Category Archives: Fiction

Survive the Night

Finished Survive the Night by Riley Sager. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.”

I’ve been a fan of Riley Sager’s for years, ever since I read his first book. I’ve enjoyed all of them; this one is my favorite.

A big part of it is the fact that Charlie loves old movies (like I do) and I enjoyed all the references she made. (I haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt yet, but I hope to fix that soon, ideally this very weekend.) Like Charlie, I also tend to process things with movie references and I definitely over-related.

But a lot of it is also the situation she’s in. She may or may not be in the car with a serial killer. And it’s the early 1990s, so her options aren’t great. She can’t send a pin with her address to anyone or sneakily call 911 or even make sure anyone knows where she is and who she’s with. All she has to rely on is herself.

As you would expect, there are a ton of twists, turns and red herrings. I didn’t expect any of them and it was the best ride I could possibly imagine. Highly recommended.

Malibu Rising

Finished Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.”

I absolutely adored this book. Like everything she’s written, it can be boiled down to one sentence but it also absolutely defies that easy categorization. Her books are both intelligent and fun, the kind of stories that make you sit down to read a chapter or two and end up stopping only when you turn the last page and you realize the house has gotten dark or that you’re really, REALLY hungry.

I love the Riva children (and their mom; their dad is another story). Seeing their story playing out, juxtaposed with their parents June and Mick, was one of the most interesting things about the book. If you’ve ever wondered how much of your personality is due to the parents you have, this is a book for you, because that’s one of the central themes.

But it’s also just an absolute joy to read. This is one of the most fun books I’ve read in ages, and that’s not at all surprising. Highly recommended.

Never Far Away

Finished Never Far Away by Michael Koryta. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Once a wife, mother, and witness to a gruesome crime, Leah Trenton was extended a miraculous olive branch in the form of the state’s protected witness program. But for this second chance at life, Leah would have to leave behind her Midwestern roots to the northernmost tip of Maine. Alone and isolated along the banks of the Allagash River, she is determined to focus on the present, on her reclaimed future, but the demons of her past are relentlessly chipping away at Leah’s protected hideaway.

Meanwhile, in the wake of their father’s untimely death, Leah’s children are sent to stay with her, though they are desperate to return back home. They embark on a cross country homeward journey but before they reach their destination, danger finds them and it is Leah who must come out of her seclusion to search for and protect her children.

Told with the deft plotting and enthralling storytelling of a genre master, these two captivating chase narratives will converge along the rugged Allagash River, in the wilds of Maine, where the wills, morals, and ingenuity of a broken family will be tested against all odds.”

I’ve been a Michael Koryta fan for a long time, since I got an ARC of So Cold the River at BEA. Every book since has been better than the previous ones and they’ve also gotten much more tense.

Never Far Away is no exception. I hate snow and winter and nature and this book takes place in Maine. Even so, the setting is one of the least terrifying things about this book. The Blackwell brothers pop up in the beginning and Dax is also here. AND somehow they’re not the scariest things, either. See, there’s this other guy who goes by Bleak. And you may think “Oh, that doesn’t sound too bad!” but you would be very, very wrong.

This is such a relentless thriller and I felt so much dread the entire time. I don’t know if it’s possible to top this, but I’m sure he will. Highly recommended.

Black Widows

Finished Black Widows by Cate Quinn.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Blake’s dead. They say his wife killed him. If so… which one?

Polygamist Blake Nelson built a homestead on a hidden stretch of land—a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah—where he lived with his three wives:

Rachel, the first wife, obedient and doting to a fault, with a past she’d prefer to keep quiet.
Tina, the rebel wife, everything Rachel isn’t, straight from rehab and the Vegas strip.
And Emily, the young wife, naïve and scared, estranged from her Catholic family.

The only thing that they had in common was Blake. Until all three are accused of his murder.

When Blake is found dead under the desert sun, all three wives become suspect—not only to the police, but to each other. As the investigation draws them closer, each wife must decide who can be trusted. With stories surfacing of a notorious cult tucked away in the hills, whispers flying about a fourth wife, and evidence that can’t quite explain what had been keeping Blake busy, the three widows face a reckoning that might shatter all they know to be true.”

This is the kind of book that will have you second-guessing everything. I went back and forth on which sister-wife I trusted (to be fair, the answer was usually “none of them”) and what I thought happened. There were many theories (all wrong).

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I am very into cults lately, and this one is a fantastic example. Blake’s first wife, Rachel, is a survivor of a cult and that definitely affected the rest of her life. While this could easily have overpowered the main story, it was used perfectly to explain a lot about Rachel, and it definitely was very, very suspenseful in its own right.

If you’re looking for a book that is incredibly fun and incredibly tense, this is for you.

Bingo Love

Finished Bingo Love by Tee Franklin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-’60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.From TEE FRANKLIN (NAILBITER’s “THE OUTFIT,” Love is Love) and JENN ST-ONGE (Jem & The Misfits), BINGO LOVE is a touching story of love, family, and resiliency that spans over 60 years.”

Mari and Hazel meet and quickly fall in love, but they’re not allowed to be together. (Their families don’t approve and it’s very much a different time.) They end up getting married to other people and don’t see or contact each other at all for years. But when they do run into each other again, decades later, it’s clear that their feelings haven’t changed.

