Book Review – Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

“In the seven years since Shaffer’s celebrated hike, only five others had achieved the same. All were men. Emma intended to change that.” Feet hit the trail in Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, a biography by Ben Montgomery.

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The Appalachian Trail is a continuous hiking trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, following the Appalachian mountains that lie parallel to the Atlantic coast. In 1955, only a few people had hiked the entire trail alone. Inspired by an article in National Geographic, Emma Gatewood, then 67 years old, decided to tackle the challenge and be the first woman to complete a solo trek. Along the way, she was noticed by the press, stole the hearts of the public, and finished the trail as a legend.

This was my first biography, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The story is written as a narrative, which I’m assuming was created from journals kept during the walk, or interviews afterwards. Montgomery follows Emma’s trip all the way up the trail, describing the places and people she encountered as she traversed a good portion of North America. Between chapters of the hike, we get flashbacks to Emma’s past and the experiences in her life that made her so tough and motivated. There are occasional short excerpts of newspaper articles and quotes from people who followed her trek.

The story is surprisingly entertaining! I was wondering how it was possible to get a whole book out of a hike, but there’s lots of detail about the different experiences Emma had on the way. We hear about her encounters with wild animals, worn out gear, dangerous weather, suspicious backwoods residents, reporters and photographers, and even a night spent in a cabin with a group of teenage gang members! The book kept my interest all the way through.

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As someone who loves to hike, I gotta say that Grandma Gatewood is a hardcore badass. I won’t touch a trail without proper boots, a comfortable backpack, and an array of food and snacks. Emma did it in Converse with a denim bag slung over her shoulder, sleeping wherever she could find a dry spot by the trail, while she was sixty seven years old! My feet hurt just thinking about it, lol.

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The story is definitely inspiring, but personally I doubt I will ever attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I would die of loneliness trying to do it alone, and even with a partner or group I’d be sick of walking after about a week. But thousands of other people have been motivated to finish the trail because of Grandma Gatewood’s story. She’s a unique and interesting legend!

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I’d love to see Emma’s story made into a movie. πŸ™‚

Cover Report: The cover features a (colorized) photo of Emma Gatewood, standing in front of some mountains and looking up, as if she’s peering at a tall peak. The fact that she doesn’t look how you would expect a record-breaking hiker to look really catches your interest. I give this cover a B+.

Typo police: One typo found; there was a description of a “satin-lined wood jacket”, which I’m pretty sure should be “WOOL jacket”.

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Book Review – The Leaving

“Six were taken. Five came back” reads the tagline of The Leaving, a young adult novel by Tara Altebrando.

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Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners mysteriously disappeared from school. The only clue is a strange comment spoken by one of the victims the day before–she was going on a trip to “The Leaving”. In the present day, the children, now teenagers, suddenly reappear with no memories of who took them or where they’ve been for the last decade. Even stranger, only five of the six have come back, with no hint to the whereabouts of the sixth missing child. The five teens have to deal with the mysteries of who they are, where they’ve been, and what their relationships are with both the other abductees, and their estranged families. Who engineered The Leaving, and why?

Cool concept, huh? πŸ™‚

The first thing I noticed about this book is the strange formatting. While most of the book is arranged in normal paragraphs with standard typesetting, in Scarlett’s chapters some of the text is broken, sideways, curled into spirals, and twisted into other strange shapes, reflecting her mental state.

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Another character, Lucas, has thoughts framed in big black boxes.

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It reminds me of a horror book I read years ago, called House of Leaves, which used this strange formatting as well. I was worried that this trick would get out of control and become distracting, but luckily it wasn’t overused and didn’t cause problems.

It was a bit strange that the story focused mainly on two of the returned teens, Scarlett and Lucas, as well as one family member, Avery. The other disappeared characters appeared only briefly here and there. The story worked fine, but it struck me as an odd choice by the author. Why not just have just three kids go missing (Scarlett, Lucas and the one who didn’t come back, Max), instead of six? The book had a neatly wrapped ending, so I doubt there will be any sequels to explore the other characters. (PS, for some reason I pictured Avery as Quinn from Daria.)

