Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Friday Face-Off: Current Read #7

   Friday Face Off New

 Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.  You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
Current Read #7

For this week's Friday Face-Off, I've chosen to feature a book that I just finished yesterday, Island of the Lost by Joan Druett! I love reading about real life survival stories and was excited to finally read this one... and unfortunately it ended up being one of my least favorite of all the ones I've read. 🤣 But that's okay! Let's still take a look at all of the different cover editions that exist for it. 

2007 US Hardcover | 2016 Audiobook

2019 US Paperback | 2007 UK 

My choice(s):
I love the classic feel of the original US hardcover edition, though I also like the dark and slightly more ominous feeling that the 2019 paperback evokes. The original one reminds me of the title scene of some older documentary or movie–does anyone else get that vibe or just me??

Monday, December 5, 2022

Mini-Review: Empire of Ice and Stone by Buddy Levy

Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk by Buddy Levy
St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: December 6th, 2022
Hardcover. 432 pages.

About Empire of Ice and Stone:

"The true, harrowing story of the ill-fated 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition and the two men who came to define it. 

In the summer of 1913, the wooden-hulled brigantine Karluk departed Canada for the Arctic Ocean. At the helm was Captain Bob Bartlett, considered the world’s greatest living ice navigator. The expedition’s visionary leader was a flamboyant impresario named Vilhjalmur Stefansson hungry for fame. 

Just six weeks after the Karluk departed, giant ice floes closed in around her. As the ship became icebound, Stefansson disembarked with five companions and struck out on what he claimed was a 10-day caribou hunting trip. Most on board would never see him again. 

Twenty-two men and an Inuit woman with two small daughters now stood on a mile-square ice floe, their ship and their original leader gone. Under Bartlett’s leadership they built make-shift shelters, surviving the freezing darkness of Polar night. Captain Bartlett now made a difficult and courageous decision. He would take one of the young Inuit hunters and attempt a 1000-mile journey to save the shipwrecked survivors. It was their only hope. 

Set against the backdrop of the Titanic disaster and World War I, filled with heroism, tragedy, and scientific discovery, Buddy Levy's Empire of Ice and Stone tells the story of two men and two distinctively different brands of leadership: one selfless, one self-serving, and how they would forever be bound by one of the most audacious and disastrous expeditions in polar history, considered the last great voyage of The Heroic Age of Discovery."

As someone who can't seem to get enough of reading about polar expeditions and stories of exploration in general (in any climate), I knew Empire of Ice and Stone would be a must-read for me as soon as I saw it. This is an incredible account of the Karluk's 1913 expedition  to the Arctic and the many trials that plagued the men on this journey, along with successes and triumphs in a variety of forms. 

What I liked: Buddy Levy's research for Empire of Ice and Stone is impeccable and he includes an incredibly thorough accounting of all components of the story, from backgrounds of prominent figures to the planning stages to the long, arduous journey itself. I thought Levy wove all of this information into a very coherent and engaging narrative that I found easy to follow along with. No matter how many polar or general exploration expeditions I read about, I will never fail to be dumbfounded by either the lack of planning or the response to the discovery of a problem as "eh, we'll be fine" that seems so common among these leaders (looking at you, Vilhjalmur Stefansson). I really enjoyed learning about Captain Bob Bartlett, and since I always love observing various leadership styles I was pleased to see that Levy highlighted this throughout the book. I also found myself fully invested in many of the people involved in these expedition because of how well Levy portrayed their personalities and actions while out on the ice, and this is part of what really made this book such a captivating story that made me feel as though I were out on the ice with them all (but not really, because that would suck, let's be honest). 

What I didn't like: I don't really have any complaints! I thought this was really compelling, well-written and researched, and because of that I'm not sure what to say as a negative. The expedition itself is pretty long and not always the most exciting, so I could see things maybe dragging a little bit at times, but I didn't find this to be much of an issue. 

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston & Ghost on the Throne by James Romm

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: September 5th, 2017
Paperback. 326 pages.

About The Lost City of the Monkey God:
"Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location. 

Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization. 

Venturing into this raw, treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness to confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, disease-carrying insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. But it wasn't until they returned that tragedy struck: Preston and others found they had contracted in the ruins a horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease."

The Lost City of the Monkey God is a nonfiction account from author Douglas Preston about the archeological exploration of a site known as The White City in the La Mosquitia region in Honduras. Douglas Preston was part of a group of researchers and scientists chosen to journey to La Mosquitia to rediscover this “lost city” after radar mapping in 2015 showed evidence of the city somewhere in the jungle and this book is his account of that experience, including a history of the region, its inhabitants, culture, the dangers of the jungle, and much more.

