Friday, July 31, 2015

Fiona Friday - Window gazing

©2015 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, July 30, 2015

Mini reviews - Possibly a failed attempt at randomness

I haven't felt like writing blog posts, this week, and sometimes that means I should walk away but sometimes it means I need to stop allowing myself to feel confined by what I usually do. So, I attempted to make this post structureless. I'm not sure I succeeded but at least it helped me knock out a few more reviews, if only for the sake of personal record-keeping.

The recent read that I think I've found most difficult to even begin writing about (apart from a couple of books I loved so much I feared I couldn't do them justice) is Life in a Box is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin, a book I read during the #flashreadathon in June. It's poetry but it's not necessarily for the everyday reader who has difficulty understanding poetry (me, for example, haha). It's complex, choppy, the kind of poetry that requires you to completely shut off expectation and stop trying to understand. I found it easier to "get" after I quit, metaphorically, squinting so hard at its ideas. I think the best way to describe the book would be to go back and look at what I said on Facebook, just after I finished reading:

Life in a Box is a Pretty Life was rough. I had to keep walking away from it after I began to "get" it (poetry - not the easiest) because it's about being black, being a woman, being victim-blamed, racially profiled or judged based on color or sexuality, etc. Apropos given recent headlining stories. I wouldn't say it's for everyone and I'm not even sure it was entirely for me but I got something out of it and at times it absolutely took my breath away. 

Bottom line - A hard read about rough topics but very timely. It does deserve a language warning as sometimes it's graphic.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka is not a book I ever anticipated having difficulty writing about, but it's one that I pulled off my personal shelves so I just didn't feel obligated to say anything, at least at first. I keep a running draft of books completed and when I post about them I add a link to what I've written and then I have a post of "books read" for the year, complete with links, ready to go at the end of the year. The items on that list that don't contain a link bug the hell out of me. Weird, but true.

The topic of When the Emperor was Divine (a novel) is one I've read about before and would like to read more about: Japanese internment during WWII. There's a museum that's dedicated to an internment camp in Arkansas, not all that far from us -- maybe two hours' drive, I'd guess, possibly a bit longer. No physical remnants of that camp now exist. I can't recall which camp the family in When the Emperor was Divine was taken to, but that doesn't matter. From other reading, I know that the sites of those camps were chosen specifically for the fact that they were terrible -- too hot, too cold, too dry . . . places you wouldn't choose to live. That alone is enough to tell you the experience could not have been a comfortable one. And, yet, I've read real-life stories that convince me the culture of Japanese Americans sustained them in a way that not every culture might have.

The title alone gives hints that change has occurred in a family's beliefs in When the Emperor was Divine. But, it's less about the specific culture (although that's a factor) than a story of a family's horror at being shunned, having to quickly dispose of pets and possessions, knowing they were to be forcibly taken from their home but not where and, of course, deeply dismayed at a life they never would have chosen. It's also about a torn family, what it was like living in camp without the husband and father, the head of the family having been taken away before the rest of the family was forced to move. It's well-written and plausible but the one thing I thought the book lacked was a view of the positives. As I said above, I've read some remarkable stories of courage, creativity and determination, much of which rested in the culture itself. I'd have liked to see a few glimpses of beauty within the text. But, I did think the book was a good one, reflective and with a tone that is sad, but for good reason.

Julia's Cats by P. Barey and T. Burson is one I've mentioned but not elaborated upon and that's because I closed it thinking there wasn't much to say. That doesn't mean I didn't think it was a good read; I did enjoy it. I have to admit I am fascinated with Julia Child but haven't bothered to learn much about her. In Julia's Cats, the authors have placed her love of felines and the tales of the cats in her life within the context of her cooking life. So, it serves as a casual biography of her marriage and her life in the kitchen, both before and after she was professionally trained and became a well-known personality.

