Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday
Flashback Friday

Jingle All the Way

Jingle All the Way
Jingle All the way by Debbie Macomber

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween 2017!! My Top Ten Favorite Horror Novels




My Top Ten Favorite Horror Novels



The month of October always puts me in the mood for a good thriller, chiller, ghost, or haunted house story.

 This year, as I looked through my books, trying to decide with a spooky story to read for Halloween, I had a hard time making up my mind, which got me thinking about compiling a list of my favorites. It was hard to narrow it down to ten, but these are the book that made the final cut. 
So without further ado...



MY TOP TEN LIST OF FAVORITE HORROR NOVELS



10- House of Many Shadows by Barbara Michaels

Barbara Michaels was the queen of Gothic horror novels.  House of Many Shadows is one  of her oldest titles but one of most suspenseful.  Most of her novels are still in print, many of which are also available in digital format.





9- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James



I have read this book countless times and it never fails to leave me with chills.  No list of ghost stories or tales of suspense would be complete without this classic Henry James story.



8- Dracula- by Bram Stoker


What more can I say about this classic horror novel?  Pure genius or the vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman? ( * wink, wink* for Anne Rice fans)





7- The House Next Door by Anne River Siddons

While there are many classic haunted house stories out there, such as The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson,  this one ranks right up there with other, and perhaps more well known titles.   I read this book when I was a teenager and it scared the crap out of me!





6- The Fall of the House of Usher- Edgar Allan Poe



It goes without saying that Edgar Allan Poe was the master of the macabre.  The Fall of the House of Usher is his masterpiece, in my humble opinion.








5- Ghost by Noel Hynd


Probably best known for his spy and espionage novels, Noel Hynd can also weave a great ghost story and has a nice backlist of scary stories.  This one is not for everyone, mainly because it's so understated and the build up is a little slow.  But , the pay off is worth the wait.   I also want to give an honorable mention to another one of Hynd's ghost stories:  Cementery of Angels.






4- Ghost Story by Peter Straub




This is one of the most atmospheric ghost stories I've ever read, delivered at a tantalizing pace, with the tension becoming almost unbearable.  Riveting and spine tingling from start to finish. Every once in awhile I have to take this one out and re-read it.   One of the best ghost stories around.






3- The Woman in Black- Susan Hill

No list could be complete without adding The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  This classic horror/ghost story is chock full of shivery chills.  For those who have only watched the movie, be aware  this book doesn't have a 'Hollywood' ending, proving once again, the book is always better.

2- Misery- Stephen King



You knew a Stephen King novel would make the list.  How could it not?   While this one is not of the supernatural persuasion,  it still counts.  Why?  Because to this date, this is the only book that gave me a full on panic attack.   I literally broke out in a cold sweat, and experienced shortness of breath.  No ghost, monsters, or vampires have ever gotten that kind of physical response from me.   Just thinking about it makes me uncomfortable.





1- House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Arguably one of the best and scariest haunted house novels ever written.   This book scared me to death. It took me a long time to read it because I couldn't take the suspense, and kept having to put it aside and catch my breath.   It is unique, atmospheric, stunning!   A real classic  and one that is so far ahead of any other novels written in this genre, I wonder if there will ever be another one that could ever even come close to this one.







As you can tell, I am big on ghost and haunted houses, preferring the subtle and understated goosebumps over blood and gore. What are YOUR favorite scary novels?

Friday, October 27, 2017

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane- by Laird Koenig- Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:


Alone in the darkened house, with only fire's glow and thirteen flickering candles for illumination, silent except for the mounting chords of a Liszt concerto, Rynn was preparing a solemn celebration. Until a knock at the door shattered sanctuary.

Rynn is the little girl who lives in the house at the end of the lane with her father-or so she says. No one had seen the poet, Leslie Jacobs, for a long time, and though the pungent aroma of Gauloise filled the parlor with intimations of his presence, no one was certain he was there:

Not Mrs. Hallet, the real estate agent who'd rented the old house to the eminent English poet and his daughter and whose formidable manner, product of her impeccable Long Island lineage, brooked no betrayals, especially not from a thirteen-year-old...

Not her son Frank, whose Halloween visit, intruding on Rynn's birthday rituals, had been more trick than treat and whose own insidious motives would soon lock them both in a perilous contest of will...

Not the local policeman who came to call and, lured by what he had seen, returned...

Not the shy young amateur magician who arrived on an errand-and stayed to become confidant and co-conspirator...

