Monday, February 27, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

I very seldom read books about how to be happy because I think they tend to either have only a short-term effect or I find them impractical in some way. I was interested in reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, though, because of the fact that the book is so stinking cute (maybe not the best reason) and it's about how people choose to add joy to their lives in a particular place. Maybe it would not be as applicable as I'd like, but I was still curious. I was not disappointed.

The Little Book of Hygge begins with a brief explanation of the concept of hygge - how to pronounce the word (HOO-GA), the cozy feeling it implies, and why something like a storm merely adds to the kind of comfort and joy that one can experience from elements of hygge like a warm sweater, soft socks, a book, the presence of a few friends, and mellow lighting. Then, it goes into greater detail.

Light is apparently a very big deal in Denmark and my first thought was probably the same as that of most Americans: Ack - candles - fire hazard! Danish people love candles (unscented) and tend to set the mood by lighting a lot of them. While I would love to do that, myself, I am definitely paranoid about fire hazards and it's true that the seeking of warmth generally does not apply to us because of our warm climate. One situation that was described repeatedly was friends gathering around a fire or out on a deck with a hot drink after skiing, when everyone is too tired to speak and the presence of others is a joy, in and of itself.

I do love a crackling fire. But, I doubt I'll ever experience skiing with friends. Oddly, as unrelatable as that is to an American gal living in the Deep South, it's easy enough to imagine and gives you a good sense of the kind of atmosphere hygge is about. As to the idea of lighting lots of candles . . . it sounds lovely in abstract but fire is my pet irrational fear. I am absolutely terrified of fire. My husband loves to light scented candles; I enjoy blowing them out. I imagine my cats jumping onto countertops and setting their tails on fire. So, the lighting concept makes sense to me and yet it feels like something I will never accomplish.

There are plenty more subjects: togetherness, food and drink, clothing, hygge inside and outside the home, Christmas. There is even a summer hygge chapter. Like a Danish winter, Danish summer could not be farther from our personal experience. Again, I don't think that matters because I still got the sense of what the Danish do to make comfort and happiness a part of their lives.

The author talks about other aspects that contribute to happiness, apart from the hygge that is deliberately created through atmosphere. For example, the fact that the Danish are taxed heavily but their tax money goes toward a marvelous social safety net. Healthcare is free; a university education is free. Because the cost of health and education are not concerns, the Danish have less stressful lives to begin with, which gives them the ability to focus on creating joy. But, we can all learn from them, of course.

My favorite part of the book is probably the Hygge Wishlist with 10 items "that will make your home more hygellig," including a comfortable corner (a hyggekrog), things made out of wood or ceramics, books, nature, vintage lighting, and tactile things like a warm drink or a soft pillow. You don't have to live in a cold climate to enjoy any of those things - well, apart from holding a cup of hot liquid. We do save the warm drinks for winter.

Recommended - While I was reading The Little Book of Hygge, I frequently read bits and pieces to my husband and told him a bout how the Danish decorate and use light, comfortable clothing, warm drinks, and friendship to create happiness. Our decorating style - when we put out any effort at all - could be described as Danish Modern, so there are aspects of the decorating already present in our home. We both came out of the reading feeling like it's something we want to study further and that we should focus on ridding ourselves of some of the home furnishings that we ended up with by default (chiefly through the deaths of family members). I put myself on a book-buying ban around the time that I was reading The Little Book of Hygge but I'm still planning to buy some books about the Danish decorating style to use as encouragement and I plan to return to The Little Book of Hygge for advice. As far removed as we are from some of the aspects of Danish life that lead to coziness, like the cold, the snow, and the long, dark winters, I think there's something for everyone in The Little Book of Hygge.

©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 Malarkey

It's Monday and I'm finally doing a Malarkey post on time! I'll try to keep that up. Last week was not a bad reading week, not a great one. Not a terrible posting week, not a good one. I'm not going to hazard any predictions about this week. That would be crazy.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Widow's House by Carol Goodman - from William Morrow for review
  • Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, and
  • Wintering by Peter Geye - both sent by a friend (Thanks, Susan!)
  • The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jan Morris - from Quirk Books for review

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy
  • Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

One was a book that I found intriguing but slow, the other I could not put down. 

Last week's posts:

Hmm, this seems to lean closer to "bad blogging week" but, again, lately I'm just happy to get any reviews written at all. 

Currently reading:

Metaphors Be With You by Mardy Grothe - I've returned to this one after having set it aside for several weeks. Since I finished Survivors Club late last night, I haven't yet determined what else I'll read next, although I'm hoping to get started on Hidden Figures and I have several novels piled next to the bed. I'll choose my next fiction read, tonight. 

