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Book Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

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Megan Ashley’s life is privileged, and she owes much of her wealth to her mother’s best-selling horror novel, written decades before. But she’s sick of pretending that their family is perfect, and so when a publisher offers her the chance to write a tell-all memoir, she jumps at the chance. This means traveling to Bonny Island, Georgia, to investigate her mother’s past–and the murders that inspired the novel. What she finds is that there’s more to the original story than meets the eye–and that discovering the truth could have some deadly consequences.

This sudsy mystery will keep readers guessing until the last few pages. Part family drama, part book-within-a-book, and party searing mystery, this one is sure to delight hardcore mystery fans as well as those new to the genre. A genuinely twisty plot means that there’s plenty of surprises for readers to uncover alongside Megan, and no matter how many times they think they have it figured out, Carpenter is several steps ahead.  The result is a ton of fun.

It’s also well written, with nuanced characters that feel very real. The result is a surprisingly strong novel that blends different genres with a great deal of success. I was hooked from the start and finished nearly the entire thing in one sitting, so compelling was the plot and its characters.

Carpenter uses snippets of Megan’s mother’s novel at the beginning of each chapter to help ramp up the book’s tension, and it works beautifully. Each snippet is compelling on its own (there are many readers who are going to wish the fictional novel in the book actually existed), but each excerpt also mirrors what is happening as Megan delves deeper into the central mystery.

This is a thrill ride of a novel, begging to be devoured and worthy of readers’ time. Recommended.

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter. Lake Union Publishing: 2017. Library copy.

 

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Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Her official status is “missing,” but you can tell that people think the worst. Flynn can’t believe she’d just up and leave without a trace, but as he starts to unravel her secrets, he realizes there’s more going on than he initially realized. And Flynn has secrets of his own that he’s desperate to keep hidden. How can he solve January’s mystery without revealing things about himself?

Roehrig’s debut novel tackles a bunch of different issues while presenting a twisty, provocative mystery for readers to devour. Vivid characters help ground the novel’s more unbelievable aspects, and young gay teens will especially relate to Flynn’s issues regarding his process of coming out. This is a smart novel with realistic dialogue (Roehrig excels particularly in this regard).

Seasoned readers of mysteries might figure out the twists well before they’re revealed, but it’s still a heck of a ride. There are enough twists and turns to keep the pages turning, and the oftentimes witty dialogue races by. There are moments where the book feels overly long, though, and a tighter editing hand might have made for an even stronger story.

On the whole, a very entertaining debut. Roehrig is an author to watch, and this is a strong entry into the YA mystery genre. Recommended.

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig. Feiwel & Friends: 2016. Library copy.

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Genre Round-Up

One of my 2017 reading goals is to read more genre fiction, since it’s generally out of my comfort zone, reading-wise.  Since January is wrapping up, this is the genre fiction I read this month:

71811Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy): I’ve been meaning to read the first book in this series for years, and I finally ended up listening to this on audiobook.  The narrator was great, and she managed to do a variety of accents for the different characters in the book without ever veering into the totally preposterous or distressingly bad.  The novel itself is a pretty decent foray into urban fantasy: Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic who mostly keeps to herself, but she’s also a shifter who turns into a coyote. Her closest neighbor is the leader of a werewolf pack, and when his daughter is kidnapped and he’s dangerously injured in a fight, Mercy gets pulled into the supernatural world in an attempt to save him and his daughter.

Briggs has created vivid characters and a world that feels lived-in and compelling. But there are so many characters elbowing in for some page time that it starts to wear down the plot. It’s possible that as the series gains traction, the plots get stronger, but this first entry into Mercy Thompson’s world was enough for me. I did like how strong she was and how capable she was of taking care of herself.

Keep Me Safe by Maya Banks (Romantic Suspense): Romantic suspense meets supernatural in this “thriller” 20910177from Maya Banks, who is a bestselling author but not one that I’ll seek out again. Psychic Ramie can find victims of serial killers by touching personal artifacts, but it comes at a great physical and emotional cost.  Connected to the victims and the killers, she experiences everything they do and it has taken a toll. Hiding from the rest of civilization, she thinks she’s as safe as she can be until Caleb Deveraux finds her and forces her to help him find his sister. Realizing the pain he’s caused her, Caleb vows to protect her in the futuer. But she’s made a connection with the would-be killer, and she can’t seem to sever it.

