Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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★ ★ ★ ★

Before we get to my thoughts on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I wanted to let everyone know about a great website that I recently discovered because I am partnering with them for this review. SocialBookCo is a website that helps you find, locate, and compare book prices so you can find the cheapest deal by comparing your chosen books with over 50 book shops around the world to make sure you get the best bargain. There are different formats available, such as paperback, audio, eBook, out-of-print, and even textbooks along with second-hand copies. SocialBookCo is a comparison engine and not a bookstore, so when you find the best price for your purchase, they will direct you straight to the retailer where you carry out the transaction. They give shoppers all the options when it comes to book buying, and want you to save your money, which I think is cool for those of us who frequently purchase books through online retailers because who doesn’t like saving some money that will most likely go towards another book? I sure do!

Ken Liu is a phenomenal author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. He has won numerous awards for his novels, such as the Nebula, Hugo, and World’s fantasy awards. The Paper Menagerie, his debut collection, contains 15 fantasy, magical realism, and science-fiction short stories and novellas–some of which have been previously published. If I had to summarize this collection in three words, it would be profound, thought-provoking, and distinctive. Very rarely do I come to the end of a book, unable to form my thoughts on the experience because I am still in a literary daze.

The Paper Menagerie is an exceptional short story collection, but at times it was a challenging read. Through different genres and exploring different themes such as love, history, suffering, and diversity, to the complexity and connections with the characters, and Liu’s brilliant, imaginative, and unique story-telling. When it comes to short-story collections, it is common to find a mix of feelings and thoughts when it comes to the individual stories, but with this collection, whether I enjoyed the story or not, I appreciated and was engrossed in the writing. The stories strike a reader’s core when it comes to experiencing so many emotions throughout every story.

This is the first of Liu’s work that I have read, and I think it was the perfect introduction into his writing. When it comes to the stories, you really need to clear your head, focus, and dive into the worlds and character stories he builds–afterwards, take the time to reflect on each one before beginning the next. There is no doubt that Ken Liu is a remarkably talented author, and writes effortlessly and poignant no matter the genre or subject. My ultimate favorites were Good Hunting, The Regular, The Paper Menagerie, and The Waves. The Paper Menagerie is a beautifully crafted collection that was equally heartbreaking, captivating, and engaging. I am not one to often pick up or recommend short-story collections, but I highly encourage anyone who appreciates rich, authentic prose, to read this.

Synopsis 

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Saga Press

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Book Review: The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

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★ ★ ★ ★

While sorting through her mother’s belongings, Jessica Campbell and her father find a horrifying discovery — beneath resealable plastic bags with frostbitten meat, in the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers are the bodies of two dead girls. The two girls are a pair of foster children, Casey and Jamie Cheng, that lived with the family in 1988 — two of the countless foster children her mother had taken in over the years. Six weeks after the sisters went missing, give their difficult history, everyone assumed they had run away. As Jessica learns more about the girls, and Donna, whom she thought of as the perfect mother, she uncovers dark stories and complicated truths about the life she thought she knew and mother she admired.

While The Conjoined is marketed as a mystery-thriller, it is more of a family drama. It is thought-provoking, well-written, and captivating until the very end. Through complex and realistic characters, and a writing style that flows effortlessly, Sookfong crafted a novel that makes you forget that you’re reading a book. Alternating between the past and the present, The Conjoined, is a not exactly a murder-mystery — the murder of the girls is not the main focus, but rather the exploration into the social work system that is often unfair and ineffectual. It is also about character psychology, trauma, family, self-discovery, and the struggles that immigrants and their children face.

This was a dark novel the further along, as the several layers were lifted. Sookfong’s prose brings depth and understanding into the story and characters, it hits nerves and brings forth real emotions that you physically experience. I devoured this in a few sittings, because of the compelling story and rich prose. There was so much that as a reader who was invested into the story and characters, I wanted to know, or at least have confirmed rather than wonder if  what I suspected was true. There is no resolution when it comes to the girls murder, or whether Donna committed the crime. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Sookfong’s profound writing that crafted a riveting and disturbing story. If you’re looking for a dark thriller whodunit story, this is not it, but if you are willing to go in expecting the unexpected, and want a family drama that is much more, The Conjoined is your next pick.

