Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How was your month of Science reading? Did you find something interesting to read?

I hope you have better luck than I did – this month was a no-go for me. Everything I picked up was too “science-y” for me and yes, I know that was the whole point of this month’s challenge! I don’t think it was necessarily the fault of the books or that they had too much science in them, I think it’s a case of just not finding anything appealing. I think most readers go through reading slumps, when you can’t find the right book. Sometimes other things in your life take priority and you don’t have much time to read. Or, you just finished something fantastic and you’re spoiled.

Fortunately, I didn’t give up on reading altogether. I kept reading books, they just weren’t “science-y”! I will, however, admit to having watched a lot of Big Bang Theory re-runs – does that count?

As I always say, there are no Library Police. I may have missed this month, but I’m going to pick up again starting tomorrow with the next challenge!

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read for September?

Fight or Flight by Samantha Young

Romance novels can sometimes fall right into stereotypes or tropes about the main characters. In order to avoid the status quo, authors must describe intriguing worlds, interesting backstories, and well-developed main characters to keep readers invested in their novels. My latest romance read battled these tropes and, in my opinion, ultimately succeeded in writing a well-crafted novel worthy of your attention.

Fight or Flight by Samantha Young did not immediately grab my attention. The beginning was rough for me as the introductions of the characters seemed to rely heavily on their outward appearance. Doing so makes sense when you look at the development of the characters in the long run, but it was something that had the ability to put me on edge throughout the duration of the book. Also major trigger and content warnings for some readers: This book deals with topics of assault, violence, sexual assault, abortion-shaming, etc. While the blurb makes this out to be a light romance read, it does get down to some gritty topics. Now let’s move on to discussing the actual book!

Ava Breevort is having a rough time. Flying back to Boston after a harrowing trip back to her hometown, Ava just wants to make it home smoothly. The universe is plotting against her though. A volcano has erupted overseas leaving a cloud of ash that has cancelled flights across the country and delayed others. Ava is desperate to try anything to get home, but in addition to the volcano ash issue, another flyer continuously gets in her way. An angry arrogant Scotsman named Caleb Scott takes a first class seat right out from under her and is increasingly antagonistic throughout the whole flight. Once they land, Caleb and Ava bump into each other again and eventually end up in bed together.

After landing in Boston, they both move on with their lives. Chance brings Caleb and Ava back together again though. They renew their steamy relationship while Caleb is stranded in Boston with the understanding that this is purely a relationship revolving around casual sex. Ava agrees since they both clearly don’t like each other. They separate and Caleb goes back to Scotland.

A client of Ava’s brings the two together again. Ava and Caleb begin again. This works for a while until, of course, Ava discovers she has feelings for Caleb. She realizes that she’s starting to like Caleb and that he’s actually not that bad to hang around. When Caleb announces that he is going to be staying in Boston permanently, Ava has to decide whether or not her feelings with him are genuine and worth fighting for. Even if Ava is willing to fight for her feelings, she is still left to wonder whether Caleb, who is as stubborn, icy, and closed-off as ever, can work through his issues and would want to love her too.

I’m curious what other people think of this book. While it took me a bit to get into this novel, in the end I enjoyed the development of the characters and their chemistry. Read it and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman

When Malin Ahlberg starts her freshman year at Hawthorne College in rural Maine, she is immediately befriended by a group of freshman who are brought together by chance during their first few days as new students.  Malin, along with Gemma, Ruby, Max, John and Khaled remain a tight-knit group throughout their four years at Hawthorne, but their years together are marked by drama, suspicion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder.  Tell Me Everything  by Cambria Brockman is a psychological thriller with a unsettling and, frankly, disturbing series of events with an ending that is literally jaw-dropping!

Malin tells her story in alternating chapters with gradual glimpses of problems at home with her family,  most notably with her brother who passed away years earlier.  She always stops short of revealing too much,  so the reader is left with more questions than answers as the anticipation grows.  What is she hiding from her past?  She replicates this secrecy with her current group of friends, not letting anyone know the real Malin.  To be honest, Malin is not a very endearing or likeable character.  As I was reading Tell Me Everything, I could tell pretty quickly that something was clearly not right with Malin, but Brockman has a great way of keeping the reader on their toes!

As the years progress, it becomes apparent that Malin is choreographing many of the dramas, misinterpretations and misunderstandings between the group.  While stirring the pot, it becomes clear that she enjoys watching the drama unfold.  The crescendo of both plot lines (family drama as a child and currently at Hawthorne) comes together seamlessly with not only one but two murders that are equally disturbing.

