Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Laundry Cat Strikes Again

This was a momentary pause. Isabel was actually attacking the laundry as if her life depended upon subduing all the dangerous shirts and undergarments.

©2016 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, April 29, 2016

Euphoria by Lily King

I'm having difficulty getting started with a post about Euphoria, so I'm going to go with Ye Olde Reliable Self-Interview. Today, I will be interviewed by a little silver bell that I keep near my computer. It makes a lovely, resonant ting-a-ling noise when you pick it up.

Little Silver Bell: Hello, and welcome to my very first literary interview. Today, I'll be asking Bookfool about Euphoria by Lily King. Good day to you, Bookfool.

Bookfool: Hey. Fancy intro.

LSB: Indeed. I'm British, you know. Why did you choose to read Euphoria?

BF: It was chosen as the April selection for discussion in my Face-to-Face book group, The Southern Cultural Heritage Book Club.

LSB: In less than 50 words, tell us what Euphoria is about.

BF: Euphoria is about three anthropologists studying tribes in New Guinea. Andrew Bankson has been on his own and recently attempted suicide. Nell and Fen, a married couple, just abandoned one tribe (due to Nell's discomfort) and are looking for another tribe to study. Bankson helps Nell and Fen find a new tribe and falls for Nell.

LSB: Ah, the well-trodden love triangle. Have you read any other books about anthropologists that are written in a similar vein?

BF: No, in fact, apart from Carl Hoffman's Savage Harvest (non-fiction about headhunters) and a book about a plane that crashed on New Guinea during WWII, I haven't read much at all about the area and its people and I've missed many of the more popular titles like The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder, although reading Euphoria made me doubly anxious to get to them.

LSB: What did you like most about Euphoria?

BF:  Pretty much everything. I liked the interaction between Bankson and Nell and the tension that created between both of them and Fen. I liked the fact that the book was written with intelligence; it was a bit of a learning experience. Clearly Lily King did her research. I loved reading about how the anthropologists thought, what excited them, what they considered notable. I liked the descriptions of places and people and the unexpectedness of some of the scenes. And, I was grateful that, although the book is tragic, the author did a good job of forewarning without giving anything away. I liked the fact that it's not just tragic, as well; at least one character ends up living a happy, productive life.

LSB: Was there anything you disliked about Euphoria?

BF: Yes and no. I was left with a few questions and I don't like it when I'm not sure exactly what something meant or what happened. That can make for some interesting discussion, though, so it might have been a good thing that I had questions if I'd made it to the meeting, this month. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it.

LSB: I'm sorry to hear that. Will you recommend Euphoria to your friends?

BF: I already have. It was a 5-star read, for me, one I consider worth hanging onto for a future reread.

LSB: Any final thoughts?

BF: I like the little noise you make when I shake you. "Ting-a-ling-a-ling!" It's lovely.

LSB: I meant about the book. And, it should be noted that I am from the police constabulary. I make a manly ringing noise.

BF: Noted. So, last thoughts . . .  I read a little about Euphoria online and found that not only is it a book that has won a number of prizes and honors, but also "a feature film is underway" (from Lily King's website). I seldom watch movies made from favorite novels because I like to retain my own images from the reading but I think it's a worthy story so I'm happy about that. Thank you for interviewing me.

LSB: Ting-a-ling-a-ling

BF: No comment. Euphoria is going on the good shelves, where I keep my favorites. I loved it. And, I'm told the audio version is award-winning, for those who prefer audio.

©2016 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, April 27, 2016

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

We have Internet! So happy. Fingers and toes crossed that it will last.

First things first: Journey to Munich is #12 in the Maisie Dobbs series and I have not read any other Maisie Dobbs books. Sometimes it works to dive into a series in the middle or toward the end of a mystery series (I've done it many times) and sometimes it doesn't. Journey to Munich was a mixed experience in that way. If you're familiar with the series, you know about the heroine's past and the characters who have been prominent but died. I did not, of course. Maisie spends a lot of time reflecting on her past, which muddled things for me, but not enough to stop me from reading on. More on that in a minute.

In Journey to Munich, Maisie is asked to pose as the daughter of an industrialist who has been imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. It's 1938, Hitler is on the brink of invading two nearby countries, and Leon Donat's real daughter is not well. Donat has important knowledge that the British government wants to get their hands on, so they've begun negotiating his release (for a price);  Maisie must present the necessary documents and bring Leon Donat home.

Meanwhile, a very important man finds out about Maisie's plans to go undercover and requests her help locating his daughter, the woman Maisie blames for a tragedy in her own life (it's a spoiler if you missed #11). Maisie refreshes her German, memorizes information about Leon and his family, practices shooting a gun, and then dons a wig and takes off for Munich. I confess, I was a bit surprised how long it took for Maisie to even arrive in Munich.

In Germany, Maisie is faced with a number of challenges. The woman she's searching for is not quite what she seems, there's an American tailing her wherever she goes, Donat's story is more complex than she realized, and one particular Nazi seems to suspect her motives.

