Tuesday, March 30, 2021

ARC Review: To The Greatest Heights by Vanessa O'Brien

Title: To the Greatest Heights
Series: n/a
Author: Vanessa O'Brien
Source/Format: Publisher; eARC
More Details: Nonfiction; Memoir
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria/Emily Bestler Books; March 30, 2021

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository     Target

Synopsis from Goodreads...
This riveting and uplifting memoir by Vanessa O’Brien, record-breaking American-British explorer, takes you on an unexpected journey to the top of the world’s highest mountains.

Long before she became the first American woman to summit K2 and the first British woman to return from its summit alive, Vanessa O’Brien was a feisty suburban Detroit teenager forced to reinvent her world in the wake of a devastating loss that destroyed her family. Making her own way in the world, Vanessa strove to reach her lofty ambitions. Soon, armed with an MBA and a wry sense of humor, she climbed the corporate ladder to great success, but after the 2009 economic meltdown, her career went into a tailspin. She searched for a new purpose and settled on an unlikely goal: climbing Mount Everest. When her first attempt ended in disaster, she trudged home, humbled but wiser. Two years later, she made it to the top of the world. And then she kept going. Grounded by a cadre of wise-cracking friends and an inimitable British spouse, Vanessa held her own in the intensely competitive world of mountaineering, summiting the highest peak on every continent, and skiing the last degree to the North and South Poles. She set new speed records for the Seven Summits, receiving a Guinness World Record and the Explorers Grand Slam, and finally made peace with her traumatic past. During her attempt on K2, she very nearly gave up. But on the “savage mountain,” which kills one out of every four climbers who summit, Vanessa evolved from an adventurer out to challenge herself to an explorer with a high-altitude perspective on a changing world—and a new call to share her knowledge and passion across the globe.

Told with heart and humor, Vanessa’s journey from suburban Detroit to Everest’s Death Zone to the summit of K2 and beyond, is a transformative story of resilience, higher purpose, and the courage to overcome any obstacle.

I've heard of Vanessa O’Brien, so I was excited to get my hands on her upcoming book. To the Greatest Heights was an excellent memoir. O’Brien didn’t sugarcoat the realities of mountain climbing as she recounted her experiences on as many notable mountains as I can think of—just off on the top of my head, think Everest and Kilimanjaro among the many others. She talked about it with a searing honesty, and mentioned her successes as often as she did her failures and the hard learned lessons she gained by experience. The reality was grim, dangerous, and somewhat gross at times. However, I have to admire O’Brien’s determination to continue climbing even when faced with injuries, subzero temperatures, and sweltering heat among other hazards that come with mountaineering. Since this was a memoir, O’Brien also talked about her life, career, and the family tragedies that made her the person she was. It also was often correlated with key moments in the book. So as she would talk about her experiences on a mountain or at the North and South Pole, she would also delve into more personal topics.

To the Greatest Heights was, at its core, about O’Brien and her personal journey with mountaineering. It was as much about the mountains as it was about her life. It was fantastic, and I highly recommend this one.     

About the author....

Vanessa O’Brien is an American mountaineer and a British mountaineer (as a result of her dual nationality), explorer, public speaker and former business executive. Vanessa was named Explorer of the Year in 2018 by the Scientific Exploration Society. She is one of only eight women to achieve the Explorers Grand Slam, having summited the highest peak on every continent and skied the last degree to the North and South Poles in eleven months. Vanessa was the first woman to set a speed record to climb the Seven Summits, entering the Guinness Book of World Records for climbing the Seven Summits in 295 days. Curiosity, determination and a passion for excellence led her to become the first American woman and the first British woman to successfully summit K2 in 2017. Vanessa is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and a Member of the Scientific and Exploration Society. She is an advocate for woman’s causes, carrying the UN Women’s flag to the summit of K2. She lives in New York City and London with her husband, Jonathan.


Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Atria/Emily Bestler Books) via Netgalley for this review, thank you!


