Glen Gardner, NJ, United States | Member Since 2008
The book is of course about a journey made by dog sled to bring vaccines to Nome Alaska to save the locals from a diphtheria epidemic. You would certainly expect digressions of the history of dog sledding, or on some local culture, etc. What I did not bargain for was the author pretty much giving the history of the peoples of Alaska from the time that the first human set foot there to the time of the Nome epidemic all at once, so I had back story for maybe 2 hours straight. It isn't that that information wasn't interesting, but I thought I was reading a book about this epidemic and for hours, that is for days of listening, the plot did not advance at all. I think that might have done me in if I was actually reading and not just listening.
I did finish though. I was so worried about the fates of the two main sled dogs - Togo and Balto. I am sensitive about animals. I needn't have worried, since they both lived to be old dogs. I mention that not as a spoiler but to reassure people sensitive to animal cruelty that they can handle the book. I suppose it is somewhat silly to worry about the dogs anyway since the book is set in the 1920's so the longest living dog would have been long, long dead by now. At the end they tell you how a lot of the humans ended up as well. It amazed me really that the majority of these people, despite living these hard lives in Alaska lived to be very old. Of course I felt all nostalgic reading it and it seemed to me that our modern world is a much duller place. On the other hand, people aren't dropping like flies from diphtheria.
I do not think I have the ability to even understand minus 60 degrees. It amazes me that anyone can deal with that sort of thing. I just have trouble believing that people have the abilities they would need to survive. For example, they mentioned how if you took off your glove within 30 seconds your hand would freeze (at some temp or other that they were dog sledding in). The quick decisions and reactions required to survive in those conditions just don't strike me as skills possessed by the majority of people. At least not the people I know. Of course I don’t know anyone living in rural Alaska.
I enjoy all the Scumble River Mysteries because I have become attached to the characters. The narrator is always great as well. There are a few things that prevent this one from being a favorite. I was very much looking forward to some exciting changes in Skye's love life in this book. I had gotten tired of her previous relationship and was very much looking forward to a new relationship in this book. But it never really makes progress. Skye spends a lot of time being obsessed about "taking it slow" and when she does get about to get close to her new man, something prevents it every time. So that was a letdown. The mystery was okay except that it was the only time that comes to mind where I knew who the guilty party was way before Skye did. She seemed a little clueless this time around.
I am one of those people who is fascinated by hoarding and I have watched a ton of shows on TV about it, but this book was so much better than those shows. Getting to know the characters better and seeing them change over time really added dimension that is missing on those TV shows. It was particularly interesting to watch roles within the family change over time as Miller transitions from the child to an almost parental role in dealing with her parents. It is amazing how the background of challenges created such a strong person. I liked too that this was a book about a challenging childhood without being one of the many abuse memoirs. I liked Miller's narration too once I got over wishing she would speak just a little louder.
For those of you who enjoy Skye and Scumble River but find her and Simon to be a bit goody goody and dull sometimes, this is the book for you. I had gotten bored with Simon, and in this book he isn't around much and Skye seems pretty bored by him too, so finally she was up to some more exciting things in her personal life. There is a lot of relationship drama with various couples in town in this book as well. It also shakes up the status quo because Skye is not in school in this one, she is running an enormous yard sale. As tends to happen there are a number of snooty newcomers in town trying to bully Skye and her small town cohorts. I did not know who the killer was in this one. At any rate I enjoyed a little something different in this one and am looking forward to seeing where it goes in the next book. And not too much Bunny in this one either - she only made me cringe once, though it was a big cringe. Narrator does a great job, voices are all spot on.
