Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Agatha Christie was my favorite mystery author growing up, thanks to my grandmother who consistently bought me her books and watched her ‘Marple’ and ‘Poirot’ series on television. The classic whodunit mystery holds a special place in my heart. As a result, I have turned into a picky mystery reader. A mystery novel has to grab my interest quickly, sustain it through the end, and be complex enough that I am unable to predict whodunit. Enter in Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and I felt like I was back at my grandma’s watching Poirot solve a crime. This book felt like a delicious dive into my childhood.

Magpie Murders is a book within a book, a mystery within a mystery, a murder within a murder. Susan Ryeland is the editor of Alan Conway’s mystery series featuring detective Atticus Pund. This book opens with Ryeland receiving a copy of Conway’s latest book, Magpie Murders, and her decision to read it over the weekend. Such begins the first foray into the book within the book. Conway’s Magpie Murders is the classic whodunit that takes place in the English countryside in a small village in 1955 where a well-known woman has died. Atticus Pund, a German concentration camp survivor who has become famous for his sleuthing skills, decides to head to the small village of Saxby-on-Avon to try to solve this Agatha-Christie like puzzle. A housekeeper named Mary Blakiston fell down a flight of stairs at Pye Hall. Her death had been ruled accidental, but the fiancée of Mary’s estranged son seeks Pund and asks for his help. There are many questions that Pund must answer and after a second crime occurs, Pund decides to visit on his own accord and figure out what exactly is happening in Saxby-on-Avon.

Flash to the present when Susan Ryeland has reached the end of the Magpie Murders manuscript only to discover that the last chapter is missing. Confronting her boss, Charlie Clover, about the missing chapters, both Clover and Ryeland are surprised to learn that the author, Alan Conway, has committed suicide. Conway mailed a letter to Clover before his death explaining why he decided to commit suicide. After reading the letter, Susan decides to look for Conway’s last chapter and sets off interviewing his family and friends to find it and to learn more about Conway’s motives for killing himself. That last chapter will save Magpie Murders and hopefully Susan’s business as the death of Conway will certainly sink the company if that last chapter is never found. As she searches, Susan comes to believe that maybe Conway didn’t kill himself. She soon finds herself becoming sort of a detective as she tries to figure out what exactly happened to Alan Conway.

I really enjoyed this book. Atticus Pund’s story was entertaining enough, but the addition of Susan’s story adds a delightful twist to the whole book. I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end in both stories. I also enjoyed how the stories intertwined together and how Susan was able to rely on the Magpie Murders manuscript to help her figure out what happened to Conway. There were so many tiny clues and revelations hidden in both Pund’s and Susan’s story that had me on the edge of the seat wondering whodunit.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

I basically wanted to quit life for two days so I could do nothing other than read The Reason You’re Alive  by Matthew Quick. Apparently Quick wrote this gem in part as an homage to his late uncle, a Vietnam veteran who may have inspired elements of this novel’s “anti-hero”, David Granger.  The novel takes off right from the beginning, and amazingly, Quick sustains the momentum through to the end. I mean, check out this for an opening sentence: “They were giving me the mushroom treatment: keeping me in the dark and feeding me bullshit”. That just has to rank up there with the best opening lines of all time, right? I mean, talk about coming outta’ the box swingin’.

David Granger, main protagonist and narrator of the story is not supposed to be likeable, let alone loveable. But he is just that. After waking up in a hospital after brain-surgery, David rants about the evasive “Clayton Fire Bear” and how doctors are all corrupt scumbags who are either “pill pushers, needle pokers, or people cutters”. He’s right, though, isn’t he? I mean, who hasn’t had a negative experience with a doctor? But of course, he is wrong, too; and for every thieving people-cutter out there you will find a warm, compassionate civil servant who wants to take care of sick people. The truth may lie somewhere in between.

