Marie’s Reading “The Witch Elm” by Tana French

witch elmAfter being beaten nearly to death in a robbery, Toby heads to Ivy House, the old family manse, where his uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer.  Toby’s always considered himself a very fortunate guy, until the attack and his less than full recovery afterward.  While he’s trying to heal at Ivy House as well as care for his uncle, a human skull is found in an elm tree on the property.

Of course a whole skeleton follows, which brings the detectives calling.  Whose body is it?  How did it get there?  Toby, caring for Hugo and not having the greatest memory after the attack, tries to answer these questions as best he can–both for himself and for the detective who seems to have Toby on the list of suspects.

French’s writing is lavishly detailed and so finely wrought you want to savor every sentence.  The story is atmospheric and compelling, and the characters are all well-developed and authentic.  There’s still an element of crime fiction in this stand-alone, but it takes a backseat to a story of identity and family.  It’s also fun to see the other side of the usual stories French writes, which focus on the detectives of the Dublin Murder Squad and their investigations. Here we’re with Toby the whole time as he tries to piece together his recollections and make sense of the present.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Toby and his cousins, Leon and Susanna.  They grew up together, almost like siblings, and their bond is clear, in all its complexity and history.  A lot of their relationship relies on memory now, and memory is a big theme in the novel–how people experience and thus remember things very differently, including relationships.

If you enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, definitely check this one out–it’s not a crime novel, as I said, so you might miss that, but everything else great about French’s work is on display here.  Fans of Gillian Flynn and Kate Atkinson who haven’t tried French yet certainly should as well.

–Marie

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Marie’s Reading: “In the Woods” by Tana French

In the WoodsActually, I just read that one first.  I couldn’t stop there.   As soon as I was done I needed more Dublin Murder Squad.  So now I’m reading The Likeness.  And then I’ll move on down the line until I’ve read them all!

I’m just sorry I hadn’t read these when I wrote that post about Crime Fiction for the Maine Crime Writers.  In The Woods would most definitely have been on my suggestion list.  The first in the series, it’s about a team of detectives trying to solve the murder of a young girl, even as one of the detectives tries to simultaneously solve a mystery from his own past.

Tana French’s police procedurals are compelling, atmospheric, and stylistically complex.  They’re moody pieces of crime fiction, rather than mysteries–some mysteries never get solved in her books, loose ends are left dangling.  I’d also classify the Dublin Murder Squad books as psychological suspense.  French delivers that delicious blend of mystery and suspense and atmosphere that makes crime fiction the fabulous genre that it is.

I also love French’s unflinching and honest depiction of Ireland and the Irish, of the society and its tensions.  Her Ireland is not sentimental.  It’s an Ireland full of a sense of history (recent and not), and a sense of national identity.  She gives a lot of evocative attention to the beauty of the landscape and the weather, but also pays attention to the undercurrents of society, government, and community.

If you enjoy character-driven fiction with an absorbing sense of place, believable and unique character voices, and well-constructed mysteries, do give the Dublin Murder Squad a try.  You also might like French’s work if you enjoy Kate Atkinson, S.J. Bolton, or Gillian Flynn.  While every Dublin Murder Squad novel features a different narrator and a new situation, the world is steadily built and characters grow as the books go on.  So do start with In The Woods and then go on from there.

When I’m done, though.  Don’t sneak the later ones out from under me. I’m warning you. I’m the librarian.  I’ll know.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Girl-on-the-TrainWithin the first few pages of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, we learn that our primary narrator regularly gets drunk on the train and has made up names and life stories for a couple whose house she watches out the window at a regular stop.

Yes, I thought to myself.  Totally off her nut.  This is going to be a great story!  Yes!

I wasn’t wrong.

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Marie’s Reading: “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

paying guestsIn the interests of full disclosure, I have to tell you right off that Sarah Waters is one of my favorite writers.  Ever.  I have never been disappointed once by any of her books, including her latest, The Paying Guests.  So any and all reactions I give  in this post might be construed as biased.

That said: I loved this book!!

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Marie’s Reading: Everything by Jennifer McMahon

jennifer mcmahonLiterally.  I have done what I set out to do, and have read every book by Jennifer McMahon.

I regret nothing.

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Marie’s Reading: “Until You’re Mine” by Samantha Hayes

until you're mineI received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Random House.

(….is that all i have to say?  i’ve never had an ARC before.  i feel really special but also really nervous.  i think all i have to do is review it, but i’m not positive.  uh…here, i’ll link back to Random House Readers Circle.  is that okay?  also, what do i do with the book now?  am i allowed to put it in the book sale?  it says “not for sale” on it.  does a used book sale count?  or  is it supposed to self-destruct?  will random house stop sending me presents and take away my RH inner circle decoder pin if i do this wrong?)

As far as thrillers go, Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes is very well-constructed.  I appreciated how there’s a great blend of suspense, mystery, and even a dash of horror.  The story centers on three characters: Claudia, a pregnant social worker desperate to have a child after many miscarriages; Zoe, her nanny, who may not be what she seems; and Lorraine, a detective investigating the recent murders of pregnant women in the area.  Not only have the women been murdered, but it appears that the killer attempted to take their babies.

To say too much more about the plot would be to give too much away.  Part of the fun of this kind of novel is coming up on the twists and turns yourself, and making of the clues what you will.  But I will say that the multiple storylines are very well-done.  I liked how Zoe and Claudia are both in the first person, but Lorraine is in third.  I felt it was a nice touch that gave a bit of distance with the character that needed it, and then the closeness with the characters that required it.  Plus, the first-person works quite well with characters who might or might not be unhinged.

Hayes really has written a novel that will appeal to fans of several genres.  Mystery fans and police procedural fans will like the fact that, if you pay attention, it’s totally possible to solve this crime with what you’re given right along with the detectives.  Horror fans might enjoy the mounting tension and the murders, as well as the psychological aspect of being closed in and isolated with someone who might want to kill you.  Thriller readers, this one should be right up your alley!  It’s twisty and turny and compelling, with a rather clever reveal at the end.

Gillian Flynn fans, this one is for you.  Right down to the creepy last scene and even creepier last line.  And if you enjoy this book, Hayes intends for it to be the first in a series starring the detectives, Lorraine and her husband.  So stay tuned!

–Marie

Simply Books! September Meeting

It’s that time again!  After a nice summer break, the Simply Books group got together this past weekend and had a two-hour long discussion.  Once you see the titles on the list, you’ll appreciate how much fascinating discussion fodder we had!

As ever, we had a nice mix of non-fiction and fiction to talk about.  The nonfiction topics included neuroscience, futurism, positivity, literary companion books, and transgender issues.  The fiction spanned contemporary and historical, character-based and plot-based, established authors and new favorites.

Without further ado, the September Simply Books! list.  Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Shelfari Page for the book.

RobertBParkerThe Robert B. Parker Companion by Dean James

She'sNotThereShe’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

ParlorGamesParlor Games by Maryka Biaggio

SuspectSuspect by Robert Crais

Perfume collectorThe Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

AndthemountainsAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

How to create a mindHow to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

PositivityPositivity by Barbara Fredrickson

PanopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Our schedule for 2013-2014 is up here on the blog, and I’ll be updating the Shelfari page, too.  Our next meeting will be Saturday, October 5th at 2pm in the Jean Picker Room.  Please email me at mstickney@librarycamden.org with any questions!

–Marie