Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Saboteur by Paul Kix

Subtitled "The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando", The Saboteur is the fascinating true World War II story of a courageous Frenchman. Robert de La Rochefoucauld was 16 when the Germans invaded France in 1940. From a window in his family's ancestral chateau, all but his father (who was serving in the French army) watched the bombing of nearby Soissons. The family escaped to the home of their grandmother, another huge ancestral home in the South of France, eventually returning to find that their roof was missing and Nazis had occupied the house. For a time, the family was forced to live side-by-side with Nazis and during this time, Robert listened to Charles de Gaulle's radio broadcasts from London.

Although Robert did not join the Resistance for a couple of years, he attempted to start up a band of his own to fight the Nazis and was denounced by an unknown party. Forced to leave home to survive, he hiked through the Pyranees mountain range with some British pilots, led by mountain men. After being led to Spain, La Rochefoucauld and the two pilots were promptly imprisoned. But, eventually, their release was secured and Robert ended up at his destination in London. There, he was trained by the SEO and then parachuted back into France to train Resistance members (then somewhat organized but not skilled) in the use of explosives and in combat. He was caught and imprisoned two more times and the escapes are worthy of movie treatment. These were what kept me going.

In between the exciting scenes of hiding explosives in loaves of bread and shoe heels, blowing things up, escaping from prison, and sneaking through town in a nun's habit are some lengthy descriptions of various Nazis, torture methods, and other details that are not quite as fast-paced or fun to read, although they do round out the picture. I was mostly in it for the exciting scenes and I wish some of them had not been skimmed over, although there's ample indication that the details simply weren't available to the author, as the subject himself was a man of few words who said little about the war till late in his life. You could say I wanted the novel, not the nonfiction. But, much as I craved the action scenes and found the other parts slow, I still thought The Saboteur a very good read and I'm glad to know about Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

Recommended - A solid work of nonfiction about one man's role in the French Resistance and his many daring escapades. While there were some details that could be a bit of a yawn to read, I think most of the background material in The Saboteur was necessary to paint a complete picture. And, even so, the duller background information is well worth reading to get to the edge-of-your-seat scenes, some of which are truly mind-blowing. Later in life, Robert de La Rochefoucauld inherited his family's title and became Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

©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, March 23, 2018

Fiona Friday with note

Has Izzy got your attention? Good. I've pre-posted what amounts to a veritable avalanche of reviews and scheduled them to publish over the weekend, so I just though I should warn my readers. Only one of the reviews is an ARC, tomorrow's review of The Saboteur by Paul Kix. The rest are books from my personal stacks, which will appear in 3 posts on Sunday -- 2 reviews per post. That will get me close to the elusive concept of "catching up" (again). Happy Weekend!

©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, March 22, 2018

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Master Spy starts out with a bang. 15-year-old Sarah emerges from the floor of her mother's car to find that her mother has been shot dead at a checkpoint in Germany. Will the Nazis know to look for a child? She's not sticking around to find out.

It's 1939 and Sarah is an orphan, half-Jewish, and on the run. But, Sarah has a few marks in her favor. She is physically adept (a former gymnast), smart as a whip, and blonde with blue eyes. She's small for her age, which means she can get away with pretending she's as young as 11 or 12. And, her Aryan features mean she can hide in plain sight if she can find a way to obtain false papers. After a night sleeping on a roof to evade the Nazis, she finds a friend. But, his life is in danger, as well.

When Sarah offers to help out with an important mission, it means going where the worst of her enemies live, inside a Nazi girls' boarding school where she is tasked with befriending the daughter of a scientist who has created a devastating bomb the size of a grapefruit. Can Sarah survive school and befriend Elsa in time to save the world from this bomb? Sarah finds the task is even more challenging than she'd imagined. She's is naturally a bit caustic and her sharp intellect can get her in trouble. Making friends is not easy. She's already a fish out of water and there's a social hierarchy at the boarding school. The only way to befriend Elsa is for Sarah to make her way to the top tier.

Highly recommended - Smart, scary, tense and gripping - a terrific read with the kind of disturbing, violent moments that are typical of realistic WWII novels. Sarah is fierce but flawed, a tough and witty character whom you can really get behind; and, the English captain she befriends has clearly also lived through a lot. I liked hanging out with them in the first part of the book. But, then comes the really scary part.

