Another can’t-wait book: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

How did I not know about this sooner? Elizabeth Wein, author of the beautiful, powerful Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, has a new book coming out in May! The Pearl Thief centers on a main character from Code Name Verity at an earlier point in her life:

US cover

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

UK cover

Who else is excited???

Book Review: Silence Fallen

In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy’s bond with the pack and her mate is broken, she’ll learn what it truly means to be alone…

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

It’s Mercy! It’s Adam! Need I say more?

I’m not sure why I even attempt to write reviews for the books in this series. Because really, all I basically want to say is:

I LOVE THIS SERIES! I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS! IT’S 100% CERTAIN THAT I WILL LOVE EVERY BOOK IN THIS SERIES.

What more do you need to know?

Okay, trying to calm myself now…

Silence Fallen is the 10th book in the amazing, wonderful, and highly addictive Mercy Thompson series, written by the incredibly talented (and fortunately for us, very prolific) Patricia Briggs.

Each book in the series builds upon those that came earlier. Over the course of the series, we’ve seen Mercy find her place in the werewolf pack, assert her own standing among the not-entirely-welcoming wolves, and discover more and more about her own powers and talents. Through it all, we’ve seen her relationship with Alpha werewolf Adam develop from irritating acquaintance to flirtatious ally to a deep and abiding love.

I love Mercy, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear. She’s strong, she’s a fighter, she speaks up for herself, she defends those who need protection, she’s a good and loyal friend… and yet she’s also a vulnerable woman who has had to deal with some majorly awful blows throughout her life.

In Silence Fallen, Mercy and Adam become separated early on due to a vicious kidnapping — and not only are they physically separated, but their psychic bond as mates seems to be broken too. THIS SUCKS. If you’ve read these books, you know about the power of the mating bond and the pack bonds. The idea of these being damaged is terrifying!

Patricia Briggs plays some interesting games with the story in this book. As the couple are apart for most of the story, their chapters are distinct as well — some from Mercy’s point of view, some from Adam’s. In addition, the timeline twists a little bit, with the chapters not necessarily describing events in the proper order. (Don’t worry, it all makes sense once you read it.)

Meanwhile, the settings include Milan and Prague, and Mercy and the gang end up dealing with a whole range of foes and allies, including nasty vampires, varied werewolf packs, witches, goblins, and a very old mystical being that I won’t say more about. (Read the book. You’ll see.)

My only teeny little complaint about Silence Fallen is that Mercy and Adam spend about 90% of it apart, and therefore we don’t get to see their amazing chemisty. Also as a result of the separation, we don’t get much of Mercy’s interactions with the pack — always entertaining — or the internal pack dynamics that add to the fantastic world-building of the series.

Listen, if you’re a Mercy fan, then you’re going to read Silence Fallen. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mercy yet, I strongly suggest dropping everything else and starting the series from the beginning.

One more thing about Silence Fallen, and I only mention this because I’ve already seen it hinted at in most other reviews I’ve seen so far: This book has an amazing (and pretty adorable) twist in it that just absolutely delighted me. I’m not saying anything else about it. But just know that it’s super fun and awesome and — if you’re a fan — you’ll love this little surprise.

Convinced yet? Go read some Mercy!!!

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The details:

Title: Silence Fallen
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication date: March 7, 2017
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Spring 2017 TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR.

Here are a bunch of upcoming new releases that I can’t wait to read!

Organized by release date:

1) Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (release date 1/31/2017): I need this murder-on-a-spaceship-with-clones book now! Or , as soon as my hold request comes in at the library. I thought this author’s The Shambling Guide to New York City (review) was hilarious — I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with sci-fi.

2) The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall (release date 3/14/2017): I loved Blue Asylum by this author — a beautiful work of historical fiction set during the Civil War. This one looks really different, and I’m intrigued!

3) The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (release date 3/21/2017): I adore everything I’ve read so far by this author. I have this one on order, and I’m just waiting for it to land in my hands.

4) The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (release date 3/28/2017): This WWII novel sounds intense!

5) The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey (release date 5/2/2017): I can’t wait for this sequel to The Girl with All the Gifts!

