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The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

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A divorced woman returns to her childhood home where she confronts the memory of her parents’ confounding yet deep bond.

The accidental near-drowning of a child exposes the fragility of the trust between children and parents.

A young man, remembering a terrifying childhood incident, wrestles with the responsibility he has always felt for his younger brother.

In these and other stories Alice Munro proves once again a sensitive and compassionate chronicler of our times. Drawing us into the most intimate corners of ordinary lives, she reveals much about ourselves, our choices, and our experiences of love.

Hippo Group, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin

Why am I so beautiful?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the writing in this one. It just flowed easily, hitting the highlights of human emotion, connection in a beautiful way. It’s a collection of short stories.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are simply wanting to try out short stories, a book that’s a very accessible in introduction, and as one you can simply pick up and read a bit during an in-between time, keeping it on your nightstand for a short nightly book with substance read, before bed, wind down, type of book if that makes sense.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The stories.
Straightaway it was so immersive, happenstance and bigger life preponderances. Ones that are almost obscure.

Takes you through the waxes and wanes of someone’s lived experiences, good and bad, as if they were yours to experience first hand, though you didn’t see it coming because it’s the subtleness that’s powerful.

When you ask yourself, “Did I just have those thoughts as the character had them?” Or “I could totally see how that could happen in those circumstances and how it affected them.” It’s a step beyond believability, but experiences you take on as your own or as someone you know well in your personal life.

It takes a unifying theme into different directions, different perspectives, making for lovely short stories of sorted emotions.

It carries on with strong direction, not needing any explanations or reckoning but the stories exist on their own. And as short as the short stories were, they were really fulfilling and complete.

Such a good writing.
That is what makes a good book become great to me. Certainly there is a time and place for books that are forth right and telling (evidence and emotion and your proposed/expected reaction right in front of you type of scenario), which I enjoy from time to time too, but when the writing is deep and descriptive, yet also rather simple and concise at the same time, it’s this well-seasoned writing style that just makes me indulge in the stories and invest in the characters.

I’m not a fan of writing that pairs every single noun with an adjective or appears to pull incredibly convoluted/out of character words from a thesaurus just for word variation. This is rather writing that doesn’t waste words nor fluff them up for bulk. Rather it hits the ground running and maintains sustenance with every sentence and paragraph. Nothing is without place and purpose.

I liked certain ones better than others. Some I wasn’t as fond of. But it won’t stop me from making this book a favorite of mine, even if it was the first short story as representative of one of my favorites alone.

My favorites were:
The Progress of Love
Lichen
Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux
Miles City, Montana
Eskimo

Overall, it was a moving and settling, valuable reading experience and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

In this dazzling collection, Annie Dillard explores the world over, from the Arctic to the Ecuadorian jungle, from the Galapagos to her beloved Tinker Creek. With her entrancing gaze she captures the wonders of natural facts and human meanings: watching a sublime lunar eclipse, locking eyes with a wild weasel, or beholding mirages appearing over Puget Sound through summer.

Annie Dillard is one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary nonfiction and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Teaching a Stone to Talk illuminates the world around us and showcases Dillard in all her enigmatic genius.

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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was alright.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about myself. Well more confirmation about my taste in books actually.

I’m just not much for books that are super contemplative.

Contemplating your naval type stuff. I like action. Like John Wick action. Take me somewhere I didn’t see coming. An underlying life lesson is fine. Some distinct pull from reality or unique observation. Or a cutesy little story about a relationship gone awry and a character who ruins, then saves the day. Or educational, I love educational.

So I have to be honest in that I don’t have the patience for books like this.

I read this one for Life’s Library. I must say it’s introducing me to books I wouldn’t normally read and I do find some value in that.

I read alternating print and audiobook. The audiobook was narrated by Randye Kaye. The audiobook was great at some points, but mostly sounded too much like a computer with mixes of voice inflection that were either jarring or mismatched. Words were typically ran together which was less to my liking. Funny enough though, when sped up, the running of words actually became more isolated, distinct, and more thus more clear.

A variety of POVs. First person present, ugh. Deep contemplation with inferences I didn’t feel attached to most of the way.

A lot of similes which sometimes I appreciated, but so many made it feel like a college entrance exam.

Too abstract for my taste and mood right now. It was overly descriptive for my liking.

There were a lot of general mere observations which I found rather boring to read about. I just didn’t connect to all of the stories. Not real memorable for me.

