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.

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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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Romance

Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas

A heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence.

Can Del find her recipe for happiness? 

Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie. 

Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? After discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?

Perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill.

Escape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summerEscape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summer by Jo Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Such a great book for the perfect reading escape!

I loved this book, all the components. As far as the story goes there were elements of connection, community, and belonging interlaced with real life challenges and celebrations that were relatable on so many levels.

The author brought forth all the emotion in just enough detail where I could easily sink my teeth into without feeling an incompleteness or feeling drained. The book overall was actually happy and uplifting, even though some stories were quite sad and deeply resonating with me. Stories with subplots that read like I was having a conversation with a best friend. Sometimes the main character was like, ok, what are you doing? But it was a story, her story, and life is not perfect and all the elements of her life were brought in full circle.

I was looking forward to wherever the story was going to take me.

As far as the writing goes, I loved the pacing and tone. Just enough moving the story forward, balanced with backstory, revelation, and self-reflection. Overall the amount of events were fast for the length of time they were set in, but it worked as a driving, yet delicate force to include necessary happenings that were realistic enough to be attainable.

1st person present is my least favorite POV to read, but this was done well because every word, every sentence was intentional, purposeful. It was written with such fluidity that it was a joy and pleasure to read.

The subplots with bigger stories flourished with a diverse enough cast of characters where each had distinguished charm all in their own both in the main character’s description and interaction with them, as well as in dialogue.

And simply the setting. The description of the French countryside, encompassing the main character’s house, market, and lifestyle centered around the beautiful scenery and delicious bakes from the star of the show, lavender, really made me feel like I was there enjoying it along with them. I’ve only been to Charles de Gaulle airport mind you, but through this story of imagine, I was among the lavender fields and dining out, the warm sun on my face, with a crisp, chewy lavender macaron and glass of wine, loving every bit it.

Highly recommend for an absolutely lovely summer read and I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Categories
ARCs Art Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Graphic Historical Nonfiction

Tolkien’s Worlds: The Places That Inspired the Writer’s Imagination by John Garth

A lavishly illustrated look at the locales familiar to J. R. R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth.

This book takes you to the places that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to create his fictional locations in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other classic works. Written by renowned Tolkien expert John Garth and prepared with the full cooperation of the Tolkien estate, Tolkien’s Worlds features a wealth of breathtaking illustrations, including Tolkien’s own drawings, contributions from other artists, rare archival images, and spectacular color photos of contemporary locations across Britain and beyond, from the battlefields of World War I to Africa.

Garth identifies the locales that served as the basis for Hobbiton, the elven valley of Rivendell, the Glittering Caves of Helm’s Deep, and many other settings in Middle-earth, from mountains and forests to rivers, lakes, and shorelands. He reveals the rich interplay between Tolkien’s personal travels, his wide reading, and his deep scholarship as an Oxford don. Garth draws on his own profound knowledge of Tolkien’s life and work to shed light on the extraordinary processes of invention behind Tolkien’s works of fantasy. He also debunks popular misconceptions about the inspirations for Middle-earth and puts forward strong new claims of his own.

An illustrated journey into the life and imagination of one of the world’s best-loved authors, Tolkien’s Worlds provides a unique exploration of the relationship between the real and the fantastical and is an essential companion for anyone who wants to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps.

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer's imaginationThe Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer’s imagination by John Garth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was awesome.

From gorgeous illustrations to the impressive amount of research, it’s a must have book for any Tolkien collector out there. It will make a beautiful coffee table book in my home and one I’d also recommend as a companion piece to anyone reading one of his pieces or for those just being introduced to the world of Tolkien.

I loved the organization, the range and amount of photos and illustrations, and the amount of detailed discussion of the origin and inspiration that Tolkien depicted in his writing style and world-building mega feat of what I think is the epitome of writing genius.

This book packed so much punch, I admired every bit of information covering the incredibly detailed influences of his work such as geographical processes, ancient architecture, even his recurring nightmares of a wave engulfing the land, bereavements to shipwrecks, and the Elvish language creation which ranged from onomatopoeic words and his studies of Latin.

