Sunday, March 18, 2018

THE LIKENESS by Tana French

Tana French

            Cassie Maddox is back. Fans of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series will remember Maddox from book one in the series, In the Woods; she returns in the second book, The Likeness.

            Lexie Madison is found dead. Not only did she look like Detective Cassie Maddox, but her name – her entire character – was created and used by Cassie while working undercover. So, Cassie returns to undercover work to discover who Lexie was and who killed her. Lexie had been a graduate student at Trinity College, living in a large, rural manor house with four other graduate students. So, Cassie must slip back into her Lexie Madison character in a way that seamlessly meshes with her four housemates – quite a challenge as the five had been extraordinarily close.

            I loved The Likeness. Every time I read one of Tana French’s books, I remember how much I love her work. I do not know why, when I am not reading a French book, I seem to forget this, but when I return to French, I am once again captivated. There is something about her writing, something magical. French’s work is character weighted. Her characters are not the beautiful that we dream of becoming – they are ordinary, often troubled people, warts and all. But, French is a master at painting pictures with her words. Although the mysteries in the plots are intriguing and enticing, they are secondary to the world she creates. The pictures painted by her words seem to capture an extra “layer” – some sort of additional element, like an esoteric metaphysical layer, though not in a fantastical or sci-fi sense. It is an ineffable, albeit enticing, quality.

            And, like every other time that I have read Tana French, I now have the urge to read the entire Dublin Murder Squad series again, trying to bide time until a new French book is published.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

RACINE by Alison Clarke

Alison Clarke

            Racine, by Alison Clarke, is book two in Clarke’s young adult series, The Sisterhood Stories. Racine is a young woman of color who has always felt different, out of place. One place where she does not feel this way is in libraries, and as she tries to find her way, she spends a great deal of time in the Library of Congress. One day, while working in the library, Racine begins her journey, a journey through which she is to learn her story. Once she learns and understands her story, her history, she will be able to embrace her destiny.

            The book is divided into unnumbered chapters. Each of these chapters is a sort of vignette or story. And, each of these is well written. Clarke’s writing sort of feels like a drug – reading one of her chapters felt surreal, soothing, almost lyrical.

The difficulty that I encountered while reading Racine, however, is that I became lost. Although I enjoyed what I read within the chapter, there was no “road map.” I lost track of where the story had come from, why we were there, and where it was going. There are so many chapters, and I was not sure why I was reading each or how they fit together. Many dealt with different characters, and I could not keep track of who each was and how he/she fit within the “big picture”. I presume that the book tells Racine’s journey as she discovers all the different histories that make up her story, but I had lost this thread while reading.

            Clarke writes well, and I like the concept behind Racine. But, I feel like I missed the point – and, I acknowledge that this might be my shortcoming, not Clarke’s. Without the transitions, I lost the trail. Although Racine may tell the tale of Racine finding herself, during my reading of her journey, I lost Racine.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018



            I recently reviewed a number of Rick Riordan’s YA books. While in the process of reading and reviewing these books, I learned that before writing the YA series, Riordan had written a series of mysteries for adults: the Tres Navarre series. I devoured the seven books in this series – so quickly, in fact, that I wondered how I was going to digest and review each of these books. I finally decided to try this new format, wherein I will focus on Riordan more generally, with an overall review of his Tres Navarre series. Riordan also wrote another, stand alone, adult book, Cold Springs, published in the midst of the Tres Navarre series. That book is covered here, too.

            Tres Navarre is a Tai Chi practicing private investigator, with a Ph.D. in English. Tres had been born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. When his father, the sheriff, was murdered right in front of him, Tres left San Antonio.

