Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (Agatha Raisin #2) by M.C. Beaton

Former London PR agent, Agatha Raisin still hasn’t adjusted to village life, where the only prospect for a hot evening out is a meeting of the Ladies Society.

And since her overtures toward James Lacey, the retired military man next door, have failed, Agatha jumps at the chance to visit the new vet, who is single and good-looking. Although Agatha’s cat hasn’t a thing wrong with him, Hodge endures having a thermometer shoved up his bum in the name of romance.

Unfortunately his sacrifice is all for naught when the vet is soon found dead next to a high-strung horse. The police call the vet’s demise a freak accident, but Agatha convinces the hard-to-get James Lacey, who is also bored in the Cotswolds, that playing amateur detective might be fun.

Unfortunately, just as curiosity killed the cat, Agatha’s inept snooping is soon a motivation for murder.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She’s ornery, dismissive, curious. I’m reading them all out of order depending on what is available from my library and loving every bit.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Diana Bishop, who was great, though I do love the extra edge of snarkiness that Penelope Keith brings out in the character to match.

I keep coming back to this series because they are such great in-between, hearty, make me laugh books with lightened life lessons of daily life to also satisfy those aspects when choosing a book worthwhile.

I did think it got a bit complicated in the manner of which a character was taken out, became quite over-layered in attempt to maintain the mystery, but all in all I enjoyed it and will keep on in the series.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This is how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. 

Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a riveting story in his own words: how, at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such an excellent book. I’d recommend this to anyone, anyone looking for gaining an outlook of life from another whether similar circumstances or different from your own, those seeking out humanitarian endeavors, anyone who is looking for a bit of history into the country of Sierra Leone from personal experience, curiosity of historical events during the 1990s, or anyone looking for insightful inspiration or meaning for their lives.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by the author, which I’d highly recommend.

This book was unique in that it was a beautiful story, beautifully written, and listening to the author narrate it really put a complete idea and significance in my head. Not many memoirs in my experience can do all 3 from the same person and I think this book deserves a bit of celebration for that.

Everything from survival to the most rudimentary way of living to joy in abundance and renewed zest for life. In its simplest form it tells an immigration story and I really liked the way he told his story, humbling and honest, but it was even deeper than that because it encompassed a turning point in human history, one of triumph beginning on a personal level, while also recognizing loss, separation, longing, and coming to terms with the past and how hardship in the most crude way tells an even more powerful story because he lived to tell about it in a story all his own without sugar coating or watering down the distress he experienced and paths he followed.

It’s a heavy read with much tragedy and trauma, but I cherished hearing all about his experiences because it depicted an uncomfortable reality, savagery, suffering, and all the peaks in between.

I especially enjoyed references to popular rap music at the time, Naughty by Nature, OPP, LL Cool J. The writing was seamless in the story, giving personal insight, yet plenty of context for anyone who may not relate or understand the situations, written from a place of genuine experience and life observations, all with an outlook toward hope, positivity, and meaning.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (Agatha Raisin #4) by M.C. Beaton

After six months in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswold village-and her dashing neighbor, James Lacey. Well, sort of. James might not be so interested in Agatha. But soon enough, Agatha becomes consumed by her other passion: crime solving.

A woman has been found dead in a lonely field nearby. Her name is Jessica Tartinck, a hiker who infuriated wealthy landowners by insisting on her hiking club’s right to trek across their properties.

Now it’s up to Agatha, with James’ help, to launch an investigation. Together, they will follow no shortage of leads-many of Jessica’s fellow Dembley walkers seem all too willing and able to commit murder. But the trail of a killer is as easy to lose as your heart-and your life. So Agatha and James had better watch their every step.

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m really loving this series more and more.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Penelope Keith, who was amazing. She brought to life the saucy, almost snarky, yet fun and lively aspect to Agatha’s personality.

And in this book I learned a lot more of Agatha’s personality. I loved the introspection, the bluntness. These books are becoming my go-to in-betweens to lighten up my reading experience and make me laugh. This was just hilarious.