His imagination was incredible. Some of which also being rooted in a multi-cultural, Gothic atmosphere incorporating unusual caricature from backgrounds of Celtic, Welsh, English, South Africa, and Icelandic tradition, folklore, and wartime events. This book covered it all.

I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since first picking up my first read, The Hobbit, in the 5th grade, and this gave me an even greater appreciation for the creativity that went into his writing.

It was also compelling in the way it made me want to visit all the glorious places, exhilarating locations as some of the foundations for settings in his books, a Tolkien tour.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Perfect Cornish Escape (Porthmellow Harbour #3) by Phillipa Ashley

Summer in Cornwall is the perfect time for a fresh start…
Seven years ago, Marina Hudson’s husband was lost at sea. She vowed to love him for the rest of her life – but when kind-hearted Lachlan arrives in Porthmellow, should she deny herself another chance at happiness?

Tiff Trescott was living life to the full as a journalist in London – until her boyfriend’s betrayal brought it all crashing down. Fleeing to her cousin Marina’s cottage, Tiff feels like a fish-out-of-water. And when brooding local Dirk wins a day with her in a charity auction, she’s thrown headfirst into Cornish life.

This summer promises new beginnings for both Tiff and Marina. But are they too good to be true?

A Perfect Cornish Escape by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

The stories in this book were excellent! It read as bright and cheery with unexpected deep sentiment as subjects of loss, grief, PTSD, betrayal, desire, belonging, and ambivalence in navigating life’s way were charted.

As far as writing, I really liked the way the characters were shaped. Guiding me to be drawn in rather quickly and profoundly, embracing and opposing certain characteristics of both the protagonistic and antagonistic qualities of the other, well done.

The incorporation of an inner monologue to help form/validate their actions and ideas was a little bumpy for me at first. It was the ease of reading, something about how much of the dialogue was followed by an underlying explanation for saying/feeling that way much of the time at the beginning. It just felt a little interruptive where instead I wanted the dialogue to be more genuine and more easily identifiable/distinguishable to each voice, to have a better understanding of the characters so it would come as a natural understanding without having it be pointed out in the inner workings of their head as much as it was. But I warmed up to it about 1/3 of the way in. Maybe it was more of a stylistic choice and was less pervasive and bothersome to me as the stories went on.

I also would have liked to have seen a little more involvement from the other friends and families of the characters to confirm character qualities and certain circumstances they found themselves in.

Loved the setting! Beachfront, Cornwall, England, the lifestyle of characters, jobs/businesses, leisure time, homes, all to go with it. It made so much logical sense and added a drawn in, dreamy, escapism-type attribute that complimented the overall themes of the stories and brought magnetic value to the succinct title of the book.

It was such a lovely read as far as plot was concerned. The connectedness and portrayal of relatability and realistic life circumstances, not cheesy, not overdone, nor over simplified. And the similes and metaphors, the pop culture references, I love it when writers take risks and just dive into such stuff.

I will definitely look forward to reading more stories from this author.

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Categories
ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

The Real Coco Chanel by Rose Sgueglia

Coco Chanel lived her own life as a romantic heroine.

Fuelled by 19th century literature, she built a life which was partly myth and, partly, factual.

She was the fashion designer everyone admired. The business woman whose fortune was impossible to track. She was also a performer, lover of many high profile intellectuals and, as believed by many, a nazi spy.

Her life was, extraordinarily, affected by history (the nazi movement and World War II), symbolism and literature.

This biography explores her life from her troubled and poor past to the opening of her first hat shop, passions and secrets; the biography also draws parallelisms between myths and facts and how, and if ever, they match at all.

The biography also features chapters on the Chanel Maison and the creation of her iconic trademark as well as her ‘little black dress’ and ‘Chanel No 5’.

Finally, the biography ends with a reflection on how the myth of Coco Chanel is represented today in pop culture.

The Real Coco ChanelThe Real Coco Chanel by Rose Sgueglia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I was so enlightened by this book!

