Category Archives: Fiction

Mahalas Lane

Finished Mahalas Lane by Marianne Cushing. I received a copy from the author for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Exhausted and dismayed, Madi Lyons arrives on the rocky shores of Maine, hoping for a relaxing respite from Madison Avenue’s relentless grind. Twelve-hour days and the sudden news of her best friend’s engagement have the aspiring creative director’s head spinning. Shortly after settling in at the quaint rental cottage, she is awoken by the local sheriff with startling news: A woman has been murdered on her private beach. A violent encounter next door and an elusive stranger draw Madi deeper into Mahalas Lane’s mysterious past, while a magnetic attraction propels her into the sheriff ’s welcoming arms. Will she find the solace she seeks, or will a small town’s dark secrets cost her the ultimate sacrifice—the love of her life?

This book is incredibly fun and I had a hard time putting it down.  The first half of the book focused more on the burgeoning relationship between Madi and Josh; the second half is when the murder mystery comes into play.  (And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to point out that Josh—as the sheriff—and Madi are incredibly involved in that investigation.)

I did very much enjoy that relationship, incidentally.  It felt a bit like insta-love, but it was more like insta-attraction and there were mentions of several dates and conversations.  I do also think that intense situations tend to make things move faster than they otherwise would.  (Wasn’t there a mention of that at the end of Speed?)

Parts of the book felt a little bit rushed (mostly the last 50 pages or so, which makes sense for reasons I can’t really discuss, because spoilers, but I wish that the book were a bit longer than its 221 pages because I feel like those events could have been fleshed out a little).

Even so, this book was a complete delight to read and I am very excited to see what Marianne Cushing writes next.

Recommended.

The Whole Golden World

Finished The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

To the outside Dinah and Joe have a perfect family-three lovely children, a beautiful home, and a café that’s finally taking off. But their world is rocked when it’s discovered that their oldest daughter, 17-year-old Morgan is having an affair with her married teacher, TJ Hill.

Their town rocks with the scandal. When the case goes to trial, the family is torn further apart when Morgan sides not with her parents-as a manipulated teenage girl; but with TJ himself-as a woman who loves a 30-year-old man.

Told from the perspectives of Morgan, Dinah, and TJ’s wife, Rain, this is an unforgettable story that fully explores the surprising, even shocking, events that change the lives of two families.”

This was my first Kristina Riggle book and I very much enjoyed it.

As the synopsis says, it’s told from three different perspectives (Morgan, her mom Dinah and TJ’s wife, Rain) although I think they spent the least amount of time with Rain.

I liked Morgan and both of the women, although they could all be infuriating, as well.  I didn’t get TJ’s appeal, which made it hard to understand why Morgan loved him so much and why Rain was willing to believe him and stay with him.  It would have been nice if there had maybe been a little more attention given to that.

Of course, it also makes sense that, as a 34-year-old, I would be better able to say, “Yeah, that guy’s a creep” than 17-year-old Morgan.

At any rate, this is an engrossing novel and I look forward to working my way through Kristina Riggle’s backlist (eventually).

After The Funeral

Finished After the Funeral by Agatha Christie.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Amazon):

The master of a Victorian mansion dies suddenly – and his sister is convinced it was murder…When Cora is savagely murdered with a hatchet, the extraordinary remark she made the previous day at her brother Richard’s funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance. At the reading of Richard’s will, Cora was clearly heard to say: ‘It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it…But he was murdered, wasn’t he?’ In desperation, the family solicitor turns to Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.

This is the third (of four) books in Harper Collins’ readalong of Agatha Christie’s novels.  (The next and last one is The Monogram Murders, a new Hercule Poirot novel written by Sophie Hannah.)

This is easily my favorite of the ones we’ve read so far.  I loved the concept and the fact that pretty much every single person was a suspect for one reason or another.  (No, I did not guess the killer—I’ve not guessed the killer in any of the three so far, which makes me cranky.)

These books are so fun and I’m just incredibly grateful for Harper Collins for doing this so that I could finally read some of Agatha Christie’s books.  I’ve gotten a few others (including Murder on the Orient Express) and I plan on getting The Body in the Library so that I can meet Miss Marple.

Note: this new edition has an introduction by Sophie Hannah.

Highly recommended.

And now to the questions! :)

1)   From the beginning, there is tension among the surviving Abernethie family. Despite being bound together by name and blood, there doesn’t seem to be a strong connection amongst the different generations. Did you sense a motive for murder or suspect someone in the group early on?

I thought it was Gregory.  I would have placed a lot of money on that.

2)  It was noted early on that Helen Abernethie felt something was strange during the will reading. Were you ever able to guess what it was she sensed? Once the murder plot is revealed, it becomes clear that the answer was there from the beginning.

Nope.  It wasn’t even one of those cases where it dawned on me right before we were told.  I can never guess the outcome of a Christie mystery.

