Friday, October 31, 2014

Fiona Friday: Happy Halloween from Fiona Shark!

Isabel also sends greetings and would like to know what on Earth the human was doing to her kitty sister.

©2014 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, October 30, 2014

Momosas: Fun Alcohol-Free Drinks for Expecting Moms by Paul Knorr

I'll bet you guys thought I was gone for good, right? Not quite, although I'm just dropping in for about a week and then I'm going to take another week off. I still need to spend time away from the Internet for my sanity, but I feel like doing a bit of reviewing. Might as well go for it when the mood strikes.

I've mentioned Momosas: Fun Alcohol-Free Drinks for Expecting Moms by Paul Knorr in a few posts. It seemed like a fitting book to review because my daughter-in-law just happened to be expecting when the book was offered to me. I figured we'd try a few drinks and then haul the book up to New Jersey and mix up a few more. Best-laid plans and all that. We have managed to mix up one drink and it was fabulous but, first, a few thoughts and a comment.

I'm not a drinker, so that was the second reason I accepted Momosas. I figured it would be a fun way to add some variety to my life. There were a few things about the book that jumped out at me from a "just a non-drinker" persecutive, though:

1. Odd measurements - I'm not accustomed to recipes written as "one part this, one part that," and expected precise measurements. I had no idea what a "jigger" was, nor had I ever shaken a drink over ice and then poured it out. I had to have my husband explain a few things to me. That probably won't be a problem for people who typically drink.

2. The first section of the book consists of drinks in which vinegar is used to give the drinks the taste of alcohol -- but without tasting like vinegar, of course. It simply gives them the tangy zing of alcohol. Since I've never developed a taste for alcohol, I found that particular section unappealing. But, it's just one portion of the book and certainly not enough to recommend against it to those who don't normally drink. All two dozen of us. ;)

3. There are a lot of ingredients in many of the drinks. That's great if you're entertaining or you plan to mix large batches for yourself, but if you're just planning on the occasional drink for fun it will definitely narrow down the number of recipes that are of interest.

4. Most of the drinks are really, really heavy on sugar. This particular item might be of interest to some expectant mothers. My daughter-in-law, a doctor, said she cut out alcohol primarily to reduce her caloric intake so she wouldn't gain too much excess weight. It might be wise to substitute fresh fruit for some of the juices to avoid added sugar.

Those were my initial thoughts as I flipped through the book. When it came to the mixing of actual drinks, we got the ingredients for a fruity drink but didn't get around to mixing it up before we left town to meet the little one. Kiddo came home to watch out for the kitties and drank most of the juice we'd gathered for that, while we were away. So we'll try gathering ingredients again, later. We did make one drink, the "Trimester High":

Hmm, the upload quality looks bad, as I'm typing. The recipe is actually a rare one that uses specific measurements rather than parts but that didn't influence our choice. We chose it based on the ease with which we could acquire ingredients (and the fact that we already had some of them on hand). Plus, it sounded good. In case you can't see the image, it contains ice cream, milk, shredded coconut, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips or shavings (we used chips), and whipped cream. When we got to "blend with ice", we kind of stared at each other because the recipe didn't specify how much and then decided to just wing it and use a cup or so, adding more if necessary. It worked fine and the drink pretty much tasted like dessert in a cup. It was delicious.

As to leaving Momosas with the new mama, I opted to skip that. I'd hoped the new parents would flip through the book (which I took to their house) in my presence and let me know their opinions; but, they were super busy with baby. My son did briefly flip through when I was not around and said he saw a few recipes he'd like to try, so that's positive. If/when we try more of the drinks or pass it on and get feedback from Eldest, I'll let you know. I have quite a few marked with post-its and do plan to give them a go.

The bottom line: Recommended I'd particularly recommend Momosas for its target audience: expectant mothers who plan to make large batches of drinks for social gatherings. If you're looking for a book of non-alcoholic beverage recipes for other reasons, like not being a drinker and just desiring to insert a little variety in your world, I'm certain you can find at least a few drinks that will interest you, although most are heavy on sugar and it might be wise to substitute fresh fruit for some of the juices recommended. Husband and I both found the recipes intriguing and we're looking forward to trying more. We were pleased with the results of the drink we tried. It makes an excellent dessert drink.

My thanks to Sterling for the opportunity to review Momosas!

©2014 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, October 20, 2014

Monday Malarkey - The Internet blows up, Christmas arrives early, flamingos fight, and bookish things

Last week, the internet felt a little like a flamboyance of flamingos. Those guys really like to fight. And, the internet was aflame with controversy. We'll talk more about that in a moment. First, the usual dose of malarkey. Also, yes, I went to the zoo with my camera. 

Last week's posts:

Last week I read exactly one book:

  • Ballistics by Billy Collins (poetry)

Currently reading:

  • Big Fish by Daniel Wallace - Last week, ugh. It was not a good one. I "grazed" or as Andi refers to the process of reading bits of one book then another then another, "taste-tested" numerous books. I thought Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje was going to be the one that hung onto me, but I was wrong. There's still a bookmark in Divisadero and I'm hoping it still will click, but it wasn't till Big Fish that I finally read without drifting off, looking at the dust that needs to be wiped off the fan or stopping to think about something entirely unrelated to my reading material in the middle of a passage. Lord only knows how many books I abandoned. When it takes you a week to read a small volume of poetry, you know something is off. I will probably finish Big Fish, today. Then, we'll see what happens. For now, I'm grateful to Daniel Wallace for breaking a bad spell.

