Category Archives: Fiction

Trust No One

Finished Trust No One by Paul Cleave.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the exciting new psychological thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, a famous crime writer struggles to differentiate between his own reality and the frightening plot lines he’s created for the page.

Jerry Grey is known to most of the world by his crime writing pseudonym, Henry Cutter-a name that has been keeping readers at the edge of their seats for more than a decade. Recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of forty-nine, Jerry’s crime writing days are coming to an end. His twelve books tell stories of brutal murders committed by bad men, of a world out of balance, of victims finding the darkest forms of justice. As his dementia begins to break down the wall between his life and the lives of the characters he has created, Jerry confesses his worst secret: The stories are real. He knows this because he committed the crimes. Those close to him, including the nurses at the care home where he now lives, insist that it is all in his head, that his memory is being toyed with and manipulated by his unfortunate disease. But if that were true, then why are so many bad things happening? Why are people dying?”

First, a disclaimer.  You should know that this book is going to keep you guessing.  I didn’t spend any part of this book 100% convinced of what was going on.

(What an amazing concept, right? The ultimate unreliable narrator.)

I felt horrible for Jerry—he’s clearly a decent guy, but someone who has no idea of what’s going on or how best to handle his suspicions.  It’s also never entirely sure whether he’s correct in those suspicions or if he’s just become incredibly paranoid as a result of his declining mental faculties.

It’s also worth noting that these are not mutually exclusive things: he could easily be both correct in some and paranoid about others.

It was nearly impossible for me to stop reading; I was up until 1 a.m. because I couldn’t sleep until I knew the ending.

Recommended.

X

Finished X by Sue Grafton.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X:
 The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: 
The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.”

Sue Grafton is one of the longest literary relationships of my life.  I’m pretty sure she’s the third longest author (first two are Stephen King and Sara Paretsky, respectively) whose new books I still read at the first available chance.  I started reading her books in high school, and each new mystery is still welcomed with much excitement.

I feel like her books are getting darker and this one is no exception.  We learn who the villain is pretty early on but the novel is still incredibly interesting and tense because where is the proof? It’s all well and good to say, “Oh, this guy is straight up murdering people” but unless you can prove it, nothing can be done.

This isn’t my favorite of hers, but it’s very interesting and creepy.  (Sociopaths are scary, guys.)  And it’s always wonderful to spend a few hours with Kinsey.

We only have two books left.  :(

Recommended.

Queen of the Tearling

Finished Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea’s forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen’s Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen’s vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen’s Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as “the Fetch.”

Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea’s journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.”

I had to read this for book club and it was excellent.  I wasn’t sure going in (fantasy is not really my genre of choice) but I was absolutely blown away.

Kelsea is the new queen, but—even though she has known this her entire life—she has no idea how to be a queen.  And she certainly doesn’t look the part.

Once she assumes the throne, she also inherits all the kingdom’s problems.  And there are a LOT of them.  She wants to make things better for her people, but every decision she makes has potentially fatal consequences.

(Also there are two separate factions of people who want her dead.)

Kelsea is awesome and I love her so much.  She’s smart and genuinely cares about her subjects.  I can’t talk much about it because of spoilers, but you want to read this.

I have the sequel and can’t wait to read it.

Recommended.

The Best of Enemies

Finished The Best of Enemies by Jen Lancaster.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Bridesmaids meets The In-Laws in a novel told from the alternating perspectives of two women who define the term frenemies—from New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster.

Jacqueline Jordan knows conflict. A fearless journalist, she’s spent the past decade embedded in the world’s hot spots, writing about the fall of nations and the rise of despots. But if you were to inquire about who topped Jack’s enemy list, she’d not hesitate to answer: Kitty Carricoe.

Kitty reigns supreme over the world of carpools and minivans. A SAHM, she spends her days caring for her dentist husband and three towheaded children, running the PTA, and hiding vegetables in deceptively delicious packed lunches.

Kitty and Jack haven’t a single thing in common—except for Sarabeth Chandler, their mutual bestie. Sarabeth and Jack can be tomboys with the best of them, while Sarabeth can get her girly-girl on with Kitty. In fact, the three of them were college friends until the notorious frat party incident, when Jack accidentally hooked up with Kitty’s boyfriend…

Yet both women drop everything and rush to Sarabeth’s side when they get the call that her fabulously wealthy husband has perished in a suspicious boating accident. To solve the mystery surrounding his death, Jack and Kitty must bury the hatchet and hit the road for a trip that just may bring them together—if it doesn’t kill them first.”

This book is ridiculously funny.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I laughed out loud.

