Friday, March 31, 2017

1,001 Ways to Slow Down by Barbara Ann Kipfer, 2017

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on National Geographic 
This irresistible list book from National Geographic provides lighthearted quick hits of inspiration for those of us who feel overwhelmed--which is to say, all of us. Musings, activity suggestions, and illuminating quotes are paired with whimsical art on themes such as living in the moment, achieving balance, relieving stress, developing patience, and appreciating the world around us. "Slow living" sidebars, such as "Foods to Cook Slowly" and "Things to Do the Old-Fashioned Way," are interspersed throughout the book.
(320 pages)

What a nice book this is.

It's not a novel, but instead a collection of 1,001 gentle tips for slowing down and enjoying life.

1,001 Ways to Slow Down is a gorgeous book in and of itself, a thick hard-bound square book with a luxuriously textured dust jacket. Every two-page layout of the book is bordered by a different pretty design (usually either flowers or loops), and the color of the numbers above each tip correlates with the color of the border. This creates a very nice effect, though a slightly confusing one at first: I thought there was some organizational reason for the different colored numbers, but it turned out they were just decorative.

As for the tips themselves, I thought most of them were wonderful. There were a few that didn't apply to me, about doing things with your kids or having relations with your partner, but most of them were directly applicable to my life. Flipping through them again, here are a few favorites that stick out:
#405: Read long, slow, calming, class books.
#481: Ask yourself, "What bad thing will happen if I don't keep moving and doing? Can I just be for a while?"
#768: Read gravestones. Stories are there to be discovered.
Scattered between the 1,001 entries are also beautifully-illustrated quotes about slowing down/finding peace, and a handful of helpful lists (foods that need to be cooked slowly, ways to spend time outside, ways to productively slow down at work, etc.). The entire vibe of the book makes me think it's geared toward millenials, with all its description of "me time," adult coloring books and yoga, but I think its messages are still good and not just catering to the hip crowd. For me, reading 1,001 Ways to Slow Down was a much-needed reminder to slow down and appreciate the present without agitating about my future. I will definitely keep my copy of the book, and will flip through it for inspiration when I start to feel overwhelmed by the stressors in my life.

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purpose of participating in a TLC Book Tour.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Matylda, Bright and Tender by Holly M. McGhee, 2017

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on Goodreads 
In a courageous debut novel, Holly M. McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girl’s world — and the unexpected consequences of the things we do for love.
Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide they must have something of their very own to love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it’s all her own). With Guy leading the way, they feed her and give her an origin story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later, on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events, Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and heal and hope and go on, for her own sake and Matylda’s. By turns both devastating and buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how far we can justify going for a real and true friend.

(224 pages)

Oof, this is a sad one.

Honestly, I was not emotionally prepared to handle such a heartbreaking topic. That's why I kept pushing it down my TBR list. But now I'm to the end of March, and it came out in March, so I really have to review it. I downed it in a single sitting last night.

I just . . . I don't like books about death. No, scratch that. Sometimes I love books about people getting over the deaths of loved ones (case in point: Suzanne LaFleur's Love, Aubrey). I like reading about the turmoil, watching characters face the very worst-case scenarios and come out the other side still living. There's something very poetic and encouraging about seeing someone recover from the unthinkable. And we get some of that in Matylda, as Sussy takes baby steps to begin functioning again after Guy's death, but I would have liked to see even more.

Actually, my biggest struggle with the book is that it was so short. Cut out the lizard trivia (and let's be honest, I want to cut out the lizard trivia–I am so not an amphibian person!) and the book becomes even shorter. We get a few chapters of background that gets us to care about Guy (who, for the record, is way more well-spoken than any nine-year-old I've ever known), one chapter in which the accident actually occurs, and then about a hundred pages dealing with the aftermath.

For the book's short length, it packs in a lot of details about Sussy's grieving process. She has wonderful parents, who know just when to push and when to leave her be, and Matylda is a great focus for Sussy's evolving emotions about Guy's death. I thought everything was very well done, and what I would imagine the grieing processing could be like (though I've never gone through it on such a scale as Sussy does). I did wish we got a little more background with Guy, a few more scenes with his grieving parents, more details about Sussy's and Guy's school life, an explanation about why these little kids run around saying they love each other all the time (no nine-year-old I know would be caught dead saying the word "love!"), and a little background on why all these nine-year-olds are allowed to roam free on their bikes all the time (even after Guy's totally-preventable death) . . . but, you know, maybe all that would have detracted from the raw story.

