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June 24, 2010

Faithful Place

Faithful Place by Tana French
Mystery
2010 Viking
Finished on 4/2/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)
ARC - On sale July 13, 2010
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from Kate Lloyd (Sr. Publicist, Viking/Penguin)



In all your life, only a few moments matter. Mostly you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they've zipped past you: the moment when you decided whether to talk to that girl, slow down on that blind bend, stop and find that condom. I was lucky, I guess you could call it. I got to see one of mine face-to-face, and recognize it for what it was. I got to feel the riptide pull of my life spinning around me, one winter night, while I waited in the dark at the top of Faithful Place.

Publisher's Blurb

The hotly anticipated third novel of the Dublin Murder Squad from the New York Times bestselling author.

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin's inner city and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.

But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn't show. Frank took it for granted that she'd dumped him—probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again.

Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie's suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community make him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he's a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly—and he's willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.

Whooweee! I really enjoyed In the Woods. And I loved The Likeness. But, Faithful Place gets top honors as my all-time favorite of Tana French's mysteries. While the previous two are also set in Dublin, I felt they could have taken place pretty much anywhere. However, with Faithful Place, French takes her readers deep into the grittiness of Dublin's tenement neighborhoods. The dialogue and characters are rich and authentic, reminding me a little bit of Frank McCourt's childhood in Angela's Ashes. The pacing is even and taut, holding my attention late into the night. I could have easily devoured this book in a few short days, but I wanted to make it last as long as possible, so I stretched it out to almost two full weeks. As soon as I finished, I wanted to start all over again. But other ARCs were vying for my attention, so I'll save it for another time. I am tempted to go back and re-read The Likeness, just to re-visit Frank's character from this new perspective. Maybe I'll listen to all three on audio, as I await French's fourth installment. There will be another, right?!

I loved Frank's colorfully idiomatic language and slang: "arse," "eejit," "Fair play to you," "No one gives a toss," "Jaysus," "You're grand," "Ah, cop on, will you[...]she'll be mad into some girl band," and "feckin." It was great to hear authentic Dublin in every sentence.

I love how Frank cares so much about his daughter and the crazy world she's growing up in:

"This is not trivial shit, Jackie. I want Holly to be aware that there is a difference between truth and meaningless gibberish bullshit. She's completely surrounded, from every angle, by people telling her that reality is one hundred percent subjective: if you really believe you're a star then you deserve a record contract whether or not you can sing for shit, and if you really believe in weapons of mass destruction then it doesn't actually matter whether they exist or not, and fame is the be-all and end-all because you don't exist unless enough people are paying attention to you. I want my daughter to learn that not everything in this world is determined by how often she hears it or how much she wants it to be true or how many other people are looking. Somewhere in there, for a thing to count as real, there has got to be some actual bloody reality. God knows she's not going to learn that anywhere else. So I'm going to have to teach her all by myself. If she occasionally gets a little stroppy along the way, so be it."

Frank on the Murder Squad:

For the first time in my career, I was getting an inkling of why Murder love their job the way they do. When undercovers go hunting, we'll take anything that wanders into our snares; half the skill is knowing what to use as bait, what to toss back where it came from and what to knock on the head and bring home. This was a whole different thing. These boys were the specialists called in to track down a rogue predator, and they focused on him like they were focusing on a lover. Anything else that wandered into their sights, while they were trawling the dark for that one shape, meant sweet fuck-all. This was specific and it was intimate, and it was powerful stuff: me and that one man, somewhere out there, listening hard for each other to put a foot wrong. That evening in the Very Sad Cafe, it felt like the most intimate connection I had.

Frank on his Rosie:

The lights had changed to a deep underwater haze and behind me a girl started singing, low and throaty and strong. In the slow spinning beams of green and gold Rosie looked like a mermaid, like a mirage made out of color and light; for a second I wanted to grab her and crush her right against me, before she could vanish between my hands. She took my breath away. We were still at the age when girls are years older than guys, and the guys grow up by doing their best when the girls need them to. I had known since I was a tiny kid that I wanted something more than what the teachers told us we were meant for, factories and dole queues, but it had never hit me that I might actually be able to go out and build that something more with my own hands. I had known for years that my family was fucked up beyond repair, and that every time I gritted my teeth and walked into that flat another little piece of my mind got strafed to rubble; but it had never once occurred to me, no matter how deep the crazy piled up, that I could walk away. I only saw it when Rosie needed me to catch up with her.

