“The Donnellys must die” by Orlo Miller

I realize it’s very odd for me to read non-fiction, but there is a long story to it! I live near Lucan, and while staying with friends (we are in between homes thanks to our landlady selling the house to fund her next overseas trip and a 1.8% vacancy rate) I heard about a theatre production about the “Black Donnellys” over the local radio. I had heard about them here and there since moving to this town, but no one really explained more than it was horrible and no one really knows the true story.

When the person we were staying with found out I had no idea what it was about, she lent me this book.

The Donnellys were an Irish immigrant family that were brutally murdered in their home. According to Miller, who created this narrative with evidence from newspapers at the time, court documentation, and personal journals, upwards of 200 people were involved.

This isn’t an easy crime to pin down because it traces back to Ireland hundreds of years previous. A division of religion and a martyr put the Donnelly name on the opposite side of most Irish families.

During the famine when many Irish settlers came over to Canada, tension was already high. From massive deaths on their trip over, to forced indenture. (There is a documentary called the Coffin Ship Hannah, showing everything the Irish immigrants went through and how the Canadian Government lied about most of it.) The Donnellys, to separate themselves from the death in small colonies, and the thriving hatred, they found a patch of land and …squatted there. The land itself had an absentee landlord, which Miller believes probably gave the Donnellys a chuckle. They built a home, cleared the land, and then it was something like 10 years and 20 some odd acres later that the landlord came back. Back then there was a law called “Squatters Rights”, so the Donnellys won the case.

That was the start of a rapid decline. Everyone already had a bad taste for the Donnellys, so this event did them no favors. They were already known as thieves and crooks, so this just painted them in an even worse light than before.

At a barn building event, Donnelly came face to face with the Landlord. Irish and Alcohol are a stereotype for a reason (I’m Irish-Canadian so I can say that) and a fight broke out. Donnelly, defending himself according to some accounts, dodged the axe either thrown at him, or thrown NEAR him (accounts of this event say both) and picked up a piece of Iron and chucked it. It nailed his opponent in the temple, and he died several days later. Miller believes if Donnelly had turned himself in, the end result might have been better. But instead, he ran, and hid.

This whole event sounds like a bad mix of religious intolerance, and just poor decision making. Miller states the facts as he has found them, and several times that while Donnelly may have been in the wrong, the punishment did not fit the crime.

It is an incredibly interesting story, and I learned that the reason they were called the “Black Donnellys” isn’t some like the “black mark” or “black dog” thing Scottish families use (My boyfriend belongs to a Scottish clan that has the black dog on their crest, and it means banishment from the main family/highlands), but they were literally black. I’m kind of shocked the term is still used, but I guess if that’s how they were always called, it would travel through the ages.

If you’re into interesting Canadian History, it’s a good read for sure!

”Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell

I found this book at Costco way back last spring, and it has collected dust on my bookshelf ever since. I meant to get to it …eventually. I recently joined a book group on Facebook that rings all of my nerd bells, and this book was the group read for the month of January, so I dusted it off and bumped it up my TBR list.

Ellie was 15 when she disappeared on her way to the library. She is repeatedly labelled as the “Golden Child”, clearly her mother’s favourite. 10 years after her disappearance, the family is torn apart. The relationships between Laurel (Ellie’s Mom) and her other children is strained, and Laurel has not moved on. She always held out hope of her daughters return.

One day, Laurel is at a coffee shop where she meets Floyd, and gets swept up in a whirlwind romance. Everything is going so well, until she meets his 9 year old daughter Poppy, who is just the spitting image of her Ellie. Something seems off about Floyd and Poppy’s relationship. He watches everything she does, and home schools her, which seems to have stunted Poppy’s social skills. Laurel begins to become obsessed with Poppy, her life, and the question of why she looks so much like Ellie.

This was just an OK read for me. On the positive side, it was a fast paced, easy read, it had good character development, and it was hard to put down. The downside was that it was somewhat predictable. I will admit, I did not guess the ending of Poppy’s storyline just right, but I knew each character’s role in the plot as soon as they were introduced, which took some of the tension out of the story. There were a few WTF moments, and I felt there were some pretty big holes in the story that were attempted to be filled by rather unrealistic means. The story had good bones and the potential to be great, but I just felt it fell short for me.

”An Unwanted Guest” by Shari Lapena

This book first hit my radar via Instagram, mainly because I recognized the author’s name. I had read The Couple Next Door a few years ago, and remembered I wasn’t entirely impressed. When I looked up the author on Goodreads, it turns out I have also read Lapena’s A Stranger In The House, which I forgot about entirely. While I thought the synopsis of this new book sounded intriguing, because of my indifference with the author’s previous work, I didn’t really give this book much thought. Then one day a co-worker was talking about a good book that she had just finished, and sure enough it was this book. She offered to lend it to me, so I figured I would give it a try.

