Book Reviews - February & March Favorites
With more than 20 titles checked off the list in February and March, I have more than a few stand-out favorites to share with you.
In the past few weeks I’ve given five-star reviews to the following children's books and featured the titles along with interviews of the authors.
“Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School” by Janet Halfmann
“The Stupendous Adventure of Might Marty Hayes” by Lora Hyler
My other favorites by genre . . .
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace, and The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon by Andres Ruzo were my favorites in a long list of nonfiction books, many of which I’m reading as research for a new book. I will not bore you to tears with that list!
I was stunned into rapid page turning by the life described in rural Idaho in Educated by Tara Westover. The fact that anyone survived to adulthood in this family is a miracle. This is a hard read, but you won’t be able to put it down. You will hate the ignorance, neglect, abuse (both mental and physical) that you will witness while reading this memoir.
About the Book: Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard. Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent. When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
If you’re looking for an incredible adventure story, go along for the ride with National Geographic writer Scott Wallace has he describes the arduous trek through remote regions of the Amazon as he accompanies a mission to map the territory of “uncontacted”, yet protected tribes of the Brazilian rainforest.
About the Book: Even today there remain tribes in the far reaches of the Amazon rainforest that have avoided contact with modern civilization. Deliberately hiding from the outside world, they are the last survivors of an ancient culture that predates the arrival of Columbus in the New World. In this gripping first-person account of adventure and survival, author Scott Wallace chronicles an expedition into the Amazon’s uncharted depths, discovering the rainforest’s secrets while moving ever closer to a possible encounter with one such tribe—the mysterious flecheiros, or “People of the Arrow,” seldom-glimpsed warriors known to repulse all intruders with showers of deadly arrows. On assignment for National Geographic, Wallace joins Brazilian explorer Sydney Possuelo at the head of a thirty-four-man team that ventures deep into the unknown in search of the tribe. Possuelo’s mission is to protect the Arrow People. But the information he needs to do so can only be gleaned by entering a world of permanent twilight beneath the forest canopy. Danger lurks at every step as the expedition seeks out the Arrow People even while trying to avoid them. Along the way, Wallace uncovers clues as to who the Arrow People might be, how they have managed to endure as one of the last unconquered tribes, and why so much about them must remain shrouded in mystery if they are to survive. Laced with lessons from anthropology and the Amazon’s own convulsed history, and boasting a Conradian cast of unforgettable characters—all driven by a passion to preserve the wild, but also wracked by fear, suspicion, and the desperate need to make it home alive—The Unconquered reveals this critical battleground in the fight to save the planet as it has rarely been seen, wrapped in a page-turning tale of adventure.
A quick read that comes to us in the form of a TED Book, (Yes, just like the talks), follows one geologist’s quest to find the fabled boiling river mentioned in family stories. How can such a place exist when no map can show the way?
About the Book: In this exciting adventure mixed with amazing scientific study, a young, exuberant explorer and geoscientist journeys deep into the Amazon—where rivers boil and legends come to life. When Andrés Ruzo was just a small boy in Peru, his grandfather told him the story of a mysterious legend: There is a river, deep in the Amazon, which boils as if a fire burns below it. Twelve years later, Ruzo—now a geoscientist—hears his aunt mention that she herself had visited this strange river. Determined to discover if the boiling river is real, Ruzo sets out on a journey deep into the Amazon. What he finds astounds him: In this long, wide, and winding river, the waters run so hot that locals brew tea in them; small animals that fall in are instantly cooked. As he studies the river, Ruzo faces challenges more complex than he had ever imaged.
SUSPENSE – MURDER/MYSTERY
The winner in this genre was most definitely Trespassing by Brandi Reeds. Reminiscent of the dual life of the husband in Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife, the characters in Trespassing take you down a path of duplicity, cagy relatives, strange neighbors, suspicious police, and one missing husband. (And if you didn't hear of the death of Anita Shreve, here's the link to that sad news.)
About the Book: In a novel of mounting psychological suspense, a young mother follows a dangerous path to find her missing husband.
Veronica Cavanaugh’s grasp on the world is slipping. Her latest round of fertility treatments not only failed but left her on edge and unbalanced. And her three-year-old daughter, Elizabella, has a new imaginary friend, who seems much more devilish than playful. So when Veronica’s husband fails to return home from a business trip, what’s left of her stability begins to crumble. Given her family’s history of mental illness, and Elizabella’s insistence that her daddy is dead, Veronica starts questioning herself. Every move she makes is now suspect. Worse still, Veronica is positive that someone wants her and her daughter dead, too—unless it’s all in her mind… Somewhere beneath her paranoia is the answer to her husband’s vanishing. To find it, she’s led to a house in the Florida Keys. But once there, she isn’t sure she wants to know the truth.