Final thoughts: This is such a great story! French is a marvelous storyteller and is well-deserving of the numerous awards bestowed upon her for In the Woods (the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and the Barry awards for Best First Novel). I was completely transported, right along with Frank Mackey, to Dublin's Faithful Place. It's been over two months since I closed the book, but French's memorable characters remain just as vivid as the day I met them. Kudos, Ms. French. You're three for three!

June 20, 2010

Summer Solstice 2010 (belated)

I'm still here!

I didn't mean to take a bloggy-break, but as usual, this time of year is pretty busy for me. We were out of town the second weekend in May (hanging out with good friends in Missouri), followed by a lovely visit from my mom and stepdad the day after we returned. The following week we escaped to beautiful San Diego to spend four glorious days with my brother and his family over Memorial Day Weekend. Throw in a several birthday celebrations, a high school graduation party, book club meetings, sleepless nights (thanks to Mother Nature and some pretty intense storms), and many, many hours of gardening and you have a picture of my life for the past month of so. But amazingly enough, I've found time to read! I just haven't had much time for blogging (posting on mine or visiting yours!). I have three reviews to
post write and hope to get to them before another week disappears. My dad and stepmom arrive next week and before I know it, it'll be July and I'll be heading back to California for my 30th high school reunion. And then we'll be off to Virginia Beach to play in the sand & ocean with our granddaughter!

But for now, I'll leave you with some images from our trip to San Diego. Beautiful, beautiful, wish I were there!

:: From Mark & Ana's avocado grove!!


:: More from the Jackson estate!


:: Fruit from Ana's garden. Delicious!


:: Mine, mine, mine! ;) Great beer in Seaport Village.


:: Beautiful view of the San Diego Harbor (and the Coronado Bay Bridge) from the top deck of the U.S.S. Midway.

And now it's time to head to work! Happy Summer!!

June 12, 2010

Noah's Compass


Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
Fiction
2010 Knopf
Finished on 6/2/10
Rating: 3/5 (so-so)





Product Description

From the incomparable Anne Tyler, a wise, gently humorous, and deeply compassionate novel about a schoolteacher, who has been forced to retire at sixty-one, coming to terms with the final phase of his life.

Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn’t bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new, spare, and efficient condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged.

His effort to recover the moments of his life that have been stolen from him leads him on an unexpected detour. What he needs is someone who can do the remembering for him. What he gets is—well, something quite different.

We all know a Liam. In fact, there may be a little of Liam in each of us. Which is why Anne Tyler’s lovely novel resonates so deeply.

When Noah's Compass first came out, I read the opening paragraphs and thought it sounded like something I'd enjoy, so when I saw it on the New Release table at my library, I was excited to give it a try.

In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennwell lost his job. It wasn't such a good job, anyhow. He'd been teaching fifth grade in a second-rate private boys' school. Fifth grade wasn't even what he'd been trained for. Teaching wasn't what he'd been trained for. His degree was in philosophy. Oh, don't ask. Things seemed to have taken a downward turn a long, long time ago, and perhaps it was just as well that he had seen the last of St. Dyfrig's dusty, scuffed corridors and those interminable after-school meetings and the reams of niggling paperwork.

In fact, this might be a sign. It could be just the nudge he needed to push him on to the next stage—the final stage, the summing-up stage. The stage where he sat in his rocking chair and reflected on what it all meant, in the end.

Tyler's characters tend to be on the quirky side. Even the names are a bit unusual. (One of Liam's daughter's is called Xanthe and another character is named Eunice.) While likeable, I never felt a connection to any of the characters and I especially had a hard time believing Liam was only 61. My husband is only three years younger than Tyler's main character and yet I never once felt they were contemporaries. Liam came across as an elderly old man, ready to spend his days in a rocking chair—certainly not one to climb on a motorcycle and go out for an afternoon ride when the mood strikes, as my husband often does.

Noah's Compass is a quiet story. A slice of life, one might say. It was an easy, light read, but as I finished, I felt disappointed, hoping for more. I was mildly annoyed that the mystery behind the attack on Liam was never revealed, but I suppose that's life. We don't always get all the answers we are looking for.

