Monday, December 21, 2015

Blog Break - Happy Holidays to all!

I'm going to go ahead and go on my annual holiday blog break. Wishing everyone the happiest of seasons!

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mind Your Monsters by C. Bailey, Dining with Monsters by A. Buruzzi, The Color Monster by A. Llenas, and Monster Trouble by L. Fredrickson

I can't believe I didn't get around to reviewing these books sooner. All four were sent to me by Sterling Children's Books. When they arrived, I immediately sat down and started reading them. I loved a couple of them so much that I read parts to my husband aloud and I reread The Color Monster numerous times because it's a pop-up and it's just so darned fun I couldn't help myself. Here they are the day they arrived, piled up on my legs as I prepared to dig in:

Mind Your Monsters by by Catherine Bailey, Illustrated by Oriol Vidal, begins with these words:

Wally enjoyed a quiet, normal life . . . until one day monsters invaded his small town and made a mess of everything.

It goes on to describe the chaos as monsters began to tear up Wally's town -- and not just generic monsters but zombies, vampires, werewolves, a giant octopus, a blob, and an ogre, among other creatures. Nothing works, including numerous traps so the townspeople vote to leave . . . and an ogre blocks their way. Then:

Wally was fed up. "Will you PLEASE stop breaking all our stuff?" Wally shouted. 
"Okay," burbled the octopus.

And, that's all it takes to get the monsters to behave themselves and set things right.

But eventually, it was time for the monsters to leave. They were homesick for their caves, planets, lairs, and holes. Monsters are monsters, after all. 

Wally asks them to return for future visits but they refuse to answer until he says the magic word.

Recommended - A crazy-cute way to teach children manners with brightly-colored, fun illustrations and a clear theme. For ages 4-8.

Dining with Monsters, written and illustrated by Agnese Buruzzi surprised me because it opens upward so that the book is held vertically rather than horizontally. Awkward. But, it's also ridiculously fun and certainly a unique way to learn counting.

The Horrible Monster, Black-as-Coal introduces you to his monster friends at the opening of the book and then he begins the counting exercise with a flap that opens up his mouth to show him eating a spider:

The Horrible Monster, Black-as-Coal . . . 
Gobbled up one spider whole. 

Eww. Well, I guess monsters don't have the best diets, haha. Next:

The Many-Eyed, Icy Scriggle-Scroggs . . . 
Gobbled up 2 leaping frogs.

And, so forth. To be honest, I was really put off by the vertical opening design, at first, but I have to admit that the uniqueness won me over. It's hard to imagine a child who wouldn't love opening up a monster's mouth to see what's inside.

Recommended - Dining with Monsters is a hoot. The awkward design is negated by the fun of peeking inside the flap of each monster's mouth to see what he's eaten and learning to count in the process. For ages 3-5.

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas is one of the most wonderful pop-up books I've ever seen and I'm not sure quite why it is that I love it so much. I just want to step inside the book and hang out. I kept it by the bed and read it now and then, just for the joy of it, for quite some time You can look up almost the entire interior of the book by googling the title but I will tell you my favorite pop-up is the color monster in a hammock because it looks so deliciously soothing.

The Color Monster is subtitled "A Pop-Up Book of Feelings" because it's about emotion. The monster on the cover of the book is multi-colored to reflect the fact that his emotions are all "jumbled up". Each color represents a particular feeling: yellow is happiness, blue represents sadness (hit this link to see blue - blue is totally cool), red is anger, black is fear, green is calm (hence, the hammock). There are empty bottles at the beginning of the book and the next to the last page shows the emotions separated, each into its own bottle. There's one more feeling at the end, pink with hearts: love, of course, although it doesn't say so.

Highly recommended - You don't have to have a child who needs to understand his or her emotions better to enjoy this book -- although, I think it would be excellent for its true purpose -- you can be a messed-up grown-up who just wants to play with pop-ups. Yeah. Don't be surprised if this one never makes it into the hands of a grandchild. Ages 3-7. Allegedly.

Monster Trouble by Lane Fredrickson, illustrated by Michael Robertson begins:

Winifred Schnitzel was never afraid.
Not of monsters or ghouls or the noises they made.
She loved scary movies and werewolves and thunder
and peg-legged pirates who bury their plunder. 

Still Winifred's bedtime was hardly spook-free.
The neighborhood monsters would not let her be.
Each night they'd show up and attempt to be scary.
Some would growl; some would belch. Some were slimy, some hairy.

Poor Winifred. She's not afraid of monsters at all but they're a bit pesky and end up keeping her up all night. Tired of having her sleep interrupted, she checks out a book of ideas called "Monsters Beware!" and creates a trap. When that fails, she tries driving them off with stinky cheese and then building her own spook traps. It's not till she's thoroughly exhausted that she happens across a solution when she sleepily kisses a monster and it hastily backs away. Monsters hate being kissed! From then on, Winifred is set. If a monster bothers her, all she has to do is give it a kiss.

Highly recommended - Monster Trouble has a nice rhythm and cheerful illustrations; it's one of my favorites of this batch of monster books. I like a good rhyming book (always fun to read aloud) and the monsters are cute enough not to slip into frightening territory. Ages 4-8. Also great for reading to cats.