Synopsis 

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by ECW Press

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book of the Month

This month I received a package from Book of the Month, which is a subscription service that brings you 1 new release hardcover book of your choice each month, with the option to add two additional books from past or current month selections for $9.99 per title. This is a subscription that I have been eyeing for a while as someone who orders books online frequently and loves receiving books in the mail because I have heard nothing but fantastic things about the company. I recently because an affiliate for BOTM, so I wanted to let everyone know about the subscription service, and below are some special offers for my followers who would like to join.

Each month the panel of judges select a limited number of books to offer to members of BOTM, which are announced on the first of every month. You have six days to decide which book (or books) you would like to receive. All books are shipped at the same time so members can read and participate in the discussion forum on the website. If you forget to log into your account during the selection period to choose a title, no worries! They will skip the month on your behalf, and will automatically extend your membership by 1-month.

When you join for the first time, BOTM offer 3 standard enrollment offers:

  • 1-month for $5.00, then $14.99 per month
  • 3-months for $9.99 per month, then $14.99 per month
  • 12-months for $11.99 per month

If you were previously a member, and are looking to rejoin BOTM, they offer 3 re-enrollment plans.

  • 3-months for $14.99 per month
  • 6-months for $13.99 per month
  • 12-months for $11.99 per month

All membership plans automatically renew, but you can cancel anytime.

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This month I chose The Trespasser by Tana French. It is the sixth novel in the Dublin Murder Squad, which is a well known mystery-thriller crime series. I have yet to read the series, but I wanted to pick this one because I have nothing but great things about Tana French’s writing. The book can be read as a stand alone, although many recommend reading in order because it makes the experience richer since it adds to the development of previous characters.

Each book arrives individually wrapped in plastic with a cardboard backing to prevent damage during shipment, along with their logo on a magnet, and a bookmark with a little note from the judge who selected the title.

You can tell a lot of thought and care goes into each month when it comes to selecting titles and packaging, which is nice as a reader and subscriber because it shows they want to deliver the absolute best to every member. BOTM is a quality subscription service that is reasonably priced, and I personally think it is one of the best when it comes to those who want to receive a book and not all the little novelties that come in other subscriptions. Every month you receive a hardback of your choice that is a new release, which is worth the price right there for me.

If you subscribe to a 3-month subscription, it will only be $9.99 a month! Plus you will receive a cute BOTM tote bag. Join here: https://www.mybotm.com/ipa465sleib2o6r

If you’d like to try out one month of Book of the Month, you can do so here and pay only $5!

*I am an affiliate so will receive a small commission with the above links.

Book Review: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

28363987★ ★ ★

The Lesser Bohemians is the newest novel written by Eimear McBride, the author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which won the Baileys Women’s Prize in 2014. This is the first novel that I have read by Eimear McBride, and it was quite the experience.

This story appears to be a simple love story between an 18-year-old Irish girl who arrives in London to attend drama school, and a successful actor who is 20 years older. There are complex layers that only begin when their relationship blossoms. It is a captivating story about fierce love, innocence, and discovery set in the mid-1990′s London. McBride writes prose that is musical and beautifully done, but the structure of the writing absolutely made my head spin. This novel is wonderful, but it requires a lot of focus and piecing together bits throughout because sentences are quite choppy and scattered. The style of writing is not one that I would particularly pick up and purchase for myself because of that, however it certainly is unique.

Synopsis

Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.

Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Hogarth

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

Book Review: The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

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★ ★ ★ ★

The Beginning Woods is Malcolm McNeill’s debut novel, a peculiar story that is full of magic and wonder. The Vanishings are a mystery that no one can solve — people disappearing into thin air without any trace left behind aside from piles of clothing. Max was the baby no one wanted, abandoned in a bookshop. As Max grows up, he is haunted by memories of his real ‘forever’ parents, and sets out to find them no matter what it takes. What is to come when Max believes there is a connection to finding his parents and putting an end to The Vanishings? Meanwhile, the number of people disappearing is increasing rapidly, and scientists have yet to discover the cause of what is going on, let alone how to fix it.

