Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy

In 1939, Dutch brothers Jacob and Edwin Koopman are sent to Hitler Youth Camp in Germany. They'd really prefer to spend the summer helping their Uncle Martin, who runs a fishing boat in the North Sea so their father agrees to divide their time, instead. First, the camp, then some time learning how to fish and operate Uncle Martin's boat, and finally some time spent learning about their father's lightbulb factory from the ground up.

At camp, they find that the other boys are fiercely competitive, often violent, and many already know the routine. Some have won a particular prize that Jacob covets. Edwin, an artist, spends all his free time drawing but can be surprisingly competitive, during the games. Although their time is divided, the lessons learned from all three of their experiences will continue to linger.

Back home, their father is determined to get a contract selling lightbulbs to Volkswagen. Against their mother's wishes, the two teenagers tag along with their father to Rotterdam, where the first of many tragedies strikes when Rotterdam is bombed, Holland is occupied by Germans and their hopes to escape Europe quickly become impossible.

From here on out, the major plot points feel like spoilers to me, so I won't mention them. Instead, I'll keep it generic and tell you that The Boat Runner is Jacob's story, the tale of his emotional and physical journey through the war. Faced with numerous tragedies and traumatized by loss, bombings, and the many horrible things he witnesses, he makes a fateful decision. But, has Jacob made the right choice?

I think what I liked best about The Boat Runner was the emotional honesty. At Jacob's age (teenager/young man), many don't have a grip on their emotions and I thought the author did an excellent job of showing the shock, trauma, pain, and (sometimes misplaced) blame that came of his experiences. Also, The Boat Runner is definitely a plot-heavy book - a lot happens. And, I learned a few new things about the WWII era. I'd never heard of potato masher grenades and I didn't know RAF pilots carried barter kits containing gold coins and rings.

I did have some problems with the book like occasionally feeling like the prose was flat, although at other times I found myself stopping to reread a beautiful sentence. It might have been that I simply didn't fall in love with the author's writing style, coupled with the rawness of the story. There are some gruesome scenes; it's worth mentioning that The Boat Runner is not for the faint of heart.

Having said all that, I liked the point-of-view and I think The Boat Runner would make an excellent discussion book. The decisions Jacob made, the emotions he experienced, the historical perspective, and the situations in which he was placed are all ripe for conversation. I wondered, for example, if at times certain situations were resolved a little too easily, or the consequences didn't necessarily fit the actions, or even if other people squirmed at some of Jacob's conclusions - and a couple times, whether a scene was plausible given the surroundings.

Recommended but not a favorite - A very good WWII book, extremely emotional, sometimes beautifully written and sometimes a little too descriptive for my taste, definitely worth discussing. I would have preferred to know precisely when the events were occurring without having to look them up. Dates at the chapter headings would have been helpful. My copy was an ARC sent by Goodreads, so I can't say for sure dates were not added but the only date I saw was in the cover blurb.

Note: I looked up a lot of images while reading The Boat Runner and I found it particularly interesting that there were images of boys in Hitler Youth Camp doing exactly the activities that the author described. If you read the book, I highly recommend looking up images from the time period. While the author has been called out for some inaccuracies, I found a lot of what I looked up matched the descriptions and seeing the images always adds an interesting dimension to the reading.

©2017 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 16, 2017

Monday Malarkey

We're celebrating our first really autumnal day (although, of course, it's not apparently going to last) by throwing open the windows. The cats and I are in total bliss and I decided I must rush outdoors to photograph the latest book acquisitions. Fiona kindly posed.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom - all were purchased except for The It Girls):

  • Moon travel guide to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island
  • Slade House by David Mitchell
  • The It Girls by Karen Harper - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Slade House, The Faraway Nearby, and Big Magic (which I checked out from the library and have wanted to own, since) were all purchased on Wednesday evening when I spent the night in Oxford, Mississippi, where I was needed to sit in Kiddo's apartment and wait for a delivery, the next morning. We went to Off-Square Books after eating dinner:

I love Off-Square Books.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy

I was focusing exclusively on The Boat Runner when I saw a friend's review of Dark Matter and decided I needed to take a break and read something suspenseful. I bought Dark Matter several months ago and, wow, Debbie was right. It was almost impossible to put down. The only reason I managed to set it down at all was because I started reading late enough at night that my eyes grew heavy. Dark Matter is a terrific read. I finished up The Boat Runner, last night, a WWII novel about a young Dutch man who is sent to Hitler Youth Camp with his brother just prior to the occupation of Holland by Germans and his experiences during the war.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Not a big week for blogging, since I was gone in the middle of the week, but boy did I have fun reading in a hotel room alone!!

