Books and the Natural World (2016)

It's true that the natural world can be found in most literature; however, it generally can't be said that it's so much apart of the novel that it might even be considered a character itself. Today I'm discussing two recent releases that use evocative descriptions of the Earth's varied landscapes to shape narratives and provide the perfect setting.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

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? (Goodreads)

I really loved Smith's debut novel, Glaciers, about a precocious young woman coming of age in the Pacific Northwest. And while it wasn't the read of the year, or really a novel I can remember with great clarity, I do recall liking it and thus excited to see what Smith was up to next. Marrow Island did not disappoint.

The novel is slow going and alternates between past and present. I felt that Smith did a great job moving between the two periods without sacrificing clarity even if the memories slowed the momentum for the big reveal. The environment, and the devastation described after the horrific event that defines the novel, were such large parts of what made this book so successful for me. As a reader I found myself instantly transported and equally devastated when the narrator returned to the broken island so many years later. It's clear that Smith has much to offer on the subjects of environmentalism and sustainability; however, our protagonist, Lucie, does more navel-gazing than big picture analysis, and it loses its punch towards the end of the novel. What's more, there's a healthy dose of intrigue with a neighbor missing and a friend lost to a potential cult-like farming commune. Highly recommend this one for all readers!

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home. (Goodreads)

This is definitely an author to be watching in the future! I enjoyed this novel for so many reasons and one was the attention to descriptions to build this world and set the tone. The reader is immediately immersed in these landscapes of unrelenting sub-zero temperatures and days without sunlight, or deep darkness miles and miles away from planet Earth. The characters were flawed and realistic with complex thoughts (for most of the book) capable of eliciting feelings of empathy from the reader. It's a slower read with much to offer towards the end. Good Morning, Midnight was brilliant on so many levels with minor pitfalls slowing the pace and quality, briefly, about halfway through. A perfect read for a chilly, winter weekend.

*Header image my own.

Have a title that would fit this list? Share it in the comments below!


R.I.P. XI Challenge-- Sign Me Up!

It's that time again!! Yes, the best time of the year (and I'm not talking about Christmas). The R.I.P. Challenge (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril) hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is back for it's 11th year and I couldn't be more excited. I'm not kidding when I say that I start planning as soon as the challenge ends-- I love it!

This is my sixth year participating and feel it's going to be one of my best reading stacks yet! I'm sharing what I've got on the R.I.P. TBR and the rules of the game for those who are interested in joining and want to learn more.

What is R.I.P.? 

It's an informal reading event from September 1st to October 31st where participants focus on the following genres:

Dark Fantasy

I'm shooting for Peril the First*:

*Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between. (Head over to Carl's site to learn more.)

Some potential reads to meet my goal of four full-length novels:

Click on the title to read the summary on Goodreads:

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Florence & Giles by John Harding, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by The Trespasser by Tana French, The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey, The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James, Affinity by Sarah Waters, The Hounds of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale, The Asylum by John Harwood

As sad as it'll be to say goodbye to summer,  I can't deny that I'm pretty excited about the crisp autumn air and fun activities that come up this time of year. I mean how can you say no to activities like this...

*Note: I also have three posts of summer reviews that have been languishing in my draft folder this entire season. SHAME. They'll slowly be pushed out in the next couple of weeks.

Are you participating in the challenge?? If so, what's on your list? If not, what's your favorite thing to do during the fall?


24 in 48 Readathon is Here (Summer 2k16)

24 in 48 IS HERE!!!!

Really excited to join so many other readers for 24 hours of dedicated reading time!

Here's the stack I put together to get me through the weekend (plus, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey on audio). I've got travel essays, graphic novels, fantasy, a thriller, and a kickass biography. I've even got plans to meet up with some other participants in the Chicago area for a little reading session in the park. Who knows... I might even end up by the pool at some point -- ah! the life!

What will you be reading? Good luck!


Books to Fuel Your Wanderlust

Ring Road, Iceland, September 2015

The only thing I love as much as reading is traveling (excluding my husband, of course). I'm always dreaming of visiting a new city, state, country... you get it. I've recently found some A+ travel-themed material, which is really outside my regular reading zone, and thought I'd share the wealth.