The writing style itself matches the scene and characters. The writing is clear, direct, and it makes for an easy jump back into the story if your mind just so happens to wander away.

I loved the variation in the expression of emotion.

I felt this one to be more of the resolution I’ve wanted from the series. Though it was a jump around in series for me, perhaps realizing it probably spoiled the progression in the main character relationships, I don’t mind because I go along based on what is available at my library and I’m caring enough about the characters to go wherever they want to take me and this one was just fun.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Historical Fiction

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevokably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie.

It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country drifting dangerously toward unrest.

Lush, lyrical, and unnerving, The God of Small Things is an award-winning landmark that started for its author an esteemed career of fiction and political commentary that continues unabated.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was interesting in concept and story.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Sneha Mathan, who spoke soft and smooth, fitting for the story and it was very relaxing to listen to.

I appreciated the observations and personal aspects. I thought I was going to like it more thank I did. There was an abundance of observations and because of the writing style, being more long-winded and overly descriptive for me, it didn’t really move along like I would typically prefer. It was poetic which was beautiful, but too many adjectives for my taste made it difficult for me to develop my own immersion into the story.

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Categories
Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger

From the authors of the  New York Times  bestseller  George Washington’s Secret Six , the little-known story of Thomas Jefferson’s battle to defend America against Islamic pirates. 

Only weeks after President Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, he decided to confront the Tripoli pirates who had been kidnapping American ships and sailors, among other outrageous acts. Though inclined toward diplomacy, Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli and protect American shipping, and then escalated to all-out war against the Barbary states. 
 
The tiny American flotilla—with three frigates representing half of the U.S. Navy’s top-of-the-line ships—had some success in blockading the Barbary coast. But that success came to an end when the USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. Kilmeade and Yaeger recount the dramatic story of a young American sailor, Stephen Decatur, who snuck into the harbor, boarded the Philadelphia, and set her on fire before escaping amid a torrent of enemy gunfire.
 
Another amazing story is that of William Eaton’s daring attack on the port city of Derna. He led a detachment of Marines on a 500-mile trek across the desert to surprise the port. His strategy worked, and an American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil for the first time.  
 
Few remember Decatur and Eaton today, but their legacy inspired the opening of the Marine Corps Hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea.”

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates tells a dramatic story of bravery, diplomacy, and battle on the high seas, and honors some of America’s forgotten heroes.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning anything about pirates, the history of the U.S. Navy, as well as the life of Thomas Jefferson and other key players during the domination of the Ottoman Regencies.

I listened via audiobook by Brian Kilmeade which was great, read like an interesting news story.

It really opened my eyes to many of the things taken for granted through transatlantic commerce as well as oversight of the seas without a navy, the effect on insurance, and trade diplomacy. As well as Barbary Wars situation with its significance to end piracy within the North African coastal regions. I really liked hearing about the USS Washington.

I absolutely loved the description of the floating zoo, carrying not only the ambassador but captives and gift of 4 horses, 25 cattle, 150 sheep, 4 lions, 4 tigers, 12 parrots, 4 antelopes, on top of pointing the ship East in observance of Mecca 5 times daily sailing in storms and all.

This book really made the history come to life.

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Categories
Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a deep, honest, and insightful book about schizophrenia and the impact on a specific family and society as a whole.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Sean Pratt, who paced the story well, spoke clearly and all-around easy to listen to.

It took a comprehensive look into the history, perceptions of the condition from family members, the community, and fragmentation of the diagnosis, treatment, impact on family, and social aspects of the time and moving forward. It told the story from the mindset of how it things were in reality and were perceived at the time.

I thought it as great in how it integrated personal story with the more clinical aspects. It didn’t shy away from the painful, difficult, and emotional hardships and paid tribute to those involved with great sensitivity given their experiences.

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Featured Inspiration Photography Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂

Welcome Autumn! What to Look Forward to This Season

Chicago in the Fall

Hello Fall!

The weather is turning, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte came out yesterday, decorations on my shelves, and I’m in the mood to bake. We’re coming upon my favorite season.

