#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden

This week we’re looking at an in-depth look at how and why we lie to each other via scams from history through modern times. This week we’re looking at The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden.

Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Unsettled by Steven E Koonin

If You Want To Talk About Climate, You Need To Read This Book First. Seriously, it is *that* important and *that* illuminating. Here, Koonin lays bare what the science actually says – and what “the science” that so many claim is “settled” want to make you think. Chapter 4 alone, where Koonin – who helped *create* some of the first computer based climate models and literally wrote a textbook on the subject – discusses climate models and how reliable – or not – they are is worth the price of the book.

Ultimately this is a book that no partisan will be happy with. Koonin eviscerates positions on both the left and the right of American politics with equal aplomb, sticking to the facts of the matter at hand as the science itself dictates them and refraining from veering into political recommendations. Thus, where the science genuinely is clear that humans are having some impact or another, Koonin points this out in precise detail – precise enough for the purposes of this text anyway, while citing the studies that show the more scientific level precision. Where the science is more muddled, Koonin points this out too – and explains where we know what we don’t know and even some of where we don’t know what we don’t know.

This book, per its very cover, sets out to uncover what we know, what we don’t know, and why the distinction matters – and it does exactly this truly remarkably well. Very much recommended.

This review of Unsettled by Steven E Koonin was originally written on February 7, 2021.

#BookReview: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Solid Romance. Tainted By Politics and Racism. First off, let me be absolutely crystal clear on one point: This was a truly solid romance featuring a man and woman who both know who they are – and the man finally realizing what he actually wants. Were that the be-all, end-all of this book, this is an absolute 5*, much like its predecessor. And because its predecessor *was* 5*, I requested this book the instant I saw it. I couldn’t *wait* to dive back into this world.

Unfortunately, that *wasn’t* the be-all, end-all of this book. Instead, the author’s own personal politics pore through the page here and indeed are quite preachy virtually every time she has most any character speak to political things. And considering the male lead here is running for Governor… this is quite often. But if it was just the preachy politics, this would have been a 4* review. It was heavy and pervasive and detracting from the actual story, and that merits the star deduction. (California politics. If Gavin Newsome and Nancy Pelosi are some of your favorite politicians, you’re gonna love this book. If not… you’re not. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But even the pervasive preachy politics wasn’t enough to deduct *two* stars and get us down to a three star review from my default of 5 – which again, without the pervasive preachy politics and this next issue, this book would have absolutely gotten.

Unfortunately, that issue is blatant racism. Now, do I think that the author is an active racist? No, I don’t. I’ve interacted with her from time to time online, and I know she is as kind and generous as most any other author I’ve met in similar circles. But I *do* think that, in an extreme bit of irony, her own unconscious biases were so blatant that had nearly this exact same text been written with an all white, rather than an all-POC cast, and with the very things said of POCs that are said of white people in this text, the “woke” crowd would absolutely eviscerate this book as blatantly racist and would have called for the author to be fully “cancelled”. Every single time a white person or anyone that isn’t 110% in lockstep with the leftist agenda is mentioned, they are mentioned with some form of derision, casting them as some form of stupid or evil. Again, I do not think that this is an active thing with the author at all. As best I can tell, she is simply putting her own real world politics and thoughts into the text of this book without considering that perhaps others aren’t as evil or unintelligent as she seems to think they are because they disagree with those politics or have lighter shades of melanin in their skin.

And again, this is truly, truly a shame. Because if you write this same book in largely the same way, but edit out the racism and the pervasive preachy politics, this is *easily* a 5* romance tale. And, perhaps, if you agree with the racism in question and/ or the politics at hand, you may still feel it is 5*.

My reviews speak for themselves. I have a strong record of striving very hard to be as balanced and objective as possible within them, and therefore I hope the author and others take what I have written here as being from someone who genuinely wanted the book to be as strong as possible. Everyone in publishing knows that others are not always so balanced, and at minimum I hope I can at least prevent a few … shall we say, “more vitriolic”… reviews due to pointing out these issues in this review. And maybe even add a few sales, for those that happen to like the author’s perspectives here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t go with a 3 word or less “recommended or not” status like I normally do, so I’ll end with this: Read this book. It truly deserves to be read, and outside of the issues noted here it is genuinely a strong book. But for me, and potentially many others, the issues noted here are major problems with what would otherwise be a truly great romance tale.

This review of Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev was originally written on March 29, 2021.

#BookReview: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg

Love Song To Geometry – And A Look At How It Is Truly Everywhere. This is a mathematician showing just how prevalent geometry is in our every day lives – and why modern math classes tend to ruin it for most people. As a mathematics oriented person myself (got one math-derived degree, very nearly got two others almost at the same time, former math teacher, current active software developer), this was fairly easy to follow – Ellenberg mentions some advanced concepts without actually *showing* many of them, though there *is* more actual equations in here than some might like in a “popsci” level book. Thanks to Ellenberg’s explanations of said equations and concepts, this *should* be an easy enough follow for most anyone. And he really does do a great job of showing how even advanced ideas really do come down to the most basic principles – just applied in particularly interesting ways. Indeed, the only real critique I have here is that when Ellenberg gets off the math specifically and into more political and social commentary – even when ostensbily using the math as a shield – it gets much closer to “Your Mileage May Vary” level. Overall, those moments weren’t quite pervasive enough nor did they stray far enough from the central premise to warrant dropping a star, and thus the book maintains the full five stars that all books start with for me. Very much recommended.