There's good and bad to Journey to Munich from the perspective of this new Maisie reader. She does put on her detective hat, so to speak, now and then. But, Journey to Munich is more a spy novel than a mystery novel. In that regard, it is probably more my type of book than a typical Maisie book. In fact, I tried the series, early on, and couldn't get into it. But, at the time I was reading almost no mysteries and I doubt it was the author's fault. I think it was more a function of my past mystery burnout holding me back. I requested an ARC of Journey to Munich because I've been gradually reading more  from the Mystery/Thriller category, in recent months, and I thought it would be a good time to give the series a second go.

My biggest problem with the book involved what I considered some minor touches of implausibility. Maisie is easily followed everywhere by an American but while the Nazis seem suspicious of her and she places herself in danger numerous times, they're never quite as threatening as anticipated. However, I did think the author did an excellent job of providing a sense of place and ramping up tension. The only other problem I had with the book was the one mentioned above. The Maisie Dobbs series is definitely best read in order. Regular Maisie readers will understand her references to The Dower House and Maurice and why she doesn't want to deal with certain people or wants them back in her life. Again, I did not.

I had no problem with the main storyline at all but did find frequent references to the past frustrating. And, yet, I liked the book enough to think, "Hmm, maybe I should start this series from the beginning." If I do, I believe I'll stop at #10. I peeked at a few reviews by Maisie lovers to get their impression and it sounds like that's where they would have liked the series to end. And, yet, I should add that Journey to Munich ends on a very hopeful note, implying that better things are to come, including the return of characters and format from the past.

Recommended - While the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series doesn't stand all that well alone, it's still perfectly readable if you have not dipped into the series in the past. I asked a friend who has read all the Maisie books what he thought and he said he didn't even notice any implausibility. He just enjoyed the book. So, my discomfort about Nazi suspicion might be the eyes of a frequent WWII novel reader at work (although the story takes place on the cusp of war, before Great Britain has declared war on Germany) and I may be a touch more picky, not being familiar with the series. I enjoyed Journey to Munich, in spite of the problems I encountered by diving into a series whose characters and past are unfamiliar, and I definitely recommend it.

©2016 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, April 25, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler - from HarperCollins for review
  • Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud - purchased
  • Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Various Authors - from HarperCollins for review
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu - purchased
  • All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and
  • Feather Brained by Bob Tarte - both from the authors for review (Note: I do not accept books directly from authors unless I know them personally or am already familiar with or a fan of their work)

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron

This was a fabulous week. I absolutely loved both of the books I finished. Unfortunately, unless I decide to spend plenty of time hanging out at Starbucks, I may not be able to review them for a while. Our Internet service has gone kaput. More on that in a sec.

Currently reading: 

  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig - 2/3 of the way through this combination memoir, exercise (yoga) and cookbook; and, I'll try some of the recipes when I finish (I am reading all of them, first, and marking those that I'm most eager to try)
  • 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke (finally, I have gotten around to the poetry for National Poetry Month!)
  • One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

Recent posts:

In Other News:

As mentioned above, I'm posting from my local Starbucks (I have a local Starbucks! This was not the case before we moved, a few years ago; it's still exciting!) because our Internet has gone down. It's coming on for an hour or so, sporadically, but I can never predict when that will happen. A new fiber network is coming to our neighborhood and installation is progressing very nicely but we're guessing that we still have another two months to wait before they do all of the final connections. So . . . I'm anticipating fewer posts -- a lot fewer posts. That's primarily because neither of us wants to call our current server to complain because they'll try to sell us an upgrade we don't want. We may actually go ahead and cancel the service, which will mean Starbucks-only posting for a minimum of 8 weeks. I'll keep you posted on that. I just can't say what's going to happen, at this point.

Since I moderate comments, it may take some time for a comment and reply to show up, as well. Apologies in advance for the anticipated delays.

©2016 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, April 22, 2016

Fiona Friday - How to stop Mom from painting

Isabel decided to join me during my painting time, one day. I hastily put away the paints because if there's a canvas on the easel she's definitely going to be rubbing her cheek against it. Loved it that she wanted to be near me, though!

©2016 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, April 20, 2016

The Summer of Me by Angela Benson

Destiny is a single mother with twins. Her ex, Kenneth, is a good father to the children but he has hinted at trying to get custody. His financial situation is much better than Destiny's and he lives in a better school district in greater Atlanta. To prevent losing custody of the children and keep from having to drive them all the way across town to attend school in Kenneth's district, Destiny has decided she must save up the money to move to his area. She's found an affordable house and located a job. But, the job has fallen through at the last minute and she needs ideas.

Destiny's friend Bertice has been known to get involved in shady opportunities but when Kenneth takes the children for the summer and unexpectedly cuts Destiny's child support payments in half, Destiny is desperate. Now, she won't be able to pay her bills, much less buy a house. Ignoring the feeling that something isn't quite right, she signs up with the company Bertice has been working for, writing product reviews.

