Featured New Release of the Week: The Taco Truck by Robert Lemon

This week we look at a fascinating if dry examination of how Mexican taco trucks have evolved in the United States and how they have pushed urban spaces in new heretofore unforseen directions. This week we look at The Taco Truck by Robert Lemon.

This book was absolutely fascinating, but I gotta admit: It was one of the more dry academic oriented books I’ve read in the last few years, and thus is was very difficult for me to read with my eyes. Fortunately my Kindle Fires have a solid text-to-speech ability, and I was able to consume the book that way very well.

And what a book it really was. Very nearly as comprehensive in its subject as Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop was in its own subject several years ago, the author spends a few pages grounding us in the history of street food in Central American culture before following these people north in the era before the United States’ westward expansion. He then spends quite a bit of the book showing the deeper history as well as the more current history of the last 40 years or so of how taco trucks in northern California – the Bay Area and Sacramento in particular – have evolved as more efforts at centralized urban planning have forced them out of their original purposes and locations and into new roles, just to stay in business. We then jump nearly to the opposite coast and spend a fair amount of time examining a similar evolution in Columbus, OH, and how there in particular taco trucks have become a cultural melting pot. Along the way, we also see the foodie/ food truck movement of the last decade develop and how it is different from – and, the author argues, appropriating of – the original taco truck culture.

Overall this was truly a fascinating book, though the dry prose makes it a very tough read. But those that can fight through the read will have found a very special look at an often overlooked facet of the American Dream, and for that they will be at least a bit better than they were before reading this text. Very much recommended reading.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: The Taco Truck by Robert Lemon”

#BookReview: Healthy Habits Suck by Dayna Lee-Baggley

Strong Start, Falters About Halfway In, Never Really Recovers. This book had an intriguing premise – it was going to explain the scientific reasons for why you don’t want to be healthy and help you overcome them. And it had some excellent points in the beginning regarding human evolution, even as it glossed over any actual science or citations. But around halfway in it begins using a particular metaphor that effectively says “you’re not to blame” and rather than continuing with the quasi-scientific explanations it goes full bore with this metaphor through the end of the book. Intriguing in the first half, and genuinely well written throughout. May be exactly what people who generally read self help books are looking for. Recommended.

This review of Healthy Habits Suck by Dayna Lee-Baggley was originally published on May 24, 2019.

#BookReview: Fucking Law by Victoria Brooks

Fucking Ethics and Fucking Judgments. First, I will tell you that if the word “fucking” disturbs you, this book isn’t for you (but you may have suspected that from the title). If the various “raunchy” and “vulgar” words for human genitalia disturb you, this book isn’t for you.

But if you’re still reading this review, then I assume you’re at least ok with these words. In which case, allow me to tell you how sublime and thought provoking this book is. Part memoir and part academic philosophical treatise, this book truly takes a hard and intriguing look at the philosophical ethics of human sexuality.

This isn’t a light read. It isn’t a beach read (unless maybe you’re at a nudist/ swinger beach?). It is likely a read that will make you horny without actually being erotica. It is a read that will make you think. And maybe, just maybe, it is a read that will open you to the author’s own brand of sexual ethics, even though it is one she does not explicitly recommend – quite the opposite – herself.

This review of Fucking Law by Victoria Brooks was originally published on May 22, 2019.

#BookReview: Beach Town Bad Boy by Maggie Dallen

It’s Gotta Be You. I’ve read a lot of Dallen’s other work, but this was my first time with the characters of the Briarwood High series. Even as an entry point, it didn’t feel disconnected from the rest of the series yet it also didn’t feel weighed down by the series either – in other words, a solid entry point. Which is a good thing since it is also part of a summer collection from several authors teaming together to cross-market with each other – a newish tactic I’ve only really seen crop up this year, but which seems to be a good way to get introduced to a wide range of similar authors.

This particular book does have all the elements one comes to expect from Dallen’s YA/ high school based books, even at novella length. Great book, very much recommended.

This review of Beach Town Bad Boy by Maggie Dallen was originally published on May 22, 2019.

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost – the Q&A!

This past Sunday, I shared a bit about a new release this week from St. Martin’s Press by “debut author” Ronan Frost called White Peak.

This book was seriously one of the best adventures I’ve read in a while, and the twist ending makes it even more compelling for me. Since I don’t want to wait seven years for the sequel, I’m promoting this book a bit more than normal in the hope that I get to come back to this world sooner rather than later. So go buy it! That’s right, for those that checked the link on “seven years” or recognized that I’ve only ever noted that particular fact for exactly one particular book, “Ronan Frost” is indeed a character in Steven Savile’s SILVER and GOLD. GOLD was a Featured New Release of the Week here back when it released in September, and Steven has been a Facebook friend for many years dating back to when I joined a particular book club on Facebook that he was already an active member in. Below are some questions from me about White Peak in particular, and Steven reveals several things about himself in his answers that I had never known. So let’s get to the Q/A, shall we?

