Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"We Were Diving in Caves. It Wasn't Totally Safe." - Jason Statham

    First Paragraph:

   "Josh looked across the faces of the six students as Kathy began her final dive briefing on the bow of the fifty-foot dive dive boat Minerva. The weather was typical for midday of midsummer in North Florida- clear bright blue sky offshore with distant thunderheads building along the shoreline. The boat gently rocked against the mild surface current from the attachment point of the anchor line at the rip of the bow. Josh could smell the heavy perfume of salt air."

          Amazon /

The Cavern Kings by Jeff Bauer is an interesting book that looks into the world of diving- specifically cave and cavern diving. As a diver myself, I find myself drawn to the water and (judging by this book) the author seems to feel the same pull.

The story begins in the small town of Wakulla, Florida. Josh is a scuba instructor working at Wakulla Skuba alongside his friend, mentor and boss, Kathy. Together they run the busy, little store and take interested visitors out to see the wonders of the sea. His best friends, Frank and Jon, always join him when they take a class out diving. The three friends learnt to dive together and have gone on every dive together since. 

Once a year, they have a celebration in honour of the anniversary of becoming 'legal' divers (basically, getting their certification). Each summer, they choose a spot to dive in the Key. However, this year their plans are complicated by their work schedules. Josh works full-time at the dive shop, Frank is a sales associate and Jon is a computer programmer. Between their three jobs, they find it hard to make time for their annual celebratory dive. 

Instead, they come up with the idea to dive closer to home, during the weekends. They're surrounded by natural springs to dive, but never tried them as the open ocean was more alluring. So, they head of to Blue Springs in Marianna, where they come across their first cave. None of them have any experience diving caves, which they soon realise they definitely need if they want to go anywhere near caverns or caves. During their amateur, first cave dive, they discover the allure of overhead diving, as well as the dangers. 

And thus we get the plot. The three decide to take a cavern diving course during their weekends off. Their tutor, Drew, was recommended through Kathy and is said to be one of the best. Their small group is joined by one other for the class, Asrid- a Swedish woman with just as much passion for diving as them. Josh is your typical lovably, good guy, Frank is the over-confident prankster and Jon is the quiet voice of reason. With Asrid, they add a kind, though a little intimidating, personality to their mix.

This is more of a slow-read. Most of the book is description, with very little dialogue. But the description is so perfectly accurate of what you experience during diving, that I wouldn't call the slow-pace or basic plot a flaw. In fact the opposite. This is a love letter to diving, focusing more on the sensations and the way divers interact and view the underwater environment. It also acts as a cautionary tale, making sure non-divers and divers alike are all aware of the dangers involved, especially if you're a new diver or diving a new area or skill. Diving has an extraordinary amount of certifications because you need to study each specific skill thoroughly. None of them can be added on to another. Cave and cavern diving bring numerous more dangers. On an average open-water dive, the deeper you get, the more light will fade, the higher the pressure gets, the colder the water is, the more air you breathe. If you're in an area with few landmarks, getting lost can be surprisingly easy. In a cavern or cave, you add the threat that an overhead environment brings. There is no longer a direct line to the surface. Sunlight is completely cut off. That mixed with the lengths and widths that tunnel systems can be, poses an extreme danger in and of itself. All it takes is getting a little lost or stuck in a narrow tunnel. Then it's just a matter of running out of the small amount of air you carry on your back. 

Keeping track of time and air is crucial in diving. Underwater, time flows differently. You can check your dive computer and find you've been down an hour, when only 10 minutes seem to have passed. Not being able to see the light changing, makes it hard to tell how much time has passed. This book covers the many aspects of diving, from training, experiencing the first dive, becoming qualified, the first 'legal' dive, the experiences you have with the environment and the loss and tragedies that can and do occur. Sometimes, no matter how safe you are, things can still go wrong. Diving rules are built from the mistakes and misfortunes of others. You can never be too careful, especially when there's a hundred feet of water and solid rock between you and another air source. 

Some of the writing can be a little rudimentary, but the book pulls you past the occasional occurrence. 

A lovely mix of fiction and non-fiction and an enjoyable book that the diver in me can't help but love.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Harsher the Winter, The More Wildflowers Bloom in Spring

First Paragraph:

"The summer I turned twelve, I tried to kill myself. At least that's what the lifeguard told the paramedics and the paramedics told the doctors and the doctors told my mother. I don't deny I swam to the bottom of my public swimming pool. I don't even deny that I decided to stay there. I only defend my motives. My decision was much less about escaping this world and much more about joining another."

Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert is an interesting book about how things we perceive in our childhood, can affect us just as strongly in adulthood and actually shape the people we become.

Take Bethany Quinn. Our first meeting with her is during a flashback to when she was 12. She swam to the bottom of the local pool and stayed there, until the lifeguard pulled her out. After that, she was put in therapy and forever known as "the girl who tried to drown herself".  Little Bethany didn't think of it as trying to remove herself from this world, rather that she was trying to join another. To this day, she has never given a reason why she tried to kill herself.

16 years later, Bethany is now an architect living in Chicago. After what happened in her past, she couldn't get out of the small town of Peaks, Iowa fast enough. Now she devotes her time to advancing her career. Her mother is still in Peaks (along with her Grandpa Dan), her brother is in Afghanistan and her father is dead. Dominic, her boyfriend of 3 years, has asked her whether she wants to move in with him when her lease expires in a couple weeks. She's on track to become everything she ever wanted to be, and to escape from everything she was.

