Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

I wrote about the first collection of Nathan W. Pyle's alien comics, Strange Planet, in a mini review post, which you can find by clicking on the title in this first sentence. Suffice it to say, I've been following Pyle for quite some time, first via Twitter and then Instagram, and I just love his sense of humor.

The comics are based on language. Aliens express the same things we do (or, at least, the expressions Americans are familiar with) using different words, like "imagine pleasant nonsense" for "sweet dreams". I've snagged this page off the internet and am pretty sure it's from the first book but it's a great example.

Lovers of words can't help but appreciate Pyle's cleverness. I adore how he thinks. I'll often read his comics and then walk around thinking about how these aliens might reword the things I'm doing. Plus, they're really cute.

Highly recommended - I think I expressed my love of Strange Planet better in my mini review, so I encourage you to hop through the link if you're interested in reading more. Stranger Planet is more of the same and I can't even tell you how excited I am to expand my collection. I hope Pyle publishes a dozen more of these books. His delightful aliens always make me smile. I'm going to find a special place on the shelves for these two and hope I'll have to make room for more.

Fiona was very helpful when I did my photo shoot of the book cover, btw. I got some nice laughs watching her play with the spaceship.

©2020 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, June 30, 2020

Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams and Tara Nicole Whitaker

In Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams (the singer) and Tara Nicole Whitaker, a little girl sings about her goldfish, Sal, and why they're the best of friends. As she's talking about Sal and how she gives perfect bubble kisses, the heroine (the little girl on the cover) is swept into a fantasy world in which she has become a mermaid and the goldfish is no longer trapped in a bowl but free in a large body of water.

The entire book is a single song and it comes with both a CD and a QR code that you can scan with your phone or tablet. I mentioned Bubble Kisses when it arrived and at the time, I thought it was very strange that it had a CD because most people don't have CD players, anymore. Mine is in the garage, somewhere, and I have no idea how to load music to a phone so I have to listen to the radio in the car and thought I'd have to pull out my old car to listen to it! But, I hadn't bothered to take the CD out, yet, so I didn't realize there was a QR code behind it (although that was probably in the publicity material and I just forgot).

At any rate, all that's to say that I was wrong and unless you have no phone, tablet, DVD player, or CD player, you're going to be able to listen to the song. I presume probably 95% of people have access to at least one of those.

The song is kind of an upbeat, jazzy song that . . . sorry . . . reminds me of a 1950s television advertisement. I can't think of anything else to compare it to. I can easily imagine my eldest granddaughter bobbing to the song when she was a little bit younger (she's 5 and reading at 3rd grade level, now) and I have a feeling my youngest granddaughter would enjoy it, too. It's definitely got the sound of a children's song, a little repetitive and very cheerful.

Recommended but not a favorite - Maybe one of the best things about Bubble Kisses is the fact that it has an African American heroine. I really appreciate the fact that children's publishers have been working hard at embracing diversity in the stories they acquire, in recent years. I do like the upbeat music, the quirky but charming illustrations, and the fantasy of the story. The only thing I dislike is the fact that it's written as a song and if you just want to read the book aloud, it's going to sound a little weird. That keeps it from being a favorite because I love to read aloud to children and a good story that's readable will always be my favorite. But, it only takes one listen to catch on to the rhythm and for children who love to dance and sing, Bubble Kisses will make a cute and fun addition to a home library.

©2020 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, June 29, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay - from Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for review

Well, heck. Who knew the books were just going to keep trickling in? LOL It's getting pretty hilarious, at this point. Not a problem, though. I am no longer requesting any books at all but if one shows up, I'll read it and talk about it. It's just what you do if you love books, right?

Incidentally, I don't know when they'll arrive but speaking of things that are just part and parcel of the booklover experience, I went to Book Outlet in search of a particular book (I don't even remember what book, now) and bought a small pile. I have been avoiding Book Outlet for so long that I got the name wrong. They've been through at least 2 name changes since their beginning and I tried Book Closeouts but met a dead end. Anyway, I had a hilarious cartload that I fortunately pared down dramatically before actually buying. When you just look at fiction, in general, and go through 100 pages of book titles? Well, let's just say I saw a lot of books that I knew to be on my wish list.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
  • Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
  • Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen

I stopped in the midst of reading Devil Darling Spy for a humor break (Stranger Planet). The quick version is that Devil Darling Spy is about the attempt to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on a biological weapon and there is some cruelty (giving people a deadly disease, using them as test subjects) that was almost unbearable to me, especially in a time during which a deadly disease is spreading. That may not bode well for the eventual reading of The End of October by Lawrence Wright, a dystopian plague book, but I guess we shall see.

