In the Woods

In the Woods

by Tana French

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The bestselling debut with over a million copies sold that launched Tana French, “required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting” (The New York Times), who is “the most interesting, most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years” (The Washington Post)

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Richly atmospheric and stunning in its complexity, In the Woods is utterly convincing and surprising to the end.

I picked up In the Woods because I wanted to read the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, The Likeness, and I can’t read the second book in a series without reading the first..first. I just can’t. So In the Woods was pushed to the top of my TBR.

I’m going to do everything I can to avoid spoilers but guys…whew.

season 2 ugh GIF by IFC

I sat on this review for a solid 2 weeks because I’m just not sure where to start. I’m still not sure how to accurately express my feelings for In the Woods. So here it goes.

Tana French has made the list as one of my favorite authors. In the Woods is one of my top five favorite reads of 2018. And around page 300 I was yelling (out loud) at the characters. I finished this book feeling drained, angry, sad, frustrated, and still amazed. This story left me so upset that I contacted a few of my closest friends just to remind them they are loved. I still find myself fondly thinking about it on a near daily basis. In the Woods will stick with me for a long time.

I’m not going to provide any story details because it would definitely ruin the reading experience. Just know that Tana French is a FANTASTIC character writer. I didn’t realize how invested I had become in Rob and Cassie until it was too late to pull back. French provides a startling decent into the mind of a victim, the manipulation of psychopaths, and the flawed logic of humans. She doesn’t insult her readers by switching traits of her characters. Rob is no Mary Sue; he sticks to his guns for better or for worse. I appreciate this in a writer; French made these characters real!

Oh..and there are multiple murders, some archaeology, and other amazing parts that make it the perfect fall mystery. Just read it. (but make sure you have a puppy or best friend to hug afterwards ☺️)

Anyone else a Tana French fan? Please please please tell me what you think of In the Woods. Happy Reading.

Lindsay

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Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

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An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932 illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse Award for Most Popular Book.

An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

Some of you may be asking after the post from earlier this week, “why did she include circus stories on her ‘creepy Halloween’ TBR?” Well, let me explain. First, I am absolutely terrified of clowns. I am not going to go into the details of why, just know that I did not see the reincarnation of IT just as I couldn’t force myself (at 18 years old) to make it through the original IT without crying in fear. Second, after finally attending a Ringling Bros circus performance in my early 20s, I was hooked. There is something magical and wondrous about the world of the circus and each October I find myself returning to this bright, mysterious culture. So, expect a couple circus stories this month, and the first is Water for Elephants.

I initially heard about Water for Elephants when the movie came out in 2011. I was intrigued with the story because circus, but almost immediately decided not to read the book. Guys, I will openly admit that I can be a bit of a book snob, and if ‘everyone’ just LOVES a book…..it probably won’t live up to the hype. (Please don’t tell me how stupid this is. I KNOW IT IS! I just can’t help my snobby reaction.) So, instead I spent my time reading stuff like The Night Circus and Girl on a Wire. But this year, I couldn’t stop wondering about the story, and decided to finally pick up Water for Elephants on a couple of trusted friends’ recommendation.

Guys, I loved it! (I know..I know) The book was fantastic! I am not going to add a summary of the story because this post will be long enough as is, but I will say that my favorite aspect of Water for Elephants is how it jumps between Jacob’s current stay in the nursing home and his memories of the circus. Jacob’s modern experience was heart wrenching and yet still humorous. His self awareness was brutally refreshing and eye-opening for someone who hasn’t been forced to experience such a regulated reality. Even now, tears come to my eyes when I remember certain revelations shared by 90, or 93, year old Jacob. I would recommend Water for Elephants just because of that starkly honest storyline.

But, I didn’t initially pick up this book for the modern half, and thankfully Jacob’s memories of the circus seamlessly melded with his current reality. Gruen had me hooked with her gorgeous and unapologetically gritty descriptions of life during the great depression. From Jacob’s loss of security, to the brutal form of animal training, and the fear of a lost job and starvation, I felt like I was there desperately hoping for life. This was a world where people were not free to follow their dreams, but were forced to focus on mere survival. And yet amidst this life of necessity, there is this magical world of the circus. A world of bright lights and mystery that arrives and disappears in one day. A world that promises excitement as big cats prowl, elephants march, and horses prance under the big top. And a disgruntled clown, sordid peepshow, and extensive amount of shoveled animal waste only enhanced the atmosphere. Every character was realistically flawed, and I felt the sadist August was the perfect villain. And I am shocked to still find myself thinking about Walter, the Shakespeare loving clown. So despite the extensive animal and human abuse, I found myself immersed in the culture. Gruen provides a story that feels historically accurate, including the good and bad aspects of people/life in the 1930s.

