2016 Book #81 – Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

51I2zhJVSNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Date finished: 8/29/16
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 31, 2016 (Paperback)
Pages in book: 400
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: BookBrowse NOTE:I received this book for free from BookBrowse in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.
Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

My rating:  4.75 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. I received this book from Book Browse in order to participate in an online book discussion on the book. If you’ve read it please come join the discussion! This book is about Beryl Clutterbuck, who later became Beryl Purves and then Beryl Markham. This book’s story is inspired by the true story of Beryl Markham, famous aviator, with some fictionalizing. In the book (and some of this stays true to her real life story), Beryl was brought to Africa with her family at a young age, but left alone there with her father when her mother decided to move back to England. Her father is not an overly sentimental man and does the best he can in raising her, though in doing so he makes her a more wild woman than society is used to seeing. Trying to curb that in her early teens, he sent her away to school but she rebelled until she was returned to the home that she loved. The book follows Beryl’s life through her childhood, teens, and eventually into her adulthood. She marries multiple times, has a handful of affairs, and also blazes down any open trail without any trace of fear. Many times in the story she is set back to where she began career-wise and has to start from scratch. She does it though, again and again, always wanting to be successful and most important, to do what she loves. For most of the book this means training horses but eventually it encompasses flying as well.
Overall I just loved this book. Beryl’s character was rough but it had a vulnerable side that made her so easy to related to. I loved her fearlessness and how accomplished she was. She never let anything beat her down, she managed to turn her career around time and time again with nothing but her friends’ support and her own hard work. The other characters in the book were entirely engaging and the story line was so interesting, I didn’t want to put the book down for fear that I would miss something. McLain’s descriptions of the African terrain was just amazing, I felt transported just through reading her words, as if I was actually in Africa standing by Beryl’s side through the story. And I love the way McLain writes and how much emotions were put into the story, I could feel them coming off the pages and it was just wonderful. This one is a must read, I would most definitely recommend it.

The bottom line: I just loved this book. It was extremely engaging and amazingly transporting. I felt like I was there in Africa beside Beryl throughout the whole story. The story line was interesting, I just couldn’t put this one down. I would definitely recommend!

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

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2016 Book #49 – The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch

51WyJn1TKoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The California Wife
Author: Kristen Harnisch
Date finished: 5/19/16
Genre: Hisorical fiction
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Pages in book: 416
Stand alone or series: Sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter
Where I got the book from: Author/publisher NOTE: I received this book for free from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

It is 1897, and Sara and Philippe Lemieux, newly married and full of hope for the future, are determined to make Eagle’s Run, their Napa vineyard, into a world-renowned winemaking operation. But the swift arrival of the 20th century brings a host of obstacles they never dreamed of: price wars and the twin threats of phylloxera and Prohibition endanger the success of their business, and the fiercely independent Sara is reluctant to leave the fields behind for the new and strange role of wife and mother.
An invitation to the World’s Fair in 1900 comes just in time to revive the vineyard’s prospects, and amid the jewel-colored wonders of Belle Époque Paris, Sara and Philippe’s passion is rekindled as well. But then family tragedy strikes, and, upon their return to California, a secret from Philippe’s past threatens to derail their hard-won happiness in one stroke.
Sara gains an ally when Marie Chevreau, her dear friend, arrives in San Francisco as the first female surgery student to be admitted to prestigious Cooper Medical College. Through Marie, Sara gets a glimpse of the glittering world of San Francisco’s high society, and she also forges friendships with local women’s rights advocates, inciting new tensions in her marriage. Philippe issues Sara an ultimatum: will she abandon the struggle for freedom to protect her family’s winemaking business, or will she ignore Philippe and campaign for a woman’s right to vote and earn a fair wage?
Fate has other plans in store in the spring of 1906, which brings with it a challenge unlike any other that the Lemieux family or their fellow Northern Californians have ever faced. Will the shadow of history overwhelm Sara and Philippe’s future, despite their love for each other? In The California Wife, Kristen Harnisch delivers a rich, romantic tale of wine, love, new beginnings, and a family’s determination to fight for what really matters―sure to captivate fans of The Vintner’s Daughter and new readers alike.

