Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The NIV Ragamuffin Bible: Meditations for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Brokenhearted

I received a copy of the NIV Ragamuffin Bible for review, so what I'm reviewing is the meditations, reflections and stories that are placed throughout the Bible, although I will once again attempt to read the entire Bible in 2014 and plan to refer back to the NIV Ragamuffin Bible frequently.  

What's new about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible?  The additional material in this particular Bible is all excerpted from Brennan Manning's writings.  In case you're not familiar with Manning, he wrote a number of works but he's best known for The Ragamuffin Gospel (link leads to Goodreads description and reviews).  It's been a very long time since I read The Ragamuffin Gospel, but what I remember most about it is that it's not always easy reading, both because Manning sometimes can fall into the heavy use of what I'd call "ecclesiastical nomenclature" - very much the wording of a man who has studied the Bible deeply for the purpose of teaching (although a lot of his writing is very straightforward) - but also because Manning really makes you focus inward.  How are we as believers in Christ supposed to behave, treat others, live our lives? When you take the time to read and concentrate, you'll often find yourself taking a breath and saying, "Ooooh." His thoughts are deep and they really sock you in the core.

As in his classic work (and I have not read any other books by Manning, apart from The Prodigal, which he helped writer Greg Garrett plot but did not write), the writings in the NIV Ragamuffin Bible are not always quick-skim thoughts -- most are, but some require careful reading.  However, they're definitely placed to make you think. I deliberately started my reading of the Manning quotations in what Jews know as the Torah and a lot of Christians consider the boring, rule-heavy bit of the Bible.  I chose to begin there not because it's the beginning of the Bible but because there's been a lot of random quoting of scriptures of ancient rules by Christians in recent hot-topic debates and I wanted to see what Manning excerpts would be chosen for those books.  Here's an example:

Caring for Each Other 
read: Deuteronomy 19 
The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith.  How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.  We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death.  We are pro-life to the extent that we are men an and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no "others". 

Here's the interesting thing about the placement of Manning's writings: even when you're in the midst of a section telling you when to take your rebellious son to the elders to be judged and stoned or which sexual sins are to be avoided at all costs, the thoughts from Manning's writings that were chosen for those sections are about love, self-evalutation and faith.  Basically, the NIV Ragamuffin Bible is a Bible whose extra material focuses on the reader.  When you're doing or saying something, is it done with love in mind?  How do you treat your fellow man?  Are you acting on faith?  

Boy, do I have a lot of work to do.  

What's not new or great about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible?  Well, there's nothing else besides a chart of weights and measurements, which is pretty standard in any Bible, and a bibliography that will lead you to the correct Manning work from which his thoughts are excerpted. No maps, no study notes, no topic index.  It is, otherwise, just a standard NIV Bible.  I would personally have appreciated a topic index in which you could refer back to what Manning had to say about a particular topic/theme. 

Some people might look at this Bible and think, "Heck, I might as well just buy some of Manning's books," but the really great thing about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible is that you can be reading all the annoying, outdated legalities for a primitive culture and Manning pulls your head right out of that mess to remind you that Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees who focused on legalities and ate with the sinners to make the statement, "We are all sinners." He will tell you the Jews used the Sabbath as a celebration of joy and family before the Pharisees came along and turned the focus on not lifting a finger.  In other words, Brennan Manning had a way of saying, "Look again, people. See where the weight of our focus is meant to be: love, love, love." 

I don't know about anyone else, but I like the reminder.  I have been chastened and uplifted, reminded of miracles and had a bit of hope restored, just in reading a portion of the writings in this Bible.  I want more.  I'm going to do my best to keep the NIV Ragamuffin Bible nearby while I'm reading, this year.

Recommended as a secondary Bible, kept to read in parallel with a good study Bible OR for those who desire an NIV Bible that is pretty basic but includes the occasional thought-provoking story or reflection to remind you as an individual where your focus needs to be.  

Speaking of study Bibles . . . I've yet to find the study Bible of my dreams, unfortunately.  If you've found a particularly illuminating study Bible that helps to clarify the meaning of tricky passages or to set scriptures in their historical context in a clear way, would you please share info about it in the comments?

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

I'll be back with one scheduled review before the end of the year.

  Merry Christmas to All!

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mini Reviews - Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys, The Paris Architect by C. Belfoure and At the Bottom of Everything by B. Dolnick

I'm going to go with mini reviews for my last few reads, post a Christmas photo or two and then take off for the holidays.

Jack Absolute by C. C. Murphy tells the tale of swashbuckling hero Jack Absolute. a dashing former soldier in England's 16th Light Dragoons who returns to London on business as he works to restore his family's fortune. While in town in the year 1777, Jack discovers that his friend Richard Sheridan has told Jack's story in a play called The Rivals.  He's a taken aback but becomes accustomed to seeing himself portrayed on the stage.

However, hanging around pretty actresses can end up being a problem.  When Jack becomes entangled in a dangerous liaison and is challenged to an illegal duel, he must run from authorities; and, the quickest way out of England is to return to the service as a spy on the British side in the American Revolution, although he has mixed feelings about the job.

With the help of his best friend Até, a Shakespeare-quoting Mohawk, Jack braves the dangerous world of the American Colonies, where it's difficult to tell which soldiers are still faithful to the crown, who supports the rebels and who is involved in the shadowy Illuminati organization whose intent is to foment anarchy in the hope of taking over the Colonies.

