2016

Review: Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach, ARC, Oneworld, November 2016, 285p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Grunt is a book about war unlike any other I have encountered – and I’ve certainly read my fair share of war books. Mary Roach goes behind the science and technology of modern soldiering, and the issues and advances that scientists are making for the men and women on the front line. This is not a book for the faint hearted, it is full of blood, gore and swearing and doesn’t shy away from some hard truths about the US Defence Force. Grunt is a book for those curious about how uniforms come to be, what happens when you take shrapnel to your, uh, nether regions? Do soldiers get travellers’ diarrhoea like the rest of us? What is life aboard a submarine like?

Roach, of course, has investigated and researched all these topics and more and written a brilliant non-fiction book that is very accessible. Much of the research is communicated by descriptions of her conversations with people in the military, and her experiences while researching. Sometimes Roach throws in a reference from a medical or scientific journal, but most of her evidence takes the form of interviews with experts and those who are actually experiencing the technology and science – the grunts. This makes this book very easy to read and digest, but not something I would be reaching for as a reference text. Its value is purely entertainment, and on that score, it delivers.

Grunt is richly and at times, darkly humorous. There were quite a few times that I was laughing at a dead body or something that may have killed someone – most of the book is framed in a humorous fashion, with quips and hilarious facts accompanying the science and evidence. Grunt is also the first book that I felt physically ill reading (I don’t recommend eating BBQ meat while reading Chapter 9: The Maggot Paradox). I imagine some men would also feel a bit delicate reading through chapters 4 & 5, both of which deal with damage and recovery from injury to the male groin. Entertaining and informative for a woman, but when I read a couple selected paragraphs to my boyfriend, he promptly asked me to stop and made pained wincing facial expressions.

A could of years ago I added Roach’s book Stiff, which is all about the science of dead bodies, to my Goodreads TBR. I’m not sure when I removed it, but I certainly didn’t read it, but I will now be adding that back onto my TBR – Grunt sold me on Roach’s style and approach to writing and science. I’m looking forward to working my way through her back catalogue of weird and wonderful books full of strange and surreal facts. And I’ll be buying Grunt as a Christmas present for a family member who loves war non-fiction and has a really twisted sense of humour. I want to see his reaction to chapters 4 through 5. I might also put a putrid scratch and sniff at the start of Chapter 10: What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Reek.

Thankyou Oneworld publishers for the review copy. This book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Innocents by Ace Atkins

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The Innocents by Ace Atkins, (Quinn Colson, #6), Netgalley copy, 12 July 2016, 384p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I have reviewed previously:
The Ranger, The Lost Ones and The Broken Places (Quinn Colson, #1, #2, & #3)
The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)
The Redeemers (Quinn Colson, #5)

The Innocents is a glorious return to thriller form for Ace Atkins. Quinn Colson and the residents of Tibbehah County are fantastically interesting characters who live in a world believable but disjointed from my own reality. The world building that Atkins has put into this series is unrivaled (I actually googled a year ago to see if Tibbehah County was a real place. It’s not.) and when I step back into a Colson novel it is like visiting best friends who have been away on holiday.

When a woman is found walking down the highway, on fire, the community demands a quick result from the Sheriff, Lillie Virgil. She and Quinn Colson, recently back from training the police force in Afghanistan, have to investigate the crime and discover an insidious conspiracy of silence. As always, the focus of the investigation soon falls on the local titty bar, although it is no longer owned by Stagg. The new owner, Fannie Hathcock, is delightfully dark and a force to be reckoned with. While we are talking about Fannie Hathcock, let me just say that her name is even better in Australia – where a woman’s vagina is called a fanny. I assume in America it’s something similar, but we don’t say ‘fanny-pack’ here because that’s just too dirty. Anyway, I think that is the first time I’ve ever talked about genitals in a book review. ONWARDS!

The last two Colson novels were somewhat lackluster compared with the first three, and The Innocents certainly takes back the trophy and holds it high. The characters, setting and plot all combine to create an atmospheric thriller that took hold of my interest and didn’t let go. The atmosphere that Atkins creates in these novels is surreal, and his ability to get across a mood took me by surprise. My one pet peeve with the writing style of The Innocents is that the description of the people seemed over-done and unnecessary. We get hardly any description (which is what I prefer) of the main characters in this book, but know everything background characters are wearing (including brand names) and what they look like. It did lead to a fun game in which I tried to use Ace Atkin’s style to describe random people on the street to my boyfriend. This is such a minor issue that it feels silly to mention it, but it did stand out to me. I find this is the accepted style as opposed to what I actually prefer.

Now I have to wait for a year for the next book to be released. I really want to see what happens in Quinn’s personal life now that my shipping dreams have come true. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but oh, my god. Just grab yourself a copy of this book and be blown away!

 

Review: First Response by Stephen Leather

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First Response by Stephen Leather, Hardcover, Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 2016, 377p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Another cracking thriller from Stephen Leather. If you have ever spoken to me about books, or read any of my previous reviews of Leather’s work, you will know that I am a pretty major fan of the Spider Shepherd series. I loan out copies of the books often because I want to convert others to the series – and most often I’m successful. Before the Spider Shepherd series began, Leather wrote a string of standalones, most of them excellent. On my bookshelves, the oldest saddest looking books are these standalone novels. Whenever I’m a little stuck for inspiration I pick up one of those older books and read. First Response is the first standalone that Leather has had traditionally published in a long time and it certainly deserves all the accolades and gushing that is now to follow in this review.

Let me start by discussing the protagonist of this wonderful story, Superintendent Mo Kamran. I loved reading about a Muslim in a position of authority in the police force. So many thrillers that the bigger authors write have a white hero defeating the great unwashed, brown enemy. Although Kamran is a Muslim, he is much more than that – he’s not perfect (which is sometimes the temptation when writing a subversive character, I’ve noticed) nor is his religion actually that important when he is doing his job. To me, this feels closer to real life.