Meanwhile, Destiny's mother has been pushing her to go back to school and Destiny finally gives in, while her other best friend has introduced Destiny to a charming widower and associate pastor who needs help with a program distributing his wife's insurance money to those in need. Destiny signs on to help. The money isn't great, but she's definitely interested in Daniel.

Between her job at a cosmetics counter, styling hair in her basement, helping Daniel plan a grant program and financial planning courses, and the new job writing consumer reviews, along with night school, you'd think Destiny wouldn't have time to eat or sleep. But, somehow she manages not only to date the preacher but balance everything else and go for a weekend trip to California to see the kids. She also meets a woman who takes an unusual interest in her and offers to help her get her license as a hair stylist.

So much happening! I could maybe buy into about half of what's going on in The Summer of Me all at once, but there were too many implausibles and here is where the spoilers come in. Highlight to view the spoilers, all of which I consider some of the "implausibles":

Destiny is involved in money laundering without realizing it, her mother has a secret that doesn't seem plausible (I won't go into why, but think "legal aspect"), and when Destiny's money laundering job leads to disaster, everyone involved gets off without consequences.

Another implausible, less spoilery, is the fact that Destiny's able to take a few extra days off from work and school when things go wrong while she's in California. And, you have to wonder, "How does a woman struggling to make enough money to buy a house find the funds to buy a round-trip airline ticket?" I also had difficulty with the fact that Destiny kept referring to the house she planned to buy as if it were just sitting there waiting for her to buy it -- no other buyers, no hounding from the real estate agent, no figuring out how to come up with a down payment and qualify for a loan, etc.

Add to all that the fact that the dialogue is stilted and I can't believe I finished The Summer of Me at all. But, I did and it served as the mental break I needed after Sylvia Plath's depressing novel. I also really love the fact that The Summer of Me is, at its heart, the story of a single mother doing her best to improve herself as a person and the lives of her children, as well as a clean romance. In those regards, The Summer of Me served its purpose. There is an epilogue and things work out in the end -- too easily, yes, and very implausibly. But, there's plenty of food for thought about how difficult it must be to be a single mother, particularly if you don't have a decent relationship with the father of your children or a nice support network of friends and relatives. Destiny had all that but was still struggling.

Recommended to romance fans, but with hesitation - I gave The Summer of Me an average rating because there were too many questionable threads and the dialogue didn't work for me, but it's a light, breezy read that I think romance fans (at least those who don't mind so much going on) will likely tolerate better than I did. Having said that -- and I do think my review sounds highly critical -- I have to add that I appreciate the book for helping me rise from post-Plath gloom.

I'm not sure if the image above is the final cover image, but I hope so. I have an ARC from HarperCollins and the cover of the ARC appeared white-washed, while this one clearly shows the fact that the protagonist is African-American. I requested the book specifically because I want to read more books by and about people of color and I'm concerned when I see a cover that's deliberately white-washed, although a part of me understands the reasoning -- that some people simply will not buy a book with a person of color on the cover. It's a problem worth talking about.

©2016 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, April 19, 2016

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as my classic for April because I've wanted to read it for years and I was so excited when I found my copy in a box that had not yet been unpacked from our move, 3 1/2 years ago. I couldn't wait to dive in.

The Bell Jar is Sylvia's fictionalized account of her own story, beginning with her month working for a magazine in New York City. Because I've read about this time period in Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder, I was surprised to find that it felt like I'd already read the book. I didn't realize the nonfiction account I've already read covered the same time period fictionalized in The Bell Jar.

On the plus side, I did enjoy finally getting a glimpse of why everyone thought Sylvia so brilliant. Her prose definitely sparked with her own unique turn of phrase; she was clearly a talented writer. Somewhere around here, I have a volume of her poetry and I'm looking forward to that even more, now that I've gotten a glimpse of her writing.

On the negative side, The Bell Jar is truly, deeply disturbing. It's one thing to read about Sylvia Plath and the various theories about what exactly, during that fateful month, may have set her on the downward spiral that led to a suicide attempt and treatment that sounds more terrifying than the depression; it's another to read it through her eyes. It's not heavily fictionalized; it hovers very close to the actual events, including an attempted rape that she successfully fought off.

Recommended for the writing and to help understand depression but with a warning - I thought Sylvia Plath did an excellent job of actually showing the agony of depression and how it leads to irrational thoughts and behavior. The scene in which she tosses her clothing off the roof of the hotel is one that I think is particularly telling, as it shows her irrationality in a vivid, effective way.

Reading The Bell Jar, then, may help those who simply don't get depression to at least get a glimpse of its complexity, particularly those who consider the depressed and their attempts at suicide "selfish" or think people take their own lives specifically to get back at people who have caused them pain (a simplistic viewpoint that places blame on the victim without attempting to understand the emotions involved). However, I do think this book should come with a warning. It's so dark and despairing that it took two fairly light follow-up reads to get past the melancholy that it inflicted on me. Absolutely do not read The Bell Jar if you're already feeling blue.