6) Less Than a Treason by Dana Stabenow (release date 5/6/2017): Book #21 in the amazing Kate Shugak series! I binge-read the series over the last year and a half, and I can’t wait to dive back into this amazing world.

7) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (release date 6/13/2017): I’ve loved all of this author’s contemporary novels, and I”m looking forward to seeing what she does with historical fiction.

8) Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (release date 6/13/2017): Every Heart A Doorway (review) was one of my favorites reads of 2016, and I cannot wait for the sequel!

9) Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon (release date 6/27/2017): Well, of course I want this book! It includes seven stories set in the world of Outlander, including two that are brand new.

10) Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally (release date 7/1/2017): What’s summer without a new book in Miranda Kenneally’s Hundred Oaks series? I haven’t been disappointed yet.

 

What books are you most eager to read this spring? Please share your links!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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Book Review: The River At Night

A high-stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

With intimately observed characters, visceral prose, and pacing as ruthless as the river itself, The River at Night is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.

You know when you go to a horror movie, and the main character does really stupid things, and you just want to shout at her (because, let’s face it, horror movies love to make it about a her)… NO! TURN BACK! DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! DON’T GO DOWN THAT CREEPY CORRIDOR!

Well, in the case of The River At Night, it’s more like NO! DO NOT GO OFF INTO THE WOODS TOTALLY UNPREPARED! DO NOT GO INTO A RURAL AREA WHERE THE ONLY PEOPLE AROUND FOR 30 MILES ARE CREEPY, SEXIST HUNTERS! DO NOT PLACE YOUR LIVES IN THE HANDS OF A 20-YEAR-OLD WITH NO BACKUP!

Okay, on the one hand we have a very readable, action-packed story that keeps the adrenaline pumping. On the other hand… STOP MAKING STUPID DECISIONS!

In The River At Night, four women in their mid-thirties decide to follow ringleader Pia’s crazy push to embark on a white-water rafting adventure for their annual get-together, rather than basking on a beach or basically anything at all sane or safe. Instead, they drive nine hours into the Maine wilderness to go rafting on a pristine river with a tour company — really just a father and son — who don’t even have a website, as Wini points out.

I mean really. Who doesn’t have a website?

Anyhoo… the four friends have been getting together for years for their annual escape from their real lives, their meaningless corporate jobs, their unhappy marriages, their stressful obligations. Wini, as our main character, is particularly in need of escape this year after the implosion of her marriage and the suicide of her mentally ill brother.

Pia is the wild one, always in the lead, always pushing the others to take chances and live on the edge — so when she decides they need this life-affirming adventure, the other three fall in line, with some doubts, but ultimately following along. Off they all go to REI to buy their shiny new gear, and then it’s off to the wilds, where they encounter creepy people in a remote general store before arriving at the wilderness lodge from which they’ll start their river adventure.

Their guide is young, sexy, and perhaps has a shady past. No one is 100% comfortable, although Pia insists that everything is fantastic. And then, of course, they hit the river, and pretty quickly all hell breaks loose. Before long, the four women find themselves without a guide, without their gear, completely cut off from the outside world with no means of communication, and with no clue what to do.

And then they encounter the crazy hill folk.

Yikes.

While the book held my attention and kept me turning the pages, certain things just drove me nuts.

First of all, I can’t stand when people place themselves in peril as a growth opportunity. Nope, I’ve never rafted before, so it makes total sense for me to do so on a dangerous river with an unknown guide and no support systems! Slow your roll, sisters.

Second, there are about a thousand warning signs that any rational person might have considered. The roads are creepy. They’re miles past any sign of civilization. Their cell phones don’t work. All the buildings they see along the way are falling apart. The few people they encounter are weird and menacing.

Third, loose ends and/or unexplained bits. If these women are the first to hit this pristine river, then what are all the other people doing at the lodge? Where are they all off to? Did our group of supposedly smart women ask any questions at all about emergency procedures or insurance or any other of about a thousand what ifs? What was up with that kitchen worker at the lodge who seems like she has an agenda with guide Rory but then disappears from the story? What about Rory’s dad? If they had to hike to get to the launching spot because there aren’t passable roads, how did their raft and gear get there? On and on and on.

