Sue is our resident ‘bird person’. If you know the colors or the sound or the place you saw a bird, I’ll bet Sue can tell you its name and all about the birds’ habits and habitats. Sue is also our resident ‘mystery reader’. Actually, Sue is an avid reader who just enjoys trying to figure out “who done it”. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone, but Sue played the flute in an orchestra and once sang at Carnegie Hall.
I got hooked on the Inspector Van Veeteren mysteries a few years ago and have looked forward to each new US release. Nesser is a Swedish author and the Van Veeteren (and subsequent Insp. Munster) mysteries have slowly trickled into the US market after being translated from Swedish. Hour of the Wolf is very much a psychological mystery, darkish elements with flashes of humor, and no extraneous subplots that veer away from the story at hand. Each element is essential.Van Veeteren is now the retired Chief Inspector of the Maardam police force, but when someone says "Chief Inspector" everyone immediately thinks of him, not his successor. It was a dark and stormy night (or at least dark and foggy) when a teenage boy, walking along side a highway, is struck and killed by a passing motorist. This one death, the cover-up of the crime, the subsequent blackmail and additional deaths, really had me puzzling how in the world ANY of this would be solved! Although retired, this is one case that the former Chief Inspector cannot ignore: His estranged son is one of the victims. Van Veeteren's loyal colleagues, with so little to go on, struggle with each passing murder to make sense of it all. But with their former boss's help, the pieces fall together. An intense, very atmospheric mystery, skillfully rendered by Nesser. I can't wait for the next one!
Ever been called a bird brain or called someone that? After reading this thoroughly researched book,
you will find that is actually a compliment rather than an insult. Birds have amazing brains and talents
that will leave you in awe. Ackerman writes engagingly on various aspects of bird behavior, including
the intricacies of social behavior, their ability to learn and remember, communication, nest building,
foraging, adaptability to a changing world/climate (or not), and one of things I found most intriguing,
migration and the various cues that allow them to perform amazing feats of long distance travel. A
really remarkable examination of creatures most people dismiss as being dumb and unsophisticated in
their brainwork. As she travels the globe in researching the book, Ackerman includes personal
observations/experiences, which add to the scope of this beautifully written book about how smartthese winged marvels really are.
It's been a number of years since Letts' wonderful book about Snowman, the champion show jumper, "The Eighty-Dollar Champion." I was excited to see she had again chosen horses as the focus of her next book. Both horse enthusiasts and non-horse enthusiasts alike have heard of the Lipizzaner horses of Austria, famed for their "airs above the ground." Their classical technique takes years to achieve and each stallion is paired with a rider for life. The Austrians also had a rich tradition of breeding high quality Arabian horses. The military advance of the Germans late in the war put the lives of these well-bred horses and the traditions of the Spanish Riding School in great peril, for not only did the Nazi's have a plan to create the perfect human race through their barbaric practices, but also the perfect horse. Letts sets the stage first in Austria with the development of the bloodlines there, the key people involved in the training, health and welfare of the highly valued horses, to their fleeing the coming onslaught, the decimation of the stock, to the arrival of the Americans in Europe, the bravery and determination of a former US Cavalryman, and the role his unit played recovering the horses that were stolen by the Nazis. While not dwelled upon, it was at times difficult to read, and always difficult to comprehend, what are the oft reported atrocities committed by the Nazis. I had no idea they had this grand plan to create a perfect horse breed and to that end exterminated a lot those they considered inferior, either through conscripting them for wartime service (and a probable death) or slaughtering them for food. Like a good thriller, there is high tension as a rescue plan is set into motion and the prized horses liberated. A fascinating and thoroughly-researched story well-told.