I had trouble getting into Jack Absolute, at first (probably just a mood thing) but this month's attempt was my second and it just clicked, this time around.  There is a lot of violence, of course, since the book is set during a revolution. But, the focus is mostly on action, romance and untangling the mystery of the Illuminati.  I was particularly fond of the fact that the author fictionalized genuine historical characters and placed them in the right place at the right time.

Recommended: I'm looking forward to reading the prequel: The Blooding of Jack Absolute.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure is the story of an architect living in occupied Paris in 1942.  When he's offered a hefty fee to create a safe place for a Jew to hide, Lucien Bernard is wary.  He doesn't want to be thought of as a collaborator and fears what the Gestapo may do to him, should he be caught.  But, the money, the accompanying offer to design a factory, as well, and the creative challenge sway him.  Lucien likes living well. Soon the money begins to run low and he continues to accept dangerous commissions.

When one of Lucien's designs is discovered during the hunt for a fabulously wealthy Jew, another of his designs fails and a Jewish boy in hiding becomes a part of Lucien's life, his work becomes more personal. Will Lucien's work be discovered before the Americans come to save occupied France?

Recommended with mild hesitation - I liked The Paris Architect because it's a good story, the dialogue is believable and the viewpoint is unusual for a WWII story.  But, I had a big problem with Lucien. He is not a nice man.  Although he gradually begins to understand the plight of Jews and his heart softens, even well into the book his true character shows.  On page 322 he is still irrationally vindictive. When a fellow architect who had more jobs before the war but is now nearing starvation asks Lucien to help him find a job, Lucien refuses:

Lucien thoroughly enjoyed rubbing salt into this wound, and he found himself pleased that Devereaux was so desperate.  

That's within 50 pages of the book's ending, so you can see why it would be difficult to think of Lucien as the kind of hero you can really root for.

At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick is about a friendship, a tragedy and how the ripples created by that tragedy affect two young men in different ways, as the years go by.

I read At the Bottom of Everything over the weekend. It's a quick read and I love the reflective writing style: 

It's always unsettling, seeing people you've almost but not quite forgotten about--not because they've changed [...] but because they've gone on existing, finding jobs and making friends and moving apartments, all without the help of your thinking about them.

~p. 7

There's a moment just after breaking something (the glass slips from your fingertips, your elbow catches the vase) in which it feels like if you stand there, absolutely still, baring your teeth, you should be able to suck time backward like an indrawn breath.  Your hand hangs there in the air, your eyes fall shut, you're like someone playing a children's game with a whistle and a voice that shouts, "Freeze!"

~p. 59

I think travel must have made more sense, psychologically, in the era of ocean voyages; in the three months it took to get from America to India you would've realized the extremity of what you were doing; you would have stepped off the boat knowing exactly how far you were from your old life.  But I, sitting in a plastic lawn chair on the rooftop, gazing out through the smog at what seemed to be the dome of a mosque, still had a receipt from the Bethesda Row CVS in the front pocket of my jeans.

~pp. 93-94

Recommended with a warning - I enjoyed At the Bottom of Everything but it has one of those horrid open endings that make you flip back and forth, wondering if the publisher misplaced the chapter that wrapped everything up.  As I've mentioned in the past, I help myself out with such endings by mentally creating my own. So, I came away from At the Bottom of Everything satisfied after that initial, "What the hell?" feeling passed.  Apart from the lack of conclusion, I really enjoyed the book.  It's sad and felt a little familiar (like I'd read something so similar the book was almost an echo) but I liked the author's writing style. 

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise by S. Blackaby and C. Segovia

Oh, how I wish I'd written about Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise the day it arrived. If you're still looking for last-minute gifts for little ones, I think Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise is a dandy.

In Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise, Brownie Groundhog has a picnic with her friend the fox and a new friend, Bunny.  It's December, ice is rimming the pond and Brownie is sleepy.  When the fox asks, "What's next?" Brownie says it's time for her nap, she's going home to sleep till spring.

The fox is not happy.  What will he do all winter while his friend sleeps?  This part made me chuckle:
"You'll be fine," said Brownie.  Each word puffed out of her mouth on a tiny cloud.  "You can do wintry things."  Brownie packed up her basket.  "Just don't wake me up.  And don't eat Bunny.  She's company."
Brownie goes off to take her nap and chats with Bunny, but he's cold and not sure what to do with himself.  Bunny says it's too bad fox doesn't have a "snug scarf for doing wintry things," which reminds the fox that Brownie has one.

He and Bunny go to Brownie Groundhog's house to borrow Brownie's scarf and the fox leans over "the bump in the bed," which is Brownie, to as if he can borrow her scarf. This is fun, too:
Brownie's answer came out sounding slurry and drowsy. "Beaky white, yam slippy," she said. "Doony dizzer!"
Bunny tugged the fox toward the door.  "Let's go," Bunny whispered.  "Brownie just said, 'Be quiet, I'm sleeping! Do not disturb!' "
"Nuh-uh," said the fox. "She wants me to look in the dresser.  But don't worry. I'll be extra quiet."
The fox just happens to find a wooly sweater and a string of lights, which gives him a great idea.  He bothers Brownie a couple more times to ask where things are located (which results in a few more funny garbled sentences by Brownie and differing translations by the fox and Bunny), then he and Bunny go off to make a wintry surprise.  When they're done creating their surprise, the fox makes a terrible noise hammering on Brownie's door to hang a wreath and Brownie is fully awakened.  But, then the fox and Bunny show Brownie Groundhog their surprise.  They've decorated a tree with lights and ribbons.  They march around the tree to show it to Brownie from every angle and then they have a feast.

