6 Degrees of Separation

I stumbled upon this participation post while visiting Jana @ Reviews From the Stacks. It’s hosted by Kate @ Books Are My Favourite and Best. In it, each blogger begins with the same book and then moves progressively down the line choosing a book that’s related to the prior one. Start at the same place as other readers and see where our imaginations and thought processes take us. What a fascinating and wonderful concept!

#1 – The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

Have I read this book? No

This month, we begin with the book, The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. I have not read this book, but it looks pretty incredible. Here’s the synopsis from goodreads:

Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other.

In the early 1700s, Sarah, accused of being a witch, flees for her life.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community.

Six decades later, the house stands empty. Viv, mourning the death of her father, catalogues Ruth’s belongings and discovers her place in the past – and perhaps a way forward.

Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love.

Wow, what an exciting and wonderful premise! In this one, I can think of one book that this immediately makes me think of, as there are multiple ties.

Connection themes: Witches, sisterhood, historical fiction featuring women’s issues.

#2 – The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Have I read this book? YES! Read my review here.

This is a fabulous book that blends historical fiction and fantasy into something superb and timely. I loved everything about it from the setting to the characters to the amazing writing. Here’s a synopsis from goodreads:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Connection themes with #3 – Three sisters.

#3 – Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Have I read this book? YES! Unfortunately, pre-blog…

Liane Moriarty always delivers something wildly entertaining. I didn’t like this one as much as her other work, but it was still good. This book has a pretty loose connection to Harrow’s historical fiction novel, as it’s an entirely different genre, but it sill follows three sisters trying to navigate the difficulties of life while clinging tight to their sometimes rocky relationships with one another. Both are extremely good reads. Here’s the synopsis:

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Whenever they’re together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow. But apart, each is very much her own woman, dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, juggling the many balls of work, marriage, and motherhood with expert precision, but is she as together as her datebook would have her seem? Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage — can she bring another life into her very precarious world? And can free-spirited Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, ever hope to find lasting love? In this wise, witty, hilarious new novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their thirty-third-year, as they struggle to survive their divorced parents’ dating each other, their technologically savvy grandmother, a cheating husband, champagne hangovers, and the fabulous, frustrating .

Connection theme with #4 – Australian setting.

#4 – In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Have I read this book? YES! Also pre-blog.

Bill Bryson is absolutely hilarious while still being utterly informative. Honestly, Australia is the only thing these two have in common, as this one is non fiction travel literature and there’s a lot more death, though many of them are quite humorous when you really think about it. Morbid, I know. Here’s a synopsis:

Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door, memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiousity.

Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide

Connection theme to #5 – Travel memoir

#5 – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Have I read this book? YES! Again… pre-blog.

Admittedly, I was not in the majority of folks who fawned over this book. I didn’t really understand the hype and found Cheryl to be a narrator with whom I simply couldn’t connect. It is a travel memoir, like the previous book, but it’s a completely different tone from the Bryson book. Here’s a synopsis:

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Connection theme to #6 – Grief and loss, journey of discovery.

#6 – American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Have I read this book? CURRENTLY READING!

This one is a bit of a leap, but bear with me. Cheryl chooses to go on an arduous journey as a way of discovering her way through her grief. Lydia and Luca, from American Dirt are forced to flee their family home in Acapulco to survive. They have lost literally every single person they love and they have to set aside that grief temporarily for the purposes of survival. Sure, that’s a very different kind of journey, but I still feel there’s a life altering connection there in both cases. Here’s a synopsis:

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

And there you have it, my first installment of #6Degreesofseparation! Where will your thoughts take you?

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WWW Wednesday – June 23, 2021 – #wwwwednesday #bookishmemes

Welcome to a new week of WWW Wednesday! You may notice I took a little hiatus from blogging last week, as my husband and I went away to Eureka Springs for our anniversary and I simply didn’t get much opportunity to read or blog. I’m back this week and have already posted two reviews which gets me caught up to now.

This meme is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. In it, we answer three questions and leave a link in the comments sharing our own posts for other bloggers to view.

