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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.

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.

 

 

Review: Black Ops by Stephen Leather

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Black Ops by Stephen Leather, Hardback, July 2015, 400p.

4 stars

I pre-order every Stephen Leather book that is published, and Black Ops validated that somewhat expensive luxury to me. Black Ops is everything a thriller should be – fast, tight and exhilarating. I’ve felt that the last couple of Spider Shepherd books have been fun and enjoyable but starting to play by a familiar formula. Stephen Leather writes books to that formula better than any other author, in my humble opinion, and that is why I enjoy these books so much, but Black Ops broke from that formula slightly and shines because of it.

Personally, I loved that Black Ops had so many plotlines and was more intricate than most other thrillers, despite this, I didn’t find it hard to follow or heavy. The multiple subplots were excellently handled and juggled for maximum thrills. I loved the involvement of Liam, Spider’s son. Every time Liam is involved in a plot, I feel like the drama is notched up another level. Of the cast that were included in this book, all my favourite characters got parts with the exception of one tassel shoed American.

Much of Black Ops seemed to be concerned with building up the character of Lex Harper, who I do really enjoy – and I am hoping that Lex gets spun off into his own series. However, I’m always concerned that it will mean I don’t get to see my favourite characters feature in their own books. I want Lex to be a spin off series, not a replacement one! So I’m a little anxious about that. I also love all of the job offers that Spider had thrown his way through the last couple of books, so maybe we would see him in that side career that is being constantly hinted at? That would be interesting, but I’m afraid a little out of character. This review most likely makes little sense to someone who hasn’t read any Spider books.

I powered through Black Ops during some of the busiest weeks of my year, and it was the perfect break from stress. I really struggled to decide if it was a four star or five star read for me, but I usually reserve 5 star reads to my favourite of my favourites – and although I did enjoy this book it didn’t quite make it to that level. I’ve rated a few Spider books 5 stars in the past, and recommend this series to anyone who likes fast paced thrillers, my only advice is to start with the first book, Hard Landing, because there is quite the retinue of characters in the later books.