book review: The Saint of Wolves and Butchers by Alex Grecien

In The Saint of Wolves and Butchers, Skottie Forster, a state trooper, gets drawn into a hunt for an ex-concentration camp administrator named Rudolph Bormann (aka Rudy Goodman) who has hiding out in Kansas since the 1950s.  Skottie learns about the hunt when she encounters Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, on a routine traffic stop.  Travis works for the Roan Foundation, an organization that hunts bad people and brings them to justice.

Spoilers ahead …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though the plot is far-fetched, I liked some of the characters.  The author could probably write an entire series about Travis and Bear.  They were my favorite characters in the book.  Skottie was an okay character, but I didn’t find her very interesting.  Reading this book required a massive suspension of belief.  Hunting a Nazi for war crimes isn’t so unusual.  That part I could handle.  The parts that made me balk were the subplots.  So, in addition to being an evil person who performed experiments on prisoners, Bormann, even though he is supposed to be keeping a low profile in the United States so as to not blow his cover, founds a church.  The church preaches Aryan purity and teaches discrimination against other races and non-Christian religions.  In the church, Bormann builds a secret torture chamber that is soundproof.  He collects mostly women and children of color to torture, but also tortures a male of color once in a while.  After he performs experiments on them, he dumps their bodies in nearby lake.  Because he is the head of a church, he is able to find some racist helpers that he can trust with his secret.  They help him collect minorities to torture because he is old.  As if these people weren’t evil enough, one of Bormann’s sons is involved in sex trafficking.  See?  A bit of a wild ride.

There are some other subplots thrown in for good measure.  One deals with Travis’ dad and the other with Skottie’s marriage.

Even though the book went overboard with its plotline, it was an okay read.  Travis and Bear made the book worth reading.

This book will be published on April 17, 2018.  I received an advanced electronic reviewer’s copy from First to Read.

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book review: School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

School for Psychics has an interesting premise.  The book opens up with Teddy Cannon, a 20-something woman, with a large debt to some Russian mafia types.  She stole money from her parents and decided to go to a casino to win money to pay back her debt.  Unfortunately, she has been banned from every casino on the Strip in Vegas because she won too much.  She ends up being told that the reason she is so good at poker is that she is psychic and she is recruited by someone from a school for psychics.  The school is a secret, but they work with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes with their psychic abilities.  It reads kinda like Harry Potter in that sense.

Despite the age of the characters and the occasional sex scene (nothing graphic, really), I would consider this book to be juvenile fiction.  I found the storyline enjoyable, but the characters were pretty awful.  I wish that the characters were better because the plot has so much promise!  I really didn’t like Teddy.  She is the main character and the book is told through her, but I thought that 1) it was pretty crappy of her to steal her parents’ money, 2) she is irresponsible – I mean, come on, a 20-something who isn’t going to school with no job, 3) the gambling thing is an annoying plot hole (if she’s a psychic, how could she have lost so much money in the first place?), 4) the way she interacted with her friends and others was selfish (I wouldn’t want to have her as a friend), and 5) I really didn’t see any redeeming qualities other than her psychic abilities, which she was born with and did nothing to earn.  She came off as a bad stereotype of a millennial.  It actually detracted me from the plot because I kept thinking that Teddy was such a brat.  Actually, I can’t think of a single character that I actually liked from the book.

Maybe if I was 12-13 years old, I wouldn’t have minded her behavior.  That’s probably the target age for this book.  It was an easy read.  I just wish there had been more substance to the characters.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced review e-book from NetGally in exchange for my honest review.  This book will be published April 3, 2018.

 

Book Review: The Drinking Food of Thailand by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Drinking Food of Thailand is a cookbook about, as the title implies, foods that are eaten when drinking in Thailand.  Andy Ricker is a James Beard winner and owns the restaurants, Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and Pok Pok Noi.

