Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No Mercy: True Stories of Disaster, Survival and Brutality by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff

No Mercy: True Stories of Disaster, Survival and Brutality by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 24th 2013 by The Text Publishing Company

Epically fascinating. The authors take a look at the group dynamics of (mostly) men who meet disaster and the neurological factors that play an important role into whether the group will survive or not. Starting off with "The Lord of the Flies Principle" and the "Robber's Cave Experiment" as examples of group survival decay they examine several shipwrecks from the 1700s and 1800s which all had atrocious survivor rates except one which had 100% success. They discuss how our brain reacts in these situations, typical feelings and almost always shared situations and problems. While discussing these topics many other survivor disasters are referenced, sometimes in full, as well. So while the book is very heavy on shipwrecks others are regularly mentioned such as the Andes Mountain Flight Disaster in '73 and the 2010 Chilean Miner Rescue. I found the book absolutely fascinating and unique. It's about 50/50 history of the disaster vs neurology/psychology of the brain and group dynamics. Topics covered are fear, panic, alcohol, leadership, stupidity and inertia, race, suicide, cannibalism and murder to name a few. My only problem with the book is that it didn't seem to have a natural orderly organization, not chronological, not thematic. It went back and forth both in time and on themes and while the information held me engrossed forgiving this faux-pas, it would have been a much stronger treatise with a progressive order.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong

The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Doubleday Canada
Source: received a review copy from Random Penguin House Canada

Awesome! I stayed up way too late because I just could not put it down without finishing it. I partly had the scenario figured out, but there were so many twists and turns that there was enough that kept me guessing. If you're familiar with the mangas "Judge" or "Doubt" you'll know where the author's idea comes from. A warehouse, with kidnapped teens who are being murdered by captors wearing masks.

For a YA book this has the violence, fast pace and psychological thrills of an adult book of the genre, yet it never stops reminding you that it is, indeed, a YA book. And there is where I have my problems and am not sure how to rate or review the book yet. Since the book starts off with a group of teens in a mental therapy group, their diagnoses become the "issues". Especially those of the two main characters. We are taken on time-outs to be given information lessons, debriefings, politically correct terminology and touchy-feely stuff about how the mentally ill are not "crazy". I personally belong to the mental health community so "get" all this, but did I want it interfering during what was otherwise an excellent thriller? No, it hindered both the tension and pacing.

Otherwise ...

The thriller was very good; a departure from Armstrong's usual paranormal fare. This was strictly realistic. The terror was high, adrenaline was rushing and the tension was virtually non-stop. No character was safe keeping the reader on the edge of their seat throughout making for an incredibly fast paced read. Character development was also awesome; I was invested in both Max and Riley and was satisfied with the realistic ending.

I hope Armstrong continues to venture out into this genre more, but I'd love to see what she can do in the mainstream adult market.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #10: Late Harvest Havoc by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen

Late Harvest Havoc by Jean-Pierre Alaux &  Noël Balen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 167 pages
Published December 15th 2015 by Le French Book
first published in French 2005)
Source: egalley via edelweiss

Winemaker Detective Mysteries (#10)

The tenth satisfying addition to the Benjamin Cooker series begins with a macabre little opener to set the mood. This time, Benjamin and Virgile are on a whirlwind tour of Alsace and a small section of Germany trying to uncover the identity of a vandal who is chainsawing rows of young grape vines from various vintners with apparently no connections. They end up uncovering gossip and family secrets that lead full circle to the opening setting for a broody and moody ending. I always say this, but what I love about this series is that each one is different, we never know what is going to happen besides being immersed in the glorious world of decadent french food and wine (plus stinky cheese in this book). Late Harvest Havoc brings a particularly grim but still cozy mystery which I loved and devoured in one sitting.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 397 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by William Morrow
Source: egalley via edelweiss

I loved every second of this! I can't believe it's only been a year since I read Slaughter's last book which I really enjoyed for the writing but "Pretty Girls" brings back all the macabre serial killer goodness I love about this author's books. Another standalone, this book had me going from the beginning and really threw me for a loop in the middle. It is quite tense with some very unnerving parts and not, repeat not, to be read by the weak-stomached. I also liked the relationships portrayed in the book and especially enjoyed it being a sister story (since I'm a sister) This feels fresh to me like Slaughter has come out rejuvenated with something different yet more like her earlier works. This was a page-turner for me, a disconcerting thriller that kept me reading way into the wee hours of the night.