Ditched, but only temporarily:

  • Hieroglyphs - ed. by Finn and Cramer - I misplaced this book so many times that I've decided to temporarily pull it off my sidebar while I clean the mess known as my TBR pile, which has spread out like a second carpeting (thanks to all that grazing). No wonder things are getting buried. I enjoyed the first story in Hieroglyphs and absolutely will continue the reading but having it in my sidebar without getting beyond the opening story for 3 weeks has finally intimidated me enough that I don't want to keep looking at the image, so I'm going to take it down and put it back up when I've made some decent progress.

Recent Arrivals:  I've had so few arrivals in recent weeks that I neglected to put this category at the top, where it typically goes. I got Christmas books! This week's arrivals:

Unsolicited from Sterling Children's Books (and very welcome!):

  • When, When, When will it be Christmas? by Cathy MacLennan
  • A Pirate's Night Before Christmas by Philip Yates, illus. by Sebastia Serra
  • The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illus. by Tom Browning
  • The Great Reindeer Rebellion by Lisa Trumbauer, illus. by Jannie Ho

I'm particularly excited about The Night Before Christmas because the new granddaughter I think of as Tiny Anonymous Human (since I'm not allowed to post photos or mention her name) definitely needs her own copy of The Night Before Christmas. I can't wait to read it to her! But, alas, I have some waiting to do.

From a friend: 

  • Out by Natsuo Karino


We watched Bringing Out the Dead (1999), the movie version of Joe Connelly's fabulous novel (which is still sitting in my sidebar, but no worries . . . this one won't let go of me; I'll get around to reviewing). And, we watched the last halves of two other movies, which we happened across while flipping channels: Cactus Flower (a 1969 film I've heard of but had never before viewed starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn, very entertaining) and Air America (an old favorite starring Mel Gibson in his glory days and Robert Downey, Jr. before he did drugs, got arrested, spent some time in jail, got his act together and became the fabulous creature he is, today).

In other news: 

We finally made a drink from Momosas by Paul Knorr. It was like dessert in a cup.  Yum!!!

Special message for e-book lovers and Colleen Gleason fans:

Colleen's Victoria Gardella Vampire series is being re-released in e-book form and The Rest Falls Away is on sale for a mere 99 cents for Kindle only until Thursday, Oct. 23.  Don't you love the new covers? I'm pretty sure I passed some of the earlier titles on to friends so I'll be buying copies of the new e-books. I've had regrets about not holding onto the entire series.

Final note:

Since I've had a couple very bad reading weeks . . . actually, 3 weeks, now (I've read a whopping 5 books in 20 days) and last week was just a Bad Internet Week, with various controversies and stupidity making me want to simultaneously rant and step away, I am going to avoid the computer for a couple weeks. I may drop in and write a review if I feel like it. But, there's not all that much left in my sidebar and apart from the backlog of children's books (most of which I need to reread before I can review them) it seems like a good time to take a mental health break for the restoration of my reading mojo and soul. I've found I need breaks from the Internet more often, now, no matter what's going on, but last week really did me in. Again, I may still drop in to write a review or two. I'm merely granting myself permission to step away for a couple weeks.

Happy Monday!

©2014 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, October 17, 2014

Fiona Friday - Basket Case

©2014 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, October 16, 2014

Catch-up #3: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming, The Giver (review and F2F report) by Lois Lowry

I am seriously going to have to start jumping on the reviews the moment I finish a book. Not My Father's Son is excellent, really one of the best memoirs I've read in the last few years -- and I love memoirs. But, I waited too long and I'm feeling like I can't do it justice. I'll do my best, though.

Not My Father's Son tells the unfolding story of events that took place a few years ago when Alan Cumming agreed to have his family history revealed in a reality show, the UK's "Who Do You Think You Are?"

The story pivots between "Then" and "Now", sometimes with specific dates added. The past that he refers to as "Then" describes childhood abuse at the hands of his father. "Now" refers to a time when he was preparing to appear on "Who Do You Think You Are?", a show in which a famous personality's family history is revealed. Cumming describes how he dealt with what he discovered about his immediate family and his family's history. The genealogical preference for investigation was his. What did Cumming want to know about his family? He chose his maternal grandfather's last years. Why did his mother's dad leave the family for Malaya? How did his early death occur? Did he commit suicide, die accidentally, or was he murdered?

Trigger warning: If you have difficulty reading about childhood abuse, you might want to skip this one.

Cumming's story is an extremely emotional journey. The reality show triggered memories that he, his brother and his mother had suppressed. As a child, his father abused them all. He had a ready excuse: Alan was not his son. But, if that was the case, why did he also terrorize his biological child, in addition to the wife he thought faithless and the son he refused to think of as his own?