So what did I like?

I found the mundane activities described about attending the Catholic church, a childlike outlook, deciding which parts were performative and which were meaningful, was confirming to experience.

My favorite part was the telling of the girls of the village wanting to braid and re-braid hair. I think that’s always something so strong among every culture, with integration and an expression of acceptance, endearment, exploration of the world and self, building connection, a bit of joy, skill, and bonding, is girls, mothers, sisters, friends, doing each other’s hair.

I liked the mention of solar eclipse. Having witnessed a few totals and partials in my lifetime, I could appreciate that chapter. The excitement, yet eeriness of birds going silent, darkening, and wondering what people back in the day thought about the world ending.

I also liked the little booklet we got in our subscription package. Has some good writing prompts in there that I might try answering on my website/blog. 32 questions in all. Might be an interesting personal exercise.


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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

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Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear–fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was an ok book. I didn’t really get as much from this book as I was expecting to. It didn’t make a great book for me mainly as far as content was concerned. But those who are seeking out a personal connection and wanting to find comfort in a community of self discovery about this specific topic may really enjoy it.

I guess all in all I found it less relatable in the way it presented material with the expectation that data would immediately jump to a positive outcome without understanding the process or context or respective community that specializes in such subjects. It didn’t dive into the nitty gritty of risk calculation in the way I wanted it to, rather than just seeking out a conversation on social health determinants from one person’s response as they weigh their fears and hopes against pros and cons, and if that’s the case, this book might be for you.

My takeaways were that I found it important to remember there were no comparisons or alternatives at the time and much of the process ranging from diagnostic and treatment protocols, to standards and ethics were still being explored and written. Some things about human behavior are not quantifiable to science. We have more time, more money, more accessibility to information, yet human irrationality is still an issue to battle.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

Organized by storyline, writing style, tone, organization, editing.

It’s a long critique so grab a coffee!

The storyline.

It was more of a personal, exploratory anecdote of a woman’s discovery of life and all that comes with it, that people get sick, personal revelations from a from a sort of curious, yet almost naive perspective, teetering on paranoia. It sort of read more like some conversations you’d see on Facebook. Sharing how she felt agony the first time her son drank water, had some delusional experiences about seeing vampires. Some readers may relate to and glean from those types of experiences rather than expecting to read this book as an authoritative source on immunity as far as the physiological process goes.

Sort of vacillated between two ultimate decisions, rather than a compromise of the two. Some ideas seamed to be headed toward personal support for full anarchy with others representing full governmental control, all stemming from a point of reference of someone who didn’t seem to truly know how to make up her mind. I think some decisions and placement of facts supported a fair amount of healthy skepticism; however, it was more of an internal conversation of the narrator with herself, made into a book, where I wasn’t sure where intention of the premise was headed and the pacing wasn’t tight enough to direct me there.

It was more of a cynical take, depicting failures of immunity from every aspect rather than excitement about science and discovery. Which was fine, I just didn’t realize that going into it, and therefore, felt it to be quite a bit of a drag. This book could have been labeled, All the Times Capitalism and Modern Medicine has Failed Us as far as content was concerned.

This book portrays the narrator’s uneasiness, her skepticism, her wanting what is best for her personal health and loved ones. There wasn’t much mentioned in the way of safety and efficacy data or risk versus benefit. There wasn’t a deeper dive into the original research. Seemingly it read like more like a call for unity in personal reassurance with an attempt to substantiate feelings with what seems like more time researching rumors than hard science. This book was basically the product of that.

Almost read like the narrator was focused on finding these gotcha moments, gaps in the literature, and ultimately filled the holes with anecdotal evidence and quotes, supportive opinion pieces that rival with the preceding statement, but without remedy or display of personal satisfaction with the proposed solutions or reality at hand once they’ve been fulfilled or corrected.

I didn’t know what would ever satisfy the narrator to give her peace in her own mind and that was at times frustrating to keep reading through.

The biggest example was stated at the end “I still believe there are reasons to vaccinate that transcend medicine” but the narrator did not give a lot of support in helping the reader believe that throughout the entire book, that she would ever come to such a conclusion.

I think more statistical data would have given the arguments and counter arguments more strength instead of vague phrases like “relatively small” and “nearly everyone” and “most other people,” and “a number of people.”

