The Witch Elm by Tana French

Tana French has become one of my favorite authors. Her Dublin Murder Squad series (The Trespasser, Broken Harbor etc.) have all been some of the best books I have read. “Unputdownable”  as one reviewer has said, testifying to the way French has mastered the art of suspense. But this new book stands alone, both because it is not a part of a series, but also because she has taken the crime novel genre to a new and different level.

Toby is one of those people who has lived a “golden” life. Smart, good looking, well off, lucky in life and love. He is the kind of person you would love to hate, except he is so friendly and charming it is almost impossible to hate him.  But suddenly, Toby’s world betrayed him.  One night after coming home a little inebriated from celebrating with some friends, Toby interrupts two burglars in his flat. They beat him and leave him for dead.

Toby lives, but suffers extensive injuries and begins to realize, to his horror, that he may never be the same person he was before the beating.  The police investigate the robbery and the assault but there are few clues and Toby’s memory of the event is fuzzy at best. Trying to find a place to recover and get his life back together, Toby moves into the ancestral home with his Uncle Hugo who is dying of cancer. The old home and gardens have always been a source of solace to Toby and there he finally feels that he can recover. But when a skull is found in the hollow of the large elm tree in the garden, suddenly even that place of refuge becomes a place of conflict and distrust.  As Toby cooperates with the police investigation he begins to see that the memories of his youth are not only far from complete but that his past may not have been what he always believed.

French takes the idea of an unreliable narrator and goes one step further to explore the idea that our memories are often flawed, and incomplete. Toby struggles on two levels, with a memory that seems unreliable from the beating, but also with a memory of the events of his youth that seem undependable and inconsistent. When he is implicated by evidence found in the tree, suddenly Toby begins to question everything.

French has captured the slow burning horror of someone who begins to doubt everything about themselves. She slowly lets us see through conversations with the police, his uncle, his parents and his friends how differently he experienced those past events as compared to how they experienced them and like Toby, you too, begin to wonder how much you can rely on what Toby remembers.  Her ability to keep the suspense building in multiple ways, makes this one of those books you cannot put down. So beware!

Brenda’s Rating *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy: Yes!

Read in ebook format.

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Artemis by Andy Weir

The Martian was one of my favorite books in 2015, so when I saw Andy Weir had written a new book called Artemis, I was intrigued and a bit uncertain whether it could possibly measure up to his first book. I should not have been worried. Weir has written another suspenseful, edge of your seat thriller set in space, this time with a bad ass heroine who despite the big chip on her shoulder and her jaded world view, is a heroine worth rooting for!

Artemis is humanity’s first and only lunar colony. Jasmine Bashara grew up in the colony and is now looking for a way to make some money to repay a debt. In addition to her regular job as a porter, Jazz also does a bit of free lance smuggling, so when one of her uber rich clients offers her a lot of money to do a small bit of industrial sabotage, she jumps at the chance. The job requires a unique set of skills including, technical savvy, detailed knowledge of the security which protects the lunar colony, a few carefully placed explosions and a devious and cunning mind all of which Jazz has in spades; making it easy for her to take the leap from small time smuggler to criminal mastermind.

Little does she know however, that her little bit of industrial sabotage is the opening salvo of a war between rival factions trying to take control of Artemis itself. Trapped between the rival factions, pursed by an assassin as well as the security forces of Artemis, Jazz must think of a way to not only save herself, but the colony of Artemis as well.

This was a fun read although at some points the technical details seemed to over power the narration. Despite that, I really enjoyed getting to know this snarky swaggering, Jazz who underneath all her bravado has a heart of gold.

Brenda’s Rating: ***1/2 (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Sure why not!

Read in ebook format.



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Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

I thought I would start out the New Year right with a review on a book by one of my favorite authors-Michael Connelly!

There is something about his Bosch series that hits all the right notes of mystery, suspense, police procedural and finding justice that are so satisfying and Connelly is able to do it, time after time, without it getting stale or relying on the usual tropes of the genre.  Additionally, in each book we get to know Bosch and the other characters’ complicated inner landscapes more deeply, making the whole package very satisfying. In Dark Sacred Nights, a relatively new character, Renee’ Ballard, an LAPD detective demoted to the night shift at Hollywood Station, teams up with Bosch to solve a brutal murder.

