The Witch Elm by Tana French

I have always wanted to read a book by Tana French. For ten years, French exclusively wrote the Dublin Murder Squad series. I don’t like reading series out of order, so I filed French down to the bottom of my to-read list until I could find all the books in the series. When I realized that her newest book was a stand-alone, I was excited! I could finally fulfill my desire to read Tana French. (And yes, I know I could have found her series and read them, but it’s much easier to find (and read) a standalone.)

The Witch Elm by Tana French is her latest novel released in the beginning of October 2018. This standalone mystery is separate from French’s Dublin Murder Squad series(I can’t stress that enough!). Based on the reviews that I read, The Witch Elm is a prime example of why you should check out what a book is actually about about before you pick it up. Most reviewers were excited that Tana French had put out a new book and decided to immediately read it. As I progressed through different reviews and websites, I saw that most had assumed this was a continuation of her Dublin Murder Squad series or had assumed that her newest would be a detective-centric story. It’s not! Having not read her others, I’m not sure how this one stacked up to her previous works, but I enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel a great deal.

In The Witch Elm , readers are introduced to happy-go-lucky Toby. Everything always seems to work out for Toby.  From his job to his girlfriend and his apartment, Toby seems to have it all. At the very beginning, Toby steps outside of the storyline of the book to inform readers that things have taken a turn for him. Through this novel, Toby says he will lay out the ways that his life has taken a turn. One night Toby is out having drinks with his friends, telling the story of how he has managed to come out of a touchy work situation in a positive manner. Hoping things will turn around, Toby drunkenly heads back to his apartment where he is surprised in the middle of the night by two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Not able to recover or live on his own, Toby finds himself living back at the Ivy House, his family’s ancestral home, taking care of his sick uncle.

Left damaged and traumatized after his attack, Toby struggles to take care of himself and his sick Uncle Hugo. Luckily for both men, Toby’s girlfriend moves into Ivy House to help care for them. This brutal attack has forever altered Toby and he isn’t sure how to adjust to his new normal. Uncle Hugo’s illness has left the family in doubt as to what will happen to Ivy House after he dies, which may happen sooner than they all think. All together for lunch one day, Hugo begins to broach this topic. Before they get very far, a scream is heard from the garden. The children have found a skull, tucked into the old witch elm at the foot of the garden.

With this discovery, Toby’s life will spiral even more out of control. Detectives, crime scene investigators, and the media descend in droves on Ivy House. Everyone in the family is on edge with Toby confused in the center. The aftereffects of Toby’s attack has addled his brain, making it hard for him to keep events straight. Constantly confusing the past and present and forgetting what is false and true rocket Toby to the top of the detectives’ suspect list. Through the course of their investigation, Toby is forced to look back on the idyllic childhood he lived and his perfect recent past. What he believed to be the truth may not actually be what happened. This novel takes a deep look at how what we believe to be true may not actually be how others remember what happened. While I enjoyed the suspenseful storytelling weaved throughout this novel, Toby was a character I had to work to love. Tana French crafted Toby’s character this way in order to force readers to really look at what we would do when forced to change ourselves into someone new. I encourage you to read this book and let me know what you thought in the comments below!


This book is also available in the following formats:

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

The description of this book caught my eye at once.  How to Walk Away by Katherine Center is all about finding joy and love even when it seems like your life has hit rock bottom. As I was reading this book, I noticed that each main character goes through a major life-changing moment that, if the individual lets it take over their life, has the ability to derail everything and completely destroy all.

Margaret Jacobsen has her life together. She has very clear goals for herself and has met every one of them. She worked really hard in order to make sure she was set up for success in the future. Margaret has a new dream job, a beautiful new condo, and a boyfriend she’s 99% sure is going to propose to her on Valentine’s Day. The culmination of her every wish is within her reach. Margaret couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of her future.

Heading out with her boyfriend, Chip, for a romantic Valentine’s Day, Margaret realizes that the date he has planned for them is not what she would have thought. At. All. Game to try because Chip is so excited, Margaret goes along and sure enough, Chip proposes! In the midst of their celebrating, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything Margaret has worked so hard for her entire life is ripped violently away from her. Now Margaret is in the hospital and realizes that there is a possibility her life will never be the same. She is broken physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Chip is no help. He hardly ever comes to visit her, expects to be forgiven, and goes rapidly downhill by wallowing in his own self-pity. Her sister, Kitty, mysteriously left town three years ago and has been completely silent the whole time. Now Kitty is suddenly back in town and old family resentments are bubbling back to the surface. Her mother tries to micromanage Margaret’s situation, while her father struggles to keep the peace between everyone.