What I liked: First of all, I loved Preston's respect for Honduras, its people, culture, history, and archaeology and artifacts. It means a lot to me that he was careful to include the many multi-faceted components that surround an exploration of an ancient civilization in a region often neglected by the rest of the world.  Preston also has a lot of great, vivid descriptions of the land and forest that brought everything to life and encouraged me to get online and look up more images of this region. He went into a lot of detail about the dangers of the area, from snakes, bugs, etc., and I think it’s safe to say that I should probably not plan a visit. There was also a bit of a medical issue regarding a parasite, leishmaniasis, that all of the explorers dealt with after the exploration that he went into a lot of depth about near the latter portion of the book. I found this section equally fascinating and horrifying. I appreciated his discussion about negative associations with the terms ”lost city," "discovery," etc. and how these are misleading and sometimes offensive topics to talk about when these cities have such long histories. Lastly, I really appreciated Preston's ‘can-do’ attitude and willingness to get out of his comfort zone and explore, as it really added some adventure and allowed him to get a closer look to better share with readers.

What I didn't like: I would’ve loved to explore the uncovered city site and discoveries more, as I felt the ratio of history/exploration/etc. was not equal to the amount of discussion on what was actually found. That being said, I also understand the limitations in writing about what’s there when research was still ongoing, and I wouldn’t say what was there was “lacking.” The formatting could also have been tightened up a bit and had less jumping around. I would also say that the “history” portion of the White City and previous attempts to “discover” it in the beginning half of the book leading up to Preston’s journey was rather long and, and interesting as some of this section was, could have been edited down a bit to keep the narrative flowing.

Buy the book: Amazon |

Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire by James Romm
Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 11th, 2011
Hardcover. 411 pages.

About Ghost on the Throne:
"Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity. 

The story of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire's collapse remains virtually untold. It is a tale of loss that begins with the greatest loss of all, the death of the Macedonian king who had held the empire together. 

Alexander bequeathed his power, legend has it, 'to the strongest,' leaving behind a mentally damaged half brother and a posthumously born son as his only heirs. In a strange compromise, both figures, Philip III and Alexander IV, were elevated to the kingship, quickly becoming prizes, pawns, fought over by a half-dozen Macedonian generals. Each successor could confer legitimacy on whichever general controlled him. 

James Romm, brilliant classicist and storyteller, tells the galvanizing saga of the men who followed Alexander and found themselves incapable of preserving his empire. The result was the undoing of a world, formerly united in a single empire, now ripped apart into a nightmare of warring nation-states struggling for domination, the template of our own times."

Ghost on the Throne is a nonfiction history book about the tumultuous period of time that occurred directly after Alexander the Great’s death when much of the future of the region what still up in the air. Many history books tend to focus on Alexander the Great’s reign and impact after death, but many fail to really dive deeply into the fight for power and supremacy in the years after his death when succession was not easily determined.

What I liked: First and foremost, I have to say how much I appreciated reading a book that covered this period of history in such detail and with such care, because the author is right in that most more readily available resources do not spend much time in this period. I’ve studied quite a bit over my years studying Classics, as he was one of those figures that particularly intrigued me, and I appreciated seeing this post-death situation in depth, including how his relationships with people impacted the conflict and how much his rule and influence had spread. I really liked how Romm formatted this book, focusing on key players as they fit into the narrative and influenced events after Alexander’s death. There was plenty of nuance available in analyzing these figures and the potential motivations or relationships at play that would impact actions. This was a particularly dramatic period of time–I mean, Ptolemy I literally stole Alexander’s funerary cart (with his body) on its way back to Macedonia and rerouted it to Egypt where Ptolemy decided to have him buried in Memphis for his own benefit–and it only gets crazier. This is a great book for concrete source material for research or educational purpose, but it also reads really easily and I think would be a very accessible read for anyone not in the Classics field.

What I didn't like: I don’t have too many complaints about this book, but I do think it was slightly repetitious at times. I’ve found it’s fairly common for historical nonfiction books to really hammer home certain points, but I still found it a bit repetitive to hear repeated comments about certain historical figures. There was also a lot of information given constantly, and I could see it being a little overmuch at times. There are a lot of moving parts at play to keep track of, so it was sometimes a little difficult to follow and keep track of things, but I have to give Romm credit for attempting to organize it as best as possible. Despite this being in the “didn’t like” section of this review, I still think it’s very accessible for everything that has to be covered!

