Category Archives: Fiction

The Girl on the Train

Finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.”

I’ve heard a lot of complaints around this book, mainly centered around the fact that none of the women in it are particularly likable (especially Rachel, the main narrator).  That’s true (and thus a valid complaint) but since when is it important that a story be full of good and wonderful people to be a story worth reading?

At any rate, if you are thinking of reading this book, do it.  And, if it’s not already too late for you, try and go in as cold as possible, knowing as little as you can.  It’s the best way to go in.

Also important: try and start it when you have a lot of free time.  It’s absolutely impossible to stop reading once you start.  (Fun fact: the letter from the publisher at the beginning of my e-galley said that one of the Penguin staffers was actually reading this under the desk at a meeting because she was close to the end and couldn’t stop.  I completely sympathize—I was five minutes late to work because I was close to the end and couldn’t stop.)

I enjoyed this book a great deal and Paula Hawkins is a new must-buy author for me.  Highly recommended.

Canary

Finished Canary by Duane Swierczynski.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s dangerous enough when an ordinary college girl turns confidential informant. Even more dangerous when she’s smarter than the killer, kingpins, and cops who control her.

Honors student Sarie Holland is busted by the local police while doing a favor for her boyfriend. Unwilling to betray him but desperate to avoid destroying her future, Sarie has no choice but to become a “CI”–a confidential informant.

Philly narcotics cop Ben Wildey is hungry for a career-making bust. The detective thinks he’s found the key in Sarie: her boyfriend scores from a mid-level dealer with alleged ties to the major drug gangs.

Sarie turns out to be the perfect CI: a quick study with a shockingly keen understanding of the criminal mind. But Wildey, desperate for results, pushes too hard and inadvertently sends the nineteen-year-old into a death trap, leaving Sarie hunted by crooked cops and killers alike with nothing to save her–except what she’s learned during her harrowing weeks as an informant.

Which is bad news for the police and the underworld. Because when it comes to payback, CI #137 turns out to be a very quick study…”

I am a huge fan of Duane Swierczynski (so much so that my phone actually auto-corrected something to his last name, which is pretty awesome) and even so I keep forgetting just how awesome and fun his books are.

This one replaces Severance Package as my new favorite.   A huge part of that is due to Sarie.  When the book begins, she’s basically your average college student whose biggest worry is being able to ace all her exams.  And then she makes a random decision to give a guy a ride…and THEN all hell breaks loose and all of a sudden her worries are much more stressful.  (Like, say, will I go to prison? Will I even still be alive for my last exam? Will I get murdered and dumped in a river?)

I’m hoping for a sequel.  Highly recommended.

Hush Hush

Finished Hush Hush by Laura Lippman.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The award-winning New York Times bestselling author of After I’m Gone, The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know brings back private detective Tess Monaghan, introduced in the classic Baltimore Blues, in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.

Now that’s she’s a mother herself–short on time, patience–Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.

As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder.

Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . . ”

I’ve loved Laura Lippman’s novels for years, and while I absolutely adore her standalones, I have a major soft spot for her Tess Monaghan novels.  But Tess has been largely absent for years (completely out of most of the books, although she’s had a few cameos).  Now, though, she’s finally back.

It would have been easy to expect her to be gone for good.  Now she and Crow have a young daughter, Carla Scout.  So how can Tess do her PI work with a three-year-old around?  Oh, ye of little faith.

The woman at the center of this novel is Melisandre Dawes, who was found not guilty (by reason of insanity) of killing her baby daughter years ago.  She left the child to die in a hot car (on purpose) and fled the city (and state and country) as soon as she could.  But now she’s back and she wants to have a relationship with her two older girls, who are now in their teens.  There’s a lot more going on, of course, but that would be spoiling things.

Tess Monaghan is one of my favorite characters, someone who is clearly the literary descendent of my beloved VI Warshawski.  Like Vic, Tess fights for the underdog and is much braver than anyone could reasonably expect to be.  And like Vic, the city she lives in plays a major part in the book.  But while VI lives in Chicago, Tess lives in Baltimore.  (And in this book, I was happy to see that I knew where every place mentioned was.  Love this city!)

If you’ve already read Laura Lippman’s books, I don’t need to sell you on them.  If you haven’t, this is an excellent one to start with.

Highly recommended.

Shattered Angel

Finished Shattered Angel by Carrie Beckort.  I received a copy from the author for review and there’s a giveaway! Click here to enter.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The choice between life and death should be an easy one. However, the life that I had been given—the life I’m being asked to go back to—makes death seem like a welcome reprieve.

Before I turned eight, my mother sold me. The man who bought me trained me for the life he expected me to live. For more than ten years I was held captive, beaten, tortured—shattered. There was one person who cared about me, and that gave me the strength to hold on to the small part of me that still existed. I finally escaped, only to learn that the hold of my past was stronger than the pull of my future.

Now he’s captured me again, and he’s given me a choice—life with him, or death.

I have 24 hours to decide.”

I was so excited to get to read this book.  I absolutely loved her first book (Kingston’s Project) and this sounded amazing.  And it is, but it’s also really, really different.

