I work with animals for a living, so That Bear Ate My Pants! was a no-brainer reading selection for me. It's the story of twenty-something Tony SlaterI work with animals for a living, so That Bear Ate My Pants! was a no-brainer reading selection for me. It's the story of twenty-something Tony Slater, a British guy who spends a year volunteering at an animal refuge in Ecuador. He was looking for some adventure, and certainly seems to have gotten it during his time at Santa Martha.
Throughout the book, Slater describes with good-humor the widely varied experiences he had with animals such as a lovable but stubborn bear, a battalion of turtles with loose bowels, an overweight puma, and a sick crocodile in need of stitches and twice-daily antibiotics. The animal anecdotes are the backbone of the book, and definitely the best parts. Slater's descriptions and witty commentary made what would have already been interesting events even more entertaining.
Slater also writes frequently about his supervisors, fellow volunteers, and labor at Santa Martha in That Bear Ate My Pants!, but I sometimes found my interest flagging during these episodes, particularly when describing the more difficult people and complicated projects. A subplot involving his affair with a woman he met in a nearby town never really went anywhere in my opinion as well. I was ready for the book to be done at around the 2/3 point, as the storyline itself seemed to bog down to the point where the animal tales struggled to carry it.
That Bear Ate My Pants! was good for a chuckle, and I recommend it to fans of humorous animal stories and travel memoirs. ...more
In Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and quiIn Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and quite isolated island off the coast of Maine.
I am hesitant to give too many details here, as I always am when reviewing a mystery. In short, this is the story of Professor Gil Hodges, who makes a summer trip to Matinicus Island under the guise of cataloging the variety of flora there, but more accurately to find himself again and do battle with some of the personal demons troubling him. Somehow, Gil winds up entwined in the community on the island, knee-deep in a string of murders, a lobster war, and even a haunting. Along the way, he discovers an old diary, which gives him insight into both the past and present of the island.
As with all good mysteries, Matinicus is full of fascinating characters, unexpected twists, and of course red herrings galore. I truly did not know "whodunnit" until the very end. Being a frequent visitor to the Maine coast, I was especially fascinated with the carefully researched facts of what life is like on islands like Matinicus, as close-knit communities deal with the harshness of the environment, changes in the world as we know it, and the extreme closeness they have to each other.
Matinicus by Darcy Scott is a classic mystery which I would recommend to any fan of the genre, or of Maine-based fiction in general. I am looking forward to her next novel featuring protagonist Gil Hodges, which I believe is set for release soon....more
I am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for tI am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for the week before the holiday. It's the tale of the Kelly family, specifically father Charles and son James, and a wacky series of misadventures that befall them just prior to Christmas in the early 1960s. The misfortunes cause Charles to look at how he has treated his family in general and Christmas in particular with some regret, and he decides to make some changes. These changes lead to no small amount of confusion for his family, especially young James, in the days leading up to Christmas.
While this is very much an original story, Kirkland borrows some spirit from Jean Shepard's Christmas Story and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to great effect. The Plight Before Christmas is a heartwarming novel with just the right balance of sentiment, humor, and trips down memory lane. I highly recommend it, and plan to read it again next year during the Christmas season....more
As an "adapted from the screenplay" novel, my expectations for The Clone Wars were not very high, but this was actually pretty good. Karen Traviss tooAs an "adapted from the screenplay" novel, my expectations for The Clone Wars were not very high, but this was actually pretty good. Karen Traviss took a story that was essentially devised as a means to introduce characters and scenarios for a then-new animated television series and turned it into a serviceable sci-fi novel. Traviss takes us inside the heads of the characters in some depth, which adds a whole new dimension to an otherwise straightforward storyline. I especially enjoyed the attention she gave to the Clone Troopers and their take on the horrors of war, as well as the sense of responsibility that Anakin Skywalker feels for the troops under his command. In most Star Wars novels and movies, the countless clone troopers are merely background decorations or cannon fodder, but not here.
There are better novels out there written for the Star Wars universe, but The Clone Wars is a pleasant diversion that broadens the mythological sweep of the saga....more
It's been quite a while since I've picked up a young adult novel, but I struck gold with this one. I'll spare you the plot overview. Plenty of other rIt's been quite a while since I've picked up a young adult novel, but I struck gold with this one. I'll spare you the plot overview. Plenty of other reviews can supply that. Suffice it to say that Jolted is an original, quirky, witty, and charming adventure/coming-of-age novel about a likable teenager plagued by a very unusual family curse, on top of the normal obstacles that come with growing up.
I knew Arthur Slade was a terrific author after reading his novel Dust some time ago, and Jolted reaffirmed it for me. I am going to hand my copy of Jolted over to my nephew, who I know will love it, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh, clever adventure with heart....more
Words nearly fail me as I attempt to describe this outrageously silly and highly entertaining Thanksgiving novel. "Weird", "gonzo", and "bizarre" allWords nearly fail me as I attempt to describe this outrageously silly and highly entertaining Thanksgiving novel. "Weird", "gonzo", and "bizarre" all come to mind, though I mean them in a positive way.
