Category Archives: Fiction

Leaving Amarillo

Finished Leaving Amarillo by Caisey Quinn.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Dixie Lark hasn’t had it easy. She lost her parents in an accident when she was young and grew up in a ramshackle house on a dirt road in Amarillo with her ailing grandparents and overprotective older brother. Thanks to her grandfather, Dixie learned to play a mean fiddle, inspired by the sounds of the greats—Johnny and June, Waylon, and Hank. Her grandfather’s fiddle changed Dixie’s life forever, giving her an outlet for the turmoil of her broken heart and inspiring a daring dream.

Ten years later, Dixie and her brother, Dallas, are creating the music they love and chasing fame with their hot band, Leaving Amarillo. But Dixie isn’t enjoying the ride. All she can think about is Gavin, the band’s tattooed, tortured drummer who she’s loved since they were kids. She knows he feels the connection between them, but he refuses see her as more than his best friend’s little sister.

Convinced that one night with Gavin will get him out of her system, Dixie devises a plan. She doesn’t know that her brother has forbidden Gavin from making a move on her-a promise he swore he’d always keep . . . a promise that once broken will unexpectedly change the future for Dixie, Gavin and the band.”

Oh, this book.  It was pitched as a “New Age Nashville” and I was like, “SOLD!”

Dixie is a fantastic heroine.  I love her and her combination of sass and vulnerability, the way that she can ricochet from one to the other almost within the same moment.  And, like pretty much every woman I know, I have my own story of what we will call The Long-Standing Crush.  (In this case, of course, it’s Gavin.)

And oh, Gavin.  He’s hot and wounded and strong and broken.  He so clearly loves Dixie, but he knows that sometimes acting on romantic feelings is the fastest way to ruin relationships (his friendship with Dallas, but also potentially his friendship with Dixie).

Although it’s not a spoiler to say that of COURSE they hook up.  Of course they do.  (And oh WOW were those a hot few scenes.)

This left me desperate for the sequel, which is out this summer.

Recommended.

The Stranger

Finished The Stranger by Harlan Coben.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense delivers a shocking thriller that proves that a well-placed lie can help build a comfortable life—and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

Harlan Coben’s seven consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers feature unrivaled depths of emotion combined with cutting-edge suspense plots that keep millions of readers turning pages deep into the night. In The Stranger, married parents Adam and Hannah confront the shocking secret on which their marriage is built—leaving Adam wondering whether he ever truly knew Hannah at all.”

First a word of warning: do not start this book at night or when you might be starting to get hungry any time soon.  I didn’t heed either of those warnings (a rookie mistake) and by the end of the book was both exhausted and starving.

Even so, completely worth it.

The Stranger is Harlan Coben at his absolute best.  This book starts off fast and never slows down.  Every time I thought I knew what was going on, I quickly learned I really had no idea.  The ending caught me by surprise but at the same time, was so obvious that I was mad at myself for not figuring it out.

(This is why I love Harlan Coben.)

If you haven’t already started reading him, you owe it to yourself to start.  This book has now replaced Tell No One as my absolute favorite of his, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Highly recommended.

Unholy Blue Cover Reveal

Cover for UNHOLY BLUE

It’s the sequel to The Stag Lord and is written by Darby Kaye (a pen name for Darby Karchut).  Unholy Blue is adult urban fantasy.
Unholy Blue will be out in December from Spence City, an imprint of Spencer Hill Press.  Click here to add it to your Goodreads.
Jacket copy:

Strong and Rare and Irish.

That’s how Shay Doyle likes her whiskey. And men. As Healer to a clan of immortal Celtic warriors living in modern-day Colorado, she has been gifted with such a man: Bannerman “Bann” Boru. The only problem is keeping the stubborn warrior alive. For Fate seems to have it in for Bann, and his son, Cor, descendants of the kings of Ireland, and recipient of an ancient grudge from the mad god, Cernunnos.

But, with a bit o’ luck, Shay, Bann, and the rest of the Doyle clan—along with the aid of a legendary huntsman known as the Black Hand—might just suss out how to kill a shapeshifter that refuses to stay dead, prevent clan warfare, and make a choice that could change their lives.

If they don’t lose them first.

Praise for THE STAG LORD:

“A passionate story with a strong romance…Darby Kaye’s Tuatha Dé Danann shouldn’t be missed.” — M.D. Waters, author of Archetype and Prototype

“A refreshing glimpse into the world of Celtic mythology and tradition…and give us heroes we want to root for—and reasons to keep turning the pages.”

Walter H. Hunt, author of the Dark Wing Universe and Elements of Mind

“Delightful tale filled with action, mystery, and romance.” – Rabid Reads

“…highly recommend for fans of urban fantasy who are looking for brilliant characters to fall head-over-heels for.” — A Belle’s Tales.