Q: This story begins with an active shooter situation in a shopping mall that sounds somewhat similar to a real life events that happen all too often these days. Was this scene inspired by real life events?

A: A couple of years ago I was sitting in a small café with one of my closest friends, just having a catch up. Life’s pretty slow here in the wilds of Sweden—there are about two thousand trees for every soul—and we’re just BSing about Brexit and the madness of the world when he notices he’s got 35 missed calls from his partner. The stomach tends to sink when you look at your phone and realize someone is that desperate to reach you. So, I decide I better give him a little privacy, thinking something must have happened and wanting to be pretty much anywhere other than that café, right then. So, I take my phone out and decide to give him as much privacy as I can as he tries to call back. I open the app for one of the national papers and the headlines, still developing, claim that a terrorist attack is happening right there and then in Stockholm. So he’s still trying to reach his wife but the phone network keeps dropping the call. I push my phone across the table and he stares down at the news that an eighteen wheeler has killed pedestrians and driven into the perfume department of the big flagship department store. My mate’s face then, I’ll never forget it. His wife has gone down to Stockholm for the day, shopping. Suddenly the 35 missed calls make sense.

He gets through. She’s upstairs in the department store. People are panicking. They don’t really understand what’s happening. But she’s okay. Natural instinct is to go down, there are three main escalators, two banks of elevators. But the elevators come out too close to the perfume department, same with two of the escalators.

Technology is an incredible thing, using my phone we can watch live footage of the news streaming from the department store, and see where the worst of it is, so we know to tell her not to head down into the perfume department. There’s a staff staircase near the back which leads out into an underground parking lot. We tell her to head for that, keeping the line open.

In reality it was a happy ending, but my brain doesn’t work that way. Even as she’s going down the stairs talking to him I’m thinking: Christ, could you imagine anything worse than listening to a loved one caught in the middle of a terror attack and there’s nothing you can do… the answer of course was yes, there’s one thing worse, that’s listening to your loved one die in the middle of an attack and desperately scrabbling around for coins to keep the line open while you do… the fact that the story is set initially in the US meant looking for the kind of terror that is all too common, and that was always going to be more mundane, domestic, if you like. An active shooter situation, watching it play out on live tv, Rye, the hero, trying to steer his wife out of there and instead putting her right into the path of the shooter.

Q: It seems you were pretty busy in your former life and that this debut novel is a way to calm down from that. Is there any new insight you can offer about the terrorist incidents across Europe in the last few years and your involvement in working to stop them?

A: Hah, yeah, that stuff was a long time ago, and not as glamourous as it sounds. I graduated uni in the early 90s, right around the fall of the iron curtain, the end of the cold war. Back home we were rationalizing and centralizing our defence operations. We had several depots duplicating the work of others, so were looking to move all navy operations to Bath, for instance, closing down a lot of the regional stuff. My first day I was basically introduced as a hatchet man. I was going to spend the first few months there evaluating everyone and then writing the competitive tenders for parliament to see who kept and who lost their jobs. I’m basically a kid at this stage, and I’m telling 25,000 people you won’t be able to pay your bills next month. So, when the opportunity to get involved in more faceless stuff, I leapt at it.

A lot of the stuff is covered by the Official Secrets Act, so I can’t go into detail, even though we’re over 25 years on stuff ought to be declassified by now. Better safe than sorry. What I can talk about was after I quit, I decided to go back to uni and do my PhD. Within days of getting the okay I was approached by my old professor from my economics and politics degree, saying he’d been asked to put together an advisory group to go to Russia and help find alternatives for the economic crisis they were experiencing. I don’t know if you remember the times, but you’d see food queues going halfway down the block and around the corner, just hoping to buy a loaf of bread, and McDonalds had just opened their first restaurant in the city, where a Big Mac menu was a full week’s wage for a Russian worker. So, when he came to me asking if I wanted to be involved, given my other background with the MoD, I jumped at it. I mean, few weeks away, all expenses paid, in a different world, who wouldn’t? When everything was set up, all the visas and permits secured, and we were basically on the runway we were approached by intelligence and given various briefings for what was expected of us. There were moments when it felt like I was living in a Le Carre novel, to be honest. It was a different time. There were lavish diplomatic parties and the sheer extravagance of the new money wanting to prove anything and everything was buyable, there were new businesses trying to set up and get established that didn’t understand that everything was dependent upon bribes, even meetings with government officials. Nothing happened without the wheels being greased, but these people weren’t going to say ‘this is what we want to make x happen’ so part of what we did there was work out what it was they wouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted, and make sure our people knew. Wheel greasing.

