Featured New Release of the Week: Under An Alaskan Sky by Jennifer Snow

This week we’re looking at a solid romance set in the wilds of Alaska. This week we’re looking at Under An Alaskan Sky by Jennifer Snow.

As I say in the Goodreads review below, this was a solid romance novel that has most everything fans of the genre will want, and is a good enough story within that lane that even those who haven’t enjoyed romance novels before might like this one. Also, a solid Hallmark movie style romance, for those into that kind of thing.

What *really* drew me to this book though was Snow’s new alternate identity. You see, last year a book came out that I described as “one of the darkest, most disturbing books I’ve read in quite some time”. That book was All The Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester. Which happens to be this alternate identity of the author of this Hallmark-type romance, Jennifer Snow.

So, the dichotomy intrigues me – and points to Snow/Winchester’s strength as a story teller. To get such divergent books from the same mind is quite remarkable given the fact that so many authors tend to stick to one particular genre and, usually, even one particular type of story within that genre. And thus this week I urge you to not only pick up this particular book, but also the other one – which was a Featured New Release when it released last summer to boot.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: The Running Back and The Prima Donna by Maggie Dallen and Anne-Marie Meyer

Appearances… Can Be Deceiving. The RB who happens to be a local rock god. The ice queen Prima Donna. Both have secrets. Who will reveal theirs first? This series took some very unexpected turns here, and Meyer’s partnership continues to be felt on Dallen’s normal work. Overall stronger because of the unexpected turns, this is a solid middle outing in a series and manages to clue us in that there are troubles between the couple for the next book in the process. Very much recommended.

This review of The Running Back and The Prima Donna by Maggie Dallen and Anne-Marie Meyer was originally written on April 27, 2020.

#HypeTrain: Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert

Been a while since I’ve actively done a #HypeTrain post, and while my ARC work has been going strong I haven’t been participating in as many Release Day blitzes – mostly *because* my other ARC work has kept me so busy. But this week we have a special treat – a MM romance set in a community that normally has been a bit more… resistant… to such romances. So let’s get started with this blitz, shall we?

The book in question is Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert, a Carina Press (an imprint of Harlequin) effort, and here’s what I had to say about it on my normal review distribution sites:

MM Romance Set In The World Of Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers. This is book 1 of a new series that takes a fairly bold and atypical approach – it sets a MM romance in the hyper masculine world of hotshots and smokejumpers – paramilitary firefighter specialists seemingly primarily employed in the western part of the US. (Having spent my life in the southeastern corner of the US, I’ve never heard of these groups outside of this book, Smokejumper by Jason Ramos – which I still need to actually read – and Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers by Brendan McDonough / Only the Brave, the movie based on that book.)

And Albert does an excellent job of combining the genre expectations of MM romance, where the sex seemingly plays as big a role as the actual romance a lot of times, with the real world implications of such a romance in such a world. At least based on my reading of Granite Mountain – my only view into that world before reading this book – the details provided seem accurate, from the way the teams work and effectively live together to the dangers they face both in training and in actual firefighting missions. And even in the larger world, with how uncommon anything beyond “normal” MF romance is within that community and thus the resistance a “non-standard” couple could/ likely would face there with family and friends.

Truly an outstanding effort in the field, I very much appreciate the author being willing to take risks and go into atypical areas. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, an page and a half or so excerpt that IIRC was about 30% ish through the story of the book (no real spoilers within it, and honestly it is a type of scene here that I probably would have asked for even if I had requested a custom excerpt):
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#BookReview: The Match Makers by Maggie Dallen

Solid Conclusion. This is Book 3 of a quick novella series – no one book is much more than 100 pages, and the back 2 are under that mark – and as such both of the prior books should be read first. Though at least in this one, that isn’t as imperative as in the second book. Even though the timelines continue to coincide, there is not as much from the first two books that directly shows here as there was in the 2nd book, mostly due to the more limited number of appearances of these two primary characters in the first two. But this does finally get us to the Valentine’s Dance that is the official “big reveal” of the series, and even manages to tie back to (and provide minor spoilers of) the book that this series serves as a spinoff of. Very much recommended.

This review of The Match Makers by Maggie Dallen was originally written on April 15, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Idea Of The Brain by Matthew Cobb

This week we’re looking at a comprehensive overview of the science of the most important part of the human body. This week, we’re looking at The Idea Of The Brain by Matthew Cobb.

This was an interesting look somewhat reminiscent of Radley Balko’s The Rise of the Warrior Cop or Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes in that it takes a particular field – in this case, neurotypical neuroscience – and gives a rundown of the history and current issues in the field. As an academic work, it is more lively than some, though lacks a narrative focus that some less accustomed to academic treatises would likely prefer. Overall though, it does a solid job and seems to be truly comprehensive – reading this will give you an idea of what mankind has thought about the brain from the earliest recorded histories through at least some cutting edge research.

Structurally, the book spends quite a bit of time from the earliest histories through 1950 before pivoting to spend most of the rest of the text in the last 70 years of research. Whereas the pre-1950 material is largely divided by time period, the post-1950 material is divided by approach – an interesting dichotomy, but it works. Finally, Cobb wraps up with vague generalities of where the field might be heading.

Of particular note to this reader is the discussion or lack thereof of other researchers in similar avenues that I have read over the last few months, including Richard Masland’s We Know It When We See It, about vision and perception – which Cobb never cites, but discusses some common research as it relates to perception – and Henry Markram, former head of the Human Brain Project and discoverer of the Intense World Theory of Autism. Cobb is particularly critical of Markram and the Human Brain Project, without ever mentioning his contributions to the field of neurodivergent research. (It seems that Cobb has been working from a competing approach, studying simple brains in an effort to understand more complex ones, vs Markram/ HBP’s efforts to digitally model the entire human brain.)