In other news:

I can answer some of the questions I posed, last week, now. Will I get around to reading a classic, this month? Oh, oops, actually . . . I did read one: The Handmaid's Tale. It's a modern classic but a classic, nevertheless. I was hoping to read a second one because I didn't manage to finish a classic in January, but I'll take what I can get. Will I locate the book I chose as my feminist read of the month? I found it! But, I haven't read a single page so it will be shoved into March. We'll see if I end up reading just the one or attempt two feminist reads to make up for February.

I don't know what became of the discussion about The Handmaid's Tale. I thought it was going to occur at a particular Facebook site and it didn't, so clearly I missed it. I have no idea where discussion was held. Still, I'm glad I read the book. I've meant to read it for ages and I'm always happy when I manage to read another book that's been on my shelves for years.

©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, February 24, 2017

Fiona Friday - Paws everywhere

I'm in a Facebook kitty group with lots of New Zealanders, who have an interesting way of describing their cats that always makes me smile. This pose would be described thusly: "Kitter is heckin' comfy," and something about the "beans" (which I call "paw pads" - kind of boring, by comparison). I love the way they talk. Isabel was definitely heckin' comfy and showing off the beans.

©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, February 23, 2017

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

There are WWII-era planes flying over the British estate on the cover of In Farleigh Field, so it should come as no surprise that I wanted to read the book. I am hard-pressed to ever say no to a WWII book of any kind.

In Farleigh Field is a story that takes place partly in Kent, home to the Sutton family's large estate, Farleigh; Bletchley Park, where one of the Sutton daughters translates German messages; and London, where the son of the local vicar and friend to the Sutton daughters, Ben Cresswell, works for MI5.

There's a prologue that takes place in 1939 at a cricket match on the grounds of the village. While prologues are something I can take or leave, I think the author did a nice job of introducing the characters in the prologue: Jeremy, the daredevil aristocrat, his more mild-mannered friend Ben, and the woman they both adore, Pamela "Pamma" Sutton. After Jeremy lands his plane on the cricket field and spirits Ben away, the real story begins.

In 1941, Jeremy is an RAF pilot who has been captured by the enemy. Ben has a metal knee that he acquired in a plane crash, and Pamma is working a night shift at Bletchley Park. There's a child named Alfie, an evacuee from London, who discovers the body of a man whose parachute didn't open on the grounds of Farleigh. The Sutton family now lives in a single wing of their estate while soldiers have taken over the rest and are billeted in their home. The dead parachutist wears the uniform of one of the soldiers on the estate but the billeted soldiers don't jump from planes and there's something off about his uniform. The only clue as to why he may have arrived at Farleigh is a single photograph.

Without interacting, a number of different people and agencies are set to work solving the mystery of the soldier who died in Farleigh Field. Will they figure out the mystery in time to stop a nefarious plot?

There is a large cast and a number of other minor storylines, but the heart of the book is the story of the deceased parachutist and what he may have been up to with young love as a secondary storyline.

Recommended - Unfortunately, there were some plot holes and I don't think the ending quite worked, apart from the romantic storyline. But, I liked the main characters (a few of the more minor characters were a little too stereotypical) and enjoyed the interaction between them, so I didn't mind the book's flaws. As is often the case with mysteries -- and I would not call this a mystery novel but a novel with a touch of mystery -- I didn't always understand how those investigating came to their conclusions or even why they felt obligated to pursue a particular line of reasoning. But, since I thought of the dead body as only one strand of the story, which was a mix of mystery and romance as well as a family story set during a short stretch of WWII, I just went with the flow and enjoyed it. If you're a WWII fan, you may find the book flawed, as I did, but I still found it an enjoyable read and well worth my time.

©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, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Twaddle

It's just after 9:00 PM and I've suddenly remembered that I'm a blogger. Ha. I guess after 10 1/2 years you get a little lax, sometimes.

Recent arrivals:

There was only one arrival, this week, and it showed up this afternoon.

  • The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb - from William Morrow for review

Sounds a bit on the tragic side, which is interesting because I don't usually request books that are described as tragedy. I do prefer sweetness and light. And, yet, I'm definitely still intrigued. I think the word "mermaid" may be one of those things that grabs my attention, much like a cover illustration with a beautiful red dress.

