact of the matter is that it made me smile. A young man is tense due to training at work and enters a massage parlor, where he finds that the manager is a cat. Cat massage involves a lot of toe beans and purring to vibrate people into relaxation. There are also several trainees who do some of the massage (kittens). The young man feels so much better that he asks the manager and trainees to accompany him to work to help his coworkers relax, as well. Goofy and adorable. I doubt I'll continue on with this particular series but I'm going to keep this book for rereads when I need a mental break and a smile. 

56. Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, ed. by A. Rampersad and M. Blount, Illustrated by Karen Barbour - An anthology of African American poetry from as early as the 18th century, including both well-known poets and some not as widely read. Includes an introduction describing the evolution of African American poetry, intros to each poem, and vocabulary that explains the usage of some of the words in the context shown. I originally intended to donate this book (which I received for review in 2014) but decided I couldn't part with it. I love the poetry and it serves as an excellent resource for exploring African American poetry further by introducing the reader to a wide range of poets. Another reread and the last of this series on my shelf. I totally enjoyed revisiting this series. 

57. 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and "The Red Wheelbarrow" by Lisa Jean LaBanca Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink - I was thinking about poetry when I happened across this book and discovered that I had enough credits to mostly cover the ebook edition. Then, one night when I couldn't sleep I decided I might as well read and chose this book specifically because of National Poetry Month and the fact that I was tired enough that I wanted to read something simply worded. The story of Williams, a physician who wrote poetry when not treating his patients, and how he came to write "The Red Wheelbarrow", I confess I was so sleepy when I read it that I'm uncertain whether the author was imagining how it may have happened or knows the actual story behind the poem. Regardless, it's a lovely story with beautiful subtly-colored illustrations and it made me want to read the volumes of poetry by Williams that have been languishing on my shelf. 

58. Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis - A Brazilian classic set in the 19th century. Dom Casmurro is a cynical nickname that the neighbors have given him, indicating that they think he behaves above his station and is a curmudgeon. He is alone, living in an exact replica of his childhood home, and reflects on his life. I must have glanced at the Goodreads description calling it a "classic tale of adultery". I disagree. While the story eventually leads to adultery, it's primarily about the narrator's love story, his enduring friendship with a fellow seminary student, and how ultimately betrayal and unbearable jealousy leads to bitterness and separation. But, while the story begins and ends on a melancholy tone, most of it is light and it's frequently quite funny. A common tale, beautifully told. 

©2023 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.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Everything I Read in March 2023 (in brief)

29. A Man and His Cat #2 by Umi Sakurai - The second in the manga series about a man who adopts an exotic cat is written as a series of vignettes rather than a single storyline. While about half of A Man and His Cat #2 is about how happy Mr. Kanda has become after bringing Fukumaru into his life (a lot of gushing about how cute his cat is and lots of stories about snuggling), it does delve a little more into Mr. Kanda's marriage, his wife's love of cats, and why Mr. Kanda had never even petted an animal before he adopted Fukumaru. 

30. Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan - My second read by Shaun Tan and I noticed I used the same word when writing about both books on Instagram: "quirky". Tan's stories are fantastic, unique, and a bit magical. One of my favorites is a story in which everyone in a board room turns into a frog and the secretary must decide what to do. Call the police? Take them to a pond? Another is the cover story, in which a group of children go fishing on the top of a building. In this world, there are fish in the sky. What will happen when Pim hooks a coveted Moonfish? The illustrations are so gorgeous that I find myself studying them to figure out, "How did he do that?" Just wondrous.

31. Space Cat and the Kittens by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone (e-book/hoopla) - The last in the Space Cat children's series has space cat Flyball and his Martian partner Moofa with their two kittens accompanying two astronauts to Alpha Centauri. They travel 9000 light years in a mere 3 hours and then find a small planet with an Earth-like atmosphere. After landing they discover tiny animals that appear to be the same prehistoric animals Earth had but on a smaller scale. However, the book is mostly about the two kittens creating havoc and it's definitely fun reading for a cat lover. I'll miss this series. This final title was published in 1958.

32. Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle - Charlie is getting old. He groans when he gets out of a chair; his best friend down the pub has decided he identifies as a woman (although not in a transgender way but more like "getting in touch with your feminine side"), and his wife has declared she's bored and joined her sister's band as a drummer. A book about aging, questioning your life, and finding the good in it. A total joy and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Published in 2019, there are numerous references to the U.S. President at the time (Doyle was clearly not a fan). 