Former chief-inspector Gamache, late of the Quebec Surete, didn't stay retired long. In this, #12 in Penny's splendid mystery series, Gamache starts a new job as head of what is basically the Surete's police academy. The Surete had been rife with corruption for so long, here, at last, is Gamache's chance to guide the incoming cadets in a much more honorable direction. Back in Three Pines, where Gamache and his wife moved after his retirement, a very odd map of the area is found within the walls of the village's Bistro, one that will require some adroit sleuthing to suss out. The start of the new academy year, a disparate crop of new cadets, a murdered professor, rancor against Gamache that threatens to derail his new position, the puzzling map and the collective memories of the residents of Three Pines, all come together in this masterfully crafted mystery. Penny's mysteries are very much character-driven and she has such a way WITH those characters. Gamache is one of the most intelligent and compassionate protagonists I have ever found. I look forward each year to see where Penny leads him and the quirky inhabitants of Three Pines. LOVED this book!
I have rather eclectic tastes in history books, drawn to singular events or individuals that I've had no prior knowledge of, rather than those of a broader historical scope. Oregon writer Bruning brings to life the story of P.I." Pappy" Gunn, an aviator whose skills as a pilot/mechanic/engineer in the Pacific theater of WWII is the stuff of legends. Born in 1899 in rural Arkansas, Gunn had a hard scrabble life. He honed his aviator skills while in the Navy and afterward he retired to the Philippines (while still in his late 30's) where he co-founded Philippine airlines. Gunn was a man whose life was devoted to his country and to his family: his wife, two daughters and two sons. Caught in Manilla at the outbreak of WWII, Gunn rejoined the military, this time in the Army Air Force. His skills as both a pilot and mechanic were already legendary, and they continued to grow as the war raged on. Separated from his family for three years (they were interred in a facility in Manilla), Gunn focused his rage at not being there for his family, the ineptitude of the military he worked for, and his hatred for the Japanese, into working to build better, faster, more lethal fighter planes. His Naval experience gave him insights that he also used rethink/revolutionize HOW air battles would come to be fought. I was amazed at every turn at the genius of this man, his single-mindedness: make better planes, fight more strategically, win the war, rescue his family. The world may not have heard of "Pappy" Gunn, but hopefully this explosive book will rectify that. Gunn was a hero beyond measure and truly, nearly indestructible.
British mystery writer,Val McDermid, has written a fascinating book bringing to real life some of the very techniques she employs in her mysteries. This was a unique book that piqued my interest on a couple of levels: as a biologist, the science aspect was most interesting, and as a mystery lover, the crime solving aspect. Ok, I might as well admit I do love watching true crime procedurals on TV. As the title suggests, McDermid tackles each of the topics in the subtitle and delves into both their history and their use in solving crimes. Each chapter has a couple crimes to illustrate how it was used to solve a real crime, from using facial reconstruction, then presence of insect larvae to help determine time of death, the role of the pathologist, fingerprinting, the use of DNA left behind, and more. Each is an important tool in the detective's tool box. This was a book that was both informative and entertaining, and not really in a macabre sort of way at all!
It's been a few years between books by one of my favorite mystery writers, but it was worth the wait. Scotland Yard detectives Gemma James and her husband Duncan Kincaid are back, both solving crimes that hit close to home. After his last case, Duncan was reassigned to another district and was never quite sure why. His old "super" returns from a time away and begins to fill in the blanks, while also sowing further seeds of suspicion about goings on in his old department. When the "super" is nearly beaten to death, it's up to Kincaid to dig even deeper to find out what is going on, potentially putting both himself and his family at risk of retaliation. Meanwhile, Gemma becomes involved in a murder of a young nanny whose charge is a gifted and promising ballet dancer, a path Gemma's own son is newly pursuing. Tensions arise within the household as Duncan, who usually shares information about his cases with Gemma, is behaving very secretively and close-mouthed about what he is currently working on. Crombie has a deft hand with her characters, whom I have come to know over the many years she has written the Kincaid/James mysteries. Well-plotted and intriguing mysteries, interesting and diverse characters, make these "moody psychological" mysteries some of my favorites. Can't wait for the next one in the series!