This family drama happens simultaneously as Margaret is dealing with her intense medical problems. Her physical therapist, Ian, is also one of her problems. The nurses all say that he is too tough for her and she needs someone nicer. When Margaret and Ian meet for the first time, she instantly understands their reluctance to have Ian work with her. Ian is incredibly brusque, never smiles, and is all business. He is the exact opposite of all the other physical therapists and even her own family. Ian refuses to pity her and treats her as a capable person who has the power to change her own circumstances. After spending time working with Ian, Margaret comes to realize that sometimes the thing she needs is not what she wants and the thing she wants may not be what she needs.  This statement rings true for multiple other characters. Love, happiness, joy, contentment, and hope all have the capacity to pop up in our lives when we least expect it.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

True crime is one of my favorite subjects to read about and watch. Learning more about the inner workings of different perpetrators and their reasonings for behaving in such a way is fascinating. The lasting implications crime has on the victims and various affected families/friends also intrigues me. Society generally only cares about a crime for the first few months. After the publicity dies down, the whole situation will fade into the background. Reading about real life crimes allows me to believe that I am keeping these situations alive and the victims will continue to be remembered.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood was my latest true crime fiction read. This novel is based on the experiences of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old kidnapping victim who was abducted in 1948 from a Woolworth’s in Camden, New Jersey by 52 year-old Frank La Salle. Sally’s abduction is also considered to have inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.  From what I read about this case, this novel is fairly close to what actually happened. Granted the dialogue between Sally and Frank can never be 100% known and neither can be what really happened while they traveled the country, nevertheless, this account gives readers a look into a dark time in a young girl’s life.

Camden, NJ. 1948. 11 year-old Sally Horner just wants to fit in. She watches a clique of girls at her school form a club and yearns to be a part of it. Living with her mother and older sister, Sally has always felt like she exists on the outside of everything. After walking up to this group of girls one day, the girls tell Sally that she has to steal something from the local Woolworth’s in order to become part of their group. Walking into Woolworth’s with all the girls around her, Sally wanders the aisles looking for something to steal. Seeing a notebook, Sally grabs it and begins walking out. Almost to the door, Sally is suddenly stopped by an older man who says he saw her stealing. Having watched her walk through the store, Frank has convinced her that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested at any minute. Telling her that he has to take her to see a judge, Frank says that Sally has to do exactly what he says or she will go to jail. This chance encounter has far-reaching ramifications for poor Sally.

52 year-old Frank LaSalle is not an FBI agent. He has just been released from prison. Living out of his truck/camper, Frank is on the lookout for his next victim and his next scheme. Sally Horner stands no chance against him. Convincing her that he is an FBI agent, Sally introduces him to her mother and they somehow convince her to let Sally leave with Frank. Thus begins the scariest two years of Sally’s life as Frank physically and mentally abuses her. Travelling from Camden to San Jose, Sally meets many people and hopes one of them will recognize her. Her family, old friends, and new acquaintances are all forever altered, just like Sally, as a result of her abduction.

Given that this novel is based on the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner and her captor Frank LaSalle, I found it to be intriguing and a possible explanation of what happened between the two. While there are certainly many fictionalized sections, the over-arching storyline is pretty close to the truth. With the additional information about Vladimir Nabokov and his controversial Lolita, this story is finally able to give more voice to young Sally Horner. With her death happening only four years after her abduction, Sally was unable to tell her full story like other abduction victims. This book is certainly not a light read, but its close relation to true events allows readers to gain a better understanding of these tragic circumstances.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie

Welcome to 2017 and our new updated blog! As our wonderful librarian Ann mentioned last week, we’re changing how we’re blogging and what we’re blogging about. I’m so excited to dig deeper into my reading and watching interests with you all! Let’s dive right in!

I had an epiphany moment with the last book I was listening to, Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie. I listened to Bad Country through the library’s Rivershare OverDrive app which I have downloaded on my phone (a FANTASTIC way to both listen to and read books, btw). Anyway, as soon as I started listening to this book, my brain seemed to revolt. It took me about five minutes to realize why. It was a male narrator! And only a male narrator! Every other audiobook I’ve listened to has been a female narrator or a combination of female and male narrators (with the female narrator having more to say). As a result, I’ve decided to actively search out more books with male narrators, so next time I stumble upon an audiobook with a male narrator, I won’t be so surprised.

Mark Bramhall narrates Bad Country and does a wonderful job. He does different voices and accents for each character (and there are TONS of different characters), which allowed me to easily separate and tell who was who. Bad Country is a mystery set in the Southwest. Rodeo Grace Garnett is a former rodeo cowboy turned private investigator. He lives alone with his old dog in a very remote part of Arizona called the Hole. One day, Rodeo returns home to find a dead body near his home. Based on how the victim is dressed, Rodeo can tell he is not one of the many illegal immigrants who cross over just south of where he lives. The victim is instead a member of one of the local Indian tribes. He is also not the first Indian murdered in this county and town recently.

Rodeo is desperately looking for work. When his buddy offers him a job working for an elderly Indian woman who wants to know who murdered her grandson, he takes it. The woman has strange reactions to hiring him though, her behavior is slightly off, reactions that Rodeo begins to understand the more he digs into the case. Hatred swirls around this case, as well as the cases of the many murdered Indians in Rodeo’s area. Mystery, intrigue, death, and good old fashioned suspicion run rampant throughout this book with readers left wondering until the very end just who committed what crime.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. The narrator’s ability to provide different voices for each character really pulled me in. Towards the end, the plot seemed a little rushed, but I was able to keep up and found myself hoping that the author would turn this one book into a series. Here’s to hoping!