Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream by Carson Vaughan

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was my book club’s pick for July!  I was talking with our hostess and said “look at this book!”  To my surprise, she had already read it! Not only that, but her husband used to live in the town where this book takes place!  Of course she decided that she would pick it to read at book club!

Welcome to Royal, NE with a population of about…80 folks.  The town wasn’t really much to look at, with a bunch of abandoned buildings and dirt roads.  Although what it did have, was it’s own Zoo and for nearly 20 years!  This made for an interesting tourist attraction for the area, although eventually things took a turn for the worse.  This is where our story is made, in the tragedy of Zoo Nebraska.

It all began with a vision from Dick Haskin, who was studying to be a primatologist.   He is struggling with the idea of leaving his current job and the chimpanzee he has trained, for a chance to go to Rwanda and work with primatologist Dian Fossey.  Unfortunately, her death dissolves any chances of this dream to work on conservation.  Dick’s devotion to primates didn’t fully die with her.  He returns to his hometown with Reuben, an adolescent chimp, in the bed of a pickup truck and transformed a trailer home into the Midwest Primate Center.  As the tourist trade multiplied, so did the inhabitants of what would become Zoo Nebraska,  boosting the economy in Royal and became the  source of a power struggle that would lead to the tragic implosion of Dick Haskin’s dream again.

Later on in the story, things takes a turn for the worse when an enclosure is left unlocked and several chimpanzees escape.  With Dick Haskin out of the picture at this point, all hell breaks loose at the Midwest Primate Center.  If there is one thing you need to know about chimpanzees, it’s that they are extremely strong.  At one point in the story, a chimp grabs a workers leg and snaps it, like it was a twig.  So you can imagine the chaos that is exploding.  Now, this is a very small town in Nebraska mind you and certain force is brought out against the chimps to protect the visitors and on lookers.  Unfortunately, the result ends in the death of one chimp in particular that was dear to Dick Haskin.

The only reason I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars, was there were points in the book that I actually skipped over because the author would sort of ramble on about things that were irrelevant to the story.  I would recommend this book, although be prepared as it really isn’t a happy story, but one that did need to be told.

Available on Amazon – Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream by Carson Vaughan

 

Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Bryce Andrews

 

 

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

The cover is breathtaking, the story is phenomenal.   This is a true story about a bear named Millie in Montana; her life, her cubs, her death and the story that led the author to write this book for us.

In an absolutely beautifully written account, Bryce tells Millie’s story.  Millie was a typical mother: strong, cunning, fiercely protective of her cubs. But raising those cubs was hard. The mountains were changing, as the climate warmed and people crowded the valleys. There were obvious dangers, like poachers, and subtle ones, like the corn field that drew her into human territory, and sure trouble.

The grizzly bear is North America’s largest predator.  They are starting to return to their normal romping grounds in the West, only to find that humans are now roosting.  This is where the author’s story meets Millie’s.  In this book, he shows how this singular story is a piece of a much larger one in the West: an entangled, bloody collision between people protecting a life they’ve known for generations, and the people fighting to preserve one of America’s wildest landscapes.

When Bryce is called to help with a non-profit group called People and Carnivores, which focuses on the intersection of wilderness and development.  In the same area where Millie resides, he works to help one particular farmer to protect his corn fields from these very hungry creatures.  We learn about a conflict in a corn field in the Mission Valley and Andrews’ work to keep bears from gorging on the easy meal.  More importantly, though, Andrews takes us inside the mind of bear Millie, as she traverses the mountains and leads her cubs to the fields. These sections of imaginative prose make the writing and the story come alive.

I would highly recommend this book!

Available on Amazon – Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Bryce Andrews

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn

 

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

 

The cover is creepy, the title is creepy.  How could I not read it? Just the title makes you look up around you getting the feeling someone or SOMETHING is watching you.  I love reading books about Natural History and what goes on around us, even right under our noses.  I stumbled upon this book and thought I would give it a whirl.  It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but still interesting none the less!