I highly recommend Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman.  I cannot guarantee that you will be a fan of some of the characters, but this is a well-written and suspenseful debut.  I am impressed with Brockman’s first book and am excited to see what she comes up with next!

 

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline

Mistakes you make in high school can have the ability to destroy your life. Lisa Scottoline talks about these mistakes and their life-long consequences in her newest novel, Someone Knows.

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline is a page-turning novel about how one decision can destroy family, friendships, and hope of a positive future in a split second. This domestic thriller dives into the choices of a group of high school friends who are forced to keep a secret and how it affects each of them.

Twenty years ago, four teenagers are spending the summer hanging around the suburb that they live in in Philadelphia. Fifteen-year-old Allie Garvey has had a rough childhood. Her older sister Jill has cystic fibrosis and that diagnosis has changed her entire life as well as that of her family. Hanging around with three other teenagers, Allie is finally able to experience a normal teenage life. When a new boy moves to town, the relationships the four have developed are put to a test.

One night, they end up drinking and partying in the woods. After deciding to play a dangerous prank, the night turns deadly. Running for their lives and in shock, the teenagers decide to keep what happened a secret. Each believes that being caught or telling someone in authority what happened would make the situation even worse for them.

Allie has lived with this secret for 20 years. It’s eating her up inside, especially since she had never told anyone. Allie distances herself from her family, friends, and her husband. Heading back home to Philadelphia for a funeral of one of her childhood friends, Allie struggles with grief, panic, and shame. Clearly the others have been facing the same struggles as her and one had reached the breaking point.

Coming to terms with this unexpected death, Allie realizes that she can’t keep living life the way she has been. She must make a change, but doing so means she would utterly destroy and lose everything. Allie wants to learn the truth about how the prank turned deadly. While she’s searching for answers, Allie learns things that shock her and change the events that she thought were true.

This novel is a fascinating examination of what it really means to want justice and to receive it. Family, marriage, love, and friendship are all tested throughout. I enjoyed the twists and turns this novel took with an ending that I did not expect. Check out the book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


This book is available in the following formats:

Sea of Thieves Video Game

Sea of Thieves is a truly unique game in terms of scope and execution. It is a game best played with friends and honestly baffled me when I first played it on release. There is no grand goal at the end of the adventure, the goal is what you make it to be.

Sea of Thieves is an open-world adventure game that tasks the player as part of a crew of pirates going on quests on the high seas. While the game can be played solo where the game matches the player with random players via matchmaking, I have to say that this is not the ideal way to enjoy this game. Playing with friends online creates the most fun scenarios and is how the game was meant to be enjoyed.

Players work together taking on different roles on the ship. One person can steer, one can man the sails and another can navigate. Sea of Thieves really captures the feel of being a pirate, especially when your ship gets close to another group’s ship.

Nothing can compare to the rush of exhilaration that you feel as a player when someone notices another ship on the horizon. “will they attack us? should we pursue them? are they going to be friendly?” all of these questions are made more exciting by knowing that these conversations are also being played out by the other players on the other ship. Maybe you are returning from a quest with a ton of loot on your ship so you don’t want to risk fighting other pirates, or maybe you are on your way to a quest so you have nothing to lose but attack the other players.

I have never experienced an encounter like these until I played Sea of Thieves. Balancing between manning the cannons, plugging up holes from enemy cannon fire, steering the ship, and managing the sails is such a frantic process that the game can go from tranquil enjoyment of sailing, to intense frantic combat in an instant. There is more to the game beyond that too, players can band together and work to take down massive threats like the Megaladon that requires coordination between multiple ships to take down.

I highly recommend this game to any friend group that is looking for a new co op experience to tackle. Blare the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtrack loud and proud as you tackle the high seas, fight off skeletons, krakens and of course, other pirates.

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

After someone dies, loved ones are left to pick up the pieces. That usually means sorting through personal possessions and reading through the will. Secrets can be revealed during this time leaving loved ones to wonder who exactly the deceased was in life and why they were hiding some things. Lisa Jewell discusses the topic of secrets in her 2013 novel, Before I Met You.

