This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

17349104 This Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel
by Wiley Cash

Easter and Ruby, two sisters aged 12 and 6, have only each other in the world.  Their mom has recently died from a drug overdose, and they are in foster care with their future a big unknown stretching before them.  Then one day Wade Chesterfield shows up.  Wade is their father, a washed up minor league baseball player who has a knack for getting himself mixed up in trouble, and who disappeared from the girls’  lives years ago.  But now he wants another chance to be a father to them.  The problem is that he signed away his parental rights to the girls, so he takes things into his own hands and steals them away in the night.

Hot on Wade’s heels is Pruitt, a man who is bent on revenge against Wade for an accident that happened during a ball game years ago, and which derailed both his and Wade’s careers.  Pruitt is now an ex-con, recently released from prison and working as a bouncer at a bar owned by a man who also wants to find Wade.

Easter and Ruby’s guardian ad litem is an ex-cop whose past is full of regrets.  When news of a local armored car heist breaks, Brady Weller begins connecting the dots and realizes that he must find the girls before something horrible happens.

Set in North Carolina against the backdrop of the home run record chase by Mark McGwire and  Sammy Sosa in 1998, this relatively thin volume packs a punch.  Narrated alternately by twelve-year old Easter, the shady Pruitt, and Brady Weller, it’s a gritty and dark, emotional and suspenseful, beautifully wrought story.  I kept turning the pages with my heart pounding, and in the end, cried my eyes out.  A story about greed, revenge, and redemption, ultimately it’s a story about being a father.

I am really looking forward to reading more by this author.

Another gem from TLC Book Tours.


Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I had hoped to read this spooky book in time for Halloween, just because I find it fun to read books in keeping with particular seasons and holidays, but alas, it took me much longer to get through it than I intended – not because it’s a difficult read, but time set aside for reading seems to be lacking lately.

The story opens with Jacob recollecting fantastical stories of children with magical powers living on an idyllic island estate, as told to him by his grandfather.  These stories were told to young Jacob matter-of-factly, as Jacob’s grandfather claimed to have been there himself, living among these children.  There were also tales of horrible monsters in pursuit of the children.  As Jacob grows older, he dismisses these stories as merely fairy tales made up by his eccentric grandfather, who, as he ages, seems to succumb to dementia.  One terrible night, Jacob’s grandfather dies a gruesome and mysterious death, but not before leaving Jacob with some cryptic parting words.

Jacob is so traumatized by his grandfather’s death that his parents place him under the care of a psychiatrist.  Eventually, Jacob becomes determined to travel to the remote island of Cairnholm off the coast of Ireland – the island where the magical estate from his grandfather’s tales is supposedly located – to try to unravel his grandfather’s mysterious last words.  On the island, he encounters things beyond his imagination: the house and the children his grandfather told him about were not only real, but they are still alive, if only in another dimension where they exist in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over and over again.  The monsters, too, are real.  After figuring out how to navigate traveling between past and present, Jacob must make a choice that will change the course of his life, for better or worse.

Peppered throughout the book are actual old photographs, many of which the author apparently found at garage and rummage sales.  They’re interesting and rather random photos, and I had a hard time deciding if the story was built around the photos, or if the author looked for photos that would enhance the story.  The photos add an interesting and unique element to the story, but in all honesty, I think the story could have stood on its own without the photos.

I enjoyed the story.  It’s aimed at a teen/YA crowd, and I can see the appeal to that age group, as it’s entertaining, moves along at a good clip, and has enough dramatic flair to keep it interesting without delving too deep into any particular character or theme.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This was a pretty good book.  By that, I mean, better than average, but not quite a five star-er.  Which, really, is darn good when you think about it, because five-star books are really something special, aren’t they?  They have that certain something . . . Anyway, as I was saying, Gone Girl is a pretty good book.

The story opens on the day of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary.  Their marriage started out wonderfully enough, but over the course of five years, things have grown strained, to say the least.  On the day of their fifth anniversary, however, Amy has disappeared without a trace, and all signs point to foul play.  In fact, all signs point to Nick having murdered his beautiful wife.  And Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with the way he’s behaving – definitely not like a grieving, concerned husband.  Plus, he keeps having these unfortunate dreams about his wife, battered and bloodied.

Then there is Amy’s diary.  In it, she chronicles the seven-year period of her and Nick’s courtship and marriage, and how terribly wrong things went between them.  Poor Amy!  Uprooted and transplanted from New York to Missouri by her increasingly moody husband, she does everything she can to be a good, loyal, loving wife to him, but to no avail.  Things grow ever more sour as Nick grows ever more distant and angry, and finally, violent, until Amy confides in her diary that she’s afraid for her life.  Poor Amy.

