Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra

This is the last review of 4 children's book reviews I've posted, today. 2 were Christmas stories, 1 a winter tale. I'm taking the rest of the week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, since I have family in town, and I'll return next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

Subtitled The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape, Inky's Great Escape is the story of an octopus who is retired from being an escape artist. Now living in a local aquarium to rest, Inky enjoys playing games with his pal Blotchy (also an octopus) and telling him stories about his great escapes. One day, Blotchy tells Inky he doubts Inky can escape the aquarium and Inky sees it as a challenge. He draws up a plan and then waits for the right opportunity, which turns out to be an opening left in the tank by one of the keepers.

Of course, in real life the octopus was not probably a dramatic storyteller (who knows -- you'd have to speak Octopus) but Inky's Great Escape really is based on the true story of an octopus who slipped out of his tank and down a drain into the sea at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. In the book, Inky comes back to visit by way of the drain, telling the stories of his great escapes. In real life, I presume he never returned.

Highly recommended - A wonderful story, colorful and funny and sweet. When Inky's Great Escape landed on my doorstep, I read it aloud to my husband. He's not really all that interested in listening to children's books but he eventually set down his phone and smiled. Inky's story is fun to read and very entertaining. It's boldly colored with cheerful-looking animals. Children will love the idea of a playful octopus taking a challenge, succeeding, and coming back to visit his friend.

Note about the cover: You can't tell in the image above, but the blue-green background of the cover has a gorgeous metallic sheen. It's also notable that every spread is as colorful as the cover (not always the case). Absolutely eye-popping illustrations.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White

Lucy is not like the other mice, who huddle in their burrows during the winter. She likes everything about winter. But, she isn't having any luck convincing her friends to go outdoors. She's tried bringing them snowcones, staging an indoor snowball fight, and showing them an icicle without convincing them.

After Lucy discovers how much fun it is to slide around on homemade ice skates, she comes up with an idea and quietly works in her room. Everyone's curious what she's up to. Finally, Lucy finishes her job and gives each of her friends a warm hat. Then she asks them to follow her outdoors, where Lucy shows them how she ice skates.

She spriraled and swirled,
swizzled and twizzled, 
She was flying!

"Marvelous!" cried Mona.
"Spectacular!" called Millie.
"Brie-vissimo!" cheered Marcello.
"We want to try!" squeaked her friends. 

Besides the hats, Lucy has made each of her friends a pair of ice skates from pine needles. They teeter, wobble, and fall, but eventually their practice pays off. Now, they understand the joy of winter.

Highly recommended - A delightful winter tale about one little mouse sharing her greatest joy with her reluctant friends. Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White is my favorite of the three books in this batch. I love everything about it: the storyline, the softly colored illustrations, the beautiful writing, the cheese jokes. If you live in a hot climate like I do, you and the children in your world might be tempted to pull it out in the summer to remember cooler days and it serves as a great reminder of all the things that make winter fun.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas by Marie Tibi and Fabien Ockto Lambert

In The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas, all the animals (each labeled with their name in the first spread) are excited about Christmas and talking about what they plan to ask for, except Little Bear. Little Bear is sad, he explains, because he always misses Christmas. Every year, he hibernates:

Oswald the wise owl explained, 'Yes, it's true, bears go to sleep before the big freeze comes and they don't wake up until the warm days of spring arrive." 

Oswald wonders if there's anything they can do to help Little Bear experience "the magic and wonder of Christmas" and Bill the badger has an idea. They can celebrate an Almost Christmas. Big Deer asks Little Bear to go for a walk while the others prepare Little Bear's home with food, decorations, and gifts, including a banner that says, "Merry Almost Christmas". After the celebration, Little Bear beds down for his long winter nap, looking forward to sweet dreams.

Recommended - I've read similar books about animals who are going to miss Christmas because of their annual hibernation, so this particular theme of celebrating Christmas early isn't a particularly new or fresh one. And, yet, the story is heartwarming. If you have small children and they don't already own a book with a similar storyline, The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas is a good one, with cute animal illustrations, a theme of caring for friends by filling a need, and a sweet, uplifting ending.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess and Claudia Ranucci

Time for a few Christmas books! I have three children's Christmas/winter books to review and one regular children's title, so this will be the first of four reviews posted today, all of which were sent to me by Sterling Books for review.

Our monster is causing trouble.
Request backup on the double!
The playroom has turned to rubble, 
which we have to clear. 

We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, is the story of two children who wish for a monster for Christmas and get what they asked for but find that monsters are troublesome. The book has a rhyming pattern that matches that of the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". You'll need to read through it before reading it to children to familiarize yourself with the rhythm. I personally found it a little unpredictable when the rhymes will match the pattern of regular verses and when they end up matching that of the bridge (the part that goes "Good tidings to you, wherever you are," in the song), although I'm sure that's not a problem once you've familiarized yourself with the book. I read the book aloud to my cats, figured out the trick pretty quickly, and finished off singing the final pages.

As to the story, it's super cute. The two unnamed children in the book imagine how fun it will be to play with a monster. But, their parents tell them you can't rent or buy a monster and the answer to their request is "no". It doesn't occur to them that Santa may be willing. So, the children end up receiving their monster from Santa and he doesn't turn out to be their idealized playmate at all. Instead, he trashes the house and has to be sent outdoors, where he makes a very nice guard and is more tolerable for play. The book ends with the children planning what they'll ask to receive for Christmas, next year: five hundred monkeys!

Recommended - While I was a little put off by the rhythm (sometimes, I really think it's best just to write a children's book in prose rather than trying something fancy), I like the story and I love the illustrations. They're vibrant with plenty of action, so it's a particularly good picture book for little ones who can't yet read and enjoy looking pictures; the story is clear from the illustrations alone. My favorite spread is the final one, in which the illustrator imagines what it will be like getting monkeys for Christmas in the coming year. It's got so much going on it'll keep little eyes busy searching out the details.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Malarkey

It's a holiday week in the U.S., so I'm going to do my Monday Malarkey post, as usual, and then tomorrow will be a day for children's books (mostly Christmas titles). After that, I think I'll take a few days off to enjoy family and return on Monday. So, early Thanksgiving wishes to the Americans and safe travels to those who will be flying or driving!