As Cummings sought to both reveal the truth about his parentage and keep his own unknown story from being publicly revealed before he had firm answers, he was also gradually learning about his grandfather's death. Both a story of family events and how mental health has been treated, past and present, Alan Cummings' memoir reveals a man of surprising strength, joy, and love, especially given his painful childhood. You can't help but emerge from the book admiring its author, his mother, and his brother. They may have been treated badly but their unbending love for each other and Cumming's mother's amazing support throughout their ordeal is a wonder.

Highly recommended - Very skillfully crafted and moving.

I received a copy of Not My Father's Son from Dey Street Books (an imprint of HarperCollins) in return for an impartial review. It was released last week. Choosing a maximum of 2 or 3 books a month is going well, so far. I'm definitely glad I requested Not My Father's Son.

********SPOILER WARNING********

I've already read The Giver before and this time I want to talk about the ending. So skip my review if you don't want to know what happens.

The Giver by Lois Lowry was a book I reread for book group discussion; the meeting was held last night. 

The Giver is the story of Jonas, a boy chosen by the elders in his utopian, literally black-and-white world to hold the memories of the past for the people of his village. The old Giver is exhausted from holding the memories and the physical and mental pain that accompanies them. But, he's erred in the way he attempted to pass on the memories to a new Giver, in the past. So, he tries to be gentle when passing on memories of life and death, color and temperature, war and love -- all the things that have been eliminated in a structured, precise world where marital partners, children and careers are chosen based on personal attributes but deviation from societally-imposed strictures is deadly. In spite of gentle adjustment to the memories, Jonas still thinks things need to change and a baby whose imminent "release" (a euphemism for death) shocks Jonas will be the catalyst for change.

The Giver has what some people read as an open ending. Did Jonas really escape with baby Gabriel and find a place where Christmas is celebrated with color and cheer or did he fall into unconsciousness and dream of a place he wished to find? Apparently, the question of what really happened is answered in a sequel; there are 3 companion novels and I can't recall which one answers the question. I couldn't find our old copy of The Giver, so I bought the "quartet". I'll get to the other books, eventually. I had my own opinion of what happened.

The good and the bad:

I think everyone in my F2F group felt the same about the science fiction aspect of The Giver. There's no explanation as to how and why memories are held by a single person, how the people are restricted from seeing color, how their world is climate-controlled. So, I think everyone felt like there were aspects of the book that were difficult to buy into. What we loved about The Giver was the fact that it opens up so many different avenues for discussion. Jonas's father is a "carer" who works with children because he's a natural nurturer but his mother is a judge, for example, which brings up the issue of how gender plays into our expectations of character and career aspirations. The fact that nobody can see color led us to discussion about how color blindness allows for racial equality. The lack of pain leads to questions about whether or not pain is essential to growth. We also talked about how rigid structure didn't allow for creativity or individuality.

Highly recommended - No wonder they teach this book in schools.  At any rate, not everyone loved the story (I loved it every bit as much as I did the first time) but the conversation was lively and fresh. I haven't made it to very many meetings, this year, but our discussion of The Giver was one of the best I've experienced in recent memory so I definitely recommend it for group discussion.

Some of our group members have seen the recent movie release of The Giver, so we also discussed the differences a bit. I have not, but hope to view it in the future.

I call Jonas's world "utopian" early in this review but that's a question I neglected to ask group members. Is the story really utopian if people are being put to death for minor aberrations from the norm or is the village a dystopian world because many are unaware of its realities? Thoughts are welcome.

©2014 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, October 14, 2014

Me On the Floor, Bleeding by Jenny Jagerfeld

We took a taxi home. Just like that. "We took a taxi." That was something I could tell someone I wanted to impress. Except I couldn't think who that might be. Enzo saw right through me; he would immediately notice the poorly disguised satisfaction behind the mock indifferent expression.

~pp. 136-37

Me On the Floor, Bleeding by Jenny Jagerfeld is a Swedish Young Adult book (thus, a translation) about a high school girl named Maja. As the book opens, she has just accidentally cut off the tip of her thumb with a saw. She would never deliberately hurt herself, yet most of the kids at school assume that's what she has done and even her father is uncertain. But, her mother doesn't even bother to respond to texts or emails about Maja's accident.

When Maja takes the train to visit her mother over the weekend and she also doesn't show up at the train station, Maja begins to worry. But, something keeps her from calling her father or the authorities about her mother's disappearance. And, then Maja meets her mother's next-door neighbor, a 22-year-old, and things become more complex.

What has become of Maja's mother? Maja sets out to unravel the mystery of her mother's whereabouts by hacking into her parents' email accounts and her father's phone messages. But, what she finds out may hurt even more than cutting off a thumb.

Me On the Floor Bleeding was an award-winning book in Sweden and I can see why. Maja is a great character and it's a very internal book that feels true to the emotion, intelligence and quirkiness of a teen. Upon reflection it reminds me a bit of John Green. It's witty and poetic, very human and fearlessly open about emotion and sexuality.

The only problem I had with the book was the fact that I had a little difficulty understanding why what Maja found out about her mother was so traumatic. If anything, it seemed like what she discovered should have been reassuring because it explained why her parents -- especially her mother -- behaved the way they did.

