The Witch Elm

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The Witch Elm

By:  Tana French
Published: 
2018
# of pages:  464
Challenge:  Monthly Motif (new to you author)Book Bingo
Quote: “The rain had started, a light unobtrusive patter, its shadows down the windowpane mottling the sill and the bare floorboards. I stayed there for a long time, watching the drops merge and course down the glass, picking two and betting on their race to the bottom, the way I had when I was a kid.”

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Goodreads description:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

Review:  I saw a review about Tana French’s books and decided to check this one out after hearing it was good.  French is a new-to-me author, so it counts for January’s Monthly Motif challenge.  I enjoyed The Witch Elm so much that I’m planning to check out more of Tana French’s books soon!

I spent much of this book feeling amazed that the author could think of something so complex and keep it going for so long.  The whole book is intricate – from the plot to the many characters.  The story mainly follows Toby, a young man whose life is abruptly ruined when he’s attacked in his own home and almost killed.

Toby is an interesting character because the reader can’t help but like him and root for him, but also feel dislike for him at times.  And honestly, don’t we all know people like Toby, people with the gift of gab and with enough luck to easily swim through life’s ups and downs?  Sometimes you wonder what that person would do if something truly awful happened to them, something that would be difficult or impossible to talk their way out of or ignore.  That’s partly what this book is about and I commend the author for writing her character so well and avoiding what was probably a temptation to dilute him and make him “better.”

I’m recovering from a surgery on my nasal passage to correct a deviated septum, so maybe that’s affected my thought process, but I couldn’t stop thinking of this book over the days I spent reading.  I wanted so badly to figure out the mystery of the skull.  I sort of figured it out, but that wasn’t even the main point of the book.  The story took a weird turn at the end, but overall I enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it to adults who enjoy mysteries.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting plot, intricate and realistic characters, thought provoking.

Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing

By:  Delia Owens
Published: 
2018
# of pages:  384
Challenge:  A to ZBook Bingo
Quote:  “Kya bit her bottom lip as she watched. Wondering how it would feel to be among them. Their joy created an aura almost visible against the deepening sky. Ma had said women need one another more than they need men, but she never told her how to get inside the pride.”

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Goodreads description:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review:  My first book read in the new year and it was worthy of five stars and a place on my favorites list!  In a way I hate reviewing amazing books because I can’t do them justice.  This book is beautifully written, has a great plot full of thought provoking subjects and an intriguing mystery, and the character of Kya is one easy to emphathize with and understand.

Kya was abandoned by her mother at age six and in the short years that follow, her siblings and father leave her as well.  She makes do in the marshes of coastal North Carolina, but while she doesn’t physically starve, she often feels emotionally starved.  In order to feel connected to the world, she falls in love with the nature that surrounds her on a daily basis.  Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of how she interacts with all of nature, that of the marsh environment and that of the townspeople floating by on the fringes of her existence.

At times this story made my heart ache, but it was also inspiring.  Kya led a rough life that no one deserves, but she made the best of it and handled situations with strength and resolve.  This would be a good book club read.  The way Kya interacts with people and the mystery that’s presented throughout the novel made me want to discuss the book with someone!  I recommend it to all adults.  And I also recommend visiting the NC coast if you haven’t done so yet, it’s a beautiful place.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Interesting plot, beautiful story, strong characters.

The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

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Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

In a Dark, Dark Wood

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In a Dark, Dark Wood

By:  Ruth Ware
Published: 
2016
# of pages: 
308
Challenges: 
R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room…. 

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Review:  Now I’ve read all of the books Ruth Ware has published.  Her books are interesting and easy reads.  This book is on my R.I.P. Challenge list.  It wasn’t as creepy/suspenseful as I thought it would be based on the description, but it held my interest and was a fast read.

Nora receives an unexpected invitation to her ex-bestfriend’s bachelorette party (hen do in the U.K.).  She hasn’t seen Clare in 10 years since they were about 16, but she consults with a mutual friend who was also invited.  They decide they’ll both go even though neither really wants to attend.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the remote country house in the woods, things start to go downhill.  Nora wants to leave before the weekend has truly begun, but she’s prevented from doing so.  Trapped in the house with a mixed group of strangers and estranged former friends, she slowly realizes not everything that’s happening is a coincidence.

