Book Review: Land of Wolves

Land of Wolves: The Return of Lincoln’s Bodyguard
By TJ Turner

Review:

This is a book of revisionist history that posits what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had lived? What if he was protected by a bodyguard and the assassin failed? The characters are made up of some real people and some fictional.

The setting is 1874 in Tennessee. Lincoln (called the Old Man in this novel) is living with the bodyguard, Joseph Foster, and his wife, Molly Ferguson. There is a group after them, called the Consortium. It is composed of rich men who want to get the president impeached – meaning President Andrew Johnson. The Consortium is rich because they are all industrial barons who use free child labor in their factories, which is allowed under the “Draft.” In this version, Lincoln did not die in office; he resigned. Joseph’s daughter, Aurora, is missing, and he suspects the Consortium had something to do with it, so he heads to New York to look for her. Here, he encounters a gang called the Black Murphy’s, and an Army General named Dorsey. Joseph is forced to flee from the bad guys and he and Molly head west. Here, they encounter more real historical characters, like Jim Bridger and Sitting Bull. The group goes to the land of the Lakota, where they are captured by Rain-in-the-Face and his warriors. They live with the Lakota and learn of their plight over time. But, even here, Dorsey has followed them. Battles ensue, in which General Custer is killed, three years before he died in reality. In this version of history, this sets up a plot where Lincoln can go before Congress to try to get help for the Lakota and force the government to honor its treaties with the tribe. The government agrees and creates a protection act to protect the tribe’s lands.

This version of history is much preferable to the real one in many ways. I enjoyed reading this book and speculating about what could have been. For this reason, historical fiction is interesting. As an imaginary exercise, you can dream up all sorts of scenarios about real characters and come up with totally alternate histories.

The characters were well-rounded and you don’t really need to have read the first book in order to learn about them. We get some glimpses of what happened previously, enough to make this a stand-alone novel. The settings are described well and the atmosphere is easy to imagine from the author’s descriptions. The bad guys are thoroughly evil and despicable. The pace of the story is just right. There is plenty of action all the way through.

Overall, I give this book a high rating for originality and characterization. The story is well thought out and written well. It makes a good solid read and is entertaining enough to hold a reader’s interest. I recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

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Book Review: Dead Spider

Dead Spider (A Loon Lake Mystery Book 17)
by Victoria Houston

Review:

In this mystery novel, the richest man in Wisconsin, Chuck Pfeiffer, is somehow murdered during the awards ceremony of a kids’ fishing tournament. The Loon Lake police are baffled by the case, since the man was sitting out in the open surrounded by hundreds of people. Yet, no one saw a thing. How could a man surrounded by people be shot with no one seeing or hearing anything?

The investigation is led by Loon Lake police chief Lew Ferris, and Doc Osborne, the deputy coroner. Doctor Obsorne also was a popular dentist in the community and knows many people. The investigation gets off to a start when they interview the man’s wife. Then, Osborne’s granddaughter, Beth, and some other kids are caught with marijuana. Is Beth going to fall in with the wring crowd? Then, the local senior home is robbed of drugs and cash. The little Loon Lake police department is getting busier with all this going on. Then Beth disappears. Can the investigators get Beth back safely and solve the crimes too?

Overall, this was a well-written murder mystery with a subplot that ties into the main plot neatly. I thought the author did a good job with characterization. Each of the characters has plenty of backstory and interests that makes them real and believable to the reader. The detective work is interesting and the way they solve the crime brings out a lot of history that gives depth to the setting of the little town of Loon Lake. It’s an interesting read and a good solid mystery. I enjoyed it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Rants from the Hill

Rants from the Hill

By Michael P. Branch

Review:

The desert is not the place you usually think of when you think of humor. It seems like this barren wasteland where nothing can live except cactus. But, people do love deserts and they live there. The author of “Rants from the Hill” is one of them. They call themselves desert rats. And the desert is indeed full of humorous anecdotes, as this hilarious collection of essays will attest. Originating as a series of monthly columns for High Country News, this eclectic collection will appeal to just about everyone.