This review of Shape by Jordan Ellenberg was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: Why The Innocent Plead Guilty And The Guilty Go Free by Jed S Rakoff

Excellent Examination Of US Judicial System. This is an excellent examination of the US Judicial system, from a former US District Court judge. Indeed, the *singular* outright flaw in the ARC copy I read was its lack of bibliography and citations, which I expect will be corrected in the published edition. For the most part, Judge Rakoff’s examinations and explanations ring true and he cites several well known works in the field, including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow during the discussion of the problem of mass incarceration. My only quibble – and it is just a quibble, just as the comments I am about to refer to are almost asides themselves – are a couple of points where the Judge makes comments about a couple of cases of a more political nature. (Including Bush v Gore and Citizens United, among perhaps a handful of others.) Overall one of the better examinations of the breadth of the US Judicial system, and even its acknowledged origins as a set of essays isn’t really obvious or noticeable. Very much recommended.

This review of Why The Innocent Plead Guilty And The Guilty Go Free by Jed S Rakoff was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: The Power Of Geography by Tim Marshall

Remarkable Look At Often Unnoticed Regions. Marshall’s prior work in this space, Prisoners of Geography, was much lauded and at least a bit derided. Here, well, the exact same approaches and reasonings abound, so whatever you thought of that first text will likely be similar to your feelings about this text, where he analyzes regions that many don’t think of. The Space chapter (the final chapter) actually discusses the real-world power plays that Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm series of fiction books uses to spin some great yet fictional tales around, while other chapters such as that on Ethiopia, the Sahel, Iran, and Australia do remarkable jobs of showing both the history and current issues facing these regions. Truly an enlightening look at global issues, and one that everyone should read more as a “global politics 101” level of information, if for no other reason. Great work, and very much recommended.

This review of The Power Of Geography by Tim Marshall was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: War On The Border by Jeff Guinn

Fascinating Read About Seemingly Forgotten History. Let’s face it, these days (and even when this elder Millenial was in school in the late 80s – early 2000s), American schools (at least, perhaps, outside the Southwest) barely even teach World War 1 itself – much less the other actions that were going on as America was trying to stay away from that war. I knew of exactly one story from the Punitive Expeditions before reading this book, and that was the story of George S Patton’s first ever motorized attack – one of the events early in his career that made him truly legendary. Here, Guinn does a truly remarkable job of setting the stage and scope of the entire situation, from its earliest beginnings (even repeatedly referencing when the Spanish first came to central America) through the fates of the key players he has spent the text explaining. If you’ve never heard of this last war on Continental US soil before, do yourself a favor and read this book. If you want to understand more context for a lot of the current simmering tensions along the US/ Mexico border… do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, the actions themselves were now slightly over a century ago – but if you’re able to read at all, it means that it was in the time of no further from you than your great-great grandparents, and these actions still reverberate to this day in the lands and minds of those whose own great-great grandparents (or more recent) were actively involved here. Very “readable” narrative, never sounds overly “academic”, and well documented to boot. Very much recommended.

This review of War On The Border by Jeff Guinn was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: Divided By Terror by John Bodnar

Blatantly Biased, But Well Written Within That Bias. I gotta admit: When I picked up this ARC, I was hoping for something as transcendental as 2020’s Divided We Fall by David French, but focusing on the issue of terror and how it has divided America in the post 9/11 world. I’m someone that has been on “both” sides of that divide, growing from a conservative Evangelical Christian Republican 18yo college student born and raised between the two endpoints of the American Civil War’s Great Train Robbery to a now 38 year old anarchist professional living even further South. So this book, based on its title and description, looked promising.

Its actual text though… didn’t fulfill that promise. Not for me.

To be clear, this is a very well documented examination of much of the response to 9/11 and the War on Terror, from many divergent angles ranging from the personal and private to the governmental to the societal to the cultural. Bodnar does a tremendous job of highlighting facts that even as someone living through this history (though usually from several States away from the events he is describing at any given moment), I simply did not know and often had never heard of.

The problem is that this examination is very blatantly one sided, and even the language Bodnar chooses to use often reflects this blatant bias. Thus, for those that agree with this particular bias, this book will probably be much more well received than for those who disagree with it – and the level of one’s beliefs either direction will likely reflect how such a person feels about this book in a similar manner.

In the end, there is nothing technically wrong with this text, other than the blatant bias – and therefore the bias itself is the basis for the removal of one star. Yet even there, the bias isn’t *so* horrible as to rate the deduction of a second star, and there is a tremendous amount of needed history documented within these pages. Thus, I am satisfied at this time with the four stars I give the book. And yet, because of the bias, I cannot *highly* recommend the book and therefore it is…

Recommended.

This review of Divided By Terror by John Bodnar was originally written on February 9, 2021.