Imagine you are a writer and you just can't think of anything to write about. What do you do? You take your dog for a walk through the neighborhood, of course! And wouldn't you know, by the end of this quiet, unassuming book, Philip Stead has found a lot to write about without even thinking about it. It's an ordinary day as Stead and his dog Wednesday set out, and along the way they greet old friends, a turtle named Frank, his friend Barbara, people on the street who stop to pet Wednesday, a variety of birds and a sky full of clouds. By the end, the "ghosts" of the things they saw and talked about that day follow them home and together they "take a walk on the page." I just loved this book, the simplicity of the story, the idea that there ARE ideas all around us even if we don't see them at first, plus the lovely illustrations interspersed with photos that help tell the story. We should all have a day like this one!
This is one of the most original children's books I have ever read! Told in rhyme, The Alphabet Thief works through the alphabet, stealing letters, starting with A's. Just to give you an example of one I particularly liked: "The Alphabet Thief stole all of the R's, and beer became bee, we assume. All horses were hoses and closets exploded, as every broom became boom." Such fun! Each "letter theft" is illustrated with silly and very theft-appropriate drawings that will make readers laugh out loud. There is a detective on the case, who, with her dog, tracks the "Alphabet Thief" all the way through the alphabet. A really fun read and one that might lead you to create your OWN examples of what happens when a letter is removed from one word to become something completely different! Fun, fun, fun.
Originally published in 1995, this new edition features new research and "fresh finds" by the author. Bob Pyle, in addition to being just one fine fellow, is one of my favorite nature writers. His evocative writing so often puts to words how I feel about the things I see or experience when I am about in the natural world. In "Bigfoot," Bob explores the area in SW/SC Washington known as the Dark Divide; a line of deep forest that runs parallel to the Lewis River and between Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Adams, a place where the lore of Bigfoot runs deep. Bob had an experience of his own back in 1970, unexplained sounds in the night while camping on Mt. St. Helen's. There began a life-long fascination with the lore of Bigfoot. In this wondrous book, Bob explores WHERE, if Bigfoot does indeed exist, they would be walking in the Dark Divide; what the terrain is like, what birds, mammals and plants they would share the woods with, the human component they have to deal with. On foot, in a vehicle, Bob explores this semi-remote terrain with the eye of the trained naturalist and lover of the land and its inhabitants that he is. Along the way, including information in the new chapter, he offers his own experiences with the unexplained. As a scientist, he does not come down on one side or the other, but offers his experiences, as well as the oral histories of the native peoples throughout the NW, to the pantheon of Bigfoot literature. Does Bigfoot exist? I don't know, but I so enjoyed reading about WHERE they could be living, the mystery and history surrounding this mythical ? beast, wildness and nature brought to life as only Bob Pyle can do. SUCH a good read!
I have to preface my review of this outstanding memoir by saying I have never read any of Sherman Alexie's books prior to this. Not even the book he is most well-known for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. I read a review of this book that intrigued me so I picked it up and was richly rewarded. Sherman is a gifted story teller, truth teller. This memoir is not, for the most part, written in a linear or chronological order. Some chapters are short, poetic verse; others are brief essays. Taken as a whole the book is unique in voice and the telling. His life has so many tragic aspects to it, from child abuse, alcoholism, racism, poverty, health issues, to the many deaths of family and friends from the Spokane Reservation. He shrinks from none of it. I laughed out loud, I felt profoundly sad, but most of all I felt grateful that he shared his story in the way that he did. At the heart of the memoir is his mother, with whom Alexie had a very complicated relationship. Her voice, their ties as mother and son, are the threads that run through the memoir, and it is her ghost that haunts him still. I cannot say enough about this powerful and truly genuine memoir. A must-read.
In her 13th Insp. Gamache offering, Penny hasn't lost a step. In her previous novel, Gamache, who had retired as Chief Superintendent for the Montreal Surete, had taken on the head position of the police academy. Always working to bring the best out in people and in his charges, the opening of this book finds him in court, trying to describe the unusual events that took place in the village of Three Pines and which brought him to the scrutiny of the court. A hooded figure stood mute in the green of Three Pines for days, totally unsettling the small town. When a body in the robes of the figure is discovered in the basement of the church, it unleashes an investigation with so many repercussions. And the Gamache we have all come to know and love is tested and the reach of his authority questioned. Where drugs are involved, all bets are off. What I love about Penny's mysteries is that they are so layered. Nothing is as it seems on the surface. She builds layer upon layer and in the end, those layers are slowly peeled away to reveal the truth within. It doesn't get much better than this!
