Category Archives: Fiction

The Farm

Finished The Farm by Joanne Ramos.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you’ve ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your überwealthy clients.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter’s well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on delivery—or worse.

Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.”

This is such a fascinating book and it centers around the way that we (as a society) can now outsource everything we don’t want to do. Don’t want to go to the grocery store? They can be delivered, either from the store itself or Amazon Prime Now (or Amazon Fresh, if you spend that $14 a month). Food and alcohol can also be delivered, thanks to any one of a number of apps. Surrogate pregnancies are already a thing, but Golden Oaks takes it a step further with its sequestering the Hosts and giving them a luxury (but strictly regimented) life while they’re carrying the pregnancies.

Interestingly enough, we never learn just how much the women are paid for doing this. It’s a life-changing amount of money, but I’m guessing that it’s probably not quite as much money as we would think, because it seems like a lot of the Hosts still need to work afterward.

This is ideal for book clubs because there are going to be some great conversations centered around this book. (My own book club is discussing it tonight, and I can’t wait.) There’s a lot going on with classism, especially, but it also ties in with issues of race, of course.

Highly recommended.

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Mrs. Everything

Finished Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?”

I’ve loved Jennifer Weiner since I bought her debut novel (Good in Bed) when it first came out. I mention this because when I say that this is her best novel, I know what I’m talking about.

I love Jo so much. I saw her life unfold and I feel like it really could’ve been mine if I had been born in a different time and so I’m so happy and grateful that I was born when I was. And I love Bethie. The lives they both led were painful at times but so authentic. I feel so fortunate to live in a time when women have choices.

I adored this book so much. I know we’ve been waiting a long time for it, but it was so worth it.

Highly recommended.

The First Mistake

Finished The First Mistake by Sandie Jones. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Sandie Jones, the author of the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller The Other Woman, comes an addictively readable new domestic suspense about a wife, her husband, and the woman who is supposedly her best friend.

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.

HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.

HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .

The first mistake could be her last.”

I felt so awful for Alice. She’s not sure who she can believe, and it seems like everyone except her two daughters has a secret agenda. Her husband may be cheating and her best friend definitely seems to be hiding something…

This was ridiculously fun. There are lot of twists and I called some and not others. This was also a little bit of a slow burn for me, so if you don’t love it immediately, give it a few chapters. Once we get to Beth’s story, it gets amazing. I don’t mean to imply that Alice’s part is boring, because it’s not. But her story seems like we’ve seen it a thousand times (which I think serves to lull the reader into a false sense of complacency).

This is a great summer read.

The Great Alone

Finished The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.”

I’ve never had any desire to go to Alaska. (My dislike of snow guaranteed that it’s a place I can’t ever see.) This book almost made me want to change that.

As much as it’s a story about Leni and her parents, it’s also about Alaska. It’s a character as much as any of them are. And it’s beautiful, desolate and unforgiving.

The descriptions (especially when the flowers are blooming and there’s fresh salmon all over the river) make me want to go immediately and it’s dangerously easy to overlook the fact that winter is most of the year, and that there’s precious little daylight then. Like Australia, there are a lot of predators and a lot of ways to die.

But there are a lot of great people and I feel like I know them. I felt as embraced by the townsfolk as Cora and Leni did. These are good people, and I miss them.

It’s best you don’t know too much, but you need to read this book immediately. Don’t wait as long as I did.

Highly recommended.

The Last Honest Horse Thief

Finished The Last Honest Horse Thief by Michael Koryta.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A boy comes of age among a family of grifters in this powerful story from a New York Times–bestselling “master” (Stephen King).

Never knowing a real home, Markus Novak’s only constant in life is his passion for paperback westerns. The child of a family of outlaws, he moves through the West town by town with his mother and two uncles, staying in a place just long enough to run a short con and move along.  After one job goes south and his mom gets locked up, Markus finds himself in the foster care of a rancher and his wife—with whom he’s strangely comfortable, yet torn by loyalty to the family he’s lost.

To distract himself, he spends his days working the farm and his nights fixing a rusty old ’55 Chevy. Then he discovers a note from his uncles hidden in a book at a local pawnshop and learns that they are hiding out in a mountain town near Yellowstone. Restoring the car soon becomes Markus’s only hope of finding them, and maybe finally finding himself, too.”

This is, depending on your definition, either a very long short story or a very short novella. It’s nearly impossible to stop reading, although it’s more character-driven than plot-driven.

It’s lacking Michael Koryta’s traditional suspense in that I was never afraid of Markus or the rancher and his wife. (In most of his books, I would’ve spent every page terrified for them.) At the same time, it’s very much one of his books because I was hooked immediately and I needed to know what would happen.

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been fascinated by grifters and people who work short cons. I wish there had been more of a focus on that, but that didn’t make me like this any less.

I hope this gets fleshed into a novel at some point. (We already have two Markus Novak novels, so the market is there!) Recommended.

Gather the Daughters

Finished Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Never Let Me Go meets The Giver in this haunting debut about a cult on an isolated island, where nothing is as it seems.

Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers–chosen male descendants of the original ten–are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly–they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.

Gather The Daughters is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed’s novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.”

