Book Review: The Shadows

I picked up The Shadows by Alex North with no hesitation because I loved, loved, loved Whisper Man. It begins promising, and it held my attention, but I’m sorry to report that I didn’t love it – but it’s for a very specific reason.

The Shadows tells the story of Paul Adams, who, after 25 years, has to return to his hometown to help his sick mother. He doesn’t want to go home because bad things happened when he was a kid – specifically a gruesome murder committed by Charlie Crabtree, one of Paul’s friends.

Of course, odd things start happening as soon as Paul returns, and his mother insists that something -or someone – is creeping around the house.

The story is full of suspense, and you’re definitely driven to find the answers to WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON.

Without giving away too much, I’ll tell you why I didn’t love The Shadows as much as Whisper Man: it uses lucid dreaming as a trope, and I’m not a fan of lucid dreaming.

I’ve read two other books that use lucid dreaming as a main feature – The Anatomy of Dreams and Behind Her Eyes – and it was a turn-off for me. So, this was the third and final book I ever want to read about lucid dreaming. If that’s a thing that intrigues you, then this book is for you! If it doesn’t bother you one way or another, then I recommend The Shadows for sure.

But if you’re like me and roll your eyes at the concept of lucid dreaming, then The Shadows will be a quick pass.

Book Review: The Sentence is Death

This is the second in what I hope becomes a long series in which Anthony Horowitz, the author, writes himself into the narrative. His first work like this, The Word is Murder, was incredibly clever, and The Sentence of Death follows suit.

Once again, the Sherlock-ish private detective Daniel Hawthorne asks Anthony, a crime/thriller novelist, to help him solve a mystery by serving as his Watson. This time, a celebrity divorce lawyer Richard Pryce was found dead in his home – knocked out and killed by someone with an expensive bottle of wine.

The story is told through Anthony’s point of view, so it’s as if we’re getting Watson’s narration of how annoying and clever Sherlock – or Daniel Hawthorne – can be. I know it seems odd to have the author insert himself as a fictional (yet real?) character, but trust me – Horowitz makes it work. It is very well done.

The twisty, turvy mystery slowly unwinds as Hawthorne and Horowitz interview suspects and gather clues. They are an entertaining pair, and the unraveling of who murdered Pryce (and why) kept me engaged. However, I wouldn’t start this one without reading The Word is Murder first. You need a proper introduction to these guys.

Book Review: The Midnight Library

At least once a year I read a book that I push on everyone like a crazy person. One time it was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Another time it was Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney. I know I told everyone to read Homegoing by Yea Gyasi.

Anyway, published in 2020, the book everyone needs to read now is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Initially, it sounds incredibly depressing, but this novel is a story of HOPE, and it answers the big questions we inevitably ask ourselves: What if I had made other choices in my life? Where would I be now?

The story follows Nora Seed, a young woman who wants to die and finally decides to make that wish come true. You know this is her path because the narrative begins with that warning. It isn’t the most cheerful way to begin a story.

At the moment of her death, or what we think is her death, Nora leaves the site of her lifeless body and enters The Midnight Library, lovingly tended to by her childhood librarian, Mrs. Elm. There, she learns that each book on the shelf represents a possible life – infinite lives – that reflects every time she could’ve made a different choice. What would her life had been like if she’d chosen a different line of work? Married a certain man? Moved to a different country? Every decision, no matter how big or small, leads to a different outcome.

“The books are portals to all the lives you could be living,” says Mrs. Elm.

Incredibly, we follow Nora on her journey to find a happier life, one where she can choose to stay, if she really loves it. The Midnight Library is not heaven; it’s the hub of your own personal multi-verse where you can elect to try a different you.

As with any choice, there are stakes. There are risks. One life has certain people in it, while another life does not. Each chapter shows Nora navigating these choices while the clock is ticking. After all, if she truly wants to die, that’s exactly what will happen, and time is running out.

I loved this book so dearly that I listened to it twice on Audible and then bought a hard copy to read again. (If you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to it. Carey Mulligan is an excellent narrator.)

Without fail, it was my favorite book in 2020. It will be a favorite for a very long time. Read it, read it, read it.

Book Review: The Evening and the Morning

In 2007, Oprah Winfrey selected The Pillars of the Earth for her book club. I’d been on a reading kick with Oprah’s selections (it’s how I discovered She’s Come Undone, one of my ultimate favorites), so when she went on and on about Pillars, despite it being 900+ pages, I decided to give it a try.

