Category Archives: Fiction

Modern Lovers

Finished Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times‒bestselling author of The Vacationers, a smart, highly entertaining novel about a tight-knit group of friends from college—their own kids now going to college—and what it means to finally grow up well after adulthood has set in.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.

Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adults’ lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.”

I am a huge fan of Emma Straub’s, and I need to read The Vacationers soon.

Her books are seemingly simple and lighthearted, but they’ve got so much going on beneath the surface.

Modern Lovers is told from every character’s perspective, and it’s invaluable (at least for me), getting to spend time with every character.  It also makes it easier to empathize with them (especially in Andrew’s case, and Jane’s, because I think otherwise they’re the two most likely to come off incredibly poorly).

Obviously a major focus is on the romantic relationships, but I also loved the way that we see how the friendships have grown and changed over time.  Like a lot of people, I have friends that I’ve known since high school and college, and it’s interesting to see what may be in store for us.  (Minus the moderate fame; none of us did anything like release records or a hit song.)

Basically, this is the perfect book for the beach if you want a fun read that will also make you think and feel.

Recommended.

Saving Abby

Finished Saving Abby by Steena Holmes.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.

Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?

USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Steena Holmes brings us an unforgettable story of one woman’s courage and love.”

I love books that give you an impossible scenario and force you to choose which you’d pick.  That’s certainly true with this novel, because you don’t get much worse than having to decide whether you should save your own life or your unborn baby’s.

I completely adore Steena Holmes’ books.  They’re short and easy to read, but at the same time, there is so much character development and plot packed into them.  I can speed through them without feeling like quality has been sacrificed.  (I also love how prolific she is, but that’s because I am greedy and I want to read all her books.)

And best of all, this book doesn’t go the uber-melodramatic route that it would have if it had been written by another author.  This is…dignified, for lack of a better word.

Recommended.

 

The Fireman

Finished The Fireman by Joe Hill.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.”

I have been a fan of Joe Hill’s since I read Heart-Shaped Box.  It was one of the most genuinely unsettling books I’d ever read (then or since) and I knew that he was going to be one of my favorites authors.

His later books helped cement that (NOS4A2 is probably my favorite of his) and this one is just as good.  The easy comparison is probably to The Stand, and it’s a fair one to make (end of the world, focusing just as much on how the world ends as how a small group of survivors try to stay alive) but honestly, I think I preferred this.  (That may at least partially be because I catch a cold every time I read The Stand and it terrifies me every time, even though I know it’s coming.)

We don’t spend much time with Harper and Jakob before Dragonscale makes an appearance and even after, we spend much more time with Harper.  This works, because as we learn a little more about Jakob, it becomes clear that he’s a pretty wretched human being. (I would have liked to know more about what he was like before the world started ending, but I’m honestly 98% sure he’d be a jerk under any circumstance.)

And the book gets even better (and Harper’s life gets better) once we get to the community of survivors.  It also becomes such an interesting sociological statement of what becomes important when everything is falling apart.  What do people cling to once everything is essentially gone? And it’s not a spoiler to say that the community shows us the best and worst of humanity.

I found the book to be incredibly clever and sweet and funny and a little bit heartbreaking.  I loved the characters (except for the ones I hated, of course, but I could even understand and find empathy for them) and I miss them.

Highly recommended.

The Assistants

Finished The Assistants by Camille Perri.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A wry and astute debut about a young Manhattanite whose embezzlement scam turns her into an unlikely advocate for the leagues of overeducated and underpaid assistants across the city.

Tina Fontana is the hapless but brazen thirty-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the all-powerful and commanding CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She’s excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss—but after six years of making his reservations for restaurants she’d never get into on her own and pouring his drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, she’s bored, broke, and just a bit over it all.

When a technical error with Robert’s travel-and-expenses report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her student loan debt with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she struggles with the decision: She’s always played by the rules. But it’s such a relatively small amount of money for the Titan Corporation—and for her it would be a life-changer . . .

The Assistants speaks directly to a new generation of women who feel stuck and unable to get ahead playing by the rules. It will appeal to all of those who have ever asked themselves, “How is it that after all these years, we are still assistants?”