I wasn’t too attached to any of the characters.  I couldn’t really relate to many of Nora’s decisions.  I felt sorry that she was so tramatized by her past and concerned about impressing Clare both in the past and present.

This wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, but it was fun and easy.  I wouldn’t have minded a little more creepiness, but there was still some suspense and mystery.  I recommend it to those who enjoy the suspense/thriller genre.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Fun and well-paced mystery, so-so characters and plot.

The Outsider

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The Outsider

By:  Stephen King
Published:  2018
# of pages:  561
Challenges:  Full House (>500 pages), Monthly Motif (horror), R.I.P.
Quote:  “Anything is possible,” she said to the empty room. “Anything at all. The world is full of strange nooks and crannies.”

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Goodreads description:

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face?

Review:  I finished the Bill Hodges series that starts with Mr. Mercedes.  There’s several references to the series and a recurring character in The Outsider.  I enjoyed the entire Bill Hodges series and this novel had a similar setup and the characters were similar.  However, The Outsider has more of a creepy/horror atmosphere.

The description of the book sums it up better than I can without spoiling the plot.  Overall, the book reminded me of an episode of the TV show “Supernatural.”  At the beginning I was trying to guess what was going on and even as I began to learn the truth, I was still curious about how the characters were going to deal with the situation.

King is great at writing creepy and disturbing characters.  But he’s also great at writing good characters who have compassion and a desire to find out the truth.  This book is no exception and I really liked the character Ralph Anderson who reminded me of Bill Hodges and Danny from Doctor Sleep.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story, good characters, intriguing horror atmosphere.

R.I.P. XIII

twitter-avatar-2It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Autumn will officially start in a couple of weeks, but my favorite challenge of all time started September 1!  It’s year 13 of the R.I.P. Challenge!

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

The goals are simple. 

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

Peril the First

  1.  Heart-Shaped Box  by: Joe Hill
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  2. The Outsider  by: Stephen King
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  3.  In a Dark, Dark Wood  by: Ruth Ware
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  4.  The Visitors  by: Catherine Burns
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Peril of the Short Story

Spooky South
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Peril on the Screen

A Quiet Place
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Mr. Mercedes

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Mr. Mercedes

By:  Stephen King
Published:  2014
# of pages:  449
Series:  Bill Hodges Trilogy (#1)
Challenges:  Full House (last book added)

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Goodreads description:  

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with two new, unusual allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

My review:  I placed a hold on The Outsider a few weeks ago.  My mom read it and said that she didn’t really enjoy it, but maybe because she didn’t get some of the references to other King novels.  She has read Mr. Mercedes and said that was referenced.  So I decided to read Mr. Mercedes and the other books referenced in The Outsider.

This is a crime mystery sort of book and not a horror like many of King’s novels.  I’m not super into crime/detective books, but I liked the main character, Bill Hodges, as well as his unlikely sidekicks.  Bill is a retired police officer.  His unsolved cases still bother him, but he spends most of his days laying in front of the TV and eating junk food so he doesn’t waste too much brain power fretting about the past.  However, one day he briefly thinks about an unsolved past case about the “Mercedes Killer” and is struck by a thought.  He can’t stop thinking about it and he soon finds himself getting out of his armchair, out of the house, and back into the world of crime solving.  His teenaged neighbor is the only friend he still sees since retiring, but he soon adds to his number of friends as he’s pulled farther and farther into the investigation.

The reader is also pulled into the world of Brady, a disturbed young man who isn’t afraid of his own death but also isn’t afraid to end the lives of others.  If you’ve read many of King’s novels you know how disturbing some of his characters can be and Brady Hartsfield is no exception.

Overall I’d recommend this if you like crime and detective books.  And if you aren’t afraid of seeing into a depraved murderer’s mind.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Nothing super amazing, but the characters are fun and I’m eager to see what happens in the next books in the series.