The bottom line: 

Highly recommended - I really enjoyed Me On the Floor, Bleeding and would particularly recommend it to people who like reading an emotional story that feels authentic to the teen experience. The author is a psychologist, so she undoubtedly understands how and why Maja's discovery about her mother upsets her so deeply.

Cover thoughts:

Hmm, love the cover because it's such a grabber but it is not accurate to the contents. Maja is not suicidal. The fingers to the forehead are misleading in that way. She does have an unusual way of dressing and the outfit on the cover is similar to something she wears, but not precisely accurate to the description. And, she doesn't have pink hair. Her hair is dark and she actually cuts it so close to her head that she's almost bald by the end of the book, perhaps as a sign of emotional stress.


I got Me On the Floor, Bleeding from a friend. I'm not sure if it was sent to her by the publisher or a purchase on her part but, just for reference, the publisher is Stockholm Text.

©2014 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, October 13, 2014

Monday Malarkey - An eventful week

Last week was fun. One of the local colleges held its book bazaar. Look at all those books!!!

Wow, did I have fun. I bought a very large stack of WWII books, some literature, a little poetry and a battered little book published in 1894 that has gorgeous illustrations. I love old illustrations. I'm not going to load the photos of my acquisitions unless someone begs, but I did snap photos of them.

In the mailbox:

Only one book arrived and it was a purchase: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I bought it primarily because of all the recent chatter about diversity in reading and whether or not publishers are actually selecting books that are representative of the true experience of, say, a minority or an immigrant or someone in another country.  "Is our literature white-washed?" That's the question that's been bandied about.

To be honest, I didn't know what to think so I didn't participate in the discussions. But, after a good bit of pondering, I came to the conclusion that the best way to discover books that are genuine in their representation of a particular group of people, is probably just by listening to recommendations of those who live(d) it. Meaning, if I want to read about the immigrant experience, or what it's like to be Asian in a heavily-Caucasian nation or about thoughts on life as an African American or a gay dude or whatever, the best thing to do is seek out an immigrant, an Asian, an African American, a gay friend, whoever, and ask for recommendations.

I didn't have to ask. I got to eavesdrop on a conversation in which an African American friend talked about how much she loves Brown Girl Dreaming. As Bill Engvall says, "There's your sign." I ordered a copy and am really looking forward to reading it.

Last week's posts (working on tackling the sidebar):

Last week's reads:

  • Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly 
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry 
  • Momosas by Paul Knorr

Currently reading:

Actually, nothing. I haven't picked up Hieroglyph since reading the first story, but I do plan to continue on, now that I've finished The Giver for my F2F group's discussion. I was beginning to think last week was going to end up being a 1-book week because I spent most of the week reading Bringing Out the Dead, then I managed to finish The Giver and Momosas due to a 4:00 AM wake-up call. If waking up uncommonly early results in the quick repair of a bad reading week, that's just dandy by me.


I am getting close to catching up on my backlog in the sidebar but I also have a backlog of children's books that I haven't reviewed. I don't know why I don't add those to my sidebar as I read them. Probably because they're so short and there are often so many of them that the book images would go on forever if I added them all, maybe partly because I feel guilty listing them as "books read". Hard to say. At any rate, I may have to have either a children's day or just bash out children's book reviews for several days, once I've caught up with the rest. I've left some of them long enough that I'll need to do a bit of rereading. Not a problem. I love an excuse to read a children's book.


The Final Countdown is an old family favorite that was released in 1980. I was in the mood for something intense on Saturday night. My first thought was a disaster movie. Maybe The Towering Inferno or 2012? We looked up at least a half dozen movies we don't own on Amazon Prime's streaming and none of them were available for free streaming. So, I went to Ye Olde Faithful DVD Drawers and pulled out The Final Countdown.

In case you haven't seen it, The Final Countdown is about a United States aircraft carrier that goes through an unusual storm and travels back in time to December 6, 1941. They are near Pearl Harbor and everyone knows Pearl Harbor will be hit by the Japanese, the next morning. The crew of the S. S. Nimitz has the power to prevent the destruction of the American fleet. What will they do?

I love The Final Countdown. Action, time travel and WWII? You just can't beat that combination.

The next day, we were channel-surfing and nothing seemed to be on so I was on the verge of digging through the Robert Redford stacks, again, when we happened across 3 Days of the Condor, another old favorite of mine -- but not my husband's (he hates violence; I had to keep luring him back into the room) -- and a Robert Redford movie that we don't own. Serendipity!

In 3 Days of the Condor, Robert Redford plays a man who works for the CIA. He and his fellow agents are charged with the task of reading everything they can find that might bear some hint of spy activity, run text through the computer to see if it detects anything unusual, and theorize about what subversive activity may be going on in the world at large. Redford's character runs out the back door to get lunch and when he returns he discovers everyone he works for dead, murdered by an assassin. He calls his superior but quickly discovers that the agency can't be trusted and goes on the run.

