Friday, May 25, 2018

Fiona Friday - Another Izzy close-up

Note: I have pre-posted a couple reviews for next week and will plan to go ahead and do a Monday Malarkey post and probably a Fiona Friday. So, while I may be a bit slower to respond to comments and post links to Facebook and Twitter, there will be posts while I'm away reading Don Quixote, next week.

©2018 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, May 24, 2018

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

Mr. Tuttle instructed us to open our Steinbeck tomes, and our laughs were replaced with visions of dust and booze and haggard tires on the road West, where the busty, analogous milky white breasts of rural America patiently awaited our arrival. 

~from p. 38 of ARC, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is the story of Noah Oakman, a high school student with two extremely close friends, siblings named Alan and Val. Toward the beginning of the book, Val pressures Noah into going to a party. Noah has been a little off since he faked a swimming injury and his parents have been nudging him to make a decision about the college scholarship he's been offered. He doesn't want to go to a party. He doesn't want to go anywhere. And, he really doesn't want to swim in college. But, he and the Rosa-Haas siblings are close so he reluctantly agrees to go to the party with them.

At the party, Noah does something he doesn't usually do: he drinks. Heavily. And, then he says something regrettable to Alan and goes to hang out with a guy named Circuit. What happens after he leaves Circuit's house is as psychedelic as the cover of the book. Suddenly, things around him have changed. His weird little dog has become normal, his mother has a scar he's never seen, and his best friends are no longer planning to attend colleges that are close to home. What's happened? Circuit's father was an inventor and Circuit is equally geeky. Did Circuit do something to Noah's brain? To find out, Noah zones in on the few things that haven't changed: his sister and his Strange Fascinations among them. By researching these things, maybe he can figure out what's happened to the world -- or to his mind.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is told in first person, so you're in Noah's mind while he's trying to figure these things out and it's sometimes merely disorienting, sometimes confusing. As I mentioned earlier, the first part of the book befuddled me so much that I stopped at page 66 and started all over again. After that, I began to feel like I understood what was happening -- something had happened to Noah and he was on a quest to solve the mystery of why things had changed -- but I still often felt unbalanced during the reading and occasionally wondered if I would have set the book aside entirely, if not for the fact that I was obligated to write a tour post.

Having said that, I eventually began to embrace the hallucinogenic aspect of the book, even if I didn't always thoroughly understand what was happening. Throughout the book, it continued to feel a bit like the author was herding cats, or trying to and failing. But, the last 50 pages or so is where the cats all end up piled on top of each other on the same warm blanket; meaning, the ending is satisfying and pulls everything together.

Recommended - While this book felt, at times, like a rambling mess, it all comes together in the end and it's worth sticking it out through the insanity. At least, that's how I felt upon closing the book. I would suggest saving this book for when you're in the mood for something truly weird but clever. The writing is, in fact, almost too wise to believe it could be the thoughts of a 16-year-old, at times, although perhaps I'm too far removed from 16 to have any idea how a teenager thinks. What I liked best about the book was the relationship between the three friends. The author did a great job of emphasizing how rare and beautiful that kind of deep friendship is and why it should be treasured.

Side note: One of Noah's obsessions (or "Strange Fascinations", as he refers to them) is a book by a fictional author named Mila Henry. Her oddities are so believable that I ended up looking online to see if there really was a famous author named Mila Henry that I'd never heard about. Well, no. She's fictional, all right. Oddly, there is a Mila Henry who pops up when you do a general search -- a New York based pianist, coach, and music director. Music plays a heavy role in the book, as well (David Bowie's music) so I thought that was an interesting coincidence.

©2018 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, May 23, 2018

Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812 is the story of a boy who decides he must fulfill his mother's wish to bury her by the sea. Clocking in at a mere 236 pages, it is quite a tale of adventure. At the beginning of Mad Boy, Henry's mother is still alive. His father is in debtor's prison and Henry has just been told his older brother has been shot for going AWOL. The family has been in decline for several generations and has switched places with a former tenant, going from landlord to tenant, big house to dilapidated cabin. Henry's older brother has been in a relationship with the landlord's daughter but went off to war to earn soldier's pay when his father's drinking and gambling pushed them too far into debt.