But the mystery proceeds nicely, dropping clues regularly. There was a lot of creativity in the nature of some of the clues!

Overall, I enjoyed The Leaving. It’s a good “training thriller” for anyone looking to get into that genre.

Oh yeah, one other comment…can we get some more variety in the names in YA fiction? Too many Maxes, too many Adriens. There are thousands of names out there, authors!

Cover Report: The cover features a photo of a misty playground, with an abandoned swingset in the center. The swingset has six swings, but one of them is broken and missing, which ties in perfectly to the book’s tagline. The fog makes the scene look lonely and mysterious, and I love the gradient of color from the pale blue at the top to the dark brown at the bottom. Great design! The front is part of the reason I picked up this book, which is the exact purpose of a book cover! I give this cover an A+. Great job by the designers, Amanda Bartlett and Jessie Gang. πŸ™‚

Typo Police: No typos found.

**SPOILER SECTION**


Though I enjoyed the book, I was very disappointed in the fate of the sixth missing child, Max. The fact that he didn’t come back was a big part of the hook of the plot, and clues are dropped through the story suggesting something cool about his whereabouts and why the other teens didn’t remember him. But in the end, he had been dead all along? The letters in the mailbox were just pranks? 😦 His fate could have been really interesting.


**END SPOILERS**

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Book Review – Glitch

YA meets dystopia (again!) in Glitch by Heather Anastasiu.

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Zoel (aka Zoe) lives the life of a normal teenager — that is, a normal teenager in the Community, a society where order, obedience, and conformity is mandatory. Living deep below the surface as a result of a nuclear war (or so everyone is told), the people of the Community are microchipped to squelch their emotions and perpetually tuned in to a hive-mind computer feed that dictates their thoughts. But Zoe’s microchip has started to glitch, giving her the chance to think and feel on her own. She is noticed by Adrien, a member of a freedom-fighter resistance cell, and begins a journey to free herself and her family from her oppressive society.

There are lots of YA dystopias out there, and Glitch is one of the…calmer ones. While there are a handful of short action scenes here and there, this story is mostly about hiding, keeping secrets, and quietly dealing with new confusing experiences. It’s an interesting change from what I’ve read before!

Of course there’s a love triangle, though this time it’s super easy to pick a side since one of them is a total A-hole. πŸ˜›

One annoying thing in the book is the odd made-up cursing used by one of the characters. Words like “shuntin”, “cracked”, and “godlam’d” were sprinkled throughout the dialogue, and it became a bit distracting. I’ve seen authors invent their own slang in other books, with various levels of success…it worked fine in Red Rising (and was even a minor plot point), but not so much in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. I’ll have to put Glitch in the “not working” pile as well.

Overall, I thought Glitch was ok. It’s a trilogy, so I might eventually get to the other two installments. Not in a huge hurry, though.

Cover Report: The cover is dark purple, and features an over the shoulder view of a young woman with a glowing port on the back of her neck. The title of the book is in lighter purple, in a font that suggests the circuitry of a microchip. The cover relates to the content of the book, and has a nice feeling of darkness and secrecy. I give this cover a B+.

Typo Police: No typos found.

**SPOILER SECTION**


Holy crap, we need to talk about Max. This guy is an obnoxious nutjob, not to mention a domestic abuser waiting to happen. If this was a normal story I would have been super frustrated with Zoe’s acceptance of his crazy, aggressive, controlling behavior, but I suppose I should cut her some slack since her bizarre upbringing made normal human interaction a mystery to her. I just worry about what this kind of “love story” is telling young girls who might not be able to analyze it from a detached literary perspective.

Dear teenage girls: If a guy in real life acts the way Max does in this book, shut the relationship down IMMEDIATELY. Seriously. Get away from guys like that, fast.



**END SPOILERS**

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Book Review – The Flicker Men

“If Stephen Hawking and Stephen King wrote a novel together, you’d get The Flicker Men,” says one cover blurb. A thriller mixed with quantum physics? Don’t mind if I do!

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Eric is a physicist with a troubled past; his previous scientific work caused problems with both his mental state and his professional career. When a friend helps him get a temporary position at a prestigious lab, Eric decides to do a re-creation of the famous “double slit” experiment. The tests have shocking results that make him question the nature of human consciousness, as well as making him a target for a secret society with terrible plans for humanity.

