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

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 – The One I Left Behind

The One I Left BehindI’m going to confess right up front — I read the ending of this book first. That happens often with me but I’m religious about reading the ending of a thriller before even getting 20 pages in. It’s my thing. This isn’t my first McMahon book and she has a way of creeping me out early on so I need to find that strand of sanity to hold onto while she pulls me through the story with my eyes half closed. Knowing the ending didn’t make this any less exciting. McMahon doesn’t take a straight path to the end, and even knowing still made it nerve wracking.

Reggie Dufrane’s life has never been easy. Born to a former beauty queen, she always idolized her mother, wondering at her beauty but never really knowing the woman beneath the veneer she created for her daughter. Having lost her ear when she was attacked by a dog at a very young age, Reggie grew up with one real ear and one fake one, never to be the beauty her mother was. In the summer of 1985, a serial killer begins terrifying the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. When the severed hands of the victims begin appearing on the front steps of the police station, every resident in town waits, waits for the body to appear next. And each time a hand appeared, a body soon followed. When Reggie’s mother disappears, she knows the killer, dubbed Neptune by the local press, must have her. When her mother’s hand, recognizable by the scars she suffered rescuing Reggie from the dog attack, everyone waits for the body. It never appears. Days pass and months go by but the body of Vera Dufrane never appears.

Making the most out of an opportunity to start over, Reggie moves far away from Brighton Falls and puts as much distance as possible between her future and her past. A well-known architect, she celebrated in her industry but she’s never escaped Neptune and he haunts her till the day her mother re-appears — alive.

I knew how this was going to end but I still wanted to have every light on in the room I was sitting in and all the doors locked in the house. With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long-held onto in the dark.

Reggie is damaged goods, both mentally and physically. Her mother, a woman more damaged than her, is not one to look up to but she’s all Reggie ever had. The summer of her disappearance and supposed murder becomes an eye opener to Reggie who learns that her mother and the woman known as Vera Dufrane are two very different people.

McMahon doesn’t let anyone off easy and sometimes I did long for one person without any crazy skeletons in the closet beyond the embarrassing moments in high school that we all have. Those people don’t exist in her books and that’s what makes them so readable and difficult to read at the same time. Her characters are so flawed they become believable and unbelievable all at once and because of that you can’t stop reading. By the time you want out, you’re too far in and you need to know how it’s all going to turn out — good or bad.

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.

The One I Left Behind

Jennifer McMahon

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062122551

Review – Island of Bones

There are some books you finish and want more of, immediately. For me, this is one of those books. I loved the setting, the characters, the mystery — everything. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately, and oddly, they’ve all been series and I’ve started all of them somewhere in the middle rather than from the beginning. The same is true for this book; it’s Robertson’s third book featuring the characters of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Surprisingly, this hasn’t dulled my enjoyment one bit.

Mrs. Harriet Westerman is a woman still mourning her husband, even after her mourning period is officially over. Now, rather than be a spectacle to pity, she is trying to move forward with her life. When a request arrives to investigate the discovery of an extra body found in a crypt that had been supposedly untouched for many years, the idea of an adventure appeals. Mrs. Westerman, and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, set out for the Lake District to investigate the circumstances surrounding the skeleton. Crowther, also known as Lord Keswick, a title he has shunned and has done all he could to distance himself from not only the title but also his family, meets his past head on when they arrive in the Lake District. Not only is there a dead body and a mystery surrounding it, but Crowther’s sister and nephew are also in residence at Silverside Hall, a place once owned by Crowther and his family until he sold it. A happy family reunion it is not.

While the mysteries mount, a strange thing begins to happen — long held beliefs of the townspeople start taking center stage in the investigation. A lost relic called The Luck, a gold cross embedded with jewels, becomes part of the discussion and makes its way into the investigation of Mrs. Westerman and Crowther. More than one person’s hidden family history comes to light before the mystery is solved.

There’s something so very likable about Robertson’s writing. She writes great characters. They’re frank, smart, and surprising. I loved how she took a very relaxing setting and overlaid it with death, local folklore, and a mystery of family proportions that only seemed to grow larger by the day. It all fit so well together. When the story started coming to a close, I wanted more even after the satisfying conclusion. And, yes, there is a satisfying conclusion. I like that in a mystery.

