Category Archives: Fiction

No Ordinary Life

Finished No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Suzanne Redfearn delivers another gripping page-turner in her latest novel, a story about a young mother’s fight to protect her children from the dangerous world of Hollywood. Faye Martin never expected her husband to abandon her and her three children . . . or that she’d have to struggle every day to make ends meet. So when her four-year-old daughter is discovered through a YouTube video and offered a starring role on a television series, it seems like her prayers have been answered. But when the reality of their new life settles in, Faye realizes that fame and fortune don’t come without a price. And in a world where everyone is an actor and every move is scrutinized by millions, it’s impossible to know who to trust, and Faye finds herself utterly alone in her struggle to save her family. Emotionally riveting and insightful, NO ORDINARY LIFE is an unforgettable novel about the preciousness of childhood and the difficult choices a mother needs to make in order to protect this fragile time in her children’s lives.

I really enjoyed this novel!  I love the story of a child star as told by her mom (who is really not what we’d think of as a stage mom).

I was expecting Faye to get in trouble for using some of Molly’s money for family use, but that didn’t happen.  (Isn’t that what Macauley Culkin’s father got in trouble for?)

At any rate, this was a smart, fun story and I definitely want to read more from Suzanne Redfearn.

Recommended.

What She Knew

Finished What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking… ”

This book was a complete page-turner.  I kept changing my mind about who was responsible for kidnapping Ben or whether Ben would be found alive.  There were a lot of twists, most of which I didn’t see coming.

This is incredibly impressive, especially for a debut novel.

The subplot aobut how Rachel was portrayed in the media was also incredibly interesting. It’s something you never really think about, how easy it would be to be misconstrued by the media.  And how exactly do you manage to create  a good media image in a stressful situation?

Recommended.

What She Left

Finished What She Left by T.R. Richmond.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…”

This book is such a blast to read.  It’s told through emails, newspaper articles texts, diary entries, blog posts and comments (and a few other devices) and that makes it incredibly easy to read (and incredibly easy to keep reading).  We know that Alice has died, but we don’t know why (did she kill herself? Was it an accident? Did someone kill her?) and there are some pretty compelling pieces of evidence with each theory.

The most interesting part is that we are also not sure who can be trusted.  Everyone seems to have secrets and to know more than they’re telling about Alice’s disappearance.  It makes it really hard to know what’s going on and whose stories should be believed.

When we finally learn the truth, I will admit that I was really blindsided.  That doesn’t happen that often and kudos to TR Richmond for it. :)

Recommended.

Missing Pieces

Finished Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband’s family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf

Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack’s past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.”

I am a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf’s and I love the way that her books seem to be these sort of ripped-from-the-headlines things that are just insanely good and insanely readable.

This one was a letdown but still was something that I couldn’t stop reading.  (It’s not that this was a bad book, because it wasn’t, at all.  It’s just that it was more of a thriller, almost, which is not what I expect from her.)

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Sarah.  In really short order, she learns that everything she knows about her husband’s past is not true. It’s a lot to handle, even before she starts realizing just how far back the lies go and how extensive they are.

This is a good book but it’s not a good Heather Gudenkauf book.  Does that make sense? It’s just that I expect more in terms of character development from her.  (But it’s still worth reading, and I definitely plan to read everything else she writes.)

The Killing Forest

Finished The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Following an extended leave, Louise Rick returns to work at the Special Search Agency, an elite unit of the National Police Department. She’s assigned a case involving a fifteen-year-old who vanished a week earlier. When Louise realizes that the missing teenager is the son of a butcher from Hvalsoe, she seizes the opportunity to combine the search for the teen with her personal investigation of her boyfriend’s long-ago death . . . Louise’s investigation takes her on a journey back through time. She reconnects with figures from her past, including Kim, the principal investigator at the Holbaek Police Department, her former in-laws, fanatic ancient religion believers, and her longtime close friend, journalist Camilla Lind. As she moves through the small town’s cramped network of deadly connections, Louise unearths toxic truths left unspoken and dangerous secrets.”

If you’ve heard me talk about books, you’ve probably heard me mention Sara Blaedel.  Her books are so fun and so compelling and so…okay, yes, creepy.  (If you’re a fan of mysteries or suspense and you haven’t read her, you need to check her out.)

The Killing Forest is my new favorite of hers.  It’s got some of my favorite things: people in peril (a teenage boy, for the most part, but it spreads) and local mythology and weird religion.  Even one of those things is fantastic but all of them? Yes, please!

