A Kidnapping Plot, A Doppelganger, and Three Murderous Queens

Hi there! I don’t know about you, but my stress levels have been way up lately! I’ve read quite a few studies that say most Americans feel really stressed out because of the divisiveness of this election. For the sake of my health and sanity, I’ve been doing a few things to lessen the stress:

  1. Reading international news: I think it helps to get a perspective outside of the US these days. Reading national news is pretty depressing lately; however, I don’t want to be uninformed. The Guardian, BBC, Reuters, and Al Jazeera have been my go-tos because they focus on more than just our election (although there’s enough of that thrown in there that I still feel informed).
  2. Staying off social media when I can: This is tough, but it sometimes helps to take a break from Facebook and Twitter for a while. Everyone is so passionate about politics right now (which is great!) but it can get overwhelming to read everyone else’s thoughts all the time. This is why I would NEVER want my superpower to be mind-reading!
  3. Reading escapist books! I’ve read two mystery/thrillers and one fantasy novel over these last two weeks. I swear, escaping into the problems of a novel’s protagonist is the best way to relieve stress!

So here’s what I’ve read lately:

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The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, mystery/thriller (320 pages)

This is the kind of book you can reading in a weekend because from the first page you’re dying to know whodunit.

The story begins with Anne and Marco Conti, an upper-middle class couple in their thirties, having dinner at their neighbors’ house. Anne and Marco began the night with a disagreement about coming to this party; Anne wanted to stay home since they babysitter had cancelled and Marco insisted they could put the baby to bed and bring the baby monitor with them since the houses are so close together. Every thirty minutes, the couple has taken turns checking on the baby. However, when they get home late that night their front door is ajar and the baby’s crib is empty.

Everyone in this novel has secrets and it’s up to us and the detective assigned to the case to figure out whose secret has compelled them to kidnap (or even murder) the child. As ransom demands start to come in, secrets start to come out. It’ll keep you guessing until the very last page!

(New mothers, I don’t suggest you read this one! Just reading the words “baby stolen out of its crib” is triggering!)

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The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French, detective procedural/thriller (466 pages)

I read the first novel in this series a couple of weeks ago (I wrote about it here), and after reading this one I am a Tana-French-aholic. The Dublin Murder Squad books are kind of like the TV series True Detective in that they each star a different detective. The first one was from the perspective of Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox was his partner. The Likeness is from Cassie’s perspective and I believe each one follows that formula (the protagonist of each novel is featured in the one before it). Though I loved In the Woods, this one was even better!

In In the Woods we learn that Cassie was in Vice (undercover) before she got on the Murder Squad. During her time in Vice, she posed as a college student named Lexie Madison to infiltrate a drug ring. At the beginning of the novel, Cassie is called to a murder scene in a secluded cabin. There, she finds a girl who looks exactly like her carrying an ID with the name Alexandra Madison on it. In order to find out who killed this girl, Cassie agrees to go undercover again. In doing so, she hopes to find out how this girl slipped into her made-up alias from long ago, who she is and how she looks so much like Cassie, and whether the group of tight-knit friends she was living with had anything to do with Lexie’s death.

This is a brilliant mystery. I’ve always like novels about a too-close group of college friends who find themselves wrapped up in a murder (both Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates and The Secret History by Donna Tartt come to mind). This one fits that bill and also offers up some great character studies and a satisfying ending. I loved it and can’t wait to read the next one in the series!

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, young adult/fantasy (416 pages)

I’m telling y’all, fantasy is where it’s at if you want to escape from the everyday stuff for a little while.

Think about living in a society ruled by a queen. Every generation that queen births triplet girls imbued with magic: one poisoner, one naturalist, and one elemental. These girls hone their magic in separate kingdoms for years until The Beltane Festival celebrating their sixteen birthday comes around. Then, during a time called The Quickening, the girls are to show off their magic. With this, it’s open season on queens and each sister must try to kill the others in order to rule the kingdom.

Three Dark Crowns follows each of these sisters during their fifteenth year up to The Quickening. Katherine, the poisoner, is trained to eat tainted food without dying as well as how to use poison to kill others. She, however, is a weak queen and the poison her caretakers use on her makes her sick and small. That is, until Pietyr comes along to train her. Will he be able to make her strong and cunning enough to kill her sisters?

Next there’s Arsione, the naturalist queen. Though naturalists are supposed to be able to control vegetation and animals, Arsinoe has never been able to do this. Her caretaker and friend Jules, however, is the strongest naturalist the island has ever seen. And then there’s Joseph to round out this trio of friends; we learn that Joseph and Jules once tried to help Arsione off the island so that she wouldn’t have to die at the hands of her sisters. It was no use, however, and as Beltane draws nearer Arsione finds herself going to extreme lengths to try and call her magic.

Mirabella is the strongest of the three. An elemental, she can control the air, water, and fire. She is so strong, in fact, that the priestesses at the temple watch and support her every move so that when she becomes queen they can become more powerful. The problem with Mirabella, however, is that she does not want to kill her sisters. She will try everything she can to avoid the events of the Beltane year, even if it means throwing away her crown.

I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait for the next one to come out (I think it’s going to be a trilogy). I’ve decided I would want my power to be naturalist because they get to have “familiar” (animal soul-friends). Forget controlling the weather or being immune to poison, I want a cat with me at all times.

