#BookReview: Jungle by Patrick Roberts

Intriguing Premise. Fascinating Start. Back Half Marred By Politics And Questionable Scholarship. This book had an utterly fascinating premise, one I’ve read a couple of other books over the last year in the same arena – the history of wood and palm oil in those prior books. And y’all, the front half of this book, mostly concerned with prehistory, was *awesome*. Roberts tracks how the development of what we now call in English “jungle” began in the earliest geological eras of plant life, through the time of the dinosaurs, and into the evolution of humanity from our earliest barely-more-than-ape forebears to modern Homo Sapien Sapien.

But then we get into the first millennium ish AD and Roberts turns his focus to the native populations of the Americas – and blaming Columbus specifically and Europe generally for every ill to come since. Even while noting cases where conquest would not have been possible except that certain elements of the native populations betrayed other elements for their own personal power. Ok. Still has some solid points about the interrelationship between humans and jungle here, but even here the politics is quite heavy handed – though admittedly typical for elitist academics and perfectly in line with that level of thought.

Coming into much more recent times – within my lifetime ish, since the 1980s – Roberts goes deeper into the politics, even openly praising Greta Thunberg (a bit ironic, given Roberts’ own actual academic pedigree vs Thunberg’s lack of one). But worse than that, he actively gets a bit lax with his scholarship through this point, noting the spread of Ebola into the US during the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak… without acknowledging that it was (mostly) active – and *safe* (as safe as anything *can* be with Ebola) – efforts by the US government to bring US nationals back to within the US for treatments. Instead, the implication from the author is that this was more direct results of lackadaisical regulations and rampant environmental destruction. He also (accurately) notes the 3,000 people killed by Hurricane Maria in 2017… without noting that Hurricane Irma had come through many of the same regions as an even stronger storm just two weeks prior, causing quite a bit of damage that ultimately led to a larger loss of life than normal when a second major hurricane (Maria) came through so soon after. (Disclaimer here: I moved to northern Florida in August 2017, barely a month before Irma and barely 6 weeks before Maria. I had a planned cruise in November 2017 to San Juan and St Maarten, among others, moved to Aruba and Curacao due to the combined effects of the two storms.)

Finally, in perhaps the most glaring questionable fact in the entire text, Roberts points to COVID-19 case counts “as of the end of July 2021”. Except that I’m writing this review on July 15, 2021, almost exactly halfway into the month down to the minute, and I’ve had this book in ARC form since May 12, 2021. (And I should note that this book appeared to be mostly completely print ready at that time, though the publisher and author may claim that there were indeed a few more edits since that point.) Even if one assumes that this particular line was placed in the book by say May 10, at the very latest stages before making it available on NetGalley (where I got it), and even if one assumes that the actual number at hand is accurate (I have no real reason to doubt it, though I personally stopped paying attention to these particular numbers over a year ago), wouldn’t it have been better scholarship to note that the case count was “as of the end of May 2021”? Or was the author projecting and hoping this either wasn’t noticed, that he would be proven correct prior to publication (still almost exactly two months away, as this book is currently shown to publish on September 14, 2021 at the time of writing this review), or that this particular fact could be updated prior to publication with the actual number? None of those three options point to the same level of scholarship of the beginning of the book, and indeed the fact of their existence brings into doubt all prior points and presumed merits. Thus, including that particular fact ultimately does more harm to the entire text than even the most blatant of political biases displayed earlier in the text.

Still, ultimately this was a very approachable text that even when taking into account its standard academic biases generally presents an intriguing look into the history and development of humanity, and it actually has a respectable bibliography, clocking in at around 26% of the text. Thus the book is still ultimately recommended for that alone. Just… make sure you read other competing books in the same area in addition to this one.

Post Script: While looking for the author’s website for the blog version of this review, I found out that the author is indeed a seeming expert *in prehistoric jungles*, having published several articles in peer reviewed journals over the last decade. But nearly every single article listed on his website deals with the prehistoric era, which perhaps explains the difference in how excellent this particular book was when it was discussing this particular era vs the problems that began mostly when he left it. Which is leaving me, for one, *very* interested in a follow up book expanding on the first half of this one with even more details, perhaps, of the environments, fauna, and flora of these prehistoric eras the author seems to know so well.