Buy the book: Amazon |

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Square³ by Mira Grant & The Bright Ages by Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

Square³ by Mira Grant
Publication: December 31st, 2021
Hardcover. 144 pages.
Pre-order: Subterranean Press

"We think we understand the laws of physics. We think reality is an immutable monolith, consistent from one end of the universe to the next. We think the square/cube law has actual relevance. 

We think a lot of things. It was perhaps inevitable that some of them would turn out to be wrong. 

When the great incursion occurred, no one was prepared. How could they have been? Of all the things physicists had predicted, “the fabric of reality might rip open and giant monsters could come pouring through” had not made the list. But somehow, on a fine morning in May, that was precisely what happened. 

For sisters Susan and Katharine Black, the day of the incursion was the day they lost everything. Their home, their parents, their sense of normalcy…and each other, because when the rift opened, Susan was on one side and Katharine was on the other, and each sister was stranded in a separate form of reality. For Susan, it was science and study and the struggle to solve the mystery of the altered physics inside the zones transformed by the incursion. For Katharine, it was monsters and mayhem and the fight to stay alive in a world unlike the world of her birth. 

The world has changed. The laws of physics have changed. The girls have changed. And the one universal truth of all states of changed matter is that nothing can be completely restored to what it was originally, no matter how much you might wish it could be. 

Nothing goes back."
Mira Grant's books are always some interesting adventures, and this sounds like no exception to that. I'm not sure what to expect from this (although I feel like I rarely am with her work!), but I'd be curious to find out.


The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry
Publication: December 7th, 2021
Hardcover. 320 pages.
Pre-order: Amazon | IndieBound

"A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself. 

The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkness obscures the truth; this was a remarkable period in human history. The Bright Ages recasts the European Middle Ages for what it was, capturing this 1,000-year era in all its complexity and fundamental humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors. 

The Bright Ages takes us through ten centuries and crisscrosses Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, revisiting familiar people and events with new light cast upon them. We look with fresh eyes on the Fall of Rome, Charlemagne, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Black Death, but also to the multi-religious experience of Iberia, the rise of Byzantium, and the genius of Hildegard and the power of queens. We begin under a blanket of golden stars constructed by an empress with Germanic, Roman, Spanish, Byzantine, and Christian bloodlines and end nearly 1,000 years later with the poet Dante—inspired by that same twinkling celestial canopy—writing an epic saga of heaven and hell that endures as a masterpiece of literature today. 

The Bright Ages reminds us just how permeable our manmade borders have always been and of what possible worlds the past has always made available to us. The Middle Ages may have been a world “lit only by fire” but it was one whose torches illuminated the magnificent rose windows of cathedrals, even as they stoked the pyres of accused heretics."
I really love the premise of this nonfiction dive into the history of the commonly known "medieval ages" of Europe, and I appreciate that it sounds lie it's going to include a wider expanse of areas outside of Europe as well! I'd love to have a chance to check this one out. 

What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Monday, June 14, 2021

Non-fiction Double (Mini?) Reviews: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, The Lost City of Z by David Grann

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Second Edition) by Charles C. Mann
Publication: October 10th, 2006
Paperback. 541 pages.

About 1491:
"In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.
Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew."

This book could easily warrant a full review, but I feel like this is a nonfiction where I either have to go into immense detail or keep it "mini," so I'm going with mini in order to pair it with the book that inspired me to read it. I've had this book on my TBR for years, and after I read The Lost City of Z where the author mentions this book as a reference, I figured now was the perfect time to read it, and I'm so glad it did. I've always been interested in learning more about indigenous cultures and history, especially in the Americas, and this book filled in a lot of knowledge gaps (and also created a lot more, in a good way!).

The premise of 1491 is to explore the Americas pre-Columbus, the time period that we rarely learn about in school (in the U.S., at least, in my experience) and that is still relatively ignored by a lot of general history. Sure, people have heard of the Aztecs and the Inkas, but what about the countless other indigenous peoples that lives in the northern and southern Americas for centuries before Europeans arrived? This book explores all of that and does so in an incredibly compelling and engaging manner. Mann breaks down the basic parts of his book into part 1) Indian ecology; part 2) Indian origins; and part 3) Indian ecology. Mann covers the history and rise and fall of various cultures, the different debated theories about how they first came to the Americas (i.e., across the strait between present day Canada and Russia?), and how they built their societies (how they developed agriculture, inventions, etc.). For such an enormous topic, I was impressed by how well Mann managed to convey his well-researched, respectful, and comprehensive information on the aforementioned topics. A lot of people view the Indigenous peoples of the northern and southern Americas as various monolithic entities, and that is far from reality, something that Mann really emphasizes and showcases by focusing in on specific examples and exploring their impact both at the time and up to the modern day.