Lick Your Neighbor is the story of a very, very bad day in the life of Dale Alden, an average, mild-mannered guy and direct descendant of one of the Mayflower pilgrims. In essence, he is accused of a crime (and eventually several crimes) that he did not commit, and has no choice but to go on the runa dn team up with his "out there" lawyer brother-in-law Randy to clear his name and get to the bottom of the unusual happenings going on around him.
This is no typical mystery/thriller, however. There are turkey ninjas, malicious clowns, and catapults, to name just a few of the elements that make this novel stand out.
My best comparison of Lick Your Neighbor is to the novels of Christopher Moore. Chris Genoa is a bit more high-volume than Moore when it comes to action and silliness and gives less attention to development of characters and plot points, but in this novel, it mostly works. People and events careen from one oddity to another, though it all ties together. Some reviewers have referred to it as a wild ride, and I'd agree with that assessment. Personally, I would have liked fewer characters and more depth to the ones that remain.
While based on a Thanksgiving theme, Lick Your Neighbor is a novel that fans of absurd humor and action will enjoy at any time of year....more
This is another excellent historical horror novel from Ken C. Davis. Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Civil War, it tells of Finn Carey, a toThis is another excellent historical horror novel from Ken C. Davis. Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Civil War, it tells of Finn Carey, a tough young Irish immigrant who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to relative prosperity. His life is going so well that he arranges to have some of his family come over to the U.S. to join him. Unfortunately, an evil entity has hitched a ride on the same ship as his family members, and the actions of one of them on board the ship has caused the evil to pursue Finn and his family, while ravaging the city and its immigrant community.
This is the second novel by Davis that I have read, and I continue to be thoroughly impressed. He is able to convey the details of the historical period with astonishing accuracy, while still weaving a tale of terror that makes your toes curl and causes you to think twice about turning off the light before turning in. I am very much looking forward to reading more from Ken C. Davis in the future....more
I like a good horror story, but when it involves children, I tend to shy away. This one seemed different, and I stuck it out until the end, expectingI like a good horror story, but when it involves children, I tend to shy away. This one seemed different, and I stuck it out until the end, expecting some kind of twist that would redeem it, but that never came. If shock is something you enjoy, then you will probably enjoy "The Vivisectionist", but I prefer my chills to be more subtle....more
If you've ever thought about ditching your blah, everyday job in a cold climate and starting all over on a sunny tropical island, read this book firstIf you've ever thought about ditching your blah, everyday job in a cold climate and starting all over on a sunny tropical island, read this book first! It's the story of Joe, his girlfriend, his brother, and his brother's wife, as they uproot from working in a damp fish market in England and restart life as bar owners in the Canary Islands. The four meet with their fair share of struggles, crises, adventures, and a parade of interesting characters. Cawley balances everything very well here. The language is descriptive without being distracting, and the content is humorous yet entirely believable as fact. It's real life, well-told. Though it is written from a distinctly British point of view, I didn't find any problem relating to it as the "bloody Yank" that I am. A recommended read for anyone!...more
This is one of those books that has been sitting on my "to read" shelf for literally years. I've heard nothing but good things about "Boy's Life" by RThis is one of those books that has been sitting on my "to read" shelf for literally years. I've heard nothing but good things about "Boy's Life" by Robert R. McCammon. It is the story of a young boy growing up in a small Alabama town in the early 1960s. Of course, there are the requisite problems with bullies, school, and the like, but there is also a touch of murder, some fantasy sequences, and the racial tension one would almost expect of a tale in this setting.
McCammon has one of the most lyrical and yet direct uses of language of any author I have read recently. His prose is sophisticated, yet never flowery. Every character is well-drawn and intriguing, to the point where you really want to know more about them. The story itself though, while a great read, did not live up to the very high expectations I had for it. There were so many interesting characters and ideas along the way that I was often left wanting to hear more. McCammon could easily have made four or five novels from the pieces of this one.
There is a passage within the "Boy's Life" where the protagonist, Cory, meets with a man who published a single book. The man tells the boy of how the book as he envisioned it and how it looked after the publisher was done making suggestions for change (so it would be "marketable")were two entirely different things. The man expressed no small amount of regret about this. I can't help but wonder if this was the case in McCammon's publishing of this book. It seems like "Boy's Life" was originally a collection of loosely connected semi-autobiographical tales of growing up in the rural south, with subplots about an unsolved murder, some local monsters, and a few others elements thrown in to tie them all together and make the book more attractive to the publisher.
Or maybe that's just my imagination. Who knows?