So, everything is already falling apart when Henry's mother is tragically killed, leaving Henry to deal with figuring out how to get her body to Baltimore to be buried near her family and the sea, her first love. Meanwhile, there are Redcoats roaming the area, pillaging and causing all manner of trouble. And, Henry's path to the sea is not direct, to say the least.

I'm not going to say any more because it's so much fun to read the unfolding story, although I think it's of particular interest that Henry's mother is apparently bipolar. He describes her as talking non-stop and working herself to the bone when she's well, refusing to leave her bed and facing the wall when she's not. Henry continues to hear her chattering after she's killed, one of the most entertaining and endearing aspects of the book.

Highly recommended - I absolutely loved this book. It's both beautifully written and somewhat nuts, a young boy trying to haul his mother's body to the sea while war is going on around him and his mother's ghost occasionally tells him what to do. Toward the beginning of the book there are some graphic scenes that are a bit stomach-turning, but then the story becomes less gruesome and more adventurous. Henry is an interesting character and the family dynamics, the surprising things that happen (note: Henry is a very smart and restless boy), the battles around him, and the denouement are all utterly captivating. Chances are good that I'm going to spring for Nick Arvin's older book, Articles of War, very soon. I love his writing.

Mad Boy is a June release. I love this book and look at that cover! Isn't it marvelous? The copy I read was an ARC received from Europa Editions. I don't think I've ever read a book set during the War of 1812, before. I really enjoyed the setting and you know I'm going to feel compelled to read more about the War of 1812. That's how it always works, right?

©2018 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, May 22, 2018

April Reads in Review, 2018

April (links lead to reviews):

38. Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie - Mini bios of various real-life princesses who plotted, schemed, stole power, made questionable choices, partied, were known for their sexual exploits, were crazy or acted like it, or who fought their own battles. An interesting book that led to a bit of further exploration on my part. I had favorites amongst the princesses.

39. The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis - When a Civil War buff and reenactor in middle school is given a disappointing assignment and an unexpected partner, he's bemused. But, then he makes some interesting discoveries; boring soldiers can have interesting stories and scruffy girls can turn out to be smart and appealing, after all. So. Much. Fun. Loved this book.

40. Look for Her by Emily Winslow - A long-missing student, a stained skirt, and two women who both are obsessed with the missing girl lead two investigators on a surprising path. The fourth book in a series, very good but not a personal favorite. I hadn't read the first three but the author does a fantastic job of catching you up without giving anything away.

41. Rocket Men by Robert Kurson - The true story of Apollo 8, the first mission to circle the moon in preparation for the moon landing and how it was rushed into completion in order to beat the Soviets in the space race. The author chose to highlight the personal stories of the astronauts and their wives as all three astronauts are still married (and alive) -- unusual for such an all-consuming and high-pressure job.

42. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson - A retelling of Romeo and Juliet for the YA crowd, in which a young couple literally bump into each other and meet eyes over the fallen books. Instant attraction becomes love that leads to tragedy. But, there's a softer, kinder ending with hope.

43. Sleep Train by Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge - Inside a train traveling across the countryside, a little boy in the sleeping car reads the book he's in, counting the cars on the train instead of sheep and slowly falling to sleep. A gorgeous book.

44. But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor - A very persistent bear keeps showing up at a little boy's house and he tells the bear to go away, repeatedly and without success. Till, one day, the boy shouts and the bear leaves. Then, the boy realizes just how much he misses the bear, who has become his friend. Charming.

45. Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Ester Garay - A boy genius moves to a new school in the middle of the year and decides to build something for his classmates, unaware that his single-minded focus is causing chaos in the classroom. Cute story and I love what Albie builds.

46. How to Forget a Duke by Vivienne Lorret - One of three sisters running a marriage agency goes to snoop on a duke in order to find out what he's hiding and find him a perfect matchmate. But, when she's injured and loses her memory, the duke must shelter her at his ancestral home while she recovers. Slow burn romance. I loved this book and a friend I loaned it to was also impressed.

47. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders - A variety of voices tell the story of Willie Lincoln's death in the White House and how his father's love holds poor Willie's soul back instead of allowing him to move on. A little scattered for my taste but I loved the ending and Saunders' writing just blows me away.

48. Isosceles' Day by Kevin Meehan - Isosceles is a black labrador and the book is supposed to show a day in his life but I found it rather baffling and poorly written so I opted not to review it. If you can tolerate overly-rhyming text, the illustrations are beautiful.

49. Tin Man by Sarah Winman - After a tragic loss, a widower is working the night shift to avoid tossing and turning through the night. Then, a young co-worker cuts straight to the heart of his pain and helps him begin to heal. An immensely moving and tender story.

50. Warren the 13th and The Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle - When disaster strikes Warren the 13th's hotel, he must venture out to find what he needs to get the hotel up and running. But, there are many dangers in the forest and a mimic takes over his hotel. A wonderful second entry in this delightful series. I love Warren.

51. The Reckless Rescue (The Explorers #2) by Adrienne Kress - A map memorized by a boy with a photographic memory leads to the boy being kidnapped. His best friend promises to rescue him. Action and adventure ensue as the two characters attempt to elude the dangerous men in search of the same map pieces as the children. Another fun entry but not as memorable as the first in the series. Love the humor in this series.

52. Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans and Elisa Ferro - A colorful book about the things daddies do with their children, with illustrations showing animal daddies and their furkids. Love the brightly-colored illustrations and the sweetness of daddies playing with, reading to their children, etc.

53. Boots on the Ground by Elizabeth Partridge - Biographies of people who served in Vietnam (and one who escaped during the fall of Saigon) interspersed with chapters about what was happening in politics and the American peace movement at the time. Concludes with the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial and how it helped those who served. The ending is particularly moving.

Wow, what a month! I liked or loved almost everything I read. Favorites were The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody, Rocket Men, How to Forget a Duke, If You Come Softly, Tin Man, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, and Boots on the Ground.

Boots on the Ground was particularly meaningful and, almost coincidentally, 700 bikers (motorcyclists) traveled through our area, this weekend, on the Trail of Honor -- the annual trek to the Vietnam Memorial. I saw the helicopters flying above them and wondered what was happening. The sheer size of that group just goes to show how important the memorial was and is to the healing of those who served in Vietnam. I loved the way author Elizabeth Partridge described the memorial's creation and its importance in Boots on the Ground.

I liked everything else, with the single exception that I left unreviewed. It was a great month. Lots of children's books, a mystery, a romance, a nonfiction about a space mission, another about princesses, and a third about people who experienced the Vietnam War, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet for the YA crowd, and a couple literary titles. It was definitely an interesting month and a good one!

©2018 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, May 21, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Muse by Jessie Burton
  • Siracusa by Delia Ephron
  • Fire and Forget (short stories), ed. by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher
  • Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty
  • Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom by Norman G. Finkelstein

All were purchased. The Muse and Siracusa were bought for F2F discussion but then our calendar showed up and The Muse wasn't on it, so I may have jumped the gun. I thought it was a definite. It sounds good, though, so I won't consider that a bad purchase if it doesn't end up being a discussion book. Fire and Forget has a story each by two authors I've enjoyed: Siobhan Fallon and David Abrams (and I love war stories), so that was a bit of an impulse purchase after David Abrams mentioned it on Facebook. And, I bought Israel/Palestine and Gaza to try to fill out my understanding of the history of the region. Gaza's subtitle indicates that it might be a bit biased but Israel/Palestine is written with a neutral tone and I just finished a book by someone writing from the Jewish perspective, so it should all balance out.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages
  • Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

Not a big reading week but both books were excellent.

Currently reading:

  • Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty
  • The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes

Quite a hodgepodge, there. I took a day to study up on the Israel/Palestine region and the conflict (the slash is to show that the area currently occupied by Israelis is also claimed by Palestinians, in order to remain neutral, in the title of the book I bought) to help me put Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor into perspective because I knew basically nothing. The reading is timely, since our embassy has just been moved to Jerusalem and I had no understanding at all of why that would cause conflict and/or why people I know tend to take a particular side. Israel/Palestine is written for people like myself, who know little to nothing and it's very educational. I'm learning a lot!

