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: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is (as the title suggests) a bittersweet novel about conflicts that come between the love of a young Chinese American, Henry Lee, and a Japanese American, Keiko Okabe, during World War II.  At first, their conflicts were closer to home, with  Henry Lee’s father’s bigotry towards the Japanese being their biggest obstacle.  Then, with the development of the war, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

I loved the way this book was written because it dealt with many complex issues without detracting from the story.  Everything seemed so natural and realistic.  From the way Henry was treated by the other boys at the predominantly white school he attended and at home by his parents, the reader learns about growing up as an outsider.  Henry doesn’t fit in at school because the other boys are more well off and are white.  It doesn’t matter whether Henry and Keiko were born in China, Japan, or the United States because if you’re not white, you will always be a foreigner to some people.  Henry also doesn’t fit in at home because his Chinese parents don’t understand English but won’t let him speak Chinese at home so that he will be more American.  They think that not allowing him to speak Chinese at home will allow him to better assimilate into American culture.  The resentment towards Japanese people borne by Henry’s father shows that it’s not just white people who are racist – people of color are racist, too.  It also serves to show the generational gap between father and son, with his father clinging to old resentments, and Henry, having grown up in the United States, being more willing to accept people for who they are rather than where their ancestors came from.

Through it all, we see love.  There is the persevering, first love between Henry and Keiko.  But there is also love for America.  When Henry asked Keiko’s parents why Japanese Americans went along with the internment, the reply was that it was their way of showing their patriotism.  It made my heart ache.

book review: Convicted by Jameel McGee, Andrew Collins, and Mark Tabb

Convicted is a spiritual story about how Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins found (or maybe rediscovered) God and learned to forgive.  The book’s chapters alternate between Jameel’s point of view and Andrew’s.  It’s obvious where the book leads since the cover and even the extended title basically tell you what the book is about.  I don’t think I’m really going to give anything away with my review, but just in case, don’t read anymore  if you don’t want any spoilers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the first part of the book, Jameel tends to blame his circumstances.  He reiterates that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on several occasions.  For example, Jameel’s first brush with the law is when he goes for a ride with some friends.  It turns out that the friends had stolen the car so when they get busted, he gets busted along with them.  It’s not until he rediscovers God in prison and learns to let go of his hatred that Jameel starts to see that it’s not just all chance.  Yes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he put himself into that place.  His dad told him not to get into the car with his friends, but he wanted to go anyway.  When he got a ride with Will, which led to his second arrest, he admits that Will was taking a while to get going and he could have walked to the store and back in the time it took for Will to actually drive him to the store.  Jameel learns not to blame external factors for all of his circumstances, but at the end of the book, he is still somewhat of a victim.

As for Andrew, he only found religion after he was arrested.  There were times when Andrew felt guilty about the things he had done, but never guilty enough to confess or to stop.  If he hadn’t been caught, I doubt that he would have stopped.

The writing was okay – a bit stilted at times.  I’m glad that both Jameel and Andrew are friends now and that they have a nice ending but I didn’t particularly like the book.  Jameel seems too naive and trusting and Andrew was just a jerk for most of the book.  The book was short and an easy read, but it read more as a promotional story for a church.

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

Book review: The Templar Brotherhood by James Becker

It is obvious that the author has spent a lot of time researching the Knight Templars.  The book itself, though it contains a lot of action, at time acts as a textbook to teach the reader about the various Templar sites through the conversations of its characters, Robin Jessop and David Mallory.  While I found it interesting, it also slowed down the pace of the story.  Also, the characters are supposed to be experts in the field so I don’t think they would be explaining this stuff to each other.  Several of their long conversations were purely for the benefit of the reader.

The book mentioned previous run-ins that Jessop and Mallory had with the Dominicans so I’m pretty sure this book is part of a series (I haven’t looked it up to confirm this).  This may also explain why I didn’t quite bond with the characters.  The author may have developed the characters in the previous books and hadn’t felt it necessary to do so in this book.  I didn’t feel that there was anything special about these characters.

Some of the highlights of the book included the historical bits about the Templars and the puzzles that Jessop and Mallory have to solve.  My favorite part of the book was the author’s notes at the end about how the some of the settings in the book were real places related to the Templars.

This is a decent book and while the book was a fun read, I am not motivated to read the other books in the series.

This book will be published October 3, 2017.  I received an electronic ARC from First to Read in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Final Hour by Tom Wood

The Final Hour was a fun read.  This book is a part of a series about an assassin named Victor.  I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I was able to understand what was going on in the plot and  I felt there was enough character development.  The author did a great job of creating a cold assassin that was actually likeable.

Victor’s unapologetic efficiency at his profession is part of what makes this book great.   There is a sort of honor-among-thieves mentality, but only slightly, because assassins can’t really have long-term allies.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Victor likeable since he acts in his own interest, but I did like him.

