Tag Archives: Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: In the Woods

Author: Tana French
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Man has it been a while since I reviewed a book! You might ask, why is this? Well, honestly it’s because I haven’t really read a book that I felt was worth my time in reviewing in a long while. I’m a pretty picky reader and I don’t apologize for it at all : )
In the Woods is a mystery novel by author Tana French that takes place in a fictional Dublin suburb. The story takes off first with a gripping background history of the lead character, Rob (Adam) Ryan, as a child found in the woods near his house. He is unable to say what happened to himself – or his missing friends.
We then fast forward quite a few years and Ryan is now a detective working on the Dublin Murder Squad and is called to a case with his partner, Cassie Maddox, for a new crime committed in the same woods where he was once found. A gruesome killing of a young girl is immediately evident and questions speculate as to why she was left admist an archaeological dig site. The new case starts popping questions about the old one and brings several respectable theories as to the how and why that will keep you guessing.
I really enjoyed this book as it kept me entertained through the use of two mysteries, one cold and one hot, and French also took the time to really develop the characters. Most mystery novels I read today are very short and popularized so that the plot keeps moving at a non-relenting pace, which often keeps character development at bay. But this novel does a fairly good job at it. Watching Ryan’s character unfold is just as important of an element as solving the actual case(s).
My only complaint

**SPOILER ALERT**
is that French never actually has the cold case solved. You are just kind of left with a fleeting feeling that Ryan will find his peace, but the annoying angst that you will never know the true how and why. I personally speculate a stranger, homeless perhaps, that was living in the abandoned property in the woods with some mental issues. But I will unfortunately will never know…or perhaps French did this on purpose as so many cases in reality are truly left in this same manner? The families and victims just have to find their own peace even though justice will never be gained.
**END SPOILER ALERT**

If you are in the mood for a good, hearty mystery with a heavy Irish heritage and interesting characters, this one is for you. Enjoy!

JUST FINISHED: Where They Found Her

Author: Kimberly McCreight
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

While summers tend to get me in the mood for westerns and literary classics, the fall makes me long for mysteries and thrillers. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight fits right into that mystery calling.

This is a fast-paced popular fiction read starts with an affluent town being rocked by the murder of a newborn child, found partially buried in a creek.  The story circulates around four women’s perspectives, each carrying their own piece to the puzzle. There is Molly – city girl turned small town journalist with a sad history. Sandy – teenage dropout with a sad-looking future. Barbara – the know-it all supermom with the truly sad life. And lastly Jenna – a character known to the reader through cryptic journal entries and from Sandy’s thoughts.

One fact that I enjoyed about this book – and also hated – was the idea that everyone is connected somehow. A play on the six degrees of separation, if you will. Why the hate, too?

**SPOILER ALERT**

Well, personally, a murder plot such as this one would never unfold so closely tied. Everyone, I mean everyone played a crucial role in order for the murder to even play out. It is one of those impeccable timing conundrums that I’m never too big of a fan of.

**END SPOILER ALERT**

If you’re in the mood for a murder-mystery quickie with some small-town drama, this read may be for you.

JUST FINISHED: A Clockwork Orange

Author: Anthony Burgess
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

O my brothers, what an interesting read.  A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel about a young teen named Alex set in England. The world is quite different from the one of today with many young people, who refer to their gangs as “droogs,” running amuck in the night hours and committing violent crimes. Alex appears to not have any moral compass and has created for himself a life of “ultra-violence” and an imagined superiority amongst his fellow peers. This novel explores his exploits and the consequences that come with them, should he ever be caught.