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
  • In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen 

You might be interested to find out that after all the hair-pulling just getting through Dragon Springs Road, I thought it was an excellent read. I think it's just that I'm a little bit slumpy. In Farleigh Field took me almost as long to get through. Again, I liked it. I thought there were some plot holes but it was well written; I'm just reading slower than usual. 

Currently reading:

  • The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

There are other books with bookmarks in them but since I haven't recently read a single page from any of them I'm not going to bother listing them, here. I just started The Good Daughter, this morning. I haven't gotten very far into it so I can't say whether or not it will stick. Fingers crossed.

Last week's posts:

I'm almost embarrassed about my wordy review of The Wars of the Roosevelts because chances are good that people who are the most interested in it already know a great deal of what I babbled about learning, but that kind of rambling is definitely indicative of enjoyment. My Fiona Friday post of Isabel is a phone photo and therefore not high quality but it's become a new favorite. I love the way she has that little paw curled, ready to reach out. Even when she's being feisty, I can actually hold out a hand, even touch her paw without getting clawed - something that's true of both of my kitties. I love that about them. They are pretty much terrified of everyone outside the family but such amazingly gentle animals.

In other news:

There's a lot of finger crossing going on, around here. Will I get around to reading a classic, this month? Fingers crossed. Will I locate the book I chose as my feminist read of the month? Fingers crossed. Will I manage to read it before the month ends? Oof. Probably not.  But, boy, have I learned how to pep talk myself through all these things. I remember when I would have been absolutely stressed out of my mind over the facts that I've not only read a mere 5 books with a week left to the month but also have utterly failed at my other goals. Not anymore. I may cross my fingers a lot and try to stay up longer so I can read a few more pages but I just can't be bothered to lose my mind. I'm too old for that. I guess that's one of the really great things about aging.

©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, February 17, 2017

Fiona Friday

Someone has been in a very playful mood, today!

©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, February 16, 2017

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After yesterday's rambling post, you deserve a nice, short one. And, that should be easy enough as We Should All Be Feminists is a very quick read - the first for my personal Feminist Reading Challenge in 2017.

Written originally as a speech, We Should All Be Feminists is a mix of Adichie's personal experiences and observation. I don't think I can beat the description at Goodreads, so I'm going to share a paragraph of that and then tell you my own thoughts:

With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.

I found We Should All Be Feminists incisive and revealing, particularly for her unique view as an African woman who has spent a lot of time in America. I especially enjoyed reading about the differences between life as a woman in Africa and in the United States. Having said that, a lot of what she had to say was familiar. Where I may have read similar thoughts, I can't say. I've only read a few books about feminism or by feminist authors. I didn't mind the repetition at all because her perspective is a unique one and who knows? It may be the only book about feminism some people read. If so, it's a good choice because of its brevity and clarity.

Highly recommended - Especially recommended if you're looking for a very quick read about feminism and why treatment of women as equals is healthier for all concerned.

Surprise! Because the book was short and I was in a hurry (January was well under way when I decided to challenge myself to read feminist works, whether fiction or nonfiction), I opted to buy and read the book in electronic form! I know, shocking. Well, it's shocking to those who know about my aversion to e-books.

I asked for suggestions of feminist titles at Facebook and when I went back to collect the titles, I couldn't find the post. I'm going to look again because sometimes things disappear from Facebook and then reappear, presumably due to those annoying algorithms. I know I didn't delete it. But, I figure it doesn't hurt to ask for more suggestions, so please let me know if there are any feminist titles you highly recommend. I broke my book-buying ban to order a couple that were recommended on Twitter. I figure that's legit, buying books for my personal reading challenge, right? Right.

©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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Wars of the Roosevelts by William J. Mann

I've always been fascinated by the Roosevelt family, so it was a no-brainer that I'd want to read The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America's Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann when it was offered to me for review.

The Wars of the Roosevelts is about the infighting within the Roosevelt family that went on for decades, including both political backbiting as well as the horrible things they did to each other personally in the name of rising to political power. Warning: This is a long review because I shared a few things I found fascinating. It's not as general as my normal review. Feel free to skip down to my recommendation, near the bottom of the post.

The Wars of the Roosevelts begins with Theodore Roosevelt's concerns about his brother, Eleanor Roosevelt's father Elliott. Elliott and his wife were the partying type and Theodore was concerned that Elliott and his wife Anna's exploits would interfere with his political aspirations.

After Elliott was rude to guests at a party thrown by Theodore's "chief booster and unofficial adviser," Bye, Theodore said, "I am distressed beyond measure."