Technically the first day of Autumn doesn’t start until Tuesday, September 22, but I like to start celebrating the day the pumpkin spice latte comes out. I tried the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew yesterday and it was so good!

I feel so blessed to have been able to experience 3 seasons of autumn this past year between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

As we embark again on the beautiful season, here’s some incredible things to anticipate in the next few months.

Change in Landscape

I love the autumn landscape.

Desert grasses and tree foliage of sage brush, mesquites, palo verdes, or broad leaf deciduous maple, oaks, and aspen. Deeper greens, yellows, reds, and oranges.

I embraced the contrast of this shot where warm meets cool.

Arizona Desert
Cornfields of Nebraska
Autumn Leaves in Arizona
Mushrooms of North Carolina
Mushrooms of Malawi, Africa

Creatures Calling a New Home

Pollinators such as bees start to huddle in their hives, while butterflies migrate south.

Bee of the Midwest
Butterly of the Midwest
Butterfly Dance

Baked Goods

Fall baking is the best. Cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg. Incorporating seasonal fruits as they ripen, varieties like peaches followed apples, cranberry, and orange.

A Crumb Topped Muffin I Made (recipe coming soon)
Delicious Breads of Jordan

Scents of Autumn

Though the following scent of has notes of a bright and tangy summer, the sweet and sour of the classic drink, I’m still using it for the tail of summer as we transition into colder temperatures and for those days when gloomy weather becomes too much.

Philosophy’s Señorita Margarita Shampoo, Shower Gel, and Bubble Bath

Opening my candle drawer and seeing all the goodies to choose from brings me so much joy.

The glow through the glass, the scent of sugar cookies, juniper, berries, apples, and sandalwood.

Perfumes go from light, crisp, floral scents to deep notes of amber that still have a mild citrusy characteristic.

One of my favorites below (from a lifetime collection of samples) has key notes of Italian bergamot, orange flower, lavender.

Collection of Perfume Samples

Other Edible Treats

Layering plain yogurt, honey, seasonal fruits, topped with crunchy oats and shredded coconut makes for a delicious breakfast or a quick snack. I used grapefruit and huckleberries most recently.

It’s pineapple season on the islands and if you don’t have access to a fresh one, right now Maui Gold Pineapple is shipping throughout the U.S. (except Alaska).

2-day delivery straight from the gorgeous pineapple plantation.

Huckleberry and Grapefruit Yogurt Parfait
Maui Gold Pineapple Plantation

Sounds of Autumn

Imagine relaxing, ASMR, sounds of rain as you sip coffee in a coffee shop, nature sounds, and rustling leaves.

Check out the YouTube Channel Autumn Cozy for a serene, happy, and rich experience while watching an animated fall scene.

Upcoming Book Releases

There are so many exciting publications coming out.

I like to read mysteries, thrillers, and a bit of horror during this time of year.

One I’m really looking forward to is called The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen. Such a beautiful cover!

The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen

Movie Releases

I can’t wait to see Bill & Ted Face the Music. It’s available on demand and showing in theatres this Friday, August 28.

Bill & Ted Face the Music (promo website photo)

What are you looking forward to this season?

I hope you enjoyed my photos along with the visual of amazing things that appeal to all the senses.

Let me know about your favorites and if you participate in the Jibber Jabber with Sue word prompt challenge “picture” by tagging me or linking your posts in the comments below!

Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Fiction

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

See it on Goodreads

Check it out on Amazon

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grab a coffee, grab a snack, this is going to be a long one…

Organized by the story, descriptions, and characters.

And some photo/video footage of a garden experience that I was reminded of while reading the book.

The story.

Addressed deeper perspective and problems associated with combat/war, specific ones at that, in a thoughtful way as an overarching theme built within a fantasy genre, namely a school of magic, which interestingly enough was likely not completely separate from certain cultural aspects that were being portrayed. I loved that this story was unique to me in this sense and wasn’t just an academic info dump, nor too fantastical to ignore historical realities.

The beginning of the story set the geographical and political scene clearly which was great since there were so many places, tribes, characters, and character roles to keep track of. Unfortunately there were many more to come and they became less integrated into the climax and ending. Perhaps they will all come back later in the series.