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

Three Christmas Books: A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig, Blue Christmas by Andrews, A Child's Chrismas in Wales by Thomas

Getting closer to being caught up on reviews! The following books were all purchases. I didn't receive any Christmas books for review, this year.

The tower -- the prison -- was a scary place. Yet, although it was horrid, it also had very nice comforting things written on the stone walls of the staircase, from its time as the Welcome Tower. Things like 'Welcome' and 'Strangers are just friends with weird faces' and 'Hug a human'.  [p. 128]

'An impossibility is just a possibility that you don't understand.' [p. 140]

Father Topo's words came back to Nikolas. You just close your eyes and wish for something to happen. Perhaps a wish was just a hope with better aim. [p. 152]

When Matt Haig said his new Christmas book, A Boy Called Christmas, was available for pre-order, I dashed off to look it up and discovered that it's not available in the U.S. But, of course there's a way around that: Book Depository. My copy arrived within days of its release.

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig tells the story of Father Christmas. Nikolas is a poor boy in Finland (nicknamed "Christmas" because he was born on Christmas day) who owns only two toys: a wooden sleigh and a doll made of a carved turnip. When his father has to go away for two months, an abusive aunt arrives to care for him. And, when his father, Joel, doesn't return, Nikolas goes off to search for him with only his mouse friend Miika as a companion.

And, here, I must confess that I only remember bits and pieces of A Boy Called Christmas, which I liked but didn't fall madly in love with. I have a feeling I'll like it better upon the second reading because I didn't expect it to be quite so dark, but now that I've read it I want to read it, again. What I loved about the book was the way Haig took elements of the story of Father Christmas (or Saint Nicholas, Santa, etc.) that I've never seen explained elsewhere in a satisfactory way and did a marvelous job of spinning a magical, adventurous tale that explained those elements. There's also, of course, Matt Haig's trademark pithy wisdom, as you can see in the quotes above.

Recommended - While it wasn't a 5-star book for me, A Boy Called Christmas definitely has the feel of a new Christmas classic worth revisiting.

I bought my copy of Blue Christmas for a dollar when I ran into the local dollar store to grab my 2016 calendar. Naturally, I had to wander down the book aisle. I'm not a fan of Mary Kay Andrews, in general, but I figured at that price it was worth a chance.

Blue Christmas tells the story of Weezie Foley, a Savannah antiques dealer who is determined to win the local decorating contest. But, her first attempt is a disaster and then things start to go missing from her second display.

There's a bit of animosity between Weezie and her competition, a crazy Southern family dinner, a chef boyfriend who is constantly letting her down, the missing items, and a mysterious homeless woman who exchanges gifts with Weezie in what turns out to be a warm, sweet, funny holiday book.

Recommended - Maybe I'm better off reading Mary Kay Andrews in small doses. At 196 pages (including a couple recipes that sound just awful to me), Blue Christmas was just the right length and delightfully heart-tugging.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas was the selection for our December F2F book group meeting and a reread for me.

A tiny book that other members said was a poem, it does have a lovely rhythm but I still want to call it a short story. We chose A Child's Christmas in Wales primarily because it's short and several of us had already read and loved it. In December, we gather around a roaring fire (fortunately, it was just cool enough that a fire didn't sound appalling, although I sat too close and kept sinking farther and farther into the leather chair, threatening to fall asleep), sip eggnog or wine or both, discuss a short story or two, and then just talk. It was raining and the 30-mile drive was, at times, terrifying, but I couldn't bear to miss out and I absolutely love the book.

We mostly spent time reading our favorite passages of this autobiographical story about Christmas in Wales from a child's-eye view, talking about Dylan Thomas and how short but accomplished his life was, and comparing copies of the book. Everyone had a different copy. I like mine (shown at left). It's small and the illustrations are just like the one shown on the cover, black and white They look fitting to the time period. But, some of the other copies were more heavily illustrated, one with fabulous watercolor paintings portraying the wit and humor of the artist and the story.

My favorite passage is a quotation by a little boy:

"It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea." [p. 22]

So very British.

Highly recommended - An enchanting, beautifully crafted tale of childhood that is often wickedly funny and one of my Christmas favorites.

I briefly reviewed A Child's Christmas in Wales in October of 2012.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A helpful guide to the recent tsunami of book review posts

I've posted a large number of reviews in a very short time, so I thought it might be helpful to post links in a single place, in case anyone out there blinked and missed a crucial review.

I still have a handful of books left to review, so I'll let this sit for a day while I work on the next batch. The paperwhites in the photo above are just decoration. It's been such a warm winter that the narcissi think it's already spring. Pretty, but strange to see them in December!