Renee’ Ballard first meets Bosch rifling through the case files at Hollywood Station when she returns late one night at the end of her shift. After warning him that he is not authorized to be in the file room and asking him to leave, she takes a look at the file he was reading and is intrigued. It is an unsolved murder of a runaway 15 year old girl named Daisy Clayton. Her brutalized body was found in a dumpster, treated in death as if she mattered to no one. Something about the case pulls at Ballard and she contacts Bosch and her superiors and makes arrangements to work on the case when she has time or during her off hours in order to bring the killer to justice.

As they begin working the case Ballard and Bosch form a wary working relationship. Ballard doesn’t appreciate Bosch’s willingness to stretch the limits of the rules, and Bosch is resentful of Ballard’s trust that the rules and system are meaningful and should be followed. As they begin getting closer and closer to solving the case, Ballard and Bosch’s trust in each other and in the system itself will be severely tested as the killer leads them into a dangerous cat and mouse game.

I have yet to be disappointed by one of Connelly’s books and this was no exception. If you have not yet started watching the Bosch series on Amazon you are missing a great TV experience! Enjoy!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this Book to: Sharon and Marian

Book Study Worthy? Yes, with other Bosh fans!

Read in ebook format.


Posted in Detective novel, Fiction, Legal Procedural, Mystery, Series, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Best Books from 2018-A Year End Wrap Up

This has been a strange year, in many ways and it has affected my reading patterns profoundly. Although I have been reading voraciously, I have been reading way more newspapers and journals like the Atlantic or The Economist trying to keep up with the crazy, chaotic news cycles. This has distracted me from the books I usually read, so my count for this year is only 61, but I have made those books count!

In first place for this years best books are two books that I have found both profound and moving. The first is Warlight by Michael Ondaajte which is story about a man investigating his strange and rather traumatic childhood during WWII  and finding that his memory is less than reliable and the facts more troubling than he anticipated. Although the story line is intriguing and interesting it is Ondaajte’s lyrical writing that is compelling. This is a book to savor and enjoy.

The second, The Power  by Naomi Alderman, comes in as a close second with its intriguing feminist message in this Year of the Woman. This story about women who evolve a strange power, making them more powerful than men, imagines how profoundly that would change society and women themselves. Her exploration of this shift in power dynamics is both prescient and cautionary.

Two other books that I really enjoyed were News of the World and Exit West, both of which talk about that profound sense of loss you experience when you are uprooted from all you know.  In News of the World by Paulette Jiles, which is set in the post Civil War West, we follow the plight of a young girl who was taken by the Indians several years earlier and has now been “rescued” and must be returned to her relatives who live in south Texas.  A former soldier and now an itinerant news reader takes on the task of taking her back to her relatives. Their adventures and the unique bond which they form is the focus of the this wonderfully evocative story.

Exit West by Moshin Hamid explores what it means to leave your home, culture, religion and country. Set in a nameless country in the Mid-East where the government is slowly dissolving into chaos, two young people decide they must leave, but they must leave their families and all they know behind. The story follows these two and we see how they either flourish in the new and different world they move to, or search for the known comfort of what they have left behind.

Finally two fun books that I thoroughly enjoyed! The first is Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shafer, which is about Vice-President Joe Biden and former President Barak Obama who join together to solve a case involving a mysterious death on the Amtrak train line just outside of Wilmington, Delaware. This was one of those books where I kept giggling out loud and bugging my long suffering husband by reading excerpts that I thought were particularly funny.

The second is the Crazy Rich Asian trilogy by Kevin Kwan, which is a must read for many different reasons. First the descriptions of all the mouth watering food, then its delicious, snarky, gossipy writing style, and most importantly the wonderful complicated characters who seem to arrive fully formed onto the page. This was a wonderful, luscious surprise. Just a note of caution: you will crave Asian food while reading these books!

I hope you enjoy these and many other great books in this new year of 2019!


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A Christmas Testament, Arranged and Introduced by Phillip Kopper

As you have probably realized by now, I have a collection of Christmas books that I bring out every year during this season. To me they are just as important to me as the the tree,  decorations and music which makes our home feel like the holidays.