There are many other books to read about Indigenous peoples to complement this one with more updated research (this was published in 2006, after all), this book really feels indispensable for anyone who is looking to get started and maybe find some jumping off points. This covers so many different regions, time points, and aspects of culture and history that it is hard not to find yourself captivated by some truly pivotal and incredible history that is not nearly taught as thoroughly as often as it should be. I may end up coming back and creating a more expanded review of this book one day, but for now, I hope this convinces you to check it out! I will be searching for even more books on these topics to learn more.
Overall, I've given 1491 five stars! 

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: August 10th, 2009
Paperback. 361 pages.

About The Lost City of Z:
"Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was the last of a breed of great British explorers who ventured into 'blank spots' on the map with little more than a machete, a compass and unwavering sense of purpose. In 1925, one of the few remaining blank spots in the world was in the Amazon. Fawcett believed the impenetrable jungle held a secret to a large, complex civilization like El Dorado, which he christened the 'City of Z'. When he and his son set out to find it, hoping to make one of the most important archeological discoveries in history, they warned that none should follow them in the event that they did not return. They vanished without a trace. For the next eighty years, hordes of explorers -- shocked that a man many deemed invincible could disappear in a land he knew better than anyone, and drawn by the centuries-old myth of El Dorado -- searched for the expedition and the city. Many died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals, and poisonous arrows. Others simply vanished.
In The Lost City of Z, David Grann ventures into the hazardous wild world of the Amazon to retrace the footsteps of the great Colonel Fawcett and his followers, in a bracing attempt to solve one of the greatest mysteries. It is an irresistibly readable adventure story, a subtle examination of the strange and often violent encounters between Europeans and Amazonian tribes and a tale of lethal obsession. "

Nonfiction stories of exploration and survival are, as you may or may not know, one of my favorite things to read, so The Lost City of Z was an immediate 'must-read' when I saw it. This book covers the life and explorations of Colonel Percy Fawcett up until his disappearance in the Amazon during his final expedition with his son, Jack, and his son's friend (it's also since been made into a movie starring Charlie Hunnam which my husband and I watched after I finished this book, and although the movie is well-made and pretty good, it's also not always super accurate in its portrayal of Fawcett, so if you watch the movie just keep that in mind.)

Fawcett was such an interesting person to learn about, and I feel as though he fits in perfectly with other explorers I've read about, all of whom seem to have a sort of extra drive–or obsession, frankly–to accomplish some goal or find some lost myth. For Fawcett, it was to find what he believed was a lost city of gold hidden within the Amazon that was mentioned by Portuguese writers centuries before his explorations. This book explores the myth, its origins, and what the likely reality is, and it also covers Fawcett's entire career from his beginnings in the military and his first 'spy' campaigns to his many different explorations in the Amazon. It isn't even until the latter portion of the book that we embark upon Fawcett's final and most well-known expedition with his son, but everything that comes before was even more captivating than I expected. 

In addition to Fawcett, we get to learn a lot about the time period and the entire culture of exploration that grew into and subsequently stemmed from the Royal Geographic Society in London, which I found added a lot of needed context and intrigue to Fawcett's story. The author embarks on his own journey to the Amazon to try to figure out what happened to Fawcett and I thought this added a great layer of storytelling and research that allows the reader to follow along and slowly uncover each step in the same way that both Grann and Fawcett uncovered their journey. Although the mythical lost city of Z likely doesn't exist in the way that Fawcett perceived, Grann explains and shows evidence that there were likely ancient and historical cities that did exist in the Amazon that were far more advanced than many people and historians knew at the time, and that that is probably what the Portuguese writers were talking about. Grann has crafted a supremely compelling and excellent account of a famous explorer whose fate remains unknown (though of course there are some fairly likely leading theories) while interweaving careful research about the history of exploration as well as information about the Amazon and Indigenous peoples that live in the area (which is also what led me to picking up 1491!)