The runner up was Tips for Living by Renee Shafransky. This also includes suspicious police, cagy relatives, strange neighbors, but this time it’s a dead ex-husband rather than a missing one.
About the Book: On the day Nora discovered that her husband, Hugh, had gotten another woman pregnant, she made a vow: I will come back to life no matter how long it takes…It’s taken Nora three years. With the help of her best friend, she fled New York City for a small resort town, snagged a job as the advice columnist for the local paper, and is cautiously letting a new man into her life. But when Hugh and his perfect new family move into a house nearby, Nora backslides. Coping with jealousy, humiliation, and resentment again is as hard as she feared. It’s harder still when Hugh and his wife are shot to death in their home. If only Nora could account for the night of the murders. Unfortunately, her memories have gone as dark as her fantasies of revenge. But Nora’s not the only one with a reason to kill—and as prime suspect in the crime, she’d better be able to prove it.
The winner in this category was the first in a new series by Grace Hamilton, Dead Lines (EMP Prepper Thriller). This writer knows her stuff when it comes to doomsday.
About the Book: 911 operator Jim Parker wants—more than anything—to be useful again. When a catastrophic EMP strikes, and he’s the last person a kidnapped girl speaks to before the lines go dead, he knows he can’t let her down. Especially when the circumstances are so similar to his own daughter’s disappearance. With the world falling apart around him, he wants to do nothing more than retreat to his prepper cabin. But with a fresh lead on his daughter, and another innocent girl’s life on the line, the disgraced cop will do everything in his power to track them down.
Finn Meyers has lost Ava, her best, and only, friend in the world, but she knows where the missing young woman might be—and perhaps Parker’s long lost daughter. Now, Parker must form an uneasy alliance and tackle his own internal demons as the two begin a perilous journey that will take them to the headquarters of a mysterious cult in Indiana. But what they find along the way will shatter all their preconceptions—and threaten the world as they know it. Can a has-been and a has-not save the innocent, and stop a disaster from happening?
Another excellent book that was nearly a tie in this category was Cyberstorm by Mathew Mather. Some of the scenes in this book are beyond gross, but if you can handle the blood and guts of The Walking Dead, this won’t be a problem.
About the Book: Mike Mitchell is an average New Yorker struggling just to keep his family together when a string of disasters shreds the bustling megacity around them. The Internet and communication networks go down...a deadly viral epidemic rages across the country...then a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world. Days go by without contact to the outside world. Then weeks. Murder and vigilante justice replace law and order. Millions are trapped. In the chaos, conspiracy theories rage about a foreign cyberattack--that this might be the first shockwave of a colossal global shift in power--but even this becomes unimportant as Mike and his family struggle for survival in the wintry tomb of a doomed New York.
I really like paranormal stories, and I guess that's a good thing because I've been known to write them. But I was reminded just how much I enjoy them when reading First Contact--Book One in the Haunts for Sale Series by Kat Green. (Kat Green is the pseudonym of the author duo which includes authors Kat De Falla and Rachel Green.)
About the Book: Sloane Osborne is a paranormal realtor in the business of selling haunted houses but, in truth, she’s only searching for one ghost. And her time is running out. It’s the 366th day after her fiancé’s death. Michael used to like putting things off for “a year and a day”—so tonight’s the night. Sloane will do anything to make contact with him before the clock strikes midnight. When she gets a call to check out a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, it’s the last place she thinks Michael would contact her. Sloane is dead wrong.
And last, but never, ever least, I read some romance. Maybe even more than one.
I highly recommend Marrying a Mountainman, book three in the Trappers, Traders, and Tinkers Series by RE Stevens.
About the Book: Sarah Curry is widowed, but she has no time to dwell on it. With the Curry West Saloon to run, her niece to watch, and money to make, she has traded an empty bed for hard work. There's no time for romance, and certainly no time for a second chance at love. Cull Fitzgerald has been commissioned by his employers to build a trade post in High Platte, Missouri Territory. He'd planned on a promised bride to help him run it, but the deal falls through. Now Cull has to figure out how to find someone trustworthy and strong enough to be a partner in the wilds and his work. A new wife would suffice. But Cull finds Sarah to be a harder woman to woo than he expects. When Sarah's niece disappears and mysterious attacks at the Curry West continue, Sarah may have to give in and marry anyway. But marriage doesn't always fix everything.
So what have you been reading lately??
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