I’ve always been fascinated with quantum physics and the strange properties of the universe that it exposes, so I grabbed this book in a hurry! The story is a mystery/thriller, with a huge dose of sci-fi layered over everything. It starts a bit slow, but picks up quickly once the plot gets going.

One very important factor of this book is the scientific content. The plot revolves around the Double Slit experiment, the original test that proved that electrons can exist as either a wave or a particle depending on whether or not they’re being observed. While you don’t have to have an actual PhD to read this book, having a working knowledge of the basic ideas behind quantum physics definitely helps in understanding the story. I would imagine that some of the scientific talk would be a bit baffling to a complete novice, so this isn’t a book to go into unaware.

BUT…this is yet another book where the ending doesn’t live up to the rest of the book. The final conclusion itself is ok, but the entire third act departs drastically from the tone of the first two. The first two parts of the story are slow-burn mysteries, introducing ideas and characters that ask two questions for each one that it answers. The final third of the book becomes basically an action movie, with guns and chases and strange inter-dimensional creatures. It’s a bit jarring.

Overall, I enjoyed The Flicker Men. I wish the third act had been a bit more like the first two, but it wasn’t bad enough to ruin the book. I stayed up late several nights reading and pondering over some of the ideas here!

Oh yeah, and this is science FICTION. A lot of the ideas in the book aren’t consistent with real-life quantum physics (mainly that you don’t need a HUMAN observer to collapse the wave, just some kind of interaction with another particle). There’s an interesting articleΒ  about that here.

Cover Report: The cover is mostly blue, with the shadow of a person on the rippled surface of water. The title is in large yellow letters, in a font that suggests quick movement and blinking. This relates very well to the story, and is a striking image. I give this cover an A!

Typo Police: One typo: One character, Satvik, has his name misspelled as “Savik”.

**SPOILER SECTION**
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There were a few confusing things in this book. The biggest one was the one boy who, despite being “fated”, seemed to be aware of who and what he was. He even showed aggression toward the main character, for no apparent reason. Who was this boy? What was his purpose in the story? Presumably he died at the end, so why was he there at all? I don’t get why he was included.

The character of Mercy also confused me. She was fated all along, meaning that she was an automaton with no consciousness. So what was the deal with the missing finger and her memories of another reality? All that was just made up and pre-programmed into her? Every other fated character, like the guy in the trailer out in the desert, was described as seeming empty and soulless, as if you can tell a fated person by sight once you know what to look for. But Mercy seemed 100% real to both the main character and the reader. Was she a more advanced version than the others?

I also didn’t like the demon dogs. Multiple universes nested into each other makes sense, but why are there magical dogs? Wtf?
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**END SPOILERS**

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Book Review – Little Face

Does a mother always recognize her own baby? That question is put to the test in Little Face by Sophie Hannah.

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Alice takes a day trip and leaves her two-week-old baby Florence with her husband. But when she returns, Alice is greeted with a shock – the baby is the crib is a stranger! Why would someone replace Florence with another baby? And worse, why doesn’t anyone believe Alice when she insists that “little face” isn’t her child?

What a cool concept for a thriller! I had previously read A Game for All the Family, also by Sophie Hannah, so I had high hopes for this book. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is the first book in the “Spilling CID” series, which focuses on two police officers and the crimes they solve.

Unfortunately, the police were my least favorite part of the book. They weren’t very likeable, and their romantic problems took time away from the main plot without really adding anything. This first installment didn’t really encourage me to pick up more of the series, since I already know the recurring characters are a snore.

As for the main plot, it’s definitely a page-turner! Unfortunately there are a few troubling problems, almost all of which are spoilery (see spoiler section below).Β  The ending in particular is a bit frustrating and adds on some additional confusion.

Overall, this book was a little disappointing. The concept is fantastic, and the mystery unfolds in interesting ways, but the ending along with some confusing behavior from the characters mess it up a bit. I won’t be reading any of the rest of the series, though my positive experience with AGFATF makes me want to try another of Hannah’s standalone novels.

