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review 2019-03-16 23:22
Daughter of Neptune by Theresa Wisner
Daughter of Neptune: ...found at sea - Theresa Wisner

This powerful memoir touched the hearts of both readers and reviewers. Theresa Wisner follows in the wake of her fishing brothers to the far outposts of the world in an attempt to please her fishing father. With impeccable detail, Wisner paints a picture of life at sea from a young woman’s perspective. With courage and grit, she tells the story of addiction and recovery, and coming of age far later than most. Daughter of Neptune powerfully captures the beauty and the coarseness of a foreign world that creates the backdrop for healing.






Theresa Wisner has done extensive traveling all over the world. She has twenty years of experience in commercial fishing, served as a chief steward in the Merchant Marine, she's even the recipient of the Congressional Antarctic Service medal. Largely driven by a lifelong need to feel acceptance from an often emotionally distanced father, Wisner's travels and work experiences culminate in one impressive tale of a woman time and again pushing herself to succeed in a male-dominated industry. 


Daughter of Neptune documents not only her life at sea, but also land-based downtime during the fishing off-season, divided between part-time waitressing work and off-time hours spent at various dive bars around the world. Introduced to the fishing industry (through her father) at a mere nine years old, Wisner grows up learning the ins and outs of the business before eventually following the path of three of her four older brothers, who all joined fishing crews. Wisner's experiences are unique in that of the crews she's signed onto, she's often either THE only woman or one of only a couple on board, meaning her stories are seasoned with humorous, sometimes crass locker room style behavior from her shipmates, not to mention an intensive trial-by-fire approach to on-the-job training, whether serving on deck crew or in the kitchens.


Right from the opening lines, the reader is immediately thrust into Wisner's salt encrusted landscape, painting such an atmospheric scene as to make it clear to the reader why she's so drawn to this particular way  of life:


I smell the salt. It's carried on the breath of the earth here, and in the mist that hangs in the air. It clings to the inside of my nose and it tickles and is tangy, all at once. On my skin, a damp coating of fine crystals. I lick my lips and taste the sea.


Later on, she writes of being on a ship while sailing past Priest Rock, approaching the Bering Sea. I was not familiar with this point prior to reading this book, but her description had me immediately doing an image search for a visual and while having never been there myself, I can't help but feel her words must ring spot on truth. 



Wisner's unvarnished account of her experiences is admirable. While maybe not every little detail is divulged, she doesn't shy away from being upfront with the reader when it comes to discussing her struggles with depression, occasional suicidal thoughts, and addiction -- the fight, the recovery, relapse, and gradual journey back to recovery once again. It's also interesting to read an account of someone whose livelihood is dependent on a life at sea battling sea sickness the first few days of every new trip, even years into such a career! 


She's also real about the job itself. Point blank, Wisner lets readers know there's plenty about the work that is flat-out disgusting and sometimes even boring. She brings you in and lets you imagine: days or weeks aboard a ship with no shower facilities, your body and clothes covered in a hardened layer of salt, sweat, blood and fish guts. Wisner points out that many men she sailed with just got used to that state of... dishevelment, shall we call it... and just waited until they were back in port somewhere before considering a wash up. You can imagine how ripe they must have been by then! Not being about that life, Wisner devises a system of heating water and then transferring it to a garden watering can, pouring the water over her as a makeshift showerhead.


There's also some mention of the disappointing state of the trash filled oceans around the world, how it's hard to ignore when you're living in the middle of it.


Even if one manages to freshen up after a long day's work, Wisner explains that there's still the bouts of boredom one has to learn to navigate. But while she might feel disappointment at the monotony of weeks at sea, there's also a freedom in it. You can become comfortable in the reliability of routine. Still, it's the sea... a place where you definitely don't want to get too complacent.


The irony: when you're on land you itch to get back on the sea, when you're on the sea, you long for the conveniences and socialization of landlubber life. You're never guaranteed to mesh well with the crew you're hired on to. Early on, she talks of sailing experiences with old salt Phil, who seems alright at first, but turns out to have a violent side when it comes to processing shark meat. When he sees the looks she gives him, his response is "You'll understand when they eat $1000 of your fish." Umm, no, Phil. You fish shark territory, so technically, you're stealing THEIR food... Don't know that Phil and I would've gotten along so well, lol. 


Wisner admits to quite frequently feeling the temptation to quit, but it always comes back to the need to feel a connection with her father. Not only does he not like quitters, but this fishing life brings about a closeness between them that nothing else can. So she stays.