By the end of the feast, Brownie is ready to go back to bed.
"Sweet dreams," said Bunny.
"See you in February," said the fox.
"And not one second sooner," said Brownie, and she shuffled off to bed.
In the illustration of Brownie heading off to sleep, there's a new sign on Brownie's bedroom door that says, "Do not disturb.  I MEAN IT!"  Bunny and the fox leave Brownie to rest and Bunny surprises the fox with a last piece of pie.

I read Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox in January of 2011 and loved it so much that even though it's recommended for preschoolers, I liked it enough to keep my copy to read to the cats and said, "Don't limit yourself" to the recommended age range. Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise left me with that same feeling.  I love this sweetness and creativity of the characters.  Yes, the fox wakes up his friend in the process of completing his festive project, but when he's finished with the surprise and the feast, the fox and Bunny politely leave and it's clear that a new friendship between the fox and Bunny has developed as they worked together.  Wonderful!

Highly recommended - Another sweet Brownie Groundhog story, in which two animals work together to create a surprise that helps the fox become accustomed to his new companion and adjust to winter without his best friend.  I love the illustrations in Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise.  They're colorful and the animals are very expressive but at the same time the illustrations have a nice, un-cluttery look that is very pleasing to the eye.  I'd read it to a plant if there were no other options (confidentially, my two kitties are not the great listeners that our Miss Spooky was, but they still get read to, now and then). It may be too late to grab this one for Christmas but it would make a super book to buy for no reason at all, apart from the desire to read something with a winter theme to your child . . . or your pet . . . or the mirror.  Whatever works.

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Goat Mountain by David Vann (DNF)

In Goat Mountain, an unnamed 11-year-old boy protagonist goes to family-owned land in Northern California with his grandfather, father and a family friend.  The men in the family have gone on their annual deer hunt for generations and the boy can't remember a time he didn't go along, didn't desire to kill his own buck. This year, although he's not yet the legal age, he will be allowed to shoot.  But, then something goes terribly wrong when a poacher is spotted on their land and the boy's father hands his gun to the boy.  

This may or may not be a spoiler because it happens very early in the book (highlight to read white text):

When the boy gets his hands on the rifle and sees the poacher through the scope, he watches the man turn toward the gun and then pulls the trigger.  He's not sure why; he just desires to kill.

After the Terrible Thing happens, the men have to decide what to do.  They are not in agreement but one bad decision is followed by a questionable choice and a series of increasingly violent acts and terrible decisions.  In Goat Mountain, David Vann explores the potential for choosing the darkness inside us, allowing our baser instincts to take over, leading characters into their own form of personal hell. 

I made it about halfway through Goat Mountain before I stalled.  Tolerance for violent images is very much an individual thing and I'm a person who tends to prefer sweetness and light.  If you're okay with violence and you like a book in which characters must confront their darker side (and I do mean evil darkness), go for it. Goat Mountain was way too dark and violent for my taste. But, I was in the mood for something very different from my usual fare and kept going for a while in spite of being repelled by the characters' choices. 

Vann's writing style is also odd and fractured, a combination of full sentences and fragments that feels very much a "break all the rules" style.  I can appreciate his writing from a stylistic standpoint for its uniqueness but that doesn't mean I liked it. Goat Mountain's premise reminds me of A Simple Plan by Scott Smith -- the kind of book in which someone does something very, very bad and then he and his companions continue making terrible choices, piling one evil on top of another.  After all these years, A Simple Plan still haunts me (I avoided the movie) so when I found my interest in what was going to happen in Goat Mountain waning, I flipped ahead to the end of the book and read the ending. I didn't like it, so I set the book aside. 

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Schroeder was forced to steer a weaving course between the bomb craters that pocked the cobbled road and the rivulets of people walking in dazed, languid fashion, going nowhere in particular, carrying the remnant objects of their old lives in parcels, sacks, crates and cartons, and a heavy, almost visible, disquiet. They were like a people thrown back to the evolutionary stage of nomadic gatherers.

The ghost of a tremendous noise hung over the scene.  Something out of this world had undone this place and left an impossible jigsaw from which to construct the old picture.

--from. p. 8 of The Aftermath 

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is going to end up on my Best of 2013 list, for certain.  I have loads of Post-its marking vocabulary words, which I'll note below.

From the cover flap:

While thousands wander the rubble, lost and homeless, Colonel Lewis Morgan, charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the denazification of its defeated people, is stationed in a grand house on the River Elbe.  He is awaiting the arrival of his wife, Rachael--still grieving for their eldest son--and their only surviving son, Edmund.  But rather than force the owners of the house, a German widower and his rebellious daughter, out onto the streets, Lewis insists that the two families live together.  In this charged atmosphere both parents and children will be forced to confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal, to their deepest desires, their fiercest loyalties and the transforming power of forgiveness.  

