Seal Team Six looks inside the Navy’s most elite fighting team

For this review (and for once in my life), I am going to set aside my soapbox about animal cruelty because, frankly, there is a lot of it in Howard Wasdin’s SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper, and I could rant endlessly about WTF our military are doing gunning down kangaroos for an Aussie farmer, but instead I am going to focus on the rest of this book…which is excellent. One of the best military biographies I’ve read.

Wasdin does an excellent job of describing BUDS training, and then he goes beyond that and describes all the other aspects of training a SEAL undergoes to become one of the military’s elite. He can switch from funny to dead serious in a few words. He conveys the camaraderie and brotherhood among those who serve while being engaging but leaving the reader with no doubt that he is a highly effective sniper who does not hesitate to get the job done.

When Wasdin describes the Battle of Mogadishu, it is gut wrenching and graphic. I kept thinking, “My God, he is not going to make it!” and then remembering that he lived to write the book! Despite having read Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down and having seen the movie, I still found Wasdin’s account gripping. He brings a completely different perspective and a lot more information about the battle itself. He does not hesitate to point out what went wrong and why, and he names those whose corruption and inaction worsened and prolonged the situation from the Italians to the UN to the Clinton administration.

Perhaps his finest point is this:

We shouldn’t have become involved in Somalia’s civil war – this was their problem, not ours – but once we committed, we should’ve finished what we started: a lesson we are required to keep relearning over and over again.

Wasdin’s struggle after the battle is very personal. He addresses his depression, his withdrawal, an inability to relate to civilians, and a sense of isolation brought on by being separated from his team. His recovery is introspective and inspiring.

The Raven King left me raving

*SPOILERS*

It can’t be over. It just can’t be, and not because I want a fifth book, not because I can’t let go of these beloved characters, but because this once engaging, enthralling unique series cannot end with this horrible tome! This awful, confounding, nonsensical mess.

“Depending on where you began the story” is my new, most-hated phrase. I began this story thinking book four was going to be awesome, thinking Stiefvater’s writing would continue to be amazing, thinking there will be a king found in this book. I ended this story realizing how very wrong I was. The writing was not amazing. It was disjointed and interrupted and all over the place. It felt like trying to read a journal written by someone on an acid trip. There were so many phrases and descriptions that did not make any sense or add anything to the story. Ditto for many of the characters too. Why bring Henry into it? What purpose does this late-coming fifth wheel serve? I guess to act as the fifth wheel once Noah is gone for good. And his mother? And Gwenllian. And Artemus. They all just felt like filler, bloated, unnecessary filler to prolong the story.

The main characters seemed like inadequate clones of themselves with neither the unity that made them a great team nor the wit and humor that had kept me turning pages in the first three books. The search for the Welsh King, which built and grew and expanded through The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which was the entire reason that Gansey and Ronan and Adam and Blue became friends, was such a colossal let down, a huge anti-climax that sucked all the adventure, mystery, and intrigue out of the series. Not even Ronan and Adam’s most-anticipated kiss (yes, even more so than Gansey and Blue’s lip lock) could not redeem The Raven King.

I don’t think I have ever struggled so much to finish a book, especially one in a series I adored. I feel as if I need to reread the first three just to justify ever having loved them in the first place. So disappointing.

Insufficiently Welsh makes my Welsh travels insufficient

Wales is my absolute favorite place on earth, and I thought I had seen quite a large amount of it, but Griff Rhys Jones has proven me wrong. Insufficiently Welsh, the book companion to his BBC television show, explores depths of Wales that even I missed in all my explorations. He has me so curious to see all the teeny, tiny hidden sites that I’ve missed in my travels to Cymru. An example? How did I go to Aberystwyth yet somehow miss a library that holds 6,000,000 books? Yes, you read that correctly. Six million books! I am salivating just thinking of the 118 miles of bookshelves that are needed to accommodate that many tomes. And I how did I, a foodie and lover of just about anything edible that comes out of the sea, miss out on fried cockles? Oh sure, I tried them cold and a wee bit slimy from the market in Swansea, but, as with any food, I am sure adding a crispy fry batter is a 100% improvement. (Dear readers, consider this a public service announcement: If you have not yet tried Welsh laverbread, just skip it. Trust me on this one).

Now since this book is a companion to a show, we readers get to see just how silly and false television is. Rhys Jones is tasked with some absurd challenges, such as finding the Holy Grail in Mid-Wales or having to rappel down a cliff and then do it again so that the camera crew can get shots from all angles. But in between these oddball television requirements, Rhys Jones visits some of Wales’s best gems: the fortified town walls of Conwy, the gorgeous coast and sea life of Angelsey, Hay-on-Wye also known as the town of books (and like Rhys Jones, I also didn’t buy a single book in the entire town, but not for lack of trying!), and many other uniquely Welsh places. Rhys Jones is funny and engaging, and his book is perfect for anyone who loves Wales or traveling or stories about finding one’s heritage.

J.R. Ward’s The Declawed Kitten, oops, I mean The Beast

Pardon the profanity….