I enjoyed the reading but the one thing I felt lacking in Julia's Cats was a satisfactory wrap-up to the lives of each feline. Because of her lifestyle, her travel, and the sheer number of places she called home, her cat ownership was equally transitory. Some cats were "rehomed" when she moved and some were shared with neighbors or friends. All had similar names, so it also became difficult to distinguish between one cat or another -- definitely not the fault of the authors. Because they were often left behind as Julia moved into a new phase of life or someone else took over the care of a cat, you seldom know what became of any one particular animal. One of the nicest things about the book is that there are photographs. I didn't realize Child's husband was a photographer. The photos are, for the most part, fabulous and the book is entertaining. Here's a peek inside:

And something definitively random to end the post . . . books and Minions!

©2015 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, July 27, 2015

Monday Malarkey - No more predictions

This week I've come to the conclusion that I should never, ever attempt to predict what may or may not arrive in my mailbox and/or announce what I intend to read since -- let's face it -- I am wholly unpredictable, even to myself. I say that both because I accepted a couple books after months of ignoring review offers and thanks to the fact that I read absolutely nothing I said I intended to read, last week. Best laid plans and all that.

Recent arrivals (as shown above):

  • Color of the Sea by John Hamamura - purchased secondhand 
  • Partials by Dan Wells - via Paperback Swap
  • The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres - from Knopf for review
  • The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon - from Random House for review

And another:

A friend who has recently joined in on the adult coloring craze sent me this wonderful Cool Cats coloring book! How awesome is that? I can't wait to play with it.

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished since last week:

  • On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
  • The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall

Husband recommended that I read On Bullshit when I complained that I simply can't understand how people can fall for the false information that is being spun as reality by certain politicians and it did, in fact, soothe me a bit. At the very least, it explains how a politician can appear to believe the baloney he proclaims to be truth. But, while you're reading the book, you have to question whether the text is an experiment in bullshit, itself. It's a fascinating read.

The Flying Circus is a book that I bought on the recommendation of an author I follow on Facebook. She described the book as "adventurous" and I enjoyed it but found it a little too light on dialogue and heavy on narrative. It has a dominant romantic element that was, I thought, a little tedious 'though ultimately satisfying, and I found several plot points predictable. But, The Flying Circus definitely does have plenty of surprising twists.

Currently reading:

Nothing. But, I'm sure that will change. I'm just not going to make any assumptions about whether I'll resume reading one of the books with a bookmark in it or try something new.

In other news:

I worked on tidying some of the many possessions our youngest son has brought home to store during the time he's taking a course in Memphis while Kiddo and Huzzybuns did the final bit of packing and scrubbing of his college apartment, this weekend. So, not an overly exciting weekend but we all got a lot accomplished. It feels a little strange not to have a child living in Oxford, anymore.

I've been more than a little obsessed with Poldark and The Crimson Field, two BBC productions set back-to-back on PBS, Sunday evenings. I haven't missed a single episode of either and didn't realize last night's episode of The Crimson Field was the finale till it ended without a preview of "next week's episode". Darn. I'm sad to see that end. I'm in the mood to binge-watch a series but haven't settled on anything, yet. Sounds like I have no idea what I'm going to do this week, doesn't it? Maybe it's time to de-gloss that chair I bought last week and start painting.

Happy Monday!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Copyright 2014
Scribner - Historical Fiction/WWII
531 pp.

Once, when she was eight or nine, her father took her to the Pantheon in Paris to describe Foucault's pendulum. Its bob, he said, was a golden sphere shaped like a child's top. It swung from a wire that was sixty -seven meters long; because its trajectory changed over time, he explained, it proved beyond all doubt that the earth rotated. But what Marie-Laure remembered, standing at the rail as it whistled past, was her father saying that Foucault's pendulum would never stop. It would keep swinging, she understood, after she and her father left the Pantheon, after she had fallen asleep that night. After she had forgotten about it, and lived her entire life, and died.

Now it is as if she can hear the pendulum in the air in front of her: that huge golden bob, as wide across as a barrel, swinging on and on, never stopping. Grooving and regrooving its inhuman truth into the floor.