Anyway, I do recommend Matylda. I think if you're in the right mood, and a little less squeamish than I, you'll enjoy it much more than I did. Every once in a while a person is just itching for a good sad book to wallow in for a while; this is just that sort of book.

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller, 2017

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on Goodreads 
Pride, prejudice and forgiveness...
Hampton Hall's new owner has the villagers of St. Hampton Heath all aflutter--all except Lavinia Ellison. The reverend's daughter cares for those who are poor and sick, and the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury definitely does not meet that criteria. His refusal to take his responsibilities seriously, or even darken the door of the church, leave her convinced he is as arrogant and reckless as his brother--his brother who stole the most important person in Lavinia's world.

Nicholas Stamford is shadowed by guilt: his own, his brother's, the legacy of war. A perfunctory visit to this dreary part of Gloucestershire wasn't supposed to engage his heart, or his mind. Challenged by Miss Ellison's fascinating blend of Bluestocking opinions, hoydenish behavior, and angelic voice, he finds the impossible becoming possible--he begins to care. But Lavinia's aloof manner, society's opposition and his ancestral obligations prove most frustrating, until scandal forces them to get along.

Can Lavinia and Nicholas look beyond painful pasts and present prejudice to see their future? And what will happen when Lavinia learns a family secret that alters everything she's ever known?

(304 pages)

Meh. This is a very forgettable Christian romance book that tries not very successfully to be a Jane Austen novel with "Christian morals" (i.e. lots of moralizing) squished in around the edges. It certainly got in the Christian parts, but got nowhere near the wittiness of Jane Austen.

I'm sorry, is that too harsh? To be honest, I didn't hate the book–I enjoyed reading such a complete escapist story set in Regency-era England. Some of the back-and-forth between Lavinia and Nicholas really is quite clever, and once I stop implicitly comparing the book to Pride & Prejudice I can enjoy it for what it is. The story had a lot of elements I like in old-timey stories–wealthy settings, hatred turn to romance, outspoken females–and I enjoyed reading them.

The book's two main errors, though, are taking things too far and being too obvious about it. Lavinia isn't just outspoken: she's a downright feminist, and she spends her days devoted to caring for the poor. These are both excellent traits, but they are also slightly annoying (she is way too perfect!) and are very unrealistic for her time. There's a constant tension between Lavinia and the very backward way everyone else approaches wealth, class structure, etc. I would have liked to see some evidence that Lavinia was a product of her own time, that her egalitarian tendencies weren't just some convenient flash of inspiration from God, and that she had given a little more thought to why her beliefs about social decorum were so different from everyone else's. I liked Nicholas more than I did Lavinia, though, and seeing him gradually move to her way of thinking (after originally being very prim and proper about what women could and couldn't do!) felt more realistic.

Everything is very melodramatic in The Elusive Miss Elison. Lavinia and Nicholas are constantly accidentally hurting each other's feelings, and their "hearts start pining for each other" from the first time they're separated–despite the fact that at that point they've only ever snapped meanly at each other, and Nicholas's brother literally killed Lavinia's mother when she was a little girl. Lavinia gets past that way too easily, in my opinion. You can forgive someone without falling in love with them, you know? And the plot twists themselves are straight out of a soap opera: Lavinia falls hopelessly ill with the influenza and winds up spending months being taken care of in Nicholas's elaborate house. She moves to London to visit some conveniently-discovered estranged family members, learns all sorts of juicy secrets about her past (that her aunt decided to wait twenty-three years to tell her about, because reasons), and so on and so forth. It's fun to read, sure, but it's also cringe-worthy in how cliche everything is. And don't even get me started on the fakey-happy way everyone's always talking about religion; I may be a Christian, but I don't start randomly talking about the Bible with casual acquaintances like that–and I certainly don't start giving religious advice when they may or may not be Christians themselves. Telling someone to pray about their worries, or to ask God for help, is not always a socially appropriate thing to do.

All in all, I spent a few pleasurable hours with Miss Ellison but I've certainly read better books in its genre. In fact, excuse me, I feel the urge to re-read Pride & Prejudice coming over me . . .