Who was the little girl who lived in such strange seclusion at the end of the leaf-swept land? Lonely and innocent seeking shelter from a hostile world? Or consummate liar? Each for his own reason, the Hallets were determined to find out. And it was then that the terrible secrets of the house at the end of the lane emerged. 

Moving with swift and shocking turnabout to a profoundly disturbing denouement, here is a fine and freezing novel of suspense that probes the subtle bonds of innocence to evil.

READ AN EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW:


The Little Girl Who Lives Down the LaneThe Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig is a 1974 Coward-McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. publication.

A spine tingling, edge of your seat thriller-

Recently I picked up a book called Paperbacks from Hell, which explored horror novels written in 1970s and 80s. The book spoke of various popular horror novel tropes, with the 'Evil Child' being one of enormous popularity.

This novel may be one of the best to come out of that boom. While often placed in the horror genre, this book is not a supernatural thriller. But, it is one wickedly tense and scary story! Despite the lack of paranormal elements, it is still a fitting Halloween read. After all, the opening sequence is set on Halloween night, which also happens to be Rynn's birthday.

Rynn is a thirteen -year old girl living in a house at the end of a lane with her father. However, Rynn’s landlord seems to regret renting out the house when her creepy son takes an interest in Rynn, a situation that does not go unnoticed by a local police officer, or the teenage boy who forges a very strong, but sinister bond with Rynn.

From here, it soon becomes apparent that Rynn’s father is never around, that she never attends school, or goes into the village, but she receives vistors often, most of them unwelcome.

I had just begun to take an interest in edgier reading and viewing material when this book was first released. But, it was the movie version that caught my attention back in the mid-seventies. Heavily marketed as a terrifying chiller, I remember feeling really excited about being allowed to watch the movie, only to come away from it feeling let down. At that age, I had yet to develop a strong appreciation for understated suspense and was expecting something far more overt. Mostly, I remember the adults discussing the controversial scenes, which was what I remembered most about the movie, in the years to come.

I never realized the movie was based on a book until many, many years later. By that time, book stores seldom stocked it and over time I forgot all about this little gem. But, one day, my husband happened across a hardcover copy in a used bookstore we frequent. Although the book is in excellent condition, sadly, upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a price clipped book club edition, which seldom appeals to collectors, but, I still seized on my chance to finally read this cunning and, in my opinion, under- appreciated and ‘terrifying chiller’.

This novel is so twisted and the suspense is often nearly unbearable. While Rynn could easily be tossed into the ‘evil child’ mode, her character is much more complex. She’s wily, clever, and very intelligent. She’s not nearly as sociopathic as some might think. There is a method to her madness, I think. She’s exposed to danger, and not just by having her secrets revealed, which prompts her to do whatever she has to, not just to protect her way of life, but to keep from becoming a victim herself.

Rynn embraces her solitude, and is okay with her own company, but she is also lonely, and feels a rush of very intense emotions for Mario the Magician. Their relationship made me squirm and is just as controversial to me now as it was back when this book was first published.

The story is very atmospheric and agonizingly tense. Every time a visitor appeared my heart hammered in my chest. Was I afraid Rynn was going to get caught, or was I afraid she would be harmed? Did I, in some small way root for her, or did she scare me to death? The truth is – a little of both.

Ultimately, this book is pure genius. The understated quality of it, is part of what makes it so good. The conflicting emotions it evokes left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Our society is much more desensitized than it was in the early to mid-seventies, so this one may not seem as insidious now as it was back then, but I can tell you, I found it downright alarming.

I am so glad I found a copy of this book, especially since my much older self really appreciates the fine art this book really is.

Overall, this made a perfect Halloween read. Even if you have seen the movie- it goes without saying that the book captures the dread and foreboding much more effectively.

WATCH THE MOVIE TRAILER:






GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Little-Girl-Lives-Down-Lane-ebook/dp/B004478IM2/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-little-girl-who-lives-down-the-lane-laird-koenig/1002194792


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Laird Koenig (born 24 September 1927 in Seattle, Washington) is an American author. His best-known work is The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, a novel published in 1974. The novel was adapted into a movie starring Jodie Foster. He also wrote a play based on the novel.








Thursday, October 26, 2017

Secret Lessons with the Rake by Julia Justiss- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:


Pursuing a role in Parliament, Christopher Lattimar needs a virtuous marriage to make society overlook his roguish past. When beautiful and disarming Ellie Parmenter offers to reform and refine him, he's too tempted to say no. 

