Monday Mash-Up #019 and #020

I started my #19 mash-up last week, then realized I was completely unprepared to write anything, I hadn’t even finished any good books!  My first case of writer’s block, if you will.  So I decided to combine the two for this week.

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend here in the States.  Many are out and about, taking mini vacations and having barbecues (it’s been raining in my neck of the woods, though.  Not very pleasant for outdoor activities).  But for me, growing up, Memorial Day meant cutting some of the flowers from my mom’s garden, usually a combination of iris, lilacs, and the fluffy white blooms of the snowball bush, and leaving pots full of fragrant blooms at the graves of our relatives, several of whom were military veterans.  It’s important to remember the reason for the holiday, so please remember to take a few minutes out of your busy, fun-filled weekend to remember those whose sacrifice gave you this holiday.


Now, for the books!  Definitely some goods ones these past two weeks!

American Predator by Maureen Callahan — 4 1/2 stars!

A full review coming soon.  Many thanks to Viking Press for selecting me to receive an ARC!

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman — 4 stars!

Book 2 in Shusterman’s Arc of the Scythe trilogy.  I can honestly say I liked this one more than the first!  The plot keeps moving along, and my love and hatred of the different characters has grown as well.  Can’t wait for book 3 this fall!!

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu — 4 stars!

A quiet, unassuming narrative about an Ethiopian refugee living in Washington DC.  I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed reading it until I reached the final page and wanted more.

Havana Noir — 4 stars!

Another collection from my favorite series put out by Akashic Books.

Perfume:  The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind — 4 stars!

I honestly didn’t know how to rate this one.  Probably the most original idea I’ve read in some time, but at times a bit boring and repetitive.  For the story itself I lean towards a solid three stars, but I upped it for the sheer originality (plus the totally bizarre ending!).

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx — 3 1/2 stars

Another quiet novel, one that I’m a bit on the fence about.  Proulx does have a writing gift, but I just couldn’t get a feel for many of the characters.  Not terrible by any means, just not what I was expecting.

Spirit by Graham Masterton — 2 stars

This was probably the most boring ghost story I have ever read.  A real disappointment after having read some of Masterton’s earlier works and enjoying those.  There were enough scary scenes to keep this from being a one star read but not enough for me to ever recommend it.


And so we start another week!  Until next time, Happy Reading!

Nonfiction—Adventures in Travel

Here in the States, Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, giving us a glimpse into the upcoming summer season.  Barbecue grills come out, campers are cleaned and restocked,  and everyone in general begins to plan summer adventures, big and small.

One of my favorite things about summertime is traveling.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a day trip to the beach, a hike in the woods, wandering around the zoo, or a weeklong trek through as many random towns, state parks, and/or states as possible.  There’s just something about summer that makes me want to explore places outside of my normal routine.

Sadly, I can’t always partake in yearly adventurous exploring.  Real life is often a bitch and for me, when I can’t escape from the daily routine and everyone else seems to be body surfing in Hawaii or mountain climbing in Tibet, I turn to books.  Of course!!  🙂

The following, in no particular order, are some of my favorite nonfiction books of adventurous travel (all get a 4 or 5 star rating from me).  Yes, there seems to be a theme of single person traveling long distances, but isn’t that what a true adventure is?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed 

After her mother’s death and a failed marriage, Cheryl Strayed made a life-changing decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a rugged 1,000+ mile trail that stretches from California’s Mojave Desert to the border of Washington state and British Columbia, Canada.  She had little experience or training, an over-packed backpack, and hopes of learning more about herself and some of her questionable life decisions.  We follow not only her physical journey but her emotional one as well.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson makes her journey across the Australian Outback with four camels and a dog for company.   While not as introspective as other solo journeys, it is still entertaining and inspiring.  Quick side note:  if anyone has seen the movie, let me know if it’s any good.  🙂

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart

I read this one several years ago and I still place it at the top of my favorite nonfiction.  Stewart walked across Afghanistan, no easy feat for anyone, foreigner or not.  There is something about his story-telling abilities that had me hooked, and I found myself emotionally involved in his journey.

 

Getting Stoned With Savages by J. Maarten Troost

I’ve read all of Troost’s books about his time living on remote islands in the middle of the Pacific, and this one is my favorite.  Personally, I think the man is a bit of a masochist for continuing to return to the “same squalor/different island”, but it does make for some entertaining reading.

