Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley - from Sterling Children's Books for review - I've already read this and it is a hoot. 
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and 
  • Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell - both purchased and both not pictured because they just arrived (admittedly bought on impulse, although both are books that were on my mental wish list)

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley

I must have felt mentally foggy after finishing No Man's Land because everything I read, last week, including the book I'm about to finish, was extraordinarily on the light side. I'm glad I made that choice, though, because I loved what I read and feel energized, ready to dig into something deeper, now.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank - I am not a DBF fan and I'm pretty sure I once said I'd never read her, again, but I liked the sound of this particular book, storywise. I've been determined to do my best to enjoy it but it really has reminded me that the author is simply not for me. I'll try not to be too harsh in my review. The bones of the book are good. There's a nice story; it's the writing style and the superfluous description that I dislike. 

In other news:

It stormed over the weekend and it's supposed to rain all week. Apart from knocking over our planters and breaking a tree on the border of our property in two (technically, I think it's on the neighbor's property), the storms were noisy but not overly damaging - no tornadic activity, in other words, although the wind was clearly intense. We enjoyed the ambience. We watched Bridge of Spies after happening across it while channel-flipping and I have to say I think it will go on the mental list of my favorite movies. We were watching it on a movie channel during a free weekend, so there were no commercials and I had a terrible time tearing myself away to go fill a water cup. How was your weekend?

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 19, 2017

We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman and a Fiona Friday pic

I've been failing at blogging and a lot of other things, this week, due to the overwhelmingness of life, so I'm going to review my most recent read because it's an easy one to talk about.

We're All Damaged is contemporary fiction about a man whose wife divorced him after she became involved with a paramedic. Andy was devastated and escaped to New York City after making a fool of himself at his former brother-in-law and best friend Neal's wedding. It's been nearly a year since he left, but now Andy's grandfather is close to death and his mother has called him home. Back in Omaha, Andy spends time with his grandfather and meets a mysterious, tattooed woman who claims she can help him recover from his divorce. He blindly trusts her advice while dealing with the fallout from his self-destruction at the wedding and trying to protect his right-wing, radio-host mother from the Glitter Mafia (although he's pretty much on their side), a group of gay men who are dedicated to giving her a hard time.

Once again, I had to peek at the reviews to see what exactly it was that the people who disliked this book had to say. Meh, nothing major. It's basically lad lit, the male verson of chick lit, and I think most of those who read the book thought it was in some way lesser to their favorite contemporary male authors. That didn't bother me because I wasn't comparing anyone to anything. The reason I ended up reading We're All Damaged, in fact, was the fact that I'd just finished reading No Man's Land, a book in which a young man faced the hardship of life in poverty and then on the front lines of WWI. I was specifically looking for something a little low on depth, something light-hearted and fun.

We're All Damaged was perfect for the moment. I didn't see anything on my shelves that appealed to me so it was a Kindle download (from a recent Kindle First promotion) that grabbed me, for once. You know how often I read e-books, right? Almost never. I set down my iPad and forget about them. A book has to really grab me and suck me in to get finished if it's in electronic form. And, the thing is, We're All Damaged made me laugh out loud that first night when I opened it. That was enough for me. I was definitely going to finish that e-book.

There are really only two negative things worth mentioning about We're All Damaged and one is not an original thought, but I'll save that for last. I was not thrilled with the heavy use of pop culture references. I tend not to be up on my pop culture and, yes, a lot of those references were unfamiliar to me. You need to know what the author is referring to in order to fully understand the meaning behind the use of  chosen references and I opted to just read between the lines -- I think I got out of it what he desired, but in a more oblique fashion and that was mostly because I didn't feel like looking anything up (my fault - feeling lazy). The second thing is only a realization thanks to one of the reviews I read. Yes, the mysterious, tattooed girl, Daisy, fits the "manic pixie girl" concept. She appears for no apparent reason, magically helps Andy understand and work through his problems, and . . . well, I won't tell you what happens but she definitely plays a magic poof role. Having said that, I don't care. I enjoyed the book and that's what counts. It was a 5-star read for me because it was perfect for the moment, I liked the storyline, loved the characters, and it made me happy while I was reading.

