Sunday, December 19, 2021

Review: Wild Seas by Thomas Peschak

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I could stop my review with those words because that really does sum the book up but in case you want a little more information, I'll keep going. Thomas Peschak is an amazing photographer and this book showcases some of his best ocean work. Certain photographs are so iconic, you've seen them all over the internet already. Others are so spectacular you'd be forgiven for thinking they were fake (they most emphatically are not). He has a knack for catching marine life in ways that make us look at them differently, to marvel at them and the oceans they live in, around, and above.

This simply gorgeous coffee table book is full of lush double page spreads and impressive, crisp, surprising photographs, those that highlight the gloriousness of the ocean, those that drive home the fragility of it, and those that show the shameful ways we human beings are harming it. It is divided into sections highlighting sea turtles, manta rays, seabirds, sharks, sardines, Galapagos, and conservation, and each of these parts has jaw-dropping photographs. Amongst the photos, Peschak also tells of his childhood, falling in love with photography, leaving the world of academia, and his transformation into a passionate conservationist who wants his photographs to expose the wonder of the ocean and its inhabitants, introducing the underwater world to people so they will want to protect and save it. The photographs in here run from awe-inspiring to cautionary to heartbreaking and back again.

The perfect book for marine enthusiasts, it makes me want to pop a regulator in my mouth and sink down into the unbelievable world of our oceans again.

For more information about Thomas Peschak and the book, check our his author site, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book, and purchase here.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher National Geographic for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi

The book is being released by Riverhead Books on January 11, 2022.

The book's jacket copy says: Through the scrim of fading memory, an elderly woman confronts a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, under the mysterious skies of her island home

Off the coast of Georgia, near Savannah, generations have been tempted by strange blue lights in the sky near an island called Lyra. At the height of WWII, impressionable young Elle Ranier leaves New York City to forge a new life together on the island with her new husband, Simon. There they will live for decades, raising a family while waging a quixotic campaign to find the source of the mysterious blue offshore light—and the elusive minerals rumored to lurk beneath the surface.

Fifty years later, Elle looks back at her life on the mysterious island—and at a secret she herself has guarded for decades. As her memory recedes into the mists of Alzheimer’s disease, her life seems a tangle of questions: How did her husband’s business, now shuttered, survive so long without ever finding the legendary Lyra stones? How did her own life crumble under treatment for depression? And what became of Gabriel—the handsome, raffish other man who came to the island with them and risked everything to follow the lights?

Darkly romantic and deeply haunting, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells pulls us into a story of the tantalizing, faithless relationship between ourselves and the lives and souls we leave behind.

Monday, December 13, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past two weeks are:

Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
All Roads Lead to Whitechapel by Michelle Birkby
We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett
Wild Seas by Thomas Peschak
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida
The Mistletoe Secret by Richard Paul Evans

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Ultimate Visual History of the World by Jean-Pierre Isbouts
National Grographic Ocean by Sylvia Earle
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Reviews posted this week:

The Cartographer's Secret by Tea Cooper
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Hooked by Sutton Foster
Chemistry by Weike Wang

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Austenistan edited by Laaleen Sukhera
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands
Refining Felicity by M.C. Beaton
Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance by Terre Reed
Lovely War by Julie Berry
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Dear County Agent Guy by Jerru Nelson
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday
Cosmogony by Lucy Ives
Heartwood by Barbara Becker
My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson
Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
Assembly by Natasha Brown
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Silence by William Carpenter
The Ghost Dancers by Adrian C. Louis
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa
Why Birds Sing by Nina Berkhout
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Plutocracy by Abraham Martinez
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen
The Secret, Book and Scone Society by Ellery Adams
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
The Earl Not Taken by A. S. Fenichel
The Stone Sister by Carolyn Patterson
The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese
A Recipe for Daphne by Nektaria Anastasiadou< br /> The Portrait by Ilaria Bernardini
The Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
The Hummingbird's Gift by Sy Montgomery
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslian Charles
A Trick of the Light by Ali Carter
The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories by Caroline Kim
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light by Helen Ellis
Miseducated by Brandon P. Fleming
No Hiding in Boise by Kim Hooper
The Truth and Other Hidden Things by Lea Geller
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Modern Jungles by Pao Lor
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda
The Third Mrs. Galway by Deirdre Sinnott
Mr. Malcolm's List by Suzanne Allain
All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks
The Restaurant Inspector by Alex Pickett
The Other Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Circe by Madeline Miller
Julie and Romeo Get Lucky by Jeanne Ray
All Sorrows Can Be Borne by Loren Stephens
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
You Belong Here Now by Dianna Rostad
We Learnt About Hitler at the Mickey Mouse Club by Enid Elliott Linder
A Girl Is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton
Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
Death of a Diva at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
Murder in the Piazza by Jen Collins Moore
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
The Very Nice Box by Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett
Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri
In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon F. Ballard
You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Cheese, Illustrated by Rory Stamp
A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver
My Caravaggio Style by Doris Langley Moore
Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
All Roads Lead to Whitechapel by Michelle Birkby
We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett
Wild Seas by Thomas Peschak
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida
The Mistletoe Secret by Richard Paul Evans