The writing at times lacks a bit of the finesse one might expect from an established professional writer --- some passages could be edited down, while others beg more detail --- but any technical shortcomings are certainly well made up for through Wisner's heart coming through, particularly through her honest account of the struggle of child-parent relationships when they move into the child's adulthood. 


My heart plunges with shame of not being good enough. Not being big enough. And especially not being boy enough.



Wisner, above anything, wants her father's approval. Every action, every life choice, on some level, is driven by this fact. She just happens to have the kind of parent who is reserved (to say the least) when doling out affection and evidence of pride in their offspring. I saw so much of my own father in Wisner's, I felt a sense of ... community, almost (maybe also because I was raised a "Navy brat" lol)... on a level I don't often reach with memoirs. I felt it most strongly with the passages where she gets into the hardships of such a relationship in adulthood.... where you have a parent you still seek approval from, even when reason tells you the bulk of their actions don't deserve or inspire respect... but as an adult, you can't help but acknowledge that that IS still your parent. If they gave you nothing else, they did give you life, so it's not unfathomable or even uncommon to feel responsible for them as they age, regardless of how they might have wronged you. Man, did I feel the truth in that. 


While this book has only been out a short time, I've already seen it drawing comparisons to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I can see where similarities could be drawn between the two, but I personally wasn't all that impressed with Wild. While shorter in length, I found much more heart and realness to Daughter of Neptune. Though I will say: a little admission here, Below Deck is one of my "guilty pleasure" tv programs, and I could also see some similarities between that and this, so if you're a fan of that show, maybe check Wisner's book out! 


FTC Disclaimer: Author Theresa Wisner kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.








* If you want to add some ambiance to your reading experience with this one, I had OCEAN STORM SOUNDS playing in the background while I did my reading! 

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review 2019-03-05 09:10
Exhiles by Ron Hansen
Exiles: A Novel - Ron Hansen

In December 1875 the steamship Deutschland left Bremen, Germany, bound for America. On board were five nuns, exiled by a ban on religious orders, bound to begin their lives anew in Missouri. Their journey would end when the Deutschland ran aground at the mouth of the Thames and all five drowned. Ron Hansen tells their harrowing story, but also that of the poet and seminarian Gerard Manly Hopkins, and how the shipwreck moved him to write a grand poem, a revelatory work read throughout the world today. Combining a thrilling tragedy at sea, with the seeming shipwreck of Hopkins's own life, "Hansen brilliantly, if soberly, weaves two interrelated story lines into a riveting novel" (Booklist on Exiles).





Inspired by a true story, Exhiles novelizes the tragic story of the steamship Deutschland, which set out in December of 1875, leaving its German port for the shores of America. It never reaches its destination. Onboard, among the passengers: a group of five nuns, ages ranging between 23-32, exhiled by a government ban on religious orders, with the goal of traveling to Missouri in hopes of starting up an American branch of their order: Sister Henrica, Sister Brigitta, Sister Barbara, Sister Aurea, and Sister Norbeta. Though the novel itself is quite a quick read, we still get a bit of a history on each of these women:


* Sister Henrica (previously known as Catharina): The reader / writer of the group. At only 15 years old, suffers the loss of her mother (died in childbirth). Grief develops into piousness, but she doesn't have the goal of taking vows right away. First, she takes up the mother role in the family, gets a job in a dress shop (her boss sees her as an "old soul" type). By the time of the trip to the Americas, Henrica is chosen to be Mother Superior of the new North American convent.


* Sister Brigitta: Born to tenant farmers, grew up shy and sensitive, often ill as a child. She grows into a pretty blonde-haired, blue eyed young woman. She's encouraged to find a suitor, which she tries to do but often gets bored with the process, often finding ways to slink off with a book somewhere. *I feel you, girl*


Image result for vintage reader art

"Girl with a Golden Wreath" by Leon Francois Comerre



Sister Barbara: ("Barbara" comes from the Latin "wild, rough, and savage", Saint Barbara was executed by her own father!); Sister Barbara grew up the tomboy daughter of a shoemaker. She was plain of face, didn't like dolls, and was known for having wide open energy and zero filter of the mouth LOL. She also grew up a mostly friendless, lonely girl who loved the woods, was good as sports, but couldn't muster enough focus for reading. Once she was at the marrying age, her mother tried to match her with single farmers in the area (because of the life of poverty common for most at that time, Barbara's man-like strength was appreciated in the farming community), the matches never really panned out. But she parlayed her toughness into work in midwifery and as a triage nurse during the Franco Prussian War. Barbara was famous for her stoic, no-nonsense approach to life. Her tough-as-nails demeanor often got her labeled as a "harridan" among adults, but around children she often became a complete marshmallow.


