Review – The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine StepsSometimes, I like to go old school with my books. This book was one of those occasions. I should start off by telling you that The Thirty-Nine Steps is a serial story that appeared in a magazine in and around 1915 or so. I found it interesting for that reason; the fact that it was an old school spy thriller took it over the top though. However, there’s a reason for my telling you this up-front but the valuable lesson learned will be shared in a moment.

Richard Hannay is an ordinary man trying to settle into his London home after years away in South Africa when a neighbor, Franklin Scudder, corners him and tells him that he’s uncovered a German plot to assassinate a Greek Premier and he needs help hiding out. Soon after agreeing to hide Scudder, Hannay comes home to find him dead. From then on, Hannay is running from everyone. He can’t go to the police, he doesn’t know who is really chasing him, and he doesn’t know if any of it is real or not. Running is his one and only option.

Lesson learned: if you are going to read a serialized story, read it that way. Each chapter is a complete story, in a way. There’s a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Yes, you can say that of most novels but it’s especially true in this case since each chapter was run by itself it needed to reintroduce the characters and story in subtle ways. When I tried to read this book all in one sitting, it didn’t work. I started to wonder if I would even finish it because it wasn’t working for me. So, I started and ended each chapter at lunch. And it clicked! The book started working and I was in love with it. It became exciting to see how Hannay was going to get out of his predicament and who he would meet up with next. It was my lunch reading and I couldn’t wait for it.

It’s a man on the run thriller, one the first of its kind from what I remember reading about this story. The story itself is a great distraction too. I got caught up and was happy to see things work out in some cases or be left wondering about the next set up.

Warning: if you’re going to read this, go one chapter at a time and let the story play out. It’s so much better that way. And try it you should. You can get it from The Gutenberg Project for free so go and do that.

The Thirty-Nine Steps
By John Buchan

A Gutenberg Project Ebook

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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 – The Venice Conspiracy

I read Christer’s first novel, The Stonehenge Legacy and liked it. When the opportunity to review his second book fell in my lap, I took it. I was in the mood for a thriller and already being familiar with this author, I knew this would be a good match.

Tom Shaman is an ex-priest from Los Angeles trying to escape his former life and anyone who knew him. A few months before, while still a priest, he happened upon an assault and intervened to stop a woman from being raped. While fighting off the attackers, he accidentally killed one of the men. Cleared of the crime, but unable to let his conscience rest, he decides to trade California for Italy and his life of a priest for that of a layman. Upon arriving in watery Venice, he finds himself drawn into the case of a murdered girl and what seems to be a devil worshiping cult that is planning an attack with world-wide ramifications. Throw in a pseudo-romance and a kidnapping, and Tom isn’t getting the escape from life he was hoping for in Italy.

There are several stories and timelines taking place in The Venice Conspiracy — the present following the ex-priest Tom, a 666 BC timeline featuring a netvis (an ancient priest of sorts) who may have inadvertently created the demon now known as Satan, and a 1778 timeframe concerning the theft of a little known but very valuable sculpture. This might sound confusing, but each specific time plays out without hindering the others. I was interested in seeing how each story would work out but I found the 666 BC timeframe the most interesting. It was set in what would be considered Etruia, a part of ancient Italy that is considered the home of Etruscan civilization. I’m always fascinated by this time period, and for me, this timeline held the most interest which of course means I would have liked more about these characters.

I should also say this — as I often do with thrillers — forget reality and roll with it. Tom’s an ex-priest who ends up investigating what look like ritual murders with the Italian police force shortly after arriving in the city and being found at the scene of the first murder. I don’t mean this to sound critical but this police force really moves fast. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know nothing moves fast. I just felt wrong considering the police wanted to lock him up shortly before employing him. It’s hard to buy, but, ignore that. Go with it and you won’t be disappointed. You see, this is one of those stories that builds; each new character and timeframe adding something new, each story within a story advancing things along. Honestly, that’s what I want a thriller to do. I want it to move, and move fast. The Venice Conspiracy does just that.

If you’re looking for a book that will keep you up reading, give this one a try.

The publisher sent me a copy of The Venice Conspiracy for review.

The Venice Conspiracy
By Sam Christer
Overlook Press
ISBN: 978-1468300499
3.5 stars

Review – All Seeing Eye

Jackson Lee Eye is a man with a thing about touching — he doesn’t do it. When he does, he can see everything that happens in that person’s life; the good, the bad, and the mundane. It started when he was 14. He found the shoe of his younger sister Tess lying on the ground, and picking it up, saw her dead in a well. That vision, and the aftermath, haunts him every day of his life. After finding the shoe, he saw his mother murdered and he himself pulled the trigger on his step-father. After years in a state home, he escapes and makes a living using the only skill he has, the ability to read people. When a scientist comes knocking on his door asking him to become part of a study, he goes on high alert. As it turns out, he’s being blackmailed by the government. Forced to help the military bring an end to an experiment gone wrong, he finds himself re-living the events of others and he knows this little experiment will leave him with nightmares for the rest of his life.

This was the book I was in the mood for. I wanted a little creepy, a little dark, and I got it. And the characters — well, at least one — were likable. Jackson Lee Eye and his dog Houdini were very likable characters and the others provided the creep factor I was looking for.