While it is marketed towards children, I would find YA more suitable because it is a chunky book with 448 pages, and I think that would be too long for some young readers on top of that it is a fairly dark story with fantasy elements. I think that adults would enjoy The Beginning Woods, too,  and be able to appreciate the philosophical aspect that is throughout the story. It does at times become complex and can be a bit confusing, and while there are also parts that seemed to drag on, I did often pick it up to read a couple chapters then set it down again–I feel like it was a bit too long, and wouldn’t be such a heavy read at times if it were cut down in length.

This is a dark fairy-tale with such rich world-building; unexpected characters like witches, dragons, fairies, ‘cold’ people that we know as ghosts; and endless adventure. Anyone who picks this up will find their imagination is as vivid and weird as this story was crafted. My thoughts on this are still settling, but I do know that while at times I took breaks in-between reading, it was a wonderful, whimsical read, and this is one of the few books I will be rereading in the future.

Synopsis 

A MYSTERY NO ONE CAN SOLVE

The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air – just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.

A BABY NO ONE WANTED

Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.

A SECRET THAT COULD SAVE THE FUTURE

To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.

But can he bear the truth – or will is destroy him?

A STORY THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER WORLD

Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods…

Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Pushkin Press

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow by Gina Homolka

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★ ★ ★ ★

Award-winning blogger and best-selling cookbook author, Gina Homolka, has released her latest cookbook, Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, filled with slow-cooker and quick-fix recipes. I discovered the Skinnytaste website over a year ago, and it quickly turned into a resource to find nutritious and flavorful recipes to prepare at home. I have Homolka’s first cookbook, which is one I always come back to, so when this released, I was looking forward to getting a copy for my collection.

As most cookbooks, there is an introduction and recipe key is followed by all the information you’ll need to get your kitchen stocked and prepared for cooking, along with fast cooking basics, and slow-cooker secrets. The next section is a Month of Good-For-Your Meals; 4 weeks of meal planning for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, and treats that include the page number to locate each recipe. There are 11 recipes selections: Healthy Mornings; Chilis, Soups, and Stews; One-Bowl Meals; Zoodles, Squashta, Pasta, and Sauce; Taco Night; Poultry Mains; Meat Lover Mains; Fish and Seafood Mains; Meatless Mains; On the Side; and The Sweeter Side.

At the beginning of each section there is an introduction page that includes a list of the recipes with page numbers, and icons to indicate whether the dish is under 30 minutes, pressure cooker, slow cooker, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, or freezer-friendly.

Some insight from the author, serving size, ingredients, and nutrition key are along side every recipe. Throughout the cookbook you can find food facts, time saving tips, perfect pairings, and Skinny Scoop. There are recipes in here for every occasion, season, and even those picky-eaters. All are healthy, but full of flavor while giving you that freedom to change up some of the ingredients to make it to your liking.

Recipes like chicken and zucchini noodles with black bean sauce, and zoodles with shrimp and feta, make me impatient for the warm months to prepare those dishes for my family. There are recipes like slow-cooker hamburger stroganoff that take typical box meals and give you an easy-to-follow guide on preparing a healthy, homemade meal that can still be affordable while on a budget.

The photography in this cookbook is beautiful, and the images will make your mouth water before you get to cooking. It is a well crafted cookbook that is sturdy with an easy-to-follow layout. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow offers a variety of dishes that will please all palates around the dinner table, whether you are looking for a quick-fix or slow-cooked meal, you will find hearty comfort food for these winter months, or refreshing, vibrant meals to prepare through spring and summer.

Synopsis

80+ Under 30 Minute Dishes and 60 Slow Cooker Recipes
The easiest, tastiest, most convenient healthy recipes ever!

With Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, you can get a nutritious, flavor-packed, figure-friendly meal complete with a flourless chocolate brownie made in a slow cooker on the table any night of the week. Gina Homolka, founder of the widely adored blog Skinnytaste, shares 140 dishes that come together in a snap whether in a slow cooker or in the oven or on the stovetop. Favorites include:
Slow Cooker
Chicken and Dumpling Soup
Korean-Style Beef Tacos
Spicy Harissa Lamb Ragu
Peach-Strawberry Crumble
Under 30 Minutes
Zucchini Noodles with Shrimp and Feta
Pizza-Stuffed Chicken Roll-Ups
Grilled Cheese with Havarti, Brussels Sprouts, and Apple
Cauliflower Fried Rice
Each recipe includes nutritional information, which can help you take steps toward weight and health goals, and many dishes are vegetarian, gluten-free, and freezer-friendly all called out with helpful icons. Gina s practical advice for eating well and 120 color photos round out this indispensable cookbook.“

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Clarkson Potter

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review through Blogging for Books. All opinions are my own.

 

2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Book Themed Gifts

If you’re having trouble deciding what to buy that literary lover in your life, look no further! While receiving books on holidays is always one of the best gifts, who doesn’t like some book-themed goodies to go along with those hardcover and paperbacks?

Bookshelf Games, Set of Three

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This set of Clue, Monopoly, and Scrabble are perfect for the book and classic game lover in your life. These book-style designed editions include easy to store, linen book-style box that provide hours of family fun. Can be purchased individually for $34.95, or as a set of three for $99.00.

llbean, $99

 

Pug Butt Bookmark

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MyBOOKMark on Etsy has changed the world of bookmarks with a unique way to mark one’s place in the pages. Whether you’re a pug own like myself, who would adore the bookmark (pictured on the right) between the pages of my books, or a Harry Potter fan who would love the Magician that would bring a little Harry Potter into every book you read. You can find a wide range of selections, inspired by every occasion, holiday, or reading experience on MyBOOKMark’s Etsy shop.

Etsy.com/MyBookMark, $25

Book Inspired Candles

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The Melting Library is one of the many book inspired candle shops on Etsy that brings a new reading experience to the reader with scents inspired by books. One of my favorite books is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, so when I found it in the shop, I had to have it! Pictured on the right is the Dinner at Midnight candle, a combination of sugared figs, rosemary, orange blossom, and sandalwood–based on Chandresh’s midnight dinners. It smells phenomenal! All I can say is that if you plan on purchasing one, make sure to buy two because you’ll want one on your shelf because the presentation is beautifully bookish.

In the shop you can find the latest hand-poured editions for Throne of Glass, The Winner’s Trilogy, The Bone Season, Harry Potter, and more. All the candles are made in small batches using soy wax, and take 7-10 days for processing.

Etsy.com/TheMeltingLibrary, $14.50

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Novelly Yours offers book inspired soy candles, fandom collections, and more, that create an amazing atmosphere for the next time you pick up a book! When looking for inspiration before the hand-pouring begins, Novelly Yours looks to the themes, characters, and places from favorite books, bringing together two passions –books and candles.

The candle pictured on the left is inspired by the popular Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Bringing the scents of Scotland and Craigh Na Dun into your home with heather, firewood, and outdoors with light floral notes.

I received a Tempest themed candle in my October Muse Monthly subscription, and immediately I had plans to make a purchase from the Novelly Yours shop because the quality, scent, and packaging were all amazing.

While a majority of candles are inspired by young-adult novels, there are always editions to the shop, such as Disney inspired candles, seasonal lines, and the option to customize your order.

Etsy.com/NovellyYours, $11

Bookworm Magnets

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Bring the bookworm vibes to your fridge or filing cabinet with this 4-pack of magnets designed by Alison Cole.

BuyOlympia, $10

 

 

 

My Weekend is Booked Sweatshirt

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When your weekends are spent in a comfy spot with a hot beverage, and book in hand, you might as well wear a shirt that goes along with it! There is an option to choose the style, whether it be hoodie, tee, tank, and even for the little future reader in your life. Sizing goes up to XXL, with a variety of colors available.

Design in image shown is lightweight pullover in heathered light blue.

Lookhuman, $18.40-$35.20

 

‘Drink Good Coffee, Read Good Books’ Mug

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If there are two things that go together better than anything else, it is books and coffee. A classic mug like this and many others you can find on Etsy are perfect for those bookworms who love coffee just as much as literature. Holds 11oz. with design/text on both sides.