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd
  • Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
  • The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
  • How to Stop Time (illustrated edition) by Matt Haig and Chris Riddell
  • The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

Apart from the illustrated version of How to Stop Time (which I've already read but have been thinking I want to reread, ever since I finished it), this week's books are all by naturalists and the entire stack was purchased. I've been following Robert Macfarlane on Twitter for a while and I love his posts. It was his recommendation of The Living Mountain that set me on the path of this crazy spree and, yes, the "If you like this, try that" thing probably did me in a bit. I had planned on buying The Lost Words, anyway, so The Living Mountain and The Lost Words were the first in my cart. I'd just read there's an illustrated edition of How to Stop Time. Into the cart it went. And, so forth. I think it's partly Macfarlane's posts and partly a desire to get away from city vacations that have me craving nature, both in my reading and in real life. It'll be interesting to see where we end up traveling in 2018.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

I have thoughts about the latter two so I'd really like to get the reviews written before I shut down for the holiday but I don't know if I'll have time. Short version: I want to see the new Orient Express movie and ohmygosh, The Lost Words (a children's book) is breathtaking. The illustrations alone are worth the price (would make a great Christmas gift).

Posts since last Malarkey:

Most of those posts were made in a single day because I was foggy from migraine meds and decided I might as well write a few reviews if I wasn't up to much else. So many terrific reads in that bunch. 

Currently reading:

  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich - Believe it or not, this is my first by Erdrich. I'm enjoying it, although there are things about the dystopian world that I don't understand (or, maybe don't find well enough explained). I should finish it, today. 
  • Quackery by Lydia Kang - I set this aside to finish The Graveyard Book and Murder on the Orient Express but I'm pleased to report that after the first section, the quack cures described have been decidedly less disgusting than the earlier ones, which basically amounted to poisoning patients (often to death). 

In other news:

I need some local friends to dump books on. Anyone want to move near me and be my book buddy?

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Iowa: Poems by Lucas Hunt + a Fiona Friday pic

I haven't read any poetry in quite some time so I was super excited to get a copy of Iowa by Lucas Hunt. I've read two other volumes of poetry by the author and enjoyed them both.

Iowa is just what it sounds like: poetry set in the state of Iowa, where the author grew up. Because I grew up in the Plains, there is a lot of subject matter I totally relate to in Iowa. Here's a great example:

They take the air like words in blue display,
planes of rain that pass with outspread wings
and ride round the sky in sure, slow turns
to hunt hypnotic, float and dive--
birds witness wider fields,
their eyes survey a storm and pass
through light that changes everything in space.
~p. 19

The author has a lovely way of bringing the experiences of growing up in Iowa to life, whether he's talking about riding a bike down a dusty road or lying in a corn field with a girlfriend, the type of beer can you're most likely to see by the road, the experience of working on a farm. It's all very reminiscent of home to someone who grew up in similar territory. I got a particular buzz out of any poem with wind and wheat, my two favorite things about Oklahoma. Seriously, I love wheat fields.

Here's another excerpt (not the full poem):

Rusty and dusty on blacktop pavement
American flags in yards
train trestles piled by the tracks
country on the radio
deer sausage
chills in the bed of our Chevrolet.

~from "Wheatland Car Wash", p. 65

Highly recommended - A wonderful, transportive volume of poetry full of slice-of-life Americana in verse. You'll especially love this book if you appreciate the Plains or you're from Iowa, but there's something for every poetry lover in Iowa.

And, it's Friday but I didn't take any great photos of the cats, this week, so Fiona Friday is a cheat -- one of the photoshopped pictures of my girls that were done by people in my online cat group, this one of a conga line by Lauren Boutz. I can't look at this without smiling.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Thoughts and F2F group discussion

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was a reread for me and I'm not sure I ever actually wrote about it on the blog when I read it, before. At least, I couldn't find a review when I looked via Google. Incidentally, this serves as a great reminder that my blog search feature has not worked in years. The best way to look for a review on my blog is to go to Google and type in the title of a book you hope I've reviewed and "Bookfoolery". If I've reviewed the book at this blog (or even mentioned it), there will be a link.

Back to the book. The first time I read The Graveyard Book, I checked it out from my local library because I've always been a little iffy about Gaiman. I fall instantly in love with about half of his books and the other half are let-downs. I never know which will be the case and will often check his books out from the library before buying them.

I remembered exactly why I didn't love The Graveyard Book, the first time. It's got a pretty scary opening. At the beginning, a toddler's family is murdered but he's saved by the fact that he's a wanderer and the door to the house was left open. After roaming to the local graveyard (which is also a nature reserve and has been closed to new burials for some time), the murderer pursues him but the ghosts in the graveyard agree to let one ghostly couple adopt him and to work together to protect him from the man who wants him dead.

It was the gory opening that I disliked. I'm prone to nightmares and have been since I was small, so I tend to be sensitive to books that are marketed to children but which I think could give some of them nightmares. And, The Graveyard Book certainly would have given me nightmares as a child.

On the second reading, though, I knew what was coming and enjoyed it for the atmosphere, the unique setting, and the story. I didn't mind the murder at all because I knew it had to happen for little Nobody Owens, or "Bod", to enter the world of the ghosts in the graveyard. In other words, I was free to appreciate the book, the second time. And, boy, did I. Especially at the beginning of the book, I could imagine reading the book aloud to children. It's so beautifully written and atmospheric, just a stunning beginning with fog creeping around the door frame and this giggly little child completely unaware of the danger while you're thinking, "Hurry, child, hurry," and feeling the chill in the air.

And, then, the happenings in the graveyard are both wildly creative and somehow believable.  "What would happen to a human who grew up with ghosts?" One of the group members asked, and then answering herself, said: "He'd learn to fade." In other words, those little magical touches within the book seem utterly sensible, given the context.