Giant Steps by Karl Bushby

Bushby, a former British paratrooper, sets a goal to basically walk around the world:  36,000 miles over the Americas, Asia, and back to his home in England.  This book chronicles the first leg of his journey from Punta Arenas, Chile to the westernmost tip of Alaska ( a stone’s throw from Russia).  He does focus more on the first part of the journey, once he hits the United States and Canada things seem to get glossed over (maybe things just weren’t as exciting in this neck of the woods!  🙂  ).  I’m kind of bummed that nothing new has been added to his twitter account since 2018, I hope he’s still following his dreams and goals.

 

Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

This one mixes a lot of historical info with modern day imagery.  Thubron didn’t mess with walking the entire Silk Road, he took advantage of all modern transportation that was available (and I don’t blame him!!).  This book shows an interesting juxtaposition of distant history and modern tech living side by side.

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And a quick note about this month’s All Dragons Read dragon:  he has definitely done his own traveling, from a small shop in the Bahamas, to my friend’s house in Tennessee, then across the States to my living room in Washington state.  More traveling than I’ve done in the past couple of years, haha!

Feel free to share your favorite adventure books!  And as always, Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Monday Mash-Up #018 Mother’s Day!

A Happy belated Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!  Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

I finished up some great books this past week—

The Revenant by Michael Punke — 4 out of 5 stars!

The wild west of the 1800’s, the need for revenge, action, adventure, this one has it all!  And after reading it, I don’t think I want to ruin it by watching the movie, especially since I’ve heard more negative than positive reviews.  There were a few overdone descriptions, and the ending did surprise me.  If you like old school adventure stories and are not too squeamish, be sure to check this one out!!

To the End of Hell by Denise Affonco — 4 out of 5 stars!

Denise tells her story of surviving Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the mid 1970’s.  The writing is very simple but powerful (it is revealed near the end that this is basically a rewrite of her multi-page witness statement for the trial of Pol Pot).

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason — 4 out of 5 stars!

If you’re a fan of “Nordic Noir” (Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and the like) then definitely check out this Icelandic author!  Violent murder, dark family secrets, great plot twists, all the good stuff.  I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo — 4 out of 5 stars!

A true classic.  I was inspired to reread this after seeing the destructive fire at the famed cathedral last month.  I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the book when I first read it as a teenager.  But with age comes wisdom and patience, which probably helped me enjoy the story more this time around.


Short and sweet this week.  I’m working on some new ideas for weekly/monthly posts.  We’ll see how far I get with them!  🙂  Until next time, Happy Reading!!

Monday Mash-Up #017 Library Book and Plant Sale!

This past week was pretty quiet around here.  However, Saturday was the annual used book and plant sale at the Salkum library….which I just had to attend!!  My son and I arrived late morning and found that most of the plants had already sold.  I did get some veggie starts though.  Lemon cucumbers and butternut squash, yum!  I also picked up a German chamomile plant and some lupine (not pictured).

I picked up these chenille plant starts as well, I love these!

And, of course, found some books!

    

I’m pretty proud of myself for keeping my book buying in check!  😀

My reading started out pretty slow, but I was able to finish up a few over the weekend:

Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts — 4 out of 5 stars

My goodreads review:  I can honestly say I know nothing about graphic novels. I couldn’t tell you if this had amazing artwork or if it was subpar, if the writing was amazing or if it sucked. But I will say this:
I was entertained, and I could see Anthony Bourdain’s love of Japanese storytelling coming through with each chapter.

Rosemary:  The Hidden Kennedy Daughter — 3 /12 to 4 stars out of 5

I went into this one thinking it would shed more light on Rosemary’s life.  Rather, it looks at the Kennedy family as a whole and how they were involved in her life, and how ultimately she shaped their lives as well.  The writing was a bit clunky at times, and certain factoids (Joe Kennedy’s political aspirations for example) would be better suited for another biography, but overall an interesting and somewhat sad read.