Before I Met You  by Lisa Jewell tells the story of two women growing up decades apart. In 1990s grungy London Soho, Betty Dean has arrived to find the mysterious Clara Pickle. Clara was listed as the main beneficiary in her grandmother Arlette’s will. No one in her family has ever heard of Clara Pickle. Arlette never mentioned her. Going through her grandmother’s possessions, Betty finds hints tucked in coat pockets and hidden in books. Betty has always dreamed of getting out of Guernsey and moving to Soho. Trying to find Clara provides Betty with the perfect reason to head to Soho and begin a new glamorous life filled with excitement and hope.

In 1920s Jazz Age London, Arlette finds herself on the doorstep of her mother’s childhood best friend. Becoming friends with the woman’s daughter, Arlette quickly becomes drawn into the bohemian lifestyle of the Bright Young People. Arlette is beautiful and charismatic, but a bit sheltered since she spent all of her life before London growing up on the quiet and secluded island of Guernsey. Arlette is looking for love, a change, and acceptance now that the war is over. Two years later, Arlette’s new life is on course to give her what she wants. Right when she is ready to settle down, tragedy strikes and Arlette heads back to Guernsey where she stays for the rest of her life.

Betty searches high and low for Clara. While doing so, she learns even more secrets about Arlette’s life in London during the 1920s. Glamour, fashion, and music all played major roles in both women’s lives. Betty uncovers photographs and stories about Arlette’s life. She soon realizes that Arlette had major reasons for keeping her past firmly in her past.

While this is an older book, I enjoyed the topics discussed throughout. The parallels between Betty’s life in Guernsey and London in the 1990s as compared to Arlette’s life in the same places in the 1920s were so striking that I was left to wonder continuously throughout whether Betty would make the same life choices as Arlette. Betty’s journey to find Clara was fascinating because she kept searching for answers even when people told her to give up.  Read the book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


This book is also available in the following format:

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Guest post by Laura V.

Published 70 years ago, A Sand County Almanac was a prescient body of work for its time. Today, overlooking some dated cultural and technological references, it remains just as relevant, if not more so. Leopold was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa. The nonprofit Leopold Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin, serves as headquarters for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and visitor center and marks the spot on which he died of a heart attack while fighting a wild fire in 1948.

In the first section, A Sand County Almanac is divided into months. Leopold explores the cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena surrounding his weekend home “the shack” in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, outdoor sportsman, and exquisite writer. He is a more modern version of the rugged nature writer in the vein of Emerson and Thoreau. He sometimes uses literary devices that are simple in their architecture but absolutely delightful to read. My favorite is his use of felling a seasoned dead oak as a vehicle to recount the history of the land on which his farm is situated. I also like the Odyssey parable in the second section.

The second section is entitled, “Sketches Here and There” where he talks about his travels through various states, Canada, and Mexico. The essays show his maturation into the naturalist and conservationist he became. These recollections are often sad, with his description of lost ecology when settlers colonized various locations. His writing is nonetheless a joy with his observations and musings on the local habitats.

The final section is called “The Upshot” he describes the need for an ethic toward the land that diverges from the one perpetuated for millennia, man as ruler over nature therefore he is free to use it however he pleases. He argues for a broader imagining of respect for our land that isn’t solely measured through economics.

This book is timeless and beloved among conservationists. It would have probably continued to sit on my reading wish list, however, had it had it not been for my enrollment into the Scott County Master Conservationist Program. The book was required reading and we were each given a copy. I hungrily devoured it like a banquet of both familiar and new ideologies. I just wish the agricultural community specifically and the general public as a whole would have heeded his advice.

The Master Conservationist program was an excellent course at Nahant Marsh through Iowa State University Scott County Extension. We had several exciting field trips in which we visited natural areas in and outside the Quad Cities. I learned a great deal through firsthand experience in the fields and prairies. The course included many informative readings and videos. I loved the classes and Brian Ritter, the Executive Director’s wit and humor made them even more enjoyable. It was fun to converse with like-minded individuals who were learning along with me. I encourage everyone with an interest in conservation to register for the next program in 2020!

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows Vol. 1 by Gerry Conway

Spider-Man has gone through a lot of changes during his over-50 year run. Peter Parker has graduated high school, college, gotten married, lost his powers, got them back again, then lost them again. There was even a time where we thought he would have a child. But then it was decided that an adult family-man Spider-Man went against what Spider-Man was all about so they reverted Peter Parker back to being a 20-something and got rid of the character of Mary Jane Watson all together. This story The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is a big What If story about what would have happened if Peter wasn’t reverted back to being a 20-something, was still married to Mary Jane and they had a child together.