Some are serious. Some are laugh-out-loud funny. All deal with the desert environment in a unique voice. I found the author’s sense of humor to be wonderfully dry at times and even sarcastic.

I loved the story of the Mary Kay lady. The shoe tree and “Desert Insomnia” were my other favorites. There are many to choose from. All of them are enjoyable and funny. This is a book you can pick up and read whenever you need a short burst of humor to brighten your day.

I enjoyed how to author combined his environmental knowledge with the stories. Not only do you learn some facts about desert life, plants, animals, history, and more, but you get a story to go along with this knowledge. He and his wife are raising their two kids there and some of the stories are from the perspective of parents, and tell tales many parents can relate to. There is something for everyone in this book.

Overall, I give this book a five-star rating. The author has an excellent sense of his audience and the writing is smooth and each essay just the right length. None of them are boring. The book can be read quickly or you can take your time and savor it, one essay at a time. Any way you read it, I think you will enjoy it.

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Book Review: Girl in Snow

Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka

Review:

Lucinda Hayes is well-liked by most everyone who knows her in the small suburb where she goes to school. She has a secret admirer in an odd boy named Cameron Whitley, who lives nearby. Her rival for babysitting jobs, Jade Dixon-Burns, doesn’t like her much because they are opposites in many ways. She is popular at Jefferson High School. So, when Lucinda is found murdered on a playground carousel, there are plenty of secrets that will be revealed as police investigate her death.

One man on the investigation team is Officer Russ Fletcher, who was once partners with Cameron’s father. Cameron is a very talented artist, and also prone to wandering the neighborhood at night, watching people through their windows, including Lucinda. He calls these his Statue Nights since he stands as still as a statue while he watches. Due to his odd behavior, he gets harassed at school, especially when a popular girl tells a teacher that she thinks Cameron is the type of kid who would bring a gun to school and shoot people. As a reader, you feel bad for the kid because he seems to have such a hard time. But, you also think, could he be a suspect?

Jade is an intelligent girl who has a bad relationship with her abusive mother. She’s also a talented writer who dreams up imaginary screenplays in her head. Her best friend, known as Zap, was dating the murdered girl, giving Jade a reason and motive to hate Lucinda. Could Jade be a suspect too?

As the investigation gets under way, more and more details come out. The suspicion falls on various people at different times, including Cameron, and the art teacher. Officer Fletcher recalls more details about Cameron’s father, who left town for some reason. We gradually learn the backstory on this too.

The book is told from the perspective of these three people, Cameron, Jade, and Officer Fletcher. Through their eyes, the reader learns about the secrets held by various characters who make up the town. The story moves along at a good pace, but not so fast that you feel like the author is just throwing facts at you. She takes time to develop the characters fully and give them well-rounded backgrounds and histories. The ending is a surprise and I didn’t see it coming at all.

I liked the fact that the characters had depth and were not just cookie-cutter characters populating the pages. They are real people to the reader, with real lives and real quirks. Flawed, just like we all are. The story is complex, but not so much that you can’t follow along. The new clues that are introduced as you read further help keep the story exciting throughout the whole book. Overall, I thought it was well done and polished. There is a moodiness to the story and the setting that the reader picks up on too. Things are not perfect in this town and the people that live there are not either. It’s quite a good book and a good solid read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: The Water Will Come

The Water Will Come
by Jeff Goodell

Review:

Rising waters. Sinking cities. Global warming. Climate change. This is what we have to look forward to. In the new book, The Water Will Come, author Jeff Goodell spells it our pretty clearly. This book will open your eyes and awaken a desire to do something.

Goodell starts out by giving a hypothetical scenario for what might happen in Miami in the future, following a hurricane. It’s pretty eye-opening stuff. Sea levels are rising, an undeniable fact that should be a wakeup call to us all.

