Mandy’s Bookshelf: Recent and current reads from binge-worthy mind-benders, to boring AF.

The words of a good read can transform your outlook on life, offer interesting talking points at gatherings, and pass the time when you’re sick or depressed. Of all the obsessive vices to have, reading is a pretty good one. Books are portable with no batteries to run down. They can be loaned and borrowed, highlighted, filled with sticky notes, and reread—as I often do when they are used as reference material. Forget the heroin, inject me with literature.

I’m a non-fiction lover at heart with the occasional sci-fi or horror thriller. When I immerse myself in a great book, it’s akin a Netflix binge-worthy series. I savor works of fiction in an entirely different way, savoring them to fully saturate myself in the writer’s carefully presented world. Some books I can’t get into, others I can’t even suffer though and want to call their editor. Literary Karen in the house.

Graham is excellent at pulling facts and points together to form a streamlined reasoning for an ancient long-lost civilization which mainstream scholars, archeologists, and anthropologists refuse to accept—an in most cases even consider. There were some brief dry areas that made my eyes heavy—but they passed quickly. See more about this author below, in Fingerprint of the Gods. I felt this book was more organized than the latter.

This accomplished journalist dropped in the jungle is terrified of snakes and appalled at the amount of creepy-crawly things in the deep green expanse of the most remote reaches of Honduras. He is an excellent writer and talented at giving a detailed account of his surroundings, the team’s research methods, and history of the failed exploration attempts and legends of the area. His in-depth yet personal account is a true gem. The dangers of living in the jungle are amplified given his contracting a rare disease along with other members of the team. Drug cartels, slash-and-burn cattle farms, and gang violence are woven into this epic read.

Don’t do it. This publisher drops dozens of likely ghost-written books with poorly-designed matching covers filled with poorly-curated facts. Names, places, dates and dry facts are tied together in a truncated manner—leaving little information that sticks given the dry delivery method. There is nothing about their way of life, nd hardly “captivating”. It feels like a history lecture by an untalented adjunct professor with a hangover. It is hard to get into, and doesn’t flow. I pushed through, because I was using this as a reference for a story I’m working on, but felt it was a waste of time. It’s a trap!

This astute young journalist writes about the famous explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared looking for a lost civilization with his son, and his son’s best friend. Fawcett is so legendary, that over 100 people have followed his last known route into the jungle, never to return themselves. David personally obtained access to expedition journals directly from Fawcett’s decedents, and of the explorer’s many correspondences to from the jungle, both to his family and to the Royal Geographical Society in the early 1900’s.

The author masterfully weaves his slow spiral of self-denial which lead to his own obsession, by tactfully separating them into chapters representing the past and present. David himself treks into the Amazon in pursuit of any trace of the legendary man who disappeared decades earlier—with absolutely no prior experience. He finds himself in over his head and longs to be home with his one-year-old son and wife as the unforgiving jungle wears on him.

Graham is a tenacious man who puts his head on the chopping block to set a president for more people to question the origins and accepted time periods of human civilization. Graham shakes things up, asks questions people don’t want to hear, and travels to give first-hand accounts and to interview the people on-the-ground excavating, and the residents and indigenous people in the area. Graham repeats himself a bit, and refers to other books he has written a little too much. He also reminds the reader of specific points in other chapters in his book, as if assuming the reader is forgetful and takes away from the flow. Some of the information feels out of place and circular, slightly disorganized. He shifts from writing in the moment, to summarizing in past-tense, making the flow a little difficult, but easy to overcome given the excellently-presented facts.

Another edition to address the need for brevity and organization would be beneficial. And wish he’d stay away from using centuries to describe time and stick to specific dates (or ranges of dates). It became a little confusing in relation to the already backward way our religion-centric timeline is organized.