Currently reading:

  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I finished Devil Darling Spy in the early evening, yesterday, and then watched Husband TV (whatever he happened to flip to, mostly Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) followed by a little of A Midsummer Night's Dream from the Globe Theatre. I didn't spend much time reading after that, but I'm definitely enjoying Northanger Abbey, so far. Jane Austen is a good palate cleanser. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Last week's free streaming from the National Theatre was Small Island. We managed to watch half of it on Tuesday night but on Wednesday we were both too tired to finish it. Fortunately, I still have the book sitting unread on my shelf and I've seen the mini series starring Ruth Wilson. I think I'll move Small Island by Andrea Levy up on my stacks. The play was great, a nice blend of darkness and humor. I recall the mini series as somewhat heavier but from both I got the sense that Queenie was a mensch, a character who wasn't given the best set of circumstances to live with but did the best she could with her lot in life and always with kindness. I wish we'd been up to finishing the play but I'm glad we saw the first half, at least.

I'm still watching Downtown Abbey, Season 1, usually while eating lunch so I only tend to watch half an episode at a time. It's going to take a while to get through the entire series. I enjoy being swept into the world of Downton. It's so blissfully escapist, a world in which women moan together over the horror of losing a maid. We're now at the point that Mrs. Patmore is getting her vision fixed, Mary has hesitated to give Matthew an answer about marriage since finding out her mother just might give birth to an heir after all, and poor Edith. Sigh. Edith always did me in. My one biggest wish was for Edith to find happiness when I found out the series was coming to an end. I haven't seen the movie, incidentally.

I've been away from my Coursera class (Postwar Abstract Expressionism) for about 2 weeks, now, so this week I'll dive back into it. I did finish my attempt at a Mark Rothko painting and the result was disappointing. I love the colors I ended up with (the final layers were deliberate, although at times I intentionally just blindly grabbed a paint tube and let chance guide the layers of color) but I don't think it has the characteristics that make a Rothko something worth standing in front of and staring at. That's undoubtedly at least partly because I still don't have all the supplies I need for oil painting, so I went with watered-down acrylic, again. I'll give it another shot when I get what I need for oil painting. I'm learning a lot from this course and I feel like I get as much learning out of the failures as I do from my more successful hands-on lessons.

And, finally, I hope everyone who reads my blog is handling the continuing Covid-19 mess well. Kiddo finally has started going to the office to work and is absolutely loving his new job. Husband still only goes 2-3 days per week and works from home, the rest of the time. We had begun to spread our wings just a bit (going to the store a little later in the day, for example) but not much had changed for us, otherwise, before our state's spike. We made a decision early on that we were going to stay in lockdown mode as much as possible until there's a vaccine and we have worn our masks everywhere since we finally managed to acquire some (I am super grateful to the two friends who made us fabric masks during the time that it was impossible to acquire them, otherwise). The one area in which I've been slacking is mail. I no longer set the mail outside to air out. It would get warped by the humidity, so that would be pointless. I do wash my hands thoroughly after handling it, though.

I hope and pray that a vaccine will be found as soon as possible and that we will have learned to appreciate normal life a little more, when this is over.

©2020 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 25, 2020

Fiona Friday

©2020 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.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society takes place in Chawton, England, Jane Austen's final home. The great estate inherited by Jane Austen's brother, Edward Knight, is a shadow of its former self, the tenant income having dwindled. There are two remaining relatives. One is dying; the other is agoraphobic and unmarried. There will be no more Knights to carry on the legacy. The Austen-related memorabilia at a separate estate has already been auctioned off and a Sotheby's employee is eager to get his hands on more.

During and a little after WWII, we get to know a few Jane Austen-obsessed people who live in the village of Chawton (and one American actress) in The Jane Austen Society. Each of the main characters has developed a love of Austen's writing, mostly due to the influence of a friend or relative. When they realize they have Jane Austen in common (and not merely because of the nearby estate that her brother inherited), they come up with a plan to create a society for the sake of preserving a little of the history remaining in Chawton. Will they succeed? Or will a spiteful, dying man ruin the legacy and send the last Knight relative out to fend for herself?