This book is just delightful.  I wasn’t on vacation when I read it, but it made me feel like I was.  It’s light—effervescent might be a better word—and just incredibly fun.  It’s also a bit of a heist story (although not really, and not much time is spent on that aspect of it) but at the same time, incredibly tense just because the reader knows that it’s only a matter of time before the women involved get caught.

It’s also interesting to think that it would really be so easy to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars and how they got away with it for SO LONG before getting caught.  (How is that even possible?)

I very much enjoyed this fun story.  I’m excited to see what Camille Perri does next.

Wilde Lake

Finished Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The bestselling author of the acclaimed standalones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, challenges our notions of memory, loyalty, responsibility, and justice in this evocative and psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family.

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected—and first female—state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a job in which her widower father famously served. Fiercely intelligent and ambitious, she sees an opportunity to make her name by trying a mentally disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death in her home. It’s not the kind of case that makes headlines, but peaceful Howard county doesn’t see many homicides.

As Lu prepares for the trial, the case dredges up painful memories, reminding her small but tight-knit family of the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Now, Lu wonders if the events of 1980 happened as she remembers them. What details might have been withheld from her when she was a child?

The more she learns about the case, the more questions arise. What does it mean to be a man or woman of one’s times? Why do we ask our heroes of the past to conform to the present’s standards? Is that fair? Is it right? Propelled into the past, she discovers that the legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. Lu realizes that even if she could learn the whole truth, she probably wouldn’t want to.”

I’ve been a fan of Laura Lippman’s for years now (I think about 13? But a while) and I have loved everything she’s ever written.  If you had pressed me before, my favorite would have been To the Power of Three or maybe What the Dead Know.

Now, my favorite is absolutely this one.  No contest.

It helps that there are some definite parallels to To Kill a Mockingbird but it’s also amazing just on its own merits.  It’s not something you need to have read to love Wilde Lake (though if you haven’t read TKaM, you need to get on that), though.

I don’t want to get into the plot because of potential spoilers, but there is so much going on with this novel.  Obviously you’ll get drawn into the dual mysteries (what happened with AJ when he was a teenager? And who killed the lady now? Is it the man that Lu is prosecuting? If not him, then who?) but there’s also so much going on with family and the ways that we deal with our relatives, the way that we resort to childhood roles and ways of dealing with things, even if we don’t want to and actively try not to.

This is an absolutely perfect book and, like I said, her best yet.  And if you’ve already read Laura Lippman, you know that’s saying a lot.

Highly recommended.

 

Rare Objects

Finished Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Maeve Fanning is a first generation Irish immigrant, born and raised among the poor, industrious Italian families of Boston’s North End by her widowed mother. Clever, capable, and as headstrong as her red hair suggests, she’s determined to better herself despite the overwhelming hardships of the Great Depression.

However, Maeve also has a dangerous fondness for strange men and bootleg gin—a rebellious appetite that soon finds her spiraling downward, leading a double life. When the strain proves too much, Maeve becomes an unwilling patient in a psychiatric hospital, where she strikes up a friendship with an enigmatic young woman, who, like Maeve, is unable or unwilling to control her un-lady-like desire for freedom.

Once out, Maeve faces starting over again. Armed with a bottle of bleach and a few white lies, she lands a job at an eccentric antiques shop catering to Boston’s wealthiest and most peculiar collectors. Run by an elusive English archeologist, the shop is a haven of the obscure and incredible, providing rare artifacts as well as unique access to the world of America’s social elite. While delivering a purchase to the wealthy Van der Laar family, Maeve is introduced to beautiful socialite Diana Van der Laar—only to discover she’s the young woman from the hospital.

Reunited with the charming but increasingly unstable Diana and pursued by her attractive brother James, Mae becomes more and more entwined with the Van der Laar family—a connection that pulls her into a world of moral ambiguity and deceit, and ultimately betrayal. Bewitched by their wealth and desperate to leave her past behind, Maeve is forced to unearth her true values and discover how far she’ll to go to reinvent herself.”

