Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn

Thereby Hangs a Tail (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #2)Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m so glad I discovered this super-sweet and also funny series featuring PI team Chet (a dog, and our narrator) and Bernie (his human).
The Chet and Bernie mysteries remind me in some ways of Bunnicula for adults (with the caveat that I consider Bunnicula appropriate and perhaps necessary reading fare for EVERYONE, adults included!).
What primarily makes this an “adult” book is that as Chet and Bernie solve crimes, Chet is witness to events, often not fully understood, that the reader realizes have serious implications, either regarding life and death, relationships, or even contemporary environmental issues.
Although at first glance, the story seems so funny as to be almost “fluff” reading, Spencer Quinn (a pseudonym for a well-known crime writer) actually writes with the talent of capturing deep feelings and wisdom, with a few simple, carefully chosen words.
Since the story is told from a dog’s perspective, we’ve got a narrator who is totally loveable, and also totally grounded in the things that matter in life. I loved this aspect of Thereby Hangs a Tail.
Chet’s perspective, in which the concept of worrying doesn’t make sense, in which life is full of joy and wonder, and in which his human is loved totally and unconditionally, are qualities which I value, and want to remember more in my daily life.
Thereby Hangs a Tail is a fast read, with a lot of humor, a great sense of place (the American Southwest), and two characters who will leap right off the page and into your heart. A great book to brighten your day.

View all my reviews

Extreme Food (May 2015) by Bear Grylls

Extreme FoodExtreme Food by Bear Grylls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you to William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers for my review copy of Extreme Food: What to Eat When Your Life Depends on It, by Bear Grylls.
Extreme Food, the latest book by ex-special forces, nature/survival enthusiast, and television personality Bear Grylls, is a fast, fact-packed read that offers survival information that anyone can benefit from.
As a sometime viewer of Grylls’ nature shows (usually when my dad or brothers have it on television), and someone with an abiding, but rarely deeply explored interest in the natural world, I especially enjoyed the parts of this book which dealt with the basics of food as a source of energy in a survival situation, edible (and toxic) plants, and how to track animals.
I found the sections on making traps, hunting, and preparing a kill more disturbing, and so skimmed those sections. I do, however, think that the information presented therein seemed like a useful introduction to techniques that could save one’s life.
I found the sections on edible/toxic fungi, as well as all the edible creepy crawlies and extra-dangerous animals (think snakes and scorpions) to be fascinating reading from a “bizarre foods” perspective, but anything I was about to try to apply to my own life. I also didn’t enjoy some of the pictures in the middle of the book, which included gratuitous shots of Bear eating bloody animals.
In his introduction and afterward, Grylls states that this book is meant as an introduction to survival concepts which can save your life. His hope is that this book will increase readers’ interest in, and sense of empowerment about, survival techniques, and that it will encourage readers to investigate further.
Read in this context, I think that Extreme Foods pretty much hits the mark.
Overall, I’m really glad that I read Extreme Foods. I learned something from it, and am inspired to learn more, and in that way, I’d call this latest book by Bear Grylls a great success.
This review can also be found Goodreads and Facebook.

View all my reviews

The Ice Twins (May 19. 2015) by S. K. Tremayne

The Ice TwinsThe Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Ice Twins is an absorbing, fast-paced read which I debated between giving 4 and 5 stars. Although not a “perfect” book, it is one of the most interesting suspense novels I’ve read this year, and so, in some ways I think it merits 5 stars.
However, this review reflects my personal reactions to the book, and so I’ve rated it 4 stars. This is because, for all its strengths, I just didn’t love it as much as I felt I should. Below, I’ll try to explain what was great about The Ice Twins, and also, why it didn’t fully succeed for me.

First, a quick plot introduction:
The Ice Twins is told variously from the points of view of Sarah and Angus Moorcroft, the parents of identical, seven-year-old, twin girls. As the story begins, we find out that they are grieving over the death of Lydia, the quieter, more bookish twin. Nearly a year before, Lydia fell from a balcony while vacationing at her grandparents’ home in Devon. Sarah, Angus, and Lydia’s twin sister, Kirstie, have been unsuccessfully trying to recover from this tragedy ever since.
Finally, in an attempt to start anew, the family moves to a small tidal island off the coast of Scotland, which Angus’ family has owned for generations. However, moving to Eilean Torran (Thunder Island) proves to be anything but a good idea. What follows is part psychological thriller, part ghost story, part domestic noir, and part horror, as they (and the reader) begin to suspect that the apparent facts of Lydia’s death are not as straightforward, as they at first seem.