~fr. p. 207 of All the Light We Cannot See

In All the Light We Cannot See, Marie-Laure is a young French girl who has lost her vision. Her father is the master of locks at Paris's Museum of Natural History and a fine craftsman. To help Marie-Laure gain a little independence, he has created a painstakingly detailed model of their Paris neighborhood so that she can familiarize herself with the area's features from the safety of their home.

Werner and his sister live in an orphanage in a German mining town. When he discovers a broken radio and is able to fix it, his eyes are opened to the wonders of science and engineering. He quickly teaches himself about wiring, currents, radio tubes . . . everything he needs to know in order to build and repair radios. The last thing he wants is to end up crushed in a mine like his father.

As Hitler comes to power and war breaks out, Werner ends up in a barbaric school where he is educated and desensitized to cruelty while Marie-Laure and her father are forced to escape to her uncle's home in a walled seaside village after the Germans invade Paris. Both experience the horror and deprivation of war but Werner is only peripherally aware of how hardened he is becoming while Marie-Laure becomes stronger and braver when war challenges her household to endanger their lives for the sake of others.

Eventually, Marie-Laure and Werner cross paths but there's a long and winding set of paths before they finally, briefly intertwine. I admit to being surprised that the encounter between Marie-Laure and Werner was so minimal but it worked because the storytelling is so intricately and beautifully crafted that I actually found myself deliberately dragging out the reading of All the Light We Cannot See for the sake of simply enjoying Doerr's writing.

I was, I confess, disapointed with the ending. At over 500 pages, I felt invested in the story and there were certain answers I desired to know but which were not revealed. After giving it some thought, I realized that the slow, fragmented feeling of the ending chapters does lend it a realistic air. Anyone who has read much about WWII knows that often the answers never came. Did someone live or die? What happened to valued possessions? But, in the end, the stunning writing convinced me that an imperfect ending was not enough to make it less than a 5-star read.

Highly recommended - The highest compliments I feel like I can give to a writer are love of and belief in the characters he created and having felt a "you were there" sensation. Both were true of All the Light We Cannot See. I particularly loved the idea of those elaborately detailed neighborhood models Marie-Laure's father built to help her learn her way around. I found myself thinking, "I would love to see and touch those models." I also adored Marie-Laure's entire family, rooted for Werner, whose humanity was buried yet still evident through the occasional thought he had about how disappointed his sister would be, and sometimes found myself rereading sentences for their rhythm and beauty. A truly spectacular work of writing.

©2015 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, July 24, 2015

Fiona Friday

Fiona was happy and relaxed but, as usual, not thrilled that the camera was pointing her direction.

©2015 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, July 23, 2015

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Copyright 2014
Thomas Dunne Books/YA
413 pp.

Davidek began reading the paper every day, knowing there had to be an update, some follow-up, some explanation about what happened. But there was nothing, not even a week later. "I think I saw something about it on CNN," Bill Davidek said at dinner. "'Playground fight at local school,' right?" The old man scratched his beard with a self-satisfied smile.

"Come on, Dad! That guy jumped off the roof! He almost killed himself!" Davidek said, his cheeks stuffed with food. "He chopped off a dude's fingers!"

Davidek's mother clanged her fork and knife flat on the table. "For God's sake, we're eating fish sticks," she said.

~from pp. 27-27 of Brutal Youth

Brutal Youth is the story of Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, Lorelei Paskal, and a sizable cast of students attending a private Catholic school in Pennsylvania. An explosive prologue introduces the reader to the characters on Visitor's Day at St. Michael the Archangel High School, a day potential students are allowed to attend classes so they can get a feel for the school and its routine. Instead of a typical school day, though, Visitor's Day goes horribly wrong when a bullied student reaches his limit, becoming both violent and suicidal.