The Three Ws are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you just finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I have a lot of irons in the fire currently. I’ve gotten myself extremely backed up with my books and am doing my best to blaze through them as quickly as possible, and it’s not going extremely well except on audio. On audio, I’m listening to The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz. This is a fascinating book with a very unique premise, and I chose it for my reading challenge in the #2 spot: Book Becoming a Movie in 2021. I’m not sure I should have, because I’ve seen the trailer. Let me tell you, from reading the book it sounds like someone optioned the rights to the book and then wrote a completely new script, changing the name, the plot, the characters. They pulled a “let’s not and say we did!!!” I positively hate it when they do that. No offense, Mark Wahlberg but I’m probably going to hate your movie.

I’m currently reading two books on paper. The first I’m very excited about, because I have my first author interview for my blog lined up. It’s a twisting psychological YA thriller called Drifting by Steven M. Cross. Cross is a local Missouri author and retired high school teacher who has pursued his writing dreams successfully upon his retirement. You can find several of his works on Amazon, and you can find Cross’s blog at The Old Goat. I look forward to finishing this book in the next couple of days and conducting my interview with Cross for posting next week.

Additionally, I’m working through the book club book for Read Between the Wines, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I’ve been pretty slow going on this one but not because it’s not an engaging read. It is quite engaging and I’m enjoying it very much despite its incredibly difficult subject matter.

What have I just finished reading?

Reviews went up the past two days for The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Soul of An Octopus, two very different books. I enjoyed both of them fairly well. Click on each to read my thoughts.

What Will I Read Next?

On audio, I will pick back up a book I started last week, as I had numerous things come available on audio at once. It is called In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte, and is a fictional account of the life of Belle Gunness, a female serial killer in the Midwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Years ago, I saw a presentation on Gunness and found her story fascinating, so when I saw this novel I thought it would be an interesting read. This book was written by author Camilla Bruce.

In paperback I will pick up my choice for book from an Indie publisher for my reading challenge, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar.

There you have it! That catches you up to speed on what I’ve been up to this week with some very exciting books on my horizon. Take care and happy reading! Feel free to share with me your WWW update this week.

This post contains affiliate links. Any sales made through a link from my site will result in me receiving a commission.

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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery- a Book Review

Perhaps because I live in an utterly land-locked state in the middle of the United States, I have a bit of a fascination with the ocean. I’m known to periodically pick up books on ocean ecology, watch programs like Jeff Corwin’s Ocean Mysteries, and click on any article even remotely ocean related. To this day, I can totally nerd out to the 1989 James Cameron movie The Abyss, the film that made me fall in love with both the ocean and Ed Harris in equal measure. You should go watch it as soon as you finish this review. Frankly, I find it so strange people are so obsessed with getting into space when there’s so much still to discover within our ocean ecosystems. There are vast expanses beneath the depths that are completely unexplored. Maybe that’s a good thing, because where humans enter comes eventual destruction, but the idea of the unknown is still utterly fascinating and more than a bit frightening to me. When I saw this book on Overdrive through the Springfield-Greene County Library system, I downloaded it since I was in the market for a new audiobook. It’s read by the author, naturalist Sy Montgomery, and chronicles her experiences visiting with several different octopuses at the New England Aquarium (and the author clears up the debate: octopi is incorrect). She later learns to dive and visits various destinations to connect with octopuses in their natural habitats.

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. This is not really a science book. Sure, there are smatterings of scientific facts about octopuses and lots of discussion of their neurological makeup and their fascinating levels of intelligence. But more than that, this is a human story. It’s a story of growth and connection. Honestly, it’s a story of friendship. So much so that I’ve placed this one in my reading challenge as number 28: A Book About Friendship. It’s not just human to cephalopod friendship, though there really is a lot of that, but it’s also a story of human to human friendship. This book discusses numerous people whose lives were changed by their work in the aquarium and their acquaintance with the octopuses and the other people who cared for them as well. One of the most touching stories was a teenage girl with autism and a history of suicidal thoughts who found comfort and purpose amongst her 8 tentacled companions. Animals, in general, are incredible forms of therapy for people who find it difficult to fit in. Just last night I came across another book, this time a children’s book about a young boy with autism whose visits to the octopus tank at the aquarium make him feel more comfortable in the world around him. It’s called Leo and the Octopus and it’s by Isabelle Marinov and illustrated by Chris Nixon.