Going back to the main characters, Mrs. Westerman and Gabriel Crowther — I said they were likable but it’s more than that. The two are a strange combination but a combination that works brilliantly. Crowther is a grump of a man, a recluse who takes no pleasure in people except for the few he can tolerate, and yet, his scientific analysis is a fascinating attribute. In fact, it’s an interesting aspect of the story itself and slightly morbid as he does care to spend more time with the dead than the living. Mrs. Westerman is a great counterpoint to his standoffish qualities. I also like unconventional women in historical fiction and she’s certainly unusual for her time. I should point out that the story is set in 1783 and a woman investigating murders is far from the norm.

Now that I have used one too many laudatory words in describing what I liked so much about this book, I leave you with this — read Island of Bones. They’ll be no regrets. I had high hopes for this book and those expectations were met.

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.

Island of Bones

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books

ISBN: 9780670026272

4.5 stars

 

Review – Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

Lady Emily Hargreaves, accompanied by her husband Colin, is on her way to Venice to help a childhood friend named Emma Callum. A better description would be a childhood nemesis — Emily and Emma were not exactly the best of friends as children and Emily did her best to distance herself from Emma whenever possible. However, Emma has asked for her help and Emily can’t turn down a plea for help, even when that plea comes from Emma Callum. Years ago, Emma ran off with an Italian Count and caused a bit of a scandal at home, but is now in desperate need of Emily’s detective skills. Her father-in-law has been murdered in the home she shares with her husband, and her husband, who is a suspect in his father’s murder, has disappeared making the case against him look even more telling. She needs Emily to find the murderer and clear her husband.

Weary of her Emma’s motives but still willing to help, Emily and Colin begin their investigation and Emily soon finds herself fascinated by Venice, a city she’s never visited before. With few clues besides an old ring to go on, Emily enlists the help of a Venetian historian and his daughter, Donata, to help her navigate the city and open a few palazzo doors for her to ask questions. With the help of Donata, Emily stumbles upon a centuries old love story that tore two individuals, and their families, apart. The same feud is still going strong which doesn’t help Emily when she needs questions answered. She begins searching frantically through libraries and family trees for any clue that will help solve the case while Colin begins a search for Emma’s missing husband.

This is my second Lady Emily mystery and I’m becoming addicted. I need to plan some reading time to go back and start this series from the beginning. Even though this is a series, these books do stand on their own but the characters and settings are so good I want to go back and spend more time in this world. Emily and Colin are incredibly likable characters and the settings, especially this particular book’s setting of Venice, are so lovely you want to step into the pages. Alexander does a fantastic job with the crumbling palazzos, dusty old books, and gondolas gliding along the canals.

Let’s talk about the mystery for a moment because there is one here. What I liked most about the mystery was the way it was wrapped up in a love story a la Romeo and Juliet style. Told through letters interspersed throughout the story, the centuries-old love story starts to show up in Emily’s mystery in unexpected ways. In the end, Alexander wraps this one up nicely with a little sneak peek of what’s ahead for Emily and Colin.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way I was able to fall into the story and get lost in the mystery, the romance, and the city of Venice. I was pulled into the story very early and I didn’t want to leave. There’s just enough of everything in this book to make me a happy reader. Obviously, I’m waiting for Emily’s next adventure.

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.

Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

By Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661762

4 stars

 

Review – One Way Out: Tommy Pulls the Trigger

One Way Out: Tommy Pulls the Trigger

By Seymon White

Hen House Press

ISBN: 9780983460459

4 stars

Tommy Dushane lives in a small, rural town in Ohio — a place where nothing much ever happens and nothing much ever will. He wants out but doesn’t see a clear path to his big city dreams. His girlfriend, Dusty Jane, waitresses at the only restaurant in town and while she loves him, doesn’t necessarily want a way out the way he does. He wants the big city, excitement, the promise of a new life. For Tommy, there’s only one way to this shiny new life. Soon he finds himself on a would be interview with a small town criminal, get’s blinded by some fast cash, and when he realizes he’s in over his head, it’s already too late.