Once a courtesan, Ellie knows a thing or two about polishing a diamond in the rough. She has no designs on Christopher—or any man in search of a wife—but their best-laid plans begin to tumble once lessons in respectability turn to seduction…


READ AN EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW:


Secret Lessons with the Rake (Hadley's Hellions, #4)Secret Lessons with the Rake by Julia Justiss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Secret Lessons with the Rake by Julia Justiss is a 2017 Harlequin Historical publication.

I have really enjoyed this series!!

Christopher is hoping to secure a position in parliament, which has him thinking it might be time to settle down and get married. However, he has little experience in courting virtuous virgins.

Enter Ellie Parmenter, a woman who once moved within polite society until a fall from grace left her ruined.

Ellie has started a school for women to help them escape the courtesan life, which is how she meets Christopher, whose mother is a supporter of the school.

Once conversation leads to another and soon Ellie has offered to teach Christopher the fine art of wooing respectable young ladies.

But, the more time they spend together the more their desire for one another strengthens. But, Ellie knows falling for Christopher will only lead to heartbreak. She refuses to become a mistress again and Christopher can’t marry a society outcast.

While we may all feel burnout from our present day political turmoil, I have really enjoyed the political backdrop for this series, which outlines social reforms.

Ellie’s situation is so sad, and will absolutely make your blood boil. But, she’s a strong woman who has decided to turn her bad luck into something constructive, thus earning my immense respect.

Christopher may have been a bit promiscuous, but, in his heart he is a little envious of his fellow Hellions and longs for the love, companionship and family they have found. His loneliness is palpable, despite his pragmatic approach to marriage.

I enjoyed the ‘lessons’ Christopher learned, and he really was pretty charming… and a little naughty.

The story is a little angsty at times, since Ellie must cope with her unrequited feelings for Christopher, suffering moments of doubt and weakness.

But, overall this is a terrific love story, defying proper society and its staid rules. All the Hellions have found their HEA and not a single one of them were conventional, with each man standing up to society’s norms and expectations to right wrongs and overcome unreasonable barriers.

Once again, I would like to offer my appreciation to this author for writing an authentic Regency series. I've been very burned out on Regency novels and frustrated by the 'modernization' of them, but Julia keeps the storyline fresh and interesting without compromising the genre! Well done!

Here’s to ‘The Hellions’!


I highly recommend this series to all romance readers!!




GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Lessons-Rake-Hadleys-Hellions-ebook/dp/B01N80FIFB/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/secret-lessons-with-the-rake-julia-justiss/1125684133

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Julia Justiss grew up breathing the scent of sea air near the colonial town of Annapolis, Maryland, a fact responsible for two of her life-long passions: sailors and history! By age twelve she was a junior tour guide for Historic Annapolis, conducting visitors on walking tours through the city that was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. (Annapolis hosted its own tea party, dispensing with the cargo aboard the "Peggy Stewart," and was briefly capital of the United States.) She also took tourists through Annapolis's other big attraction, the United States Naval Academy. After so many years of observing future naval officers at P-rade and chapel, it seemed almost inevitable that she eventually married one.

But long before embarking on romantic adventures of her own, she read about them, transporting herself to such favorite venues as ancient Egypt, World War II submarine patrols, the Old South and, of course, Regency England. Soon she was keeping notebooks for jotting down story ideas. From plotting adventures for her first favorite heroine Nancy Drew she went on to write poetry in high school and college, then worked as a business journalist doing speeches, sales promotion material and newsletter articles. After her marriage to a naval lieutenant took her overseas, she wrote the newsletter for the American Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia and traveled extensively throughout Europe. Before leaving Tunis, she fulfilled her first goal: completing a Regency novel.

Children intervened, and not until her husband left the Navy to return to his Texas homeland did she sit down to pen a second novel. The reply to her fan mail letter to a Regency author led her to Romance Writers of America. From the very first meeting, she knew she'd found a home among fellow writers--doubtless the largest group of people outside a mental institution who talk back to the voices in their heads.

Her second goal was achieved the day before her birthday in May, 1998 when Margaret Marbury of Harlequin Historicals offered to buy that second book, the Golden-Heart-Award winning novel that became THE WEDDING GAMBLE. Since then, she has gone on to write fourteen novels, three novellas and an on-line serial, along the way winning or finalling for historical awards from The Golden Quill, the National Reader’s Choice, Romantic Times, and All About Romance’s Favorite Book of the Year. 

