Category Archives: Fiction

Last Ferry Home

Finished Last Ferry Home by Kent Harrington. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“San Francisco police detective Michael O’Higgins has been paralyzed with grief since his wife’s tragic death at sea. Unable to care for their teenage daughter and barely keeping his head above water at work, O’Higgins finds his faith in humanity restored when he meets a charming Indian family on his ferry home. But when he is called to investigate a murder, and finds that the victim is the father he met on that ferry, Michael must solve a mystery that threatens to shatter his already broken life.

“No one writes about the heart of darkness like Kent Harrington” -Michael Connelly Since his wife’s death at sea, San Francisco Police Detective Michael O’Higgins has been paralyzed by grief and shame – unable to care for their teenaged daughter, who saw her mother swept away, and unable to deal with the daily requirements of his job. Almost a year after his wife’s death, O’Higgins takes a ferry ride as part of his therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. On the boat, he meets a charming Indian family: successful young husband, two lovely daughters, and a kind, beautiful wife and mother.

O’Higgins has no idea that he will meet this woman again on his first day back after bereavement leave, when he and his partner are called to a Nob Hill mansion to investigate a homicide. The victim is the handsome man O’Higgins met on the ferry, and his wife, Asha Chaundhry, is the obvious suspect.

Asha Chaundhry becomes the center of O’Higgins’ investigation. The victim’s father, a prominent Indian politician and business tycoon, is anxious to keep his son’s death out of the public eye, and to have the investigation resolved as quickly as possible. As O’Higgins digs into the Chaundhrys’ business and political dealings, he becomes convinced of Asha’s innocence, while her father-in-law seeks to isolate her from friends and defenders, even sending her children back to extended family in India. Increasingly desperate, Asha turns to O’Higgins for comfort, in a way that threatens both his recovery and his career.”

This is a hard book to classify. It’s part police procedural, your standard “whodunnit.” It’s part a guide on how to survive what you think you won’t ever be able to move past (Michael still isn’t over his wife’s sudden death, although that’s something you never really move past; he’s just starting to surface when he returns to work and immediately gets assigned this double murder case) and it’s part international intrigue. It’s a lot to pack into a book that’s under 300 pages, and Kent Harrington does a great job of making sure nothing feels rushed or thrown in.

In general, I’m someone who wants long books; shorter stories seem to be over way too soon. This book feels longer than it is (in the good way, in the Cormac McCarthy way).

I was fascinated by the international intrigue and the glimpse into Indian life and the Hindu religion. It’s not a culture I’m very familiar with, and I wish the book had gone a bit more deeply into that (although I understand that it wouldn’t really have fit in, so I understand why it was left out).

I definitely need to read some of Kent Harrington’s backlist; this book is good and I definitely want to read more.


If I Die Tonight

Finished If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.

Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.

As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?

The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?

Told from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints—Wade’s mother Jackie, his younger brother Connor, Aimee En and Pearl Maze, a young police officer with a tragic past, If I Die Tonight is a story of family ties and dark secrets—and the lengths we’ll go to protect ourselves.”

This is such a fascinating story. We’re kept in the dark about pretty much everything and the only thing that’s clear is that every single character has secrets. (Pretty much huge secrets, too.) Everyone has something that they desperately need to keep hidden, and so this makes everyone seem like they’re lying, even when they’re being completely truthful about one particular thing.

While obviously the story centers around what happened to Liam and who’s responsible, there are a bunch of little mysteries (WHAT IS EVERYONE HIDING AND ALSO WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS TOWN). This is such masterful writing, though; every subplot was fascinating and every character felt fully realized. (There are four narrators and each felt different and equally interesting.)

If you are in the mood for a book that won’t let you go, this is for you. Recommended.



Finished Indecent by Corinne Sullivan. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Shy, introverted Imogene Abney has always been fascinated by the elite world of prep schools, having secretly longed to attend one since she was a girl in Buffalo, New York. So, shortly after her college graduation, when she’s offered a teaching position at the Vandenberg School for Boys, an all-boys prep school in Westchester, New York, she immediately accepts, despite having little teaching experience—and very little experience with boys.

When Imogene meets handsome, popular Adam Kipling a few weeks into her tenure there, a student who exudes charm and status and ease, she’s immediately drawn to him. Who is this boy who flirts with her without fear of being caught? Who is this boy who seems immune to consequences and worry; a boy for whom the world will always provide?

As an obsessive, illicit affair begins between them, Imogene is so lost in the haze of first love that she’s unable to recognize the danger she’s in. The danger of losing her job. The danger of losing herself in the wrong person. The danger of being caught doing something possibly illegal and so indecent.