Sister Aurea (previously Josepha): We don't get to know too much about her other than she's the rebel and jokester in the group. She sends the others gasping at the announcement that she wants to check out the men's bathroom on the ship: "Wide enough to swing a goose in, but small enough the goose would object" LOL Prior to becoming Sister Aurea, little Josepha is a happy soul who loves to laugh and sees beauty in the church life, but feels guilty "having committed sins against chasity" with her first crush, Werner. The nuns saw her as "just a wild puppy that needed to be house-trained... and impossible to dislike."


Sister Norberta (previously Johanna): Norbetta, like sister Brigitta, was also born to tenant farmers but at birth she was so small she was not expected to live long. But because she did indeed survive, her parents vowed to dedicate her life to the Catholic Church. Her mother treated her as a literal gift from God, which caused Johanna to act a bit haughty and spoiled. By the age of 21, she was 5'10, heavy-set and plain-faced. Friendless and without any suitors, her father declares, "she's become impossible." When he dies a few weeks later, Johanna blames herself.


The sisters travel without a male escort, and insist on paying extra so they may travel in 2nd class rather than steerage. They are all in wonder of the lavishness of the accommodations, even if small. The ship hits an underwater sand dune and when the crew checks the weather situation, they realize they are sailing into a developing hurricane; 130 pages in, the reader is thrust into a scene of crashing items, glass bursting, people being knocked about. The reader is then made to witness the nuns die off, one by one. Makes for a bit of tough reading, once you come to know and like the personalities of these women, more so when you remember this all was based on a true story!


Image result for german nuns 1800s


There's also a bit of a secondary story incorporated into this brief novel: that of poet & Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was inspired to write an ode to the steamship Deutschland running aground at the mouth of the Thames River. Gerard, based in Wales, reads the newspaper reports of the downed ship and how the recovered bodies of the nuns have been laid out for viewing in Statford. Hopkins had previously been a published poet who destroyed his work as a religious act of stepping away from vanity. But when a fellow priest suggests the story might be poem-worthy, Gerard finds himself inspired to get to work crafting his ode.



Gerard Manley Hopkins



The first chapter is a little slow but once we get into the life stories of each of the nuns, and the way Hansen eases into the night of the tragedy, his classic way with words ultimately has the reader breezing through the pages of an incredible story. I admit, I didn't become fully invested until the closing chapters, but I enjoyed the journey just the same (as much as you can with this kind of story!).


Hansen includes Hopkins' ode in full at the back of this book. Personally, the rhythm / where Hopkins chooses to put the line breaks had an odd flow for me... but it's there for anyone curious.

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review 2019-01-27 21:09
I am Apache by Tanya Landman
I Am Apache - Tanya Landman

A young woman seeks to avenge her brother's death by becoming an Apache warrior — and learns a startling truth about her own identity. After watching helplessly as Mexican raiders brutally murder her little brother, fourteen-year-old Siki is filled with a desire for vengeance and chooses to turn away from a woman's path to become a warrior of her Apache tribe. Though some men, like envious Keste, wish to see Siki fail, she passes test after test, and her skills grow under the guidance of her tribe's greatest warrior, Golahka. But Keste begins to whisper about Siki's father's dishonorable death, and even as Siki earns her place among the warriors, she senses a dark secret in her past — one that will throw into doubt everything she knows. Taking readers on a sweeping and suspenseful journey through the nineteenth-century American Southwest, Tanya Landman draws on historical accounts to imagine the Black Mountain Apache as a tribe in a fight for survival against the devastating progress of nations.





Siki, a fourteen year old Apache girl, witnesses the murder (by decapitation) of her four year old brother during a Mexican raid. Set on avenging his death, she sets out to become an Apache warrior. Siki vows to use her brother's spear to kill his murderer. The tribe notes how unusual it is to allow women to train to be braves, but it is later decided to let her try. She will need to complete four missions to be eligible for warrior council. The fourth mission puts her between a rock and a hard place, as she is forced to choose between honoring wishes of the Chief or the loyalty of a true friend.


To become a warrior, first must one learn to observe and supply the needs of others. This is the way of the Apache.