This is an intense read. It’s a few years old but it feels very timely because we are currently in the midst of a discussion about what rights women can expect regarding their own bodies. The girls on this island have even fewer rights than we do here, which is terrifying to think about.

I was going to caution people who aren’t fans of ambiguity that we don’t know why things are the way they are on the island but honestly? We know exactly why. Most of the men on the island control their wives and daughters; the one decent man (comparatively speaking) does nothing to stop it.

And the people in charge are very smart: unrelated women aren’t allowed to gather unless a man is present. So obviously nothing is ever going to change. (Also, the women start to become complicit, which is not unlike life here.)

This is an excellent and enraging story. It has me questioning my assumptions about bravery and I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

Recommended.

The Night Before

Finished The Night Before by Wendy Walker. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

First dates can be murder.

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control. 

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…”

So obviously I’m not touching the plot at all here because everything is intricate and anything past the synopsis is too much.

Wendy Walker is amazing. I’ve thought so after reading her before but this is a whole new level. I think it would’ve fallen apart in the hands of a less skilled author, but this stays tense throughout. There’s an inexorable sense of dread, even when the uneasiness makes no sense whatsoever.

If you’re in the mood for a thriller, you need to read this one. You won’t see anything coming. Highly recommended.

The Never Game

Finished The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the bestselling and award-winning master of suspense, the first novel in a thrilling new series, introducing Colter Shaw.

“You have been abandoned.”

A young woman has gone missing in Silicon Valley and her father has hired Colter Shaw to find her. The son of a survivalist family, Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a “reward seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and private citizens locate missing persons. But what seems a simple investigation quickly thrusts him into the dark heart of America’s tech hub and the cutthroat billion-dollar video-gaming industry.

“Escape if you can.”

When another victim is kidnapped, the clues point to one video game with a troubled past–The Whispering Man. In that game, the player has to survive after being abandoned in an inhospitable setting with five random objects. Is a madman bringing the game to life?

“Or die with dignity.”

Shaw finds himself caught in a cat-and-mouse game, risking his own life to save the victims even as he pursues the kidnapper across both Silicon Valley and the dark ‘net. Encountering eccentric game designers, trigger-happy gamers and ruthless tech titans, he soon learns that he isn’t the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast.

The Never Game proves once more why “Deaver is a genius when it comes to manipulation and deception” (Associated Press).”

OK, this book is insane in all the best ways. I’ve read a few Jeffery Deaver novels (years ago, and not any of his famous ones) and enjoyed them but he’s so prolific that reading everything felt impossible. Then I got pitched this one for review, and I’m so glad I accepted!

I really like Colter Shaw. He’s definitely interesting and this plot (video game premise played out in real life) was so fascinating. (The info on video games was also really helpful because that is by far my weakest pop culture area. I peaked at the regular Nintendo, in other words.) But this is the kind of thriller that more than delivers, exactly as you’d expect from someone who’s been writing bestsellers for decades.

This is crying out to be made into a movie and either way, I can’t wait for the sequel. (Which, I notice, has no release date.)

Highly recommended.

If She Wakes

Finished If She Wakes by Michael Koryta. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Discover the electrifying new novel from New York Timesbestselling author Michael Koryta, the “master” (Stephen King) of thriller writing, the story of two women fighting for their lives against an enigmatic killer.

Tara Beckley is a senior at idyllic Hammel College in Maine. As she drives to deliver a visiting professor to a conference, a horrific car accident kills the professor and leaves Tara in a vegetative state. At least, so her doctors think. In fact, she’s a prisoner of locked-in syndrome: fully alert but unable to move a muscle. Trapped in her body, she learns that someone powerful wants her dead–but why? And what can she do, lying in a hospital bed, to stop them?

Abby Kaplan, an insurance investigator, is hired by the college to look in to Tara’s case. A former stunt driver, Abby returned home after a disaster in Hollywood left an actor dead and her own reputation–and nerves–shattered. Despite the fog of trauma, she can tell that Tara’s car crash was no accident. When she starts asking questions, things quickly spin out of control, leaving Abby on the run and a mysterious young hit man named Dax Blackwell hard on her heels.

Full of pulse-pounding tension, If She Wakes is a searing, breakneck thriller from the genre’s “best of the best” (Michael Connelly).”

If you already read Michael Koryta, you know what to expect from his books: unrelenting action and suspense. If She Wakes is no exception.

For me, anyway, it was made even more tense by the fact that Tara has locked-in syndrome: her family thinks she’s in a coma, but she’s awake—she just can’t move or speak. It’s an actual nightmare of mine and it’s only worse since reading her chapters.

We ALSO have the world’s creepiest villain (Dax) and no real idea of why any of this is happening.

In any other author’s hands, this might seem like a chaotic mess. In this book, however, it all makes perfect sense once everything clicks into place.

Highly recommended.

Before She Was Found

Finished Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence .

For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover–movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.

Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora–and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted–not even those closest to Cora.

Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe–even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.”

This probably sounds pretty familiar, right? And yes, there’s some similarity between this and the real life case, but this is also definitely its own thing.

Heather Gudenkauf has been one of my favorite authors for a while now, and this cements that. This is so creepy and filled with so many twists that it’s incredibly hard to talk about (everything is a spoiler).

Everything about this book took me by surprise and I loved all of it. Highly recommended.