A favorite feature (of course): There's a stray cat that Andy occasionally cares for and feeds in the New York City scenes. Thumbs up for the =^..^= scenes, particularly the final one.

Highly recommended -  Save We're All Damaged for when you've read something heavy and your head is about to explode if you don't get a light-reading break. You may or may not fall in love with Matt Norman's sense of humor but the story is nice and light, a little slapstick, with a tiny touch of romance and a satisfying dash of redemption. Personally, I love the author's sense of humor. I pretty much smiled all the way through the book.

Sweet Fi Closeup for Fiona Friday:

I've paired Fiona Friday with a review because I had such an incredibly busy week that I couldn't fathom not sneaking in a review while I have the time to write. Happy Weekend to all!

©2017 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, May 16, 2017

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien

The Jack Johnson shells tore towards them with a roar like an express train, throwing up clouds of heavy black smoke as they exploded. Most of them fell short, crashing into no man's land, but the concussion from one that burst inside the wire threw Adam back against the rear wall of the trench and half buried him under a cascade of exploding sand bags. 

Spitting out the earth and sand, he got to his feet and saw that everyone in the section had curled themselves up into foetal balls except for Rawdon, who as always seemed impervious to shelling. The belief in fate that Rawdon had subscribed to [...] had become even stronger since they arrived in France. "If it's got my name and address on it, it's goin' to find me anyway, so there's no point in cowerin' in the corner, screamin' for Mama," he had told Adam on more than one occasion, referring to the reactions of some of the other soldiers in the section. 

~p. 297 of No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien (minor spoiler removed)

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien is a book I accepted for review because of its description, but I confess the author's name added to the appeal. Yes, he is related to J.R.R. Tolkien. More on that in a minute. I did have to adjust my expectations about No Man's Land a bit because I thought it was strictly a WWI book and the protagonist doesn't go off to war until you're at least 40% into the book, but that was not a bad thing. Adam is the protagonist. Born in London, Adam lives a life of poverty that becomes increasingly desperate when the laborers at his father's workplace go on strike.

After tragedy strikes, his father moves the family to Yorkshire to work at a coal mine. Adam is an excellent student and is bullied, first for his father getting a job that the other miners believe should have been given to a local, and then for continuing to go to school rather than working in the mine. He also falls for the parson's beautiful daughter Miriam, but he has competition and the other fellow has money. When war breaks out, Adam ends up fighting on the front lines of the Somme with friends from Yorkshire. While the bonds of friendship tighten between Adam and his buddies he finds it increasingly difficult to connect with the girl he loves. Will Adam end up with the love of his life or will Miriam's mother convince her to marry for money rather than love? Who will live and who will die in France?

The book jacket says No Man's Land is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's experience and I took that to mean it was a tribute to Tolkien rather than a biographical novel. I presume I was probably correct because of the way the book ends, but it's worth mentioning because I noticed that at least one reviewer at Goodreads, whose review I read because I was baffled by the single-star rating, was hoping for a glimpse into the Lord of the Rings novelist's choice to write fantasy and there is nothing at all that even hints at inspiration for a fantasy novelist. Because I was not expecting a biographical novel, I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I found the book a little predictable and for that reason I took off a half point (I gave it a 4.5/5 at Goodreads). The predictability was only a factor of certain situations, though, as opposed to the plot being wholly predictable. And, a lot happens in No Man's Land so there were plenty of surprises. In general, the book is plotty enough for fans of plot-driven books but also descriptive enough and with enough depth of characterization to satisfy those who prefer character-driven novels.

Adam is a nice, strong character but he has a bit less personality than some of the other characters, so he was actually not my favorite. I adored Seaton, the eldest of the coal mine owner's sons, and came to love several of the friends who ended up together on the front lines. I've noticed sometimes an author will do a slightly better job of giving personality to the secondary characters, to the detriment of the hero or heroine, and I did think Adam suffered by comparison with some of the more vibrant personalities. But he's a good egg, he grows and changes throughout the novel, and he's very courageous. I liked him and desperately wanted him to survive the war.

