Book Review ~ Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands

Part travelogue, part history lesson, part environmental plea, Our National Forests is exactly what we need to ignite a renewed interest in our country’s protected lands.

Turns out, National Forests (not National Parks, which are something else entirely) are much more than I thought. I was surprised to learn that not only had I likely visited a National Forest without even knowing it, they’re absolutely essential to the fabric of our nation. The National Forests are steeped in history — both good and bad — and the author doesn’t shy away from either. Whatever your mood (introspective, light, frustrated, or scientifically curious) you’ll be greeted with insightful stories and huge color images that you could easily get lost in.

Spotted Bear River, Flathead National Forest, Montana | US Forest Service | Flickr

Our National Forests is as varied as the lands in question: sometimes dense and textbooky with dates and figures, sometimes sprinkled with relatable anecdotes that’ll make you chuckle, and sometimes sobering. The author addresses challenging topics from the early days of the Forest Service as well as ongoing issues like human impact, apathy, and inequality. But just before the reader’s heart breaks, we’re presented with new stories of citizen science, advancements, and renewals. I especially enjoyed the historical chapter about the first planted forest in Nebraska. What an uphill battle it must’ve been to learn how to efficiently establish a forest where there was none!

A cool, clear mountain stream. A wide open prairie of tall grasses. A majestic range of western peaks covered in ponderosa pines. These are some hallmarks of America’s cherished national forests.

But, if we look more closely and shift our lens from macro to micro, a very different world comes into view.

-Greg M. Peters, Our National Forests

As the author points out, much of the forests themselves are millennia old, but the Forest Service is only 115. Clearly, there’s a lot more history to be written in this ongoing tribute to trees. If you love our lands and are interested in what’s protected, how, and why, Our National Forests belongs on your coffee table.

Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands by Greg M. Peters was published November 9, 2021 and is available now.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review ~ Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery

Ecologists want to see a healthier planet, and some have found a path to this recovery through rewilding — that is, reintroducing species to their native habitats after being wiped out. And as it turns out, there are wildly different approaches to this truly radical technique. From delicate moves (like replacing an extinct tortoise species with a similar one in the Mauritian Islands) to sledgehammer action (think bringing back mammoths), rewilding begs the question, “How? And more importantly, should we?”

“Rewilding” is a great introduction to the topic, which is multifaceted in the extreme. This book explores the history of rewilding — what’s worked, what’s failed, and what’s on the horizon — as well as the ripple effects. As an armchair ecologist, most of these approaches were new to me. But I did recognize a few rewilding efforts, including Pleistocene Park and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. I appreciated the mentions of plant and insect rewilding, too, which are often eclipsed by megaherbivores and other showy species.

While it is intended as an overview and introduction, this book sometimes get technical, so a background in biology would be helpful for most readers. The language drifts between pop sci and textbook, but there are lots of great illustrations to help clear up sticky concepts. Plenty of beautiful photographs and well-placed diagrams.

“Rewilding” is a fantastic conversation starter, leaving the reader with lots of food for thought. An excellent foundation for building new knowledge on this tangled topic.

Thanks to NetGalley, the authors, and the publisher for providing a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Death In Florence

After her marriage fell apart, Diana St. James went on a year-long European trip to escape her ex-husband and the boring life she left behind. Unfortunately for her, her ex followed her to Florence… with the other woman in tow. Diana can’t seem to shake her past, even when she goes to the Shakespeare festival in Verona: without warning, the handsome, flirty Italian actor Marcello dies right in front of her, and Diana’s the prime suspect — again! With the help of her adult daughters, she sets out to unmask the killer, clear her name, and straighten out her messy love life.

Lovely! Death in Florence definitely works as a standalone. I haven’t read the first one, but at no point did I feel confused or like I was missing out. I enjoyed that the author slipped in tons of references and important plot points to the previous novel, A Murder in Paris, but stopped just short of giving away the entire story. Her next stop is Vienna, which I have no doubt will be full of surprises, too.

I enjoyed this travel-themed cozy, but there were two things that irked me. First, Diana heaped all the blame for her failed marriage on her ex’s too-young, too-cute, too-vapid fiance, leaving little for the ex-husband, and none for herself. Hmm. And I can’t help but wonder what’s up with the title! Almost the entire story takes place in Verona, not Florence.

Death in Florence is a fun, easy-reading travel cozy mystery with all the requisite red herrings, colorful characters, and gorgeous settings. Gourmet food, wine, villas, and live theater — it’s no wonder main character Diana falls in love with Italy!