My only negative point for the book was the development of Marlena. I didn’t feel she was fully hashed out as a character. Yes, we see both her good qualities and her flaws, but I just felt like something was missing. That we were still viewing her through some type of rose colored glasses. And I realized, while writing this review, that even though the circus storyline is presented as the main story, it is still a visualization of Jacob’s memories. And one truth about life is that love is blind. And Jacob loves Marlena. So, I really can not call this a negative aspect of the story because this is how Jacob would remember her.

Now as for the movie….sigh. I didn’t think it was bad; I just think it could have been better. I watched the movie the same day I finished the book, and I was happy with how August and Uncle Al were combined into one character. Same with Greg and Camel. And Robert Pattinson was absolutely perfect as Jacob. I just felt the pacing did not do justice to the story. How can the movie be both slow and very jumpy? Characters were not explored; the culture was not explained. I knew the nuances of these people and their world because I had just stepped out of their story. But I wouldn’t have felt compelled to read the book if I had watched the movie first. Especially with the ending lacking the immense joy of the book’s. The book was just better.

Read Water for Elephants. It is a wonderful story and has taught me to ignore my book snob tendencies. Which circus books are your favorite?

Lindsay

Don’t Look Down

Don’t Look Down

by Jennifer Crusie

and Bob Mayer

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SHE is a director of dog food commercials who’s just been recruited to finish a four-day movie shoot. But as soon as Lucy Armstrong arrives on set, she discovers that the staff is in chaos, the make-up artist is suicidal, and the stunt director just happens to be her ex-husband. That, and the temperamental lead actor has just acquired as an advisor a Green Beret who has the aggravating habit of always being right.

HE thought that hiring on as a military consultant for a movie star was a to-die-for deal: easy work, easy money, easier starlets. But his first day on the job, Captain J.T. Wilder ends up babysitting a bumbling comedian, dodging low-flying helicopters, and trying to find out who’s taking “shooting a movie” much too literally.

Lucy Armstrong has been called in to finish a disaster of a film shoot and has her work cut out for her. Her little sister is taking drugs, her niece has no supervision, she’s working with a skeleton crew, and is having to wrangle her horny action stars. Her assistant despises her and the stunt coordinator, Lucy’s ex-husband, is hiding something big. And then hunky Army Ranger, JT Wilder, waltzes on to set, making it tough to concentrate on the chaos around them. It’s a wild story full of alligators, helicopters, dangerous stunts, and, of course, Wonder Woman.

Don’t Look Down had the potential to be a REALLY GOOD story, but it just didn’t quite make it. I mean who would say know to a movie shoot being used to cover up an art heist?! The book was written by two authors, and, and their writing style just didn’t mesh. This left the plot feeling sloppy and resulted in knee-jerk characters, or characters lacking depth behind their reactions. I really liked and at the same really didn’t. I’ll use the two main characters to explain why.

Lucy is a stubborn, smart, and strong female lead. YES, my favorite type! She is determined to take control of the shoot and fix whatever is bothering her little sister. And then she becomes a micromanaging boss who is constantly fighting with her ex. NO! It eventually felt like Lucy thought every character, besides JT and Pepper, were complete idiots. She obviously adores her family and is capable of a relationship with JT (though that was a tad Insta-love), but I just felt something was missing. I was hoping to see her grow a little more, though I will say that she does back off on the Mom act with Daisy. I liked her but I felt she could have been so much more.

I am the first to admit that I’m a sucker for a strong, military man, so I was happy when JT arrived on set. Unfortunately, JT spent the first half of the book being a condescending jerk. He was kind and patient with Brice and was sweet to Pepper and Lucy, but pretty much everyone else was an idiot in his opinion. He does get better as the book progresses because he eventually opens up to Lucy, but I was sick of how he treated the CIA agent and Nash. Sure, they both deserved it, but JT’s arrogance blinded him to the truth and almost got them all killed.

I like flawed characters but it a bit overwhelming for this read. Pepper was really the only fully developed character, and she was 5 years old. She still managed to maintain a solid personality while displaying a vast range of emotions. All the characters were unique and interesting even though some of them, like Brice and Althea, where pretty cliche and stereotypical. I still found them engaging. I even liked the idea of using a movie shoot to cover up an art heist. Don’t Look Down has a good plot, fun characters, and a snarky voice; it just needed one good edit to smooth out the rough edges, beef up the characters, and meld the two authors’ writing.

I still recommend Don’t Look Down; it is the perfect beach read for spring break! Let me know what books you’re reading this month! Have you read Don’t Look Down?

Lindsay