What really made me bonkers was how these women see themselves and each other. There are repeated references to them being middle-aged. Hello? Middle-aged at age 35? Um, no. Or take this brief description — Wini’s view of one of her friends:

It occurred to me that here was a woman who might not age well, especially in the face. Too many of her emotions already lived there in ever-deepening lines around her eyes and mouth — even at age thirty-seven. But I loved her scrappy toughness; in fact, we all made fun of her for injecting her own Botox […]

I mean, really. Who talks about her friends this way?

Finally, though, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the crazy hill folk. If this had just been about a group of women, ill-advised and ill-prepared as they were, having to survive alone in the wilderness, it might have worked for me a lot better. I mean, there are even some good passages that convey the fear of all that they face:

Full on darkness, and all its terrors. I suddenly understood cultures that believed in demons and chimeras, werewolves and gollums. With no walls around us, no light or source of warmth, what besides the monstrous makes sense? Every sound was a beast.

So if it were just about surviving a rafting accident, maybe what happens might have sustained an air of believability. Because no matter how dumb the whole enterprise was, it’s conceivable to think that Pia’s strong personality might have been able to convince everyone else to play along against their better judgment. And given that, it could be really exciting or inspiring to see them working together, overcoming obstacles, outsmarting their own circumstances.

But nope. The crazy hill folk, rather than the river and the wilderness, becomes the chief danger. At which point I got muscle strain from how hard I was rolling my eyes. I mean, our heroines end up fleeing the crazy lady with a gun by jumping on a wooden raft and going down a series of waterfalls without any oars… and somehow survive? None of what happens makes a lick of sense. And never mind the continuity bits, such as having a dinner of roasted varmints and then on the next page talking about incessant hunger. And why bother having a character warn about getting sick from drinking the river water if nobody ends up getting sick?

I don’t know. There are definitely exciting moments in this book, but ultimately, the profound personal growth these characters supposedly undergo because of their ordeal feels flat and false. Wini starts bland, and ends bland. I never quite got the friendship between these women, and that didn’t change by the end of the book.

And then there’s the fact that even in the next to last paragraph, as Wini is supposedly being positive, she’s still focusing on her “aging body” and “dull job”. Way to be upbeat, Wini!

So, once again, I find myself rambling on about a book I can’t really recommend. Sure, it’s a fast-paced read and it never lost my attention — but too many pieces make little sense, and the weird plot choices only make it worse. Besides which, for me, a book in which supposedly smart people make decision after decision that’s foolish or illogical — well, no. Clearly, that’s a situation that leaves me fuming, so this just probably wasn’t a good reading choice for me at all.

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The details:

Title: The River At Night
Author: Erica Ferencik
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Next Year, For Sure

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In this moving and enormously entertaining debut novel, longtime romantic partners Kathryn and Chris experiment with an open relationship and reconsider everything they thought they knew about love.

After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another’s sentences, and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. But, as content as they are together, an enduring loneliness continues to haunt the dark corners of their relationship. When Chris tells Kathryn about his feelings for Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the Laundromat, Kathryn encourages her boyfriend to pursue this other woman—certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather a little side dalliance.

Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily evolves beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, both Kathryn and Chris are forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.

Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey Leigh Peterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what lies at the mysterious heart of relationships, and what true openness and transformation require.

My Thoughts:

Interesting. One of the blurbs for this book mentions polyamory, and I’m not sure I’d have described the relationships in this book using quite that term… but for lack of anything better, sure, why not? If anything, I’d say it’s about how relationships don’t have to follow the one-on-one traditional format, and how different people may need different things at different times in their lives.

Chris and Kathryn, at the outset, seem to have a perfect relationship, utterly secure and utterly devoted. And if they seem a little light on passion, well, it’s been nine years, and they have such a deep soul-to-soul connection that the sex part seems not such a big deal. There’s a loneliness in their lives, though — their best friends and next door neighbors have moved away, and Chris and Kathryn as a unit of two and only two seem a bit insular and cut off from the rest of the world.

They also share every single thought and feeling they have, including their random crushes on other people. This time, though, Kathryn encourages Chris to actually do something about it. Maybe she’s hoping that he will just work it out of his system, but instead, his connection with Emily deepens from a crush to love, and Kathryn has to figure out a response. (And we know this story will go down some unexpected paths when, for example, Emily invites Kathryn to come to dinner along with Chris and Emily on their first date).

