Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mini Reviews: "The Dog Master," "In the Woods" and "The Library at Mount Char"

"The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog" by W. Bruce Cameron
First published in 2015
410 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

We all know dogs -- our spoiled, beloved furry family members -- are descended from wolves, but when and how did that happen? "A Dog's Purpose" author W. Bruce Cameron's puts forth a fictionalized theory on how, long ago, some unique circumstances helped a wolf make the transition from predator to companion.

Thirty thousand years ago, life was a daily struggle. Foes were everywhere: animals, the weather, other humans. Food was often scarce and a tribe's welfare was almost wholly dependent on the success the hunt. Back then, wolves were considered apex predators to be either feared or worshiped, not big, cute almost-dogs.

Cameron's novel is told in four parts. We have narrators from two different tribes, a wolf's story, and the tale of the special human and wolf who forge an unlikely bond; eventually we see how all four stories are connected.

"The Dog Master" is not just about the first dog -- these prehistoric humans had a lot of drama! Romance, villains, exile, backstabbing, cannibals, friendship, man-eating lions, prejudice and sex are all present in the novel. Overall the story kept me interested, but this book was sooooo long. The middle section, before the climax starts, was kinda draggy and I did some skimming. "The Dog Master" could definitely be 100 pages shorter and still get the point across.

You might think of Cameron as a cutesy, heart-warming dog book author, but "The Dog Master" is not twee in the slightest. It'll definitely appeal to dog-lovers, but there's plenty here for fans of historical fiction and "Real Housewives of the Stone Age" too.

"In the Woods" by Tana French
Book 1 of the Dublin Murder Squad series
First published in 2008
429 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5

"In the Woods" was exactly the kind of mystery I was in the mood for -- one that would keep me up at night turning pages well after my bedtime. It was addicting, it was creepy, and it kept me guessing.

Something terrible happened to Detective Rob Ryan the summer he was 12. He and his two best friends were playing in the woods on the outskirts of their neighborhood, and his friends vanished. He was found -- lacking any memory of what transpired -- clinging to a tree by his fingernails, shirt ripped to shreds and shoes full of blood.

Fast forward two decades, and Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, catch a case that's chillingly similar to the one in Ryan's past: a young girl is found horrifically murdered in the same small town where Ryan grew up, not far from the spot where his friends went missing. It's quite possible that the two cases are connected.

There are two mysteries going on here -- the present-day murder of a 13-year-old aspiring ballet dancer, and Ryan's desperate race to remember what happened the day his friends disappeared. There's a psychological element too, as Ryan begins to crack under the various pressures-- not least of which is hiding his connection to the case from his supervisors.

I loved the Irish setting, I loved the flawed characters, I loved the adrenaline-fueled race to the end. I absolutely could not put "In the Woods" down and I'm excited to read the rest of the books in the series. I've heard book two, "The Likeness" is the best of the series so far, and I'm hoping to get to it soon!

"The Library at Mount Char" by Scott Hawkins
First published in 2015
388 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

This book has been touted as "Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill" and that's not a bad depiction -- it's got fantasy and horror elements, with some truly screwed up Joe Hill-esque characters. What I didn't expect to find within these pages was plenty of quirk and even some humor.

The plot of "The Library at Mount Char" is kinda hard to summarize, especially without revealing any spoilers, because the truth of what's happening unfolds so gradually. It's about a library that's almost nothing like our idea of a library. It's staffed with "librarians" who are quite accomplished in their areas of expertise, but those areas don't include answering queries like "Where are the penguin books located?" and "Can you help me get on Facebook?  -- they're things like death, murder, monsters, talking to animals and resurrection.

A lot of bad things happen to the librarians, things that'll make you cringe. But that's balanced out with the two other main characters in the book -- two men who provide the comic relief, the earnestness, the hope. Hawkins gave each of our three protagonists -- Carolyn, a "librarian," Erwin, a former solider, and Steve, a petty criminal, very distinct voices. They're all likable in their own ways, but you'll definitely be cheering for Erwin and Steve. Hawkins is a talented author; the book is well-written with vivid (at times gory!) detail and an intriguing plot that'll have you thinking about its implications days later.

The story starts off a little slow, a little vague, but it's worth sticking with. If you'd like to read about the world's worst, most dangerous library, check out "The Library at Mount Char." (P.S. Have some guacamole handy -- this book'll have you craving it!)

Both "In the Woods" and "The Library at Mount Char" count towards my R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril goal of four books! Woo hoo!

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