It's another five stars from me!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Review: Tree & Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tree and Leaf: Includes Mythopoeia and The Homecoming of BeorhtnothTree and Leaf: Including Mythopoeia and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son
Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien
Harper Collins
Publication Date: February 5th, 2001 (Originally published 1964)
Paperback. 150 pages

About Tree and Leaf:

"Repackaged to feature Tolkien's own painting of the Tree of Amalion, this collection includes his famous essay, 'On Fairy-stories' and the story that exemplifies this, 'Leaf by Niggle', together with the poem 'Mythopoeia' and the verse drama, 'The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth', which tells of the events following the disastrous Battle of Maldon. Fairy-stories are not just for children, as anyone who has read Tolkien will know. In his essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien discusses the nature of fairy-tales and fantasy and rescues the genre from those who would relegate it to juvenilia. The haunting short story, Leaf by Niggle, recounts the story of the artist, Niggle, who has 'a long journey to make' and is seen as an allegory of Tolkien's life. The poem Mythopoeia relates an argument between two unforgettable characters as they discuss the making of myths. Lastly, and published for the very first time, we are treated to the translation of Tolkien's account of the Battle of Maldon, known as The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth. Tree and Leaf is an eclectic, amusing, provocative and entertaining collection of works which reveals the diversity of J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination, the depth of his knowledge of English history, and the breadth of his talent as a creator of fantastic fiction."

 This isn't a new release by any means, but I did read it recently and was floored by how much I enjoyed it and took away from it. This collection includes the essay "On Fairy-stories," the related short story "Leaf by Niggle," the poem "Mythopoeia," and the poem "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth," which was about the Battle of Maldon from 991 AD.

On Fairy-stories and Leaf by Niggle are the two works from this collection that stood out to me the most, though I enjoyed all of them. On Fairy-stories is a really thoughtful and in-depth discussion of what people mean when they talk about 'fairy-stories' and 'fairies' in general. Tolkien's discussion first dives into understanding all of the different interpretations that exists and his statement on what a fairy story actually is, what it entails, and what can be expected from them. He also provides examples of common stories that are considered fairy-tales, but in actuality do not fit that specific category. 

In addition to this discussion on what a fairy story is, Tolkien also covers some more disputed topics such as what age fairy stories are meant to be written or told for. In the present day, we tend to associate fairy stories with children, but Tolkien instead explains why they are not necessarily meant for children and that they are, in fact, better understand and often enjoyed more by adults.The other prominent aspect of this essay is Tolkien's discussion on writing and fantasy in general, as well as types of prose that exist, and I think anyone who writes or is interested in reading about the craft of writing and constructing new worlds will take away a lot of incredible valuable information from it. 

I absolutely loved hearing Tolkien's thoughts on this topic and how much care he put into the entire essay. This is the first longer form piece of nonfiction that I've read from Tolkien and I've found myself enamored by his voice and method of writing. Of course, I've read The Lord of the Rings and associated books so I know that Tolkien has a wonderful narrative voice, but hearing his nonfiction was just as enlightening and compelling as any of his fiction. He has such a beautiful cadence to his writing as well that makes it easy to keep reading. If you are at all interested in fairy tales or stories, or simply a compelling discussion about people's perceptions versus reality, then I would encourage you to check out this essay.

My second favorite work is "Leaf by Niggle," which is a bit of an allegorical short story about a young artist who wants to work on his art, but is surrounded by people who do not seem to value or care about his art or drive to create it. Niggle was a character that I felt I connected to a lot just from his introduction on the first page, from his general personality to his constant focus on completing mundane tasks that resulted in him never having time for his own art. I won't go over the entire story, but suffice to say this was a really enjoyable and enlightening tale that I think offers a lot of meaning. I have seen mentioned that Niggle may be a sort of Tolkien-insert, so I think that also offers an compelling insight as well. Also, I have a weird love of trees and I think Tolkien does also, so the tree in this book was a beautiful part of the story.

The remaining works "Mythopoeia" and "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth" were beautiful in their own right, though I'll confess that I'm not sure I understand all elements of the former as much as I would lie, and I absolutely plan to do some re-reads of it in the future. Still, Tolkien's poetry is stunning and captivating and you can tell that there are so many layers to it. The Homecoming of is written in a play format and was more engaging that I might have expected, which led me to learning more about the Battle of Maldon than I ever would've learned otherwise, most likely. 

Overall, it feels a bit odd to rate this one, but I'm still giving it five stars. This is a really beautiful, informative, and inspiring collection that demands a slow, contemplative reading of it (and some re-reads to take it in as much as possible, in my opinion!). For anyone who loves literature or reading some beautiful poetry or creative short stories, this is one I would absolutely recommend! 