Davidek really doesn't want to attend St. Michael's, especially after such a harrowing Visitor's Day. He has plenty of friends at the public high school. But, in spite of his protests he ends up a student at the school and decides the best approach is to keep his head down and do what he's told. Stein, on the other hand, is an angry guy and not about to let anyone push him around. Lorelei is hoping for a fresh start after a misunderstanding at her old school left her friendless.

A love triangle, sanctioned bullying, a mixed bag of teachers both kind and cruel, and a priest who privately wants the school to close are among the elements in Brutal Youth, a novel worth talking about for the way it exposes the dark side of school life.

I think what I loved most about Brutal Youth was the dark humor (as evidenced in the excerpt, above) but I also cared about the characters. And, I think just about everyone can relate to the kind of behavior in the book -- either the bullying by fellow students, the surprisingly bad behavior of adults or the parental failures that make trouble at school doubly hard to handle. Breznican's writing is almost painfully astute.

I've read Brutal Youth twice, now.  The first time I read it, I checked out a library book and chatted with the author on Twitter while I was reading. Doing so gave me some really interesting insight -- some of it after the fact. On the first reading, I felt like the bullying was relentless and desired a happy ending or at least a light at the end of the tunnel. The second time, I was sent a copy by the author's publicist for a Q & A (which will come some time in the future) and had time to stop, mark passages, ponder the characters and their motivations a little more deeply, and really appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish. It helped that we'd discussed his goal. This is what the book looked like after the second reading:

I came out of the second reading with such an appreciation for Breznican's craftsmanship that I bumped up my Goodreads rating from 4 stars to 5.

And, I managed to talk my book group into reading Brutal Youth. I'm excited. There's so much to discuss.

Highly recommended - A sharply drawn story of friendship, bullying, and the failure of adults to act responsibly or serve as decent role models, both as parents and teachers. Exceptional characterization, dark humor, and an understanding of interaction at the high school level are the particular hallmarks of Breznican's writing. I can't wait to see what he comes up with, next. Warning: There are some particularly uncomfortable scenes of violence and humiliation. Brutal Youth is truly brutal; the title is fitting. But, it's a book that makes you think about what true friendship really involves and examine the concept of bullying. I'd go so far as to say it's an important book, one that should be read and discussed by students and adults alike.

©2015 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, July 20, 2015

Monday Malarkey

I don't have any good book stack photos, this week, so you get cat:

I'm amazed that Isabel found it tolerable lying in the sun. It's been so hot I can barely endure sitting near the window with the blinds drawn. Izzy was beneath my desk, incidentally, lying on an old foam exercise step.

This is my only arrival for the week:

In This Proud Land by Roy Emerson Stryker and Nancy Wood is a book of photos taken during the Great Depression. Apart from some introductory material and captions, there's very little text. I doubt I'll bother reviewing so here's a peek inside:

I altered the color a little so it looks fresh and new but this particular book is older and a little yellowed. I purchased it secondhand.

Oops, another used book just arrived in the mail so I have no photograph of it: Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. I bought it because I loved Crooked Heart so much I wanted to read more by Evans. Their Finest Hour and a Half was longlisted for the Orange Prize, which comes as no surprise to me as Lissa Evans' writing is stellar. Like Crooked Heart, it is a WWII novel.

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Not a big week for blogging.

Books finished last week:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 

My reading has clearly been pitiful, quantity-wise, although I've enjoyed what I've read, recently. I blame the heat and a little eyestrain. I've found that I'm having trouble focusing (in both attention and vision) when I sit down to read. As long as the heat persists and until I can make it to the eye doctor to get some reading glasses that work, I'm guessing my reading will continue to be slower than normal.

Currently reading:

Nothing. But, I'm planning to return to Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, the book of children's letters written during the Depression, now that I've finished All the Light We Cannot See. And, I may dip back into Pamela. I've also decided this is probably a good time to read some short stories, since it's taking me forever to get through anything (this being the second week in a row that I've only read one book), so I'm going to give Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning a go.

