The Likeness by Tana French (2008)

Dublin Murder Squad series, Book #2

the likeness tana french

Tana French’s first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods, was highly recommended to me by several people but when I read it I found it strangely hard to like and never bothered to read the next book in the series. However, after reading only “light” novels and non-fiction over the holidays, I was in the mood for something a bit juicier and the library had a copy of The Likeness on the shelf. I am so glad I gave the series another try; as this novel was thrilling, intriguing, and completely unlike any police procedural I have ever read.

Our heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, was a rising star in the Dublin police force, whose work in Undercover had earned her a coveted spot on the Murder Squad in the first book of the series. However, several errors and unethical choices by Maddox during a high-profile murder case resulted in a humiliating nervous breakdown and a demotion to another unit.

The opening of The Likeness finds Maddox working Domestic Violence cases and still struggling with psychological issues resulting from her last, disastrous case in Murder. When she receives a call from two detectives — her former boss from Undercover and her boyfriend in Murder — asking her to report to a crime scene, she is reluctant to comply. Terrified that refusing would have her fired, and equally terrified that her loss of nerve will be revealed, she goes.

What greets her there is something that she never could have predicted: the young woman who has been murdered is her exact doppelgänger, who has died using the alias “Lexie Madison,” one that Maddox herself invented when she was working Undercover years earlier. Shocked at the turn of events, Maddox cannot understand why she has been pulled into the investigation.

The two detectives leading in the case have an outrageous — and slightly unethical — request of Maddox. They would like to conceal the woman’s murder and send Maddox undercover into the Lexie’s life to see if they can catch her killer. On one hand, Maddox is horrified at the thought of working in the field for the first time since her breakdown. On the other hand, she knows she was a master at Undercover work and is intrigued at the idea of being asked to take on such a delicate — and dangerous — task.

She agrees and soon she is moving into a large estate outside of Dublin, where Lexie — using a stolen identity — lives with her four best friends, all of whom are murder suspects. Each day she must simultaneously be Lexie and learn who Lexie was pretending to be. Having told her friends she survived a stabbing and is recovering from a coma and memory loss (to help conceal any differences they might notice), Maddox slowly has to earn their trust by becoming “their Lexie” and getting them to relax enough to reveal what really happened the night of the murder.

But a strange thing starts to happen to Maddox during the months she is living undercover with the four suspects: she begins to fall in love with the life they are living and deeply care for them. All four of them are orphans, as she is, and they are all creating a life outside of the mainstream: a life filled with music, art, literature, good food, and a friendship that Maddox has never before experienced and finds intoxicating. The lines between who she is and who she is pretending to be grow blurry and soon the investigation stalls. These wonderful people could not have hurt anyone, Maddox begins to believe.

Knowing Maddox is in too deep, the two detectives on the outside force her hand by revealing that one, or all, of the housemates most certainly killed Lexie. Shocked to learn that she has cozied up to the very killer she was sent their to arrest jerks her back into herself. Maddox begins to tear the group apart, hoping that they will reveal the killer before anyone tries to kill Lexie again.

I found it utterly unique to read a murder mystery where the detective lives with and comes to deeply care for the suspects, developing “some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome” that threatens the case and puts her life in danger. Emotionally rich and filled with a truly unique mystery to unravel, The Likeness was a wonderful read!

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The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy (2017)

the rules do not apply a levy

When Ariel Levy writes that she has always felt that the “rules do not apply” to her, she truly means that, throughout her life, she has had the passion and granted herself the permission to make her own path. Her non-traditional journey is at times thrilling and at other times heart-breaking; but it is relayed to readers with an unflinching honesty and a surprising lack of melodrama.

Levy decided from an early age that she would not lock herself into any of the traditional roles for women.  She would be sexual adventurous; she would have romantic relationships with both men and women; she would refuse marriage and children; and she would create her own career as a writer. As Levy lived through her twenties, she did reject all of the rules she felt were outdated and punitive to women and forged ahead with her own version of the ideal life.

Then, in her 30s, her life began to change and she had to decide whether to keep resisting “traditional” paths or accept them as she got older. She met and fell in love with an older woman, one who wanted stability and monogamy. She, herself, began to crave financial security and a place to call home. So she relinquished a bit of her wildness to get married and set up a home with her new wife.

However, this conventional path was rockier than she had anticipated and she found herself challenging the very rules she had set for herself when she got married. Soon she and her wife found themselves faced with infidelity, financial hardship, and the ravages of addiction. The two women shouldered on, trying their best to repair their marriage, and deciding that the best course of action to get their lives back on track would be to have a baby together.