Currently reading:

Hmm, I'm between books and not sure which to focus on, next. A Bigger Table just arrived this afternoon and I immediately sat down to read the introduction (so excited about it that I didn't even fetch my reading glasses; I just read it blurry). so I'll undoubtedly add that to the current reads. I'd also like to get back to The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker and get that finished up but I'm well aware that it's a slow read so I might, instead, focus on finishing up The Goddess of Mtwara (a book of prize-winning African short stories). Whenever I take the time to read a story in The Goddess of Mtwara, I'm always frankly blown away by the quality of the writing, although a couple of stories are so very, very African that I just had to read between the lines. At any rate, there's nothing I feel like totally abandoning, but I'm not entirely sure what I'll pick up when I climb into bed, tonight. We shall see.

In other news:  

I'm so excited about the cool air I can hardly stand it. I completely forgot we were expecting a cool front until about noon and then I rushed to open the windows and the cats were happy as clams. Then I had to shut the windows to go to the gym. When I arrived home, they were sleeping but they came running when they heard the kitchen windows go up. Opening the windows has the same effect as popping the top of a can of cat food. We have so little open-window weather that it's just as exciting for me but I don't fit on the window ledge so I guess I'll have to go out and trim bushes to enjoy the air. Or sit outside reading!!! Oooooh. There's a thought!

©2017 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 13, 2017

Fiona Friday

You can't tell they're snuggling but the lengths of their little fur bodies were pressed together and it looked super sweet. Unfortunately, I took this photo and my phone battery promptly died, so I didn't manage to get a view that showed how close they were. Still sweet, though, yes?

©2017 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 10, 2017

An American Family by Khizr Khan

I read An American Family by Khizr Khan near the end of September so there are details I've forgotten. But, the one thing that really sticks with me is the sense of admiration I felt for the author and the experience of reading about how much pain the family went through after losing their son to a bomber in Iraq.

Let me back up a little, in case there's anyone out there who is unaware of who Khizr Khan is, since I spent many years refusing to talk politics or vote. Khizr Khan and his wife are gold-star parents (meaning parents who lost a son or daughter during his or her American military service) who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. He had harsh words for Donald Trump, who had criticized both Muslims and John McCain, the congressman known for his many years as a Vietnam Prisoner of War. After Khan's speech at the DNC, Trump verbally attacked Khan.

I was impressed with Khan's speech and his measured response to Trump's attacks, although reading the speech in the book, it really does appear quite harsh. Still, I found what little I heard about Khan and his story compelling, so I was very excited to get an Advanced Reader Copy of his book, An American Family.

The author goes all the way back to his youth to tell his story. As a child in Pakistan, he lived in poverty but he was determined to become a lawyer. Because of his financial situation, it took a lot of hard work and faith to get to law school and then neither he nor his parents could come up with the money for him to take what we call the Bar Exam (I don't recall if it's called that in Pakistan, but it was clearly the same - a test that allows one to practice law), although a leap of faith and a dollop of courage led to that opportunity. The story of how he acquired his education and the words of wisdom that were repeated to him as a child are fascinating enough alone. But, you also get to read about Khan's love story - how he met his wife, Ghazala, and why her mother wanted her to marry someone else in an arranged marriage but Khizr won out. It's a truly beautiful story.

He talks about the decision to leave the country for a job, rather than staying in Pakistan, where he knew that bribery had a lot to do with the outcome of a trial, and the steps in his career and further education that eventually made his family financially secure. He talks about his three children, their differing personalities, and son Humayun's decision to join the military. You really get to know and admire the family. While Khizr Khan was strict enough that today he'd probably be referred to as a "helicopter parent", it's clear that he and his wife raised children with strong principles and a deep love of their country.