I can’t even be arsed to write a review about Ward’s latest disappointment of a BDB novel, so I’ll just share some thoughts I had while reading The Beast:

If this is how Rhage feels about humans, why in the hell did he marry one of them?

Why does Ward use three phrases in one sentence to describe the same damn thing (hello, redundancy) yet won’t use three words to spell out FFS – which means For Fuck’s Sake for those who haven’t yet unraveled all of Ward’s stupid acronyms.

FFS, Ward, stop using acronyms.

One more idiotic and unnecessary pop culture reference and I am chucking this book at a wall.

THUNK!

Shit, I am going to have patch that wall.

Why am I still reading this series?

Who the fuck are these cellphone-recording humans and why should I care?

Okay, ten pages so far that don’t include the brothers, Rhage, or Mary i.e. ten pages that I don’t have to read.

FFS, die already Xcor. No one fucking cares about you. Except Layla, and she can die too.

OMG, Z has speaking lines in this book!!!

Qhuinn and Blay better have some lines too!

What the hell kind of name is Bitty?

“She’s a special little girl.” Is she? Because, frankly, I find Bitty to be creepy. I just keep envisioning a porcelain doll from a horror movie!

Who the fuck is Assail and why is he taking up so much ink this book? Oh wait, didn’t he try to assassinate Wrath? Or play some part in the assassination? Whatevs.

Well, at least Blay got a line of dialogue, lame as it was.

Woah, look at the lines Qhuinn got. Knock me over with a feather.

So over this ridiculous overprotective male bullshit. Every one of these “warriors” needs to grow a pair.

Huh, I guess Assail’s GF died in a past book? Must have skimmed over that.

Lassiter has become an even more pointless character. I didn’t think that was possible.

I am humming that Mary Poppin’s tune in my head except instead of Chim chiminey, chim chiminey Chim chim cheree, I am singing Skim Skiminey skim skiminey, skim skim skim-meeeeee…

And Ward still hasn’t learned how to use a question mark. Isn’t that first-grade level grammar? See what I did there, Ward? I asked a question and followed it with the correct punctuation. Give it a try sometime.

Some of this dialogue is so unbelievably stupid.

Why does she refuse to acknowledge who is speaking whenever the Brothers are in a group? Dialogue tags that don’t identify the speaker are just author laziness.

Oh, what’s this? Possibly setting up another book about Z? Finally a bit of intrigue….

Assail just became interesting.

All of these stupid flooded bathtub scenes read like author self-indulgence. Ward needs a cutthroat editor. And by that, I mean me!

New York has Zaxby’s??? We don’t even have those here. I bet they don’t have fried pickles at a NY Zaxby’s.

Funny how Rhage’s list of must eat places are all chain restaurants. Does Caldwell not have independently-owned restaurants?

I don’t care how big Rhage is. He would totally be morbidly obese if he actually ate all that.

Vampires will never see a rainbow. (Okay, this life-changing epiphany actually occurred when I saw a rainbow while I was driving around after a rainstorm with The Beast on the front seat of my car)

I would be so on board with that, V, because you and Butch need some bromance scenes.

I was probably wrong about that Z book.

And wrong about Assail’s GF.

Xcor equals snore. Don’t care that he’s the bro of Tohr. Oh look who’s a poet and don’t know it. (Wow, some of my thoughts are as lame as this book’s dialogue!)

This scene would have had more impact from Qhuinn’s POV.

Or Blay’s.

WOAH! That is a hardcore way to attempt suicide.

Z to the rescue!

I’m kind of getting tired of Rhage and Mary.

I feel like this book will never end.

It finally ended.

Managed to be better than The King. That was not much of a compliment!

The third visit to Clare’s Shadowhunter world is just as intriguing as the first

*Mild spoilers*

One of Cassandra Clare’s greatest strengths is that she built a fictional world that never gets old. The Dark Artifices is her third series set in the world of Shadowhunters, but it’s every bit as fresh and intriguing as the original Mortal Instruments series.

Set entirely across the country from the New York Institute where we first met Shadowhunters, Lady Midnight takes place in California where the Institute is backed by the desert and fronted by the ocean and that body of water is just about the only thing that scares main character and heroine Emma Carstairs. I liked Emma from the start. She’s a fearsome fighter, a dedicated friend, and hellbent on discovering who murdered her parents. I liked the diversity of the Blackthorn children as well and how they were such a devoted family despite the loss of their parents and the struggles they faced. I must admit, though, that Julian didn’t really do much for me. He was a little too perfect, a little too intense. When he confessed his big secret to Emma and Mark, I didn’t really think it was much of a secret. Wasn’t it rather obvious to anyone reading the book that Arthur wasn’t the Blackthorn who was running the Institute? And I didn’t buy for one minute that Julian actually believed the others would hate him for lying to them. His lies kept the family together. No way anyone could hate him for that. I also thought it was hard to believe that Emma didn’t realize what had been going on for so long. For me, that plotline was a bit weak.

