In the Woods by Tana French


In the Woods

by
Tana French

Rating:

After his friends Peter and Jamie mysteriously disappeared in the woods near their home, Adam Robert Ryan’s parents sent their son away to boarding school. The shock of the 1984 event had already given Adam amnesia, but he could never completely forget his best friends. When the three twelve-year-olds climbed the wall of their County Dublin neighborhood that summer day and entered the woods they knew so well, only Adam came out, with a slashed shirt, bark under his nails and shoes full of blood. Despite an intense investigation, the disappearance of Peter and Jamie was never solved and it’s been haunting Adam ever since.

Now, twenty years later, Adam goes as Rob and, although he’s back in his old neighborhood, he’s kept his past a secret from everyone except his partner, Cassie Maddox. As detectives on the Dublin Murder squad, they are investigating the murder of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin, whose body was found at an archeological dig site, on the edge of the same woods where Rob’s friends disappeared.  Are the two cases connected?  Should Rob even be on the investigation?

Tana French tells an excellent mystery, which is part murder investigation, part psychological study, part political tale and part love story. Clues point in many directions as Rob, Cassie and a third detective, Sam O’Neill, work the case. Is there abuse in the Devlin home? Is the murder connected to Jonathan Devlin’s involvement in a protest group that is trying to stop a highway from going through the dig site? What else happened in the woods the summer Peter and Jamie disappeared? The investigation continues to uncover facts that may or may not be related to the crime, muddling up an intriguing mystery. In addition, French develops sleeper characters that suggest new motives, leaving the reader to sort it out.

Rob, privately and desperately, wants to confront his past and connect it to Katy’s murder, but the intense investigation sends him into a destructive spiral.  As his relationship with Cassie teeters between professional and personal, new events could jeopardize the case.  And Rob, Cassie and Sam may not be ready when the case breaks with shocking revelations.

I enjoyed In the Woods very much for the same reason I like reading any book with many layers of plot and character development:  there’s a lot going on. It’s much more than a classic mystery with a fast-moving plot and red herrings. It’s a commentary on family, relationships, society and police work.  I especially enjoyed the dynamics between Rob and Cassie, their slick interrogation skills, and the unraveling of several key characters.  I also liked the story because of its open-ended finish, with some satisfying tie-ins, but plenty to think about afterwards.

I recommend In the Woods to readers who enjoy complex mysteries and character studies.

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Calmer Secrets by Jennifer Kelland Perry


Calmer Secrets
by
Jennifer Kelland Perry

Rating:

Samantha and Veronica Cross had to start fresh when they moved with their mother Darlene from Newfoundland’s Calmer Cove to St. John’s.  Attending a new high school and making friends were their first challenges and soon they discovered the charms of Ben Swift, a handsome local boy with his own troubles.  As the sisters rivaled for his attention, jealousy and misunderstandings threw the Cross family off balance into a spiral of disaster.

Calmer Girls is Perry’s first coming-of-age novel about the Cross sisters.  Calmer Secrets picks up in 1998, four years later.  If they thought the teenage years were turbulent, they are now learning that relationships in their twenties can be just as complicated.

Veronica is a single mom to three-year-old Henry and Samantha is an art student at Grenfell, seven hours away.  Their old friend Ben may be far away at the moment, but he’s on the minds of both girls, for different reasons, and it will be a long time before the sisters forget what happened.  Veronica copes by finding, then quickly discarding boyfriends.  And while on break, Samantha takes up with her old friend, Kalen O’Dea.  He’s charming and gorgeous, and fronts a popular cover band in town, but there’s something puzzling about his behavior.  Veronica warns her, but who is she to give advice?

The real elephant in the room, however, is Darlene’s drinking.  She’s met a new man, Cash, who owns the Bambury Tavern and the two work side-by-side.  He’s a great guy, but can he see the problem?  How long can the family look the other way?

Calmer Secrets is an excellent story about the difficult and unsettled years that are the twenties.  As with all quality writing, Perry’s storytelling flair is enhanced by her descriptive talent.  Reading about St. John’s makes me want to move there and, thanks to Perry’s introductions, I feel like I already have some friends in town.  As with Calmer Girls, Calmer Secrets includes many enjoyable and relatable details about the 1990s, as well as local customs, foods and phrases, giving the Calmer series a unique brand.  In addition, Perry integrates themes of family, friendship, love and second chances, giving the reader a great deal to think about afterwards.  I especially enjoyed seeing her characters transform and step up when they are needed most. And an extra treat are the quotes from classic literature at the beginning of each chapter, a smart detail that ties her story to larger ideas.  I’m looking forward to reading more about the Calmer sisters!

