Book Review: Wild Among Us: True Adventures of a Female Wildlife Photographer

Book Review: Wild Among Us: True Adventures of a Female Wildlife Photographer by Pat Toth-Smith

Disclosure:  I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Wild Among Us

This is a coffee-table book of wildlife photographs, with chapters for each kind of animal and the stories of how the photographer got the pictures.    There are indeed some lovely photographs in here.

The stories will be familiar to anyone interested in wildlife photography.  The elaborate preparations,  the missed chances, the miserable conditions and the brilliant moments when that one perfect shot is available.   Ms. Toth-Smith has several terrifying encounters with wildlife, but usually comes out okay, except for that one time with the mosquito.  (There are no mosquito photographs in this volume.)

Depressingly, the photographer details how she needs to take extra precautions from human threats because she is a woman who often travels alone.  Lucky so far, but a few terrifying moments.

The book is kind of expensive at $45 suggested retail price; consider it as a gift for people who love wildlife photography or animals in general.

Book Review: Global Friendship Vol 5 United Kingdom – Zambia

Book Review: Global Friendship Vol 5 United Kingdom – Zambia by H. Aitoro

Disclosure:  I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.   (Technically I won Vol 3, but I’m certainly not going to complain about a free book!)

Global Friendship Vol 5

This is a part of a series of books aimed at children 4 to 7 years of age, to introduce them to the concept of international relations and cultural diversity.  It was published in the United Kingdom, so may be difficult to get hold of in the United States.    (You can tell by the little things, like calling your mother “Mum.”)  This volume covers the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,  Vietnam, West Samoa, Yemen and Zambia.

Each country gets an outline of its borders, a picture of its flag, introductions to typical children in their national costumes, pictures of a few landmarks and stock phrases in the local language.  The national costume of England is a gray business suit with bowler hat and umbrella, but his Welsh, Irish and Scots counterparts are a bit more colorful.

The art is simple, with all the children having identical faces.  The language is also simple, but be warned that most of the foreign words do not have pronunciation guides.  Parents should probably look up the words before reading this to their children.  The paragraphing is off on the introduction of children pages– Each new person speaking should have their own paragraph, even in children’s books.

At the end of the book is a world map that gives a better idea where these countries are.

This is, as said above, an introductory series of books for small children.  Ideally, your kid will become interested in one or more of the countries shown, so that they and their parents can learn more details about that place and its people.  Or maybe they’ll just start singing the “Small World” song over and over.

Book Review: A Wilder Rose

Book Review: A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

Disclosure:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

A Wilder Rose

Most of you are familiar with the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, about her life as a pioneer’s child.  If not the much beloved books themselves, then from the also beloved TV series starring Melissa Gilbert.  You may also be aware that scholars now believe that Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane was much more involved in writing the books than either woman ever told the public during their lifetimes.

This is a fictionalized biography of Rose, focusing on the period of 1929-1939, when the bulk of the Little House books were written.  Ms. Albert has based the story on information found in Rose’s journals and letters, plus the scholarly research of such non-fiction biographers as William Holtz, author of Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.  It’s an appropriate approach, given that the Little House books were a fictionalization of Laura’s life.

While the rest of Rose’s long and interesting life is covered in asides (and a wrap-up chapter at the end,) the focus is on on the difficult mother-daughter relationship between two strong-willed women who were more alike than either would care to admit, despite their deep differences.  There’s also a theme of Rose’s foster children and how they helped her fill a need in her own life.

Rose knew many famous people in her own career as a writer, including living with Helen Boylston (author of the Sue Barton nurse series) for several years in Albania.  These connections turn up at odd moments to advance the story.

One bit that really struck me was Laura complaining how kids these days have it too soft…in the middle of the Great Depression.  Some things never change!  There’s also a look at how Rose’s politics became more Libertarian over time.

There’s a bibliography of the books written by Laura and/or Rose, as well as a list of books about them for further reading.  A list of real people mentioned in the book is included, and a caveat that names of less famous characters have been changed for privacy reasons.

Because it’s based on things that really happened, the ending may seem a bit weak, but it’s well-written and I would recommend this book to older teens and adults who fondly remember the Little House books.

Book Review: A Reader’s Book of Days

Book Review: A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My review is based on the Advance Reading Copy; there may be small changes in the finished product.

