Category Archives: Fiction

Where They Found Her

Finished Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From the author of the New York Times bestseller and 2014 Edgar and Anthony nominee Reconstructing Amelia comes another harrowing, gripping novel that marries psychological suspense with an emotionally powerful story about a community struggling with the consequences of a devastating discovery

At the end of a long winter, in bucolic Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of an infant is discovered in the woods near the town’s prestigious university campus. No one knows who the baby is, or how her body ended up out there. But there is no shortage of opinions.

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the story for the Ridegdale Reader, it’s a risk, given the severe depression that followed the loss of her own baby. But the bigger threat comes when Molly unearths some of Ridgedale’s darkest secrets, including a string of unreported sexual assaults that goes back twenty years.

Meanwhile, Sandy, a high school dropout, searches for her volatile and now missing mother, and PTA president Barbara struggles to help her young son, who’s suddenly having disturbing outbursts.

Told from the perspectives of Molly, Barbara, and Sandy, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth about the baby’s death revealing that these three women have far more in common than they realized. And that their lives are more intertwined with what happened to the baby than they ever could have imagined.”

I absolutely loved Reconstructing Amelia and was so excited to get a chance to read this one early.  My expectations were really high, as well, and I completely adored this book, as well.

It’s not another Reconstructing Amelia, except it’s just as compelling.  (This one centers around a newborn girl who was found dead in a relatively remote area.  Nobody knows who her mom is, or how she got there, and obviously it has the small town in an uproar.)

I love that Kimberly McCreight chose to have Barbara co-narrate.  If I had only heard about her in Molly and Sandy’s chapters, it would have been impossible to even remotely like her.  I’m not going to say that it made me wish Barbara and I were friends, but it allowed me to see where she was coming from and it made me empathize with her a little bit.  (She’s still a jerk, but it was nice to see exactly why.)

Where They Found Her is incredible.  I kept thinking I knew where it was going and I had no idea.  I have to say, I absolutely love books that can take me by surprise.

I can’t wait for Kimberly McCreight’s next book.

Highly recommended.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Finished Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that, as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself – an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn’t know she had. But she still can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever – and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian’s finest novels to date – breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting.”

This book is not what I would consider to be a “typical” Chris Bohjalian book…although, to be fair, his books all tend to be so different that I’m not entirely sure there is such a thing as a typical Chris Bohjalian book.

My favorite thing about this novel is the fact that it’s set in a post-nuclear accident world, but that most of the world has gone on completely normally.  The accident is in a remote area of Vermont, so most of the country (and world) is not affected.  The problem is that Emily, the main character, is from the town where it occurred and both her parents worked in that nuclear power plant.  So while most of the town and state want to get as far away from that plant as possible, all Emily wants is to get back home.

She’s not dumb.  She knows that her parents are dead and that her dog, who has been alone for ages, is most likely dead.  And she goes as long as she can without going home…but it’s pretty clear that that’s her endgame.

Her friendship with Cameron is also a major highlight.  (Cameron is a young boy who’s run away from a bad foster home; she’s basically the only person he has.)  I love their friendship and the way that Emily became an incredibly responsible person overnight.  She’s not perfect and doesn’t become an insta-Mom, but she does a great job.

I love this book, even though it broke my heart several times.

Highly recommended.

Mind of Winter

Finished Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The critically acclaimed and bestselling author of The Raising returns with a haunting and shadowy thriller about the love between a mother and daughter.

Something had followed them from Russia.

On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens, the fragments of a nightmare—something so important that she must write it down—floating on the edge of her consciousness.

Something had followed them from Russia!

It was thirteen years ago that she and her husband, Eric, went to Siberia to adopt the sweet, dark-haired child they had wanted so desperately. How they laughed at the nurses of Pokrovka Orphanage #2 with their garlic and superstitions, and ignored their insistent warnings. After all, their fairy princess Tatiana—Baby Tatty—was perfect.

As the snow falls, enveloping the world in its white silence, Holly senses that something is not right, and has never been right in the years since they brought their daughter home. Now Tatty is a dangerously beautiful, petulant, and often erratic teenager, and Holly feels there is something evil lurking within their house.

She and Tatiana are alone. Eric is stuck on the roads, and none of the other guests for Christmas dinner will be able to make it through the snow. With each passing hour, the blizzard rages and Tatiana’s mood darkens, her behavior becoming increasingly disturbing… until, in every mother’s worst nightmare, Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.”

This was an incredibly unsettling story.

Fairly early on, I started to feel uneasy; toward the end, I was completely freaked out, unsure of exactly what was going on and absolutely unable to stop reading.

I had several theories about what was happening; none of them were right.

I really enjoyed this book and I hate that I can’t talk about it at all because of spoilers.  So read this and then find me so we can talk about it.

For a book with similar tone (but completely different characters), I’d recommend We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Station Eleven

Finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

I love everything about this book.  I love the fact that it reminds me of The Stand and the fact that it focuses more on the long-term effects of most of the world’s population dying and not the immediate ones.  I think we can all picture what the short-term effects would be, but this focuses on things that maybe would be overlooked.

I love Kirsten especially and the idea that (as her tattoo says) survival is insufficient.  If all that’s left is a hardscrabble, miserable existence, there’s no point in staying alive.

I wish the book had been longer (it wasn’t even 300 pages!) and I miss Kirsten already.

Highly recommended.

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.