Never before had I read a book so engrossing about a subject I knew nothing about: the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. It was lengthy and hard to read in certain parts because I wasn’t accustomed to so many details about torture and journeying and long-suffering plans to build cathedral by hand and plots to thwart a greedy, power-hungry bishop.

AND STILL I was hooked. I went on to love the sequel, World Without End, and the final in the Kingsbridge trilogy, A Column of Fire.

Earlier in 2020, I heard Ken Follett had written a prequel to Pillars, and admittedly, I was skeptical. A prequel? I mean, I was going to buy it no matter what, but I couldn’t wrap my brain about what topics the book might cover.

Set at the end of the Anglo-Saxon age in England (late-900s), The Evening and the Morning follows three main characters and their respective journeys – Edgar, a boat builder and honest man, Ragna, a noblewoman from France who attempts to build a new life in England, and Alfred, a monk whose efforts to stay true to his purpose is challenged at every turn. Ultimately, this is the story of how Kingsbridge became a town.

Anglo-Saxon England was troubled by recurring Viking attacks, a flimsy legal system, and poor living conditions since all the Romans left behind were roads (which was helpful, I guess). The new band of characters, per usual, have to fight against power-hungry people who use the system for personal gain, leaving bodies in their wake. If you’ve read Ken Follett’s trilogies before (either Kingsbridge or the Century Trilogy), then you know there will be hiccups, obstacles, and heartache.

But there is also triumph. You know something good will come at the end. You just don’t know the journey required to get there. I loved this book. I read it over Christmas break because I knew I’d need the distraction. It worked perfectly.

Disclaimer: Ken Follett gets a lot of grief for some of his love scenes and, alternately, the scenes with sexual assault. You can expect that trend to continue here. Feel free to skim those words.

Book Review: His and Hers

Like any conflict, there are two sides of the story, and then there’s the truth. In His & Hers, readers hear from three voices – Anna Andrews, a lunchtime television presenter on the BBC, DCI Jack Harper, who’s investigating the death of someone he recognizes in his hometown, and an undisclosed third narrator who knows exactly what’s going on.

This psychological thriller is set in fictional Blackdown, a small town in the English countryside and exactly the sort of place where I daydream about living. Anna is attractive and clever, keen to keep her highly sought position at the BBC, but someone who ought to drink a little less. She is divorced from DCI Jack Harper, who is so likable and so clearly still attracted to his ex-wife. Their two sides of the story are filled with interesting details based on their upbringings, relationships, and current working relationship as a TV journalist and detective. The alternating narrations keep you wondering about their WHOLE story and how it might (or might not) relate to the murder victim.

The third narrator is clearly the killer, but, of course, we don’t find out who it is until the end.

Now, if you know me in real life, I’ve likely pushed Sometimes I Lie on you. I dearly loved that book and have listened to it three times on Audible. Unfortunately, I didn’t love Feeney’s second novel, I Know Who You Are, so I probably didn’t even mention reading it to anyone. (It was one of those books that, when you get to the end, you’re thinking, “Really?”)

When His & Hers came out in 2020, I gave it a chance and it was well worth it. I am a sucker for good thrillers, and this one didn’t disappoint. You’ll move through it quickly.

Book review: The Making of Us

Having enjoyed a few of Lisa Jewell’s recent novels (The Family Upstairs, The House We Grew Up In, I Found You), I went back to some of her earlier work and chose The Making of Us (2012). It isn’t a thriller or mystery; rather, it’s an unsuspecting family drama.

The story centers around four people: Lydia is a wealthy, successful single woman who plagued by loneliness. Dean is suddenly a single dad who’s definitely not ready for the responsibility. Robyn is young and vibrant, on track to attend medical school and start a fabulous life, but… She too isn’t completely happy. The fourth person is the one who binds them all together.

Though the story wasn’t a full mystery (you find out soon enough who the fourth person is along with the secret he’s keeping), I enjoyed the steady unfolding of details as the three main characters grappled with their lives. I ended up rooting for them, hoping they’d weave together and make all the right choices. The title – The Making of Us – gives it away on some level. The “Us” is a work-in-progress, and it’s the reader who gets to watch it all pull together.

