Tower of Dawn

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

The first quarter of the book took me awhile to get through. I had some other books to read for my bookclubs and then I was busy and didn’t want to get caught up in the obsessive page-turning that often happens when I read a Maas book. I needed all the sleep I could get to deal with my busy schedule.

I was finally able to devote time to Tower of Dawn when I left for Colorado for Christmas. I got out of the doldrums of the first quarter and by the middle of the book, the novel had hit its stride and I was hooked. I ended up staying up late and finishing it on Christmas Day.

Here’s my verdict: while not as action-packed as other entries in the Throne of Glass series, Tower of Dawn was interesting and I’m glad we have it. We did get some new details that will be crucial to the resolution of the plot. And I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building of the Southern Continent and am glad we got to travel there. I am hoping there may be spin-off series set on the Southern Continent in the future.

Of course, I’m now very eagerly awaiting Throne of Glass #7 which won’t be out until next fall. I am hoping this really is the final book because I don’t think my heart can take anymore. I just need everyone to be happy and Erilea to be saved. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The Sun and Her Flowers

By Rupi Kaur

From Rupi Kaur, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of milk and honey, comes her long-awaited second collection of poetry. A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

I’ve seen Rupi Kaur’s poetry shared on Facebook and Instagram so I knew it was something I would like. I’d been wanting to get one of her poetry collections, but I’ve been on a book buying embargo (come to my house and you’ll understand). However, I received The Sun and Her Flowers as a gift from one of my bookclubs and immediately started reading it!

Kaur’s poetry is often criticized for not being “artful” enough for poetry, too cheesy, too simple, too Tumblr. But if you’re a regular reader of Isle of Books, you know that I love sharing poems similar to Kaur’s. I am a fan of more modern poetry, particularly those poems from Modernist and Language Poets. This was the kind of poetry I liked in my classes at college and it is the type of poetry that I also write when I’m struck with the urge to write a poem. I think of this poetry as being very accessible to the average reader. You don’t need to have had any instruction on how to read and interpret poems to enjoy poetry like Kaur’s. And that I think is why her poems are so popular with modern readers.

I liked that this collection was divided into sections that loosely interacted with a theme. Some poems were sad, some were empowering, some made you pause a moment, and others made you fold the page down to bookmark it and remember it. Overall, I think it was a good collection and the drawings were a great companion to the poems.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems from The Sun and Her Flowers:


i am of the earth
and to the earth I shall return once more
life and death are old friends
and i am the conversation between them
i am their late-night chatter
their laughter and tears
what is there to be afraid of
if i am the gift they give to each other
this place never belonged to me anyway
i have always been theirs


*I should also note that this collection is partially about Kaur’s rape and recovery from it. So if you’ve experienced sexual violence, some of the poems in The Sun and Her Flowers might be triggering.

The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world’s densest jungle.

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.

I remember that I was at work in 2015 when I first saw the story of Douglas Preston’s trip into the jungle of Honduras to find a real lost city come up on Facebook. I just remember being in awe that there are still lost cities left to find and that somehow one of my favorite authors got to go along on the journey to find one. To me, that was complete author goals: to not only be a best-selling novelist, but to also have the opportunity to go on such an incredible journey. Of course, now having read The Lost City of the Monkey God, I am 100% certain I would be bitten by a fer de lance within 0.5 seconds of walking into the jungle, but that’s not going to stop me from romanticizing the idea of being an author/adventurer.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been two of my favorite authors for a long time now. I think I must have been 14 or 15 when I read Relic, the first book in the Special Agent Pendergast series. Since then I’ve read nearly all of their other books, including their individual works. It’s actually surprising to me that I waited long enough to buy this book that it’s now come out in paperback. But it worked out well because it was on the bestseller shelf at the airport in Las Vegas when I needed to buy a book.

