Category Archives: Fiction

Looker

Finished Looker by Laura Sims. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A dazzling, razor-sharp debut novel about a woman whose obsession with the beautiful actress on her block drives her to the edge.

I’ve never crossed their little fenced-in garden, of course. I stand on the sidewalk in front of the fern-and-ivy-filled planter that hangs from the fence—placed there as a sort of screen, I’m sure—and have a direct line of view into the kitchen at night. I’m grateful they’ve never thought to install blinds. That’s how confident they are. No one would dare stand in front of our house and watch us, they think. And they’re probably right: except for me. 

In this taut and thrilling debut, an unraveling woman, unhappily childless and recently separated, becomes fixated on her neighbor—the actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment lies between them. The actress, a celebrity with her face on the side of every bus, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and their three adorable children, while the narrator, working in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat.

When an interaction with the actress at the annual block party takes a disastrous turn, what began as an innocent preoccupation spirals quickly, and lethally, into a frightening and irretrievable madness. Searing and darkly witty, Looker is enormously entertaining—at once a propulsive Hitchcockian thriller and a fearlessly original portrait of the perils of envy.”

Have you ever met someone (hopefully in a book, but maybe in your real life) and they seem totally normal but the more time you spend with them, the more you think, “This person is not well?” That’s the narrator of Looker.

She’s very fascinated by the actress who lives across the street, and I cut her a lot of slack for that, because if Blake Lively or Keri Russell or anyone famous lived near me, I would probably also be That Person, at least at first. But here’s where we differ: the unnamed narrator is a whole other level. People in their neighborhood tend to put things out for others to take and she takes everything the actress puts out. EVERYTHING. Including kid clothes (she does not actually have a kid).

So there’s that. But she’s also starting to unravel in her personal life. Her husband is divorcing her and he wants his cat back (she doesn’t even like the cat, but it’s become this Thing for her) and her job is also not going super well.

This is a short book, but I think everyone would fly through it anyway. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to put down and I had to see just how wrong things would go. I cannot wait to see what Laura Sims writes next, because this one was intense and amazing.

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The Au Pair

Finished The Au Pair by Emma Rous. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A grand estate, terrible secrets, and a young woman who bears witness to it all. If V. C. Andrews and Kate Morton had a literary love child, Emma Rous’ The Au Pair would be it.

Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.

Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.

Who is the child and what really happened that day?

One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.”

First, this book is absolutely bonkers (which is the only real connection to VC Andrews). There’s a lot of “elegant family with a ton of secrets” and what I’m pretty sure is a love rectangle. It’s complicated; I wish I had a chart.

This is a fun read, and I read the bulk of it with snow falling outside. It worked surprisingly well, given the fact that a lot of it takes place at the family estate called Summerbourne. (There is also one called Winterbourne.)

It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, but it’s easy to enjoy this book either way. This is going to be one of those books that gets people talking, so I recommend reading it as quickly as possible before someone spoils it for you.

Freefall

Finished Freefall by Jessica Barry. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A propulsive debut novel with the intensity of Luckiest Girl Alive and Before the Fall, about a young woman determined to survive and a mother determined to find her.

When your life is a lie, the truth can kill you

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.

In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a riveting debut novel about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and those they love.”

This is one of the most intense stories I’ve read in recent memory. I had a real feeling of dread for the entire book (I knew Allison was in danger, but I didn’t know why or where the danger would come from, which made for a very paranoid reading experience. And, of course, she’s also injured and in the middle of nowhere with not much in the way of food, supplies, shelter or even a change of clothes. So basically she’s in danger from everything around her).

This is juxtaposed with her mom’s story. We learn that they’re estranged which makes it hard for Maggie to accept her daughter’s death. (Obviously we know the whole time that Allison is very much alive. And she’s trying to go back to Maggie’s, but she can’t reach out to her because she’s not sure if the people she’s running from would know.)

I couldn’t stop reading, and I almost missed my lightrail stop because of it. You need to read this, but make sure you aren’t using public transportation. (And maybe clear your schedule.)

Highly recommended.