I am a Scumble River fan and have enjoyed all the books in the series so far to various degrees. (I am not sure these would work well as stand alones - a lot of what I enjoy about them is from getting to know the town and its people in previous installments.) I think this one is definitely a step up from the last one, which was not a favorite. This book gets back to the focus on small town life and a lot is going on. We have a school dance, a mayoral election campaign, a developer trying to buy up farmland for an amusement park, drug dealing, a new bowling alley and of course. murder. Skye has a valid reason (other than her natural nosiness) for getting involved this time around since her brother Vince has managed to get himself in yet another sticky situation. I was getting a bit annoyed for a while with the depiction of all law enforcement though. I mean how likely is it that the police department of this small town has totally failed to notice a sudden meth problem and that they would need to be educated about it by Skye whose knowledge all came from some printouts someone gave her from the internet? Speaking of the internet and technology in general, this book has a dated feel (paperback is from 2004) because Skye doesn't know anything about the internet and cell phones still seem very rare. Emailing the police chief doesn't seem to be a possibility and Skye has to go to his house to reach him. In all fairness I think today's technology makes it harder to write mysteries. At least we don't go through all those elaborate reasons for some character not to be able to use their phone. (I remember a Rita Mae Brown mystery where there were so many unlikely occurrences happening just to explain why things that could have been resolved or avoided quickly by a cell phone call are not.) Swanson has her own quirks. In general I enjoy Skye even if she and Simon are a little too goody goody to be entirely accessible, but I can see why a friend says she is annoyed that Skye has to constantly go over her status as a plus sized woman - there are constant references to her curves, her bulk, her padding, etc. She gets attacked in this one by a mean spirited thin woman for her dessert consumption. Seriously though, Skye does eat a lot of cake! I didn't find Swanson at her most believable in the drug part of the plot, everyone just seemed so naive. But I enjoyed the small town atmosphere and the complex overlapping plot pieces and have already downloaded the next in the series.
I would think that in general if you have read all the books in this series, that you would want to read this one and that you would enjoy it. Penny really makes you feel connected to these characters. The end of the last book didn't linger on the happy ending so I was happy to return to the peaceful world of Three Pines and get back in touch with our characters in a more relaxed post retirement time. The book is really a search for a missing person rather than a murder investigation. I found it less stressful that the previous books. I have to say that at various times I really wished I remembered some of the past books better particularly A Rule Against Murder and whichever one had the Gilberts in it. You get a lot of what you expect from Penny - long deep discussions about art among other things and you wouldn't have gotten this far in the series without being able to enjoy or at least tolerate that. This is definitely not a stand alone book - none of them really are. I have always found the author to be more interested in Peter Morrow than I was, but he's actually more interesting when you just talk about him rather than have him on screen. There's some touching sadness at the end, and some over the top perhaps not entirely believable aspects of the mystery which may annoy some readers but I was satisfied with it overall.
I always enjoy a Scumble River mystery. I enjoyed this one as well, but it wasn't my favorite for a few reasons. In this book, Skye and Simon are trying to blend in with other classy couples. The people they end up with aren't the most pleasant pleasant characters and the book takes us to some aspects of life in this small town that definitely turned me off. (I don't want to give anything away, but some people you just don't even want to imagine naked.) We also have the introduction of the character of Simon's mother Bunny, who is especially annoyiong on audio and who brings out two qualities in Skye that are not my favorites either - (1) her wimpiness or is that small town hospitality? and (2) her preachiness - for example, I think it is perfectly ok for someone who had been betrayed and abandoned as a child not to pursue a relationship with that parent. Overall it was one of the more forgettable plots (it took me a few minutes just now to even remember who did it), but I will keep on with the series.
I was expecting a portrait of an American town impacted by meth, mostly communicated with portraits of individual users. And there is some of this. But there is a lot more of looking at meth through a bigger lens, with discussions of economics and politics etc. While certainly educational, that wasn't my favorite part. In all fairness the book I thought it was going to be would have been a downer since I have learned why exactly meth is such a hard drug to come clean from and our recovering user portraits support this. There are also a lot of portraits of non-users, in law enforcement, politics and other roles within small town America. I think there was more of that than I wanted. I think the author enjoys going off on tangents about individual people. There was one point in the book where this got so obvious that I took a break from listening for a long time. The author was telling the life story of a guy who was brought as a guest to a barbecue of a guy who works as a doctor in the town. The guest was from Central America I think it was and the author was going on about the political environment from which this guy came. It was so off the topic of small town meth I lost interest. I think the editor should have flagged that. Overall it was educational, interesting and well performed, but good rather than great.