33. Lost & Found by Shaun Tan and John Marsden - Three books formerly published individually, presumably children's because of the minimal text but such a visual feast that it would be a crime to leave it to just the kids. The first story is (these are my opinions) about depression and hope, the second about being different and finding your place in the world while most people get so wrapped up in work and obligation that they can't see outside their own little spheres, and the third has rabbits as a stand-in for the humans who occupy a relatively undisturbed land with peaceful people and ravage it (Marsden had been reading about Native Americans when he wrote the story). There are some wonderful authors' notes about the stories in this edition. Highly recommended. I can't get enough of Shaun Tan. 

34. Nala's World by Dean Nicholson - Author Dean Nicholson, a Scot, was not far into his trip biking around the world when he came across a scrawny kitten in an area so far from civilization that he knew she couldn't possibly have a home nearby and adopted her. Nala's World is the story of approximately their first 2 years together, the ups and downs, the challenges and surprises as Nala and Dean became Internet famous and he began to have enough influence to raise funds for various pet charities. Absolutely lovely. I've followed @1bike1world for years, probably since the Dodo video of how he found her showed up online and went viral, but only half-heartedly. It was a joy reading about their adventures and I admire him even more, now that I've read about his passion for both animals and the environment.

35. The Nanny by Evelyn Piper - Published in 1964, The Nanny was my stationary bike book till I decided I had to know what was going to happen. 8-year-old Joey has been in a psychiatric facility after being blamed for his younger brother's death. Once home, he's convinced that the nanny is trying to kill him. Suspenseful enough for me to pluck off the bike and finish that evening but I must admit it was difficult setting aside disbelief after a certain point. Still, I enjoyed the tension and it's a rare suspense/thriller that can hold onto me till the end. Ridiculous and implausible or not, I didn't throw The Nanny at the wall and I'm glad I read it.

36. Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs - I believe this is the 9th in the Spy School series, a favorite middle grade series that I will follow to its bitter end (if there ever is one). In Spy School at Sea, Ben, Mike, Erica, and Erica's divorced spy parents are posing as a family going on the largest cruise ship in the world, a virtual floating city. The objective is to track down Ben's nemesis, Murray Hill, and find out what kind of no-good scheme he has brewing, this time. But, first they have to find him and on a ship that holds tens of thousands of people, that's easier said than done. This particular entry in the series had a slow start but once it got going, it was every bit as entertaining, adventurous, and heart-pounding as the rest.

37. Thames Mudlarking: Searching for London's Lost Treasures by Jason Sandy and Nick Stevens - I found this book on mudlarking by chance when I was placing a Book Outlet order. I'm in a Thames Mudlarking group with the authors (although I'll probably never actually go mudlarking, myself) and have been fascinated not only by the amazing variety of objects the members find but also by their knowledge of history and ability to identify those items. In Thames Mudlarking, the authors talk about different eras of London's history and show items that have been found from those eras. They often theorize about how they may have ended up in the Thames. While the book is a slender 94 pages, it is packed with beautiful photos of finds from the Thames. My only complaint is that I didn't know what some of the items were; the book would have benefited from a glossary. Meaning, they might say, this "blah-blah" is a type of [doohickey-type word I've never heard] and I'd be thinking, "I need you to define doohickey. Is it a container, a candle holder, etc.?" Strange, undefined objects were not frequent; in most cases they tell you what something is and the history behind it. But, there were enough question marks for me to knock off a point at Goodreads.

38. The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn - An Agoraphobic psychologist watches the world outside her windows until she witnesses a murder. Or, did she imagine it? She definitely drinks too much and she's on a large number of medications to help deal with her agoraphobia. Some elements of this story were a bit predictable but the story is nicely written and tense enough that the pages flew. I really enjoyed it.

39. Cicada by Shaun Tan - A cicada (or its larva) works for humans for 17 years then gains its wings and flies away, laughing. Another weird, wonderful children's book by Tan. Am I done with my Tan phase, at this point? I'm going to say no.

40. Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu - At 14, the future Dr. Chen is celebrating his birthday when a strange ball of light enters his home through the walls and incinerates his parents. Thus is born a mission to determine what exactly ball lightning consists of and how to capture it and prevent tragedy. But, there are many roadblocks along the way and Dr. Chen is caught up in the study of ball lightning for military applications when it becomes his only option. Very heavy on the science and sometimes a bit of a yawn because of that, but if you have no problem understanding the general science concepts Ball Lightning quite a fascinating (admittedly far-fetched) read and I loved the denouement. If you have difficulty with the science aspects in books like The Martian and Recursion, I'd avoid this title.

41. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave - Hannah and Owen have only been married a couple years and his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, mostly speaks to Hannah in monosyllables. But, when the the head of the company Owen works for is arrested for fraud Owen disappears, leaving only a two-word note and a bag of cash. As Hannah tries to figure out what's going on, she slowly comes to the realization that Owen was not the man he claimed to be. But, in her attempt to track down his past, she may be putting herself and Bailey in danger. While not brilliantly written, The Last Thing He Told Me kept me happily entertained on a day when we had a power outage.

This was such a great month that if you asked me to choose a favorite, you'd have to pinch me hard to get me to comply. But, then I'd probably say Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle was my favorite because it was just such an utter delight. One unusual thing about March was that I read not one but three suspense/thrillers (a genre I tend to skitter around because I find that they tend to be a little too far-fetched -- and two of them definitely were, although I enjoyed them anyway). Of those, The Woman in the Window was my favorite. I enjoyed both of the nonfiction books I read, Nala's World and Thames Mudlarking. And, while the sci-fi, Ball Lightning, was occasionally difficult and some of the science talk a bit dull, it was compelling and outlandish enough that I found it quite fun in the end. I also had a great deal of fun diving into the Shaun Tan books. His books are so beautiful that I'm convinced I need to own them all, although I don't currently have any more to read. I'm looking for books to remove from my taller-books shelf so that I can give my Tan books a permanent home.

I neglected to take a flat-lay photo and immediately began moving books to their new locations (get-rid-of box, shelf, pile to ponder) after taking a stack photo and I have an ear infection that's making me mildly sluggish so I've decided not to go back and do that but there is only one book not pictured, the Space Cat book, which I read via Hoopla.

©2023 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 02, 2023

Everything I Read in February 2023 (in brief)


15. Reunion by Fred Uhlman - The story of a friendship between a Jew and an Aryan during the rise of Hitler and what the narrator finds out many years after the war. An excellent novella with a killer ending. 

16. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes - After Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer, his ghost observes his family's grief, talks to the daughter of the cop who killed him, and is guided by the ghost of Emmett Till. I think I'd have liked Ghost Boys better if the daughter had initially defended her father's actions (a natural conflict). Instead, she was open to the idea that it might have been killing caused by unconscious racial bias on the part of her father from the beginning. But, the bottom line is clearly that way too many innocent Black boys have been killed and I thought it was a pretty powerful read in many ways. 

17. Space Cat Meets Mars by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone (e-book/Hoopla) - The third in a children's book series that I've been reading via Hoopla, astronaut kitty Flyball and his human are returning to Earth for a break when they're pulled off course by an asteroid. They manage to get away but then realize they've got a problem, so they land on Mars. While his human friend, Capt. Fred Stone, works on chipping away crystal that has melted and reformed inside the engines, Flyball goes off exploring and discovers a Martian kitty. 

18. A Man and His Cat #1 by Umi Sakarai - The first in a manga series, A Man and His Cat is a goofy, sweet, funny manga about a lonely man who adopts an adult cat who's been overlooked because people think he's ugly. I was surprised to find myself literally laughing out loud while reading this manga and, ugh, there went the book-buying ban. After I closed it, I got online and ordered 5 more. Like Spy x Family (which I plan to continue reading as new books are released), I'm hoping to read only one book per month to stretch out the joy. Cat lovers will appreciate this series. 

19. McSweeney's, Issue #51 - The last of the McSweeney's issues in my stacks, another nice selection but my hands-down favorite was the first story, by Nick Arvin. In "The Interview", it's a Friday afternoon and it's snowing. Everyone has gone home but the new employee, who has scheduled interviews for this afternoon. Not knowing what else to do and in fear of losing her new job, she stashes all the interviewees in a room and leaves. Chaos ensues. 

20. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith - The origin story of the first people stolen from their West African homes and taken to a new land where they were enslaved for many generations. Born on the Water is about the fact that they were people with full lives, traditions, and family, and how they survived and kept their music and traditions while maintaining faith that they would be free in the future. Probably banned in a number of places but Born on the Water doesn't even mention slave owners. It's written as a story of history, hardship, and hope. The illustrations are stunning. 

21. Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis - My latest stationary bike read (really appreciated the large print in this library sale purchase). A fun sci-fi story but kind of goofy, typical Connie Willis humor in what feels like a Western with Sci-Fi exploration on a planet that has been largely unexplored. The best part was the indigenous Bult, who spent most of his time keeping a log of fines like, "inappropriate tone and manner in speaking to an indigenous person," and "forcible confiscation of property" (when one of the explorers tried to grab his own binoculars back). 

22. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain - Well, this was unexpected. I've heard of the movie(s) and just made the assumption that this story was a horror story in which there's a dangerous, murdering postal worker. I had no idea that it's an erotic story of love and murder set in a diner in the 1930s and that, in fact, it was banned in Boston when released. I read this novella on Valentine's Day for no particular reason other than an urge to throw something different into the reading mix. And, honestly, I was impressed. It has the minimalist tone of other writers of the era but it's much easier to follow than most, not so understated as to become confusing. Also, it turns out that the title is a metaphor for justice coming to get you. Cool. I would definitely like to read more by Cain. 

23. The Beautiful Struggle (Adapted for YA) by Ta-Nehisi Coates - There's a lot of slang and cultural references that I know nothing about — too much to stop and look everything up – in this YA version of Ta-Nehisi Coates' memoir. However, it's possible to read between the lines and what you get out of it is a lot about his relationship with his father, struggles in school (probably because he wasn't challenged), his growing awareness of what it meant to be Black, and the stunning differences a few blocks could make in the quality of education and life in general. From looking at reviews, I get the impression that the original version is more readable for those who aren't the target audience. 

24. Biased by Jennifer M. Eberhardt, PhD - A fascinating and often horrifying book about unconscious bias, how it affects lives and livelihoods, and what can be done about it. 

25. My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson - A book of short stories and a novella. A couple of the stories didn't work for me, but they were the first two and after I warmed to the author's writing style, I began to really love her storytelling. But, what made this book for me was the title story, the novella, about a world in which climate change has taken out power and water and roving bands of white supremacists are terrorizing people of color and burning buildings. When a group of neighbors are driven from their homes, they end up living at Monticello, where they learn to work cooperatively to survive. 

26. Sneakers, the Seaside Cat by Margaret Wise Brown and Anne Mortimer - A children's picture book that I bought mainly because it featured a cat, Sneakers, the Seaside Cat is about a cat who goes to the beach with his family and explores the seaside, discovering waves and sand creatures and smelling the delicious, fishy scent of the sea. Gorgeous, gorgeous artwork. 

27. Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan (e-book/Hoopla) - I'm very grateful that I've been able to find Claire Keegan's books on Hoopla because her writing is my latest obsession. Walk the Blue Fields is a collection of short stories. While I still love her writing, this particular collection is currently my least favorite of her works, mostly because the stories were a bit bleak while the two novellas I've read both ended on a brighter note. I'd still recommend it. Keegan is a skilled writer. 

28. American Primitive by Mary Oliver - I love Mary Oliver's poetry but I was having trouble concentrating on this book so I read the poems under my breath, moving my lips as if to recite but without speaking aloud. Weirdly, that did the trick. 

©2023 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, February 02, 2023

Everything I Read in January 2023 (in brief)


1. How to Connect (Mindfulness Essentials #8) by Thich Nhat Hanh - In June of 2022 I read a Thich Nhat Hanh book and a book of Mary Oliver's poetry and both were so refreshing that I decided to start the year with the two authors, although I got a later start on Mary Oliver. I was right, it's a good idea to start the year with Thich Nhat Hanh. While this particular book is very short (I read it on my Kindle app, which claimed it should take 37 minutes to read but then fell asleep reading so it took me a bit longer), it is the usual blend of soothing, thought-provoking, and instructional. (e-book)

2. Foster by Claire Keegan - A little girl is taken to her aunt and uncle's house for the summer, although she has no idea how long she'll be there or why she's been sent away. As the summer progresses, she learns what it means to be truly loved and cared for as her foster parents teach her to work in the kitchen and gardens, draw water from the well, and run fast. They keep her clean, well-fed, and clothed. She learns about the family's tragic past and senses that her foster parents are happy to have her around. When the summer ends, will she have to return home? Another wonderful book by Keegan, a new favorite author. I want to read everything she's written. (e-book/Hoopla)