I only found a couple of passages to mark, and, coincidentally, Nan noted one of the same in her review! But, unlike me, Nan loved this book. I wonder if I would've enjoyed it more had I listened to the audio rather than reading the printed version?

It had been years since he had had any sort of romantic life. He'd more or less given up on that side of things, it seemed. But now he remembered the significance that a love affair could lend to the most ordinary moments. The simplest activities could take on extra color and intensity. Days had a purpose to them—an element of suspense, even. He missed that.

and

He leaned back against the cushions with a contented sigh. ... Socrates said ... What was it he had said? Something about the fewer his wants, the closer he was to the gods. And Liam really wanted nothing. He had an okay place to live, a good enough job, a book to read, a chicken in the oven. He was solvent, if not rich, and healthy.

Final thoughts: I'm not sure why I keep reading Anne Tyler. I've yet to fall in love with anything she's written, but every time she writes something new, I feel compelled to give it a try. I've read (and liked) Ladder of Years, A Patchwork Planet, Back When We Were Grownups, The Amateur Marriage, and Digging To America, but I really can't say I loved any one of those. And, I still have Morgan's Passing, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Clock Winder, Celestial Navigation, and Breathing Lessons all in my stacks! What's your favorite Anne Tyler book?

Be sure to pop over and read Nan's glowing review here.

June 6, 2010

Damaged

Damaged by Alex Kava
Thriller
2010 Doubleday
Finished 6/1/10
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
ARC - Due out on July 13, 2010
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from a friend



Product Description

On Pensacola Beach, the Coast Guard prepares for a Category 5 hurricane that has entered the Gulf of Mexico. When the air crew patrols the waterways, they spot a huge fishing cooler about a mile offshore. Drug traffickers have been known to dump coolers with smuggled product to avoid detection and pay fishermen to retrieve them. But when the crew open this cooler, they’re shocked by what they find: body parts tightly wrapped in plastic.

Though she is putting herself in the projected path of the hurricane, Special Agent Maggie O’Dell is sent to investigate. Eventually, she’s able to trace the torso in the cooler back to a man who mysteriously disappeared weeks earlier after a hurricane hit Port St. Lucie, Florida. Only Port St. Lucie is on the Atlantic side. How did his body end up six hundred miles away in the Gulf of Mexico?

Cliffhanger chapters, behind-the-scenes forensic details, colorful characters, and satisfying twists have become the trademarks of Kava’s psychological thrillers. In Damaged, she ratchets up the suspense a notch by sending Maggie into the eye of an impending monster hurricane to track down a killer.

A voracious reader and a knowledgeable fan of well-crafted thrillers and mysteries, my sister-in-law has been talking about Alex Kava for almost a decade. The author divides her time between Omaha and Pensacola, so she's known as one of our local authors. I'm not sure why I haven't followed Jen's advice to give Kava's Maggie O'Dell novels a chance, but after reading her upcoming release (#8 in the series), I'm ready to dive into the backlist.

My husband and I flew out to San Diego for Memorial Day weekend and I started in on my ARC of Damaged as soon as we boarded our flight. This is the perfect kind of book for traveling--short chapters, snappy dialogue, and enough suspense to keep me reading even during take-off and landing. In Damaged, Kava refers to previous cases involving FBI special agent and profiler, Maggie O'Dell, yet it didn't bother me to start with the last in this series. I read it knowing I might discover a spoiler or two, but since I have several other books lined up to read this summer, those details will probably be forgotten by the time I get around to reading the very first Maggie O'Dell novel, A Perfect Evil. However, knowing how quickly I was engrossed in this book, I may want to get a couple more in the series for my travels in July. While not quite as gritty as John Sandford's Prey series, Damaged has piqued my interest and I look forward to working my way through Kava's backlist. Thanks for the recommendation, Jen!


About the author (from her website):

ALEX KAVA GREW UP IN THE COUNTRY just outside of Silver Creek, Nebraska, and earned a bachelor’s degree in art and English from College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. She has done a variety of jobs, from working as a hospital tech, cleaning and sterilizing utensils from surgery, pathology and the morgue; to running her own graphic design firm, designing national food labels and directing television and radio commercials.

IN 1996 SHE QUIT HER JOB as a public relations director to dedicate herself to writing a novel and getting published. To pay the bills, she refinanced her home, maxed out her credit cards and even took on a newspaper delivery route.