This novel takes place in the Catskills Mountains at Mitchell’s Inn, where a group of guests are stuck indoors thanks to a large snow storm, creating icy roads and whiteout conditions. The storm has knocked out the power, meaning no phones, no cell phone reception, and no Wi-Fi. There is also no access to snow machines, and even if there was, the weather is just too treacherous. They are completely cut off from the outside world. There are only 10 guests and 2 staff members at the Inn, and they settle in with candles and blankets to ride out the storm. In the morning after their first night there, the body of one of the guests is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Did she fall? Or was she murdered? If murdered, which one of the remaining guests or staff could have killed her, and why?

This is by far my favourite book by Lapena to date! It was very Agatha Christie-esque, very suspenseful and fast paced, yet mostly character driven. The characters are interesting, each with a secret, each at the Inn to escape something, and their development really drives the story between the short bursts of action. It was a nice, simple, quick read, and I burned through it in an evening. I figured out the mystery before the big reveal, but it wasn’t my first guess… or even my second! I like that it surprised me. Overall, it was clever, a good whodunit that kept me guessing! I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for the next novel by this Canadian author.

“Twisted Prey” by John Sandford

This is the 28th installment in John Sandford’s Prey series, and this time our hero, Lucas Davenport, faces an old foe. Taryn Grant was first seen in Silken Prey, and she is back trying to kill her way to the White House. She is rich, she is a psychopath, and thanks to her job with the Senate Intelligence Committee, she has a military contact with ex Special Forces friends. Taryn targets Senator Porter Smalls, where she attempts to have him killed in a car accident. Smalls survives, though his lover does not. The accident looks just like, well, an accident. There is no evidence that anything else could have happened, the driver simply just lost control. Smalls calls Lucas in to investigate, and prove his life is on the line.

This particular installment is standard Sandford. You have to give the man props. I am sure it is not easy to keep the story fresh and fun after 28 books! Yet Sandford is able to continuously come up with new material and new ideas, all while bringing into the story previous characters, even if for small roles. I particularly like how our main character develops as the series grows, with Lucas now getting older, and struggling to realize he cannot do everything anymore, even calling for help rather than risk fighting for his life. I struggle sometimes with the various levels of government in the story, since I am Canadian and do not fully understand the US system, but Sandford’s stories are still accessible enough for us non US folks as well.

Sandford is one of my favourite summer reads. I love how we the readers get to see both angles of the story, Davenport’s and our bad guy’s perspectives, and watch as they dance their way to an action packed ending. I love Sandford’s writing, his humour, his continual character development, and his way of bringing the reader along for the ride. You know exactly what you are getting; a good, fast paced, easy read that leaves you wanting more!

”Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman

This book made a big splash all over my Instagram feed once Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club’s June pick. It is a mystery novel, and people raved about it, so I borrowed it from the library to see what the fuss was all about.

Erin is a documentary filmmaker, interested in a special project regarding life after prison for three inmates. She has a comfortable life with her fiancé Mark, who is an investment banker. Everything is perfect until Mark loses his job. While Mark is on the hunt for a new job, and Erin is in the middle of gathering footage for her documentary, they get married in a very modest ceremony, and take off on a honeymoon to Bora Bora.

In Bora Bora they have the time of their lives. They spend their time swimming, diving, and in bed. On a day trip diving with sharks and sunken ships, they find …dun dun duuuunnnn …something in the water. This something could change their lives. So what should they do? Do they call the police and report it? Or should they keep it? They make their decision, which has very big consequences. Once they get home, everything changes. Erin and Mark start keeping secrets from each other, and start making dangerous choices.

I liked the side story about the prisoners Erin was interviewing. Her particular project was discussing how they felt about their crimes, and what their dreams were for when they got out. She interviewed the three prisoners while they were in jail, and planned to talk to them once they have been released to see if they made their dreams a reality.

I did not find the characters very likeable or relatable. They made dangerous choices, choices I certainly would not have made, and I have a hard time thinking anyone with an ounce of logic would make. These choices led to bigger problems and more lies. Mark seemed like a total ass to me right from the get go, which bugged me. His behaviour I found very troublesome and uncomfortable.

The writing was not terrible. I found it suspenseful and read it in 2 evenings, so it was a quick read. The characters were decently written, even if unlikeable, and seemed to balance each other. Where Mark was calculating and thinking ahead, Erin was quick to act and impulsive. And the mystery wasn’t entirely guessable, though not exactly believable either. There were some other little things I found bothersome. Like if you are strapped for money why go to Bora Bora? I am sure that isn’t cheap?! Overall, this was another meh book for me.

