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.

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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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Third Quarter Update

Time for a third quarter check in. All I can say….worst reading slump of the year.

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TOTAL: 3

I had decided to start using an official monthly TBR list in hopes it will push me to finish books. I have a stack of about 10 books next to my bed that I started and just never seemed to finish. It was a rough slump and I’m hoping some basic organization will pull me out of it. I have a lot of catching up to do. So, without further ado, these are the books I finished in July, August, and September.

Mystery: 2

Non Fiction: 1

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The good thing? I loved every single one of these books! I’m going to stick with the positive on this one.

2018 Goals Check-in

Total Books Read

Goal: 50       Current: 19

Nonfiction Books Read

Goal: 12      Current: 6

I’m already working on my TBR for October and Non-Fiction November. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Lindsay

The Altar Girl

The Altar Girl

by Orest Stelmach

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The daughter of uncompromising Ukrainian immigrants, Nadia was raised to respect guts, grit, and tradition. When the events around the seemingly accidental death of her estranged godfather don’t add up, Nadia is determined to discover the truth—even if she attracts the attention of dangerous men intent on finding out what she knows through any means possible.

Her investigation leads her to her hometown and to the people least likely to welcome her back: her family.

In this thrilling prequel to the Nadia Tesla series, Nadia must try to solve the mystery surrounding her godfather’s death—and his life. The answers to her questions are buried with the secrets of her youth and in post–World War II refugee camps. What Nadia learns will change her life forever.

I picked up The Altar Girl via the Amazon First picks deal ages ago. The book sat in my kindle library for a rather long time awaiting the perfect reading mood. That mood arrived after a couple of draining and frustrating weeks. I didn’t want my usual choice of fun and quirky cozy mystery; I needed a grittier mystery that didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of crime. I kept coming back to The Altar Girl.

It was good; it gave me exactly what I needed in a story. Nadia is Ukrainian-American. She is the estranged child of immigrants who is struggling with her muddled sense of identification when her godfather dies. Nadia knows it wasn’t an accident. So she heads home to discover the truth, confront her family, come to terms with her upbringing, and quench her need for a greater purpose.

The Altar Girl gives us a glimpse of two separate points in Nadia’s life: the first is the current hunt for her godfather’s this murderer and the second is her attempt at 14 to be the youngest teenager to complete the wilderness survival test. Stelmach utilizes different tenses in each timeline which adds a subtle depth to Nadia. The stories seamlessly entwine; her memories dragging the reader through Nadia’s modern decisions and illuminating the familial issues that haunt her.

All of the characters were fantastically developed as Stelmach doesn’t shy away from flawed and twisted traits. Nadia struggles with the guilt of no longer being a good child. Her mother twists the truth, manipulating her children in a sick expression of self hatred. And Donnie deserves his own character case study!

The Altar Girl was a fantastic read. I have a few negative points but they are too nit-picky to discuss here. This book was thrilling, gritty, and somewhat heart wrenching. Stelmach’s subtle writing techniques, such as never mentioning the godfather by his given name, entrenched readers in the unique culture of his upbringing. I loved reading about the history of Ukrainian refugees, their struggle to survive WWII, and the development of their own community in a new country.

I was pleasantly surprised by the gritty mystery full of family drama. The Altar Girl is something I would usually shy away from, but I’ve already picked up the next book in the series. Is anyone else a fan of Orest Stelmach? Let me know what you’re reading!

Lindsay

No Stone Unturned

No Stone Unturned: The Truth Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators

by Steve Jackson

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A body stuffed in a car trunk swallowed by the swirling, muddy waters of the Missouri River. A hiker brutally murdered, then thrown off a cliff in a remote mountain range. A devious killer who hid his wife’s body under a thick cement patio. For investigators, the story is often the same: they know a murder took place, they may even know who did it. But without key evidence, pursuing a conviction is nearly impossible. That’s when they call NecroSearch International. NecroSearch boasts a brain trust of the nation’s top scientists, specialists, and behaviorists who use the latest technology and techniques to help solve “unsolvable” crimes, no matter how decayed the corpse, no matter how cleverly the killer has hidden the victim’s body. Now, for the first time ever, readers are taken on a fascinating, often-shocking journey into a realm of crime investigation of which few people are aware. Necrosearch’s most challenging cases are described, step-by-step, as these modern-day Sherlock Holmes’s detect bodies and evidence thought irretrievable, and testify in court to bring cold-blooded killers to justice.

July found me craving a good true crime nonfiction read. I had previously enjoyed The Poisoner’s Handbook, and was looking for something that focused on forensic science. But I also wanted a story that covered actual investigations (which is what I was looking for but didn’t get when I read Mad City) I was lamenting my need for a good true crime story to my friend TS Barnett and she suggested I check out No Stone Unturned. She shares my love for true crime and has great taste, so I immediately started the audio version.

