Category Archives: Fiction

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.

One Kick

Finished One Kick by Chelsea Cain.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later. In the early months following her freedom, as Kick struggled with PTSD, her parents put her through a litany of therapies, but nothing helped until the detective who rescued her suggested Kick learn to fight. Before she was thirteen, Kick learned marksmanship, martial arts, boxing, archery, and knife throwing. She excelled at every one, vowing she would never be victimized again. But when two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick’s experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past…

I’ve read a few of her Gretchen Lowell books and, while I very much enjoyed this book, it didn’t have the visceral reaction for me that those books did.  (That is not a complaint.)

I have this weird fascination with abduction books (fiction ones; I don’t read the nonfiction ones because it feels a little too much like voyeurism) and this is one of my favorites.  The main reason for that is because it deals more with the aftermath than with Kick’s time with her pseudo-parents.  How in the world would you readjust back to normal life?  (If Kick is any indication, the answer is “not well.”)

This is an incredibly fun book and I’m so happy that it’s the first book in a series.  I can’t wait to see what Kick does next.

Recommended.

Desire Lines

Finished Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Desire Lines is a taut, penetrating new novel filled with psychological suspense, sensitivity, and emotional complexity by the critically acclaimed author of Sweet Water.

On the night of her high school graduation in 1986, Kathryn Campbell’s best friend, Jennifer, vanished without a trace. It’s been ten years since then, but Kathryn still feels the conspicuous void in her life – and the nagging, guilty sense that she has failed her friend.

When a divorce sends Kathryn reeling back to the Maine town where she grew up, the young journalist finds herself face-to-face with her past. At twenty-eight, she’s been living for far too long on memories and questions; now she needs to take a hard look at her own life at the same time that she is delving into the mystery of what happened to her friend.

As she explores the seemingly random series of events that led up to Jennifer’s disappearance, a pattern slowly begins to take shape. All the puzzle pieces are at her fingertips – it’s a matter of whether Kathryn can put them together in a way that makes sense. As she faces her own fear and grief, she is finally able to come to terms with the ways in which the loss of her friend has shaped her life and the lives of those who knew her. In the process, Kathryn realizes that if she is ever going to understand the circumstances of Jennifer’s disappearance, she is going to have to expose herself to the same risks and dangers. Ultimately, Kathryn’s quest to find out the truth becomes a quest to save her own life as she races against time to keep Jennifer’s fate from becoming hers.

I absolutely loved Christina Baker Kline’s most recent release, Orphan Train, so I was incredibly excited to read this book.  (This is an earlier novel that’s been re-released with a book club guide in the back.)

This is an incredibly hard book to describe.  On the one hand, there’s a mystery at the center of it, but on the other, there’s just as much to do with your life after college and how, for the most part, the life you expect to have is nowhere near the life you end up actually having.  (An excellent example of this is the movie The Big Chill.)

I love the idea that this one event has clearly shaped the lives of the rest of Jennifer’s group of friends—which makes sense, because you figure this is probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to any of them (Jennifer disappearing) and which is the better outcome? Either your friend is dead—and probably in a horrible way, given that the body was never found—or she deliberately chose to run away and literally couldn’t care less about the impact that said disappearance had on her family and friends.

It’s not as good as Orphan Train, but this is an incredibly fun read.

Recommended.

Kingston’s Project

Finished Kingston’s Project by Carrie Beckort.  I received a copy for review from the author.

Summary (from Goodreads):

How do you find the strength to embrace a future that’s different than the one you planned?

For Sarah Mitchell, the answer is simple—you don’t. For two years, Sarah has shut herself off from most of the world around her. She needs to move on, but doesn’t know how to begin.

Unexpectedly, Sarah is presented with an opportunity that could change everything. Elijah Kingston, her firm’s largest client, wants her to lead a highly confidential assignment. When Sarah learns the shocking nature of Kingston’s project, she is torn between Elijah’s promise of healing and her fear of falling deeper into despair.

Kingston’s Project is a poignant story about the effects of grief and the loss of hope. Can Sarah find happiness again, or is the hold from her fear and guilt too strong to break free?”

I think this was the perfect time for me to read this book.  My best friend and I have the macabre joke that we would each take a gold medal if grieving were considered an Olympic sport.  Turns out, though,  Sarah has us both beat.

She lost her husband and two-year-old son in a tragic car accident and now, two years later, she’s just starting to surface from grief.  (And even now, she’s not doing all that well.)  So when she has a chance to go to Colorado and manage a new, top secret project, she’s not entirely sure it’s a good idea but her best friend convinces her to accept unless there’s a major reason not to.

I would’ve considered the type of project Elijah has in mind to be the worst idea ever, but Sarah accepts.  And it’s a good thing she does, because this is an amazing, heartwarming book.  I don’t want to say too much about it, because seeing Sarah start to become herself again is not something to spoil.  But you want to read this book.

I’m happy that there’s a sequel.  You probably aren’t surprised to know that I’ve already bought it and I hope to read it soon.

Highly recommended.

The Book of Unknown Americans

Finished The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery-the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes-will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America. Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.”

Oh, you guys, this book.

I have had this for a little while and while I am a little mad at myself for not having read it sooner, it was definitely interesting reading this with all of the current news about the immigrant children who have nowhere to stay and who may or may not be sent back to their homes in Central America.  (Note: the immigrants in this book all came here legally.)

The book takes place in Delaware, which I mention because I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so many of the things mentioned are very familiar to me and gave me little pangs of homesickness.  (Grotto’s Pizza, I love you.)

But even beyond that, this book is perfect.  It starts out a little slowly, but that’s mostly setting the stage and showing what it’s like to be in this new country where you don’t speak the language—I can’t even imagine the insane amount of culture shock—and it shows just how welcoming some of the residents are.

Once it gets going, however, I was completely sucked in.  I loved seeing Maribel and Mayor start to fall for each other, and I was heartbroken when their parents didn’t want them to see each other.  (Maribel has a brain injury and, as the synopsis says, Mayor is able to see who she is beyond that—her parents and teachers and everyone now has a tendency to treat her with kid gloves and like she’s not capable of anything.  Mayor treats her like he would treat anyone else that he’s starting to fall in love with.)

This book is absolutely perfect and I need everyone to read it.

Highly recommended.