This review of Jungle by Patrick Roberts was originally written on July 15, 2021.

#BookReview: All Night Long With A Cowboy by Caitlin Crews

Cowboy Bodice Ripper. This is one of those slow burn (ish) cowboy romances where you’ve got the busty-and-beautiful-but-no-one-knows-it-because-she-hides-it-all-the-time librarian meeting up with the playboy-that-can’t-escape-his-dark-past cowboy. The slow burn and banter through the front half of the book is great, helped along via a subplot involving a troubled teenager. And then you get to the (nearly requisite in the genre) sex around the 2/3 mark where suddenly both of our leads are very well endowed for their genders. Sure, why not. A bit typical, and a bit of a letdown because of it, but eh, when being typical in one particular area is the worst you can say of a book… it really isn’t a bad book. Fans of the genre will like it, those that aren’t fans of the genre won’t have any real reason to come to the genre via this particular book. For the clean/ sweet crowd, well, I already told you it has a sex scene, and there’s references to several others, both “onscreen” and off. Solid tale mostly solidly told, and it does in fact work as an entry point into the series despite being Book 2. Very much recommended.

This review of All Night Long With A Cowboy by Caitlin Crews was originally written on July 13, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Dark by Jeremy Robinson

This week we’re looking at a scifi action tale that wraps itself up in horror clothing remarkably well. This week we’re looking at The Dark by Jeremy Robinson.

As always, the Goodreads review:

The Master Turns To Horror. With this book, Jeremy Robinson – The Modern Day Master of Science Fiction – again attempts a horror book… before bringing it back to the scifi action that is his bread and butter. He first establishes a loveable galoof of an anti-hero: an Army veteran who has PTSD from his experiences in Afghanistan who can’t quite fit in with his suburban civilian “normal” life. Then, he begins building in the mystery and the horror, slowly ramping it up to truly horrific levels across several different types of horror, finally culminating in a truly utterly horrific sequence that, arguably, hard core fans of Mass Effect who are familiar with Mass Effect 2 in particular may be at least somewhat jaded to. And then, the actual scifi action conclusion – almost as though Robinson has made us see hell, and now wants to leave us on a more interesting/ happier note. Long time fans of Robinson may see at least a few similarities to his 2010 “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” retelling, TORMENT, though for me that particular book was so horrific *because* it was essentially a modern day version of that famous sermon (which was, in itself, essentially a then-modern retelling of Dante’s Inferno). For those like me who literally had nightmares for *years* after reading that book, I can tell you that this one isn’t anywhere near that bad – at least not in the same ways. It truly is utterly horrific in a couple of sequences in particular, and these new horrors may indeed haunt your nightmares for quite some time. But dammit, that is what makes Robinson the Master. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very much recommended.

#BookReview: The End Of Trauma by George A Bonanno

Remarkable Examination of Trauma And Its Permanence. This is a truly eye opening book about the remarkable resilience of many, perhaps most, people – and how the science of trauma often gets the permanence of trauma wrong. Bonanno has spent his career researching these topics, and this is a solid look at his best findings to date. Told using some long-term case studies as a bit of a narrative structure (and certainly a recurrent theme), this book does a great job of showing how intensely personal trauma and resilience are, yet also using facts and studies to back up the case studies and show larger findings and trends. The bibliography here comes in at about 23% of the total text, which is within normal range – and would likely have been a bit more, without the focus on the case studies. Of note, the case studies are from an accidental spine injury – from a traffic accident – and from survivors of the 9/11 attacks, which helps to show the wide range of trauma. Though also of note, sexual traumas are not examined directly. While Bonanno makes the case for general applicability to all traumas for his findings of resilience and the factors that lead to it, one wonders whether more directly studying various types of traumas using Bonanno’s framework would truly show true general applicability? Still, that question would be an intriguing premise for a follow up book – but this book itself does in fact make a strong case for its premise and adds quite a bit to the overall discussion of trauma, PTSD, and resilience. Very much recommended.

This review of The End of Trauma by George A Bonanno was originally written on July 12, 2021.