There's much more to The Jane Austen Society than the attempt to preserve the house. They don't even actually become a society till nearly halfway through the book. In the first 125 pages or so, you get to know the individuals and the trauma they've each had to endure: a housemaid at the Knight estate, a teacher, a doctor, a farmhand, and an actress. Each has found escape and solace in the worlds created by Austen; each has favorite novels and passages.

The Jane Austen Society is a very character-driven novel. While I'm not normally big on character-driven novels unless a lot happens and it does take a long time before the storyline really cranks up, after all of the characters have been very thoroughly introduced, I really enjoyed every minute of the reading and loved the denouement.

Recommended - Slow of character development, by the time The Jane Austen Society really gets going, you're completely invested in the lives of the characters, their potential to fall in love, and their possible upcoming battle with a distant heir. I would especially highly recommend The Jane Austen Society to devoted fans of her work. I haven't read all 6 of her novels, just 4 of them. I loved all of the novels I finished. One that I attempted to read fell flat for me and I'm hoping to read the last one, Northanger Abbey, soon. So, there were times that two of the characters would be conversing about various scenes and I either didn't recall them in such detail or hadn't read them, yet, but the characters mostly stuck to discussion about Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, with an occasional dash into Mansfield House (the one I abandoned) so I followed most of it just fine.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press and Laurel Ann for the review copy!

©2020 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, June 24, 2020

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow is the story of two high school juniors, Effie and Tavia, who are unrelated but living as sisters. Effie's mother used to play a mermaid in the Ren Festival and Effie plays a similar role. Each year, she is Euphemia and her courtship is a story that continues from one season to the next. Effie doesn't know who her father is but she wonders if she's a real-life mermaid. However, her grandparents, who put her with Tavia's family for her safety, won't answer her questions about her father.

Tavia is a siren who thinks if she tries hard enough she might be able to communicate with her deceased grandmother, after hearing that even a dead siren can speak through bodies of water. To avoid talking when she gets the urge to make one of her siren calls, Tavia has been faking a condition for years in which she seemingly loses her voice regularly. When she doesn't want to speak, she signs, instead. Effie uses sign language to communicate when she's playing a mermaid so she's able to translate for Tavia when she chooses to sign. Tavia worries about the fact that being a siren could put her and her family in danger. The public sentiment is that it's best to mute sirens. So, she has a secret support group where she lives in Portland and she keeps the fact that she's a siren quiet, otherwise.

There is a gargoyle living on the roof of the home where Effie and Tavia live, which Tavia believes to be there for her protection. But, nobody really knows. Meanwhile, strange things are happening with Effie. Occasionally, her skin peels off, revealing scales, her hair will do a weird floaty thing where it looks like it has a life of its own, there's a weird effect around her like she's looking through water, and recently people have been turning to stone when she's nearby. What is Effie? Is there any way she can find out whether she's a mermaid or a sprite or some other mythological creature? What can be done about the people turning to stone?

There's a lot more going on in A Song Below Water but it's best to actually read the book and find out all those details, although I'll share a few that I found interesting. Effie and Tavia are both black and Tavia is obsessed with the wildly popular Instagram account of a woman who does tutorials on how to style black hair, for example. What does that have to do with anything? Well, I can tell you from both the book and my experience as a person who has lived in a state with a high black population for decades that hair is very, very important to black women. At times, I've found myself envious of the elaborate things they can do with their hair. They style it like sculptures! Seriously, it's amazing.

There are also many references to being black and how that makes a person vulnerable. At one point, Tavia has a run-in with the police. She's doing nothing wrong and yet she somehow ends up with a warning. Why? Because she's black, nothing more, nothing less. Morrow does an excellent job of showing how difficult it is to live with the fact that being black can be a death sentence.

The author also touches on the cliquishness and popularity of certain people with the eloko characters. I had to look up elokos (they're from African mythology -- a kind of forest spirit that's a bit hairy-looking if you google it) and the way the author portrayed them was not at all like what I found on the Internet. Not that that mattered. The point was that in this world, elokos are the popular crowd. They make a delightful trilling sound and they have a melody that they can show off by blowing on the bell each individual wears around his or her neck. It's a detail but one that will undoubtedly resonate with young readers who've experienced being on the outside of the "in" crowd.