Etsy.com/Giftsology, $15

 

The Atwood Blend Coffee

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A coffee mug is not complete without coffee. In partnership with Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, Margaret Atwood has created an artisanal blend of South and Central American coffee with distinct notes of caramel and cocoa with a balance of acidity for a smooth, rich brew.

Balzacs, $18 for 1lb. bag

 

 

 

100 Literary Postcards Set

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In 2015 Obvious State collaborated with Penguin Random House to make a collection of literary postcards. In this beautifully crafted boxed set there are 100 postcards featuring work from their Bibliophilia collection. The set contains 2 of each of 50 original designs, one to share and one to keep for yourself–or gift it to someone special!

Etsy.com/ObviousState, $20

 

 

Knock Knock Personal Library Kit

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While not all of us readers are so generous to lend our beloved books out to friends and family, there are many who find great pleasure in doing so. Knock Knock Personal Library Kit offers an easy and fun way to keep track of those borrowed books, and brings back that feeling of checking books out at the library. Who else loved looking at the cards in the back of the books to see who previous borrowed them?

Refill cards are available here, 15 for $6.

Amazon, $11

Cozy Fleece Throw

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What reader doesn’t like to cozy up in a blanket while reading during the winter? When it comes to blankets, I want the softest I can find, so this Quatrefoil Heavy Fleece Throw is my choice! It is ultra-soft but won’t compromise warmth, comes in four different colors, and is generous in size so it is great for curling up in. You don’t have to splurge on price to get a quality blanket either.

Wayfair, $14.99

 

Umbra Aquala Bamboo Bathtub Caddy

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Have a reader in your life who enjoys a relaxing bath with a good book? This bathtub caddy has a wine glass holder, a book/magazine prop, hooks on the other side to hold a razor and loofah mesh sponge, and extendable arms to fit different tub widths. Don’t forget to buy bath bombs!

Amazon, $30

 

 

 

Book of the Month

Book of the Month is one of my favorite subscriptions because it is a great value for a hardcover book each month, and giving you the ability to chose the book you want. It is a subscription service that brings you 1 book of your choice each month, with the option to add additional books from previous selections for $9.99. On the first of the month, BOTM announces five monthly selections carefully chosen by their judges. By the sixth of the month, you choose which books you would like to receive or skip the month if you prefer. Then it will ship out on the set date, or you can pay $1 for it to ship immediately.

For a reasonable price, you can gift a 3, 6, or 12-month membership ranging from $44.97-$143.88. That includes 1 book of your choice, an extra book for only $9.99 each, free shipping, and easily skip any month. For a limited time, you can give a gift and receive 50% off a 3-month membership!

If you want to subscribe to a 3-month subscription for yourself, you can do so for $9.99 a month! Plus you will receive a cute BOTM tote bag when you join here: https://www.mybotm.com/ipa465sleib2o6r

If you’d like to try out one month of Book of the Month, you can do so here and pay only $5! I am an affiliate so will receive a small commission with the two links above.

Book of the Month, $14.99 per month

Images used in this post belong to the original owners, and are linked at the bottom of each description.

 

 

 

Book Review: Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Atlas Obscura was founded in 2009 and began as a website that brought you a guide to the world’s wondrous and weird places. It is a collaborative project with founders Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras, along with their community of explorers who help discover hidden spots to share with the world. They wanted to celebrate a different way of looking at the world, so whether you are looking miniature cities, books bound in human skin, or bone churches, Atlas Obsura is where to find them.

Now you can travel across the globe, discovering hidden gems right from your comfy spot on the couch with their best-selling book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Authors Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton set out to create a catalog of all the places, people, and things that inspire wonder. It celebrates more than 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. Included are hundreds of photographs, charts, and maps for every region of the world, and compelling descriptions on each place. If weird travel destinations intrigue you, this book is a must to pick up.

You’ll be occupied for hours, discovering Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, a sea cave with walls perfectly hexagonal columns, or the Tree Cathedral in Italy, a piece of living architecture that continues to grow. There are also morbid findings, like did you know that the  Overtoun Bridge, located in Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, is known as the dog suicide bridge? Since the 1960s, around 50 dogs have perished after leaping to their deaths from the same spot on the bridge.