I won’t give too much away, but in this book, Victor dodges both the CIA and other killers.  He teams up with Raven, another likeable assassin.  (Raven actually comes through as a bit more compassionate because she at least has family that she cares about. ) I enjoyed reading about how Victor and Raven managed sticky situations.

There isn’t anything too profound in this book.  Like its character, it is an unapologetic for what it is and I, for one, appreciate it.

I will be checking out more books in the Victor series.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from First to Read.

Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  It was done as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, which I had never heard of until after reading this book and looking it up.

If you have never read The Tempest, here is a summary of the plot:  Prospero, a magician, and his daughter are stranded on an island after losing his dukedom to conspirators.  After many years, the people who plotted against him are caught in a big storm and end up on the island.  Prospero, with the help of his fairy, Ariel, has his chance for revenge.

Atwood’s book makes no secret that is a re-telling of The Tempest.  The book itself revolves around characters putting on The Tempest at a prison.  Several characters take on characteristics of The Tempest characters.  Felix not only plays Prospero in the play, he identifies with Prospero in his quest for revenge.  Felix uses the play The Tempest to live out The Tempest.

It was a very clever way to do the re-telling.  The Tempest is not my favorite Shakespearean play, but I enjoyed this book.  It was fun trying to figure out which of Atwood’s characters matched up with Shakespeare’s characters.  Hint: Miranda, Felix’s daughter, is not Miranda from the play.

Like Shakespeare’s play, Hag-Seed is at times comedic and at times tragic, which is yet another clever way that the book imitated the play.

If you like Shakespeare, definitely give this book a try.

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

Book review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

I find that books and food have a lot in common.  Some books are nourishment and comfort for your soul, reminding us about what is important in life.  Some books are fun to snack on and taste good, but provide little nourishment.  Other books are exotic adventures, asking our noses and tongues to try something we haven’t tasted before.

The Barrowfields was comfort food that someone tried to recreate from a childhood memory.  It never comes out quite the same as when your mom/dad/grandmother/grandfather made it even if you follow the recipe exactly, but that doesn’t mean that it is bad.  It just has a hint of something that is different … That is how I felt when reading this book.

The book itself followed 3 generations of men in a family in North Carolina told through the point-of-view of the youngest male.  On the surface, this book is about family, about growing up, about the South.  It’s also about going through life with mysteries that aren’t solved or that shouldn’t be solved.  It’s about finding oneself and where one fits in relation to others.  It’s about having the self-assurance or character to know who you are without others’ approval.  It’s about separating from your family in order to become the person that you need to willingly accept obligations.

As you may have guessed, I liked this book, but there were parts of the book that I found unnecessary.  There was a little too much thrown into the book.  The whole subplot with the Henry’s girlfriend was a bit much for me.  The book would have been just fine if that whole part had been edited out.  The sinister house portrayal was also a bit much.

When I finished the book, I was left with that quiet contentment after having comfort food.  I just wanted to sit and savour it for a while.

It’s a wonderful first book and I look forward to reading more from the author.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic unedited reader’s proof from Blogging for Books NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Book review: The Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond looks at what lengths couples will go through to ensure that their marriage stays intact.  In this book, newlyweds are introduced to a group that promises commitment to the idea of marriage.  The group does whatever it has to to preserve marriages.

Predictably, at first, the newlyweds like the idea and see the group as a force that helps make their marriage stronger.  For example, one of the rules is that couples have to give each other a gift every month.  The gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they should mean something.  Another rule is that couples have to plan a vacation together.  When Alice starts working long hours after their marriage, the group stepped in to make her focus on her marriage.  Alice wore a bracelet so the group could monitor her location.  The group’s involvement varies from benign to extreme intervention.  On the mild side, it involves counseling or coaching.  Other times, it involves sending members off to a “prison.”  Actions that are seen as infractions include things like gaining more than a certain number of pounds per year to flirting with someone other than your spouse to cheating on your spouse.

My favorite part of this book is the realistic look at marriages.  No one ever gets married thinking that they are going to get divorced.  Everyone wants their marriage to last.  Yet, there are always those insecurities that we all feel – did I somehow trick this person into marrying me?  Are they going to fall out of love with me?  Especially in a new marriage, there’s a lull after the initial honeymoon period.  You spend so much time planning and getting ready for the wedding and then have this great party and go on your honeymoon.  When you return to “normal” life after all the adrenaline highs, it may be a bit of a letdown.

There’s always a suspension of belief when reading fiction, but some parts of the plot went beyond a reasonable suspension of belief (for me).  I don’t want to spoil the book so I’ll leave it up to you to read the book for yourself.

This book was an easy, quick read and would be great for a summer day at the beach.  There were some twists that made it interesting.  The book will be published on July 25, 2017.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary electronic preview of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.