I also want to address the elephant in the room. I saw a lot of reviews on goodreads from people who were adamantly opposed to this book for its casual tone toward the treatment of the octopuses at the aquarium. It is true that the animals profiled were taken from the wild not because of illness or injury but were captured wild simply for their inclusion in aquarium exhibits. Frankly, I dislike this practice as well. In some cases, one incredibly tragic and disheartening story in particular, the animals were kept in very small barrels for much longer than they should have been until bigger habitats were available. I understand the point these reviewers make, and this didn’t really sit well with me either.

That being said, it is expressly stated in the book that the New England Aquarium increased the size of their habitats and, by the end of Montgomery’s tenure shadowing the staff and animals at the aquarium, conditions were so much better for the animals. Montgomery presented a picture of incredibly caring people who were doing the best they could and cared very deeply for the animals in their care. I detest for-profit institutions that are run for greed rather than for the purpose of conservation, preservation, and education of the public. However, in a great institution, an animal is given the chance to live out a long and healthy life in captivity free from predation. Additionally, humans who encounter them are able to grow their appreciation and understanding for these incredible animals and their ecosystems. This, in turn, teaches us how to be better shepherds for them in the wild with a much healthier respect for them and their boundaries. Montgomery spoke vividly about watching people visit the aquarium, their initial reactions to the octopus being one of fear and disdain but transforming to awe and something akin to love by the time they walked away. Yes, there are some unfortunate negatives, but I would argue the benefit these kinds of programs gift to the world is worth it. In some cases where humans have encroached so fully into an animals’ territory, zoos are the only thing saving some species from extinction. With that being said, I refuse to make villains of the people who are actually trying to educate others about the value of these animals to the natural world, but only if they are doing so in responsible and ethical ways.

Back to the book, as I previously mentioned, I listened to the audio version of this, and it’s read by the author. The first thing that struck me was that Montgomery simply oozes a kind of childlike glee and wonder. You can hear her passion and her enthusiasm for the octopus in her voice, sometimes to an almost annoying degree. Though, I’m cynical and easily annoyed by overly cheery people, so take that criticism with a grain of salt. The writing isn’t superb. In fact, I saw one reviewer positively skewering Montgomery for her overt overuse of the simile. For my part, I view Montgomery as a scientist first and a writer second and applaud her effort to share her research with the world, so I’m not going to quibble over the fact that she’s no John Steinbeck.

Overall, this book is an enjoyable read that will provide you a more intimate glimpse into the soul of the octopus. I give it 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Soul of an Octopus. Published May 12, 2015 by Highbridge Audio. ISBN: 9781451697711. Runtime 9 hrs, 12 mins. Read by Sy Montgomery.

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – a Book Review

To be honest, I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries. To date, this is only my 2nd Agatha Christie novel, and I chose this book because I chose Christie as my author for the reading challenge whose first published novel I would read. I knew I wanted to choose an author with a prolific writing history whose works are considered classic. Christie wrote this novel in 1916 while the Great War was raging, and it was published in the United States in 1920. I’m glad I chose this one, as it’s an important piece of literary history. It’s not only Christie’s first novel, but it’s the first novel featuring one of her most famous characters, Hercule Poirot.

Synopsis

Our narrator for this novel is a man by the name of Arthur Hastings who is visiting Styles court, the estate of the wealthy matriarch of the Cavendish family, Emily Inglethorp. One evening, Mrs. Inglethorp dies under very suspicious circumstances and there are a whole host of people on the property who may have been responsible for the heinous crime. Of course, Mr. Hastings knows who best to call, an eccentric Belgian refugee from the war who just happens to be a detective of high standing in his home country. Monsieur Poirot puts his retirement on hold to come to the estate to investigate, and this strange little man always closes a case. The result is a twisty tale full of red herrings that will keep you guessing till the very end.

Review

As I stated before, I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries. I do find them enjoyable, but they simply aren’t my go-to genre. This is an important novel, as it is the beginning of an incredible era, an era in which Agatha Christie continues to reign supreme as the Queen of Mystery. I mean, the woman has a mind-boggling amount of literary output. As debut novels go, I think this was a very solid piece of writing. By And Then There Were None, she had truly honed her craft to a fine art. That was my first introduction to her, and I enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t quite feel as invested in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and I think that boils down to the rather silly nature of Hercule Poirot. Though he does have a certain amount of charm, he definitely is eccentric and prone to little fits of madness, which I know many people find endearing. He’s a little difficult to take seriously until you really begin to understand his thought process.