3)  Name some of your favorite red herrings, as there are quite a few. To get you going, I enjoyed the reoccurrence of nuns. I knew they had to have some significance, as nothing can just be a coincidence.

The nuns! I was pretty sure that they weren’t really nuns (because how hard would it be to dress like a nun?).    That was by far my favorite.

4)  The will was split fairly across Richard’s relatives and each had their own reason for needing the money. Did you ever once consider Cora’s murder to be separate from Richard’s?

No. I thought they were obviously connected, even if only because she knew that Richard was murdered and the murderer got twitchy.

5)  Some of the family members (by blood or marriage) acted truly deplorably—there was the house-bound Timothy, the beautiful but vapid Rosamund and her cheating husband Michael, and Susan’s husband, Gregory who was outed as a mental patient. I half expected Helen to have her own dirty secret (which really wasn’t all that bad once revealed). Did you consider any of them for the murderer?

Gregory.  I hated that guy and was sure that he would do it.  (I never really liked any of the people, but I was so confident in Gregory.  I should’ve known better because I think he was the obvious choice.)

6)  In Sophie Hannah’s introduction to After the Funeral, she discusses the Christie-concept of “nontransferable motive,” meaning a motive that no other murderer in any other crime novel has had or will have.  Do you think that applies to After the Funeral? What do you make of a “nontransferable motive?” Does this apply to other Christie mysteries?

I like the idea, but I could see a lot of the people killing for the same reason (namely money).  I think it applies to other Christie mysteries ( and really to mysteries in general).  I loved that we got an introduction from Sophie Hannah and I’m very eager to see her take on Poirot.

7)  This was my first time reading After the Funeral, and I couldn’t help but think this had all the components of a classic Christie mystery.  What are some of those elements?

Red herrings and people being much more than they appear to be.  (Although Rosamund was about as dumb as I thought, unlike the wife in Dead Man’s Folly.)

My Real Children

Finished My Real Children by Jo Walton.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.”

This book was not even on my radar when it was handsold to me (in a manner of speaking) on the afternoon of the last day of BEA.  I wish I had gotten the name of the lady at the Tor booth because I would send her the world’s nicest email.  (If she sees this somehow,  THANK YOU.)

First, a caveat: this book does not have a tidy ending.  Instead, you will have to decide what you think happens.  This makes me love the book more; you may have a completely different feeling about it.

But here’s what we know for sure: Patricia has lived two lives. In one, she married a man and had four children; in another, she had one of the world’s best love stories and three children.  In the first life, her personal life is not great but the world is pretty fantastic; in the second life, the opposite is true.

This book is absolute perfection and thought-provoking.  I do think that choices we make can impact the world and I find it oddly comforting to think that maybe there are alternate worlds where things are a little bit different (and, hopefully, better).

Yes, this review is vague; discover this book on your own.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Highly, highly recommended.

Five Days Left

Finished Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.

Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

For the most part, I absolutely loved this book.  I thought it was incredibly well-written and I loved the plot (with its questions of what I would do if I had a terminal illness and knew the decline was starting to get faster and what I would do if I thought I was going to have to lose someone that I had raised for a year).  This is a fantastic book, one that I genuinely think people should read.  (And it’s ideal for book clubs.)

And then there was this: Mara says she believes that, because her daughter is adopted, she won’t be completely devastated when she’s gone.  She believes that she is essentially just a replacement for her daughter’s biological mom and that means that when her husband eventually remarries, her daughter will probably be fine with it because the stepmom will be a replacement for the replacement.

I obviously get that Mara is saying that because it’s what she wants to believe.  She wants to believe that her daughter will be okay, so that she can kill herself with as little guilt as possible.  She doesn’t really mean it; she’s just saying it because it’s the only way she can justify it.

And yet.

I’m adopted and my dad died when I was in high school.  There was no part of me that thought, “Well, at least I still have my real dad, somewhere out in the world.”  My real dad is the guy that raised me, and I don’t care that we aren’t related by blood.  I love my maternal biological family and I treasure my relationship with them, but it’s not the same as the relationship I had with my dad or that I have with my mom and the rest of my family.  And even though I get that Mara was just trying to tell all the lies she had to tell to be able to continue on, I resent everything that she said.

But that’s one paragraph in an otherwise amazing story.  I still recommend it.

The Barter

Finished The Barter by Siobhan Adcock.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heart-stopping tale as provocative as is suspenseful, about two conflicted women, separated by one hundred years, and bound by an unthinkable sacrifice.

The Barter is a ghost story and a love story, a riveting emotional tale that also explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel follows two young mothers at the turning point of their lives.

Bridget has given up her career as an attorney to raise her daughter, joining a cadre of stay-at-home mothers seeking fulfillment in a quiet suburb. But for Bridget, some crucial part of the exchange is absent: Something she loves and needs. And now a terrifying presence has entered her home; only nobody but Bridget can feel it.