This story is incredibly bittersweet. We never have as much time with people we love as we would want, and Mari and Hazel spent so much of their lives apart.

But it’s also about being who you are and going after what you want, and that’s always a lesson worth learning.

Highly recommended.

Honey Girl

Finished Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A refreshingly timely and relatable debut novel about a young woman whose life plans fall apart when she meets her wife.

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.

In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.”

I’m on a really good reading streak lately, books that have been excellent and exactly what I needed to read.

Honey Girl is not the book I expected. We’ve all seen the rom-coms of the strangers who get married in Vegas because they were drunk and they ended up falling in love, right? And it’s perfect and sweet and probably incredibly sappy and unrealistic? This is not that story.

Yes, Grace and Yuki are drunk in Vegas and yes they get married. But that’s not really the point of the story. They have issues and they need help working through them. They are broken in some ways and incredibly strong in others. (In short, they’re like basically everyone on the planet, right?)

But while many aspects of this story are universal, one is very specific. Grace is repeatedly challenged by people in her field. She’s accused of getting uncredited help on research projects and forced to leave a conference early because of it and, while trying to get a job after earning her doctorate, she’s told that she may not fit in with a company’s “culture.” It’s absolutely infuriating, and it’s also incredibly valuable to the story. Grace is an astronomer and a perfectionist but there are things like this that are far outside her control. How she will move forward from here is an integral piece of the story.

And this is not a love story, except for the fact that it really is. It’s incredibly sweet and romantic in parts, but it’s a love story for familial relationships, too, and the special bond you have with your friends, the people who know you best. And most of all, it’s about loving yourself enough to stop making the same mistakes and falling into the same patterns. I love this book so much and I hope that Morgan Rogers releases a new one soon. (And I hope it’s centered around these friends because I already really miss them.)

Highly recommended.

Malibu Rising (initial reactions post)

Finished Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I received a copy for review. This book will be released on June 1.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.”

This is probably not a book I would’ve loved if anyone else had written it. Because it’s a Taylor Jenkins Reid book, though, it’s a lot deeper and more interesting than “rich family has problems; drama ensues.” I genuinely loved all four of the Riva kids (who are all adults now) and their mom, June. (Mick, their father, is a very different story; he is the worst.)

According to my Kindle, this book is almost 400 pages, but it absolutely flew by. It’s smart and fun and sweet and sad and centers around what, if anything, we owe each other. (Both humanity in general and to the people we’re closest to. Probably because their dad was such a complete disappointment, Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit all take their family a lot more seriously than most people do, and that’s not always a good thing.)

Still, despite the heavy topics, it’s also just a really fun read. I’m hoping this is going to be one of the biggest books of the year; I think it will be. Highly recommended.

Survive the Night

Finished Survive the Night by Riley Sager. I received a copy for review. This will be released on July 6.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.”

I’ve been a fan of Riley Sager’s for years, ever since I read his first book. I’ve enjoyed all of them; this one is my favorite.

A big part of it is the fact that Charlie loves old movies (like I do) and I enjoyed all the references she made. (I haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt yet, but I hope to fix that soon, ideally this very weekend.) Like Charlie, I also tend to process things with movie references and I definitely over-related.

But a lot of it is also the situation she’s in. She may or may not be in the car with a serial killer. And it’s the early 1990s, so her options aren’t great. She can’t send a pin with her address to anyone or sneakily call 911 or even make sure anyone knows where she is and who she’s with. All she has to rely on is herself.

As you would expect, there are a ton of twists, turns and red herrings. I didn’t expect any of them and it was the best ride I could possibly imagine. Highly recommended.

Silver Sparrow

Finished Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon is a bigamist,” Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s families– the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich and flawed characters, she also reveals the joy, and the destruction, they brought to each other’s lives.

At the heart of it all are the two girls whose lives are at stake, and like the best writers, Jones portrays the fragility of her characters with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women.”

I absolutely loved An American Marriage so it makes no sense why I waited so long to read this.
This is a book club pick for the podcast and I can’t wait to discuss it because there is a LOT going on. So this review will be a little bit disjointed because I don’t want to ruin the book and I don’t want to spoil the discussion.

I love the way that the story is told from both daughters’ perspectives because I think that it’s more honest than it would be if we had heard from their mothers. I don’t think we would have been lied to, necessarily, but I think that you can choose to see things in a certain light and kids don’t do that as much.

It’s almost an impossible situation because there’s no way to avoid at least one family fracturing forever, and there’s every chance that it will actually be both families. The two families can only co-exist for so long, especially since one of them is completely unaware.

Highly recommended.

Plain Bad Heroines

Finished Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth and illustrated by Sara Lautman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations.”

This book is exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s incredibly creepy (more unsettling than scary) and it’s hard to tell exactly wat’s real vs. what’s more like people choosing to believe that something bad is happening. (For the record, I definitely think Brookhants is haunted.

danforth chooses to let the reader decide what they believe, which is probably a risky choice but worked well. (If you like a straightforward narrative or one where everything’s explained later, this is not for you. And if you have a fear of creatures that fly and sting, this is not for you. Yellow jackets are everywhere and that is one aspect I really did NOT like.)

This was an incredibly fun story and I loved it. I wish that we could actually watch the Brookhants movie.