The author is fascinated by the organisms that live in our homes and there are a LOT of them—roughly 200,000 species. He is a professor of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University and also works at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. He initially undertook this study of indoor organisms with the idea that he could help to make our homes healthier. The BIG takeaway from the book is that humans benefit from biodiversity—leave your windows open and don’t kill all of the spiders that get in your house!  I personally keep a few of the ‘good spiders’ around just for good measure!

“Fewer than a hundred species of bacteria, viruses and protists cause nearly all of the infectious illnesses in the world.” Unfortunately, these guys also are some of the toughest microbes to get rid of. So—when we douse our houses and bodies with antiseptics; we actually kill off the natural predators that would keep these bad microbes at bay.  I had already been aware of most of what he talks about, portions of it kind of dragged on BUT still made a person think!

What I got from this book: I learned interesting facts about mammals and insects that live in our homes. It greatly reduced my fear of black widow spiders and developed a grudging respect for cockroaches (still gagging though). It made me look at the dust on my windowsill differently.  This book convinced me that in 100 years our war against all forms of bacteria will be seen as backwards as bloodletting. By removing as many species from our homes as possible, we’ve created a space where beneficial bacteria, insects, and more cannot survive, opening us up to invasions of pathogens and disease.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  It’s interesting and will in fact make you say “hmmmm.”

Available on Amazon – Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book was a reach for me as I don’t normally read these styles of books.  I’m so glad I listened to all the hype from my fellow readers!  This. Book. Was. GREAT!  It also lead me to start listening to her podcasts as well.  She has great knowledge and lays things out to you exactly how they are.  Yes, there were some parts in this book that I thought….”woah, woah, woah chill out lady!” but such a good read!  It’s really hard not to get motivated after you read this as well as listen to some of her podcasts!

This really isn’t some sort of self-help book as one would think.  It’s really the story of Rachel Hollis, founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Chic Media.  She has created an online fan base of hundreds of thousands of fans by sharing tips for living a better life while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own.  She’s failed, she’s lived and she’s learned and she shares it all with us, with no masks of how she earned every bit of where she is now.

Check out this book as well as the next one.  Also, find her on Instagram and her podcast Rise as well as the one she does with her husband – Rise Together!

Available on Amazon – Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I listened to this book on Audio as it was narrated by the actual author herself!  Such an amazing story and a great writer!  Kristin writes her story in all it’s raw and beauty for us in a way that made you feel as though you were right there with her.

In 2009 Kristin went through a divorce that left her in pieces.  She decides to accept an offer to live at a friend’s cabin outside of Denali National Park in Alaska for a few months. In exchange for housing, she would take care of her friend’s eight sled dogs.  It was during this winter that she grew to learn how tough she actually was and how to survive in one of the most remote places on earth.  Here is where a love bloomed with a man, Andy,  and of course running with sled dogs.

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Photo: Katie Orlinsky – Racing dog, Piper

Kristin and Andy eventually start a a sled dog kennel of their own.  Kristin starts training of her own to complete a life goal to complete the Iditarod, the 1,000-mile dogsled race from Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast.  She is so honest and the weather is so brutal, but she loves every single part of it.  Along her journey there is loss that will make you tear up and triumph that will make you want to stand up and cheer right along with her.

This is the authors journey through her transformation and where it has brought her to today.  She is amazing and this story is one that I think anyone will find enjoyable, also making you want to put several layers of clothes on!

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Photo: Kristin Knight Pace

 

Interesting article I found about “A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…Kristin Knight Pace, Dog Musher” – http://lessonsinbadassery.com/day-life-kristin-knight-pace-dog-musher/

Available on Amazon – This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace

The Snow Leopard Project: And Other Adventures in Warzone Conservation by Alex Dehgan

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was a very interesting book, although I only gave it 4 out of 5 stars as some of the writing lost me in a couple places.  Otherwise, it was great!

Alex Dehgan arrives in Afghanistan in 2006 in hopes to build the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan Program, and preserve and protect Afghanistan’s unique and extraordinary environment, which had been decimated after decades of war.  Quite honestly, I never thought about wildlife in that area and what war would do to their home.  I was also surprised at all the animals that actually live there!