Kitty is a mean girl except now she’s actually grown up and is just sort of a bitch.  Her heart’s in the right place—well, sort of—but she is just relentlessly catty (appropriate, I guess, given her name).  And Jack is the exact opposite.  She’s not catty but she’s abrupt and rude.  There’s no way the two of them can ever get along…until they have to.  And then they accidentally become really great friends.

Jen Lancaster is better known for her series of memoirs, but I love her novels.  (And every time I read one, I remember how much I really need to binge-read her memoirs.)

Recommended.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps

Finished Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy.  I received a copy for review at BEA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the spellbinding and suspenseful Let Me Die in His Footsteps, Edgar Award–winner Lori Roy wrests from a Southern town the secrets of two families touched by an evil that has passed between generations.

On a dark Kentucky night in 1952 exactly halfway between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Annie Holleran crosses into forbidden territory. Everyone knows Hollerans don’t go near Baines, not since Joseph Carl was buried two decades before, but, armed with a silver-handled flashlight, Annie runs through her family’s lavender fields toward the well on the Baines’ place. At the stroke of midnight, she gazes into the water in search of her future. Not finding what she had hoped for, she turns from the well and when the body she sees there in the moonlight is discovered come morning, Annie will have much to explain and a past to account for.

It was 1936, and there were seven Baine boys. That year, Annie’s aunt, Juna Crowley, with her black eyes and her long blond hair, came of age. Before Juna, Joseph Carl had been the best of all the Baine brothers. But then he looked into Juna’s eyes and they made him do things that cost innocent people their lives. Sheriff Irlene Fulkerson saw justice served—or did she?

As the lavender harvest approaches and she comes of age as Aunt Juna did in her own time, Annie’s dread mounts. Juna will come home now, to finish what she started. If Annie is to save herself, her family, and this small Kentucky town, she must prepare for Juna’s return, and the revelation of what really happened all those years ago.”

This is the kind of book that will require patience from the reader.  I was instantly sucked in (there’s a sense of dread throughout the book, although for the most part, it’s very subtle–a sense of unease, for the most part, until the last few pages).  We immediately know that Annie’s Aunt Juna is someone the town doesn’t trust and that people seem to be watching Annie to see if she’ll take after Juna or her mom, Juna’s sister.  (And so far, it seems to be that she’ll take after Juna.)

I love the folklore in this book.  In the town, there’s a tradition that at midnight on the date teenage girls are exactly 15 and a half years old, they can stare down a well and see the face of the boy they’re going to marry.

This is just a fun novel, especially if you like Gothic-type books.  (I don’t think this officially counts as Gothic, but there is definitely a similar vibe.)

 

The Woman Who Stole My Life

Finished The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Stella Sweeney is back in Dublin. After living the dream in New York for a year – touring her self-help book, appearing on talk shows all over the USA and living it up in her 10-room duplex on the Upper West Side – she’s back to normality with a bang. And she’s got writer’s block.

Stella wants a clean break as she didn’t exactly leave New York on a high. Why is she back in Ireland so soon? Who is it who keeps calling? Stella wants to get back to being the woman she used to be. But can she? And should she?”

I love Marian Keyes and this is a great return to the books of hers I loved.  (I wasn’t as crazy about her last two books.)

I immediately loved Stella.  We get her story in bits and pieces—we know that she wrote this self-help book that was sort of a big deal and that her life was on a major upward trajectory—until it wasn’t anymore.

(We don’t learn until almost the end exactly what happened, but while I am not a huge fan of self-help books, I would read Stella’s.)

I love Stella’s family (by which I mean more of her sister and parents than her ex and children) but honestly, Stella is the star of this book.  She’s smart and funny and just a survivor.

If you’ve never read Marian Keyes before, start here.  If you used to love her but the last two books turned you off, COME BACK.

Last Words

Finished Last Words by Michael Koryta.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Still mourning the death of his wife, private investigator Mark Novak accepts a case that may be his undoing. On the same day his wife died, the body of a teenage girl was pulled from the extensive and perilous cave system beneath Southern Indiana. Now the man who rescued the girl, who was believed to be her killer, begs Novak to uncover what really happened.

Garrison is much like any place in America, proud and fortified against outsiders. For Mark to delve beneath the town’s surface, he must match wits with the man who knows the caverns better than anyone. A man who seemed to have lost his mind. A man who seems to know Mark Novak all too well.

LAST WORDS is a pulse-pounding thriller of one man’s undoing; you just may not know which man.”