It’s a riveting plot full of unexpected twists that kept me guessing.  Much of the first half felt almost “ripped from the headlines” – think Scott Peterson who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci a number of years ago.  This tells such a story from the perpetrator’s and victim’s perspectives, but all is not as it appears on the surface.  The second half of the story seemed a little farfetched to me, and although the story is wickedly entertaining, you finally get the feeling that it’s populated by people who could never exist in real life.

Still, it moves at a good clip and keeps the adrenaline flowing.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor by Tana French

In this latest installment of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy takes center stage as he investigates the horrifying attack on a seemingly idyllic suburban family, leaving the father and two young children dead and the mother in critical condition after being stabbed repeatedly.  Who would commit such a heinous crime, and why?  And why was the family’s internet history wiped from their computer around the time of the murders?  Why are there strange holes scattered in the walls of their otherwise pristinely-kept home?  And what’s with all the baby monitors and the deadly animal trap?

Full of strange twists, this story certainly keeps you guessing.  Just when the answer seems obvious, the story takes another turn, exploring the prevalence the internet age, and the impact on personal lives of the housing boom and subsequent crash and recession (which apparently has unfolded in Ireland much as it has in the U.S.)

I eagerly anticipated this latest novel from Tana French since last summer, and I have to say that it was a bit of a disappointment.  I found it a little tedious with the witness interviews that went on for pages and pages, and I’m still not quite sure about the relevance of Mick’s private back story, except that perhaps it’s just meant to give his character more depth.  Although I love how Ms. French brings in peripheral characters from a previous novel and sets them up as the main character, Mick himself feels too similar to Faithful Place’s Frank Mackey (and I liked Frank Mackey better).  Some of the supporting characters in this story, too, just don’t help make the story – for instance, Mick’s younger, mentally ill sister who comes off as mean, narcissistic, and obnoxious more than “crazy as a bag of cats.”

That said, it’s worth the read – just not her best work.

I do hope that Ms. French’s next book puts Det. Richie Curran – Mick’s rookie partner in this story – at center stage.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

At the heart of this old-fashioned thriller is Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth and raised by Mrs Sucksby in her thieves’ den in a slum in mid-nineteenth century London.  Sue, a petty thief – or “fingersmith” – herself, is nonetheless likeable.  Along comes Gentleman, a suave con man and sometime member of this ragtag “family,” with a proposal for Sue that’s impossible to resist: secure a position as lady’s maid to Maud Lilly, a young heiress living out in the country with her eccentric uncle, help Gentlemen woo her, and in the end steal away with her fortune and dispose of the heiress in a lunatic asylum.

As the pages turn, however, the question is raised again and again: who’s really screwing whom?  And who, in the end, will get the Lilly fortune?

Dark and mesmerizing, this story has it all: murder, baby-selling, swindling, escapes, lunatics, hangings, forbidden pleasures, and a sprawling, isolated, decaying mansion.  Completely engrossing and entertaining, the scenes, settings, and characters spring to life from the pages.  I could hear the conversations, feel the damp chill of the air, and see the colors, shadows and shapes rendered by Ms Waters.

This is the second book by Sarah Waters I’ve read, the first being Tipping the Velvet.  She is absolutely one of my new favorite authors; I’m only sorry it took me this long to discover her fabulous work.  I’m adding the rest of her books to my to-read list – she’s some story teller.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (Book II in the Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

Hi, it’s me again, your friendly anti-YA reader, reading another YA book!  Okay, so I’ve gotten sucked into this trilogy, I admit it.  And I enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed The Hunger Games.

I had heard that neither of the second two books in the series are as good as the first, that they’re more political-oriented.  And I confess that I delved into Catching Fire a little hesitantly, assuming it might be a little boring.  I thought to myself, “If there’s not the action of the arena, what is there?”  Okay, so I kind of enjoyed the violence action of the first book.  It’s fantasy, right?  Well, lo and behold, Katniss and Peeta do indeed find themselves back in the arena – a completely different arena – again fighting for their lives.

I don’t want to give away too much, but this installment is filled with action, drama, suspense, violence, a touch of teen romance (torn between two lovers, feelin’ like a fool . . .), hints at political uprising, and lots of funny names (apparently in this version of the future, society has completely abandoned good sense when naming offspring).  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry . . . okay, maybe you’ll laugh, and you probably won’t cry.  But you’ll shake your fists at the injustice, and cringe at the blood, and you’ll definitely be rooting for our favorite teenaged heroine, Katniss Everdeen!

