18 February 2018

Review: BOOKSTORE CATS, Brandon Schultz

  • this edition published by Gliteratzi New York 2017
  • ISBN 9-781943-876525
  • 159 pages
Synopsis (Amazon)

Reading an article about cats who live in bookstores inspired author Brandon Schultz to further investigate the lives of bookstore cats. Cats have strong personalities that enchant and engage, and it turns out there are many of them living in every reader's favorite environment: the bookstore. With personalities and histories as varied as the books they tend, each cat has a story worth telling. Collected here are their tales, along with enchanting photos of the feline employees in their shops.

Most bookstore cats are famous in their local communities, many have been featured and profiled in entertainment outlets, and some even have their own books and social media accounts. Now, for the first time, some of the world's most beloved bookstore cats are collected together in one adorable directory, making the perfect gift for cat lovers, book lovers, shoppers, and the generally curious worldwide. Aside from keeping a bookseller free of mice, these noble creatures become part of the fabric of their environment and, while they chase away the mice, they lure in the world's cat-loving readers. 
My Take
My guess is that you probably have to be a cat lover to really enjoy this book, but there are obviously enough of us around.
Interspersed with photos of cats who "work" in US bookstores and their stories, are fact pages such as lists of cats who are - Owned by British Authors; In Poetry; Owned by Poets; in Comic Books; and so on. 
A delightful book to dabble in, and perhaps a good present for a cat lover.
My Rating: 4.0

Review: THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER, Karen Dionne

  • this edition published by Sphere 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-7515-6738-0
  • 310 pages

Synopsis
The suspense thriller of the year - The Marsh King's Daughter will captivate you from the start and chill you to the bone.
'I was born two years into my mother's captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn't have adored my father.'

When notorious child abductor - known as The Marsh King - escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena's past: they don't know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve - or that her father raised her to be a killer.

And they don't know that The Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone... except, perhaps his own daughter.

My Take

Extracts from the Marsh King's Daughter, a fable by Hans Christian Anderson, appear at the beginning of some sections of the story. They appear to be directing the reader to the conclusion that girl in the fable had dual personality, or perhaps that every one of us is capable of ambivalence.

I kept thinking of how things have changed culturally throughout history, that if Helena's father had committed this abduction, the choosing and taking of a wife, two hundred years earlier, in Indian culture this would have been an acceptable way of doing things.

Helena grows up unaware that her father has done anything wrong although she recognises that he has an angry side to his personality, that he is capable of meting out swift and cruel punishments to her and her mother.

Although Helena adores her father, and despises her mother, she eventually escapes and is responsible for his captures and imprisonment. Her narration in the book swaps between her experiences as child and the life she has built for herself since her escape. Now her father has escaped after 15 years of imprisonment and she knows he is looking for her.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Karen Dionne drew heavily on her experiences during the 1970s in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to write The Marsh King's Daughter, when she and her husband lived in a tent with their six-week-old daughter while they built a tiny cabin. Karen carried water from a stream, made wild apple jelly over a campfire (and defended it against marauding raccoons), sampled wild foods such as cattail heads and milkweed pods, and washed nappies in a bucket (which Karen says is every bit as nasty as it sounds). She enjoys nature photography and lives with her husband in Detroit's northern suburbs.

15 February 2018

Review: THE WORD IS MURDER, Anthony Horowitz

Synopsis (author website)

It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split.

The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot?

Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?

A classic crime for the modern reader, The Word is Murder is a whodunnit to end all whodunnits.

My Take

Somehow I just wasn't prepared for the author himself to be acting as the narrator.  And I never could decide how much was fiction. My best guess is that the author is trying to show how differently he works as an author, when compared to a top-notch detective. The author sets up a murder in a plot, describes the scene for us, and then lays clues about the murderer whose identity he already knows. The detective observes the scene after the fact and then interprets what he sees, and follows the clues. In THE WORD IS MURDER both detective and author are central characters and interact with each other. So even the dialogue between author and detective becomes interesting. Hawthorne, the detective, tries to put the author in his place, demanding that he be see but not heard. The author, Horowitz, refuses to be kept in his box, and often demands to ask his own questions.

It is probably a novel that would benefit from more study and from robust discussion in a book group.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read
4.5, THE HOUSE OF SILK
4.7, MAGPIE MURDERS

12 February 2018

Review: THE STRANGER, Melanie Raabe

  • This edition published by Text Publishing Australia 2016
  • translated from German by Imogen Taylor
  • ISBN 9-781925-498042
  • 346 pages
Synopsis (back cover)

Philip Petersen, a wealthy businessman, disappears without trace on a trip to South America. His wife, Sarah, is left to bring up their son on her own.

Seven years later, out of the blue, Sarah receives news that Philip is still alive. But the man who greets her before a crowd of journalists at the airport is a stranger- and he threatens Sarah. If she exposes him, she will lose everything- her house, her job, her son ... her whole beautiful life.