Buy: Amazon

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Review: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
Penguin Putnam
Publication Date: May 8th, 2020
Hardcover. 302 pages

About In the Heart of the Sea:

"In 1819, the 238-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, the unthinkable happened: in the furthest reaches of the South Pacific, the Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, decided instead to sail their three tiny boats for the distant South American coast. They would eventually travel over 4,500 miles. The next three months tested just how far humans could go in their battle against the sea as, one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear. 

Nathaniel Philbrick brings an incredible story to life, fro the intricacies of Nantucket's whaling economy and the mechanics of sailing a square-rigger to the often mysterious behavior of whales. But it is his portrayal of the crew of the Essex that makes this a heart-rending book. These were not romantic adventurers, but young working men, some teenagers, just trying to earn a living in the only way they knew how. They were a varied lot: the ambitious first mate, Owen Chase, whose impulsive nature failed at a crucial moment, then drew him to a more dangerous course; the cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, whose long-lost account of the ordeal, written at age seventy-one, provides new insights into the story; and Captain George Pollard, who was forced to take the most horrifying step if any of his men were to survive. 

This is a timeless account of the human spirit under extreme duress, but it is also a story about a community, and about the kind of men and women who lived in a forbidding, remote island like Nantucket—a pioneer story that explores how we became who we are, and our peculiar blend of spiritualism and violence. It is also a tragic tale of survival against all odds. Its richness of detail, its eloquence, and its command of history make In the Heart of the Sea a vital book about America."

In the epilogue of In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick states that "the Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told," and I really could not agree more with that sentiment. As we all know, I am a sucker for any sort of disaster and survival story, particularly if they take place in the arctic/antarctic regions or out on the sea (or both!), so this is a book that I've had sitting on my shelf for a while waiting for me to read it. This is another one that I don't think I'll be forgetting about anytime soon.
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, a whaleship from Nantucket--what was one the whaling center of the world--that was rammed and eventually sunk in the South Pacific ocean by a sperm whale in 1820. If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the Essex is the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick, in which a whale similarly wrecks a ship. As a result, twenty men were left stranded in three whaleship boats in the middle of the ocean with thousands of miles between them and any known safety. All they had were some sails and navigational tools to find their way. 
Philbrick is a nonfiction author that I absolutely plan to read more from, as I found In the Heart of the Sea nearly impossible to put down. Although the story itself is fascinating on its own, the way that Philbrick brought the nonfiction account together into a cohesive narrative was excellent and truly allowed for me to immerse myself into this account. Not only does he tell of the steadfastness and determination of the men on board, but he also highlights that strengths and flaws in Captain Pollard's leadership, the racism that abounded, the attitudes of the men on board, the arrogance of men who think they can take unnecessary risks for their own gain, the horrible impact of whaling on whale populations at the time, and so many more truly incredible themes. There was a great underlying discussion of wealth and how wealth-related boundaries and distinctions affected all aspects of whaling that was incorporated well, also.
What I really liked about Philbrick's narrative was how he brought together a wide variety of sources that exist on the whaleship Essex tragedy in order to give a well-rounded view and to point out areas where certain sources left out information or altered it in some way. I also appreciated his focus on the fate of the black members of the crew of the Essex and how their experiences differed considerably from their white counterparts. He notes that in many of the eyewitness accounts from survivors they leave out some critical points of the narrative, such as the fact that none of the black crew members survived and that, as mentioned, they often had fairly different experiences aboard a whaleship than white men. Another layer to this is that among the white men there was an additional division between off-islanders and Nantucketers, and Philbrick is firm in pointing out that the Nantucketers seems to fair the best out of all members of the Essex--whether that's from sheer hardiness and luck or a result of treatment and in-group camaraderie is not firmly known, but it certainly provides for some important discussion consideration that I personally thought proved vital to learning about this tragic wreck.
One of the things that most fascinates me about tragedies such as the Essex is how the various types of stress and situations that these men encountered affected their psyche. Because of this interest, I was excited by how much Philbrick explored topics about how the mental state is affected by the stress, starvation, and myriad of other factors that played into this experience. It's extremely apparent that Philbrick not only dove deep into researching the account of the Essex, but also into topics such as the psychology of tragedies and survival in order to develop a well-rounded and detailed exploration of all aspects of this tragedy.