Julia now inhabits an English Georgian-style house she and her husband built in the East Texas countryside where, if she closes her eyes and ignores the summer thermometer, she can almost imagine she inhabits the landscape of "Pride and Prejudice." In between travelling to visit her three children (a naval officer son stationed in Washington, DC, a textiles and design major daughter who cheers for University of Texas at Austin, and a mechanical engineering major son also at UT Austin) keeping up with her science teacher husband and juggling a part-time day job as a high school French teacher, she pursues her first and dearest love--crafting stories.

To relax, she enjoys watching movies, reading (historical fiction, mystery, suspense) and puttering about in the garden trying to kill off more weeds than flowers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Friend Request by Laura Marshall- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

A paranoid single mom is forced to confront the unthinkable act she committed as a desperate teenager in this addictive thriller with a social media twist. Maria Weston wants to be friends. But Maria Weston is dead. Isn't she?

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren't. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria's sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she'd severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there's more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what's known to Maria--or whoever's pretending to be her--is known to all.

LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:






MY REVIEW:


Friend RequestFriend Request by Laura Marshall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Friend Request by Laura Marshall is a 2017 Grand Central publication.


“That night was the end of everything, and the beginning. The end of something is always the start of something else, even if you can’t see it at the time.”


Facebook. UGH! I have to say, I do use the social media network more than I care to admit, which is why the title of this book grabbed my attention, mainly because I have been dealing with a spate of weird friend request recently, and they always creep me out.

In this case, though, Louise receives a friend request from a girl she went to high school with. Common enough, right? Sure, except this girl, ‘Maria Weston’ vanished on Prom night way back in 1989, and has been presumed dead. So, I’d say Maria wins the award for the creepiest Facebook request, ever.

Was this someone’s idea of a sick joke or something far more sinister? Well, it would seem Louise, and her group of friends back in high school, may have, in some way, been complicit in Maria’s death.

So, besides just being plain ghoulish, it the request could also have a menacing tone. Is it possible Maria is still alive or could there be someone out there seeking revenge?


As her class reunion approaches, Louise’s thoughts flashback to 1989 and the events that led up to that tragic night, while in the present day she becomes convinced her life may in be real danger.

This story deals with the aftermath of a tragic, and presumably, the untimely death of a high school girl, the details of which are sketchy, which is why most of the characters are suspect, in one way or the other, and is the source of all the tension that situation generates.

Yet, there are other prevalent themes running throughout, with the spotlight shining on the mistreatment of classmates, the intense desire to belong and be accepted, especially as teenagers.

Girls, in particular, can wield their own special brand of subtle torment. That part never changes, no matter if it is 1989 or 2017, as you will see. However, I would hope those who may have held court in their high school fiefdoms, feels the level of regret Louise does.

The other very timely theme explores our use of social media and the many ways we can lurk around other people’s lives, spying on their current relationships, jobs, hobbies and other friends. Looking at it from that prospective, it feels a little unnerving, knowing that sometimes people are lurking around your page and can access a wealth of information about you, quite easily.

Not only that, who among you can honestly say you haven’t lurked around on someone’s social media page at one time or another?

This story might make you think about the way you treat others, remind you of what it was like to be a teenager, or when your kids went through those periods of angst, and how both parents and children can be scarred from it, for many years to come, even if it is a more sophisticated form of bullying, it is equally dangerous and psychologically damaging.

Although I spent some time discussing these social issues, they are underlying themes the book is based upon. But, I assure you, the story is all thrills, chills, and psychological suspense from start to finish, with some real nail biting scenes and plenty of surprise twists along the way.

Overall, this is a clever psychological thriller, written with precision pacing, well timed revelations and is very appropriate to the time we live in. Fans of PT's will want to give this one a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Friend-Request-Laura-Marshall-ebook/dp/B01N6MTWYC/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/friend-request-laura-marshall/1125424450

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Laura Marshall grew up in Wiltshire and studied English at the University of Sussex.
After almost twenty years working in conference production, in 2015 Laura decided it was time to fulfil a lifetime's ambition to write a novel, and enrolled on the Curtis Brown Creative three month novel writing course.
Her first novel, Friend Request, was shortlisted for both the Bath Novel Award 2016 and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2016 and will be published by Little, Brown in the UK in 2017, as well as by Grand Central Publishing (Little, Brown) in the USA, Blanvalet (Random House) in Germany and Fleuve Editions (Univers Poche) in France.
Laura lives in Kent with her husband and two children.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillian - Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sandler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable.  But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol's Feeder Canal, Abdi can't--or won't--tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident.  But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle.  Noah is British.  Abdi is a Somali refugee.   And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol.  Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth.  Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW: Odd Child OutOdd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Odd Child Out by Gilly MacMillian is a 2017 William Morrow publication.