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Loyal by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, 2017

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on National Geographic 
This treasury features heartwarming photographs and touching stories of dedicated working dogs who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and proven themselves as true heroes.
This special collection of dog stories and photographs features four-legged heroes who have worked side by side with soldiers, searched the wreckage of natural and man-made disasters, changed families' lives through emotional support, and administered aid around the world and at home in the United States. Heart-warming photographs and touching anecdotes bring to life thirty-eight caring canines who have served the people who mean the most to them, from a German Shepherd who leads a blind man on his marathon training mission to a belly rub-loving Sheltie who supports at-risk youth in the classroom. For anyone who has experienced the extraordinary affection of a dog, 
Loyal is a lasting celebration of the joys of canine companionship.
(160 pages)

I love my dog to pieces, but she is so useless.

That's my main takeaway from Loyal. All of these dogs are so loyal, heroic, and dedicated; they spend the best years of their lives entirely devoted to doing their job and improving lives for the humans around them. In the meanwhile, my boxer Daisy has lived a life of luxury surrounded by fluffy pillows and caresses from humans who homeschool and therefore never leave her alone for more than a few hours at a stretch. Don't get me wrong, Daisy is an amazing dog–she never barks, never growls, never steals from the table, and devotes her life to loving us unconditionally–but she's never provided nearly the level of service that some of these dogs have. I actually think she would have made an amazing therapy dog if we'd ever taken the time to go through the training and testing, but it's too late for my old fur-baby now.

But seriously, the stories in here are just incredible. There are dogs that find trapped victims after earthquakes, docs that monitor their human companions and warn them before they start to have a seizure, dogs that spend their days comforting soldiers with horrible PTSD . . . the list goes on and on. The book packs a lot of stories into its 160-word format, each one taking anywhere from a single two-page spread to about four of them to tell its tale. There are gorgeous pictures of each dog, including several different pictures of the ones whose stories take up more pages, and for many of them there's also an insert that gives some basic information about the personality traits of their breed.

It's a very attractive book, too–rectangular, hard-back, with glossy pages. It would make a great coffee table book, or even more perfect for a vet's office waiting room. The short stories are just the right size for a dog lover to flip through and read one or two while they're waiting to take their own dog in for a check-up.

The big emphasis throughout the book is on dogs who nobody wanted, who were on the shelter list to be put down, who were instead rescued and turned into heroes for the community. I think this is amazing, and it's "show, don't tell" approach to pushing shelter dogs would I'm sure be very convincing for anyone who's on the fence about where to get their next dog. My favorite rehabilitation stories, though, were the ones about the prison programs some counties run: they adopt dogs off of the kill lists at shelters and have the prison inmates train them into model house pets and even service dogs. That's such an amazing way to provide a second chance for the dogs as well as a sense of purpose and inspiration for the inmates, isn't it? I think all prisons should have a program like that!

Basically, this book is exactly what it promises to be: a heartwarming book about dogs whose love for humans makes the world a better place. If you think that sounds like what you're looking for, then I definitely recommend it!

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purpose of participating in a TLC Book Tour.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Murder is No Accident by A.H. Gabhart, 2017

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on Goodreads 
Young Maggie Greene may be trespassing in the old, empty Victorian mansion on a quiet street in Hidden Springs, but all she wants is some private time in the magnificent tower room to write her stories. Certain she'll be in trouble if caught, she hides when a realtor shows up. But someone else is in the house too, someone even more worried about getting caught. When Maggie finds the realtor's body at the bottom of a flight of stairs and the other person gone, Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane is called in. He assumes the realtor's death is a tragic accident--until a second person is found dead in the house. When Maggie is threatened, Michael must catch the murderer before anyone else dies.

Cozy mystery fans will love this third installment in The Hidden Springs Mysteries series from an author who knows how to make small-town America sweet, sentimental--and a little sinister.

(352 pages)

First, just so you know, this is the third book in the Hidden Springs Mystery series. I have not read the first two, so I have no idea what details in this book count as spoilers for them. I'll be reviewing it more or less as though it was a stand-alone.

Though I have to say, starting with Murder is No Accident definitely did feel like I was stepping into the middle of something. Most of the characters are given introductions, so I didn't have to constantly guess about who everyone was, but I think I was supposed to already be attached to the characters at the start of the book. I couldn't have cared less about the main character Michael in the beginning of the book, and even though I grew to like him by the end (how could I not, with his love for kids and his tragic back-story?), I still found myself skimming the pages about his personal problems in the second half of the book. What can I say? I wanted to know what was happening with the mystery! And I really didn't care about his personal life that much. There's a fair amount of romance drama between Michael and his girlfriend, and I just couldn't convince myself to feel any anxiety about the relationship between two people who, to be perfectly honest, I did think should just break up and continue in their completely different lives.