Death In Florence by Blake Pierce was published March 30, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book reviews are moving!

Hello, book lovers! A bit of news.

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been crossposting. It’s not spam, I’m just moving all book reviews over to my new dedicated site, Jam-Packed Bookshelf!

Starting April 16th, all new book reviews will be published only on jampackedbookshelf.wordpress.com.

I’ll continue crossposting until next Friday to give you lovely followers a chance to make the move. You can also enjoy my less than amazing graphic art skills on Instagram.

This page will remain active and book reviews will stay posted, but this site will be focused on my own writing. I know not everyone is interested in my budding career as a content writer, so I won’t take it personally if you unfollow.


So if you’d like to continue reading my mind-blowing book reviews, head on over to the Bookshelf.

See you there!

Book Review: The Root Witch

If you’re in a hurry and want a good scare, this is the creepypasta campfire tale for you.

80s TV journalist Sandra is determined to get her story on Halloween night. Reports of the Root Witch have been flying around and one by one, her crew goes missing. What she does find is a shocking video of the terror in the woods.

This found footage novella makes fantastic use of mixed media — faxes, diary entries, reports, and videos. There’s enough here to expand this 28-page piece into a full novel, but this bite-sized story is just right.

I love the idea of the clone forest being home to a human-hating supernatural presence. My horror-brain understands that concept, so I had no trouble getting invested in the legend of the Root Witch. And after that twisted ending, a reread made the story brand new again.

I did think maybe there was a bit too much focus on the journalism aspect. I was ready to get spooked, but the story gave a lot of details about how tv news is made. That’s cool and all, but I was more attracted to the “Urban Legend” part of the subtitle than “Caught On Tape.”

Half an hour cover to cover and I got chills when I heard the leaves rustling outside. I’d call that a success! Very enjoyable to this Blair Witch fan.

The Root Witch by Debra Castaneda was published March 20, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this title. I am leaving this feedback voluntarily.

Book Review: The Donut Trap

I just loved this. All of it. Romance, complicated family relationships, food, donut jokes, and the intimate representation of a 1st generation Asian American family. Overbearing aunties, pushy besties, social media, and innovative pastry trends. The Donut Trap has it all!

Jasmine Tran works more than full time at her parents’ donut shop, even as she feels the pressure to get a job and a husband. Her ever-supportive best friend Linh has found the perfect guy, and he just so happens to be Jasmine’s college crush, Window Guy. Simultaneously over- and under-employed while she tries to find herself, Jasmine juggles dating, donuts, and family dynamics in this showstopping debut.

Tieu expertly explores diasporic family dynamics in a high-pressure setting. Jasmine’s parents struggle with balancing her integral position at the donut shop and giving her space to move forward with her life. The representation of Jasmine, who never seemed to fit in anywhere, is insightful. She and Window Guy (real name Alex Lai) have much in common this way, but very different life experiences. The relationship between Jasmine and her work-hard parents is complex while she strives to prove herself, find herself, all while dragging the donut shop into the 21st century with Instagram-worthy offerings.

I am VERY picky about my romance, but this I loved. I caught myself grinning throughout. Sweet, not saccharine. Jas is adorkable without being annoying. Alex is smoking hot without being hollow. Their romance is funny, bumpy, and nuanced, making their budding love story one well worth reading.

A full cast of strong characters carry this charming story to the next level making The Donut Trap my favorite book of the year so far! 🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu is expected to be published November 2nd, 2021.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Home Before Dark

Maggie Holt doesn’t remember living in a haunted house. When she inherits Baneberry Hall, a creaky old house haunted by her father’s tell-all novel, she battles her memories, her beliefs, and a town full of people who hate her family’s guts. She searches for the truth but finds much, much more.

The word that best describes Home Before Dark is “creepy.” The house is big and creepy, the memories are creepy, her father’s novel is creepy, the house’s history is creepy, and Maggie’s blind spots are creepy as hell. Is it terrifying? No. Does it make you think and work to puzzle it all together? Yep. I couldn’t help but think of The Haunting of Hill House, but I hesitate to make a comparison.

The book-within-a-book aspect of this story was really well done and broke in the right places with the right scenes. One is present tense and one is past, so there’s no way to get confused about what happens when. I was afraid one story would ruin the other and in the end, that’s kind of what happened. I don’t mind a good twist, but I don’t like to feel cheated. This one is right on the fence. Either way, it was a lot of fun to read and knowing the end, I’d love to read it again.