Alex found out that conservation actually provided a bond between his team and the people of Afghanistan.  The team worked unarmed in some of the most dangerous places in the country.  Some were so remote that winding roads would just disappear, and travel was on foot, yak, or mule.

This is Alex’s account as he and his team helped create the country’s first national park, completes the some of the first extensive wildlife surveys in thirty years, and works to stop the poaching of the country’s endangered animals, including the elusive snow leopard.  Some of these animals somehow even navigate mine fields, which is why no one had really ventured into finding out what was still out there and alive after all these years of war.

Available on Amazon – The Snow Leopard Project: And Other Adventures in Warzone Conservation by Alex Dehgan

 

 

 

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was my book club’s pick for June!  It stirred up some very good discussions about this tale that reflects upon a true story that happened in Memphis around 1939.

Before We Were Yours follows five children and their life on the Mississippi River upon a shanty-boat.   One night their mother needs to be rushed to the hospital before a storm hits, feeling as though she may be having complications with her pregnancy.  The older of the children, Rill is left in charge.

The next day, strangers arrive at their boat.  No parents in sight.  The children are coaxed off their boat with promises of visiting their mother who is recovering in the hospital.  A lie that starts as a trickle and turns into a churning forceful river.  The children are not taken to the hospital, they are taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage.

The tale ultimately moves from two stories, one in the past with the children and one in the present with Avery Stafford.  Avery’s character  discovers a long-hidden family secret.  One that will tie both families in together in a way that you won’t expect.

This book is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

Available on Amazon – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book wasn’t exactly what I thought it was, it was actually much better!  This story follows three different generations, all part of a very prominent family.  I usually don’t like books that flop between time periods and characters as I sometimes get them mixed up.  For some reason or another this book didn’t pose these issues at all for me!  Very well written!

The story begins with Kitty and Ogden Milton, the seemingly perfect family.  Tragedy befalls them and Ogden decides to buy Kitty an island in Maine.  This house on this island becomes a time piece for the Milton family year after year.  Then something happens…….

Fast forward a bit and man named Len Levy gets a job in the Ogden’s bank.  Len meets one of Ogden’s daughters and falls in love.  His best friend also happens to be a colored man named Reg Pauling.  For the time period, this was a bit frowned upon with all the racism going on at that time and both find themselves one night on the Milton’s island and then….something happens…….

Now we are in present day and the story is told through the eyes of Kitty’s granddaughter.  A granddaughter and generation who are in line to inherit the island…although no one seems to be able to afford it, they may even have to sell it.  Then, the past seems to sneak out of the waters surrounding the island and slowly engulfs their lives and secrets begin to come to light.

Available on Amazon – The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days by Janice Dean

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Oh Janice Dean, the most bubbly person you get to see in the mornings if you watch Fox & Friends!  She always seems happy, so I thought this book would be interesting to read on how she learned to “keep smiling through the rainiest days”.  She always reminds me of myself, always trying to look on the bright side and bubbly!

Janice had wanted to be a news reporter ever since she was little.  Her first gig was HORRIBLE with Imus in the Morning.  I mean, some of the things that Janice went through there…..it was jaw dropping!  Thank goodness she got out of there when she could!  She is now a full-time meteorologist on Fox & Friends, with much better co-workers.

This story talks about all the crazy things she went through to get to where she is today, including her battle with multiple sclerosis.  She survived attacks, adversity, and a business controlled by ruthless men. She knows how love, counting your blessings, and having a good therapist can get you through more than you would expect.

I loved how honest Janice was in her book and she talks about it all, with no holding back!  Including the fateful meeting with her firefighting husband after he lost his colleagues on 9/11 and how the pressure on women in television led her to a cosmetic procedure that could have ended her career.   Somehow, through everything, here she is, refusing to let any of it rain on her parade!  I just love her!  This is a must read!

Available on Amazon – Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days by Janice Dean

My Ten-Acre Wilderness: A Misfit Girl’s Quest for Home by Jodi L. Auborn + Author Interview

 

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I would first like to thank the author for sharing her story with me and taking the time for an interview as well!  Author Jodi Auborn opens up a piece of her life to us in her book “My Ten-Acre Wilderness”.  A piece of her life that shaped her into who she is today, put into words with a few photographs along the way.