To be fair, though, what interest I lacked for Michael and his girlfriend was more than made up for by my interest in Maggie and her boyfriend. It was so cute watching her grow increasingly connected with Anthony, who seems like a really sweet boy. I also just liked Maggie in general, because she seemed like a really nice person whose life was constantly on the verge of catastrophe. The family dynamics, especially with her younger brother and laid-off father, were very well done and I enjoyed them. Basically, Maggie and everything directly connected to her were the biggest things that I loved about the book.

Since this is a murder mystery, I suppose I should talk about the mystery itself. I can't really say much about it without spoilers, obviously, so I'll try to tread carefully. I've read tons of murder mysteries over the years, beginning when I was just nine years old with Murder on the Orient Express, but the number of non-Agatha Christie murder mystery novels I've read can be added up on just one hand. This one is definitely the best of those by far–more engaging, with a wonderfully character-driven plot–but it still doesn't even approach the genius of Christie's mysteries. I didn't guess the murderer, per se, but I definitely wasn't surprised by the end reveal. I was a little bored by it, honestly, but I can't say why because that would be a massive spoiler.

All in all, though, this is still the best murder mystery book I've ever read by anyone whose last name wasn't "Christie," so that's a win in my book. Also, to any other murder mystery fans out there: can you recommend some new names to me? Murder is No Accident has gotten me in the mood for the genre again!

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 13, 2017

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall, 2017

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on Goodreads 
Everyone knows that war romances never last. . . .Helen Eberhart always had to fight for what she wanted. Survival in a family of thirteen gave her the grit to push through nurse’s training and support herself. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she can’t stand catering to the pampered patients on Chicago’s North Shore. Enlisting as an Army nurse, Helen is transferred to a military hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. There she comes face-to-face with the waves of broken bodies of the wounded soldiers, many no older than her beloved brothers.

Frank Daley wasn’t trying to be a hero. He’d only enlisted to finish medical school, confident that the war would be over before his deferment ran out. Life just worked out for him that way. But Lieutenant Frank R. Daley, MD, is sent straight from his graduation to boot camp in Battle Creek as his last stop before a battlefield hospital in Europe. And none of his training prepares him for the chance encounter with the spirited nurse who steals his heart.

After a whirlwind romance and courthouse wedding, Helen and Frank are sent to the front lines of Europe with only letters to connect them for months at a time. Surrounded by danger and desperately wounded patients, they soon find that only the war seems real—and their marriage more and more like a distant dream. If they make it through the war, will their marriage survive?

(466 pages)

I've been a long-time casual fan of Dandi Daley Mackall's books for years now, ever since I got hooked on the Starlight Animal Rescue series when I was younger. Mackall always writes children's books filled with equal parts thrills and heart, my favorite combination. When I saw the option to review this book, though, I knew straight away that it was a different beast. This is no 200-word animal rescue book for kids; rather, it's a 450+ page adult novel about a married couple serving as medical personnel in different parts of Europe during WWII.

The first thing I have to say is that this is a fascinating book. It provides an intimate, and often startling, perspective on WWII by focusing explicitly on the lives of Helen and Frank, army nurse and doctor, who are both serving in Europe during the height of the war. The scenes they each see throughout the course of the war and even after it are terrible, yes, but also educational–they show us the depths of human evil, the horrors of human-on-human violence, and the unalterable fact that we need to never engage in such a terrible world war ever again.

Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of two physicians myself, but I've always seen doctors and nurses as some of the greatest heroes during wars. They're the ones who go out to the front lines, risk their lives, do anything it takes . . . to save lives. When everyone around them is focused on destroying the enemy and throwing their men in front of bullets, medical personnel are the ones who stay focused on keeping soldiers alive. I especially appreciate that Helen chooses to help treat German soldiers in the French hospital, despite the flack she gets for it from the other nurses; her determination to help every patient and save every life she can, no matter the stigma, is truly admirable in a time when so many people were focused on mistreating anyone they didn't perceive as being "worth" common decency.