Monday, December 14, 2015

FRUSTRATED WITNESS!: The True Story of the ADAM WALSH Case and Police Misconduct by Willis Morgan

FRUSTRATED WITNESS!: The True Story of the ADAM WALSH Case and Police Misconduct by Willis Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 356 pages
Published September 24th 2015 by BookBaby
Source: review copy from the publisher

A very intriguing read! Willis Morgan was at the Sears mall the day that Adam Walsh was kidnapped and since that day he has been a "frustrated witness". This book is his story as a witness and a very convincing case for Jeffrey Dahmer being the real killer of the little boy. Morgan is not the first to suggest this and in fact Dahmer has been a suspect since his pictures appeared on TV in the '90s after his arrest and witnesses of Adam's kidnapping placed him as the suspect from the composites they had given in the '80s. I won't go any further into the facts, this book provides them all. Full of original documents from witness statements to inter-office memos, the complete Adam Walsh case files are either printed in this book, referenced here and/or are available on an accompanying website.

Morgan starts at the beginning and tells the reader several stories. The complete timeline of Adam Walsh's kidnapping, the Jeffrey Dalmer story in full but with special attention to his time in Florida and Germany, and especially to the incompetant and inadequate police investigation into Adam Walsh's kidnapping and murder from day one. I'm not a police conspiracy theorist but the evidence in this case, is hard to miss even john Walsh himself was angered by the police misconduct. First a friend of the Walsh family was targeted wasting precious resources, then in the '90s Otis Toole, famous for confessing to crimes he didn't commit, was targeted and all other suspects were dropped and evidence that didn't support Toole was ignored.

Morgan himself is a bit of a crusader, and understandably so. He feels some guilt for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time and hindsight eats at him as to why he didn't do more that could have saved Adam's life ... if only he'd known. His tone often comes across as arrogant and sarcastic but he acknowledges this. He doesn't pretend to be anything he's not. He knows how he comes off to some people. He concedes he's not the best writer, I concur, but he's certainly readable and Morgan has done an excellent job of organizing this book in a comprehensive understandable manner. There is a lot of information to take in here. There is another book written before this that outs the Dahmer connection and I'd like to read that as well. Knowing about the Lucas and Toole murders myself, I never really believed the Toole suggestion when they officially closed the Walsh case. This is a very convincing study from someone who obviously wants all the information out there with the public.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Investigation Discovery: Serial Killers December/January 2016

Investigation Discovery: Serial Killers December/January 2016
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Magazine, 98 pages
Published November 2015
Source: retail store
Investigation Discovery Channel

Glossy magazine with mostly two-page spreads about all the most popular serial killers you can think of. Heavy on the mid 20th century to present but still has a decent amount of the famous older cases. Divided into topical sections such as females, duos and the infamous there's a brief rundown on everyone and interesting stats throughout the magazine. I'm well read on this topic and didn't find anything I hadn't known before, even the pictures were all ones I'd seen before so I wasn't overly impressed with this from an information perspective. But it's nice to have the glossy in your hands rather than looking at pics on pinterest all the time. The last issue on Unsolved Mysteries was far better for me, but you'll like this issue more if you don't already know all the info.

Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie

Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 180 pages
Published July 12th 2013 by Diversion Books
Source:  egalley via Netgalley

Colin Mochrie, famous for his improv, has put his talent into story format and written a book! Not Quite the Classics is not quite literature but is full of a dozen rollicking good yarns. Each story starts with the first sentence of a classic piece of literature and ends with its last sentence. These are printed in bold so the reader knows when they start and stop. In between those appropriated words are rambling pieces of comedic buffoonery that could only come from the mind of Colin Mochrie. I read this book but for the first time in my life as a non-audio book person, I was hearing Mochrie's voice in my head and actually wishing I was listening to the audio version. Only one of the twelve didn't amuse me, the others had me laughing out loud from giggles to outright guffaws. Mochrie may not quite be the best writer, but he is quite certainly one of the funniest Canadians plying the craft today. I 'd certainly pick up a second volume of these humorous literary gems if he offers us more!

