Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport by Yvon Chouinard

Title: Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport
Author: Yvon Chouinard
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Patagonia
Publish Date: April 16, 2019
Source: PR

What's the Story?: 

Synopsis: "For nearly 80 years, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has followed his own advice, pursuing outdoor adventures, business excellence and environmental activism with equal fervor. Since 1950, he has captured the lessons and revelations he’s learned in articles and books, personal letters and poetry, introductions and eulogies."

My Two Cents:

In "Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport," you get a front row seat with Patagonia-founder Yvon Chouinard. Not only did he start a very successful outdoor gear company, he also believes in the power of nature and the need to protect it for future generations to come. Patagonia as a company has been making waves recently for some of the work that it is doing on topics such as conservation and climate change. 

I was drawn to this book because I have really liked following Patagonia's shifts as a company committed to doing better. I really didn't know much about Yvon Chouniard before reading this book and while a flat-out biography of him would have been interesting, it was really great to get to know him through his own words and specifically reading his words on things he really cared about. This is a man that has a very good sense of himself and what he wants to strive towards. 

The book contains all sorts of stories that Chouniard wants to tell from both his personal adventures and long career. There are essays on wonderful places and the experiences he had there (my to-travel list is so much longer now). There are ruminations on the problems that plague our natural world and seem insurmountable. There are tributes to those that Chouniard loved and lost. One of my favorite essays in the book is a letter that he writes to his daughter as she goes off to school and to make her own way in the world. The essays throughout the book are passionate and often moving. In addition to some lovely odes to this beautiful world we live in, there is also some pretty amazing photography.

This book made me want to go take a long, beautiful walk somewhere with mountains, trees, lakes, and streams and just think about this wonderful place we call home. This book would be a lovely gift for anyone who loves the great outdoors!

Friday, September 27, 2019

TLC Book Tours: No Judgements by Meg Cabot

Title: No Judgements
Author: Meg Cabot
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 24, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid CafĂ©’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too."

My Two Cents: 

In "No Judgements," Bree just wants to hide from her old life. A small island in the Florida Keys during a hurricane seems like a good place to do that, no? Bree is carving out a new life: she has a small apartment and a great roommate, she is working at the cafe in town for a great owner, and she is desperately trying to recover to a bad relationship so when the cafe owner's nephew walks into her life, she is definitely trying to resist his charms. Will she succeed? Will the hurricane knock her off her feet?

This is a satisfying, solid, yet predictable entrance to a brand new series by author Meg Cabot! I have loved so many of Meg Cabot's books and I especially love how they most definitely fall into the category of comfort reads. Nothing was shocking in this book and even some of the surprises in the book were not particularly surprising. That being said, sometimes you are just looking for a warm hug of a book, surprising or not, and the book definitely fits that bill.

This book introduces a brand new cast of characters for a planned series. I think this is one place where the book fell a little flat for me. I really felt for Bree and I really enjoyed the romance in the book. But aside from the main couple, we have a lot of characters who are simply introduced but not really fleshed out so I would love to see if that changes in the next installation of the Little Bridge series.

This was a solid start to a new series!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

HFVBT Review and Guest Post: The Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil

Title: The Queen of Warriors
Author: Zenobia Neil
Format: ARC
Publisher: Hypatia Books
Publish Date: September 19, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and everyone she loves, including the man who holds her heart.

Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends. There she is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late."

My Two Cents:

In "The Queen of Warriors," Alexandra of Sparta is a fierce warrior. Her heart belongs to no one beside herself. She believes deeply in her cause, no matter the tradeoffs, which is exactly why she finds herself in the situation she is in in the beginning of the book. She has been captured and her life is in danger but looks can be deceiving. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced, exciting, sexy novel!

The characters are Alexandra of Sparta is very much a Xena the Warrior Princess kind of character. She is strong and she is driven. She is allowed to act like a man in many ways during a time where this was not common. She can fight with the best of them. She beds whomever she wants when she wants it. She is seriously empowered and so wonderful to read about. Artaxerxes is the man that captured the fierce Warrior Queen Alexandra. I don't want to give too much away but I really like how his story is explored and how he is changed by all of the various challenges that he faces. So good! 

This book was a great mix of historical fiction and erotic fiction. The love scenes are really great and sooooo very steamy. I loved how complicated the relationships (and therefore the love scenes) were throughout the book. Sex is used in so many different ways and it's a really interesting exploration. 