3 Days of the Condor came out in 1975. Bloody scenes weren't as graphic in the 1970s, which is rather refreshing.

Last but not least:

Besides being a great week for books and movies, we became grandparents to a beautiful baby girl, last week. My son and daughter-in-law have asked that we not share either her name or photographs (which is miserable, but I have to respect their request) publicly and I was so confused about what, if anything, I could say that I just said nothing for days. But, then it occurred to me that I can't just pretend she doesn't exist. So, there you go. We have a grandchild. Woot! Welcome to the world, Baby Girl!

How was your week?

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Catch-up #2: Imprisoned by Sandler, Boxers and Saints by Yang, The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson

Another day, another attack on the sidebar. We can party when I'm finished.

The subtitle of Imprisoned by Martin W. Sandler says it all: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During WWII. I don't know what made me mentally reduce this horror to the thought that perhaps it was merely immigrants, not naturalized citizens that were forced into prison camps in the U.S. during WWII, but boy was I wrong. They were not only citizens but some some were 2nd or 3rd generation and they were people who owned businesses, contributed immensely to the American economy as well as farming practices in the U.S. and were incredibly proud of being American citizens. As a result of hysteria, they were forced to sell their land and possessions for next to nothing, rounded up, and imprisoned in deliberately remote and hellish places. Now, I understand.

Imprisoned is an oversized book published for children by Walker Books for Young Readers (a Bloomsbury imprint) so it has lots of nice photographs and slightly large print but the author doesn't talk down to his audience. He clearly describes the politics involved in the unconstitutional decision to put American citizens in camps, the racial prejudice Japanese Americans had been dealing with since their arrival, the living conditions and the horror of losing everything they'd worked for, the amazing strength of character and creativity shown by those imprisoned and the various attempts at reparation and results. So, there's plenty of material that adults may enjoy every bit as much as the targeted younger audience. I bought my copy and I'm glad I did. I'll be referring back to it and looking up some of the other books mentioned.

Yet another purchase, I bought both Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, companion graphic novels that tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion from two differing viewpoints.

Boxers tells the story from the viewpoint of a young boy called Little Bao who sees the Christians in China as foreign devils and a threat, while Saints tells the side of a young Chinese girl (called Four Girl by her family) who becomes a Christian and is able to acquire a real name of her own, Vibiana. Their stories intersect when they cross paths as children and again when one kills the other as the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist (to which Little Bao belongs) violently overtakes the Christians.

I read Boxers and Saints because I loved The Eternal Smile and American Born Chinese by Yang. I can't say I loved Boxers and Saints as much, but I did like them and reading graphic novels is a tremendously palatable way to learn a bit about history. I'd heard about the Boxer Rebellion but if you'd asked me what it was before I read Boxers and Saints, I probably would have said, "The year everyone decided to leave out the Christmas decorations, maybe?" or something equally inane.

There are elements of magical realism to the stories but I don't feel like saying much more. Andi's review of Boxers and Saints is much better than anything I can think of to say. You should read it.

Speaking of Andi, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a book I read casually as part of a read-along (IOW, I didn't officially sign up to participate), although I never saw any mention of a hashtag and it took me forever to figure out the read-along was hosted by The Estella Society, not Estella's Revenge. Close but no cigar.

I've read Shirley Jackson's short story collection, The Lottery, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (pre-blog), but this was my first reading of The Haunting of Hill House.

Known as a horror classic, The Haunting of Hill House tells the story of a man named Dr. Montague who has spent years seeking out a haunted house to observe as an experiment. Four characters end up staying in Hill House. Dr. Montague is in charge, of course. Eleanor is a lonely single woman who is looking for adventure and a fresh start after spending much of her adulthood caring for her mother. Theodora is a spirited, happy-go-lucky woman; to her the stay at Hill House is a bit of a lark. Luke, son of the owners and future inheritor of Hill House, is described as a liar but never really gave me the sense that he was an unreliable character, although I wouldn't think of him as trustworthy, either.

The house gives off evil vibes and Eleanor, in particular, seems to be targeted by its antics, inside and out. Even outdoors, bizarre things happen. Eleanor is the most sensitive to psychic phenomenon, having been the victim of a possible gremlin (I think -- not sure I'm remembering right) when she was young. Dr. Montague has informed them that once the house decides to claim someone, they will die trying to get away. Will the 4 visitors survive the escalating terror alive?

I'm not going to give anything away but there were definitely moments The Haunting of Hill House scared the bejeezus out of me. I particularly loved reading the book for the historical perspective, though. Since it was published in 1959, there were oddities of speech and perspective from that time period. I particularly found it interesting that Eleanor thought she was being just a little bit wild when she set out a pair of slacks to wear and mentioned how horrified her mother would be (dresses and skirts only, ladies!) I've been around long enough to have lived with an elementary school dress code in which girls were forbidden to wear pants with one exception: matching pantsuits were allowed. Hard to fathom, today, isn't it? Definitely recommended. I really enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House and will return to it when I want to be creeped out, in the future.

I recommend all four of these books, but among them Imprisoned and The Haunting of Hill House were my 5-star reads; Boxers and Saints got 4 stars.