I will say that this story has more characters than what’s necessary. I wound up expecting more from a couple of them because they seemed more prominent than they actually were. In the end, I felt like a couple of storylines seemed pointless, like they could’ve been omitted and the story wouldn’t have been any better or worse.

The bottom line is that I enjoy Lisa Jewell’s writing style enough that I’m happy to play along and go where the story leads. The Making of Us doesn’t hold a candle to The Family Upstairs or The House We Grew Up In, but it was still a good read and left me with some brewing thoughts about what makes a family.

Book Review: The Whisper Man

Frank Carter, known as The Whisper Man, was a serial killer captured and imprisoned for luring children out of their homes by whispering to them through windows and doors. He became a legend in his small town and sowed fear into the hearts of Featherbank’s residents.

Fast forward to today: Tom Kennedy moves with his son, Jake, to Featherbank after the sudden death of his wife. A fresh start on a new life is just what they need. All seems to be moving along as planned until a young boy in Jake’s class disappears, reigniting old stories and unearthing buried fears about old Frank Carter’s crimes. Detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis are determined to find the missing child before it’s too late. 

Of course, then Jake starts acting funny, and then he starts hearing whispers… 

If you leave a door half-open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched, you’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.

Atmospheric, tense, and utterly gripping, The Whisper Man was a fun ride. It wasn’t so creepy that I couldn’t read it at night (I’m looking at you, Winter People), but it so well-paced and anxiety-ridden that I really needed to finish it as soon as possible so I could rest my mind. Super fun! I’m really looking forward to Alex North’s next book, The Shadows

Book Review: Mr. Nobody

A man washes up on a British beach having no idea who he is, where he came from, or where he’s going. The press (and medical professionals) call him Mr. Nobody. Dr. Emma Lewis, a neuropsychiatrist, is asked to assess him, and she has a keen sense to know what might be wrong. 

While Mr. Nobody is advertised as a thriller, it doesn’t unfold in an edge-of-your-seat way. There is a steady transmission of fragmented information about both Dr. Lewis and Mr. Nobody, and, as the reader, you’re constantly trying to figure out why and how these two people are connected. That in itself is a mystery.

It isn’t a nail-biter, but it’s still an interesting medical (and criminal) journey that’s good enough to take you away from the present time.

I prefer Catherine Steadman’s other book, Something in the Water, over Mr. Nobody, but I liked this new one enough that I’ll read the third book she writes. I appreciate her prose. As an actress, Catherine Steadman understands how to keep an audience’s attention, whether it’s on film or on the page. 

Even though Mr. Nobody wasn’t gripping minute-to-minute, it still kept my attention and provided a satisfying end.

Book Review: The House We Grew Up In

I was already a fan of Lisa Jewell’s work, specifically of The Family Upstairs, and I devoured her latest book with the same fervor. 

The Birds live in a picturesque Cotswolds village. There are six of them: married couple Lorelei and Colin and their four children – Meg, Beth, and twins Rory and Rhys. Everything about the kids’ childhood feels perfect. Lorelei goes out of her way to make every day extra special, especially on holidays. She loves her family and lives in the moment at all times. 

Yet, it’s on an Easter weekend when tragedy hits the Birds, and everything upends. What unfolds is a family drama about how each person manages him or herself amid devastation. Coping skills aren’t cookie-cutter. Everyone hurts and loves in a different way. 

This isn’t a thriller in the traditional sense, but The House We Grew Up In has the pacing required for a steady pageturner. I listened to the audiobook version and finished it in a matter of days. Admittedly, some of the bigger plot points hit very close to home, so I was drawn to the story even more than I thought I’d be. 

Beautifully written, perfectly paced, with a satisfying end. Highly recommend. 

Book Review: Kindred

Having read some of Octavia Butler’s work before, I knew reading Kindred was going to be an emotional journey. It did not disappoint.

Dana is a young, African American woman in 1976 California. She and her husband, Kevin, a white man, are in the process of moving into their new home when Dana suffers a dizzy spell and is suddenly time-traveled to pre-Civil War Maryland – to the exact plantation where she knows her ancestors lived. Moments after arriving, she saves a young, white boy, Rufus, from drowning, an event she later determines was the catalyst for her time travel. It’s this relationship with Rufus that keeps her going back and forth in time. Eventually, Kevin is pulled through the tether too, an experience that gives him a new perspective on American history. 