Throughout the course of this book, you’ll be amazed at the things that David says: and believe you me, he has something to say about everyone. And you’ll find that he’s right: why else would you be laughing SO HARD?  But he’s also wrong because, let’s be honest, it’s easy to stereotype and generalize entire groups of people without a second thought. And that’s where things get tricky, which is to say, human. David reserves a certain disdain for his son, Hank, his “mostly ignorant”, “ball-less”, cry-baby liberal son who wouldn’t cut it for a second in the jungles of Vietnam. And just wait until you meet Femke, Hank’s philandering wife, and their sweet daughter, Ella, who David notes is in the unfortunate position of having two complete morons for parents. All of the characters who fade in and out of David’s life are intriguing and memorable and will teach you something new about life.

This book beautifully reminds us that we see other people through the lens of our own experience. I think you’ll find, by the end of the book, when tears unexpectedly start welling in your eyes, that David strived to shield his family from suffering and pain, even at his own expense whenever possible (even when he was essentially shielding them from himself).This book is about loving and understanding your family and your friends on their own terms. This book is about war, madness, art, family, grace, and ultimately redemption. I dare you not to cry when you discover the rich meaning behind the title of the book, how David wrote it for his late wife, Jessica, and their son, Hank, the two most beloved people in his life. And then I dare you not to cry when it dawns on you that David was shielding you, too, as he had his family, from the heartache of having to let him go after finding out he was  good as gold all along.

 

 

 

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.”

That eerie rhyme is something most kids learn in middle school when they first hear about Lizzie Borden. I picked it up on the playground as part of a jump-rope rhyme and the murderous story of Lizzie Borden has stuck with me ever since. I find myself reading and watching anything to do with Lizzie Borden in an effort to learn more about what happened the fateful day of August 4, 1892 when Andrew and Abby Borden were both axe-murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Who did it? No one will ever know, but everyone has their theories.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is the most recent telling that I found. It was so engaging that I finished this book over a long weekend, something that I haven’t done in a couple years. This novel was surprisingly close to the truth with the author taking a few creative licenses. Schmidt takes the infamous true story of Lizzie Borden and adds some fictional material that fills in holes in Lizzie’s story as well as some fictional background information that is missing in the historical overview. All in all, Schmidt creates a remarkably believable account of what happened that steamy August morning when Andrew and Abby were murdered.

This novel shifts between four main characters’ points of view: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and a stranger named Benjamin. Seeing each characters’ viewpoint of events leading up to the murders, the day of the murders, and after the murders allows readers to gain a multi-layered view of what really happened. The morning of August 4, 1892 began like any other morning in the Borden household: Mr. Borden, aka Andrew, went off to work, while Lizzie, Mrs. Abby Borden, and Bridget worked on tasks around the house. There had been a sickness around the house the last few days which led Abby to believe that she and the others were being poisoned. Lizzie was fine however. Emma, Lizzie’s sister, was out of town visiting a friend. Both sisters were unmarried and lived with their father and step-mother despite their parents’ repeated attempts to marry them off.

The brutal axe-murder of both Andrew and Abby left the community wondering why anyone would want to murder such well-respected members of Fall River. Life inside the Borden household was not a pleasant experience though. Both Lizzie and Emma struggled to break free of their father and gain independence, but found that they were bound together in the most intimate of ways. Emma, Lizzie, Bridget, and the mysterious Benjamin all add overlapping perspectives to the moments leading up to the discovery of the bodies, perspectives that will jar readers and have them wondering what ghosts each person has living in their pasts and how those ghosts influence their current actions.

What I liked about this book is readers can really see Lizzie progress to become the person that she was when her father and step-mother died. The true motive for why she started disliking her step-mother after loving her for so many years will never be known and Schmidt leaves that gap for the reader to try to solve. Something clearly happened to Lizzie that caused that great shift in temperament and demeanor. It was puzzling. I also enjoyed the multiple points of view present in this book because it allowed me to see the multiple layers that go into making a person and how one’s actions can mean different things to different people.

I really enjoyed this book and think that it made a positive addition to the many Lizzie Borden books that I have already read. If you don’t know the true story of Lizzie Borden and her family, I encourage you to look it up in order to learn everything that is known about the family and how Schmidt’s reimagining lines up with the facts. She is fairly accurate and presents plausible explanations for both the holes in Lizzie’s story and the empty background information in most historic accounts.