The writing is a bit dated, naturally, as this book is more than 100 years old. However, Christie very deftly employs the unreliable narrator trope, as Hastings is just a bit too dense and naive to believe the most obvious of truths but far too dramatic to refrain from jumping to incorrect conclusions, which is Christie’s clever little trick to lead readers astray. To make matters worse, Poirot is not above using actual deceit to make sure he reaches the correct final conclusion, playing with the mind of our hapless narrator and, subsequently, the reader, which is where some of our red herrings come into play. Christie has us hopping all over the place before she has Poirot sit us down for a big ole’ “WAIT FOR IT” reveal. It really was quite an interesting ride despite a few petty annoyances which are simply the result of my mind being programmed for a much more modern and less sophisticated type of suspense.

I didn’t really like any of the peripheral characters, to be honest, but this is purely intentional on the part of Christie. Everyone is a suspect, because everyone is a bit of an imbecile. I think that’s really quite typical of murder mystery novels, so I don’t necessarily see it as a minus. Overall, this is a charming book and an excellent piece of literary history, especially for enthusiasts of mystery novels. I’d hazard to think anyone could be a fan of the genre without an accompanying familiarity with Christie. It’s a novel that deserves our admiration if only for its vital place in the literary canon and its effectiveness at keeping us guessing. Overall, I give it 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Published Oct 21 2002 by Deodand (first published 1920). ISBN: 0646418432. Paperback.

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TBR Thursday – Episode 3: June 10, 2021

Last week I managed to remove a couple of books from my TBR shelf and I miraculously have only added one this week, so let’s dive right into the task of clearing away. I’ve set my random number generator to 498 and we’ll see what we land on. First up…

338

Ageless by Paul Inman

Synopsis from goodreads: Imagine that you never aged that you would forever remain young and vital, impervious to the ravages of time. For Alessandra, a woman whose genetic code keeps her eternally young perhaps even making her immortal this fantasy is a reality. But it s not as idyllic as it seems. Her rare condition only leaves her feeling isolated and strange, fearful of what her circumstances really mean for her future. And Alessandra has every reason to be afraid. After many years in captivity as the subject of Nazi scientist experimentations in an underground lab, she s haunted by the memories of her exploitation and desperate to keep her identity a secret. This proves to be exceptionally difficult when impassioned CIA agent Mark Richards develops an unhealthy obsession with capturing her. Ageless is a thrilling journey that spans decades and asks the question: If you could live forever, would you want to?

Verdict: It would appear this is one that was added when I entered a goodreads giveaway. It’s an interesting premise, but reviews are kind of all over the place, and in an awkward twist there are some character assassination reviews of 1 star alluding to some nefarious things surrounding the author. Nothing I’ve verified but I think it’s best to let this one lie.

REMOVE

379

Frankenstein Diaries: The Romantics: The Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley by Michael January

Synopsis from goodreads: “The inspiration for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s most famous work, “Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus” has been debated for 200 years. In 1814, two years before the notorious “Gothic Summer” in Geneva, 16 year old Mary Godwin eloped to Paris with the 22 year old poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, inviting Mary’s 15 year old step-sister Claire Claremont to go with them. They would walk across war ravaged France to Switzerland and up the Rhine River to a castle called Frankenstein.

Three years later Mary would publish the diaries she kept of that journey of two teenage girls and the poet of “free love”. In the published version of “A History of a Six Week’s Tour” she would tell where they went and what they saw, but she never revealed the true secrets of that trip, from where a later inspiration arose. Here now, for the first time is revealed the secret portions of that tour and beyond.”

Verdict: Hmmm… interesting. I don’t remember adding this book, but I am extremely interested in anything Mary Shelley and even have my own writing project about her planned. I’m going to keep this one, as during my research phase I plan on reading anything and everything I can about her.

KEEP

461

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Synopsis from goodreads: “Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.

Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.

Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.

Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.”