I listened to the audiobook version of Home Before Dark and enjoyed both narrators. They were well-matched and fit their characters well. Their pacing is good and their voice acting is spot on, so no complaints there. I do not understand the title of this book, but the cover art is great.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager is a delicious haunted house story that twists, turns, then twists again. Suspense writers, take note: this is how you pace.

Book Review: My Heart Is a Chainsaw

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a love letter. It’s intense and intimate. Familiar and shocking at the same time. You can practically see the grainy, underexposed horror lighting throughout.

This book is not a casual read. The author’s style is challenging and at first I wasn’t sure I liked that so much happens between the lines. This level of lyrical, skeletal prose is rare in horror, but outrageously successful here.

What makes this piece beautiful is the distance. Yes, it’s about slashers and everything you already know about them, but that’s all through the safety of the tv screen. You, the reader, get to know Jade, but the angsty teen stubbornly remains at arm’s length. The glacial pacing makes this a study in anticipation. After the shocking prologue, the plot pumps the brakes, comes to a rolling stop, then guns it. Like Jade, you think you’re more than prepared, but when it finally comes, omg no no no you’re not ready.

This is a compulsive, memorable read that I would recommend to select readers, but not everybody. If you’re passionate about horror movies – excuse me, SLASHER movies – you’ll thoroughly enjoy this. Some parts were too specialized, too in-crowd for me, and if I were even a fraction as passionate as the main character, this book would turn my world upside down. Still, this is one story that will stick with me for many reasons.

It’s not often I turn the last page and think, “Damn, now that is a story,” My Heart Is a Chainsaw is art unlike anything I have ever read before.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is expected to be published August 31, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The City That Barks and Roars

Okay picture this. Zootopia, right? But instead of a bunny and a fox, it’s a penguin and a monkey. And it’s the 1950s, so they’re, like, wearing fedoras and stuff. So the penguin and the monkey, they go around looking for this panda detective that’s gone missing, but also some beavers who have kind of a sketchy past, and there’s a pastor goat… a badass panther in a slinky dress… ooh, maybe an underground cat-napping ring that’s led by the dog mafia!

Honestly though, it’s pretty good. It’s funny, fast-paced, and has a solid mystery. There’s a huge cast of colorful characters/animals that really give a good feel of what Noah’s Kingdom is like. I don’t quite understand some of the animal mechanics (How does a penguin drink coffee? How does a rhinoceros drive? Where do rats get tiny cop uniforms?) but it’s really not important. If you’re going to get hung up on logic, you wouldn’t enjoy this.

Admittedly, it got off to a bumpy start and could use an eagle-eyed editor. There are a distracting number of spelling and punctuation errors. Some readers may not enjoy being addressed by the author, but I thought it was really funny that the author sneaks in asides with real animal facts.

The City That Barks and Roars by J. T. Bird is perfect for that surprisingly large intersection of people who love both silly talking animals and hardboiled detective novels.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review – Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters

Satoshi is back in Japan after living in the US and he feels like a total outcast. He’s been gone a long time, he’s way too good in his English class, and he worries that his disabled sister and confused grandfather will attract unwanted attention. On top of it all, there’s only one spot left on the baseball team! Can he juggle his school, sports, and home life while still fitting in with his friends?

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters paints a wonderful portrait of school-age awkwardness and the desire to fit in. This story takes place entirely in Japan, where the cultural differences between Japanese and American school systems are highlighted, especially with student-teacher relations. The culture shock goes both ways for Satoshi and his friends, making this a poignant read for children who feel like they just don’t fit in anywhere.

I listened to this with my 9 year old who absolutely loved it! He did struggle to keep the names straight, but the story is fast-paced, exciting, and kid-friendly without being babyish. The story trusts that the middle-grade readers will be able to handle heavy subjects like dementia right along with things like the desire to get good grades. It struck a great balance, and we both looked forward to each listening session.

We did find that the sound effects were intrusive at times. It was a great addition, especially at the baseball games, but some sounds went on way too long and became distracting (like when Satoshi gets a haircut). We had mixed feelings about the ending, too, but overall, we loved it!

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters is a refreshing middle-grade story about fitting in, friendship — and of course baseball! It’s a gem of a story that’s perfect for any sports-loving kid.

CW: Parents, there is some mild language and 2 plot-pertinent uses of the R-word.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.