I absolutely adored this book.  It’s set in the 1930s (a great time for historical fiction, I think) and it’s insanely well-written.

I had such a sense of unease while reading it.  I didn’t know what would go wrong, but I was sure that something horrible would happen to Mae or to Diana or to both.  I loved the two of them so much that I was so afraid that things would go wrong for them.  And in the 1930s, there are so many ways that things could go wrong for women (especially single women).

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but this is just a fantastic read.  You owe it to yourself to pick it up and get lost in this gorgeous world.

Recommended.

Fool Me Once

Finished Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

#1 New York Times bestseller Harlan Coben delivers his next impossible-to-put-down thriller.
 
In the course of eight consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers, millions of readers have discovered Harlan Coben’s page-turning thrillers, filled with his trademark edge-of-your-seat suspense and gut-wrenching emotion. In Fool Me Once, Coben once again outdoes himself.

Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who had been brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself.”

As you know if you’ve visited my blog for more than, say, a year, I am a huge fan of Harlan Coben.  His book releases are always among my literary highlights of the year (especially now that they’re so close to my birthday).  His novels’ basic premise always seem so outlandish, but when you read his book, they always seem so completely plausible, and it always freaks me out.  This time especially—what do you do when you see someone you think is dead?  Especially when you actually KNOW they’re dead because you were just at the funeral?

Which leads to more questions—what do you actually know? Who would hate you this much, because no matter what the explanation, it means someone hates you.  And who can you trust?

Basically so many questions.  And Harlan Coben always has the answers, and they are waiting at the end of a crazy-wild ride.

Highly recommended.

Two If By Sea

Finished Two If By Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean, an epic story of courage and devotion that spans three continents and the entire map of the human heart.

Just hours after his wife and her entire family perish in the Christmas Eve tsunami in Brisbane, American expat and former police officer Frank Mercy goes out to join his volunteer rescue unit and pulls a little boy from a submerged car, saving the child’s life with only seconds to spare. In that moment, Frank’s own life is transformed. Not quite knowing why, Frank sidesteps the law, when, instead of turning Ian over to the Red Cross, he takes the boy home to the Midwestern farm where he grew up. Not long into their journey, Frank begins to believe that Ian has an extraordinary, impossible telepathic gift; but his only wish is to protect the deeply frightened child. As Frank struggles to start over, training horses as his father and grandfather did before him, he meets Claudia, a champion equestrian and someone with whom he can share his life—and his fears for Ian. Both of them know that it will be impossible to keep Ian’s gift a secret forever. Already, ominous coincidences have put Frank’s police instincts on high alert, as strangers trespass the quiet life at the family farm.

The fight to keep Ian safe from a sinister group who want him back takes readers from the ravaged shores of Brisbane to the middle of America to a quaint English village. Even as Frank and Claudia dare to hope for new love, it becomes clear that they can never let Ian go, no matter what the cost. A suspenseful novel on a grand scale, Two If by Sea is about the best and worst in people, and the possibility of heroism and even magic in ordinary life.”

I have been a huge fan of Jacquelyn Mitchard’s since her debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean.  This novel is incredibly different from that one (obviously, which you can tell from the synopsis) but one of her major strengths is writing families in crisis, and that is very evident here.

The novel opens with a tsunami and the action doesn’t stop.  There’s a lot going on in this novel, but the pacing is perfect.  It never drags, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever bombard the reader with info dumps.  It’s a very fine line to walk (especially since the book is almost 400 pages long).

And again, there’s a lot: tsunami, preternaturally gifted child, major villains, romance…

But Mitchard handles it all with ease (as well she should; this is her eleventh novel for adults, but she’s also written seven YA novels and four books for children) and if you haven’t read her before, this is an excellent one to start with.

Recommended.

Try Not to Breathe

Finished Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For fans of Lianne Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Tana French, an arresting debut novel of psychological suspense: a young journalist struggles to keep the demons of her alcoholism at bay as she finds her purpose again in tackling the mystery of a shocking headline-making crime, still unsolved after fifteen years.

Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.

Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.

Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.

The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.

In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy.

Told in the present by an increasingly fragile Alex and in dream-like flashbacks by Amy as she floats in a fog of memories, dreams, and music from 1995, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer to a breathtaking conclusion.”

Okay, good luck putting this book down after you start it.  It was all I did on my day off, and I don’t regret that decision.

I ended up really liking Alex (in the beginning, she’s a total train wreck, but there’s a lot going on that I wasn’t initially aware of—good lesson not to judge there, Holly Seddon) and I was so curious about what happened to Amy (or, more accurately, who happened to Amy) and I didn’t see the end coming.

This works as both an excellent mystery and a redemption story.  There is so much here for readers to love.

Highly recommended.

Squid’s Grief

Squid's-Grief-Cover

Finished Squid’s Grief by DK Mok.  I received a copy from the author for review.

Paperback

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Squids-Grief-DK-Mok/dp/0994431503

The paperback will also be available at Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository in the coming weeks.

Ebook

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AYMHPQA

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/squids-grief-dk-mok/1123308255?ean=2940152775105

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/squid-s-grief

Goodreads

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27831609-squid-s-grief

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the seething metropolis of Baltus City, car-hacker Squid is desperate for a fresh start. She dreams of a normal life and a respectable job, where retirement comes with a pension plan, not an exit wound. Determined to break free from the criminal syndicate that commands her, she agrees to one last heist. But when she rescues a cheerful amnesiac from the trunk of a stolen car, her decision to help him sends her own plans into a tailspin.

Squid and the amnesiac–soon nicknamed Grief–rapidly find themselves caught between warring criminal factions, shadowy vigilantes, and Squid’s own hopes for a better future.

As she investigates deeper into the mystery of Grief’s true identity, Squid begins to uncover a past darker than her own, setting her on a collision course with the enigmatic crime lords who rule Baltus City.”

Excerpt:

Squid prayed for red.

A million crucial decisions and damning mistakes had brought her to this point, where her continued existence depended on the mercy of chaos theory. She could still dig herself out, somehow. All she needed was a miracle.

The ball whirred across the wooden dividers, jumping from slot to slot on the roulette wheel. Squid gripped the side of the table, broadcasting mental spam to every god, spirit or demon willing to cut her a deal.

Just make it red.

The wheel turned, the wheel slowed, and the ball settled on thirty-one. Black.

Squid stared as the croupier raked the tarnished silver watch across the felt. It seemed to tumble in slow motion into his battered wooden box, like a star sliding over the event horizon.

It had been a birthday present.

“You can always make more cash, Squid,” said the tousled croupier.

Squid gripped the table harder, concentrating on making time go backwards.

“Not anymore.”

“Trying to go straight again?” said the croupier.

Squid knew better than to reply. She knew better than to gamble, too, or borrow money from people called Kneecaps, but the past few weeks, months, years seemed like a chain reaction of decisions made between a rock and a hard place. It was a hell of a mess, but she could still fix it without resorting to what had started it all in the first place.

REVIEW:

Oh, you guys, this book.  This amazing, perfect book.  This book that I am going to make everyone I have ever met read.

Okay, yes, I love heist books and this is an amazing one.  It’s sort of Gone in 60 Seconds but set in a world not unlike The Godfather (crime syndicates run EVERYTHING) and there’s also the sweetest love story, but it’s also not at all sappy or eye-rolling.

I can’t even talk about it like a rational human being.  Just picture me brandishing it like the street preacher in Little Nicky.  And then get this book, which is something like $6 on Kindle.

You’ll thank me later.

Highly recommended.

ABOUT DK:

DK Mok is a fantasy and science fiction author whose novels include Squid’s Grief, Hunt for Valamon and The Other Tree. DK has been shortlisted for three Aurealis Awards, a Ditmar, and a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award. DK graduated from UNSW with a degree in Psychology, pursuing her interests in both social justice and scientist humour. DK lives in Sydney, Australia, and her favourite fossil deposit is the Burgess Shale. Connect on Twitter @dk_mok or find more information at www.dkmok.com.