©2016 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, April 18, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Monday Malarkey has been slow off the ground because our internet has been very, very hinky - as in going off for 3-4 hours at a time. If this ends up getting posted on Tuesday, that's why, although we're up and running fine at the moment. I skipped last week because I am still slumpy and not receiving many books in the mail, so this will be two weeks' worth of malarkey.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Fobbit by David Abrams - Purchased. I've wanted to read Fobbit for quite some time but just finally decided I should go ahead and buy a copy. Don't ask me why I took so long. 
  • Anna and the Swallow Man - ARC sent by a friend who knows I love WWII books. Thanks, Paula!
  • Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo - from Knopf for review.

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - which naturally made me want to fling myself off a bridge or something. What a depressing book.
  • The Summer of Me by Angela Benson 
  • Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (#12 in the Maisie Dobbs series)
I've only finished 4 books, this month. Yeesh. I haven't even started the volume of poetry I picked out for National Poetry Month -- and I always look forward to April for the poetry!!!

Currently reading:

  • Euphoria by Lily King - for F2F discussion
  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig - A book with a little of the author's philosophy and history, some yoga routines, and recipes. This is actually what I was hoping Kate Hudson's Pretty Happy would be like (I did abandon that one).

I set aside The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse for a couple days because I was balancing two other books and when I returned to it I'd forgotten enough about the characters that I needed to start all over, again. That was no big deal because I'd only read about 35 pages but when I picked it up again, it was just too dark to follow up The Bell Jar, so I switched to light reading and will return to The Taxidermist's Daughter, later.

Recent posts (two weeks' worth):

In other news:

Last week was another rainy week. It rained buckets, several days, lightly another, and was heavily overcast and dreary the rest of the week. On Saturday, we drove up to Oxford to help Kiddo move from one apartment to another. It was in the upper 60s and breezy, a perfect day for moving. We were sore and tired when we finished but we decided to come home because the hotel we usually stay at now has a 24-hour cancellation requirement (so we didn't bother reserving), which leads to a funny cat story.

I always tell the kitties when we'll be gone overnight or inform them who will be coming to stay with them if we're gone longer. Fiona doesn't really mind our absence all that much but Isabel absolutely hates the words "going bye-bye". She understands them perfectly and knows when I say that I'll be back tomorrow it means we'll be gone for the night. So, she was super excited when we came home instead of spending the night away. I called out, "We're home, Kitties!" when we came through the door. Fiona was on her stool in the breakfast nook window and she just blinked at me. Isabel must have been sleeping in the guest room. I went to the master bedroom to look for her and was leaning over to see if she was in her favorite spot under the bed when Isabel came barreling into the bedroom and skidded to a halt. A very happy purring-petting session followed.

Have you read anything fabulous, lately? I'm really enjoying Euphoria, so far.

©2016 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, April 15, 2016

Fiona Friday - The queen of the laundry pile

I think I've mentioned the fact that Isabel is a burrower, in the past. A pile of laundry is always a temptation but anything at all that looks like it can be tunneled into is fair game, including plastic bags (have to be careful what I leave lying about). On this particular occasion, she and Fiona were playing chase when she dived into a pile of fresh laundry I'd just placed on the bed.

You can see at upper left that her head was actually covered. She only had a little wedge of air space, so I pulled the sweater up over her face. You can't do that with just any old feline without potentially getting slashed but Isabel doesn't swipe with claws unless she's really, really nervous. This picture makes me smile every time I look at it.

©2016 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, April 14, 2016

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2016 - Scheduled release date: April 26
Harper - Fiction
284 pp. (ARC received from HarperCollins)

This is going to be one of those rare occasions that I post part of the cover blurb because I think it's fairly well-written without spoiling anything:

At the age of six, a little girl named Harvey learns that her parents have died in a car accident. As she struggles to understand, a kindly social worker named Wanda introduces her to her only living relative: her uncle Jason, a disabled felon with a violent past and a criminal record. Despite his limitations -- and his resistance -- Wanda follows a hunch and cajoles Jason into becoming her legal guardian, convinced that each may be the other's last chance.

Moving between past and present, Father's Day weaves together the story of Harvey's childhood and her life as a young woman in Paris as she awaits her uncle's arrival for a Father's Day visit. To mark the occasion, Harvey has planned a series of gifts for Jason -- all leading to a revelation she believes will only deepen their bond.

You can listen to the first five minutes of Father's Day read by Bronson Pinchot, here.

Before I opened the book, Simon shared (with two of us planning to read Father's Day soon) a helpful tip via Twitter: "Just remember the language reflects the syntax and vernacular of the characters." You can hear the unusually childlike narration if you click through to the excerpt; and, it quickly becomes apparent why he mentioned syntax and vernacular. Although the prose sounds very much like Simon's other writing, it is definitely simplified -- slightly more clipped and not so heavy in metaphor. But, the reflective moments I love in Simon's writing weren't wholly absent:

He remembered when they were young and walked to school along Kissena Boulevard. Jason used to hold his brother's hand. He considered how memories hold our lives in place but weigh nothing and cannot be seen or touched.

