Review – Faithful Place

Faithful PlaceFrank Mackey is a man who has purposely avoided his family for years. He ran away as a teenager and never looked back. When he gets a call from the one sister he speaks to telling him that information regarding his long lost girlfriend, Rosie Daly, has surfaced, he doesn’t know if he should run to his family or run further away. A man who has gone to extraordinary efforts to stay away from his family, he soon finds himself back home in Faithful Place; a neighborhood full of people with long memories and people that doesn’t easily offer forgiveness. After 22 years of trying to forget Rosie, his childhood, and in some ways his own family, he’s back home fighting with his mother and siblings, and thinking of ways to once more run away. When a favorite brother dies, and Frank’s only daughter is drug into the mess, he begins to realize just how deep he’s in.

The character of Frank Mackey was in The Likeness, French’s second book, but he’s much more intense in Faithful Place. His family and childhood home can never be described as a happy or content place and illustrate clearly just how much he’s managed to escape over the years and reinforce his actions, in his mind anyway. His very rosy memories of his missing girlfriend, which were buried deep by the years, come back full force and with his teenage romance memories come buried family memories, and he starts to drown in life.

Tana French is an amazing writer and I’ve started telling everyone I know they need to read her books. True story. In fact, when possible, I’ve shared my copies with anyone willing to read them. And that has been a benefit to me. You see, this was a borrowed book. I shared In The Woods and The Likeness with a co-worker and he went out and bought Faithful Place and gave it to me when he was done. He also plans on picking up Broken Harbor and promised to lend me that too. Sharing just works out in your favor some days.

French writes stories you don’t want to put down. She’s great at twists and turns, but I did figure out the killer early on in this one. I promised my co-worker I wouldn’t read ahead to find out who the killer was which was incredibly hard for me not to do. I ended up in his office asking questions instead. I can guarantee he won’t me ask me to promise that again. Anyway, he ended up telling me I had the right person but I think he was annoyed I figured it out. But, I think it was meant to be seen by the reader. You see, it was Frank that needed to work it out not the reader. You see him trying to do just that and I wanted to yell at him and that’s where French is so good. She brings the reader into the story and you end up investing so much in the characters and story that it’s draining but all in a good way. I love books that leave me feeling that way in the end. Reading should be an experience.

If you’re curious, my thoughts on French’s first two books In the Woods and The Likeness.

Faithful Place

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143119494

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Review – The Likeness

The LikenessI read this book many weeks ago (months really). Why the long wait for the review? I didn’t know how to talk about this book. I started this post a few times and wanted this review to be more than just me blabbing on about how good it is. And still here I am one more time, and sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. So, I’ll get it out of the way now — if you’re not reading Tana French you should be. Go, now. Buy her books.

Detective Cassie Maddox is working domestic abuse, a department she’d rather not be assigned to, but after her last case went bad, it was her best, and some would say, only option if she wanted to remain on the force. When a body turns up in an abandoned cottage in the countryside, it leaves her, and her fellow detectives, stunned. The dead woman in a ringer for Cassie — every detail is exactly the same even down to an alias Cassie once used as part of an undercover case. She is, as far as anyone can tell, a dead Cassie Maddox. Cassie’s old boss from undercover wants to send her back under as the dead woman, and when Cassie agrees, that’s when the fun starts.

If you want a book that will lull you off into a pleasant sleep, this isn’t that book. If you want a story that will feel like it’s got an iron grip on your throat for over 400 pages, this is that book. Holy crap is French good at the tension. There isn’t one chapter of this book where you don’t feel it. One thing that helps, her characters are so real you never even stop to wonder if there’s anything wrong with them because, on the surface, there isn’t anything off. She hides the flaws so well you don’t even see anything coming, and when it does, it hits hard.

As usual, I read ahead. I couldn’t take the stress. It’s good stress though; stress that keeps you reading, unable to stop even when you know sleep would be the right move. French doesn’t skimp on words or details. Her books are heavy — the details of the characters’ lives are so wonderfully splayed out across the pages you feel you know these people so intimately that by the end of the book you end up worried about them. And Cassie is an incredibly likable character which made the ending so much more difficult. Relax, that’s not a spoiler.

While French’s books aren’t a true series, they do follow some of the same characters and I like that I get to see old characters in new situations. I liked getting reacquainted with Cassie Maddox and while I know she doesn’t appear again, I’m all right with that because I know that no matter what happens, the next French book will keep me up late. I’m looking forward to that.