This book is so rich with information, research, and photographs. It brings new locations, objects, and monuments to light in a unique way with showcasing the strange and outstanding corners of the world that will bring out numerous emotions from disbelief to wonder. It is an entertaining travel book that makes me want to reach out of my comfort zone and begin exploring the world, but it is also filled with history on places and people that I would have not otherwise learned, which makes it all the more captivating.

It opened my eyes to parts of the world I had never seen, and quite honestly did not know existed. I spent hours engrossed in the pages, reading the facts and viewing the charts and maps that were included throughout. It brought on discussions on just how fascinating the world is, and how people should take the time to appreciate the natural wonders. I adore this book, and I can only hope that the authors publish a second book with new findings in the future.

Synopsis 

Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.

Here are natural wonders—the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher-like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils literally vault over rows of squirming infants. Not to mention the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, Turkmenistan’s 45-year hole of fire called the Door of Hell, coffins hanging off a side of a cliff in the Philippines, eccentric bone museums in Italy, or a weather-forecasting invention that was powered by leeches, still on display in Devon, England.

Atlas Obscura revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden, and the mysterious. Every page expands our sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, it is a book you can open anywhere.

Hardcover, 470 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Marrow Island was a slow read for me because I was not up to my usual pace; not because it isn’t good. It is actually a captivating, eerie read that is a slow build-up with an unsettling ending. Apparently there is a lot of comparison to Station Eleven, but I personally don’t feel that at all.

Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island after fleeing the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father, and ravaging the island’s environment. It’s set in post-disaster Washington state as Lucie returns to the island that is slowly rebuilding to reconnect with her childhood friend, Kate, who lives within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony that is located on part of the island—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” As an environmental journalist, Lucie’s experience tells her that there is more to the Colony than their charismatic leader is letting her know, and Lucie sets out on uncovering the secrets even if it endangers more than their mission.

Alexis M. Smith’s prose is lyrical, vivid, and haunting. When it comes to nature, as well as human instinct and emotion, there is such a raw and jarring quality to her writing that brings you in. This is a novel that can easily be read within a day or two, but I wanted to take my time to appreciate this beautifully crafted novel.

Synopsis

Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Telling was one of those books that pulled me in at the very beginning, even though I seen the ending coming. Set on an island near Seattle, Lana is trying to come to terms with the brutal murder of her step-brother, Ben, who was killed by an unknown man with a red painted face. The only witness to the crime is found dead, and Lana is the one who pulls the body out of the water. Lana and her group of friends are the likely suspects to the police, knowing that Maggie is Ben’s ex-girlfriend, and hated by Lana. The further they dig for the truth and to prove their innocence, more people connected to Lana are killed. Soon Lana starts piecing together the stories Ben used to tell her as a child to the way the people are being killed.

Is Lana committing the crimes and blacking out? Is she being framed for the murders? Is Ben’s ghost seeking revenge?

Those answers I did not know. I typically do not read YA, especially YA mystery/thriller, but The Telling is exceptional. While it is a contemporary mystery, it is about bravery, discovering one’s self, and come the end, being honest with who you are. Despite knowing who the killer was early on, that did not lessen the enjoyment I got from reading this book. It is twisted, dark, and crazy. If you are expecting a horror novel, this is not it – it is a YA mystery that dips into thriller closer to the ending. The world-building and character development is natural and rich with progression throughout the story, and you can tell it was well thought out and crafted. It is a book that will be hard to put down, and in between reading you will be talking about it to anyone willing to listen.

Synopsis

Lana used to know what was real.

That was before when her life was small and quiet.
Her golden step-brother, Ben, was alive, she could only dream about bonfiring with the populars, their wooded island home was idyllic, she could tell the truth from lies, and Ben’s childhood stories were firmly in her imagination.

Then came after.

After has Lana boldly kissing her crush, jumping into the water from too high up, and living with nerve and mischief. But after also has horrors, deaths that only make sense in fairy tales, and terrors from a past Lana thought long forgotten: Love, blood, and murder.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.