Near the end of the book, the focus is on Humayun and his death - and it is heart-wrenching. The author also talks about how Ghazala eventually worked through her pain by hosting young military recruits for a dinner and giving each a gift, encouraging them in service in spite of her own loss. I could hardly breathe through the last part of the book for all the tears. While his Muslim heritage is a huge part of his life, faith mostly comes into the book in a soft way, in moments when he explains how his beliefs figure into certain decisions and actions, although it's a huge part of his life. This quote, for example, explains how he came to give Ghazala a certain gift that impressed her:

Islam teaches that the Creator made nothing in a cage, and that to release one of His creations back to the wild was an act of kindness and mercy. 
~ from p. 53 of ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Highly recommended - A deeply moving and admirable story of the author's life and that of his family. Every now and then you read one of those rare memoirs that makes you think, "I wish I knew the author. I would love it if he was my neighbor." That's how I felt while I was reading An American Family. They sound like absolutely lovely, giving people and I wish I knew them. Near the beginning of the book, you find out about how the author discovered the U.S. Constitution and why he carries a copy of it around with him. While he didn't actually intend to end up in the United States, it's quite interesting to read about that early connection and how his understanding of our Constitution has influenced him, over the years, and how his home country compares. A new favorite memoir. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about this book, although it's worth mentioning that it's a very emotional read.

©2017 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 09, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Quite a change after last week's pile but this time only a week has passed and look at the cover of Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things! Is it cool or what?

Recent arrivals:

  • Memoirs of a Public Servant by Charleston Hartfield
  • Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

I read about Memoirs of a Public Servant in a news article about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Charleston Hartfield, a former police officer, was among those killed and the article I read mentioned his book. I used to read quite a few books by or about police officers back in the days when I thought I wanted to be a mystery writer so I figured it would be an interesting read. It's got some slight formatting issues but looks like a quick gulp of a book and I'm looking forward to the reading.

I read every book Simon Van Booy publishes, of course, so I pre-ordered Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things when Simon told me about it. It's the first in a Middle Grade series and I've already read it, although it took me 5 days because I was still recovering from my recent trip and kept falling asleep. I napped a lot, this week, too. More about Gertie Milk will be coming soon, but I can tell you it's a wild and wacky ride.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Iowa: Poems by Lucas Hunt
  • My Little Cities: London by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: Paris by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: New York by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: San Francisco by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • Goodnight, Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith
  • Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone and George Ermos
  • Rufus Blasts Off by Kim Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev
  • Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

Almost all of my reading was chosen with my current state of fatigue and slumpishness in mind, although I was very excited about Iowa and Gertie Milk because they're both books I've been waiting on for quite some time. The last couple of months, between and during travel, my reading took a serious beating. Children's books and poetry just happen to be two of my slump breakers and I had plenty waiting for me. And, they did the trick! Sleep might have helped a bit, too, but it took me all week to recover from both Hawaii and the long night of watching the news about Las Vegas (I just happened to be up when that horror occurred).

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
  • The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories
  • The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker
  • Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon

OK. You know I've been listing some that I have bookmarks in but which I'm not currently reading, right? Well, this week was an improvement. After all those children's picture books and the one MG broke my post-vacation slump, I managed to pick up The Goddess of Mtwara and read two stories, both of which were excellent (they are prizewinners, of course, but sometimes African stories are so heavy in African names and local references that they can totally lose a reader from Elsewhere). Then, I started The Boat Runner because I wasn't yet in the mood to pick up The Half-Drowned King, knowing how dense it is. But, I no longer feel like tweeting instead of reading, so I'm feeling very positive about the coming week's reading and have the sense I'll probably finally get back to the books I've set aside. 

In other news:

There's not much news but there's one question I've been asked 3 times since we returned from Hawaii: "Is the water pretty?" To answer that, here's a photo I took just off the coast of Oahu from the air:

Clearly, the answer is "yes". We didn't do any snorkeling on this trip (although, if you go back and look at posts I made in November of 2007, you will see that we once went snorkeling off Oahu) but the water is lovely and I did see a lone sea turtle, at one point. So, that's cool.

©2017 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 06, 2017

Fiona Friday

Isabel has to come into the bathroom with me, but she also has to consider going out.