The writing is really good. This is the first book that I've read by this author but now I know I need to go back and read more by Zenobia Neil. I loved all of the historical fiction infused into the story! The detail gives a great sense of time and place. This book ends on a great cliffhanger and I have to know what happens! My only regret is that I have to wait until the next book!

Guest Post:

I am so very excited to welcome Zenobia Neil here to A Bookish Affair!

Bringing Long Dead Characters Who Never Existed to Life
Historical Fiction: Writing about Something You (Initially) Know Very Little About

When I first started writing The Queen of Warriors seven years ago, I knew very little about Hellenic Persia. My characters came to me fully formed, with desires and fears. I could clearly see my Persian main character, Artaxerxes, in leather trousers, and my Spartan woman warrior, Alexandra, wearing a leather dress like Xena: Warrior Princess, but I wasn't sure what language they communicated in. I had no idea what they ate or how they illuminated their dwellings. 
Writing a story that takes place thousands of years ago is challenging for several reasons. How can we even know what people thought and felt so long ago? There isn’t much recorded information, and the writings we do have are often lists of exchanges or contracts. There are a good amount of Hellenistic statues, coins, and vases. The visual images left from so long ago were very inspirational, taking into consideration that the heroic nudity portrayed in many ancient works of art was aesthetic and not representational. These images also gave me insight on their hairstyles—Alexander started the trend of Greek men going beardless, and he inspired the model of “heroic” hair (slightly long and wavy.) It tickles me to think that my Greek characters shaved and wore their hair in a style that was modern.
To discover what they ate, I consulted ancient cookbooks, but a lot of them focused on Roman cuisine. I turned to Xenophon and Herodotus, and biographies of Alexander the Great, but what really brought flavor to my story was reading Persian cookbooks—sour cherry rice with lamb and chilled cucumber-mint yogurt soup are a couple of my favorites. 
Early on in my research, my characters became more real when I read about grave goods, specifically, the jewelry ancient people were buried with. I love wearing jewelry, and something about that detail really gave my characters life.
 Alexandra has an ouroboros ring that her mother gave her. For Alexandra, jewelry isn’t something she wears to make her look pretty: it’s a connection to the past, a status symbol, and insurance. She always has a large amount of gold on her. Conversely, Artaxerxes was born rich and is willing to sell his gold armbands for scrolls.
Artaxerxes wears golden armbands capped with lynxes with ruby eyes, symbolic of his house. This jewelry fed my imagination, and I created a title for him based on it—The Golden Lynx of Rhagae. Though it is completely made up, it seemed fitting for a royal Persian struggling to keep his kingdom from Greek colonizers. One aspect of The Queen of Warriors is the idea of telling the tale of colonization from two different perspectives. We are used to reading the Alexander the Great narrative from the Greek perspective, but it’s not hard to imagine that from the Persian side, Alexander was no hero.
During my research I read that the Greeks essentially called all outsiders “barbarian.” Persians did the same. It tickled me to imagine my characters sitting around calling each other barbarian while still admiring each other. 
Despite this idea of “otherness,” both my main characters grew up in a multi-cultural world, rich in language, architecture, textiles, cuisine, poetry, and religion. The diversity of religions and gods at this time is as important to my novel as it was to my characters.  As a Zoroastrian, Artaxerxes strives to uphold the light and never lie. For him truth is paramount. His initial encounter with Alexandra results in a death, and they make a bargain that involves a proper Zoroastrian burial. Ancient texts generally show a great respect for the religions and burial practices of others. I imagine that any warrior would like to think they’d be given the same respect if they were the one to die.
As a Hellenistic Greek, Alexandra of Sparta is a devotee of Artemis. She admires trickery and has no problem telling lies. In fact, lies or exaggeration help her reputation and help her maintain her rule of a mercenary army. The juxtaposition between my two main characters’ cultures was interesting to play with from a romantic and a political perspective. The more research I did, the more dialogue they exchanged, and the more intimate they became, the more real they became.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

TLC Book Tours: After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

Title: After the Flood
Author: Kassandra Montag 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water.

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Arctic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there.

On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers."

My Two Cents:

In "After the Flood," the world has been devastated by an enormous flood that lasted for years and years. Now only the tops of the world's mountains are visible and livable and most of the remaining population of the world is relegated to living on boats or living on the small slivers of land that still exist. Myra is a mother on a mission. While her youngest daughter, Pearl, is right by her side, she is still affected by the loss of her eldest daughter, Ro, who was taken away from her by her husband in the chaos of the flood. Myra has learned how to carve out a living for her and Pearl through her wonderful fishing skills. This is a story of a mother's love for her children and her drive whenever she feels that they might be in danger.