In other news:

You've probably spotted the change to my header. I gave it a lot of thought and decided I wanted a sleek, minimalist, bookish look so I took some old books off the shelf and staged them in a way that I thought would fit my goal. I'm happy with the results. Although my subheading spills over the books a bit because I enlarged my font when I changed the template, after removing the word "family" I think it looks better. I took "family" out of the subheading because I really don't tell family stories or post family photos, anymore, at the guys' request.

My blog plan for the week includes writing reviews of Brutal Youth and All the Light We Cannot See and coming up with a list of interview questions for my Q/A with Anthony Breznican. If anyone has questions they'd like me to ask Anthony about Brutal Youth, please let me know. I'll be happy to add them to my list.

The only other news I have is about a side project I'm looking forward to starting. A local storekeeper who paints old furniture, frames and other decorative items has closed her shop and will instead have a small corner in a local antique store. So, she had a closeout sale, last week, and I bought a chair to paint:

I've been having a great time gathering design ideas. Even though I haven't even de-glossed the chair to prepare to paint it, yet, Huzzybuns has seen the images of my favorite painting ideas and is already calling it, "Your hippie chair." I can't wait to get started. I have always desired to paint a chair, just for the fun of it.

That's all for now! Have you read anything brilliant, lately?

©2015 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, July 17, 2015

Fiona Friday - No photos, please

Izzy has never been camera shy but recently she has decided she's disinterested in having her picture taken and has chosen to either look away or leave the room when I point the camera in her direction. Hopefully, it's just a phase. Fingers crossed.

©2015 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, July 14, 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Copyright 2015
Harper - Historical Fiction/WWII
282 pp.

'I knew,' said Mrs. Williams, surrounded (for the first time in her life) by interested listeners. 'I heard the whistle as it dropped and I said to Idris, "It's got our name on it!" and he said, "Well let's hope it's spelled wrong," and I said, "Shall we get under the stairs?" and he said, "Too late for that, girl!" and then he threw himself on top of me.'

First time for everything, thought Vee. The bomb had landed on the shed and Mr. and Mrs. Williams had survived uninjured, though a chicken had been blown straight through the kitchen window. 

--from p. 165 of Advance Reader Copy, Crooked Heart (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

This is going to be one of those times I feel inadequate to review. I've been thinking about what I can possibly say about Crooked Heart since the moment I closed it. That was, what? . . . 3 weeks ago? Whatever weekend the #FlashReadathon was held, that was the weekend I finished.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans is about a young boy named Noel who is evacuated from central London during the Blitz of WWII. Vee, the woman who takes Noel in, is the single mother of a young man named Donald, who is unable to serve in the armed forces because he has a heart condition. Vee is operating a con game, Vee's mother spends most of her time writing letters (a few of which, addressed to Winston Churchill, are included in the book) while Donald is keeping busy with a moneymaking scheme of his own.

When Noel comes to live with Vee, he makes a surprising offer to help her with the con game she has ineptly begun, making door-to-door collections for various benevolent funds and then keeping the money. Noel has spent most of his life with his godmother, an elderly lady who was intelligent and wise. Noel learned a great deal from her and he is one sharp cookie. Although Vee seems like a terrible human when they meet, when their scheme begins to pay off she starts to soften and show a surprisingly generous side. Eventually Noel also begins to heal from the loss of the godmother who challenged him intellectually and whom he misses profoundly.

When I finished reading, I discussed the book with suspense author Paula Daly on Twitter and I think it's worth noting my immediate reaction because sometimes when you're not thinking about reviewing it's easier to describe a book in few words.

Highly recommended - Crooked Heart is by far the most pitch-perfect book I've read in 2015, an absolute gem. There's so much wit and humor. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Lissa Evans' writing reminded me of someone else's but I couldn't put a finger on whose. I think it may be Mollie Panter-Downes that I'm thinking of (in Good Evening, Mrs. Craven) or perhaps D. E. Stevenson in the Miss Buncle books (Miss Buncle's Book; Miss Buncle Married). Point being, she has a peculiarly British and very smart style that I adore.