I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

Instead of writing individual reviews for the three books in this series, I thought it would be easier to do one review for all of them. I remember seeing I Hunt Killers, the first novel in the series, while working at the book store. Although I thought it sounded interesting and I shelved it in my “to read” shelf on Good Reads, it look me five years to get around to actually reading it, and by then it turned into a full blown series.

The series follows Jasper Dent, a 17 year old boy who happens to be the son of the country’s most famous serial killer. Jasper’s father raised him to be the perfect killer, teaching him how to think both as a killer and how to think like the police. He taught him tactics to avoid getting caught, but he himself was captured, and Jasper is desperate to avoid following in his father’s footsteps.

Someone is killing in Lobo’s Nod, Jasper’s hometown, and the killings mimic his father’s work. Jasper is sure it is the work of a serial killer, but no one believes him. He does everything he can to prove he is right and to stop the killer before the body count has a chance to pile up.

In the meantime, Jasper has other issues.  His mother has been missing for years, and he believes his father killed her. He lives with his grandmother who has dementia on top of mental health issues. His best friend Howie is a hemophiliac, who struggles with some mild social awkwardness and an obsession with tattoos he can never have. Jasper’s girlfriend Connie is a beautiful black girl who he fears he only loves because his father never killed a black woman. All of these characters play important roles in each of the novels, both to help drive the story, and as windows into Jasper’s thoughts and fears.

I don’t want to say too much about Game (book 2) or Blood of my Blood (book 3), mainly because anything I say will ruin the books for you. I will just say I enjoyed the series. It doesn’t have a tremendous amount of action, seems more peppered in here and there, but I still found it a good easy read. I did not guess the killer in the first book, l which I always like. That being said I didn’t guess the big twist at the end of the third either. I really liked the interesting perspective of someone raised by a serial killer. It is a unique concept to think of how hard police work to get into the mind of a serial killer, and here is this 17 year old kid who can get into the killers mind just as easily as the police’s. The series is definitely worth a read. You can tell the author put a lot of research into his work, which I always appreciate.

”Missing” by Kelley Armstrong

This is another teen stand-alone book by Kelley Armstrong. I did not even know it existed until I found it at a used book store in town for super cheap. And we all know how much I love me some Kelley Armstrong!

Winter Crane lives in a small community named Reeves End in Kentucky, a dead end town where people flee the second they graduate high school. The town is surrounded by old abandoned mines and bush, the population is small and very poor, and the bush has a pack of dangerous feral dogs. Winter lives in a trailer with her abusive, alcoholic father, and frequently sleeps in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Her sister, Cadence, left town right out of high school and no one has heard from her since.

One day Winter is trying to avoid the feral dogs when she stumbles across a young man in a tree, hurt and unconscious. She helps him, brings him to her cabin, and cleans and mends his wounds. Lennon Bishop is not a bush boy at all, but a cute, charming, charismatic guy with mediocre hunting skills and no idea how he got into that tree or why he looks like he just got his ass kicked.

Lennon tells her he is in town to find Edie; a friend of Winter’s who left town for bigger and better things, only no one has heard from her in a while either. Could she be missing? As Lennon tries to figure out what happened to him, someone attacks the cabin. Lennon knows he has brought this person into Winter’s life, just not exactly how or why. Lennon himself disappears after telling Winter he is going to fix everything.

While Winter searches for answers, Lennon’s brother Jude shows up looking for him. Jude is not so charismatic, but he sheds a little more light into Lennon, his lifestyle, and muddies the water as to why Lennon might have disappeared.

Winter starts to look into the other kids who have left Reeve’s End, seeing if anyone has heard from them or if they appear to be missing as well. While investigating she finds the body of a local boy who was supposed to have left town. Does his body relate to her sister’s disappearance, or Edie’s, or even Lennon’s?

I really enjoy Armstrong’s books. They are always an easy, fast pace read with a lot of mystery and action. She tackles division of classes, and the privileges that come with money. She is great at writing meet cute stories, and this is one of the few books of hers where I did not guess who the big baddy was.

I like that Armstrong seems to have embraced the mystery writing without the supernatural element. Werewolves and vampires seem to be over, it was fun while it lasted, but I for one am glad to see more interesting stories coming out. The only downside is if the big bad are not supernatural, it has to be something else. In this case, the scary element in the woods is a feral pack of dogs. There is some animal violence, which was a little hard for me to read, and I could have done without in the story. For some reason it is always easier to read about people getting stabbed than animals. Still, the story was good, the pace fast, just enough action and danger, and a neat and tidy ending. What more could you ask for!?

“Hardcore Twenty Four” by Janet Evanovich

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asteriaiconI really go back and forth with how I feel about this series, yet here I am, still reading it. I have to say it makes a great series to read at the beach though. I find them to be super-fast, non-thinky reads, something you can just relax and go along for the ride, laugh out loud weird situations, and put down at any point. I just wish there was some character development.