From little black dresses to the world’s first abstract fragrance, Chanel No. 5, there are these known iconic ventures that Coco Chanel was known for. This book provided a great background of her life, which covered her fashion firsts, fashion influences, her childhood, her lovers.

It was unique in how it took a deeper dive into controversies and successes of her career and personal life, including those surrounding her signature fragrance, whether or not she was a spy, her social connections, and it provided an insightful synopsis of societal viewpoints and the context of the time.

I liked the way it was organized, an easy to navigate blend of topical and chronological. I wanted the last portion of the book, the more personal encounters, to be somehow integrated into the book, but I also didn’t mind it being separate though.

I would have liked the photos to be integrated throughout as well, with more photo examples of the subject matter. Though I’ll have to revisit this and see how it plays out in the final publication. But I often go on a Wikipedia spiral with anything historical nonfiction so it was still a treat to look up styles, photographed relationships, and business journeys as I read along.

It connected a lot of dots for me, historically, from war events to socialites to fashion moguls, industry, and design, business undertakings, and how it all unfolded into her own personhood and characteristic style for simplicity, self-assurance, practicality, her hope, her persistence, her dreams.

I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting overview of her life and for gaining deeper insight into dispelling the rumors and confirming the knowns and unknowns out there.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

One by One by Ruth Ware

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

One by OneOne by One by Ruth Ware

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I enjoyed curling up with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot chocolate for this one! I think anyone looking for a read that matches what you’d expect from the cover and title will be highly satisfied.

I loved how the author wrote, with the fast pacing, a very in-the-moment, spontaneous, almost fleeting style which I devoured in one sitting.

I liked the short time frame for this one, the straightforward descriptions, the ones used when something thrilling is going on and you can’t wait, speeding up your reading pace, and keep turning the pages.

I loved the ambiance created, the setting, being the snowy mountain, the plot, it was all perfectly aligned to tell such a great story.

I will say I did experience a little ambivalence at certain points, likely because I wasn’t really enamored right away. It actually took me a bit to get into it. I didn’t understand the details, the backstory, the relationships, and their little character quirks. I had a hard time keeping them all straight. I did receive an ARC, so it’s possible that a little rearrangement in between now and final publication could easily offer a little more guidance for readers like me.

And there was one, single line in the book that I just can’t anymore. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I know some of my fellow readers are going to cringe much like I did coming across it. My feelings, so strong about it, it’s all in good fun though, maybe it’s actually becoming a joke at this point.

There was a lot of conversation in the story. Perhaps for the setting, I would have enjoyed a bit more related to the ski activities themselves, as in depicting conversations about what makes good powder, something to that effect to add some more connection and common ground between the characters.

I wanted them to sit around the fire more to warm up, as in also warming up the story, and drink smooth French hot chocolate. Hot chocolate was mentioned of course, but maybe I would have been a bit more captured by the unfolding of scenes if there were more bonding experiences or times of reminiscence, memories, maybe some kind of internal conflict, or application of some stereotypical company team-building exercise, something like that to play into the lovely, yet mysterious scenery and actions a bit more.

Something where the characters, other than the main ones, were a bit more distinguished. To feel drawn to caring about them. And there were a lot of characters to care about, but maybe I would have liked them to be more identifiable, with traits. Traits that would have fed into the scene a bit, and into their dialogue, and to the way they went one by one accordingly. I didn’t expect a deep, emotional connection, but I wanted a bit more dimension to the plot from that standpoint.

The last 20-30 pages had more of this type of character development and I liked the ending as a whole as a result. And though I had my suspicions of the ending bit a little earlier on, it didn’t spoil the rest of the story for me, but, then when confirmed, I was pretty much ready to put the book down. So I suppose for those last few pages, the wrap up was a little lingering than it needed to be for my particular taste in the moment.

But even then it was all done very carefully which made for a very compelling read!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

“This book about rivers is as fascinating as it’s beautifully written.”—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Upheaval


A “fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring” natural history of rivers and their complex and ancient relationship with human civilization (Elizabeth Kolbert).

Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of human civilization. They have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and can capriciously destroy everything in their path. Even today, rivers remain a powerful global force — one that is more critical than ever to our future.

In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith explores the timeless yet vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important in many practical ways (water supply, transportation, sanitation). But the full breadth of their profound influence on the way we live is less obvious. Rivers define and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Huge volumes of river water are used to produce energy, raw commodities, and food. Wars, politics, and demography are transformed by their devastating floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to each other, and the migrations and histories of their peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.

Beautifully told and expansive in scope, Rivers of Power reveals how and why rivers have so profoundly influenced our civilization, and examines the importance this vast, arterial power holds for our present, past, and future.

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our WorldRivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Loved the opening. This book was super insightful and covered a wide variety of influences and the impact that rivers have on the world. There was so much I learned from this book and I liked the amount on detail overall.

This book was very well-researched which I really appreciated.

There were times I thought the organization was not as strong as it could have been. But I could see the challenge in deciding how chapters/concepts would be organized. Choosing from chronological, geographical region, topical, etc… There was much overlap to work through, also my feelings about the order may be in part because of the ARC I received.

Sometimes the writing took on a journalistic approach, sometimes a personal opinion piece, other times some facts and connections read sort of like an 8th grade book report. The facts and personal experiences themselves were certainly compelling, but the writing kind of droned on sometimes. Like the writing got away. Away on some bunny trails. Facts were interesting but a tad misplaced on occasion as it went into the depths of history/current events that were somewhat related but contained unnecessary supporting information/random associations that I was less inclined to care about for what I really wanted to read about in this book as far as the continuation of the topics go.

However I most definitely discovered some fascinating information about rivers and I think anyone would enjoy learning about these rivers of power and how they have shaped and continue to shape our lives.

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ARCs Art Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

A few years ago curator Sarah Urist Green left her office in the basement of an art museum to travel and visit a diverse range of artists, asking them to share prompts that relate to their own ways of working. The result is You Are an Artist, a journey of creation through which you’ll invent imaginary friends, sort books, declare a cause, construct a landscape, find your band, and become someone else (or at least try). Your challenge is to filter these assignments through the lens of your own experience and make art that reflects the world as you see it.

You don’t have to know how to draw well, stretch a canvas, or mix a paint colour that perfectly matches that of a mountain stream. This book is for anyone who wants to make art, regardless of experience level. The only materials you’ll need are what you already have on hand or can source for free.

You Are an Artist brings together more than 50 assignments gathered from some of the most innovative creators working today, including Sonya Clark, Michelle Grabner, The Guerrilla Girls, Fritz Haeg, Pablo Helguera, Nina Katchadourian, Toyin Ojih Odutola, J. Morgan Puett, Dread Scott, Alec Soth, Gillian Wearing, and many others.

You Are an ArtistYou Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a fantastic book! I’d recommend it to anyone, any age. It would make a great gift.

Especially during these times of staying at home, for homeschool parents, teachers, as well any individual experiencing creative blocks within any type of media, anyone looking to exercise their artistic mind and skills, really anyone who wants to tap into an expression of themselves through art, whether you’re feeling super creative or going through a creative block, even a dry spell.

As far as content was concerned, it was out of the box, almost quirky, sometimes the bizarre, the peculiar, the types of art and art exercises I wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to make or decorate my house with or be typically drawn to. With that said; however, the art exercises focused on the actual doing of challenges, rather than an in-depth review of art interpretation which I think was unique to the world of art books and one that I definitely could use more time learning to appreciate and enjoy. And I had a blast doing them!

I found the projects in this book bringing out my imagination, much more hidden and less explored areas of my art perspective and a great creative outlet for my life in general.

I should also mention, and it was a real plus to the projects contained in this book, that you wouldn’t have to go out and buy tons of art supplies to complete the projects. You can pretty much use any items you’d typically find in any junk drawer in the kitchen. Paper, scissors, pen/pencil, and also easily use your phone for any of the photo activities.