However, the pregnancy that resulted drove an even deeper wedge between Levy and her wife. Soon their relationship, which was rocky at best, had to flex to accommodate the man who had fathered their son and all three of their extended families. As her pregnancy progressed, Levy ignored the warning signs that her wife has struggling and felt fiercely proud that she was building a life on her terms…a baby without a husband, a father for her son without the drama of a relationship, a baby with her wife that would bring stability to their home.

The fragile strings that were holding their lives together soon snap and Levy finds herself at rock bottom: suddenly everything she once had is gone and she must decide if she is strong enough to shoulder her grief and rebuild her life.

In The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy shows her successes and her failures, her loves and her heartaches all in equal measure. And she shows readers that all choices have costs, and that whether you follow the rules or you break the rules…there us always a price to be paid.

My True Love Gave To Me (2014)

Young Adult Holiday Short Story Collection, Various Authors

This collection of short stories provided an lazy afternoon with some wonderful holiday reading. In the book, twelve best-selling young adult authors each write a short story about teens who find a little (or a lot of) romance during the holidays.

Some romances have taken a long time to blossom — as in Rainbow Rowell’s “Midnight” — others explore a romance between two teens in New York who may be living in the same city but in very different worlds — as in Matt De La Pena’s “Angels in the Snow” — other’s explore holiday romance between two young men of different faiths — as in David Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa.” Written with a very modern and expansive definitions of love and romance, each story does a great job presenting how young adult relationships can as complex as there adult counterparts. Even more, each author does a great job highlighting what courage it takes for young person to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for love.

The collection was a fun, fast, festive read and a reminder that young adults are still seeking a holiday filled with magic now that they are too old for Santa, but while romance can be magical, it can also be a nerve-wracking endeavor.

Hardcore Twenty Four by Janet Evanovich (2017)

Two other books in the Stephanie Plum series have been reviewed on this site. To find them, click on the “Janet Evanovich” tag on the main page.

hardcore 24

Stephanie Plum, the inept but lovable bounty hunter, is back to solve yet another mystery with her unique brand of mediocre sleuthing. Hardcore Twenty-Four opens with Stephanie in her usual predicaments: running low on cash, juggling feelings for two men, and partnered with wildly unpredictable colleague who hinders her work as a bounty hunter about as much as she helps.

Trenton New Jersey is abuzz with gossip about a series of bizarre crimes: someone has been breaking into funeral homes and decapitating bodies awaiting burial. If that was not creepy enough, the police begin to discover other bodies all over town: some headless, some with their heads left on but their brains gone. The predominant theory:  a zombie horde has invaded Trenton.

When she is asked to track down a young man who blew up a building trying to cook meth (and missed his court dates), Stephanie finds herself drawn into the zombie mystery. While she tracks down her criminal, she keeps having run in’s with people who very well could be zombies — or at least people who look like the living dead. Rather than leave it to the police to solve the mystery, Stephanie feels compelled to keep tracking the so-called “zombies,” certain that if she can find her missing skip, she can get to the bottom of the strange string of crimes upsetting the city.

While Stephanie does get to the bottom of the things, she does so in her signature way: with plenty car crashes, explosions, gun fights, with help from all manner of crazy side-kicks. Hardcore Twenty-Four does not add anything new to the Stephanie Plum series, but it does not disappoint loyal fans either.

 

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #10

Spoiler Alert: This blog post contains some information about the series that serious fans might be upset to learn before they read the book themselves! Proceed with caution super-fans!

the long way home

After the thrill-ride of How the Light Gets In, the book that proceeds this one in the series, readers will find The Long Way Home is a subtler, more nuanced story; one that is quite different in tone from the other books in the series. Most notable is the fact that Armand Gamache has retired and he and his beloved wife have moved into a home on the village green in Three Pines. Surrounded by the dear friends he has made while investigating murders in and around the town over the years, Armand finds himself deeply at peace.

However, his neighbor and friend, Clara Morrow is not at peace: her husband is missing. After a terrible betrayal was revealed to her in A Trick of the Light, Clara asked her husband Peter to leave their home for one year, while they both decided if their marriage could be repaired. Peter was due to come home mid-summer, but he did not arrive, nor write or call Clara. Weeks have passed and Clara, now simultaneously furious and terrified, feels that she must find Peter.  Has Peter not returned because he does not want to, or because he cannot?

Even though doing so will burden Armand Gamache, Clara begs him to help her search. He reluctantly agrees. Together with the help of Clara’s best friend Myrna, and Jean Guy Beauvoir (who still works for the police and can utilize those resources) the group sets off to find Peter. However, finding him proves much, much more difficult than they imagined. Peter seems to have vanished with almost no trace.

Painstakingly the group finds the barest of threads that lead them across Canada, always one step behind Peter. As they draw closer and closer to where they think he might be, it becomes clear that there is a sinister plot afoot that Peter — wittingly or not — may have become involved in.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (2010)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohen & David Levithan (2010)

“I wanted to ask her, What does a stranger feel like? Not to be snarky or sarcastic. Because I really wanted to know if there was a difference, if there was a way to become truly knowable, if there wasn’t always something keeping you a stranger, even to people who weren’t strange to you at all.” 194

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was selected by one of my book club’s for our December book selection. This is a month that our group tries to pick a light, uplifting story that is neither too lengthy nor too sad. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a Young Adult romance novel, set in Manhattan on Christmas, and it fit the bill perfectly.

Lily is a smart, funny, quirky girl who is beloved by her huge extended family, but who sees herself as set apart from her peers, especially boys. She adores Christmas in all its forms — the music, the food, the gifts, even the crowds, tourists, and lines. This holiday season she is on her own and finds herself adrift with no relatives to fill her time. Her older brother, sensing Lily is a lost cause when it comes to finding a boyfriend on her own, devises a scavenger hunt that they will set up in a local used bookstore. Should an adventurous, intelligent, book-loving boy happen to find the first clue? Well, then he might just find his way to Lily. The romance of it all persuades Lily to agree and a red notebook is hidden in the bookstore, with a set of clues that will lead a boy right to Lily.

Enter Dash, a cynical, cranky boy who absolutely hates Christmas and everything associated with it. He prefers the company of books — the more complex and obscure the better — to people and hopes to spend his holiday week alone. While browsing his favorite bookstore on December 21, Dash finds Lily’s book and cannot help but be intrigued. A young woman, clearly knowledgeable and daring, who wants to use a trail of books to help them meet? Who would pass up the chance to meet her?

Soon the notebook takes on a life of its own as Dash and Lily take turns writing cryptic notes that take the other all around the city. While decoding messages and hunting down clues set up in New York’s iconic institutions– the more crowded and touristy the destination, the better — the two begin to write their stories to one another as well. Even though they have not met, the two begin to grow closer and closer — emotionally and physically — as they hunt down clues that they hope will lead them to one another.

Dash and Lily is written in a style very similar to John Green and told with the same snappy dialogue and precociousness that Green is famous for; including quirky-but-understanding relatives and multi-cultural cast of friends. The story was touching reminder of just how alone teens can feel and how hard they can find it to befriend people who will love them just as they are…no upgrades required.

 

 

 

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #9

how the light gets in

For the ninth book in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Louise Penny has written her most complex, broad-reaching, and thrilling novel of the series so far. Christmas is fast-approaching and Armand finds himself weary and heart-sick: his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir has left the homicide department and cut ties with Armand; his superiors at the Sûreté du Québec are pressuring Armand to quit his job; and the young officers in his department are refusing to follow his command. Armand is working, delicately and carefully, try to unravel the real reasons that his superiors are trying to force him out. His instincts tell him that there are crimes being committed within the Sûreté that someone desperately does not want Armand to look into; so much so that they are trying to make his work-life miserable enough to force him to resign.

Despite the chaos that has descended onto the department, Armand must continue to investigate murders, it is his duty and his moral obligation to help find the men and women who have taken lives and bring them to justice. Only now, Armand must do it with almost no support. It is a murder that brings him back to Three Pines once again, to look for clues into the murder of a once-famous woman. While in the village, Armand realizes its remote location would also allow him to perfect place to investigate his fellow officers from afar.

With the help of a few agents who are still loyal to him, Armand sets up a base in Three Pines and — using the woman’s murder as cover — begins to bring to light the corruption within the Sûreté. What he uncovers is more shocking than any of the team can imagine, and uncovering those secrets puts not only Armand in danger, but all of the villagers in Three Pines as well.

Thrilling and complex, the novel brings to conclusion several story-lines with twists and turns on nearly every page. A page-turner that was impossible to put down, even on the busiest of days, Thanksgiving! My guests may have felt slightly neglected but I had to know how it would all come together in the end!