There seemed to be this underlying expectation beyond moral hazard and dilemmas that were actually not known to the medical community at the time. Almost an expectation of harmony when life turned out otherwise and this sense of taking it personally. Maybe there was an unrecognized lack of trust and yearning to take back control with a lot of fear to conquer, yet I didn’t see a lot of “aha” moments or actions to show me as a reader how this narrator coped and became satisfied with her findings, or with life in general. The last quote about the garden from Voltaire’s book was more of the saving grace, but not much led up to that point aside from this notion of blood type connecting races, ultimately recognizing that all humans are human.

Writing style.

It was written in first-person, very fitting, and definitely seemed to come from a place of good intention to share a personal experience. Yet it spoke more toward the experiential side of how one’s personal life has been affected by the surrounding world by also interchangeably using the word “we” which often popped up to describe the narrator’s own worldview, parading the views of similar group think as universal collectivism.

It was more like an opinion piece, an editorial journal article, or blog post written to depict a sort of maladjusted or misinformed individual seeking out truth and this was her journey. Again, perhaps some readers can relate. The narrator was a bit unnerved about many things, almost speaking for one, speaking for all type of manner. It didn’t clearly delineate clinical duty and perspective from regulatory perspective, nor public confidence from individual confidence and how they all play out with each other and how that has changed over time.

Tone.

It was written with a doubtful tone, much frustration, and examples were worst case scenario. Stating a fact, then following it with “if all is well.” It seemed to view situations through an idealistic lens, rather than the reality as it lies. It basically put modern day expectations on old-fashioned practices.

There was a negative connotation to almost every statement. Even when it came to word choice, in the most exaggerated sense. Not just an exploration of facts but human response in the worst light. Often dividing the world and each individual response and decision as black or white, death or life, good or bad, etc… On rare occasion it contained some balance of perspective, defining terms and root meaning along the way, but went right back to gloom and doom. In realizing that this book was more about sharing personal experience, I just would have liked to have seen the narrator connect with herself more and just come out expressing some true, deep emotion, saying “Oh I was incredibly angry… oh I was upset… oh I was sad…oh I was full of joy…”

Organization.

The organization of chapters was not so great. Timelines as far as historical discoveries, her son’s development, and disease categories, stages of immunity, were not neatly in their chapters.

Instead it jumped from concept to concept.

Interjections of DDT, the state of belonging, Dracula, and then her son’s birth. Followed again by smallpox then childbirth, then back to smallpox, back to swine flu, then remarks on capitalism, back to drawing out symbolism with vampirism, then prenatal experiences, then vaccines causing autism discussion, conscience, to Coca-Cola’s “nerve tonic” history. Even goes into 3/5 Compromise with a totally out of context metaphor, then to Corexit, and back again to smallpox.

Editing.

Could have used some additional editing as some sentences were a repeat of each other, other sentences were really out if place without connection to subject matter or proper transition.

There were quotes with the named author early on, yet only introducing readers to their status/role way late in the book.

I think readers looking for a more relatable experience rather than a deep dive into scientific insight or a literary piece of work would probably appreciate it more than I did. Perhaps this is more geared toward someone who just wants to find a similar mother-child relationship, someone who they can sympathize with qualms about vaccination and medicine in general, as well as find confirmation and comfort in that shared experience.

I appreciated it for what it was, but this just wasn’t the book for me.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

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In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet.

And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains.

Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Mundane musings. I did not really enjoy this one unfortunately. I DNF’d it in the 20s, later picked it up again, DNF’d it for the final time 2/3rds the way through.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

When I saw the list of literary references included in our book club package, I was so excited to start it.

However I couldn’t find the rhythm of the book. It was a compilation of random excerpts that didn’t take deep dives as stand-alones and didn’t make much sense to me strung together either. They weren’t so interconnected for me and I had a hard time following.

I expected it to be emotional, philosophical, entertaining, some sort of pursuit. Something along those lines, like an infusion of some underpinnings to bring completeness to the entire narrative, building up to something interesting, but instead it was quite flat. Really boring actually. Each entry lacked context and I hoped that together it would be a bit more coherent in a creative way, but sadly, it didn’t make much sense.

It was outside of a logical and creative realm that I could understand. A lot of it left my brain after reading. No themes lingered in my thoughts afterward which I was hoping for, something to give me some sort of foresight into the list of artists or commonality, nothing, just confusion in my head.

I just didn’t think or feel with this one.