Let’s start out with all the positives.  I like that the special equipment required is listed for each recipe.  I like that the recipes appear to be authentic, although I am by no means an expert on traditional Thai food.  Some of the vignettes that accompany the recipes were fun to read.  Personally, I liked the stories where he talked about how certain foods or drinks were made rather than his eating experiences.  In particular, the bits on rice whiskey at the front and the description of  (with pictures!) of how to wrap the packets for Jin Som Mok Khai come to mind.

My biggest problem with this book is that it is just not practical for many Westerners.  There are many ingredients that aren’t readily available and the author doesn’t give us any substitutions for some of those hard-to-find materials.  For example, tiny dried anchovies.  He does say that they are probably available at Asian stores … but maybe he means only Asian stores by the coast?  I looked for it in a few Asian stores because the recipe only required 3 ingredients (dried anchovies, oil for frying, and sweet Thai Chile sauce), but I couldn’t find any dried anchovies so I gave up.  Other recipe ingredients that are probably going to be difficult for most people include chicken tendons (the kneecap), pigs ears and intestines, frog legs, pickled gouramy fish fillets, goat horn chiles, Shaoxing wine, and frozen market lime leaves.  Basically, there were only a few recipes that I could actually make out of the whole book.  There was one for salt-chili dip for green mango (delicious! – and I’ve seen similar dips in Mexico and Vietnam) and Yam Met Mamuang Himpahaan (fried cashews with salt, chiles, and green onions).  The cashews were okay, nothing special.

Don’t think that you can whip up some of these dishes when you’ve already been drinking.  Most of them require separate sauces or syrups.  Let me take you through my attempt at the fried papaya salad.   You’d think that you just fry up some slices of papaya and sprinkle some sauce and dip it into a sweet/sour/spicy sauce and you’re done.  Nope.  The recipe calls for rice flour, tapioca starch (okay, those aren’t too hard to find and I actually had those in my pantry), tempura batter (not in my pantry but not too hard to find at the grocery store), and limestone water.  What the heck is limestone water?  Oh, good, there’s a note to turn to page XXX in the book.  Maybe there will be a substitute.  The limestone water recipe calls for 3 cups of water and 3.5-4 ounces of red or white limestone paste.  Ummm…..  No idea where I would be able to find this locally, and honestly, it doesn’t really sound safe.  Wait, that’s not all.  The sauce still needs to be made, which calls for a syrup that has a recipe.  I absolutely hate recipes within recipes.  Forget it, this is not worth it.  On to the next recipe …

The kicker?  There is one page in the book that says, “Perhaps the most popular modern drinking food in Thailand is … French fries!”  Hilarious.

I would suggest skipping this book unless you live somewhere with access to many Asian ingredients.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

book review: One More Thing by B. J. Novak

Before reading this book, I really didn’t know anything about B. J. Novak, other than he was on the Office (and I’ve seen some but not many of those episodes).  I had no idea he was a writer until I heard something about a children’s book he did called The Book with No Pictures.  It sounded like such a neat concept that I looked him up and found this book.  One More Thing is a collection of short stories.  I don’t even like short stories in general, but I enjoyed these so much that I started pacing myself so that I wouldn’t finish the book so quickly.

There is some irony in the short stories, but they’re not ALL irony, which gets old (ahem O. Henry).  The stories are so witty – at times funny, at times sarcastic (but not a mean sarcastic), at times serious and contemplative.  I read a lot as I take the bus to/from work and people were probably starting to think I was crazy for laughing out loud.

Based on his writing, B. J. Novak seems like it would be really great fun to hang out with or to have dinner with.  He seems like one of those rare people that you don’t have DO something with to have fun.

I even read the acknowledgements at the end.  I hope he writes more soon … and if he participates in Barnes & Nobles signed editions next year, I will be buying multiple copies to give out as gifts.

If you’re interested, in my search, I also ran across this video where he answers a question sent in by a girl.  I liked his thoughtful response.

I think I am slightly in love B. J. Novak now.  How tedious to have a celebrity crush, and yet, I can’t help it.  The more I’ve found out about him, the more interesting he seems.