I recommend Calmer Secrets to all readers who like realistic stories about family and community in a friendly and colorful setting.

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Click here for a review of Calmer Girls.

 

Out with the flu – new post tomorrow!

Image: Pixabay

Hello!

I got slammed with the flu and have not been able to post.  But stay tuned for a new post tomorrow.  I’ll be back in the blogging world soon…

Image: Pixabay

…and next year I’ll get a flu shot even though I tend to faint when I get a shot!


Thank you for reading.  Here’s what’s coming up:

A new Who’s That Indie Author



A review of Calmer Secrets by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Great follow-up to Calmer Girls!


A review of The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin
Wild and exciting medical thriller!

See  you soon!

 

Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky


Winter of the Gods
(Book 2 of the Olympus Bound Series)
by
Jordanna Max Brodsky

Rating:

Columbia professor and mythology expert Theodore Schultz is enjoying a quieter life since his recent run-in with a violent religious cult.  As a consultant to the NYPD, Theo had nearly died last summer and now he’s recuperating nicely.  And helping him is Selene DiSilva, the striking and powerful beauty he met during the investigation.

Selene is mythology’s present-day Artemis.  She’s the daughter of Zeus, protector of the innocent and goddess of the hunt, virginity, archery, animals and the moon.  While it may sound great to be immortal, Selene and her extended family have found themselves in a strange state.  Their godly powers are fading and they are coping with the very human side of aging.  Selene is still very tough, however, and she uses her power to protect and avenge.

Selene and Theo survived the dangerous adventures in The Immortals.  Now they can relax and work on their relationship.  As the goddess of virginity, Selene must consider a more modern lifestyle and Theo may be the one to make her change.

Modern romance is put on hold, however, when police investigators call Theo to help with a new murder investigation.  A man’s body has been discovered on Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue and clues point to another ritualistic cult.  When Theo and Selene discover the cult’s evil plot, they rush to decipher the clues before the next murder.

Winter of the Gods is Book 2 of Brodsky’s Olympus Bound Series, an imaginative science fiction adventure.  In this story, Brodsky’s characters take sides in the battle between good and evil, with a few of them caught in the middle.  Within that fight are several layers of conflict between Selene and her family, who are often at odds with each other.  Can they work together to fight against an imposing, but unnamed enemy?  And does it help or hurt when mortals like Theo get involved?

Many characters from The Immortals return, including Selene’s twin brother Paul (Apollo) as well as a couple mortals:  Theo’s best friend Gabriela and the story’s sleeper love interest, Ruth Willever. As a fan of mythology, I enjoyed learning many particulars about these imperfect gods and goddesses, their loyalties and their rivalries.  Mythology buffs will appreciate the author’s knowledge and her detailed explanations of the Olympians’ complicated family tree.  I had fun imagining the gods using their magical weapons and other devices with mortals, including winged helmets and gleaming swords.  Brodsky makes the mystery real by placing many New York landmarks in the story, including Wall Street, Rockefeller Center, Roosevelt Island and North Brother Island.  A terrific scene takes place at Grossinger’s the now-deserted Catskills resort, shown below.

Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills. Image: Inhabitat

As they decipher clues and gain entry into the cult’s chambers, Theo and Selene race against time to stop the murders, with numerous obstacles. The story ends in a wild finish, with many twists, surprise heroes and a few hints at what may happen in the next book.

I recommend Winter of the Gods to readers who like fantasy adventure stories in which characters must pull strength from their innermost reserves to save the day.


Like mythology?  Check out these related posts:

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Mythology Refresher – Artemis and The Immortals
Who were the Twelve Olympians and what were the Eleusinian Mysteries?


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Food for thought – books with food references in their titles

Image: Pixabay

Whether it’s a direct reference or a more subtle metaphor, there is no shortage of book titles that have something to do with food.  It’s always fun to organize collections this way.  These classics, thrillers, children’s books and modern fiction all have this common food trait:


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation”


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Capote’s character sketch of Holly Golightly, a nineteen-year-old runaway in New York who tries to escape her sad past


Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin

Exciting medical thriller that tackles the subject of obesity and the food industry’s role in this serious health problem


In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

In his guide to eating right, Pollan simplifies the dizzying task of figuring out what to eat:  Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.