Exploring issues of class, sex, and gender, this smart, sexy debut by Corinne Sullivan shatters the black-and- white nature of victimhood, taking a close look at blame and moral ambiguity.”

When we read about female teachers who sleep with students, they all seem to be young and incredibly pretty and super confident—sort of like the “cool girl” rant from Gone Girl. Imogene is not that girl. She’s painfully shy and compulsively picks at her face. She’s not awful in any way, but she’s the complete definition of average.

When the relationship starts, Imogene basically initially is carried away by its momentum. Adam Kipling (“Kip”) pursues her, and she basically is very “This is not my fault; I tried to resist.” Except she really didn’t. Picture the world’s flattest delivery of “You should go; you can’t be here.”

Once things turn physical, it starts to switch. Kip isn’t super into her anymore (or, slightly more accurately, it’s the push-pull relationship that we’ve all had at least once) and she starts to get a little obsessive. Like repeatedly texting and occasionally showing up and just in general doing everything that girls know they’re not supposed to do but do anyway, especially when they’re young (as Imogene is).

There is a steadily increasing sense of dread as the novel continues. Initially, there are multiple ways it can end well and all of those options start slowly falling apart. I wouldn’t say I necessarily liked Imogene, but I felt horrible for her.

This book is incredibly thought-provoking and I think it’s a great choice for book clubs. Recommended.


Finished Sunburn by Laura Lippman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through.

Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets that begin to accumulate as autumn approaches, feeding the growing doubts they conceal.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?”

This is an incredibly hard book to review because the plot is so intricate (initially straightforward but it becomes increasingly clear that this is a complete illusion). Obviously it’s a noir (ideally, this should be read during the hottest August in years, but you won’t want to wait that long) and it made me want to rewatch Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice (or maybe read them for the first time). But it’s also far more than “complete sucker of a guy” and “femme fatale” and “danger they never saw coming.”

This book is a stunning achievement and you all need to read it. (Maybe once now and again in August. I bet it’ll be even better the second time.)

Highly recommended.

Mister Tender’s Girl

Finished Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson. I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“How far are you willing to go for Mister Tender?

At fourteen, Alice Hill was viciously attacked by two of her classmates and left to die. The teens claim she was a sacrifice for a man called Mister Tender, but that could never be true: Mister Tender doesn’t exist. His sinister character is pop-culture fiction, created by Alice’s own father in a series of popular graphic novels.

Over a decade later, Alice has changed her name and is trying to heal. But someone is watching her. They know more about Alice than any stranger could: her scars, her fears, and the secrets she keeps locked away. She can try to escape her past, but Mister Tender is never far behind. He will come with a smile that seduces, and a dark whisper in her ear…

Inspired by a true story, this gripping thriller plunges you into a world of haunting memories and unseen threats, leaving you guessing until the harrowing end.”

This is obviously inspired by the Slenderman case a few years back, but it’s also very much its own story.

There are two especially fascinating parts in this for me: the idea that someone could become so obsessed with a fictional thing that they’d commit murder (or try to, anyway) for it, and the question of what would happen to the girl that almost died. This novel answers the second question, but not the first. (Which is actually fine; I’m not sure there’s an acceptable or plausible answer for this anyway.)

Alice is a survivor, although she’s currently hanging on from habit and spite. She’s not particularly close to her mom and brother (her dad, the man who created Mister Tender, has since been murdered) and she has no real friends. (To be fair, I would imagine that her past makes it hard to trust people.) I love her, but she’s not necessarily easy to love. And again, that’s all understandable.

This is a weird combination of novel and thriller, but it absolutely works. Recommended.



Finished Promise by Minrose Gwen. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“n the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

“Gwin’s gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice.” —Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.”

Before I started this book, I didn’t know anything about the tornado that devastated Tupelo. It’s probably one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history, although no one knows exactly HOW deadly, because while 200 people were killed, no one kept track of how many black people died. (I can’t wrap my head around either of those things–200 people killed in the blink of an eye or the fact that no one bothered to count how many people of color died. And since that was most likely a poorer section, it could easily have doubled the casualty rate.)

Still, though, this book is about the survivors. And somehow, against all odds, a baby survived being flung incredibly far. He’s found and saved…but he’s assumed to be part of a different family.

Everything about this story is fantastic, in both senses of the word. It’s a remarkable achievement and, even though horrible things are done, there aren’t any real villains here. I’m not a huge fan of Jo, but she did not great things for good reasons. And she had a head injury, so I’m hoping that was part of it.

This is an absolutely stunning novel. Recommended.

Red Clocks

Finished Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.”

This is probably the scariest book I’ve ever read. It feels incredibly plausible—obviously abortion is an issue that people feel very strongly about, but I’ve also heard people say that in vitro fertilization is wrong. I’m sure there are some who would be happy to see it banned, along with single mothers being able to adopt children. (It must be nice to have so much free time to devote to obsessing how other people live their life, right?)