#BookReview: The House Around The Corner by Elizabeth Bromke

On This Episode Of The Real Housewives Of Apple Hill Lane… The last time I reviewed a book in this series (May 2021’s The House With The Blue Front Door), it was my first time reading a book in this series even though it was Book 2 and I noted that it *could* work as a standalone, even as the author notes that you really need to read Book 1 first. This time, I find myself agreeing with the author more – there is enough going on here that to really understand both the “central” narrative (of the family moving around the corner) and the other various plot threads, you really do need to read at *minimum* the prior book and really you probably do need to start at the very beginning. But there is enough connective tissue – both with the mystery girl/ woman who is coming into town and with the various women and their families on Apple Hill Lane – that you’re really going to want to have all of the books on hand when you begin reading the first one anyway. Particularly for Desperate Housewives / Real Housewives fans, this is a series that y’all will absolutely eat up. Even for the rest of us, it is a compelling series with a lot going on and several intriguing threads. Each woman gets her own time to shine in the book mostly dedicated to her own issues, but each of the neighbors also has quite a bit going on in their own lives at the same time, and the strength of this series is that we see all of this happening in “real time”. Though a bit of a warning, since I’ve been in discussions lately where it seems that some readers don’t enjoy books with multiple perspectives as much: This entire series, this book included, alternates between many different perspectives in each book, though each is distinct enough within their own threads that keeping track of who you’re reading at any given moment (aided by the head of the chapter listing the perspective of that chapter) is pretty straightforward. As with Blue Front Door, this one ends on a note such that you’re really going to want the next one immediately… and if you’re reading these as ARCs, it means that even you are having to wait several weeks for the next one. (One benefit to any who find this series after all of the books publish, but certainly go ahead and read the series as it exists whenever you find it. :D) Very much recommended.

This review of The House Around The Corner by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on July 8, 2021.

#BookReview: Blood Kin by Matt Hilton

Tess And Po With Elements Of Reacher And The Lottery. This is only my second Tess and Po book, but I’ve quickly fallen in love… and noticed the basic pattern. (Which is the same basic pattern most books of this type have. Brief interlude of “normal life” leads into some inciting incident – in this case, Tess and Po stumbling into a mother and child in peril – leads to an investigation which leads to action. It is a successful pattern given how often it is employed across so many books, and it is well executed here.) When we get to the investigation/ action stages is when this book evokes one of the more memorable Reacher tales due to the similarity of the enemy faced (controlling militia type). And then we bring in elements of the ultra-creepy The Lottery to boot. Completely a Tess and Po story, but the common elements serve to enhance it even more (assuming you’ve read those tales, anyway :D). A final note: This *is* deep in a series of investigative/ police procedurals. It can work as a standalone/ entry point as long as you don’t mind seeing more advanced stages of the investigative team’s life together, but if you’re a reader that doesn’t like any level of spoiler of previous books, you’re going to want to start at Book 1 and get to here. Because if you do start at Book 1… just go ahead and buy the entire series. You’re going to want to have them on hand as you finish each one anyway. Hell, I’m already wishing I had Book 9 in my hands, and this one doesn’t even release to the public for nearly a month! Very much recommended.

This Review of Blood Kin by Matt Hilton was originally written on July 7, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: No More Words by Kerry Lonsdale

This week we’re looking at a remarkably strong series opener from a great storyteller who is breaking out of her shell. This week we’re looking at No More Words by Kerry Lonsdale.

As always, the Goodreads review:

Excellent Series Opener. This is one of those books that sucks you in so completely you don’t even remember it is a series opener… until certain plot threads are left dangling at the end. And yet those very threads are clearly worthy of at least one more book, and possibly a book each… which is clearly exactly the point. ๐Ÿ™‚ Lonsdale has always been a remarkably strong storyteller, and here she really begins to break away from everything that could have previously been seen as getting awfully close to “typecasting” – while still maintaining a strong and rare/ possibly unique voice of her own. A great story that hooks you in from chapter one and leaves you desperately begging for Book 2 at the end, this is one book you certainly won’t want to miss. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Unnatural Disasters by Gonzalo Lizarralde