Monday, March 29, 2021

Short Stories I Read In February

It’s the 29th of March already. So it’s time to talk about the short stories, miscellaneous posts, and podcast episodes I read or listened to in February. 

Judge Dee and The Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com, February 10, 2021)

I said before that I would read another story about Judge Dee. Well, there’s another one, so here I am. Judge Dee and The Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels moved incredibly fast. The story bounced from one event to the next, with little room for anything else. It wasn’t until the case of Count Werdenfels fell into Judge Dee’s hands that the story slowed down a little, and a bit of a mystery began to unfold. This story was a sequel to Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law with familiar characters as well as some new ones. Count Werdenfels’s death was quite a mystery, since so many people claimed to have a part in it. This was simply good story, and the twist toward the end made for a satisfying conclusion.

A Serpent For Each Year by Tamara Jeree (Strange Horizons, Issue 1 February 2021)

A Serpent For Each Year is as its title suggests in a very literal way—a woman received a snake for each year from her mother—yet it packs into its short length some commentary on grief and mourning with a speculative edge. This was a good one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Review: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Title: Exit Strategy
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #4
Author: Martha Wells
Source/Format: Tor eBook Club; ebook
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor.com; October 2, 2018

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository     Target 

Synopsis from Goodreads...
Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right? Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit. But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue? And what will become of it when it’s caught?

Note: there may be some minor spoilers for books 1-3. You’ve been warned.

Exit Strategy was the story I’ve been waiting for. It was everything the past two books in the series have been building toward, and the confrontation with GrayCris Corporation was as explosive as I expected it would be, to say the least. It was so good.

Martha Wells excels at building characters and the connections between them. After all, one of the great aspects about Exit Strategy was seeing characters from the first book in the series. It was great to have the Preservation Aux team back again, as I really enjoyed their characters in All Systems Red.

SecUnit is a fantastic character, and the growth it went through was done so well. Part of this series has always been about SecUnit’s journey of personal discovery—plus its extensive collection of media—it’s all part of the character’s charm.

As I said above, Exit Strategy had the confrontation I was waiting on. There was action everywhere, because this was a pretty fast moving and straight forward story. The full scope of GrayCris’s greed and willingness to subvert any rules it found unfavorable to its goals, went deeper than I thought it would. There was a palpable sense of urgency to the story, and it definitely felt like a race against time. There were some twists here, and overall it was an extremely exciting read—I basically read it in one sitting.

Exit Strategy is one of my top favorite reads from the Murderbot Diaries so far, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Music Monday (151): Laura Mvula, Cheryl Lynn

 

   Rules:
  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I know I mentioned Laura Mvula a couple weeks ago, but I'm really excited about all the new music being released. 1/f was already a great surprise, but then Safe Passage was released too. This is one of my top favorite songs by Laura Mvula, and I'm really looking forward to her upcoming album.


Laura Mvula also released another single from her upcoming album called Church Girl. I like this one as well.

 

Andrea: This week I'm listening to If This World Were Mine by Cheryl Lynn featuring Luther Vandross. I was listening to the original song, because I saw a youtube video of Donnell Cross & Cassandra Nelson singing it in a store. You can check it out HERE.



What are you listening to this week?



Friday, March 19, 2021

The Friday 56 (196) & Book Beginnings: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE


Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.


Synopsis from Goodreads...
Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right? Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit. But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue? And what will become of it when it’s caught?


Beginning: "When I got back to HaveRatton Station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me."

56: "I led us off the platform and down the ramp to the building's pods, using my code to delete us from the security cams."