Cover Report: The cover has a background of dark grey, with darker tree branches overhead and a photo of a mother and baby over to one side. The author’s name is in white text, while the title is in red, making the name stand out more than the title. Had I not been specifically looking for a book by this author, I doubt I would have picked this up based on the cover. (I will say that “Little Face” is a great title. Definitely intriguing because of it’s strangeness.)

Typo Police: There were a few odd instances of typesetting here and there. Early in the book we had “rect angular”, and later “atmos phere”. I checked to see if these odd spaces were some British formatting that I’ve never seen before, but couldn’t find any info about it.

**SPOILER SECTION**
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Ok, so this book had a lot of bizarre aspects to it. One big thing that stuck out to me was Alice’s husband David’s behavior. He starts out as a normal dude, but then all of a sudden he morphs into a sadistic abuser with no real explanation. Some of the scenes of him abusing Alice were extremely disturbing, made even worse because there was no previous hint that he had been this cruel person all along. Is it really possible to perfectly hide that level of sadism?

Another thing that confused me was the nickname “Little Face”. The baby gets this moniker right after Alice notices that it’s not her child, when she overhears David talking to the baby, and Alice uses this as evidence that he knows the child has been switched. But of course it was the same baby all along, so why did David suddenly change the nickname from “Mrs Tiggywinkles” to “Little Face”?

The twist was a big disappointment as well. I think it was a mistake to have the book written in first person from Alice’s point of view, because it makes huge portions of the book into complete lies. I know that Unreliable Narrator is a writing tool, but this is something a bit more extreme than that. Finding out that the whole baby-switch story was a hoax ruined the rest of the book, in my opinion.

And finally, wasn’t Alice’s plan a bit…dumb? If she believes her family may be murderers, there are options for exposing it and escaping that are much better than faking this weirdo scheme.
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**END SPOILERS**

 

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Book Review – Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

A missing pre-teen and a strange-eyed ghost take center stage in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay. (Also introducing a new feature to my reviews – a spoiler section!)

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A nightmare begins for Elizabeth Sanderson when her 13 year old son Tommy doesn’t come home one night. His friends claim to know nothing about Tommy’s disappearance into the woods, but when Elizabeth is visited by what appears to be a ghost, it becomes clear that there is much more to the story than the kids are letting on. Things get even stranger when Tommy’s ripped-out diary pages start mysteriously appearing in the living room, giving clues to what really happened that night at Devil’s Rock.

I previously read Head Full of Ghosts by the same author, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. So it was a no-brainer to try his other novel, which sounded like it would have a similar feel. While it did have the same sort of melancholy tone and deep psychological characterization, this one leaned more toward “crime drama” than “supernatural”.

Though there are a few supernatural elements here and there, for the most part this novel is a slow-burn mystery that trickle-feeds information in a way that really builds tension. We get to know Tommy through flashbacks and diary entries, and come to understand how he got in the situation that led to his disappearance. His mother Elizabeth and sister Kate get some good characterization as well, as they struggle to solve the mystery and cope with Tommy’s absence. The climax, like the rest of the book, is quiet and somber.

As for my reaction…though the book was well written, I can’t say I’m glad to have read it. Mainly because it’s kind of depressing. The themes involved are similar to the kind of books they make you read in High School and College, where you end up feeling sad and hopeless about the world and everyone in it. (See spoiler section for specifics.)

The book had a few weird things going on as well. For one thing, the chapter titles were bizarre; things like “Elizabeth talks to Dave, Dinner for Two, Notifications at Night, a Fight, a Sketch“. And sometimes the dialogue would slip into script format…like Bob: “Who’s there?” Rick: “It’s me” instead of regular dialogue tags. It made the book seem a bit unfinished, as if the author jotted these parts down in his first draft and just never changed them to proper prose later.

I also got a bit bored with the boy’s conversations. Is it realistic that pre-teen boys have fifteen page conversations about Minecraft? Absolutely! Do I want to READ fifteen page conversations about Minecraft? Nope. Their slang (“chirps”, “hardo”) is probably realistic too, but it got old fast.