~p. 50 of ARC (some changes may be made to the final print version)

My feelings about Father's Day are, admittedly, mixed. I recognize Simon's writing easily; if you handed me the book without a cover or an author name anywhere in it, I'm certain I'd recognize the writing as Simon's. There's a rhythm and weight to Simon's writing that's uniquely his and I love it. There's also the same lovely mix of hardship and uplifting moments, empathy for his characters, and the quivering undercurrent that trembles through all of his books . . . love, it says, is everything. I adore that about his writing, how it focuses on the small moments that show how important it is to care for our fellow humans.

Having said that, there were things that I didn't love about Father's Day. Jason was a hard character to like. Years later, visiting his daughter in Paris (she does not ever refer to him as her uncle, even in the early days), he has conquered many of his demons but he still has a sharp temper that he has to work hard to control. He's a man with a tendency to violence and, at one time, dissipation. Again, though, there is the undercurrent that tells you love can change a man; love can make someone work to be a better person. And, Jason does exactly that. There's even a little surprise that has to do with the reason he was sent to prison. I liked the way the author managed to sneak in that little surprise.

Recommended but not a favorite - I missed the complexity of Simon's other books and had more trouble getting into Father's Day than expected. My inability to focus, this year, may at least be partly to blame but I'm pretty sure it was not the only factor. I also was not even slightly surprised by Harvey's disclosure, toward the end of the book. And, yet, I enjoyed Father's Day for the usual reminder of how love can change a life, give a person hope, encourage him to change for the better. The blend of "loss and transcendence" (from the last paragraph of the cover blurb, which I didn't share) is something you can always bank on from Simon. There is a bit more darkness, fewer characters, a more simplistic storyline, but the pages of Father's Day resound with that same beautiful theme of love and light breaking through the darkness.

©2016 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, April 12, 2016

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I've already written about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, a couple times, and I didn't think I'd have much more to say about it than, "I found it inspiring" and "I highly recommend it to those in need of a bit of hope, particularly if you feel your creative life is floundering." So, I've written down the half-dozen quotes that I marked as I was reading the book and added a few thoughts at the end, rather than writing a formal review.

Note: There will be no Monday Malarkey post, this week. Yesterday, we had storms with heavy lightning, so I opted to unplug my computer, and while I was unplugged I realized that last week was so uneventful that I probably ought to just skip the malarkey. Next week's malarkey will include two weeks' worth of reads, arrivals, and posts.

Quotes from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:

I have many times been approached by ideas that I know are not right for me, and I've politely said to them: "I'm honored by your visitation, but I'm not your girl. May I respectfully suggest that you call upon, say, Barbara Kingsolver?" (I always try to use my most gracious manners when sending an idea away; you don't want word getting around the universe that you're difficult to work with.)

~p. 37

If you are older, trust that the world has been educating you all along. You already know so much more than you think you know. You are not finished; you are merely ready. After a certain age, no matter how you've been spending your time, you have very likely earned a doctorate in living. If you're still here--if you have survived this long--it is because you know things. We need you to reveal to us what you know, what you have learned, what you have seen and felt. If you are older, chances are strong that you may already possess absolutely everything you need to possess in order to live a more creative life--except the confidence to actually do your work. But we need you to do your work.

Whether you are young or old, we need your work in order to enrich and inform our own lives.

~p. 108

The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: "My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter all all (if I am to live sanely)."

~p. 135

Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin'. And I don't say this as a criticism of men, by the way. I like that feature in men--their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, "Well, I'm 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!"  Yes, sometimes the results are ridiculous and disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works--a man who seems not ready for the task, not good enough for the task, somehow grows immediately into his potential throug the wild leap of faith itself.

I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps.

~p. 168

An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy. ("If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don't bring forth what is within you, what you don't bring forth will destroy you."--Gospel of Thomas.) Bring forth what is within you, then, whether it succeeds or fails. Do it whether the final product (your souvenir) is crap or gold.  Do it whether the critics have never heard of you and perhaps never will hear of you. Do it whether people get it or don't get it.

~p. 173

During my own periods of misery and instability, I've noticed that my creative spirit becomes cramped and suffocated. I've found that it's nearly impossible for me to write when I am unhappy, and it is definitely impossible for me to write fiction when I am unhappy. (In other words: I can either live a drama or I can invent a drama--but I do not have the capacity to do both at the same time.)

~p. unknown - returned the book to the library without writing that final page number down, oops!