This book is also available in large print.

The Most Dangerous Place On Earth

As someone who devours non-fiction, biography, and memoir, I was surprised to have finished this work of fiction in just shy of two days. To be fair, the book is a quick read (even for self-professed slower readers such as myself).  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is the debut novel of Lindsey Lee Johnson with impeccable prose and superb character development.  I could even see the book being turned into a film. In a nutshell, the book is broken into  time periods: Eighth Grade, Junior Year, and Senior Year. Within those general time periods, each chapter is further subdivided with titles such as: The Note, The Lovers, The Striver, The Artist,  The Dime, The Ride, The Dancer, The Pretty Boy, and The Sleeping Lady.  Each chapter spotlights each of the core characters whose lives revolve around a tragic incident involving Tristan Bloch, an awkward but brave outcast with an overbearing mother. Over the course of four years, we follow each protagonist as s/he navigates the tough terrain of junior high and high school, further complicated  by  parents, teachers, and digital culture. In many cases, each of these young people–although living in million-dollar beach homes–is forced to establish his or her individuality and navigate adolescence while also living in the shadows of abuse, neglect, and addiction at the hands of the grown ups who are supposed to protect and guide them. As is the case with many young people, these characters can sense when things are awry at home and school; but they lack the agency to be able to articulate those experiences, sometimes in a healthy way. Always looming in this novel is what lies unspoken–what is between the lines.

At the center of this story is Molly Nicholl, a newbie teacher and transplant from central California who is hired on in the English Department at Valley High in the affluent city of Mill Valley in Northern California, roughly a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles. As Molly begins to feel out the culture at Valley High, she finds herself at odds with the other seasoned faculty who are  burnt-out on their jobs, presumably after many years teaching. As Molly reconfigures her classroom into two concentric circles (note, also, the circular themes throughout the novel) so as not to carry on her predecessor’s tradition of an authoritarian, old-school classroom, she endures pushback from teachers who believe she is crossing the line with regard to her relationship with the students. After a car crash and the exploitation of a female student on social media, Molly is questioned about the inappropriate nature of her commenting on her student’s social media threads–even though her comments stemmed from genuine concern about the well-being of her students . Early on in the book, Molly is eager to dig deeper into the lives of her students–to see them not merely as students but also as human beings who have complex lives and much promise.  Molly once asks “Isn’t it our job as teachers to help our students?” She was quickly put in her place when her co-worker says: “No, your job is to teach.” But what does it mean “to teach”? What does teaching–truly teaching–entail?

I think my teacher and parent friends would enjoy this book, especially because it sheds light on a number of questions–namely: What is the role of the teacher? How can teachers truly effect change and the lives of their students if they are forced to keep students at arm’s length? Can teachers truly be effective if they relate to their students on only the most basic, superficial levels? Is it the role of teachers to dig beneath the surface to enable students to identify and pursue their interests? Are teachers supposed to protect and help their students? How can parents and teachers be better aligned for the benefit of the student?  Must there always be such a deep and wide chasm between young people and adults–one in which “adultness” itself is often dishonest, distrustful, and cynical? I have to say that by the end of the book–and yes, it’s just the idealist in me–I feel like Molly compromised too many of her ideals in an effort to play it safe. I mean, on one hand, I can certainly see why she would opt to play it safe, given the events leading up to her transition from newbie mover-and-shaker to cautious, jaded professional.  In one particular scene, Molly receives an essay from Callista who has accepted and processed, through the therapeutic act of writing, her role in the tragedy of Tristan Bloch. This was the moment that Molly had been waiting for the past three years: to play an encouraging and inspiring role in helping  students reconcile their places in the world and hopefully help them tap into their potential. I mean, here was Callista sharing a deeply painful experience with her teacher and in a sense, looking for encouragement and validation. But Molly, perhaps afraid to assume a role other than “superior” or “teacher” misses the opportunity entirely. Instead, she writes Callista a typical response that an English teacher–not a mentor–would write. However, the implications of Callista’s writing–how she knew the fine details of the path Tristan took to the bridge–were curious, troubling. Again, the power of the unspoken demands attention.