One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes

Entertaining children’s book that uses hungry ants to teach math and a life lesson


Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Pete’s mad because it’s raining and he can’t go outside, so his parents turn him into a pizza in this quietly warm children’s story.


Taste by Tracy Ewens

Sophisticated and a little bit spicy romance about young professionals in the restaurant business


The Dinner by Herman Koch

Twisted tale about a seriously messed up and unlikable family with a terrible secret


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

One of the greatest American stories of endurance ever told.  When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”


We the Eaters by Ellen Gustafson

An argument for ways “we the eaters” can change the world by fighting against big companies like Monsanto and Cargill and buying more organic and whole foods


What do your books in common?

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The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

the leftovers picThe Leftovers
by
Tom Perrotta

Rating:

Two percent doesn’t seem like much, unless it describes the number of people who inexplicably disappear from earth one day.  The official name is the Sudden Departure, but what was it?  An apocalypse?  The Rapture?  In The Leftovers, the stunned citizens of Mapleton, New York are left behind to float and struggle as they adjust to a new emptiness.

To restore order, citizen Kevin Garvey becomes Mapleton’s mayor.  As he tries to help the town move on with their lives, others, including his wife Laurie, join a cult, the Guilty Remnant.  Their vow of silence, chain-smoking and passive aggression unnerve the rest of the town. In a small town defined by normalcy, all comforts go out the window and Kevin’s college age son and teenage daughter veer wildly off course.

One of the most interesting characters is Nora Durst, whose entire family vanishes while she is in another room. She suffers to understand and to move forward, just as the others, but I think her pain is the most tangible of all the characters.

Without spoiling the story, some of you may not like the open ending. I like it because it allows me to imagine what the characters will do. I also think it ends in a hopeful and positive way.

This is a very original story, and good for a book club because it is both heavy and light with plenty of discussion points.


If you want more Leftovers, check out the HBO series of the same name created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta.  Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and Liv Tyler star in this creepy dystopian drama.  I’m in the middle of a very satisfying binge watch and can’t wait to see what happens next!  Lindelof and Perrotta develop strong characters in Season 1 who fall into their own in Season 2.  The series is full of strange surprises and anything is possible at the slightest turn.  But be warned, if you watch it right before bed, prepare yourself for some strange dreams!

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The Blackhouse by Peter May


The Blackhouse
by
Peter May

Rating:

Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod tried to escape a troubled life on the Isle of Lewis, but now he’s been pulled back home to investigate a copycat murder.  Set in the small village called Crobost, an isolated point of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Fin must confront his painful past, broken friendships and loss.  What follows is an excellent crime story, the first in The Lewis Trilogy, and one which is clouded by Fin’s conflicted character and Scotland’s ever-changing landscape.

The Crobost victim is schoolmate Angel Macritchie, the playground bully who preyed on the weak.  No different now, most in town were not sorry to see him gone, but his brutal murder leaves many questions.  Fin’s investigation is intertwined with the people he knew on the island, and he can’t avoid facing his boyhood friend, Artair Maccines and the girl they rivaled over, Marsaili Macdonald.

Clues point to several suspects, whose stories help depict what life is like in this treeless and remote land, where young and restless teenagers face bleak futures as crofters or mariners.  One of these stories is the ritual of the guga harvest, an annual trip to the rock island called An Sgeir, where a selected group of men spend two weeks killing young gannets to bring back to their people.  The trip through rough seas is dangerous, the time on the rock is treacherous and is a rite of passage for those who are chosen.  Reference to an unspoken tragedy leads the reader through an additional investigation of what happened the year Fin was selected to go.

May tells the story, bit by bit, alternating between the present and Fin’s first-person telling of the events that drove him off the island years earlier.  As Fin uncovers motives and truths, they lead to an incomprehensible finish, explained only in the book’s final pages and suggesting future relationships between its characters.

Mystery and crime readers will enjoy this interesting plot and setting.  I recommend The Blackhouse to these readers and anyone who likes conflicted characters and complicated relationships.  Enjoyed and highly rated by everyone in my library Whodunits Book Club, we are looking forward to completing the series!

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