Final notes:

Big Magic is quirky in the way of Marie Kondo's original book about tidying, in that Elizabeth Gilbert really does believe there's a bit of magic at work in the universe when it comes to creativity. I read a particularly whimsical section to my husband aloud and while I found it fascinating and even probable (having had similar experiences of my own), he just shook his head; he couldn't understand or relate to the thought that an idea, left to stagnate, might move on to someone else. I liked her whimsical way of looking at the magic of ideas, so it was a 5-star book for me. But, that aspect is something that might not resonate for everyone.

It's also notable that that quote about male confidence is one that I wrote down because it's exactly how my husband reacted when a job opportunity came up, last year. When I read that paragraph, I realized the truth in what she was saying -- that it really is a typically male characteristic to dive into something for which you're not entirely qualified intending to figure it out once you're on the job, while women often tend to take the safe route. That can apply, of course, to creative pursuits. I was completely confident in my creative side as a youngster, but now that I've returned to painting after 25 years of letting my creative side sleep, I realize that sometimes I'm completely paralyzed by fear. The funny thing is . . . what have I got to fear? I'm only painting for myself. I only write for myself. I'm not being paid and the worst I can do is ruin a canvas or waste paper printing out a terrible story. It's all still good.

At any rate, there's plenty of food for thought in Big Magic and I highly recommend it to those in need of inspiration. I'll probably end up buying a copy and highlighting it to death. I needed to hear those words.

©2016 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, April 08, 2016

Fiona Friday - I don't know about this

I was taking pictures of the cats sleeping near each other in the guest room when Isabel rolled over and stretched a paw toward Fiona. The look Fiona gave Isabel made me laugh. It appeared that she was thinking, "You are violating my air space."

©2016 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, April 07, 2016

Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum and Keika Yamaguchi

Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum
Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
Copyright 2016
Sterling Children's Books - Ages 4 - 7
40 pp.

Teeny Tiny Toady begins with a disaster. "Help, Teeny!" her mother cries as a human hand snatches her up and plops her into a bucket. Teeny dashes home to get help from her 7 strapping big brothers, who come running to help but toss in a demeaning "We'll save her!" as they run out the door:

Brothers tumbled, bumble-jumble,
as they stumbled for the door.
"Don't you worry, kid. We'll save her!"
Off the seven toadies tore.

They try pushing the bucket over. No luck. Teeny wonders aloud, "Could we lift her out somehow?" but nobody listens. Instead, one of her brothers pats her on the head, pushes her out of the huddle and says, "We can handle this." But, their first attempt is fruitless. Then . . .

Teeny said, "You need a ladder."
"Guys, a LADDER'S what we need!"
"You're a GENIUS, brother!" one toad said.
"He ROCKS!" the rest agreed.

Of course, Teeny ends up saving the day after her brothers try to rescue mama and all of them fall into the bucket. Left on her own, she returns to her original thought process and succeeds. And, they do acknowledge her brilliant idea after they're rescued.

What I really love about Teeny Tiny Toady is that you know from the beginning that Teeny has ideas with merit but since her brothers alternately ignore her or pass on her ideas without giving her credit, she's experiencing what absolutely every female goes through, at one time or another. Teeny Tiny Toady shows that with persistence and refusal to allow yourself to be degraded by false expectations and demeaning comments from the opposite gender, a girl can end up solving tough problems. We all need to learn that lesson as early as possible.

Highly recommended: Cute illustrations and a fun, rhyming storyline illuminate a common kind of problem that runs deep for females in today's world and how persistence and faith in your own ideas will get you through. I love the surprising depth of this children's book. It's the kind of story every little girl needs to hear repeatedly, the younger the better. Wahoo for an early intro to feminism!

©2016 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, April 06, 2016

March Reads in Review, 2016

March was a better month than the rest of the year. While not on par with my usual reading, it was definitely an improvement. This has been the slumpiest year I recall in ages.

17. In This Proud Land by Roy Emerson Stryker and Nancy Wood - Subtitled America 1935-1943 As Seen in the FSA Photographs, I expected a book full of FSA (Farm Security Administration) photos with little description. But, there was a substantial introduction that was much more interesting than I expected. Roy Stryker was the man who headed the FSA Photography project, which was tasked with showing how the federal funds to combat rural poverty were put into use during the Depression years. He was a Midwesterner who knew farm life; and, rather than sticking to the guidelines he was given, he came up with his own. He talked about what he instructed the photographers to show, the individual photographers' styles, and why he selected favorite photos. He particularly admired the dignity of the impoverished. A book I purchased used, In This Proud Land was much more meaningful than expected.

18. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote - Andi wrote a little about her 2014 reading of Capote's first published novel in her monthly recap and I agree with everything she said but, surprisingly, I still managed to fall in love with the book in spite of the way it veered into the bizarre toward the end. Maybe it was because of #Weirdathon? I can't say for sure, but I was so impressed by Capote's writing that I didn't mind when he threw us into bizarre, dream-like sequences. Other Voices, Other Rooms was my March classic and I hope to read more Capote before the year ends.