One of the books I enjoy each year is A Christmas Testament. It features biblical readings beginning with the Creation, the story of Abraham, Isaiah’s prophecies, and the birth of Jesus, written in gorgeous calligraphy and illustrated with works of art, creating a true feast for the eyes and soul. The eighty illustrations featuring paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci, Lucas Cranach  the Elder, Tommaso Masaccio, Fra Angelico and others, as well as close up of intricate stained glass, tapestries and carvings from various medieval churches were all chosen with great care and attention to their role in supporting the narrative. The high quality of the printing and care for composition used in creating the book are also quite evident, making it almost a work of art in and of itself. This is one book that I am sure you will treasure year after year, as I have.

I wish all of you a very special Christmas!









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The Outsider by Stephen King

Stephen King is both prolific and eclectic. From 11/22/63 which explores the assassination of John F. Kennedy to some of his classic horror stories like The Shining to the The Dark Tower series which is set in a post apocalyptic world, King shifts from genre to genre with ease, but at their core his books always explore the dark side of humanity and reveals the evil that stalks our very dreams. In The Outsider, King takes on the classic police investigation genre but gives us something much more complicated, making us question the very nature of evidence in finding guilt and the insidiousness of evil.

Detective Ralph Anderson was sure they had their man. The horrific murder of a ten year old boy whose violated body was found in the town park had galvanized the small police force of Flint City. Fingerprints and eye witnesses all pointed to one person -Terry Maitland, Little League Coach and English teacher and one of the most beloved citizens in the town. But Anderson was sure, or at least pretty sure it was Maitland and so in dramatic fashion they arrested Maitland in front of a crowd of onlookers during the last game of the season. And then things started to fall a part. Maitland had an alibi and as the counter evidence begins to come in, Anderson begins to question everything about the case. Enlisting the help of an out of town investigator, Holly Gibney, who uncovers even more disturbing evidence and crimes related to the Maitland case, Anderson begins to look for answers beyond what his rational mind can comprehend.

As always, King explores the nature of evil, the way it corrupts, the power it can have over us, and the ways we can overcome it in nuanced and revealing ways. It is an amazing experience as a reader to be held in the palm of such a masterful storyteller!

Brenda’s Rating *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Ken, Keith, Sharon and Marian.

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.


Posted in Detective novel, Existential Sc-Fi Thriller, Horror, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Science Fiction, Spiritual, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Sometimes sequels lack the energy and magic of the original story, but not this time! In this sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden exceeds our expectations, making the magical world of medieval Russia come even more alive, while allowing her characters to grow and mature in complicated and interesting ways.

Based on Russian folklore, this second book in the Winternight Trilogy takes us from the small holdings of the Rus all the way to Muscovy as Vasilisa and her special horse Solovey travel to reunite with her brother and sister who are a part of the Grand Prince’s court. Exiled from her family holdings because the villagers think she is a witch, Vasilisa, must travel dressed as a boy and must learn to survive the cold and the dangers of travel in the Rus.

Along the way to Muscovy she sees a village that has been burned to the ground and hears from the survivors that three young girls were stolen by the bandits who caused the villages destruction. Not caring for her own safety, Vasilisa tracks the bandits into the forest and with the help of the Morozok-the Frost Demon, with whom she has a strong connection, she manages to rescue the three young girls. Maddened by the audacity of Vasilisa attack, the bandits, follow after her and it is only through sheer luck that she reaches the safety of a monastery where she and the girls are welcomed. There she recognizes her warrior-priest brother who is part of the retinue of the Grand Prince who has come to put an end to the lawlessness of the bandits. Realizing what a scandal it would cause to reveal Vasilisa’s real identity Sasha, her brother, reluctantly claims her as his younger brother Vasiliya.

When they arrive at the court in Muscovy, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain her identity as a boy. Adding to her discomfort and disease are the warnings that Vasilisa receives from the fairies and guardians of hearth and home portending impending doom, while her niece, Marya, sees strange ghosts, and has terrifying nightmares. Her suspicions grow as emissaries from the Tartars come to negotiate the tribute with the Grand Prince. Soon she finds herself caught in the machinations of a powerful enemy who is trying to over throw the Grand Prince and capture Muscovy and Vasilisa must use all her powers and wisdom in order protect the ones she loves.

Arden is masterful at bringing this time and place to life and this series is a joy to read!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Sure

Read in ebook format.



Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Prize winner, Romance, Series, Suspense, YA | Tagged , | Leave a comment