The Likeness

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143115625

PS – I borrowed and devoured French’s third book, Faithful Place. Again, wow. A review soon, I promise.

Review – In The Woods

Tana French is a new to me author. I’m sorry I waited so long to read her too. I kept seeing rave reviews of her books and now I know why. She deserves the praise.

In Dublin, Rob Ryan is a detective waiting for a case. He’s spent time and effort waiting for the perfect case that will make his career and when that one drops in his lap, it’s not at all what he wanted. In a small town outside of Dublin called Knocknaree, a 12 year old girl is found murdered at an archeological site. Her father is the leader of the group protesting the building of a roadway through the town and it leaves everyone wondering if the murder could be a warning to him to cease his fight. When that leads nowhere, Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox are forced to look elsewhere for answers. And all through the investigation Rob is trying to come to terms with his past. When he was a small child, he and two other friends went missing in the same woods that are now being searched for clues to the current murder. He wants his memories to return, in fact wills them to, but nothing useful comes of it and his life, the one he carefully planned down to his wardrobe, comes tumbling down around him.

There is so much going on in this book and in the end it doesn’t feel as if it’s enough. The details are fantastic and the way French introduces you to her characters — opening up slowly, peeling back layers — you see just how complicated and messed up they all are in this book. They’re all broken in some way and trying hard to make sure the lives of others are at the very least put back in place with answers to their questions. Rob and Cassie know they can’t fix others, and especially not themselves, but they try to cover every single thread that’s available to them even when it leads places they don’t want to go.

Honestly, while the murder that takes place is solved, and satisfactorily at that, with a suspect I didn’t see coming but should have once the story got going, what I wanted to know about was what happened to the kids twenty years ago in the woods of Knocknaree. There’s no answer and I was OK with that but still wanted to know because it was so tantalizing. It was too interesting to just let go and my mind kept making up scenarios. Rob does make attempts at remembering and those snippets only add more to the mystery and unwanted drama to his life. You know the questions won’t be answered although you do get enough detail to round out the story. I liked how the disappearance almost had a mythical reason to it but then again, what do the memories of a young boy really mean when the event that brought on the memories was a traumatic one?

I know this book isn’t necessarily a series but I do know if I pick up another Tana French book it will still be the same sort of setting but with some old and new characters. You know what, bring it on.

In The Woods

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143113492

4 stars

 

Review – The Gathering

The Gathering is a sad book and several times I had to put it down for my own sanity but it was so good I had to pick it up again. It’s a heart wrenching ordeal of a book and I felt like I was getting kicked repeatedly while reading this one.

Veronica’s brother, Liam, has committed suicide. She is the one who has to retrieve his body from London and bring it back home to Ireland for burial. On the way, she contemplates her life, her marriage, which she knows is failing, and her grief for a life she wants and the life she has. Her grief takes on incredible highs and lows and she comes to the realization that there are no right answers for her, in fact, there may not be any answers at all which makes her want to run even further from everything in her life. She doesn’t know what to do or think and takes to blaming family, loved ones, and everyone in between.

If I didn’t get this across earlier, the book is profoundly sad but realistic in the portrayal of grief and its many forms. There’s a mother paralyzed by every decision she must make. There are numerous brothers and sisters drinking their way through the burial preparations and the funeral. Veronica begins writing again in the midst of everything falling down around her but it brings her no solace or any closer to the answers she wants. Her children are a small grace in her life but she can’t be with them and enjoy those moments of peace. She spends her days overcome with hatred for her husband that she can’t appreciate any bright spot in her life.

There are some happy flashes of remembrance in this book, as there always are in times of grief. Getting family together is always a gamble and tensions are always so much higher when a death is the reason for the gathering. What I liked about this book was the authenticity of the people involved and their emotions. Not everyone grieves in the same way and Enright made this all feel very real. There were no overly joyous or crazy sad moments in this book. Even a sad book needs a few light moments to keep it going and there were no jumps in this book that struck me as odd.

I gave this book 5 stars and I don’t have much more to say about it. I’m slightly speechless because it was so good but also too much in many respects. It’s one of those books that truly has a time and a place. I wouldn’t recommend picking this one up on a whim as I did. I bought this one months ago and came across it while looking for something new to read. I wasn’t prepared in any way for a book that stunned me with the raw emotion this one did.