The next paragraph calls the book "emotionally riveting" and I absolutely agree with that but what I loved most about The Aftermath was the flawed characters.  Everyone was flawed in some way, whether embarrassed by someone superior, nervous in the bedroom (even after many years of marriage), inattentive to important details happening in close proximity, arrogant, cheerfully expectant to the point of being too optimistic or single-minded in their radical thoughts. The characters were  extremely human.

The Aftermath is set in post-WWII Hamburg, 1946.

One last quote I found interesting:

He reflected on the absurd logic of the equation: they blow up a soap factory which employed two thousand Germans, made something everyone needed and had no military value whatsoever and, in return, the Russians sent the Germans bread.  It was like balancing Hell's ledger.

~p. 202

Highly recommended - The writing is graceful and erudite, the pacing natural, story intriguing, and characters so sharply drawn that I realized after closing The Aftermath that I never had even a remote sense of disbelief.  I felt very present and emotionally connected while reading The Aftermath, whether fascinated, frightened or appalled.

Vocabulary!!  Some of these are obvious in context but I still feel like writing them down. Brackets are used to shorten some of the sentences if the full sentence is not necessary to get a clear picture of the word's usage.

debouch:  emerge, issue

" [. . . ]where the Elbe veered up and debouched into the North Sea."

conurbation: A large area consisting of cities or towns that have grown so that there is very little room between them.

"The map--pulled from a pre-war German guidebook--failed to show that these conurbations were now a phantom city comprised only of ash and rubble.

quadripartite: Consisting of or divided into four parts.

"His uniform was fitting garb for a governor in this new, quadripartite Germany [. . . ]"

oedemic: It took me a second to realize this is the British version of "edematous", meaning swollen, or containing an excess of fluid in tissues or organs.

"Close up, they gave off the oedemic stench of the starving."

jejune:  dull.

Wilkins was perfectly jejune about it, sharing intimacies like a young lover unable to contain himself, including, once, a poem he had written, "To His Petal," which contained the line "I will water you, my flower, and flood you with my love." "

antiphonal . . . antiphony:

antiphony: Responsive alternation between two groups, especially of singers.

"Lewis was trusting that the faded grandeur, the serving of tea, the antiphonal sounds of clinking cutlery, and the thick carpeting would create the ambience of comfort and reassurance he required for his difficult announcement.

rebarbative: repellent, irritating

She'd once been lithe in times of changed circumstance, but here she seemed quite demotivated, found everything rebarbative."

reredos: A usually ornamental wood or stone screen or partition wall behind an alter.

"He was running his fingers over the filigree on a collapsed and cracked reredos depicting the sequence of Jesus's life in four scenes: nativity, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection."

sophistry: A reason or argument that sounds correct but is actually false.

"I think that is a sophistry. In 1939, a nationalist was a Nazi." (In response to: "I was--I still am--a nationalist, but that doesn't make me a Nazi.")

abstruse: difficult to comprehend

He'd gone to some trouble choosing [the painting], taking the Morgans' provincial sensibilities into account: nothing too outré, nothing too abstruse.

syncretism: The combination of two different forms of belief or practice.

"But "Minister hands out food parcels to grateful Germans" was surely going to be the shot of the day, providing the syncretism everyone needed [. . . ]"

deliquesce: to dissolve or melt away

"[. . .] the animal passed on without a backwards glance and deliquesced into the night."

sensecent . . . senescence: The state of being old.

"It could have been his weak chest [. . .] although in recent weeks he'd looked well: less cadaverous than usual and with some pink to his complexion; no longer the senescent man Edmund had first encountered."

boffin: [Britishism] A nerd or geek. Believed to originate as an acronym for "Back Office Intelligence", i.e. where a lot of such people found themselves working in WWII. (More at this site, which indicates it's less negative than "nerd", more a term of endearment.)

"He could never fully decipher a woman like Rachael, but he needed no Bletchley Park boffin to break this code."

demontage: dismantling

This sentence was written on a sign at a protest at a German factory in the book: "Stop the demontage!"

serried: crowded or pressed together

"[. . .] this crowd had been reassuringly shabby and serried [. . .]"

langoustine: a small edible lobster (I realized I knew this one when I read the word by itself, without context, but I'm still putting it in here because I marked it.)

"The candlelight cast a grotesque shadow on the wall behind him, making a giant dwarf of him and turning the tongs into a metallic langoustine."

architrave: The lowest division of an entablature resting in classical architecture immediately on the capital of the column.  Merriam-Webster illustration of a classical column showing the architrave.

"Icicles hung from the architraves of the great house at the park's centre."

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Malarkey - Books, Christmas Spirit, Cats in Trees

A little Christmas spirit for starters, today:

That's part of my mantle decoration.  

I had only received 2 books until today and then Kiddo came in bearing a stack of books.  He just happened to be outside when the mailman arrived.  