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Fire and Ice by Rachel Spangler came from me for me.

A romance set in the world of curling? I'm all about quirky so looking forward to this one.

The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle came from me for me.

A novel about a woman recovering from surgery who is fascinated by local octopuses, this one looks really different and interesting.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Review: Chemistry by Weike Wang

I loved school. Right up until I hit grad school. Then I couldn't wait to get out. Originally I wanted a PhD. Then I didn't. I still love learning things purely for learning's sake but I don't think I'd want to ever go back to school again and deal with the angst and the politics and all the other nonsense that has nothing to do with learning. It was not a happy place to be for me. And it is not a happy place to be for Weike Wang's unnamed narrator in the novel Chemistry. Then again, nowhere in her life seems particularly happy.

The narrator of this novel is standing still, afraid to choose a path. She is a PhD student in Chemistry but her project is stalled and she isn't certain she wants to continue. Her boyfriend has proposed but she's put him off, not answering him, thinking always of her own parents' unhappy marriage. She is floundering under the weight of so many expectations--from her parents, from her advisor, from her boyfriend. The only one in her life who doesn't add to her stress and pressure is her dog. Finally quitting school four years into her PhD to tutor others, she can't bring herself to tell her traditional Chinese immigrant parents and let them down. Unable to commit one way or another to her boyfriend, she keeps things open, staying behind when he moves from Boston to a school in Ohio for a job. But stasis is not living and while the narrator needs time and space to find her own path and learn to embrace uncertainty, she will examine herself, her choices, and her wants with the help of a therapist and her doctor friend.

Told entirely in the first person, the reader still feels somewhat at a remove from the main character. She is quite introspective, jumping from her present to scenes from her parents' lives to her own childhood. She can be dryly witty and the science facts sprinkled throughout the text as asides are appropriate and interesting additions to her thoughts. The writing is spare and choppy and composed in small chunks, like flash pieces knitted together into a whole. The insight into life as a second generation Chinese-American woman is interesting but overall, the main character and her life felt stultifying. The novel as a whole is very slow moving despite its slight length. I wanted to enjoy this a lot more than I did.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Review: Hooked by Sutton Foster

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear that I have zero idea who Sutton Foster is. I live in my own pop culture void and I'm happy here. I do enjoy crafting and have picked up a number through the years although none of them have stuck as constants in my life. I can needlepoint, cross stitch, weave baskets, quilt, and more. A friend who knows at least one of these things about me handed me this book and suggested that even though I have no idea who the Broadway star/actress/author is, she still thought I'd enjoy the read. She was right. I suspect that having a working knowledge of Sutton Foster would have added to the read but it's not strictly necessary, as proved by me.

This memoir is emotionally open and honest, both about Foster's professional life and her personal life. Not necessarily chronologically ordered, she discusses her childhood with a mentally ill mother whose anger and agoraphobia escalated as years passed, her first jobs and how unhappy she was backstage, her later roles, including those for which she won Tony Awards, her failed first marriage, the heartbreak of infertility and her joy at the adoption of her daughter, the loyal friends who helped her keep on, and, of course, the crafting she has done throughout all of this that helps quiet her mind and busy her hands when she so desperately needs that peace.