X. Scout Stories #1 by Nick Carr - This zine is not big enough to count as a book but I think it's worth mentioning. Nick Carr is a location scout for various film productions. I started following him when he posted under the name "Scouting New York" on Facebook (and probably Twitter) for the fascinating photos of New York that he took and the stories that went with them. He has since branched out and no longer does all of his scouting in New York. This first zine has some of his stories and photos, including a series of photos of the Boneyard where planes are taken to be dismantled for parts. It's like sitting down for coffee with a very entertaining friend who has lived a full life and has time to share a handful of anecdotes. I loved it. I would love it if someone would publish a coffee table book of his stories and photos. 

3. McSweeney's, Issue #69 - I think this is the second issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern that I've read and I'm beginning to detect some stylistic commonalities in the choices they make. Not to say that they all sound alike but there's just a similar feel to them in some offbeat way. At any rate, I am loving McSweeney's and glad I finally took the plunge and bought a subscription, plus a couple of back issues. As always, I liked some of the stories better than others. That's always going to be true. I'm a short story fan and good with that. I like reading collections for variety, anthologies for consistency. My favorite in this issue was surprising: a story about two trans males glamping and the tension over their separate Go Fund Me accounts (one successful, one not) for the same procedure they're hoping to get. When they have an argument, one goes off for a walk and what he comes across is hilarious. I don't want to ruin it, but I just loved the absurdity of the story, "18 or 35 Miles from Perennial Square" by Max Delsohn. 

4. No Surrender: My Thirty Year War by Hiroo Onoda - If you're a WWII aficionado, you may have heard of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who was sent to the small Philippine Island of Lubang in 1944 and stayed in the jungle for 30 years, at first with some of his comrades and then finally alone after two of them were killed. It's fascinating not only for the survival skills that they honed and how they managed to stay hidden for so long but also for the ways in which they managed to convince themselves that every attempt to lure them out of the woods because the war had ended was a ploy by the enemy (chiefly, the Americans). It's a story of determination, absolute adherence to duty, and how humans fool themselves. I was deeply touched by the ending, when Onoda left the island alone, mourning the leaving of his friends' spirits on the island when they had hoped to return to Japan together. 

5. Space Cat Visits Venus by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone (illustrator) - Second in the Space Cat series, the first of which I read in 2022, sees Flyball and his human now living on the moon and waiting while a new rocket is built. The two of them fly to Venus and find that under the heavy clouds that nobody can see beyond is a world lit by violet light and ruled by plants. Only a 6-legged mouse-like creature represents the animal community and the plants live on a daily ammonia rain from which Flyball and his human must protect themselves. They learn to communicate with the plants — and each other! I found it particularly fascinating how one man imagined the fantastical surface of a planet nobody has landed upon and how he visualized space flight. Published in 1955 and illustrated by the same author who illustrated the award-winning Anatole books. (e-book/Hoopla)

6. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury - I followed Michael Rosen on the Bird Site for years without actually paying attention to him until he slapped back at someone who accused him of sitting in an ivory tower safely while Covid raged. Curious, I read the memoir he wrote about his experience recovering from a coma after being hospitalized with Covid. Before that, I looked him up and watched the video of him reading/performing this children's picture book that was published in 1989. What an expressive guy! I am not good with phones and kept accidentally closing the video but I loved what I saw and grabbed a copy when I came across it at Book Outlet. I love it. The ending made me laugh. Since there aren't any little ones in the house, I read it to the cats. I'm sure they enjoyed it, too. That might be what that wide-eyed look meant, right? 

7. Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry - Another older children's book (originally published in 1942), I bought Marshmallow at the same time because I was craving children's books, the one thing I really, really miss about reviewing for publishers. Marshmallow is a true story, according to the author. Oliver is a tabby cat who lives indoors and has never encountered other animals. When his human brings home a tiny baby bunny, he's at first frightened and then tries to pounce on it. He's separated from the bunny but when he manages to escape from his room, Marshmallow confuses Oliver for his mother and snuggles up to him. In response, Oliver treats Marshmallow as his own kitten. So sweet and the illustrations are gorgeous. Marshmallow is a Caldecott medalist. 