A ravenous young naturalist from a big city dying for adventure, who leaps on massive anacondas to document their size and health as a conservationalist—one nearly drowned him, another nearly popped his ribcage. He boldly penetrates deep into the western Amazon and inadvertently catches a glimpse of a tribe lost to time—and runs for his life after spying their six-foot arrows. Threats to the Amazon are laid out in vibrant first-person detail of clashes with dangerous people and observations. Poachers, deforestation, and gold mining operations thwarted by his courage is a true testament to what one person can accomplish. This is part autobiography, part environmentalist outcry, and an eye-opener for the average person with little knowledge of the subject. It sucks you in—I read it in two days, aside from one chapter at midnight on the third day. I could not put it down.

Did you know there was a dinosaur that was small enough to dance on the palm of your hand? Aside from the incredibly difficult to pronounce names of dinosaurs, which the author has no control over, this account of the evolution of life on earth is truly captivating. This is a bare-bones factual version of life which I imagine is read by a beloved professor, and has me on the edge of my seat.

The reader is swiftly carried along the blooms of diversity and unfathomable destructions of Earth’s past. Wonderful descriptions of both the environment, plants and creatures make this a great read—but proved difficult to read aloud to my husband. I’m a stickler for brevity and clarity—this book is one of the most well-written specimens exemplifying those important traits so often overlooked. Henry transforms a seemingly dry subject into a lovely story which amazingly doesn’t feel rushed while encompassing billions of years of information. I was absolutely delighted that the little book wrapped up with our own extinction and the demise of Earth itself.

Booo. Holocaust was never mentioned—not once. In disbelief, I thumbed through the index thinking I had somehow skipped a section. The author uses terms without enough—if any—background. Political groups, strange religious orders, various belief systems, and historical figures are tossed in without explanation which makes them feel more like filler to meet a page count. Reminders of the positions and importance of people with difficult to pronounce names would be highly beneficial. I found myself googling terms and names several times. In fact, I feel like this information was all copied, pasted, and reworded without imagination in a format devoid of any speculation, opinion or personal insight. There is an overall lack of timeline. On one page you’re in 1936, on the next you’re dropped in 1919. The photos are difficult to see and lack an informative caption.

The author paints a picture of Hitler being a penniless immigrant who was nieve and influenced by radical people with strange beliefs. What lead the author to write on this topic? This feels like an excuse for evil by explaining away Hitler’s mindset. I had to wonder if this was written by a white supremacist with no former experience writing—only to find he has written 73 books. Ones I do not plan to read. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)—a known racist cult that condones sex with minors—and had served as a missionary, and a bishop. (Google Warren Jeffs or Samuel Bateman to get a better handle on this wacky religion.)

After the conservationist’s account of the western Amazonian biodiversity and Paul Rosolie’s descriptions of various interesting animals in Mother of God, this seems like the perfect follow-up. So far I’ve indulged in the many amazing facts in this well-written research-based account of what we know about how animals perceive and interact with our world, and it’s truly shocking! Did you know scollops have hundreds of eyes? No, you didn’t. You’re welcome. I expect this to be a quick read.

A slower read, I found it hard to get into. Long pre-dawn sleepless nights with hot flashes (that have nothing to do with reaching middle-age, allow me to wallow in self denial a while longer) have allowed more quiet time to read. This is on my back burner, but I expect the pages to turn in the muggy summer nights to come.

Dying to read this one—pun intended. Don’t read the section about severed heads just before bed. I had to leave this book behind at our camp on Scopan half-read

It’s not often I have to drop one back to the bottom of the stack, but here we are wedging this one back in. This has been a slow, clunky read so far—but well written and researched. I was forced to choose between this and a beautiful orange stock pot on a backpacking trek to a remote cabin to lighten my pack for the long trek out. Unfortunately, I really liked the pot. It hung off my pack loudly clanging out of the North Maine Woods.

This looks like a juicy binger. I’m struggling to wait until finishing other books before wrapping myself up with a fuzzy blanket with a hot cup of tea, and binging. I’m a huge Crime Junkie podcast fan and am looking forward to this deep dive into such a heinous crime.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer 

An indigenous scientist’s take on plants and their place in the world. I’ve only thumbed through a bit. I’m forcing myself to finish two current reads. The struggle is real.