My thoughts:
Author S.K. Tremayne (a pen name for a published author living in Britain), has, in many ways, absolutely nailed it in the choice of Eilean Torran (a fictional name for an actual tidal island near Skye) as the setting for this tale.
The Isle of Skye is well known for its unusual quality of otherness and solitary beauty. Tremayne knows this area well, and has capitalized on this eerie atmosphere in The Ice Twins.
Now, I’m a reader who loves sense of place above pretty much all else. And I am enamored of Scotland. I honestly can’t ever recall having had the experience of reading a contemporary novel in which I felt that the atmosphere was overemphasized before. However, in The Ice Twins, Tremayne inserts descriptions of the light, sea, and sky, so frequently and indiscriminately, that I realized I was beginning to skim some sentences.
For me, it was the quality and the quantity of the description, rather than the fact of description itself, which was problematic. I think that the best authors create a sense of place with enough well chosen, and well-placed words. Description can be almost like poetry, with powerful lines that set a scene, or turn up at perfect points in a narrative, anchoring the reader in a place and time. But the best writers do this, and then entrust the reader with that sense of place, that imagination. It felt to me like Tremayne thought we would forget we were on a Scottish island unless we were constantly reminded.
One thing I did really enjoy was that Tremayne inserted photos of the sea, island, lighthouse, etc., throughout the novel. These pictures added to my immersion and pleasure in the atmosphere.
So this whole ‘sense of place’ thing has another important dimension. Tremayne speaks highly of Skye in the author introduction. As mentioned above, Skye is world-famous for being a “thin place,” a place of unparalleled but stark beauty. However, after reading The Ice Twins, I felt like Skye was a place of nightmare. The photos coupled with the descriptions of the characters and the place evoked a sense of primal fear in me such that I questioned my long-held desire to visit Skye.
I think this reaction goes hand-in-hand with another reason I didn’t love The Ice Twins, which is that it has strong elements of a horror novel.
While I love psychological thrillers and suspense, I am not, so much, a fan of horror. Obviously, the genres sometimes merge. For me, one of the tonal elements that I do not like about horror is the (sort of obvious) goal of creating a sense of “horror” in the reader. I don’t like being taken to a place of primal fear. The Ice Twins was a psychological chiller, a tale of domestic noir, a mind-trip, a novel of suspense. But ultimately, it left me with that icky feeling that all is not right with the world, that deep evil lurks beneath seemingly calm waters, and that none of us is safe.
More than anything, I think this is why I did not love the book. I’d love to hear other readers’ reactions to the novel, especially regarding the portrayal of Skye and its tidal islands.
Thank you to the publishers through NetGalley for my advanced review copy of The Ice Twins.

View all my reviews

The Lie (23 April 2015) by C. L. Taylor

The LieThe Lie by C.L. Taylor

First of all, big thanks to the publisher through NetGalley for my copy of The Lie by C.L. Taylor. Here’s my honest review.

I enjoyed the first half of The Lie immensely. However, as the story progressed, my initial reading pleasure transformed into something much more like stress.
Then, between chapters 34-38, a graphic sequence of violence, including murder, rape, and torture, occurred, which left me feeling completely blindsided and sick to my stomach. These chapters colored my experience of the rest of the novel.
Apart from that, the second half of The Lie was less successful than the first, in that I found the plot resolution underwhelming (compared to the initial, amazing premise). I also felt that the character development was a bit too neat and tidy to feel wholly satisfying.
I was especially excited to read The Lie because I loved Taylor’s debut novel Before I Wake. I was also really interested by the premise of The Lie, that of a group of close female friends who take a “vacation of a lifetime” to a spiritual retreat in Nepal. In short order, however, the complex and convoluted bonds of female friendship are tested, as the women become victims of what is actually a cult.
Although The Lie had a rip-roaring good premise, the actual exposition was not as interesting or thought provoking as I had hoped. I think there are two main reasons I felt this way.
First, in my opinion, the supposed close friendship between the four women was obviously unhealthy and full of drama and jealously from the beginning. I fully agree that female friendships are complex, but the characters in The Lie didn’t seem to start out with a basic trust or respect for each other that I consider essential in someone I consider a close friend. So, I didn’t find the deconstruction of the friendships in The Lie as interesting as it could have been.
Second, the cult in the novel was somewhat unconvincing to me because I didn’t sense a level of mystification or brainwashing which distinguishes cults from say, a group of thugs. The retreat in The Lie did have some cult-like characteristics, such as frequent observation of members in order to control them, some religious ideology, and punishment for members who did not cooperate. However, as a reader, I was not convinced that Isaac at any time believed what he was teaching (for example, about “letting go of attachments”). It seemed that he and his group of close pals were up front with each other about the fact that they just wanted to sleep with a lot of women, and get away with assaulting anyone they didn’t like.
I felt like the other members were afraid of Isaac, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of brainwashing or internalization of religious values. In this way, the cult experience that the four friends encountered seemed much closer to the experience of escaping from being kidnapped by a gang of criminals. Thus, the characters mainly had to recover from their physical wounds, and the emotional traumas of having been abused. On the other hand, the main character Jane had not at any time been brainwashed, such that she needed any kind of deprogramming in order to see the world clearly again.
Ultimately, I felt disappointed because The Lie relied more on soap-opera-ish drama and violence to tell a story, than on delving into the murky workings of female friendship, or of psychological manipulation.