Of course, my namesake or should that be pseudonym’s sake, has a much more interesting life than me. You see, I am Ronan Frost and Ronan Frost is me, but long before I became him, I created him. Back in 2011 I wrote a novel under my real name, Silver, which was one of the top 30 bestselling books in the UK that year. It was an assassination plot novel, with Ronan Frost a member of the deniable ops group caught up in the middle of it, trying to stop the credible threat on the Pope’s life…

So why take the name? Well, it goes back to a conversation with my editor at St Martins, who said ‘Why don’t you give us a novel like Silver?’ and we knocked a few ideas around, came up with White Peak, and he said, ‘We’re going to need a name for the contract, doesn’t really matter what it is, we can change it down the line…’ I hate picking pseudonyms. It’s a seriously weird thing to do. So, because he’d said he wanted a book like Silver I plucked Frosty’s name out of the air purely for the contract. Six months later, as I was delivering the book I had a different name on the file, and my editor saw it and said, ‘What’s with you changing the name? We’ve been working with Ronan Frost for months now, let’s stick with it…’ so, when I was wrapping up Gold, the conclusion to the story started in Silver, I got to the last page, all the shouting is done, the bad guys vanquished, and one of the other characters turns around to Ronan and asks, ‘So what are you gonna do now?’ to which he replies, ‘I think I might write a book…’

So, Ronan’s been involved in some pretty hair raising stuff. He certainly made enemies in high places. And done a lot more to fight terror than his creator. But, there’s a line from Silver I think sums a lot of it up – it’s about inspiring the emotion of fear, that means it’s about the spectacle. I grew up during what we called The Troubles in Northern Ireland. These were the days when the IRA were perpetrating terrorist attacks on the mainland. We couldn’t have garbage bins in train stations and shopping malls for fear they’d be used to hide bombs. It was almost civil. They had code words they’d use to identify themselves when they called in to the police to warn them a bomb had been planted in x location. Most of the time that gave people the chance to evacuate, though we did see a loss of life it was nothing like the scale of what it might have been. But that all changed after 9/11. The sheer scale of the horror of that attack made what was happening between the Catholics and protestants in North Ireland almost redundant. They just couldn’t instill fear on a comparable level. There was a new kind of terror. The old gods were dead, if you know what I mean?

Jeff Note here: That last question was designed for Ronan as an easy way for Steven to promote SILVER and GOLD as well as White Peak, and wound up telling me a lot of fascinating stuff about my friend that I had never known!

Q: In any adventure book such as this, the locations tend to be nearly as important as the action itself. Did you get to do any traveling to see the regions these characters find themselves in? What locations presented the most challenges to describe in the context of the story?

A: I’m a huge lover of travel. I’ve got a peripatetic soul. I swear, by the time I was forty I’d lived in forty different houses. The last few years have been the most settled I’ve ever been. I’ve got some bucket list places I still haven’t visited, places like Machu Pichu and the Great Wall, but yeah, I’ve been to a lot of the places that feature in the book, and will feature in subsequent books if the series gets to continue. The private bank scene, for instance, that’s the truth the whole truth and nothing but. And seriously bizarre. But I’ve never made it as far as the Himalayas. The thing is, where I live temps regularly drop down into the low -20s/-30s and if we get snowfalls in November they’re with us until April or May. Last year we had about nine weeks where the snow was knee deep at least, and where it had banked up was head high along the ploughed roads, etc. I’ve got a dog, Buster, an Irish Wheaten Terrier. We go out into the woods every day and hunt for deer spores and stuff to activate his mind. The woods in the wilds of winter, knee deep snow, -30s, it’s not such a stretch to imagine the hell that is high altitudes and low temps. I’d come in from a walk having focused on a turn of phrase or idea to encapsulate the burning muscles, frost-burned lungs, etc, without having to imagine all that hard.

Q: Do you believe there is any factual basis to the legendary myths such as those tracked in this tale? If so, might it be possible to locate them now? If not, why not?