It’s a serious book with serious subtopics of historical significance. Initially I wasn’t sure about using such dark events in this one. It crossed the line of to inform vs entertain by merging nonfiction with high-fantasy realm, yet made a point of either coping/escapism as a result, depiction of other social/cultural traditions, or perhaps to bring a younger reader into such subject matter through genre appeal, of which I had to really think about. In context. I didn’t know enough of the history coming into it to probably fully appreciate it nor am I into fantasy enough to fully embrace these types of tropes.

Sometimes it was more difficult to take such seriousness with the parts of juvenile insults, occasional comedic tone, and the jarring overuse of more modern-day swearing, but maybe I am just not the main target demographic for this book.

The second half focused more on real time war details, employing previously learned war training tactics, which were interesting from a martial arts perspective and I appreciated the action. The exuberant amount of power struggles with “just in time rescuing” droned on a bit and became too repetitive for my taste.

I really liked the side stories that took time to explain the backstory, the puppet show, the parade. Very well done, I like to see clever, yet subtle integrations like this.

There was a lot to unpack in the this book. Drug users, drug dealers, supply and demand with war trauma and tactics over the use of it, military school and martial arts, sterilization procedures, losing yourself in war, role confusion, love, loyalty to the party, loyalty to the system, loyalty to roots, culture, yourself. Being called to action at a moment’s notice, feeling ill-prepared, violence, savagery, greed, all of it, changing you as a person. However it was hard to see that change in the characters. It was something I expected. I wanted to see growth, regression, change, anything.

Descriptions.

I liked the author’s uncomplicated descriptions. And I liked how she transitioned the turning of events, especially those involving combat. She had a knack for scene changes and carrying action scenes forward.

The characters.

Navigating through a world of fragmented social discord, postwar oppression, and everywhere rumors and indoctrination. I would have liked the characters to have been a little more connected with their own emotions and displayed in various ways, adding value to their actions, their rationales, and ultimately show enough self-awareness to understand others. To empathize, see beyond, the big picture, the future, the outcome as well as the nuances and details to give them purpose, something worth fighting for whether it was an internal or external motivator. Even if it was a mechanical force. Anything to shape their journey and pave the way for a more dynamic ending or to add dimension to their existence in a more personal way.

I had major issues with the characters, particularly the main one. I would have liked to have seen more character consistency. Her inconsistent characterization disrupted to the flow.

I liked how the author set the tone for the main character. Depicting attributes such as strength, stubbornness, yet also not without feeling, her plunging into despair, feeling alone, like a foreigner. Building her up as a survivor with capacity yet unknown to the character and as a reader.

However, I had a hard time understanding her. She was inconsistent, wavering, wishy-washy. She was unearthed yet defaulted to unmotivated and lacking charisma. I never found what made the main protagonist happy. Never found what made her tick. It was frustrating. Characters living (or dying) through this type of subject matter are really important for me. This character, however, ruined it for me.

There were questions of source and determination, whether training versus heritage, but nothing innate about her in either case was convincing.

She had a lot of character flaws, sure, ones that make her unlikeable to readers of her story and less favorable among her instructors and peers in the story. She was stubborn, struggling her way through life, navigating at will. Her personality, an off-putting, know-it-all novice that stemmed from humble, yet forgotten roots, not very self-aware.

It just didn’t make sense how she studied and trained so much but misunderstood the very foundation, origin, and fundamentals, leading the narration to be more of a telling as Rin went along than solidarity in showing of character. Overall it was a bit of a disconnect, making it difficult for me to get into her head. She was supposed to be gifted but wasn’t consistently depicted as either book or street smart so I wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be or who she was supposed to become in the process. Then the end came and I felt like I knew nothing about her as a person.

She embraced certain concepts but then had total disregard for others, trained by an absolute scholar yet had little respect for the art. She vacillated between working hard and having natural abilities, but by the end I wasn’t sure which given or earned characteristics she held or whether it was a brain, heart, or courage she was supposed to be seeking out. As the book went on, her character identity became increasingly difficult to pinpoint.

