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.

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.

Sometimes I Lie

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Sometimes I Lie

By:  Alice Feeney
Published:  2018
# of pages:  264
Challenges:  Full House (new author from another country: UK)

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Goodreads description:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 
1. I’m in a coma. 
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore. 
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

My review:  Someone on the Silent Book Club I’m a part of on Facebook mentioned how the newest trend in titles now is the word “lie” or “lying.”  We’ve got The Lying GameOne of Us is LyingLet Me LieLie to Me, etc.  And here is Sometimes I Lie.  For a good part of the book I was a little annoyed by the title.  I felt like there was probably a better title the author could have used.  However, towards the end the title became a lot more appropriate.

I usually don’t read any Goodreads reviews of a book before or even after reading.  However, after you finish this book you will want to talk to someone about it, you will want to read what others have to say.  So I went onto Goodreads.  A lot of people were complaining that it was confusing and they missed the plot twist and had no clue what was going on at the end of the book.  I didn’t feel that way because I followed along pretty well, but I can see why it’s confusing to some people.  This is one of the few books I want to read again just after reading it for the first time.  I probably won’t do that, but it would be interesting to read it again after knowing the plot twists.  Yes, twists plural.  Also, it’s really hard for me to type the word twists for some reason. 😛

The story is about Amber Reynolds, who begins the book with the revelation that she’s in a coma.  She can’t remember what happened in the days before she regained consciousness, but while she is unable to move or communicate in any way, she has plenty of time to try to remember.  The book alternates between NOW, when Amber is in a coma, THEN, which is the days leading up to her coma, and BEFORE, when she was a child.

Some of the reviews I read accused the author of adding too many details to throw off the reader, but I wonder if there was more purpose than we think to many of the descriptions.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the author writes a sequel that explains the ending and other things that happened throughout the novel.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Suspenseful and well paced story, interesting characters, plot twists I didn’t see coming.

Mosquitoland

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Mosquitoland

By:  David Arnold
Published:
  2015
# of pages:  352 (Kindle edition)
Challenges:  Monthly Motif (vacation read)
Quote:  “Maybe I could muster the courage to speak those words so few people are able to say: I don’t know why I do the things I do. It’s like that sometimes.”

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Goodreads description:

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

My review:  I can’t adequately describe how much I love this book.  I’ve given it a few days to soak in before writing a review, but I still don’t know exactly what to say.  My reaction to this book reminded me of my reaction to Turtles All the Way Down.  The main character, Mim, had a hard struggle with mental health issues in her past just like Aza struggles with her mental health in Turtles.  Mim’s still learning to deal with her health as well as the divorce of her parents and her dad’s sudden remarriage.

She sets out on a journey from Mississippi to Ohio.  Along the way she has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of interesting characters, both good and bad.  Not only is Mim a beautiful character, but I loved many of the other characters.  I also appreciate the way Mim is willing to admit when she’s wrong or change her opinion/perspective as needed.  She’s witty and makes profound statements, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s “just” a teenager who still has more to learn.

While this is a great YA book, it does have some strong “bad language” if that’s a concern.  Also, I found myself at times thinking how great it would be to just run away from responsibilities and go on a spontaneous road trip like Mim’s.  It’s a little concerning to think that some people, especially younger teenagers, might actually consider doing that for real!  Maybe not, maybe it’s just me that has that desire (I do relate to Mim in many ways), but if I gave this to my teen to read I’d make sure to have a little talk about the dangers of a teenager being on his/her own on a cross country trip.  😉

I do highly recommend this to adults and teenagers alike and I think there’s many more positive messages than negative throughout the novel.  Also, I was initially leery of the book based on the cover.  It seemed like one of those contemporary teen books that you see everywhere, but I was amazed at the depth of emotion and thought evident in the writing.  It’s definitely worth giving it a chance.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great characters, entertaining story, important messages.