Verdict: This is a new addition from a goodreads giveaway. It has such good ratings and is receiving a lot of praise, so I’m going to keep this for when I want a feel good YA book.

KEEP

271

Before My Eyes by Caroline Bock

Synopsis from goodreads: Dreamy, poetic Claire, seventeen, has spent the last few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, as their mother lies in a hospital bed recovering from a stroke. Claire believes she has everything under control until she meets “Brent” online. Brent appears to be a kindred spirit, and Claire is initially flattered by his attention. But when she meets Max, the awkward state senator’s son, her feelings become complicated.

Max, also seventeen, has been working the worst summer job ever at the beachside Snack Shack. He’s also been popping painkillers. His parents—more involved in his father’s re-election than in their son’s life—fail to see what’s going on with him.

Working alongside Max is Barkley, twenty-one. Lonely and obsessive, Barkley has been hearing a voice in his head. No one—not his parents, not his co-workers—realizes that Barkley is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Until the voice in his head orders him to take out his gun.

Narrated in turns by Claire, Max, and Barkley, Before My Eyes captures a moment when possibilities should be opening up, but instead everything teeters on the brink of destruction.”

Verdict: This is another YA novel. And the synopsis looks extremely compelling and has a plot that’s extremely relevant in today’s political and social climate. I think in this case I’m going to chock it up to the average rating. at a 3.49 average. That doesn’t seem quite high enough to usually give me a lot of confidence. So, for now, I’m going to remove this one.

REMOVE

416

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Synopsis from goodreads: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her — but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

Verdict: This is an easy one. I actually did have this book from the library once and had to turn it in because I’d bit off more than I could chew and hadn’t even started it before it was due, but I definitely want to read it. I plan on doing it this year. I’ve already completed more than half of my 52 books for my reading challenge, so I can start to be a little lax with my categories and fit in some I just want to read. So it’s a keeper…

KEEP

There you have it. Two removes and three keeps. I now have a grand total of 496. Until next time, happy reading!

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Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – a Book Review

This was by far my most anticipated book of 2021. I positively loved The Martian, even enjoying the movie adaptation, though not nearly as much as the book. I listened to both The Martian and PJH. Let me tell you, this is the way to experience these books. Both are first person narration by the particular astronaut who is stuck out in space by himself. Both have fairly similar voices, but the story lines are very unique and set apart from one another, and both are immensely worth it. I actually thought they may have been narrated by the same person, but they weren’t. The Martian was read by voice actor, R.C. Bray, and Project Hail Mary was read by Ray Porter. Granted, it had been a while since I listened to The Martian, so they probably sound pretty distinguishable but it’s just the character tone that made me think they were similar. Both of the voice actors are extremely talented. Honestly, I wondered if Porter was annoyed by how many different accents he had to do during the flashback sequences when the mission was being planned by a diverse coalition of international entities, but he did a fabulous job in my opinion.

Synopsis

Ryland Grace wakes from a coma to bad news, but honestly he doesn’t know how bad the news is. All he knows is he has no idea who he is, where he is, or why he is there, but he is the only survivor. His two crewmates, a man and a woman he can’t remember, didn’t survive their induced coma, so he is alone with two dead bodies and an irritating computer who is more than a little unhelpful. Things get worse when he soon realizes he’s not just alone, but he’s alone in space. IN ANOTHER SOLAR SYSTEM. Oh shit…

And that’s all the synopsis I’m going to give you, because I consider everything that comes after that to be a spoiler. Well, ok, you probably already know that Grace was sent to space on a very important mission to save humanity. If he fails, literally everyone and everything on Earth will die. No pressure. As the novel progresses, it bounces back and forth between flashbacks that are his memories of his past on Earth returning, and the present as he tries to troubleshoot issues he faces on his humanity-saving mission.

Review

This was positively divine. Everything about this book: the plot, the humor, the character development, the suspense. Everything is sheer perfection. I was on the edge of my seat for the entirety of this book and found myself needing to keep listening. Ryland Grace may not be a perfect man, as we do inevitably find him to be very flawed in a very human way, but he is a perfect character. He reacts to situations in a way very similar to the way I think many of us would in real life. He’s funny, charming and endearing, and the narration is extremely conversational in tone, which leads the reader to feel as if we are actually a part of all the action.