I absolutely loved No Stone Unturned! The novel follows the creation of NecroSearch, a group of scientists dedicated to advancing forensic science and investigation. The story is expertly laid out, starting with the development of the ‘pig people’ organization and introducing key scientists and volunteers involved. Jackson outlines the science behind the different fields with include geology, archaeology, entomology, and sloberology! The science is presented in laymen’s terms; keeping the information relatable without utilizing and insultingly dumbed-down approach.

One of the best aspects of No Stone Unturned is the applied use of the science in individual cases. Parker focuses on one case at a time. For each investigation he provides information from the disappearance of the victim, the initial police investigation, the involvement of NecroSearch, and the results of the search. He even recounts the trials of the killers. Each investigation is different and presented unique problems which allowed the scientists of NecroSearch to help return lost loved-ones while also providing new data on developing investigation techniques.

And if that wasn’t already fantastic….the volunteers of NecroSearch are dedicated to working together as peers. They actively avoid egotistical battles and hold law enforcement in high respect. Jackson even shares how the group help each other handle the mental effects of working with violence, death, and missing bodies.

I do not have anything negative to say about the story. The complaints I saw from other reviewers, which are few, is the writing style can be dry and they wished for more details concerning the individual team members. I found the writing to be far from dry, but I did also read the audio version. (It was fantastic and well worth the listen).

No Stone Unturned is a nonfiction work I would happily recommend to anyone interested in true crime or forensic investigation. It provides a surprisingly hopeful attitude to a rather morbid topic. It even managed to bring me out of a frustrating reading slump. Pick it up! And please share your true crime suggestions, since I always need another book to read 🙂

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

The Silkworm

The Silkworm

by Robert Galbraith

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Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo’s Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

(originially published 10/01/2015)

The Silkworm is the second novel in Robert Galbraith’s (aka JK Rowling) Cormoran Strike mysteries. Feel free to check out my review of the first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling

I read these novels because I love Cormoran Strike! I like that he’s tall, rough, awkward, and stands out in EVERY crowd. I like that he’s stubborn, irritable, and steadfast in his investigative techniques. The characteristics that would turn most people off make me love him all the more! I would definitely grab a pint with him.

Still, I was not really a fan of The Silkworm. There are two big points that just made the plot ‘eh’ for me. One: the relationship between Robin and Matthew just pissed me off. I just don’t understand why such a smart, independent woman would be with someone as insecure and mean as Matthew. Luckily, Robin stands up for herself and the story ends with what seems to be a healthier future for the couple. But I still found myself yelling at Matthew while reading.

Two: the main storyline, aka the mystery, was too slow for my taste. It drug on and on about Quine’s terrible novel and depressing writing career. I had a difficult time sympathizing with ANY of the ‘literary world’ characters. NONE of them were remotely likable!! Quine’s death was the most interesting aspect of the character! I feel like Galbraith was attempting to humorously releave frustrations with the literary industry but it left The Silkworm’s plot less engaging.

I still recommend the book because of Strike and his character development. Strike is no longer struggling to survive and we are able to see him fully interact with family and friends. I love that his relationship with Robin is bluntly honest and surprisingly full of trust. His self confidence is strengthening since his split with Charlotte and we meet characters that truly love Strike. We see him communicate with his aunt and uncle, who beg him to visit for Christmas. We meet his old school buddy, Chum, who’s willingness to help Strike with no strings attached leaves you wanting to buy them both a beer. And we get to meet Al, the one sibling who adores Strike just the way he is (sister Lucy constantly trying to change him gets old) All of these points make The Silkworm a worthwhile read!

Plus, the ending is AWESOME! Have you read The Silkworm? Share your thoughts!

Lindsay

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling

by Robert Galbraith

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A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide. After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

(review originally shared 03/05/3015)

We all should know by now that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series.  I enjoyed the Harry Potter novels and was excited to see that Rowling has continued to write, but in a completely different genre.  The best compliment that I can give Galbraith/Rowling is that I didn’t think of Harry Potter once while reading The Cuckoo’s Calling! 

Cormoran Strike is a down-on-his-luck private investigator who is hired to prove that legendary supermodel, Lula Landry, did not commit suicide.  The investigation thrusts Strike in to the world of the rich and famous; a world where lies are far more common than the truth.  I listened to the audio version of The Cuckoo’s Calling and found myself sitting parked in my driveway long after I had arrived home because I couldn’t stop listening!  Galbraith has done a fantastic job with the mystery genre.