Life at a Nazi boarding school is insane. I can admit I found the boarding school parts much more uncomfortable to read, although Sarah is befriended by another girl who doesn't quite fit in (so, at least she always has one friend to rely on) and there are plenty of action scenes. The hardest part is the bullying and some vicious scenes of violent abuse. The girls are rough on each other, with an initiation for the new students and competition to get into the favored group. Will Sarah succeed at befriending Elsa? Will she get caught out as a spy? Will she survive the brutality of the girls she lives with and their teachers? Orphan Monster Spy had a slight sagging middle problem but the phenomenal ending is worth sticking it out. I never even remotely considered setting the book aside. Sarah's a terrific character and I cared about her. The reward for sticking out the slower part is immense.

The ending hints at continuation of Sarah's story, so I wrote to the publicist to ask if Orphan Monster Spy is a series book and she confirmed that it is, indeed, the first in a series. It's wrapped up completely and could stand on its own, though: no cliffhanger ending. I'm grateful to the author for that (I abhor cliffhangers). I'll be looking forward to reading more of Sarah's adventures.

©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, March 20, 2018

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry

We really don't have a good idea of how well wild bees are holding up to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation plus whatever effects climate change, imported bees, parasites, and diseases may be having. We do know that some bees are in decline. The data on the current status of most bees are patchy at best, and few areas have been well studied. Bee surveys take a huge amount of time and money, and someone has to identify all those bees.

~from. p. 148 of Our Native Bees

Our Native Bees: North America's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry is just what it sounds like - a book about bees that are native to North America, their declining numbers, and what bees do for humans -- and one woman's quest to learn all about them. But, it goes well beyond that, into talk about how little research has been done about bees, how many species of bees exist (20,000!!!) , why honeybees (which are not native to North America) and bumblebees get all the attention but aren't the best pollinators, how poisoning bees that carry worms damaging to trees interrupts a natural cycle without actually helping the trees, whether burning or mowing certain areas is better or worse for bees, etc.

The author, Paige Embry, has a passion for learning about bees and visited with experts across the country to interview them, view bee collecting and identification in person, and basically gobble up every bit of bee information she can. And, Embry describes her experience with a marvelous sense of humor:

The method I learned at Gordon's bee class involves puting the bees in a tea strainer (hopefully one dedicated to lab use) that functions as a tiny bee tumble dryer as you blow hot air from a hair dryer at the strainer. The purpose of the rinse and blow dry is to fluff up the bee's hair. You can see the colors better, it's easier to move the hair to look for markings, and, well, the bees just look better. I know they're dead and the last part shouldn't matter, but I've acted as a mortician for quite a few bees at this point, and I don't want them to be preserved forevermore in the midst of a bad hair day. So I coif dead bees. My children find me creepy. 

~from p. 105 of Our Native Bees

I was out in the field with an old bee biologist once, and a bunch of little bees were zipping about. He said they were halictids (sweat bees). They were tiny. I wondered how he knew that they were halictids and not, say, Ceratina or Hylaeus. So I asked him. His response was something along the lines of "they have a certain gestalt." Gestalt? Well, pish, that's not going to help me learn to identify them.

~p. 111

If you have even the slightest interest in bees, you should definitely read Our Native Bees. It'll give you a well-rounded idea of what's going on with bees -- the threats they face, the way they're managed by humans and how important they are to American crops, what "colony collapse" is all about, and much more. Our Native Bees is crammed with gorgeous photos. It's a beautiful book on high-quality paper.

Highly recommended - One of the books that helped break my brief February reading slump, I could be found leaning forward, rapt, for days as I read Our Native Bees, occasionally smiling at something funny the author said or reading favorite parts aloud to my husband. The most important takeaway from this book:

The one thing you can do to help bees, no matter where you live: plant flowers. Even if you live in an apartment and only have a small outdoor space, planting flowers can make a huge difference to bee populations. We've just potted some spring flowers. I don't know if we're near anything that needs pollinating as a food source but the author said sometimes city flowers are closer to areas where food sources are planted than fields in the middle of the boonies, so you never know . . . you could be helping provide the food at your local market and helping strengthen your local bee population.

©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, March 19, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • None. Again. 