View all my reviews

Dark Horse by Honey Brown

Dark HorseDark Horse by Honey Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark Horse, which was recently named Best Adult Novel at the 14th annual Davitt Awards (held by Sisters in Crime in Melbourne, Australia), is a gripping and gritty tale, part survival story, part psychological thriller.
The story begins with our protagonist, Sarah, waking from unconsciousness on Christmas morning. We know little about Sarah, other than that she is recovering from losing her home, her marriage, and her business. Sarah packs a gun, pain pills, and a picnic, and sets off to ride up into the rugged Mortimer Ranges. On her ride, Sarah is caught in a sudden storm, and finds shelter in a ramshackle hut on top of the aptly named Devil Mountain. There, she meets a gorgeous, but mysterious, man named Heath. Together, Sarah and Heath must work to survive the storm. As they wait for rescue, they must also try to survive each other.
Without giving away spoilers, I can say that Dark Horse packs a few big twists which caught me completely by surprise.
As well as having a well-crafted plot, Dark Horse also has several other unusual elements which make it special. First, author Honey Brown clearly knows a lot about the Australian outback. Her descriptions of nature, of weather, flooding, storms, and survival in severe conditions, are detailed and fascinating. As a reader, I felt very close to the mud, muck, and fog that Sarah and Heath endure.
Second, Brown manages to pull off a novel in which 2/3 of the story contains just two people and a horse trapped in a hut. I am always impressed when an author is able to maintain tension and suspense in such a pared-down situation.
Third, Brown writes sex scenes that are actually sexy.
Fourth, Brown’s respect and care for horses comes through clearly.  As a reader living in the United States, I had a heck of a time getting ahold of Dark Horse. I’d like to thank Penguin Australia, who allowed me access to an arc through NetGalley.
I hope that with the recent recognition from Sisters in Crime Australia, Brown’s suspense novels will have the opportunity to reach the wider readership they deserve.

View all my reviews

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30) (Tiffany Aching, #1)The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30) by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is a lot to love about The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. In the main character of Tiffany Aching, Pratchett has created one of my favorite characters ever. She makes this book one that I would recommend that every mother give to her daughter to read. Tiffany’s self-respect, courage, calmness under pressure, and slight tendency to be a know-it-all, as well as the fact that she is utterly, unapologetically, herself, is incredibly refreshing. She is a welcome change from heroines whose main recommendations are their beauty or charming conversation.
Tiffany Aching reminds me of they way many young girls are before they are told that it’s not okay to yell, to run with the boys, to get dirty, to be “unlady-like.” And the wonderful thing about this story is that one gets the sense that while Tiffany matures during her adventures, she gains wisdom without losing herself. She will, one day, become an old woman, who is confident, wise, self-assured, and respected, even as she defies convention.
The Wee Free Men is all the more powerful because it is not a lecture, or a dense work of nonfiction, but rather, a laugh-out-loud fantasy. It’s a good example of how a good story can change our perceptions and widen the possibilities that we view for ourselves.
The greatest strengths of the story are Tiffany herself, the beautiful rural setting, and the Wee Free Men, whose diminutive size is equaled only by their huge joy of stealing, drinking, and fighting (often at the same time). For the first third of the book, I would have given it 5+ stars.
However, for me, the weakest part of the story was the plot itself, which like other fantasies I have read, eventually meandered and petered along into something that was more maze than magic.
I have had similar experiences while reading other young adult fantasies, such as A Wrinkle in Time, or even, the novels that follow C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. For me, the most magical part of these stories is often the beginning, with a cold and stormy night, or the discovery of a snowy world inside of an old wardrobe.
However, despite the disappointing plot, The Wee Free Men is a book I would highly recommend for children and adults alike. It will cheer you up if you are sad, give you confidence if you are feeling weak, and make you love yourself just a little bit more. For these reasons, The Wee Free Men is priceless.

View all my reviews

Colouring for Wellbeing

Colouring for Fun, Mental Health & Relaxation

Steve Kaye Photo

Steve Kaye inspires respect for nature by showing his photos in talks, articles, and photo classes

Shapely Prose

2007-2010

tuckertranslations.wordpress.com/

Quality Translation and Language Services

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

Austenonly

Jane Austen's life, times and works explained and discussed

Olfactoria's Travels

A journey through the world of fragrance.

Jane Austen's World

This Jane Austen blog brings Jane Austen, her novels, and the Regency Period alive through food, dress, social customs, and other 19th C. historical details related to this topic.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

For lovers of Australian and New Zealand literary fiction; Ambassador for Australian literature

Joanne Graham

Author, Mother, Random Dreamer

book'd out

Book Reviews and News

Petrona

Mainly about reading with an accent on intelligent crime fiction from around the world.

Reading In The Evening

Book reviews from a literature fiend

Julia Crouch

Novelist: the queen of domestic noir

Qwiklit

Learn Literature Now

Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English Translation

information about authors and books

crimepieces

Sarah Ward, crime author and reviewer