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Love Letters from Mount Rushmore by Richard Cerasani

Love Letters from Mount Rushmore: The Story of a Marriage, a Monument, and a Moment in History by Richard Cerasani
Copyright 2015
South Dakota State Historical Society Press - Biography/History
195 pp., incl. Index and Sources

Richard Cerasani knew his mother kept the treasures from her many travels in her attic; but, it was dark, cold, and not easy to access, so he seldom bothered taking the time to look at them. It was the idea of finding and framing a particular piece of memorabilia that sent him on a search in the attic. But, an old steamer trunk surrounded by smaller items caught his eye and inside that trunk Cerasani found a surprise, a bundle of letters exchanged by his parents during the time his father was in South Dakota, working at the site of the giant carving of four American Presidents' heads, Mount Rushmore.

Love Letters from Mount Rushmore is the story of the romance of Arthur and Mary and the months when the author's father and mother were separated, reunited, and parted again while Arthur Cerasani, an artist, worked at Mount Rushmore.

Like peeking into the private letters and photo albums of a stranger, Love Letters from Mount Rushmore tells about a young couple very much in love and shows how difficult it was for them to live apart while also giving the reader a glimpse inside the experience of one man working on the creation of a national monument during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce and the funds for the creation of the monument could fade away for a time, closing down work completely.

Recommended - An intriguing tale of romance and longing, Love Letters from Mount Rushmore is packed with family and historical society photos, making for a quick, fascinating, and very personal read. If there's anything at all that I didn't like about the book, it's the fact that it piqued my interest in the story of the monument to the point that I really want to read more about the creation of Mount Rushmore. Just watch; it will likely become a new obsession in the coming months.

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

Hello? by Liza Wiemer

Hello? by Liza Wiemer
Copyright 2015 
Spencer Hill Contemporary - Young Adult
428 pp. 

If I hadn't skipped my Monday Malarkey post, you'd know that Hello? was the only book that arrived, last week. It was a pre-order and even though I know it wasn't all that long ago that it came up in discussion somewhere (Facebook?) I can't recall who brought it up or what convinced me to buy it. But man, am I glad I did.

In brief, Hello? is about relationships, trauma, love, angst. It's character-driven but the issues driving the characters are important.

Tricia's grandmother died 5 months ago, leaving her without any family. Gradually, her boyfriend Brian moved into the lighthouse with her. At first, it was helpful but his presence has become a burden; he's keeping her from healing. At the same time, Brian has grown weary of Tricia's grief.

When Brian abruptly leaves Tricia, saying he can't take anymore pain, Tricia considers suicide. As she picks up the phone and calls her grandmother's cell number, Tricia entertains the thought that maybe her grandmother will answer and tell her everything's all right. But, instead, Emerson answers and they talk openly, as strangers, about their lives. Emerson went through something a five-year-old should never experience, 13 years ago, so he understands grief.

WARNING: This review contains potential spoilers. I don't give up the ending of the book (except in a part that must be highlighted to view it) but there are some plot points mentioned. If you're afraid I'll ruin the book for you, please skip down below the END WARNING line.

Tricia convinces Emerson to end his toxic relationship and Emerson talks Tricia into putting the gun away for good. But, Tricia doesn't want to rely on Emerson and asks him to change his phone number so she won't keep calling him. Will Tricia and Emerson ever talk to each other again?

Angie knows that sex shouldn't dominate her relationship with Emerson but she's unable to pull away. Then, Emerson breaks up with her in a very public place. Someone films the temper tantrum that follows and turns the video into a misleading gif that gets passed around. Now, everyone is mad at Emerson and Angie has run to Jordan, the guy she really cares for but who confused her, long ago. Her best friend Brenda adds another complication when Emerson mentions that he assumes Brenda is gay. Has she wanted more from Angie, all this time?

Brenda has never had a boyfriend but she's never been able to share why. Now that her best friend has confronted her with an unexpected question, she realizes that she must face up to the horror of what happened to her, long ago. When Brenda finally takes action, what will happen? Will she be able to heal and move past the pain?

**************************END WARNING*******************************

Tricia, Brian, Emerson, Brenda, and Angie all have been traumatized in some way, and therein may lie one of only two flaws in this book. It seems like a stretch that so many connected individuals could have all experienced tragedy and horror by 18. The only other flaw I found was the fact that . . . eh, maybe this is a spoiler - highlight to see, if you're willing, just in case: they all gather together in the end. The ending felt a little deus ex machina. And, yet it also didn't. It felt right in its own way.

Hello? is told through multiple viewpoints and it can be a huge challenge for an author to make each individual sound unique, to keep them easily distinguishable. So, she gave them talents and used them to express their individuality. Brian is an artist who creates beautiful works of pottery. Angie is a poet. Brenda plans to become a screenwriter. When the story is being told through Brian's POV, occasionally a sketch of pottery will appear. Angie tells her tale through poetry (free verse). Brenda's scenes are done in screenplay format. Those little touches help distinguish between viewpoints and lend the book a uniqueness.

Highly recommended - Seriously. Could. Not. Put. Down. So many questions to be answered, threads to be untangled, lives to set on track. I liked the fact that the author put so many characters through the mill and made them grow to the point that each was coping, by the end. It may have felt a little too convenient, in a way, (and the new relationships a little too perfect) but the story was skillfully done. Also, very cool, Emerson is named after the poet and there are Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes at the beginning of every chapter.

I really loved this book. The author not only tackled some serious issues, but also followed up with contact numbers and explained a bit about her own experience at the end of the book.