It wasn't till I was midway through Crooked Heart and looking to see what else Lissa Evans has written that I realized I have actually read her, before. A few years ago, I read Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms. That was back in the days when I used a numerical rating system and I gave it a 5/5. The same would be true for Crooked Heart if I hadn't ditched the numerical ratings.

©2015 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, July 13, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Oops, she did it again

The old "went into a bookstore and didn't come out empty-handed" problem has repeated itself after only a week. We returned to Oxford to help out our youngest son a bit more, you see. Seriously, Oxford is a dangerous place for a booklover. I also purchased a recent release after hearing someone gush about it, so the bookish atmosphere of a university town can't entirely be blamed for my weakness.

New arrivals, top to bottom:

  • Sinking of the Titanic: Eyewitness Accounts, ed. by Jay Henry Mowbray
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (the fellow at Off-Square Books was extremely enthusiastic about this volume of short stories)
  • The Rest is Jungle by Mario Benedetti
  • Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
  • The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished last week:

  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - A reread and the only book I finished. I liked it even better the second time. 

Currently reading:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (for F2F discussion)
  • Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression, ed. by Robert Cohen - This one made my heart hurt; I put it aside after one night's reading and will maybe take the next readings in smaller pieces.

In other news:

You might have noticed I changed my template. I'm still working on it. I'd like to change the header but I'm not certain what exactly I want in a fresh header, so I'm giving that some thought. I've also spent a little time streamlining the sidebar (aka, deleting superfluous stickers and links -- I'll keep removing items till I'm satisfied). The decision to update was a spur-of-the-moment thing, although I've been tired of the hummingbird template for a while. What do you think of it, so far?

©2015 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.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Coming soon - A Neverwhere read-along

Yesterday, Neil Gaiman posted the image of a new "author's preferred text" version of Neverwhere that will be released soon and that prompted me to ask (on Facebook) who has read the book. I haven't yet gotten around to reading Neverwhere and was thinking the new release serves as an excellent reminder that Neverwhere has been on my radar (and my shelf) for years, unread.

It turns out I'm far from alone, so I suggested a read-along (or is it "readalong" - one word?) and we settled on October. Although it will be an informal affair, I'll update as we get closer to the event and I'll register a hashtag, later (but I'm thinking "NeverAlong" or "NeverwhereRAL" -- probably the former). If you're interested in joining in, mark it down for October! Unless a magic fairy shows up on my doorstep, I'll be reading the original version. If you're an audio person, I've heard the audio read by Gaiman is excellent.

©2015 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, July 10, 2015

Fiona Friday - Kitties gettin' high

I came across some old Beanie Babies from Happy Meals, a couple of weeks ago, and decided to put one to use. After letting it sit in a bag of catnip for a couple weeks, I brushed it off and tossed it on the floor. The cats had a grand old time.

©2015 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, July 09, 2015

Extreme Food: What to Eat When Your Life Depends On It by Bear Grylls

Extreme Food: What to Eat When Your Life Depends On It by Bear Grylls
Copyright 2014
William Morrow - Nonfiction/Survival
272 pp., incl. index, picture credits and appendices

If you've seen Bear Grylls eating disgusting things on television, you probably have a decent idea what you're in for in Extreme Food but it's far more than worms, birds' eggs and snake meat (although, ugh, I've seen him cook all of those on TV and that egg and worm omelet . . . just, no).

Let me back up a bit. What I expected of Extreme Food was entirely different from what I got. Grylls talks about food, but he also mentions things you should carry in your backpack if you're going out in the woods, how to build a proper fire, how to make a container in which to do your cooking, which plants are best raw or cooked and what he considers the best way to cook them, how to build a number of different traps to catch edible animals, how to best approach an animal you want to hunt, various ways to kill animals and how to make the tools to do so (including a number of different methods of fishing), how to distinguish animal tracks, which animals to avoid entirely and which of the various hunting methods are typically illegal and should only be used if you are in a life or death situation.