 

Finding Jake

Finished Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son, in the vein of Reconstructing Amelia, Defending Jacob, and We Need to Talk about Kevin.

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn’t. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school.

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.”

This book is the reason why they invented the term “page-turner.”  I was immediately sucked into this story and was desperate to know exactly what happened at the school and whether Jake was responsible for the shooting at school.

I kept changing my mind about whether Jake had something to do with the shooting, and the fact that no one knew where he was made me very uneasy–I mean, all the victims were in one place, you know?

I would be really interested in hearing what parents have to say after reading this book, and I’m sure there would be a lot of conversations with their kids.

Recommended.

The Girl on the Train

Finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.”

I’ve heard a lot of complaints around this book, mainly centered around the fact that none of the women in it are particularly likable (especially Rachel, the main narrator).  That’s true (and thus a valid complaint) but since when is it important that a story be full of good and wonderful people to be a story worth reading?

At any rate, if you are thinking of reading this book, do it.  And, if it’s not already too late for you, try and go in as cold as possible, knowing as little as you can.  It’s the best way to go in.

Also important: try and start it when you have a lot of free time.  It’s absolutely impossible to stop reading once you start.  (Fun fact: the letter from the publisher at the beginning of my e-galley said that one of the Penguin staffers was actually reading this under the desk at a meeting because she was close to the end and couldn’t stop.  I completely sympathize—I was five minutes late to work because I was close to the end and couldn’t stop.)

I enjoyed this book a great deal and Paula Hawkins is a new must-buy author for me.  Highly recommended.

Canary

Finished Canary by Duane Swierczynski.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s dangerous enough when an ordinary college girl turns confidential informant. Even more dangerous when she’s smarter than the killer, kingpins, and cops who control her.

Honors student Sarie Holland is busted by the local police while doing a favor for her boyfriend. Unwilling to betray him but desperate to avoid destroying her future, Sarie has no choice but to become a “CI”–a confidential informant.

Philly narcotics cop Ben Wildey is hungry for a career-making bust. The detective thinks he’s found the key in Sarie: her boyfriend scores from a mid-level dealer with alleged ties to the major drug gangs.

Sarie turns out to be the perfect CI: a quick study with a shockingly keen understanding of the criminal mind. But Wildey, desperate for results, pushes too hard and inadvertently sends the nineteen-year-old into a death trap, leaving Sarie hunted by crooked cops and killers alike with nothing to save her–except what she’s learned during her harrowing weeks as an informant.

Which is bad news for the police and the underworld. Because when it comes to payback, CI #137 turns out to be a very quick study…”

I am a huge fan of Duane Swierczynski (so much so that my phone actually auto-corrected something to his last name, which is pretty awesome) and even so I keep forgetting just how awesome and fun his books are.

This one replaces Severance Package as my new favorite.   A huge part of that is due to Sarie.  When the book begins, she’s basically your average college student whose biggest worry is being able to ace all her exams.  And then she makes a random decision to give a guy a ride…and THEN all hell breaks loose and all of a sudden her worries are much more stressful.  (Like, say, will I go to prison? Will I even still be alive for my last exam? Will I get murdered and dumped in a river?)

I’m hoping for a sequel.  Highly recommended.

Hush Hush

Finished Hush Hush by Laura Lippman.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The award-winning New York Times bestselling author of After I’m Gone, The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know brings back private detective Tess Monaghan, introduced in the classic Baltimore Blues, in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.

Now that’s she’s a mother herself–short on time, patience–Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.

As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder.

Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . . ”

I’ve loved Laura Lippman’s novels for years, and while I absolutely adore her standalones, I have a major soft spot for her Tess Monaghan novels.  But Tess has been largely absent for years (completely out of most of the books, although she’s had a few cameos).  Now, though, she’s finally back.

It would have been easy to expect her to be gone for good.  Now she and Crow have a young daughter, Carla Scout.  So how can Tess do her PI work with a three-year-old around?  Oh, ye of little faith.

The woman at the center of this novel is Melisandre Dawes, who was found not guilty (by reason of insanity) of killing her baby daughter years ago.  She left the child to die in a hot car (on purpose) and fled the city (and state and country) as soon as she could.  But now she’s back and she wants to have a relationship with her two older girls, who are now in their teens.  There’s a lot more going on, of course, but that would be spoiling things.

Tess Monaghan is one of my favorite characters, someone who is clearly the literary descendent of my beloved VI Warshawski.  Like Vic, Tess fights for the underdog and is much braver than anyone could reasonably expect to be.  And like Vic, the city she lives in plays a major part in the book.  But while VI lives in Chicago, Tess lives in Baltimore.  (And in this book, I was happy to see that I knew where every place mentioned was.  Love this city!)