We didn't do a show of hands but I'd say more than half of my group liked The Graveyard Book. Of the ones who didn't like it, one said it was just too geared toward children and he's not really interested in children's books. One was the member who had stopped discussion of Gaiman completely when I tried to recommend his books for discussion, earlier in the year, and she said she's just not interested in anything otherworldly at all - ghosts/spirits, scifi, fantasy, etc. She's only interested in realistic fiction. One woman said, "I don't have a problem with that. I've seen ghosts." One said, "I didn't understand the purpose of the murder, apart from placing the child in the graveyard. Why was the murderer after him, in particular?" And, another member said, "I can't analyze books like you guys do, but when I opened the book I stepped into the graveyard with Bod and stayed till I closed it. I enjoyed it. It was an experience."

What a fun discussion! We didn't have any discussion questions and we went off-topic a bit more than I think some of us would have liked to but the discussion was noisy because the opinions were so divided. I was not the only person who had trouble with a book with such a terrifying opening being marketed to children. But, apparently, I'm the only person in my group who hasn't read The Jungle Book. One member commented on the episodic nature of the book (which I noticed this time - it almost felt like interconnected short stories rather than a novel) and the group member who recommended The Graveyard Book noted that it's based on The Jungle Book, so that episodic aspect is deliberate.

OK. So, I have to read The Jungle Book, soon. Fortunately, I have a copy. The bottom line is that I liked The Graveyard Book much more the second time around. Whether or not it's appropriate for children seems to be up for debate, but the writing is stunning, you get a little peek into history via the ghosts from different eras (one of whom, for example, has no idea what a banana is), and it is, in fact, a book that won an award for excellence in children's writing, so somewhere there's a panel of people who thought it was just fine and dandy for kids. I'd still keep it from children who are prone to nightmares or read it with them.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Underground River by Martha Conway

I've read a lot of really terrific books, lately, and The Underground River by Martha Conway is way up high on the list of new favorites.

The year is 1838. May is a seamstress who works for and travels with her cousin Comfort, taking care of all of Comfort's costuming needs as an actress. Comfort has located a job in St. Louis so she and May are traveling on a paddleboat down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania to Missouri when the boilers blow up and their steamboat, the Moselle, sinks. Both May and Comfort survive and are taken in by residents in the closest town but they're left with no money, no possessions, and no jobs.

When Comfort finds employment giving public speeches in favor of abolition, May is no longer needed and the wealthy abolitionist who hired Comfort offers to pay for May's return to Ohio. But, there's nothing waiting for May in Ohio, so she finds a job in a floating theater on a barge. The owner, an actor named Hugo, lost his sister when the paddleboat sank and May works hard at taking her place. As she slowly becomes acquainted with her job and her fellow passengers, May begins to develop independence and confidence, and she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hugo. But, when the abolitionist discovers May didn't use the money given to her to return home, she blackmails May into helping smuggle slaves from the Kentucky side of the river to the free side, a dangerous job that becomes even more perilous when the unexpected happens and May is forced to come up with a creative way to keep herself and a young slave from being caught.

Kind of a long description for a gal who said she was going to try to keep her reviews short but I didn't think the Goodreads synopsis was as accurate as it should have been.

I started reading The Underground River after ditching a book that wasn't working for me and was immediately pulled into the story. May is an introvert and a hard worker, a little lonely but content with her job helping cousin Comfort. But, when Comfort doesn't even defend May against the abolitionist's condescension, May realizes she's on her own.

I liked this new perspective on slavery. The thought that a slave could be separated from freedom by no more than a river was not something that had occurred to me. What must it have been like for a slave to know that some mere line, whether on water or land, separated him or her from freedom? Also, there were some details about escaped slaves that I had given little or no thought to. The Underground River was not just entertaining; it was a learning experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Highly recommended - I loved everything about The Underground River. Martha Conway's writing is lovely, the character development and historical setting perfect, the plotting balanced between some very tense scenes and some that were relaxed and happy, and the ending hopeful. I'm normally not a fan of books with actors or the theater at their heart but there's a mixed bag of personalities on the traveling theater barge. Some I grew to love, some stayed further in the background, some were varying degrees of villainous. May is a wonderful character and I enjoyed accompanying her, seeing her grow into herself, wondering if Hugo was just being polite to her or if his apparent affection was what it appeared (he was an actor, after all). The Underground River completely swept me away and I will absolutely seek out more books by Martha Conway.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

When it comes to removing barriers between people or between people and God, we as the body of Christ should be on the very front lines. We should be leading the charge. We should be defining the movement of equality and justice, not bringing up the rear and definitely not digging in our heels and fighting against it with all that we have. That simply doesn't glorify God, and it isn't making disciples either. The world is seeing this and rejecting it. I hear their stories every single day. The name Christian is no longer synonymous with Jesus out in the world, but with bigotry, with power, with discrimination. This is the script that we who desire the bigger table must flip. 

~p. 140

I'm having trouble starting this review, so I'm going to do a self-interview to help myself out a little. Today, I will be interviewed by an unbiased wooden table. Is it a bigger table or a smaller one? I don't know, since it doesn't actually exist. You can picture it however you like.

Unbiased Table (UT): Hello, Bookfool.

Bookfool (BF): Hello, Table.

UT: Tell me a little about why you chose to read A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz.

BF:  I've been following John Pavlovitz on Twitter for around a year or so, having discovered his articles through a shared link on Twitter. Pavlovitz has been vocal about the dangers of our current U.S. President and his administration, the wave of Christian support that he received in the 2016 election, and the changes he believes need to be made to churches if they want to bring people back during a time when many are fleeing the church. We hold similar (if not perfectly matched) viewpoints about Christianity and inclusion. So, when his book was released, I was eager to read it.

UT: What kind of viewpoints are you referring to?

BF: John Pavlovitz believes church memberships should be more inclusive and reflect the practices of Jesus. The theme is building, metaphorically and realistically, a "bigger table" and not excluding anyone at all from joining in. He also believes church members should be allowed to express their spiritual doubts with each other in order to work through them, rather than feeling silenced and having to fear being cast out, ignored, or snubbed by members of a church.

UT: Tell us a little more about A Bigger Table.