©2014 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, October 10, 2014

Monument 14 and Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne

Monument 14 and Monument 14: Sky on Fire (not pictured) are classified as YA. The writing is brain light so they're super quick reads but there is some sexuality (and, unfortunately, slut shaming), violence and a bit of gore and yuckiness.

Speaking of yuckiness, which requires backspacing because Blogger now has forced spell-check upon us . . . when did that happen??? No, I did not mean luckiness, Blogger.

Back to the books, but first a warning.

******SPOILER WARNING! I'm going to describe the plots in two books from a trilogy. There WILL be spoilers. Skip down to the bottom line if you're planning to read these books any time soon or you just worry about these things. It's okay to be a worrier (pat, pat). We still love you.******

Monument 14 and Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne are the first two books in a trilogy. They begin with a rather girly male narrator talking about catching the bus. He's on one bus; his brother is on the other. All of a sudden, giant hail falls from the sky, causing one bus to wreck. The other bus's driver plows into a local superstore, drops off its occupants and returns to rescue the survivors. The bus driver eventually leaves to get help but doesn't return, leaving 14 children from the ages of 5 to 18 on their own without any adult supervision in a Colorado superstore.

In this near future, the internet is government run (umm), there's no exit after the store's gates automatically lower for no apparent reason . . . except for a hatch in the roof (good grief - in this country, no fire escape?) and chemical weapons are stored very close to a city with a large population (not plausible in the United States, although Hollywood is fond of that kind of set-up).

It turns out a massive volcano has blown with no warning, causing a tsunami that wrecked the East Coast and took out the internet (which is not called the "internet" but it's been a couple weeks since I read the books, so give me a break). Then, there's a tremendous earthquake in an area with no fault lines, presumably related to the volcano. It's true that a massive volcanic eruption can cause weather changes around the world but I was iffy with the earthquake because of how it was handled, although that may be plausible, as well. Natural disaster is followed by local disaster as NORAD (this part seriously made the eyebrows go up) has a breach of chemical weapons, letting loose a cloud that poisons the outside air and contaminates the water, trapping the children indoors.

In the second book, the children venture out in the bus to seek treatment after one of the teenagers is seriously injured. It does not go well for most of the journey in Monument 14: Sky on Fire, but then I suppose it would be boring if all was hunky-dory.

There are some serious flaws in Emmy Laybourne's world building and some situations that I found frustrating but the one thing I found beyond complaint in both books is the pacing. Things happen. The narrator (seriously, very girly - so girly that when I first heard his name was Dean, I thought, "Short for Deanna, maybe?") gets stuck cooking meals and appoints smaller children as helpers, so there's a good bit of time dedicated to meal planning in the first book but there really is seldom a dull moment as they move from one challenge to another, both in dealing with personality differences and dangers, inside and out.

To be honest, I read the second book, Monument 14: Sky on Fire, only because I had already bought both books and couldn't bear the thought of wasting my money on the second. I'm glad I finished but I won't bother trying to locate a copy of the third book in the series. There were just too many problems with the set-up. The author was too present; you could easily discern why some incomprehensible plot point like the earthquake -- which was preceded by a smaller earthquake but not followed up by aftershocks -- was designed to cause a poison leak specifically to force the children to stay inside the store. In another example of what I considered author intrusion, the hatch in the roof appeared to be created for the purpose of forestalling trouble with invaders from outside. However, the fact that the characters are continually challenged is worth mentioning repeatedly.


The bottom line - I'm too picky for this series but if you like a lot of action and don't mind a lot of questionable world building, you might love it. Some people think it's the best thing since sliced bread and I can see why they enjoyed the reading; the pacing is fabulous. I had to work hard to shut off my annoying internal editor, very hard. But, because the book was well-paced and a great deal happens, I was willing to work at just enjoying the ride. It's not easy to write the perfect balance between action and quiet moments and I do believe that is what Emmy Laybourne does best. With a bit of improvement in her research and world building, I think Laybourne could knock it out of the park in future books.

I should also mention that I had fun reading the first book because -- even while squirming over its problems -- I liked the way the book made me think about how I would handle writing about children stranded in a superstore. The setting itself is thought-provoking; it offers some interesting possibilities and I definitely enjoyed mentally comparing how the author directed her characters vs. how I personally visualized handling that particular set-up.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Catch-up #1: Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, A Survival Guide for Life by Grylls, Tomorrow We Die by Grady

I had such a fantastic reading month in September that my sidebar has been taunting me for ages. Yes, true, I am under no obligation to write about every book I read (I do skip a book if I feel like there's nothing to say and the book in question is from my personal library). But, the whole point of blogging is to keep a record of what I've read and my thoughts about each of those books so I'm going to do some catch-up posts. The following were either recently purchased or on my home shelves. I absolutely loved and highly recommend all three.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - I just found out I'm not the only person in America who missed out on reading and discussing Of Mice and Men in school, yesterday! Whew! Good to know.

Short version of the storyline, lacking spoilers: Two friends travel around working odd jobs together. Lennie is intellectually challenged; George watches out for his friend. When they end up in trouble -- which invariably happens because Lennie has difficulty understanding boundaries and doesn't know his own strength -- George takes charge of their escape. When Lennie does something so horrific their lives are both put in danger, what will George do?

