#BookReview: That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon

One Sided Polemic Benefits From Reading The Audible. This is yet again one of those books that benefits from the fact that I read the Audible version and thus have no idea about the length of its bibliography. However, no citations were noted during his own reading of the Audible version, so one suspects the bibliography to be quite scant indeed.

Which is a shame, because otherwise… well, the one star reviews of this book more accurately capture my own feelings on it, specifically that this apparently at least upper middle income white kid Michigan State alum presents only his side of the debate and uses strawmen at best for those opposing him. But there was nothing truly *technically* wrong here, and because I read the Audible I don’t even have the length of the bibliography to hang a star deduction on… meaning the book gets the full 5* rating.

But if you’re looking for a good history of the US National Parks… this is a half-assed primer at best. If you’re looking for an interesting travelogue of someone visiting several different national partks… Kenyon winds up having remarkable similar experiences in each of his visits. The one thing I can give Kenyon is that he is remarkably lyrical about describing his encounters… same-ish they may be.

Thus, if you happen to agree with Kenyon’s views… you’ll probably enjoy this book quite a bit. The more you disagree with his own views, the less you’ll like this book. Given that it has been out for a little over 4 yrs at the time I finally read the book, it will be interesting to see how many reviews come in after this one. ๐Ÿ™‚

Recommended.

This review of That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon was originally written on February 7, 2024.

#BookReview: Following Caesar by John Keahey

Not A Christmas Book. Admittedly, I saw “Caesar” and the release date and for some reason thought this had… anything at all to do with Christmas. To be clear, it does not. Just in case anyone else was somehow thinking it might. ๐Ÿ˜‰

What we *do* get, however, is actually a rather intriguing tale in its own right, of the author’s adventures in a post-collapse world to try to find the last remaining vestiges of ancient Roman roads in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and surrounding areas. We get a decent amount of history, but to be clear – this is far more travel book (and almost travel log even) than history book. We get tales of espresso and kind strangers and parking woes, and we get tales of finding obscure patches of ancient Roman roadway or bridgeworks or some such often deep in farmer’s fields – and which the author only stumbled upon because he happened to stumble into a local who happened to know what he was looking for. We also get several tales of various “official” sites being closed, some of which the author was able to sneak into anyway either by outright sneaking or by some official or another looking the other way.

Indeed, this was, as I mentioned above, quite an intriguing tale for what it is – just *really* don’t go in here expecting some detailed treatise on the exact engineering of ancient Roman roadways and how at least certain sections of them have managed to last all these centuries. Go in expecting a 2020s era romp through the region at hand… and you’ll probably leave a lot more satisfied here.

The one star deduction comes from having next to no bibliography, despite having so many historical details and references. Instead, the bibliography is simply a “selected reading” and clocks in at less than 4% of the overall text – compared to closer to 20-30% being my expected norm based on reading hundreds of nonfiction advance review copies of books across nearly every discipline these last few years as a book blogger.

Still, I had a great time with this book and learned a lot about a subject the author is clearly passionate about. I felt I was right there with him through many of these adventures and woes, and really… what more do you actually want in a book of this type?

Very much recommended.

This review of Following Caesar by John Keahey was originally written on November 22, 2023.

#BookReview: The Lost Supper by Taras Grescoe

Intriguing Romp Through The History Of Food That Fails The Sagan Standard. One of the core features of the scientific method, and indeed of rational thought more generally, is what is known in some circles as the “Sagan Standard” after he quoted it so much: Extreme Claims Require Extreme Evidence.

And this is where this otherwise truly intriguing tale utterly fails, coming in at just 10% documentation despite claims as extreme *even in the prologue* as claiming that 90% of US milk production comes from a particular breed of cows and ultimately is the product of just two bulls that ultimately created that particular breed.

Reading the text as less science and history – even though much science and history are discussed – and more as the “creative nonfiction” Grescoe writes of once describing his writing to a security officer as, the book flows quite a bit better and provides quite a bit of interesting and intriguing nuggets for people of various persuasions to track down on their own. For example, the global histories Grescoe explores, from the Aztec culture of eating certain bugs to the Phonecian/ Mediterranean culture of eating very fermented fish to the Canadian First Nations’ peoples’ culinary pursuits and several others as well all provide rich stories that *beg* for a more documented history. On the other hand, if one is more gastronomically inclined ala the author, perhaps one simply wants to try to track down these particular foods and techniques for him or herself to sample these items as the author did – including a particular breed of pig that “originates” from a small island not far from where this reviewer lives on Florida’s First Coast.

Ultimately, once one abandons any standard of documentation the way one would abandon any sense of “reality” upon entering a cinema to watch the latest MCU movie and appreciates the sheer spectacle of what is presented to you… this is a truly great book that foodies in particular will absolutely love. Given the literal hundreds of different shows about food and culinary pursuits, including several actively traveling around the world highlighting various dishes and techniques just as this book does… clearly there is a market for exactly this kind of tale, and this one does in fact appear to work perfectly within that market. Very much recommended.

This review of The Lost Supper by Taras Grescoe was originally written on September 3, 2023.

