Friday, March 24, 2017

Pirate Women

Pirate Women by Laura Sook Duncombe
Chicago Review Press: 4/1/17
eBook review copy; 264 pages
ISBN-13: 9781613736012

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe is the first-ever collection of stories about women pirates, real and legendary.

"[T]o be a pirate is to assert that whatever you fancy belongs to you." This was written to describe sixteenth‑century pirate Grace O’Malley.
While it is difficult to define exactly what would constitute a pirate, Duncombe takes a broadly defined look at the definition beyond the golden age of piracy. All pirates had the desire for freedom to live as they chose as a common denominator, but female pirates are often absent in historical accounts. "Pirates live outside the laws of man, but women pirates live outside the laws of nature. Women pirates are left out because they don’t fit nicely into the categories of 'normal' women or traditional women's virtues." Since traditional historians are men, accurate historical information about women pirates is lacking. "As long as men control the narrative, women pirates will be mostly left out. Even if male historians today were inclined to write about pirate women, they would have a difficult time doing so because of the dearth of primary sources about them. Since women have been considered unworthy subjects of historical documentation in the past, it is now difficult to study them - a vicious cycle that persists in keeping women 'off the record.'"

The women pirates Duncombe covers include, in part: Queen Artemisia I of Halicarnassus; Queen Teuta of Illyria, or "the Terror of the Adriatic"; Christina Anna Skytte; Elise Eskilsdotter; Ingela Gathenhielm; Johanna Hård; longship captains Wisna, Webiorg, and Hetha; Princess Alfhild, also called Awilda;  Jeanne de Montfort, aka Joanna of Flanders; Jeanne de Clisson, aka the Lioness of Brittany; Sayyida al‑Hurra; Lady Elizabeth and Lady Mary Killigrew; Gráinne (Grace) Ní Mháille, the pirate queen of Ireland; Anne de Graaf; Jacquotte Delahaye; Anne Dieu‑le‑veut; Anne Bonny; Mary Read; Maria Cobham; Martha (Mary) Farley (or Harvey); Maria Crichett (or Mary Crickett/Crichett); Flora Burn; Rachel Wall; Charlotte Badger; Catherine Hagerty; Margaret Croke; Cheng I Sao (with four hundred ships and somewhere between forty thousand and sixty thousand pirates under her command); Sadie Farrell, aka Sadie the Goat; Gallus Mag: Lai Choi San; Hon‑ cho (or Honcho Lo); and Cheng Chui Ping, aka Sister. There is also a discussion of women pirates in the movies.

This is a well-researched, thoughtful, scholarly account of the women in history, real or fictional, that have made a mark as a pirate.  Pirate Women includes a list of general resources, specific sources used for each chapter, and an index for those who would like more information on the historical records.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Chicago Review Press.


The Midas Legacy

The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott
Random House Publishing Group: 3/28/17
eBook review copy: 640 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101965313
Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase Series #12

The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott is the latest addition to the popular action/adventure series featuring Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase.

The first book in the series is The Hunt for Atlantis, and The Midas Legacy actually continues part of that story. Nina has a grandmother, whom she was told was deceased, contact her about her family's connection to a mysterious cave guarded by Buddhist monks. Apparently an Atlantean explorer went to the Himalayas and left a treasure in a cave there -  a treasure tied to King Midas of Greek mythology. Nina's mother had looked for the location of the cave unsuccessfully. Nina looks at her mother's notes, given to her by her newly discovered grandmother, and determines that a trip to the Himalayas is warranted. An unknown enemy is waiting for them, though, which starts the nonstop action.

Nina and Eddie are known, established characters at this point. You expect Nina to have the research and historical/archeological knowledge at the forefront of her mind. You expect Eddie to have amazing tactical/military knowledge and the ability to get them out of any situation. Nina does have some mad tactical skills too. Nina will have a smart mouth, and Eddie will make bad jokes and wise cracks. They will escape everything.

We're jumping ahead three years from the last book. Nina was pregnant in The Revelation Code. Now Nina and Eddie's daughter Macy is three. In the last book Nina mentioned that she was pregnant on about every other page. Be forewarned that this time it will be mentioned just as frequently that they have a daughter, they have to get back to Macy, they need to survive for Macy, etc. etc. Yes, it is just as annoying. Macy herself is w-a-y too precocious for her age.