In her book, Jodi claims that she knew she was an unusual child, one who had dreams of owning a horse to call her own and living out in the wilderness.  This is what drew me to her story.  I think many children growing up had the same hopes and dreams, Jodi on the other hand got to live some of them.

When she is around ten years old, Jodi’s parents build their very own log cabin in the Adirondack forest.  Her story follows as she explores her new home and the trails around it.  She shares with us her experiences with many pets, which I loved as I love animals as well!  As well as a few hardships she faced along the way.

Her story made me look back at my memories from my childhood and reflect on them.  Camping trips, being outdoors, vacations….only she puts her memories into words to share with readers.  The book isn’t long, which makes it a nice read and her way of writing is fantastic!  You get a glimpse into her childhood as well a reflect upon on your own past and what has shaped us to become who we are today.

Jodi also has published a children’s chapter book as well called “Matthais: The Ghost of Salvation Point” among a few others, find out more on her website: http://www.jodilauborn.webs.com

Available on Amazon – My Ten-Acre Wilderness: A Misfit Girl’s Quest for Home by Jodi L. Auborn

author-interview

Sierra:  Tell us a little about yourself?

Jodi: Well, I’m single, and live in a small town in eastern upstate New York, settled in a valley between the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain. In the summers I work at a New York State campground, and at an apple-packing house during the winter. I love all types of pets, but currently just have a yellow tomcat and a white Appaloosa horse. Horses have been a big part of my life since my dad bought me my first one at age twelve.

I’ve played the guitar for years (not great, but I try), and also took up the ukulele a few years ago. My other hobbies include drawing and making crafts, cross-stitch sewing, designing houses, flower gardening, photography, and reading. Living and growing up in the Adirondack region has also given me a love for camping and hiking, canoeing and sailing. In fact, I work at the same campground where my parents had taken me for several childhood vacations.

 

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Jodi: I was already writing (or at least making up) stories and poems by the time I was in elementary school. As I young child, I shocked my mother when I drew gory illustrations of a war that I imagined between noble unicorns and evil dragons. In third grade, a Christmas creative writing assignment prompted me to write a preachy short story called “The Little Tree Learns About Jesus,” in which a sad and rejected Christmas tree learns about the birth of Jesus, which makes him happy. (My mom thought it was wonderful and has kept it to this day, but rereading that story makes me cringe. However, the teacher liked it so much that she read it out loud to the class…in a public school, no less.) A few years later, I started writing a story about a boy who ran away with his horse and stowaway little brother, and always made up dramas that I acted out with my My Little Ponies.

I started writing my first book, “Stormwind of the North Country,” when I was ten years old. I got the idea from a strange dream I had one night. I recorded the dream into a notebook, but soon it inspired a long story that became the first draft of a book! I continued to write it, off and on, for over twenty years, and went through seven or eight drafts. I was in my early thirties when it was published in 2009. And the vision that I saw in the dream remains in Chapter Three, “Tragedy and Hope.”

 

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

Jodi: “Stormwind of the North Country” begins as a horse story in which a teenage girl, Kat, struggles to rescue Stormwind, her favorite horse at her neighbor’s stable. Stormwind and the other horses are being abused and neglected by their cruel owner, and when Kat hears that Stormwind is getting shipped to the slaughterhouse, she knows that she must act fast!

Meanwhile, her widowed father invites his long-distance girlfriend to spend the summer at their farmhouse in the Adirondack Mountains. Kat and her younger brother discover that the conniving woman secretly schemes to steal their valuable property so her family’s land-development company can build condos on it. When their father doesn’t believe them, Kat decides to run away into the wilderness with Stormwind and her dog. There, she befriends a fellow runaway, and their lives become intertwined in a way that brings all the aspects of the story together.

Over the years, it grew from a simple horse story for little girls to a tale of outdoor adventure and survival, friendship and love, and the importance of being true to yourself and your beliefs. It contains violence and themes of child- and animal abuse, but finally comes to a happy and hopeful ending.