This week's arrivals:
  • The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein from Norton for TLC Book Tour
  • Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise by Susan Blackaby and Carmen Segovia - from Sterling Kids, for review (have already read this and I love it).
  • The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen - from Bethany House for tour.  This one's an 8 1/2" x 11" bound ARC -- the early-early kind like what you get if you have a binding done at your local office supply store.  Haven't seen one of those in a long time!
  • The Annotated Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, annotated by Rod Scher -- Rod is husband to Les of Prairie Horizons.  It's a stunning hardback (sent by the publisher).  I can't wait to read it!  
  • Reached by Ally Condie - via Paperback Swap
I can't currently load photos to my computer ("full hard drive" again!!!!) or I'd take a shot of those. 

Last week's posts:
I'm currently about 5 reviews behind.  As soon as I finish my backlog, I'll probably shut down for the holidays, although there's no hurry.  Kiddo is home from school but working so I don't feel like I'm neglecting anyone.  

I am currently reading:

  • The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
  • Ancient Egypt: Everyday Life in the Land of the Nile by Brier and Hobbs

Still haven't picked up the Calvino but I keep carrying it from room to room. I have the best of intentions.  I finished reading Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphreys and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, last week, and also read Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise pretty much the moment it arrived . . . in the rain . . . and the UPS guy didn't ring the doorbell.  I thought I had those guys trained!  Thank goodness for bubble-wrap envelopes.  

The cats have been holy terrors:

I have had to extract Isabel from the tree, at least twice.  We have a pre-lit artificial tree and I worry about those cords.  She's occasionally tried to bite them but when she hangs around the tree (only when it's lit, I've noticed) I'm always lurking . . . usually with the camera, of course, but also prepared to clap or use my stern voice.  If she ignores me, I reach for Izzy and she'll usually back away -- obviously not always or I wouldn't have had to pluck her from the tree at all.  Fiona has spent her time knocking rocks out of the fireplace and occasionally declaring herself Guardian of the Christmas Tree, which is actually helpful. She'll occasionally chase Isabel away.

That's all the malarkey I've got, for now.  Happy Monday!

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

In Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, an escaped prisoner asks a boy if he and his mother (who are shopping in a grocery store) will take him home with them.  It's clear that he's injured and something is not quite right about him, yet 13-year-old Henry's depressed and agoraphobic mother, Adele, agrees to take Frank home with her and her son.  During the next 6 days, which encompass the Labor Day weekend, Frank boosts Henry's confidence, teaches the two of them how to bake a perfect peach pie and lifts Adele from serious depression. 30 years later, Henry reflects on this pivotal weekend in his young life and how Frank made a lasting impact on his family.

I took Labor Day along with me to Oklahoma and gobbled it down in a few hours.  It's told from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old boy so it fits the "coming of age" mold, something I usually dislike because there tends to be a lot of focus on sex, which frankly bores me.  In this case, however, the pages absolutely flew.  Adele's dysfunctions are oddly fascinating and relatable: a woman has become so crippled by depression that her son has to do most of the shopping and she almost never goes out at all, a boy who is clearly struggling with his mother's issues as well as his own self-confidence, and a strangely magnetic murderer.  It is both the uniqueness of the characters and the way one person makes such a huge impact in such a short time that make Labor Day such a compelling read.

There was definitely a lot of sex talk.  But, it didn't matter.  I was fascinated by Frank.  I wanted to know what he did wrong in the past and why he was such a surprisingly steady, trustworthy guy.  He was a murderer, after all.  I also wanted to know what was going to happen.  When you start reading the book, you can't help but think, "This is not going to end well."  And, yet Labor Day is a stunningly uplifting read.

Highly recommended - Fascinating characters and an unexpectedly uplifting ending are the two most outstanding features of Labor Day.  I'm not typically a person who goes rushing out to see movies based on novels but I'm curious how this story will be handled so I may end up seeing if I can drag a friend to the theater for this one.  Labor Day is my first read by Joyce Maynard and it definitely will not be my last.

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fiona Friday - Comfy on the Couch

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Ohmygosh, read this book.  Seriously, just buy a copy and make Allie Brosh comfortably rich so she can write a thousand more books because WE NEED THEM.  She is so very, very relatable and real and funny as hell.

You probably all have heard of Hyperbole and a Half, since it's zoomed to the bestseller list like a rocket, right?  You know she's a blogger and some of the material is from the Hyperbole and a Half blog, don't you?  You know all that.  Why am I even bothering to write a review? BECAUSE IT'S THE BEST STINKING BOOK, EVER.  

And, I never use all-caps because that's yelling, but I feel like Hyperbole and a Half is worth shouting about.  I've actually only read the author's blog once - just one time when one of her posts went viral.  It was wonderful and I laughed.  It was about depression, but still . . . she made it funny.  I never went back, but not for lack of desire.  I'm just really forgetful that way.  I'd already given up on Google Reader (it was so intimidating to see 1,000 posts turn up overnight) and I never have replaced it with a similar service.  So, yeah, I forgot about Hyperbole and a Half, sorry.  

And, yet, the moment I saw the book mentioned on Chris's blog, I thought, "Oh, yeah!  I remember that one post . . . the one about . . . there was a piece of corn and . . . well, I remember the characters and I know I loved it."  That was enough for me.  I decided I was going to buy that book on the way to Tulsa and, thanks to the fact that it's a bestseller, it had the most prominent placement a bright yellow book can possibly have without knocking you on the head.  

