Book review: The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam.

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Homer Hickam – The Dinosaur Hunter (Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2010)

What looks like just another busy summer wrangling cattle at the Square C Ranch for former-homicide-cop-turned-cowboy Mike Wire becomes decidedly more bloody and interesting when a paleontologist and his team discover that the ranch is the site of a cache of dinosaur bones – and someone is willing to kill to get at the extremely valuable fossils.  Sounds like a fascinating read, right? – I was totally sold on the promising combination of murder mystery and dinosaur bones.  And, indeed, the paleontology was the best – and strongest – part of the book.  Unfortunately, Mike’s character grated on me; old enough to have participated in the decimation of two marriages, he spends most of the book alternately chasing after every woman who enters his periphery and pouting when they don’t return his advances (or expansively congratulating himself when they do). His shenanigans seriously cut into the time where he could be solving the case, which you’d expect an ex-police officer to tackle with a bit more aplomb. Furthermore, his cheeky wink-wink first person narrative only solidifies his immaturity and damages his credibility with the reader – at some (very early) point, it’s easy just to stop caring about Mike and his sassy thoughts. (And how many times do we have to be reminded that he’s a vegetarian living on a cattle ranch?).  Most of the other characters are poorly-drawn caricatures and stereotypes (especially the poor women!), and don’t get me started with the whole Russian mob angle.  There is, however, some interesting stuff here with the discussion of land rights and the struggles faced by ranchers in Montana, and the controversy of the recovery and preservation of dinosaur fossils for historical value or to sell for big bucks.  Although this book proved a disappointment (for me), I’ll give Hickam another chance and try some of his YA SF novels when I have a spot for them in the TBR pile.

Book review: The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey.

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Peter Lovesey – The Last Detective (1991, Soho Press, Inc., United Kingdom)

Not to be confused with the “other” Last Detective, “Dangerous” Davies of the novels by Leslie Thomas (perhaps more familiar to many as a TV series), this is Peter Lovesey’s Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, who shuns late-Eighties/early-Nineties’ computer technology and developments in forensic science in favour of kicking it old-school by knocking on doors and relentless questioning.  When a woman is found dead in a lake near the city of Bath, Diamond leads the investigation with characteristic (and occasionally humorous) aplomb, bulldozing his way through clues, suspects, and his subordinates alike.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the character of Diamond – quite frankly, he came across as a total boor and I prefer that even the most unlikeable characters should have some redeeming quality – but over the course of the novel, the development of this tough, flawed gumshoe gave me more than enough reason to keep reading.  The POV switches in the novel’s six parts also gave me pause, at first, but they are actually quite effective when all is said and done.  I’m curious to see what Lovesey has done with the other novels in this lengthy series (16 books so far).

Book Review: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.

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Amy Stewart – Girl Waits With Gun (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Boston, 2015)

Go look this one up at your local library or the nearest bookstore.  Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun.  I’ll be here until you get back.

Okay, do you have a copy in your hands? This is why you have to read it NOW:  Stewart takes the true story of historical figure of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first female crime fighters, and runs with it, producing a brilliantly creative, fun, and beautifully written (fictionalized) tale of a woman who doesn’t quite fit into the time she lives in, yet makes the best of her situation to get herself and her sisters out of a serious muddle, as well as help others less fortunate. In this first book of the series (yay!  It’s a series!), Constance and her sisters inadvertently attract the sinister attention of Henry Kaufman, a powerful factory owner – and things are complicated when it is discovered that Kaufman is involved in many more criminal acts.  Terrified for her family’s safety, Constance reluctantly seeks the help of the police, and together with kindly, overworked Sheriff Heath, this fierce, driven woman goes to war.  Some books you savour, some you devour – this definitely fit into the latter category for me.  I could barely get anything else done while I was reading it, I was so invested in Constance’s story.  Perfect pacing, careful research, and just the right amount of heartwarming humour further solidified it for me – I can’t recommend Girl Waits With Gun enough.

Not so happy Monday.

Ugh…what a start to the week.  I received a call early this morning that the community garden I belong to had been severely vandalized overnight.  Of course I had to head off to work, so I wasn’t able to get down and assess the damage as soon as I would have liked, but it’s just as well…it was pretty upsetting.  If a neighbour in one of the nearby houses hadn’t chased off the culprits, who knows how much worse it could have been?

The door to the shed had been forced off its hinges and everything inside scattered about (nothing was stolen, though, fortunately). A kind donor had given us several glass light fixture covers for use as cloches and all but one of them were smashed, which meant broken glass everywhere.  Our brand new arbour was badly damaged, but at least it’s repairable.  One of the apple trees had its leader cut off.  The worst thing was the damage to the individual beds – some gardeners had cabbages, Brussels sprouts, and onions yanked out.  Other plants – tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, raspberries – were topped.  Trellises and tomato cages and garden ornaments were pulled out and broken.  And for what?  So some bored young adults could get a good laugh?

I just spent the last hour delivering the bad news to our members and letting those whose beds were most affected know the extent of the damage.  Not fun.

IMG_1546My smashed potato plants….

Of course, community gardens are public spaces and this kind of thing can happen, but we’ve been lucky so far (the garden is six years old). I really hope this is just an isolated incident.

The garden that I tend at the apartment is also in a public space and I’ve seen a lot over the years – hens and chicks and begonias stolen, plants chopped down to the quick with weed whackers or sprayed with herbicides, used syringes in the junipers (seriously!).  But you’re hearing more and more about trees and perennials being dug up out of private residential gardens – back yards, even. I personally know a lady who had her entire lily collection carefully excavated from a bed in her front yard in the middle of the night.  And I know when I worked in the garden centre, people were constantly trying to stuff geraniums and other plants into their handbags.

Of course, there are other far more serious things in the world to worry about, but it does make me sad to see this kind of thing happening.  Fortunately, I think many of the damaged plants in the garden will make a speedy recovery, especially as we’re finally getting some much-needed rain.

Have you ever had any of your plants deliberately damaged or stolen?