Book Review: Girl in Snow

Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka


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


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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Book Review – Kind Nepenthe

My review of:
Kind Nepenthe
by Matthew V. Brockmeyer

Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe,
and forget this lost Lenore.
Quoth the raven,
– Edgar Allan Poe (from The Raven)

The kind nepenthe (in this case, drugs) of the title is anything but kind to the characters in this novel. Set in the hills of Humboldt County, California, the marijuana-growing capital of the world, this haunting tale will scare your socks off.

As a local resident of Humboldt County, I was eager to read this novel. When a story is set in a familiar location, it’s human nature to be curious to see if the places you know so well are mentioned in it and how the author describes your home. The author did a good job, but also took some artistic license with a few things. For example, the ancient old-growth redwood trees in the scenes on the farm don’t grow that far inland. Redwoods that far inland never reach the same size as those growing on the alluvial flats nearer the waterways. But, the large trees certainly did contribute to the mood of the scenes on the farm! Also, the farm is set along a river called the Santaroga River. This a fictional river, the name of which may be an homage to “The Santaroga Barrier” by Frank Herbert. A few other things are noticeable, such as some geographical differences, but these certainly don’t detract from the story itself. In fact, they contribute to the mood of the setting of the story.

The storyline follows a couple of young hippies, Rebecca and Calendula, who travel to the hills of Humboldt to live and work on a marijuana farm. They work for a man named Coyote, who travels a lot and spends a lot of money. The farm’s neighbors are an older man called Diesel and his son, DJ. The farm property used to belong to their family until it was sold to Coyote. DJ wants the land back so he can grow his own weed and make his fortune. His father built the grow room for Coyote and is owed a lot of money. His son’s girlfriend, Katie, is pregnant and Diesel tries to make her feel at home. But, DJ is a wild young man and prone to fits of violence. He both uses and sells drugs. All of the characters use drugs, whether that be marijuana, alcohol or meth, to drown their sorrows and make themselves feel better about their lot in life. For most of them, this backfires in incredibly negative ways. Thus, the irony of the title “Kind Nepenthe.” In their cases, their chosen “nepenthe” is anything but kind to them.

The creepy, ghost story aspects of the story come on slowly. The reader begins to notice changes in each character. The child sees and talks to a ghost. The others become influenced by ghostly forces. All this haunting culminates in a big scene on a stormy night, which I will not describe so as to not spoil it for the reader. Suffice it to say, the ghostly presences on that farm do not take kindly to people being there at all, it seems. The fact that the changes take place over time may seem to make the story move along at a slow pace, but there is always some action taking place. There are subplots involving DJ and his girlfriend, Katie, as well as Coyote. In the end, all the threads weave together nicely.

The author does a good job maintaining a sense of tension throughout the novel. Things build up at their own pace and not explosively all at once. This gives the reader a chance to see the characters when they are acting normally and then to begin to notice subtle changes in them. For example, what kind of foods they eat or how they interact with other people. The setting of the marijuana farm is accurately described and full of detail. The way the characters relate to the plants, and their large presence in the consciousness of certain characters, almost makes the plants themselves another character in the story.

The characters themselves are well-developed and thoroughly described. We get the backstory for each important character and this helps us understand their motivations and dreams for the future. They have faults and failings just like real people and none of them is perfect.

The history of the farm property is told in glimpses throughout the novel. We don’t really know for sure what happened there, but it was certainly a bad thing. I think it’s best that the author keeps this somewhat mysterious, rather than spelling it out directly. If the thing that happened is kept somewhat unclear, then the reader’s imagination can take over and come up with their own story of what happened. This makes the novel work much better than if the author had just come out and told us. I like that aspect of the story. Not knowing allows more room for the reader to think up their own history of the events that may have taken place, making the reading experience richer in the process because the reader can use their imagination.

Overall, my opinion is that this is a pretty good book. It’s a good solid read and a scary story to keep you awake late at night. I recommend it if you like ghost stories, or just plain scary tales!

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

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Book Review: Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Book of Whittling

Who knew you could do so much with a Swiss Army Knife? This book is packed full of fun projects that you can do with minimal tools and just a little time.

The author has done a lot of whittling and it shows in the quality of the pieces he creates for this book. Each creation is unique and each one shows his skill! If you want to learn to make similar creations, there are detailed directions provided for each. The projects start out easy and work up to the more difficult ones. That gives the reader a chance to gain skill in working with the Swiss Army Knife and the more simple cuts, then build on those skills to take on more challenging projects. The projects are also very cute, so you will be making something that will bring someone else joy. My favorites were the owl and the egret.

Throughout the text, there is also a neat history of the Swiss Army Knife and the company that makes it. It was interesting to learn that this company has been in business for so long and has been making these quality tools exclusively. The history section includes photos of some of the early models, and they look similar to the familiar ones we still use today.

These projects use branches from a variety of species of trees. The author gives you recommendations on types of wood, and how to choose your wood and the particular shape of branch that will make your project most successful. He even recommends how dry or moist the wood should be when beginning each project. Copious high-quality photos illustrate how to make the cuts and trim the wood down to make whatever project is being featured. There are tips to make the work go more smoothly and to help you get through making some of the more delicate cuts. The author shows you how to preserve the wood too, so that those delicate features of your carving won’t fall off once they dry out.

The author uses a slightly modified blade for his carvings and he shares directions on how to modify yours, should you want to try it. He also gives you plenty of tips on how to take care of the blade and the tool itself, so it will last you a long time. There are many models of Swiss Army Knife to choose from and the author gives you some recommendations on which models work best for whittling.

I was amazed at the variety of things you can make with just a Swiss Army Knife. Not only are these useful items, but they are decorative too, and conversation starters. Whittling is an underappreciated art form. After reading this book, I want to try to make some of these projects. Although I have no experience at all, I think the directions given here are good enough that I could make something!

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

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Wait Till it Gets Dark book review

Wait Till it Gets Dark is a fun book that challenges the reader to open up the five senses and see the night in a different way. It is illustrated with colorful images of the animals, as well as diagrams that show the scientific principles behind the sense being described. It’s a great way to open up a whole new world to your kids.

Each chapter discusses one particular sense. Everything from eyes like an owl, to nose like a deer. Along the way, kids learn how these animals are particularly well adapted to life after the sun goes down. Easy and fun activities are included so kids can explore their own senses after dark and try to sense the world in the same way the wild animals do. There are activities that can be done as individuals as well as groups.

There are suggestions sprinkled throughout the text on how kids can help the species, such as watching for them crossing roads at night, and contributing to various citizen science projects. The appendix of the book has ideas about how kids can make their own contributions, including helping keep skies dark at night, listening for frogs for FrogWatch USA, helping measure firefly populations with an app, and documenting moth sightings.

For the bigger words in the text, there is a handy glossary at the end where kids can look up their meanings. The bibliography lists some excellent resources, should you want to go further and learn more about this fascinating subject.

The dark really isn’t that scary after all. Once you understand it, it becomes a fascinating time where animals conduct their lives. This book will help young readers learn to understand more about nature, and the dark that falls each night will no longer be so scary.

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

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