I’m not sure anyone can get excited about reading a book where a modern African American woman travels back in time to the Antebellum South, but not all reading should be for fun. Sometimes it’s good to read a book, even if it’s fiction, to deepen your understanding of our human experience. Even the ugly parts.

Book Review: The Family Upstairs

Libby Jones is a young London woman who knows she’s adopted. She’s fine with this, though she’s always been curious about her origins and biological family. When an inheritance for a large home in Chelsea falls in her lap upon her 25th birthday, the details of her birth family begin to unfurl. She has no idea what to do with the things she learns.

The story is told from three perspectives, the first and most obvious being Libby’s. The two other voices are a homeless street performer (with her two children) who plays the fiddle for coins on the Côte d’Azur, and a man who tells his story in the first person as if he’s writing a letter.

We knew these three people are connected, but we need to reach the length of the book to put all the pieces together.

And wow. What a story – suspense at every turn, an ever-growing list of nagging questions, and the sort of chapter endings that do not allow you to stop reading, or in my case, stop listening. I finished it in three days because I had to know who Libby really was and how this man and woman were connected to her.

The Family Upstairs is as much of a family saga as it is a mystery. There is death and intrigue, lost love and relational turmoil. The story is full of twists and turns, and even when the three main characters finally collide, there are still truths to unearth.

This was my first introduction to Lisa Jewell’s work, and I’m already into Then She Was Gone. I listened to The Family Upstairs on Audible, and I’m glad I did because I’ll surely listen to it again.

Book Review: Rebecca

Teaching English at our co-op has reignited my interest in the classics, and one glaring void on my shelf was Rebecca. The 1938 Gothic novel was written by Daphne de Maurier, and since its first publication, Rebecca has never gone out of publication.

The only thing I knew about Rebecca prior to reading it was that Rebecca is the deceased wife and the narrator is the new wife. I also knew it was set in England, but beyond that, it was a classic mystery I knew little about.

To my utter delight, the opening scenes occur in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and I had no problem visualizing it. The unnamed narrator is a lady’s helper on vacation when she meets Maxim de Winter, a recent rich widower. After only two weeks of courtship, Maxim asks the young woman to marry him, and she agrees. Readers quickly jump from the Mediterranean to Cornwall – specifically, Manderley, de Winter’s magnificent estate.

Our young bride struggles to settle into her new life as Lady of the House. She’s intimidated by Ms. Danvers, the sharp, cross housekeeper, and she’s reminded almost constantly of her husband’s previous wife, Rebecca. Her presence is still felt in the house, despite the fact that she’s been dead nearly a year. Details of Rebecca’s death are scarcely discussed.

The new Mrs. de Winter tries to make her husband happy, but after a massive failure on her part to surprise him (and guests) with her costume for a “Fancy Dress Ball” at Manderley, secrets quickly unravel and the young bride realizes that she knows very little about Maxim, and even much less about Rebecca.

When a sunken boat is discovered in the bay and subsequently raised, the new Mrs. de Winter must decide what to do about all the other surprises that come up with the boat – including a body.

I absolutely adored this novel, though I fully recognize that its magic is not just in the plot. The narrative is dreamy and romantic, utterly fluid and delightful. Manderley is its own magical character, as Daphne de Maurier draws the reader to the magnificent property and inside the looming house. (A quick Google search revealed it was based on a real estate – Menabilly.) I was tempted to not like the narrator because there were so many red flags to not marry this man, but considering the time and women’s roles in the 1930s and 40s, perhaps you can’t blame her.

The end of the book brings the story full-circle, a feature I love in a novel because it shows the writer had a plan, a clear direction. When it begins, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” you can’t possibly know how the story will end.

And then when it ends, you can’t help but smile as all the pieces fall into place.

Book review: Behind Her Eyes

I love a story with a good twist. Better yet, I love a story with several good twists. I enjoy the shock and surprise of learning I was completely wrong.

Behind Her Eyes presents two narrators – Adele, the pretty yet fragile wife of a local psychiatrist, and Louise, a single mom and the psychiatrist’s secretary. David, the psychiatrist, is the third person in the triad, but we don’t have a POV from him.

Here’s the catch – the Louise and David had a clumsy kiss in a bar prior to her starting the job, before they knew they’d be working together. So, when Louise and Adele meet and strike up a friendship, there’s already a secret in play. It’s a big mess, but that isn’t the point. There is something else going on in the story that looms larger than their little white lies.