#BookReview: Travel As A Political Act by Rick Steves

Interesting Take On Travel. I fully admit to traveling more for leisure than learning and certainly more than being some kind of activist. I try to be a decent enough human being no matter where I am, whether that be in my own home or some far-flung place. And I actively try to avoid other nations’ political issues – and wish to God their own citizens would join me in that, rather than constantly complaining about some aspect of the US. Indeed, there is exactly *one* spot that still stands that I would potentially like to see for something other than leisure, and that is the town of Nocher, Luxembourg – where my grandfather earned his Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions in the closing days of the Battle of the Bulge. Beyond that, I’m all about relaxing and enjoying the scenery – not activism – in my travels.

But here, Steves does a remarkable job in showing his own travel style and general philosophy, of always trying to make the world a better place, of constantly trying to understand the people of wherever he finds himself through their eyes, of perhaps trying in some small (or sometimes not so small) way to leave their land better for his having been there, even briefly.

It is certainly an interesting approach, and overall his thoughts on the places he has been and the things he has seen… well, your own mileage may vary quite greatly indeed based on your own experiences either as a native of those lands or as an American who may have different views. Some reviewers have called this book “racist”, and to be crystal clear: I did not see any hint of that at all in this text – or at least the Audible version of it I consumed. But I’m also a white dude who grew up in the Southern part of the US, in the land still literally scarred by my own country’s Civil War over 150 years ago – so there are likely many in the US and internationally who automatically and irrevocably think *I* must be a racist, just because of my skin color and where I am from. Ironically, the entire point of this book is basically dispelling similar notions mostly from an American audience looking to potentially travel to other lands or even inside our own vast country.

Overall this was an illuminating read that, when read at 1.8 speed on Audible and thus taking roughly half the time its over 10 hr actual runtime indicates, was actually quite enjoyable. Dare I say that it could even be a good read/ listen… while traveling yourself? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very much recommended.

This review of Travel As A Political Act by Rick Steves was originally written on August 2, 2023.

#BookReview: The New Nomads by Felix Marquardt

Strong Claims Need Strong Evidence, But I Read The Audible. This is another book that has a lot of strong claims that thus requires an extensive bibliography to back up to make truly solid – but I read the Audible version of this book, where such bibliographies are not available due to the nature of the format. Beyond that issue though, the book is an interesting use of mostly case studies, and yes, largely cherry picked, successful, ones showing how nomadism (pre-COVID forced so-called “digital nomadism”, which the author decries in later chapters) can be good for individuals and cultures – while acknowledging that, at least for those who believe in human-caused climate change, the harm done to the environment may well outweigh the benefit to individuals and cultures. Indeed, cries of “elitism” in some reviews ring hollow here, as while Marquardt does in fact come from an elitist position, he openly acknowledges that he could in fact be completely wrong about all of this, that the entire idea presented here is largely based on his own observations through his own rather unique upbringing and adult life that he has then pieced together an effort at a modicum of journalism to explain. Overall, an interesting tale that can add to the overall conversation. Recommended.

This review of The New Nomads by Felix Marquardt was originally written on July 18, 2023.

#BookReview: Welcome Aboard by Jessie Newton, Tammy L. Grace, Ev Bishop, Kay Bratt, Violet Howe, Judith Keim, Patricia Sands, and Elizabeth Bromke

Solid Series Introduction. This is an introductory book to a very loosely coupled set of tales of middle aged women going on cruises for various reasons, written by a swath of women’s fiction authors. Here, we get the prologue – essentially the “inciting incident”, to use technical terms – for each of the eight actual tales in the series. And each one completely works, in its own ways. I truly want to see how each of these stories play out, and I’m glad that they’ll all release within a couple of months of each other, essentially one every couple of weeks or so, as that makes it quite easy indeed to finish one right as the next one releases. ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve read a few of these authors before (Bratt, Keim, Bromke) and *know* how good storytellers these ladies are. I’m trusting that the company they keep is equally strong, and based on the prologues in this collection I’m expecting that my trust is well placed indeed. And yet the loosely coupled nature of this collection means that if you read this particular book and find that one or another tale doesn’t quite strike you… you lose nothing in skipping that particular book. So get this one, read it – and get ready for some great tales on the high seas. Very much recommended.

This review of Welcome Aboard by Jessie Newton, Tammy L. Grace, Ev Bishop, Kay Bratt, Violet Howe, Judith Keim, Patricia Sands, and Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on December 11, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Disappeared by Bonnar Spring

This week we’re looking at an atmospheric and visceral mystery that turns into an edge-of-your-seat survival thriller. This week we’re looking at Disappeared by Bonnar Spring.