If you’ve already read Laura Lippman’s books, I don’t need to sell you on them.  If you haven’t, this is an excellent one to start with.

Highly recommended.

Shattered Angel

Finished Shattered Angel by Carrie Beckort.  I received a copy from the author for review and there’s a giveaway! Click here to enter.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The choice between life and death should be an easy one. However, the life that I had been given—the life I’m being asked to go back to—makes death seem like a welcome reprieve.

Before I turned eight, my mother sold me. The man who bought me trained me for the life he expected me to live. For more than ten years I was held captive, beaten, tortured—shattered. There was one person who cared about me, and that gave me the strength to hold on to the small part of me that still existed. I finally escaped, only to learn that the hold of my past was stronger than the pull of my future.

Now he’s captured me again, and he’s given me a choice—life with him, or death.

I have 24 hours to decide.”

I was so excited to get to read this book.  I absolutely loved her first book (Kingston’s Project) and this sounded amazing.  And it is, but it’s also really, really different.

This book is an absolutely harrowing, brutal experience.  It’s never gratuitous but bad things happen and we know about it.  The early chapters, where we experience things from a young Angel’s perspective, reminded me of Room.  We are only told what Angel knows, and she doesn’t know much.  But since you’ll be reading this from a grownup’s perspective, you will understand things she doesn’t.

It’s not like either choice was particularly great, and I went back and forth about which would be the best choice for Angel to make.  (To quote Stephen Hawking, where there’s life, there’s hope, and I was hoping that she’d choose life just so she could wait for an opportunity to escape again…but then, too, is it really better to be alive if THAT is the life you have? No, probably not.)

I will say that we do know for a fact which choice she makes.  It isn’t an ending where the reader can interpret it either way.

This is an amazing book, but be prepared to cry several times.

Highly recommended.

The Forgotten Girls

Finished The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick–the new commander of the Missing Persons Department–is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a “forgotten girl.” But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago. As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed–and hidden–in the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed.

I don’t read many mysteries any more, and when I do, they tend to be part of a series.   I mention  that because Sara Blaedel is writing one of my favorite series now.

According to the letter included with my ARC of this, a full fifth of Denmark residents love her books.  I can’t think of an American equivalent.

This book is one of my favorites of hers.  While it’s set in Denmark, it could just as easily be set here.  Both places have had less than stellar histories where people deemed deficient could be institutionalized and forgotten by their families.  One of those people is at the heart of this story: a “forgotten girl” who was left in an institution as a small child and who was declared dead long before she actually died.  So who is she? How did this happen? And how do you figure out what happened when, as far as anyone knows, she was dead for decades before she actually died?

(The answer is brilliant, although at this point, I expect nothing else from Sara Blaedel.)

If you haven’t read Sara Blaedel, you need to start.  She’s just as good as her famous fans (Karin Slaughter and Michael Connelly among them) would have you believe.

Highly recommended.

 

The Price of Blood

Finished The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Menaced by Vikings and enemies at court, Queen Emma defends her children and her crown in a riveting medieval adventure

Readers first met Emma of Normandy in Patricia Bracewell’s gripping debut novel, Shadow on the Crown. Unwillingly thrust into marriage to England’s King Æthelred, Emma has given the king a son and heir, but theirs has never been a happy marriage. In The Price of Blood, Bracewell returns to 1006 when a beleaguered Æthelred, still haunted by his brother’s ghost, governs with an iron fist and a royal policy that embraces murder.

As tensions escalate and enmities solidify, Emma forges alliances to protect her young son from ambitious men—even from the man she loves. In the north there is treachery brewing, and when Viking armies ravage England, loyalties are shattered and no one is safe from the sword.

Rich with intrigue, compelling personalities, and fascinating detail about a little-known period in history, The Price of Blood will captivate fans of both historical fiction and fantasy novels such as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.

This is the second book in a trilogy and I hope I don’t have to wait two more years to see what happens to Emma.  I am so in love with this series, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.  (Yes, I know that it is a true story and I could easily Google it…but that would be cheating, right?)

As in the first book, this is the story of two different women: Emma, the queen of England, and Elgiva, the king’s former mistress.  Emma wants to be a great queen; even though she doesn’t particularly love (or even like) the king, she loves her people, and is determined to do her best for them.  Elgiva, though, just wants power.  She isn’t very concerned about whose side she’s on or if she has to hurt someone, either.  She wants to fulfill the prophecy she’s heard her whole life: that she will be queen and her sons will ultimately be kings.

This is almost like a royal version of Dangerous Liaisons, too—there is a lot of intrigue and scheming, and a lot of people using sex to get what they want (okay, that last is all Elgiva).

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Highly recommended.