The quick pacing kept me enthralled, particularly because more lies lead to more secrets and you know it’s all going to come to light eventually. The question is WHEN and HOW, so I kept going.

Then there’s this other plot point that starts to creep in, one that involves lucid dreaming, and I started to feel like I was reading The Anatomy of Stars, which I didn’t enjoy. Finally, in the last couple of chapters, the purpose of the lucid dreaming is revealed.

To be honest, I enjoyed this book tremendously – until its finale. I don’t want to spoil it, but the ending seemed directly lifted from a 2005 film. (Click here if you want to know what movie I’m referring to, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll be spoiled.) In fact, my brain went right there: Oh, this is exactly like that movie... So, that left me unimpressed. (Granted, if you haven’t seen the movie, it won’t matter and you’ll probably get a good kick out of the end. 🙂 )

Book review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and when a BookTuber I follow selected it as the January pick for her online book club, I thought I’d read along.

Full disclosureWe Need to Talk About Kevin is disturbing, and it will not leave you with warm fuzzies of any kind.

The novel unfolds through letters from Eva to her husband, Franklin, so we approach the story entirely from her point of view. Right away I wasn’t a fan of the epistolary format, and the first 50 pages were slower than I’d prefer.

However, there is a threshold somewhere around the 50-page mark that shifts the pacing dramatically. It took me weeks to crawl there, but once I crossed over, I couldn’t put down the book and ended up finishing it in a weekend.

It isn’t a spoiler to tell you about Kevin. From the start, he is a different sort of child. He’s curt and ominous as if there was a dark streak in him from birth. That’s why, when, at 15 years old, Kevin murdered a handful of classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher, and subsequently lands in jail, you aren’t surprised. You knew it was coming, and it was only a matter of knowing how you wound up there.

The letters from Eva to Franklin are heart-wrenching, particularly because Eva knew there was something off in her son. Franklin, less so. As their disenchanted lives unfold in the suburbs, Eva becomes increasingly worried about Kevin, and he is well aware of her concerns. Kevin enjoys and exploits them.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is… unnerving. It is not a beach read or a cozy mystery. It is troubling and shocking and terrifically sad. And yet, it is so well done that Lionel Shriver must have dug deep into the dark minds of young murderers in order to write one so perfectly. Winner of the Orange Prize and numerous other accolades, Shriver is an impeccable writer and storyteller.

That being said, don’t expect a happy ending.

Book review: I Found You

I’m not sure if double or triple timelines is a trend that authors are choosing independently or if literary agents and editors are pushing for it. Either way, I keep choosing these books. I don’t mind necessarily, but it’s a format that I’ll soon need a break from.

I Found You takes place primarily in a seaside town in England called Ridinghouse Bay. Cynical single mom Alice wakes up one morning to find a man sitting on the beach outside her house. She approaches him only to find out he has no idea who he is or what he’s doing on the beach. Instead of leaving him there, she welcomes him back to her house for a shower, a hot meal, and eventually, a short-term place to stay until his memory returns.

A second part of the book takes place in London and focuses on Lily, a newlywed whose husband would normally go to work and come home like clockwork. When he doesn’t come home one day and cannot be reached on his cell phone, Lily calls the police and thus begins a missing person search. Matters aren’t helped when Lily realizes she knows little to nothing about the man she met and married in a whirlwind romance.

A third narrative takes place as well, but this time it’s in the past (1993) and follows Gray and Kirsty Ross, a brother and sister on summer vacation with their parents in Ridinghouse Bay. All was well and good until a charming young man, Mark, starts paying too much attention to Kirsty, and Gray doesn’t trust a single thing the local boy says.

I Found You is a true mystery in that the first overarching question readers have is if the man on the beach is Lily’s missing husband. The second question is how Gray and Mark from 1993 fit into the future narrative. The answers come at the beginning of the third act (last third of the book), and then the question becomes, “How will this all turn out?”

I wasn’t blown away by I Found You in the way I was with Sometimes I Lie, which remains one of my favorites, but it was still a good read and one that kept my interest until the end. It reminded me of a Liane Moriarity book, so if that’s your type of fiction, give it a go.