[...] Theodore was keenly aware of decorum and discretion, as any man with his eye on the presidency would be. He knew careers could be derailed in the drawing rooms of New York society, where Elliott and Anna had made themselves infamous. People would be very reluctant about backing a candidate with a black sheep such as Elliott in his family.

~fr. pp. 10-11 of Advance Reader Copy of The Wars of the Roosevelts (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

It's notable that every generation and every branch of the family managed to cough up at least one black sheep. The author goes on to describe the years of Theodore's attacks on Elliott -- how he constantly tried to separate Anna and Elliott and repeatedly attempted to have Elliott locked away in sanitariums for "moral insanity". The author talks about the impact Theodore's cruel ambition had on Eleanor, who was an outcast even when staying with Theodore's family, the Oyster Bay Roosevelts, and how his determination to physically challenge his own children affected their lives.

In addition to direct family ties, the author also follows the progress of Elliott's illegitimate child, also named Elliott, who was never acknowledged by the family but who was every bit as intelligent and ambitious as the relatives he never got to know. There's a very satisfying conclusion to his story, late in the book.

I have a dozen flags marking passages in The Wars of the Roosevelts. I found it utterly fascinating, not only for the in-depth view of the Roosevelts but also for the political insights. For one thing, I was completely unaware that Progressives were originally a faction of the Republican party. Since Theodore was a Republican Progressive and Franklin a Democrat who became politically active after the Progressives vaulted to the opposite party, you'd think the two sides of the family would have banded together. Instead, they competed with each other and it was for personal reasons that Theodore's daughter Alice spent many years viciously attacking Franklin Roosevelt's policies, even though they were essentially the same as those of her father. By the time Alice's opinions were being regularly published, the Oyster Bay Roosevelts and the Hyde Park Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor) had become opponents who were more focused upon their own ambition than their shared interests.

Sometimes, while reading The Wars of the Roosevelts, I was taken aback by the consistency of political arguments. So much of what politicians disagreed about in the early part of the 20th Century has not changed at all. 100 years later, our politicians are still using the same exact wording to make their points.

Theodore's love of the natural world, acquired as a young boy trying to overcome his asthma, was being codified into national policy.

Not everyone saw this as a good thing. Progressives, their critics charged, were all about regulation and control. It was overreach, they argued, to deny Americans the right to develop lands for their own individual gain. 

~p. 126

Sound familiar?

The book continues to describe the various family members who were involved in politics, how their political ambitions were rewarded or quashed, how alcoholism and illness affected their aspirations, and the effects of relationships with friends, lovers, or political connections on the family. I'm most addicted to anything and everything about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, both of whom I admire, although they certainly made their share of mistakes and had their personal flaws. I knew less about Alice and her brothers and how their political ambitions played out. Nor did I realize that Eleanor was encouraged to run for office in 1940.

Citing some of the great warrior queens of the past, [The New York Times] demanded of its readers, "What sound reasons can be advanced against a woman for President of the United States?" 

~p. 450

In 1940! And, we still have never elected a female president. I could quote The Wars of the Roosevelts all day, but I'll end with a favorite comment made by Theodore:

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in if it is not a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.

~Theodore Roosevelt, quoted on p. 200

Highly recommended - Not including notes, bibliography, and index, The Wars of the Roosevelts is a little over 500 pages long and it's a dense 530 pages, so it took me quite a while to get through the book but it was never an effort. As always with any book about the Roosevelts, I kept my iPad handy and spent a lot of time looking up photos of the various characters and their homes, so that I could picture them when they were described and imagine their interactions. That added to how slowly I plodded through the book but I was always, always absolutely engrossed when I picked the book up to read. The author doesn't just describe the lives and ambitions of the four characters pictured on the cover, incidentally; the author described the political ambitions of any and all Roosevelts who became politically active, including the women who were unable or unwilling to run for office but whose influence was widely respected, often behind the scenes.

The author's attention to detail and heavy use of primary sources is admirable. I appreciated the fact that when quotation marks were used, the reader knew that whatever was quoted was actually said by the various individuals. There was some conjecture (why Alice likely kept the baby who was undoubtedly not her husband's when abortion was illegal but obtainable for women of means, for example) but not a great deal. I'd especially recommend The Wars of the Roosevelts to anyone who has a particular interest in the Roosevelt family or the time periods covered (from Theodore's youth to Eleanor's post-Franklin life, with a jump forward to a modern Roosevelt gathering). Although some of what I've read elsewhere about specific events was glossed over because the focus was on the actors and relationships within this political family, I really enjoyed the additional perspective.

©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.