I'm so glad I bought Hyperbole and a Half.  It's a memoir . . . oops, did I forget to mention what it's even about?  Okay, so Hyperbole and a Half is Allie Brosh's memoir, told via text and her oh-so-charming art.  It's more graphic memoir than regular memoir.  Much of the material came directly from the blog but some is new.  The thing you don't realize till you get into the book is that Allie Brosh's artwork is deceptively simple.  She's actually quite a talented illustrator.  Look at that dog's expression.  When she illustrates her dogs, you look at those illustrations and laugh so hard you're looking for the nearest restroom.  They are perfect, just perfect, the expressions on those little doggie faces.

Also, I really think we should all bankroll Allie Brosh because she is the perfect pet owner.  Her two dogs are far from the ideal pets.  One is a shy on brains, the other is a little angry (my favorite chapters tend to be the dog chapters).  But, they're forever pets.  It doesn't matter that they're not everything she dreamed a dog would be; she's in it for their entire lives.  Oh, how I love her for that.  If for no other reason, you should buy Hyperbole and a Half because the author is a super pet owner.  But, buy it because it's funny.  Buy it because she's honest and reminds you that you're not alone in your weirdness.  Buy it because it will remind you of every stupid, embarrassing incident from your childhood and make you laugh about them.  

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED SO MUCH I CAN'T TURN OFF THE CAPS. Buy yourself a copy and then buy one for all your friends. Also, hot pink.

You're welcome. The End.

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Is that a gorgeous cover, or what?  

The Clockwork Scarab is the first in a new Young Adult Steampunk series by Colleen Gleason known as the "Stoker and Holmes" series. Evaline Stoker is author Bram Stoker's little sister and Mina Holmes is the niece of Sherlock Holmes.  The two young ladies are asked to investigate when a girl their age turns up dead and another goes missing.  A scarab is the factor in common at each site.  

Since The Clockwork Scarab was my first foray into the bizarre alternate reality known as Steampunk, I have to admit I had a terrible time just getting used to the idea of a world in which electricity is outlawed and all sorts of crazy gadgets are run by steam.  Next to thwart my efforts was the fact that Evaline Stoker is not only the sister of a real-life author but also counts Victoria Gardella, a fictional vampire hunter created by Gleason, as her ancestor.  And, then, of course Mina is the niece of a fictional character. It all makes one's head spin a bit.

As the misses Stoker and Holmes begin their investigation, something entirely unexpected turns up: a time traveler, who mentions that electricity was never really outlawed . . . not in his world, anyway.  He is also puzzled by the fact that one of the two young ladies is related to a fictional character. 

Lordy. Seriously, there was a bit too much adjustment necessary for the reading of The Clockwork Scarab.  Eventually, though, I got used to the many oddities of the book and began to enjoy the storyline.  Right away, the misses Stoker and Holmes discover a shadowy society of young women led by a person of indeterminate gender who is seeking to resurrect an Egyptian goddess. 

I won't tell you any more about the story but basically you have two girls investigating the deaths of their peers, a time-traveler from just a couple years beyond contemporary time and a secret society.  Mina has been taught well by Uncle Sherlock and it's quite fun to read her observations but Evaline threw me a bit.  She has the skills and strength of her ancestor but there aren't any vampires around.  The Gardellas have nicely nipped that little problem in the bud.  So, she's basically a Victoria Gardella-alike who wears split skirts and tucks sharp objects in various hidden places on her person but her part in the investigation boils down to knowledge of society girls, chasing down clues dropped by a shifty character who may or may not be Cockney and beating up on bad guys when necessary.


While The Clockwork Scarab didn't work for me and I felt iffy about recommending it (see my original thoughts, below), Colleen shared a very upbeat letter about her latest book on Facebook and I asked if I could post it, here, to give you an opposing viewpoint:

"Hi Colleen! Merry Christmas! I just wanted to share with you the difference you have made in my daughter's life. [She] has always hated reading, which is hard for me to understand since I have always loved it. (As the daughter of a librarian and working as an editor/proofreader for 16 years, it comes with the territory!) 
"I have always thought that if I could just find something that [my daughter] would enjoy reading, it would open her eyes to all the places reading could take her. Well, we found that in your book, The Clockwork Scarab. She loves it! She told me that she was up til 5:00 this morning, reading, because she just couldn't put it down! That's a first!! Keep up the awesome work, [she] needs more reading material!"

Iffy on recommendation - I had trouble getting into The Clockwork Scarab. Although eventually I did feel like it picked up a bit and I became accustomed to a world of steam-powered funky gadgets and the strange assortment of characters, there was still a mind-bending aspect -- too much going on, too bizarre the way those elements were placed together.  At Goodreads, I gave it an average 3-star rating. 

I was a big fan of the Victoria Gardella Vampire series so I chose to hang in there; but, the story was, unfortunately, also not wrapped up enough to suit me and that is the main reason I don't feel comfortable heartily recommending The Clockwork Scarab.  I'm okay with series books as long as they leave you with some sense of completion. The Victoria Gardella books were wrapped up well.  Hopefully, this is a one-off, the way the book ended up teasing the reader without providing a sense of completion.

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Monday Malarkey - Arrivals, last week's posts, things I'm reading and other malarkey

Time for some malarkey and this seems like a good place to start. I need a head pot. Seriously, I do.

I just think a pot like that would look terrific on my living room shelf.  That's a museum pot made by a potter from the Mississippian culture, sometime between the years 1200-1500 A.D.  Is it cool, or what?