The three navigate their unusual relationship, with plenty of ups and downs. For Kathryn, it’s an introduction into a life that includes more people, more challenges, more ways of interacting with the world. For Chris, it’s a constant tug-of-war between wanting a safe, stay-at-home life with the woman (or women) he loves, versus needing to be “on” in order to keep up with Emily’s boundless energy and even Kathryn’s newer need for interaction with others.

We alternate between Chris and Kathryn’s points of view over the course of the year when their lives and relationship changes for good. While it’s hard for me to relate to Kathryn’s attitudes at time, as she both encourages and resents Chris’s growing involvement with Emily, I did ultimately come to understand why their new lives made sense for these two people. (I was also surprisingly charmed by the love and friendship that develops between Emily and Kathryn.)

The writing in Next Year, For Sure is fresh, insightful, and often funny, and I zipped through this book in about a day and a half. It might be flashier to say that this is a book about polyamory, but what I really think is at the heart of it all is a story of lonely people finding connection and belonging. I didn’t always understand the characters’ actions and feelings, but I enjoyed reading about them and considering their motivations, experiences, and outcomes.

Next Year, For Sure is certainly an unusual book with an unusual view of relationships, but I quite enjoyed reading it.

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The details:

Title: Next Year, For Sure
Author: Zoey Leigh Peterson
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: March 7, 2017
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Mother’s Promise

mothers-promiseKeep your Kleenex handy before picking up The Mother’s Promise.

The Mother’s Promise is the story of an unusual yet tightly connected mother and daughter, and the two women who enter their inner circle.

Alice is a 40-year-old single mother who receives the dreaded news that she has ovarian cancer and requires immediate surgery. Zoe is her 15-year-old daughter, a smart girl who’s practically crippled by her overwhelming social anxiety disorder. There’s no one else in their lives — no close friends, no relatives apart from Alice’s alcoholic brother. Zoe’s father has never been in the picture, and Zoe knows nothing about him.

Kate is the oncology nurse looking after Alice. Kate is married to a wonderful man and has two too-good-to-be-true teen-aged stepchildren, but her happy marriage is now on the verge of crumbling under the stress of infertility treatments and multiple miscarriages.

(Do we see where this is going yet? In this case, unpredictability may be overrated. More on this later…)

The fourth character in this circle is Sonja, the social worker assigned to Alice’s case, who steps in to make sure that Alice gets the support she needs as well as to make sure that Zoe has a roof over her head and someone to care for her when Alice’s condition worsens. Sonja, of course, has her own set of hidden problems and pains.

The novel shows these four women coming together, all with their own inner turmoil and emotional trauma, and finding healing and support through each others’ helping hands. The story unfolds via chapters told from all four points of view, so we get insights into what it feels like to be in their shoes.

In Zoe’s case, this is particularly affecting. Zoe’s situation is pure, utter agony. She’s so debilitated by her social anxiety that she can never speak in class, feels ashamed every time she walks down the school hallway, and agonizes over other kids’ opinions to such an extent that , for example, she never allows herself to eat in public for fear that she’ll do something embarrassing and everyone will stare or laugh at her. Being in Zoe’s mind is exhausting and sad, but also fascinating. Here’s a girl with so much to offer, and she just can’t do the things that will help her fit in, no matter how hard she tries. Her mother really and truly is all she has, and it’s terrifying for both of them to realize that her entire life is dependent on Alice being there.

For Alice, the diagnosis comes completely out of the blue (as is so often the case with ovarian cancer). In a particularly moving scene, Alice hears the doctor and nurse pouring information out at her about the tests and the results and the treatment, and yet can’t even recognize the word “cancer” as applied to herself until about the 3rd or 4th time it’s said in her presence. Alice is committed to being positive, but her positivity crosses into denial over the seriousness of her condition and her poor prognosis.

Kate and Sonja’s storylines, while part of the novel, get less time than Alice and Zoe’s, but they each still emerge as individuals with their own lives, worries, and needs.