 

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Jodi: My books are Middle-Grade and the “younger” end of Young Adult. It just seems to me like an interesting time in everyone’s life when you’re old enough to do things on your own, but still free to do “kid” stuff. My story ideas just naturally grow out of my own experiences, dreams, and wishes. “Adult” issues really don’t interest me. I’m like a ten-year-old kid at heart. ☺

 

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Jodi: In “My Ten-Acre Wilderness,” my favorite chapter was “Sally,” when my childhood wish for a horse came true. The summer that I described in that chapter seemed like such a magical time. It was a turning point in my life, and in the book.

In “Stormwind of the North Country,” I’ve always liked the last chapter, “An Eventful Picnic,” when the main character, Kat’s, friend is attacked by one of the villains and Kat must ride for help on her horse. The chapter also introduces Jake, who became such a favorite character of mine that I made him the hero of the sequel!

 

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Jodi: Everything in my memoir, “My Ten-Acre Wilderness,” really happened to me, but my three novels are purely imagination. However, the settings in “Stormwind of the North Country” and its sequel are based on real places that I knew and loved. Some parts of my life also made it into the story, such as my childhood and teenage adventures in the woods.

 

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Jodi: Growing up: any and all horse books! Although, the horse vs. truck accident scene in “The Horse Whisperer” still creeps me out, since I’ve always ridden my horse(s) along the road.

As an adult: “Heaven,” by Randy Alcorn. It’s a fascinating look at what the Bible says about the afterlife and eternity. It made me unafraid of death and excited about the future!

 

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Jodi: All the time. My imagination is always working, thinking up the most exciting plots and conversations, but unfortunately, it’s during the times when I can’t write them down. Then when I sit down to write, everything goes blank.

 

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Jodi: I would have liked to have met Anne LaBastille, who had written several memoirs about her life in a remote cabin that she had built with her friends on an Adirondack lake. She seemed like she would have been an interesting person to talk to. Unfortunately, she died several years ago.

 

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Jodi:  At this time (2019), I’m working on rewriting and republishing “Stormwind” and its sequel, “Secrets of the North Country.” After that, I’m planning a dystopian novel about an orphaned brother and sister who are searching for their long-lost older sister, while on the run from the government that murdered their parents. They are taken in by a band of “rebels:” un-brainwashed people who were banished by the government. The rebels lead a hard and primitive (but free) life outside the official “communities” to which most people are confined. But the siblings’ pursuers want them dead…and they don’t know who they can trust.

 

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Jodi: After years of submitting “Stormwind” to publishers and agents with no success, I was thrilled when it was finally accepted by (the now defunct) Publish America. I didn’t know about their bad reputation at the time. However, I never had any problems with them, except for the fact that they priced the books outrageously high. I’m grateful that they published my first three books, which gave me a local fan base and moderate success selling at book and craft fairs, but if I had known more about self-publishing, I wouldn’t have gone with them.

I had heard of CreateSpace, but mistakenly believed that they charged thousands of dollars to print books. After I learned that there was a big difference between “vanity” and Indie publishing, I decided to go for it with my fourth book, “Matthias: The Ghost of Salvation Point.” I’m glad that I did, since Publish America went out of business shortly after. It turned out to be a good thing, though, since it gave me the opportunity to revise and improve each book and charge a reasonable amount for them. That’s why I’m rewriting my first two novels, and plan to print them (and any future books) through CreateSpace/Amazon KDP. (Although I wouldn’t turn down a contract from a legitimate, big-time publisher! ☺)

 

 

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Jodi: Never give up on what you really want to do! Write what you’re passionate about, even if it’s not what’s popular at the time. Never lose faith in yourself and your book. Research publishers and agents to make sure they’re reputable. And whether you decide to self-publish or try to get accepted by a traditional publisher, always PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD before you send out your work!

 

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Jodi: Thank you to everyone who has read and/or bought my books! I hope you enjoyed the stories. For more information about me and my books, you can visit my website at http://www.jodilauborn.webs.com.