Category Archives: Fiction

Broken Promise

Finished Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of No Safe House comes an explosive novel about the disturbing secrets of a quiet small town.… 

After his wife’s death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can’t find a way to stop his descent.

Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David’s cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David’s mother asks him to check on her, he’s horrified to discover that she’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.

When the baby’s real mother is found murdered, David can’t help wanting to piece together what happened—even if it means proving his own cousin’s guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla’s mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past…in blood.”

I absolutely loved this novel.  It’s an incredibly smart thriller, and I immediately cared about the characters.  While not everything is wrapped up, I’m pretty sure that means that there is a sequel coming.  I hope so; I want to know what will happen to everyone.

While there is a lot going on, obviously my focus was on Marla and her “present,” the baby left on her step by what she insists was an angel.  But there were no subplots that dragged for me; there was nothing that I wished had been left out.

I have read one other Linwood Barclay novel and I definitely want to check out his entire backlist.

Highly recommended.

Armada

Finished Armada by Ernest Cline.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.”

I was a huge fan of Ready Player One and so this was one of my must-reads for the year.

While I definitely preferred Ready Player One, fans of that will find so much to love here, too.  (They are very similar in terms of tone and all the pop culture references.  There’s a lot more about video games here, but that didn’t affect my fondness for Armada.)

At any rate, this is such an interesting premise and I love the characters we meet as Zack and a few other gamers prepare to help save the world.  It would be easy for a story like this to become a caricature, but it’s obvious that Ernest Cline loves the tropes so much that this is a love letter and not a mockery.  (I would really enjoy seeing what he does with horror movies…)

Recommended.

A Head Full of Ghosts

Finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.”

I’m not sure how to review this without ruining anything.  So first, let me say that this book is amazing and you need to read it.

A Head Full of Ghosts is easily one of the most unexpected experiences I’ve had in a long time.  I knew going in that it would be scary (or at the least, quite creepy) but I wasn’t expecting the almost visceral reaction I had.  I had to put the book down a few times in order to compose myself.  This generally does not happen; in fact, it is one of only three books where it was mandatory.  (The only other two times: IT by Stephen King and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill.)

I really just want everyone I know to read it so that I can discuss it with people (oh, that twist; oh, that ending) but I also am happy to just sort of sit with it for a while.

This is one of the most deeply unsettling books I’ve ever read, the kind that makes me feel more than a little off-kilter and like literally anything could have happened.  (Generally, authors tend to go so far and no farther; that is not the case here.  Paul Tremblay held nothing back.)

You just need to read this for yourself.  (But be warned; this book will affect you.)

Highly recommended.

Movie Star

Finished Movie Star by Hilary Liftin.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A juicy novel of celebrity love gone wrong, pulled from the pages of today’s gossip magazines

Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story.

Celebrity ghostwriter Hilary Liftin chronicles the tabloids’ favorite marriage as Lizzie Pepper realizes that, when the curtain falls, her romance isn’t what she and everyone else thought. From her lonely holidays in sumptuous villas to her husband’s deep commitment to a disconcertingly repressive mind-body group, Lizzie reveals a side of fame that her fans never get to see in a story that will have every reader guessing the real-life inspirations for its players. Full of twists and turns, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a breathless journey to the heights of Hollywood power and royalty and a life in the spotlight that is nearly impossible to escape.”

This book is a novel that is pretty obviously based on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  A lot of things were changed (a lot of little things), probably for plausible deniability but if you follow celebrity gossip at all, you’ll know it’s them.

Anyway, this is an incredibly fun book.  I don’t think you need to love celebrity gossip to adore this book, but it wouldn’t hurt.

The most interesting thing is how invested I became in the story, even though I knew how it ended.  It’s a very fun book and I would definitely read Hilary Leftin’s next book.

Recommended.

Go Set a Watchman: Why I’m Reading It

I’ve preordered Go Set a Watchman and hope to read it tomorrow.  (It should hit my Kindle well before I wake up tomorrow and, since I am nightside, I see no reason why I can’t finish it before work.)

I’ve been nervous about it since it was announced.  The publisher said that it wouldn’t be edited, and it’s not a secret that Harper Lee didn’t want it published, or that her sister was her protector and died three months before this book was “found” and this was even before the first chapter and NYT review that revealed that Atticus is maybe not the hero we remember.