Andy Weir has an incredible gift. He’s a profoundly intelligent man, and he knows a lot of science stuff, but he writes about it in a way that’s very accessible for the average reader. Also, he just seems like the kind of guy I’d want to go grab a drink with, both intelligent and super fun. I’m a casual reader of science fiction and speculative fiction. I can grasp a concept but I can’t jump off into a lengthy discussion about astrophysics or quantum mechanics or other super complex scientific topic you might throw at me. I’d just give you the blinky blink and take another sip of my drink, because it’s obviously going to be a long night. But somehow, even with all the science talk in Weir’s books, I still manage to remain captivated, even understanding what he’s trying to say. This is all credit given to Weir for managing to make something so technical interesting through proper communication. I can’t critique the believability of his science. Not even close. I’m just taking his word for it that it all makes sense. Frankly, he has me convinced this is a super likely cosmic scenario, and that’s a bit more than moderately scary. Also, can we send Andy Weir to space if the space poop hits the fan? I think he’s the only one capable of actually saving humanity.

This book is incredibly well balanced. Sure, it’s a thrilling and amazing space adventure that allows us a bit of needed escapism, but it’s also a truly heartfelt story that inevitably makes us feel a bit warm and gushy inside. At least once my eyes leaked. It’s a human thing. I won’t say too much, but suffice to say there are some very touching moments in this novel that show us the importance of working together, of forging connections and bonds across barriers and individual differences that seem insurmountable. In today’s us versus them environment, I think that’s a very vital lesson for us all. No obstacle is insurmountable with a little faith in one another and a dash of selflessness in pursuit of the common good. Please read this book. I’m sad it’s over. 5 stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Published May 4, 2021 by Audible Studios. ASIN: B08GB2RLKM. Narrated by Ray Porter. This post contains affiliate links. I receive a commission for purchases made through my site.

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WWW Wednesday – June 9, 2021 – #wwwwednesday #bookishmemes

Welcome to a new week of WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. In it, we answer three questions and leave a link in the comments sharing our own posts for other bloggers to view.

The Three Ws are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you just finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I JUST finished a fabulous audio that was much anticipated by loads of people, including myself, and I absolutely loved it so I haven’t yet started another one. I haven’t been nearly as productive in hard copy as I was with audio seeing as how I was busy with child dance rehearsals and subsequent recital last week. As a result, I’m still on Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Looking forward to finishing today if possible.

What have I just finished reading?

The fabulous audio I just finished was Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I couldn’t wait to read it, so I did Audible, and I definitely didn’t regret it. It’s a fabulous narration to go with an even more fabulous story. I will get my review up for this one in the next 24 hours or so.

Unfortunately, the fact that I’m still on Christie means I haven’t finished any hard copy books in the past week. Sad…

What Will I Read Next?

Same answer as last week in hard copy format. I’ll pick up Jeanine Cummins’ Oprah’s book club selection, American Dirt.

I’m still deciding on audio, weighing my options, so I’m going to leave that one as a surprise. This was a fairly short update this week and I hope to make some good progress and have some more earth shattering news next week. Until next time, happy reading!

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission on purchases made through my site.

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First Lines Friday – May 28, 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page.
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first.
  • Finally… reveal the book.

This week I’m going with my next-up read, and it’s our current book club selection, so here we go!

“One of the very first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet where Luca is standing. He doesn’t immediately understand that it’s a bullet at all, and it’s only luck that it doesn’t strike him between the eyes.”

This has been a pretty popular book but also a controversial one following its pick by Oprah for her book club. Any clues yet?

The book follows a mother and her 8-year old boy as they flee their home in Acapulco in search of a better life in the United States. Ringing any bells?

And the book is….

American Dirt by

Jeanine Cummins

Well done if you had this one! I should be starting this one either tonight or tomorrow if I can finish my Agatha Christie, and I’m looking forward to it! Until we meet again, happy reading!

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The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox – a Book Review

I should probably start this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I find myself at a loss of words as to how to adequately approach a review for The Absolute Book. I’m still mulling over most of my reactions to it, all the way down to figuring out if I liked it or not. Apologies if this review becomes a big meandering mess of regurgitated thoughts.