A risk-taking, insecure female protagonist, who sought out a path in life that she later found out was perhaps built on belonging, the accolades, general curiosity, determination, impulsiveness, and a hunger for technique still without the actual discipline, which to me, not completely knowing undermined everything that built her up to be.

She was impatient, overly complex, difficult, manipulative, and had this antagonistic personality you just want to hate, yet have hope for when you realize you still have half a book to read. So you keep reading. But time and time again, she was dismissive of people who’ve helped her, naive and green, yet headstrong without clear direction or purpose. She became an unloveable underdog with unreliability in both narration and deepest depiction of character. She was all confusion and incredibly contradictory.

And ugh, a phrase so overused in writing “Rin let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.”

And then we have Nezha, who was just snide, expectant of better luxuries, then slated as having snobby pretentiousness smoothed out by the war just a few paragraphs later, only to flip-flop as well, picking up pretentiousness again, and again it was confusing to not know if there would be any turning point or self-recognition, life decision, some introspection or event that would be a guide to character enrichment and ultimately frame the plot, making it not only a great story, but a solid, resourceful, and believable one.

And then there’s Atlan. I’ll stop my thoughts on other characters here though.

All in all I was ready for this book to be over. Yet in its uniqueness I also appreciated it for what it was.

My biggest issue was with the main character who was the deal-breaker. Heartless and less justifiably so, especially for a plot that was built upon actual crimes against humanity. Perhaps it was just not the style I wanted to feed my mind with, with such wavering characters. I do recognize that I’m more of a nonfiction reader when it comes to stories like this. Maybe first person narration would have helped me embody more of what she embodied in seeking clear insight into her value as the main character. I don’t know.

I haven’t decided if or when I will be reading the next in series, but I’ll be curious to pick up more from this author outside of this particular story because the other writing aspects are ones I would like to look forward to.

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Glad to see you’ve made it this far!

I had some flashbacks as I read a few passages and thought I’d share!
Ant in my garden

I’ve come into contact with several kinds of ants in my life, from the docile sugar ants to fire ants to the fuzzy red velvet ant, even the ferocious Dorylus, also known as driver ants, safari ants, or siafu.

The ones that marched into my garden, taking over without warning are coming up as Megaponera annals or pondering ants. They are similar to carpenter ants.

Ant wandering in my backyard

They are raiders, filing in by the 100s, feasting on termites, carrying larvae.

They are bold and aggressive, following me around as I pulled weeds.

And they bite. Really hard!

Once they take hold they DO NOT let go.

She thought of the warrior Bodhidharma, meditating for years while listening to the ants scream. She suspected that the ants wouldn’t be the only ones screaming when she was done.

Hissing of ants in my backyard

They poured through like a swarm of ants, like a cloud of hornets; unstoppable and infinite, overwhelming in number.

Mass migration of ants in my backyard

Have you read this one, what did you think?

Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Thriller

The Coast-to-Coast Murders by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

Michael and Megan Fitzgerald are siblings who share a terrifying past.

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Both adopted, and now grown — Michael is a long-haul truck driver, Megan a college student majoring in psychology — they trust each other before anyone else. They’ve had to.

In Los Angeles, Detective Garrett Hobbs and FBI Agent Jessica Gimble have joined forces to work a murder that seems like a dead cinch. Their chief suspect is quickly identified and apprehended –but then there’s another killing just like the one they’ve been investigating. And another.

And not just in Los Angeles — the spree spreads across the country. The Fitzgerald family comes to the investigators’ attention, but Dobbs and Gimble are at a loss — if one of the four is involved, which Fitzgerald might it be?

From coastal California to upstate New York, Dobbs and Gimble race against time and across state lines to stop an ingenious and deeply deranged killer — one whose dark and twisted appetites put them outside the range of logic or experience.

The Coast-to-Coast Murders by James Patterson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Little, Brown and Company for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Wow the suspense!

