#BookReview: The Belonger by Mary Kathleen Mehuron

Compelling Survival Story Marred By Inexcusable Missed Details. As someone who cruises more than many – I’ve got over 100 days at sea with Carnival Cruise Line over the last 16 years and now routinely spent roughly two weeks per year at sea with them – I’ve been to Grand Turk several times. I’m even going back yet again on my next cruise in Fall 2023. I love the island, it is easily one of my favorite common ports in the Caribbean. And this is exactly what drew me to this book. The setting on and around Grand Turk in this book is truly amazing, for the most part it very much feels like you’re actually there, even in areas I’ve never experienced. If this book doesn’t make you want to get into the Caribbean ASAP, I’m not sure of anything short of Jimmy Buffett that could. Then, when the storm hits – the other factor that drew me into the book, as I’ve personally seen some of the devastation Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria wreaked across the Caribbean, and even had a cruise or two diverted to other ports because of the damage sustained where we were supposed to be going – the story shifts into survival mode, and here too the book is remarkably (mostly) realistic. Particularly for the isolation of the island if things truly go bad, as they tend to do during a Category 5 hurricane making a direct hit.

But it is that (mostly) during the survival section in particular that mars an otherwise truly amazing book.

Being someone that alternates her time between New England (Vermont, specifically) and Grand Turk, maybe, *maybe*, the author can be excused for claiming that a 9mm round “isn’t meant to kill”, as she does during the survival section here in one particularly tense moment. As someone who also owns a 9mm pistol… I can very much attest to the opposite – every single round in my 9mm *is* meant to be a kill shot, should I ever need it to become one, and every single round has the power to do so. Now, if you want to argue *shot placement*, as many in the online and IRL gun communities routinely do, fair game – but that isn’t what the author says in this particular passage.

The second major flaw is geographic in nature. Grand Turk is *tiny*, just 6 square miles in surface area, and at least some of that is water. The southern end is dominated by the cruise pier and the services needed to run it. Meaning the actual population of Grand Turk has even less area to live in. And one thing you can easily notice from the bigger ships that dock there in particular is just how *flat* Grand Turk is. If there is a hill bigger than *maybe* 10 feet tall, I’ve never noticed it in all my time on and at the island. And yet, in another sequence, Mehuron, who per her biography spends a fair amount of time actively living on the island, describes one particular journey is both arduous and up a significant hill. The problem is that the biggest “hill” on Grand Turk, even with putting some research in for this review, is no more than about 60 feet or so above the main elevation of the rest of the town there on Grand Turk. As a reference point, a particularly steep hill – among many in the area – just a street over from the house I spent my teens in in my hometown north of Atlanta, GA, is roughly twice as tall. And in a survival situation, I could be up that hill within minutes with minimal effort. Hell, I used to routinely ride my bicycle up it as a younger teenager.

So she gets a major point of geography completely wrong, and hell, maybe you’re arguing “artistic license”. Perhaps. My counter would be that the story didn’t need that particular element. There could have been other, much more realistic, impediments to that particular location to make it just as treacherous or perhaps even more so, without getting such a basic fact so blatantly wrong.

It is for both of the above errors combined that the single star is deducted, as while both are glaring and nonsensical, neither do they *completely* take away from the otherwise strong tale of life and survival told here.

Overall this actually was quite a compelling tale, one that takes the classic disaster format of showing life before, during, and after a disaster and uses it quite well indeed to showcase a particular setting remarkably well while also telling a story of a woman’s family and friends, and her overall community, within that framework. Very much recommended.

This review of The Belonger by Mary Kathleen Mehuron was originally written on May 29, 2023.

#BookReview: Catastrophic Incentives by Jeff Schlegelmilch and Ellen Carlin

Thorough Examination Of The Field. This is a look at the history of disaster response (mostly in the US, and primarily over the last 50 some odd years) and the incentive structures of the various players in the field – and what those incentive structures lead to, for good and bad. It also has a few recommendations on how to move forward, as most books of this type do, though as with most all recommendations of most all books of this type, these very much come down to a Your Mileage May Vary situation. Though I do appreciate that the authors are realists and openly acknowledge that some would be easier to achieve than others, and some of the recommendations are about as close to “never going to happen” as anything ever truly gets. At 34% documentation, it is even on the high side of average in my experience – which is always a plus. Overall a solid and informative look at a lot of aspects of disaster response – and particularly disaster response coordination – that most even within the field probably aren’t fully aware of, and for this alone it is absolutely essential reading for anyone who may ever experience a disaster. Which is everyone, everywhere. Very much recommended.

This review of Catastrophic Incentives by Jeff Schlegelmilch and Ellen Carlin was originally written on May 26, 2023.

#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.

#BookReview: His Mistake by Pandora Pine

Opens With A Bang. Ends With Promise. If you read MM romance virtually at all, you pretty well know that porn level sex is almost a requirement of the genre. Even then, I’ve rarely if ever seen a book actually open in the middle of a sex scene… and yet, this one does. ๐Ÿ™‚ So you know up front what you’re literarily “walking in on”. ๐Ÿ™‚ Beyond that, this works well to set up a series that can in theory run as long as Pine wants it to. There *seem* to be a couple of (possible) connections that more trivia-minded readers might know the specifics of – the Inn in Vermont where half of the couple works for a time seems to be tied into the Valentine’s Inc stories that Pine has taken part in, and another scene takes place in Salem, MA – home to Pine’s long-running Cold Case Psychic world, though it could also be a tie in to her less-paranormal oriented Protect and Serve series. One character in particular seems particularly well set up for Book 2, but Pine may choose instead to continue letting that particular storyline simmer in the background a bit longer – even though that particular character has one of the more interesting ideas I’ve seen in my (admittedly scant) reading of paranormal books over the years. In other words, truly solid story here that has a lot to carry – and manages to pull it off. Very much recommended.

This review of His Mistake by Pandora Pine was originally written on March 6, 2021.

#BookReview: The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg

Blame And Forgiveness. Let’s face it, the central conceit of this tale – a mostly abandoned boat left on a property that a family purchases that the parents and older kids then use as a mechanism to control the younger kids – is a bit… strange. And I note this as the son of two people who both had six or more siblings each – so while I only have two brothers myself, large family dynamics are not completely foreign to me. This noted, once your brain accepts the central conceit here, the actual story is truly a very solid one of finding oneself, struggling with roles that are not always chosen and not always permanent – both by choice and by situation, and, ultimately, self-recrimination of past wrongs and the need to forgive both yourself and others. The back half *really* picks up, and actually features a scene reminiscent of one particular story of my own family history that I was told for years – in this case, a particular confrontation at a particularly … inopportune… time. (Doing my best to note that this was a phenomenal scene without giving much away, since it *does* happen in the climax of the tale.)

Ultimately, those who have only known smaller families – where you and your entire family you’ve ever known have had the stereotypical-ish 2-3 kids or less – may struggle a bit with keeping up with the fairly large family and the dynamics therein. But work with it, because most everyone gets their chance to be a mostly-realized age-appropriate actual person… even as most of the actual action really does focus on the more senior people. (In other words, even the toddlers get a chance to be toddlers, but the teens and adults ultimately drive the story.)

Truly a great work, and a Toby Keith level master class in “I can spin off a story about anything”. (Look up the story of TK’s “Red Solo Cup” to understand that reference. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Very much recommended.

This review of The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg was originally written on February 15, 2021.