A: I think there’s an element of truth in some of these, sure. I mean, do enough research you start to notice patterns. The idea of wisdom falling from the stars, for instance. It’s vague. It doesn’t feel unreasonable. It’s not like claiming the holy grail is literally a cup that Christ drank from and his blood was collected in, so therefore would contain trace elements of his divine DNA. But legends, some, like King Arthur, not so much, but I like the stories. Others, like the Seal of Solomon being able to translate all languages and command demons, yeah, more unreasonable. But there’s a power to the myths that gives them longevity. We need them. We need the stories of Achilles and Agamemnon, of Lancelot and Galahad, Siege Perilous and the Spear of Destiny. Life would be lessened without them. They resonate with us for a reason, they’re speaking truths we understand and need to hear. But are we going to be able to dig under the ice and find a lost race? Nah, though if we get lucky maybe we’ll find a lost evolutionary step or something equally incredible. And maybe just maybe those legends will inspire new generations to want to look. That can’t be a bad thing.

Q: Since we’re all about book confessions on BookAnon, what is your juiciest secret as an author? What about as a reader?

A: Hmm, that’s not as easy as it might sound… okay. It’s not exactly secret, but… my first stories for were for what we call lads mags in the UK, top shelf stuff. I did maybe half a dozen for different soft core porn mags. I was about 17 at the time, too young to actually buy the magazines my stories appeared in. They had terrible titles like Beating the Meat… a boxing sex story haha… anyway, one weekend my mum was cleaning up my room and found the stash of porn mags under my bed and threw them away… so I don’t have any copies of my earliest stories.

As a reader, I don’t think I have any secrets… though… now I come to think of it… post-divorce, back when I was still teaching and fairly new to Sweden, I used to go to my mate’s bar because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I’d order the ribs or a burger and read at the bar for a few hours while he pottered around serving people and having a good time, and no one ever bothered me. I mean not once. They didn’t ask what I was reading, or if I minded if they joined me, nothing. It was like a cloak of invisibility. Then one day I decided I’d check out this new book I’d heard a bit about, maybe it was something we could use teaching the kids… So I go into the bar, order my food and start reading and within five minutes this woman comes over and asks if the book is any good. We chat for a few minutes. Then she leaves me alone. Maybe fifteen minutes later another woman smiles and comes over saying how great the book is, she’s reading it to her daughter at the moment. And this goes on all night. Seriously. There must have been a dozen women who came up to talk to me that night. The book? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was way before the hubbub. The next night I was back to reading my normal stuff and no one talked to me. I mentioned it to my barman mate, and we decided to test the hypothesis, so every other night I’d read Potter in the bar, and every time I did at least five or six, and as many as a dozen women would come to talk to me, using the book as an ice breaker. But only Potter. So, during the days I’m teaching college English. I ask the kids to ponder why it might be, what is it about the book that makes it work. And we came up with an answer. See, the women who talked to me were invariably single mums, and there I was, a guy who either had kids or was comfortable enough in myself to read a kids book in public, or a guy in need of mothering. For a little while it was like I’d discovered a super power haha.

Many thanks to Steven for writing this book and giving such great responses to my questions, NetGalley for hosting the ARC I read, and St. Martin’s Press for granting the ARC request and asking me to be on this blog tour. Now go out and buy this book so I don’t have to wait seven years to see a sequel! 😀

Featured New Release Of The Week: Vessel by Lisa A Nichols

This week, we’re looking at a lone-survivor-in-space book from a debut author that could give still-new author Andy Weir’s The Martian a run for its money. This week, we’re looking at Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols.

This story is basically a combination of a psychological thriller ala say Dete Meserve’s The Space Between with a lone-survivor-of-space-disaster science fiction ala the aforementioned The Martian by Andy Weir, with a sense of a dash of Interstellar thrown in – all without going into really any techno-speak beyond the bare minimum necessary for such a story. Thus, it is very approachable for anyone from any background, and indeed it works very well as a very real introduction to how NASA tends to operate in real life, for better and for worse.

That’s right. This particular reader has somewhat followed NASA for most of his life, including reading several memoirs and biographies of different personnel over the last year in particular, and this story really gets what working at Johnson Space Center as an Astronaut is really like, almost as though Nichols has read the same memoirs and biographies I have. Thus, there is just enough realism to this admittedly science fiction tale to add that extra degree of gravitas to the entire story, and in the end that makes a big difference.