Maybe I should have tried reading it in the original language of Spanish?

I’d like to try reading something of a different sort by this author though, perhaps something with some type of promised focus that might be more appealing to my style and taste in books.

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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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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Poetry

Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Consider this glowing debut from Paige Lewis a menagerie of near-extinction. Space Struck explores the wonders and cruelties occurring within the realms of nature, science, and religion, with the acuity of a sage, the deftness of a hunter, and a hilarious sensibility for the absurd. The universe is seen as an endless arrow “. . . and it asks only one question: How dare you?”

The poems are physically and psychologically tied to the animal world, replete with ivory-billed woodpeckers, pelicans, and constellations-as-organisms. They are also devastatingly human, well anchored in emotion and self-awareness, like art framed in a glass that also holds one’s reflection. Silky and gruesome, the poems of Space Struck pulse like starlight.

Space Struck by Paige Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I really enjoyed this one. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club. I’d recommend this book to anyone, whether a newby to poetry or a seasoned reader of poetry, anyone in between.

It was a very accessible book of poetry, it was a little generational, but overall encompassed a lot of shared sentiments through recognition.

This one engaged those parts of my brain, like the moments of slight panic or chaos followed by relief and serenity. Like reading Sunday comics after heavy news pages, finally finding the mate to the last pair of socks while doing laundry, sitting on the tarmac in a plane you thought you were going to miss. It’s this satisfying feeling of gratitude and calmness, things are ok, a type of feeling of accomplishment, entertainment, and relaxation for your soul.

I suppose I don’t read poetry enough.

Poetry to me takes a certain amount of discipline. Discipline I don’t always have. A certain amount of concentration. Concentration I don’t always have. It’s never my first pick when choosing a book, but when I do find something I enjoy, I ask myself why don’t I read more?

I think it’s because the audience for whom the book is intended is not always well-defined. And sharing one’s feelings, pondering, and outlook on life is so super subjective and often boring without context, plot, leading trajectory, as a lot of poetry goes from my experiences, that its appeal is somewhat limiting. My exposure altogether is limited so I can’t speak for all. Poetry typically has relational/social concepts, presented as overly complex, yet dubious, often incredibly specific to culture, upbringing, and life experiences that aren’t always commonly shared, ones I don’t understand or find far-reaching or weird, and then to put it into writing in a riddle-like stanza is like double dissatisfaction for me.

Anyway, about the book.

I loved the lines referencing nature the best. The observations and inquiring when to intervene, whether the subject matter stirs up anger, then confusion, let it be, it’s nature. It was an interesting concept for me.

I liked that much was intertwined with bits of history.

I liked that the format of poems where changed up.

Some more vague and personal than others, parts I felt a little naive, then though “Oh, ok.” Others I truly didn’t “get” still very intriguing to read. Some with bits of pop culture, childhood relatability, some depicting more intimate aspects of a relationship, some religious interest, some contemplative, some speculative. I liked the variety.

And I also liked that it was short and that single-subject concepts weren’t exhaustive/belabored/overly descriptive or too-trying. It expressed a feeling/concept and moved on.

But I think what makes this collection unique and interesting to me was how it balanced abstract thought and tangible, concrete circumstances, much relative to my own generation, which made all the difference.

MY FAVORITE CHAPTERS/POEMS:

On Distance

Diorama of Ghosts

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“It’s nothing. The sun, with its plasma plumes and arching heat, is five million miles closer to Earth than it was in July, and we are still alive.”



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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? How would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still lingers today?

We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, an Englishwoman enslaved and taken to the New World, movingly recounting experiences of tremendous hardship and the dreams of the people she has left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom.

Check out the audiobook at Libro.fm and support your local bookstore

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Blonde RootsBlonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really liked the concept of this book. Unfortunately that’s where it ended for me. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

The story.

I love satire. Satire that takes a contrasting view and turns it into a narrative that pushes it so far that it becomes believable, relatable, immersed in an idea that can cause you to question reality, cause you question yourself, your own ethos at times.

However I didn’t see the point in this book. It took aspects of African culture and experiences of slaves during the trade and imposed them onto “whytes” as a juxtaposition, which to me, lost the very cause and effect it tried to steer its way through. Its whole foundation, all of its substance, disorientating. Whether satire or not, there was this attempt to draw parallels that just weren’t there.