While there isn't any further character development beyond the two being parents, let's be honest, these aren't the books you read for great character development and subtle clues you must carefully follow to unlock the secrets. These are formulaic action/adventure thrillers and I can't fault McDermott for writing what his fans want. The heroes will escape from totally unbelievable circumstances in incredibly unrealistic ways, even though they are wounded or hurt, while making bad jokes. There continues to be globe-trotting action with little or no preparation. The pair remain an "almost a magnetic draw for megalomaniacs, murderers, and terrorists."

This is an "airplane book" and at 640 pages you can count on a distraction for hours. You can even skim through some pages and still follow the action. I'd have a backup book around just in case you are stuck overnight at an airport as this one does grow tiresome after so many pages.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Random House Publishing Group.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
HarperCollins: 3/21/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062497772

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell is a highly recommended, twisty domestic thriller.
Stephanie's best friend Emily is missing. Stephanie is a young widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger, so it must have been fate that she and Emily, a PR executive for a fashion designer, would hit it off so well. Before she went missing, Emily asked a simple favor from Stephanie, one that best friends can ask of each other and one that she had asked many times before: could Stephanie pick up Emily's son Nicky after school? Stephanie's son, Miles, and Nicky are best friends and both 5 years-old, so of course Stephanie said yes. Isn't that what best friends do for each other?

But then Emily doesn't come to pick up Nicky. She isn't answering her phone calls or texts. Emily's husband, Sean, is traveling overseas on business. Perhaps Stephanie misheard Emily and she meant keep Nicky overnight, but she certainly wouldn't have meant she'd be gone for six days. What has happened to her best friend? Stephanie turns to her many readers on her mommy blog and asks for help locating her best friend. Her readers know how lonely she was before she and Emily became friends, so they will understand how distressing her disappearance is for Stephanie and her son. Then Sean returns home, and he and Stephanie begin to spend time together, bonding over Emily's disappearance. When Emily's body is found, Stephanie and Sean begin to find more than just solace in each other's company.

The narrative is told from three points of view, starting with Stephanie. Then, in turn, we hear from Emily and Sean. Nothing is quite what it seems in this very addictive thriller. All the narrators are disagreeable and unreliable. There are more than enough lies, secrets, and schemes kept by all the characters. Stephanie is the main voice, and she is full of more than enough anxiety and insecurities, which she overshares about in an untruthful manner on her blog. She, too, is hiding secrets. But, by far, the bigger secrets are Emily's.

I'm going to be honest here: I wasn't sure I could continue reading A Simple Favor at the beginning when it was focused on Stephanie's point-of-view and her blog entries. Mommy blogs are something I have always studiously avoided reading and Stephanie's entries were downright cloying, as well as annoying. What the blog entries do manage is to highlight the difference between what she wrote and reality. Once Stephanie and Sean begin their affair you really begin to question the intelligence of all these people. I pushed on, hoping the missing friend would add more interest - and she surely did. Once the narrative turned to Emily's voice, things began to get much more interesting.

While I found A Simple Favor to be generally well written, having Stephanie be the lead, start-off character was a bit of a misstep for me, as was Emily's plan. Although the plot is nothing earth-shatteringly unexpected, the tension rises considerably when Emily's thoughts are shared. It was at this point that A Simple Favor became unputdownable for me. Whereas Stephanie is annoying and naive, Emily is smart, likely a psychopath, and playing a long-con. Yeah, her plan doesn't quite seem realistic. She's unlikeable and treacherous, but in a way that makes you wonder what her next move is going to be - and she has some doozies. My rating kept going up as I was reading. The ending was pitch-perfect.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins for TLC.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Asteroid Hunters

Asteroid Hunters by Carrie Nugent
Simon & Schuster/TED: 3/14/17
digital review copy; 128 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501120084

Asteroid Hunters by Carrie Nugent is a highly recommended quick look at asteroids. This is the published version of a TED talk that would be a good choice for anyone interested in learning more about asteroids, from as young as age 10 to adult. This book could be the foundational inspiration for future asteroid hunters/researchers.

Nugent provides her information about asteroids in accessible easy to comprehend language. She covers what they are and where they come from, but also the bigger question: what would happen if one hit the Earth? We know they have hit the Earth in the past and many adults remember Shoemaker Levy 9 hitting Jupiter. Elementary school children will know that a meteorite was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. I think most people who are interested in asteroids will remember the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia on February 15, 2013. There were numerous videos available online and they can still be found today with a quick search. ( 

Nugent discusses the different telescopes used to find asteroids, including the infrared NEOWISE, the project on which she is working. "The successful hunt and mapping of asteroids could mean nothing less than saving life on earth." Most asteroids live in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and stay in a stable orbit. Why scientists are busy identifying those asteroids, they are also looking at any whose orbit takes them close to Earth. By the end of 2011, scientists had found "over 90 percent of asteroids bigger than one kilometer across that get close to Earth" and since then even more have been found. Asteroid hunters are continually searching for even smaller, but still potentially destructive asteroids.