No matter how many survival nonfiction accounts I read, I never seem to be able to comprehend or get over just how resilient humans can be. It always strikes me to see men such as those from the Essex, battle through near-starvation and dehydration and almost dangle on the edge of death for so long when i feel like in other areas of life we are so often reminded of how fragile the human body is. These stories really remind me that it's always worth it to keep fighting no matter how desperate the situation or how easy it seems to just give up instead. I think that's one reason I can't get enough of these stories, that despite situations that feel utterly hopeless, there's always a reason to just keep pushing towards the destination, because you never know what can happen. I confess I"m usually a rather cynical person, but there's something about these stories that always get to me.

Overall, it's an easy five stars from me! If you enjoy nonfiction, survival stories, sea wrecks, or simply a riveting narrative, then you really need to pick up In the Heart of the Sea. I promise you won't regret it.
Also: if you have any great survival/sea-wreck/etc. stories, please do recommend them!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Nonfiction Double Reviews: The Great Pretender by Susan Cahalan & Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of MadnessThe Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan
Grand Central Publishing
Publication: November 5th, 2019
Hardcover. 400 pages.

About The Great Pretender:
"From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine. 

For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people -- sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society -- went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever. 

But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?"

The Great Pretender is a well-researched and highly engaging look at the history of mental illness and mental institutions. Her previous release, Brain of Fire, covers the time in her life when she discovered she has an autoimmune encephalitis, which caused her ot undergo a series of mental illness-related problems. I haven't read Brain on Fire, but after reading The Great Pretender I'm extremely interested in it!

LIKES: It's obvious that Cahaln put so much research, passion, and effort into this book and it pays off so well. This is a really comprehensive and well-rounded look at the positives and negatives of the research and treatment around mental illness. Although it often seems unbelievably grim and a lot of history around mental illness (and even present day) seems short-sighted and harsh, Cahalan also points out the positives that have happened and how there are still improvements and strides being made. Her investigation into David Rosenhan's experiment was fascinating and I enjoyed reading about her process and how deep she dove into the entire event--there is a lot to unpack and it's a wild ride, but I found the experiences of the various 'pseudopatients' compelling and that they offer a lot to consider when we talk about and treat mental illness.

DISLIKES: Any dislikes I have are largely formatting based, as I loved all of the content in this book. There was a lot more about the history of mental illness and mental institution than I expected and I was mainly impatient at times when all I wanted to do was read about the experiment. However, this issue isn't necessarily bad, it just took me by surprise (which is my own fault, really). The title and synopsis make it sound as if the Rosenham experiment is the main plotline of the book, when in reality it shares a main plotline with a few other things. It felt a bit jarring to be going back and forth all the time and I wish it had been incorporated in a slightly smoother way.

Overall, I've given The Great Pretender four stars! I highly recommend this one to anyone interested in mental illness, mental institutions, or a truly fascinating experiment.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave DiverInto the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth
Publication: August 20th, 2019
Hardcover. 288 pages.

About Into the Planet:
"More people have died exploring underwater caves than climbing Mount Everest, and we know more about deep space than we do about the depths of our oceans. From one of the top cave divers working today—and one of the very few women in her field—Into the Planet blends science, adventure, and memoir to bring readers face-to-face with the terror and beauty of earth’s remaining unknowns and the extremes of human capability. 

Jill Heinerth—the first person in history to dive deep into an Antarctic iceberg and leader of a team that discovered the ancient watery remains of Mayan civilizations—has descended farther into the inner depths of our planet than any other woman. She takes us into the harrowing split-second decisions that determine whether a diver makes it back to safety, the prejudices that prevent women from pursuing careers underwater, and her endeavor to recover a fallen friend’s body from the confines of a cave. But there’s beauty beyond the danger of diving, and while Heinerth swims beneath our feet in the lifeblood of our planet, she works with biologists discovering new species, physicists tracking climate change, and hydrogeologists examining our finite freshwater reserves."

I've always found cave diving an interesting endeavor, but it's also one that scares me to bits imagining what it's like. I am not a water person, so the idea of cave diving is, frankly, terrifying, but it's also stood out to me as something that must be incredible to experience. And then I read Caitlin --'s The Luminous Dead earlier this year, which is book with a cave diving premise (albeit it's on a different planet, but still!) and that made me even more interested in this topic so I was thrilled to see this book was coming out this year. 

LIKES: Heinerth's descriptions of her explorations were things that I can't even imagine experiencing and she did such a fantastic job of explaining the awe and magnitude she feels at seeing such sights. Her passion for cave diving is almost contagious (almost) and I loved seeing that come through on the page. I also really appreciated how real she was about the dangers of cave diving and that there is never time for even the single, smallest mistake. She relayed a myriad of stories about friends she has lost to cave diving, including professionals with years and years of experience who just made one small mistake and ended up losing their lives. This is an intense sport/career and I'm glad Heinerth conveys the dangers to the same extent that she conveys the joys and excitement. I'm also glad she included a lot of focus on women in cave diving and how it is still such a male-dominated field, which I think added a lot of context. I learned a lot about cave diving from this book and it's all information that I found incredibly interesting. 