The Paragon Hotel

Finished The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The new and exciting historial thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice “Nobody” from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s the Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new “family” of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was “Nobody” Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon’s denizens live in fear–and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom DuBois seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?”

I think most people I know have loved Lyndsay Faye since her first book (The Gods of Gotham). I was late to the party and I still haven’t read Jane Steele (probably her most popular book—at least until this one), but you guys, THIS BOOK.

There’s so much going on. Prohibition and speakeasies, the mob, the Klan…and all the amazing 20s lingo I wish would make a comeback.

I loved Alice (who sometimes goes by “Nobody”) and most of the residents of the Paragon. They’re smart, good people who are managing to survive in a world that wants them dead or vanished and doesn’t particularly care which one it is. But Alice is the center of this, and she’s amazing. She manages to flee cross-country with a major injury (shot and barely, BARELY patched up) and she’s got no one to help her stay alive. She quickly befriends Max, who gets her to the hotel and to a doctor’s care, but that in no way makes her safe. And it seems like the hotel is one of the least safe places to be even before Davy goes missing.

This is a fun and tense story and I hope you read and love it, too. Highly recommended.

Her One Mistake

Finished Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What should have been a fun-filled, carefree day takes a tragic turn for the worse for one mother when her best friend’s child goes missing in this suspenseful, compulsively readable, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

It all started at the school fair…

Charlotte was supposed to be looking after the children, and she swears she was. She only took her eyes off of them for one second. But when her three kids are all safe and sound at the school fair, and Alice, her best friend Harriet’s daughter, is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame.

Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface—and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter….

This breathless and fast-paced debut—perfect for fans of Big Little Lies and The Couple Next Door—takes you on a chilling journey that will keep you guessing until the very last page.”

I couldn’t stop reading this. The plot seems absolutely ripped from the headlines (woman stops paying attention for one second; child vanishes) but it’s almost worse because it isn’t her daughter; it’s her best friend’s child, who she was watching for the afternoon. I can’t imagine the absolute crushing guilt, but I can imagine the social media vilification that follows. We’ve all seen that play out a billion times by now.

There are also a lot of things below the surface, including the fact that sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s home. There may be clues, but (as one character points out) “If they don’t want you to know, you won’t.”

I am on a real “domestic suspense” kick these days, and I have more to come. We’ve seen a lot of these over the last year or so, but even if you’re sick to death of the subgenre, check this one out. It feels different.

Recommended.

An Anonymous Girl

Finished An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.”

I read their first novel, The Wife Between Us, last year and absolutely loved it. This one is even better.

I think most people would be seduced with the promise of easy money, but this is only easy at first. (And honestly, not even that easy at first. I can’t imagine having to answer some of these questions 100% honestly, and I don’t have anywhere near the baggage that Jess comes with.)

And yet…hundreds of dollars and the promise of anonymity. I understand the appeal.

At the same time (as pointed out by one of the world’s creepiest secondary characters), “nothing’s really free.” And Jess learns that quickly and permanently.

This book is an essay in paranoia. Like Rosemary’s Baby, everyone could potentially be involved. The only person Jess can definitely trust is herself…and it seems like everyone else is smarter and faster.

This is an incredibly fun and fast read. But be prepared—you won’t want to stop until you’re done.

In Paris With You

Finished In Paris With You by Clementine Beauvais. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Eugene and Tatiana had fallen in love that summer ten years ago. But certain events stopped them from getting to truly know each other and they separated never knowing what could have been.

But one busy morning on the Paris metro, Eugene and Tatiana meet again, no longer the same teenagers they once were.

What happened during that summer? Does meeting again now change everything? With their lives ahead of them, can Eugene and Tatiana find a way to be together after everything?

Written in gorgeous verse, In Paris With You celebrates the importance of first love. Funny and sometimes bittersweet this book has universal appeal for anyone who has been in love.”

I don’t entirely know how I feel about this book. It’s definitely entertaining, but I also actively disliked Eugene. (Picture the world’s most annoying guy, and that’s Eugene. It’s definitely Eugene as a teenager, hurting people because he can. He seems better as an adult but he’s still pretty awful. I don’t understand why Tatiana would ever spend time with him.)