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is a YA tour book.  I was struggling with this one, finding it directionless. So, last night I started over from the beginning, rereading the first 60-something pages. That helped. It's finally starting to coelesce around its subject, now, at 100 pages. The tour is scheduled for Thursday and I'm relieved that rereading it helped me make sense of where it was headed. The narrator rambles a bit, so the first of the book felt like gathering helium-filled balloons that had floated to separate corners and now the author is tying their strings together.

And, I've decided I'm going to go ahead and take off next week from blogging and other books to finish up Don Quixote. I can't stand to have that book hanging over my head any longer and I'm eager to move on to my second chunkster-classic, Gone With the Wind. If I find enough time to pre-post reviews, though, I'll go ahead and get some posts written for next week. I'll update on Friday to let you know whether or not there will be any posts, next week.

Last week's posts: 

I had a great blogging week! All of those books are children's (picture books to middle readers). I'm really loving the children's books, this year. 

In other news:

I finally finished reviewing my April reads, so I'm working on my monthly "Reads in Brief" post for April. It was quite a substantial stack. This month won't be so great quantity-wise but that's not a bad thing. I need to catch up with myself a bit.

After a bit of reflection, I've decided to make that week off from blogging and reading books other than Don Quixote an internet break because staying off the internet will help me finish faster. Again, I'll let you know if I get around to pre-posting. It won't hurt to at least get on to post links on Facebook and Twitter, even if I'm taking off otherwise from the Internet.

We tried a broccoli salad recipe from the B.T.C. Cookbook, this weekend, and it's so good I want to make it a regular staple. In case you're not familiar with the cookbook, it's recipes from someone who runs a restaurant and grocery store in Taylor, Mississippi. We've bought various casseroles and other pre-made items from B.T.C. Grocery for years, so we were really excited when they came out with a cookbook. So far, we've loved absolutely everything we've cooked from that book. It's Southern recipes, so it leans high-fat, but also high-flavor.

Happy reading!

©2018 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, May 18, 2018

Fiona Friday - Fiona doing a melt

©2018 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, May 17, 2018

But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor

One ordinary day, a bear knocked on my door. 
I politely informed him that bears do not belong in houses. 
Then I said, "Go home, bear." And that was that. 

But, really, that isn't that in But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor. The bear returns with a flamingo. Then, he shows up and the boy who keeps telling the bear to go away pretends not to be home; he even hangs a sign on the door saying, "Nobody is home. Really. Especially if you are a bear." But, that is one persistent bear he's dealing with. The bear comes down through his chimney, making black bear tracks. The unnamed boy in But the Bear Came Back keeps telling him to go away. But, the bear just keeps coming back. He peeks through a window, pushes a book called "You and Your Bear: A Guide" toward the boy, colors with him, and even climbs into a bubble bath with the boy. "Things got a little ridiculous," it says on the page showing the boy crammed into the end of the bubble bath, his toy boat falling out of the tub.

Finally, the little boy shouts, "I SAID GO HOME, BEAR!" and that does the trick. He doesn't come back on Monday. The house is "Bear-less" on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he shouts up the fireplace, "Bear? Are you there?" By Sunday, the boy is missing the bear. He organizes a search party, tacks up posters, sets out a bowl of berries, and waits. Eventually the bear returns and gives the boy a big bear hug. The boy says, "Welcome home, bear."

Highly recommended - A story of an unusual friendship that could be easily seen as an allegory, a way to show that we're not all alike but sometimes it's just nice to have a friend. They don't have to look like us, but when someone reaches out it's nice to respond in kind. Lovely. I'm a fan of Tammi Sauer's books and But the Bear Came Back is a nice new addition to her many wonderful children's stories.

©2018 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.

Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Ester Garay

Little Albie Newton
was a thinker from the start.

He built a mega-stroller 
after taking his apart. 

The day that Albie learned to count, 
he ran to Mom and cried. 

He couldn't reach infinity,
despite how hard he tried. 