Before We Were Yours

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Before We Were Yours

By:  Lisa Wingate
Published:  2017
# of pages:  334
Challenges:  Full House (dual time line)
Quote:  “Since coming home I’ve readopted words like y’all, which I had expunged from my vocabulary up north. They’re good words, I’ve now decided. Like the humble boiled peanut, they serve perfectly in many situations.”

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Goodreads description:

An engrossing novel inspired by shocking real events—the kidnappings and illegal adoptions of children conducted by the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home Society—Before We Were Yours is a poignant, uplifting tale for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

My review:  Wow, this book was even more shocking and interesting to read just after reading The Girls Who Went Away.  The novel has a dual time line and follows Rill, a 12 year old girl who lives on a riverboat on the Mississippi River, and Avery, a 20-something year old lawyer with a political future in South Carolina.  I’m going to interrupt my review to say that part of the book takes place on Edisto Island, which isn’t far from my grandparents’ house and is where I go a couple of times a year on day trips to the beach.  It’s beautiful there and I loved the descriptions of the SC low country throughout the book.

Back to the review.  One night Rill’s life is turned upside down when her parents suddenly have to leave her in charge of her three younger sisters and baby brother.  Within less than 24 hours, the children find themselves at the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis.  Not only are they confused about why they are in the house when they have two loving parents, but they soon find themselves starving, abused, and separated from each other one by one.  It was incredibly hard reading about Rill and her siblings knowing that while Rill was fictional, these stories really did happen to hundreds of children in the earlier 1900s.  But I loved Rill and how realistic her character felt.

Now compare this to Avery Stafford, a successful DC lawyer who came home to South Carolina to follow her father around to train to be a future senator.  Not only has she been raised with the best of the best, she takes it for granted and tries to justify her family’s wealth and comforts whenever she’s confronted with even a hint of criticism.  I’m not going to lie, Avery annoyed the heck out of me for most of the book.  She’s spoiled and even worse, doesn’t think she’s spoiled.  Avery is stressed out dealing with her father’s bad health and training to be a future senator.  Every move she makes is planned out in order to maintain her family’s media and public appearance.  However, her life is also turned upside down when she meets a woman named May.

Instead of continuing her apprenticeship and maintaining appearances, Avery decides to do a little investigating into the past.  In the process she loses most of her entitled attitude and gains an insight into the past and the life of her grandmother.

I recommend this book to everyone because it’s an important part of history that should be learned and remembered.  I had never heard of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, but I’m interested in learning more about it now.  The author includes references in the back of the book that I’d like to check out soon.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Avery was annoying at times, but the other characters were great and the story was well written and an important story to hear.

The Lying Game

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The Lying Game

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2017
# of pages:  370

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Goodreads description:

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

My review:  I’ve read The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway and enjoyed them, so I figured I’d check this book out as well.  This novel is told from Isa’s point of view as she goes back to Salten, the town in which her high school boarding school was located.  She leaves London (and her boyfriend) in a hurry after receiving a text from Kate, who still lives in Salten.  She’s joined by Fatima and Thea to find out just why Kate summoned them back after 17 years.

All of the women are immersed in memories when they arrive at Kate’s house, called The Mill.  Some of the memories are good, the four girls cuddling on the couch in The Mill’s living room, swimming in the sea, and spending time with Kate’s father and stepbrother.  Other memories aren’t so nice.  The mean spirited game they played while at school called The Lying Game.  As high schoolers the girls didn’t always realize the consequences of the game, but as an adult, Isa can’t deny how wrong it was to isolate herself from the majority of her peers.

The book is named after the game, but it really doesn’t have much to do with the main plot of the story.  As a matter of fact, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the women’s present situation.  I wish the past and present had tied together more.  Honestly, for most of the book I wasn’t even too interested in the problem the women faced.  It’s a cool concept for a novel, but it didn’t come across as well as I would have liked.

Anyway, it’s worth reading if you like a somewhat slower paced mystery, but it’s not very suspenseful or fascinating.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Neat concept for a story, so-so characters, slow paced.