My rating: 4.75 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. I read The Vintner’s Daughter last year, which was Harnisch’s debut novel, and just loved it. Sara’s story was compelling and I was so glad that she found someone she loved to spend the rest of her life with. And this book, The California Wife, picks up right where the last book left us and continues on with Sara and Philippe’s story. Honestly I think that this was one of the things I loved most about this book. Even though I wouldn’t call The Vintner’s Daughter a true romance novel, there was a happy ending. And usually that is where the reader is left, with the characters walking off into the “happily ever after” fog of dawn. But this book takes the story past that point and shows what love really is. Its fights and struggles and sometimes its being the strong partner and sometimes the weak. Its not always pretty and its not always fun but it is real. And the marriage in this book felt real to me, more than most I’ve read before.
Sara and Philippe encounter a number of struggles in this book but they manage to work together to overcome their many obstacles. Interwoven with their story is Marie’s story after she moves to San Francisco to attend surgical school. Marie was also in the first book, she housed Lydia and Sara when they first arrived in New York and was working as a midwife in the city. Marie has to overcome a lot of prejudice and judgement when she decides to attend surgical school in San Francisco, but there is nothing else she wants more that to be able to help/heal people and save lives, so she pushes through and excels. It is at school that she meets Matthew Donnelly, a skilled surgeon who encourages Marie in her studies. There are many dramatic events included in the story, all of which are dealt with by Sara and her family.
Overall I really liked this book. I did not want to put it down, every time I thought that we were about to settle into a lull in the story something else would happen to keep me on my toes. Harnisch does a great job of making the plot line flow together even with months/years between events and alternating story lines. I loved Sara’s character and I loved how real her marriage was with Philippe. And I loved seeing the insights into medicine and surgery at that time through Marie’s schooling, those scenes were very interesting! All in all this was a great read and  I can’t wait to see how the story continues in the next book.

The bottom line: This was a great continuation of Sara and Philippe’s story. I was a huge fan of Harnisch’s first novel, The Vintner’s Daughter, and I loved being able to continue seeing Sara’s journey. This book is poignantly raw and emotional, not sugar-coating anything for the reader but instead being true to the struggles of life after the initial “happily-ever-after.” A great read, I would most definitely recommend!

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

2016 Book #43 – Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

51jZGbaKlpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
Date finished: 5/7/16
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Pages in book: 432
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley NOTE:I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

London, 1939.
The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.
Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.
Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.
And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.
Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

My rating:  2.75 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. This book was about a group of young people and how their lives were affected by World War II. Mary North was born into a life of privilege, but when England declares war on Germany, she decides to sign up with the War Office to be put to good use. They assign her a teaching position, where she befriends a black student. It is through this teaching position that she meets Tom Shaw, who is an administrator for a school district. She falls in love with Tom but then she meets Tom’s friend Alistair while he is home on leave from the military for one night. Alistair stirs feelings in Mary that Tom doesn’t necessarily stir. But Mary is pretty sure that Tom is the one so she ignores her feelings for Alistair.
As we all know, war tends to bring many casualties and these young people’s story is no different. Mary and her friends both face many traumatic events, and Mary even has a sad morphine situation for a while. There were a lot of different story lines merging in this book, including the treatment of colored people in England during this time period and drug addiction and the effects of war. There was a lot going on and all of the story lines were really interesting but it almost felt for me like there was too much going on. I couldn’t really connect with the characters personally and it was just hard for me to get into. The description of Alistair’s experience during war time seemed very real and I thought that was one of the most interesting pieces of the book.

The bottom line: I found this book a little wordy but the story line was interesting. The book just wasn’t really for me, but it would definitely appeal to people who like historical fiction centered around World War II.

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

2016 Book #40 – The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

51R28ASP9AL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Fair Fight
Author: Anna Freeman
Date finished: 5/1/16
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Pages in book: 469
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: BookBrowse NOTE:I received this book for free from BookBrowse in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Moving from a filthy brothel to a fine manor house, from the world of street fighters to the world of champions, The Fair Fight is a vivid, propulsive historical novel announcing the arrival of a dynamic new talent.
Born in a brothel, Ruth doesn’t expect much for herself beyond abuse. While her sister’s beauty affords a certain degree of comfort, Ruth’s harsh looks set her on a path of drudgery. That is until she meets pugilist patron George Dryer and discovers her true calling—fighting bare knuckles in the prize rings of Bristol.
Manor-born Charlotte has a different cross to bear. Scarred by smallpox, stifled by her social and romantic options, and trapped in twisted power games with her wastrel brother, she is desperate for an escape.
After a disastrous, life-changing fight sidelines Ruth, the two women meet, and it alters the perspectives of both of them. When Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition, Ruth pushes dainty Charlotte to enter the ring herself and learn the power of her own strength.
A gripping, page-turning story about people struggling to transcend the circumstances into which they were born and fighting for their own places in society, The Fair Fight is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention, and fighting one’s way to the top.