This is similar to the Handmaid’s Tale, but whereas that felt like an only vaguely possible alternate reality, this feels like something we’re headed toward—and I find that terrifying. The idea that only certain people should be allowed to have children and that everyone who ends up pregnant should be forced to carry that child to term, regardless of that woman’s own thoughts about it…it can clearly lead to disaster. And we see in this book exactly what that DOES lead to.

This is not likely to change anyone’s mind, but it is still incredibly important. I’ll sit with these characters for a long time.  Highly recommended.

An American Marriage

Finished An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.”

This is such a compelling book! I can definitely see why Oprah made it her newest book club pick (I’m definitely learning to take her advice when it comes to books, although I requested it before that happened.)

This book is all about bad luck and bad timing. It’s clear that Roy isn’t guilty of the crime he’s convicted for (and there’s no last minute reveal that he was guilty the whole time). The suspense comes from what will happen once Roy is released—will he get his life back?

I’ve heard people say that this is a slow book but I didn’t feel that way at all. I was invested immediately and I wanted everything to work out for everyone, even though there wasn’t a way to make every character happy.

An American Marriage is an absolute masterpiece. Highly recommended.

A Death in Live Oak

Finished A Death in Live Oak by James Grippando. I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“When the body of Jamal Cousin, president of the pre-eminent black fraternity at the Florida’s flagship university, is discovered hogtied in the Stygian water swamps of the Suwanee River Valley, the death sets off a firestorm that threatens to rage out of control when a fellow student, Mark Towson, the president of a prominent white fraternity, is accused of the crime.

Contending with rising political tensions, racial unrest, and a sensational media, Townson’s defense attorney, Jack Swyteck, knows that the stakes could not be higher—inside or outside the old Suwanee County Couthouse.  The evidence against his client, which includes a threatening text message referencing “strange fruit” on the river, seems overwhelming. Then Jack gets a break that could turn the case. Jamal’s gruesome murder bears disturbing similarities to another lynching that occurred back in the Jim Crow days of 1944. Are the chilling parallels purely coincidental? With a community in chaos and a young man’s life in jeopardy, Jack will use every resource to find out.

As he navigates each twist and turn of the search, Jack becomes increasingly convinced that his client may himself be the victim of a criminal plan more sinister than the case presented by the state attorney. Risking his own reputation, this principled man who has devoted his life to the law plunges headfirst into the darkest recesses of the South’s past, and its murky present, to uncover answers.

For Jack, it’s about the truth. Traversing time, from the days of strict segregation to the present, he’ll find it—no matter what the cost—and bring much-needed justice to Suwanee County.”

This is such an insanely good book. Obviously going in, I had some preconceived ideas of what happened to Jamal and who was responsible. (I didn’t believe it was Mark, but I definitely thought someone from the frat was responsible, because frats.) I’m obviously not sharing whether or not I was right, but enough happened to show me how wrong I can be. (I loved the book anyway.)

The author’s note shares that the case from the past is true. I know about lynchings and I knew what “strange fruit” means but this book made me feel it in a way that I hadn’t before. (I haven’t looked at lynching pictures, although I’m sure that would’ve worked, too.) But it’s handled in a sensitive, non-gratuitous way. It’s not like the injuries are described in graphic detail. At the same time, the point is very definitely and effectively made.

This is not the first book in the series, but new readers will be able to join in progress with no problems. (Although I do want to go and read the others, so be aware that your TBR may grow quite a bit after reading this one book.)


The Undertaker’s Daughter

Finished The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father–who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago–has died. And he’s left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.

Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn’t heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father’s things–hoping for some insight into his new life in America–before preparing the business for a quick sale.

But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker’s daughter realizes she might be in over her head.”

This is a very different book from her Louise Rick series. It goes beyond the obvious differences (new characters, new setting) and has more to do with the tone. There are aspects of a mystery here, but it’s more character-driven than I would consider the Louise Ricks novels to be.  That’s not a complaint; I loved this one, too. But it didn’t really feel like one of her mysteries.

This has more to do with Ilka trying to learn how to run a funeral home (one that’s rapidly failing) and try and figure out the best way to honor her father’s legacy (a man who, incidentally, abandoned Ilka and her mom when Ilka was a child) than it does with the murder victim. And it didn’t feel like a let-down because all those aspects were incredibly interesting. (How much does anyone not involved with funeral homes know about this stuff? Probably not very much, right?)

Still, it ended on a huge cliffhanger, so be aware that you’ll want the second book basically immediately. (Although I’d be willing to bet that would’ve been true even without the ending.)

Highly recommended.