 

Book review: American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

We used to believe that humans were the only ones who were capable of using tools.  Then Jane Goodall told us about how chimps made and used tools, had social hierarchies, and were basically a lot more like us than we had previously realized.  The work that Rick McIntyre has devoted to observing wolves has the same implications, except with wolves.  While many know that wolves have a social hierarchy (alpha and beta wolves in a pack), the stories in this book brought to light their complex social structures and their capacity of feelings of joy and grief.

American Wolf is a non-fiction book about the wolf reintroduction program at Yellowstone National Park and its impact on the people, animals, politics, geography, and the ecosystem.  It follows a wolf known as 06 (O-Six) who becomes the alpha female of the Lamar pack.  Not only was she the alpha female, she was the leader of the pack.

The stories were incredible.  I often forgot that this was a nonfiction book.  Nate Blakeslee did an amazing job of making 06 come to life without sensationalizing.  The book was well documented, as evidenced by the extensive sources cited section.  I loved that the book allowed readers to see the different wolf personalities and the dynamics of the wolf pack without anthropomorphising the wolves.

I felt the author did a fair job of presenting the arguments for people who were anti-wolf reintroduction.  There were some legitimate arguments, especially about ranchers who were losing livestock to the wolves, but it’s hard to argue with the what happened after the wolves were reintroduced (more diversity in the ecosystem).

I’ve already recommended this book to other people and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

 

book review: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons is a book about a group of five women who are neighbors.  Their friendships develop and deepen as they participate in a book club with each other.  The book follows these women over the span of several decades, revealing dark pasts, an abusive spouse, parenting, etc.  The women’s friendships with one another draw in their families so that their spouses and children become friends, too, by default.  The book shows how a book club causes a ripple effect in their relationships.

The book is what you would expect from a book about friendships and was fun to read.  The theme of the book is nothing new (see Jane Austen Book Club), but that doesn’t diminish its entertainment value.  It is somewhat sappy and predictable, but it leaves you with a content, after-school special feeling.

Book review: Ice by Anna Kavan

There are a few books that I have read that I just don’t understand.  The first book I tried to read that left me completely bewildered was Ulysses by James Joyce.  Parts of his book made sense and then all of a sudden, I had no clue what was going on.  Ice was similar to my experience reading James Joyce.  The writing itself was beautiful and painted vivid pictures.

The narrator is a man who is in love or infatuated with a young woman with silver hair.  The story takes place in a dark, apocalyptic setting with lots of war and military control.  In the book the man encounters this woman in various scenarios.  It is almost like he jumps between alternate worlds, but there is no way for the reader to tell that he is doing so, except by what is happening in the text … and the text doesn’t always make sense.  He sees this woman in a number of different situations.  In some, he is pursuing her.  In some, she is dead or he witnesses her death.  In all of the scenarios, she is a victim.  She is abused, raped, chased, an object locked away in a room.

Because I didn’t understand this book, I went on-line to look up the author and the book.  The book is considered an important literary work by most people who are much more important than me.  Anna Kavan had a sad life that ended when she overdosed.  Honestly, this explained a lot to me.   One review I read said that the book was an allegory for her own addiction.  I didn’t get this from the book, but the disjointedness in the story could certainly be explained by her doing drugs.

If you like “trippy” books that don’t have to have a meaning, this might be the book for you.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: David Bowie: a Life by Dylan Jones

Here is a little insight into my thoughts these past few weeks:

Ooh, a new book!  Can’t wait to start it.  Wait, I’m already behind with my book reviews so I should do those before I start a new book.

I X, Y, and Z deadline so I will have to work through lunch again today …. but I really need to write those reviews before I forget about what I wanted to write.

I have X, Y, and Z chores to do at home … but I would rather write my reviews … but I should probably cook something because I’m sick of eating frozen pot pies … screw it, I’m going to eat popcorn and catch up on Twitter.

There’s that book I wanted to read.  Oh, wait, reviews …

Anyway, I made my deadlines and managed not to kill anyone in the process so I am rewarding myself by writing up some book reviews.  Yay!