So what did I think of The Mother’s Promise? Hold on, let me wipe that last tear and then I’ll let you know…

Obviously, this is a heart-wrenching, gut-punching book. That should be clear from the start. It’s about a single mother with ovarian cancer — let’s not kid ourselves about this having a happy ending.

As I mentioned from the start, the resolution of the story is easy to see coming from very early on — but that in no way diminishes the impact. The importance thing in The Mother’s Promise is the journey, not the destination. Zoe in particular is the one to watch — there’s no instant cure for her social anxiety disorder, but she makes small steps toward breaking out of her old ways, and even manages to push past a truly awful moment of humiliation that any teen, even without anxiety issues, would have an extremely hard time getting over. It’s lovely to see Zoe’s determination to try, and enlightening to be inside her head and to learn what it feels like to be such a wounded, vulnerable soul.

Kate is lovely. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a woman who loses all of the dreams of the kind of future she wants, and yet finds a way to be open and caring and nurturing. It’s a beautiful story arc, and I wish we got to spend more time with her. Maybe a sequel??

I have mixed feelings about Alice. Obviously, she’s worthy of sympathy and compassion, and her ordeal is horrible. I just wish the storytelling around Alice was a bit more consistent. The chapters told from her perspective are quite moving, of course, yet we cut away to other people’s perspectives at times when I wanted to know how Alice was feeling, phyically and emotionally, such as during her initial hospitalization and recovery from surgery.

As for Sonja — her story weaves in some themes that are important and worthy of attention, but at the same time, she feels extraneous to the story. Again, I don’t want to give too much away here, so I’ll be vague. It’s not that Sonja’s sections aren’t interesting. I just felt that you could remove her pieces from the novel, and the core of the story would not lose anything. Perhaps this is just trying to fit one too many story threads into one novel. It’s a good thread, but unnecessary.

I started The Mother’s Promise knowing I’d probably dissolve at some point while reading it, and that’s a pretty accurate picture of what happened. Mothers and daughters? Cancer? Helplessly watching a parent suffer? Children with no one to care for them? Oh, this book knew exactly how to push my buttons! Waterworks galore.

But still — The Mother’s Promise is a beautiful book despite all the heartache. The relationships are complex and feel real, with fragile people strengthened by their unbreakable emotional bonds. Some tearjerker books feel too deliberate, as if the author sat down and said, “Hmm. How can I make my readers cry?”. Not The Mother’s Promise. Yes, there will be tears, but they’re genuine and feel earned.

Definitely read The Mother’s Promise. It’s powerful and well-written, and will make you look at your loved ones with new, appreciate eyes. And, definitely worth mentioning, the book does an admirable job of showing the power of women caregivers, nurses, and nurterers — people who change lives on a daily basis. Kudos to the author for such a sensitive and fine portrayal of roles that are often overlooked.

For more by this author, check out her amazing (and equally heart-wrenching) previous novel, The Things We Keep (review).

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The details:

Title: The Mother’s Promise
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: February 21, 2017
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Girl Before

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Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

Emma
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

Jane
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

For a book that consumed my attention nonstop for an entire day, I sure was left feeling unsatisfied.

The premise sounds delicious. A beautiful home, stark and pristine and worth far more than the rental price. Okay, so fine, there are rules — about 200 different items that tenants must agree to in order to live there. And then there’s the fact that only a select few are considered worthy: A lengthy, intrusively intimate questionnaire only possibly gets you in the door for an interview with the property’s architect and owner, and even then, you’re likely to get turned down..

But still, in a tight housing market where even exceeding your budget gets you little better than a dump, this place is a true find.

(Okay, not for me. Once the “no books” clause comes into play, I’m out. But I digress…)

The Girl Before is told in alternating chapters, of “Then: Emma” and “Now: Jane”. As their stories unwind, there’s no doubt that these two women, both vulnerable and bearing emotional scars, are just the sort of easily manipulated prey that might appeal to someone who needs total control. As we get to know each woman, we learn why the house at One Folgate Street appeals to them, and why they’re so eager to upend their lives that they’re willing to accept the terms and conditions that come with the home.