You can see how the lure of some easy cash can change a person, and it changes Tommy, a person who already wants out so bad he’ll talk to anyone who mentions a big city. He’s a good person who gets pulled in the wrong direction by his hopes and dreams. White does a good job of tugging on some emotions, even if they are fear and loathing — both of which Tommy has in abundance.

I have a soft spot, which seems to be growing, for dark, gritty tales. This one fits neatly in thriller, suspense, and crime fiction but I don’t want to say that’s it and be done. It’s a novella size book, the copy I read was around 80 pages, but I starting reading it at lunch and finished it shortly after walking in the door that night. It’s a fast read surely but a good one too. White is a storyteller. The dialogue was all believable and not once did I look up and wonder what I was reading. Crime fiction sometimes knocks me for a loop when the unbelievable happens but I had none of those moments here. And I powered though hoping the ending I saw coming would not be there. I liked the ending by the way but I’m not saying anything more on that point. For fear of giving away too much, I’ll stop there and say — if you’re looking for an interesting read, this one satisfies.

Hen House Press shared a copy of this book with me for review. This is the second book I’ve reviewed for Hen House Press, the first, Fiction Noir: Thirteen Tales, can be found here.

The Dead Path

The Dead Path

Stephen M. Irwin

Doubleday

ISBN: 9780385533430

4 stars

Every year around this time, with the leaves turning and pumpkins making their way into stores, I find myself craving ghost stories. Stories that make you want to sleep with the lights on and double check the locks on the doors and windows when the slightest sound is heard. Irwin deftly accomplishes both in his debut novel.

Nicholas Close is living his dream life in London. He has a beautiful wife, they’re renovating their new home together, and he has a job he enjoys. When a sudden and tragic accident takes his wife’s life, he can’t get past the devastation, the collapse of their dreams, and the downward spiral of his life. One other problem he’s having that he would do anything to escape — he’s seeing ghosts. Not just simple hauntings, like socks going missing and found in odd places, but what he’s seeing are the last violent moments of people’s lives over and over like a movie he can’t shut off. Everywhere he goes they appear making him wonder if he’s losing his mind.

Nicholas makes the decision to move back to his native Australia with the hope of starting fresh. His hometown doesn’t have much to offer but it was home many years ago and what he’s looking for is a clean slate which his small town can provide. His mother, never a very affectionate person, welcomes him home rather half-heartedly, but he’s fine with the reception not expecting much more than the cup of tea she offers. His sister, a mother and successful business woman, decides to visit him as well and Nicholas finds in her a kindred spirit of sorts. She understands about the ghosts, and reveals a small secret — their long dead father believed in witchcraft and she herself is a follower.

When a child disappears into the woods that have long haunted Nicholas, he starts to see and hear things that he knows can’t be possible. He starts to research the woods and finds a long dead woman still alive and possibly the reason for the strange occurrences, disappearances, and murders around town.

There’s that old saying that writers should write what they know. Well, I sincerely hope Stephen Irwin is not writing what he knows because his life would be terrifying if that were the case. This book starts out with death and racks up the numbers quickly. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish this book but then something happened, and without taking away any of the adrenalin-rush, Irwin brings on the creepy mystery and changes the story from one about child murders to a depraved witch on a hunt for blood. He doesn’t drop the intensity level one bit and you race through the pages wondering what’s going to happen next.

It’s dark, disturbing, and in places disgusting, but does what it’s supposed to do — it scares you. It makes you want to turn on every light in your house and banish house plants for fear they could be communing with a witch in the woods to conspire your ending. What I liked about the evil in this book was that it was subtle in appearance and you have to wait for Nicholas to figure things out, which in some places was a little frustrating but all part of the story. By the end of the book, you stop feeling sorry for Nicholas and want to yell at him to fight.

While I found parts of the book slightly unpalatable, child murders are never an easy subject even when it is clearly fiction, the book delivered on the terror factor. If you’re looking for a book for Halloween, this might be the one to try. It will certainly leave you with the need for extra lighting and a creepy feeling about dark woods.

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.