Foster's childhood was fairly normal, up to a point. Her mother encouraged Foster and her brother Hunter in their musical theater pursuits (and both have been amazingly successful). But at home, the atmosphere was strained and sad and as Foster discovers later in life, not normal, warm, and loving. She started in show business quite young and despite her successes, she lacked confidence in herself. She doesn't gloss over the difficulties of being young and talented, facing nastiness and disdain from older co-workers and pushed to the verge of quitting. Taking up cross-stitch as a way to avoid these toxic interactions, she discovers that crafts (cross stitch, painting, collages, and crochet among others) centered her, revealed her to herself, and gave her a way to create even as she endured on her way to a happy, productive life. Also included in this wide ranging memoir are gardening tips, recipes, a crochet pattern, and an interview with her hero Patti LuPone. It's an interesting glimpse into a mental health self-care strategy seen through the lens of Foster's life, a life that a reader who had only seen Foster on stage or tv might have assumed was easy and charmed. Instead, it's a real life, one with some fantastic highs but also filled with its share of low lows. Now that I know some of the person behind the performer, I might have to search out the performer persona too.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review: The Marriage Game by Sara Desai

Take one single woman whose tirade directed at her ex-boyfriend when she discovers him in a very compromising position goes viral, add one uptight and rather ruthless businessman trying to get much deserved revenge on his sister's ex-husband, stir in a big, nutty extended Indian family, and put both man and woman in one ssmallish office space above the family restaurant and you've got an explosive romantic comedy on your hands. This is the premise of Sara Desai's novel The Marriage Game.

Layla Patel has moved back home to San Francisco from New York. The viral video cost her not only the relationship with her terrible ex, but also her job as a recruiter. She's come home to start over close to her family. Deciding to open her own recruiting agency, her father offers her the office space above their restaurant despite having recently rented it out to Sam Mehta and his corporate downsizing company. Before her father can tell Sam he needs to move elsewhere, he has a heart attack and lands in the hospital so both Layla and Sam move into the office, each believing that it is their space. They spark off each other immediately, a strong physical attraction combined with an instantaneous dislike of each other. In the midst of the argument about the ownership of the office, a man arrives looking for Layla, claiming he's going to marry her. He is just the first of the ten men whom Layla's father has shortlisted for her in a potential arranged marriage. Layla is willing to meet all the men her father thought might work for her while Sam, haunted by the guilt he carries over the disastrous end to his own sister's arranged marriage, offers to vet the men and help Layla choose her spouse. If she finds a husband, he gets the office. Win win for everyone.

The banter between Layla and Sam is flirty and rather sexually charged. They have more than a few misunderstandings. And they are definitely set up as complete opposites. Layla is curvy and passionate, messy and thoughtful. Sam is all hard edges and focused, tightly controlled and confident. Layla is reinventing herself surrounded by love while Sam needs reminding who he once was and should be again. Layla embraces her culture while Sam rejects it. The story between the two is alternately funny and infuriating. Sam can be a real jerk. The secondary characters are mostly unnuanced. There are some kooky friends (and a few gross ones) and family but the focus is mainly on the two main characters. There is a real flavor of the Indian American community and culture, especially within Layla's family and although many readers will miss the numerous Bollywood references, for those who catch them, they add to Layla's character and feelings. There are some pretty steamy scenes here for those who are sensitive but they fit with the plot and Layla and Sam's relationship. Over all the book is fun although the end is wrapped up quite quickly and Sam is easily forgiven his role in a major upheaval that would probably have destroyed any real life relationship. But we (I) don't read rom-coms for real life situations, so... The book has received quite mixed reviews but it is a quick and easy read for an afternoon.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Review: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

I should have known better. I don't typically like short stories. And I didn't like the full length novel of Bender's I read long ago either. Given both of these truths, I never should have read this collection. But I spent money on it once upon a time so I couldn't let it go without reading it. Sadly, neither my opinion of short stories nor of Bender's writing has changed after reading this.

The short stories in this collection are strange. Although missing the political critique of magical realism, they qualify in every other sense. The stories are set in the real world but are peppered with fantastical, grotesque, and deliberately weird situations, characters, or plot happenings. In Bender's fictional worlds, there are librarians who take male patrons into the staff room all day long for sex, children with unexplained powers in one hand, an ex-soldier missing his lips whose wife fantasizes about kissing people with lips, a man who is evolving backwards from man to ape on down to single celled organism, a father with a literal hole through his body and a mother who gives birth to her own deceased (now reanimated) mother, an unbalanced socialite who stalks men, a Jewish woman who runs a group for runaway teens being led around by a young neo-Nazi during a trust exercise, an imp and a mermaid discovering one another in high school, and more. Her characters are often mutants and their worlds are dark, off-kilter, and somehow still mundane. Many of the stories are overtly (and oddly) sexual. The writing is certainly competent but it lacked affect, the stories holding me at a remove and coming across as nothing so much as the answers to writing prompt exercises.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell

The book is being released by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on April 5, 2022.

The book's jacket copy says: When Arlo Dilly learns the girl he thought was lost forever might still be out there, he takes it as a sign and embarks on a life-changing journey to find his great love—and his freedom.