One interesting plot point in the book involved Snapchat. Flash-in-the-pan social media will date the book, but more importantly, it points out the big negativity of Snapchat from a real life crime perspective: the photos disappear after you send them. Not only is this inconvenient (why not use Twitter or Instagram, where the pics stay?), it has obvious ramifications for solving crimes. Having evidence disappear is kind of a problem. I’m hoping that in real life, the company that owns Snapchat has a way to retrieve pics even after the user has deleted them.

Overall, I think this is a decent book, but it’s not as good as Head Full of Ghosts, and it’s a bit depressing. I was hoping for a bit more supernatural content instead of a crime drama.

**SPOILER SECTION**


One big contributor to my uneasy feelings about this book was the character of Arnold. He’s an adult who pals around with pre-teens (possibly the most suggestible period of human life), introduces them to beer, and gets them in big trouble. He’s actually a very well-written character, because he is DEFINITELY realistic. Guys like Arnold exist, and I know because I’ve met them. I grew up poor, and lived most of my childhood in low-income housing. “Arnolds” are all over the place there, and believe me, they are every bit as messed up as the guy in the book. As an added twist, because I’m female I had experiences of adult guys like that hitting on me when I was only 12 or 13 years old. Luckily I knew that was creepy and stayed away from them.

So props to Tremblay for writing a very accurate character! Unfortunately it was SO accurate that it lessened my enjoyment of the book. “Arnolds” suck.


**END SPOILERS**

Cover Report: The cover features a photo of bare tree branches, taken at night with a background of dark sky and stars. A tree is part of the story, so the cover makes sense. It’s ok. I give this cover a B-.

Typo Police: One sentence described waves “braking”, when it should be “breaking.”

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Book Review – Speed Dating with the Dead

The White Horse Inn no longer belonged to the realm of physics and logic. This was now Demon Country.” Welcome to Speed Dating with the Dead by Scott Nicholson!

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Wayne “Digger” Wilson is looking for money –and the spirit of his dead wife– when he hosts a paranormal convention at the historic White Horse Inn in the remote Appalachian mountains. Along with his teenage daughter Kendra, he joins dozens of ghost hunters and paranormal junkies in a weekend search for the ghosts that supposedly haunt the old hotel. But they get more than they bargained for when a real demon shows up…

Yet another book that lured me with a strange title! I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but what I got was an interesting horror-comedy concoction. I loved the setup of a paranormal convention in a creepy old hotel, since I adore ghost hunting shows (despite not believing in ghosts…yeah, I don’t get it either). Though it wasn’t a huge part of the story, there were references to various technology used in ghost hunts, which I thought was cool. Unfortunately no one used my favorite device, the Ovilus III, aka the “spectral speak-and-spell” of Ghost Adventures fame! Still, it was fun to see a novel about this concept.

This premise also allowed a wide variety of different character types to show up: die-hard believers, sneering skeptics, scamming hoaxters, youtube celebrities-of-the-moment, and of course, the exasperated hotel staff who have to deal with everyone. Nicholson takes all of these types and runs with them, creating a cast of crazies that inevitably clash with or without a demon around. As for the demon,Β  the story gets intense and gory once he really gets going!

This book was a quick read, but I enjoyed it. I hope there are more books out there about ghost hunts gone wrong! πŸ™‚

Cover Report: The cover features a greenish silhouette of a ghost standing in what looks like the lounge area of a hotel. Nothing wrong with this cover, really, but it seems a bit generic. I give this cover a B-.

Typo Police: Two typos this time! The first one happens when a character is describing a child’s drawing, and says “but his fingers were way to plump to draw at such a level“. It should be “too plump”. The second is a misspelling of “hamster”: “high school science lab where the hampster cages never shook that odor of death“. This is a common misspelling online, which I think was started by the old “Hampster Dance” meme. Strange to see it in a published novel!


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Book Review – While You Were Sleeping

Blame and suspicions are flying around everywhere in While You Were Sleeping by Kathryn Croft. (Or I guess I should say “While You Were Sleeping: A Gripping Psychological Thriller That You Just Can’t Put Down”, because that seems to be the actual official title? A big ad-heavy, if you ask me!)