Only two books arrived, this week (progress on restraint!):

  • This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash - from HarperCollins for review 
  • These Wonderful Rumours! A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries by May Smith - purchased

Great covers on both, don't you think?  Also, note the sticker on the cover of These Wonderful Rumours.  I had no idea this year is Virago Press' 40th year. Wahoo for Virago Books and Happy Birthday to you, Virago!

Last week was a heavy posting week as I've been attempting to do some catch-up:

Since last week's Tuesday Twaddle, I've only managed to finish one book, but it was a good one:

  • The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook - This one is showing up on some "Best of 2013" lists and deservedly so, in my humble opinion.

I am currently reading:

  • Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphreys - Swashbuckling fun but a bit bloody. Love the Hamlet-quoting Iroquois, Jack's friend Até.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Yes, I'm just finally getting around to this one.  
  • Another book I don't want to confess to reading till I get a bit farther because it's non-fiction and I'm such a pokey NF reader.

So what about that Calvino?

Sigh.  I keep looking at it and thinking, "Later, later."  But, I will tell you that while I was reading If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (before I hit overload), I found that it was inspiring me in the "giving me numerous writing ideas" sense, so I do plan to finish the book and I'll definitely save it for future rereads.  You should see the number of Post-its crammed into that book.  It's quite a sight.

In other news:

Friday was exciting as my delightful and incredibly-dapper author friend Simon Van Booy did a talk at TEDxBrooklyn.  The 2013 TEDxBrooklyn program was available for live streaming, so I got to see Simon's "How to Write a Book in 18 Minutes" and frantically took notes.  Of course, Simon was brilliant, as always.  What I wrote down is not entirely complete but hopefully the talk will show up in their video section eventually. I will undoubtedly need to make some corrections and/or additions to my notes and it's worth sharing so I'll let you know if/when it shows up. In the meantime, Simon's talk has me pondering my own writing, so I'm thrilled about that.

Also, last week I got my 5th Graze box:

In case you haven't heard of it, Graze is a healthy-snack subscription service and the per-shipment price is very reasonable. If you're looking for gift ideas for a college kid, I highly recommend getting your favorite university student a Graze subscription. After I got my first box and decided it's definitely a good deal, I got a second one for Kiddo.  He loves getting a parcel in the mail every two weeks (otherwise, he only receives bills). Kiddo told me he keeps one of the individually-wrapped snacks in his backpack for times when he can't make it to the cafeteria before it closes, which happens regularly on his busiest days.  I've got a couple friend codes remaining if anyone's interested in signing up.  Just write to my gmail account.

We're finally getting started on Christmas decorating.

While I was searching for some Victorian-style garlands that I bought in an after-Christmas sale last year, I came across a box with a label that made me laugh.  The box contains breakable items (I didn't bother looking inside to see exactly what kind of breakables because it was in an awkward place and, of course, I didn't want to end up breaking everything). On the outside of the box I wrote, "I will die if this box gets smashed." The contents of this box must be very important because elsewhere on the box it says, "Seriously, it will KILL ME if you damage this one." When I'm done decorating, I'm going to have to see what's inside that box . . . carefully, of course.

Happy Monday!

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3 by Hit Record and Fiona Friday

When I briefly quit blogging and then came back, I was determined not to accept any books for review because it was partly the pressure of feeling like I had to read specific books rather than choosing to read whatever struck my fancy at any given moment that drove me away from blogging. That sensation of pressure was my own fault, of course.  You choose to take on the burden when you say, "Sure, I'll review your book." But, of course, I'm a book fanatic and I have a broad range of interests so it's really not all that surprising that there are so many books that tempt me.  Still, I was doing a terrific job of ignoring requests for review till The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3.  

I love this series.  Somewhere around here, I have a book of "micro-fiction" (ah, yes, here's a link to the book at Amazon: MicroFiction).  I bought MicroFiction back when it was a new release in the 90s and I've occasionally joined in on challenges to write single-sentence, single-paragraph or six-word stories. Point being, I've been interested in the concept and execution of micro-fiction for a very long time.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3 is the third book in this adorable micro-fiction series. I loved the first Tiny Book of Tiny Stories so much it was hard to choose favorite stories to feature on the blog.  The second, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2, was thicker but had kind of a sad tone so there weren't quite as many stories that I fell completely in love with but I still enjoyed it immensely. The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3 returns us to the witty tone of the first book.  

Highly recommended - Stories as short as a single sentence, illustrations that make you stop and think . . . a wicked fun combination.  And, as usual, a great stocking stuffer idea.  I think they put these books out just before the month of stocking-stuffing deliberately.

A few favorites:

Seems to me the less she knows, 
the louder she knows it.

If I had a nickel for every
time I had a nickel and threw 
it away because it was only a 
nickel, I'd have thrown away 
twice as many nickels.*

*Actually, this would result in an infinite number of nickels, as your nickels' nickels would also result in nickels of their own, and so forth.  Please don't do this.  You'd be throwing away a fortune.

Somewhere in this vast 
universe, there grows a boy.

And somewhere in this boy, 
there grows a universe.

Let's call our confusion and panic "self-preservation."

It has a better mouth feel.

