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.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Reading and Blogging Goals, 2023

2023???? How is that even possible? Yes, another year has flown by and it's time to come up with some new goals. 

So . . . ta-da! My reading and blogging goals:

1. The return of the book-buying ban - I confess, I let it go, mid-year. However, having lasted an entire year on a book-buying ban with only a few minor violations, I discovered that my personal buying ban definitely had an impact on my habits. I have bought some books this year, but the quantity of purchases has dropped significantly; and, since I allowed myself to buy the books I desperately wanted to read, I didn't feel like I needed to take a break and make a big Book Outlet purchase. So, I'm happy with how 2022 book buying went, in spite of falling off the ban wagon. Haha, ban wagon. OK, bad. 

2. Continue getting rid of as many books as possible - This has been going very well but since Kiddo and spouse moved into their first home and I gave him 3 shelving units, I need to get rid of a lot more. Because, yeah, I no longer have any place to put the remaining books that were on those shelves. 

3. Continue reading exclusively from my own shelves (including from my personal electronic library) - Almost everything I read, this year, was from my personal shelves. I did check out two library e-books and finished my remaining ARCs during the first months of the year after I decided to go to once-a-month blogging. But, it went really well. I had a particular shelf I was aiming to read from and I read 9 books from that shelf. However, I stepped on my own toes by immediately filling any blank spots with more books (because, ahem, I have many, many books stacked on the floor . . . still true, but I'm working on it). So, eventually I couldn't remember which books I'd planned to read and which were tucked in after something else was removed. I totally forgot that I'd posted an image of the shelf in question on my blog. Ah, well. I consider my attempt to read exclusively from my shelves a success. 

4. Read at least 100 books - This one is flexible. I have a lot of goals that may interfere with my reading time. Plus, I like to leave room for chunksters. Anyway, 100 books is usually doable for me. 

5. Continue to turn down ARCs - Not a problem, since most of the ARCs I've been offered have been e-galleys and I haven't been able to get Netgalley to work in years. There were a couple times I was tempted to read an ARC and return to the blog to review it, this year. In all cases, the fine print at the bottom of the email said, "We are not sending physical ARCs at this time." Screw that: auto delete. I don't even like e-books. I have had a couple physical books arrive unsolicited and one of them is on my TBR. I do plan to read it and review. Which brings me to . . . 

6. As of now, I've decided to continue doing only one post per month - If there is a particular book that either really stands out and I just have to write about it or if I just feel like posting, I will. I'm not going to stop myself. However, burnout is a real thing and I still feel like I've reached the end of the line when it comes to regular posting. I will make an exception for the unsolicited ARC that's currently on my TBR (if it grabs me, of course – I can never guarantee I'll finish reading a book) and any other unsolicited books that appeal to me, if they should appear in my mailbox. 

7. Chunksters of the year - After I read Gone With the Wind, a friend sent me Scarlett to follow it up because she enjoyed the modern continuation. I haven't read it, yet, but I needed a break from that world before continuing on. So, that's one book I'd like to read, this year. My classic chunkster choices of the year are East of Eden by John Steinbeck and The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. I've glanced at East of Eden longingly for years without picking it up, so I think it's about time. I also need to read the next two books in The Expanse series and then return them to Kiddo because he says I can't keep them. Big meanie.

8. Read a classic per month - This used to be a standard for me but I've slipped away from it in the last couple of years. I think first up will be Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London because that book also belongs to Kiddo and I need to give it back to him. 

As an aside, I am still at Twitter but no longer going there for any purpose other than to drop a link to my monthly round-ups. I no longer scroll through Twitter but I've decided to keep my account open so that nobody has the opportunity to replace my account with a clone and a paid-for blue check mark. 

I miss Twitter. It was my favorite social media hangout. I tried Mastadon and and settled on Post, where I am @bookfoolery. At Post I'm limiting myself mostly to cat and book photos, at the moment, with an occasional re-post of whatever interests me. It's full of refugees from Twitter and so new that they're constantly adding new features; it's really being built from the ground up, at this point. Patience is necessary but the atmosphere is extremely upbeat. I'm really enjoying Post. 

Hope you have a fabulous reading year!

©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.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Books Read in 2022



March: [All links in March lead to a summary post with brief reviews except #43: Sisters of Night and Fog]

April: [All links in April lead to a summary post with brief reviews except #45: Nazaré]

May: [All links in May lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

June: [All links in June lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

July: [All links in July lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

August: [All links in August lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

September: [All links in September lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

October: [All links in October lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

November: [All links in November lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

December: [All links in December lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]

©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.