And best of all, we’ve got Louise Rick, one of my favorite fictional characters (and her best friend Camilla who, of course, is another of my favorites).

Most of her books have been translated now (except for the first two, which I am desperate to read—come on, Hachette, translate those too, please!) so I have to wait now as her books are written and released.  I hope the next one is out soon.  I already miss Louise.

Highly recommended.

The Evening Spider

Finished The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A gripping blend of psychological suspense and historical true crime, this riveting novel—inspired by a sensational real-life murder from the 1800s—by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault delivers a heart-stopping mystery linking two young mothers from different centuries.

Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living in the same house in two different centuries.

1885: Frances Barnett is in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, telling her story to a visitor. She has come to distrust her own memories, and believes that her pregnancy, birth, and early days of motherhood may have impaired her sanity.

During the earliest months of her baby’s life, Frances eagerly followed the famous murder trial of Mary Stannard—that captivated New Englanders with its salacious details and expert forensic testimony. Following—and even attending—this trial, Frances found an escape from the monotony of new motherhood. But as her story unfolds, Frances must admit that her obsession with the details of the murder were not entirely innocent.

Present day: Abby has been adjusting to motherhood smoothly—until recently, when odd sensations and dreams have begun to unsettle her while home alone with her baby. When she starts to question the house’s history, she is given the diary of Frances Barnett, who lived in the house 125 years earlier. Abby finds the diary disturbing, and researches the Barnett family’s history. The more Abby learns, the more she wonders about a negative—possibly supernatural—influence in her house. She becomes convinced that when she sleeps, she leaves her daughter vulnerable—and then vows not to sleep until she can determine the cause of her eerie experiences.

Frances Barnett might not be the only new mother to lose her mind in this house. And like Frances, Abby discovers that by trying to uncover another’s secrets, she risks awakening some of her own.”

I love Emily Arsenault’s books.  They’re incredibly creepy and also incredibly smart.  This one is sort of a ghost story, and it’s actually chilling.

There’s so much going on in The Evening Spider that it’s actually hard to discuss in any detail without the risk of spoiling things.  So here’s what I can say: I very much like Abby and empathized with what was going on with her.

Because of the way this is written, I had some very real questions about what was really happening and what was in Abby’s head.  This made the book even creepier than it may otherwise have been, because is there anything scarier than the idea that you may be more of a harm to your child than whatever it is you think is potentially a harm to your child?  (SO CREEPY.)

There’s such an insane feeling of dread going throughout the book, too.  Everything about it is just intense.  This book may not be for everyone, but if you like spooky stories, it’s absolutely for you.

Recommended.

Read Bottom Up

Finished Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A charming novel about falling in love (or like) in the digital age—the never-before-seen full story

Madeline and Elliot meet at a New York City restaurant opening. Flirtation—online—ensues. A romance, potentially eternal, possibly doomed, begins.

And, like most things in life today, their early exchanges are available to be scrutinized and interpreted by well-intentioned friends who are a mere click away.

Madeline and Elliot’s relationship unfolds through a series of thrilling, confounding, and funny exchanges with each other, and, of course, with their best friends and dubious confidants (Emily and David). The result is a brand-new kind of modern romantic comedy, in format, in content, and even in creation—the authors exchanged e-mails in real time, blind to each other’s side conversations. You will nod in appreciation and roll your eyes in recognition; you’ll learn a thing or two about how the other half approaches a new relationship . . . and you will cheer for an unexpected ending that just might restore your faith in falling in love, twenty-first-century style.”

I absolutely adored this book.  I don’t want to say too much about the plot except to say that it’s completely delightful.

Part of it is that it’s told via email and text, which means that it’s an incredibly quick read. And most of it is that if you live in this world of ours, you will be able to identify with this story so much.

(I refuse to believe I am the only person who’s forwarded emails or texts to my best friend to have a tone check and discussion of the best way to respond.)

It’s just a charming, fun book.  Recommended.

Good on Paper

Finished Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene’s life hasn’t quite turned out as planned. She’s a single mom living with her daughter and her gay friend, Ahmad. Her PhD on Dante’s Vita Nuova hasn’t gotten her a job, and her career as a translator hasn’t exactly taken off either.

But then she gets a call from a Nobel Prize-winning Italian poet who insists she’s the only one who can translate his newest book.