Also, it's Friday so here's a cat . . . an irritable cat who dislikes having her picture taken, inside a cat carrier into which she has placed a feathered toy (this is known as "Hunting: indoor version"):

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Before I Die by Candy Chang

Still backtracking to catch up on October and November books.  Before I Die by Candy Chang is a small, coffee-table type book about the author's idea to create a wall covered with the unfinished sentence, "Before I die I want to ______," stenciled repeatedly to enable people to fill in their answers.

The first place a "Before I Die" wall was created was on the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans.  It took some special planning and permission and there were a few hang-ups, but eventually Chang managed to paint the wall. The reaction was surprising. People stopped to think, wrote their answers and talked to each other.  There were problems, of course -- chalk stolen, bad language that had to be cleaned off, walls that became so full they had to be hosed down to give even more people an opportunity to write on them.  But, that first wall was a successful, thought-provoking venture and soon similar walls went up in other cities and gradually the idea spread around the world.  

Before I Die tells about the walls, where they were built, the people who made them, and the sentiments written on the walls. There are photos of people writing on walls and the people involved, as well as some little boxes with quotes from the walls. 

I really enjoyed Before I Die, although there were two things I thought were mildly lacking. I would have liked to see larger, unblocked photos of the walls so that one could sit and read a wall without bodies marring the view (although it is definitely fun to see photos of people writing) and without straining the eyeballs.  Some of the photos are a bit hard to read. You can see some photos of the walls a bit better via a Google image search of Before I Die, though. The other thing I would have liked is to know more about the author's personal story.  I didn't quite understand what loss set the project in motion. I actually reread Chang's intro a couple of times, trying to figure that out, and came out of it thinking the author lost her mother.  I'm not entirely certain, though.

One thing I particularly loved about Before I Die was the fact that as I was reading I realized there were a lot of life wishes that other people wrote on those walls which I've already experienced. What a tremendously uplifting realization. Some of the sentiments are not bucket list wishes, though, but simple things. You can see a few of those in the photo above:  "Inspire someone," and "Hug my boyfriend," for example.

As I was reading Before I Die, I mentally categorized.  You can't help but notice a lot of repetition from one wall to the next and the author actually did some analysis/sorting of similar thoughts.  Math freaks get their charts and graphs!  Cool!  

Recommended - I don't own a coffee table (never have, actually) so I have no place to set out a coffee table book but I do think the book is thought-provoking enough that it would make a fun book to set out in the hope of stimulating conversation.

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Backtracking a bit, here.  I read N0S4A2 by Joe Hill in October and I think the reason I likely did not review it immediately has to do with the fact that it scared the bejeebers out of me and I just wanted to freaking forget Christmasland, but I'm over it, now.

N0S4A2 (besides being a pain-in-the-butt of a title to type) is a chunkster at nearly 700 pages, and I tend to shy away from chunksters.  However, I absolutely loved Joe Hill's short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts.  Oh, wow, look at that link.  I read 20th Century Ghosts way back in 2007, before it was published in the U.S.  Believe it or not, I have not yet managed to get the creepy Button Boy character from one of those stories to exit my mind.  So, I resisted Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.  I just wasn't ready for that level of creepy to return to my world.  Much as I adored Hill's writing and the inventiveness of his stories, I preferred the ghosts and time travel to horror and horror is the road he seems to prefer. And, yet, I knew I was missing some very fine writing by resisting.

N0S4A2 is about Vic, a girl who can travel wherever she wants to go by biking quickly across a wooden bridge. Even after the bridge ceases to exist, it remains in her imagination so she can still go there; it's her special skill to travel via the map within her mind. There are others who have a similar ability and one of them has created a terrifying world called Christmasland.  He is basically a mass-murdering vampire who is convinced that he's doing kids a favor by taking their undead bodies to this bizarre place and killing their families.  Vic, of course, has to save the world from the bad guy.  

Okay, wait, I think I know why I put off reviewing the book (well, another reason). There's a lot to this story.  And, of course, it's not fun mentally revisiting the gore. Why did I keep reading?  Because Joe Hill knows how to create characters a reader really cares about.  But, N0S4A2 is extremely bloody and I confess that I'm surprised I made it all the way through the book, in spite of the incredible characterization and some pretty rocking fine storytelling. And, I'm glad I did hang in there; it does have a knockout ending. I marked a passage to remind me that I thought one of Hill's influences, in this case (he has a tendency to make sly references to books, movies and real people) was the movie The Great Escape. He sprinkled numerous hints to that effect and then actually used the words "our great escape" (to which I said, "Ha!" aloud).  

Recommended particularly to readers who love horror.  Joe Hill is a tremendously skilled and imaginative writer; I admire his ability to create such wonderful and awful characters.  But, the book was too bloody for me.  

The ending of N0S4A2 is exciting and sad and a huge relief at the same time so I'm glad I got to the point of resolution because, damn, that evil bad buy needed killing in a big way.  But, I do think I'll likely avoid Joe Hill in the future until/unless he gets around to writing an unbloody time travel novel in the Jack Finney vein.  One of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts was clearly an homage to Finney and I personally think he could write a brilliant time travel, although I hope he doesn't go wildly overboard as I think his father did with 11/22/63 (personal opinion - loved the time travel; thought the romance was dull).  

©2013 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.