My rating:  3.5 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. I received this book from Book Browse in order to participate in an online book discussion on the book. This book is about a number of people, whose lives all end up being connected in sometimes unusual ways. Ruth is the daughter of a madam, and she lives at the brothel with her husband Tom and her sister, Dora, who is the mistress of Granville Dryer, whose friends Perry Sinclair and George Bowden have a intimate relationship, and Perry’s sister Charlotte marries Granville and later becomes friends with Ruth, her husband’s mistress’s sister. The strings of relationships get a little convoluted but I liked that the book started out separate and then the story lines all seemed to merge toward the middle of the book.
This book also takes an interesting look at how females were treated in the 18th century. At one point the doctor says to Charlotte something about her sex having weak temperaments and that one line alone took me back a step because it was so rude and sexist. Readers can really see how poorly women were treated in the 18th century, though many of the injustices Ruth suffered I think were due to ethical/moral injustices related to the person’s character that she’s dealing with rather than the time period she lived in. Mr. Dryer, for example, did many injustices to Ruth and while they may have been influenced by the time period he lived in, it mostly had to do with who he was as a person.
Overall this wasn’t my favorite book. I had a little trouble staying interested in the story while I was reading it, though I enjoyed the story line when it did hold my attention. Also there were parts of the book that I didn’t want to put the book down and the story line was very thought-provoking and I think will make a great book for the book discussion group. The relationship between George and Perry was one that really caught my attention because of how abusive and awful it was. Perry was really kind of messed up in the head and kept threatening to commit suicide if George left him, which would eventually guilt him into staying. There were many thought-provoking situations and relationships, all of which make for a great book club read. While this wasn’t one of my personal favorite reads, I would still recommend it, especially for book clubs.
The bottom line: I didn’t particularly find this one riveting but a lot of other people have. This turned out to be a slow read for me but I still think this would be a great book club pick since its very thought-provoking.

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

2016 Book #30 – The Winemakers by Jan Moran

51+6MKE8BTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets
Author: Jan Moran
Date finished: 4/5/16
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Pages in book: 369
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley NOTE:I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past.From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

My rating:  4.0 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. This book tells the story of the Rosetta family: Caterina, her mother Ava, and her new daughter Marisa. This book reminded me a lot of Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter, which I LOVED. For anyone who likes this book you should also read hers, or vice versa.  The family owns a winery in Napa, California and has well respected wines that rival those in Europe. The book mostly takes place in 1956, though there are some flashbacks to 1928 and 1929 when Ava came to America. One of the things that particularly struck me about this book was the emphasis on lack of women’s rights during both of those time periods. Caterina has a baby out of wedlock and many times is told directly to her face that she’s a whore and should be ashamed of herself. Which I think is both sad that someone would speak to her that way and also just odd considering how far we’ve come away from that in today’s day and age. I would have to say it is definitely not uncommon to know several people who were either unwed when they had a child or are still unwed with a child. Society has been almost forced to accept this as a norm, so it was just interesting to see how unaccepted it was in a different time period.
Anyways, there were multiple things going on in this book. There was the budding but tragic romance between Caterina and Marisa’s father. There was the family drama that caused Ava to come to America all those years ago, which resurfaces when Caterina’s grandmother dies and leaves her a house in Italy in her will. There was the drama between Ava and Caterina over Marisa. And finally there was the struggle to save the winery (and their home) after disaster strikes. All in all there were multiple plot points all intertwined, which made for a very exciting read. I honestly couldn’t put this one down, I technically started it Sunday night late (around 10:30pm) and then couldn’t stop reading it on Monday and ended up finishing it at 12:30 am Monday morning.
Overall I really enjoyed this book a lot. The conversations were slightly stilted at times and somewhat awkward at others but it didn’t effect my enjoyment of the book. Also I thought the ending came up a bit quick and honestly I thought it was a little odd. I’m glad it had a (**spoiler**) happy ending but it just took me back a little bit that the challenge the couple had to overcome at the end was so.. different from other books I’ve read. Things I enjoyed about the book though included the description of the scenery in Italy, which was excellent, and the narratives about the wine-making process were informative and interesting. Great book and a great read, I think this one is going to be a popular one for 2016 summer.