This was an interesting read for me because having read books from both authors, (90s Patterson and a few from the Michael Bennett series, Barker, from the latest She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be and Dracul), I had certain expectations and was not sure how a blend of creative elements and the diversity among the two would play out.



I was excited and I also had questions. Was this going to be a cross-over for new audiences or existing readership or appeal to both? Would it be fresh or familiar and would it even matter? Would I be experiencing reader confusion if there was a certain continuity I was looking for in the writing and storyline? Who contributed what as far as idea, vision, and implementation? Were there creative differences and how did those get worked out? I wanted to know. I don’t know why I wanted to know these things, I just did.

So I’ll just say when I was reading, there were certain recognizable traits I identified and the collaboration was executed fabulously.

The storyline. Ah, makes so much sense. Red herrings, yes, you got me. Ending, yup, well played. The police force with feasibility and critical knowledge, so well polished, and I just love it when I can read a book and not feel the need to nitpick these things apart.

The writing. So fast paced and decisive, as the storyline calls for and the immediacy was so incredibly satisfying. It was a captivating, dive-in of an opening. A few hard-driven parts were almost borderline overstimulating for me, but nonetheless, I happily devoured the book in one sitting.

The lines written without apology, a very natural, yet precise and enticing way of wording, compelling but not over worked or over thought. And there was this persuasiveness that was essential for such a detailed, psychological thrill which was just entrancing. I recognized certain stylistic features that just cut through my mind like, oooh that’s eerie, oooh that cliffhanger, so solid, I’ll keep reading.

I loved how dual scenarios and POVs converged at the surprise elements while still maintaining their distinction. There was this unique quality to the writing, especially for the crime fiction genre, where the voices were undoubtedly distinguishable in both thought and action. I feel like sometimes character traits and voices tend to take on the same persona and get muddy when police investigations take place, definitely not the case in this one.

I loved the characterizations of people, as well as general observations of personal characteristics/habits themselves. And the scenery, I mean Needles, CA., if you’ve ever driven through, you’d recognize that the description of the settings were spot on.

And of course I loved the literary references and the quotes from within the story itself. They generated their own deep significance that articulated the intricacies of the plot so well.

A solid read and I’m looking forward to seeing more collaborations like this.



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Featured Photography

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Creativity in the Time of COVID

From a creative standpoint, it’s been a struggle for me to find concentration and patience for taking photographs. I’ll think of something and then want to rush through it. My most creative ideas come at night and they’re gone by the morning.

Over the past few months though, I’ve been trying really hard to take my time, taking aim at depth and composition.

My latest goal is paying more attention to layers, shadows, depth of field, texture, and various shapes to better frame and show distance, scale, and perspective of subject matter.

Here are some shots I took while recently traveling to the Northwestern United States as well as my latest in reading and baking.

I hope you enjoy! Be sure to tag your entries in response to Travels and Trifles photography challenge below!

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.

— John Lubbock

Prairie lands.

The joy in finding the perfect place for a picnic. I tried showing the vastness of grasslands extending between the log fence and pine trees. Distant mountains still with snow. No one would ever know that I had to stand on my tippy toes to get this one lined up the way I did.

Cookie composition.

Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies. For this one, I tried to fill in the background, separating the foreground and the background, showing the recognizable Oreo in a subtle way, creating a slight “S” shape flow to my composition.

I’m still deciding on how many eggs to put in this one, but a recipe will be coming soon!

Book photography.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin. I just received this newly translated release in the mail. A #1 best-seller in France, described as a delightful, atmospheric, absorbing fairy tale full of poetry, generosity, and warmth.

I enjoyed thinking about the placement of this one. Fading flowers, the waterfall in the background, a rosy hued reflection of bright pink petunias projecting onto the cover.

I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

Contrast through shadows.

I love taking photos of bugs. I liked the shadows in this one.

This black and white spotted, fuzzy fore-legged flyer is a White-spotted sable, species of Crambid snout moth, also known as an American white-spotted sable.

The reveal.

Sunset over Flathead Lake, Montana. A little nestle of trees opening to reveal logs accumulating on shore and a glorious peek into the orange haze sun.