There were two standout themes that I found unique to this read. The first is the slang that Burgess created for the young teenage characters which is referred to as Nadsat. According to some light research, he created it from a Russian-influenced English. Now when I first started this book, I was a little discouraged that the heavy use of this ‘made-up’ language was a little much for me but I realized by the time I was into the third chapter that I was reading it just as smoothly as regular old English. And it actually became quite fun. I would even read a few paragraphs to some friends out of the blue just to get their reaction and then continue on. I’ve also gotten into the bad habit of saying viddy instead of saw…but I’ll work on it : )

**SPOILER ALERT**

The second theme that stood out was when Alex was captured by the rozzes (police) and imprisoned. He was able to get the early release by agreeing to a new special treatment. This treatment basically rewired his brain to immediately feel sick and in pain when he either thought, saw, or tried to commit a violent or immoral act. Essentially, it was the government’s way of eliminating crime altogether. But what they created was person who no longer has a choice to act in the manner they choose. The elimination of free-will. That then begs the question: if one cannot choose to act to their own will, are they even human? What is a human without error? The other thought-line I enjoyed out of this was how did this government decide what was right and wrong? What governed that standard and who was to say that was correct?

**END SPOILER ALERT**

Oh – and I can’t forget the irony in Alex’s character for having a hysterical passion for classical music. Most people would never think a person that cherished such a fine art form could also perpetrate such vehement cruelty.

I do want to put a warning for the weak stomachs out there as this novel will delve into violence with full force, even if it is in the Nadsat slang. However, do note that Burgess is not promoting violence in the novel, but using it as a vehicle to pose the thematic questions and shape the characters.

If you are in the mood for a book with creative language that questions the limits of free will, this once is for you.

JUST FINISHED: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Utopian/Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale is a utopian/dystopian fiction novel set in a future not too far from now where nuclear war has caused a strange societal shift. The United States has been overthrown and is now governed by an all-powerful set of officials that take a literal direction from Christianity on how to rule.

The women in this novel are distinguished by the color of gown they wear. Blue is for Commanders’ Wives. Red is for the Handmaids. White is for Commanders’ daughters until they are wed. Brown is for the Aunts who help teach women into the role of a Handmaid. Green is for the Marthas who help organize/clean for the Wives’ household. A rainbow of these colors are for Econowives – or those wives of the poor that are expected to do everything.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Offred (meaning she is Of Fred), a handmaid, that has recently come into service under a Commander and his household. The object of the handmaid is to provide children for the Commander. This is her only duty in life – have a child and then move to the next authoritative household. The sex is not supposed to be enjoyable – in fact it is quite awkward – and the handmaid is viewed as purely a vessel for a child. Handmaids are needed in this society since the nuclear war has robbed many women of fertility or to even produce a healthy baby.

This novel presents several intriguing questions on society and ways in which religion can be construed to create a totalitarian environment. Atwood even gives explanation on how a government could easily make a full turnaround from a democracy with the people following. She also delves deeply into the roles and freedoms of women through construction of this future world. A strong hint of feminism is present throughout her writing.

If you are in the mood for submersing yourself in the tale of woman whose life has been completely changed to meld into a merciless society of the future, this one is for you.

JUST FINISHED: Bell Weather

Author: Dennis Mahoney

Genre: Fantasy/Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bell Weather is a captivating tale about Molly Bell – err, Smith I should say – who comes to find herself in the outpost town of Root on the continent of Floria. Alone and full of mystery, Molly is an enchanting character that fills the pages with her eagerness and curiosity.

Mahoney has created a unique piece of fiction, seamlessly combining the essence of the colonial times with the spirit of a fantasy novel. This strange but favorable mix brings to life a vivid adventure with Molly as the centerpiece, linking all the strands together.

Mahoney’s writing is fantastic for this novel. His words are woven beautifully and just seem to roll off the pages, creating wonderful images of this foreign land. His text is so fluid and colorful that I had trouble putting this one down.

If you are in the mood to be pulled along on a winding narrative of mystery and adventure in a mystical yet realistic land, this one is for you.

JUST FINISHED: Seven Eves

Author: Neal Stephenson

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The moon blew up upon impact with an unknown force, that is come to be known as the Agent. The night sky takes on a different look as the human race prepares themselves for an inevitable Hard Rain, up to 5000 years of meteors and bolides striking plant earth and dismantling it to an age of fire. Every living thing upon its surface will be destroyed. Desperate for survival, the world “comes together” and forms a program named the Cloud Ark, intent upon sending the best, brightest, and varied lot of humans to attach to the International Space Station and survive the next millennias. And so the ISS must also prepare for them.