This books asks far more questions than it answers; so if you’re ok with ambiguity, you’ll love this book. I’m still wondering about these characters–what becomes of them, if they ever get to realize their true potential. Reading this book also forced me to look back on my own experiences in junior high and high school, which, like most young people, was a mixed bag of good, bad, and ugly. When I was young, I did not have vast social networks at my fingertips and cyber bullying wasn’t yet a thing. So much happens to young people online–entire worlds exist out of the reach of unwitting adults. While I tended to despise the parental and authoritarian figures in this book, I was nonetheless sickened by how these students treated each other. But unfortunately, I also got the sense that Emma, Damon, Callista, Ryan, Elisabeth, Nick, and others were just on their own, abandoned even. I certainly found fault with the parents: what is the role of the parent in providing guidance and support to their children? How can effective parenting provide a more equitable, just world? In essence, how can effective parenting be the anti-thesis to bullying, suicide, sexism, and abuse? How should parents be meaningfully involved in the lives of their children without being overbearing and suffocating? These are just some of many, many questions I have after finishing this fantastic debut by Lindsey Lee Johnson, which has drawn some comparisons to Thirteen Reasons Why.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

What would you do if you found out the life that you were living was a lie? If the life your parents or grandparents have lived was based on a lie? What if your entire family history was based on a lie? This is the true story for some children whose parents don’t tell them that they are adopted either until later in life or after the parents die. Such events can sometimes be traumatic, but it all depends on the child’s character and the sense of identity that they have developed. Will the news that they are adopted be easily accepted or will it throw their lives into upheaval as they work to find their birth parents and their biological heritage? Those questions are all prevalent through Lisa Wingate’s newest book, Before We Were Yours.

Before We Were Yours is a work of historical fiction that delves into the shady antics of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by the infamous Georgia Tann. Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society for over 25 years. Between 1924 and 1950, it is estimated that Tann stole over 5,000 children from their families and that over 500 died from abuse, disease, and poor care while they were living under Tann’s care. This true story shattered so many lives. I recommend you read a little bit about Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before you pick up Before We Were Yours in order to give yourself background information (It isn’t necessary, but like a true Girl Scout and an ever researching librarian, I love to be prepared.)

Before We Were Yours begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936. The five Foss children are anxiously awaiting the birth of their youngest new sibling while their mom labors inside their shanty boat home. Fearing for the mom’s life, the midwife demands that she be taken to the hospital to give birth or the babies and the mom will die. Shuttling her off to the hospital in a boat, the dad tells the eldest Foss child to watch over the siblings and stay at the shanty boat until they come back. Men show up in the middle of the night however and the Foss siblings’ lives are forever changed.

Flash to the present and Avery Stafford has come home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment and to also be groomed to possibly take over her father’s political career. At a particularly moving photo-op in a nursing home, Avery meets a woman who immediately captures her interest. The things this woman says to her has Avery shaken to the core. Avery decides that she needs to learn more about this mysterious woman’s life and thus begins a journey that will change her family’s history forever. Secrets never really stay secrets after all.

This novel shifts back and forth between the Foss children in the 1930s and Avery Stafford in the present. I really enjoyed the flip-flop between the two stories as the story of the Foss children created a deep swirling mystery around the woman in the nursing home and Avery’s grandmother. This book had me doing two things: learning more about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society AND looking into my family’s history to see what I did not know already.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

Written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, is a children’s biography told in rhyme about the inimitable Temple Grandin. If you’re not familiar with Temple, she has single-handedly created more awareness around animal welfare (specifically the lives of farm animals) than just about any other person. She is practically a household name and tours the country giving talks and presentations. There’s even a movie about her starring Claire Danes! Grandin has long advocated  for “humane slaughter”, a phrase animal liberation advocates would argue is contradictory; but she nonetheless prescribes standards for facilities design and proper restraint and stunning techniques  that are intended to cause the least amount of pain and suffering in the animals being slaughtered. You can check out Temple’s website to learn more about the extensive work she has done in the field.

In The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, author Mosca discusses Grandin’s childhood as a person with autism and her deep connection with animals. Temple did not speak until age three or after, and, apparently, doctors initially told Temple’s mother they suspected she had “no brain activity”. Soon after being kicked out of school, Temple moves out west with her aunt, an owner of a ranch, and it isn’t long before Temple serendipitously embarks on her lifelong journey as an animal scientist and public speaker. She has worked tirelessly to create change in the practice of animal agriculture that is in compliance with the highest ethical standards after many years of communing with and studying the behavior of animals. Additionally, her persistence helps to create and foster an understanding of people who fall along the autism spectrum and to demonstrate that being autistic should not hold you back from a life of happiness and success.

The takeaways in this book are many: 

  • Humans are dismissive of what we don’t understand
  • We can learn to listen to others who speak a language that is different than our own
  • We nonetheless still have a myopic and narrow view of human intelligence and cognitive ability
  • Animals feel emotion and pain
  • We should not be defined by others but instead strive to live an authentic life
  • We can and should advocate for those whose voices are not heard
  • We should leave things better than how we found them

And last but definitely not least: persist, persist, persist! There are certainly many, many more morals of the story, but you’ll have to read the book to see for yourself. Personally, I was inspired while reading this picture book and think children would also find this an uplifting story. Plus, children are often more sensitive and receptive to the plight of animals than many adults–so we have much to learn from them!

Charlatans by Robin Cook

Medical school is daunting, add in the added responsibility you take on the further and further you go in teaching hospitals and even before residents are hired on as staff, they are forced to make tough decisions. Robin Cook’s newest medical suspense novel, Charlatans, deals with the tough calls that doctors have to make on a day-to-day basis and just who is around to make sure those doctors stay honest. No one knows this more than the newly minted chief resident at Boston Memorial Hospital, Noah Rothauser. His new super chief position means that he is now responsible for all the surgical schedules, the training of the new residents, and handling the Morbidity and Mortality conferences that happen every time a patient dies. Noah is hopeful that the recent updates to the BMH’s operating rooms will be positive and will decrease the number of deaths that happen during surgery. After all, Boston Memorial Hospital is a famed teaching hospital that is known for being at the top in terms of medical advances and is also known for hiring only the best of the best. Updating those operating rooms will only help, not hinder.

That’s what Noah thinks anyway. All is going well until the death of a healthy hospital employee during a routine procedure. An anesthesia error seems to be the cause of death, but Noah doubts that. He believes that Dr. William Mason, a world-class surgeon, juggled patients and made a fatal error during the surgery that cost the patient his life. Mason won’t go down without a fight however and blames the anesthesiologist, Dr. Ava London. Noah isn’t sure who to believe, but does his due diligence into the background of this case to find out what really happened.

Thinking this case is behind him, Noah tries to move on. More anesthesia-related deaths occur however, and Noah finds himself having to question everyone that was involved in each case. Secrets come out and Noah finds himself getting to know Dr. Ava London more closely as he works with her to find out what really happened to cause those deaths.

Noah has to figure out what happened quickly because he soon realizes that there is much more to Ava than he originally thought. His own job and credibility are soon put to the test. Noah’s search for the truth is at an all time high as he works to figure out who really is at fault surrounding those three deaths and who is really telling the truth. After all, we all have something to hide, don’t we?


This book is also available in the following formats:

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes On Race & Resegregation

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation strikes a beautiful balance between scholarly and popular writing styles while still retaining the heartening qualities that embody the spirit of activism. Author Jeff Chang interrogates the assumptions surrounding concepts like “political correctness”, “color blindness”, “diversity”, “affirmative action”, and “privilege”, concepts that are oversimplified in spite of their nuance, rich history and deep complexity.