Then a call from her mother leaves her with a difficult choice. Her childhood friend, Robin, is in some trouble and could use someone to lean on. Her husband, Micah, fell into a coma after an aneurism and Bethany's mother thinks she should pay her old friend a visit. But to Bethany, the emphasis is on "old". She hasn't been back to Peaks in 10 years, and for good reason. She's tried to distance herself as much as possible from her past and the scars it caused her. But when her mother calls again later with more bad news, this time that her Grandpa Dan has had a heart attack, Bethany decides she can't stay away any longer. Her grandfather is one of the few things about Peaks she likes, and she's going to do anything she can to help him. Even if that means drudging up her painful past. 

She takes a week off work and heads back to her childhood town. But, things haven't changed there in Bethany's eyes, and she feels just as welcome there as she did all those years ago. After a less than promising meeting with a stranger named Evan (who works on Dan's farm), she just wants to see her grandfather. When she discovers that Evan lives on the farm, they both have to form a truce to keep Dan happy. Bethany has spent all these years trying to hide the pain within her and stop anyone getting through her carefully placed defences, but Evan sees right through them. As he puts it, she's a "piece of glass pretending to be steel". 

At first, Bethany doesn't know why Evan is so cold towards her, until she finds out that he's Micah's brother, and is upset that Bethany hasn't once asked about her old friend. She musters the courage to finally visit her friend, just in time to learn that Micah is brain-dead and Robin has to make the decision whether or not to turn his life support off. A young widow, Robin struggles (as anyone would) and leans on Bethany for support. But Bethany doesn't want anything to tie her to Peaks. She wants to leave A.S.A.P..

A few days later, she finally decides she's had enough and bolts back to Chicago, but when things take a turn for the worse (again and again and again), she finds herself back in Peaks for a more permanent stay. She finds it hard to deal with, especially when she learns that Evan is Christian and seeing how Robin relies on the religion.

Bethany has a lot of painful memories when it comes to religion, Christianity in particular. When she was 8, her father (also a farmer- who worked with his father, Grandpa Dan) slipped off their silo and was paralysed. The local pastor, Pastor Fenton, convinced her mother that he'd fallen as a punishment from God. In his words, "only sinners suffered". This man's words were responsible for tearing her family apart and made her hate the religion, In her young mind, Pastor Fenton and God were the same, and it stuck true into her adult years. 8 months after his accident, her father died, and Pastor Fenton told her mother he was burning in Hell. When she met Robin, at age 12, her new friend assured her that it wasn't true and that her father wasn't in a pit of torment, burning for all eternity, as the Pastor claimed. Years later (after Robin met Micah at university), Bethany felt betrayed when Robin embraced Christianity. For her, accepting it would be embracing Pastor Fenton's words as truth.

So, she completely shuts herself off from everyone after that. She builds walls around herself and never lets anything negative escape, in the fear that she may be washed away by the flood of emotions. For people who do this, it is only a matter of time before the dam breaks and the water rushes in. In the meantime, pain keeps on growing and the water rises.

This is a story of healing. Learning to forgive, accept and like who you are. To find the truth in the lies we have been told. To learn to trust again. Bethany must accept that Pastor Fenton is just a man, not a religion, before she can begin to heal and let anyone in.

At the same time, we get brief moments from Robin's POV. Having just lost the man she loved, doubting her religion and trying to rekindle her friendship with a woman who detests everything she believes in. Together, they try to pull themselves out of the dark past.

The characters are likeable enough. At first, Bethany's a little prickly and can come across as cold and  uncaring, but for anyone who has seen the signs before, it's clear that what she's really doing is trying to protect herself. People can't hurt you if you don't let them get close. Of course, not letting anyone in leaves you lonely, and bottling up your emotions will eventually take its toll on you. 

I really liked the meaning of the title, when you learn what it is. It's very apt, not just to this story, but to everyone. The basic meaning behind it, is that the harsher the winter, the more wildflowers will grow come spring. Basically, good things can come out of dark times, if you'll only push through them. 

The one criticism I have is the ending. Or rather the abruptness of it. It was more of a one-page conclusion to me, and for all the build-up we get, I would've liked a little more pay-off. This is a series, but that's not a reason to race through the ending. It's not like we're left on a cliffhanger, just a very quick ending. The resolution is there, we just don't get to see much of it. Especially since the next book is going to focus more on Robin. I do plan on checking it out, so in that review I'll let you know just how much we see of Bethany's new life.

For those who are wondering, this is a Christian based book, but told in a way that is different from many books that centre on religion. Of the Christian books I've read (and I must admit, those are few), a lot of them can come across as preachy. That God is your only redemption and only fools and sinners turn Him away. But in this book, the religion has an actual connection to the story. It's not shoehorned in. It is a tale of accepting religion, but told in a way where it's more a story of Bethany understanding religion and coming to terms with her prejudice of it. It's written so that it almost feels like a book not about Christianity at all. The religion is just a plot point. 

If you don't like Christian books (and I must admit I'm not a great fan), I would still suggest reading this one. It's not preachy. Whenever someone mentions religion, it's more their views and opinions of it, and why they made it a part of their lives, as opposed to a book trying to convert people to Christianity with a flimsy plot as an excuse. The story itself is enjoyable and entertaining. If you're interested, why not check it out?

Disclaimer: I received this book through the Blogging for Books program. You can find more details here:

This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Quick Update

Okay guys, this is going to be exactly what it says on the tin. I just wanted to let you know where I've been the last couple weeks.

I've been working on a really exciting project- which I unfortunately can't tell you about yet. It's been a lot of work, but also very fun and tremendously rewarding. You'll have to wait until the Fall before I can disclose anymore details, but I wanted to let you all know where I've been and what I've been doing. My reviews will resume shortly. I've got quite a few coming your way. So look out for those if you're interested.

Well, that's pretty much it. My next review should be out within the week.

Until then!