This is a quick read and I enjoyed the writing and meeting Tatiana. But…this is not a great love story. It’s a woman potentially settling for a jerk.

The Martin Chronicles

Finished The Martin Chronicles by John Fried. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“John Fried’s THE MARTIN CHRONICLES, pitched as in the vein of Tom Perrotta’s BAD HAIRCUT and the movie BOYHOOD, set in 1980s Manhattan, about a boy from age eleven to seventeen as he runs into a series of life-changing firsts: first kiss, first enemies, first love, first death, and ultimately, his first awareness that the world is not as simple or as safe a place as he once imagined.”

As you’d imagine from the synopsis, this is more like a series of vignettes than a novel. It’s an interesting approach, and it works as well here as it did in Boyhood. (I loved that movie; if you found it boring, maybe avoid this.)

This is an incredibly clever book and I hope you put it on your radar. (NOTE: just because Martin goes from 11 to 17 doesn’t make this YA. So if you’re not a fan of that, consider this anyway. It’s a lot of fun.)

Recommended.

She Lies in Wait

Finished She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“On a scorching July night in 1983, a group of teenagers goes camping in the forest. Bright and brilliant, they are destined for great things, and the youngest of the group—Aurora Jackson—is delighted to be allowed to tag along. The evening starts like any other—they drink, they dance, they fight, they kiss. Some of them slip off into the woods in pairs, others are left jealous and heartbroken. But by morning, Aurora has disappeared. Her friends claim that she was safe the last time they saw her, right before she went to sleep. An exhaustive investigation is launched, but no trace of the teenager is ever found.

Thirty years later, Aurora’s body is unearthed in a hideaway that only the six friends knew about, and Jonah Sheens is put in charge of solving the long-cold case. Back in 1983, as a young cop in their small town, he had known the teenagers—including Aurora—personally, even before taking part in the search. Now he’s determined to finally get to the truth of what happened that night. Sheens’s investigation brings the members of the camping party back to the forest, where they will be confronted once again with the events that left one of them dead, and all of them profoundly changed forever.

This searing, psychologically captivating novel marks the arrival of a dazzling new talent, and the start of a new series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens.”

This book is an actual roller coaster ride. There is a lot going on and everyone is keeping secrets for reasons of their own. Yes, that’s exactly what you’d expect from a suspense novel, but this also felt really unique.

None of the characters are particularly likable, which makes sense. Aurora was a random addition to their camping trip. They weren’t her friends and she and her sister didn’t get along particularly well. And then when she went missing (and her body wasn’t found for 30 years, although everyone did believe she was dead because otherwise, where has she been and why?), it became this complete guilty thing. And obviously secrets were kept because what do you think teenagers were doing in the woods without supervision?

This book is a complete delight and just as tense as you’d want it to be.

Recommended.

The Red Address Book

Finished The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The global fiction sensation–publishing in 28 countries around the world–that follows 96-year-old Doris, who writes down the memories of her eventful life as she pages through her decades-old address book. But the most profound moment of her life is still to come…

Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny–her American grandniece, and her only relative–give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.

When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colorful past–working as a maid in Sweden, modelling in Paris during the 30s, fleeing to Manhattan at the dawn of the Second World War–can she help Jenny, haunted by a difficult childhood, unlock the secrets of their family and finally look to the future? And whatever became of Allan, the love of Doris’s life?

A charming novel that prompts reflection on the stories we all should carry to the next generation, and the surprises in life that can await even the oldest among us, The Red Address Book introduces Sofia Lundberg as a wise–and irresistible–storyteller.”

Doris lived an extraordinary life, the kind that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Even so, there were a lot of sorrows (mostly centered around Allan, a star-crossed love). The book goes back and forth between her current life (96, nearing death) and her past, mostly related to people who were entries in the titular address book. It was such a fantastic concept and I loved every second.

I loved this book and it broke my heart multiple times. I grabbed it on a whim at ALA over the summer and expected to enjoy it. I didn’t expect to cry.

Recommended.