As for the story's central romance, well, I personally didn't care for it that much. Since I figured out who the real Helen and Frank were (hint: their last name is Daley, which is Mackall's maiden name), I was pretty sure I knew how it would turn out. I still don't really agree with the super-fast way they jumped into marriage, which strikes me as very stupid, but the characters themselves do acknowledge the insanity of their decision and spend most of the book building up their marriage bond through daily correspondence. Since they're a newlywed couple who are forcibly separated most of the time, when they rendezvous every few months there are some definite innuendos about what they do together alone–they're not even approaching explicit, though, so I was fine with them. Mainly, though, I just thought their emotions were really strong and rather volatile, and I couldn't get over the fact that they felt so intimate with each other when they'd barely even spent a few weeks together in person before getting married. I guess it was just a different world back then, one where a whirlwind romance like that actually has a chance at success. Plus, memories of their horrible experiences during the war probably helped them bond in later years.

Anyway, Dandi Daley Mackall definitely has the writing skills to try her hand at any genre she chooses. I'm so glad I gave With Love a try, and I look forward to seeing what else she'll be doing in the upcoming future!

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, 2017

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on Goodreads 
When Sunflower, a young city girl, moves to the countryside, she grows to love the reed marsh lands - the endlessly flowing river, the friendly buffalo with their strong backs and shiny, round heads, the sky that stretches on and on in its vastness. However, the days are long, and the little girl is lonely. Then she meets Bronze, who, unable to speak, is ostracized by the other village boys. Soon the pair are inseparable, and when Bronze's family agree to take Sunflower in, it seems that fate has brought him the sister he has always longed for. But life in Damaidi is hard, and Bronze's family can barely afford to feed themselves. Can the little city girl stay here, in this place where she has finally found happiness?
A classic, heartwarming tale set to the backdrop of the Chinese cultural revolution.

(384 pages)

I honestly have no idea how to review Bronze and Sunflower.

I don't know what it is about the book, but I just can't wrap my head around it. I'm actually a little puzzled by the ending, which is still not entirely clear to me even after I've read it a few times. I think that's a translation trouble–in fact, I think a lot of my confusion comes either from translation ambiguousness or cultural differences. Since I know nothing about the Chinese cultural revolution–or indeed about anything in Chinese history, culture, or politics–I have the overwhelming feeling that all sorts of important themes and references are passing right over my head throughout the story.

Because of that, I advise you to take my review with a grain of salt. After all, I'll be the first to admit that I am on very shaky ground here. But anyway, I did enjoy the book. It was very different from my usual fare, rather strange to my American mind (though Chinese readers might find it perfectly normal, I don't know), and very interesting. It felt like a fairytale in many parts, in large part due to its fairly unrealistic characters. Both Bronze and Sunflower seem unrealistically perfect (never squabbling, never selfish, never unpleasant). The levels of sacrifice they're willing to go through for each other makes their relationship very sweet, but also makes both of them ring false to me.

The troubles they face definitely aren't fairytale-like, though. The family is very poor, and they struggle to afford school (eventually deciding to send just Sunflower because, you know, they hadn't thought about the fact that Bronze wouldn't be able to attend school too before they invited her to stay with them). Toward the middle of the story a swarm of locusts comes through and devours everyone's crops, and people begin to starve. Things get really hard, and Wenxuan doesn't pull any punches when he describes what it's like for them.

I may have a few issues with the choices made by the adults throughout the book, but those pale in comparison to the sense of wonder I feel reading a book that was written in an entirely different language from my own, in a world and a culture entirely distinct from mine, and which has given me a peek into the world of Chinese literature. I loved diving into the world of Bronze and Sunflower for a time, as theirs was an engrossing story that provided a fascinating cultural insight for me, but now I'm ready to set it down and return to my usual fare that strikes closer to home. I'l definitely be keeping an eye out for more international novels in the future.

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, 2017

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on Goodreads 
Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.

Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.

But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?
(272 pages)

Yikes. Just, yikes. This book has some serious grit in it. We're talking dystopian, cult-like, surgically-alter-your-daughters-to-make-them-thinner grit.