I love Steinbeck. For such a small book, Of Mice and Men certainly packs a wallop. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. I wish I'd read it in a group setting. When I closed the book, I was dying to discuss the moral dilemma.

I love Bear Grylls and have been thinking, "I need to read one of his books" for quite a while. So, when I indulged in some stress shopping in September I went in search of a book by Grylls. Any title would do -- and since I was looking at a discount website I took what was available.

A Survival Guide for Life by Bear Grylls is about achieving your goals, with focus on paying attention to what makes you happy, maintaining enthusiasm, dealing with adversity, working on strength of character -- really great advice. The author refers to the book as "self help" within its text. I'm not generally a fan of self-help because I've found the majority of such books are not particularly helpful or their effects are short-lived. However, I do love books on positive thinking and have several favorites that I periodically reread when I need an upper.

A Survival Guide for Life definitely falls into the "uppers worth rereading" category. Although much of Grylls' advice is common sense or already in practice here, there is still plenty to think about and his infectious can-do attitude just can't be beat. I haven't yet talked my youngest into reading the book because he's been reading business books recommended by his father while working on his second degree but I think there are aspects to A Survival Guide for Life that are particularly relevant to young people on the verge of entering the work force so I hope he'll find the time to read the book soon. In the meantime, I may even give it a second go. A Survival Guide for Life is definitely a book I plan to reread repeatedly. And, I would especially recommend it for those who need a little mental boost. It would also make a fabulous graduation gift. Bear Grylls is truly an inspiration.

I've already talked about Tomorrow We Die by Shawn Grady a bit, here, but without describing the storyline.

Jonathan Trestle is a paramedic working for a private ambulance service. When he's called to a cardiac arrest, he manages to revive the patient, an unkempt man who may have overdosed. Before the patient slips back into unconsciousness, he hands Jonathan a note and tells him to give it to Martin. Of course, Jonathan has no idea who Martin is.

There is so much going on in this book that I realize now why I didn't post a synopsis, before. First, there's the patient with the note. Jonathan tracks down the patient and goes in search of Martin. There's an old girlfriend Jonathan keeps running into; they have a lot of baggage but the mutual attraction is still there. His alcoholic dad is fading. Jonathan has flashbacks to his mother's death. And, when the ambulance company gets after Jonathan for not meeting the city's standard response time because there aren't enough ambulances to cover the quantity of calls coming in, he stumbles across a corporate cover-up that puts his life (and the lives of several other people) in danger.

I have a feeling there's more that I've forgotten but the bottom line is that Tomorrow We Die is action-packed, well paced and the pages absolutely flew. I loved this book. My only problem with it was that it could be a little too descriptive. But, that's something you just have to be prepared for when you're reading a book written by a paramedic. The things they see are not pretty. I'm currently reading Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly (yet another novel written by a paramedic) and it is equally stomach-turning, at times, but I love this stuff. Tomorrow We Die was definitely the most exciting novel I've read by a paramedic, so far. We'll see how the next one goes.

©2014 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, October 06, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Not a very bookish week

I got exactly one book, this week (from HarperCollins), Hieroglyph, ed. by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer:

I did finish two books but most of last week was an ADD reading week - one of those weeks when you pick up a book, read a little, put it back down, pick up another, read a little, put in a bookmark and come back but then get bored halfway through the book, pick up a book . . . ugh. I hate those weeks. I read 120 pages of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (interconnected short stories) and I'm unsure whether or not I'll finish it. The quantity of grammatical errors and oddities in the book has surprised me. His characters say "somewheres" instead of "somewhere", for example, and one used the word "misfunction" rather than "malfunction".

Still reading Momosas and was hoping to mix up some of those drinks, this weekend, but my plans were thwarted. Perhaps next weekend.

Last week's posts:

Last week's reads:

  • Me On the Floor, Bleeding by Jenny Jรคgerfeld
  • Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming 

Currently reading:

  • Hieroglyph, ed. by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer
  • Momosas by Paul Knorr
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov


Kiddo was home again, this weekend, and he's a fan of Redbox rentals so we watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I liked it. And, then, because Robert Redford was in CA:TWS, I went digging for Robert Redford movies and we watched Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, although I confess that we turned it off before the end because I didn't feel like I needed to see that last scene in which Butch and Sundance run out into a hail of bullets. You don't actually see their deaths but it still makes me cry.


Since I've freed myself to write what I feel like writing and read what calls to me almost everything I've read lately has been from our home library, I'm considering a quickie post covering the last of the books in my sidebar so I can stop looking at them and feeling like someone poured concrete around my feet. I feel stuck, in other words, like I need to do something to move on but maybe it's just going to take a quick bulldozing to get 'er done. I've written about the Monument 14 books, though. I'll probably go ahead and post that. We shall see. I like not knowing what I'm going to feel like writing, from one day to the next.