In We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes On Race and Resegregation  , Chang explores the historical and cultural backdrop for the events leading up to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in addition to the structures of racism and the impact on communities and people of color. “Racism is not merely about chauvinism, prejudice, or bigotry,” he says. In quoting Ruth Gilmore, he continues that racism is “about the ways different groups are ‘vulnerable to premature death,’ whether at the hands of the state or the structures that kill” (3). When we begin to examine how city zoning, for example, or access to affordable health care, schools, and housing hinder or help any given group of people, we begin to see things a little differently. It is deeply disturbing that “the death rate of Blacks is over 50 percent higher than that of whites, and higher that that of all other major ethnic groups, except for some American Indian coherts” (4).

Vehement protests in response to police shootings of innocent black people in the United States have dominated the press for good reason.  And everyone has an opinion, it seems. When debate rages on, either on the national political stage or social media threads, some complain about the implied burden of having to be “politically correct”, as though precision and care to detail are somehow a bad practice to uphold. Audre Lorde says it better: ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’  Chang unpacks the backlash against the phrase “politically correct” and explains concisely:

Before the 1980s, it was mostly Marxists who used the term “politically correct” to mock other Marxists. Since then, charging someone else with political correctness has become the first line of defense for racists, one of the best ways to shut down any discussion about inequity. That silencing isolates the most marginalized communities, and demobilizes white communities. Resegregation grows not from white ignorance, but from white refusal and denial. And so a half century after the peak of the civil rights movement, the nation has again moved into crisis (7).

In some social circles, online or in-person, it’s uncool and bothersome to discuss politics, a sad state of rampant anti-intellectualism and apathy. In my recent personal experience on social media, often outside of my immediate and insular “friends” list,  people don’t like to be inconvenienced with questions of inequity and injustice. “Can we just get back to posting pictures of our dinners?” has been a resounding mantra with regard to recent discussions of the NFL & Colin Kaepernick’s protesting of police brutality and racial inequity. But Kaepernick is tapping into mass anxiety about an issue that is all but isolated and his immediate and lasting consequences on real living, breathing human beings. If we are not to keep repeating mistakes and atrocities of the past, it is high time to Listen. Activists and scholars like Jeff Chang are leveraging their voices in order to shed light on some of the most insidious corners of humanity. And it is time not to become defensive and deny marginalized people their experiences with bigotry but instead to say: “Tell me your story and I will listen, even if my own experience is different.” We should seek to understand the experiences of our fellow citizens–not to try and shut them up or shame them when they take a knee or speak out on an social evils of epidemic proportions.   You might be surprised to discover that the continuity of a long storied history of racial inequity is explained in part by city zoning, urban sprawl, the bull-dozing of housing projects, and the history of policing just to list a few factors (82). Chang is trying to foster understanding with his book and create another testament to the realities faced by marginalized people. Considering how dense Chang’s book is, it’s a fairly quick read, too. It is of critical importance to note how 2017 is a standout year because Americans are more concerned about issues of race now than they have been since the early 1990s!:

“Polls show that more Americans are concerned about race relations now than at any time since 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots. The previous peak had come in 1965–the year of the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the apex of the civil rights movement, the year of the last national consensus for racial justice.”

We have entered into another vicious cycle that Chang describes compassionately and poignantly:

Race makes itself known in crisis, in the singular event that captures a larger pattern of abuse and pain. We react to crisis with a flurry of words and, sometimes, actions. In turn, the reaction sparks its own backlash of outrage, justification, and denial. The cycle turns next toward exhaustion, complacency, and paralysis. And before long, we find ourselves back in crisis. . .One need not be a pessimist to see the bad loop of history we are caught within–crisis, reaction, backlash, complacency, crisis. There are fires. There are calls for action. There is then a bullying politics of fear. If most Americans recoil from the kind of excessive, gleeful, cynical bigotry someone like the billionaire Donald Trump proffers, they are yet demobilized to the point of denial (‘there is no problem’) or justification (‘there is a problem but I can’t solve it’). And then we find ourselves in another crisis.”

The takeaway?:

1.) This is an important book.

2.) Please read it and share it with someone else.

3.) Jeff Chang is my hero.

 

 

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who are the product of an abducted woman and her captor? After the news dies down, it’s expected that the abducted person and their children get on with life. But can they really? What happens to them? I’ve always been fascinated by the aftereffects. The latest book I read deals with this issue.