The star of Albie Newton is clearly a genius. He can do anything; even paint like Van Gogh and write sonnets (while other kids are drawing stick people and writing simple words). But, now he's just starting at a new school in the middle of the year. He wants to make friends, so he decides he's got to make something special -- a gift for the class -- and he must finish it before the school day ends. Albie sets to work gathering parts. Some might call it stealing, the way he keeps running off with things people are using or playing with, but Albie is oblivious. He's so immersed in his creation that he's causing trouble.

Dave propelled a wind-up plane across a classroom rug.
Albie picked it up and pulled its wings off with a tug. 

Evie tried to read a book with Adra and Raúl as
BOOMING PANDEMONIUM descended on the school.

So, everyone's unhappy with Albie. Until his fellow students see what he's created: a combination spaceship and time machine. Everyone hops on and the final panel shows kids in spacesuits playing with a caveman, an alien or two, a dinosaur building a pyramid, Shakespeare trying to balance a stack of books. Albie may be lost in his own world of inventions, but he has definitely created a fun invention on his first day of school.

Highly recommended - If this book has a theme, it's probably that we're not all alike in ability but we can find a way to get along. That's lost a bit in the sheer fun of the story, another rhyming tale that is a delight to read with a few giggle-inducing illustrations. I love the crazy spaceship-slash-time machine that's unveiled in the end and just the idea of it. Imagine if your (probably 1st grade) classmate was able to take you to other worlds. It's imaginative fun. And, I particularly love the "booming pandemonium" that describes how everyone's getting worked up and frustrated with Albie before they realize that he's actually got good intentions. An imaginative book about a smart kid adapting to a normal classroom in a big way.

©2018 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.

Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans and Elisa Ferro

Who tangles and wrangles
and wrestles for fun,
then cries, "I surrender!
You're tougher. You won!" 

Who takes you on outings
and simply won't care 
if you've picked your own outfit 
or have messy hair?


Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans and Elisa Ferro is a sweet, rhyming book about the joy of spending time with daddy. The daddies in this book are, as you can see from the cover, animals. The lion on the cover is the daddy who wrestles his son and says, "I surrender!" A mouse daddy measures his child and gushes about how tall the child is growing, a peacock helps his little one build an airplane and says, "I'm glad that you tried" when kiddo makes a gluey mess, a penguin daddy catches his little penguin when he slides down an icy hill, and so forth.

Recommended - I was thinking about criticizing the book for being a little too rhythmic, but then I remembered that my children loved books that were heavy on the rhyme, when they were small, so I would count the natural rhythm as a plus, now that I think about it. The illustrations are charming, bold, cheerful, and brightly colored, really a feast for the eyes. Daddies Do is a happy book, about all the good times that can be had with a father. Because of the rhythm, it'll probably hold a child's attention at a pretty young age and I'd expect some of them to memorize Daddies Do and claim to be reading it when they're below reading age. An excellent book to buy and hand to a daddy who loves reading to and playing with his children.

©2018 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.

Sleep Train by Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge

Sleep Train. 
Jiggling down that track. 

Ten sleepy cars
going clickety-clack.

With an engine in front 
and a caboose in back. 

Sleep Train by Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge is a bedtime story about a little boy counting the train cars of the train he's riding in -- instead of sheep. He's in the sleeping car, "all cozy in bed" (a very fancy sleeping car), reading the same book we are. While he lies in bed counting the cars, the reader gets to learn about the different types of train car: tender, boxcar, tank car, cattle car, hopper, gondola, flatbed car, coach, dining car, and sleeping car, each illustrated and labeled. The engine and caboose are mentioned in the opening but not added to the count. And, he slowly falls asleep.

Recommended - I'd particularly recommend this book to lovers of anything that moves (my eldest son was one of those -- and still is). Not only will the train enthusiasts love the beautiful illustrations but they'll also get to learn about the types of train cars that they see when stopped at a train crossing. The illustrations are dark and soothing, but the book loses a point for words like "jiggling" and "clickety-clack" that are not particularly relaxing to hear. There are other words that have hard sounds or sound upbeat, so you have to read the book very softly to make it sound soothing. But, it's easy to slow down and lower your voice even more, toward the end of the book, to make it a little more relaxing. And, I can't say enough about the insanely gorgeous illustrations. They are absolutely beautiful.

©2018 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.