I also liked the fact that the characters managed to figure out sex is  . . . I want to say "sacred" but that's not her wording. It's more like she was trying to explain how and why it can be used in a bad way but doesn't need to be. Sometimes it's better to take things slowly, in other words, and sometimes the timing is completely inappropriate but, bottom line, use care when taking that step. There's a lot of food for thought. In fact, I think Hello? would make a pretty terrific discussion book for a teen book club or a parent/teen club.

If your name is Chris, you've been my blogging buddy for eons and you live in New Orleans, please don't buy yourself a copy of this book. I'm sending you a copy for Christmas. You know who you are (she says, hoping to quickly bury the review so he won't see it).

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières

The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières
Copyright 2015
Pantheon Books - Historical Fiction
511 pp.

First things first: I used an online editor to alter the above cover image so that it would look a little less like I plunked it on an ugly kitchen counter (which I did) and more romantic. So, bear in mind that if you're looking for that cover of the book, the color is slightly off. I also noticed there are very few images of that exact cover on view at Google, so it's possible the cover has changed -- but it may have just been more widely reviewed elsewhere (like, say, England) where the cover is not the same. I have confidence in your ability to locate a copy, regardless of the cover, for what it's worth. And you definitely should seek it out.

The Dust That Falls from Dreams was written by the author of Corelli's Mandolin, which I have not read but definitely plan to because I loved Louis de Bernière's writing. It's the story of three families and how their lives are impacted by WWI. The book opens with a bit of background with a description of Queen Victoria's demise, leading into the Edwardian era and then the true beginning of the story. The McCosh family is having a party to celebrate the crowning of a new king. There are four girls in the McCosh family, three boys in the Pendennis family, and two remaining sons in the Pitt home, two having been lost in the Boer War.

At the party, Ashbridge Pendennis asks Rosie if she'll marry him one day. Rosie is only about 10 years old but she's already beautiful and the favorite of all the neighboring boys. Years later, war breaks out. As the Great War stretches on, the reader travels back and forth between the trenches and the home front. There are multiple viewpoints but what really stands out is the contrast between a home where food becomes scarce and bad things occasionally happen and the trenches, where all is misery, fatigue, horror, rot, and fear with only the occasional respite and plenty of camaraderie. It is, at times, very graphic when describing life at the front.

Rosie and Ash's romance is at the heart of the book but you get to know the characters in all of the families pretty well. To say much more would be to give away a bit too much, so I'll tread around plot with care, but I must say that I absolutely loved The Dust That Falls from Dreams. Some of you may remember way back in 2006 or 2007 that I started a thing called the "Chunkster Challenge" because I can be intimidated by fatter books and wanted to challenge myself to read them (and people wanted to join me). At 511 pages, some might not consider The Dust That Falls from Dreams a chunkster but I do. Anything over 400 is getting up there, in my opinion, and I have to really love a book to stick with it that long.

I didn't want The Dust That Falls from Dreams to end . . . and that's not something that happens often.

One of my favorite parts was very timely. Daniel, who is bilingual because his mother is French, is asked to say a prayer and here's what he chose to say:

'Pour les bonnes choses sur la table,
Pour les belles choses dans la vie,
Pour l'amour, la paix, la poésie,
Dieu soit béni.'

Translated, it means, "For the good things on the table, for the beautiful things in life, for love, peace and poetry, God be blessed." When I read that, I closed the book for the night because it was so beautiful I couldn't bear to read another word. The next day I was glued to the television for hours, watching news about the attack on Paris. The prayer helped soothe my soul, that night, when I opened the book again. I know that has nothing to do with the book itself, but I thought it was worth sharing.

The story is a rollercoaster. Sometimes it's funny. The characterization is absolutely wonderful. Mr. McCosh is a cheerful inventor who makes money and loses it with equal speed. His personality reminded me of my father's; I absolutely adored him. Rosie and Ash seem both perfect for each other and doomed. Any time you read a book about WWI, you know many young men are going to die and I felt like I was holding my breath, waiting for that to happen, during much of the book (which does go a bit beyond the end of the war). Sophie is also a truly delightful character, one who makes up her own words:

He met Sophie in the hallway, and she said, "I think you've got a loose tappet. Your Henley sounds egregiously valetudinarian."
"Gracious me," said Daniel. "You're right of course. I did notice, but--"
"You mean, it is stupendously teratitistic and inordinate that a mere handmaid of Adam should have noticed such a thing?"
"Honestly, Sophie! Teratitistic? Where do you find all these funny words?"
"If I need a new word, I make it up," said Sophie, pertly. That one means 'monstrous' I hope. The metilogomy is Greek."
"Etymology, silly."

~from pp. 422-23 of The Dust That Falls from Dreams

Highly recommended - Splendid depth of characterization, heart-tugging emotion and a vivid sense of time and place make The Dust That Falls from Dreams one of my 2015 favorites. It's also one of those books that had me reaching for the dictionary quite a bit and thinking that I need to resume my former habit of keeping a vocabulary notebook.