That's a surprising amount of information crammed into such a small book. However, there's a down side. The chapter about fungi, for example, describes both edible and poisonous mushrooms. Unfortunately, Grylls says many are so difficult to tell apart that it's best to purchase a more comprehensive guide and study them. Not helpful on the fly. Nor are some of the illustrations all that clear; although, to be fair, some are quite good.

A few things I learned:

  • An air rifle is "the only gun you're allowed to carry unlicensed in the UK [. . .] and the same goes for many other parts of the world too." Interesting from an American perspective. 
  • The most important single tool you should carry is a good knife.
  • There are a lot more ways to fish than I could have ever imagined.
  • Death by alligator would seriously suck.
  • I'm definitely more of a roots and nuts type of gal than the shoot-and-skin variety but I was much less horrified by the thought of capturing and cooking animals in a desperate situation than I expected.

One thing that hasn't changed:

  • I'm still convinced I'll be the first to die if I'm ever in a group of people stranded in the wilderness. And, the others will eat me. But, it doesn't hurt to learn how to try not to die. 

The bottom line:  There's a lot of interesting information in Extreme Food and it's an enjoyable read, if occasionally a bit disgusting. But, it has its downfalls. If you're looking for a single survival manual to keep handy in the event of disaster (to tuck in your automobile trunk or keep handy if you're camping or hiking), this isn't the book I'd choose. I think you'd be better off reading a more comprehensive manual like that put out by the S.A.S. or the U. S. Army. Having said that, I think anyone who has a general interest in survival may come away from the reading having learned something, so I recommend it but it's definitely not my favorite of the survival guides I've read.

My apologies to anyone on my feed who has seen three versions of this post. I made a mistake in the first version, updated it, and then decided I needed to add a few more thoughts.

©2015 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, July 08, 2015

Minis - Eleanor & Park by R. Rowell, Black Box by J. Schumacher, The Pearl by J. Steinbeck

Out of the last 8 books I've read, only two were advance readers. Both are worth talking about and will get their own posts. Everything else? Well, they varied and those that I loved are old enough titles that most everyone I know has read them so I'm going for a bunch of super-minis, 3 today and then maybe a few more, later.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I had no idea what this book was about, apart from the fact that it's clearly a YA with a touch of romance, but my friend Tammy said I had to read it right now, so I put it on hold at my library and it showed up almost immediately.

 Eleanor was kicked out of her home by her surly, abusive stepfather. A year later, she has returned to the stifling and, at times, terrifying atmosphere she must share with her large family, all of the children crammed into a single room together.

Park is an Asian nerd who gets along well with just about everyone but feels set apart by his looks and interests. On Eleanor's first day of school, he reluctantly scoots over on the bus when nobody else will let her sit down. As they slowly get to know each other and share music and comics, Eleanor and Park find that their families are a world apart but their affection for each other is boundless.

Highly recommended - I sobbed alligator tears. A wonderful, touching, beautiful story.

Black Box By Juli Schumacher is another YA, this time one that was recommended highly but I can't recall by whom. It's the story of a family in crisis, told through the eyes of Elena, a 14-year-old whose sister is suffering from mental illness. When 16-year-old Dora becomes severely depressed and has to be admitted to a psychiatric ward, her family is at first confident that she will recover and then confused and terrified when they see how tormented she has become.

While Dora is hospitalized and then goes through the difficult adjustment to medication, Elena is befriended by an older student who is known to have been held back for a year or two. At first she's uncomfortable around him but he says he's been through the same thing with his brother. Gradually, Elena begins to trust this strange new friend and learn to cope with the emotions she has a tendency to swallow.

Highly recommended - While Black Box is not a page-turner, it's a quietly powerful story that shows how difficult it can be for people to accept and adjust to mental illness within their household. A very emotional story. I particularly loved how the book ended.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck is one of those books that a lot of people study during their high school years. Naturally, I missed it. I snatched it off the shelf on a day that I just happened to be in the mood for a short classic.