I think this makes 3 weeks with no arrivals? Some that I've been expecting have not arrived, so now I'm actually a little worried that something is happening to the ARCs (we did, at one time, have a postal worker who was stealing packages). But, we're not short of books in this household. And, I did order a few, this week -- one of them because the library book had a too-quick due date. So, hopefully, I'll have some pretty, shiny new books for you to admire, next Monday.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix

Both were excellent - one a WWII YA spy novel, the other the nonfiction story of a daring man in the French Resistance (a nobleman who later inherited the family title, Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld). I've already written a Goodreads review of The Saboteur, which I finished yesterday, and I'll rewrite it as a blog post, soon. And, my draft of Orphan Monster Spy (a tour book scheduled for Thursday) is nearly complete.

Currently reading:

  • Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso 

Poor Don Quixote had to sit around yawning, this week, because I had priorities and he just couldn't be squeezed in. And, I still need to reread The Woman Next Door (for F2F discussion) before I can return to him. But, soon. Very soon. The great thing about Don Quixote is that his exploits are so unforgettable it's easy to pick up where you've left off, even after a week or two.

Princesses Behaving Badly is a book of stories about real-life princesses who were not content to sit around waiting for the opposing army to defeat King/Emperor Daddy or their own armies to be run over. They were the kind to run into battle, not wait for the results. I'm finding it a tiny bit dry and wishing it had maps but neither of those are enough to convince me to stop. I love reading about heroic, smart, indefatigable women.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

This was not a TV weekend. I decided my utility room was getting too cluttery and both the counter and cabinets needed to be cleaned and rearranged, so we first cleared the kitchen counters to use for sorting and then emptied cabinets, shuffled various objects, filled a box with things to donate, and made use of the circular file. We're not done, even after two days of working on it, but we're close. When we needed a break, we watched an episode or two of Dr. Who or read. And, last Thursday we watched this for the first time:

I've seen a lot of people mention Weekend at Bernie's when the topic of Andrew McCarthy's acting comes up (I follow him on Twitter) because it seems to be a favorite, particular a favorite of the males. But, I'd never seen it and it was on, so we watched roughly half of it. We didn't manage to see the entire movie because it was late, but we were both enjoying it and would really like to see the second half. I'll have to see if I can find a place to stream it, soon. It's such a different role from what I typically saw McCarthy play in the 80s (like Pretty in Pink, the dreamboat role).

The last episode of Dr. Who that I watched was the final episode for companions Barbara and Ian, who were finally able to return to London of 1965. I'll miss them, but I think that at least means I've made it to Season 3 of William Hartnell.

©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, March 16, 2018

Fiona Friday

With apologies to Facebook friends, who have already seen this - my favorite photo of the week. Fiona was on my lap.

©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, March 15, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James weaves together two stories. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for girls who are unwanted or difficult. Established in 1919 and never maintained well, the uniforms and many of the textbooks have never been updated. In 1950, four girls attending the school become friends. Then, one of them disappears. In 2014, a reporter who has spent her time writing fluff pieces finds out that the long-closed and derelict school has been bought and is being restored. But, why? Surely it could never turn a profit. As Fiona seeks to uncover the reason for the purchase and a body is discovered on the property, the search for answers may lead the intrepid reporter into danger. How did the body found on Idlewild property end up where it has been found? What was the girl's story? Does her disappearance have any connection to the death, in 1994, of Fiona's sister?

By far one of the best mystery/suspense books I've read in months, I found The Broken Girls so compelling that I ditched my chores and spent an afternoon curled up with the book, unable to bear putting it down.

Highly recommended - Gripping, well-written, creepy, and satisfying. I was most surprised by the fact that The Broken Girls has a believable ghost (seriously, most ghost stories are just disappointing) as well as the realization that I had no preference between the historical and contemporary stories. Usually, in a historical/contemporary book with interwoven storylines, I'll find myself wishing the author had focused on one storyline or the other. Not so with The Broken Girls. I loved being at Idlewild Hall in 1950 and I was equally mesmerized by Fiona's story: the unfolding clues, her relationship and how it complicated her research, her family history.

I received a copy of The Broken Girls from Berkley Books in exchange for my unbiased review and wow, am I glad I said yes to this title! I've read some really disappointing attempts at suspense, this year. The Broken Girls is exceptional and I'll be be watching for future releases by Simone St. James.

©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.