Warning signs abound. There are the odd little facts about the history of the house’s origins, the architect, Edward, and his personal life. There’s Edward himself, who’s quite overly involved for a rental landlord. Emma moves in after a terrifying crime, and Jane after a personal loss, but both are desperate for a fresh start — desperate enough to overlook the little clues (oh, like a house that’s programmed to only turn on the shower after you do a regular assessment of your moods) that they may be in over their heads.

The Girl Before is a thriller that pushes all of a reader’s buttons, with plenty of clues and alarms and suspicious behavior. I could not put it down… but that doesn’t mean that, in the aftermath, I actually enjoyed reading it.

Here’s the deal:

This book certainly makes for compulsive reading — but by about the 2/3 mark, the narrative and the personalities started to change. We find out more about each of the characters, and certain stories and statements get turned on their heads. Emma’s storyline in particular gets completely turned inside out, and I found myself filled with disgust for her actions and their fall-out. (Trying to be non-spoilerish here…)

In fact, certain characters are so not at all what they seem that the revelations and the book’s climax seem to come completely out of the blue. And yes, that’s what thrillers try to do — throw the reader off the scent, come up with a scenario that hasn’t been done before, one we never see coming. But it has to make sense, and I’m not sure that the climax and denouement of the story actually do.

I also, I will admit, am predisposed to dislike “girl in peril” stories, and setting up these two characters as victims and people easily controlled, for different reasons, kind of set my teeth on edge. By the end, although Emma’s circumstances should make her an object of pity and sorrow, it’s hard to feel any compassion for her, the more we get to know her. And Jane is all over the place too, although at least she ultimately displays some backbone and agency.

In the end, while I couldn’t stop reading, I wound up feeling rather cheated. Plot points that were practically lit up in neon ended up being red herrings. Characters’ actions in the big reveal seemed totally divorced from what we’d known of them up to that point. And again, I found it pretty much impossible to care at all about Emma once a particularly unforgivable action of hers is revealed.

So, do I recommend The Girl Before? Not so much. It’s a thriller, to be sure, and it was a good diversion on a rainy day (which is why I spent all day indoors today reading it, instead of going out where it’s wet and chilly). But I don’t like the portrayal of the women characters’ actions or motivations, and didn’t feel like their inner lives made a whole lot of sense or did credit to them as people.

Also, a minor complaint: Why is this book published under a pseudonym? Is that the trendy thing to do now? The author bio on the back flap says that J. P. Delaney is a pseudonym for “a writer who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names”. Hmm. I looked it up, and the identity of J. P. Delaney isn’t hard to find. From an article in the New York Times, it sounds like the author chose to use a non-gender-specific pseudonym to keep readers guessing. (Spoiler: He’s a man.)

Are we supposed to be impressed by his ability to get inside the women characters’ heads? For me, at least, it didn’t work. Maybe that partially explains my feelings about the characters. Not that a male author can never write from a female perspective, but it takes a great deal of talent and empathy to do so convincingly. The Girl Before misses the mark.

I’ll end this rambling review with a not-too-surprising insight: Writing reviews is pretty cathartic. As I sat down to right, I was still feeling overall kind of positive about The Girl Before. But now that I’ve been actually putting my thoughts together, I’m left with a pretty deafening UGH. The last third or so of this book made me feel used and manipulated, and that’s not a good thing.

Can I get my rainy day back for a do-over?

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The details:

Title: The Girl Before
Author: J. P Delaney
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: January 24, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library

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Book Review: Always by Sarah Jio

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While enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiance, Ryan, at one of Seattle’s chicest restaurants, Kailey Crane can’t believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a writer for the Herald and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As they leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

When Kailey met Cade ten years ago, their attraction was immediate and intense everything connected and felt “right.” But it all ended suddenly, leaving Kailey devastated. Now the poor soul on the street is a faded version of her former beloved: His weathered and weary face is as handsome as Kailey remembers, but his mind has suffered in the intervening years. Over the next few weeks, Kailey helps Cade begin to piece his life together, something she initially keeps from Ryan. As she revisits her long-ago relationship, Kailey realizes that she must decide exactly what and whom she wants.

Alternating between the past and the present, Always is a beautifully unfolding exploration of a woman faced with an impossible choice, a woman who discovers what she’s willing to save and what she will sacrifice for true love.