Highly recommended - At close to 600 pages, No Man's Land is an immersive read, great for those who like a book you can sink your teeth into and with an ending I found satisfying. I liked the scope of the book - beyond the war itself and back to the protagonist's youth as an impoverished child of a laborer, then as a youngster living in a coal-mining town. One of the reasons it took me a long time to read the book (at least 2 weeks) was all the things I opted to look up. I looked up how coal miners looked in early 20th-Century UK, the German attack on Yorkshire during WWI (I'd never heard about that, before!), fashion in the 1920s, and Eaton Square in London's Belgravia, among other things. I like a book that makes me go running to the internet to look up additional information.

©2017 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, May 15, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson - from Workman Publishing via Shelf Awareness for review - This book looks so ridiculously fun that I really want to read it right now but it has a release date of October so I'll wait. 
  • Afterlife by Marcus Sakey - from Thomas and Mercer for review
  • Torchwood: World Without End by Barrowman, Barrowman, Fuso, Qualano, Lesko, and Edwards - Pre-ordered so long ago I'd forgotten about it (a year or two)

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien - At nearly 600 pages, this one took me quite a while, even when I decided to focus on it. I did have a couple of those nights when I was too tired to read, but on Sunday nobody was around and I only had about 100 pages left, so I immersed myself in it and only got up, now and then, to do chores or eat. That was fun! I usually only read at bedtime so it feels really decadent to spend an afternoon reading. 

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

In other news:

I turned on the TV and randomly flipped while I ate my supper last night, and ended up watching most of The Help. Nope, I've never seen the movie, before. I loved the book but really didn't think the movie would be for me. Boy, was I wrong. I couldn't tear myself away from it. I'd forgotten that parts of it were filmed in areas that I know, so I excitedly asked the husband if he knew they'd filmed at Brent's Drugs, a restaurant that looks like a time capsule, inside and out. He said, "That's the reason we went there in the first place - I heard about it when they were filming." Oh. Well, it was cool to see it on screen. I had my fender bender in the parking lot right in front of Brent's, last year. Bit of trivia for you.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fiona Friday

This may be a weird choice (and, oops, Friday is almost over!) but it's my favorite kitty pic of the week because it was so precious. This is Izzy lying on my left foot. My knee was cramping and I had to hold the phone past the knee to snap this but if you're owned by cats you know what an honor it is to be snuggled by a kitty, especially one with anxiety issues. Isabel is pretty much terrified of everyone but me and even I get limited cuddles (usually when she drapes herself over my shoulder while lying on the couch cushion). I loved this moment.

©2017 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 Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A little info about why I've posted two covers for my review of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart:

1. The cover at left is the UK cover and the one I have. The book has already been released in the UK and I opted to order a copy from Book Depository, partly because I liked the UK cover better and partly because I wanted to go ahead and read it, rather than waiting for the American release. Having read the book, I can tell you that both illustrations fit the text. I do prefer a the lighter, more cheerful coloring of the UK cover, so I'm happy with my purchase.

2. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has not yet been released in the US but the release is coming, soon, so it's undoubtedly available for pre-order, although I haven't looked. The cover at right is the US version. Because I'm in the US, I thought it would be appropriate to include both covers - the UK version I've purchased and read and the US version that is soon to be released. UPDATE: The US release date is May 30!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the story of Aventurine, a young dragon whose scales have not yet hardened. Until a dragon's scales have hardened, it is not safe in the outside world and the hardening of scales takes many years. So, Aventurine is pretty much stuck in a cave perpetually and she's bored. Her siblings have discovered their passions and are perfectly happy in the cave, but Aventurine wants to see the world and is frustrated by her inability to leave.

When she gets the chance Aventurine escapes from the cave. She doesn't plan to stay outside long or get herself into trouble, but she encounters a food mage who gives her some enchanted chocolate and poof! she is transformed from dragon to human. Not only has she been tricked by a wily mage, she is also unable to return home. Dragons fear humans and know them to be a danger, although an angry dragon can clearly harm a human, as well. When one of her family members flies nearby, Aventurine gets a good sense of what it's like facing an angry dragon when he aims at her with his flaming breath. He will never believe she's really a part of his family.