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

More minis: Well Wished by Billingsley (reread), Orphan Train by Kline (reread), I Love It When You Talk Retro by Ralph Keyes

She eased onto the ice and cast her words in front of her, threading the air with her voice and tugging it taut with a bright invisible line. And the ice flowed into her legs -- or maybe it was that her legs flowed into the ice -- and even when she took the air in a jump there was some secret that whispered between the ice and her feet. 

[p. 62]

Well Wished by Franny Billingsley is a reread but I'll go ahead and write a bit about it, just for grins and because I happen to love Franny Billingsley's writing.

Nuria lives with her grandfather, whom she calls "the Avy", in tiny Bishop Mayne, a village with a magical Wishing Well. One can only make a single wish in a lifetime and that wish must be worded very carefully or things can go very, very wrong. One such wish caused all the children in town to disappear -- all but 11-year-old Nuria, who lives up on the mountain.

When a single child returns, Nuria becomes friends with her. Catty Winter is unable to walk after illness took away the use of her legs. She and Nuria spend time together in a cabinet under the stairs, which they have decorated. They're very imaginative children. When Catty convinces Nuria to make a wish with her and the wish goes horribly wrong, Nuria wants to rescind the wish. But, Catty does not. How will she convince Catty to speak up so things can return to normal but without making Catty's life as bad as it was, before?

Highly Recommended - There are a lot of things I love about Well Wished: its complexity, the relationship between Nuria and her grandfather, the creativity of the children, the word game ("Bring me a description") Nuria plays with the Avy, the way the story is resolved. It's a lovely story. I read a few reviews while I was reading the book because I noticed it didn't have a very high rating at Goodreads and found that some people considered Nuria a bit snarky. She's a wit, definitely, but I don't think of her as negative. Rather, it seemed to me that she's a good person who wants to do the right thing. And, the writing is lovely.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is also a reread. This time, I read it for discussion with my local book group. I suggested it when our group leader asked me if I knew of any discussion-worthy books that weren't downers, as we'd read a series of truly dreary books and everyone was in need of an upper. I recommended Orphan Train, which she quickly read and added to the schedule for discussion.

I'm not going to write a full description since I've reviewed Orphan Train in the past (that's a link, at left, to my old review) but it's a story that flits between the story of a teenager in foster care in the present day and a historical story about a young orphaned Irish girl who was sent on a train to the West. Their lives, as it turns out, bear some uncanny parallels. The story ends on a very happy note.

We discussed Orphan Train, last month, and used some of the questions in the paperback version for discussion (but it was also a partly organic conversation). I don't recall anyone at all saying they disliked the story and it was definitely a good choice. Everyone was relieved to have a break from sadder reading material and there was plenty to talk about.

Still highly recommended - Loved it the first time; appreciated Orphan Train even more upon rereading.

I Love It When You Talk Retro by Ralph Keyes is about the crazy things we say, the origins of some of the words and phrases that we use, and how some of them have been altered by time, shifting their meaning -- sometimes to its opposite.

I bought I Love It When You Talk Retro as a remainder and had set it on the end table with the thought that I planned to read it soon. If you're a regular here, you know I decided to go ahead and read the book after my husband spilled coffee all over my copy. It's not in great shape.

Although I can't recall what rating I gave the book, I liked it a lot but didn't love it. The history of words and phrases is, of course, fascinating to me because I'm a lover of words (I'll bet most of you share that with me). There were only a couple problems with the book. One is that sometimes the author was wrong. It didn't happen often, as far as I know, but I did catch a few mistakes. The second problem is that the author seemed to grow tired of his subject matter toward the end of the book. Within the last 50 pages, the depth of history seems to narrow, the passion wanes and the reader is left with questions that were answered earlier in the book when describing other retro terminology. The final problem is kind of shocking for the type of book: the author inserts his opinion where it is absolutely not appropriate. He may, for  example, say the origin of a phrase came from a particularly bad movie, for example -- his opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the reader or even the popular viewpoint.

Recommended with slight hesitation - Because of the three problems mentioned, I can't give I Love It When You Talk Retro an enthusiastic recommendation but it was fascinating enough that I occasionally read passages to my husband and he enjoyed them as much as I did. So, it's worth reading, even though it may not be a perfect book.

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

Sweet November by Aiken Morewood

"I can't even make a disturbance when I stamp my feet," he said. "I am a walking whisper. A hush . . . a piece of soft, worn cotton fluff."  

[p. 55]

You can see Sweet November (published in 1968) is far from a new release. More than likely, I spent a quarter on that used copy at left. I happened across my copy while looking for another book and, remembering the movie (which I saw as a child and only could remember from the emotions it generated), I picked the book up and immediately began reading.

Charles is an executive whose family has run a business making boxes for over 80 years. He's British but has been in the U.S. for several years with the intent of expanding his box-making dynasty. He's successful and fulfilled but does little beyond work.

When Charles realizes his British driver's license has expired, he is forced to make time for a trip to the DMV to acquire an American license. At the DMV, he's impatient and twitchy waiting for the written test. Finally, it begins. He has a photographic memory so he presumes he'll whip through the test in no time but a woman behind him keeps asking him questions. When he turns around to hush her, he's called up front and the proctor tears up his test for cheating. The woman, Sara, follows him as he calls work from a phone booth to say he'll be late because he was caught cheating. This alone fascinated me. Instead of saying, "It's her fault; I was trying to hush her," he blames nobody, tells his second in command, "I was caught cheating," and simply stays for the next test.