A Reader's Book of Days

Unlike most of the books I review, I have not read every word of this volume, though I certainly intend to.  The format is a page a day of births and deaths of authors, interesting incidents in writers’ lives and fictional events that happened on that day.  In addition, there is an introduction to each month, and a recommended reading list of books that take place during that month or are thematically  appropriate.  Small illustrations by Joanna Neborsky break up the text a bit.

Like many people do with such books, the first date I checked out was my birthday, then an assortment of other relevant dates.  (For example, September 21st (today as I write this) is the birthday of both H.G. Wells and Stephen King.)  I’ve read a few of the monthly essays, and checked the reading list.

As might be expected, the tidbits shared on each day are somewhat scattershot, some fascinating, some trivial.  They’re short, and if one doesn’t please another comes right after.  There seems to be a wide selection, not just the standard dead white men authors being represented.  The introduction mentions an index, but that has not been included in the advance copy.

Overall, this strikes me as the sort of book you give to a reading-loving friend or family member as a Christmas present, and would work well for that purpose.

Book Review: The Global Public Square

Book Review: The Global Public Square by Os Guinness

Disclaimer:  I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The Global Public Square

The book’s subtitle is “Religious freedom and the making of a world safe for diversity.”  The idea is that for maximum “soul freedom” we need neither a “sacred” public square, where only the official/majority religion can speak to public policy  (as in countries with a state religion), nor a “naked” public square, where no religion is permitted to speak to public policy (officially atheistic states such as North Korea.)  Instead, Mr. Guinness advocates a “civil”public square “in which citizens of all faiths and none are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith, as a matter of freedom of thought, conscience and free exercise, but within an agreed framework of what is understood and respected to be just and free for people of all other faiths too, and thus for the common good.” (p. 180-181)

As that quote might suggest, this book is rather wordy, and Mr. Guinness spends quite a long time talking around the point before coming down to his actual proposals.  He does make some good points.  Freedom of speech and religion can’t just be made real by laws; they also have to become “habits of the heart.”  Many countries sadly have laws that guarantee freedoms that have no actual effect on the ground.  And there have been excesses both by those who would insist on imposing their religious beliefs as law, and those who would ban all religious expression from public areas.

On the other hand, there are times when Mr. Guinness’ viewpoint becomes a little off, as for example claiming that human rights without a faith basis aren’t “real.”  He also elides the purpose for which “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and fails to note that the ACLU does, in fact, work to protect religious expression when it is being unconstitutionally oppressed.  A particularly sticky subject touched upon but not thought about deeply here is whether someone who is in control of a secular institution can impose their religious beliefs on their employees or customers.  (Mr. Guinness seems to believe the answer is “yes.”)

Also, he does that thing where polyamory is in a sentence that makes it seem morally equivalent to bestiality and female genital mutilation.

There are certainly thought-provoking ideas in this book, and if you are concerned about the role of religion and free speech in public policy, it’s one source to consider.  But have a grain of salt with you at all times.

Book Review: What Is a Pacemaker?

Book Review: What Is a Pacemaker? by Jeffrey L. Williams, M.D, M.S.

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  The book itself has a disclaimer reminding the reader that it is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

What Is a Pacemaker?

As the number of people surviving to the age where they might need a pacemaker increases, the need for material explaining just what a pacemaker is and does, and the benefits and dangers of the technology, has grown.  Dr. Williams has decided to go beyond the usual pamphlet approach to give a fuller overview of the subject.

Sections of the book include a refresher on how the heart operates normally, why one might need a pacemaker, the technology involved, pre- and-post-operation care, the implantation procedure, and the possible complications that can result.   I’d have liked a brief history of pacemaker development, but it’s not relevant medical information.    Most of the questions a potential pacemaker user or their caretakers might have are answered.  At times, the medical jargon does get a bit thick, but most of the relevant terms are explained when they come up and there is also a glossary.

There’s a list of reliable internet sites on this and related subjects, plus a list of the references used if you are a bit more research oriented and want to follow up.  The index is very basic, but it’s a short well-organized book.  Illustrations are in black and white, and relevant to the topic.

The primary market for this book is people who are likely to need pacemakers in the near future, but I suspect the primary buyers will be hospitals and medical facilities to give said patients.  As the book itself emphasizes, be sure to follow up any questions you have with your own physician–there’s no substitute for hands-on medical care.  Still, this book is very informative, and I recommend it as a first stop.