Geared toward a YA audience, I Am Apache is a solidly entertaining introduction into YA Historical Fiction. Author Tanya Landman writes in clear, straightforward prose while also developing a strong sense of Siki's environment. We learn of beliefs, customs and maybe just a touch of Native American feminism, as Siki breaks through traditionally male ranks. It's fun to be in on Siki's thought process, not to mention her intelligence and dedication to training, as she outwits cocky warriors during her missions. I also loved the student - teacher banter between Siki and Golhaka (reminded me a bit of Mulan and Li Shang).



...warriors must know and understand all the tasks of the tribe lest they should ever need them: they must stitch and sew and cook as well as any woman, as indeed the women of our tribe must shoot a bow and use a knife as deftly as a man.


For such a short story, Landman successfully takes her readers through the gamut of emotions:


* Humor : Scenes discussing a love of coffee

* Strength: Siki's skills with hunting, Golhaka commenting, "I would not want her for an enemy."


* Tension: The darkness that surrounds the rivalry between Siki and star warrior Keste

* Romance: Siki's good friend Dahtet (female) hiding deeper feelings for her

* Sadness: Learning that survivors of raids were not allowed to bury their dead but instead expected to just walk away, never look back.


A strong read all around! It's actually inspired by the true story of Lozen, a female warrior who rode beside Geronimo as one of the last truly free Apache. Her mother had been killed in a raid similar to that of Siki, her brother just ten months old. Lozen's father was killed when an Apache party attempted a retaliation ambush on the Mexicans. 


Lozen was eventually captured by the US military, dying of TB while in confinement in 1889.

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review 2019-01-22 21:46
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Coast Guard #2) by Lisa Carter
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Love Inspired Large Print) - Lisa Carter

Second Chance Sailor: When coast guard officer Sawyer Kole is stationed again in Kiptohanock, Virginia, he's ready to prove to Honey Duer that he's a changed man and the right man for her. But it's not smooth sailing when a hurricane blows their way. To save the family inn she's restored to perfection, Honey will ride out the storm. But can she handle the turbulence of seeing Sawyer again? Years ago he walked away, taking her dreams of love. Now as Hurricane Zelda barrels down, Honey may have no choice but to trust Sawyer to save her life and just maybe her heart.





Picking up several years after where Lisa Carter's Coast Guard Courtship left off, Coast Guard Sweetheart revisits one of the side stories from the first book: that of Honey (sister of Amelia from Book 1, *Honey's real name is Beatrice, but picked up the nickname due to her hair color) and that fouled up romance Amelia's beau Braeden helped Honey push through. The troublemaker guy in that scenario, Coast Guard Petty Officer Sawyer Kole, is back in town (with Braeden as his boss) and wants to make things right between him and Honey.


Wouldn't you know, she doesn't want to hear it! Or so she's trying to convince herself. Wouldn't you want to hear what story was behind a former flame abandoning you three years earlier? Not the least bit curious, Honey? You KNOW she is! But she's in no rush to give him the satisfaction. Their re-acquaintance comes about via a pretty funny food fight (but SUCH a waste of donuts!). But the two have no choice but to put differences aside and work together when their town faces the arrival of Hurricane Zelda and Honey's newly restored inn sits right in the line of fire. 


Having thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Carter's first installment in this series, I was really looking forward to seeing where the characters ended up here. Though all the elements seemed to be in place for a strong follow-up, sadly this one just did not serve up the same magic as its predecessor. The humor, charming as all get out in Coast Guard Courtship, just fell flat here, felt a little on the canned side. Further, the plot wasn't nearly as much fun. While it seemed promising, opening a story with a food fight, things quickly fizzled out from there. Even with a hurricane in the mix --- you'd expect some great tension or amazing chats or something right? --- nope, even there it was about as interesting as bath water. 


Pretty quickly, Honey's relentless bickering grows tiresome. Not cute. She complains that Sawyer never explained his absence, then when he tries she shuts it down with an "I don't want to hear it"... but then encourages him to try again, but then hardly lets him finish a thought before she's verbally laying into him again. Her level of anger grows unreasonable but she continues to harp on with the "Why won't you talk to me?" Girl, have you only heard your side of things? This whole story has been set up for him to tell his side! UGH, even Max chimes in with a "Stop being a big baby, Aunt Honey." You tell her, kid! Another character takes it further with "Bitterness does not become you, Beatrice."