Excellent Within Scope, Ignores Alternative Explanations. This one was a bit weird. About halfway into the narrative, I was thinking this was going to be a three star at best, because it was *so* hyper “woke” / “progressive”. But then I read the description – I had picked up the ARC on the strength of the title alone – and saw that most all of the problems I had with the book were *exactly what the description said the book would have*. Well, crap. Ok, *within that scope*, this book is a true 5* narrative. Maybe a touch light on the bibliography at just 17% or so of the overall length of the book (more normal range is 20-30% in my experience), but not too terrible there. But ultimately I had to ding a star because it *does* lean too much into the author’s own biases and refuses to consider – and at times even outright dismisses – alternative explanations such as risky geography and geology, among others, in many of the disasters it covers. Still, the book has a lot of solid points about the modern “green” / “sustainable” / “resilient” building movements, if solidly from the “woke” / “progressive” side. Enough that even if you are one that normally can’t stomach such tripe (I myself am largely among this camp), this text really does have enough good material that you need to wade through it to see the arguments from even that perspective. Recommended.

This review of Unnatural Disasters by Gonzalo Lizarralde was originally written on July 3, 2021.

A Birthday… And An (Semi) Ending

Wow. July 1, 2021. Three years to the day since I officially started this book blogging adventure. And what a WILD ride it has been.

Just today, I got an email out of the blue from a publicist at one of the Megas – “Hey, we liked your review of the last book from this [somewhat famous] author, here’s a NetGalley widget for their next one, if you’d like it”. To be clear, NOT something I *ever* even thought would happen three years ago, much less thought would happen enough that it is *almost* routine at this point. (Always awesome and never not appreciated, to be clear. Just also not the “Oh WOW I’ve never had this happen before!!!!!!” it once was. :D)

And I mention this mostly as just the most recent example of just how truly amazing and wild this adventure has been. I’ve been able to work with authors that almost literally *no one* has ever heard of, as they are working to self-publish their own debut novel, and I’ve been able to work with authors that are so famous and common in the market that they are on grocery store and pharmacy bookshelves. And yes, I do consider this a form of work, since I *do* put in considerable effort to read as much as I can given my actual paying job and other typical commitments such as family and hobbies. Many at many different levels have noted that they think I do a good job, and even if they are just being nice / just stroking the ego of a favorable reviewer/ blogger, it is still nice to hear. (Though to be clear, I believe most if not all of the people that have said these things to be sincere. I just also allow for the possibility that at least a few were not. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) And y’all, it really is awesome to have someone whose work you find so excellent to praise your own work simply helping with the publicity of those works.

Let’s face it, this blog doesn’t exactly have the massive following some do, or even the sizeable following some others do. On any given social media platform, I have at most about 750 ish followers – and I’m fine with this. I try to use creative yet appropriate hashtags to extend the reach of any individual review, and some authors and publicists (and even a few just fellow readers/ reviewers/ bloggers) sometimes share those reviews too, which is always very cool as well, but honestly… I didn’t get in this to be famous, so I’m perfectly content with the numbers I do have. Yes, some publishers won’t talk to me because my numbers aren’t big enough, but hey, I get it… and that is on them for missing out on such a prolific reviewer. ๐Ÿ˜€

I got in to this mostly as a way of forcing my attention *away* from things that I had been tracking for years before that, and in that regard as well this blog has succeeded well beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Yes, I know where that particular topic was when I left it three years ago – but I don’t know much of anything about its status *since* then, mostly because of just how active I’ve become.

And speaking of being active…

When I first started this blog on July 1, 2018, I was in the middle of a 150 ish book planned reading list that I had begun at the beginning of that year, reading through books I already had at that time. Earlier in the year, I had gotten involved with a particular publisher’s review crew in addition to the author specific review team or two that I had been working with for years before that point. But most of that first year’s reading was directed by the list I began on January 1 that year.

Since 2019, however, an average of 95% of my reading has been ARC work for a wide range of authors, mostly through NetGalley, increasingly at the attention of various authors and publicists who I’ve met or who have encountered my work since beginning this blog.

And counting the book I finished earlier this morning, I’ve read…

657 books. In three years.

Yes, you read that right. ๐Ÿ˜€ Most have been through NetGalley, where I went from just *three* reviews on that site prior to the existence of this blog…

to 424 submitted reviews against 466 approved books at this moment.

