Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: The Other Girl by Erica Spindler

Title: The Other Girl
Author: Erica Spindler
Published: August 2017, St. Martin's Press
Format: ARC E-copy, 256 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

From the New York Times bestselling author of Justice for Sara and The First Wife comes a chilling new thriller about a ritualistic murder of a college professor that sends a small town cop back into the trauma she thought she’d put behind her.
A horrific crime. One witness—a fifteen year old girl from the wrong side of the tracks, one known for lying and her own brushes with the law.
Is it any surprise no one believed her?
Officer Miranda Rader of the Harmony, Louisiana PD is known for her honesty, integrity, and steady hand in a crisis—but that wasn’t always so. Miranda comes from the town of Jasper, a place about the size of a good spit on a hot day, and her side of the tracks was the wrong one. She’s worked hard to earn the respect of her coworkers and the community.

When Miranda and her partner are called to investigate the murder of one of the town’s most beloved college professors, they’re unprepared for the brutality of the scene. This murder is unlike any they’ve ever investigated, and just when Miranda thinks she’s seen the worst of it, she finds a piece of evidence that chills her to the core: a faded newspaper clipping about that terrible night fifteen years ago. The night she’d buried, along with her past and the girl she’d been back then. Until now that grave had stayed sealed…except for those times, in the deepest part of the night, when the nightmares came: of a crime no one believed happened and the screams of the girl they believed didn’t exist.

Then another man turns up dead, this one a retired cop. Not just any cop—the one who took her statement that night. Two murders, two very different men, two killings that on the surface had nothing in common—except Miranda.

My thoughts: It's been a long time since I've read an Erica Spindler book, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to read and review her latest book...and I am so glad I did! Now I remember why I used to pick up her books and really need to get back to reading her again soon!!!

This book is so engaging - right from the start I was pulled in and ended up reading this book in two sittings. I found the characters to be very-well developed, especially Miranda. I was intrigued by her and wanted to know all about her, especially her relationship with her partner Jake. I have to admit, I was a little suspicious at times about that. I couldn't put my finger on why, but there were times that I did question certain things.

Miranda has a past. She has managed to turn it around and become a cop - a really good cop, but that past haunts her! And now, someone is using that past to taunt her. Two deaths occur and the only thing that links them is her.

While I was able to guess the identity of who was behind the killings about half-way through, I was still completely hooked. I wanted to know why this person was targeting Miranda and I definitely wanted to see how it would all play out. And boy oh boy was it good! This book takes you on quite a roller-coaster of a ride and is gripping throughout. Between the flashbacks and the present-day story - it totally consumes you. It's an addicting read for sure!

I really enjoyed this quick read and know that I will be picking up more of Erica Spindler's books. I think I have a few of her older books on my shelves somewhere that I plan on digging out. Have you read any of her books?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Title: Unraveling Oliver
Author: Liz Nugent
Published: August 2017, Gallery/Scout Press
Format: ARC Paperback, 272 pages
Source: Publisher

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

So begins Liz Nugent’s astonishing debut novel—a chilling, elegantly crafted, and psychologically astute exploration of the nature of evil.

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

My thoughts: I was very fortunate to pick this gem up at BookExpo this past year after hearing about it during the Adult Book Buzz session. I had already had it marked as a book I wanted to pick up, but after listening to the one editor speak about it so highly, I knew I had to get my hands on it at all costs - and luckily I did!

This book, in a word, is brilliant! From the opening line (quoted above) to the tightly woven story that quite literally unpacks all that is Oliver so that we can get inside him to understand the man he has become to even attempt this atrocious act, is so cleverly crafted. 

At first I didn't quite understand all the bits that were being told to us - the people that had a big part in Oliver's life were narrators throughout the book and this is how the story unfolds. It moves back and forth in time through their memories - quite seamlessly I might add. But as I got more into the book, I slowly started to understand what was going on - they were slowly giving us a picture of Oliver. Interspersed throughout this, were chapters told by Oliver - and this just helped more to unravel the man that Oliver had become. 

This is an addicting, almost haunting read as you get to know more and more about Oliver and why he is the way he is. It's chilling and yet you just can't put this book down. I found myself glued to the pages once I picked this it up. From that stellar opening line to the very end, I could do nothing else til I knew everything! 

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Liz Nugent - for a debut novel, this was amazing! She is certainly an author to keep an eye on!!!

Short & Sweet Review: Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

Title: Cockroaches
Author: Jo Nesbo
Series: Harry Hole, #2
Published: February 2014, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Personal copy
When the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel, Inspector Harry Hole is dispatched from Oslo to help hush up the case.