Stunned, Shira realizes that—just like that— her life can change. She sees a new beginning beckoning: academic glory, demand for her translations, and even love (her good luck has made her feel more open to the entreaties of a neighborhood indie bookstore owner).

There’s only one problem: It all hinges on the translation, and as Shira starts working on the exquisitely intricate passages of the poet’s book, she realizes that it may in fact be, well … impossible to translate.

A deft, funny, and big-hearted novel about second chances, Good on Paper is a grand novel of family, friendship, and possibility.”

This was a slow burn for me.  It took a little while for me to get into it, but once I did, I fell so in love with these characters.

One note: these are not characters that you will particularly like.  I cared about them and rooted for them, but these are still incredibly selfish people.  Not bad, not at all, but people who aren’t particularly good, either.  (In short, they’re basically just like most other people.  They are deeply flawed and they don’t seem to improve.)

This is a book for English majors and for people who love poetry.  (If this isn’t you, you’ll probably still enjoy the book, and it’s not like it’ll be over your head…but I think it’ll delight you more if those things apply to you.)

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Finished The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Warning: once you let books into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

This is a book about books. All sorts of books, from Little Women and Harry Potter to Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen, from to Stieg Larsson to Joyce Carol Oates to Proust. It’s about the joy and pleasure of books, about learning from and escaping into them, and possibly even hiding behind them. It’s about whether or not books are better than real life.

It’s also a book about a Swedish girl called Sara, her elderly American penfriend Amy and what happens when you land a very different kind of bookshop in the middle of a town so broken it’s almost beyond repair.

Or is it?

The Readers of Broken Wheel has touches of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, but adds an off-beat originality and intelligence all its own.”

I really wanted to love this book because it’s essentially all about how amazing books are.  Some of my favorite parts had to do with the book discussions and references.  Sara is a hardcore reader and makes a lot of references to books she’s read and wants to read.  Also, books are kind of her security blanket and make her feel more comfortable in new places and with new people.

But more than books, this is basically about Sara’s move to a new town and the way that she eventually becomes at home there.  I preferred the book parts (I mean, of course I did) but it’s in the sections where Sara starts to really fit in with the residents of Broken Wheel where the book really shines.

Dark Sparkler

Finished Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The lives of more than twenty-five actresses lost before their time—from Marilyn Monroe to Brittany Murphy—explored in haunting, provocative new work by an acclaimed poet and actress

Amber Tamblyn is both an award-winning film and television actress and an acclaimed poet. As such she is deeply fascinated-and intimately familiar—with the toll exacted from young women whose lives are offered in sacrifice as starlets. The stories of these actresses, both famous and obscure-tragic stories of suicide, murder, obscurity, and other forms of death—inspired this empathic and emotionally charged collection of new poetic work.

Featuring subjects from Marilyn Monroe and Frances Farmer to Dana Plato and Brittany Murphy—and paired with original artwork commissioned for the book by luminaries including David Lynch, Adrian Tome, Marilyn Manson, and Marcel Dzama—Dark Sparkler is a surprising and provocative collection from a young artist of wide-ranging talent, culminating in an extended, confessional epilogue of astonishing candor and poetic command.

Actresses featured in Dark Sparkler include:

Marilyn Monroe
Brittany Murphy
Dana Plato
Jayne Mansfield
Jean Harlow
Dominique Dunne
Sharon Tate
Heather O’Rourke
Bridgette Andersen
Shannon Michelle Wilsey
Judith Barsi
Peg Entwistle
Carole Landis
Anissa Jones
Susan Peters
Barbara La Marr
Lucy Gordon
Sirkka Sari
Li Tobler
Thelma Todd
Samantha Smith
Lupe Valez
Taruni Sachdev
Rebecca Shaeffer”

This is a collection of poetry honoring actresses who died in unfortunate (generally tragic but not always) ways.  Some of them I’ve heard of and some were vaguely familiar and some, of course, I had absolutely no idea who they were.  That’s almost the beauty of this collection—it brings these women back to life and, hopefully, will encourage people to learn more about them.

Obviously I know Amber Tamblyn as an actress (she’s actually been in some of my favorite movies) but she’s a really talented poet.  You can tell that she feels empathy for all these women (and children, in a few of the cases) and it makes reading this book a haunting experience.

It’s not for everyone—probably some will find it morbid—but I hope Dark Sparkler finds its people.  And I hope Amber Tamblyn keeps writing.