The Witch Elm by Tana French. Tana French’s novels are always wonderful and this one is no exception. It is different from the rest in that it is not from a detective’s point of view. It takes place in Ireland, though, and involves crimes. The narrator is Toby, a guy who for the first 30 or so years of his life has lead a charmed one. He has a good job in Dublin and a good girlfriend and all is well. But then one night he wakes up and finds burglars in his living room and is viciously beaten by them. He finds himself a changed man, and the head injuries don’t help. While in recovery, he goes to live with a beloved uncle. He and his two cousins spent their summers living with this uncle, and when the uncle is diagnosed with brain cancer, Toby – with his life on hold anyway – is designated as the one to help. While there, however, a body is discovered in a hole in the witch elm in the back yard. The Dublin Murder Squad comes and Toby ends up a prime suspect. Toby and his cousins work to discover what really happened, and it’s a fascinating mix of chance and secrets and circumstance. All throughout, too, Toby muses on the notion of luck and fortune. It’s a great read.
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney. This was a really fun read with a powerful twist in the middle. The novel begins with the narrator giving the reader three facts, but the third one is “Sometimes I lie.” So of course as you read you have to keep in mind her unreliability. Also when the novel begins, the narrator, Amber, is in a coma and narrating what happens as she drifts in and out of consciousness. These moments are interspersed with a childhood diary. It’s a well-done premise, especially when halfway through the book something is revealed that changes everything. I recommend.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. I love Liane Moriarty’s novels! She’s a good writer and a good story-teller, and her characters are always so likeable in interesting ways. I’d say this is one of her best novels yet. It begins with Frances, a delightful fifty year old woman who is on her way to a ten-day spa stay at Tranquillum House in the country in Australia. Frances is a romance novelist and is recovering from a romantic scam perpetrated on her by someone she met on the internet. She is humiliated, but jolly and wry. The other eight strangers are all clients who are at Tranquillum House for this retreat. We meet them all – from an ex football player, to a family in grief over the death of their son, to the somewhat crazed director of the resort, who has her own agenda. It is a funny and poignant read and I enjoyed it immensely throughout.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. At the risk of having too many good reviews in a row, I loved Pat Barker’s new book as well. She is one of my favorite authors, and this novel reminded me of her WWI trilogy, which first got me hooked. Unexpectedly, it takes place during the Trojan war and the narrator is Briseis, a young queen of a Trojan city who becomes a slave when Achilles and company ransack the town. The novel is about the women who are the spoils of war, and what exactly it is like to go from luxury to slavery. Briseis “belongs” to Achilles after he won the city, but Agamemnon claims Briseis when he is forced to return his own female slave to her father. Because of this, Achilles and his Myrmidons stop fighting and the Trojans gain ground over the Greeks. Briseis is smart, and an observer, and she is trying her hardest to figure out how to make this terrible situation work for her. She wants to have agency over her own story and fate. It was a really wonderful book; now I need to go re-read the Iliad.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. At first this book made me a little grumpy with its cuteness and obviousness of plot. But by the end my cold heart grew a size or two and I’m willing to admit that it has its moments: in general, however, it is just not my kind of book. Sara is a woman from Sweden, who when the book begins has landed in Broken Wheel, Iowa, a depressed town in the middle of nowhere with not much going for it, to visit a penpal named Amy. She discovers that Amy has died, but stays on in the town for a while, and gets to know the inhabitants she has heard so much about already via letter. Sara is a booklover who used to work in a bookstore, so she decides she will set up a store of sorts in the downtown and give away Amy’s books. She believes there is a book for everyone, and nothing a book can’t fix. There are Romances and Realizations and several meet cutes.