The first chapter examines flood stories from our history. There are some pretty remarkable things being learned by scientists studying these events. The author then visits various low-lying cities around the world to report on what’s happening on the ground. For example, the Marshall Islands may cease to exist as their lands all sink beneath the sea. Venice, Italy, is already experiencing rising sea level effects. Miami Beach is also. These are just a few of the cities and countries that the author shows us in this book. This is not reading for the faint of heart. This is scary stuff and it is reality. Even if we stop adding carbon to the atmosphere, the effects will not change much since it took so long to get to this place. The globe will keep on warming due to the pollution already in the atmosphere. There is little we can do to stop it. We have to start thinking about this now, while there is still time to move away from the coasts and relocate cities to higher ground. Or start building more resilient structures in these low-lying areas, ones that will be above the suspected high water level that is coming. We’ve built so much infrastructure near the coasts and these area are now vulnerable. Those drained wetlands in Florida are now in danger of being reclaimed by the ocean. The same story is happening around the world, as the author shows us. The ability to respond to this crisis will be affected by the financial costs. Some communities simply cannot afford to build expensive sea walls or other protective structures. Will those communities be abandoned? What about the more affluent cities? Will even they be able to respond in time?

The writing style is informative and conversational. It’s an easy-to-understand style that will appeal to all readers. You won’t need a science degree to comprehend the concepts the author portrays here. The scenarios are detailed and understandable. For example, what happens if there is 20 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century? How many people are displaced? Where would they go? What economic, social, and other consequences are there with this many climate refugees displaced? All these questions and more are addressed.

The book is pretty thorough and I felt like it was detailed enough without being “preachy.” We all should know that this is happening and we all should be prepared. Books like this will help. This book needs to be required reading for all government officials and anyone who is building structures near the coasts. The author did a fine job researching this and bringing it to a wide audience. The water definitely will come. The question is, what do we do about it? Are we prepared enough? Let’s hope this book awakens a new desire to do something about this problem, which will eventually affect us all, worldwide.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Birding Without Borders

My review of:
Birding Without Borders
by Noah Strycker

Birding Without Borders is a fascinating look into the life of a birder. But not just any birder. This man, Noah Strycker has set out to break a world record by sighting half of the world’s known bird species in one year’s time! That goal may seem impossible, but he manages to pull it off.

The book begins with an explanation of why birders keep life lists and how it can actually become competitive! I had no idea. Birding has caught on and is becoming more of a global phenomenon. There are now many available bird guides to the species of the world, and social media has allowed birders to communicate like never before. Into this new world of birding comes the competitive aspects usually reserved for sports.

Noah begins his quest on New Year’s Day in Antarctica, of all places. The first bird he spots is a Cape Petrel. The birds he spots during his Big Year have to be wild birds. There are rules governing this, and no zoo birds or dead birds can be counted. All have to be wild birds spotted in the wild. Noah also sets the goal for himself that he and a companion both have to spot the bird for it to count. In his travels, he meets many other birders and shares the experience with them. The other complicating factor is that there is no agreed-upon list of all the world’s birds. Different lists have different totals. So, he chose to use the Clements Checklist.

Noah’s travels take him to every continent and he finds some fantastic, and sometimes rare, birds to add to his list. The story of how he does it makes for interesting reading. I thought a book about watching birds might be rather boring, but this one is not. He has adventures in which his vehicle gets stuck high in the isolated mountains and he and his companions have to hike out many miles. He has to navigate through finding his companions at each destination, and then finding the birds he most wants to see in that particular country. He has to travel with just his backpack for an entire year, with only a couple changes of clothes. So, you can imagine how dirty he gets out in the field while birding. It all seems like quite the amazing adventure. It is certainly not for everyone, but he did a lot of advance planning and things worked out well.

The book also has a good message of conservation. Bird habitat disappears every year and preserving habitat can only help the birds and other species there. I liked that the entire text emphasized conservation and got this message across in a non-preachy way. Noah meets a man who used to be a logger cutting down the rainforest. But he found out that people want to see rare birds and now makes his living guiding them. He no longer cuts the rainforest down and his property is a preserve for birds.

The story flows well and you don’t end up with a dull account of, “I saw this bird on this day, then I saw this bird, etc.” It’s not dry and boring. It’s written in an engaging style that draws the reader into the adventure and allows you to see what it’s like to see something incredibly rare. To know that you are one of the few people on earth to have ever seen a certain rare species is pretty amazing.