My Take

Sarah Petersen is convinced that her husband Philip is dead. It is seven years since he disappeared in Colombia and she has been thinking of having him declared dead. When the Foreign Affairs Department tells her he has been found and will be home tomorrow, she really thought she would have more time.

Everybody gets off the plane and she is still waiting for Philip to emerge, and then she realises he must be one of the men already on the tarmac. He is a stranger - she thinks - an imposter. Her son Leo was a baby when his father left and he takes an instant aversion to the stranger. The authorities deliver the stranger to her house despite Sarah's attempts to tell them she does not know him. She takes her son to stay with friends.

An intriguing story as Sarah tries to discover who the cold stranger is and what he wants from her. There are things that only Sarah knows but the stranger seems to know them too. Lots to think about when you have finished reading the book.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read
4.7, THE TRAP

8 February 2018

Review: SLEEP NO MORE, P.D. James

  • this edition published by Faber & Faber 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-571-33087-7
  • 172 pages
  • short stories
Synopsis (publisher)

The acknowledged 'Queen of Crime', P. D. James, was a past master of the short story, weaving together motifs of the Golden Age of crime-writing with deep psychological insight to create gripping, suspenseful tales. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories contained four of these perfectly formed stories, and this companion volume contains a further six, published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

My Take

Here is a handful of very clever short stories, each with a good twist in the tail, which often took me by surprise, revealing a culprit that I hadn't suspected, even though, on looking back all the clues were there.

Mostly the stories were 20-30 pages long, easily conquered in a sitting, and very well crafted. Make no mistake - I think the short story is incredibly difficult to pull off, because everything has to tie in, there must be no loose threads. The ending must be believable and complete.

Highly recommended.
 
My rating: 4.5

I've also read
THE PRIVATE PATIENT
4.5, TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION
4.7, THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN
4.5, DEATH OF AN EXPERT WITNESS
4.3, THE MISTLETOE MURDER

Review: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS, Garry Disher

 Synopsis (Text Publishing 2017)


The young detectives call Alan Auhl a retread, but that doesn’t faze him. He does things his own way—and gets results.

He still lives with his ex-wife, off and on, in a big house full of random boarders and hard-luck stories. And he’s still a cop, even though he retired from Homicide some years ago.

He works cold cases now. Like the death of John Elphick—his daughters still convinced he was murdered, the coroner not so sure. Or the skeleton that’s just been found under a concrete slab. Or the doctor who killed two wives and a girlfriend, and left no evidence at all.

My Take

A very welcome stand-alone from an Australian much-loved crime fiction writer - or is it the beginning of a new series?

Alan Auhl, once a worn-out detective, has been re-employed by the Victoria Police to go through cold case files. This seems to be a world-wide phenomenon- the new tools such as DNA testing of old evidence, computerised case comparisons etc, now make it possible to solve some cases where physical evidence was collected and stored. Each police force has a hideous back log of unsolved cold cases, and presumably all have a small team of detectives working through them to see if modern techniques can be used.

Alan Auhl brings years of experience to the job. Every now and then some of his old interview techniques, not really acceptable by modern standards, surface, and occasionally it seems that suspects are just busting to get a confession off their chest.

So Auhl is busy on a number of cases simultaneously, In addition the author builds up an interesting picture of his personal life.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read
4.7, WYATT
4.8, WHISPERING DEATH
4.7, BLOOD MOON
4.2, THE HEAT
4.5, SIGNAL LOSS
4.7, HER 

4 February 2018

Review: 10 SHORT STORIES YOU MUST READ THIS YEAR, Sandra Yates (edit)

  • first published in 2009 by the Australia Council
  • ISBN 9780731814329
  • 262 pages
  • book was  provided free as part of the 2009 Books Alive Campaign (Australia)
Synopsis (back cover)

Kylie has a close encounter with a self-help guru in a stadium full of people.... Austin North is strangely smitten by a new student from Sudan ... Elizabeth's Christmas letters take on a life of their own ... Tom is on the bus with Tara Finke - Parramatta Road never looked so good.

There is something for everyone in this collection. Funny, poignant, perceptive, these vivid tales by some of our best-known writers capture contemporary Australia in all its variety.

My Take

Another book that has been in my TBR for a long long time.

Each of the short stories is 20-30 pages long and so easily read at a sitting.
Although some of the writers specialise in crime fiction, only a couple of the stories could be labelled crime fiction. Most of the stories challenge the reader to build the background scenario from the clues given.

1. A View of Mount Warning, Robert Drew
2. Hate at First Sight, Kathy Lette
3. Life in a Hotel Room, William McInnes
4. Elizabeth's News. Monica McInerney
5. Ithaca in Mind, Peter Temple
6. Blackberries, Tom Keneally
7. Twelve Minutes, Melina Marchetta
8. Manhattan Dreaming, Anita Heiss
9. You Can Change Your Life, Toni Jordan
10. Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife, Jack Marx.

I loved the irony of  A View of Mount Warning, the comedy of Elizabeth's News and the sadness of
Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife.
 
My rating: 4.4

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