I’d be remiss to leave out that he is dealing with a Islamic terrorist attack, but the way that is handled is amazing. The twist at the end – I didn’t see it coming. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t actually guess the whole story. It had the feeling of a murder mystery but it is firmly a thriller book, with a tense race towards a deadline. Leather has a knack in writing books that seem to straddle the action, mystery and thriller genres, and in First Response, he’s kicked that into high gear.

Due to the type of incident that Kamran is dealing with, there were lots of moving parts – and instead of having a hero cop or SAS trooper or something of the type, Kamran has an overarching view of events in the book, and interacts with politicians, police, intelligence agencies and the SAS. It felt more believable because Kamran was juggling all these different pressures and priorities and there was no single ‘hero’ who went in, all guns blazing, to save the day.

I’d love to see more of Mo Kamran, but I have this feeling that this book was a standalone and the universe won’t be expanding. First Response would make an excellent movie, with so many different incident points and a grand scale, it would certainly be something I’d go to a cinema to see on the big screen.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 2016 Releases so far

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday’s topic (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is best 2016 releases so far in 2016. As I’ve been focusing on reading classics and catching up on some backlist series, I haven’t been as focused on reading new releases in the first half of this glorious year. As a result, I’ve only read 5 – and so I’ve selected my favourite 3 to share with you all in this Top Three Tuesday. It’s still a TTT, so chill.

  1. Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

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Have I raved about this book enough in the past month? Trust me, the answer is NO. This book deserves all the accolades and applause (and even then deserves more). I’m really looking forward to Storey’s next work. For a debut, this sure felt like it came from the pen of a seasoned thriller writer. Sharp, vivid and thrilling, it has all the stuff I love – great characters, excellent setting and non-stop action. It’s not even published yet… and I’m SO excited. I feel like I should hold a baby shower for this damn thing – it’s become such a part of the family.

2. The Sandpit by Stephen Leather

the sandpit Oh Spider Shepherd, how I love thee. Of course the latest release in the Spider Shepherd series made this list. It’s only a novella, but if you read it twice that’s novel length, right? It’s a prequel to Hard Landing that I never realised I needed so bad. Life is beautiful now I have my own copy. You know you love a book when you get a netgalley copy but still buy a copy just so you can own it. Also, I don’t want Stephen Leather to starve to death (not that I think we’re in danger of that) so I need to keep supporting him. It’s important to feed and water your favourite author.

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3. In The Cold Dark Ground by Stuart MacBride

In The Cold Dark Ground is a favourite from early (like the first days of January) 2016. Logan McRae’s latest outing is such a great novel – it draws so much of the drama from the last arc to a close and opens new doors for McRae to walk through. Not that I’m saying he’ll manage, most likely he will find himself locked in a cargo container being shipped to the other side of the world, while trying to keep a beautiful woman from bleeding to death and realising that all the crates are filled with venemous snakes that just want to be close to him. Or he’ll eat one of his victims. You never know with Stuart MacBride. This is why I don’t write books. My ideas are shite, but I’m content with that because I let the experts, like MacBride, do the heavy lifting for me. Pick up this book. It is worth your time. I purchased it in hardcover and had to have lentil soup for the next two weeks to afford it.

 

Review: Off the Grid by C.J. Box

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Off the Grid by C.J. Box, (Joe Pickett, #16), Kindle edition, Head of Zeus, March 2016, 500p.

3 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Endangered (Pickett, #15) 4 stars
Stone Cold (Pickett, #14) 5 stars

I am a huge Joe Pickett fan – I binge read the series over the last couple of years, and most of the books are excellent, fun filled romps through Wyoming. I now pre-order the books on kindle and usually read them in a single sitting or two the week they are released. As this is book 16 in a very long series, I know a lot of people new to this universe pick up a later book to read as a standalone, but I really recommend if you like the idea of this series (and it is amazing) to give it the time it deserves and read from book 1, Open Season.

This felt like the weakest offering in this series in awhile. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and the characters are still entertaining and the settings are wonderful, but there’s a few things that doesn’t sit well with me. First off, this plot, while enjoyable and action packed, doesn’t really fit in with Joe Pickett being a game warden. I understand that he’s now the governor’s attack dog, but it just feels wrong. I want to read about Joe being a game warden and the weird and wonderful people that he comes across and the landscape. This plot would have been better if it was in a standalone – or even if it was predominantly a Nate spin-off. My preference would have been a standalone with a sheriff, police officer or local vet taking on these issues.

This book also felt like a Nate Romanowski book that had cameos from Joe Pickett and his family. Sure, more words were given to Joe, but most of the character development came from Nate. I’m a fan of the battle hardened Nate, but I admit that I prefer the stories in which the focus is on the Pickett family and Saddlestring.

The setting itself needs mention, because it made me feel at home. It was set in a desert area, and the description of red dirt and no features for as far as the eye can see made me think of Australia and what the outback is like, and although that’s familiar, I love the Joe Pickett novels for their description of a landscape that is utterly alien to me.

I am really interested to see where the next book goes because the last page of Off the Grid had a teaser that really made me start salivating for the next book. Despite everything I wrote about some of the flaws in Off the Grid, I am still enjoying this series and will certainly still be pre-ordering the next one.

If you are a Pickett fan, I’d advise still reading Off the Grid, because it does further the lives of the characters in this universe. If you’re new to Saddlestring, Wyoming – I’d start at the beginning of the series with Open Season or one of the best books (at least, according to me) with Below Zero, Cold Wind, Breaking Point or Stone Cold.