Kino and his wife Juana wake up on an ordinary day, but when their infant son's life is endangered, they must go for medical help. When the doctor refuses to see them, Kino goes pearl diving in the hopes of finding a pearl large enough to pay for the baby's care. What he finds is a pearl of unusual size and brilliance.

With the pearl in hand and the baby improving, Kino dreams of the things he'll buy, and the ways he will be able to improve his family's life. But, when he's offered only a fraction of the pearl's value, he decides he would be better off traveling to another town to find someone willing to pay the right price than take what he's offered. Of course, everyone in his village knows about the pearl so Kino and Juana encounter non-stop peril.

Not recommended - Very much a "beat you over the head" morality tale, so transparent that I cringed all the way through the book, knowing what was bound to happen (and it did). I love Steinbeck but The Pearl is just flat awful. I gave it an average rating because I like Steinbeck's style but it's not a story I'll ever return to.

©2015 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, July 06, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Nature on the rampage and a thing or two about books

It's Malarkey time! I knew you'd be thrilled.

Now that I've had a strict review policy in place for over six months, the number of books arriving by mail has trickled down to nothing, so there will probably be weeks that I don't have a "new arrival" entry. But, last week two events conspired to add to my pile. First, I took some books to our local Little Free Library (the only one I know of in our area, which is in front of a public building) and just happened to find a Booker Prize-winning novel. So, I grabbed it. Then, I went to Oxford to work on cleaning out youngest son's apartment (and get out of the house for a day). So, naturally, I had to drop in at Off-Square Books. I did not escape with my pocketbook intact.

New arrivals, top to bottom:

  • Last Orders by Graham Swift (from our local Little Free Library)
  • The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick,
  • The Encantadas and Other Stories by Herman Melville,
  • Julia's Cats by Barey and Burson,
  • and 
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward - all from Off-Square Books

Posts since last week's malarkey:

One of the reasons there were few posts:

Thunder, lightning, hail, blah, blah. This has been the wettest spring and summer I can recall in recent history. Last week's storms were heavy on lightning and I always unplug when there's lightning to avoid a ruined computer on the off chance of lightning strike. I don't bother carrying the laptop away from the window or writing on battery power. I just shut it down, unplug, and walk away. I like an excuse to disconnect.

Books finished last week:

  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka - When I stopped reading Child Witch Kinshasa, I was in the mood for something short, literary, thought-provoking. When the Emperor Was Divine has a sad tone and that probably wasn't something I needed during a stormy week but it did fit the other parameters I'd set for my next read and I'm glad I read it.
  • Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats by Patricia Barey and Therese Burson - A fun read for cat lovers that sets Child's love of cats within the context of her cooking life. The only thing I disliked about Julia's Cats was the incompleteness of each cat's story. Julia child moved from one home to another, often leaving a cat behind for someone else to watch, sometimes rehoming a cat. You never get a complete picture of each animal's life because of that. And, since most of them were given the same or similar names (Minou, Minette), after a time they become a little difficult to distinguish.

Currently reading:

  • Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression, ed. by Robert Cohen
  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - a reread. I meant to do a Q & A with the author after the first reading, but didn't mark up the book because I read a library copy. This time, I'm reading the recently-released paperback so I can fill it with flags to my heart's delight and I won't have to hurry to remove them and send the book back anywhere. Nice. Also, the book has haunted me so I'm glad to have an excuse to reread it. 

In other news:

I've pinched a finger, stubbed a toe and gotten stung by fire ants, today. Lessons learned:

  • Turn on the light before placing something inside a full drawer.
  • If the cat moves her (wooden, carpet-covered) scratching pad into the middle of the room, move it back where it belongs because wooden things hurt.
  • Don't weed the garden in flip-flops.

What's up with you?

©2015 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.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Still loving what's left of her box

One side of the box has been completely torn open but Fiona is just as happy as ever with her box.

©2015 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.