8. Before and After by Andrew Shanahan - A dystopian tale about a 600-pound man. Ben Stone is morbidly obese and diabetic. On the day he is to be taken to the hospital, a wall of his apartment is removed and he's strapped down to be hoisted through the wall. But, then all hell breaks loose. A disease has stricken the world and Ben is stuck in an apartment missing the exterior wall with his tiny dog while outside there are zombie-like people who are dangerously angry, called "wraths". Ben has no food in the apartment and he can't leave. So, he drinks water and begins to lose weight. While this book is dystopian, it's really about paralyzing anxiety, bullying, fat-shaming, love and kindness (his
 mother's love for Ben; his love for his dog), and ultimately about summoning the courage to do the thing you find most difficult. Loved the author's sense of humor. 

9. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh - Allie Brosh's first book about her struggles with depression, Hyperbole and a Half, was a little too relatable to me but I loved it for that. Solutions and Other Problems does contain some stories about her mental health issues but it's less cohesive, a broad range of anecdotes with the graphic illustrations she's known for, beginning with her determination to fit into a bucket at the age of 3. Very entertaining but at times a story would lose me a bit. And, I can't relate to divorce or drug and alcohol use because I'm a teetotaler but I still enjoyed reading about her life, for better or worse, and the hilarious antics of various animals in her life. While I didn't like Solutions and Other Problems as much as I loved Hyperbole and a Half, I highly recommend it. 

10. Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan - An early reader about Dodsworth (a mole, maybe?) and his friend the duck. While visiting London, Dodsworth and the duck become separated when the duck doesn't hear Dodsworth suggesting they wait for the next bus. But, there's another duck nearby, the Royal Duck. Both get on the next bus and Dodsworth thinks the Royal Duck is his friend being goofy with a British accent and a fancy hat. Then, Dodsworth realizes his mistake and the two go searching all over London for his friend. They're having no luck till the Royal Duck suggests asking the queen for help. A cute story with a sweet tale of a character desperately searching for his friend. I had two small problems with this book. I read it because it's set in London (and I love children's books) but there was no introduction of the characters because it's not the first in the series. A brief intro would have been helpful. Second, there were some flaws in the illustrations, chiefly the police uniform and car. 

11. Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London - I like Jack London's short stories better than these two classics but of the two I preferred White Fang. The beatings of dog and wolf and all of the animals attacking each other were difficult reading. I guessed the point was to show that nature is merciless but that is simply the way of the Wild and a friend commented that the "law of club and fang" was included with intention, she having studied it in school. 

12. McSweeney's, Issue #68 - There were no stories that stood out enough that I remember them, a couple weeks after reading, but I enjoy the short stories and letters in McSweeney's immensely and I'm so glad I finally caved and bought a subscription. 

13. Anatomy by Dana Schwartz - In 1817, Hazel lives in a castle and is promised to the future viscount of an Edinburgh family. All her life, she's wanted to be a doctor and has conducted experiments at home. But, when she finds out that an anatomy class for aspiring doctors is going to be held, she is determined to attend. Jack is a resurrection man, an impoverished teen who digs up bodies and sells them to doctors to dissect, among other jobs. When Hazel's deception is discovered and she's kicked out of class, she enlists Jack's help bringing her bodies (and then patients) so she can continue her studies. Well written but a bit gruesome and therefore not a favorite. 

14. Life Sentences by Billy O'Callaghan - Told in three sections, each in the voice of a member of the same family over several generations, this work of historical fiction begins with Jer's POV (Jeremiah). Jer and his sister Mamie grew up with a single mother. As Mamie is laid to rest, he burns with anger at the brother-in-law who made her life miserable and ponders his own life and meaning. Nancy, Jer and Mamie's mother, is a teenager when she leaves her island home to seek a living. Young and easily swayed by the advances of handsome gardener, she falls pregnant and ends up in a workhouse. Then, she falls even further. But she summons her courage and fills her home with love, eventually making a decent home for her children. Nellie is dying in the home of her daughter. The youngest of her siblings, she is not the first to go. As she reflects on her life, she remembers the heartbreak and love and how her family held her up when she needed comfort. A beautiful, heart-filling little gem of a book. At 220 pages, it could be read in a single sitting but I chose to stretch it out, one section per day so I could stay with Jer and his family a little longer. 

My favorites of the month were Life Sentences, Foster, No Surrender, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt but of all of these, Life Sentences is the one that had the deepest impact on me. I didn't read as much as I usually do in January (typically, my biggest reading month) but it was a terrific month with lots of really great reading. 

©2023 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.