The characters are complex and well developed; I had no problem visualizing each individual.  The setting was equally developed, and I can still smell the lime air freshener Cormoran uses in his office.  I loved Cormoran Strike; of course, I have a thing for burly cop characters…so yeah.  Cormoran and Robin’s relationship still makes me smile.  The mystery progressed at a realistic rate and I was kept guessing until the very end.

I only had a couple of issues.  The first is how Strike reveals the reason behind his breakup with Charlotte.  He just spits it out.  It is an important moment and I felt it should have been rehashed for the readers.  I could have used one extra paragraph where Strike relives the moment one last time before he lets it go.  The second is when Strike meets with the killer.  I felt Strike should have actually had a plan in that moment.  I won’t say anything else because of spoilers, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.

The Cuckoos Calling is a great read!  Kudos Rowling; you’re a good mystery author.  Book two, The Silkworm is on my TBR list.  Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling?  What do you think about Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s mystery novels?

Lindsay

Books or Film?

We’ve all been there. The credits are rolling and someone loudly states, “Well the book was better.” Maybe you’re the one who said it. Maybe your the person rolling your eyes because of course the 600 page book was better. Or maybe your the one who hasn’t had the chance to read the book or has no desire to read it. In the end of the movies stays relatively true to the book…does it really matter?

I like to think I’m pretty easy going but I’m not when it comes to books (sheepishly admitting to the half hour rant I had about YA editing yesterday). But, I firmly believe that movies based on books can be AMAZING! (The Giver, Harry Potter, and so on) Of course the movie cant deviate from the book’s storyline or change characters’ personalities. It needs to remain true to the story.

I prefer TV shows over movies. And I’ve been struggling with a frustrating reading slump the last month. So imagine how thrilled I was to see that one of my favorite mystery series, the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling), has been turned into a tv series. And I could stream it through Amazon!

This week I’ll be resharing my reviews for the first three books in series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. And this weekend I will proceed to binge watch the entire show! People, it’s ridiculous how excited I am.

Let me know if you’ve seen the series. Are you a fan of the books? And where do you stand on the books to film debate?

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

The Murder at the Vicarage

Murder at the Vicarage

by Agatha Christie

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Murder at the Vicarage marks the debut of Agatha Christie’s unflappable and much beloved female detective, Miss Jane Marple. With her gift for sniffing out the malevolent side of human nature, Miss Marple is led on her first case to a crime scene at the local vicarage. Colonel Protheroe, the magistrate whom everyone in town hates, has been shot through the head. No one heard the shot. There are no leads. Yet, everyone surrounding the vicarage seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead. It is a race against the clock as Miss Marple sets out on the twisted trail of the mysterious killer without so much as a bit of help from the local police.

You may remember I raved about Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery a few months ago. I just loved reading the adventures of the snarky Miss Marple and decided I was going to read the entire Marple Mystery series from start to finish. So I picked up Murder at the Vicarage.

Sadly, it took me a while to get into the story. Murder at the Vicarage is told from the Vicar’s point of view instead of Miss Marple’s. The Vicar comes home to discover the body of a prominent individual slummed over the writing desk in his study. He then takes it upon himself to figure out what happened, with his congregation jumping at the chance to share their gossip with him. The Vicar is a kind, smart, and curious character but he doesn’t hold a candle to Miss Marple. Murder at the Vicarage lacked the level of snark I had enjoyed in A Caribbean Mystery.

The story starts slow and builds momentum as the murder investigation progresses. It was fun seeing the nuances of the small town unfold on the pages, and I became more invested in the story as Miss Marple steadily made her opinions of the investigation known. The mystery is a tad convoluted but fun, and Marple’s big reveal at the end was fantastic.

Murder at the Vicarage was a good start to the series. It isn’t my favorite story, but one I would still recommend just because of Christie’s fantastic mystery writing! Have you read Murder at the Vicarage? Let me know what you thought!

Lindsay

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy

by Jasper Fforde

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Jasper Fforde does it again with a dazzling new series starring Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division.

Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

(I originally shared this review on June 16, 2015…so three years ago! I have been struggling to stick with a book this summer and The Big Over Easy felt like a perfect reread. I still stand by what I originally said about the book and I’m loving it even more the second time around! Enjoy!)

Jack Spratt is in charge of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading, a division on the verge of losing its budget thanks to his recent inability to convict the Three Little Pigs of murdering the Big Bad Wolf. Then the smashed remains of Humpty Dumpty are found next to a wall and Jack knows it wasn’t suicide. Now Jack must find the murderer, save his misfit division, and keep sleuthing celebrity, DCI Friedland Chimes, off the case.

