Monday, October 23, 2017

American Wolf

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by [Blakeslee, Nate]
















American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West- Nate Blakeslee
Crown/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017

Rating:
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Synopsis: Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

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In American Wolf author Nate Blakeslee chronicles the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, focusing their story in particular through the life and experiences of O-Six.  O-Six grew up to become one of the most famous wolves in Yellowstone: a strong alpha leader, a caring mother, a skilled hunter, an intelligent fighter.  She raised three generations of pups in the Lamar Valley where wolf-watchers could follow the comings and goings of her pack and learn more about wolves than they had ever hoped.  Unfortunately, O-Six and her family have not only natural dangers to face inside the park, but increasingly hunters, ranchers, and politicians outside the park.

Blakeslee's American Wolf is a carefully researched, well-written book that uses notes kept by local wolf-watchers to chronicle a multigenerational account of the return of wolves to Yellowstone, seen particularly through the incredible stories of the Druid Peak Pack and the Lamar Valley Pack. New packs form, yearlings become alphas, pups are born, clashes between rival packs establish new territories, and American Wolf is written in such a way that the reader feels they are experiencing the events along with the wolves. Or at least the wolf-watchers. As with any good documentary, American Wolf doesn't try to gloss over the harsh aspects of life as a wolf in Yellowstone- there are violent fights for prime territory, lean winters, and leadership disputes right along with the cute pups.

For me, the hard part of reading American Wolf was also in the writing.  The style and brilliant narrative that make you experience the wonder of watching wolves with naturalist Rick McIntyre also means that you feel the other side of the culture clash: the hatred of hunters and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.  Blakeslee has carefully researched both the personal and the political saga of wolf reintroduction and brings the reader courtroom drama fit for the movie screen as hunters, Fish and Wildlife, the state and federal government, and environmental groups fight in court.  As a wolf lover, I found these scenes terribly depressing. I will also admit there were a few parts where I cried when wolves I'd been following for chapters until I felt like I knew them met up with hunters.  The frustrating understanding of how environmental science and the beauty of nature are so often casualties to politics makes you feel especially helpless.

American Wolf is a rich environmental drama with a rare ability to balance a story between nature and politics, haunting emotional awe with down-to-earth practicality, love of wolves with a lack of romantic sentimentality.  A difficult, must-read book for anyone interested in environmental conservation and the amazing story of wolves and their return to Yellowstone.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review








Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Slap Shot


Slap Shot: An Aces Hockey Novel by [Jamieson, Kelly]
















Slap Shot (Aces Hockey) - Kelly Jamieson
Loveswept/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: After my wife died from a rare form of cancer, sex was the last thing on my mind. Same with hockey, the other love of my life. Now, after fifteen months of eating too much, drinking too much, and generally just feeling sorry for myself, I’m facing a steep uphill battle to get my ass in shape and play my way back onto the Chicago Aces.

So I’m not looking for a relationship. Just sex. Yeah, I know how that makes me sound. But the truth is, I’ll never love another woman the way I loved my wife. When I meet a sexy bridesmaid at my teammate’s wedding, I decide to scratch that itch. A fling with Kendra Armstrong in her posh hotel room could be just what the trainer ordered.

Not only is Kendra smokin’ hot, she’s dynamite in bed—one of the perks of being a sex toy designer. Since she lives in New York anyway, we agree to keep things casual, no strings attached. The arrangement is perfect . . . until one of us falls in love. And it’s not me.

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Max Hall took a leave from the Chicago Aces two years ago when his wife was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer.  Now he's trying to move forward with his life, deal with his grief, and return to hockey.  Beginning to interact with teammates again means weddings and weddings can lead to all kinds of interesting things . . . What starts out as a one night stand with Kendra becomes a casual, no-strings fling and friendship.  Max doesn't believe he's ready for more and never wants to go through the pain of losing someone again.  But life sometimes doesn't give us what we think we want- it gives us what we need.  If we don't screw it up.

I've probably said this in other blogs but I'll admit it again here: I very rarely like books written in the first person.  I like seeing things through both characters' eyes, I like seeing what's going on in their heads, how their past experiences shape who they are and how they react to things. And of books written in the first person, it's even rarer that I like a book written in the present tense where the character is narrating events as they happen instead of a past tense remembering (which has a different set of pitfalls in my opinion).  I have no idea why I find it annoying, distracting even, but I usually do.  All that lead up is something of an explanation and an apology for why I didn't like Slap Shot as much as I usually enjoy Kelly Jamieson books- especially her hockey books.  It's the first among the Aces books (maybe all of her books) I've read that is written in first person and I'm sure it was done to focus on Max's internal struggle between holding onto his grief and his guilt at starting to really live again after the death of his wife.