I know, when I say that your thoughts immediately leap to eating disorders and low self-esteem. But in Jena's world, the "Mothers" who run the village encourage girls to be as small as possible so they can crawl deep into the heart of the mountain that surrounds them and harvest the mica that provides them with fuel. It's a cruel world, this closed-off little village that has been completely isolated for generations because of a landslide that closed off the pass leading outside the mountain. This really weird semi-religious cult society has risen from the ashes of the villages that lived there before the landslide, and everyone is taught from birth to worship the mountain (which is seen as the giver of all life, since it holds the mica they need for survival). It's a dog-eat-dog world, one where life-giving mica is allocated to families in proportion to their usefulness, and where parents willingly bind their baby daughters from birth to force them to grow up small. It's like a more practical version of the Chinese foot-binding custom: they bind the whole body, to make suitable seekers of fuel, and then they actually use surgical procedures to alter girls whose bones are becoming too big. It's gruesome and horrible, but it also makes sense in a sick sort of way. After all, I suppose I'd rather be tiny than dead.

But the trouble is that all too often the girls become both. Because the mountain is treacherous, and maneuvering through its crevices a nightmare. I can't say much about specific instances of this, because I don't want to spoil the story, but some horrible things happen on and inside the mountain. It's painful and gruesome to read, but so fascinating at the same time that I devoured the entire book in one sitting.

Unfortunately, I can't talk much more about the plot, because even the most basic aspects of the story's set-up are teased out throughout the book. The story of Jena's past, for example, comes in bits and pieces: we learn that she's living with her best friend's family very early on, but the exact reason for this isn't fully revealed through flashbacks until over halfway through. I always love this sort of narrative technique, so I'm honestly not complaining, but that does make reviewing it a little trickier.

Actually, I think I'll just stop here. I really enjoyed reading A Single Stone and that others will, too. Have you read it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section down below!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Whydah by Martin W. Sandler, 2017

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on Goodreads 
The exciting true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the Whydah the only pirate ship ever found and the incredible mysteries it revealed. The 1650s to the 1730s marked the golden age of piracy, when fearsome pirates like Blackbeard ruled the waves, seeking not only treasure but also large and fast ships to carry it. The Whydah was just such a ship, built to ply the Triangular Trade route, which it did until one of the greediest pirates of all, Black Sam Bellamy, commandeered it. Filling the ship to capacity with treasure, Bellamy hoped to retire with his bounty but in 1717 the ship sank in a storm off Cape Cod. For more than two hundred years, the wreck of the Whydah (and the riches that went down with it) eluded treasure seekers, until the ship was finally found in 1984 by marine archaeologists. The artifacts brought up from the ocean floor are priceless, both in value and in the picture they reveal of life in that much-mythologized era, changing much of what we know about pirates.
(176 pages)

After subsisting on romance novels and boring long nonfiction books for the past few weeks, it was really nice to pick up this 170-page book about a thrilling topic (pirates!) and read it in just an hour or two. I've always had a particular interest in shipwrecks, ever since I became obsessed with the Titanic and read detailed accounts of its discovery/recovery, so this book was extra fascinating to me.

Actually, my previous knowledge of ship-finding techniques also kicked in while I was reading about the Whydah's recovery. The searchers basically forced massive amounts of air into the ocean, blowing away layers of sand before diving down to look for pieces of the wreck that had been buried over time. I couldn't remember exactly, but I knew that this practice risked hurting the ship's remains. The author actually brings up these concerns, which have apparently been raised by professionals in the field, as well as mentioning another that hadn't occurred to me: the concern that this "blowing" technique was harmful to the local ocean ecosystem. The author doesn't really make a judgment statement for or against the techniques used by the team excavating the ship, but it definitely made me concerned. We only get one Whydah, so I hope it's being treated as carefully as possible!

But really, the book doesn't start with the wreck; it starts with a slave ship commanded by one of the meanest men around, and a young man who became a pirate in pursuit of wealth. It traces the career of that young man, Captain Sam Bellamy, who stole Whydah and reached dazzling heights of success before suddenly meeting his end during a dramatic night of storms and treachery off Cape Cod. It also has lots of inserts that provide general information about what life was like for pirates, explaining things like the origins of the Jolly Roger and the "pirate code" that all of the men followed. It's interesting to see that the pirates, who were truly horrible to many of the ships they captured, were also some of the most democratic and disciplined people on the face of the earth during that time. They were a very racially mixed group, and non-whites were given the same job and the same rewards as their Caucasian peers.

Basically, if you're looking for a book about pirates and the discovery of a ship straight from 1717, then this is probably it. If you do read it, let us know in the comments what you think!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.