For those of you who are avid fiction readers, rest assured this is one of those works on non-fiction that proves to be as interesting and engaging as a work of fiction. Preston’s storyteller’s gift is on full display in The Lost City of the Monkey God as he tells the story of The White City in five parts: quest, discovery, exploration, aftermath, and my favorite section of the whole book, connecting past to future.

On its surface, this book is about the discovery and exploration of one of the few untouched places remaining on Earth. Preston and a team of scientists journey into the Honduran rainforest to find a city that has been lost from time for over five hundred years. But, as all good storytellers know, finding the lost city is only part of the story. The more interesting part of the story is determining why the city was abandoned at all and left to the march of time.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that that line of reasoning has profound and chilling impacts for our modern society. Especially as, at the time I’m writing this blog post, the President seems more interested in fighting with professional athletes over Twitter than helping the people in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

I have not read read either of these, but I suspect if you enjoyed either of Jared Diamond’s books, Guns, Germs, and Steel or Collapse, you will enjoy The Lost City of the Monkey God. Both were referenced in the book and as both have long been on my TBR list, I can safely say this book will appeal to Diamond fans.

And I would be remiss if I closed this review without mentioning the “horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease” that Preston and others on the trip contracted in the jungle. While not as frightening as the way ebola is depicted in The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, the diseased that Preston et al picked up is almost more terrifying because it’s another example of how looking to the past can have frightening implications for our future.


Jade Dragon Mountain

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost barely conscious of its place within the empire, but Dayan is teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. The crowds have been drawn by the promise of an unmatched spectacle; an eclipse of the sun, commanded by the Emperor himself. 

Amid the frenzy, Li Du befriends an elderly Jesuit astronomer. Hours later, the man is murdered in the home of the local magistrate, and Li Du suspects it was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can’t keep his own story straight. 

Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the pass over Jade Dragon Mountain that will take him out of China forever. But he cannot ignore the murder that the town is all too eager to forget. As Li Du investigates, he begins to suspect that the murderer intends to kill again. The eclipse is coming. Li Du must solve the murder before the sun disappears. If he does not, then someone, perhaps Li Du himself, will never again see its light.

This was my suggestion for book club this month, but I actually chose it because I almost bought the second book in the series, The White Mirror, in a book shop in Estes Park, Colorado. When I realized there was another book, I bought News of the World instead. I was pleased when my book club chose my suggestion of Jade Dragon Mountain because I was still thinking about this series and how interesting it sounded.

I loved this book from start to finish. A historical fiction mystery set in China? Yes please. This book delivered on all fronts and was really even better than I had imagined it would be. The world Elsa Hart created was absolutely beautiful, elegant, and exotic. The mystery didn’t feel forced, but natural and I neither suspected the culprit, nor saw the final twist coming.

I learned a great deal reading this book, which is always fun. I can’t think of any others books I’ve read that are set in China except for those by Amy Tan. It was fun to discover a new author and one with as intoxicating a style as Elsa Hart.

My edition of this novel had an interview with the author and well as information about some of her source materials for the book. She has really lived an interesting life and I enjoyed reading about that as well as the books that helped with her research…including some that made it into the pages of Jade Dragon Mountain!

I’m excited to keep reading about the adventures of Li Du in The White Mirror – now on my short list of books to purchase (though I’m at that point again where I should really not be buying more books….)

Also, I really, really, really love dumplings and tea. The descriptions of both in this book ignited some major cravings! Anyone have a favorite place for dumplings in San Diego?

Playing With Dynamite

Playing With Dynamite by Sharon Harrigan

Sharon Harrigan’s father was larger than life, a brilliant but troubled man who blew off his hand with dynamite before she was born and died in a mysterious and bizarre accident when she was seven. The story of his death never made sense. How did he really die? And why was she so sure that asking would be dangerous? A series of events compel her to find the answers, collecting other people’s memories and uncovering her own. Her two-year odyssey takes her from Virginia to Detroit to Paris and finally to the wilds of northern Michigan where her father died. There, she discovers the real danger and has to confront her fear.