But once he arrives Harry discovers that this case is about much more than one random murder. There is something else, something more pervasive, scrabbling around behind the scenes. Or, put another way, for every cockroach you see in your hotel room, there are hundreds behind the walls. Surrounded by round-the-clock traffic noise, Harry wanders the streets of Bangkok lined with go-go bars, temples, opium dens, and tourist traps, trying to piece together the story of the ambassador’s death even though no one asked him to, and no one wants him to—not even Harry himself.
***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

My thoughts: I am totally late coming to the Jo Nesbo party, and being the traditionalist that I am, I am reading the series in order. I know that the first two books weren't translated right away in the US - that the first book translated was book 3, but I decided to start at the beginning and am sticking with my guns. If you read my review of The Bat, you'll know I didn't love it, but I decided to continue with the series and am so glad I did - Cockroaches was much better!

I still don't understand why the first two books aren't set in Norway where Harry is set, but that is neither here nor there. This second book finds Harry traveling to Thailand to help solve the murder of the Norwegian Ambassador. The powers that be in the Norwegian government want this murder solved with as little fanfare as possible and want to avoid any scandals. Of course, Harry isn't willing to let anything prevent him from finding out the truth, even if that means going against direct orders.

I am really enjoying getting to know Harry - I feel that in this book, we get a better feel for how he works. He is still battling the bottle, though he seems to have a much better handle on that. He still has his demons and I think this might just make him stronger for it.

This book moved a little faster than the previous one. I felt it more engaging and enjoyed it more. I am definitely looking forward to picking up the next one in the series...and perhaps I can even get caught up enough to have read up to The Snowman by the time the movie comes out?!?

Books in this series: 
  1. The Bat
  2. Cockroaches
  3. The Redbreast
  4. Nemesis
  5. The Devil's Star
  6. The Redeemer
  7. The Snowman
  8. The Leopard
  9. Phantom
  10. Police
  11. The Thirst 

Friday, August 18, 2017

#SRC2017 Book Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow
Author: Danya Kukafka
Published: August 2017, Simon & Schuster
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher 

Who Are You When No One Is Watching?

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.

In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory. Compulsively readable and powerfully moving, Girl in Snow offers an unforgettable reading experience and introduces a singular new talent in Danya Kukafka.

My thoughts: This is one of those books that as soon as I heard about it - it's one of the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge picks - I knew I wanted to read it. It just sounded so intriguing and would you look at the cover - doesn't it just call to you to pick it up!?!

One of the things I really liked about this book is that it really keeps you guessing as to who did it - who killed Lucinda Hayes. I think I thought I had it figured out at least a half-dozen times, only to be completely flabbergasted at the final reveal. It's narrated by three very different, yet complex characters - and as the mystery is ever so slowly revealed, you are given a picture of what was really going on in this small Colorado town.

This really is as much a mystery as it is a character-study into the lives of the people in this town. It is a bit slow at times as it delves into the lives of these characters, but I think this was all necessary as this gives us all the connections and memories needed to link everything together.

The writing it quite lyrical and beautiful - it really keeps you engaged throughout. It's addictive as much as it is haunting and I am quite eager to see what comes next from this author. 

Girl in Snow  by Danya Kukafka is one of  BookSparks "Summer Reads" reading selection picks. 
 Follow the #SRC2017 hashtag on twitter to read reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other summer books! Also, be sure to check out the BookSparks Facebook page for the #SRC2017  and other fun links. You can participate in weekly secret missions for chances to win signed copies of selected books and more! There's a new secret mission each week :)

Review: In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell (audio)

Title: In the Shadow of Lakecrest
Author: Elizabeth Blackwell
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden
Published: February 2017, Brilliance Audio / Lake Union Publishing
Length: 9 hours 48 minutes / 282 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - Paperback via Publisher

The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Elizabeth Blackwell and I quite enjoyed it. I loved the gothic undertones throughout and thought the mystery was well-done! And that cover - isn't it such a beauty?

This book is filled with intriguing, twisted characters - and I loved that! Kate, in particular, was very interesting - she was quite mysterious in her own way. She was unique to say the least! She wasn't the typical softspoken, innocent, naive young woman we might expect from this type of book. Rather, she was impulsive and her ambitions led her to go after what she wanted. She definitely wasn't your typical damsel in distress - and leads to you want to be on her side! But, at the same time, I felt there were instances where she was hiding something. 

This book has a little bit of everything: secrets, family drama, an evil mother-in-law, strange rituals, and a sprawling estate. As it all comes unraveling, bit by bit, you are kept on the edge of your seat, trying to guess how it will play out. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and the atmosphere is used to it's advantage - it's moody and creepy, but not overly so. Trust is also an issue - who is actually telling the truth and who can be trusted?