David Bowie by Dylan Jones, is unusual biography in that it is a communal biography.  Rather than the author writing about the subject with some anecdotes thrown in, this book includes stories from people who knew David Bowie.  At first, I was taken aback by the format and kept thinking, ‘what the hell, Dylan Jones?  If this is writing a biography, even I could write one.  You just put together a bunch of different tidbits from people who knew him!’  The more I thought about it, though, the more this clever idea grew on me.

It made for an interesting read because they were mostly first hand accounts.  The first hand accounts allowed for different points of view, which helped alleviate the writer bias that is found in some biographies.  Or, rather, the writer may be biased in the way they saw Bowie, but because there were different points of view portrayed, the reader would be better able to get an accurate picture.  The different personalities gave colorful voice to their passages.  They seemed pretty honest, too.  Much as most of them loved him, David Bowie was not a saint.

I’m sure that Dylan Jones spent a LOT of time gathering the passages and organizing them.  And, to be fair, there are a few of this own passages scattered about this book so it’s not like he was not just an editor.

Before I read this book, I didn’t know much about David Bowie.  I found his music so-so, but didn’t like it enough to really make an effort to find out anything about David Bowie the person.   I never really understood the Bowie hype so reading this book was my attempt at understanding it.

The recurring themes throughout the book were his work ethic and his beauty.  It’s easy to look at someone who is famous and forget about what they had to do to get to that point.  I found it interesting how, even during his druggie years, he showed up to work, ready to work.  So many different people in the book talked about how his physical beauty, and especially loved his eyes (personally, I think his eyes are a little freaky).  Bowie, in the early years, because of his physical beauty, was sexually exploited (though possibly willingly).  He was a bit of a diva, but had a generous heart, for the most part, so the beauty wasn’t just skin deep.

The biggest problem I had with this book was its length.  This thing is massive at 544 pages.  Let me repeat that.  544 pages!  Now, even for a die hard Bowie fan, that might be a stretch.  Do I really need 544 pages of people telling me how beautiful he was?  Seriously, I think  250 pages would have been plenty.  Even 300.  The man led quite a life but it was really, really difficult for me to finish this book.  I took a few breaks and read some other books in between.

To sum it up, well done Dylan Jones for a creative way to “write” a biography.  Bowie would probably have approved of the communal biography.  The stories told are interesting and indulge the reader’s voyeurism.  If you plan on embarking on this epic tome from cover to cover, good luck.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books.

 

 

Book review: Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay

In Death in the Stacks is part of the Library Lover’s Mystery series, but this book works as a stand alone.  Olive Boyle, the new Library Board member, is horrid towards Lindsey Norris (the protagonist) and her staff.  Olive is found dead at the big fundraiser at the library and the main suspects are Paula, one of the staff that Olive particularly didn’t like, and Lindsey.  I would consider this book a cozy mystery (I’ve recently discovered this), which is not my favorite genre, but this book was better than several of the cozy mysteries I have read.

I wanted to read this book because I love mysteries and books (obviously) and I thought it would be fun to read a “Library Lover’s Mystery.”  While the murder takes place in a library and the characters work in a library, there isn’t much else relating to libraries.  The library wasn’t important to the story – the murder could have been anywhere.  The fundraiser could have been for any non-profit organization.  I guess I was hoping that the library would be more pivotal to the story.

The plot is okay and the story progresses reasonably quickly.  The characters are a bit flat.  Olive is the stereotypical villain from children’s cartoons.  Even though Lindsey was the protagonist, I didn’t much care for her.  It was hard to develop any sort of rapport with the characters.  Paula, whom the reader was supposed to feel sorry for, was an odd character.  Her appearances were outlandish, which is why Olive didn’t like her, but her personality was extremely shy and submissive.  The ending of the book was a bit of a wild free-for-all.

This is an easy, light read.  If you like cozy mysteries, this would be up your alley.  I received an advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.