In this particular installment, headless bodies keep popping up all over town and Stephanie Plum is on the hunt to find the killer. In the meantime she is babysitting a capture’s boa, and hunting bail jumpers. Diesel is back in town hunting something on his own, crashing at Stephanie’s place. Oh …and there is the matter of zombies being sited around town as well.

There really isn’t much I can add that I have not already said before in previous reviews. There is still no character development, no definitive choice or romantic interest, though I do think it is leaning more one way than another. Still, no great writing, but I can still chuckle with it. I do still like finding names mentioned in the Burg that resemble businesses in my home town. Having said all of that, there is also no politics, minimal technology, and minimal pop culture references. It is a cookie cutter, you know exactly what you are going to get; a nice, simple, think-free read. Perhaps in today’s climate the series really is the perfect read!

“Anatomy of a Scandal” by Sarah Vaughan

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asteriaiconI really need to stop reading these “Best of 2018” lists. This was another book that appeared on such a list, and I like a good mystery so I gave it a shot.

James Whitehouse appeared to have it all; the beautiful wife who stands by his side no matter what, 2 wonderful children, and a cushy job as part of the British Parliament. He is even personal friends with the British Prime Minister after attending a posh college together. But everything falls apart after it is revealed that he had an affair with a colleague. Sophie, his wife, can deal with that, thinking they can work past this. But then her husband is charged with rape, and Sophie has to re-evaluate her entire life with a man she isn’t sure she even knows anymore. Kate is the lawyer in charge of prosecuting James Whitehouse. She is hell-bent on sending him to prison, convinced of his guilt. This is the highest profile case she has worked, and her career is on the line with it. Is she overambitious? Is James really guilty?

This was a very frustrating book. The characters were not likeable or relatable. The blurb on the cover paints James as a loving father, but that never came through at all to me. They were privileged rich people who were arrogant and entitled. I like when characters are flawed, and they own their flaws, when they learn and grow from them. These characters did not learn anything. They did not grow and become better people. They felt they were entitled to whatever they wanted. Even Kate, who I almost felt bad for, who seemed such a fragile character, still felt entitled enough to risk her entire career, and potentially go to jail, to try to put James behind bars by any means necessary, even if unethical.

I just found it so deeply disappointing.  I found it frustrating that rape, which alters someone life so profoundly, something that can destroy a person’s relationships for life, to be treated so cavalier in this book. Why is it okay that someone with money and privilege can get away with treating people like toys? That it is okay to take what you want, even when told “NO”. That a woman is a lesser being than a man. To me it just dramatizes rape and dismisses a person’s pain and suffering after such a traumatic event. The character raped was given no substance whatsoever; we don’t even really meet her, which I found terribly sad. I found no real complexity or substance to the book, and I skimmed through a lot of it. I like court room drama; however this just didn’t have the suspense for me. It will be an easily forgettable book this year, much like most of the “best of 2018” books I have read so far. I seem to be one in a few who did not like this book, and that is okay.

“Force of Nature” by Jane Harper

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asteriaiconThis was yet another book I had read about online as a highly anticipated book for the year. The story is set in Australia, where a large company, BaileyTennant, has sent 10 staff members on a team building retreat along the Giralang Ranges in the woods. The employees are divided into 2 teams, 5 men and 5 women, with the objective to work together to capture some flags and complete the trail in the three day time span. The men come out ahead of schedule. The women, however, come out 6 hours late, and 1 woman short. Alice apparently has gone missing. Did she take off on her own, or was foul play afoot?

The story plays out in 2 perspectives. One is an account of what really transpired during those three days in the woods.  The other is that of Federal Agent Aaron Falk, a Melbourne Financial Investigator. Alice was going to be a whistle-blower against BaileyTennant. Did someone find out she was going to talk? Were the agents responsible for her untimely disappearance?

The women’s story is clear and scary. They went into the woods and accidentally got lost after following a kangaroo trail far into the woods. It was cold and rainy, and no one could agree on what to do to get back on the trail. All they knew was that Alice wasn’t there when they woke up one morning, but she had been threatening to take off, and the women had no choice but give up looking for her and try to find help, so they stumbled their way through the bush until they made it back to the meeting point.

I found it funny that the plot is around 5 miserable women in the woods …what could possibly go wrong? I work in an office of 20 or so women and it is very clear that this would be all bad! None of us would survive! I did not know this was a sequel, but it was easy to read as a stand-alone. I liked that the ending wasn’t something easily guessed, by me anyway, and it was suspenseful without being gory. It was just a nice simple straight up mystery, and exactly what I wanted!