BF: A Bigger Table is, in general, a memoir that goes into the author's beliefs and the eventual application of them. He begins by telling readers about his Catholic upbringing and early Christian beliefs, how he came to leave the church for many years, and how his experiences at work and at home informed the alteration of how he viewed Christianity. He talks about how he went from studying graphic design to becoming a pastor, how he feels like he fell into the typical patterns of Christian dialogue, and eventually how a move and getting fired from a pastoring job led to changes in his work as a pastor, finally reflecting his belief that churches should be more open and inclusive.

UT: Did anything about this book change how you personally feel about your beliefs?

BF: No. It was totally a comfort-slash-echo chamber read for me. It did, however, help me make sense of something I've wondered about for a long time.

UT: What was that?

BF: Why some people are completely unable to see the human behind the sin - or what they believe to be sin. Pavlovitz talked about how there are two kinds of Christians. This is a simplification - you really need to read the book to fully understand what he has to say about it - but he says there are those who see sin and those who see suffering. Those who see, or are focused on, sin emphasize the need for people to be saved and to those folks saving souls is the end goal. Those who are focused on the suffering of others desire to stop their suffering. The easiest example is probably homosexuality. Those who see sin are entirely focused on what they view as a sinful life - being gay as a sin that one must repent of to be saved, in their view, and until that sin goes away they're not interested in allowing gay people into the church as members. Those who see suffering see the inequity in how gay people are treated and their end goal is to stop the suffering and welcome them into the church as they are.

UT: Does the author believe homosexuals are mistreated by Christians?

BF: Yes, he believes that the church mistreats a lot of people by denying them membership. His philosophy is let everyone in and welcome them equally. The whole "bigger table" concept boils down to, "How can you grow a church if your entire belief system is based on exclusion and judgment of others?" He also believes that doubt is just a part of faith and that in order to grow in one's faith, church members need to be able to express their concerns and talk through them.

UT: What did you dislike about A Bigger Table?

BF: I would have liked to see the referenced scriptures included in the book. Sometimes, the author simply mentioned a scripture without explaining why he was referring to it and he never actually quoted them. He just referenced them, which meant looking up a Bible verse or passage and then trying to fit it to what the author was saying. It's easy enough to include a Bible verse in the text of a book. It's also incredibly easy to look verses up online, these days, but doing so interrupts the flow of the reading and means it's not handy for underscoring if you want to relate the assertion of the author to the verse in one place. And, I would have liked to see more Biblical references in general. The book is part memoir but it's also about why the author believes what he believes and it all comes back to Jesus, what he knows of Jesus' life and why Jesus' actions should apply to how we should treat people, today. If you're going to lean heavily on Jesus, I think it's important to show his words and actions. Personal opinion. I also thought the theme was hammered home pretty hard.

UT: Anything else you'd like to say about the book?

BF: My copy of A Bigger Table is so heavily marked up with flags that it's hard to know what to share and what not to, but I just flipped open to a passage that I think is worth mentioning:

The only way the table can really expand is when we, like Christ, are willing to take our place across from those who appear to be or even desire to be our adversaries. Jesus' call to embrace love as theology isn't merely a surface, sugary platitude. It's the most difficult, radical, time-consuming work of reflecting Christ to the world around us. In the end, the thing that glorifies God isn't our belief system, but how we treat those who don't share that belief system. We can be people of deep conviction without needing to pick up a bullhorn. 

~p. 121

UT: The bottom line?

BF: Highly recommended. While I was reading, I occasionally bopped over to Goodreads to read a review or two because I was curious what other people thought of A Bigger Table and the reviews are all over the map. A frequent complaint was the lack of exegesis (which I had to look up - it means "critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture"). The author actually wrote about that. He said that exegesis was not his intent in this particular book; in other words, he wasn't there to talk about specific Bible verses and deconstruct them, but to describe general practices (my words) - taking what Jesus did and applying it to church practice.

And, specifically, he was referring to Jesus' willingness to eat with anyone. I found the book a little repetitive but definitely worthy of discussion. And, by "discussion" I mean calm discourse, which can be a tall order. Pavlovitz acknowledges the fact that people become very emotional when you challenge the way they've been doing things and sometimes will get so upset they never return to church. But, he would rather upset a few people and embrace those who are traditionally outcast -- and believes that's what Jesus would do -- than continue to drive people away from God by rejecting them for who they are. The subtitle of the book reflects the difficulty the author has experienced in trying to change minds and hearts, convincing people to open up the church to folks who have typically been rejected outright from participating.

UT: This interview turned out to be longer and wordier than you intended.

BF: Amazing how an imaginary table can read my mind. Yes, it did. My personal beliefs tend to lean toward "the greatest of these is love" -- that little sound bite in First Corinthians that is one of many verses I believe to be the foundation of Christianity - loving everyone, no matter what. So, A Bigger Table was seriously a comfort read, like Rachel Held Evans' Searching for Sunday. Thank you for interviewing me. Goodbye, imaginary table.

UT: [disappears in a large puff of smoke because it was, as it turns out, a very big fake table]

BF: Well, that was a dramatic exit. This is my third book review of the day and I'm going to try to squeeze in one more, if I can.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

There's an energy to these autumn nights that touches something primal inside of me. Something from long ago. From my childhood in western Iowa. I think of high school football games and the stadium lights blazing down on the players. I smell ripening apples, and the sour reek of beer from keg parties in the cornfields. I feel the wind in my face as I ride in the bed of an old pickup truck down a country road at night, dust swirling red in the taillights and the entire span of my life yawning out ahead of me. 

~pp. 11-12

This is the only thing I wrote in my Goodreads review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: "Could. Not. Put. Down."

And, really, that's probably all you need to know, but nah. I want to talk about this book. Dark Matter is about a scientist whose life has not turned out quite as he originally intended. Jason's never finished the project that he planned on making his life's work, instead choosing to marry, have a family, and teach. Although his life isn't perfect, he's happy. Then, one night, everything changes.

Knocked unconscious by a masked man and taken to a place that appears abandoned, Jason awakens in a hospital and finds that he hasn't returned to the same Chicago he left. Instead, he's ended up in a world in which he's unmarried, his son doesn't exist, and he's a successful scientist rather than a college physics professor. Pursued by people who claim to be his friends, Jason must figure out how his own invention -- the one he didn't get around to finishing or even figuring out -- functions. Only then will he have a shot at returning to the home and family he loves. Can Jason survive long enough to find his way home? Or will someone stop him before he runs out of chances?