Comments: Exit Strategy was a fantastic installment in the Murderbot Diaries series. It's one of my top favorite books by Martha Wells so far, and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series. What are you reading this week?
 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

ARC Review: Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley

Title: Skyward Inn
Series: n/a
Author: Aliya Whiteley
Source/Format: Publisher; eARC
More Details: Science Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Solaris; March 16, 2021

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository     Target

Synopsis from Goodreads...
Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita. But safety from what? Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars. Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future. Did humanity really win the war? A thoughtful, literary novel about conflict, identity and community; a fresh new perspective in speculative fiction from critically-acclaimed writer Aliya Whiteley. Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber, Skyward Inn is a beautiful story of belonging, identity and regret.

Skyward Inn is a story that’s brimming with potential, and it is a technically good story with one exception—though that came down to personal taste in the end. There were a number of aspects that were notable about the story, which I thought deserved praise.

Skyward Inn is the type of speculative fiction that has those big science fiction concepts woven into a story that explores the human element as well as colonialism—though it uses a fictional alien race as the vehicle to do this. At times, it reminded me of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, because much of the story was about the characters. The line on the book cover, “This is a place we can be alone, together,” is often repeated throughout the book. Whiteley does do a good job hammering this point home, and the overall execution of it was good.

Another notable aspect of Skyward Inn was the speculative elements, which ties in to the ending of the book. The twist was fantastic, and my overall impression of the story was on the higher end because of it. The imagery it invoked was eerie and surreal at some points.

Where I ran into a problem was with one particular character's perspective. Fosse, the son of one of the main characters, ended up having a role that was integral. However, while the later instances in his POV were fine, his introduction wasn’t my thing, and some of his internal monologue got to be unsettling. At one point I considered skipping over his sections, but I didn’t end up doing that because as I mentioned his side of the story was integral. It just wasn’t my favorite part.

Skyward Inn was good, and I would consider reading more books by Whiteley.

About the author....

Aliya Whiteley writes across many different genres and lengths. Her first published full-length novels, Three Things About Me and Light Reading, were comic crime adventures. Her 2014 SF-horror novella The Beauty was shortlisted for the James Tiptree and Shirley Jackson awards. The following historical-SF novella, The Arrival of Missives, was a finalist for the Campbell Memorial Award, and her noir novel The Loosening Skin was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. She has written over one hundred published short stories that have appeared in Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Black Static, Strange Horizons, The Dark, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Guardian, as well as in anthologies such as Unsung Stories’ 2084 and Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction. She also writes a regular non-fiction column for Interzone.



Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Solaris) via Netgalley for this review, thank you!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Favorite Recipe: Blueberry Pie


Top view of half of the blueberry pie I made, still im the pan.

Hello readers! Today I’m going to talk about a new favorite recipe: blueberry pie. Today is also the anniversary of when we sat down and created Our Thoughts Precisely in the blog creation part of Blogger. That was in 2013. I really cannot believe it has been eight years already. Time sure does fly! Any way onto Our Favorite Recipes!

A close shot of a slice pf blueberry pie on a white plate. Some of the pie is on the spoon, which is also on the plate..
Around Thanksgiving 2020, Breana and I made the Butter Flakey Pie Crust by Melissa Stadler again (and our previous thoughts are here). This time we used milk and vinegar instead of water like we usually do. It came out great. However, by the time we finished pouring our sweet potato pie in, we discovered that we had no need for two crusts. For some reason, I started thinking about blueberry pie. I immediately went to find a recipe. I eventually found one with a crumb topping –my favorite! It is Blueberry Crumb Pie by Bethany Webber.

I made it according to the instructions. But, at the suggestions of the comments I decided to add cornstarch. A lot of commenters used between 1 and 3TBS, but I used about 3 ½. Additionally, I did not thaw my blue berries. Instead, I poured the filling in (it was kind of sandy), and shook the crumble over by the spoonful. 

Ironically, what started with finding a way to use the last crust, ended with me having extra pie filling. Andrea mentioned cheesecake. And then I got an idea which ended up being the most recipe mixing I have ever done. In the mean time I put the pie in the oven. Later I had to add 10 minutes to my time because the center was still cold (maybe thawing would have helped it cooked faster?) 