Arlo Dilly is young, handsome and eager to meet the right girl. He also happens to be DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the strict guardianship of his controlling uncle. His chances of finding someone to love seem slim to none.

And yet, it happened once before: many years ago, at a boarding school for the Deaf, Arlo met the love of his life—a mysterious girl with onyx eyes and beautifully expressive hands which told him the most amazing stories. But tragedy struck, and their love was lost forever.

Or so Arlo thought.

After years trying to heal his broken heart, Arlo is assigned a college writing assignment which unlocks buried memories of his past. Soon he wonders if the hearing people he was supposed to trust have been lying to him all along, and if his lost love might be found again.

No longer willing to accept what others tell him, Arlo convinces a small band of misfit friends to set off on a journey to learn the truth. After all, who better to bring on this quest than his gay interpreter and wildly inappropriate Belgian best friend? Despite the many forces working against him, Arlo will stop at nothing to find the girl who got away and experience all of life’s joyful possibilities.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Review: The Cartographer's Secret by Tea Cooper

When you stop to think of the historical men (and it's always men) the world over who strode off into the unknown to map places only known to indigenous peoples that lived there, the words that come to mind are a mix of impressed and appalled: brave and crazy, fearless and reckless, determined and foolhardy. And these words generally apply to both the successful and the unsuccessful surveyors. If these are the words we apply to men, what then are the words we would apply to the women who would also map and uncover the world beyond their own doors? Headstrong? Independent? Mad? Obsessed? Tea Cooper has written a sweeping story about two such women, Evie Ludgrove, who disappeared in 1880 chasing after the fate of famed Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichhart, and her niece Lettie Rawlings, who tries to discover her aunt's fate 30 years later.

1911. Thorne Rawlings is killed in a freak accident. Still mourning her beloved brother, Letitia Rawlings volunteers to drive her Model T to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley to inform her Great-Aunt Olivia of the family's loss. She does this both to escape her mother's scheming about her future and to discover why the family is so estranged. Lettie is not a young woman interested in conforming to society's or her mother's expectations so a little distance is not a bad thing. While she is at Wollombi, Lettie starts to learn about her Aunt Evie, who went missing without a trace in 1880, and about all of the carefully long-hidden family secrets at the root of the estrangement. When she finds a beautifully illustrated map drawn by Evie, Lettie is completely drawn into the mystery of this unexplained disappearance.

Alternating with the stories that Lettie is uncovering is Evie's story. She was consumed by the tales her father told of once being a part of Dr. Ludwig Leichhart's expedition and she, as much as he, wanted to figure out Leichhart's final fate. With her mother newly dead and her sister preparing to leave for Sydney to meet and marry a suitor, Evie longs to solve the puzzle for her father before his return from escorting her sister. She and her Aunt Olivia are close but she doesn't share the details of her plans as she sets out on her fateful journey, leaving nothing but questions 30 years later.

Both Evie and Lettie are independent and capable women, beyond what their respective eras allow. Each is curious and intelligent, observant and occasionally foolhardy. The family secrets combined with the never solved, real life riddle of Leichhart's disappearance works quite well. Cooper has evoked rural Australia and the time period beautifully, transporting the reader into the setting. There is a light romantic element here but it never takes center stage, instead complimenting and enriching the main story line. The reader will want to keep turning pages to see Evie's fate as Lettie slowly uncovers it and although the family secret isn't really a surprise at all, it fits the narrative well. This is a quite satisfying novel for readers of historical fiction, especially those who like for elements of real life to have inspired the story in some measure. Are Evie and Lettie headstrong, independent, and obsessed? No question. They are also brave, fearless, sometimes reckless, and determined. In short, they are the very best of both exploring women and men and readers will enjoy their time with these clever women.

For more information about Tea Cooper and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book, and purchase here.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and publisher Harper Muse for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

The book is being released by Flatiron Books on December 7, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted, but as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on.

Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. Renu sends an innocent Facebook message to the man she almost married, sparking an emotional affair that calls into question everything she thought she knew about herself. Akash slips back into bad habits as he confronts his darkest secrets—including what really happened between him and the first boy who broke his heart. When their pasts catch up to them, Renu and Akash must decide between the lives they left behind and the ones they’ve since created, between making each other happy and setting themselves free.

By turns irreverent and tender, filled with the beats of ’90s R and B, Tell Me How to Be is about our earliest betrayals and the cost of reconciliation. But most of all, it is the love story of a mother and son each trying to figure out how to be in the world.

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