©2017 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 05, 2017

A few minis - Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory

There are a few books I've been thinking about not reviewing (and one I loved but don't want to give full review treatment) so I've decided to do a few mini reviews. Most of these were read some time ago, at least long enough that plenty of the details will probably escape me.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautifully written story about a young girl and her family after their move to New York. Told in reflection after she meets an old friend on the train and refuses to speak to her, the story describes the fiction she told herself about her mother and how eventually the missing mother would show up, the friendships that she formed after she was finally allowed to roam outside her apartment, and the horror when one of her friends was raped. I read Another Brooklyn in July and that's about all I can remember, apart from how it made me feel.

And, here is where the surprise comes. Most everyone seems to love this book but it simply did not resonate for me. Jacqueline Woodson's writing is impressive, evocative, a little dreamy and very honest. It wasn't so much that I couldn't relate because that doesn't necessarily matter to me. It was that I couldn't always follow; in other words, sometimes the book was a little too lyrical or metaphorical and I wasn't entirely certain what she was trying to say or what had just happened. And, in the end, I was left with questions. I no longer recall what those questions were, but I definitely would have loved to talk to someone about it when I closed the book. Maybe that would have made it a better read for me, having someone to discuss with. But, I found it just an above-average read because of the confusion. Apparently, it was just me. The book gets rave reviews. All of my friends have given it either 4 or 5 stars at Goodreads and I love Woodson's writing so I still recommend it. I may even reread Another Brooklyn, someday; it's very likely I missed something.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans is a book that's been on my radar since Andi of Estella's Revenge talked about it. Till then, I was unfamiliar with the author or her blog (where she appears to now seldom write an entry) and her heartfelt posts about her struggle between the Christian beliefs that have taken a sharp direction away from those of the evangelical church in which she was raised and her yearning to be a part of a church community. Subtitled, "Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church," the book tells about Evans' childhood in a Southern Baptist church, her devotion to learning about the Bible and saving people, her Bible-scholar father's calm explanations, and then . . . the questions, the creation of a new church with friends, and the gradual changes in her beliefs that led her to search for a new church home.

With the exception of having a Bible scholar as a father (mine was an accountant) there were some striking similarities between Evans' church history and mine. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church (a cheerful, small-town church where I always felt happy and loved). I was an eager student of the Bible, although maybe not a very good one, and I wanted everyone to feel the kind of acceptance and love I felt at church so I was constantly trying to convert people. I can only hope I wasn't too much of a prig, but it all boiled down to the fact that my home church was a joyful place. Like Evans, I also went through a stage when I finally began to seriously question the church's stance on particular modern issues, although I had long since moved to the Methodist church and my move away from the church was decidedly slower. Still, the similarities stunned me and I found Searching for Sunday an incredibly affirming and comforting read.

Highly recommended, especially to those who find themselves questioning the church but not their Christianity.

In the opposite vein, I'd really like to say as little as possible about Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies by Dick Gregory because I have such mixed feelings about it. It starts out great. Gregory, who recently passed away, lived quite an interesting life as an actor, comedian, and writer, and appeared to know just about every black person of fame that you can think of. He was around during the Civil Rights Movement and was knowledgeable about the events, the people, the movement itself and the many organizations working for change. At the beginning, he shares a great deal of history in fairly short chunks. They're not necessarily cohesive, but they're interesting and revealing. The audience he addresses is black; he talks as if he's talking to a young person, offering his knowledge as well as advice.

However, as the book progresses, Gregory begins to occasionally contradict himself and dig deeply into conspiracy theories. While I felt like some of them were absolutely plausible, there were many others (particularly involving the deaths of celebrities) that simply didn't make sense to me, even when I sat back and thought about them and twisted them around in my head.  He believed, for example, that Tiger Woods' downfall was not due to his infidelity but due to generic white supremacists who didn't want him to surpass the success of Jack Nicklaus. How he came to that conclusion in spite of Tiger's own confession and decided that Tiger's back surgery was a fiction forced upon Tiger by these unknown white supremacists is beyond me. That's simply one example. I'd like to give Gregory the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps the contradictions and conspiracy theories were due to the fact that he was aging and died shortly before publication but I haven't read any of his other books so I can't compare to know if there's been any change.

At any rate, I liked parts of Defining Moments in Black History and found some of the history particularly fascinating (music, movies, movements, you name it - he spoke broadly). Iffy on recommendation but I wouldn't tell you not to give it a try. I'd love to hear other folks' thoughts about this book.

©2017 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.