Stephenson introduces to us a wide range of emotional characters, each very independent and strong, that have to digest this unfathomable news and settle in with their new roles to keep humanity alive. His writing is incredibly thorough and detailed to work out every working piece of this disaster scenario. You are guaranteed to not come away lacking in any aspect of space survival, mechanics, and comprehensive long-term planning.

**SPOILER ALERT**

While I really enjoyed part one and two of Seven Eves, at part three my interest began to wane terribly. After we are left with the seven women that begin to recreate the human race, we fast forward into time to where there are now seven races, each being genetically and personally like their initial Eve. The Hard Rain has ended and they are now in the process of re-growing(Terraform) the Earth below.

Here was where Stephenson’s writing took a turn for the over-meticulated details of machinery and places to the point where I was bored. It became extremely dry with no plot movement and just descriptions of everything. I found myself skipping pages and moving to sections where there was dialogue or some form of action.

I had another issue with the unrealistic plot at this point as well. You’re telling me that somehow out the seven last women to survive in space miraculously two of their close personal relatives survived as well on Earth? One through a mining set up and the other by moving to the depths of the Ocean? It seems impossible that those chances would work out. I’m alright with perfected endings sometimes, but this one was just too much. There is no way when the earth was a boiling pot of fire and brimstone that there was still water cool enough to survive in. Even in the trenches. Same goes with digging to go down below. Even if they did accomplish the cave-like survival, then who is to say that no other set of people from the entire world could not have also had some success? Why is that only the two Eve’s family were the ones to make it on the planet?

And then there was the whole issue of the cheesy look back to the Epic (when ISS landed on the section of the moon where they would rebuild the human race) and references to their Eves and their qualities. Five thousand years later and they still talk about those women as if it occurred yesterday? In my opinion, that may be covered in a history course of the future, but other than that the origin side of it would be forgotten on a daily basis.

Maybe Stephenson will have a sequel that will answer some of those questions. But until then, I will probably just be annoyed with the happy, “oh, goody!” ending.

If you are in the mood for an interesting piece of science fiction that deals with the planning and turmoil of the inevitable end of the world, this one is for you.

JUST FINISHED: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Genre: Mystery/Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Girl on the Train is winding tale centered around Rachel, a recently divorced, mentally unstable drunk. Rachel is so ashamed of her life that she rides the train every day to London and pretends to work just to avoid telling her roommate that she is no longer employed. Along the ride, the train makes it typical stop where it skirts around some houses not so far from the one she used to inhabit with her ex-husband, Tom. But a few houses before, there is couple that she has so-named “Jess and James” that seem to have the perfect life. Breakfast on the patio, sweet smiles at one another, ‘good morning’ kisses and hugs. Every day she sees them and puts on an imaginary play of what their lives are like that seems to bring a little happiness to herself, only to be stilled once the train pulls past the house that is now occupied by her ex-husband’s mistress and their child.

This is a typical day in the life of our poor Rachel until the morning she sees Jess outside kissing another man. Raging with anger and fuming with alcohol that Jess could tear apart her family and leave her husband feeling as distressed as Rachel is now, she exits the train to have a word. But unfortunately that is all her memory will allow her when she wakes up the next morning with bruises and cuts all over and a crushing hangover. And to top it off, Jess’s face is on the news and in the paper. She’s missing as of last night.

This was a great mystery novel. It was so refreshing for me to come across one that kept me guessing on what actually happened up until the end. Hawkins not only uses the perspective of the lead, Rachel, but also the missing woman (who is actually named Megan), and the mistress, Anna, with varying timelines to weave the different pieces of the story. The plot moves at a very quick pace and will be sure to not let you set this one down. If you are in the mood for a fast read with timing puzzles and memory games, this one is for you.