Sara and Charles share hotdogs on a bench and she insists that he must come view an apartment she's renting out, the next day. He's charmed by her quirky questions and lighthearted personality, so he meets up with her and ends up eventually following her back to her home, where she asks him if he'd like to stay with her in November.

It turns out Sarah likes to "fix" people. Charlie's life runs by the clock, "All hurry hurry, ding ding," as Sara puts it. She wants to break him of this destructive pattern. He agrees.

I won't spoil what happens. Most of the 142 pages of Sweet November are dedicated to their time together in November. Charles knows he'll have to leave when November ends. He is really quite a sharp-witted character and Sara is delightful. But, there's something up with Sara, a reason that even when one of her men falls in love with her she is unwilling to let anyone stay. When Charlie predictably falls for her, will he be the exception?

Recommended - Witty, wonderful dialogue, great characters, and a quirky, bittersweet story make Sweet November a winner. Now, I have to find a way to watch the movie.

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

The Tree by John Fowles

The Tree by John Fowles came to me in ARC form in 2010 from HarperCollins, and I'm sure I looked at its slimness (at 91 pages, some reviewers have referred to it as an essay) and told myself, "That will be a quick read!" I failed to finish it in 2010 and just recently returned to it. I remembered that I'd set it aside and wondered why when I picked it up a second time.

John Fowles was pretty fricking erudite, that's why. Thin as the book is, it's not always easy reading and I found myself looking up more than a few words. But, at the same time, it's packed with wisdom.

Evolution has turned man into a sharply isolating creature, seeing the world not only anthopocentrically but singly, mirroring the way we like to think of our private selves. [p. 26]

[...] only fools think our attitude to our fellow-men is a thing distinct from our attitude to "lesser" life on this planet. [p. 30]

But I think the most harmful change brought about by Victorian science in our attitude to nature lies in the demand that our relation with it must be purposive, industrious, always seeking greater knowledge. This dreadfully serious and puritanical approach (nowhere better exhibited in the nineteenth century than in the countless penny magazines aimed at young people) has had two very harmful effects. One is that it turned the vast majority of contemporary Western mankind away from what had become altogether too much like a duty, or a school lesson; the second is that the far saner eighteenth-century attitude, which viewed nature as a mirror for philosophers, as an evoker of emotion, as a pleasure, a poem, was forgotten. [p. 33]

I could keep quoting for quite a while. In spite of its size, I managed to mark 15 passages. The Tree is, at its core, a meditation on the importance of nature to humankind through the personal experience of its author; but it also challenges our perception of nature, of growing things that can't speak to us directly but can touch our hearts and souls, of life around us, not just in us. My reading of The Tree felt pretty timely to me as I'd just recently read The Sixth Extinction, in which Elizabeth Kolbert talked to a scientist who is monitoring the way trees are marching in step with climate change, moving as the climate around them changes.

Recommended - At times so scholarly in its wording that I found myself rereading a sentence or paragraph three times, at times fluid, The Tree is a very moving piece of work about something intensely personal to the author, John Fowles, but also a book that challenges us to think about our world and all its parts as a whole. It's really quite thought-provoking and pertinent, especially as the end of the latest world conference to hammer out guidelines for slowing climate change has just concluded.

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

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders was an impulse purchase made while on vacation. I had a particular title from the "Buy Books for Syria" program (with proceeds to Oxfam) in my head but had already gone into 3 Waterstone's stores without any luck locating a copy. However, in a massive stroke of unexpected genius, I bought Five Children on a whim. It was one of my favorite reads in 2015.

Five Children on the Western Front is a continuation of Edith Nesbit's Five Children and It series, in which a sand fairy, or Psammead, takes the children to different places in time when they make a wish. I haven't read Five Children and It or any of the other books by Nesbit, but I was familiar with it and I have a feeling there's a copy of it buried somewhere in this house. Five Children on the Western Front stands on its own, though, so there's no need to have read any of Nesbit's books.

At the beginning of Five Children on the Western Front, the "five children" of the title travel forward in time after their friend the sand fairy grants a wish, getting a glimpse of their future without understanding the meaning of what they see.

The story then fast-forwards to 1914. WWI has begun, the eldest child, Cyril, has finished officer training and is preparing to head for Europe. It's that time when Britons were convinced that the war would be over in a matter of months, so he's optimistic as he leaves. Meanwhile, the two youngest children -- one of whom, Edie, has been added by the author -- find the sand fairy in a gravel pit on their property. He hasn't appeared in years and he's very cold and grumpy, his magic drained.