Here are some titles that make me want to hit the road ASAP:

1) No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Benson

A memoir, as the titles suggests, about traveling (overseas) sans baggage, but also a look at the author's struggle with severe anxiety and depression years before her journey. Benson's around my age and so hilariously cynical, to boot, that I couldn't stop turning the pages. Her experiences are both totally relatable and then completely foreign at the same time. Weird, right? There's also the guy she meets on OKCupid who suggests the whole thing, and a home in a garbage compactor, but I'll let you read it to get the other juicy bits that make it so good. *One of my favorites of 2016

Favorite passage:
I'd have saved myself some heartache if someone had informed me that life isn't a linear, teleological climb that culminates in some final plateau. It tends to look a lot more like a rolling tumbleweed that gets blown off arroyo cliffs and trapped in barged cow fences just as often as it rolls smoothly down the road. I wish I'd known how many forces are completely out of our control and how often we fail to get exactly what we want (and the disappointment that sometimes follows when we do get exactly what we want). I wish I'd know to hold everything a little more loosely; to be more accepting of the millions of messy, glorious forms a single life can take; to quit acting like the human experience was a geometry equation with a firmly established, correct answer. And hell, I wish I'd known it's perfectly acceptable to have a little fun with the whole business of being alive.

2) Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travel: Our List of the 500 Best Places on the Planet - Ranked by Lonely Planet

I actually read through all 500 picks and have never wanted to race to the airport and randomly select a destination so badly in my life. So many beautiful landscapes and interesting places! Naturally, I made a list of the locations I'd already visited and found I'd only seen 25/500. Looks like I've got some traveling to do! *Scroll down to see my own images of some of those 25.

3) The New York Times 36 Hours: 125 Weekends in Europe by Barbara Ireland

More a coffee table book than a guide you'd cart around (this thing is pretty hefty), the 36 Hours collection (I want them ALL) is not only beautiful, but also informative. I'm going to be honest and just come out and say that I love this one for the incredible photography packed within its pages. I sometimes find myself flipping through whilst daydreaming of my next getaway. The itineraries are more for people who enjoy hunting down cocktail joints and getting nightclub action in over finding new bookstores, so, again, I mainly use it as inspiration for my own photo work rather than travel guide.

Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany, 2014
Versailles, France, 2014

Eiffel Tower, France, 2014
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland, 2015

*All images (aside from book covers) are my own. 

 Have any favorites that tempt you to pack up? Let me know!


The Summer Solstice & Navigating a Reading Slump

Happy first day of the summer solstice!! Summer is one of my favorite seasons so I'm doing a little happy dance to celebrate. (Just picture that for a moment. Ok, let's move on.)

I know a lot of people don't particularly love summer because of the heat but I really thrive in the warmer months. Like fall, I strive to be outside as much as possible to get my body moving and soak up the sunshine before -0 temps return and I go into hibernation.

Here's a list of my absolute favorite summertime activities/things/places:

1) Mouthwatering berries.

Berries are in season during the summer months (so juicy and sweet), so I stock up to get my fix. ALL of the blueberries and stat!

2) Lazy days at the pool.

I know many people hate frying out by the pool during the day, but I LOVE it. Most weekends you'll find me, book in one hand, fizzy water in the other, soaking up the vitamin D and grinning. I get soooo much more reading done. Plus, short swim breaks take me back to my childhood and my mermaid dreams.

3) Picnics, concerts, Shakespeareyou name itin the park! 

Chicago is the best during the summer (yes, it gets hot, but it's nothing compared to Atlanta's humidity so I can deal). There are always so many outdoor events occurring in each neighborhood that it'd probably take you a lifetime to experience them all. My particular favorite is the symphony at Millennium Park, where visitors have the option to buy seats or sit on the lawn (free) and watch the symphony perform at dusk. You're welcome to bring a picnic, a bottle of wine or two, and relax on the lawn with the skyline as your view. It's magical.

Yay! Summer.

I'll have a considerable amount of free time in the coming weeks so I'm looking to get some good reads in. I'm stuck in a rut at the moment with no sign of getting out. Help!

Current Reads:

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

This started out strong for me (well, after getting over some small annoyances), but then kind of just died. I know I'll finish but don't find myself itching to get back.

Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt by Yasmine El Rashidi

I keep reading that once you get past the initial chapters, told from the perspective of a 6-yr-old girl, this book gets really good, but it's been such a struggle to even get as far as I have. I'm really interested in Egyptian political culture but this just isn't doing it for me.  I feel guilty because I'm really trying to get through my ARCs (and post about them) and this one is just rotting on my kindle.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

This one is actually really good. As much as I want to push on, I just don't think I'm in the right emotional place for it at this point in time. I linked to Julianne's (Outlandish Lit) review because she does a fantastic job covering everything Porter does right.

So... what should I pick up next? I've got The Girls by Emma Cline, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, Invincible Summer by Alice Adams, and SO MANY OTHERS just waiting to be consumed. What are you reading right now?? And what do you love about it?

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