This run of comics highlights everything that makes Spider-Man such an endearing and long-lasting character. Peter Parker isn’t just a guy that has an insane sense of responsibility that dresses up as a spider and beats up bag guys, he is also a person with real-life issues. Renew Your Vows is also about living life as a lower middle class family in a big city. While half of the book involves the spider family beating up bad guys, the other half focuses on them dealing with real life struggles such as Mary Jane’s small business and Peter trying to make ends meet with his photography job all while they are both trying to raise their daughter Annie (who also happens to have super powers).

Using tech scavenged from when Peter fought a previous big bad guy, he was able to make a suit that shares his super powers with Mary Jane so that she can help crime fight with her husband and daughter, it has a very Incredibles-esque dynamic of a family fighting bad guys together. There are some very interesting conflicts that Peter has to wrestle with that most parents will also find themselves reflecting on. It is ok to let your children fail and get hurt because it is how they learn. This message is one that Peter has an extra hard time with because he wants to protect his family but he also has to let them fend for themselves and be independent. The conflicts and themes are effectively woven between the bad guy fight scenes and the scenes when the characters aren’t wearing their super suits.

I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows to anyone that has wished for a married Peter Parker to return to comics, or anyone that thinks the idea of The Incredibles-meets-Spider-Man sounds like a really fun read. It is well-written and a lot of fun for comic book readers of all ages.

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your month of Science reading going? I have to admit, I’m lagging a bit behind. The book I chose (Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler) hasn’t completely grabbed my interest but it’s early yet and I’m going to keep reading. Some books just take time.

If you’re struggling to check off Science in this year’s Challenge, why not try a movie instead? Here are some good ones.

Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly. Cracking the code the Germans used in World War II was vital to the success of Allies. Even after one of their Enigma machines was captured, untangling the complex code, which changed every day, was next to impossible, until the genius of Alan Turing finds the solution. Based on historical fact, this film is equal parts tense and heartbreaking.

Hidden Figures starring Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson brings us the true story of the African-American women who were vital to the success of NASA and the space race. Struggling against prejudice – both because they were women and because they were African-American – they persevered with courage and stubbornness as well as having brilliant minds.

The Martian with Matt Damon. And exploratory team on Mars leaves Mark behind, believing he was killed in the sudden storm that has forced them to leave. Mark is very much alive and relatively well except, he’s alone on Mars with limited supplies and little hope for rescue. How he copes, using intelligence and ingenuity and sheer pluck makes for a tense and fascinating movie.

The Big Bang Theory television series. I have to admit, I started watching this series quite late in it’s run, but once I did I was hooked and it was easy to catch up with reruns on cable and DVDs from the library. Yes, it’s pretty silly and really, who in their right mind would ever want to live with Sheldon, but it also celebrates intelligence and education and the sciences. The characters all grow and mature over the course of the series (something that doesn’t always happen on tv) and they’re always good for a laugh. Bazinga!

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and EMT in Austin,Texas. She’s very good at her job, respected and well-liked by her crew. She has a unique ability to remain calm under the most stressful circumstances and is fearless in dangerous situations.

Her well-ordered, tightly scheduled life begins to collapse when she is confronted by the past and when her semi-estranged Mother calls, begging her to move across the country to help her, Cassie reluctantly agrees. She can no longer stay at her current job so she packs up her life and moves to the Boston area.

Life at the small town fire station Cassie transfers to is very different from her job at the progressive and brand new Austin station. The all-male crew resent her and consider her a newbie. Funds are short and much of the equipment is old or lacking. Cassie is forced to prove herself over and over, enduring the pranks and hazing along with the rookie that joins the same day as she does. Cassie takes it all in stride except for one thing – that rookie. She has shut herself off from emotions for so long, the attraction she feels toward him is confusing and upsetting. She believes that emotions, especially love, make you weak. To top it off, her Mother is a constant source of anxiety and frustration.

Things You Save in a Fire is fast moving, exciting and complex. The descriptions of the life of a firefighter (at work and at play) are very interesting and help you appreciate what a difficult but rewarding career it must be. There are funny parts – most of the hazing is done in good spirits and Cassie has a dry sense of humor. Cassie is a wonderful character, fiercely committed to her job, strong yet vulnerable. and the crew grow to respect her. There is a serious side to the book as well, how the past can shape you and overshadow your life.  It gradually becomes apparent why Cassie has shut down her emotions and built nearly impregnable walls to protect herself; breaking down these walls is difficult and plagued with setbacks. You’ll find yourself rooting for Cassie every step of the way. Highly recommended.

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