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert — 3 stars out of 5

My goodreads review:   Overall, not bad. This is your typical historical drama where the main character encounters every true historic event that happened in their lifetime (and if they didn’t personally go through it then some family member or friend did), loses nearly every person they love, yet finds some sort of redemption and/or peace and a happy ending.
I actually like this kind of story. Really, I do. But this one just didn’t do it for me.
This was one of those books where I felt like I had read 100+ pages and in reality had only read 20 or so. Very slow going for the first half. I did appreciate the research behind the story, but I felt the character development was pretty cliche.
And the snippets with the long-lost daughter Ruth (which I’m guessing was a set-up for the second book) did nothing for me. I’m not a cold-hearted bitch, but it was way too convenient. Or maybe at this point I just didn’t give a crap anymore.
Three stars for the historical references, which I truly liked. Beyond that, meh.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett — 3 out of 5 stars

I’ve wanted to read this one for some time.   After recently reading Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, I found myself comparing the two as I read.  Needless to say, Chandler won out.  The story just didn’t hold my interest like I thought it would.

Servants of the Storm by Delilah Dawson — 3 out of 5 stars

A YA horror/thriller that had so much potential but wound up fizzling out before the halfway mark.


And so we start another week.  Have a great one and, as always, Happy Reading!

Nonfiction Review — In A Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker

In A Different Key:  The Story of Autism

By John Donvan and Caren Zucker

4 out of 5 Stars

Autism is something that I have a strong interest in, mainly because my son is on the spectrum (high-functioning Asperger’s).  When I came across this book at a local booksale, I knew I had to read it, and it did not disappoint.

Autism is a relatively “new” disorder in terms of having a name and diagnosis.  The authors take us back to the 1930’s, when a young boy name Donald became the first child to be officially diagnosed with autism.  From this simple beginning, the reader is taken through the decades, learning the stories of family struggles, medical experiments, research, and controversies.

Many of the family stories are heartbreaking.  Parents who were looking for help from the medical community were often ignored or blamed for their child’s condition.  Children were often institutionalized or subjected to the latest medical experiments.

But from the parental pain and frustration came the call for change and funding for more research and support.  The stories of parents who fought for their autistic children’s health and education are truly inspiring.

The authors also highlight several physicians and researchers who played key roles in the defining and treatment of autism, from Bruno Bettelheim and his parent-blaming to Hans Asperger and his acknowledgement of different levels of autism.

I did start to feel a bit of disconnect in the last few chapters, something I can’t quite put my finger on.  There was also a bit of repetitiveness that became a distraction at times.  Overall, though, In A Different Key is highly readable and informative, as well as inspiring.  Highly recommend.

 

Monday Mash-Up #016 Time to get the gardening gloves out!

There’s something about gardening that I love.  While it is hard work, I find myself relaxing, my mind emptying, my stress levels lowering.  It is still a bit early in the season to really start planting anything as the threat of morning frost will be around until mid-May.  Instead, I took advantage of some nice weather and started cleaning out my planters and cutting back the damned blackberry bushes that want to overtake the yard.

But I may have overdone it on Sunday; I woke up Monday stiff and sore with a throbbing ankle from twisting it on some rocks.  So I took it as a sign to relax for the day.  I spent some downtime catching up on some television shows (my latest obsessions being What We Do In The Shadows and Happy) and doing a bit of reading.  I seem to be going into a reading slump, but I did manage to finish a few this past week.

Field of Bones by J. A. Jance — 4 out of 5 stars!

The 18th installment in Jance’s Joanna Brady series, I devoured this book in an afternoon.  Great pacing, good character development….and one of the things I like best is you don’t have to read previous books to get into this one.   Jance does a great job of adding enough backstory to inform a new reader while keeping the story moving along.

Currency of Souls by Kealan Patrick Burke — 4 out of 5 stars!

I love me some weird horror, and this one definitely fits the bill!  The small town of Milestone is one messed up place, but one I would gladly revisit (on paper only, of course!).

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell — 4 out of 5 stars!

The third book in the Kurt Wallender series.  Once again, Mankell combines local mystery with international ties to make for an intriguing read.

Carsick by John Waters — 2 1/2 to 3 stars out of 5

I was a bit disappointed with this one.  I was expecting a nonfiction account of Waters hitchhiking across America.  Only the last third was his actual retelling of the journey.  The first two parts were his fictionalized ideas of best- and worst-case scenarios.  And while I am very familiar with Waters’ raunchy, over-the-top, often gross humor, there were a few times where even I was thinking “this is getting to be too much.”  Maybe a recommend for die-hard Waters fans.

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Local upcoming events include the annual plant and book sale at my local library on Saturday, May 4.  I’m looking forward to it, I always find a few good books and some greenery for the house and yard!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

 

 

Monday Mash-Up #015 A Belated Happy Easter!