Although we meet Kendra through Max's eyes and see their entire relationship from his point of view (which, spoiler alert, includes falling in love with her) I never really felt like I got to know her as a person.  I knew things about her: she's a psychologist who eventually switched careers and started her own business with a friend to make sex toys for women.  She has an instinct for 'fixing' people that's gotten her into lousy relationships in the past and she has a terrible relationship with her parents.  She's caring, fun, outgoing, and loves dancing and dogs.  But for all of that, I never felt like she was a fully developed, three dimensional person. Of course, I also had that problem with Max.  I didn't like him.  He would possibly have been a more likable (or at least sympathetic) character from the outside, but when the whole book is told from his point of view he really mostly came across as a self-absorbed jerk. His goal was getting in shape for training camp and getting back on the team. It's a great goal and I loved that he was so motivated and willing to work hard to get there.  But the self-defense process of not looking at his emotions to try and avoid being hurt again came across (in his own head) as not even wanting to admit to a caring friendship with Kendra, let alone falling in love with her, but just focused on good sex.

While following Max's progress out of grieving and back to living and admitting to emotions could have been a very reflective and touching story, I was left feeling a little flat about Slap Shot in general.  There are a few great scenes at the end where Max finally gets his head on straight and very well written and emotional apology and reconciliation scenes.  But overall, I was left wanting a little something more. Whether that was a bit of additional plot or more emotional introspection or more depth of character, I feel like Slap Shot was one of Jamieson's more mediocre books, with the potential to have been one of her best.    

Long time readers of Kelly Jamieson's Aces Hockey series (Back Check, Icing) have been aware of Max and his tragic story, but he's always been a very peripheral character.  So readers new to the series don't have to worry about having missed any backstory if they start the series with Slap Shot.  Personally, I recommend reading the rest of the Aces series first so that Max's return to the team at the end will give you a bit more emotional satisfaction than the rest of the book.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grant

Grant by [Chernow, Ron]

















Grant- Ron Chernow
Penguin Group
Release Date: October 10, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don't come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic... and yet the greatest hero.” Chernow’s probing portrait of Grant's lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America's greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant's life, explaining how this simple Midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary.

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As someone who loves history, I have a terrible confession to make: Grant is the first Ron Chernow book I've ever read.  It will certainly not be the last.  Chernow's Grant is meticulously researched, well-written, with an easy style and flow that make a biography feel less like a lecture and more like an intimate conversation.  He provides descriptions and details that bring the time period and the people to vivid life.

Grant was a complex man: both brilliant and naive; overly trusting in civilian life while able to perfectly predict what others would do on the battlefield; a man who claimed to have no great political ambitions yet was a rare (at the time) two term president.  Chernow reminds us of the personal connections of the generals of both the North and South- Grant attended West Point and fought in the Mexican War alongside William T. Sherman, Robert E Lee, and a veritable who's who of later Civil War leaders.  The best man at his wedding was James Longstreet, who would go on to be a great Southern general in the war.  Chernow also brings front and center Grant's hard work for African Americans, supporting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, with equality and voting rights among his lifelong crusades.  While Lincoln is remembered in American history as the President who ended slavery, readers of Grant will see that President U.S. Grant should be remembered as a tireless proponent of civil rights and militant enemy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Chernow doesn't turn away from Grant's failures in civilian life: his poverty before rejoining the army for the Civil War, his constant struggle with alcoholism, or Grant's repeated mistakes in trusting the wrong people in matters of finance- and occasionally in government.  Grant's personal traits: pride, stubbornness, loyalty among others are shown as what made him the greatest general of his time, but also caused a steep learning curve as President.  

Readers of Stephen W. Sears' Lincoln's Lieutenants will find this a perfect companion to their understanding of the generals of the Civil War, their successes and failures, radically different personalities, and their relationships with Lincoln. It continues to amaze me how individual personalities and personal ambitions shape the course of military history.