Warning: This review contains spoilers!

And a disclaimer: This just isn’t my kind of story, and that fact probably influences my reaction quite a bit… but maybe not. I’ll explain, I promise.

I like a good romantic tale every once in a while. A nice, contemporary story about falling in love, or rediscovering love, or the memory of love… what’s not to — you know?

So why didn’t I love Always? For starters, everything was so completely obvious. In chapter one, we see Kailey sitting down to dinner with her super rich, too handsome to be true, perfect gentleman from a fine family fiancé, and I could tell you already that these two will never work out. He’s a developer; she wants to save the homeless shelters in the square of his next big development project. He’s being kind of insistent in an incredibly outdated way about her changing her name when they get married. They seem to read home decorating magazines for fun. There is just no way that these two should ever get married — so when she stumbles across the former love of her life dressed in rags and seemingly out of his mind, there’s really no dramatic tension. OF COURSE she’s going to end up with Cade. I mean, there isn’t the slightest shadow of a doubt about it.

Still, we get the alternating timeline effect, following the story of Kailey and Cade’s first meeting (Seattle in the 90s) and early romance, intercut with chapters set in the later timeline (2008) as she discovers Cade on the streets and decides that she has to save him. The more we see of Kailey and Cade’s relationship, the clearer it becomes that Ryan is all wrong for Kailey. But anyway…

Cade is homeless, begging for food, and clearly has been through something awful. He only shows a glimmer of recognition when he sees the tattoo on Kailey’s shoulder — because of course, he has the same one. She’s desperate to help him, and he doesn’t actually know who she is. Meanwhile, she never tells Ryan the truth, so she’s living a lie, missing work, and disappearing from life with her fiancé — not a good sign.

Plot-wise, there are just too many pieces that make no sense to me. (As I said earlier, SPOILERS!);

  • Cade just up and disappeared 10 years earlier, but it’s not clear whether Kailey actually did anything to find him. A guy, even one who’s been drinking too much, doesn’t just evaporate from his own life for no reason. Did she go to his apartment and notice that all his possessions were still there? Did she call the police? File a missing persons report? Hire a detective? Try to figure out who last saw him? If she’d done any of that, no matter the state of their relationship, I have a feeling she might have actually found him. Although then we’d have no big romantic reunion all those years later, but still.
  • So what exactly was wrong with Cade? “Traumatic brain injury” — what does that even mean? I know this isn’t a medical drama, but a little bit of a reality check might have helped. What part of the brain was affected? What’s the prognosis? And why is the treatment so vague? Living in a facility with unspecified treatments, medications, therapies… and suddenly he can talk and remember? More detail and grounding would have helped sell Cade’s condition better.
  • And what exactly happened the night of the accident? Apparently, Cade was the victim of some sort of crime… maybe? Or hit by a car? Or really, anything at all? We don’t know. And for that matter, why didn’t James, the former best friend, bother finding out afterward?
  • We find out, through Kailey’s barely-making-an-effort detective work, that a John Doe was admitted to the hospital with a brain injury right around that same time, but was checked out by a family member before treatment could be provided. AND THEN WE NEVER GET A RESOLUTION ON THIS PLOT POINT. Who checked him out? Why? Did something nefarious happen? No answers.

Okay, so the more I write, the more I realize how much the plot didn’t work for me. It felt formulaic and utterly predictable, with very little tension (Kailey’s choice is a forgone conclusion), and a romance that gets a pie-in-the-sky ending that feels like it glazes over any and all obstacles. Heck, they even recover Cade’s missing fortune by barely lifting a finger (and the story I expected, of insidious business dealings and a financial motivation, never actually materializes.) The storybook ending is yet another element of a paint-by-number love story that lacks any basis in the real world.

Sure, some may find this an inspiring story of true love finding its way. When two people are meant to be together, nothing (NOT EVEN A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY) can keep them apart. Love conquers all, yo!

Clearly, this was not a book for me.

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The details:

Title: Always
Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: February 7, 2017
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

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When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers!

It’s hard to describe this lovely, haunting novella full of ghosts and yearning and unfulfilled needs. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and the concepts underlying the story are original and quite moving.

First and foremost, Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a ghost story. Set in our every day world, the story tells the tale of ghosts among us. They live (sort of) and work and spend their days and nights alongside the living, going through the years looking for meaning or redemption or even escape.

Jenna is our main character, a ghost who died accidentally as a teen, right after her sister Patty’s suicide. Ghost Jenna comes to New York looking for Patty, but fails to find her. What she finds instead is a “life” of her own. She works as a hotline volunteer, lives in an apartment building with a ghost for a landlady, and frequents a local diner for its coffee, pie, and interesting visitors.

What I loved:

In this ghostly version of our world, ghosts must take the time they need to reach their intended death date, at which point they can finally move on. They don’t know how close they are until they’re almost there. As they take minutes, days, or even years from the living, the living grow that much younger while the ghost becomes older. For Jenna, she feels she’s taking something that must be earned, and so she limits herself to taking time in proportion to the minutes she spends doing good in her volunteer work. The main thing for Jenna is to join Patty, and she yearns to finally get enough time to make it there.

I just loved the concept of taking and giving time. Our world is peopled with ghosts trying to move on, and it’s simply sad and sweet to see the longing and wistfulness that fills their days.

Alongside the ghost population, there are witches of all sorts, defined by their source of power. A corn witch, for examples, draws her strength not just from fields of corn plants, but anything within reach that contains corn or corn products. Some of the witches’ power sources are shocking, to say the least. The witches and ghosts have a dangerous relationship, as witches have the ability to both steal time from ghosts, staying young seemingly forever, and to trap ghosts in glass and hold them prisoner, keeping them from moving on. Again, as with the ghosts and their time banking, the concepts behind the witches and their powers in this novella are unusual and mind-bending and a bit scary, to be honest.

As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this short work is what makes it truly special. For one example, see my Thursday Quotables post from earlier this week. Here are a few more little pieces that I loved — but really, the entire book reads like a lyrical ghost story, with words that haunt the reader as much as the characters haunt the city:

The world is full of stories, and no matter how much time we spend in it — alive or dead — there’s never time to learn them all.

It’s two o’clock by the time I leave the diner. The frat boys and tourists are gone, and the homeless have gone to their secret places to sleep, leaving the city for the restless and the dead. I walk with my hands in my pockets and the streetlights casting halogen halos through the fog, and I can’t help thinking this is probably what Heaven will be like, warm air and cloudy skies and the feeling of absolute contentment that comes only from coffee and pie and knowing your place in the world.

He loves that phrase, “time is money,” and uses it every chance he gets. Sometimes I wish I could make him understand how wrong he is, that time is time and that’s enough, because time is more precious that diamonds, more rare than pearls. Money comes and goes, but time only goes. Time doesn’t come back for anyone, not even for the restless dead, who move it from place to place. Time is finite. Money is not.

We’re just part of the background noise, and all the talk in the world of ghosts and witches and hauntings won’t change that. No one believes in things like us anymore. There’s freedom in that.

What I loved less:

The plot’s climax becomes somewhat convoluted and dense, and the actions of some characters didn’t make much sense to me. But it actually doesn’t matter a whole lot, truly. It doesn’t have to make complete sense to still be a treat for the senses.

That said, I wish this had been a full novel-length work rather than a novella. While the novella’s structure and brevity give it a certain elegance, there’s so much here to take in and savor that I wish parts had more room to breathe and that the ghost- and witch-inhabited world of DDDD could have been more explicitly built out.

In conclusion:

Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a beautiful work that will stay with me for a long time. The writing is gorgeous, and just cements my admiration for the writer. For more by Seanan McGuire, I strongly recommend the equally lovely Every Heart a Doorway, and can’t wait for its sequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, to be released in June.

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The details:

Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Let us now praise gorgeous books

My photos simply won’t do this book justice, but I still have to share. I was so excited to get this delivered this week:

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It’s a brand new release — a graphic novel adaptation of the late, great Octavia Butler’s masterpiece Kindred.

A few more peeks:

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I hope to start reading this graphic novel this week. Kindred is an amazing book — if you haven’t read the original novel, do it now!! I can’t wait to see if the power and intensity of the book translate well into graphic novel format.

I’ll let you know!