Last Words is a major departure of Michael Koryta’s typical novels.  (It’s more like the first novel of his I read, So Cold the River, which is sort of a weird, almost-paranormal/still-a-thriller hybrid.)

I love Mark, who is not in a great head space after his wife’s murder.  (Which makes sense; who would be?)  He’s been sent to investigate this as a mixture of punishment and to get him away from his actual job while things die down (long story; you’ll learn it fairly quickly, but suffice it to say mistakes were made).

While I prefer his more straightforward thrillers (which is to say without any sort of paranormal additions), this is still an amazing novel.  And it’s the first in a series!  I can’t wait to read the second installment, which looks to focus more on Mark’s wife’s murder.

Recommended.

Who Do You Love?

Finished Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the “hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful” (The Miami Herald) bestselling author Jennifer Weiner comes a sweeping, modern day fairy tale about first romance and lasting love.

Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she’s intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy’s taken back to the emergency room and Rachel’s sent back to her bed, they think they’ll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they’ve been running toward each other all along.

With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you’ll never forget.”

I feel like the easy comparison here is to When Harry Met Sally…

Rachel and Andy meet as kids and keep running into each other, just like Harry and Sally.  (But where Harry and Sally form a friendship and then fall in love, Rachel and Andy start dating.  They don’t really ever do the just friends thing.)

This is an incredibly fun novel.  Obviously I was rooting for Rachel and Andy to figure it out and get together (their backgrounds are different, and Andy is a runner, which Rachel could literally not care less about) but I also enjoyed the two of them separately.

We keep checking in on them in various points—sort of like One Day, but without the ending—and that was a fun idea.  Also, since this takes place over years, it was nice to see the characters evolve a bit.

Recommended.

Two Across

Finished Two Across by Jeffrey Bartsch.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Highly awkward teenager Stanley Owens meets his match in beautiful, brainy Vera Baxter when they tie for first place in the annual National Spelling Bee-and the two form a bond that will change both of their lives.

Though their mothers have big plans for them-Stanley will become a senator, Vera a mathematics professor-neither wants to follow these pre-determined paths. So Stanley hatches a scheme to marry Vera in a sham wedding for the cash gifts, hoping they will enable him to pursue his one true love: crossword puzzle construction. In enlisting Vera to marry him, though, he neglects one variable: she’s secretly in love with him, which makes their counterfeit ceremony an exercise in misery for her.

Realizing the truth only after she’s moved away and cut him out of her life, Stanley tries to atone for his mistakes and win her back. But he’s unable to find her, until one day he comes across a puzzle whose clues make him think it could only have been created by Vera. Intrigued, he plays along, communicating back to her via his own gridded clues. But will they connect again before it’s all too late?

I am a huge fan of crossword puzzles and spelling bees, so the synopsis made me really excited for this book.

It’s easiest to compare this to One Day, probably.  We keep checking in with Stanley and Vera throughout their lives, but it kept feeling like I was missing major chunks of the story.  (Also, Vera and Stanley both had a tendency to annoy me—Vera tends to run at any sign of conflict and Stanley is completely clueless.)

Even so, this was an interesting book and I was rooting for Vera and Stanley to figure out a way to be together.

I loved the beginning and the end, but the middle left me kind of cold.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Finished If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Told with Beth Harbison’s wit and warmth, If I Could Turn Back Time is the fantasy of every woman who has ever thought, “If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I’d do things so differently…”

Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich and occasionally the semi-famous, and she enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland. But despite it all, she can’t ignore the fact that she isn’t necessarily happy. In fact, lately Ramie has begun to feel more than a little empty.

On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off…

Suddenly Ramie is waking up, straining to understand a voice calling in the distance…It’s her mother: “Wake up! You’re going to be late for school again. I’m not writing a note this time…”

Ramie finds herself back on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, with a second chance to see the people she’s lost and change the choices she regrets. How did she get back here? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she really back in time? Above all, she’ll have to answer the question that no one else can: What it is that she really wants from the past, and for her future?”

I think this is a premise that will appeal to pretty much everyone.  Who wouldn’t want a chance for a do-over, a chance to see if doing one thing differently wouldn’t make your life much better?

But the thing that made me love the book is this: in real life, Ramie’s dad died when she was in college.  She just woke up as a 17-year-old.  How awesome would that be to get to see someone you love who’s been dead for years? (In a scenario like this; not where they show up in a Walking Dead/Monkey’s Paw type deal.)

Even beyond that, though, I think there’s a lot here for everyone to appreciate.

This is a fun vacation book, but it’ll also make you think.  (And want to call your best friend.)  Recommended.