This latest offering in the Sheriff Walt Longmire series takes a bit of a different tack. I have to admit it took me a bit to get into the rhythm, but once I did, there was no stopping me! This mystery moves between past and present: between events that took place soon after Walt became a Deputy Sheriff under Lucian Connelly, and the present day, with events inextricably connected. New Deputy Sheriff Longmire accompanies Lucian to the annual meeting of the Wyoming Sheriff Association on the steam locomotive called The Western Star. Here, Walt gets pulled into the investigation of what is put to him as the systematic murders of Wyoming sheriffs over the course of several years, the result of which leads to the present-day threat to his daughter and granddaughter in ways Walt didn't see coming. Henry, Vic, and older and an even MORE cantankerous Lucian, are there in the present tense. In the past, a lovely exploration of Walt and his late wife Martha's relationship and the tragedy that bound them together. The other "different tack" with this mystery is that it is TOTALLY a cliff-hanger!!! AARRGHH! Now I have to wait a whole YEAR to find what happens to ..... (I'm not saying!!!).
Rylant, a longtime favorite of mine, from her wonderous picture books to her Mr. Putter and Tabby series, has written a tome most appropriate for the times in which we now find ourselves: Life. "Life begins small." But it grows and changes, is known and unknown, and it isn't always easy. In the end, it is wondrous and special and the beauty in the wild things must be appreciated and listened to. "And it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen." Simple, powerful text and illustrations. And as Rylant says at the very beginning, "There is so much to love about life." A message for us all to heed. Loved this book.
Daywalt, author of two hilarious kids' pictures books, The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home, has another winner in his latest. If you haven't told, or better yet demonstrated, the age old and highly technical means of decision making that is rock paper scissors, now is your chance. Rock, Paper and Scissors are each masters of their own domains: Rock the yard, Paper the home office, and Scissors the kitchen junk drawer, and yet each has felt they have never battled a worthy opponent (you are privy to a battle or three). That is, of course, until they meet each other. BWAHaha! And they become fast friends. The "animation" of inanimate objects will make you burst out laughing, from the smooshed peach to the office printer to the dinosaur chicken nuggets. A PERfect read-aloud. Totally loved this very silly book. You will never look at rock paper scissors the same way again after you read this book!
Given that Oregon was pretty much on fire the summer of 2017, I thought this book a timely read.
Although not a stranger to either forest or fire ecology, I found this to be a very thorough and well-
written book on the subject. With photos and great clarity, Ferguson details the history of fire in the
West and how we got to where we are today, with catastrophic fire after catastrophic fire. From the
advent of the Forest Service and Smoky the Bear, where no fire was allowed to burn, to overburdened
and underburned forests, climate change, the encroachment of homes in the forest/urban interface,
how fires are fought, and what the future of fires and firefighting holds in store. There is no easy fix, and
with climate change influencing everything from insects to water take up by trees, the fact that the very
COST of fighting fires has precluded doing much in the way of preventative measures such as thinning or
prescribed burns, every aspect of fires in the West is covered. I think everyone who lives with the dread
of thunderstorms in the tinder dry summers and worries about their home and fire with each passing
storm, this is a must read. Really well done.
This gem of a book fell into my hands only recently. I’m all over nature essays, and this one was right my
alley. From the time I was in junior high until I started college, I was SURE I was going to be a marine
biologist, and spent every summer at an OMSI marine science camp, feeding my passion. But then I
discovered birds and well, that was that. But the ocean and its myriad wonders are still close to my
heart. Neely, is a gifted and award-winning nature writer, and imbues his subject, be they salmon,
coyotes, chitons, or place, with both clarity and grace. He collects and he wonders and he writes with
care and delicacy. I am not quite done with this rich collection of essays, but I’m enjoying every minute
While I am a long-time fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher mysteries, some I could take, others I could leave.