Recommended - I think I mentioned the fact that I had difficulty getting into A Song Below Water but once I became accustomed to the author's voice, I had no problem in my Monday Malarkey post. It's worth it to stick out the beginning, when the author is setting things up and parts of it are a little on the confusing side. Once I became accustomed to it, I found Tavia and Effie's world fascinating, unique, and a little weird ("Keep Portland Weird" is oft-repeated; it's clear she chose the setting very deliberately). I also loved the way many very timely subjects were treated. Could the idea that the public sentiment that it's best to mute sirens be a comment on how the white world tries to silence black female voices? I think so. There's quite a bit of depth to A Song Below Water. And, as a side note, the gargoyle was a surprisingly fun character.

©2020 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, June 23, 2020

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Quick note, up front. I have an ARC of What You Wish For by Katherine Center and the release date noted on the cover is July 14 so it's not out yet, but it will be soon.

In What You Wish For, Samantha Casey is a librarian at an elementary school in Galveston, Texas. It's a happy place that's privately owned and run by the same couple from whom Sam rents a garage apartment. The school is in an older building with cheery painted walls and a beautiful mural, a butterfly garden, and big plans to build an adventure garden for which the funds have already been raised.

But, then tragedy strikes and a new principal is brought to the school. Sam not only knows the new principal, Duncan Carpenter, but once had a terrible crush on him. In fact, she left her previous job when he didn't respond to her attraction and Duncan was on the verge of becoming engaged. She knew him as an enthusiastic, goofy, entertaining and fun-loving teacher. Now, he's anything but fun. When Duncan swoops in, all he talks about is how he's going to improve security and his plans to paint everything gray for better visibility. He is no longer the life of the party; he's become severe and humorless.

Meanwhile, as Samantha reflects back on a time when she and Duncan Carpenter were working at the same school in another state, she is reminded of how different she is. At the time, she dressed in unobtrusive colors that fit her personality. When she left because Duncan had found love elsewhere, she decided not only to start over but to change herself. Now, she is colorful and full of life in a way she wasn't, before.

What happened to change Duncan Carpenter from a fun-loving guy to a humorless man who is only focused on security? Did Duncan marry the woman he was about to become engaged to when Samantha left town? And, most important, what can Sam do to change Duncan's mind about using the school's hard-earned funds for security instead of the adventure garden they've been planning to have built? And, if she can't change his mind, can she find a way to drive him out of the job?

Recommended but not a favorite - Since the focus in What You Wish For is clearly on the two characters and it's obviously a contemporary romance, I don't think it's really a spoiler to say that eventually you find out Duncan is single and Sam and Duncan begin to interact in a flirtatious manner. What You Wish For is a clean romance, though, so it's based on personalities rather than the mostly-physical attraction of something like an Avon romance.  I like that and I liked the romance, once we got to that point, but I found the story a little contrived so it was not a favorite. Romance fans might be able to look past what I considered the story's flaws.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (link leads to my review) was one of my 2019 favorites and I still have two of Center's backlist titles to read. I'm looking forward to reading them, in spite of the fact that What You Wish For wasn't a favorite. It was a fairly quick, fluid read and she's a good writer. I just found the characters a little too over-the-top for my taste, the story way too predictable.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press for the review copy!

©2020 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, June 22, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, 
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD, and
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo - all purchased
  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts - from Workman for review

I must have signed up for How to Astronaut through Shelf Awareness, and it would have been quite a while ago because I have accepted only one book for review in the past month or two (a children's book that I'll be reviewing next week). I'm not even looking at my Shelf Awareness newsletters, specifically to stop myself from signing up to review anything. So, How to Astronaut was definitely a surprise arrival. The rest were purchases. I now have a stack of 4 books about race/racism to work on and plan on reading one of them very soon with two friends. Stranger Planet was a pre-order and I will undoubtedly whip through that, this week. I could have read it this weekend but I opted to save it for a few days. And, anyway, I'm enjoying the book I'm reading so I wasn't looking for a distraction. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Just the one book finished but I'm close to finishing my current read. 

Currently reading:

  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

I was unsure about A Song Below Water when I began reading it. There were things about the story that I found confusing and it took a while to become accustomed to the writing style. But, once I got over that hump I've enjoyed it immensely and I'm actually trying to type as fast as I can so I can get back to reading it. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Last week was a dud. I mostly slept a lot. I didn't even watch TV or read much. I did manage to come close to finishing a painting, but I'm not quite done. Hopefully, this week will be a more productive one.

©2020 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.