The activities brought out ideas, rich sentiment, variations of emotion, which would otherwise be unexpressed. Some of the more unconventional projects contained in this book, combined with the background of select artists, made each exercise thoroughly enjoyable, insightful, and stimulated my mind.

I enjoyed the facts about each artist who was mentioned. Somewhat of an encyclopedia-type approach, such as demographical data, like when and where they were born, but it did not discuss their influences, accomplishments, or personal/artistic challenges in-depth. Which was fine. Perhaps we will see some of this in a subsequent book, which would be awesome, along with some of the psychology behind the routes toward finding self-creativity/reflection for those who may want to explore personal style and what types of media may express or suit an artist’s voice in the way they’d like to achieve. Or which ones would be the best exercises for them to do on more than one occasions and how to vary them to bring out even more of the elements behind the reasoning of including them in the book.

I hope you get to check out this wonderfully fun book! You can see some of the exercises I did on my website and I will be adding more over time. Be sure to share which ones you did in the comments, I’d love to see your project creations!

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A select few exercises from the book.

Blindfolding myself and drawing my home. This, my childhood bedroom.

I had several decorative phases and I rearranged my furniture a lot as a child. Taking out drawers of clothes to lighten the load, lying on my back, and pushing everything around with the strength of my legs and feet.

I had a heavy furniture set. A 4-post Oak wood twin bed with matching dressers. One tall, one shorter with a huge mirror. The black, metal pulls were a decorative, almost whimsical, paisley type shape, hanging down like an elaborate door knocker. They rattled ridiculously every time a drawer was opened.

During my purple phase, I had lavender carpet. The bedspread, the pillows, the curtains, all matching flowy, almost sheer, lightweight, white background with tiny lavender heart print. It was my dream bedroom decor, one I had picked out from the Sears magazine. Barbie and Popples wall decals. The 80s were great years to be a child. My drawings haven’t changed much since then.

Blindfolded left, open-eyed right.

Which one is more expressive?

Perspective exercise.

These are photos of my mother’s purple irises in a few different perspectives.

Raiding the fridge.

Jalapeño poppers, need I say more? Oh my goodness these things are the best. My recipe for Stuffed Jalapeños (otherwise known as Jalapeño poppers, though this version is not battered and fried), can be found here.

So for the artistic exercise, I’d say the dramatic potential to everyday surroundings is captured in the photograph of which I took of two of them (I ate the 3rd early, leaving an oily rainbow glistening in its absence) and cooked them in the oven using a shallow variation of the classic cast iron dish.

DSC06444

Let’s take a moment to talk about cast iron pans.

If you’ve ever had a set of well-seasoned cast iron pans, you’ll know how they speak for themselves. Passed down from generations. From grandparents or a good yard sale. Shiny, the dark color of iron, consistently uniform and smooth. Distributing heat so evenly for cooking through and better browning which is the mastery of cooking. Fried fish, chicken, sautéed asparagus, pancakes, cornbread, anything tempura. Stove to oven, oven to stove. The best ones you can fry an egg on, flipping it over with ease. No catching, no broken yolks, no messy unintentional mix of crispy edges and mushy scramble.

They are the embodiment of a sincere human quality.

Well-loved, they’ve seen a lot. As individuals, they get better with time and their true contribution to this age’s wisdom is that as a whole, they also have collective longevity, having been in production since the 5th century B.C.

The context is the yummiest thing one could ever eat. The aroma of peppers and sharp, richness of baked cheese. Opening the oven door with a whoosh, a hot puff toward my face. The best comfort food on the planet. Golden tops of filled depressions, surrounded by slightly shriveled edges. Backlit by the jarring oven light, carefully sliding them out from the center rack. Oh the anticipated heaviness of iron, I gently tip the pan to let them settle on my plate.

“So unbelievably scrumptious” I say.

The heat from the ribs and seeds I left in each half. Tender roasted pepper flesh and more bite effort into the tougher, almost earthen skin. Such a contrast with the mingling creaminess, the tanginess of cream cheese, bits of fresh, pungent garlic, a sprinkle of parmesan, the perfect delicate balance of saltiness.