Deeply absorbing literary suspense.

Inspector Jim Clemo is back at work, after having completed his requisite counseling. His first assignment, on the surface, is a low priority case, a probable accident.

However, the circumstances are murky and the incident did leave a terminally ill boy in a coma and another boy so traumatized he can’t – or won’t- speak.

The question Clemo and his partner much determine is if foul play was involved, or if it was a horrible accident. But, the situation is much more complicated than anyone would have imagined.

Noah, a teenager dying of terminal cancer, lies in a hospital bed, comatose, but the reader is privy to his thoughts, as he narrates the events of that fateful night.

Meanwhile, Noah’s best friend, Abdi, a Somalian refugee, hasn’t uttered a word since that night, but there may be more troubling him than his friend’s condition. Still, suspicion hangs over him, which complicates matters even more, especially when Jim’s former lover, a woman who has taken a job as a journalist decides to fan the flames of social tension surrounding Somalian refugees.

This author has a unique writing style, employing both first and third person narratives. Noah and Jim speak to us directly, while the other characters converse in third person. Switching narratives may be met with skepticism, but in my opinion, it complimented the flow of the story and truly made sense, in this case.

This story is a traditional police procedural, but it is also augmented with the deeply absorbing and heartbreaking backstory of both sets of parents. As such, the book could also easily pass as a work of contemporary fiction.

The story does not unfold in the same way many other mysteries do, with a slow pace, and much more emphasis on character and deliberately shakes out strong emotions.

Abdi’s family endured extreme cruelty in their lives, and carry deeply embeded scars, while Noah’s family has dealt with his cancer diagnosis for nearly half of his life and now must face his eminent death.

The author also delves into Jim’s personal life, adding yet another thought provoking element to the story, and once again touching upon key social issues.

While the suspense builds at an unorthodox pace, once it reached its pinnacle, I was utterly still, holding my breath, completely riveted as unexpected events began to unfold.

The characters are unique, conflicted, flawed, and completely human, some of them more likeable than others, but all very well drawn. The story is very well crafted, written in such splendid prose, with incredibly profound elements that made me think about all the many layers of humanity and the very strong bonds of family and friendship.

The ending is very stirring and I admit I may have swallowed down a lump in my throat, which is not something that happens much when I'm reading a dark and moody procedural.

This story goes much deeper than the usual mystery novel, dealing with very grim topics, but has so much added depth and emotion, that I could easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys good fiction.






GET YOUR COPY:

https://www.amazon.com/Odd-Child-Out-Gilly-Macmillan-ebook/dp/B01N9X24JW/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/odd-child-out-gilly-macmillan/1125579639

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Gilly Macmillan grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, and also lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time photography teacher and is a full-time mom.

Friday, October 20, 2017

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Friday- Finding Jake By Bryan Reardon - Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

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 redemptiveFinding Jakeis a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.


LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:






MY REVIEW: Finding JakeFinding Jake by Bryan Reardon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon is a 2015 William Morrow publication.


“Why are you sad?”

“You need to be more outgoing.

“You need to be more of team player.”

“You should get out more.”

Promoted as a book written in the vein of “We Need to Talk about Kevin” and “Defending Jacob”, I will lay you odds, that most people picked this book up believing the sole focus of the novel is about the gut-wrenching possibility by a couple, that their child could be involved in a mass shooting. Yes, that is what this book is about, and it’s disturbing on so many levels, as well as a scathing look at American society as we know it today. But, there are a few underlying messages inside this story, too.

School shootings have become a paralyzing fear for parents in the times we live in. In such cases, we immediately cast stones at the shooter’s family, blaming them for not seeing it coming, for not doing something to prevent it. How could they not know?

This is a theme that runs throughout this book, with people hurting on a level I can’t begin to absorb, trying to deal with the emotional trauma associated with the unthinkable loss of a child.

To lose a child is almost more than one could bear, but to lose them in such a horrifying way, would rip you apart heart and soul, but what if your child was a suspect? Can you even begin to imagine such a scenario?