Book review: The Last Mrs. Parrish

The quickest way to describe this book to you is to reference “Single White Female” and point to that level of crazy jealousy. That is Amber. She wants Daphne Parrish’s socialite, wealthy life so badly that she’ll go to any length necessary to have it. She’ll wiggle her way into Daphne’s good graces, charm her children, and keep her distance – albeit publicly – from her husband, Jackson. This is all part of the plan, after all. Get in, settle down, and eventually replace Daphne altogether.

That is, if everything goes according to plan. (Spoiler: Things don’t always go according to plan.)

I’ll admit that I almost didn’t read this one on account of being on Reese’s Book Club list. I’m not sure why that was a near-deterrent, but it was. Now that I’ve read it, I could’ve skipped it. Amber is a whiny character who needed a good slap every day. I cringed at every scene with her because she was that obnoxious. Even with a good twist at the end, I didn’t fully connect with the characters and felt like they could’ve been named anything and lived out their lives anywhere. So, perhaps it’s a pass for you.

Book review: The Ruin

Twenty years ago the body of Hilaria Blake was found in her home. An apparent overdose left her two children – Jack and Maude – orphaned. It was the sort of case that didn’t feel quite right, but when the most obvious conclusion is all you have, that’s what you go with. At least, that’s what Detective Cormac Reilly believed at the time.

Fast forward 20 years and Jack Blake’s body has been found in the river Corrib in Ireland. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, a truth girlfriend Aisling Conroy cannot seem to grasp. When sister Maude shows up to investigate her brother’s death on her own, the heat turns up in Galway.

Recently transferred from Dublin to Galway, Detective Reilly finds himself unearthing Hilaria Blake’s overdose case while grappling with her son’s supposed suicide. Things don’t align. Something doesn’t sit well. There is another link to the story which he resolves to uncover.

The Ruin moves at a swift pace, which I always appreciate. Sometimes I like to dwell in details, but when it comes to thrillers I want to run to the end. I want to untangle the knot as quickly as possible, as long as the author gets her words in. The Ruin impressed me because this is a debut novel. McTiernan was a lawyer in her former life and only jumped into fiction because she loved crime thrillers so much. So yeah, I enjoyed this mystery a great deal, and it was recommended to me since I’m a fan of Tana French, another Irish author.

However, I will tell you that The Ruin is a quicker and more interesting read than Witch Elm, French’s latest, which is currently sitting aside unfinished because the pacing is so darn slow.

Book review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’m late on this review, but it is not a reflection on its quality. I listened to it on audiobook this summer while training for a race, so I had plenty of time to dive into the details of the Golden State Killer, also known at the EAR (East Area Rapist).

If this title and author is unfamiliar to you, it’s important to know right off that Michelle McNamara passed away before she could see her book in print. She’d been following the case, and subsequently writing about it with the intention of getting her work published, when she reached an untimely death in April 2016 at age 46. It was her husband, Patton Oswalt, who worked with his wife’s research partner to see this book finished.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark chases down every lead suspected to be connected to a violent predator who committed upwards of 50 sexual assaults and at least ten murders. For a decade this person eluded detectives in Northern California, and eventually the case ran dry. The Golden State Killer has been the focus of myriad stories and articles, but no one could every piece it all together in a way that fleshed out a real person.

McNamara was hyper-focused on the case. It kept her up at night and occupied her mind at the most inopportune times, such as when she was walking the red carpet with her Hollywood husband. Essentially, she was obsessed with it, but perhaps that worked to her credit. After all, she honed in on a few details that eventually led to the arrest of a suspect.

It would be irritating to read this book without the events that unfolded in the spring of 2018. A man was arrested. More information came to light. It’s just a shame McNamara wasn’t alive to see it for herself.

Book review: The Lady in the Tower

One of my favorite historians is Alison Weir. Not only is she thorough and detailed, but she writes in a way that feels like you’re reading fiction. She’s an effective storyteller, and it just so happens that the story she’s telling is true.

My interest in Anne Boleyn is not new, but it was made stronger after visiting Hever Castle in October. I wanted to dive into her family’s history even more after that visit, to read new (to me) details about Anne’s final days and flesh out her life as much as possible.

The Lady in the Tower did that, and more. I knew Thomas Cromwell was already at the core of her downfall, but I did not realize the degree to which he attacked her from all angles. What a wretch he was! I also did not realize that much of our recorded history from that time is credited to letters written by Eustace Chapuys, Roman Ambassador to England under Charles V. He was a meticulous writer, and much about Anne’s Tudor experience is known because of him.