A path I’ve never been on before.

Here is a photo of a nearby pond from an edge I had never been on before. The quietest place possible. Absorbing the silence.

In the center of the flower, farthest back, crouches a metallic-turquiose fly. It flew away before I could get it in focus. I love the beautiful sheen of these common green bottle flies.

DSC06459

And just for fun, a photograph of a winged-insect I saw in my mother’s yard.

I just love morning light and the shapes I was seeing.

DSC06440

Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured Nonfiction

Brunch the Sunday Way by Alan Turner; Terence Williamson

For the first time London’s legendary champions of brunch share the recipes that have made Islington’s Sunday Café a runaway success. Covering everything from quick and easy staples to fabulous feasts, and taking inspiration from a global list of ingredients, this book will take you all the way from cracking an egg to flipping pancakes and roasting pork – all with spectacularly Instagrammable results!

Brunch the Sunday WayBrunch the Sunday Way by Alan Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

The recipes in this cookbook were just superb! Whether you are cooking for yourself, a duet, or entertaining for a crowd, beginner or chef, I think you’ll be inspired and satisfied.

I have yet to try every single one of the recipes, but I started with the ones leaning more toward the later brunch hours and they were so delicious! Be sure to check back on this post for continual updates as I continue to embark on the others I have yet to try out.

Many of the components of the meals worked like what I akin to a capsule wardrobe, being very versatile within a collection of recipes. The elements in each dish were easily carried over to other dishes, lending to a lot of additional flavor or varietal change.

I liked the spin on tradition and the decadence in each dish because they were layered in flexibility, making it easy to substitute an ingredient or pair down and still ending great final result.

With that said, it was somewhat challenging to gauge the quantity of both the components and the final dishes themselves. The elements and serving size results varied between each recipe as well, ranging from 2-12, which I wasn’t sure were always accurate either. I bake/cook a lot so it wasn’t horribly out of the way for me to figure out, but glancing ahead required additional planning/shopping/prepping as I found myself doubling and halving to meet the final specificity. Conversions were okay though because the balance of the flavor profiles were spot on, so even multiplying the recipes by a factor of 10 would still maintain the desired achievement in taste. And it all worked out fine though, because again, any leftovers and even the remnants themselves were easily repurposed in another dish, ie… the Mustard Aioli (my most favorite and latest sauce to put on everything so far!) goes well on anything and the whey for another recipe was specified for use in the Lacto-fermented Raspberry Soda so I liked that there was attention to minimizing waste.

I was so grateful to see that metric and imperial measurements were provided. Instructions were easy to follow. Photos were great with a moody, bistro type vibe. I really have enjoyed the selection of recipes and I enjoyed reading about the story behind the restaurant which inspired this cookbook. I must say I would have liked a little backstory of some of the recipes just to add a little more personality and to convey inspiration and additional interest.

Everything that I have tried so far has turned out with stellar results, whether original or with the substitutions I had to make. I’d highly recommend this cookbook for anyone. It would make a great gift!

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The best carrot cake! I got so many kudos for this cake! Gluten-free and doesn’t call for much sugar, in fact, I think if you even left sugar out it would still be just as spectacular. I’d recommend the cookbook just for this recipe!

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ARCs Art Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Photography Rules Essential Dos and Don’ts from Great Photographers by Paul Lowe

Over 150 essential mantras for anyone interested in taking good pictures. 

In Photography Rules, Paul Lowe (expert photographer and lecturer) guides you through over 150 bite-sized dos and don’ts from the likes of Dorothea Lange, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Rankin and Richard Avedon. Whether you’re a complete beginner using your iPhone, looking to improve your DSLR skills or are already a professional, this book will give you insider tips inspired by the greatest photographers from history as well as original pieces of advice from some of the most well-respected living photographers.

