Categories
Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

This book really made the history come to life.

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Featured Inspiration Photography Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂

Welcome Autumn! What to Look Forward to This Season

Chicago in the Fall

Hello Fall!

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

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

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

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

Change in Landscape

I love the autumn landscape.

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

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

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

Creatures Calling a New Home

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

Bee of the Midwest
Butterly of the Midwest
Butterfly Dance

Baked Goods

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

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

Scents of Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collection of Perfume Samples

Other Edible Treats

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

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

2-day delivery straight from the gorgeous pineapple plantation.

Huckleberry and Grapefruit Yogurt Parfait
Maui Gold Pineapple Plantation

Sounds of Autumn

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

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

Upcoming Book Releases

There are so many exciting publications coming out.

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

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

The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen

Movie Releases

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

Bill & Ted Face the Music (promo website photo)

What are you looking forward to this season?

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

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

Categories
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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Featured Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— John Lubbock

Prairie lands.

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

Cookie composition.

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

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

Book photography.

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

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

I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

Contrast through shadows.

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

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

The reveal.

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

Big sky justice.

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

Pencil drawing of Don Quixote

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

— Don Quixote

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

Categories
Desserts Featured Hors d'œuvres Recipes

Glazed Spanish Peanuts

Glazed Spanish Peanuts | Erica Robbin

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

Such a delicious, easy, quick, satisfying snack.

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

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

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


Credit: ericarobbin.com

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

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

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

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

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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Categories
Book Blog Book Reviews Featured Fiction Romance

Spring Tides at Swallowtail Bay (Swallowtail Bay, Book 1) by Katie Ginger

Licking her wounds from her divorce, Stella impulsively buys a gift shop and two holiday lets in glorious Swallowtail Bay, hoping for a fresh start with her King Charles Spaniel Frank.

When the neighbours meet her with a warm welcome, Stella knows she’s found the new home she was looking for. Even gorgeous but grumpy local Miles can’t take the shine off things. But then her ex-husband announces he’s getting married again, and someone in the village starts gossiping about Stella…

Is Stella’s dream over already? Or, with her new friends behind her, can Stella fight back and save her new life – and find the happy ever after she’s been waiting for?

Spring Tides at Swallowtail Bay by Katie Ginger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This was ok, sort of liked it, sort of teetering on my opinion about it. I really wanted to like this one more than I did though. I couldn’t stay focused on it. I think those who like a slow, easy feeling read will enjoy this one more than I did.

I loved the idea of the story, the business, the shops, the bay, the small town, people being friendly, learning about the character circumstances, how they got there, how they were coming to be, the things everyone was doing, the setting.

But getting through loads of descriptors after the first 20-30 pages really bogged down my reading experience.

I felt like I was wading around the surf in JNCO jeans. Almost two pages dedicated to describing the flat was unappealing to me. The overly detailed descriptions didn’t add much depth or interest, rather they became incredibly distracting as I read on.

Just the flat, knowing everything about it being dirty, the layout, the furniture, actually leading to repetition and over-emphasis throughout the book. Then the activities of walking up to meet someone, reaching for a knob, opening doors, closing doors, glancing out windows, putting a cup to their mouth, setting the cup down, using a napkin, picking up a fork, loading the fork with cake, taking a bite, setting the fork down, their every physical move documented with every interaction.

It was just too slow-paced and bulky, cluttered for my style, obstacles to my enjoyment of what I thought was actually a really story so I will look forward to exploring more from that aspect.

I’m interested in checking out the others in the series and seeing what they are like.



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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom a rising television star. The bride 
a magazine publisher.

It’s a wedding for a magazine in a remote location. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. And then someone turns up dead.

Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was great!

The story. The story was so well thought out. I think the effect was there, an enjoyable thriller, winding tighter and tighter, chapters transitioning from back story, to real time action, shortening in length as they went on, the intensity increasing like a tether ball winding around the pole at 4th grade recess.

Weddings are stressful for everyone and all the elements of wedding bliss and actual outcome were captured in the most dynamic way. I liked that this was an isolated closed mystery story taking place on an exclusive island with a fitting topography and Celtic history that drove the plot forward.

And it’s one of those books I think, predictable or not, if you wanted to by all sleuthy, there’s enough satisfaction in the story and satisfaction in the writing that an early lightbulb moment would be just as fulfilling reading onward.

The writing. I loved the strategically placed words, hinting about what was to come related to someone not leaving the island the way they arrived. I liked the strategically placed red herrings, the foreshadowing with words like… well I won’t quote the phrases, but they were letting me know something very specific was going to take place.

I really liked the way the POVs were done. First person narrative was done well with quite a bit of varied sentence structure and presented with a style of foreknowledge and knowledge acquisition in a really fresh and interesting way, especially when it came to description of physical traits which aimed for unbelabored accuracy in just a few words.

It was not as linear as I had expected in the beginning. Parts felt like chapters were missing with the multiple POVs, foretelling mixed with current events. I realized though how much I dove in, speed mode, by the time I got to page 30, realizing I was finally starting to commit things to memory and so I decided to restart the book and then it all made so much better sense to me.

Characters. First off the character roles were perfect, the couple, the plus one, the single… A wedding party composed of friends and family, reminiscing over everything you see and experience from the social aspect at wedding festivities from shared memories, childhood crushes, deviant behavior, life successes and failures, talents, desires.