I don’t expect anyone to pick up this book on my recommendation unless there’s already an interest in the British monarchy, specifically the Tudor period. However, if that’s your jam, you’d do well to read anything by Alison Weir, including The Lady in the Tower.

Book review: Burntown

Burntown has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list since I heard about it. Already a big fan of The Winter People and The Night Sister, I knew Burntown would be worth the wait. I wasn’t wrong.

There is something that happens in a Jennifer McMahon book that I’ve yet to see replicated as well in others. She manages to marry mystery/thriller with the slightest paranormal in a way that seems totally natural. I’m not a fan of paranormal as a genre, but when it comes to McMahon, I’m all in.

Burntown begins with a scene from the past – a young boy watches while his mother is murdered. 

Then we jump forward. All grown up, Miles Sandeski has a family of his own. He makes things, builds things with his hands, including a machine based on Edison’s design to reach beyond the veil between life and death. Somehow, the machine works and he can hear his mother’s voice, which tells him her murderer – a man named Snake Eyes – is not gone. In fact, he’s watching Miles, waiting for another opportunity. The family is not safe, and then a flood sweeps in, washing away the Sandeski’s home. Miles and son Errol are gone. Miles’s wife survives for a short time, but then, it’s only their daughter, Eva. 

In an attempt to live some version of a cursed life in Burntown, the underbelly of Ashford, Vermont, Eva changes her name to Necco and lives in a car with her boyfriend. The murderer is now after her. The cycle continues. 

Though the main character is Necco, we also hear from two other women – Theo and Pru, who each have their own journey that intertwines with Necco’s. When these three finally team up, the pacing of the story quickens towards a resolution.

The Winter People continues to be my favorite of McMahon’s so far, but Burntown is special in a way that leaves me – if I’m being honest – a little jealous. McMahon is darn good. She knows how to craft a creepy story that’s totally bizarre and equally believable. Once the ball was rolling, I was locked in. We knew Snake Eyes was going to resurface. We knew the Edison machine was going to be important. We knew that Necco was going to succeed. BUT HOW? How does it all come together? 

You have to read Burntown to find out. 

Book review: Frankenstein

One of the perks of developing my own English class for our co-op is selecting works I love and think are important for young people to read. Out of 15 students, more than half dreaded reading Frankenstein. A few were neutral, which left a few who were actually eager to dive in and see what this novel was all about. I’m happy to report that I welcomed a group of converts into the Pro-Frankenstein Club. (Not everyone loved it, but many did!)

For the sole purpose of encouraging non-students to read Frankenstein, I decided to offer a short book review here. 

Often labeled the first work of Science Fiction, Frankenstein is a frame story that begins with letters from a ship captain, Robert Walton, to his sister, Margaret. Walton is terrifically lonely on his expedition to the Arctic and has no one (his equal) to share in the adventure. Just when he thinks he’ll be alone forever, a downtrodden man near death is found floating on an iceberg. Pulled aboard, Walton learns the man’s name: Victor Frankenstein. Once he’s strong enough, Victor tells Walton his tale.

Enter Frame Story Level I: Victor grew up in a perfect family, loving and generous. He had an interest in science, and though it wasn’t necessarily shepherded well by his parents, it wasn’t squashed either. During his teen years, he explored different areas of science, incorporated philosophy, and began to question what he may be capable of. One night, when he was 15 years old, he watched a storm brewing and saw lightning strike a tree and enflame it. This gave him a curious idea involving electricity.

Years later, his curious idea morphed into the desire to create a new species. Thus became the monster, but upon seeing what he’d created, Victor abandoned the creature and ran away in fear. Chaos ensues.

It’s important to know that readers experience a few more layers of storytelling, hearing more than just Victor’s side. Though the language isn’t modern, and it can be exhaustive at times, the themes and ideas explored in Frankenstein are well-worth the wrestling. Whether or not Mary Shelley knew of her own genius, I’m not sure, but she presents several important questions to readers that still apply today:
1) When does life begin?
2) What is our responsibility toward life?
3) What are the dangers of blind ambition?
4) How far should we go scientifically when lives are at stake?

If reading Frankenstein is too daunting, I highly encourage you to listen to Audible’s version narrated by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, the Beast from Beauty and Beast). You will not be disappointed.