Synopsis

Taryn Cornick is just a teenager when her sister is violently killed by a man who all but gets away with it with a mere slap on the wrist. Upon his release, a rash decision of hers once again threatens to throw her life into a tailspin. She does her best to leave the past behind her, building a successful career as a scholar and writer who writes about the preservation of precious materials in libraries, focusing on the various threats to archived materials. As strange events begin to unfold and Taryn’s past demons begin to catch up with her, she will find herself thrust into a strange and harrowing quest not just to save her own life but to quite possibly save the world.

Review

First of all, this book is hefty. I’m not just referring to its page count of almost 650 pages. It has a little bit of everything. It starts off as a pretty basic crime thriller. A vicious attack, a killer who gets away with his crime, a marriage of convenience, and eventually a crime of vengeance are all packed into the first few chapters of the novel. This devolves into a detective drama in which we want the detective to lose, though we like Jacob Berger, despite his ardent conviction that Taryn is guilty of conspiracy to murder. If you thought that was wild, just wait for the demons, shape-shifting demigods, talking birds, magical gates that allow one to shift from one world to another, magic gloves, strange otherworldly creatures, and mythological gods. Am I missing anything? Oh yeah, the box containing a magical scroll that has existed for centuries and somehow can’t be destroyed and probably contains the secrets to the universe. No big deal.

I do enjoy this kind of fantasy. One of the most memorable of these novels is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I read that book a few years ago and I fell in love with it. There’s something magical about this idea of a world beneath our modern world where fantastical creatures roam, only accessible to those gifted with a unique ability to see through the obvious into the unknown realm. I know authors have been doing this for a long time. Gaiman is far from the first, but that’s the first book that really introduced me to the concept in a more adult fashion. Naturally, as I child I assumed they must have sent Errol with my Hogwarts invitation, because it somehow didn’t arrive. I still enjoy the lines that blur fantasy and reality, and I think Elizabeth Knox navigates the melding of the two quite expertly.

There’s no denying Knox is an incredibly gifted writer. She’s especially skilled at setting a scene. Her world building is exquisite. The way she introduces characters and places with important and sometimes meticulous detail is impressive. There’s a very strong emphasis on character development. This novel contains multiple genres all wrapped up into one: fantasy, mystery, thriller, historical fiction, modern fairy tale, and even nonfiction with some pretty detailed discussion about the history of libraries and the tragedies that have consumed much of the intellectual resources of the past.

The plot of this story is quite epic, and I thought it took a very interesting and surprising turn at the very last, once we see the true nature of the quest and its intended purpose. We once again are able to see a real world application for the themes of the book, a blend of modern day problems with supernatural solutions. This book is very cerebral and intricately plotted. Creating something like this is an ambitious undertaking, and I’m extremely aware of the importance of that. A lot of people can write a book, but there are few people who can create something like this. Reading it is an ambitious undertaking as well, as it’s lengthy and quite complicated, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the depth of skill that was necessary to bring all the parts of this novel into something whole and cohesive. This book is an admirable feat of literary creation.

All that being said, I can see how this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It was very easy to get lost. It has a pacing that is quite disjointed, as we jump to and from different timelines, to and from different worlds, and then back again, sometimes in rapid succession. One scene we might leisurely plod along paying close attention to details and the next we’re bursting forth at rapid pace speeding through some pretty important stuff. You have to be really careful not to drift away and miss something. There is a huge cast of characters, though I felt like they were each delineated quite well with unique voices, so that helped me in that regard. Still, this is a frustrating read and the experience wasn’t always enjoyable. I would describe this book as being a bit laborious. It’s not a quick, easy summer read you can absorb on the beach while you sip lemonade and soak up the sun. So, if that’s what you’re currently in the mood for, it’s best to move along and table The Absolute Book for a time you are feeling particularly inclined to give your brain muscles a bit of cardio. Make sure to hydrate.

Frankly, I’m not sure where else to go from here without giving away too much of the plot that should be reserved for the reader’s discovery, so I will end it here. Overall, 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Published February 9 2021 by Penguin Audio. ISBN 0593296737. Runtime 18 hrs, 20 minutes. Narrated by Anne-Marie Duff. This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made through my site will result in me receiving a commission.