Highly recommended - The science aspect of Dark Matter can be a little hard to follow, at times, and the story is definitely mind-bending as the Justin Cronin quote says on the cover, but I didn't have any difficulty following the logic of Crouch's world building. And, Dark Matter is by far the most gripping novel I've read in years. Jason and his family are likeable so I rooted for him to find his way home. I also thought the book was well written. Fast-paced books are often not crafted with as much care as one would hope, so I appreciated the competency and care of the author's writing.

The cover shown above is, I assume, the American version (or one of them). My copy was purchased from Book Depository and looks a bit different:

Dark Matter is my second read by Blake Crouch. I also read Pines and enjoyed it enough that I downloaded the following two books in the Wayward Pines series to my Kindle app (haven't read them, yet). Dark Matter is a stand-alone novel. I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to hang onto my copy to use as a slump breaker, in the future.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

I'm going to keep this review short because I think my reviews are creeping back up in length and I need to get a grip on the size of them. Feel free to let me know what you think about length. I'm naturally wordy but I can keep things shorter when I need to.

The Cottingley Secret is a combination historical-contemporary novel in which the historical setting is York, England during and a little after WWI and the contemporary setting is Ireland.

In 1917, Francis Griffiths moves from Cape Town, South Africa to Cottingley, England when her father is called up to serve in the war. She's unsure she'll like England but quickly takes to her cousin Elsie, who is 7 years older but lively and fun. When the two girls claim they've photographed fairies in the garden, they think their stunt is harmless. But, then more and more people become convinced that the fairies are real, forcing them into unwanted fame.

Olivia Kavanagh was not expecting to inherit her grandfather's bookstore in Ireland. She has a job in London and a wedding to plan. But, now she's not sure her husband-to-be is the right man for her and she needs to save the bookstore from debt. When she begins to read an unpublished manuscript written by Francis of Cottingley Fairies fame, she is reminded of her childhood and slowly discovers the connection between Francis and herself, helping her realize what's most important about her future.

Highly recommended - I loved this book. The Cottingley Secret is absolutely charming, with a little bit of a magical touch and characters I believed in. I only knew a little about the Cottingley Fairies - that they'd been declared fake by one of the girls after many, many years of denials (I remember hearing about it when the story that the photos were fake came out), but little else.

In the extra P.S. information at the back of the paperback edition, the author talks about how she befriended the daughter of Francis, who had privately published her mother's memoirs. Author Hazel Gaynor didn't mention whether she used the manuscript or rewrote Francis's thoughts in her own words but I can tell you I thought the excerpts from Francis's manuscript in the book, whether real or not, had the ring of truth. Francis' story always seemed completely genuine to me. The only problem I had with the book was minor - at the beginning of Olivia's story, she already was questioning her future marriage but she couldn't admit that to herself. I had a little trouble believing anyone would keep dragging her feet when she had this tremendous option to start a new life. But, after I closed the book I gave that some thought and realized that we're not always true to ourselves and change is hard. Maybe Olivia could have seemed a little less unsure at the beginning of the book and that would have made it utterly perfect, but how she felt at the beginning was not enough to mar one of the most delightful books I've read, this year.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Malarkey

The weather is tolerable! So, I went outside to pose this week's arrivals. The cats wanted to tag along but I wouldn't let them.

Recent arrivals:

  • Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green - purchased on a whim (and it's a signed copy - but it looks like poor John Green had been signing for hours)
  • A Christmas to Remember: Stories by L. Kleypas, L. Heath, M. Frampton, V. Lorret - from Avon, unsolicited but I'm so excited! I've been craving holiday stories. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra
  • The Underground River by Martha Conway

I got to p. 189 of The It Girls by Karen Harper before giving up, and I credit my friend Paula with the push I needed to DNF it. She's a fan of Karen Harper but didn't like The It Girls. I have The Royal Nanny by the same author on my stacks and Paula did like that one, so I decided that I'll definitely give Karen Harper a second chance. I moved on to The Underground River, which immediately sucked me in. And, the moment it arrived I read the picture book Inky's Great Escape. Husband was home, so I read it aloud to him. Humorously, he started out being annoyed with me for reading to him because he was trying to read something on his phone. But, he was listening and about halfway through, he put his phone down, turned his head, and smiled. He couldn't help himself. Inky's story (he's an octopus) is very entertaining!

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang

The Graveyard Book is a reread for F2F book club, which meets this week. It's not a favorite but I liked it enough to go ahead and buy a copy for rereading purposes and, lo and behold, I'm enjoying it much more the second time around. I think you could say I appreciated it without loving it the first time (because of the killings at the beginning). Quackery is nonfiction and it's entertaining but also gross because it's basically about the horrible things people did (poisoning themselves is a frequent thing) to try to cure their ills.

In other news:

I asked if anyone was interested in photoshopping a picture of my cats in my Facebook cat group and this is one of my favorite results (by Ash Thompson):

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Are you my sister?

Just have to make sure.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

In The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange, a grieving family moves from London to a new home near the sea in the year 1919 and then slowly falls apart. Henrietta (known as Henry) and her family are still mourning the loss of Henry's big brother Robert a year after their London home burned. Henry's mother is dangerously depressed, her father is emotionally distant and then physically distant after he goes to work in another country, and Henry and Nanny Jane have been the only mothers Henry's baby sister Piglet has ever known. Henry adores Piglet, has a wild imagination, and roams freely in the woods behind their new home, Hope House. In the woods, Henry is drawn to a sparkling fire tended by a woman she thinks is a witch, whom she comes to know as "Moth".

When the local doctor begins sedating Henry's mama round-the-clock and locking her room, Henry becomes concerned. Wouldn't Mama heal faster if she were allowed to breathe the fresh air and hear stories? After it becomes obvious that the doctor is pushing to send Henry's mama to a mental institution for horrifying "treatments" and suspects that Henry has inherited her mother's hysteria, Henry turns to the only person she knows who may be able to help. But, will they be able to rescue Mama in time?