This one I can DEFinitely take! Place doesn’t usually play a big role in these mysteries; it’s mostly
Reacher and the situation he finds himself in, usually helping someone out of a jam and then extricating
himself and moving on. He’s kind of like the Lone Ranger but instead of riding a horse and shooting a
gun with silver bullets, Reacher rides a Greyhound and carries his toothbrush in his pocket. In this latest
outing, place does play a role. When he happens upon a West Point ring at a pawn shop, he can’t let it
go: why would someone who went to West Point pawn their class ring? Were the desperate? In some
kind of trouble? By the size of it he knows it had belong to woman. Could she have been a classmate of
his at the Academy? In his search for the woman who pawned the ring, he stumbles into drug ring, and
of course, one thing leads to another. I loved the way this story goes off in several directions and circles
back to the start by the end. Never overly complex, but definitely atmospheric, this is one good read.
John le Carre is perhaps the best-known writer of spy thrillers alive today. His most famous works
include “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It has been awhile
since I’ve read one of his books, but the premise of “Legacy” intrigued me. The Cold War is over. Spy
master George Smiley, he of British Secret Service reknown, is retired and living who knows where. The
spy game has changed, but it’s legacy lives on and eventually comes back to haunt one of Smiley’s
disciples, Peter Guillam. A Cold War counter-intelligence operation resulted in the deaths of three
people and years later, the adult child of one of them comes looking for answers. The Service of today
has no memory of that time, sympathies or insights into the reasons things were done as they were
during that time. Taut, suspenseful, le Carre moves seamlessly between the past and the present, laying
out the details of the operations, the people involved. The tension slowly builds and I was on the edge of
my seat, trying to fathom how Guillam was going to extricate himself from the questions and probings
of the Services’ legal team. So good, SO good. One of the best books of 2017.
Have a dog lover in the family? This utterly charming book is just the thing for a birthday, for Christmas,
or just because. I loved Humphrey’s first book, “Maddie On Things,” and this one is even better.
Humphrey adopted Maddie from a shelter in 2010, she being a hound of some kind. Sweet and gentle
and oh so photogenic! That dog can (and apparently does) fall asleep just about anywhere and ON just
about any THING, as this sweet book of photos demonstrates. Humphrey calls these photos “… love
songs to a wonderful dog…”. When a dog loves you, all it wants to do is be with you, no matter where,
right now, in the moment. I think this book will make you smile from ear to ear, as it did me. I hope
Theron and Maddie continue to share their adventures with the rest of us.
Back in the day, on a trip to Paris with his two young daughters, he was called upon to tell them a story.
It involved a boy named Johnny, some magical seeds, and an adventure; and the story, of course, had to
have a chicken in it (her name was Pestilence and Famine). Twain never committed the story to paper,
rather, he jotted down notes about it, which were discovered in the Mark Twain Archives nearly 100
years later. Enter Philip Stead and his illustrator wife, Erin. Between the two of them, the story, as
outlined and now envisioned by the Steads, comes to life. Mark Twain makes an appearance as well,
guiding Philip Stead along in his telling of the story. And oh, what a magical telling it is! Poignant, funny,
engrossing, I loved every bit of it. And Erin Stead’s illustrations are luminous. The story couldn’t be told
without the collaboration of both author and illustrator. Do NOT miss this wonderful, wonderful book!
“There are more chickens than a man can know in this world, but an unproved kindness is the rarest of
birds.” So sayeth Mark Twain.
Sometimes a book just strikes your funny bone and there is nothing for it but to laugh out loud, which is
what I have done several times with this little picture book. We have all been there, even as adults
(think: trying clothes on in a store dressing room and ah oh, you can’t get it off…). But when you are
little and wanting to show your mom that you can get undressed for your bath without any help and
your shirt gets stuck over your head (picture arms up, head obscured), well, you start to envision a
whole LIFE with a shirt stuck on your head! Could it be so bad? Maybe you would meet other people
stuck in the same situation and you could play together. Those illustrations REALLY had me laughing.
So, if you need a really good laugh, this silly book is just the ticket. Because remember, you don’t have
to be 4 or 5 for this to happen to you!