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Tara’s life is turned upside down when she wakes up from a night of drinking to find herself naked in her neighbor’s bed…the same neighbor who is now lying dead beside her with a knife through his heart! She manages to get away without being suspected (at first), but then finds herself in a crazy spider web of secrets and accusations that embroils her entire family and neighborhood. Did she kill Lee? If not, who did, and why? What exactly happened during that drunken blackout?

True to the tagline, the book does keep you reading…that feat is accomplished through the biggest number of red herrings, false starts, lies, and misdirections I’ve even seen in a book. Literally every chapter ends in a cliffhanger, usually some revelation that points the finger at yet another suspect or casts yet another character’s motives into suspicion. It’s a bit head-spinning.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. It kept my interest and made me constantly re-evaluate my own theories (which turned out to be wrong), which I suppose is the mark of a good mystery. I just wish there hadn’t been quite so much mental whiplash every two seconds.

One character in particular, Rosie, made me want to tear my hair out! This girl embodies every negative stereotype of the crazy teenage daughter, and is a pathological liar and just generally a terrible person. I found myself wishing she had been the murder victim instead of a suspect. πŸ˜‰

This book also serves as a cautionary tale about getting overly drunk. I’ve never understood the appeal of getting so drunk that you can’t remember what happened (how do you know you had fun if you can’t remember? Why torture yourself with a hangover for nothing?). Obviously murder is an extreme case, but the point is that anything can happen when you’re shitfaced, and you’d be powerless to stop it. The cultural worship of blackout drunkenness is a mystery to me.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the book and may look for more by the author if I run out of other ideas.

Cover Report: The cover is mostly black, with a spotlighted picture of a shadowy woman sitting in a window. It’s a bit average, in my opinion. I give this cover a C+.

Typo Police: No spelling typos, but I did find a punctuation mistake: a missing quote mark. It’s possible that this mistake is a result of digitizing, since I read this as an e-book.

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Book Review – Three Bags Full

The detectives of the story are sheep – yes, the woolly kind – in Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann.

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Miss Maple the ewe is the cleverest sheep in Glennkill, Ireland. But can she solve the mystery of who murdered the flock’s shepherd, George? This definitely isn’t your usual mystery…one blurb described it as “Agatha Christie writes Wind in the Willows”, and that’s a pretty good description! Though I compare it more to Watership Down, since the author did a good job looking at the world through a real sheep’s eyes.

The townspeople are curious about the murder, but his sheep are even more so. They use their limited resources to listen, collect clues, and discuss the mystery. Though the sheep can understand English and seem very intelligent, they still see the world through a very unique sheepy lens. Like Watership Down, where Richard Adams made you feel like you were in the mind of a rabbit, this book puts you in the mind of a prey animal and their special viewpoint of the world. Each sheep has a distinct personality, and each one contributes to solving the mystery in their own way. (I drew a picture of my favorite character, Zora.)

My only complaint is a small one: it was really hard to figure out the time period the book was set in. At first I was pretty sure it was the ’40s or ’50s, but then a few anachronisms happened, and near the end it was confirmed to be in the 1990s. Not a huge deal, except that for a mystery it helps to know what level of technology is available.

One neat thing this book did was to teach me about a concept I’ve never heard of before: dolmens! Dolmens are huge “tables” made of giant blocks of stone, built thousands of years ago as what we believe to be burial chambers. They’re all over Britain and parts of Europe, and in this story the sheep have one in their pasture. I’ve heard of Stonehenge of course, but I didn’t know that these structures were common! Very cool. πŸ™‚

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Cover Report: The cover has a solid blue background, with about a dozen white silhouettes of sheep. The simplicity makes it catch your eye long enough to realize “omg the SHEEP are the detectives? I gotta see this!” I give this cover a B+.

Typo Police: No typos found.
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Inktober 2017 Sketch – Zora

My next book-related sketch is Zora, my favorite character from the book I’m currently reading, Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. Zora is a blackface sheep who loves high, rocky places, and is the only ewe in the flock with horns.Β 

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I’m almost finished with the book, so a review will be up soon. πŸ™‚


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