I even considered canceling my preorder.

And then I realized that even if Atticus is the worst character ever written in this book, it doesn’t tarnish Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird.  They are two totally different books, and if I can’t differentiate between them, then honestly I should stop reading and blogging altogether.

More than that, though, I woke up this morning with an actual conviction: I need to read this book.

I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve been disillusioned with some of my friends after the Supreme Court said that gay marriage bans were unconstitutional and some of them were angry and sad.  And not surprisingly, I’ve taken that very personally.  (As naturally one would, when someone once thought to be a friend says very publicly that they don’t think I should be able to get married.)

So why am I bringing this up?

Because Go Set a Watchman was written and is set in the 1950s.  It’s not a recent book, not a book that looks back at the civil rights era and desegregation with the knowledge we have today.  We know now that racism is wrong—at least most of us do—but back in the 1950s, you would’ve found a lot of otherwise wonderful people that would have disagreed with that, who would have said that the races should be kept separate.  If you disagree, think of those pictures of the first African-American children to go to formerly white-only schools.  They walked in together, bravely, seemingly unaware of the people screaming at them.  Now we look at those pictures and feel ashamed of those people and their fear, ignorance and hate.  At the time, though, they thought they were doing what was right.  But racism is always wrong; discrimination is always wrong.

And obviously those who opposed integration were wrong, and I’m hoping—perhaps naively—that many of them were ashamed of their earlier beliefs.  But is it okay to judge them harshly just on that one thing, to reduce an entire life to one mistake?  I would argue no.  As the great lady said, when you know better, you do better.  We don’t always know better.  And it’s not fair to judge a book written in the 1950s on 2015-era sensibilities.

I know that the people who oppose gay marriage are also doing what they think is right.  And I have to believe that, in a few years, they’ll realize how wrong they actually are.

People look at these sweeping changes and worry that the sky will fall.  But the sky never does.

We all do the best we can with the information we have.  Atticus bought into a racist culture.  Some of my friends bought into an antigay culture.  We don’t always have the ability to recognize wrongdoing when it is a part of our everyday lives.

I do think it’s possible that, even if Atticus Finch was opposed to desegregating schools and buildings in the 1950s, he would’ve grown to see the error of his ways.  And I do understand that you can believe wrong things and grow to regret those beliefs.

I’m just hoping that the compassion I hope to feel for Atticus will help me feel like I can have beyond superficial relationships with people who don’t think I should be able to get married.  Or, to paraphrase a quote from my favorite Snow Patrol song, I’m hoping the grace I feel for Atticus will help me find it for the people in my life now.

It’s a big responsibility for a book, I know.  But if anyone can do it, I’m pretty sure it’ll be Harper Lee.

Summer Secrets

Finished Summer Secrets by Jane Green.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jane Green delivers her second blockbuster novel of 2015, a story of one woman struggling to right the wrongs of her past, with even more complications in the present.

June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.”

I started this novel expecting a pretty light, fun experience.  (Yes, it looks pretty clear from the synopsis that there are some weighty topics, but it’s a Jane Green book!)  Instead, I got the fun I was expecting, but something that was a lot better.

I don’t have a problem with alcohol, but I have friends who did and have been in a few AA meetings.  I feel like the potential to get a little snarky about it was there (as Cat points out at her first meeting, the rooms can get a little cult-like) but instead, Jane Green dealt with everything with respect.

The story is straightforward but incredibly well-told.  The fact that many of the events can easily be guessed didn’t take away from my enjoyment (and there were still a few surprises on top of that).

Jane Green’s come a long way.  I can’t wait to read her next book and meanwhile, I am excited to catch up on the couple of books from her backlist I’ve missed.

Recommended.

The Lives Between Us

Finished The Lives Between Us by Theresa Rizzo.  I received a copy of the book for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

How far would you go to save the one you love?

Reporter Skylar Kendall has run from commitment all her life, pushing people away before they leave her, until her niece worms her way into Skye’s heart and settles in tight. Skye relaxes into a career she enjoys and relishes being a doting aunt.