With no other choice left to her, Aventurine goes into the nearest village in search of her new passion, chocolate, clothed in an outfit that looks like her former dragon scales. She's helped by a young thief, but can Aventurine trust her new friend? When she decides that she wants to become an apprentice to a chocolatier, will she be able to overcome rejection? Will any of the chocolatiers ever accept her? And, when dragons begin to swoop over the village, can Aventurine stop the villagers from killing her family? How will she ever convince her family that she's a human, now?

Recommended - What a creative story. Aventurine is a strong, fearless heroine who becomes a fish out of water when she's turned human. But, after discovering her passion, she goes for it. She is going to become a chocolatier and she is going to find a way to save the village and her family. You know it when each of these things are coming, but it's still a delight to find out how she'll accomplish everything she needs and desires to do. Although there were some portions that I thought dragged a bit, I enjoyed the friends Aventurine made along the way, her courage and determination, and the ending. The one thing that I thought was not obvious: Would Aventurine remain a human or find a way to transform back into a dragon? Would she be a dragon chocolatier? I'm not going to give that away but I will tell you I found the ending satisfying.

©2017 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, May 11, 2017

Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep by Leslie Helakoski

In Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep, there's a storm. Two eggs are on the ground. Two moms take them back to their nests. But, the eggs have been switched. Hoot, who has ended up with a family of geese, is a baby owl who can't sleep during the nighttime and goes exploring. He finds some other owlets and realizes he's found his home. Honk is a gosling accidentally living with an owl family. He thinks the owl diet is revolting and can't sleep during the daylight hours. He goes exploring, just like Hoot, and discovers some fellow goslings. Honk has also found his home.

Using very simple words and light rhyme that is occasionally a tiny bit awkward until you become accustomed to its unique rhythms, Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep tells about a mixup that is undone by its own victims. A cute story that I can see having a long usage span. Because the wording is simple and rhythmic, Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep is a good option for very young children who aren't quite ready to sit still for long. But, eventually, they're going to want to know about the weird owl diet and why owls are up at night and geese during the daytime, so the book also provides a good opening for discussion about nocturnal and diurnal animals, as well as the diets of different birds.

Recommended - A fun book with vibrant illustrations, simple language, and plenty of room for discussion, for classroom or home. Or, you can just enjoy it without looking for an excuse to teach a lesson (I was always all about the learning opportunity).

Both of my children attended camp at our local zoo and this book reminded me of the time my youngest son dissected an owl pellet and had such a violent allergic reaction that he had to be removed from the room. He was grinning when I picked him up. Did I know that owls swallow creatures whole and then eventualy cough up their bones? No, I did not. Owl pellets, he told me, were very cool and a little gross. He was not really fazed by the allergic reaction. No biggie; he learned something fun. I love that.

©2017 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.

Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev

I've read Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev several times because my first impression was not a positive one. The youngest in a hippo family is unhappy because everyone is bigger than him: his parents, her brothers, the giraffe, crocodile and elephant that live nearby. Little Hippo is feeling small until he discovers a beetle that has ended up on its back and is lying there helplessly. The beetle is grateful and so is his family. When they thank Little Hippo they say, "Thank you, Big Hippo!" Suddenly, Little Hippo feels big and goes running around, shouting that he's big now. His mother says, "You are a Big Little Hippo now!"

Okay, so my immediate thoughts: Loved the illustrations but I wasn't sure there was any point to the story. But, sometimes my first impressions are not reliable when it comes to children's books; that's why I always read them at least twice. I also wondered what a child would think, so I took the book along with me when we met up with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the little one was sick. But, my daughter-in-law read Big Little Hippo to her and she sat still throughout the reading. That's a good sign, although nothing is definitive when you're reading to a kid with a fever who is kind of stumbly - and yet, she's an active child, even when sick, so I still took it as a positive.