Atmospheric Mystery Turns Nail Biting Thriller. This is one of those visceral, atmospheric type tales where you truly feel immersed in the (for most readers) exotic locale. Spring does a tremendous job of showing the breadth of Morocco, from its urban and more modern (ish) areas to its much more remote and tribal areas, from its dazzling seascapes to the bleak Saharan Desert. Much of the tale is a mystery of a woman trying to find her sister, who she arrived in-country with but has now disappeared. Later revelations turn the tale into a desperate attempt to survive and to flee the country, and this is where the book begins to take on much more of its thriller vibe (though there was at least some tinge of foreshadowing of this during the more mystery-oriented section of the tale). Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

Short Fun Atypical Romance. This is one of those romance novels that is almost more women’s fiction than romance. Yes, ultimately it satisfies every “romance book” check box I am aware of, even the most stringent ones… but it really does read as more of a women’s fiction “find yourself” type tale. Hell, we don’t even meet the male lead of the book until a fairly decent way into the overall text. Quite a few wokeisms tossed in as well, but those are more irritants than true detractions from the tale, and at least a couple of them are actually fleshed out into realistic characters. Overall a solid and fun tale, and *as a story*, very much recommended.

All of this noted, I would be doing readers a disservice to fail to note that after I picked up this book to review last fall, I became aware that the author had signed a petition in favor of banning books because she didn’t like them. And this reader does not abide those who ban books, no matter the reason. So this author is now on my “never read again until she recants from book banning” list, though certainly you as a reader of this review and potential reader of this book are more than welcome to do with the information I’ve provided here both on the book and the author as you will, and I wish you well either way. ๐Ÿ™‚

This review of The Suite Spot by Trish Doller was originally written on February 28, 2022.

#BlogTour: Meet Me In Madrid by Verity Lowell

For this blog tour we’re looking at an interesting FF romance that dives into some areas not usually seen in romance novels, but which does have a couple of major flaws. For this blog tour we’re looking at Meet Me In Madrid by Verity Lowell.

Interesting FF Romance Brought Down By Preachy Politics And Blatant Racism. As a romance, this book works. It starts out as a “forced” (ish) proximity before turning into a bridge-the-gap, all revolving around two female academics at different points in their careers. Not for the “clean” / “sweet” crowd, as others have noted there is a fair amount of sex in the first four chapters alone. Also falls into the trap of describing both women as very buxom, which is a bit of a cop-out to my mind designed to get those of us with… “active imaginations”… more into the book. But that point is but a minor quibble. The preachy politics, and in particular the blatant racism, is the reason for the star deduction here. Let me be perfectly clear. My standard is this: If you reverse the [insert demographic in question] and keep everything else absolutely identical, would anyone cry foul? I believe this book fails that test in its characterization of its singular straight white male character, and thus the star deduction. But still, on the whole this is a mostly solid book, and thus it is *only* a singular star deducted. Fans of the romance genre generally should enjoy this one, fans of FF romances in particular will probably thoroughly enjoy this one, and it does indeed dive into areas not frequented, particularly academia and art professors. Thus, this book is recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details”, including book description, author bio and contact links, and a link to buy the book.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Meet Me In Madrid by Verity Lowell”

#BookReview: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!!!!

A note to any and all authors and publishers, up front: I ABSOLUTELY, 10000%, DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!! I READ FICTION TO *ESCAPE* THE “REAL” WORLD!!!!! Write the stories if you feel you must. Maybe for your own mental health, you *need* to write COVID stories. For the rest of us, PLEASE do NOT publish them for a while. It is still *TOO* real, no matter what one thinks about the virus or any of the politics around it. (And remember, no matter your own thoughts on it, there are large segments of your potential customers who will disagree with you.)

All of the above noted, the actual story here is well crafted and well told. Picoult manages to bring in, from a more mysticism side, one of the aspects of Bill Myers’ Eli that made that book one of the most influential of my own life – even as he approached the concept from a more science/ science fiction side. The scenes in the Galapagos in particular are truly viscerally stunning. You feel yourself being there as much as our lead character is, in all of the messy situations she finds herself trapped in on this paradise as the world falls apart. Indeed, had the entire book been based there, to me it would have been a much better book overall – even though I objectively rated this story as a 5*, I must admit the latter third of the book, while still strong and compelling storytelling objectively, was less interesting to me (other than the mysticism mentioned above, as this is where those aspects come into play).

At the end of the day, I write this review roughly six weeks before publication and this book has nearly 600 reviews on Goodreads – at the time I began writing this, it looked as though this one will be number 569. Which speaks to the marketing reach and prowess of its publisher, and Picoult’s own status as, as I described her on Facebook earlier this morning “a grocery store book section level author that seems to occupy half of said grocery store book section”. And the mystic hook being so rarely used is perhaps reason to rate this book as more compelling than others, but overall the tale here and the level of the writing… as I mentioned on my review of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising: there is absolutely *no* doubt that this is a strong tale strongly crafted. But I really have read oh so many authors from less powerful publishers that are at least as good, and thus I truly don’t understand the hype.

For those that *do* want a “real” look at COVID in their fiction, whether that be in 2021 or later, this book is absolutely must read. For those that want island escapism and don’t mind COVID being a central part of the tale, you’re definetly going to want to read this one, even if you’ve never read Picoult (as I had never before this book). But for those who, for any reason at all, just can’t deal with COVID “realism” in their escapism/ fiction… maybe hold off on this one until you’re at a point where you can. And then read it, because it really is a great story overall. Recommended.

This review of Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult was originally written on October 15, 2021.