I expected a twist and got it, and it happened in the way I wanted it to which made this a very satisfying read. In fact, I devoured the book. I don’t have an explanation for this but I always, no matter what, enjoy stories where one or more of the characters are a psychic. I have no reason why but I just love it. And I loved how Jackson reacted to each person and what he/she was hiding. In some cases, the sociopathic natures were more interesting than the characters themselves because I kept waiting for these people to reveal themselves.

Being a person that reads the last few pages of a book early on, I was slightly surprised to see a little twist at the end that I didn’t catch. Yep, I may not like surprises all that much (really, I read the last page before I hit page 10, what would you expect me to say here) but I liked the one I came across here. I guess you can say it’s still nice to be surprised by characters.

I’m being evasive and that’s intentional. I try my best not to give away spoilers and this story unfolds in a way that I don’t want to give away because that’s the fun of it. If you’re looking for a good October book, one to curl up with on a windy fall evening, well, here’s one. It’s a fast moving thriller that will make for a good evening read.

All Seeing Eye

By Rob Thurman

Pocket Books

ISBN: 9781451652222

4 stars

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 – One Shot

I rely solely on a co-worker for my Reacher fix. He has many of Child’s books and is kind enough to loan them to me on occasion, usually without me asking which is wonderful. This one is a few years old, and since I’ve read pretty much every single one out of order, that didn’t bother me at all. In fact, what I like about these books is that you can pick one up without knowing a single thing about the main character, Jack Reacher, and still enjoy the story. They’re straight forward: something bad happens, Jack Reacher will show up unexpectedly, Jack Reacher will get involved, Jack Reacher will solve whatever the problem happens to be. Also, not knowing anything about Reacher works for the reader which might sound strange but it’s true. You’ll be curious but back off when the story gets going because too many other things will distract you from the fact that you know very little about the main character.

In One Shot, Reacher is in Florida when he sees a story on the news that has him on a bus heading to Indiana within the hour. One man fired six shots, killed five people, and was taken into custody by the cops in what seems a slam-dunk case. Reacher has a feeling it’s not at all what it seems. He barges in on the case working with the defense attorney hoping to bring down the real killer and release an innocent man.

The first thing I do when I pick up one of these books is forget all reality; pretend it doesn’t exist, and go for a ride. Reacher gets in and out of trouble so many times, manages to figure out a case that has stumped an entire city and several highly educated people, and then leaves on a bus for his next stop. Parts will infuriate you, parts will make you laugh, and parts will just have you shaking your head. It’s OK though because it’s fun. You don’t have to believe everything, you don’t even have to fully buy-in but these books are good distractions and are excellent companions for plane rides which is how I read this one — squished in the middle seat thank you for asking. These books are entertaining and move so fast that if what you want is to read something that will pull you in until the end; these books will do the trick.

One Shot

By Lee Child

A Dell Book

ISBN: 978-0440-24102-7

3.5 stars

 

Review – The Map of Lost Memories

Irene Blum has spent her life studying the Khmer Empire and acquiring knowledge of ancient civilizations and artifacts. She’s an expert in her field and fully expects to be running the Brooke Museum of Oriental Arts in Seattle, which houses a collection she helped to build, in due time. When the curatorship is given to another, it devastates her. Still reeling from the death of her father a few months earlier, she turns to Henry Simms, a close family friend and the man who helped raise her after the death of her mother. He is also the person who instilled in her the intense interest she has in the Khmer Empire. Mr. Simms is dying of cancer, and knowing it will be the last great adventure of his life and the start of one for Irene, he shares an unknown diary with her that talks about lost copper scrolls containing the history of the Khmer. The scrolls are supposedly hidden in an ancient Khmer temple in the Cambodian jungle. With nothing left for her in Seattle, Irene leaves for Shanghai to convince a woman named Simone Merlin to join her on the trip to Cambodia. Both women have much to prove — to each other and themselves — and the trip to discover the lost scrolls becomes a test of wills.

While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

Irene and Simone are bound together in horrific ways that neither woman wants to think about — murder, drugs, and a personal history neither knew existed until Irene found Simone in Shanghai. Their interactions are sometimes painful to witness but that’s what I enjoyed so much about this particular relationship. In 1925, two women struggling to be more than what society has deemed appropriate was great to see. Their efforts to regain some sense of themselves, understand their dreams, and deal with how those dreams have changed made for notable characters.

The Map of Lost Memories is full of mystery and suspense — some of it brought on in the course of the discovery of an archeological gem in the jungle and at other times it’s complete human folly. I adored the mixture. I feel like I’ve skipped the brilliant setting in favor of discussing some flawed but captivating characters. The setting and the discovery of an ancient Khmer temple deep in the Cambodian jungle was what made me want to read this book and it turned out to be a book full of characters looking for and waiting for redemption in different forms.

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine and the thing that keeps me reading this genre are books that make me want to know more about an event, a person, or discovery after I finish the book. This book did just that. I found myself wanting to know more about the Khmer Empire and the forgotten temples covered by moss and vines.

A setting that’s fascinating, thrilling, and dangerous, and characters that are in turn annoying and absorbing with strong personalities but are flawed and human. Together these elements made it difficult for me to put this book down. Fay obviously has a love for Asian culture and history. If she decides to write more books with this setting, I’ll be reading.

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 Map of Lost Memories

Kim Fay

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 9780345531346

4 stars