Highly recommended but with a warning - The Secret of Nightingale Wood is a terrifying and beautiful story but not perhaps in the way you might expect. It has a ghost, a possible witch, a mysterious man with a limp. But, those are all explained in the end and really not so frightening as the idea of an entire family being torn apart, a mother potentially tortured (Henry overhears what the doctor's experimental treatment entails), and the possibility of Henry herself falling victim to a quack doctor.

Fortunately, the book ends happily. But, I would caution anyone who has a sensitive child to let them know about the happy ending in advance. The book is recommended for about ages 8 to 14. At the age of 8, I don't know if I could have handled this book; I'd likely have gotten nightmares, although I think if someone let me know it ended happily I'd have been fine. There's a lot to love - stunning, lyrical writing, so beautiful that you may find yourself rereading sentences for the joy of it, clear love between the family members - especially Henry's adoration of her little sister, Piglet (whose real name is Roberta), and the way everything comes together in the end when Henry decides she must act. I love Henry's imagination and resourcefulness, her love of books, and her determination. A beautiful read.

Note: I have never read anything from the Chicken House imprint by Scholastic, before. I received an ARC of The Secret of Nightingale Wood for review via Shelf Awareness and I was so impressed with the quality of writing that I'd like to read more of their titles, eventually. I'll have to see if my library carries any.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

"So we're in London," Gertie said, looking around at the men in dark suits and women in tall feathery hats. "Have you been here? Where is it?" 
"It's in far western Europe, capital city of an island that's known for bad weather, horrible food, and people who are exceedingly polite--when they're not trying to invade your country." 
~p. 145

***This review may contain some spoilers. Please skip down to the rating if you're concerned!!***

I've read several middle readers, lately, and I have to tell you I'm impressed with the quality of the reading material. Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy is the most adventurous of the books I've read, lately, and if you've hung around my blog for any length of time, you know I love a good adventure. It's also a little bonkers - such an imaginative world!

Gertie Milk doesn't know where she is or where she came from. She doesn't even know her own name until she sees it embroidered on the gown she's wearing. All she knows is that she's on a beach and needs to get to high ground before the ocean swallows her. It's a challenge climbing to the top of the island she's on, but once she gets there she is taken in by a man named Kolt, who lives in a very strange house that is both filled with and surrounded by things that have been lost. He is a Keeper of Lost Things and the Keeper's job is to care for these lost items and return them when needed, as directed by a large, dusty, magical book. He is the last of the Keepers but he's not sure why, although the Keepers have an enemy called the Losers.

When Gertie discovers a key in her pocket, Kolt tells her she is a Keeper, as well. To return items, she and Kolt will travel through time and face all sorts of challenges, meet a new friend called Robot Rabbit Boy, and glimpse history. But, the Losers are out to stop the Keepers from doing their job, forever. And, Gertie will be torn when she finds out the truth about her past.

Highly recommended - What a crazy and fun adventure! As I was reading Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things, I kept thinking to myself, "I would have loved this as a child and would have read it over and over again." As an adult, I appreciated learning a little history that I was unfamiliar with (I'd never heard of Mercedes Gleitze, who swam across the English Channel). And, I love a book with a young heroine. Adventurous children's books tend to skew male in the hero role; the more female protagonists making decisions, the better. I also loved the fact that Gertie is both in charge and emotional, brave but afraid, smart but flawed. Not everything is wrapped up but I don't recall it being such a cliffhanger that it put me off. Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things is the first in a series and I'm looking forward to the next book.

Cover thoughts: I love the cover of Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things! It not only contains elements of many of the interesting things about the book (so the cover image is relevant to the content), it's gorgeous and eye-catching and even looks a little three-dimensional from certain angles. Very 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - purchased for F2F discussion
  • The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange - from Chicken House (a Scholastic imprint) for review
  • The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtromer - purchased
  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich - from Harper for review
  • We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess and Claudia Ranucci,
  • The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas by Marie Tibi and Ockto Lambert, and 
  • Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White - all from Sterling Children's Books for review

Apologies for the poor photo quality. I should have checked the photo for clarity before I moved the books after snapping a picture.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess and Claudia Ranucci
  • The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas by Marie Tibi and Ockto Lambert
  • Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White
  • Blackout by Marc Elsberg
  • The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

This was a "Read things as they walk in the door" type of week, with the exception of Blackout - which I bought a few months ago. I think I've mentioned the fact that I always read the children's picture books at least twice (once when they arrive and then again before I review them, if not more), so that's nothing new. But, The Secret of Nightingale Wood is elementary to middle grade and I read it simply because it kept calling to me.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

I read 47 pages of The It Girls by Karen Harper, last night, and I was underwhelmed. But, I'm going to give it another 50 pages. I may go ahead and finish it if I'm not completely bored by it. It's mostly the author trying to force her research into the dialogue that's bothering me. It makes the dialogue sound very unrealistic . There's also a bit of jerkiness as the author keeps leaping forward in time by years. I'm enjoying learning a bit about the island of Jersey's history but I am kind of stunned that such an experienced, many-times published author was unable to leave backstory in the background, where it belongs.

I tried to restart Spies in the Family after finishing The Secret of Nightingale Wood, last night, and utterly failed. It's an easy read so clearly I'm just not in the mood for it. I will probably remove it from my current reads and start a different nonfiction title, but I hope to get back to Spies in the Family soon because I've promised to pass it on to Eldest when I finish.

In other news:

Kiddo's fiancee has a subscription to Netflix (we do not) and was here, this weekend, so I got to see the first episode of Season 1 of Stranger Things. I get it, now, why everyone is so obsessed with it. When that episode ended, it was midnight and I was ready to sleep but I was tempted to watch a second episode. I knew it would lead to binge-watching all night, so I didn't. But, I definitely get it. Hopefully, someday I'll get to watch the entire series.

What's up in your world? Read anything fabulous?

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Fiona Friday

Fiona was looking at me while I was singing. She was unimpressed.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

I've recently read two thrillers because I've been in a mood for fast-paced reading and neither disappointed, although Blackout is good but it also is the lesser of the two.

