Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

lace-reader

Favourite quotes:

“Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived them in the same way a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived”.

“There is a point where the life force overcomes the will and the body simply breathes itself. It just happens. It hurts like hell when you take a breath of seawater, but the hurt goes away quickly, and then you feel the flow of water and hear the music of the spheres”.

“And we are back in history in the days whern they came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world, or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one f them wanted”.

 

Towner Whitney doesn’t remember why she left Salem all those years ago, when her name was still Sophya. Accordingto her, she’s crazy. Indeed, in Salem, the Whitneys are known as “quirky”. Especially Towner’s great-aunt Eva, who runs a tearoom and is a renowned lace reader. Lace reading is a form of fortune-telling – a gift that most Whitney women have, to an excent. But Towner is back now. Her great-aunt Eva is missing.

Forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed all those years ago and faced with the possibility that her great-aunt might be dead, Towner tries to get answers from Eva’s friends and the rest of her family. When Detective Rafferty appears in Towner’s life, things get even murkier. He is determined to get the answers as to Eva’s disappearance, and to put away the leader of the Calvinists. The Calvinists are an ultraconservative Christian cult named after their leader Cal Boynton who used to be part of Towner’s family. Rafferty believes Cal to be behind Eva’s disappearance, and also behind the murder of Angela Rickey, a former member of his cult who is also missing.

As Towner’s relationship with Rafferty develops, he grows increasingly concerned about her and the town and digs deeper into Towner’s past that she’s forgotten. Or tried to bury deep down. Will his findings confirm what he’s suspected a long time ago? Or will his perception of reality be completely shattered, destroying himself and Towner in the process?

 

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be engaged from the beginning until the very end. And I like to not be able to guess the ending until the last page. “The Lace Reader” definitely delivered on the latter. The plot twists were quite unexpected, and not in a “plot holey, out of nowhere” way at all. However, I can’t say that this novel has kept my attention the whole time. This is primarily because of the narration.

Towner is the primary narrator, and an extremely unreliable one, who narrates in first-person present tense. However, we also have another narrator – Detective Rafferty. His narration is third-person past tense. I honestly didn’t get why that plot device was necessary. Towner’s unreliability as a narrator could’ve been done just as well in the past tense. Perhaps the narration of what was happening presently was done in the present tense to distinguish it from Towner’s journals written when she was 17 in the past tense. That didn’t help though – I kept forgetting what was happening when through most of the second half of the book. Unless that was the intended effect, it wasn’t the best mystery novel technique.

Confusing the reader can work, to an extent. It worked in “Gone Girl”, somewhat worked in “Pretty Little Liars”, and it was done really well in the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. However, it was very over-the-top in “The Lae Reader”. I finished the book two days ago and I’m just now putting the pieces together. And not all of them, even – I still have so many questions. I’m still unclear as to what really had happened to Towner during the times she wrote about in her journals. I still don’t get whether she knew that what she was writing about didn’t really happen or whether she really was as mentally unstable as she claimed. And – perhaps that’s just me – but I’m still figuring out what actually happened to Eva. Perhaps I’ll understand the book better once I read the companion novel. There is one thing I am certain of – Cal Boynton deserved what he got.

My other issue is that how sexual assault and its aftermath were handled in the book. It’s not glorified – quite the contrary. But it is made into a plot point that’s never fully explored and a lot is left up to the reader’s interpretation. It was also used for shock value. If one chooses to tackle such an intense subject, I believe that they should deal with it fully and thoroughly. “The Lace Reader” doesn’t exactly brush off over the mental anguish that follows sexual assault. However, the mental health issues are also used as a plot point and a trigger for many things. I for one felt that it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.

Towner says she is a liar at the start. The book seemed to heavily imply that she couldn’t be trusted because of what had happened to her in the past. I, for one, was quite bemused by that. Maybe that’s because my interpretation is incorrect – and I do encourage readers of this blog to send me theirs in the comments! Nevertheless, it wasn’t my favourite aspect of an otherwise very atmospheric and unique novel. My rating for “The Lace Reader” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Lace Reader” if you enjoyed:

“The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes

“The Returned” TV series

 

Have you read “The Lace Reader”? Do you have different interpretations of the events that transpired in the book? I look forward to reading your comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

case histories

Favourite quotes:

“Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on”.