I would rather have liked the portrayal of satire as an extreme to evoke an empathetic sense. It banked on stereotypes upon stereotypes, trite propositions that did not give rise to irony, sarcasm, or human connectivity. It played it safe. Sardonic but not in a clever or meaningful way.

Apart from the so-called satyrical take, I didn’t feel a stronger connection to it in any sense of the idea that I think the author was trying to convey. I suppose the story is what really felt forced to me. Contrived in such a way that it was running away with itself, losing power, perspective, and what I had high hopes for in achieving the main idea. And the idea was there, but the details to get there were less developed for me. Some parts read like an outline.

The heavy topics seemed to only be there for shock value and it was the explanatory tidbits that followed that really threw me off, especially because the tension seemed to be drawn off of this shock value which didn’t make a strong story of fiction for me in and of itself and were less supported even more so by the over-explanations of them.

Then there was a red-hot poker searing, sending warm bloody tears streaming down your body. Peeling “hairy” skins of a guava. I’ve eaten a lot of guava in my lifetime. I’ve had a guava tree. Had a really good harvest this past year. First, they’re not hairy and second, it’s actually quite common to eat them whole, skins and all. Perhaps the author was thinking of kiwi? There’s also a notable difference between coconut milk and coconut water.

I won’t comment on other discrepancies or even what I thought were less accurate portrayals of rationales behind certain historical events because they’d be tediously beside the point to mention in a story like this, which I felt began to ignore the strengths of context, community, and redemption which would have helped to guide readers and answer the questions proposed in the description in the first place.

The writing.

The writing as a whole wasn’t much of anything new. Read a bit mundane and unoriginal. Fire cackling, wind slapping, cloudy gray skies, heavy wooden door, tan leather boots. The prose toward the end depicted the movement of the story in a more unique way, but then focused more on actual events and became tethered to the dialogue rather than expressing emotional energy, reflection, or perception, which I think was lacking in majority of the book.

There was a lot of explaining away in the narrative. I didn’t feel at ease with the writing style. I wanted imagery and creative language. I had a hard time getting through this book and it wasn’t just the heavy subject matter, but the style in which it was written.

Sentence structure and effect. In recognizing race in a language, the phonic sounds were too formal, too complete and long-winded, too gibberish at the same time, the effect was nonsense to me.

Time. I had the hardest time understanding what time frame it was written in and who it was for. Then realizing it was a mix of time periods and time frames, including a blend of old and modern day vernacular, letting me know early on that this book wasn’t for me. Terms like freaking out, getting mojo back, Inheritance Tax for Dummies along with a twist on geography for role reversal effect wasn’t my cup of tea and was less effective at conveying a message of what I thought of as a more serious and important issue. Time and setting can really solidify a story, this had neither to enhance or support the story in the way I wanted to connect with it more.

POV and tense. The back and forth tenses sort of took me out of the story rather than add to or strengthen the premise. From past to present. There wasn’t a lot going on to drive me forward in the story.

The tone. Monologic tone didn’t fit with the structure of the story. The more graphic parts read just the same as light-hearted ones. Not in a cohesive way, but disjointed actually.

Characters. The growth and development wasn’t there for me. They read the same, not much personality to them. I knew about them but didn’t really know them. As I read on, I even questioned if they were meant to have any emotional capacity, undermining the whole premise.

The voices. The voices were less distinguished. Both main characters read the same people to me.

I will say on my most positive note of the book, “The Middle Passage” was my favorite part of the story and had the most complete concept, thought, and meaningful writing.

Overall this book fell incredibly short for me. I didn’t want to nitpick over this one, but it was just not a good book to me for multiple reasons. I’d be curious to read another book by this author though.

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Art Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for Photographers by Richard Garvey-Williams

What makes a great photo? Flicking through the pages of most popular photography magazines you might get the impression that there’s only one rule of importance – ‘the rule of thirds’. Indeed it appears that some will judge the merit of a photograph based almost solely on this. Rarely do you hear discussion about ‘visual weight’, ‘balance’, ‘negative space’, ‘depth’ and so on.

Author and professional photographer Richard Garvey-Williams argues that success lies in a combination of four elements: an impactful subject; dynamic composition; effective use of lighting; and, perhaps the most crucial, ability to invoke an emotional response in the viewer.

Citing examples gleaned from a study of history – the Ancient Greeks’ Golden Rule; Fibonacci’s mathematical ratio; and the principles known as the Gestalt theory – the author analyses the concepts, rules and guidelines that define successful composition in photography and offers practical guidance to achieving great results.

Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for PhotographersMastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for Photographers by Richard Garvey-Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book on photography. I read this one for The Bite Shot Bookclub and really gleaned a lot from it.

It was super comprehensive which I devoured every morsel of, especially since it included vocabulary such as emergence, reification, multistability, amongst others, which I had no idea how to construct certain elements to make them come together to tell such a meaningful story.

I like how it showed side-by-side examples of cropped and uncropped images. The theoretical concepts were well explained. I really liked how it pointed out that in some instances, neither style was wrong but may be dependent on whether the photographer wanted to convey sense of space or sense of depth.

I enjoyed the bits about image manipulation and how to relate them to the interesting concepts of right and left, balance, and overall shape.

I think I would like to try photographing more shadows. The ideas explored about them in this book was great.

There is a lot packed into this book and I’d say this would be a foundational read for every photographer.

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Adventure Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages #3) by Jules Verne

The intrepid Professor Liedenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth’s very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet’s primordial secrets, the geologist–together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans–discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne’s imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages, #3)Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was great. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club. I enjoyed it as an audiobook, narrated by Simon Prebble.

I loved the original movie from 1959. In this book, as a new post movie read for me, I also loved how the story unfolded, though I must say it was difficult to put aside the ideas I already knew from the movie and not miss on all the nonstop action that drove the storyline home.

The story was a little slow to start though. I couldn’t wait to get to the actual journey part. The build up was important but slow from this aspect, but when it took off, the story became a little more alive to me.

I don’t think I ever remembered it taking place in Iceland, so I really appreciated all the insight into Icelandic scenery and culture.

The thought put into the science fiction aspects were my favorite part. Thoughts about lighting to view the center of the earth, taking note of how one could possibly do this in the presence of gasses. Discussion about the actual physical space, liquid or solidarity. The discussions that took place among the characters to evaluate this. I just loved all the ideas that were studied and explored.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Science Fiction

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining, simple, linear plot, perfect for what I was wanting to read right now. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

This was a quick read which I quite reveled in. It was an instant plunge into the story which I quite liked and I enjoyed the trajectory. The bulk of it centered around technical aspects of the journey mission and a bit of internal conflict that was humanly relatable from a robot telling sort of point of view. I loved the little mentionable bits of pop culture.

From that standpoint I would have liked to have seen more character development integrated into the telling of the technical bits, maybe a side line story over a period of time, or in response to a certain incident, or perhaps in thought. Just an extra kick of something specific I could bond to other than the more generic human-like qualities. I also wasn’t really sure what the whole sex and gender bit was about and how it was set out to enrich the story. I had hoped to come to understand a bit of the backstory or resolution in that to explain the importance or whether it was for entertainment purposes or for what, but maybe there is more to come in the love interest sector with the subsequent book.

Overall a good book!

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future.

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An interesting story. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

This is a heavy read, not in volume but in sadness and much tragedy. It lingered there, a little too long for my taste.

It started out strong, but I quickly realized that maybe it’s one I would have better appreciated in the 90s or early 2000s. I wouldn’t say this book stands the test of time like other futuristic, dystopian concepts I’ve read. Which would be fine, but it lingered too much in the head of the narrator, that being presented in first person, with too much stagnation in personal reflection and not enough character growth or support for character consistency.

By the time I got half way through, realizing this was more of reminiscing and dwelling, and dwelling around a very specific concept of personal loss and societal woes, I just wanted to get it over with and didn’t look forward to finding out what was next because the interpersonal and personal victories kept getting postponed and never really came into full fruition by the end of the story in my opinion. It just became a bit exhausting to pick up and read, and I lost interest pretty early on unfortunately.

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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

An elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the island itself, with its mossy rocks, windswept firs and unpredictable seas.

Full of brusque humour and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own experience and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of the novels she wrote for adults. This new edition sees the return of a European literary gem – fresh, authentic and deeply humane.

The Summer BookThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute and sentimental stories about growing up with grandma, which I enjoyed reading about. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

Some of the stories were so enduring and fun to read about.

I did feel quite of the majority were that type of story that you had to have been there for or part of the family to truly immerse yourself in the more meaningful aspect of it all.

It wasn’t entirely my cup of tea but I really appreciated it for what it was.

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