1. A Study in Ha Ha (inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet) - Fun. Sherlock takes on the study and science of humour and decides to become a stand-up comic performing at a local pub's weekly talent show. Mochrie capture's Holmes' essence quite well and it is an amusing story. Mochrie's own voice is loud and clear; I could hear him inside my head telling the story. Fun but not great. (3/5)

2. Moby (inspired by Herman Melville's Moby-Dick) - A horror story about Ishmael Moby, a balding actor, whose life changes when he meets a toupee with a mind and power of its own. Silly but fun. (3/5)

3. Casey at the Bar (inspired by Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat") - Haha! Loved this! Truly Canadian all the way as Mochrie re-writes the famous poem making it about an old disgraced hockey player at a bar. (5/5)

4. The Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Fourth (inspired by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four) - The first long story; this is a total farce. Keeping a dystopian plot like the original, Mochrie turns it into a cross between a fairy tale and a fantasy channeling Terry Pratchett. Outrageous fun as a magic shop owner is recruited by the rebels to overthrow the tyrannical King because they have been led to him by the Oracle. A few nods to Orwell's 1984 are included such as a siamese set of twins named Big Brother and Little Brother. (4/5)

5. A Tale of Two Critters (inspired by Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities) - Wow. A serious, violent and touching story written from Wile E. Coyote's point of view. Darkly hilarious as well! (5/5)

6. The Cat and my Dad (inspired by Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat) - The author cheats a bit for this one by paraphrasing the first stanza, then changing the words to the last sentence to reference his own story, but that didn't stop me from loving this Seussian zombie apocalypse rhyme. (5/5)

7. Franken's Time (inspired by Mary Shelly's Frankenstein) - Black humour and horror combine in this ludicrous tale of a man and his close relationship with a rooster. Mochrie manages to keep many elements of the original and writes a morbidly funny tale. (4/5)

8. Waterhouse Five (inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five) - This is the first story where I haven't read the original book so any humorous references are lost on me. However, this is a totally comic story of the most outrageous proctal exam anyone could possibly imagine. Undergone by poor Billy, the world's most unfortunate soul. LOL (4/5)

9. 'Twas Not Right Before Christmas (inspired by Clement Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas) - Hilarious! These poems are my favourite parts of the book. There's been a shift in the space-time continuum and when the narrator gets up in the night he's visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past accidentally, then in pops Clarence the Angel, they start arguing, and eventually all mayhem breaks lose as the characters from all Christmas classics and TV shows and movies turn up. Wild. (5/5)

10. The Grateful Gatsby (inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby) - A delightful British farce! An impoverished British Lord is trying to save his estate by making an advantageous marriage for his daughter. This is where the wild American comes in. Set during World War I. Quirky and lots of fun. Probably the best-written story in the book so far. (5/5)

11. Re: Becker (inspired by Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca) - A delightfully morbid tale. A man find's out he's just inherited his only friend's vast estate after a sudden death. But the will comes with one very strange condition that he, however, has no qualms over. The second story I haven't actually read the book of, but I have seen the movie more than once; Mochrie keeps several nods to the original here for fans in this darkly humorous and very British tale. (3/5)

12. Faren Heights Bin 451 (inspired by Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) - Boy, a bit of a dud to end the book with. A noir private eye has the private dick searching for a missing set of keys for the lovely dame who came into his office. Things get convoluted with a cast including a midget, but the humour of this one fell flat on me. (2/5)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Calls Across the Pacific by Zoë S. Roy

Calls Across the Pacific by Zoë S. Roy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 270 pages
Published October 21st 2015 by Inanna Publications
Source: review copy via the publisher

A brilliant historical fiction set in the 1970s of a young woman who escaped Maoist China to freedom via Hong Kong to the US and finally comes to rest in Canada. But she doesn't find her final rest until she is able to go back and find out what happened to those she left behind, which she is able to do in the days leading up to the death of Chairman Mao. The story flashes between the present 1970s and the early 1960s when Nina's family was persecuted by the Mao regime and she herself was at first a Red Guard before being shamed for her parent's crimes and sent to a re-education camp. Takes a good look at the travesties inflicted on the people of any ilk under Mao's regime and Nina through her research on political science and a book she is writing brings both the political system and capitalism vs communism under the lens of an inquiring mind. The writer leads us through the people of China, showing that revolutions don't always end with the people as victors. Communism uses the people as a tool and leaves the people questioning why nothing gets any better. I found the book a quick read and enjoyed Nina as a character, at times the book even veered off into romance mode, but not too much :-) We are left with the people of China, especially the students, hoping the death of Mao now means some Western reform will come, some freedoms of thought and speech. It's a happy place to leave the people. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be and an author's note on the continued persecution of political crimes, human right's violations, the violent student uprising at Tiananmen Square, etc. would have been appropriate. But nonetheless, a lovely story. Roy's writing flows beautifully and I've enjoyed every one of her books to date.