Overall, truly an outstanding overview of the general case of the field that doesn’t bother concerning itself with “special cases”, within its mission this is truly a solid book and is thus very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:

Comprehensive Review of The Field. Cobb seems to do a spectacular job here of giving a general overview of neurotypical neuroscience, from the earliest ways man thought about his brain and cognition to the most current of state of the field in some situations – one citation in particular was from 2019! He doesn’t really address neurological divergences at all, instead focusing on the brain as it is understood for most. But within what he decides to address, this book seemingly gives a very solid, very comprehensive overview of the actual science of the brain. Decently easy to follow as long as you’re ready for an academic review, this book really does what it sets out to do, no more, no less. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Stories We Never Told by Sonja Yoerg

Excellent Work Partially Marred By Problematic Ideas About Autism. This book, as so many of its type, starts relatively slow and low key – a woman goes to dinner with her husband and a friend, and the friend announces he is bringing someone along out of the blue. It begins to spiral from there, and we get into a mystery with the requisite twists and turns, some of which were noted long before their respective reveals, others of which were more shocking. Random and sporadic chapters taking us to other perspectives other than the primary narrator, to give the backstories of those characters – and at least two major reveals that our primary narrator will only learn about much later. Truly excellent work on that side of the story.

It is within the subplot of the primary character’s actual work that things get more problematic, as this researcher is trying to diagnose Autism in babies. As an Autistic adult that only learned that label in my teens – and didn’t fully learn just how much it affects my life until my 20s – I can tell you without hesitation that by and large (there are always exceptions to any rule), a label of Autism tends to be more problematic than helpful at such early ages. (Later in life it becomes less problematic and generally easier to use as a means of communication – a bit ironic, really – to help explain to others about your own neurological divergences in ways they can more easily understand at least some modicum of.) But this review isn’t exactly the place to really dive into that particular rabbit hole, so with it simply noted I’ll move on.

On the whole, a very well written and executed story, and much recommended.

This review of Stories We Never Told by Sonja Yoerg was originally written on April 19, 2020.

#BookReview: The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell

A Story As Old As Time. At its crux – and without giving anything away – this is essentially a retelling of one of the oldest stories known to man. So old that a people that originated in the Middle Eastern deserts recorded it as one of their earliest stories. Now, as with all retellings some particulars are changed, but at its heart it still has the same signature. In this particular variant, we have a current timeline and a timeline from nearly a century prior. In both, mistakes are made – many, many more mistakes than are obvious and are only revealed in the closing few chapters of the book. Very well done, and with an ending that will haunt. Very much recommended.

This review of The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell was originally written on April 14, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Address Book by Deidre Mask

This week we’re looking at an interesting history of a seemingly mundane topic. This week, we’re looking at The Address Book by Deidre Mask.

Fairly quickly in this text, Mask establishes herself as one of the “new breed” of historians more concerned with editorial story than with actual historical fact. That noted, the stories she chooses to highlight do seem to show the origin of the subtopic in question fairly well in most cases, though there are a few times where the “editorial narrative” focus takes over and Mask pointedly notes that while several things happened seemingly at once, she is highlighting the story she prefers. And it was this part of the tale that ultimately lost a star from me – she could have explored these same stories but also provided the actual historical context – did the Austrian ruler do that first or did the Spaniard or the Greek or whoever was also doing it? – and it would have solidified the history without sacrificing story.

Overall an utterly fascinating look at several issues related to an address, having one, and what having one and living in a particular location means, this spans the history from the earliest known addresses to how various parts of them came to be to current issues related to addressing both New York City and the slums of Calcutta. Along the way, we find things that these days we tend to take for granted – house numbering, why odd numbers are on one side of the street and even on the other, how roads are named, the origins of the ZIP code, and many more – are in many cases fairly recent developments and just what they meant to the people who first created them.

A truly fascinating read even with the editorial slant, this is one of those esoteric books that will give you plenty of nerdy trivia bits for parties. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia

Raise Me Up. In some ways, this is your stereotypical whodunit, straight down to most of the action happening in some remarkable-yet-unremarkable Midwestern town with a coda in the Caribbean. In others, it takes some fun risks, even if most of them are off screen. All in all, this is arguably to CPAs what John Grisham’s books – particularly his earlier ones- are to lawyers. And considering that Grisham’s early books were perennially best selling books of the year through the 90s and even early 00s… I’m pretty sure Mejia won’t exactly mind the comparison. 😉 I had the ultimate culprit pegged somewhere between 50 and 66% through, though the endgame was a bit shocking and the epilogue even moreso. Excellent book, again, particularly for Grisham fans, and very much recommended.

This review of Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia was originally written on April 12, 2020.

#BookReview: The Next Great Migration by Sonia Shah

Interesting and Applicable. This is a truly remarkable work that traces the sociological and biological impetuses for and restrictions on migration at levels from the individual through the species. Shah does a superb job of combining history and science to make her case, and even impeaches at least a few organizations currently in the headlines along the way – even while clearly having no way of knowing that she was doing so, as the book was written before they became so prominent more recently. Spanning from the guy that developed the modern taxonomic system through late breaking issues with the Trump Presidency, Shah shows a true depth to her research and builds a largely compelling case. Very much recommended.

This review of The Next Great Migration by Sonia Shah was originally written on April 10, 2020.