The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

 

Years ago, I read Chris Bohjalian for the first time and while I remember little of the actual plot, what sticks with me is the extremely powerful punch of an ending. (I’d link to the review of Secrets of Eden, but as I mentioned, it was years ago and I was a novice book blogger found of gushing…embarrassing.)

Not all of his books that I’ve read since left such lasting memories and sadly, there is one that I’ve attempted to read multiple times and failed to finish. (Sorry, striving for honesty in 2016)

The Guest Room, however, brings back that powerful wallop of an unexpected ending and the entire book was an inescapable tour de force in making you think and putting real faces on a social issue (human trafficking, such a PC way to say sex slaves) that I think many of us have a hard time understanding.

It starts with something as banal as Richard, a mature sedate successful husband and father, agreeing to host his immature brother’s bachelor party. The idea makes he and his wife cringe a bit, but really, how bad can it be and isn’t it better than the uber-creepy over-done trip to a strip club?

Hold up, what you’re thinking happens, doesn’t. It’s worse and better at the same time. That’s the magic of Bohjalian, he gets you in the feels. You start thinking about what you would do in this situation….or that one, if your husband did this…or that, how would you respond? You start feeling the character’s pain and it isn’t always pleasant. There were times that I felt like I was watching a horror flick. You totally understand the reasons the scantily clad teenagers want to leave the spooky cabin, but you’re silently urging them not to and then you’re begging them. It wasn’t campy like a horror movie, but that urge to second guess their decisions is palatable.

The ending? I may have yelped; don’t think I cried. I’m sure I didn’t. Just like Secrets of Eden, this is a story that is going to stick with me for years and from someone that averages a book a day? That’s saying something.

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Game of Mirrors by Andrea Camilleri

Game

A couple of years ago I stumbled onto this wonderful series thanks to my library’s audiobook collection. It was one of those, “Come on Overdrive, just have something good available now. I need a book for the drive tomorrow” moments. Those moments don’t always produce memorable results…Not so that time. I immediately fell in love with the Montalbano series and have kept up ever since.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano is a smart Sicilian cop in the fictional Vigata, with wry sense of humor and a somewhat rag-tag crew of people around him that he often enjoys messing with. Many might want to pigeonhole the mysteries as somewhat cozy, but they often confront many real social and political issues that your average cozy doesn’t touch. Montalbano gets results, but his methods aren’t always conventional or even strictly legal. He’s a smart ass with a heart of gold who gets the job done.  You can’t help love him for it.

Another things that sets the series apart is the language. Camilleri interweaves a whole heap of Italian and the Sicilian dialect into his books without leaving English speakers behind. I credit Camilleri (and Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti Series) with the wee grasp I have of Italian because he makes is natural and easy.

However, this is the first book in the series that I have read as opposed to listening to and there was a huge difference. Grover Gardner narrates the audiobooks and he pronounces all of the Sicilian that doesn’t roll off of your tongue easily. As I was reading this, I heard his voice in my head and would have been lost a few times if I hadn’t already heard him say some words in the prior books. I can’t think of another series or even standalone that I would suggest audio versions more strongly.

If you’re like me and have a yen for Italy, a sarcastic sense of humor, and like your mysteries served with a side of well hidden social commentary….check out Inspector Montalbano. You can start anywhere, but I always try to start series at the beginning for the full experience.

 

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The Paris Homicide Series by Frédérique Molay

 

Paris Homicide

I love the gritty psychologically driven Scandinavian crime novels and they led me to reach out for a broader view of European Crime.  Let me tell you, it isn’t all gritty, but that doesn’t mean you have Ms. Marple in the library sipping tea either.

Paris, oohhh, Paris, with the tragic history and all of those romantic spots…Just like any modern city, there are murders there too, fictional and otherwise. In comes, Frédérique Molay, and her creation, Chief of Police Nico Sirsky.

The three part (so far) Paris Homicide series has opened my eyes not only to real-life Paris, but to the interesting way that La Crim’ investigates murder. I say interesting, because the mechanisms and procedures are different from what we are used to here and that adds to the intrigue of the plots for non-native readers.

The plots kept me reading as well. The 7th Woman features a killer of women, Crossing the Line starts with a freaky message secreted away in an odd body part, and City of Blood plays havoc with modern art at the site of a former massive slaughter-house with is now Parc de La Villtte, a world-class cultural center.

Nico Sirsky is different in that he isn’t really some tragically flawed alcoholic with decades of self-imposed wreckage behind him. He has a past just like we all do, the same with sad events, but it doesn’t define him like many fictional crime fighters. He is a good compassionate guy, who is very good at his job, with a teenage son, and a relationship in bloom. He’s multi-dimensional not for his bad habits, but because one can relate to him.  He’s a shift from the norm and really a breath of fresh air because of that.

So, if you want to see more of Paris and how they fight crime, not be afraid of turning the lights out at night, and yet still want some murder in your reading….check out Frédérique Molay, and her work, The Paris Homicide Series.

Check out the review at The Bowed Bookshelf

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The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

 

The Farm

 

You know that feeling when you are on the uphill part of a roller coaster? There is that tick, tick, tick, of the car, your heart beats a bit faster as you look down, the seat belt starts to strain as you test just how tight you set it, you try to remember to look out and see the surrounding city, but it’s hard to peel your eyes from the pinnacle……now imagine all that tension and that you can see your parents tied to the tracks ahead and the knowledge that you have to choose one, just one to save.  You have to choose just one, mom or dad. That’s The Farm. The tension in The Farm just builds and builds and like a dog with a bone, it just won’t let go of you once you pick it up.

 

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

That’s how it starts for Daniel.  His parents retired to Sweden last year and because he has never opened up to them about your sexuality, he has pretty much avoided making a visit because that would mean introducing them to Mark, his boyfriend.

So Daniel picks his mom up at Heathrow and she starts to tell him, from the beginning, what has happened. You think you know your parents, like Mark does, until you are thrown into a crisis and realize that you really don’t know them at all. That feeling that you know them is even stronger than the feeling you might have with your spouse and yet is based on childhood memories and the false faces that our parents show us.

As Daniel listens to his mother, he is constantly forced to take sides; his dad or his mom. One minute, he believes that his dad is right and he deals with his mother calmly like you would a nut. Then he sees her side and even though he doesn’t want to believe it, his dad suddenly looks like the bad guy.  It’s the ultimate moment in time when you have to start being an adult and find that you have to now parent, your parents. (A theme that many of us have or will face.)

Now, I’ve read Smith’s earlier trilogy, Child 44 and it was good, but this is better. Not only has he become a better, tighter writer, but he has taken on a situation that most of us can picture ourselves; maybe not as extreme as poor Daniel, but it’s still the stuff that can keep you up at night just like this book did to me.

Read it.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0446550736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446550734

I received this book from the publisher for an honest review.

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The Doll by Taylor Stevens

the doll

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Book 3 in the Vanessa Michael Monroe series)

I spend quite a bit of time on the Amazon Kindle forums helping people out with their issues and often that means looking at a book’s product page to see if there are compatibility issues, page numbers, etc. Nine times out of ten, I end up looking at really random books that I would never read and make me laugh. (Sometimes the titles give way more info than the poor Kindle user wants to, I’m sure)  Early last year, someone had a problem with borrowing the second book  book in this series, The Innocent, from the library. The synopsis grabbed me, so I grabbed the first book and never looked back.

Vanessa Michael Monroe, AKA Michael, is damaged and yet her strength and ability to carve a life out of her unique skills makes her a really strong female protagonist. She’s multi-lingual, an intimidating fighter and never fails to get the job done, no matter what the obstacle. She is the person you call when all normal channels are useless. She finds the information or the person gone missing in conditions that are unimaginable to us mere mortals. Yet, her past haunts her so much that you can see her fragility and desire for normal things that most of us take for granted. The juxtaposition is what draws me to the books again and again.

The Doll made my skin crawl a bit. The bad guy isn’t your everyday flesh peddler, he makes his captives to order…into living dolls which seemed so much more grotesque in my mind than a normal kidnapping. The Doll Maker may have bitten off more than he could chew when his henchmen grabbed Michael.

Even faster paced than the first two in the series, The Doll kept me at the edge of my seat with the twists and turns. It was one of those “Just let me finish this chapter and I’ll go do the dishes” books. Problem was…I couldn’t hold myself to just one more chapter.

Taylor Stevens herself has one of the most interesting backstory, check it out at Taylor Stevens Books.

 

The Doll by Taylor Stevens

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0307888789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307888785

This book was given to me by the great folks at Read it Forward.

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