Speaking of Blackthorns, the one I was intrigued by and wanted more of was Mark. Half-fae, half Shadowhunter and forced to ride with The Hunt for incalculable years in Faerie, his reintroduction to his family and life in the mortal world was interesting. I wanted to see more of his thoughts and reactions. I hope there is a lot more of Mark in future Artifice books.

And what Clare fan didn’t love revisiting our favorite characters from The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices? Jem and Tessa, Jace and Clary, and the fabulous Magnus Bane. I hope they reappear in future books. Lady Midnight left a lot of unanswered questions and many, many paths for the characters to follow. I can’t wait to see where those paths lead.

Cruise back in time with Portraits of the Riverboats

William C. Davis has written many books about history, the United States, and the Civil War. His work has earned him two Nobel Prize nominations. His dedication to preserving history is obvious in the pages of Portraits of the Riverboats, a wonderful collection of photographs from the glory days when paddlewheelers plied the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi River. From the early days of John Fitch’s The Steamboat to modern riverboats built to recall the nostalgia of traveling during the golden days of riverboating, Davis gives a thorough history of the invention, early years, heyday, and sad final days of the many sidewheelers, sternwheelers, and centerwheelers that once moved passengers and cargo along the Big Muddy.

The accompanying photographs are a wonderful visual history of the river, the boats, and the men who worked them. From the roustabouts who loaded the ships with heavy bales of cotton to the captains who steered around all the hazards the waterway could offer to the passengers who traveled aboard these fine ships, the photographs portray a method of transportation and a business lost to time and farther reaching competition.

The photo of the Three Queens was especially personal to me. While taking a dinner cruise on a paddlewheeler out of New Orleans in 2011, I passed the once mighty Mississippi Queen being pushed by a tug on her way to the scrapyard. Even in the waning light of the evening, I could see that she had once been a grand river lady and had the potential to be so again. As the flash of my camera reflected across her empty windows, she faded into the distance, leaving only a few haunting images in her wake. Like so many riverboats before her, the Mississippi Queen met a sad fate in a time period that no longer appreciated her.

William C. Davis captures the images and fates of the Mississippi Queen’s predecessors while preserving their memories and giving readers an engaging history of a lost era.

IMG_5868-001

The once grand Mississippi Queen is pushed to her indignant end.

 

 

Burning is snuffed out by poor plot development

Burning by Danielle Rollins

Reviewed for Netgalley

SPOILERS

Sometimes when I am reading a book that just isn’t holding my attention, I start a premature review to collect my thoughts on why exactly I am not loving it. So here goes…

First impressions:

Angela Davis is three months away from being released from a juvenile detention center when a new inmate and some sketchy so-called philanthropists show up and strange, unexplained things begin to happen. With her safety threatened, Angela must find a way to free herself and friends before it’s too late.

“Readers will be rooting for Angela and her friends to find the truth and save themselves in this spine-tingling story rich with secrets and conspiracies.” (The book’s blurb) Yeah, that’s what I thought too. That I would be rooting for them to overcome the creeps and weirdness and save themselves. Except, so far, there is nothing to save themselves from because the pace of this book is glacial. I’m 80 pages in and still wondering when things are going to get interesting.

So far, new girl and possible paranormal presence Jessica has arrived, Angela has gotten some hard to explain burnt fingers, and Dr. Gruen and her Stepford-wife assistant have shown up on the grounds of Brunesfield with a paper thin cover story about some science program for gifted young girls. And here is the first major problem with the story. I have a bit of experience working with juvenile offenders, and I can tell you this: while some of them may not have “book” smarts, they all have street smarts. I don’t think a single one of these girls would fall for the SciGirls lies. Why would a program that seeks out exceptional young women start with girls in juvie? They wouldn’t. They’d start in colleges and prep schools and high school honor programs, and the characters in Brunesfield should know this. They are far too smart to fall for such obvious lies.

Final impression:

Burning is a hot mess. For a story that took so long to get going, it wraps up in a quick meltdown of clichés and underdeveloped plotlines. Makes me wonder if a pending deadline forced too many cuts in the writing. There were simply too many half-baked plot points. How can a girl make fire appear out of nowhere and then wield the flames as a weapon? There were hints of illegal human experimentation under Dr. Gruen and her SciGirls, then a claim that the ability is a contagious infection, but I guess we’ll never know.

Gruen is a predictable, stereotypical villain with no character development. In the end, she attempts to kill both Jessica and Angela, yet leaves before she confirms that they are dead. Sorry, but I am not buying that. This lunatic was hell bent on covering up her dirty, soot-covered tracks, yet she doesn’t make sure that her trap actually kills them? She isn’t that sloppy.

Why, when Angela’s brother is brought to the prison for a visit by Dr. Gruen, does she not warn him to stay away from Dr. Crazy? She knows at this point that the doctor is not who she says she is, yet she gives her beloved brother no warning whatsoever?

And where in New York are they that wolves are a huge threat and where a group of girls wearing orange prison clothes can walk through the woods for days without encountering another human being or a convenience store or basically any other lifeform but can find a working telephone in an abandoned shack? Bye-bye, reality!

Underdeveloped and disappointing. Skip this one.