The reader follows the first person narrative of Simon Connolly, a stay at home dad, as he faces, not only a parent’s worst nightmare, but one in which his beloved son, Jake, is possibly involved in a mass shooting at his school.

As his shocked mind attempts to digest the situation, he and his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Laney, must deal with the utter agony of not knowing where their son is, if he is injured, running scared, or dead, not to mention trying to cope with the accusations thrown at him.

As events unfold in the three- day period of time after the shooting, Simon begins to reflect back on his parenting skills, Jake’s quiet personality, parent-teacher conferences, the struggles of being a stay at home dad, before it was an accepted practice, and the divide his marriage was suffering from. He doubts every move he has made as a dad, what he should have done or shouldn’t have done. He is consumed by so much fear, and worry, he begins to lose faith, with so many seeds of doubt being planted about his son.

Everything about Simon and Rachel was so spot on, they could have been any couple in America, but they were also a couple who went against the grain. They did not always conform to the parenting rules set by others in their neighborhood or by teachers at the school their children attended, plus Simon was a stay at home dad, Rachel the breadwinner, with a high stress occupation that demanded a lot of her time.

The author did an incredible job of showing the judgment passed on Simon by other men, how hard he was on his own self, how he coped with watching his wife live a life so separate from his that resentment formed deep within his heart, and he was often unfair to her.

I approved of the author’s depiction of ‘role reversal’, showing that raising decent human beings is hard work no matter who is home with the kids and the stress of a job is the same for women as it is for the guys. While being a stay at home parent is a luxury many would love to afford, it also has its challenges and is much harder than you know.

But, since Simon was the most hands on parent, his self- recriminations show the difficulties of having a child that is not like all the other children in temperament, as he chides himself, second guesses everything and places entirely too much blame on himself.

By contrast, Rachel deals with a different level of stress and is perhaps a little tougher, but would trade places with Simon in a heartbeat.

They may not have been perfect, but they were a couple many will find themselves relating to.


But, the underlying theme that many may not pick up on, at least not right way, is that being an introvert does not make one a criminal, insane, weird, untrustworthy, or stuck-up. Because Jake was quiet, didn’t engage with his classmates in the way our society expects, he was immediately a suspect. Because he tried to be fair to everyone, even those who were hard to like, even when they made him uncomfortable, he didn’t follow the crowd in making fun, or bullying, he was thus deemed guilty by association.

“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.” ~Anais Nin


This novel paints a fairly accurate view of American society. Follow along with the crowd, and you will not be suspected of a heinous crime. Join the play-date club, rub elbows with the right people, be outgoing, gregarious, loud, talk all the time, constantly surrounded by people, always attend social gatherings, look just like everyone else, talk like everyone else, do the same things everyone else does, because if you don’t, you may find yourself labeled as being weird or antisocial.


While the book is most assuredly a psychological thriller with the suspense becoming almost unbearable,  and so taut I could barely breath at times, it is also a cautionary tale, one that highlights our hypocrisy, that points a finger at society, and gives the introverted soul a slap on the back, and the permission to give society the cold shoulder without being punished for it.

Simon and Rachel also give us something to think hard about, because how often do we take life’s dull routines for granted, allow the small things to come between us, forget to count our blessings, or just live in the moment?

Simon may beat himself up forevermore, always worry endlessly, but despite their foibles and flaws, this family has so very much to be proud of, while setting such an outstanding example for us all.

It’s okay for you to view this book solely as a work of suspense, or as a thriller, because it is that, and if you understand why the book’s conclusion is considered inspirational, then that is all I could hope for.

But for some who are extreme introverts like me…

This book touched me on many levels and while I am not usually a weeper, I cried the ugly cry, as I felt so connected to this struggling family, and saw a strength in them, they never knew they had, which gives me hope, though the lesson here is so very hard.

But, I for one came away with a feeling of vindication so profound I can’t thank this author enough for not only having the courage to write about such a difficult topic, but to also take a stand and fight for all the Jake’s in this world, and hopefully, his message was heard loud and clear.