It might be that romantic suspense is just not my genre, or it might be that I chose very poorly when it came time to select a romantic suspense title, but this was not for me in any way, shape or form. Setting aside how problematic the general premise is, there’s no character development to speak of, no chemistry between the leads, and the plot is preposterous. I’ll have to delve into some other romantic suspense titles to get a better handle on the genre–I’m taking suggestions!

25760151Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (Historical Romance): Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance centers on Rhine Fontaine, a man who is passing for white in Nevada not long after the end of the Civil War. He meets Eddy, an African-American woman on her way to California under unfortunate circumstances, and he finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. He knows that their romance is forbidden so long as he remains in hiding about his true race, but the repercussions of coming out are great.

There’s a lot to love about Jenkins’s historical romance featuring characters of color in the old west, and much of it is related to how much care she gives her characters. She knows them and clearly likes them, and the result is fully-realized characters with actual chemistry that leaps off the page. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from some of the messier politics of race, either, which is a surprising–and welcome–addition to the traditional romance fare.

On the whole a very enjoyable read and recommended for lovers of historical romance.1601773

Triptych by Karin Slaughter (Mystery/Thriller/Suspense): The first in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, this one is not for the faint of heart, because it is super, super violent. In Atlanta, women are being murdered by a serial killer who has a particular affinity for mutilation. Detective Michael Ormewood is on the case, but he’s pissed when they bring in FBI agents, including Will Trent, whose closing record is astronomical.  There’s also an ex-con who might know more about the murders than anyone else.

Slaughter’s books are fast-paced, compelling, and very violent. They’re definitely for the reader who likes their novels suspenseful, gritty, and gorey. I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would, and I found it too long in parts, but on the whole it was an exciting novel that kept me guessing.

 

 

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Waiting on Wednesday: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Expected Release Date: November 18, 2015

After the heartbreak of losing his girlfriend, Beck, Joe Goldberg thought he’d never love again. But when mysterious Amy Adam begins working for Joe at Mooney Books, he finds himself obsessed with his new employee. Amy is Beck’s opposite—she hates Twitter, she doesn’t even have an email address, she’s completely unsearchable online—and she quickly captures Joe’s heart. But just before Joe can ask Amy to marry him, she disappears, leaving a trail of clues in her wake.

Joe is then forced to do something so vile, so awful that he nearly loses his mind: he moves to Los Angeles to find Amy. He is tortured by a series of aspiring Angelenos—an insufferable stand-up comedian, philistine booksellers, a money-hungry nanny, and a slutty ghostwriter—before meeting his ticket to a more luxurious world: a surgically enhanced, social media–savvy heiress named Love Quinn. But Joe can’t stop stalking Amy, despite the world opening up to him with Love on his arm. Will Joe finally escape his sordid past? Or is Love just the latest casualty in Joe’s unrelenting search for the perfect match?

(summary via Goodreads)

I read and mostly liked Kepnes’ first novel in this series, though I found it a little on the long side.  And if I’m being totally honest, I’m not sure that there needed to be a sequel?  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t read it, because Kepnes’ writing is searing, funny, and totally haunting.  And Joe is one of the creepiest narrators I’ve stumbled across in a long time.  So I am totally down to read this follow up, which finds Joe in “love” again with a new lady.

What are you waiting on this week?

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Book Review: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Friendship, Wisconsin is your average small town.  Everyone knows everyone, and people are generally friendly.  It’s a safe place until high schooler Ruth Fried is found murdered in a gruesome way in the middle of a cornfield.  What was once a peaceful place is rocked to its core in the aftermath of the murder.  Especially in the case of Kippy Bushman, who was Ruth’s best friend. So imagine her horror when the local police seem content with the first suspect that comes along, despite evidence–including Ruth’s salacious diary–to the contrary.  So it’s up to her to solve her friend’s murder and avenge her death.

Kathleen Hale’s ambitious debut YA novel doesn’t quite reach its goals, but it’s not for lack of trying.  Combining elements of suspense, mystery, and satire, this novel’s aims are high, but it stumbles more often than it soars, to borrow a terribly trite phrase.  Although there’s some genuinely good stuff here–Kippy is a memorable character in all her awkwardness, and some of the secondary characters are diverting–it isn’t enough to keep this novel from getting bogged down in its own plot.

That is, perhaps, the novel’s greatest problem.  The pacing is off throughout this twisty mystery because there’s too much plot thrown in.  An abundance of red herrings can certainly keep readers guessing, but when the plot goes down one dead-ends and side-stories, the result is a slow mess.  In fact, Kippy’s venture into an institution threatens to derail the entire story.  Where was the editor on this?

