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.

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.

Firstlife

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Firstlife

By:  Gena Showalter
Published:  2016
# of pages:  467
Series:  Everlife (#1)
Quote:  “That’s not our way,” Archer says. “Death isn’t the answer. Where there’s breath, there’s hope.”

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Goodreads description:

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live — after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, long-time enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t where the boy she’s falling for lives? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

My review:  My husband listened to this on an audio book and went on to listen to the rest of the series.  He really enjoyed the story so I decided to check it out as well!  This is a fun beginning to what will probably be a fun series.  While the concept of the book is thought provoking, this isn’t an overly emotionally deep story.

At the beginning of the book I found myself frustrated over how silly the whole concept of choosing a realm during life seemed.  At least, to the extent of sending your kids to be tortured to ensure they choose the “right” side.  But as the book progressed I began to understand it more and I realized that for some people, this isn’t neccessarily a fantasy.  There’s plenty of religious people in the real world who manipulate, persecute, discriminate, and even kill all because of a belief that their belief is more important than other people’s beliefs.

The down sides were that at points it became hard to track who was Ten’s current “favorite” and who was rescuing her from the numerous bad situations in which she found herself.  Back and forth, back and forth, it all kind of ran together.  But overall this was an entertaining story that I recommend to fans of YA fantasy.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story idea, fast paced, entertaining.

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.

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.