“Everyone shines, given the right lighting.” ~Susan Cain


GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Jake-Novel-Bryan-Reardon-ebook/dp/B00KPVB4MM/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-jake-bryan-reardon/1119645613

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Finding Jake is close to my heart. I've spent the last decade working from home while caring for my kids. I worry about them every day. Much of that angst fueled the writing of this book. Maybe the angst I feel waiting for the book to be released will fuel the next one.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Western Star by Craig Johnson- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

The thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson's beloved New York Timesbestselling Longmire series, the basis for the hit Netflix series Longmire

Sheriff Walt Longmire is enjoying a celebratory beer after a weapons certification at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy when a younger sheriff confronts him with a photograph of twenty-five armed men standing in front of a Challenger steam locomotive. It takes him back to when, fresh from the battlefields of Vietnam, then-deputy Walt accompanied his mentor Lucian to the annual Wyoming Sheriff's Association junket held on the excursion train known as the Western Star, which ran the length of Wyoming from Cheyenne to Evanston and back. Armed with his trusty Colt .45 and a paperback of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, the young Walt was ill-prepared for the machinations of twenty-four veteran sheriffs, let alone the cavalcade of curious characters that accompanied them.

The photograph—along with an upcoming parole hearing for one of the most dangerous men Walt has encountered in a lifetime of law enforcement—hurtles the sheriff into a head-on collision of past and present, placing him and everyone he cares about squarely on the tracks of runaway revenge.
 

READ AN EXCERPT:




MY REVIEW:


The Western Star (Walt Longmire, #13)The Western Star by Craig Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Western Star by Craig Johnson is a 2017 Viking publication.

This is the thirteenth book in the Walt Longmire series.

‘He did it, she did it, or they all did it’

Walt never misses the parole hearing, which takes place every four years, for a prisoner over at Cheyenne, who happens to be the most dangerous criminal he ever encountered. This time, though, the prisoner in question is dying and seeking compassionate release. As Walt continues to oppose the release, he is taken on a trip down memory lane, back to the seventies, when he agreed to accompany Lucien to a Wyoming Sheriff’s Association junket, which was held on the excursion train called, ‘The Western Star’.


It is always a treat to check in with Walt Longmire. This installment is slightly different as it bounces between the past and the present. But,for the most part the bulk of the story is focused on Walt’s past.

This does mean that once more a few of our very favorite characters have a much smaller role, but we do get to know Walt, a little better, and even get to hear from Martha, too.

As Walt boards the train, with twenty-four veteran Sheriffs, he could never have imagined how the events that unfolded would haunt him all these years, or how they would collide with the present in an incredible twist of fate.

In some ways, this story is like a backhanded compliment to Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, the novel Walt carries with him aboard the train.

I thought this was a nice touch and enjoyed the tone of the story while Walt has a battle of wits with twenty-four seasoned sheriffs, and murder follows them aboard the train. Anyone familiar with Christie’s work will appreciate the homage to her techniques and how they applied to his story.

I never saw the surprise twist coming and was impressed with clever plotting, all of which was very entertaining… until the past catches up with the present. The story takes on a much more sinister tone at that point and ends with one of those awful – ‘to be continued’ storylines.

Once I finished the book, my first thought was how other devoted fans of this series would respond to this installment. I think some may have mixed feelings about it, but I thought it was a great bridge story that will segue nicely into what will most assuredly be the ultimate showdown.

I enjoyed the setting aboard the train, the ‘whodunit’ mystery, and getting a rare peek at the young Walt Longmire. I was enjoying the golden age nostalgia so much, I was ill prepared for the jolt out my reverie, dropping me back into the present with a thud. It was hard to wrap my head around how everything was tied up together, but it was pretty tense.

Overall, I enjoyed this book just as much as all the other Longmire novels, despite this being the second book in a row where key players took a backseat. But, I have a feeling, everyone will be back with a vengeance in the next installment, which promises to be one heck of a wild ride.

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Western-Star-Longmire-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01N2AAPVU/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-western-star-craig-johnson/1125684602

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Craig Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve Walt Longmire mystery novels, which are the basis for Longmire, the hit Netflix original drama. The Cold Dish won Le Prix du Polar Nouvel Observateur/Bibliobs. Death Without Company, the Wyoming Historical Association’s Book of the Year, won France’s Le Prix 813, and Another Man’s Moccasins was the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award Winner and the Mountains & Plains Book of the Year. The Dark Horse, the fifth in the series, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and Junkyard Dogs won The Watson Award for a mystery novel with the best sidekick. Hell Is Empty, selected by Library Journal as the Best Mystery of the Year, was a New York Times best seller, as was As the Crow Flies, which won the Rocky for the best crime novel typifying the western United States. A Serpent’s Tooth opened as a New York Times bestseller as did Any Other Name and Wait for Signs, Johnson's collection of short stories. Spirit of Steamboat was selected by the State Library as the inaugural One Book Wyoming and included visits to sixty-three libraries. Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere- by Celeste Ng- Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. 
Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. 
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.