Each chapter tells the story of one particular interesting species, or one particularly interesting experience. He does not go through and tell you one by one every bird he saw. There is a list at the end of the book where the curious reader can see them in a numbered format though. But, the text itself concentrates on telling the story and giving background information about the country, or its people, or the story of its birds.

Noah sights his five-thousandth bird, a Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, in the Phillipines. Thus, he reached the goal he had set to see 5,000 birds. But, with several months remaining in the year, he had time to find more. So, he went on. He ends up with 6042 birds on his list. Not bad for one year.

This book emphasizes not only the birds, but the birders themselves. The sense of camaraderie that he feels when he meets the other birders, no matter what country they are in, shines through the writing. Birders the world over seem to all get excited about the same things and they speak a common language in their shared interest.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in birds or birding. It’s also interesting as a travel story too.

I thank the publisher and NetGalley for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Mountain States Medicinal Plants

My review of:
Mountain States Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 100 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness
by Briana Wiles

This book would make a great companion for anyone who wants to learn herbalism and how to forage for wild plants. The range covered by the text is the mountain states. (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington.) The plants featured can be found in other areas of the west too, so it’s not necessarily a limiting factor to herbalists in those areas. This book can be useful to you too. I found that many of the plants, or close relatives, are also located in my area of Northern California, so it was very informative and useful to me

The book begins by showing you which plants are best gathered in which seasons, as well as what plant part to harvest. This is important when using them for medicine because time of year can affect the potency of the medicinal qualities of the plants. The author gives you plenty of tips, like how to avoid poisonous plants, or look-alikes. There is an excellent pictorial section that shows you these poisonous plants in full-color photos to help you identify them and avoid them. The author also tells you what equipment to bring when foraging, where to harvest to avoid contamination, how to wildcraft legally, how to tend to nature’s needs and harvest respectfully and sustainably, and how to process what you gather. She shows different methods for preparing the plants, giving detailed directions that are easy to follow. You can make tinctures, salves, oxymels, extractions, teas, oils, and more! It’s very interesting and I learned some things that I had no idea about before!

The meat of the book is the middle section where the author treats the plant species one by one, in alphabetical order. There are copious full-color photos throughout the text that help with identification of plants and habitats, etc. Each plant chapter tells you first how to identify the plant, then “where, when and how to wildcraft” that plant, then a section on the medicinal uses of it, followed by any cautions you need to know, and finally recommendations for protecting the future harvest. Some plants are weedy and you can harvest a lot, but others are rare and you need to take care when harvesting so that the plants will be there into the future. The author does a fine job of telling you which ones are which. Each chapter has a sidebar at the end where the things you can make from that plant are shown, along with how many parts of the plant to how much water, or alcohol, or oil to use. It also tells you if you should use the plant parts dried or fresh. There are directions for how much of it you should use each day, the proper doses. If there are warnings about not using too much, or if it’s a plant that people could have allergies to, that is indicated as well. All in all, I thought these chapters were quite thorough and the author left nothing out that a wildcrafter would need to know in order to make the medicines indicated.

I especially liked that the author advised one to be respectful of the plants when harvesting. She always indicates that one should never take all the plants in an area, or uproot and entire plant. If you have to harvest a root, replant shoots that are attached and only take the older plant part so that the plant can re-grow. This respect for the plants is important since many are limited in range and, if everyone went out and harvested them willy-nilly, we’d soon lose these valuable plants. The way the author advises is sustainable and leaves plenty of plants for future generations to enjoy.

My overall opinion of this book was a positive one. I was impressed that the author appears to have done plenty of research and has used these plants to make these medicinals. Her experience shows through in the entire text. Everything you need to begin to wildcraft is provided here. From the identification of the plant and how to harvest it, to how to prepare it and how to use it. It’s all here in one information-packed volume. This book is incredibly useful and I’d love to have one on my shelf!

I’d like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for the advance reader digital copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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