Playing with Dynamite is about the family secrets that can distance us from each other and the honesty that can bring us closer. It’s about a daughter who goes looking for her father but finds her mother instead. It’s about memory and truth, grieving and growing, and what it means to go home again.

(A copy of this novel was provided in exchange for an honest review)

It’s always interesting for me to read memoir because I never really know what to expect. The execution is so widely varying, it’s hard to know what kind of story you’re in for before you read it. Whenever someone recommends a work of memoir to me or gives me one to read, I’m always a little hesitant. There’s this feeling that if you didn’t like the memoir for some reason, it’s kind of like you’re invalidating someone’s life experiences. I know it’s not exactly like that, but it feels that way to me.

Playing With Dynamite is one of the lovely ones. Sharon Harrigan’s style is so engrossing, it’s hard to extricate yourself from it and put the book down. I started the book with the intention that I would at least start it so I could judge how long I would need to finish it, but before I knew it, I had read half of it and hadn’t touched either of the books for my upcoming bookclubs.

In the acknowledgements, Sharon Harrigan mentions that parts of the book were published as individual essays. I can feel that. Sections of the book hang together really, really well. Which doesn’t mean the whole thing doesn’t work together. Quite the contrary. Somehow Playing With Dynamite seems to straddle a rare line in writing. Whether you have time for just a small section, a part, or the whole book, Playing With Dynamite manages to engage and delight at every reading experience, leaving you feeling satisfied no matter where you had to leave off.

Beautifully written, engrossing, and artfully structured, it reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle. Both stories feature dysfunctional families, so if you liked The Glass Castle, you will probably enjoy Playing With Dynamite, though Harrigan’s family is a lot less dysfunctional that Walls’.

This is Harrigan’s first book and I am looking forward to her future titles!

News of the World

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

I don’t remember how I first heard of this book, but when I found myself needing to go to the bookstore on vacation to buy another book, I picked this one up because I remembered wanting to read it. Also can we talk about how great of a title News of the World is?!

I really enjoyed News of the World. I read it pretty much in one sitting on the plane ride home. It’s a lovely little historical fiction novel. In fact my only real complaint is that it was over too soon and I wish there was more to it!

The time and place of this novel is so well researched you definitely feel as if you’re there. I haven’t read any books set during the Reconstruction era, at least that I can remember. It was a nice change of pace to be reading about something that is rarely explored in historical fiction.

The two main characters of Captain Kidd and Johanna were just wonderful. I hope this book gets made into a movie at some point…I’d love to see these two come to life!

Funny side note about this book: When I was doing my research for my WPW on the colors of lightning, I kept finding references to a book called The Color of Lightning. Turns out the Paulette Jiles is also the author of that book!

This was my first book by this author and am interested in reading some of her others – does anyone have recommendations for me?

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This one was on my TBR for what felt like forever! Several people recommended I read it, but it wasn’t until my bookclub picked it that I actually got around to reading it.

I loved this book from the moment I read the first chapter head. I felt instantly in love with Ove and had a hard time putting it down. In the paraphrased words of my boyfriend the first night I picked it up:

“I thought you said you were just going to read for a little bit before bed.”

“I did read for a little bit!”

“Babe, it’s been an hour.”

Oopsie. Sorry love!

It is a rare book that legitimately makes me laugh out loud. Most of the time, a funny section of the book only elicits a smile from me. I laughed multiple times during my reading of A Man Called Ove, the kind of real, bellyshakin’ laugh that brings tears to your eyes.

Cat Annoyance.

It still makes me laugh! I have two Cat Annoyances myself and I have to say the author perfectly captured the nature of cats.

In fact, every single character from Ove to the Cat Annoyance to the Pregnant One was absolutely amazing and so well characterized. I wish I could read a whole series about these people!

If you’re on the fence about reading this one, do it. It’s a rare jewel among the sea of books out there.

Has anyone watched the movie? I am wondering if it loves up to the pure wonder and delight of the book. Leave me a comment if you’ve seen the movie or read this book or both!