Of course I was out of a pie shell. So I had to make another one. This time, I made the crust from the Tasty 5 Minute Microwave Cheesecake recipe. (Off topic this recipe is pretty good, I’m pretty sure I modified it a tiny bit. I don’t remember what I did though; it’s been a long time since I made it.) I quadrupled the crust measurements to 8 graham crackers and 4 TBS of melted butter –which then became 5 because it still seemed dry. I added about ½ tsp of cinnamon too. I packed that into a parchment lined pie pan (honestly I just wanted a quick clean up). For the cheesecake, I made half of Philadelphia’s 3-step Cheesecake. I messed up and added the full ½ cup of sugar. I ended up adding sour cream and it balanced it out just fine. 
A close shot of the blueberry cheesecake pie on a white plate. Some of it is on the spoon on the plate (which is somewhat covered im crumbs).
I added the cheesecake, and then the pie filling on top. By this time, the blueberries had started thawing and made the mixture thick like sludge. So, it ended up really heavy and swirled on top of the cheese cake. Finally I added the crumble. Since I was randomly doing this, I decided to change the temperature to 350°F. I figured this would be in between for the pie (375°F) and cheesecake (325°F).

And then everything was done. Except, in another twist, I still had extra crumb topping… Breana and I thought of making a plain cheese cake so we could be done. And eventually we did.
The blueberry pie was amazing. I think, in past post, I’ve mentioned desserts not being too sweet. Well, those are my favorite desserts, and that’s where this falls. The same thing for the cheesecake, the flavors melded nicely. Adding as much cornstarch as I did seems to make it thicken well. The only time it was slightly runny was when I cut it warm. After being in the refrigerator, it became stiff and no longer runny, at all.

Anyway that’s all. Whew, this one was a little longer than I’d usually write, but I wanted to be in-depth. Thanks for reading. What’s your favorite pie flavor?



Friday, March 12, 2021

The Friday 56 (195) & Book Beginnings: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

   

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.


Synopsis from Goodreads...
Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants. Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea. But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion



Beginning: "I peeked over the countertop, tightening my grip on my phone. Its plastic case was slippery with palm sweat. It was a cold sweat, though. No warmth. Never any warmth if I could help it."

56: "Despite the restaurant's name, there didn't seem to be an actual whistle theme to speak of. No collection dotting the walls, no wacky whistle-themed foo items, no "Mr.Whistle" managing the place."


Comments: I recently reread Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex. It's such a fun story, and I highly recommend it. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

I Listened to III by Banks

 
Back in 2019, I never did get around to writing about III by Banks. It was one of the albums I was looking forward to that year, and I listened to it off and on through 2020. Recently, I finally sat down and gave it a proper listen. III is the kind of album that grew on me the more I listened to it, and by February 2021 I had a whole new appreciation for it.

III is a good album. Banks’s vocals are always fantastic, and I can say that the same quality can be found here too. Banks delivers a wide range of sound that incorporates all the hallmarks of pop with a somewhat sharper edge, which often treaded into electronic and synth as well. There weren’t dance tracks here, as the album seemed to favor a heavier sound. It worked well, given the emotionally charged and brooding atmosphere that seemed to be a signature of III—even more so than Banks’s previous album, The Altar.

A song like Stroke comes to mind as a good example of what I mean along with: Godless, Sawzall, Look What You’re Doing To Me, and The Fall among others. All you have to do is pay attention to the lyrics.



Monday, March 8, 2021

Music Monday (150): Laura Mvula, Jocelyn Brown

 Rules:

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: Laura Mvula is going to have new music later this year, and I'm excited about it. She also recently released an EP with new version of some of her songs and a cover of I'm Still Waiting by Diana Ross. I like all of  the songs on 1/f. Check out the original and the new version of Sing To The Moon.


Andrea: This week I'm listening to Somebody Else's Guy by Jocelyn Brown.


Have an amazing week!


What are you listening to this week?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...