Speaking of writing:

I realized that NaNoWriMo is coming up, last week, and followed a group dedicated to National Novel Writing Month on Facebook. While it's a heavy-posting site and therefore may end up getting trashed, a post encouraging followers to free write for 5 minutes got me started writing a story that I've been pondering for ages. Wahoo for that! I've been stuck in that way, as well. Half of me thinks that I need to give up blogging completely if I want to return to writing fiction because I'm kind of a one-trick pony. The other half is the side that keeps tugging me back whenever I consider stepping away for good. When my two sides start having a fist fight, it's going to get ugly.

Gotta go. Hope Monday has been kind to you.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

From the stacks - Spillover by Quammen, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I just recently acquired Spillover by David Quammen and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (the former purchased after book buddies talked about it; the latter via Paperback Swap after a lengthy wait). Both are books I enjoyed for completely different reasons.

I bought Spillover after eavesdropping on a conversation between Jill of Rhapsody in Books and Michele of A Reader's Respite. Subtitled "Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic," the book is about diseases that cross the animal-human barrier, how scientists isolate such diseases, find the animals from which diseases spill over to humans and work backward to find reservoir animals (those who continue to carry the disease, with or without the disease infecting its hosts), why viruses are particularly scary, which are most likely to cause devastation if they aren't stopped quickly enough during an outbreak, how diseases have traveled and been contained in the past, etc.

At around 600 pages, Spillover goes pretty deep into the history and origins of quite a few terrifying illnesses, like Ebola, SARS, Marburg, and AIDS. My timing was interesting. As I began reading this book, my cousin (an epidemiologist who used to work for the CDC) was sharing articles about the latest Ebola outbreak in Western Africa. The outbreak had been going on for around 3 months without being contained and was not yet making the national news but the numbers (cases and deaths) were just beginning to outpace previous outbreaks. Now, of course, the disease has exploded; the latest outbreak is unprecedented in many ways and I think, if anything, we're probably not concerned enough, at least in the right ways. The panic about Americans being flown home under careful conditions was silly. It's the idea of someone infectious hopping a plane without realizing they're infectious that's of concern. [Update: I guess we'll see how that goes, since Ebola has arrived in the U.S. in an uncontained manner.]

I also learned that I've been misled into believing that deer are responsible for Lyme disease. They are not, and mass killings of deer have been proven not to lower incidents, but deer killings for reduction of Lyme disease are still occurring.

Spillover is both fascinating and terrifying. When you read it, you'll find yourself thinking you should always, always wear a medical-grade mask on airplanes, possibly gloves. You'll wash your hands more frequently and worry about the person coughing nearby. It's a bracing read. But, it's also an important one. I had no idea, for example, that the SARS outbreak of a few years ago really was a "pandemic", an epidemic that traveled around the world. It's so difficult to tell whether or not the news is blown out of proportion that I really thought it was no big deal. Fortunately, that particular pandemic was contained before it became as deadly as it could have but it is extremely easy to acquire and is a vicious killer with a high death rate. And, then there's AIDS, a slow-moving but long-lived pandemic that we have come nowhere close to conquering. David Quammen has since written a book entirely about the search for the reservoir of AIDS. Spillover was published in October of 2012 by W. W. Norton and Co.  My thanks to Jill and Michele for talking about it. I love a good, messy medical read and highly recommend it to those interested in medical history.

Also, if you're interested in following non-inflammatory news about Ebola and other emerging illnesses and outbreaks, CIDRAP is by far the best online site.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell originally came to my attention via Les's review at Prairie Horizons. I added the book to my wish list at Paperback Swap and waited. It was a long wait. I just happened to receive my copy about a week or two before Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity (link leads to Trish's post about The Sparrow) began talking about doing a Sparrow Read-along.

I'm snatching the description from Goodreads:

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human". Worlds like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer. 

The book is written from two perspectives. It's not a spoiler to say that Emilio is the only survivor of the expedition. You know from the beginning that he has returned both physically and emotionally damaged. He's extremely ill, badly injured, traumatized and depressed. He's also unwilling to speak about what happened on Rakhat. Scenes from after Emilio's return are interspersed with those from the past, describing the discovery of the signal from Rakhat, the decision to launch an expedition, the personalities involved and what happened once they arrived. As Emilio heals, his story unfolds.

The Sparrow is an emotional, exhausting read. As I was reading I noticed that people used words like "gutted" to describe how they felt. One mentioned feeling shocked midway through the reading. I didn't feel a real emotional punch till near the end. Some of the deaths were unexpectedly violent and particularly gut-wrenching. Emilio's experience, though, was the part that moved me the most. You have a vague idea what happened to him but not the details, till near the end of the book. It was what happened to Emilio and how he ended up blaming himself that made me feel queasy with horror. But, I closed the book feeling satisfied and tired and ready to chatter about it. There's plenty to discuss, so it was a good book for a read-along and definitely one I'd recommend, particularly for book group discussion. I didn't love it. It sounds like I did but from a macro viewpoint it was not a favorite; it's a book with elements that I adored, some that I disliked. I was alternately engrossed and bored, inspired and wearied. I loved the characterization and the mode of transportation to Rakhat, more than anything. My thanks to Trish for the nudge. I probably would have just plunked The Sparrow on the shelf and waited till it called to me. I'm glad I read it with a group, instead.

©2014 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.