“The possibility of a meteor colliding with the earth doesn’t mean that we should embrace the Americanization of our language and culture”.

 

I was looking for more books like the Cormoran Strike series when I stumbled upon the Jackson Brodie series. This is my first Kate Atkinson.

In 1970, four-year-old Olivia Land, youngest of the four Land siblings, goes missing from her family home where things aren’t as picture perfect as they appear. In 1994 Laura, a beautiful office worker is murdered in cold blood in her office. In 1979 Michelle, a young mother seemingly kills her husband in a fit of rage. And a retired police officer turned private detective Jackson Brodie is tasked with investigating all three cases. At first glance, there seems to be no link between them, but once Jackson survives several attacks on his life and deals with his cat lady neighbour, he begins to suspect that not everything is what it seems. Soon, his own life isn’t the only thing that stops making sense and starts taking a dangerous turn. The players of all three cases become an integral part of his day-to-day life. Can Brodie deal with the Land sisters paying all kinds of attention to him, the grief of Laura’s father, and the deceptively sweet demeanour of Michelle’s sister? His life is changed forever, but how far does the change extend?

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be hooked – perhaps not right away, but within the first quarter of the book or so. I like my mysteries to be gripping, haunting, and I like to be unable to pull away from the book. I also like to have a resolution at the end of my mystery novels or at least an ending that leaves the reader longing for Book 2 right away. Unfortunately, “Case Histories” failed to satisfy my expectations in that regard. It started off with a large chapter of info-dump about one of the three cases that make up the essence of the “mystery” in the book, and halfway through the chapter, I was really bored with the picture I was seeing. However, I kept on reading and as I did, I was met with a cast of frustratingly unreliable narrators, including Jackson Brodie himself, several confusing time jumps and narrative jumps that made it hard to tell when, and where exactly each character was at that time. I wouldn’t have a problem with the latter if it were used as an integral element of the mystery, but I didn’t see any evidence of that in the novel.

A good murder mystery doesn’t have to be fast-paced at all, but I do believe that there has to be some action with a certain degree of build-up. “Case Histories” had several instances of “present-day” action like murder attempts, but there was no build-up to them. It felt as though they just came out of the blue – for me they were “blink-and-you-miss-it” moments. And with the constantly changing narrators that described the aftermaths of these plot advancements, I had a really hard time understanding what actually happened. It was the same with revelations. I like to have at least some hints to the resolution of a mystery added throughout the course of a novel (like in “Gone Girl”), and I’m sure my fellow mystery lovers would agree that a reader would prefer to be on track to figuring out the main mystery, or mysteries. However, in “Case Histories”, these revelations were just thrown at you casually, and you had no chance to figure them out prior to their appearance. It was, quite frankly, frustrating.

Going back to my earlier point about my preferred ways to end a mystery novel, “Case Histories” once again didn’t satisfy my expectations. SPOILER I did receive some answers, but I wasn’t satisfied with them – they were either coincidental or completely random. Perhaps the rest of the answers is provided in Book 2 in the Jackson Brodie series, but with the way the first book frustrated me, I don’t have any desire to get the second one END SPOILER. An open-ended mystery novel can work really well – “In the Woods” by Tana French is a terrific example of that. This wasn’t the case, however, with “Case Histories”. Not only did the writing style didn’t appeal to me, but not a single character stood out to me, and there was really no-one I could root for. Don’t get me wrong – I love a villain or an anti-hero, but in order for me to enjoy them, they have to be interesting and I have to have at least some understanding of their motives. “Case Histories” did not provide me with clear motivations for the parties in the cases, and these parties were really, really bland. This isn’t due to the writing, but it’s due to who they were written to be. If the author’s intention was for the reader to not care about anyone, she has succeeded.

I am sorry to sound so negative – the book wasn’t the kind of book I’d DNF, and the narrators did manage, albeit barely, to keep me engaged enough to make it through to the end. However, there are a lot of mystery novels out there that are a lot better, and I recommend that you go for them instead of the Jackson Brodie series. My rating of “Case Histories” is 6/10.