 

I hope everyone had a nice Easter weekend.  It was quiet here, just the three of us enjoying the beautiful spring weather and a nice Easter ham dinner.  And coloring eggs, of course!!!  I don’t care how old I get, I will always love coloring eggs!  😀

Since I didn’t post any of my recent read updates last week, here is the full scoop from April 10 to April 21.

From Red Earth by Denise Uwimana — 5 out of 5 stars!

Wonderful story!  A full review coming soon!!

Scythe by Neal Shusterman — 4 out of 5 stars!

A great start to a YA dystopian fantasy trilogy.  It may take me a bit before I can get to the next book, but I am definitely hooked!

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger — 4 out of 5 stars!

I’m going to have to read a couple more from this series before I proclaim it a new favorite series, but I have to say I am totally impressed!

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut — 4 out of 5 stars!

A classic that, quite honestly, I was surprised I liked as much as I did.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson — 3 out of 5 stars

This was one that had been sitting on my to-read shelf forever so I finally said this is it, now or never.  Well, I could have gone with the never.  It wasn’t terrible, but it just seemed to drag on without really saying much.  Johnson can write, I give him that, it’s just that a good book consists of more than just a bunch of pretty words strung together.

Educated by Tara Westover — 3 out of 5 stars

My review from goodreads:

I know I’m in the minority, and I know people will tell me how little I know about this topic, but let me put one thing to rest—-I am more than familiar with families living off the grid, stockpiling everything, not trusting doctors or the government. My family tree has it’s share of isolated extremists (however, back in the day they were considered eccentric). I currently live in the middle of nowhere, nearest small town is 10+ miles away, we all own firearms and we all know how to preserve produce (other than peaches, what the hell with all the peaches?!?!).
One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was to see someone rise from the ashes, take control of her life, and all that crap. I was more than excited when I found this copy at the library…what luck!!
Then……
I should have known better.
“My strongest memory is not a memory. It’s something I imagined, then came to remember as if it had happened.” Page 3
Shades of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES anyone??!!??
I kept reading, keeping my cynicism in check, rooting for Tara to get the hell out of her personal inferno. Then, I got to page 165. The page I knew I was being punk’d on a literary level.
“(Classmate Vanessa) said she wouldn’t give me her notes but that we could study together….’Don’t worry about your notes” said Vanessa, ‘they’re not as important as the textbook.’
‘What textbook?’ I said……’I don’t have a textbook.’
‘Sure you do!’
‘Oh that,’ I said. ‘ I looked at that.’ ……..It hadn’t occurred to me to read the art book…… ‘I thought we were just supposed to look at the pictures.’
……..
Reading the textbook turned out to be excellent advice. On the next exam I scored a B…..”

REALLY????? You supposedly taught yourself with TEXTBOOKS and you didn’t think that your college classes would require you to do more than look at the pictures? The author lost ALL credibility with me with this passage.
Yet I continued to read.

Overall, it does tell a great story of overcoming one’s past, going forward in the face of adversity, and finding ones identity. For that, I give this the three stars.

Still, I drank the koolade and I’m left with some indigestion.

Houston Noir — 3 out of 5 stars

One of the latest installments in the Akashic Noir series, and definitely not one of their stronger showings.  There were a couple of really good stand-out stories; overall, though, most were just okay to meh.  Too bad.  I still look forward to the next in the series!

Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay — 3 out of 5 stars

Another title in McKinlay’s Library Lover’s Mystery series, one that is growing on me.  While it follows the cozy mystery routine and is pretty predictable, it still makes for a fun, quick weekend read.


Now that I’ve caught up on my reading, it’s time to tackle the yard work!!  Until next week, as always,

Happy Reading!

 

Monday Mash-Up #014

In high school, many moons ago, I studied French for three years.  My teacher, Madame Clark, would share with us stories and photos from her numerous trips to France.  The ones that always stood out for me were the ones about Notre Dame Cathedral.  I fell in love with the beautiful stained glass and the intricate architectural details.  Long before the term bucket list was popular, I put this on my bucket list of places to visit.

Today, I was shocked and saddened to see the news reports of the devastating fire that swept through the iconic building.  It is impossible to fully know the total losses, as this fire not only destroyed physical items but a bit of history as well.