I thought it was all well done especially when it came to character distinction, partly in due because of the age range/generational similarities and the author made them all shine in their own way.

Personalities from dialogue to inner monologue, action, all following suit and each had attachments of deeper connectivity, defining life stories with hopes and dreams, insecurities, consistent with life stages, elements of what could have been and nostalgia of pasts relationships, regret, even down to the awkwardness of joining conversation, all interwoven in such a way I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. All of it nicely curated to fit perfectly within the story being told.

Some questions, but not deal breakers. I did want to know what happened to a certain character aside from the emotional response that was displayed. Was it a lost one? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really mattered. I enjoyed reading the story so much anyway, but thought I’d mention it because it did linger in my head.

It did end sort of abruptly after the peak. I kind of wanted to see a bit more character reflection after the reveal, especially of a certain few. I didn’t expect to have full resolution or discourse, but just a little more internal dialogue or character interaction to bring situational awareness to everyone involved as a bit of closure to the post wedding festivities and relationships. Likely my feelings about this are because the greater first 3rd was more about building up character dynamic than action and I would have liked the story to have picked up a bit again from this angle in the end for full circle completeness.

Super good book nonetheless!

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“I look down at the spilled contents, shining gold tubes of mascara and lipsticks rolling in a bid for freedom across the floorboards, an overturned compact leaking a trail of bronzing powder.”



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Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I really enjoyed parts of this one, for very specific reasons.

The story was one that took me back to my absolute love for Grimms’ fairy tales. The lure of folklore, fantastical creatures, the mystery of forests, unfolding into an almost creepy, dark parade of characters that share how they came to be with a startling past, connection to the present, and some sort of unsought wisdom and knowledge being imparted to those who interact with them. And then the excitement is waiting to see what the protagonist does with their new found friend/knowledge and follow them along as they fall into traps of deceit, conquests, and satisfying endings. And offer something valuable, entertaining, precious, insightful in the meanwhile.

I enjoyed the ideas put forth in this one, being set in Russia, the atmosphere of village life in winter, the author was great at creating a lovely, solid opening scene for the characters to live in. For me, this was the driving force and bulk of joy I found in the book. The fantastical characters, intelligent and fierce, they had drive, they had something to offer.

In this book, bits of the story seemed to be more of a retelling of certain folklore, which was great, but the more I read on, I found myself longing for either a completely original piece of work or a retelling of just a few known fairy tales into one, like Into the Woods for comparison. This was because the number of characters to keep track of became a bit too much. The focus seemed to change from following an intriguing young girl’s story to a compulsion to include numerous characters that were less important in her journey and this took the book in tangents that were less supportive in her development, and for me, really started to become quite boring half way through.

I loved the writing style in the beginning, presenting characters with a balance of intriguing descriptions and dialogue, going into a trajectory where I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen. I couldn’t put the book down. However about the 3rd-4th/5th way through the book, there wasn’t much being added to the overall characterization and storyline to keep my interest and drive to move the plot forward. It became more of an introduction of these multiple characters and I had to put the book down for several weeks because the story became incredibly slow and quite dry at these points.

It was becoming less reliant on character development, which I thought at the beginning was going to be really strong and something I was looking forward to, but instead, it simmered down to an excellent opening, a heavy reliance on atmospheric description which was a major strength at the beginning, followed by introductions of multiple characters with nowhere to go.

The main action was a major, abrupt shift in the story and overtook the plot, the book as a whole. It was characters upon characters interacting with each other on the sidelines, power struggles again and again, like the game of Final Fantasy, battle scenes, sword clinking with sword, sword clinking with sword, and more sword clinking with sword.

And what I really wanted to do is walk around the village more and talk to people. The main characters I got to know, I wanted to know, sort of became lost in the mix and therefore there was this disconnect to the main plot and that’s where I lost most of my interest. The atmospheric presentation, though amazing, was’t enough to carry the story through and the action scenes became somewhat redundant, missing opportunities for character development, building overall trajectory, or solidifying plot.

And then the book just ended. I suppose much was a pacing issue, like an erratic, brake happy driver. It was fine and smooth when getting on the freeway, but the journey became a bit rough, a little dull, and didn’t end with much satisfaction. Upon reading, I didn’t realize it was a trilogy, but still, I wanted more. I wanted justification, I wanted reason, I wanted forethought fleshed out.

But kudos, kudos, kudos to the amazing opener, tempting ideas, and fanciful, luring setting and scene descriptions.



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The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2) by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his “father,” he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I just loved the witty humor, the science, the mere confirmation through human observation.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by William Dufris, which was excellent.

I loved the speculation, the licorice, the confrontation, the human discovery. Some parts droned on a bit, I really wanted to know John Perry again, and a little more concrete and emotional connection between the characters (yet while side characters to maintain their distinction) and the direction the overall plot trajectory, but I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series.



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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I thought this was great. I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by the author himself, which I’d highly recommend.

The writing, the story, really captured the innocence, both literal and magical thinking of a child, yet was palatable as an adult reader.

Kittens, staircases, hidden places, wormholes, riddle-like quests. Curiosity, the feeling of getting in trouble, being disciplined, friendships, dangers and fears, and dinner manners. All the themes, concepts, and individual interpretation shared, making for a really compelling read.



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