Life spins around the sand fairy's recovery and the short hops, present and future, that eventually occur -- sometimes due to wishes, accidental or otherwise, sometimes not. Bobs is studying at Cambridge, Anthea is in art school, Jane is in high school, the Lamb an adventurous young boy, and Edie the sand fairy's chief caregiver and advocate. Slowly, it becomes apparent that the sand fairy has returned because he needs to be taught some lessons. But, while the sand fairy is learning about how bad he was when he was a god, the reader is also learning about the horros of war as WWI drags on, friends and loved ones are killed or badly injured, food is rationed, Cyril continues to fight for years, and Bobs and Anthea end up doing their part for the war effort, as well.

I won't spoil what happens or how the book ends but I knew from the quote on the cover that said simply, "heartbreaking", as well as that first jump into the future, that bad things were going to happen. What really stunned me was how the most painful scenes were carried out. Yes, some bits of Five Children on the Western Front are heartbreaking, but the story was also uplifting and moving and beautiful.

Highly recommended - A children's story (probably middle reader) that is charming, funny, bittersweet, and beautifully written, Five Children on the Western Front is one of my favorites of the year and a book I will probably return to. But, first, I need to unbury Five Children and It. I'm sure I have a copy around here, somewhere.

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

Catch-up reviews: Zack Delacruz by Jeff Anderson, Three Days in the Country by Patrick Marbur, The Fortnight in Sept. by R. C. Sherriff

Those of you who read my blog regularly or have read it for a long time know that I always take time off during the holidays to be with family. There won't be as much family time, this year. We're not going anywhere and Huzzybuns has used up most of his vacation time. Eldest and his wife and child are bound by their odd work schedules, as is Kiddo, who has just gotten a new job and will only be home for a couple of days. But, I still plan to take a little time off. Till then, I'm going to ditch the usual posts and play catch-up, again. I'm still pondering my goals for 2016.

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson is a middle reader about a bullied boy who has only one close friend. He goes to an assembly on bullying and later stands up for someone else being bullied without thinking it through. This calls the teacher's attention to Zack and she puts him in charge of chocolate sales to pay for a dance. Then, a classmate who checked out a large amount of chocolate admits she doesn't have the money because she "had an accident" with the chocolate and didn't sell it.

Zack doesn't want to ask his father for money because his father is proud of him, for once, for being in a position of responsibility. When Zack realizes what really happened to the chocolate (highlight to see spoiler: she ate it all), he decides he needs to intervene. But, what can be done to earn the last of the money in time to save the dance?

When I began reading Zack Delacruz, I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of puns and didn't have high hopes for the book. However, the story won out in the end. I liked Zack's creativity and found that his voice sounded authentic to me. The author appears to have a pulse on the middle school vibe. It's also worth mentioning that I enjoyed puns at that age; it's only as I've gotten older that they've begun to annoy me, so it seems likely that Zack Delacruz will be a bigger hit with its intended audience than a jaded old thing like myself and I'm giving it a thumbs up.

Three Days in the Country by Patrick Marber (after Turgenev) is a play based loosely upon Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country (which I have not yet read - Turgenev is now on the wish list). We saw Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre in London during our vacation. Click the title to see a YouTube video entitled "Three Days in the Country: Turgenev, unrequited love and comedy" that shows the actors talking about the play. It was brilliantly acted and there were some very funny lines that we wanted to remember (Mark Gatiss mentions our favorite in the video) so we went back to the theatre bookstore to buy a copy of the play, a couple days later.

I read plays and screenplays, on occasion. Sometimes they are every bit as interesting to read as they are to see but there was something absolutely unique and magical about Three Days in the Country on stage that simply couldn't be gleaned from the reading, so I felt myself longing to see it acted out, again, while I was reading the book. The truth of the matter is that the acing was so brilliant that nothing could hold a candle to seeing it. And, yet, there's no doubt there are some wonderful lines:

Natalya:  What do you think of Bolshintsov?

Rakitin:  (thinks a moment) He's a dullard. Meeting him is the same as not meeting him. 

~ from p. 29 of Three Days in the Country

The verdict: I wish this play were available on DVD. But, the written play is definitely entertaining.

The Fortnight in September by R. C. Sherriff is a Persephone book I bought from the store (again, on vacation) and started reading on the flight home. The story of a family's annual trip to the seaside, The Fortnight in September was originally published in 1931 and inspired by the author's observations while he stayed at Bognor Regis, where the book is set.

The Fortnight in September is understated, charming, and intimate. The first 100 pages describe the family's preparation for and journey to the shore, the rest the vacation itself. Nothing major happens, and yet I found the book was very difficult to put down. I was both enthralled by the nuanced dialogue, the tiny tensions between members of the family and their own internal struggles, and amazed that something so entirely restrained could be, at the same time, oddly mesmerizing.

As startling as it is for the fact that one can find a character driven book in which so little of consequence occurs gripping, The Fortnight in September is also impressive for its descriptive passages and definitely is one of my favorite Persephone titles (so far).

Bottom line: Zack Delacruz starts out badly but becomes more interesting as the plot unfolds and its protagonist comes up with clever solutions to his problems. While not laugh-out-loud funny to this reader, I have a feeling it resonates with its target middle-school audience. Three Days in the Country is witty and entertaining but better seen than read. It was a short-run play with stellar actors (including Mark Gatiss, who plays Mycroft on Sherlock and John Simm, who played The Master in Dr. Who -- actually, there were 4 actors who had Dr. Who in their credits); unfortunately, it's also over. I believe we saw one of the final performances. The Fortnight in September is amazing for the fact that it is both understated and compelling at the same time. I may be more startled than some because I tend to prefer plot-driven books over those that are about characterization, but the bottom line is that I loved it.