It has been many years since I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  This afternoon I pulled out my copy and have started to reread this classic, out of respect and in memory of 800+ years of history.

Until next week……

 

Monday Mash-Up #013 New ARCs Arrived This Week!

There’s nothing like hiking down to the mail box and finding packages!

A huge thank you to Plough Publishing House for a copy of From Red Earth  and to Akashic Books for an ARC of Houston Noir!  I look forward to starting both this week.

Overall, this was a great week for reading:

In A Different Key:  The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker — 4 1/2 out of 5 stars!  

Full review coming soon!

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide-Lindqvist — 4 out of 5 stars!

Wow!  Not what I expected, but I loved it!  Dark, creepy, with a couple of unexpected twists thrown in.  Be sure to put this on your Halloween reading list!

Bossypants by Tina Fey — 4 out of 5 stars!

I’ve been a fan of Tina Fey for some time, and was happy to find this one at the book sale last week.  It truly was a laugh-out-loud read, really enjoyed this one.

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway — ??? out of 5 stars  :/ 

I really don’t know how to rate this one.  It wasn’t completely terrible (believe me, I’ve read my share of terrible stories), but it didn’t have any real point.  Adam Strand is a teenager who has successfully killed himself 39 times, always coming back whole and unaffected.  How?  Why?  There are no consequences (other than his family and most of the town starting to get annoyed by the whole reincarnation thing), and the only reason he gives for his actions is that he’s bored.  As someone who has lost several beloved friends to suicide over the years, I felt that Galloway’s story was a bit of a slap in the face, diminishing the real reasons and emotions behinds someone’s choice to take their own life.  I think the author’s heart was in the right place, trying to raise awareness, but I thought it totally backfired.

Spring showers have arrived in abundance around here so it looks like a good week for curling up on the couch with a pot of tea and a great book…….or I may just binge-watch some episodes of Schitt’s Creek and Happy! (now that is one twisted show!!).

So until next time….Happy Reading!

Monday Mash-Up #012 April Fools?!

April Fools was on me, I was so excited with my awesome finds at the book sale this past weekend that I almost forgot it was time for another episode of mash-up!

Don’t worry, I’m here, and I’m (somewhat) ready to share my thoughts on this past week’s reads.

The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris—  4 1/2 out of 5 stars!

A huge shout-out to my friend Jacques for recommending this one.  I loved it and for a variety of reasons, the main one being Jasper.  My son is autistic, and MC Jasper reminded me of him with the obsessions and different views of reality (and I have to admit, I would love to see certain things as a color every now and then).  There’s also a pretty good mystery involved as well, overall a great read.  Really different and highly recommend.

Sweet Nothing by Richard Lange —  4 1/2 out of 5 stars!

Wow.  One of the best short story collections I have read….ever…..

The Last Town by Blake Crouch —  4 out of 5 stars!

The final installment in the Wayward Pines trilogy, I literally could not put this one down!  What started out as “I’ll just read a few pages before breakfast” turned into a 4 hour readathon and me telling my son and husband to fend for themselves at lunch (which, in turn, created a huge mess in the kitchen I had to clean up later but well worth it, haha!!).

Lies by T. M. Logan — 4 out of 5 stars!

I have to admit, I went into this one with low expectations.  I’ve become a bit jaded on current thrillers, they all seem to be the same, always trying to be the next Gone Girl.  But this one delivered.  And even though I had an inkling about the ending, I still wanted to keep reading to see how it got there.  Thanks to my friend Michelle for sending me this copy!!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris —  3 out of 5 stars

I feel like a terrible person for not giving this “based on true events” anything less than a 5 star review, but I’ve read many other stories from the Holocaust and this one just did not come close to any of them.  The story of Lale and Gita should be heartwarming and uplifting, but I felt the author did a total disservice to these two survivors (as well as to their families) with her apparent lack of novel writing experience.  The author had originally written this as a screenplay and, instead of improving and expanding, she simply wrote a screenplay-based book.  Overall, it was not what I expected and a bit of a disappointment, 3 stars because I respect the families and their memories of Lale and Gita.

What have you been reading?

Remember to share your thoughts, random comments, critiques (even recipes!!) with me, I’m still working on improving and expanding my blog so any constructive criticism is greatly appreciated!!

And I am looking for a good recipe for a homemade mustard-based barbecue sauce.  Just wanted to throw that out there.

Until next time, Happy Reading!