In terms of dialogue, the writing just gets progressively more cringey as the reader progresses. But if you're really into nighttime soaps, the overkill dramatics might not strike you as problematic. I will note a few highlights though. 1) This novel does touch upon the heartbreak of siblings split up within the foster system and later left unable to reunite with each other as adults because of sealed records. 2) The closing scene was undeniably sweet and romantic. Hard not to pull a grin out of me at the description of a modern couple slow dancing to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". 3) MAX. It was so great to see Max again in this series. Max is doing great and he totally made it worthwhile to hang in there and keep reading! 

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review 2018-10-13 22:51
Once Upon A Farm (memoir) by Rory Feek
Once Upon A Farm - Rory Feek

Raising their four-year-old daughter, Indiana, alone, after Joey’s passing, Rory Feek digs deeper into the soil of his life and the unusual choices he and his wife, Joey, made together and the ones he’s making now to lead his family into the future. Now two years after Joey’s passing, as Rory takes their four-year-old daughter Indiana’s hand and walks forward into an unknown future, he takes readers on his incredible journey from heartbreak to hope and, ultimately, the kind of healing that comes only through faith. A raw and vulnerable look deeper into Rory’s heart, Once Upon a Farm is filled with powerful stories of love, life, and hope and the insights that one extraordinary, ordinary man in bib overalls has gleamed along the way. As opposed to homesteading, this is instead a book on "lifesteading" as Rory learns to cultivate faith, love, and fatherhood on a small farm while doing everything, at times, but farming. With frequent stories of his and Joey’s years together, and how those guide his life today, Rory unpacks just what it means to be open to new experiences.






Two years after the death of his wife and the close of his first memoir, This Life I Live, songwriter and "gentleman farmer" Rory Feek gives readers an update on where his life is today as a single father raising daughter Indiana, now four years old. 


The format here is a little different to his first book, much more loosely structured. Still, it works. Feek shares even more details of his life with Joey as well as pivotal moments in his life before and after her. Some of the big ones being around daily lessons he's taking in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, and the moment his middle daughter came out as a lesbian and the less than admirable initial reaction he had to the news. 


Rory explains that while Joey was a master at traditional homesteading, his life experiences lead him to believe his personal strengths lie more in the idea of something he terms "lifesteading", or "growing love and life and hope in the place where you are planted." This struck me as simply implementing the French proverb "Bloom where you are planted" as a way of life... nonetheless, a cool way to go about living!


Image result for bloom where you are planted


Lifesteading is about planting yourself in the soil where you live and growing a life you can be proud of. A love that will last. And a hope that even death cannot shake. Like tending a garden filled with vegetables, it too requires preparing the heart's soil and planting the right seeds at the right time and watering them and keeping the weeds of this life and the bombardment of the culture from choking out what you're trying to grow. For us, the harvest has been plentiful. Beyond our wildest imaginations. Dreams that seemed impossible in years past materialized right before our eyes. That doesn't mean there hasn't been disappointments and surprises. Some a lot of people already know about, and some I share in the pages that fill this book. But just because something different than you had imagined has grown doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful. It is. 


Through this process, Feek chronicles his experiences and shares them with readers as a way to show others how to maybe find the extraordinary magic woven within moments and places of seemingly ordinary days. Once Upon A Farm also provides Feek a platform where he can give thanks to friends and family (by sharing their heartwarming stories) who have been so instrumental in his various joys and successes. 


We also get to see a little more into Feek's creative side, such as the time he enlisted a friend to help turn a former Girls Gone Wild bus into Rory's new touring bus. The story Rory is inspired to write, from the POV of the bus, is weirdly simultaneously hilarious and melancholy. 



Image result for our very own 2005 movie poster

Related image

*In this book, Rory mentions that the dog featured in 

Our Very Own (and on the poster) was actually

Joey's dog, Rufus. There's a whole story behind how Joey

trained him to ride on the roof like that.




The format of the book features short chapters, so the book as a whole has potential to be a good supplemental piece for daily devotionals. Feek's stories here are all about embracing the now, including who you are in the moment. His own examples: how he is unapologetic about his favorite color being white (*Yes, he points out, the trouble with this has been explained to him. Repeatedly. He doesn't care.) and his favorite day of the week being Monday. 


While the first memoir was more about just getting the framework of his life story out there, this one had a much more inspirational vibe to it. Feek's stories here do push for the idea of embracing the now, but he also encourages readers to make peace with their past as well, even our less rosy moments. Lessons we take from mistakes or even all out failures can show us how to move forward and teach us how to best love future loves. 


my favorite chapter header in the book




A new addition here that wasn't offered in the first book: an eight page insert on gloss paper of full color photographs. 


FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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