If you enjoyed The Martian or Interstellar, you really should give this book a try. It really is a solid effort in those lines. Even if you didn’t particularly enjoy those efforts, give this one a shot – particularly if it was their more technical elements you didn’t enjoy as much. Simply a truly stunning book that you really need to drop everything else and read.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: Misquoted by Dan Suelzle

Problem Platitudes Ravaged. In this debut book from Rev Dan Suelzle of the Wittenberg Chapel, he takes on infamously misquoted Bible verses and examines both what they actually say and the comfort they seem to give when being misquoted. The point is repeatedly hammered home that while a particular thought may *seem* palliative, more often than not at least some level of pain is needed in order to fully grow and heal, and the misquotes thus harm the person they are intended to help. While not making it a particular point to “go after” any particular thought process or person other than simply explaining the quotes and why the misconstruction of them is incorrect, Suelzle also doesn’t hold any punches and actively calls out by name – a rarity in books, in my experience – at least a few particular practitioners who have built entire careers around at least two of the misquotes he writes about here. Truly an excellent work, particularly for fans of Jonathan Merritt’s 2018 book “Learning to Speak God from Scratch”, as both books take common language apart and reconstruct it in its real form. Fascinating and very much recommended.

This review of Misquoted by Dan Suelzle was originally published on May 19, 2019.

#BookReview: The Battle of the Bulge by Martin King

Excellent Look at Famous Battle. Volumes upon volumes upon volumes have been written about the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most famous land battles in American history. And one this reader has a personal connection to, as recently received records show that both of his grandfathers were there (though there is no indication they met each other there, despite originating from neighboring counties). It was because of this personal connection that I wanted to read this book, as I’ve never really studied the battle in depth. And while the particular event I had hoped to find in the tale – a minor clearing of an apparently booby trapped hotel just as the battle was wrapping up in mid January 1045 – was not covered, the entire main battle sequence and its general mopup are and are covered superbly. I may not know exactly where my grandfathers were from reading this tale, but I absolutely got a very good sense of what the land and the time were like and the horrors and atrocities they saw. Which is more than I had known before reading this book. I suspect that if you already know quite a bit about this battle, there will be little new information here for you – but the author’s writing style and specific points rebutting commonly held misconceptions or even offering alternate theories on other events of the battle are great and likely things others may not be aware of. An excellent book, and an important one to note, particularly in going into the 75th anniversary of this battle later this year.

This review of The Battle of the Bulge by Martin King was originally published on May 19, 2019.

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost

White Peak is a book from “debut author” (at least under this pseudonym) Ronan Frost that starts out with a literal bang and becomes an adventure race across much of the northern hemisphere. As of this post, it releases in just a couple of days, on May 21, and can be preordered from any of several outlets via this link.

My Goodreads/ Amazon review shows a few of my thoughts on this book:

Who Knew A Fictional Character Could Write This Well? In this debut work by fictional character Ronan Frost, we get a solid action/ adventure tale of a man haunted by being on the other end of the phone when his wife is killed in a mass shooting being recruited to find a mysterious map for one of the world’s wealthiest men. The action is taut, the mystery is compelling, and the locations include some rarely if ever used in novels before. Truly an outstanding work. Particularly for a fictional character.

Here’s hoping we get a sequel from this new author far faster than we got the sequel he appears in. 😉

Yes, Ronan is fictional and a pseudonym for a real-life long time friend. Ronan is actually one of the primary characters in a book that has been reviewed on this very blog last year, though for now I’m still playing into the mystery and choosing not to reveal him (even though it isn’t an actual secret). All will be revealed on Weds, May 22, when I post a Q and A #HypeTrain post about this same book with the real life friend… that we conducted through St. Martin’s Press’s official channels, as said official channels are actually where I was invited to this blog tour from. 🙂

For now, how about I let you check out the explosive first chapter of the book that I describe in the review above?
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#HypeTrain: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

With this post, we’re looking at a book that marks the first time I’ve ever been invited to be a part of a blog tour. The book featured in this tour is The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, and in general it starts out feeling like The Giver… and then becomes more than even that award winning best selling book ever dreamed of. As of this post, it releases in just under a week on May 21, 2019 – and is available for preorder, which I very much recommend.

Here’s my Goodreads/ Amazon review of the book, to give an idea of my own thoughts:

Observe the World. Unlock the World. This book starts out feeling like The Giver – and considering how long-beloved that book is, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then it morphs into a tale of a young woman finding herself and becomes so much… more. Truly a spectacular work that ends on the same kind of note as another highly successful pop culture phenomenon – Avatar. Amazing work, very much recommended.

And below the jump we feature the excerpt that this blog tour allowed me to publish here. This particular scene is deep into the book – in the 80% done range – but doesn’t feature any major spoilers (just a minor if somewhat expected one). So consider this a SPOILER WARNING for any who are particularly sensitive to even the most minute of spoilers. I specifically chose this selection because it contains my singular favorite line of the entire book – which I’ll bold – and specifically asked for this exact snippet of the chapter to avoid more significant spoilers. (One interesting note: The chapters of this book are not numbered. They are named. This particular one is called “Cocktails”.)
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister”