Friday, 9 June 2017

The Inner Life of Cats - A Review

Subtitled “the science and secrets of our mysterious feline companions” this book should be a must read for every self-proclaimed cat-person.


On a freezing cold and snowy night in Montana Mr. McNamee notices some tracks in the snow of the laneway leading to his barn.  Investigating some mewling he discovered a very small, very cold and hungry looking black kitten.  Realizing that this little bundle of fur was too young to be out on her own – probably too young to even be away from her mama – he bundles her up and takes her into the house.  Named Augusta, because Mr. McNamee and his wife counted back and thought she was probably born in August, this was the start of a 15-year loving relationship.

The book follows Augusta through the stages of her life with the McNamees and as he describes each milestone Augusta passes Mr. McNamee also shares his meticulous research about cats pertaining to the same subject matter.  Mr. McNamee wanted to be a better cat owner and to understand Augusta as best he could and he shares everything he learned with his readers.  He wrote about his own relationship with Augusta so touchingly that I had to close the book for a little while when he was describing when the time came to let Augusta “go”.  The author also discusses many other topics such as the feral cat communities around the world and the timely (and touchy) subject of the impact of both feral and outdoor “house” cats on wildlife.

Mr. McNamee has definitely done his homework to write this book.  In my current business venture in cat-sitting I have been asked many questions by clients, some – as a life long cat owner I had answers to, others I had to call my vet-tech daughter to answer.  I have made it a mission to become more informed about the “science” of cats and this book fit the bill.  There were things in this book that I had not read in any of the other “cat” books I have explored.

If you want to have a better understanding of the enigma that is the cat, this is one of the better books to start that journey.

“The Inner Life of Cats” surpassed the reasons I had to read it and was at the same time an easy and entertaining read. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

Thomas McNamee was born in Memphis and grew up there and in New York City. At Yale he was a Scholar of the House in Poetry under the tutelage of Robert Penn Warren. In his early career he produced the double LP Music to Eat by the Hampton Grease Band, said to be the lowest-selling album in Columbia Records history but now considered a classic. He then wrote the book and lyrics of a musical play, Sirens, under the guidance of Leonard Bernstein, but it never made it to the stage. His poems, essays, and book reviews have been published widely.

He served as a board member and as chairman of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He has also served as a board member of Rare Conservation and the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. After two decades in New York, he lived on a cattle ranch in Montana for eight years. He now lives in San Francisco.

In 2016, in support of The Inner Life of Cats, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Orphan Island - A Review

When the bell rings it signals “the changing”.  One child arrives at the island and the eldest leaves.  It’s always been the way …

“Nine on on island, orphans all,
any more ...
the sky might fall"

ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

The children on the island do not know why they are there or why they must leave when their time comes.  That’s just the way things have always been.  The green boat arrives with a young child and the eldest must leave, always a boy for a boy and a girl for a girl.  Then the next eldest moves up to take care of the new arrival, teaching them the ways of the island and how to be as self sufficient as possible until it is their time to leave. 

The island is an idyllic place to live; nothing there would ever hurt you – even the wind would not let you fall off a cliff, the snakes do not bite, the bees do not sting and the fishing net is always full.  Really, the only thing to remember is not to take the last of anything.  If you pick the last fruit then no more will grow.  It’s the way of things on the island, the rule to follow – like the changing. 

But what would happen if one of the children decided not to leave?  Would the sky really fall?  Jinny didn’t think so and she knew that she was not ready to leave the island for the unknown fate the green boat represented, not even if it meant being reunited with Deen, who left the year before.

This was an enchanting and captivating story that had me turning the pages until I got to the end.  I don’t have too many one-day reads these days and this was such a lovely book to read on a quiet, overcast afternoon (and I have to confess to a bit of cover love as well).  Ms. Snyder captures the voices of various children on the island with perfection, ranging in age from (I’m guessing) three to just pre-pubescent, that in itself is admirable.  I had fun trying to figure out some of the terms the children has come up to name common objects.  Just what are “poms” and “sweet snaps” exactly?  I did manage to figure out “ersters” and “ink fish”!  She also gave me a totally believable community of children living in isolation on their own mysterious island.

This is a YA novel and possibly because of my jaded and decidedly not YA mindset I kept looking for a lesson in the pages of this book.  I am sure there is a wise lesson in there somewhere, I just couldn’t put my finger on it because I was so busy enjoying the story … I think I didn’t want to look too deeply.

When I came to the end the story felt somehow finished and not at the same time.  It wasn’t a cliffhanger but there was so much more I wanted to know.  What happened to Jinny in particular and on the island in general?  Who was Abby?  What’s the deal with the green boat?  I am hoping there will be a sequel – or better yet, a prequel, but if not – a little mystery in life is a good thing.

Loved this one so definitely 5 stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

Laurel Snyder is the author of six novels for children, “Orphan Island,” “Bigger than a Bread Box,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Any Which Wall,” “Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess,” and “Seven Stories Up.” She has also written many picture books, including “Charlie and Mouse,” “The Forever Garden,” “Swan, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova,” “Inside the Slidy Diner,” Good night, laila tov,” “Nosh, Schlep, Schluff,” “The Longest Night,” “Camp Wonderful Wild,” and “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.”

In addition to her books for children, Laurel has written two books of poems, “Daphne & Jim: a choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse” (Burnside Review Press, 2005) and “The Myth of the Simple Machines” (No Tell Books, 2007). She also edited an anthology of nonfiction, “Half/Life: Jew-ish tales from Interfaith Homes” (Soft Skull Press, 2006) A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Michener-Engle Fellow, Laurel has published work in the Utne Reader, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Revealer, Salon, The Iowa Review, American Letters and Commentary, and elsewhere.

She is an occasional commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, and she teaches in the MFAC program at Hamline University, but most of all, she is a mom.

Books on Books

“Back at the fire circle, Jinny opened the book, cradling its worn spine in one hand as she turned the soft, crumbling pages with the other.  All the kids knew to be careful with the books.  They were swollen, faded, eaten by the salt air and the grit of sand, not to mention so many grubby, grabbing fingers.  When a book died, there was nothing to be done about it.  The kids could only bury it in the sandy earth beyond the book cabin door and try to remember the story.  They marked these little graves with the biggest shells they could find.  It made a funny sort of garden.”

Orphan Island
by Laurel Snyder

Loved, loved, loved this book so review to follow later this evening.

Emma in the Night - A Review

One night, after an argument about a cheap necklace, two sisters disappear – three years later one returned.

EMMA IN THE NIGHT by Wendy Walker

Cassandra and Emma never had things easy growing up with a mother who displayed classic signs of narcissism.  One day they were loved and the next could be frightening in the neglect they suffered.  They soon learned how to keep their mother happy but in turn she learned how to play them against each other.  Then both girls disappeared on the same night.  Emma’s car and shoes were found on the sand by the ocean, but no signs of Cass could be found and nothing was missing from her room.  Could the girls have disappeared together or were they the victims of two random, but coincidental abductions?

The FBI psychologist assigned to the original case suspected something else was at play but trying to convince others almost caused her to lose her job.  When Cass returned demanding action to find her sister, Dr Winter saw her second chance to set things right.

This was a twisty-turny tale of a severely dysfunctional family.  It was obvious from the time that Cass returned that things were not as they seemed.  As I read more and more of the story I developed plausible outcomes … and then changed my mind again and again.  Despite my multiple guesses I still got the ending wrong but that’s a sign of a good psychological thriller, right?

While I enjoyed this book there were times I felt it could have moved along at a slightly quicker pace; the story is told from multiple points of view so some of it was repetitive.  When I got to the end I couldn’t get past the feeling of “well that could have all been prevented with one phone call”

Emma in the Night releases on August 29th, 2017 and while I certainly would not hesitate to recommend this book to friends, I cannot quite rate it among the top books I’ve read in this genre.

I’d like to thank the publisher, St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley for my copy of the book, sent in exchange for an honest review. *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded  the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure.  She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Only Child - A Review

The story of Frankenstein’s monster has captured the imagination of readers of almost two centuries, not only because of the story itself but also it’s back story.  It has also been retold in many forms.  With this one Mr. Pyper hits it out of the park.

THE ONLY CHILD by Andrew Pyper

Lily Dominick was six years old when, as she looked on, her mother was brutally murdered.  The trauma caused her recollections to be hazy … she recalled only a monster knocking on the door to kill her mother and her six year old self being rescued by a white creature.  The incident still haunts her dreams and may well have led to her career choice as an adult where she is Dr. Dominick working as a psychiatrist with the worst of the worst criminals in New York’s Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Centre.  At work it sometimes seems to her she can read the mind of the incarcerated.  One morning she walks in to interview a man known only as Client 46874-A and claiming to be 200 years old.  For Lily he is an enigma; she can’t get a read on him and she feels as if he is looking into her mind instead of the other way around.  Then he throws Lily totally off balance when he claims to have known her mother and what happened to her so many years ago.

The next day Lily awakens to the news that Client 46874-A has escaped.  Driven by clues he leaves for her and the need to discover if he can truly help her solve the riddle of what happened on the night her mother died Lily sets out to find him and hopefully the truth.

Mr. Pyper takes his reader along on Lily’s quest as she travels across Europe picking up more and more information about not only “Michael”, as she named the mystery man, but about herself as well.  And for Lily the truth does indeed turn out to be stranger than fiction.

“The Only Child” is a well-written page-turner.  I would expect nothing less from Mr. Pyper.  This book is not only a psychological thriller with it’s share of the paranormal but is extremely entertaining in it’s explanations of the basis of not only “Frankenstein” but also “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Dracula”.  Within the context of the story it had me nodding my head and thinking “Oh yeah … makes sense”.

As I read closer and closer to the end I began to formulate my own theory about Lily and Michael so I was quite pleased to discover that I was at least half right.  Despite that, the reveal caught me by surprise.  I had hoped for a different outcome but the ending suited the story.  Not wanting to have to include a “spoiler alert” I do want to mention that there was one scene at the end of the book which wrapped up the story so extremely well that I still pause to think about it a few days after I’ve closed the cover – so well done Mr. Pyper.

* I’d like to thank the publisher, Simon and Shuster, and Netgalley for providing me with the book at no charge in exchange for an honest review.*

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website

Andrew Pyper was born in Stratford, Ontario, in 1968. He received a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from McGill University, as well as a law degree from the University of Toronto. Although called to the bar in 1996, he has never practiced.

Andrew’s creative writing teaching experience includes terms at Trent University, the University of Toronto, and, currently, Colorado College. Last year he won the Grant Allen Award for contributions to Canadian crime and mystery literature.

He lives in Toronto.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

He Said, She Said - A Review

This is one of those books that sort of meanders along as story good enough to keep you reading … until page 300 … when you get an OMG moment that changes the pace of the whole thing.

HE SAID, SHE SAID by Erin Kelly

Kit has been an eclipse chaser since he was a child and it’s a hobby that he carried into his adult life and his girlfriend, Laura as well as sometimes their friends followed along more to keep him company than because they were also eclipse chasers.  While attending a rather disappointing eclipse festival (the weather being such a big factor) Laura and Kit are walking back to their tent after the non-event when Laura happens upon a rape in progress.  Of course, they report the crime and Laura feels a strong connection with the victim.  She and Kit go through the whole trial process ensuring that the rapist, despite his protests of “misunderstanding”, ends up in jail.  But that is hardly the end of the whole situation when the victim shows up at their doorstep and Laura begins a tentative friendship with her, much to Kit’s disapproval.

Fifteen years later Kit and Laura are married, she is heavily pregnant with twins and they are living under an assumed name.  No good deed goes unpunished!

That’s all I can really say about this book without giving away the aforementioned, brilliant, page 300, twist. 

I enjoyed Ms. Kelly’s writing and the way she was able to pull me into the story but truthfully this would have been a 3-star read until I came to “the twist”.  It caught me completely by surprise and I raced through the rest of the book to learn how things would play out and the last quarter of the book was certainly a page-turner.  However, I can’t quite bring myself to give it 5-stars because it started off a little slow, because of the flashback sequences it was at times a little repetitive and the ending left me feeling a little … well … unsatisfied.

So 4-stars for this one.  It’s still a good read that I would recommend and I will definitely pick up something else by Ms. Kelly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website

I was born in London in 1976 and grew up in Essex. I read English at Warwick University and began working as a journalist in 1998.

My first novel The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and a Richard & Judy bestseller, and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy Award. The Sick Rose, The Burning Air and The Ties That Bind were all published to critical acclaim and my books have been translated into 19 languages. In 2014, I wrote the novelisation of the BAFTA-winning Broadchurch but sadly did not get to meet David Tennant.

As well as writing fiction I continue to work as a journalist and also teach creative writing.  I live in north London with my husband and daughters.