19. Iris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson - One of my favorites of the month, the story of young Iris and how her mother has dealt with the challenge of her severe autism, with focus on teaching at home, Iris's paintings, and her amazing cat. Iris Grace is one of the most beautiful books I think I've ever seen, with photos of Iris, her cat Thula, and her paintings, along with charming illustrations in the endpapers and at the beginning of each chapter.

20. The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Sam Taylor - A stand-out for its gorgeous writing, The Heart is a translation but you'd never know, if not for the fact that it takes place in France, thanks to the quality of the translation. The story of an organ donation from the time a young man goes to the beach to surf with his friends to the first beats of his heart in another body, I was stunned at how gripping this story was and loved the fact that it ended on a high note. As you'd expect, it's a very emotional read.

21. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - Probably the craziest love story I've ever read, the mix of cooking, magic, and romance is a total hoot. Loved it!

22. Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum and Keika Yamaguchi - A children's book about a little pink toad who must save the day after her mother is plunked into a bucket by a human hand and her burly toad brothers end up in the bucket with her after several thwarted attempts at rescue. Really enjoy the fact that the way the brothers treat their little sis is accurate to the way males dismiss the suggestions of females or pass them on as their own.

23. Pines by Blake Crouch - My first inter-library loan and I'm happy to say it was worth requesting. Loved the fact that the answer to what's happening in Wayward Pines isn't revealed until late in the book and it's so unpredictable that the pages flew.

24. Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox - You never know what you're going to get when you open a book about cats. Some are funny, some will make your blood boil if you're a true cat lover (not everyone who writes a cat-centered memoir really understands and loves felines). Tom Cox writes about his cats with a huge amount of affection and admirable attention to his four cats' individual personalities, as well as humor.

25. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson - I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought an electronic copy of Nimona; I just knew a couple friends really enjoyed it and was in the mood for something different. It was different, all right, in a weird way but good weird. I liked the strange mix of medieval (castles, knights) and modern (computers, communication screens, fancy laboratory), and adventure. Loads of fun.

26. Lumberjanes #1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen - My second electronic graphic novel, downloaded because I enjoyed Nimona so much, was a tremendous disappointment. Like Nimona, it has a paranormal aspect. But, the price was deceptive. I thought it was a bargain at $1.99 (currently $1.20 for Kindle) but I didn't notice the page count. At 25 pages, Lumberjanes #1 amounts to a chapter, not a complete graphic novel, and as such it ends abruptly before much of anything has happened. I also found one characters repeated exclamation, "What the junk?" so irritating that I would only have read on if #2 happened to be free. I side with the Goodreads reviewer who called it "hipster nonsense".

27. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert - One of the biggest surprises of the month. I have soured on the concept of self-help/inspirational books, in recent years, because I've found that they're either not all that useful or the effect doesn't stick for long. But, Big Magic stunned me. It's one of the most inspiring books about creativity (with focus on writing, but easily applied to other creative pursuits) that I think I've ever read.

Not added to reads because I didn't read it from front to back: Plant Based Cookbook by Trish Sebben-Krupka, a library book that I've already had to return. I just discovered my new library has a fabulous selection of cookbooks, so I'm planning to start regularly sampling cookbooks. We only got around to trying a single recipe from Plant Based Cookbook, the muffuletta (with portobella mushrooms as a replacement for the usual meat ingredient) but it was so fabulous we've made it 5 times. This week, I checked out The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. We'll try at least one recipe from it, this weekend.

In general, this month was excellent because I was pretty brutal about giving up on anything that didn't immediately grab me, with only one exception -- and that exception, Lumberjanes #1, really only occurred because it was so short. I don't know if I would have made it through 200 pages, anyway. But, it certainly felt like a rip-off. I know a lot of people who enjoyed Lumberjanes, so if you do read it, just be cognizant of the page count.

When it comes to the challenge of reading my own books, this month was not bad unless you consider the fact that most of the books that came from my own shelves were recent additions. Like Water for Chocolate is the only book that's been on my shelves for any great length of time. Only one book, Teeny Tiny Toady, was sent to me by a publisher. Two were library books: Pines and Big Magic. The rest were purchased, with the exception of The Heart, an ARC that I happened across when I dropped by my old library, where they occasionally give away ARCs. Since I loved almost everything I read and my book count went up, this month, I consider March a success.

©2016 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, April 05, 2016

#Weirdathon Wrap-Up

Wave to my friend Charlie. We think he's a little weird but we love him. He's here because it seemed apropos to put a weird guy sculpted from forks and spoons and other things at the top of a post about weird books.

I read 4 books that I considered suitably weird. Most were serendipitous readings. I'll tell you a little about them and, if I've already posted a review, you can click through the link via the title of each book to read more.