Big sky justice.

Standing on a mountain. The foreground with sage brush, quartz, it plunges down, then meets the height of other peaks. It’s hard to gauge the vastness, the mileage beyond, I tried my best to capture it and zone the onlooker onto the spotlights where the clouds part over the terrain.

Pencil drawing of Don Quixote

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”

— Don Quixote

Link your responses/images to this photography challenge below, I’d love to see them!

Categories
Desserts Featured Hors d'œuvres Recipes

Glazed Spanish Peanuts

Glazed Spanish Peanuts | Erica Robbin

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Such a delicious, easy, quick, satisfying snack.

A dear friend introduced me to making these and they have become my go-to recipe for a satisfying snack, a treat to bring to a party, or given as a gift in a treat bag tied with a bow.

It’s super important to make sure that you cook the peanuts in the liquid mixture until it has mostly evaporated so that when you bake it, the peanuts won’t turn into a brick of peanut brittle that gets stuck in the pan.

They have this semi-crunchy, chewy texture that is so fulfilling.


Credit: ericarobbin.com

Ingredients

    GLAZED SPANISH PEANUTS:
  • 3 cups raw Spanish peanuts (ground nuts with skins)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract

Directions

    GLAZED SPANISH PEANUTS:
  1. Cook peanuts, water, sugar, and vanilla in a pan over medium heat until mixture becomes gooey and liquid is all evaporated.
  2. Spread peanuts on a cookie sheet and bake peanuts in 325 degree (163 C) oven for about 20-40 minutes, stirring frequently, about every 5-10 minutes, until sugar begins to crystalize.
  3. Quickly spread peanuts over a surface of foil, parchment paper, or wax paper to cool.

Categories
Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Horror Mystery Thriller

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really drawn into this one. I think it was because there were so many moving parts and it had all the mysterious elements that make for an interesting story. There were some issues with the writing and the story itself, however I was along for the ride anyway.

I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom which I enjoyed.

The story.
I liked the build up. I liked the atmosphere, the setting, the elements of backstory and going back in real time with changing POVs to meet somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t decide whether it was going to be based on my lack of information, or psychological, or supernatural, or a simple thought-experiment, it kept me on my toes. I also like to go in blind with books, barely skimming the descriptions, looking for themes and key words that either turn me on or off to a story and diving in from there and this book was easy for me to get into based on just a few interests of mine, mostly having to do with a Victorian estate.

I liked how it played heavily on the emotions of scare tactics. There were unmentioned assumptions which were well played. Assumptions that people freak out over snakes, startled by creeps of hidden floor boards, flickering lights, music, appealing to a multitude of senses, creating a frightening scene and letting the reader play on those emotions and reactions, indulge in risking that readers would respond in such a way author intended without drawing unnecessary attention to itself as a thriller and doing more of the show instead of tell which went a long way.

This book was great, it definitely got super messy though. Mostly related to the composition of the plot which left loose ends, relied on convenient amnesia, question of plausibility, underlying lack of communication which created a sort of drama fatigue with ever-changing new leads and secrecy that started off convincing, yet only to a point.

The characters.
Ali had some characteristics I had expected from a daughter but came off as then it is but then it’s not, the relationship with her family was this, then it wasn’t. Flipped back and forth. Emotionally expressive verbally with adoration for her father but emotionally absent in every other way. I wanted the personal threats to the female main character to feel a little more personal in a realistic way. For her to be very much in the headspace of denial with counter arguments that don’t hold much weight with her continued action to pursue sleuthing, then it kind of fell apart from that aspect.

Character roles.
Surprised at word choice of professionals such as the chief saying crime scene guys instead of detectives. Contradictory whether the old furniture had any value or obvious signs of water damage for someone who renovates houses, also no home inspection, no blue prints, even for a historic home were just some things that were amiss for me.

The ending.
And the ending? So unsatisfying. A cover up? No thought to age of reason?

But I liked this book anyway, go figure. I was just in the mood for a read like this and it delivered in ways that were outside of the shortcomings I felt it had and I really enjoyed it.



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