The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story of Helena Pelletier. Helena finally has the life she always wanted: a loving husband, two adorable daughters, and a business that she manages herself. Everything is going perfect until Helena’s past comes crashing back into her life. Seems like she should be able to handle whatever comes, right? Well, Helena has a massive secret that not even her husband knows about. Her mother was kidnapped at the age of 14 by Jacob Holbrook. Jacob whisked her off to a cabin where she gave birth two years later in said cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Kept captive with no possible way to escape, her mother fought to stay alive. Growing up, Helena never knew the real truth about her father or her mother. She grew up knowing her father was violent, but Helena loved him. He taught her how to survive in the wilderness: how to hunt, track, and live. His gruffness seemed to be a given. His violence? Not so much, but Helena learned to live with it. For the most part…

At the age of 12, Helena and her mother escaped, propelled into action by a series of events that thrust her father’s behavior into a new light. Their rescue made headlines, but Helena has taken great pains to make sure her past stays firmly in the past. She thought she was safe considering her father is in prison until she heard an emergency news bulletin saying that he had escaped. Jacob had found his way back into the Michigan wilderness. Deep down, Helena knows that the authorities have no hope of catching her father. She is the only one who can find him. After all, she knows his tricks. He taught her how to track and to hunt. Helena takes off into the wilderness knowing that she is the only person capable of successfully tracking her father.

I enjoyed this book, especially the parts where the reader learns about Helena’s past. Readers get to see Helena’s life unfold from birth to present. This book is also filled with sections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same title. The setting in this book is very well-developed and the pace moves quickly, so be sure to pay attention if you’re listening. I had to back up a few times when my mind wandered. This book was eloquently crafted and I finished it wanting more. Give it a read!

This book is also available as a CD audiobook.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

When it comes to finding a new book to read, I’ve finally figured out what my favorite genre is. I love thrillers. Give me a story with a well-developed plot line, fully fleshed out characters, and make sure the story is gripping. Psychological thrillers with a hint of crazy and a lot of suspense are my go-to novels. I recently stumbled across another B.A. Paris novel called Behind Closed Doors and since I liked another of her novels a lot, I decided to try this one.

Behind Closed Doors messed with my head, but in a good way. This book is a perfect illustration of the fact that what we present to the world is not our true selves. Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He has the wealth and the good looks to back it up, while she exudes charm and elegance at all the dinner parties they throw. You just can’t help but like them and maybe even wish your own relationship was like theirs. Their life is so well put together and perfect.

There’s only one small hiccup: Grace and Jack are never apart. He does go to work, but Grace is never seen anywhere without Jack. While some may say it’s because they are still in their newlywed period and are madly in love, others may find it odd. Grace doesn’t work, in fact she gave up her job shortly after they were married, but she never meets up with anyone for lunch or coffee. She has a plethora of excuses. The parties they throw are so extravagant and decadent, but Grace’s figure never changes. In fact, she is incredibly tiny. Grace doesn’t own a cell phone and all emails are sent to Jack’s email. She leaves the house with an empty purse, their house is gated and immensely private, and there are bars on one of the windows. What is really happening between Jack and Grace?

All those factors are overlooked because he is so kind and doting, while she is such a fabulous cook and fantastic gardener. Jack has even agreed to let Millie, Grace’s special-needs sister, move into their house when she turns 18. He’s designing her perfect and most-wished-for bedroom and wants the house to be just right when she moves in. He keeps mistakenly saying her bedroom is red though, when her favorite color is yellow. Why? What is going on? There are just so many slightly off comments and strange facts that point to some area of conflict within their marriage, but their perfect façade trumps all.

Without saying too much and giving away a major portion of the plot, I found this book to be terrifyingly psychological. Paris succeeded in getting in my head and had me wondering what was happening in Jack and Grace’s marriage and why each respective character behaves the way that they do. I was unsettled throughout this book because the story that Paris weaves is so believable. I found myself questioning the relationships of the people around me. I was immediately gripped by this novel and finished it in two days. Definitely recommended.


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