Then her niece becomes gravely ill. Unable to bear yet another loss, Skye is determined to find a cure, but the girl’s only hope lies in the embryonic stem cell therapy Michigan Senator Edward Hastings repeatedly opposes. When Skye fails to find alternative treatment in time, she vows to end the senator’s political career.

Curious about the woman behind the scathing articles on his best friend, Mark Dutton pursues Skye. Dating Mark gives her access to Hastings’s life and secrets that would launch Skye’s career and satisfy her need for retribution… Only she hadn’t counted on falling in love.

Can she avenge the lives lost to politics at the expense of her new love and friends?”

I love books like this.  I am definitely Team Skye when it comes to stem cell research so I found her to be an incredibly sympathetic character.  (One thing I do appreciate, though, is the fact that no one here is evil.  The senator is someone I disagree with politically, but he is acting in accordance with his own beliefs, but he is actually a good guy.)

I’m not sure that this book could change anyone’s minds, but if nothing else, it will show that people on the other side just have different opinions (as opposed to being bad people).

I loved Skye immediately but also came to care for every character in the book.  This is the kind of book you fall in love with. :)

Recommended.

Disclaimer

Finished Disclaimer by Renee Knight.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew–and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.”

The second I heard about this book, I knew it was something I would want to read.  I mean, how awesome is this concept?  And how terrifying would that be, starting to read this book that randomly shows up in your house and realizing that it is about YOU, and that the story it tells is something that literally no one else knows?

Not surprisingly, Catherine starts to go off the rails a little bit (and even more, once copies of the book start showing up other places, too—to her office, for example, and to her adult son) and also not surprisingly, people start to think that she’s lost her mind.

(And how do you manage to convince people that you aren’t crazy when you’ve been acting that way for days and weeks?)

This book is a little bit of a slow burn but the tension keeps ramping up an inch at a time until finally it’s completely impossible to put it down.  (For what it’s worth, though, I read this in one evening and didn’t do anything else.  It’s a fun, creepy book.)

Recommended.

Eight Hundred Grapes

Finished Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A breakout novel from an author who “positively shines with wisdom and intelligence” (Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I leave You). “Laura Dave writes with humor and insight about relationships in all their complexity, whether she’s describing siblings or fiancés or a couple long-married. Eight Hundred Grapes is a captivating story about the power of family, the limitations of love, and what becomes of a life’s work” (J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine).

There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

Bestselling author Laura Dave has been dubbed “a wry observer of modern love” (USA TODAY), a “decadent storyteller” (Marie Claire), and “compulsively readable” (Woman’s Day). Set in the lush backdrop of Sonoma’s wine country, Eight Hundred Grapes is a heartbreaking, funny, and deeply evocative novel about love, marriage, family, wine, and the treacherous terrain in which they all intersect.”

I absolutely loved this!  I love books about family and this is one of the best examples of that I’ve read in years.

This is just an incredibly sweet, perfect novel.  I thought I knew where it was going multiple times; I couldn’t have been more wrong at any of those times.

While the relationship between Georgia and her fiance is the center of the novel, I was much more interested in her relationship with her parents and brothers.  (I don’t have brothers, but this novel makes me wish I did.)

I can’t say enough good things about this book; I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Recommended.

In the Unlikely Event

Finished In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In her highly anticipated new novel, Judy Blume, the New York Times # 1 best-selling author of Summer Sisters and of young adult classics such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, creates a richly textured and moving story of three generations of families, friends and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by unexpected events.

In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

In the Unlikely Event is vintage Judy Blume, with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling, and full of memorable characters who cope with loss, remember the good times and, finally, wonder at the joy that keeps them going.”

Like every woman of my age, I am a huge Judy Blume fan.  The news that there would be a new novel by her (the first, I think, since Summer Sisters back in the 90s) was a huge delight and I have been eagerly anticipating this for a year.

This is Judy Blume at her best.  While it’s a novel for adults, the main character is a teenager, and I think this is appropriate for YA audiences.

This is based on a true story (over the course of a couple of months, three planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey) and that is completely shocking to me.  How is that not something that everyone knows? Three fatal plane crashes in something like two months?

Anyway.  So a lot of the different characters react to that but, because they are people, there are also a lot of smaller, more personal dramas going on.  (To say more would be to spoil things.)

Highly recommended.