The Gathering

By Anne Enright

Black Cat New York

ISBN-13: 9780802170392

5 stars

Review – The Scottish Prisoner

The Scottish Prisoner

By Diana Gabaldon

Delacourt Press

ISBN: 9780385337519

4 stars

I have a soft spot, a very soft spot, for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Jamie and Claire Fraser are among my favorite fictional characters. When I heard the latest John Grey novel would feature Jamie (the character has made appearances in the books but never as a major character), I made the decision that this would be my introduction into the Lord John Grey Outlander spinoff.

Jamie Fraser is now a paroled prisoner of war working as a stable hand on a remote farm called Helwater in the Lake District of England. While he wouldn’t say his life is satisfying without his wife and family, he is thankful for life’s small diversions. He’s no longer in prison, he spends his days working with horses, and is close to the son no one knows is his; affording him a small reprieve from his grief over losing his wife, Claire, and their child he never met. When Tobias Quinn, a friend of his from the Jacobite Rising, shows up at the farm, he tells him he wants nothing to do with the failed rebellion or with Tobias himself. He’s lost too much, namely his wife and child, and fears losing what little freedom he has gained at Helwater. When Lord John Grey summons him to London too many memories come flooding back to Jamie and he wants absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

Lord John Grey is almost as unhappy as Jamie is about the situation they find themselves in. A former warden of the jail where Jamie was held after the Jacobite Rising, he has no interest in seeing him especially since their last parting, which was on awkward terms. Lord John is in possession of documents that may contain information about a new possible uprising and he believes Jamie may be the only person who can help him figure out what the documents say. It’s an unhappy and uncomfortable match from the beginning.

One of the nice things about the Lord John Grey series is that the books are meant as standalone novels. Having the Outlander background and understanding the complicated relationship between Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser will add more for fans of the series, but if you have a love of historical fiction, this book could be a good entrance point into the Outlander world if you’re looking to try it out. It gives you a taste of Jamie’s life, what he’s lost, and while not a full background on him, it provides enough to make you want to know more about him and the wife he lost. Although, as fair warning to fans, the Jamie you meet in The Scottish Prisoner is slightly more hardened than the more good-humored Scotsman many have grown to love. Claire is alluded to numerous times and if you’re a fan of the series, this particular book is set after the battle of Culloden when Claire has returned to her own time and Jamie has been released from prison, essentially in the 20 year time period the couple spent apart in the series.

The Scottish Prisoner is set in Ireland but the slightly mystical feeling you get from the series is still present as there is a plot in the works to steal an ancient relic that the supporters of the Rising hope will inspire their Cause and rally supporters in Ireland. While I could have done without this little twist — I personally didn’t think it added much — it did evoke the supernatural feeling of the series without the time travel element. This is my only quibble with the book though. As always, Gabaldon goes above and beyond in the entertainment department and this book will probably be a fast read for fans of the series.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Heart and Soul

Heart and Soul

Heart and Soul

By Maeve Binchy

Alfred A. Knopf

ISBN: 978-0-307-26579-1

4 stars

Dr. Clara Casey was passed over for the position of head cardiologist at the hospital. Instead, she ends up appointed the director of the new heart clinic and she’s less than thrilled about the prospect. She promises herself it will only be for a year, she’ll get through it, and move on.

The new job is just the beginning of her troubles. She has two selfish daughters who are wrapped up in their own lives. Her estranged husband, who left her to live with a much younger woman, is finally asking for the divorce she won’t grant, and Frank Ennis, the hospital board member overseeing the clinic, is an incredible thorn in her side.

At the clinic, she begins assembling a diverse and wonderful staff. Clara is a force and you begin to see the clinic find its home in the community and become a touchstone for so many of the characters in this book.

Maeve Binchy is a comfort read for me. She creates such immensely likable characters that I want to pick up and go to Dublin to meet these people. In this book, as with most Binchy novels, the story is told from several perspectives and you know what’s going on in the lives of all the characters. Some of their stories are more interesting than others but it’s the way they are all tied together that makes it work. Binchy does a good job of folding you into the story and you’re hooked before you know it. The ending of this one felt a bit abrupt and the characters all work out their problems fairly quickly but that may also have been me not wanting to see this story come to an end at all.

This book does include characters from previous novels but you don’t need to have read them all to understand what’s going on here. It stands on its own but if you’ve read the other books, it’s nice to see the characters you’ve met before are all doing fine.