"Boy's Life" by Robert McCammon is a very good novel, make no mistake about it. I teetered back and fourth between four stars and five for some time in writing this review. I only settled on four in the end because the book was not as over-the-top outstanding as I was lead to believe by some fellow readers with whom I have discussed it, though I don't think many novels could reach that high pedestal. My four stars do not detract from the fact that it is still terrific. If it's been on your "to-read" list, or you are just considering putting it there now, I strongly recommending you give it a try. I am looking forward to exploring other titles from Robert McCammon very soon....more
One Crazy Summer by Scott McElhaney was a fun little story, though nothing groundbreaking. My expectations were low to begin with due to the rather geOne Crazy Summer by Scott McElhaney was a fun little story, though nothing groundbreaking. My expectations were low to begin with due to the rather generic title, but it wasn't that bad of a novel. If it was, I never would have stuck with it to the end. The plot was rather generic, and the characters could have used more development. I do agree with other reviewers that McElhaney's attempts to shoehorn in a Christian message were a bit awkward. As a regular churchgoer myself, I didn't find those attempts offensive, just clumsy and out of place, almost "tacked on" as an afterthought. With some revision, I think it could be greatly improved, as the core story about a boy's find love and hidden money at his first job at a rather wacky department store is a good one. As it is, it's pretty much what you'd expect for the price: serviceable, pleasant, but ultimately forgettable. ...more
This novel by Steve Robinson seemed uniquely suited for me. I am a history buff, an amateur genealogist, and have always been intrigued by Britain. ItThis novel by Steve Robinson seemed uniquely suited for me. I am a history buff, an amateur genealogist, and have always been intrigued by Britain. It's the story of Jefferson Tayte, a professional genealogist who is sent to Cornwall, England by his client to discover what happened to a family that left the U.S. bound for resettlement there in 1783 and consequently disappeared. This is not some dusty procedural that takes place in records offices and libraries however. There's mystery, action, intrigue, and twists you won't see coming. The best part of it all is that it is completely believable. Robinson makes it all work very well.
I was especially impressed by his protagonist, Jefferson Tayte. He is multilayered, and nothing like the typical leading man. He is kind of paunchy, not entirely sure of himself, fears flying, and not especially smooth with the ladies. In a word, he is different and makes this read even more unique.
My only issue with "In The Blood", and the one that prevented me from giving it five stars, is that I feel it was a bit bloated. Some extemporaneous detail edited out here and there could have streamlined the novel by a few dozen pages or so.
"In The Blood" by Steve Robinson is an impressive introduction to a talented author. His second novel featuring Jefferson Tayte, "To The Grave" is out now, and I am looking forward to reading it in the near future....more
Sam Neumann's Memoirs of a Gas Station: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra is a fun read about a college student's adventures woSam Neumann's Memoirs of a Gas Station: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra is a fun read about a college student's adventures working for a summer at a resort in Denali, Alaska. Signing on with the resort's ownership for an unspecified position, Neumann and his friend Jim arrive in Alaska to discover that they have been assigned to work at the resort's gas station, which is one of the bottom-rung jobs in the organization. The book chronicles their attempts to make their jobs more tolerable, while enjoying the unique (to say the least) people who also spend their summers at Denali, as well as the spectacular Alaskan wilderness that is literally at their doorstep.
These are the recollections of a college guy's summer, written by the aforementioned college guy not long after it happened. The narrative is authentic and exactly what you would expect from a young man writing about such subject matter. There's alcohol, ramen noodles, late nights, foolish pranks, good friends, risky adventures, and uncertainty about relationships and life. It's not Shakespeare, but it's real, and the book brought me back to those same days in my own life, trying to figure out who I was, who everyone else was, and what was coming next.
If you are a fan of travel memoirs in general, Alaska in particular, or just want to take a trip back to those days when the present was a bit confusing though the future looked bright, check out Memoirs of a Gas Station: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra by Sam Neumann....more
Travelogues, humorous accounts, and personal memoirs are three of my favorite things to both read and write, and Are We Nearly There Yet by Ben HatchTravelogues, humorous accounts, and personal memoirs are three of my favorite things to both read and write, and Are We Nearly There Yet by Ben Hatch is a mix of all three. It's a terrific book that you really should read.
The subtitle pretty much sums it up: Ben, his wife Dinah and their two kids travel around Britain for an extended period of time on assignment for travel publisher Frommers, visiting numerous cities and tourist attractions to write about their family-friendliness. But this book is not about those attractions (you'd have to read their guidebook for that), it's about the arduous trek that the family undertook in visiting them all. Both of Ben and Dinah's precocious kids are under the age of five, and very free-spirited. On top of this, Ben's father back at home has suddenly become very ill just as their trip begins. Travelling can be a challenge under any circumstance, but doing so under these could be nearly impossible. Nonetheless, with infinite patience and a strong sense of humor, Ben and Dinah manage to make the most of their assignment, and even accumulate a parcel of great memories in the process.
The sections of the book dealing with Ben's coming to terms with his father's imminent demise are touching, while his accounts of his misadventures are often laugh out loud funny. The interplay Ben and Dinah have with each other and with their children during good and bad times, as well as the emotional experiences Ben has with his father, stepmother and siblings during the course of the senior Hatch's illness really underscore the importance and complexity of being part of a loving family.
You owe it to yourself to read Are We Nearly There Yet. It's moving, it's hilarious, it makes you feel good, and you will never look at your toothbrush the same way again. (You'll have to read it to find out what I mean by that last comment.)...more