            At the beginning of the first book, Big Red Tequila (1997), which won the Anthony and Shamus Awards, Tres has just moved back to San Antonio from California, ten years later. He is rekindling his relationship with Lillian, his childhood sweetheart, and looking for work as an investigator. But, he is unable to let rest the still unresolved question: who murdered his father? The deeper Tres digs, however, the more trouble he finds. The second book in the series is The Widower’s Two-Step (1998), an Edgar Award winner. Tres is working as an apprentice investigator, with just hours to go before he can get his private investigator’s license, when the woman he is watching at a stakeout is murdered in front of him. As Tres delves into the murder, his investigation leads him – and us – deep into the Texas music industry. In the third book, The Last King of Texas (2000), Tres is able to utilize his Ph.D., stepping in when a UTSA English professor is killed. He teaches English classes while investigating the murder. The fourth book is The Devil Went Down To Austin (2001). Tres is scheduled to teach summer school at the University of Texas in Austin; however, the summer takes a bizarre turn when his brother’s partner is murdered and his brother is the prime suspect. In the fifth book, Southtown (2004), some very bad men have escaped from Floresville State Penitentiary. Tres becomes involved and finds there is more to this than meets the eye. Mission Road (2005), the sixth book in the series, involves a cold case with the SAPD. There are many who do not want the case reopened. Tres gets involved when one of his oldest friends is wanted for murder. Rebel Island (2007) is the final book in the series. Tres travels to nearby Rebel Island, where the Navarre family had vacationed when Tres was a boy, arriving just in time for murder and mayhem and a devastating hurricane.

            Although each book in the series is a well-written, interesting stand alone mystery, the character development throughout the series is noteworthy. Each also provides a wonderful snapshot of a part of Texas. It is difficult for me to select one favorite book from the series. Probably my least favorite is Rebel Island – in part because I knew it was the last of the series and in part it was a little too much Agatha Christie-esque for me. Mission Road is probably the saddest in the series – I grieved for one of the series’ characters that Riordan killed off and still feel that loss today. But the subtle humor and clever writing that I have found noteworthy in Riordan’s young adult series are present throughout this series as well.

            Cold Springs, Riordan’s stand alone adult book, is a different story. Chadwick is a teacher in California whose life is turned upside down. He ends up in Texas working for a military buddy who runs a sort of last stop, tough love wilderness school for troubled teens. Cold Springs is unlike the other Riordan books that I read. I did not like any of the characters. The book engaged me enough that I was compelled to continue through to the end, but I did not enjoy the book. I am glad that I read it, but this is the only Riordan book with which I am not enamored. However, I am still unable to pinpoint how this book differs from Riordan’s other work and why I feel this way.

            Throughout this process of reading everything Riordan, my admiration and respect for his work has continued to grow. I highly recommend Riordan’s books, and I look forward to reading anything he writes for any intended age group.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


For fans of the Bianca Goddard mystery series, here is a recent note from author Mary Lawrence:

I'm pleased to announce the chosen title for book 4 in the Bianca Goddard Mysteries. The Alchemist of Lost Souls. No publication date has been set, but the manuscript is done. (Goodreads, January 19, 2018).

I am looking forward to more Bianca Goddard!

(My reviews of the first three books can be found as follows: The Alchemist’s Daughter on March 24, 2015; The Death of An Alchemist on January 4, 2016; and, Death At St. Vedast on December 24, 2016).

Monday, January 8, 2018

MAGNUS CHASE AND THE GODS OF ASGARD Book Three: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

Book Three: The Ship of the Dead
Rick Riordan

            I recently reviewed books one and two in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series (see review of book one, September 21, 2017, and review of book two, October 30, 2017). Although I enjoyed both books, The Ship of the Dead, the third and final book in the Magnus Chase trilogy, is, in my opinion, the best of the three.

Can Magnus and his friends stop Loki from launching the ship of the dead and starting Ragnarok? It is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially for a dead teenage hero from Valhalla. At the beginning of The Ship of the Dead, Magnus meets his cousin Annabeth’s boyfriend, Percy Jackson, one who understands all about daunting challenges. Percy helps Magnus prepare for the challenges to come.

            The Ship of the Dead does not disappoint, as it is filled with adventure, suspense, mythology, and Riordan’s trademark clever writing. For example, while in the elevator at Valhalla, “sing[ing] along with Frank Sinatra in Norwegian”, Magnus was glad he lived on the nineteenth floor: “if I lived somewhere up in the hundreds, I would have gone…well, berserk.” (p. 43). Riordan’s rich imagination is evident in The Ship of the Dead as well; for example, we learn that ravens deliver messages by barf-mail (p. 39) and that there is an on-site IKEA at Valhalla (p. 42).

            Riordan has successfully wrapped up yet another series. The Ship of the Dead is an absolute delight.