Blackout is a realistic novel about what might happen if the European electrical grid were taken down by saboteurs. Some of the details can be a bit of a yawn but the book is fast-paced and often very exciting.

Lights start going out across Europe. Piero Manzano, a former hacker, is in an automobile accident - one of many that happen across Europe when the traffic lights go out. After attempts to restart the power stations end up bringing up error messages, almost all of Europe is cast into darkness for an extended period. The longer the power is out, the worse things grow. If the power isn't restarted within a certain amount of time, nuclear plants can go into meltdown. Nobody can pump gas so food, medicine, fuel, and other supplies quickly run out, leading to deaths by starvation, freezing, illness, and fire. What can be done?

Manzano is the hero of the book. Shortly after the power goes out and he's injured, he has an idea. He and an elderly neighbor decide to try to contact authorities to explain what he thinks has happened. Meanwhile, you also occasionally get a brief, vague glimpse into the world of the terrorists and the reason for their plan (but only a few paragraphs at a time - Elsberg is quite the tease). As Manzano tries to help uncover the problem and come up with a solution, he also becomes a suspect and befriends a young CNN reporter who just wants a chance to break a big news story.

The author tried to stick as close to reality as possible without providing a road map for potential terrorists as this is a realistic danger, both in Europe and the United States. He guessed at what would happen with the population (with the help of at least one actual study on the possible outcome). If anything, I'd say he was a bit too kind at the outset. Having lived through Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, I can tell you that it doesn't take long at all for people to begin to panic. Fights broke out at the local gas stations in my area (well inland) within days of the hurricane's landfall as people tried to hoard gas for generators and vehicles. The grocery stores only let in a handful of people at a time and wrote transactions down by hand. All perishables were ruined. It took slightly longer for people to become desperate and dangerous in Blackout. But, the author did a great job of describing what happens without power and I found the book a pretty quick and, at times, exciting read.

Recommended - Solid, realistic storyline with plenty of exciting action. While not a favorite thriller, Blackout is, in fact, pretty realistic. And, reality involves a lot of people gathering, having meetings, and getting bogged down in expectations while a few people who are able to think outside the box end up coming up with the answers. In this case, you have a heroic outside-the-box thinker in Manzano, undoubtedly a deliberate rogue type because he needs to be an anti-hero so that he will easily fall suspect. Sometimes that worked for me and sometimes I thought it was just a useful tool that didn't quite fit. At any rate, I found the book pretty gripping. There is a large cast and I had a little difficulty keeping some of the characters distinguished from each other in my mind, at first, but eventually they crystallized a bit and I was able to just enjoy the storyline, even though I didn't always entirely understand the IT details.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell

Alan Cole is a "sapling" (7th grader) at Evergreen Middle School. He has just recently come to the conclusion that he's gay and he has a terrible crush; he stutters and blushes whenever he talks to the boy he likes. Alan's brother likes to beat on him and periodically puts him through a bunch of ridiculous tests, making him complete a list of challenges. Alan never wins and he always loses something in the process. He's getting pretty fed up. And, now the punishment for not completing an almost impossible set of tasks is . . . you guessed it . . . giving away his secret about being gay. Alan knows he has to complete the set of challenges, but they are incredibly difficult: learn to swim (in just over a week), get his first kiss, stand up to his father, figure out how to retrieve piece of paper from an impossible place.

An introvert who has given up on friendship because his brother has always worked hard to sabotage his friendships in the past, Alan sits with two boys at the "Unstable Table" in the lunchroom. When they eventually find out what's happening, they offer to help Alan. Alan is hesitant to call the other two boys "friends" because of past ruined friendships, but they're determined and Alan has made up his mind that he's not going to let his brother beat him. He tells himself repeatedly that he's not a coward. This is one of the things I absolutely love about Alan Cole is Not a Coward - the use of repetitive positive self-talk to help Alan deal with his challenges at home and at school, including an extremely dysfunctional family. The family scenes portray chilling emotional abuse. You can practically hear the clock ticking during the painful meal scenes.

Near the end of the book, there is a dark moment when it appears his brother has done the same kind of damage to Alan's new friendships as he's done in the past. But, because the boys from the Unstable Table really are true friends, they're willing to take him at his word.

Highly recommended - This recently-released middle-grade gem is by far one of my favorite books of the summer if not the entire year. I loved absolutely everything about Alan Cole is Not a Coward, the hilarious, touching, and surprising story of a boy who learns to face fears and challenges with the use of positive thinking, discovers the true meaning of friendship, and unravels the source of his family's dysfunction. I just can't say enough good things about this book. It's laugh-out-loud funny, suitably complex, meaningful, and inspiring and Alan is a terrific kid; you can't help but love him. Alan Cole is Not a Coward is Eric Bell's first novel and I can't wait to see what he comes up with, next.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Malarkey

After getting no books in the mail at all, last week, this week was especially fun. Four books! And, some goodies! Cool.

Recent arrivals: Top to bottom (from above photo) and then one below:

  • Saving Tarboo Creek by Scott Freeman, with illustrations by Susan Leopold Freeman - from Timber Press for review (and totally up my alley!)
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - Movie tie-in version from William Morrow for review
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix from Harper for review

  • Force of Nature by Jane Harper - from Flatiron Books for review, and this one came packed inside a drawstring bag with a flashlight, some trail mix, and a water bottle. How fun is that?! I very seldom get any extra promotional items with books, so it felt like opening a birthday gift. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories 
  • Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry
  • Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by L. Wallmark and K. Wu
  • The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

This past week was a fun reading week. I finally finished The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories, a book of prize-winning stories by African writers. Bonaparte Falls Apart just happened to arrive in the midst of Children's Week, so I read and reviewed it immediately. And, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is the book I've been walking past for months, even though it was sitting in plain sight on our piano bench. The Cottingley Secret took me several days to finish, even though it flows well and is easy to read at pace, because I kept getting started with my reading around the time I should have been turning out the light. I need to get un-addicted to Twitter.