This is a short, easy to read and follow look at Nugent's job as an asteroid hunter. As someone who has spent more than one night watching the sky during meteor showers I guess the one drawback for me was the lack of real pictures in the book. You don't forget seeing a fireball or an especially active shower. There are illustrations, probably made for the TED talk, but it would be nice to see some real photographs. This is especially true of some big events that I recall being in awe over - Shoemaker Levy 9 hitting Jupiter and the Chelyabinsk, Russia meteor.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Perils of "Privilege"

The Perils of "Privilege" by Phoebe Maltz Bovy
St. Martin's Press: 3/14/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250091208

The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage by Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a very highly recommended, blunt and well-documented discussion of the current social justice phenomena of accusing people of "Privilege" and the ever present insult to people "Your privilege is showing" or YPIS.
Author Maltz Bovy states that The Perils of "Privilege" is an argument against using the concept of privilege to understand and fight against injustice. "It is an attempt at taking a step back and asking whether the privilege-awareness project is a valuable one. And it’s my sense - with some caveats - that it’s been a disaster." "This is the biggest theoretical challenge to the privilege turn: An approach that’s ostensibly about achieving social justice winds up suggesting, or seeming to suggest, that everyone should be miserable. A further flaw: "Privilege" is based on an analogy, namely that other forms of unearned advantage are similar to, and as important as, wealth." It is all about sensitivities and tends to make far too much of minor problems and far too little of big ones.
Chapter 1 covers the online privilege conversation, a tangled accusatory atmosphere where it is easy to call out someone for YPIS, as I'm sure many people have observed. Chapter 2 looks at American high schools and universities who now regularly host privilege-awareness workshops and now Privilege Studies is an academic field." I know from personal experience that these workshops are presented in a wide variety of careers, including all public school employees and expanding to health care fields. Chapter 3 shows the "impact privilege theory has had on the arts and on cultural criticism. Books, movies, and TV shows are now evaluated in terms of privilege, to the exclusion of all other observations or reactions." Chapter 4 examines the effect and the presence of privilege on politics. Chapter 5 examines the use of privilege by the far right and the plight of the straight, white, middle-class male, among others.

This is an excellent, thought-provoking well-written look at privilege. Phoebe Maltz Bovy makes a plethora of thoughtful comments and provides well-documented examples. In many ways this book is over whelming because there is so much information and so many examples. It is information-dense. According to her calling out someone for YPIS harms more than it helps. It has become a way to bully people online, which has caused irreparable damage to its original use. As she succinctly states: "There is, of course, the even stronger case for checking the privilege of privilege checkers, namely that the people making these accusations tend to be fairly privileged themselves." I really agree with her that all of these accusations of YPIS terrify people that they’re losing the basic right to express themselves, their freedom of speech.

The first time I saw the accusation or thinly veiled insult of "your privilege is showing" was in a comment on a book review. I was rather taken aback that in order to disagree with what I assumed was a white male book reviewer based on his picture, the female commenting had to tell him YPIS. This was for a review on a novel, fiction. So, rather than saying you disagree and envisioned the characters another way, it made more sense to attack the reviewer's privileged status, which is really just a kind of trolling. Goodness.

Then there are the encounters with privilege-awareness-raising exercises. The questions require participants to disclose information, private information, that, perhaps, you don't really want made public to co-workers. However, if you chose to hide certain information then you are higher on the privileged scale. It becomes a dilemma. You certainly don't want to be near the front of the room with the well-educated, cis, white male, but how much do you really want to reveal about yourself or your background? 

A couple of quotes - and I had pages of them saved - that I'm including without comment:
"[P]olitical commentator Andrew Sullivan.... spelled out the Trump-and-privilege connection in a New York magazine piece that, while highly critical of Trump, sought to understand where his supporters were coming from: A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to 'check his privilege' by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain."