This book is an absolutely harrowing, brutal experience.  It’s never gratuitous but bad things happen and we know about it.  The early chapters, where we experience things from a young Angel’s perspective, reminded me of Room.  We are only told what Angel knows, and she doesn’t know much.  But since you’ll be reading this from a grownup’s perspective, you will understand things she doesn’t.

It’s not like either choice was particularly great, and I went back and forth about which would be the best choice for Angel to make.  (To quote Stephen Hawking, where there’s life, there’s hope, and I was hoping that she’d choose life just so she could wait for an opportunity to escape again…but then, too, is it really better to be alive if THAT is the life you have? No, probably not.)

I will say that we do know for a fact which choice she makes.  It isn’t an ending where the reader can interpret it either way.

This is an amazing book, but be prepared to cry several times.

Highly recommended.

The Forgotten Girls

Finished The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick–the new commander of the Missing Persons Department–is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a “forgotten girl.” But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago. As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed–and hidden–in the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed.

I don’t read many mysteries any more, and when I do, they tend to be part of a series.   I mention  that because Sara Blaedel is writing one of my favorite series now.

According to the letter included with my ARC of this, a full fifth of Denmark residents love her books.  I can’t think of an American equivalent.

This book is one of my favorites of hers.  While it’s set in Denmark, it could just as easily be set here.  Both places have had less than stellar histories where people deemed deficient could be institutionalized and forgotten by their families.  One of those people is at the heart of this story: a “forgotten girl” who was left in an institution as a small child and who was declared dead long before she actually died.  So who is she? How did this happen? And how do you figure out what happened when, as far as anyone knows, she was dead for decades before she actually died?

(The answer is brilliant, although at this point, I expect nothing else from Sara Blaedel.)

If you haven’t read Sara Blaedel, you need to start.  She’s just as good as her famous fans (Karin Slaughter and Michael Connelly among them) would have you believe.

Highly recommended.

 

The Price of Blood

Finished The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Menaced by Vikings and enemies at court, Queen Emma defends her children and her crown in a riveting medieval adventure

Readers first met Emma of Normandy in Patricia Bracewell’s gripping debut novel, Shadow on the Crown. Unwillingly thrust into marriage to England’s King Æthelred, Emma has given the king a son and heir, but theirs has never been a happy marriage. In The Price of Blood, Bracewell returns to 1006 when a beleaguered Æthelred, still haunted by his brother’s ghost, governs with an iron fist and a royal policy that embraces murder.

As tensions escalate and enmities solidify, Emma forges alliances to protect her young son from ambitious men—even from the man she loves. In the north there is treachery brewing, and when Viking armies ravage England, loyalties are shattered and no one is safe from the sword.

Rich with intrigue, compelling personalities, and fascinating detail about a little-known period in history, The Price of Blood will captivate fans of both historical fiction and fantasy novels such as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.

This is the second book in a trilogy and I hope I don’t have to wait two more years to see what happens to Emma.  I am so in love with this series, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.  (Yes, I know that it is a true story and I could easily Google it…but that would be cheating, right?)

As in the first book, this is the story of two different women: Emma, the queen of England, and Elgiva, the king’s former mistress.  Emma wants to be a great queen; even though she doesn’t particularly love (or even like) the king, she loves her people, and is determined to do her best for them.  Elgiva, though, just wants power.  She isn’t very concerned about whose side she’s on or if she has to hurt someone, either.  She wants to fulfill the prophecy she’s heard her whole life: that she will be queen and her sons will ultimately be kings.

This is almost like a royal version of Dangerous Liaisons, too—there is a lot of intrigue and scheming, and a lot of people using sex to get what they want (okay, that last is all Elgiva).

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Highly recommended.

 

The Nightingale

Finished The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes an epic love story and family drama set at the dawn of World War II.

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.”

For some reason, it took me a while to get into this book. It probably didn’t help that I started it the week of Thanksgiving, so I had a lot of activities to do and people to spend time with.  Once I got into it (and the activities stopped and my friends and family went away), though, I couldn’t put it down.  So be aware that once you start to love this book, you will resent everything that takes you away from it.

I did know that I would love this book from the very beginning, which is “In love we find out who we want to be.  In war we find out who we are.”  And I was right.

I love books that lead the reader to ask the question, how would I behave in an impossible situation?  Would I do the right thing, even if it literally led to me being hurt or killed? Or if it meant that the people I loved would be hurt or killed?

I hope the answer would be yes, but I’m not sure.

One thing I do know for sure, I would not be able to do what Isabelle does in this novel.  I think I could maybe be like Vianne, but honestly, the jury’s out on that one, too.

This is the kind of novel that will stick with you.  I hope that there will be a sequel at some point (we got one for Firefly Lane, so maybe!).

Highly recommended.

Her

Finished Her by Harriet Lane.

Summary (from Goodreads):

You don’t remember her–but she remembers you.