A skewering of mid-west culture is at times spot on (potluck, bratwurst, etc) and at other times woefully overdone (this reader could have done with far less of the “don’tcha knows”).  Is this Fargo or is this a novel for teens?  At any rate, some readers won’t be tripped up by the stalling plot, but others will just want Kippy to get on with it already.

Disappointing, but it’s clear that the DNA of the story had serious promise.  Hale will be an author to watch.

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale.  HarperTeen: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

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Book Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Valkyrie White is fifteen, and the government’s black helicopters killed her parents.  This is what Valkyrie believes and has been told since she was a little girl.  Now, she and her brother Beau continue the fight her father had waged against the government since they were small.  She and Beau know that Those People won’t hesitate to kill them, so they must always be on alert in order to survive.  But now, Valkyrie’s mission is to make people wake up and pay attention.  It’s her most important mission.  It’s also her last.

Blythe Woolston’s latest book for teens is memorable, terrifying, and absolutely unforgettable.  It’s also impossible to put down.  Definitely a book that requires a close reading (and probably more than one go through), Black Helicopters is a standout title for 2013.

In this novel, Woolston explores the evolution of a suicide bomber, and it’s a superb examination of what a secular terrorist looks like.  Told solely from the perspective of Valkyrie, readers only know what Valkyrie knows–and that’s often pretty vague.  She is proud, and she is very smart–but she’s also incredibly brainwashed by the adults in her life.  Woolston plays with Valkyrie’s self-sufficiency and resolve and pits it against the fact that while she’s a powerful force, she’s also a pawn in a much larger game.  It’s brilliant and absolutely chilling.

The slow, tense revelation of Valkyrie’s plans and motivations make this one story that readers won’t be able to get out of their heads.  It’s tightly written and intriguingly structured.  The narrative flips between Valkyrie’s past as a small, sheltered child and her present, where she must navigate a world filled with Those People.  It’s unflinching in its portrayal of Valkyrie and the people who surround her, and readers will work hard to unravel the novel’s message and meaning.

This is a hard book, and it’s going to be a struggle for some readers.  Valkyrie isn’t a sympathetic character, and readers aren’t supposed to like her.  That will be a tough sell for some, but it’s the entire point here: what could Valkyrie have been under different circumstances?  Woolston isn’t interested in a redemption story, and thank goodness, because this novel’s dedication to its dark themes makes it all the more impressive.

Haunting and pitch-perfect.  Highly recommended.

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston. Candlewick Press: 2013. Library copy read for the 2013 Cybils.

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Book Review: Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

For Abbie, her life revolves around three things: art, the ocean, and Kane, her broody surfer step-cousin.  Always out of reach, Abbie watches him and obsesses over him.  But when Kane comes back from a mysterious surf trip to an even more mysterious island, Abbie senses that something is wrong.  Kane carries a darkness that threatens to envelop them both.

It’s hard to summarize Eagar’s brilliant, darkly gothic novel without giving too much of it away.  The book is about a girl with a heightened emotional state, and maybe because of this heightened state (or in spite of?), supernatural events begin to occur.  Readers looking for an intensely atmospheric and engrossing tale should look no further than this one.  Eagar somehow manages to spin a paranormal tale that feels firmly rooted in the real world.  I’ve said it before and it might as well be my mantra: Eagar is an author to watch.

The atmosphere isn’t the only aspect of Eagar’s novel that entraps the reader.  Vivid, authentic characters propel the narrative forward.  Abbie is raw and flawed, and her obsession with Kane is only one thing that clouds her judgment.  Her love of painting distorts reality for her, as she struggles to see beyond the surface of things.  Her creative impulses mirror her other impulses, and readers will find her exasperating as well as worth rooting for.

Kane is harder to like, but because of Abbie’s fixation on him, it’s hard not to see the appeal.  He’s the quintessential surfer with a darker side, and while he’s definitely a selfish, hardened character, there’s no questioning his attraction.  Eagar is especially adept at creating characters who feel undeniably real: they may not be what you expect, and the story is the better for it.

Tension abounds in this taut novel.  Not every reader is going to “get” this one, and it’s certainly not the Eagar novel I’d recommend a person start with, but it has no shortage of merits.  Eagar’s prose is pitch-perfect, lush, and evocative.  There’s never a moment where she’s not in total control of her words, and the story moves along at a great clip as a result.  This is a stunning novel, and one that will stick with you long after you’ve reached the novel’s satisfyingly murky conclusion.

Recommended.

Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar. Penguin Books Australia: 2012.  Purchased copy.