What happens next?  We’ll have to find out in the final book, Mockingjay, which I probably won’t get to for at least a few weeks.  Stay tuned!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I was not going to read this book.  In fact, I kind of dug my heels in about it.  I’m a grownup – I don’t need no stinkin’ trendy YA books.  I finally relented, very reluctantly, under pressure from both my book club and my 15-year old son.

Fine, I’ll give it a shot.  But I won’t like it (just like Twilight . . . pfft.)

Well, you can probably guess what happened.  I liked it.  In spite of myself.  Which just goes to show, don’t judge a book by its cover – or its genre, for that matter.

As I may be the last person standing to read this book, the following synopsis is probably unnecessary, but humor me:

It is an unspecified time in the future.  North America has been wiped out following war, flood, famine, etc., and a new land called Panem has taken its place, with the Capitol running things surrounded by twelve districts.  Each year, just to keep the people in line, the Capitol requires each district to offer up two children – a boy and a girl – between the ages of 12 and 18, chosen by random drawing at a ceremony known as the Reaping, to enter into a bloody death match that typically lasts a few weeks and is televised to the whole of Panem, live.  This death match is known as The Hunger Games, and each “tribute,” as the child contestants are known, is dropped into a carefully chosen arena, which typically consists of some sort of vast wilderness, and must try to kill as many of his or her opponents as possible while avoiding being killed him- or herself – using wits, weapons, and whatever else is available.  The game continues until only one tribute is left alive, who is then named the Victor of that year’s Hunger Games.

Is it violent?  Yes, but actually not terribly graphically so; killings and deaths are described in rather general terms, so a lot is left to the imagination.  I’m not sure what about this appeals so much to the young adult crowd – is the actual violence, allowing teens to live out their hormone-driven anger vicariously?  Is it the competition aspect?  or are the characters real enough that teens are able to connect on some level?  In any case, I thought the storyline was very imaginatively conceived and executed, and it was well written.  It really is quite suspenseful (although some of it is predictable from an adult’s standpoint, I think), and I found myself cringing and gasping throughout the story, wanting to know what was going to happen next.  Also, I really love the fact that the protagonist/hero in the story is a female – an excellent point to make to both male and female adolescents.

This is the first in a trilogy, and the end compels one to read on in the next book.  Hopefully I will get around to it before too long, but for now, I’m committed to several other books first.



Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Hmmm.  I’m still on the fence on this one.

I wanted to read something spooky in honor of Halloween, and this one fit the bill.  It’s definitely spooky, creepy, and eerie.  But . . . not completely satisfying.

Captain Chip Linton is a commercial pilot flying regional jets.  Shortly after takeoff during a fateful flight, his plane collides with a flock of geese which disables the plane.  Captain Linton attempts a water landing on a lake, and manages to save the lives of nine people aboard, including himself.  However, 39 people perish.  In the aftermath, he is plagued by depression and PTSD, and ultimately he and his wife decide that a move might be the best medicine.

And so Chip and his wife, Emily, and their twin daughters, buy an old house in rural New Hampshire, hoping to find healing and make a fresh start.  The house, however, has a history.  The house, it seems, is filled with malevolent forces.  Chip begins to receive visits from three passengers who were violently and grotesquely killed on the fated flight he piloted – tormented by their ghosts who are making demands of him.  Is he losing his mind, or are these spirits real?

Meanwhile, the town is full greenhouses and women who are self-proclaimed “herbalists.”  What are these women really up to?  Why are they so interested in the Linton family – especially the young Linton twins?  Some say the women are witches.  Some say they found the fountain of youth in a tincture created years ago with the blood of a young twin boy – a boy who lived in the very house Chip Linton and his wife and own twins lived, and who died a mysterious and violent death.

All in all, it’s a pretty good story, but it seemed like it did leave some loose ends (like, whatever happened to the psychologist’s body?), and parts of the story seemed a little pointless.  Like the errant lesbian scene.  I mean, if you’re going to throw in a lesbian scene, let it have some bearing on the story, am I right?

The story is extremely creepy and suspenseful.  I found myself afraid to find out what was going to happen next, but having to know.  Had it been a movie, I would have been watching through my parted fingers.

Everything was good until the end, which just . . . sucked.

Still, if you’re in the market for something ghostly and weird, this one’s worth a shot.