And this is the point where I announce my endgame. I’ve discussed it a few times recently on my BookAnonJeff Facebook profile, but here it is “officially” on the blog:

When I get to 500 approved books on NetGalley – in the not-to-distant future, clearly – that is it. I’m going to stop being as active within that space and return to a more leisurely, non-ARC-based, reading pace.

500 reviews is the highest badge NetGalley offers, and that is a worthy achievement. Particularly since I will have gotten there in less than 3.5 years. I’ve been trying to reduce my reading for a couple of years now but could never really execute on it, but that number offers me a perfect escape hatch, and I’m taking it.

Additionally, one of the reasons I was able to get to where I am in being so prolific was honestly because Rachel Held Evans died a little over two years ago now, my review of her final fully published book was actually just the second review I ever posted here. But when she died, it was reported that she had been in the middle of working on a new book. So I began “stalking” NetGalley, constantly refreshing it watching for that book to hit. I had read one of her books years ago that was phenomenal, and then I had a chance to work with her on the one book right as I was beginning this blog, and I even reviewed another of her books here on the day of her funeral. But I was always holding out for that one book.

It hit NetGalley *yesterday*. Yes, I requested it. That request is still awaiting adjudication, but I’m hopeful. That book will be bittersweet in more ways that one, serving as a coda for the life of a truly amazing woman that I didn’t fully agree with, but deeply admired as someone who was able to do all that she was who came from a background somewhat similar to my own as a child of the same general region of the South and the same general cultural and religious upbringing. It also will serve as a coda of sorts to this era of my reading and thus my life, no matter when I actually read it.

But fear not, those who enjoy my reviews and/ or enjoy my ARC work. I’m still going to be reading. I’m still going to be reviewing every book I read. I’m still going to be posting those reviews everywhere I currently do. I’m just (hopefully) not going to be reading *as* much, and it won’t be *as* ARC/ deadline driven. I’ve even already established a new NetGalley account specifically for that future work, one that reflects the identity I now have rather than a long defunct and short lived project I had when I first created the account I’ve been using these last three years.

So 1200 words, and here’s really the entire point of it:

THANK YOU to all of the authors, publicists, reviewers, readers, and others who have read my reviews over the last three years. Entering this world and being as accepted and embraced as I have been has been *phenomenal*, and I look forward to still being active on Facebook or other social media platforms with all of you… since I doubt I’ll be as successful removing myself from social media as I hope to be – and have yet to prove – in slowing down my reading. ๐Ÿ˜€ Y’all have truly made the last three years leaving that former life so much more enjoyable than that previous life ever was, and I cannot thank you enough for that.

And ultimately… I’ll still be here. Still willing and able to work with anyone interested, and still doing my thing in my little slice of the cyber world.

Let’s get to reading. ๐Ÿ˜€

#BookReview: A Brief History of Motion by Tom Standage

Interesting Overview. Needs Bibliography. It is actually somewhat interesting to me that of five reviews on Goodreads prior to this one, one of the reviewers specifically notes a lack of footnotes as a *good* thing… and this very thing is actually pretty well the only thing I could find to *ding* this text on. But I’m fairly consistent in that – no matter what, I expect a fact-based (vs more memoir-based) nonfiction title to include and reference a decent sized bibliography.

That noted, the substance of this text was well-written, approachable, at times amusing, and full of facts from a wide range of eras that this reader had not previously known. Even in the chapter on the development of driverless cars – much more thoroughly documented in DRIVEN by Alex Davies – there were a few facts that even having read that book and being a professional software developer (and thus more generally aware of tech than some), I genuinely didn’t know before reading this book. Preceding chapters tracing the development of transportation during the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular were utterly fascinating, as was later coverage of the potential future for a car-less society. Remarkably well balanced, the text tends to steer clear – pun absolutely intended – of various relevant controversies (climate change, Peak Oil, Peak Car, autonomous vehicles, car-less society, etc) even while discussing said controversies’ impact on society and future developments. Truly a solid examination of its topic, and very much recommended.

This review of A Brief History Of Motion by Tom Standage was originally written on July 1, 2021.