I absolutely loved The Big Over Easy. Thank you for the recommendation Polly! Each page is packed with nursery rhyme references but it never feels overwhelming as the passages are so matter-or-fact. It leaves you with this nagging feeling that these events actually happened. Fforde’s dry, sarcastic humor kept my snickering and speeding through the novel. The Jack and the Beanstalk references killed me every time!

My only complaint is the climax chapters were too fast paced for me in comparison to the rest of the story. That’s it for me but I did take some time to read the few negative reviews of The Big Over Easy. My response to them is: do NOT read this book if you don’t like murder mysteries. It’s a murder mystery that mocks the elaborate and showy nature of modern mystery development. How can you expect to like that when you don’t enjoy mystery novels?! Other reviewers complain that Fforde is trying too hard to be clever and only includes all the nursery rhyme information to make his readers feel smart when they get the references. You’ve got to be kidding me. Yes, the clever jokes and writing style may be too much for some but I highly doubt Fforde is more concerned with boosting the ego of his readers over the need to provide a good complex story. My only advice for such thinkers is that you should get over yourself and learn to enjoy the mechanics and discipline required to write a well balanced story.

Fforde’s jaw dropping ability to expertly meld so much research and detail in to one murder mystery has me wanting to be a better writer. I recommend The Big Over Easy to writers, as well as readers, as a prime example of a writing style that remains showing despite being so informational.

Have you discovered the Nursery Crimes Division? It’s time you should!

Lindsay

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

by Ashley Weaver

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Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman who regrets her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo. Looking for a change, she accepts a request for help from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, not knowing that she’ll soon become embroiled in a murder investigation that will test not only her friendship with Gil, but will upset the status quo with her husband.

Amory accompanies Gil to the Brightwell Hotel in an attempt to circumvent the marriage of his sister, Emmeline, to Rupert Howe, a disreputable ladies’ man. Amory sees in the situation a grim reflection of her own floundering marriage. There is more than her happiness at stake, however, when Rupert is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime. Amory is determined to prove his innocence and find the real killer, despite attempted dissuasion from the disapproving police inspector on the case. Matters are further complicated by Milo’s unexpected arrival, and the two form an uneasy alliance as Amory enlists his reluctant aid in clearing Gil’s name. As the stakes grow higher and the line between friend and foe becomes less clear, Amory must decide where her heart lies and catch the killer before she, too, becomes a victim.

Murder at the Brightwell is a delicious mystery in which murder invades polite society and romance springs in unexpected places. Weaver has penned a debut in the tradition of Jacqueline Winspear.

I discovered Amory Ames through Olive at A Book Olive. (She’s also responsible for introducing me to the Iris Cooper series) She has only great things to say about the Amory Ames mystery series and I was in need of a new historical read featuring a snarky female detective. The first book, Murder at the Brightwell, was the perfect choice for my cruise vacation last March!

Amory is unhappy. She’s bored, and depressed at her rapidly deteriorating marriage to socialite Milo Ames. A welcome distraction arrives with Gil, the fiancé she jilted to marry Milo. Gil begs her to join him on holiday to help persuade his sister from jumping into a bad marriage. Amory agrees to help. She desperately needs an adventure and a chance at a different future. And then someone gets murdered!

I am hooked on Weaver’s Amory Ames series. Our heroine is smart, sharp tongued, and gloriously flawed. I immediately connected with her tendency to overthink everything and her stubborn refusal to backdown from a fight. She begins her investigation with the best intentions, to help a friend, but her quest quickly becomes one of selfish needs as she is desperate to find her own sense of purpose in the world. Thank you Ashley Weaver for not sugar coating Amory’s motives! (Seriously..isn’t this why we mystery lovers enjoy a good whodunnit?!)

I would recommend Murder at the Brightwell just because Amory is so well written. But…all the main characters are just as fantastically developed! The Brightwell Hotel is the perfect setting with its picturesque beach local. And I found myself guessing at the culprit’s identity right up until the big reveal!

Now is Murder at the Brightwell the perfect novel? No. You can tell the historic British story is written by a modern American due to the overall tone. It is what it is. I will also admit to not being a fan of Milo. Don’t take this to mean that he was poorly written because that’s not the case; his personality isn’t one that would mesh with mine. I liked him well enough, just not enough to really root for him to win Amory’s affections. I didn’t really root for Gil either for that fact. I didn’t find the romantic element of the story necessarily engaging. I enjoyed Murder at the Brightwell because of Amory and her murder investigation.

Murder at the Brightwell is the perfect summer read. I definitely recommend the story if you enjoy a strong willed female detective! Let me know if you’re also a fan of Amory Ames!

Lindsay