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.

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.

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.

The Woman in the Window

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The Woman in the Window

By:  A.J. Finn
Published:  
2018
# of pages:  448 (Kindle edition)
Challenge:  Monthly Motif (mystery)
Quote:  “Isn’t it amazing how according to the Internet, some people might as well not exist? Bina had asked. All David’s memories, all his music, everything that might unlock the man—it’s gone. Or, rather, it’s all around me, floating in the ether, but invisible, files and icons, ones and zeros. Nothing left on display in the real world, not a sign, not a clue. Isn’t it amazing?”

Goodreads description: 

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, mother, their teenaged son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My review:  This novel has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  I enjoyed GG, but didn’t particularly like TGotT, so I didn’t know if I’d really like this or not.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  I thought it was better written than the first two I’d read and I liked the main character much more than the others.  I have to give the author a shout out for properly naming the book WOMAN instead of girl.  Remember my pet peeve?

The story is about Anna, who hasn’t left her house in over a year.  The reader quickly learns that she has agoraphobia, but when it started and why remains to be seen.  Anna isn’t perfect, but the reader has sympathy for her and can understand why she’s become who she is – a recluse who lives through other people, whether that’s the neighbors she spies on, the man who rents her basement, or the online community she joined.

Classic suspense movies play a large part in Anna’s life and her actions.  As you can tell from the description, Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is the inspiration for the entire novel.  It isn’t necessary to have watched all the movies mentioned, but it helps if you’ve seen at least a few Hitchcock films.  There was one film I haven’t seen that I wished I had since it is mentioned several times, but I can’t remember the title for the life of me, so I can’t recommend you watch it first. “The Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” and “Gaslight” would definitely be good to watch before reading the book .

Yes, the book is about a single woman with issues, but it’s a step above TGotT and worth reading if you want an easy read suspenseful thriller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  It is interesting and fast paced enough to keep my attention and made me not want to put the book down.

 

The Book of Blood and Shadow

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The Book of Blood and Shadow

By:  Robin Wasserman
Published: 
2012
# of pages:  450
Challenge: 
Full House (plot twist)

3Stars

Goodreads description:

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

My opinion:  Man, I wrote most of this review and then saved it for later…except that it didn’t save properly so most of my review was erased.

This book sounded very intriguing and half of it was great and the other half not so much.  The story follows high school senior Nora just as she finds a place as an intern for a nearby college professor along with her best friends Chris and Adriane.  Everything is going great, especially after Max joins their group and finds a place in her heart.

But their lives suddenly change and they realize that the project they’ve been working on over the past few months may be of interest to people other than the quirky college professor.  Nora embarks on a quest to save Max and maybe even the entire world.

Like I said, this book had a lot of potential, but I feel like it kind of went off the rails in the last third.  It wasn’t bad or anything, there were just things that didn’t quite add up and the teenage angst mixed in with a world-changing adventure seemed forced at times.

Also, I’m a little tired of these modern titles.  This would have been better if it was simply The Book of Blood or, even better, a more original title entirely.  End rant.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Cool concept, okay characters, somewhat disappointing story line.

The Flight Attendant

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The Flight Attendant

By:  Chris Bohjalian
Published:  2018
# of pages:  368
Challenge:  A to ZFull House (thriller)

3Stars

Goodreads description:

Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, already counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police–she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home–Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

My opinion:  I was pretty excited to read this after seeing the description.  Bohjalian’s novels are hit or miss with me.  A couple I’ve really enjoyed (Midwives and The Sleepwalker) and others I haven’t liked.

Unfortunately I didn’t love this, but it wasn’t bad either.  The story is about Cassie, an alcoholic flight attendant who wakes up next to a murdered man.  The problem is that she was so drunk the night before that she blacked out and has no memory of what happened.

She returns home and navigates through the fact that she lied to investigators and suspects someone is following her.  She admits she’s a liar who drinks too much, but still makes the same mistakes over and over.  Cassie is a very introspective character who underestimates her ability to change.

The odd thing about the story is that all of the action seems to pause until she travels to Rome with the airline she works for and is far from everyone she knows.  Suddenly, everything floods her at once.  It didn’t really make sense to me why the timeline worked the way it did.  I can’t say too much without spoiling, but my theory of what was going to happen did happen…I just didn’t think it made complete sense with the timing.

Overall, it was a fun and easy read and I recommend it as a good book to read while traveling or during a reading slump because it’s really engaging and easy.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Not the most likable characters, weird timing, convenient turns of events, not terribly original, but also easy to read and fast paced.

And Then There Were None

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And Then There Were None

By: Agatha Christie
Published: 1940
# of pages: 247

4Stars

Goodreads description:

First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal – and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

My opinion:  Several people have told me this is their favorite Agatha Christie novel and I can see why.  It’s a clever story about ten people who travel to an island either as guests or employees.  They are all a little uncertain about just who their host is, but the draw of employment or a free vacation is enough for them to step on the boat that takes them to Soldier Island.  However, soon after they arrive they discover that this isn’t going to be an easy job or a relaxing vacation.  The days and nights become a struggle to stay alive and figure out who on the tiny island is responsible for the murders.

This was an interesting read and I had many theories as to who was responsible for the murders, but I didn’t have it all the way figured out.  I was continually reminded of the board game Clue!  Also, like Murder on the Orient Express, I am impressed with how well this novel has held up over time.  This could have taken place in 2017.  Ten guests go to an island where they have no cell phone or internet connection…

I had a hard time picturing the conclusion that was described on the last page.  I understood what the overall intent was, but couldn’t “see” the details.  I had my husband read it and we talked through it until I could envision it correctly.  In spite of that, it was a great read.  I can’t choose which I liked more, Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Clever and original story, kept me guessing, quick read.