LISTEN TO EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW:


Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a 2017 Penguin Press publication.

A smart, but often scathing look at entitlement coupled with the endless dynamic layers between mother and child.


The Clinton era gets a sharp examination as we drop in on Shaker Heights, an ideal suburban community with plenty of unspoken rules for its financially comfortable residents. The Richardson family is the prototype of the community, with Elena Richardson embracing the lifestyle with unparalleled enthusiasm.

‘Perfection: that was the goal, and perhaps the Shakers had lived it so strongly it had seeped into the soil itself, feeding those who grew up there with a propensity to overachieve and a deep intolerance for flaws.’

By contrast, Mrs. Richardson’s new tenants, Mia and her daughter, Pearl, live a free spirited, nomadic life. Mia is a photographer, who works just enough to afford the basics in life. Pearl, though, has no trouble adapting to the stable home life of the Richardson’s, practically becoming a member of the family.

Things are working out well enough, until a chain of events unlocks long buried secrets, spawning a bitter custody battle, which exposes cracks in the Richardson’s perfect image, and will culminate in a fiery inferno, both physically and metaphorically.

This second novel by Celeste Ng is not quite as grim or heavy as her debut, but it is every bit as provocative.

I have had a hard time writing this review because the layers in this story are many, with so many themes to explore. I have worked on it for days, feeling slightly intimidated, unable to find the words that would do justice to such an outstanding novel.

|

This book adeptly explores hot button issues prevalent twenty years ago, between episodes of Jerry Springer and Clinton’s sex scandals, when a different set of questions were raised, such as interracial adoptions.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

I was impressed with the various contrasts presented in the book, which included the mindset of the privileged juxtaposed against those who find themselves at their mercy. Was there an exacting price for that privilege and was it worth it? I must say, the judgmental hypocrisy is astounding!!

But, the heartbeat of the story is centered around motherhood. Every mother represented exposed that instant vulnerability motherhood creates. The pain of infertility and the frustrating process of adoption is examined right along with parental sacrifices and foibles and their consequences.

Mia and Mrs. Richardson's children also play an integral part in the story, their roles intertwined and connected in the most ironic of ways.

‘Izzy had the heart of a radical, but she had the experience of a fourteen-year-old in the suburban Midwest.’


One of the more interesting character studies is of Elena- mostly referred to as Mrs. Richardson, which I thought was a very clever way of hammering home a specific point. Her cluelessness, her arrogance, and relentless reproach is extraordinary in light of what is actually taking place.

Mia, in turn, may spark a little resentfulness in Mrs. Richardson, and despite my initial puzzlement about her, and I admit I certainly questioned some of her choices, I ended up respecting her a great deal.

So, as you can see, the novel is very driven by the characters, each offering a different perspective or new avenue in which to view the situation. Sometimes I felt deep empathy for one character, feeling the acuteness of their pain, but unable to choose a side. It is often heart wrenching and I found myself feeling torn on many occasions.

On other occasions, I had a very hard time mustering up any real empathy for a few of these characters.

The plotting was very tightly woven and on several occasions, I may have uttered an expletive out loud when misunderstandings exploded in the worst possible way, creating a mountain of tension in the process.

This is a very compelling family drama, drawing out a bit of nostalgia, prompting me to take a closer look in the mirror, to put myself in the place of others before passing judgement.

But, I also picked up on a bit of sarcasm here and there, almost as if the author was scoffing at some of the attitudes or the mindset of the era, although it was done so in an understated and sly way.


It’s been nearly a week since I finished the book and I still find myself mulling over the many layers and angles, and thinking about the characters and the choices they made and how it all came together in the end.

So, it is fair to say, this book has had an impact on me, and think it is a novel anyone who appreciates a well written, thought provoking work of fiction will appreciate. Highly recommend!!


GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Little-Fires-Everywhere-Celeste-Ng-ebook/dp/B01N4VW75U/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-fires-everywhere-celeste-ng/1125684606

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio.
She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of
Michigan. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, won the Hopwood Award, the
Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the
ALA’s Alex Award and is a 2016 NEA fellow. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website at http://celesteng.com or follow her on Twitter: @pronounced_ing.