On the face of it, Emma and Nina have very little in common. Isolated and exhausted by early motherhood, Emma finds her confidence is fading fast. Nina–sophisticated, generous, effortlessly in control–seems to have all the answers.

It’s easy to see why Emma is drawn to Nina. But what does Nina see in her?

A seemingly innocent friendship slowly develops into a dangerous game of cat and mouse as Nina eases her way into Emma’s life. Soon, it becomes clear that Nina wants something from the unwitting Emma–something that might just destroy her.”

I wanted very much to love this book.  I had heard really great things and as you know, any psychological thriller is excellent for me.  And then I started reading it.

For most of the book, we don’t know the source of the animosity Nina has for Emma.  We know it can’t be something major, because Emma has no idea who Nina is.  Clearly if there had been a major falling out at some point, they must have been close at one point, right? But then why wouldn’t Emma know Nina back?

The pace of the book is incredibly deliberate.  We go where Harriet Lane wants us to go, and she is determined that we take our time to get there.  The end, when it comes, is shocking and abrupt.  I would have liked a definitive ending, but that isn’t my main problem with the book.

I read one review that said that they didn’t think that Nina’s grudge was a big enough deal, and that makes sense.  But then I thought about my own life and some of the grudges I have held, and they aren’t always the major ones.  Sometimes they are the person who cut me off in traffic; the coworker who always—ALWAYS!—takes up two parking spaces, even though our lot is too small as it is; the neighbor who lets their kids run screaming through the hallways at 7 a.m., irritating my dog (and me, because if I wanted to be awake at 7 a.m., I would work normal hours).  I deal with these petty annoyances with eyerolls and gritted teeth, but it seems like the small annoyances are the hardest to deal with because they happen ALL. THE. TIME.

So Nina, I get it.

No, my biggest problem with the book is the fact that Nina chose to target Emma’s children more than Emma.  Although to be fair, she didn’t really do anything horrible to the children.  It wasn’t like she shoved the baby into traffic.

(Minor spoiler, but vague)

I’m not sure if the ending is Nina’s fault or not, but I think it isn’t.  I think it was an accident.

Ultimately, though, for a book about hatred, this book was very cold.

Five Fires

Finished Five Fires by Laura Lippman.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dead Know, The Most Dangerous Thing, and most recently, After I’m Gone, delivers a suspenseful short story with an unexpected twist in her Byliner Original, Five Fires.

Everyone in small-town Bellville is talking about a series of mysterious fires disrupting the typically tranquil summer. The authorities attribute them to heat lightning, but some Belleville residents are not so sure…

High-school student Beth, like everyone else in Belleville, has been following the fires – she has plenty of time between her monotonous day job at the deli and solitary nights at home while her mom works late. The fires aren’t the only unusual occurrence – Beth’s old friend Tara, who left town the year before after a mysterious incident, returns with no real explanation. Circumstances only get stranger when Beth unwittingly discovers clues as to what – or who – is the cause of the fires.”

This is the other Laura Lippman story I didn’t know about…which means that now, unfortunately, I have read every possible Laura Lippman work you can read. :(

I absolutely loved this story, too.  It’s incredibly smart and Beth is what can best be described as an unreliable narrator.

What we know first is the fact that there are fires going on, and they may or may not be linked to a rape accusation against the most prominent family in town (specifically the teen son) and it galvanized the entire town…and, probably not surprisingly against the victim/accuser, not the teen son).

Reading this so close to reading All the Rage by Courtney Summers was a really interesting experience.  (And by “interesting,” I mean “rage-inducing.”)

This story is just incredibly well done and one of the rare experiences where I don’t wish it was longer.  It’s perfect the way it is.  Highly recommended.

 

The Book Thing

Finished The Book Thing by Laura Lippman.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A thief targets a local bookstore and it will take a bibliophile PI to save the shop

Tess Monaghan wants to like the Children’s Bookstore. It’s bright, cozy, and packed with the kinds of books that she is dying for her daughter to fall in love with. But no matter how badly she wants to support this adorable local business, the owner’s attitude stops her in her tracks. What kind of children’s bookseller hates children?

What’s eating Octavia, the grouchy owner, is more than the pressures of running a small business. Each Saturday, someone steals a stack of her priciest, most beautiful children’s books, and the expense threatens to force her fledgling store out of business. Luckily, Tess is more than a book lover—she’s a private investigator who doesn’t mind working pro bono to help out an independent bookshop. Her simple act of kindness will make Octavia smile for the first time in months—and uncover a crime more suitable for the mystery aisle than the children’s section.”

This is the first of two Laura Lippman stories I didn’t know about.  This is made even better (or worse, depending on your perspective) by the fact that it’s a Tess Monaghan story.

Everything about this story was perfect.  I love the fact that it’s set around various Baltimore bookstores. (There is a Children’s Bookstore in Baltimore, although it’s not this one, and The Book Thing is also real.)

And I especially love the fact that it’s a Tess Monaghan story.  Tess has been gone for ages, although we have a new novel-length installment of her series coming up soon.

This one is just a short story, but it’s wonderful.

Highly recommended.