I loved everything. And, of course, I got to reread all the books I reviewed, last week, because I always read the children's picture books at least two times before reviewing.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

I started a book called Blackout by Mark Elsberg, last night, after finishing The Cottingley Secret. I plan to restart Spies in the Family, though, tonight. If I can get Spies in the Family finished quickly, I'm going to send it to my son via Husband Courier. If not, I'll just have to mail it, later on.

In other news:

Huh. Can't think of any other news. The weather's nice. *shrugs*

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fiona Friday - Squirrel!

They were seriously watching a squirrel video together!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Rufus Blasts Off! by Kim T. Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev

Rufus is a very adventurous pig. He's gone to school and he's sailed with pirates. He has a treasure chest full of his very favorite treasure: books! And, now the pirates want more stories. Rufus has an idea. He'll go to space! Surely there will be plenty of stories to tell about space. He packs up and rows away from the pirate ship, waving goodbye to his pirate friends, then trudges toward the space center on shore.

A guard takes Rufus up in an elevator, where a rocket ship is waiting to take off for Mars. But, the commander says pigs are not allowed in space and lists all kinds of silly reason why pigs can't go to space:

"Because pigs draw smiley faces on the portholes," said Commander Luna. 
"They do loop-the-loops in the crew cabin."
"They hog the juice packets."
"And they always want to push the buttons."

Rufus is disappointed but not discouraged. He knows what he needs. A space suit! He goes out and buys a space suit (and even poses for a selfie with a tourist when he puts it on). But, Commander Luna is unimpressed. Again, she tells him he doesn't have the "right stuff" and reminds him that pigs are nuisances with a second list of silly things that pigs do.

Rufus has a third idea. He makes a flag that says, "I love reading!" and returns to the rocket ship. Commander Luna says it's no use. The mission has been scrubbed because one of the passengers was going to read from Mars but she has a cold. "I can read!" Rufus says. The commander realizes Rufus has the right stuff, after all.

The spaceship takes off, loads up supplies at the space station, and they set off on a long journey. It takes months. Rufus keeps asking, "Are we there yet?" and then finally settles down for a long nap. Eventually, they arrive. Rufus does loop-the-loops from the space ship to the planet. He goes six-wheeling. He has a great time on Mars. And, then he reads and the reading is broadcast on Earth, where children and pirates eagerly watch. Because it's good to share books with friends and Rufus loves reading most of all.

Recommended - When I first read Rufus Blasts Off! I admit I was a little disappointed. The story was, I thought, a bit wobbly. But, I loved Rufus's determination and love of reading. The second time I read it, I wondered what I was thinking the first time. I absolutely loved it. Maybe I had a preconceived notion of what a pig in space book should be like; I always have my own stories brewing in my head, after all, and it's been 4 years since I read Rufus Goes to School.

Rufus Blasts Off! is the third Rufus book. I actually missed the one with the pirates, although I remember I loved Rufus Goes to School (link to my review, at left) and, now that I've looked at my review, I see the listing of things pigs do that are a nuisance is a hallmark of this series. Well, I think it's adorable. I've noticed recently that I've read and reviewed quite a few books illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev and always appreciate his illustrations. The same is true of this latest Rufus book. Rufus is adorable. As in the first book, I noticed the artist does a great job of portraying action (several images of Rufus in one illustration show him doing loop-the-loops, for example). While I haven't read the second book in the series, I imagine it's much the same and youngsters will probably especially appreciate owning all three so they can read about all the ridiculous barriers that are placed in front of innocent piglets and how determination gets Rufus past them. Because that's what they're really about: determination and love of reading.

This is my last picture book for Children's Week. Wow, did I have a stack! I have two middle readers that I'll save for next week. Next up will be a Fiona Friday photo, in a couple hours. Hope everyone enjoyed the children's book reviews. I'll have links to all of them in my Monday Malarkey post, for convenience. Happy Weekend!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone and George Ermos

In a magical kingdom far to the east,lived a very small knight and a very large beast.
One day while collecting fresh herbs in a glen,the young knight discovered a well-hidden den.

So begins Dough Knights and Dragons. You can imagine what lives in that "well-hidden den," right? Of course. A dragon. But, before he meets the dragon, the young knight discovers a well-stocked kitchen with ingredients that are new to him and cooks up a pot of soup, just for fun. Then, out comes the dragon. Will he eat the boy?

Well, no, because the dragon really likes the soup and he just happens to enjoy cooking as much as the young knight does. So, they hang out in the kitchen together and discover they have a shared passion for baking. They spend some time baking marvelous treats before remembering that they soon will have to look at each other as enemies, again.

Each year, knights and dragons fight each other in front of their two kings and the kingdoms. A young knight is expected to prove himself by killing a dragon with his sword, while a young dragon must show his courage by roasting and eating his competitor, a young knight. And, this year, it's their turn.

They've just discovered how to make doughnuts by dropping dough in a vat of oil heated by the dragon's flame when the knight and dragon come up with a scathingly brilliant idea. The rules only say a knight must stab a dragon and a dragon must shoot cook and eat a knight. They don't say the knights and dragons have to be real.

In preparation for the annual event, the young knight and dragon (who are unnamed) make dragons and knights out of dough. And, in the ring, when they face each other the dragon pulls out a vat of oil, the boy takes the dough shapes off his shield, and they make dough knights and dragons. After doing what they believe is required of them, the young knight stabs his remaining doughnut dragons and offers them to the king and the dragon offers the knights he's created with his flames.

At first, the dragon and human kings are shocked. But, then they eat the doughnuts and they're so good that the two kings end up finishing all of the doughnuts off. From now on, the competition will be a bake-off. In my words. They don't actually refer to it as a bake-off.

Highly recommended - While I would have preferred this particular story was told in prose rather than rhyme, it really didn't matter. I love the story, the clever plan two new friends come up with to avoid having to try to kill each other, and the idea that friendship and warmth are formed in a kitchen. And, I do love the illustrations. I think one of the features of children's picture books that always draws me back is the colorful illustrations. I just love them - some better than others, of course. In Dough Knights and Dragons, I could almost visualize myself walking right into that den and cooking along with them. It looked very welcoming and I loved the chosen colors and expressiveness of all the characters.

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