Each of the pithy entries will combine a specific rule and a supporting photograph or quote with commentary from the author on how best to put the advice into practice. Chapters include:

Making Photographs: Practical tips for taking great photographs, covering genre, composition, operational function, working with your subject, lighting, post-production and printBeing a Photographer: Insider guidance on attitude, creativity, understanding photography and finding your purposeProfessional Practice: Dos and don’ts about being a professional, working with clients, marketing yourself, developing your career, making money and collaborations With succinct, accessible and engaging entries, expert advice from the author, and original quotes from the some of the greatest living photographers – readers can either dip in at random or read religiously for lessons in how to produce photographs they’re proud of. This is the perfect book for students, amateurs or professional photographers looking to improve their skills and find inspiration. 

Photography Rules: Essential Dos and Don'ts from Great PhotographersPhotography Rules: Essential Dos and Don’ts from Great Photographers by Paul Lowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was the perfect book for me. It met me right where I was at. I’d recommend it to any photographer with similar sentiments to me as it provided a unique, thoughtful compilation of the great advice and a well-tailored focus of image examples out there.

It was refreshing to read and brought a distinguished and inspirational element to the photography section of my bookshelf.

It wasn’t a sell on equipment branding and specs, or a historical timeline of photography through the ages, an exhaustive technical how to, a recycled rearrangement of seen all, heard photography aspects, nor was it just exclusive insight into one author’s personal experiences.

Those things certainly all have their place in photography but I found this particular book to be an insightful, accessible compilation piece, having taken the main rules of photography (both creative and technical) and concisely honing in on the main driving points, taking the best of each concept as it displayed advice and an image example of each.

From that standpoint, the author’s foreword discussed the meaning and principles behind the rules as incorporated into the title and content which I really appreciated since it clarified questions that I had. I think it was excellent advice to recommend integrating rules into your practice and break them one at a time to see what new things you can create.

So from that, each rule was thoughtfully curated, showing how they may or may not be broken to create compelling images.

I myself, feel I haven’t taken the time to be able to admire and understand the works by photographers. So I really enjoyed the quotes, the discussions, the theoretical concepts explained by each as they showcased some of their most powerful and iconic photos.

Perhaps it may be easier for readers to decide if this book is for them by telling about me.

To give some perspective, I have been taking photographs on and off for the better part of my life, mostly at my own amusement. I’m familiar with film and digital. Shooting mostly scenes of landscapes, wildlife, flowers, books, and recipes.

I have had limited formal training and never really kept up with the digital era and post processing achievements of today. I also haven’t kept up with the notoriety and skillset of photographers in recognition of their most famous works and the artistry/techniques they bring to the table.

However for the past year and a half I’ve sought to better my photography and challenge myself.

Concepts I really took away: not shying away from motion blur and better celebrating the movement to show the energy of a scene, choosing a subject regardless of figures, and definitely paying attention to lines and lighting more.

Also to break some terrible habits I’ve developed. Since not having been on social media for 6 months, especially not having been on Instagram, I feel more compelled not to tailor images to the constraints of the platform anymore. I guess I didn’t realize how much I catered my images to it with its square tiling, cutting off of margins, leaving me to frame images with an extra bumper of a gap and dead centering.

Techniques I’d like to try as a result of reading this book include: using the tripod more, practicing more slow shutter techniques, and trying a hand at photo composites.

I also liked the vast overview of concepts especially from a journalistic point of view since my knowledge and experience with that is minimal. I also liked how this book was organized and was easy to understand. Tidbits on referential connection, work submissions, publishing, ethics, captioning, working with models, even working in traumatic situations and image management were wonderful bonuses in this book.

Very enjoyable, I learned a lot!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Today we are aware of the habits, thoughts and feelings of the rich, because historians write about them endlessly. The poor are largely ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are forgotten.

Here, skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the ordinary people who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Born into poverty, their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death – the last usually premature.

Wryly told tales of deprivation, exploitation, sickness, mortality, warfare and religious oppression all fill these pages. Discover the story of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays before putting them to work. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the clutches of the Black Death only to be thwarted by lordly landowners. Follow as hundreds of children descend into the inky depths of hazardous coal mines.