A YEAR AND A HALF LATER A PERFECT EVIL WAS FINISHED. In July 1998 she landed an agent and in February 1999, she signed a three-book contract with MIRA Books. In June 2000 she was in Chicago, sitting next to Barbara Kingsolver at BookExpo America, and signing advanced reader copies.

TODAY, ALEX IS A NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR of psychological suspense novels. Her Maggie O’Dell series, comprised of A Perfect Evil, Split Second, The Soul Catcher, At the Stroke of Madness, A Necessary Evil, Exposed and Black Friday along with her stand-alone novels, One False Move and Whitewash, have been widely praised by critics and fans. They have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Her books have been published in twenty-four countries and have hit the bestseller lists in Australia, Germany, Poland, Italy and the UK. She is also one of the featured writers in the anthology Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night, edited by James Patterson.

ONE FALSE MOVE WAS SELECTED AS Nebraska’s 2006 One Book One Nebraska. (My Antonia by Willa Cather was the 2005 selection). In 2007 Alex was awarded the Mari Sandoz Award by the Nebraska Library Association. Whitewash made January Magazine’s list of best thrillers for 2007. Both Exposed and Black Friday received starred reviews by Publishers Weekly.

2010 marks Alex’s ten year anniversary as an author with the publication of her tenth novel, Damaged (Doubleday, July 13th). She also has co-authored two short stories in anthologies to be published in June and August: First Thrills, edited by Lee Child (After Dark, co-authored with Deb Carlin) and Florida Heat Wave, edited by Michael Lister (A Breath of Hot Air, co-authored with Patricia Bremmer).

ALEX WRITES FULL-TIME AND LIVES IN Omaha, Nebraska and Pensacola, Florida (where her new book, Damaged is set). She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thrillers Writers.

Looks like Kava and her dog are both Husker fans. Go Big Red! :)



More information about Alex Kava can be found here. Be sure to check out this link to Behind the Scenes of Damaged.

June 4, 2010

Horns


Horns by Joe Hill
Fiction - Horror/Fantasy
2010 William Morrow
Finished on 5/19/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher





Product Description

Joe Hill has been hailed as "a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction" (Washington Post); "a new master in the field of suspense" (James Rollins); "one of the most confident and assured new voices in horror and dark fantasy to emerge in recent years (Publishers Weekly); a writer who "builds character invitingly and plants an otherworldly surprise around every corner" (New York Times).

This gifted and brilliantly imaginative author catapulted to bestsellerdom with the chilling Heart-Shaped Box and cemented his reputation with the prizewinning volume of short fiction 20th Century Ghosts. At last, the New York Times bestselling author returns with a relentless supernatural thriller that runs like Hell on wheels. . . .

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin's death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge. . . . It's time the devil had his due. . . .

While not as terrifying as the opening scenes in Heart-Shaped Box, this supernatural thriller is laced with black humor and proves once again that Joe Hill is a masterful storyteller of suspense and horror. I was immediately drawn into the tight narrative and found myself rooting for Ig. I think I even dreamed about the power of his horns!

Maybe, he thought, it would be different with his family. Maybe they would be immune to him, and their secrets would stay secrets. They loved him, and he loved them. Love had to count for something. Maybe he could learn to control it, to turn it off, whatever "it" was. Maybe the horns would go away. They had come without warning, why shouldn't they go the same way?

He pushed a hand back through his limp and thinning hair—thinning at twenty-six!—then squeezed his head between his palms. He hated the frantic scurry of his thoughts, how desperately one idea chased after another. His fingertips brushed the horns, and he cried out in fright. It was on his lips to say, God, please God, make them go away...but then he caught himself and said nothing.

A crawly sensation worked its way up his forearms. If he was a devil now, could he still speak of God? Would lightning strike him, shatter him in a white flash? Would he burn?

Hill's dialogue and use of flashbacks paints a believable tableau that illustrates the ongoing tension between good and evil -- and points out that sometimes it's difficult to tell which is which -- and I was thoroughly enraged with the villain. His evil acts made Ig look like an angel, not a devil. Although a bit ambiguous, the ending was was completely satisfying. Hill is one imaginative dude! I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

Check out Joe's website and interview for Horns here.