 

So that’s all this week. I hope to read a little more Dublin Murder Squad in the coming weeks as well as my new BOTM club pick, The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang. Happy reading and keep your stress in check!

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Exile in Moscow and Murder in the Woods

I guess there’s something about the weeks leading up to October that puts me in a creepy mood. I’ve been really into mysteries and thrillers lately and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Today I’ll talk about what I’ve read over the last two weeks and the books in my TBR pile.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, mystery/thriller (320 pages)

When I finished The Woman in Cabin 10 a few weeks ago (recap here) I looked over some reader reviews on Goodreads because I was curious if other readers felt the same way I did about parts of the novel. Though a few reviewers made me feel a little better about my own feelings regarding it, my biggest takeaway from those reviews was the overwhelming feeling that Ruth Ware’s first book was more satisfying. I picked up In a Dark, Dark Wood at the library a few days later and read it in 24 hours.

It takes place over the course of a bachelorette weekend in the woods. Lenora, the narrator, reveals early on that she was surprised to be invited since she and the bride-to-be, Clare, haven’t spoken since high school when their friendship ended badly. Lenora isn’t excited about the weekend to begin with, but when she finds out Clare is marrying her ex-boyfriend she becomes almost unhinged. Adding to her frustration is Emma, Clare and Lenora’s mutual friend, who won’t stop awkwardly bring up the man both Clare and Lenora now share. There’s also Flo, Clare’s best friend who seems a little too obsessed with her (one character actually compares Flo to Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction). And then there’s the cabin: it’s in the middle of the woods, miles from help, and the walls are made chiefly of glass. Lenora often remarks that she feels as though someone is watching them from the woods and the suspicious shoe prints outside early one morning don’t help matters. The weekend is interrupted by a brutal crime and Lenora wakes up in a hospital with large gaps in her memory. She knows she is going to be accused of a crime since she overhears police officers discussing whether she’s innocent or guilty, and she must somehow prove her innocence from a hospital bed. But is she innocent? Both Lenora and readers won’t know until the end since her memories only come back in small spurts.

This is a story of sinister friendships and relationships gone wrong. It kept me up into the late hours of the night and when I finished it I didn’t want to go to sleep.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, literary / historical fiction (462 pages)

It took me about a week and a half to read this one, and since this novel covers so many years and is so dense I broke it up by reading In a Dark, Dark Wood. Amor Towles’s debut novel was a wonderful story about a young woman living in New York in the 1920s (it’s called Rules of Civility and it’s a great for Gatsby-lovers!). So, when I heard he was putting out another work of historical fiction, I was thrilled. A Gentleman in Moscow did not disappoint. Set in Moscow after the Russian Revolution, it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, a “former person” (as the Bolsheviks call him), who has been sentenced to live out his remaining days in the Metropol Hotel under house arrest. Rostov’s crime was writing an unsavory political poem years before. Used to a life of endless choice and luxury, Alexander is forced to reconcile himself to the four walls of this grand hotel. His life inside the hotel moves forward as people on the outside are disappearing, old ideas are dying, and Russia is being demolished and rebuilt for a new generation. Though you might think a novel that takes place in one building would be boring, Alexander’s zest for life despite his circumstances is contagious and I delighted in his many adventures. He is able to fall in love, build relationships, and transcend his sentence. There are a few surprises along the way too, and I have to say it’s been a while since I’ve read a novel that was at once cozy and unsettling.  If you like history or comeback stories, this one’s for you.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1) by Tana French, mystery (429 pages)

I have told almost everyone I know to read this book. Though I finished it a few days ago, it has stuck with me and I’m still trying to figure out one of the book’s mysteries.

Three twelve year old children go out to play in the familiar woods surrounding their small community and don’t come back. Days later, one of the children is found hugging a tree so hard his fingernails are falling off. His shirt is sliced up in the back and his shoes are filled with someone else’s blood.

Years later, this boy has changed his name from Adam Ryan to Rob Ryan. Though he is a detective in the exclusive Murder Squad of the Dublin Police Department, no one there knows about his mysterious past except for his partner and best friend Cassie. Rob himself doesn’t know what happened in those woods as his memories from the first twelve years of his life are gone. When a young girl goes missing and is found murdered in that same small community, Rob and Cassie have to figure out if there is a connection between the two cases.

GUYS.

GUYS.

This book is great.

I loved the two mysteries at the center of the story, but even more than that I loved French’s characters. I’m biding my time before I start in on the other books in this series, but I’m so glad I’ll get to visit with some of these characters again. This novel really did it for me for some reason, and I can’t wait for some people I know to read it so I can talk through my theories with them. I’ve heard French always leaves at least one mystery unsolved in all of her books, which is so cool! This one has had me reeling for days.

TBR Pile

The Shining by Stephen King

My book club is reading this for the month of October and I’m so scared and so excited! Red rum…

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I’m currently reading this one and it’s pretty good so far. I didn’t know that it was about a stolen baby before I started reading, so that has me a bit bummed. But it’s supposed to be a really great thriller…hopefully things will get less sad and more awesome soon!

A to-be-determined romance novel

My friend Lindsey is a huge advocate of romance novels and I’ve decided I don’t read enough of them. I’m leaning toward The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean (who wrote this great article, “Bashing Romance Novels is Just Another Form of Slut-Shaming” , for Bustle this week).

A Few Others…

I’m picking up The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, and Before the Fall by Noah Hawkley from the libary soon, but it might be a week or two before I get to those!