On the flip side of this darkness, discover how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building, how sparrow’s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews, and how extra money was made by mixing tea with dried elder leaves. Courtship, marriage, sport, entertainment, education and, occasionally, achievement briefly illuminated the drudgery; these were the milestones that brought meaning to ordinary lives.

The oppressed and disempowered have lived on the very outskirts of recorded history, suffering, sacrificing and struggling to survive. The greatest insult is that they are forgotten; buried often with no gravestone to mark their passing and no history book to celebrate their efforts. Until now. The Peasants’ Revolting Lives explores and celebrates the lives of those who endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

The Peasants' Revolting LivesThe Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was fascinating! I’d recommend it to anyone. After reading this book I feel especially well prepared for a night of trivia. It was incredibly perceptive as it explored daily life and personal practices, living situations, origins of certain folklore, and social implications of peasantry, leading up to their revolt.

I loved the beginning question about choosing to live in any time in history and the answers that followed.

In referencing the Golden Age, comparing its perils to today, it was an enlightening exploration of how the impoverished experienced a certain way of life that only illuminated today’s strides in addressing social injustice, occupational hazards, sanitation, animal cruelty, entertainment, death, marriage, childbirth, child labor, legislation, literacy, technology, educational systems, captivity, and even sports.

Occupations themselves, such as matchstick girls, stood out to be one of the most shocking to me as far as risk for safety is concerned especially because of how far we have come in this world. It really gave a lot of perspective, respect, and value to our advancement in civilization.

The writing style was upfront clear and honest which I liked and further emphasized the very matter of fact tone and subject matter. The content showed a stark contrast as far as how humanity and social norms in general have come, which also lended itself to some humor since some of the concepts back in the day were quite absurd. There were bits of personal interjections that were lighthearted and confirming to my feelings which made this an amusing book to read.

I won’t comment too much on the writing in more detail or the organization itself because I did receive an ARC that was more in somewhat of an outline form than a final, cohesive piece. I do think from that standpoint the final form will likely be supportive enough to deliver such great content.

The quotes from historical figures and summarizations of points in time brought so much enrichment and credibility. References to classic literature, various philosophers, and playwrights such as Shakespeare was incredibly satisfying to me.

I think that each topic could also be expanded to provide further historical context and rationales of the time in a series type form, so I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

From winter candy and spring quackers to summer’s scarlet farewell and autumn reveilles, noted nature writer Ted Williams invites readers along on a year-long immersion in the wild and fleeting moments of the natural world. This beautifully crafted collection of short, seasonal essays combines in-depth information with evocative descriptions of nature’s marvels and mysteries.

Williams explains the weather conditions that bring out the brightest reds in autumn leaves, how hungry wolf spiders catch their prey, and why American goldfinches wait until late July or August to build their nests.

In the tradition of Thoreau, Carson, and Leopold, Ted Williams’s writing stands as a testament to the delicate balance of nature’s resilience and fragility, and inspires readers to experience the natural world for themselves and to become advocates for protecting and preserving the amazing diversity and activity found there.

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray WhaleEarth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Storey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a relaxing read that gave me a sort of feeling of gratitude and peace. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially nature lovers and anyone looking to unwind and learn a bit about plants, insects, and animals in the process.

The cover and title drew me in, piquing my interest by bringing back memories of reading the Farmer’s Almanac on my grandparents coffee table. I loved learning about the life cycle of species and their contribution to the circle of life, even folklore, superstitions, the rationales behind them, and it was all well-suited to bring such awesome wonder contained in this book.

The writing was steady, poetic at times. It read like I was a nature observer on the ideal expedition where time was not pressed, allowing me to take it all in. With the organizational divide into seasons, the descriptions of critters, plant life, and their habitats allowed the content to really highlight the most interesting and sometimes humorous attributes that made each one stand out in the environment.

And I really appreciated that the author did not dwell on perilous, doomsday, global warming issues, but rather pointed out species that have since dwindled in number and celebrated ones that have made a comeback.

Loved the delicate sketches. I would have loved even more, even just simple schematics.

I would like to see another one like this, even a series, perhaps specific to region.

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