 

Recommendations

You might just enjoy “Case Histories” if you liked:

“The Cormoran Strike series” by Robert Galbraith

“Dublin Murder Squad series” by Tana French

“State of Play” TV series

 

Have you read the Jackson Brodie series? Have you seen the adaptation with everyone’s favourite blond Death Eater Jason Isaacs? What are your favourite mystery novels? Drop me a comment! 🙂

Book Review: In The Woods by Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad #1)

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This isn’t a book about The Enchanted Forest, sorry (happy season 5, Oncers!).

Adam Robert Ryan doesn’t remember his life before his teens, and he’s quite content to ensure that it stays this way. He doesn’t want to remember how and why his two best childhood friends were abducted and he himself ended up covered in blood in the woods near the village of Knockaree, Ireland. Fate isn’t on his side, however – a gruesome murder of a young girl brings Adam who now goes by Rob, his lovely enigmatic partner Cassie Maddox and other members of the Dublin Murder Squad to Knockaree over twenty years after the kidnapping. The girl’s body is found on an archaeological site and the murder causes shocks to ripple through the small community and the victim’s family. Rob and Cassie don’t yet realise how in over their heads they are with this case and how it’s going to change the course of their lives forever.

Who killed little Katy Devlin? Was it her murder that tore her family apart or were they rotten from the very beginning? And how is the case connected to Adam’s past? Will he ever able to keep it buried forever or will he be consumed and destroyed by the heartbreaking revelations about the case and his own life?

 

Ireland is a beautiful place with rich culture and stunning nature. Tana French knows that and each sentence of “In the Woods” is saturated with the riches this country can offer. The prose is absolutely beautiful, the writing truly has the power to take you to Ireland of the late 00’s. I’ve read a lot of mystery novels, some good and some even amazing, but they’re usually fast-paced page-turners with the emphasis on the gritty and the gruesome. “In the Woods” has plenty of that, but it works amazingly well with the rich, detailed descriptions of the Irish nature, human nature and last, but definitely not least, the characters.

Writing is a very strong point of this book, but the characters are what truly makes “In the Woods” a phenomenal work. Our narrator, Rob, is not what you’d call “reliable”, and he has no problem admitting that, but Tana French gave us a character who spent most of his life repressing the memories of the tragedy plaguing his childhood and suddenly, out of the blue, he has to face it, to wonder whether he had almost shared the fate of the murdered girl. Adam and Rob Ryan must face each other, and the inner battle of the character was a very significant point in the book, handled very well.

However, for me personally, Cassie Maddox – Rob’s Murder Squad partner – was the real star of “In the Woods”. She reminded me strongly of Kate Beckett, who is one of my favourite characters on TV of all time, but she also was her own person. While she wasn’t our narrator, the reader learns a lot about her through Rob’s eyes and each revelation poses more and more questions about Cassie and the case. She’s certainly someone I could picture being friends with – the author’s and Rob’s portrayal of her felt like she was coming off the page, a real person. Both Cassie and Rob are damaged, flawed  -somewhat tragically – complex and self-destructive. Reading about their obsession with the case and what it had put them through was heartbreaking – Tana French found many ways to make the reader feel their emotions and pain, and I have teared up on several occasions.

The extensive character study, coupled with the lyrical, detailed writing might make you believe that “In the Woods” is tedious, boring and way too long. However, this isn’t the case. While its longer than your average murder mystery, but at no point, does the reader get bored. The case is complex, well-written, and it’s very, very hard to figure out the villain, especially given the potentially retrospective nature of the case.

Overall, “In the Woods” not only ticks all the boxes for a great murder mystery, but it’s generally an amazing book that I believe anybody, even not a big fan of detective stories would like. I’m already more than halfway through book 2 – “The Likeness”, in which Cassie is our narrator (yay!), and it’s fantastic. My rating for “In the Woods” is 8/10. 

 

Favourite quotes

“Now death is uncool, old-fashioned. To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.”

“Humans are feral and ruthless; this, this watching through cool intent eyes and delicately adjusting one factor or another till a man’s fundamental instinct for self-preservation cracks, is savagery in its most pure, most polished and most highly evolved form.”

“We developed an intense, unhealthy relationship with caffeine and forgot what it was like not to be exhausted.”

 

Recommendations

You might like “In the Woods” if you liked:

“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

“Nikki Heat series” by Richard Castle

“Nora Gavin series” by Erin Hart