DISLIKES: This was another one with formatting issues that I wasn't too sure about. Each chapter covers a specific event or year in her life of cave diving which she buffers with contextual information about where she was in her cave diving life and the diving world around her. I wish we had gotten a chance to follow a more specific timeline of her life and development as a cave diver since although I have a pretty good idea of how her experiences went, there are still some gaps where I'm unsure how things progressed. I also felt conflicted about the focus on her relationships and other similar commentary: on the one hand, I enjoyed seeing how her diving affected her personal life and I wouldn't want that removes, but on the other hand I felt it was just a little drawn out at times and I would've preferred that to be less of a focus.

Overall, I've given Into the Planet 3.75 stars. I loved learning about cave diving, but I wish there had been more focus on cave diving than on specific equipment and her personal life. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

First Chapter Tuesday: The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan & Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

First Chapter Tuesday is hosted every Tuesday by Vicki @ I'd Rather Be at the Beach. This is meme in which bloggers share the first chapter of a book that they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon. Join the fun by making your own post and linking up over at Vicki's blog, or simply check it out to find more new books to read!

I'm not really actively participating in nonfiction November, but I am reading/planning to read these two nonfiction books that I am enormously excited about, so I thought I'd share them in a First Chapter post!

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of MadnessExcerpt:


"The story that follows is true. It is also not true. 

This is patient #5213’s first hospitalization. His name is David Lurie. He is a thirty-nine-year-old advertising copywriter, married with two children, and he hears voices. 

The psychiatrist opens the intake interview with some orienting questions: What is your name? Where are you? What is the date? Who is the president? 

He answers all four questions correctly: David Lurie, Haverford State Hospital, February 6, 1969, Richard Nixon. 
Then the psychiatrist asks about the voices. 
The patient tells him that they say, “It’s empty. Nothing inside. It’s hollow. It makes an empty noise.” 
“Do you recognize the voices?” the psychiatrist asks. 
“Are they male or female voices?” 
“They are always male.” 
“And do you hear them now?” 
“Do you think they are real?” 
“No, I’m sure they’re not. But I can’t stop them.” 
The discussion moves on to life beyond the voices. The doctor and patient speak about Lurie’s latent feelings of paranoia, of dissatisfaction, of feeling somehow less than his peers. They discuss his childhood as a son of two devout Orthodox Jews and his once intense relationship with his mother that had cooled over time; they speak about his marital issues and his struggle to temper rages that are sometimes directed at his children. The interview continues on in this manner for thirty minutes, at which time the psychiatrist has gathered nearly two pages of notes. 

The psychiatrist admits him with the diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective type. 

But there’s a problem. David Lurie doesn’t hear voices. He’s not an advertising copywriter, and his last name isn’t Lurie. In fact, David Lurie doesn’t exist."

I've already started this one and I am so enraptured by it already. It covers a fascinating psychological experiment as well as has some great commentary and analysis of the history of how we treat mental illness and the evolution of psychiatric hospitals. Highly recommended so far!

Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth
Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave DiverExcerpt:


"If I die, it will be in the most glorious place that nobody has ever seen.

I can no longer feel the fingers in my left hand. The glacial Antarctic water has seeped through a tiny puncture in my formerly waterproof glove. If this water were one-tenth of a degree colder, the ocean would become solid. Fighting the knife-edged freeze is depleting my strength, my blood vessels throbbing in a futile attempt to deliver warmth to my extremities.

The archway of ice above our heads is furrowed like the surface of a gold ball, carved by the hand of the sea. Iridescent blue, Wedgwood, azure, cerulean, cobalt, and pastel robin's egg meld with chalk and silvery alabaster. The ice is vibrant, bright, and at the same time ghostly, shadowy. The beauty inside an iceberg. And we may not live to tell the story."

I've been wanting to read this one for months and it's finally out and I finally got it from my hold at the library! I can't wait to dive into (bad pun intended, I'm sorry) this one and learn more about cave diving, something that has fascinated me for so long. I could never do it, so I prefer to live vicariously through others.

What do you think? Would you keep reading these books? (And feel free to join in and make your own post!) 

*Excerpts are taken from the novel itself; I do not claim to own any part of the excerpt.