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fiona Friday - Kitty loves Johnny and Roy

In case you didn't get the reference in the subject line, Isabel was watching my all-time favorite 70s program: Emergency!

Cropped a little closer, you can see the blue TV screen reflected in her eyeballs:

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Frozen Wild by Jim Arnosky

Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive in the Coldest Places on Earth
by Jim Arnosky
Copyright 2015
Sterling Children's Books - Picture book
40 pp.

I love all of Jim Arnosky's books because of the sheer beauty of his artwork but Frozen Wild is my new favorite by the artist, author, and naturalist. Subtitled "How Animals Survive in the Coldest Places on Earth," Frozen Wild describes a number of animals in different regions from pole to pole.

Arnosky begins the book by talking about how he started to paint the animals around his home during a snowy winter. He describes what animals eat and how they find food in the winter, whether on land or water, how they adapt to winter with coats or feathers that change in color and thickness and how birds can puff up to hold in warmth. He speaks of the challenges of walking through snow, why it's easier for some animals than others. He also talks about the warm homes some of them build and how smaller animals create tunnels rather than walking on top of the snow.

Although technically a "picture book" because there are large, beautiful paintings, there is some interesting information that could be used as a starting point for older children looking to learn about animals and the author advises readers to do their own observation of animals in a final note. Arnosky has been studying animals for decades; I always learn something from his books.

Highly recommended - Frozen Wild is a gift-worthy book, both informative and beautiful. There are several large fold-out spreads, so I would not give it to a youngster who has the tendency to tear pages unless there's an adult willing to watch over them. Otherwise, it's great for any animal lover and definitely would make an excellent Christmas gift.

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tuesday Twaddle - Mostly in photographs

I'm fighting a pretty intense migraine, this week, so I'm going to keep this week's update short.

Currently reading:

I started reading Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews (which I purchased at a dollar store) because it's a quick, easy read and I was having trouble focusing. Hopefully, I'll be able to get back to some meatier reading, later this week.

Just finished:

I Love It When You Talk Retro by Ralph Keyes is the only book I finished, last week. While we were waiting to be served at a local restaurant, I read some bits and pieces to Huzzybuns and he found them every bit as fascinating as I did.

New arrival:

Love Letters from Mount Rushmore by Richard Cerasani is about a series of letters found in a trunk (nonfiction). I read a little bit and enjoyed it very much.

Cute as ever:

The cats were lying next to each other and I was snapping photos when Isabel stretched out, as you see above. That started up a grooming session by Fiona that was frankly adorable.

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

Friday, December 04, 2015

Fiona Friday - Ouch

I get this look more frequently than I'd like.

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg 
by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Copyright 2015
Dey Street - Biography
227 pp., incl. Notes, Index, and Image Credits

I have long admired Ruth Bader Ginsburg without actually knowing all that much about her, beyond the fact that she's a Supreme Court justice who champions women's rights. In fact, she has worked for rights of both men and women, arguing (with her husband, as described on p. 52) that "the government couldn't discriminate between men and women 'when biological differences are not related to the activities in question.' " When reading about the slow progress that has been made against discrimination on both sides (and how it has been handled in other countries), it's all the more surprising that pay discrimination still exists.

But, let's back up a bit. Notorious RBG begins by describing Ruth Bader (then known as "Kiki") as a brilliant but quiet high school girl and goes on to follow her through her school years, marriage, motherhood, law school, various court jobs and cases, all the way through to the present. As you read about RBG, you get to know how and why she became the person she is today, how she was discriminated against by some and championed by others. Most importantly, you find out what a striking difference a flexible, supportive spouse can make to the career trajectory of an intelligent and driven woman.

A fabulous book for feminists, those interested in the law, or anyone who is simply curious about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the book describes her victories and losses, joys and challenges. But, of greatest interest should be the way certain rights have been chipped away, in recent years, thanks to an ultra-conservative Supreme Court majority. There is some important information that everyone should be aware of in Notorious RBG. I learned, for example, that the legalization of abortion was an issue of privacy as dictated by the Constitution -- that nobody has a right to interfere with a woman's private medical choices -- and that discrimination against pregnant women is still allowed because the majority of justices (in the most recent ruling) think of pregnancy as a choice. This, in spite of the fact that one can't discriminate against someone who plays for a company baseball team and breaks an arm, although playing on the team is clearly a "choice" but pregnancy is not always deliberate. Fascinating. There is still clearly much work to be done.

Highly recommended - I was fascinated with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and admired her, before. Notorious RBG made me love her even more and hope that she stays in the Supreme Court for as long as humanly possible. I also am now a huge admirer of her husband, Marty, who spent every bit as much time building up his wife and her career as he did his own, often letting her career take priority. When you read about Marty, you understand just how far a woman can go if she has a partner who believes in her.

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