Fans of history, biographies, and military history will rejoice in this new biography of General Grant- which will stand unchallenged as his definitive biography for a long time. An easy, flowing narrative, Ron Chernow's Grant will change the average American's view of Grant forever.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Immortally Yours

Immortally Yours: An Argeneau Novel by [Sands, Lynsay]

















Immortally Yours (Argeneau Series)- Lynsay Sands
Avon Books
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: One hundred and twenty-five years is a long time to nurse a crush. That’s how long it’s been since Beth Argenis first met Cullen “Scotty” MacDonald and he instantly became the star of her most X-rated dreams. Back then, he was rescuing her from a Rogue Immortal. Now Beth’s a Rogue Hunter—a damn good one. She doesn’t need saving anymore, despite what Scotty thinks. What she does need is the fierce, wild desire that finally erupts between them.

Scotty has hesitated to claim Beth as his own. But one explosive kiss confirms what he’s long suspected: She’s his life mate. But Beth is tough, fearless, beautiful…and in immortal danger. Unless he wants to lose her forever, he’ll have to rethink everything he once believed about love and destiny as well as confront an enemy who’s terrifyingly close.
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With most of the North American Rogue Hunters down in Venezuela dealing with trouble there (Immortal Unchained), Beth Argenis is stuck working with Cullen "Scotty" MacDonald and a group of hunters from the UK who have volunteered to help out in Canada until things get back to normal.  Scotty may star in all Beth's most interesting fantasies but in real life she's pretty sure he can't stand her. So why is he suddenly acting so protective and kind?  Scotty has known for over 100 years that Beth was his life mate but he's waited until he decided she was over past traumas before making his move. The problem is that now that he's decided she's ready, someone else has decided they want Beth dead.  Can they survive a series of violent and creative attacks, figure out who's trying to kill Beth, and manage to work through their own issues to reach a happy ending?
I absolutely loved Beth Argenis. She's had more bad luck than any person should have, dealt with incredible trauma and abuse as a mortal, been turned against her will, spent over 100 years trying to deal with issues that would break other people, and still managed to come out a strong, independent, compassionate, and kick-ass person.  After being attacked by a Rogue she not only learned how to defend herself, she trained to be a Rogue Hunter and protect others.  It took a long time, but she managed to put aside her anger at life and begin to enjoy life and to lover herself for who she is.  Although she has had a crush on Scotty for pretty much her entire immortal life, on discovering that they are possible life mates she isn't willing to drop everything and become who Scotty thinks she should be (or thinks he thinks she should be).  Walking away from him might break her heart but she would rather do that than not be true to herself.  In fact Beth has probably one of the greatest self-affirming speeches ever written where she tells Scotty all that and more.  You are heartbroken by all the suffering she reveals in her life and cheering for her as the person she is today all at the same time.
Scotty is kind of a jerk and takes much longer than he should to arrive at these same conclusions (although in the end at least he admits he's been an arrogant idiot).  He may have spent the past century trying to protect Beth and waiting for her to be ready for a life mate, but he hasn't spent that time getting to know himself or learning from other mated couples the meaning of words like "compromise" and "teamwork".  His actions and ideas may come from the desire to keep Beth safe and happy, but they fall short of the mark.  He actually wants her to have her mind wiped blank to she won't have bad memories! Scotty is slow and Beth has to beat him over the head with the truth a few times (and shoot him a few times) but he does eventually get there.
Immortally Yours gives us plenty of time to think about how we are shaped by out life experiences- both the good and the bad.  It also makes us question how each of us would live as an immortal.  Would we hold on to the terrible things that happen and let them make us bitter or drive us insane?  Would we learn to live in the moment and be proud of who we are and how we've worked to get there?  Scotty and Beth both have traumatic pasts and each had a seriously terrible parent but while Beth has worked hard to overcome her 'daddy issues', Scotty (who's more than 800 years older) hasn't ever admitted that he might have some skewed ideas because of his mother. I wanted to hit Scotty more than once about assumptions he makes when he should have the life experience to know better. Fortunately, so did some of the other characters- and they were more than willing to do it!
Although a part of Sands' Argeneau/Rogue Hunters series, you don't have to have read all the other books to enjoy Immortally Yours.  It's removed enough from other characters or series threads that it would be a good introduction for readers new to Lynsay Sands and her Immortal world, while being connected enough that long-time readers will enjoy glimpses of a few familiar faces.  Fast-paced, with lots of depth to the main characters, and written with Lynsay Sands' trademark humor, Immortally Yours is a fun and fulfilling new addition to the Argeneau canon.