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote - The weirdness of this Southern Gothic by a young Truman Capote lies mostly in its characterization. But, there are some hazy, fever-dream type scenes in which you don't quite know what's going on till the scene has ended. At least, I didn't. One of the people in my book group called the death of a mule the "mule suicide scene" and the rest of us said, "He didn't really commit suicide exactly," which he acknowledged but now I'll probably forever think of that mule as suicidal. This one's great if you're into the Southern brand of weirdness.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - (Same link as Other Voices, Other Rooms) This is really the only book I deliberately chose for its weirdness and I chose it because a number of people either recommended it or said, "Yes, yes, that one!" to those recommendations. Wowee, were you guys right. What an odd mix of cooking, magic, and love. I think what I most adored about the complete and total weirdness of Like Water for Chocolate is that it was so utterly unpredictable. I had no idea where Laura Esquivel was going to take me from one page to the next. A truly, uniquely strange book that I'm happy to have finally read. A friend told me the book reminded her of an aunt who would tell family legends while she was cooking. I confess to being envious of her lovely cooking history. My early cooking experience was all "Chop this up and then get out of my way," hence the husband who does the bulk of the cooking in this house.

Pines by Blake Crouch - I didn't know this book was going to be so bizarre; again, it was pure luck that my very first inter-library loan (!!!) was freaky as all get out. What's strange about Pines is both the setting and the characters. A secret service agent wakes up to find himself beat up, most of his memory gone. The people in the town of Wayward Pines, though, are shifty and he's unable to get any answers out of anyone. There are little clues to what's going on (like a cricket that isn't really there) but I would never, ever have guessed the secret of Wayward Pines and what really happened to Agent Burke. It's crazy. But, I'm not going to give it away, in case you decide to read it. Must not spoil.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson - I don't think I'm going to bother writing a full review of Nimona (a graphic novel that I read electronically -- finally, I've found something I actually like reading in e-book form!!) but I enjoyed it. "Nimona" is the name of a shapeshifter who decides she wants to be the sidekick for the town's evil bad guy. But, he's really not all that bad and has trouble convincing Nimona she doesn't need to go around killing people. You can do your dastardly deeds without shedding blood. The real baddie is, in fact, the corporation. And, the bad guy is fighting the corporation, so doesn't that make him good? Eh, who knows. A wacky blend of medieval, modern, and paranormal, Nimona is lighthearted and fun and bloody and weird. The good guy is named Sir Goldenloin. I can't recall the bad guy's name. Something black something. At any rate, I liked it.

The rest of my #Weirdathon stack is still sitting on a corner of the entertainment center and I think I'll just leave it there. I had so much fun adding a little weirdness to my reading that I'd like to try to read more weird books, soon. Maybe not this month, but hopefully I can squeeze at least one title into May.

My thanks to Julianne of Outlandish Lit for hosting the #Weirdathon. Mixing a bit of weirdness into my reading really seemed to punch a hole in this year's annoying reading slump. Much appreciated!

©2016 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, April 04, 2016

Monday Malarkey - Bountiful Book Harvest

Last week was a surprising week for arrivals.

Arrivals (top to bottom - all but one came from HarperCollins):

  • The Great Depression by T. H. Watkins - purchased
  • The Fireman by Joe Hill
  • The Secret War by Max Hastings
  • LaRose by Louise Erdrich
  • The Summer Guest  by Alison Anderson
  • A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig

If you haven't seen the wondrous fold-out that came with A Certain Age, you really must (click to enlarge):

Very creative. Kudos to HarperCollins!

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Lumberjanes #1 by N. Stevenson, G. Ellis, and B. Allen
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

Currently reading:

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Last week's posts:

Posts were limited due to thunderstorms, last week. It was a soggy week. The wisteria was blooming (it's on the downhill slide, now) and I always absolutely must photograph the wisteria but the only place I could find that wasn't someone's yard was the bank -- and then I only had my cell phone with me. I got sucked into the mud (I have some shoe cleaning to do) and my phone doesn't have the best camera but I'm glad to have photos at all. I think they were worth the nuisance.

Reading and blogging plans:

April is always a reading month I look forward to because it's National Poetry Month. I haven't yet decided which volume of poetry I want to dig into but I'll read at least one poetry book, this month. My classic choice for the month is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I'm enjoying that, so far. I plan to do a wrap-up of my #Weirdathon reads and one of all of my March reads before diving back into reviews. We are anticipating one day of storms but hopefully it will be the only one (fingers crossed). I have some catching up to do.

I'm hoping to read mostly books sent by publishers, this month, because I only read a single ARC in March and it was not one that was sent to me but one I picked up in a library giveaway. That means I have some catching up in the ARC department, as well as in reviewing. I've still got my stack of weird books sitting out, though, and I enjoyed my weird reading enough that I'd like to try to throw in a weird book, each month. We'll see how that works out. ARCs have priority, at the moment, but wacky reading really adds some fun to the month.

©2016 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, April 01, 2016

Fiona Friday - Open window season

We had a few glorious days of open windows and the cats were in heaven. Unfortunately, the rest of the week it rained and it blew and it thundered - hence the quiet week; my computer has been unplugged a great deal. Maybe more open window time will come soon, though. We love open windows every bit as much as the cats do.

©2016 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.