It's very hard to actually rate this book. I really didn't want to read this since I hated the last book so much, but I was trying to get the characters I had grown so fond of out of their predicaments. I wanted to see things resolved and happy. I have to tell you it's a long way to get there. It took me forever to listen to this book, and I had to be convinced by a friend to restart it after bogging down mid way. One of the things I always liked about Gamache was his presence, how he was always calm and courteous but strong. In this book, we get weepy, cranky, beaten down, all sorts of Gamaches that just made the book less enjoyable than the old ones. I suppose I shouldn't complain about Jean Guy being so frustrating and tedious since that is probably an accurate portrayal of life with an addict, but still it isn't fun to read. I did find the mystery surrounding the murder Gamache is investigating to be somewhat interesting though it does peter out at the end. Unlike previous books the investigation of the murder isn't the main point and we don't really see it wrap up. I did guess some of the things that were going to happen, and I usually don't. I suppose I am glad that I forced myself through to the end to see happier times for all our beloved characters. You'll probably be happy you did too, but it really is a long way to get there.
The is not an easy book to describe. I suppose you could say that it is a coming of age story that also involves a police investigation into a series of killings. Because the victims were raped and mutilated I feared a lot of disturbing detail. We do get some information on the deaths, and a psychic flash here or there, but the book really does not dwell on the suffering and gory details as so often happens in books with serial killers (I try never to read those books). There is enough there to bother someone super sensitive I guess but I am pretty sensitive and found this book did not bother me. There are some other things that might bother some people. The book does have a certain atmosphere that might not appeal to everyone. You know when you are watching the news and they find the body of a young girl raped and murdered at a trailer park, and go on to report she lived with her exotic dancer mom and the mom's abusive alcoholic boyfriend and 5 sex offenders lived within 200 feet - and you just shake your head and think how this person was doomed from the get go? That is what the atmosphere of this book is like. Loads of family dysfunction, abuse and failure. I almost stopped reading very early in the book because the atmosphere was so unpleasant and made me uncomfortable but that feeling faded further on. It makes an amazing contrast that our narrator (Loved the narrator!) radiated such genuine goodness and innocence despite being raised in such an environment. In general I do not like books which are narrated from a teenage boy's point of view. But Biscuit was such a decent guy, that even when he had the sexual thoughts expected of a teenage boy it wasn't creepy. As some other reviews pointed out we certainly had a choice of suspects. One odd thing is in the book's usage of the paranormal element. Biscuit himself says he has "a touch of the sight but not enough to actually be useful" (or words to that effect). That is amazingly true. It seemed to me that there was not enough made of this paranormal element if the reader likes that element and too much made of it if the reader doesn't like it. There are also some chunks of the book where we seem to go off on tangents with certain characters who are peripheral to the main plot. I suppose these sequences make sense when viewing the story as a coming of age tale. I didn't love the book, but it did hold my attention and has stuck with me since I finished it. I also liked that we do get some wrap up on the various characters, though not everyone ends up exactly as I would have liked. Of course if they had that probably would have seemed strange in a book with so much dysfunction. Many characters are frustrating in how they don't necessarily create their own problems, but they do fail in stopping them from continuing. I don't think I would have liked the book nearly as much in print. Narrator certainly helps the reader feel connected to the story, and gives them someone to cheer for.
I read the first Tess Monaghan mystery a while ago and was in no rush to read the next. My main problem with Tess was just not feeling any connection to her. In book one she spends most of her time working out and rowing, which didn't interest me. In this installment she actually doesn't do any rowing, and only a little working out. She seems to have traded that hobby for the hobby of eating junk food. I read a lot of cozy mysteries, and Tess is not a cozy character. She likes to drink bourbon, smoke pot, and she is having an uncommitted relationship with a guy who is obviously in love with her. I felt sorry for the guy. The Tess character starts out being very much like a stereotypical male character and I was expecting to stop the series after this one. However, I have to say, that as the book goes on we see another side of Tess and I liked her much better. As the mystery developed I thought it was going in a very predictable way and was starting to feel disappointed and then an unexpected twist changed things. All in all, it was actually a pretty good book and I expect I will continue on to the next one.
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