The bottom line: Really really liked this book! I couldn’t put it down, the story line was riveting. Conversations seemed a tad stilted to me but other than that it was just a great book! I would definitely recommend!

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

2016 Book #28 – A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

51ayaswY4HLTitle: A Certain Age
Author: Beatriz Williams
Date finished: 4/3/16
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Pages in book: 324
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: BookBrowse NOTE: I received this book for free from BookBrowse in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers brings the Roaring Twenties brilliantly to life in this enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.

My rating:  4.0 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. I read a few of Beatriz Williams’ other books last year (Along the Infinite Sea and Tiny Little Thing) and I just loved them so when I saw that her new book was available on Book Browse I hoped that I would be selected to receive a copy, and my prayers were answered! First I have to say that I just love the cover of this book, its glitz and glamour and it really calls out to readers. The girl on the cover I think is Sophie, she is described at one of the parties in the books wearing a dress similar to the one on the cover. This book has a varied cast of characters but mostly centers around Theresa Marshall, her brother “Ox” (Jay), his fiancee Sophie Fortescue, and Theresa’s lover Octavian (“the Boy”). Theresa’s character reminded me a lot of Babe from Swans of Fifth Avenue and Tiny from Tiny Little Thing and I really connected with her character the most. After Jay becomes engaged to Sophie, Theresa asks Octavian to dig into Sophie’s family just to make sure there aren’t any huge skeletons that would mar the family name. Unfortunately this opens a can of worms that will end up drastically changing all of their lives.
Overall I really liked this book. The author did an amazing job of transporting the reader; her description of the scene at the horse track was so well done I felt like I was there with Theresa and Octavian. Honestly I could almost smell the horses. The characters were also very complex and interesting. I really felt bad for Theresa through most of the story. She may have been a difficult person but she was so in love with Octavian and I could just feel her sadness emanating from the book when Octavian started to fall for Sophie. The story line was riveting and had a couple of good twists and turns. I didn’t want to put the book down, the story really just draws the reader in. I’m not really sure yet how I feel about the ending. I think that it fit with the story line and it was a touching ending but it left me feeling a little empty I think. I actually feel very similar to how I felt about the ending of Along the Infinite Sea, I’m left feeling a little adrift. Really good story though and a great book. This is definitely going to be a summer must read!

The bottom line: This was a really great book! There were some great twists and turns and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the ending but I couldn’t put it down! I would definitely recommend!!

Link to author website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

Friday Finds (Feb 5)

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FRIDAY FINDS is hosted by A Daily Rhythm and showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list.  Whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

My finds this week include a historical fiction, two young adult, and two suspense:

  1. Toward the Sea of Freedom by Sarah Lark
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    This book just sounds great to me, traveling from Ireland to Australia, getting separated from your love only to end up in the same place. Sounds fantastic!
  2. After the Woods by Kim Savage
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    This book is about a girl who escaped her kidnapper in the woods, but a year later a different girl is found dead in the woods and the one who escaped has a bunch of memories that re-surface. Sounds creepy and fascinating.
  3. Riders by Veronica Rossi
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    This book is about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which I really don’t think we see enough books about this topic. Can’t wait to give this a try.
  4. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
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    Identical twins switch places for a day when they’re six years old, but then one of the twins won’t switch back, which causes the other twin to have never ending mental issues. To be honest I feel like there are about 4 other books that just came out with this story line but I haven’t read any of them yet (can’t even name them all really) but I would love to read this one.
  5. The Ex by Alafair Burke
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    This book sounds really creepy, a man gets accused of a triple-murder, one of the victims was involved in another murder and it all just sounds creepy and exciting.

 

So! Those are my recent finds! What about you all? Any interesting finds lately?