The book is told through Myra's point of view. I thought this was a really smart choice. You get to know her innermost thoughts and why she is so driven to find Ro, even if it means searching the whole world for her. A mother's love knows no bounds! Myra must constantly rely on her cunning to get to where she thinks Ro might be. It means that she has to be deceptive and sometimes ruthless with those around her. I admired her drive all the way through! The secondary characters are really great. I loved Pearl, who must display such a high level of maturity and strength at such a young age. I also liked the comedic relief of her and her snakes! The crew of the ship that Myra and Pearl link up with was such a great addition as well!

I love dystopian fiction and really good dystopian fiction has really good world building, which I absolutely adore. I love wondering about what might be and what you would feel going through different situations. This book definitely allows you do it! The author includes so many little details that you can feel the sea breeze, you can see the ocean made rocky by the mountain tops piercing through, and you can understand the thoughts of the characters as they go through everything they go through in the book.

This is Kassandra Montag's debut novel and it is an exciting kickoff of what is hopefully to come for her! Supremely imaginative and well-detailed, this was a great ride!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I had a really good month in August! I'm noticing that I have a lot of harder countries on my list now and I think it may be getting harder to find books that fit the bill. It is amazing to me how difficult it is to find books for so many of these countries in translation. I'm also finding that children's and YA literature is often more diverse than adult literature.
I read books from this many countries in July:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 72 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?

Monday, September 9, 2019

TLC Book Tours: The Third Daughter by Talia Carner

Title: The Third Daughter 
Author: Talia Carner
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: September 3, 2019
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "The turn of the 20th century finds fourteen-year-old Batya in the Russian countryside, fleeing   with her family endless pogroms. Desperate, her father leaps at the opportunity to marry Batya to a worldly, wealthy stranger who can guarantee his daughter an easy life and passage to America.

 Feeling like a princess in a fairytale, Batya leaves her old life behind as she is whisked away to a new world. But soon she discovers that she’s entered a waking nightmare. Her new “husband” does indeed bring her to America: Buenos Aires, a vibrant, growing city in which prostitution is not only legal but deeply embedded in the culture. And now Batya is one of thousands of women tricked and sold into the oldest profession in the world.

As the years pass, Batya forms deep bonds with her “sisters” in the brothel as well as some men who are both kind and cruel. Through it all, she holds onto one dream: to bring her family to America, where they will be safe from the anti-Semitism that plagues Russia. Just as Batya is becoming a known tango dancer,  she gets an unexpected but dangerous opportunity—to help bring down the criminal network that has enslaved so many young women and has been instrumental in developing Buenos Aires into   a major metropolis."

My Two Cents:

In "The Third Daughter," Batya's family is struggling. The Russian Czar is trying to boot all of Jews out of Russia. Batya's family has faced tragedy after tragedy and life is hard. When a stranger appears offering the promise of a new life in America for Batya, her family doesn't think twice about marrying her off in order for her to have a brighter future. Looks can be deceiving though and this stranger has no intention of bringing Batya to America but to South America to be sold into sexual slavery in Buenos Aires. This was a fascinating and wonderfully detailed story of resilience and strength about a time and place that I had very little familiarity with!

One of the things that I most love about historical fiction is the doors that it opens to events that I am not familiar with. In the late 1800s, there were thousands of Eastern European girls that were trafficked to Buenos Aires by Zwi Migdal, a union of pimps in Buenos Aires. The Union was basically allowed to do whatever it wanted with implicit permission of the Argentinian government, who often seemed all too willing to look the other way as the union systematically ruined these young women's lives and stole them away from home.

This book is filled with wonderful characters, including our main character, Batya. Batya is only 14 years old when she is taken away from her family. She is so very young and while trafficking is always a difficult subject to read about, I was particularly struck by it happening to someone so young. Batya is absolutely terrified when she is first separated from her family. She faces so many terrible situations on the way from Europe to Buenos Aires but her inner strength keeps her afloat and she does what she needs to do to survive and eventually get a happy ending.

The events in the book are pretty dark but I am so happy that there are books like this to shed light on some of the darker parts of our shared history. The detail in this book is great and really brings Batya's and so many girls like her stories to life. While the story itself is really great, make sure you read the Author's Note at the end where the author shares her inspiration for the story. Overall, this was a great book!

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