I really enjoyed this gothic mystery and am looking forward to more books from this author!

Audio thoughts:
This was a good audio book to listen to - I thought Teri Clark Linden did a good job narrating it. She was able to give all the characters unique voices and her pacing and tone were spot on. She added tension to her voice when needed.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Salt House by Lisa Duffy

Title: The Salt House
Author: Lisa Duffy
Published: June 2017, Touchstone
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Source: Publisher

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

My thoughts: I love when I come across a debut novel that just moves me...and that is exactly what this one was! Thank goodness for the She Read gals for picking it as a reading club pick - I'm not sure if I would have gotten to it as soon as I did otherwise. And this one deserves all the attention it can get - it's one of those books that while not a joyful read, is one that is filled with hope.

I do have to admit that I did almost stop reading this - it hit a little close to home for me...but I'm so glad I kept going because it's about so much more than just the loss of a child. This was in many ways a cathartic read as much as it was one filled with hope. But make no mistake - it is an emotional read.

I loved how this story was told from everyone in the Kelly family's point of view. This really allows us to get inside each of the 4 characters heads to see how they are dealing with, or not dealing with, their grief a year after the baby's death. I really don't think it would have packed quite the same emotional punch had the story not been told this way. 

The pain and guilt that Hope was carrying over the death of her child was so raw and honest - it was hard to read these sections without having tears streaming down my face. And then seeing how Jack channels his grief - is it any wonder they are at odds with each other? Even the daughters were struggling with the loss of their sister and seeing how they were reacting even a year later, just about broke my heart. These two characters really stole this book - they are what made it stand out as heartwarming, despite the heaviness of story. Jess, on the cusp of adulthood, is thrown into a situation where she knows more than she should, but needs to keep some of that to herself. And Kat just wants to bring everyone some peace and happiness. 

There are many poignant scenes in this book that involve the children - either with one or both of them and this is where there were tears, quite a few. Some were joyful and some were sad, but in the end, they were all good. This is such a beautiful story - that much needs to be said! But again, I don't think these scenes would have been as powerful had they not been exactly as they were created. This book is cleverly crafted - all the pieces come together just so and if just one piece is missing, it would not have the same impact. I know I am being a bit vague here, but I don't want to give anything away - you really just need to read this book - it's that powerful.

Like a house of cards, this family ultimately realizes that they need each other to lean on to move forward - a lesson that in our darkest hours, we often forget. This story is one that, while not always an easy one to read, is certainly one worth reading and one that sends a powerful, yet uplifting message. It is definitely one that will be staying with me for a long time and a book that I will be keeping on my shelf to remind me. Thank you Lisa Duffy for writing such a beautiful story!

The Salt House by Lisa Duffy is the She Reads August reading selection pick.
Head over to the She Reads website to read reviews and related posts of this book, as well as posts related to the other book club selections.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Last Breath by Karin Slaughter

Title: Last Breath
Author: Karin Slaughter
Published: July 2017, Witness Impulse (HarperCollins Imprint)
Format: E-book, 176 pages
Source: Personal copy

Protecting someone always comes at a cost.

At the age of thirteen, Charlie Quinn’s childhood came to an abrupt and devastating end. Two men, with a grudge against her lawyer father, broke into her home – and after that shocking night, Charlie's world was never the same.

Now a lawyer herself, Charlie has made it her mission to defend those with no one else to turn to. So when Flora Faulkner, a motherless teen, begs for help, Charlie is reminded of her own past, and is powerless to say no.

But honor-student Flora is in far deeper trouble than Charlie could ever have anticipated. Soon she must ask herself: How far should she go to protect her client? And can she truly believe everything she is being told?

My thoughts: I am still a relative newbie when it comes to Karin Slaughter - I've only read one full-length novel and one short story before picking up this one. And I picked up this one because it's a prequel to her latest stand-alone book, The Good Daughter, which I will be reading in the next few weeks.

What I loved about this short story is that it not only introduces us to the main character of the upcoming book, Charlie Quinn, but it gives us a little bit of her backstory and some insight into her character. She has not had an easy life but despite that, she has made a good one for herself. We meet her husband, Ben and her father, Rusty Quinn, who had a part in her the tragedy that befell her when she was young. 

I also loved that this short story felt complete. Sometimes these short stories just fall short - they just manage to introduce us to a character but the plot lacks. In this case, that was definitely not the case. Not only do we get a great introduction to Charlie, but the case she ends up working on felt complete - it wasn't rushed, it felt like the story was told without leaving us hanging by giving us a partial story. And boy of boy, was it a crazy case - I definitely didn't see it playing out quite the way it did. 

I am very eager now to pick up The Good Daughter...especially if this short story is any indication of what I am in store for! 


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