Book Review: Waco’s Debt

Book Review: Waco’s Debt by J.T. Edson

This book is part of the “Floating Outfit” series, about a particularly illustrious group of cowboys who work for the OD Connected ranch in Texas.   As the title suggests, the star of this volume is Waco, one of the youngest members of the crew.  Waco’s foster father and brothers are murdered, and he returns to the ranch where he grew up to track down the killers and protect his foster sister Mary Anne, who has returned from education in the East.

Waco's Debt

This is a Western of the old school, morally unambiguous.  The good people are good, the bad people are despicable, and soft city folk need some real rough living if they want to amount to anything.  There’s a sidebar romance with one of Mary Anne’s friends being wooed by a greenhorn that Waco takes under his wing.

It’s a quick read, with plenty of action and a side trip to Chicago, where Waco runs into some old friends.  Waco was eventually spun off into his own series of books, and became a U.S, Marshal.  If you like your Westerns fast-paced and reasonably clean, this is a fun book.  Trigger warning, though, for some off-screen domestic abuse by the villain.

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking by David M. Selcer

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Ticking

Warren Barchrist III may have won a big case in the last volume, but his name is still strongly associated with being sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission.  So his law business hasn’t really picked up, and he’s considering closing up.  Until, that is, he receives a five million dollar cashier’s check from elegant gay lawyer Robert Steinglass, with a promise to explain later.  Before that can happen, Steinglass dies under suspicious circumstances.

In addition to his now deceased client, Warren soon finds himself hired by the dead man’s husband because the law firm he belonged to has un-personed him and is supposedly hiding the will.  And a toxic client wants to hire the Buckeye Barrister for involvement in drug smuggling.  How do a Ukrainian widow and Somali terrorists fit it?  After being poisoned himself, Warren is determined to get to the bottom of this.

Warren proves to be a talkative narrator, full of fun facts he wants to share with the reader.  (For example, Columbus, Ohio has the second-largest Somali community in the United States, after Minneapolis.)  Since I do the same thing when I talk, I can empathize, but it could weary some readers, especially if they read many of the same facts in the previous books.    His gluttony and self-preoccupation are weaknesses that come back to bite him more than once in the story.

If you have not done so already, do not read the back cover or the official Goodreads description, as it gives away a huge plot twist.  There is some fat-shaming in the book,  aimed at the main character.  I noticed several spellchecker typos, the bane of small press and independent publishing.

Overall, it’s a fun read I’d recommend to fans of mysteries with lawyers as the main characters, and Ohio residents.

Book Review: Dark Harbors

Book Review: Dark Harbors by J.K. Dark

I received this book as a  Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Dark Harbors

Jack Cross used to be a rock star, the leader of the band Dark Cross, kings of the “pirate rock” trend.   But that was a while back, before drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle brought the band to a crashing fall, and Jack bottomed out.   Now he ekes out a living as a charter boat captain, sailing the Dark Cross out of Florida for tourists.  It’s something to do between the nightmares.

Jack’s latest cruise seems pleasant enough; he and a couple of old buddies are taking some Doctors Without Borders volunteers around the Caribbean to relax and help folks.    But there are bad signs, including reports that modern-day pirates are lurking in these warm waters.   Not everyone is going to be returning from this voyage….

The good first.  J.K. Dark clearly loves sailing, and has done some research on the Caribbean.  Some bits are nicely creepy, and the fact that Jack often has difficulty telling nightmare from reality for a few moments helps set the foreboding tone.

The not so good:  The frame of the story is that Jack Cross is telling it in first person to an Alcoholics Anonymous-like group as they’re something of a captive audience. ( Which may or may not mean he survives the voyage.)   But about two-thirds of the way in, there are suddenly third-person chapters that reveal the inner thoughts of characters Jack hasn’t met yet, and who he never gets the chance to get that information from. I can understand why the author does it, the information is necessary to understand what’s really going on.  But it breaks the frame and the narrative flow, and this is one book that might be better served by the reader being as much in the dark as Jack.

Warnings:  Trigger warning for rape late in the book.  Also, practitioners of Haitian Vodou might be displeased by its presentation in this story, even if it eschews the voodoo doll and evil magic stereotypes.

The book is self-published, I am told, and could have used a stronger editor.  I cannot recommend it unless you are really into crossing Jimmy Buffett atmosphere with a near horror taste.

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

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