On a farm in 1902, a young city bride takes a farmer husband. The marriage bed will become both crucible and anvil as Rebecca first allows, then negates, the powerful erotic connection between them. She turns her back on John to give all her love to their child. Much will occur in this cold house, none of it good.

As Siobhan Adcock crosscuts these stories with mounting tension, each woman arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making, tinged with love and fear and dread. What will they sacrifice to save their families—and themselves? Readers will slow down to enjoy the gorgeous language, then speed up to see what happens next in a plot that thrums with the weight of decision—and its explosive consequences.”

This is a ghost story that isn’t at all scary.  (So basically it’s a ghost story for people who are pretty sure they don’t actually want to read a ghost story.)

It’s told from altering perspectives (Bridget in present day; Rebecca in the early 1900s) and each are women who are married with young children.  Bridget’s marriage is happy; Rebecca’s much less so.  The story deals with the sacrifices the women are (and are not) making for their families.

I think there’s a lot here to discuss and I would especially be interested in how people view Rebecca.  She’s not a very sympathetic character (at all) but I found myself liking her almost against my will.

I enjoyed this book but at the same time, it was very much a middle of the road read.  It’s not something I NEEDED to read, the kind of book where I had to keep going (instead of stopping to eat or sleep) but at the same time, I very much enjoyed the characters and my time with them. Does that make sense? I’m interested to see what Siobhan Adcock does next; I have a feeling she’s going to become a must-read author of mine but she’s not there yet.

The Secret Place

Finished The Secret Place by Tana French.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.”

This is my first Tana French novel and I’ve heard amazing things about her and her books.  It seems like pretty much every single person I know is absolutely in love with them.  (So I was very excited to get a copy at ALA and, after that mysteriously disappeared, to get a copy through Penguin’s First to Read program.)

I was instantly drawn into this book, which goes back and forth in time and has two viewpoints (Holly and her friends in the past and Stephen in the present)…and then I hit a subplot that kind of ruined the book for me.  (SPOILER: Holly and her friends seem to all develop some kind of psychic ability.  I can deal with one Carrie but not with four of them.  Obviously I can’t share if/how that subplot was resolved.)

After that, the book lost of a lot of credibility with me and even though that’s a very minor part of the book, I was like, “WHAT?!” and it affected everything else.

I would definitely read another book of hers but this one was a bit of a letdown.

Brutal Youth

Finished Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.”

The blurb list for this book reads like a who’s who of authors I love: Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Stephen Chbosky.  I’d probably read it based on one of their recommendations, but with all three? OBVIOUSLY.

This book made me so happy that I’m not in high school anymore but I also love that it doesn’t paint a rosy picture of those four years. I always feel sorry for people who say that high school are the best four years of their life.  (Why in the world would you feel like your best years ended at around the time you’d be able to vote? And even if you felt that way, why would you tell people?)

My own high school years weren’t as bad as theirs, but I think most people will be able to recognize parts of their teenage years in this even if they will then think, “Thank God it didn’t go that far.”

This book absolutely redefines bleak.  Davidek, Stein, Lorelai and Hannah are all completely damaged in varying ways, and obviously the school is to blame for most (but not all) of it.  This book is set before the rise of cell phones and pre-internet, which is also a huge saving grace for them.  (I don’t even want to imagine how bad the hazing would become with texting and social media.)

Highly recommended.

Gone Girl

Finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  This is a re-read for book club.

Summary (from Goodreads):

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

I’ve read this before, so this isn’t going to be a straight review.  (To read my review, which is also not really a review, click here.)

In many ways, the book was even better the second time around.  Because I know everything that happens, I was able to savor it more (as opposed to the first time, when I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough).

Also because of this, I’m even more convinced that the book had the perfect ending.

(Spoilers)

Obviously the satisfying ending would be if Nick has been able to kill Amy.  OBVIOUSLY.  But it’s not an honest ending. The whole point of the book is that Amy is an evil genius.  I’m not saying that Nick’s dumb, but he’s definitely not smarter than Amy.  I’m incredibly happy that Gillian Flynn gave us an honest ending.

So if you’re one of the few people who have yet to read this book, you need to fix that.  NOW.

Highly recommended.

The Fever

Finished The Fever by Megan Abbott.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation” (Laura Lippman).”

I absolutely adored this book.  It’s similar thematically to Katherine Howe’s Conversion but they handle it absolutely differently.  Unlike Conversion, this is very straight-forward (no flashbacks to Salem) and also it seems like the mysterious illness takes a backseat at times as we learn about what ELSE is happening in the town.

I loved everything about this book.  The illness was incredibly creepy (moreso because we didn’t know what was going on or why) but even more than that, I love the fact that the story had just as much to do with other things.  This book is amazing.

This is my second Megan Abbott book and I really need to start reading more of hers because I’ve been incredibly impressed both times.

Highly recommended.