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TBR Thursday – Episode 2: June 3, 2021

Well, last week I wasn’t immensely successful at cleaning up my TBR list, and then I went and added a few more books this week so now I have a total of 499, up 4 from where I ended last week. *sigh* No matter, I shall forge ahead. Once again I’ve pulled up the random number generator and set it to 499 and now we’re off on an adventure!

234

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

Synopsis excerpt from goodreads: “Ben Wolf has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world. How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho? … Living with a secret isn’t easy, though, and Ben’s resolve begins to crumble . . . especially when he realizes that he isn’t the only person in Trout with secrets.”

Back when I was taking a YA lit class in 2013 for my library degree, I read my first Chris Crutcher book, Whale Talk. Honestly, I don’t remember it, but I gave it a 4. And evidently I added this book to my To-Read list then. Truly, though, I don’t read as much YA as I used to and I don’t see myself picking this one up, so I’m going to remove it.

  • REMOVE

109

Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg

Synopsis excerpt from goodreads: “A provocative look at how the disappearance of the world’s great predators has upset the delicate balance of the environment, and what their disappearance portends for the future, by an acclaimed science journalist.”

I’m a bit torn on this one. First of all, I went through a big eco-warrior book phase and, frankly, they tend to scare me more than any horror novel ever could, and they make me extremely sad. However, this one has incredible reviews and I’m not one to shy away from things simply because they make me uncomfortable as long as they are important. I think I’ll keep this one.

  • KEEP

391

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Synopsis from goodreads: “In an Eden-like future, a girl and her father live close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain. They own a few remnants of civilization: some books, a pane of glass, a set of flint and steel, a comb. The father teaches his daughter how to fish and hunt and the secrets of the seasons and the stars. He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind. But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through a vast wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can learn to listen. A cautionary tale of human fragility, of love and loss, The Bear is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature’s dominion.”

So I recall stumbling across this book once and considering it for my book club selection but I was honestly afraid of liking it too much and then being offended when everyone else hated it, so I passed. Basically the synopsis of this could read, “Amy, Andrew wrote a book for you and you should read it.” It checks all my boxes. Reviewers say it’s beautifully and lyrically written literary fiction, post apocalyptic, people at one with nature, etc. So I’m going to keep this one.

  • KEEP

266

MaddAddam (MaddAddam #3) by Margaret Atwood

Synopsis from goodreads: “A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers – a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the Gods Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer attack; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack.”

Well, hell. Here’s the problem. This is the 3rd book in a series. I read the first, Oryx and Crake, but I remember literally nothing about it. So, basically, I need to go back to the beginning and read that one again and then 2 and THEN this book. At this precise moment, that seems like more than I want to commit to, but it’s Margaret Atwood. I can’t kick out Margaret Atwood. I’m not a monster. She can stay.

  • KEEP

252

Twilite: A Parody by Sue Knott

Synopsis from goodreads: “This parody skewers the best-selling novel about the sparkly undead. Whether you’re a “Twilight” lover or hater, you’ll find TwiLITE totally “amazing” (the word used most frequently in the scores of reviews generated on scribd). The scribd preview garnered a 5-star rating and rave reviews including: “I love Twilight. But I swear I think I almost love this even more.” “This was hilarious!” “boi i luv this book!! amazing” “TwiLITE A Parody” is a true parody, following Stephenie’s book non-event by non-event, exposing the ridiculous every step of the way. Our stars are Edward Sullen and Bella Swoon, and boy is she clumsy. Edward, of course, has the face that launched 300 pages of gushing prose. (Can we call it prose if it made us want to vomit?) If you haven’t already read “Twilight,” you’ll just say, “Hunh?” after reading this parody. So, go waste valuable hours reading that amazingly light 498-page tome so you can laugh your butt off over “TwiLITE A Parody!” This 4th edition is 25% longer than previous editions. That’s 24.9% more laughs.”

Frankly, I’m here for this. I like the idea, but I’m just not really feeling the whole Twilight thing anymore, though I typically do agree with its overall ridiculousness, especially all the hype over what I see as nothing but an emotionally abusive boyfriend and sheer tragic misrendering of the classic vampire trope. But I’m simply not interested at this point. Remove away…

  • REMOVE

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