"Thanks to the privilege framework, it’s possible - no matter who you are, or why you’re doing so - to bash women and be given the benefit of the doubt. Well done, privilege framework. Well played."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Never Out of Season

Never Out of Season by Rob Dunn
Little, Brown and Company: 3/14/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316260725

Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future by Rob Dunn is a highly recommended discourse on the importance of diversity in our increasingly genetically standardized crops grown worldwide.

We used to know what season it was and where a person lived based on what food was available. Now agriculture has been globalized and homogenized. Food crops are breed for taste, productiveness and hardiness - and then that selected variety is the one relied upon almost exclusively. We are standardizing crops. Now the taste is always the same, rather than greatly differing between different types of, for example, bananas.

Dunn points out that the Irish potato famine "was not the last ancient plague but rather the first truly modern one. And whereas the threat from the potato famine was regional, the threat we now face, in our far more connected economy, is global." In 1845 the Irish were more dependent on the potato than anyone else, and when disease we call late blight hit the potato crop, it caused the famine. With the standardization of crops we are setting ourselves up for the same kind of event. A single blight, disease, pathogen could at any moment attack a specific crop and destroy it. "We need ever more food from each acre and so are bound to those crops that produce the most. Just as it was for the Irish, each time a child is born our reliance on our most productive crops increases. Corn in North America. Wheat in Europe. Cassava in Africa. Rice in Asia."

The problem is that with reduced diversity of crops, we are setting ourselves up for failure because now when a pathogen attacks a crop it has the potential to wipe it out completely. We no longer have the many different varieties grown in different places so if one variety is wiped out, the entire crop could no longer exist. The key is to keep the wild relatives of our crops available. We need all the species alive and their seeds available as a key to combat any future plagues. We are reducing the number of varieties of crops we depend upon for food when we need to be protecting the varieties in order to protect our future food supplies.

Dunn covers a variety of crops including bananas, coffee, cacao, wheat, corn, cassava, and potatoes. He also tells about the forward thinking of Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavilov who began collecting a wide variety of seeds in the 1940s and those who understood the need to protect the seed bank during WWII. Dunn extensively discusses the "doomsday vault" in Norway where seeds are preserved against a future apocalypse.

Never Out of Season is well-researched and contains extensive notes for each chapter and the sources cited. There is also an index. Even though it is a scholarly work, it is very accessible for anyone who is interested in agriculture, history, and food science.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Crown/Archetype: 3/7/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101906668

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel is a highly recommended, disturbing, creepy thriller.

After 15 year-old Lane Roanoke's mother commits suicide, Lane leaves NYC to live with her grandparents and cousin Allegra on their farm, named after the family, in rural Kansas by the small town of Osage Flats. All Lane knew about her grandparents was that her mother couldn't wait to leave and never went back. Once in Kansas, Lane learns that her grandparents are wealthy, but she also learns that the Roanoke girls seem to be prone to dying - or running away like her mother did. What she can't figure out is why her mother was so haunted by her life there. When she does discover the truth over the one summer she was there, she also runs.

Eleven years later Lane is living in Los Angeles when she gets a call from her grandfather telling her that Allegra has gone missing and Lane needs to come home. Lane does return to Roanoke to help search for Allegra and figure out what happened to her. Did she run or did something else happen. Lane certainly doesn't care about seeing her grandparents, and makes it quite clear. She even blurts out early on the big, dark secret hanging over the Roanokes, making it clear why she likely ran away. It's disgusting and the book slowly reveals the extent of the family secret. Lane also wonders about seeing her boyfriend from that summer, Cooper.

The narrative alternates between the past and the present. It follows Lane during her summer at Roanoke and then her return eleven years later to look for Allegra. It also goes back in time to reveal what happened to all the other Roanoke girls in the past. As I said, the shocking secret is revealed early in the book, so what you will be looking for are clues to Allegra's fate and more information and clarification about what has happened to all the other Roanoke girls.

Engel does an excellent job keeping the suspense and intrigue going, hooking you into the secrets of the past and present, as she slowly reveals more information. The novel is well-presented, in the writing, execution and the length. I was completely hooked in the story and never had a point in The Roanoke Girls where I thought the story was being stretched out. I read it in one sitting, which is the perfect way to read this page-turner. The ending is rather predictable, although it seems intentional as the focus is more on Lane's emotional state and her search for the reason for Allegra's disappearance.

The biggest drawback to The Roanoke Girls is the subject matter. The subject matter is repulsive and will always be disgusting. Additionally, Lane's self-loathing can be difficult to relate to. In the end, however, Engels pulls it all together, reveals all the secrets, and there is closure.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype.