Book Review: The Outcast Dead – Elly Griffiths

The Outcast Dead coverTitle: The Outcast Dead
Author: Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9780547792774
Pages: 384
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Crime Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Forensic archaeologst Ruth Galloway is on a dig at Norwich Castle when she discovers the Victorian-era remains of a woman with a hook for a hand. Ruth is certain that the body belongs to the famed Mother Hook, a woman who took in unwanted children and murdered them. But as a TV program takes interest in the skeleton, Ruth begins to dig into Mother Hook’s past, uncertain of whether she is actually guilty of the crimes she’s purported to have committed.

Snapshot Review:

A series that keeps things fresh with every installment, Elly Griffith’s latest Ruth Galloway mystery The Outcast Dead continues with impeccable character development and multiple mysteries that will keep readers intrigued.

Full Review:

Every time I review one of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels, I feel like I say the same thing: Every book in this series is remarkable because it is so different than the ones that come before and after. The Outcast Dead is no exception; Griffiths manages to set this novel apart from all the installments that come before it. This means that each book in this series is fresh and new; too often, series books start to feel formulaic, but Griffiths is one that never disappoints.

Ruth’s life has been shaken up in the past few novels, so it’s nice to see things settling down in The Outcast Dead. She’s adjusted to life as a single, working mom, and has found a way to be comfortable working alongside DCI Nelson, the father of her child, and has made peace with his wife. Ruth’s in a comfortable place when this novel begins. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way, with shakeups here and there (including the first appearance of Ruth’s semi-estranged brother and a potential new love interest), but it’s nice to see that Ruth’s in a good place, mentally. Being a mother has changed her, softened her, so it’s interesting to see how she takes the Mother Hook case a bit personally.

Though The Outcast Dead starts as a centuries-old mystery about Mother Hook’s guilt or innocence, the story becomes much more urgent with the kidnapping of a young child. Though Ruth isn’t directly involved with this case, she plays her own part in it. In many ways, this novel is about the secondary characters of the series, those surrounding Ruth, dealing with their respective issues. By this point, these characters feel like old friends; readers will love the care that Griffiths takes with each of them. It’s clear that she lovingly pens these characters, and that she wants them to find happiness and peace as much as the reader wants them to.

If you haven’t read any Elly Griffiths, you can start with The Outcast Dead if you so desire; though you’d be missing out on a lot of character development, you’ll enjoy the fast-paced story. Additionally Griffiths doesn’t rehash previous plotlines, so you’d be able to go back and enjoy previous novels. I really can’t recommend this series highly enough; Griffiths does such a great job with her stories and characters that any fan of crime fiction, history, or character-driven novels should absolutely be reading the Ruth Galloway series.

Other books by Elly Griffiths:

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
A Dying Fall

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Book Review: Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me cover

Title: Astonish Me
Author: Maggie Shipstead
ISBN: 9780307962904
Pages: 272
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Joan knows that a pregnancy is the end of a ballet career, yet she can’t help but be thrilled at the life growing inside her. She turns her back on her world of professional ballet (after all, she knows she will never be good enough to rise to the role of prima ballerina) and her former lover, Arslan, an infamous Russian ballet dancer who defected from Russia with Joan’s help. Joan settles down with her childhood friend Jacob, and together, they raise their son, Harry. But when one of Joan’s students at her ballet school turns out to be an excellent dance, Joan must return to the world she left, knowing people she cares about could get hurt in the process.

Snapshot Review:

Astonish Me is a gorgeous novel about the intricate world of ballet. While the end twist is predictable, this book is about the characters rather than any plot points; readers who enjoy character-driven novels should absolutely pick this up.

Full Review:

Astonish Me is a beautiful novel that plunges the reader into the complex world of a ballerina. Though Joan is ready to leave this life when the novel begins, the book is full of the intricacies and nuances of the ballet scene. Through flashbacks, and later through Joan’s students, the reader is treated to the competitive, backbiting world where every dancer can only look out for him or herself. But there is also beauty in this world; readers will enjoy the grace of this novel as they are immersed in its foreignness.

Joan is an interesting character, and the only person the reader truly comes to know in Astonish Me. It’s her story, after all. She understands the sad truth of her life in the ballet—she simply is not good enough—and looks for something more in life through Jacob and Harry. But, in some ways, Joan knows that the return to the ballet world is inevitable. Readers will enjoy seeing Joan grow and change through her marriage, become more human instead of an ethereal ballet dancer, but ballet will never leave her. The damage that world has done to her—the need to be thin, the inability to bring herself to eat more than a few mouthfuls, the inferiority complex because she was never good enough of a ballet dancer—will always be with Joan.

The ending of Astonish Me is fairly predictable in terms of twists, but one gets the impression that the book isn’t supposed to be a surprise. This is a nuanced emotional, character-driven novel about the way these lives intertwine and how ballet consumes them all. It seems light and effortless, but deep down it harbors dark secrets and character flaws, much like a ballet dancer giving the performance of a lifetime. Shipstead’s portrayal of these characters is honest, and readers will appreciate that she doesn’t shy away from the bad, but allows them to see these people for who they really are.

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Book Review: The Psychopath Whisperer – Kent A. Kiehl

The Psychopath Whisperer coverTitle: The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience
Author: Kent A. Kiehl, PhD
ISBN: 9780770435844
Pages: 304
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Nonfiction, Science
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

One of the leading experts on psychopaths, Kent Kiehl takes the reader on a comprehensive study of psychopaths. He discusses his personal experiences with psychopaths as well as a more academic approach, discussing the Psychopath Checklist and the science behind psychopathy.

Snapshot Review:

A clearly written book with excellent balance between personal narrative and science, The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience is well worth the read for anyone interested in the science of psychopaths.

Full Review:

Psychopath is a term we throw around pretty freely these days, but what is a psychopath really? What makes a person a psychopath? Are they born that way or is it a learned behavior? Kent A. Kiehl has been studying psychopaths over the course of his 20-year career, and he distills his knowledge and experience into this fascinating and very readable book.

The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without a Conscience takes multiple approaches to discuss psychopathy within its pages. We are treated to a personal narrative from Kiehl’s work as he details the course of his career, discussing the many different experiences he’s had studying psychopaths, mostly in prisons, and what he’s learned from these encounters, interviews, and brain scans. This is fascinating, as we receive Kiehl’s commentary and really come to understand psychopathy (at least, as much as a layperson reading about them can). This practical discussion is unique and part of what makes the book so readable.

Kiehl also delves into the science in The Psychopath Whisperer. This is a book aimed at non-scientists, so the science isn’t overwhelming, but it’s detailed and thoroughly discussed. What’s more, Kiehl offers a “case study” that runs through the book about two very different kids, interspersed over the chapters. The reader watches them grow up and must guess which is a psychopath. Or are they both psychopaths? It’s hard to tell. This exercise serves multiple purposes, and it draws the reader in completely.

If you’re interested in the science of the mind (or are just an avid crime fiction reader), then The Psychopath Whisperer is absolutely a book you should pick up. Kiehl writes a fascinating book; it’s precisely written and easy to read, ensuring that readers will be drawn in from the first page as the delve into the dark world of psychopathy.

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Book Review: Golden State – Michelle Richmond

Golden State coverTitle: Golden State
Author: Michelle Richmond
ISBN: 9780385343282
Pages: 304
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Things are awry in the state of California. There is a referendum on the ballot for the state to secede from the United States of America. There are riots and people in the streets. It’s against this chaotic backdrop that Dr. Julie Walker receives word that her sister, Heather, is in labor. Julie must get to Heather, but she couldn’t possibly know what she will experience along the way.

Snapshot Review:

A unique novel, Golden State serves up a close, personal story against the backdrop of larger, chaotic events. Richmond does an admirable job of keeping both narratives interesting during this character-driven tale.

 Full Review:

Golden State starts out with an intriguing premise: the state of California is possibly going to secede from the United States. The vote is close. Things may be about to change drastically. So it’s interesting that the main plot isn’t about this momentous and tumultuous occasion; instead, it’s a quiet, personal story set against utter chaos.

Julie is in the midst of divorce proceedings when Golden State begins. It’s clear that her life has fallen apart around her. Over the course of the novel, we learn why that is and the difficult part her sister played in all of it. Julie has not had an easy time of things, and things take a turn for the worse as she gets nearer to the hospital. Circumstances force Julie to relive the worst parts of her life, to come to terms with what has happened. Richmond does a great job of keeping the tension up, making readers guess as to what really happened to Julie and why she is so broken.

The novel is told in different time periods, jumping back and forth to flesh out Julie’s history, but the reader really feels like they are just dropped into a day in Julie’s life. Much came before, and much will come after the last pages are turned. The reader is simply along for the ride. Richmond does a great job balancing Julie’s personal trauma against the exciting events going on in California; it’s not easy to create a story like this, with such different plotlines, but the author manages to make both seem urgent and important.

If you’re looking for something different, a seemingly action-packed novel that actually has a quiet, character-driven story at its core, then Golden State is a great choice. It’s got so many issues packed within its pages–politics, mental health issues, forgiveness, relationships—that readers will be riveted by this contemplative novel from start to finish.

Other books by Michelle Richmond:

No One You Know
The Year of Fog

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Book Review: The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things cover

Title: The Signature of All Things Author: Elizabeth Gilbert ISBN: 9780670024858 Pages: 512 Release Date: October 1, 2013 Publisher: Viking Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Henry Whitaker came from nothing, but with his love of and knowledge of botany, he made a fortune for himself in 18th century Europe […]

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Book Review: Until You’re Mine – Samantha Hayes

Until You're Mine cover

Title: Until You’re Mine Author: Samantha Hayes ISBN: 9780804136891 Pages: 368 Release Date: April 15, 2014 Publisher: Crown Genre: Psychological Thriller Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: There’s something off about Claudia’s new nanny, Zoe. On paper, she’s perfect, and she has a great rapport with Claudia’s twin stepsons. But with Claudia’s husband away a […]

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Book Review: Long Mile Home – Scott Helman & Jenna Russell

Long Mile Home cover

Title: Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice Author: Scott Helman & Jenna Russell ISBN: 9780525954484 Pages: 352 Release Date: April 1, 2014 Publisher: Dutton Genre: Nonfiction, History/Current Events Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: On April 15, 2013, during the historic Boston Marathon, two bombs […]

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Little Free Library, Book Riot, and More!

Little Free Library

I haven’t checked in with all of you in awhile, so I figured it’s definitely time for an update on what’s going on. Things have been busy, as always, but the biggest change has been a small addition to our front yard. You may have noticed the “Little Free Library” section on the site’s menu […]

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