After reading Big Little Hippo a couple more times, I slowly began to think about its uses. First, the book is one about the concepts of big and little (or large and small), which are important early lessons. So, it's useful for teaching the concept of size. Second, if you've got a child who is unusually small or large, you can use it to show that size is relative and fairly meaningless. Third, the entire hippo family is shown in the final panels, so you can introduce "medium" to the size order concept. And, finally, everyone loves a book with bright, cheerful illustrations and I think the illustrations in Big Little Hippo are marvelous.

Recommended but not a favorite - I was not going to recommend Big Little Hippo at all after the first reading, but I changed my mind. I do, however, recommend that you peer inside the book at a bookstore or online (if possible) if you're concerned. The story itself is a simplistic one but I think it has applications for teaching, in particular, even if I think the story itself is a bit flat. The illustrations are superb.

©2017 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, May 08, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and
  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank - both from HarperCollins for review
  • Ella Who? by Ashman and Sanchez and
  • Dance is for Everyone by Andrea Zuill - both from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Daywalt and Rex - purchased 

I feel kind of weird about that children's book purchase, but I heard it was funny and there's nothing I like more than an excuse to laugh. Not pictured is another book I bought, a YA called Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy, the actor best known for his 80s movies. I enjoyed his travel memoir a couple years ago, so I figured it would be fun to see how his YA turned out. As I recall, he was writing the YA at the time his first book was released.

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex - Yes, I thought it was funny. And, I also think my cats need to stay in the room when I read to them. 
  • Ella Who? by Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez 
  • Dance is for Everyone by Andrea Zuill
  • The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Last week's posts:

I don't normally post on the weekends because the spouse objects to weekend blogging but we had a busy morning and were both beat on Saturday afternoon, so I had a little down time in which to write a blog post on Saturday and then Huzzybuns opened up a second blogging opportunity by leaving town on Sunday. I was pleased to have time to knock out a couple reviews, since I've got such a backlog of books that need reviewing. Fortunately, a good portion of them are children's books, which I can quickly reread, and some are personal reads for which there's no hurry. It's just a matter of sitting down, now and then, and knocking a few out.

Currently reading:

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien - After writing that I was reading this book, last week, I picked up The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson and couldn't put it down. So, I just returned to No Man's Land, last night, and now I'm completely immersed at about 1/3 of the way in. 
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit - Huh, I thought this was a feminist read. Maybe it's because Solnit is known for Men Explain Things To Me? So far, it's all political, with only the occasional remark specifically about women. But, I'm really enjoying it. Hope in the Dark was written during the second George W. Bush administration but it is extremely applicable to what we're experiencing under the Trump administration for reasons I won't go into. Because it's one of the books Isabel spilled my drink on, a couple weeks ago (did I tell you about that?) I'm marking it up wildly with a pen instead of delicately labeling quotations with flags. Solnit's writing comes off as scholarly (maybe she is a scholar; I don't know because I skipped the cover info) but it's accessible, if a bit wordy, and I appreciate her "light at the end of the tunnel" encouragement. 

In other news:

I can't think of any other news. Same old, same old, around here. I'm really enjoying my reading, lately. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that Adam, the protagonist of No Man's Land, had already shown himself to be heroic when I was 18% of the way into the book. He's a terrific character. My only problem with the book, so far, is that the dates are not clear. It almost feels as if Adam has gone through 7 years of growing up in 18 months. So, I would have liked a little bit of clarity - and yet, I set it aside for a while, so maybe I simply blanked on the timing. At this point, I'm guessing it's about 1910. There was recently a scene in which Adam got a ride in a Rolls Royce and the author said his scant possessions were put in the copious trunk. That sounded off to me, somehow, so I looked up Rolls Royces made in 1910. First of all, it's set in Great Britain. A trunk is a boot. So, it's been Americanized for U.S. publication, if the author is British. Second, there doesn't appear to be any such thing as trunk space, unless there's an exterior vessel for carrying possessions, and none of what I'm seeing is "copious". But, whatever. It's a good book. I love the depth of characterization and a lot has happened in roughly 150 pages. This book is definitely going to stick with me, I'm sure of that.

OK, I've babbled enough, now. Happy Monday!

©2017 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.