Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

Aaron Falk hasn't returned to Kiewarra for twenty years. But when his childhood friend commits suicide after murdering his wife and son, Aaron is forced to return. It's not obligation or memory to his friend. No. It's a summons from his friend's father, a threat or claim to knowledge regarding a secret long kept. 

But Luke's dad isn't interested in blackmailing Aaron. Instead, he wants Aaron to look into his son's death. To prove that the murder/suicide the officials stamped on the case isn't true and to find out what really happened to Luke and his family. 

But even if Luke's father isn't interested in that long held secret, lots of other folks are. Not only is Aaron Falk a reminder of a dark piece of Kiewarra's past, it's also the reason he and his father left. And more than a few people think Aaron Falk should have stayed far away from their farming community. 

I first learned about Jane Harper's debut quite a while back thanks to Reese Witherspoon's interest in the book. Since then it's just been a matter of waiting for the Australian release to land Stateside, which it finally did this past week thanks to the folks over at Flatiron Books.

The story starts with great intensity: an eagle eye view of a murder scene on a dry and dusty farm and a baby crying. It gives me chills even just recalling it for this review!

Aaron Falk, as mentioned above, has been summoned to the Hadler funeral. He and Luke had stayed in touch, even though it's been twenty years since they shared a hometown, but Aaron had never met Luke's wife and children. And though the news of Luke's death (and that of his wife and son) are shocking, it's doubtful even that would have prompted Falk to return to Kiewarra.

Instead, it's a plea from Luke's father, which at first seems to be more of a threat to reveal the fact that he knew Aaron and Luke lied about something two decades ago. Something big enough to make Aaron listen to the threat.

It's quickly revealed that Luke's father has no interest in spilling the beans about this particular secret. It was simply a means to get Aaron, a Federal Agent, to come to the funeral and hear him out. He's certain Luke didn't pull the trigger that killed his wife and son. Certain his son could never have done that to his own family. And as the evidence begins to stack up, Aaron begins to believe the man.

But Kiewarra is the last place Aaron Falk wants to spend any significant amount of time. It's clear no one really likes him, and it soon becomes clear exactly why that is. Twenty years ago, a girl died in Kiewarra. A girl who had been friends with Luke and Aaron. And many people in town have long believed that Aaron played a part in the girl's death.

The longer he stays in town, the more tense the atmosphere becomes. This is a farming community suffering massively from drought and lack of funds. People are losing their livelihoods and with no way to rail against nature itself, many begin to turn their eye to Aaron. After all, the death of that little girl has remained unsolved all these many years...

Harper does a wonderful job ratcheting up the suspense in The Dry. As the story continues the tension in town increases exponentially, leaving more and more victims (and suspects) in its wake. That tension adds a layer of undeniable urgency to the tale, which means an equally urgent pacing. And the plot lives up to that pacing, drawing readers further and further into a tale that twists in a way I definitely did not see coming!

Considering how this one played out, it's no wonder I'm already anxiously awaiting more from Harper - as I suspect many are now! I'm certain we can expect wonderful things from this author in the years to come!

Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 16, 2017

As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka - new edition

I'm reposting this from back in 2014 because today marks the release date of Crown's new edition. And it means a perfect opportunity for me to finally dive into the second and third titles in the trilogy!

Lumikki spends much of her time trying to be completely invisible. But when she stumbles on a stash of bloodied money in her school's dark room, she's forced to change her tactics. The kids who found the money know that Lumikki knows their secret and when one of them becomes the focus of a kidnapping attempt, they quickly recruit her in their efforts to find out what's going on. Lumikki's years of practice at going unnoticed are exactly what they need, but her investigation doesn't stay as secret as they'd all hoped.

I'm a bit at odds with this one. Overall it was an ok read. It wasn't bad but I wasn't blown away. And I really wanted to be. It is, as far as I can tell, my first Finnish read and it's yet another translated teen read, which I think we need far more of. My biggest issue is with Lumikki herself and the lack of development.

But that's not exactly true either. Lumikki is actually pretty well developed as a character. The author gives us a great sense of her and her quirks: she's a teen who's living alone in a small apartment, something she's facilitated so that she can attend a magnet school in another town; she's also an outsider and there's a definite reason for it, a reason that is again facilitated by Lumikki herself. But in giving us a good picture of Lumikki, it's clear that there's so much more to her that we've not yet seen. Obviously this is because it's meant to be the first in a series - which would make stretching Lumikki's story necessary - so maybe my issue is that I can't move directly onto the next book.

The main plot of As Red as Blood does stand pretty well alone (which also lends to my character issues considering this is an otherwise a complete story on its own). Lumikki is wrangled into a plan that involves tracing a mysterious bag of money that some of her classmates stumble upon after a party. The first thing they have to find out is who the money is intended for. Once they've got that down, they have to figure out where it came from. And that's the biggie because it means infiltrating a local drug ring.

While I admittedly didn't LOVE this one, I am looking forward to reading book two. If I'm lucky, that one will tie up a few things and push me from meh to wow for these.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Releases 1/17/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Indelible by Adelia Sounders

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

This is Not Over by Holly Brown

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo

Empire Games by Charles Stross

Feversong by Karen Marie Moning

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Believer by Joakim Zander

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz

The Rising by Heather Graham & Jon Land

Homesick for Another Land by Odessa Moshfegh

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

K Street by M.A. Lawson

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

New on DVD:
The Girl on the Train
Come and Find Me
Ouija: Origin of Evil
The Free World

Friday, January 13, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Jenna is one of the many ghosts who walk the streets of New York City. She died in 1972, before her time, when she ran away rather than face the grief of losing her sister, Patty. Since then she's spent her nights earning the time it'll take for her to reach her natural death day - the day she can return to Patty. See, ghosts can take time from the living. A few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or more, it pushes the ghost closer to their end and gives the living a burst of youth in exchange. Which is why ghosts have to watch out for those who would take advantage of that ability. 

Of course, they can give time too, so you don't piss them off!

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors who leaves me completely in awe of the seemingly endless worlds of their imagination! Zombie apocalypse, doors to fairy tale worlds, Symbogen, October Daye, Incryptid, and more, McGuire and her alternate author existence as Mira Grant are quite simply amazing. And the amount of work she's populated the reading sphere with is astounding! Her short stories alone seem to be almost countless and she's constantly releasing more.

Which, for a greedy little book junkie like me who also happens to be a fan, means plenty of reading material to keep me busy!

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day may be a small read but its world is so big! This latest novella features ghosts and witches. Ghosts who can take and give time and witches of every variation you can imagine - corn witches, steel witches, rat witches... Witches and ghosts are natural enemies in this world, with witches keen to take advantage of the fountain of youth ghosts can offer them. Jenna takes care around the witches of New York, the ones she knows of, but has yet to run up against any trouble.

Instead, she spends her days as a barista and her nights as a suicide hotline operator, in hopes she can help those who need it most.

But Jenna's quiet existence is shaken when the ghosts of NYC begin to disappear in droves.

I love the details of this world, the rules of the ghosts' existence and the witches' powers. The quiet links to folklore and burial traditions. And the subtle idea that the knowledge behind these traditions might be fading some. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is fabulous!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Imagine not only growing up without your mother, but growing up in a prison. This is Cammie O'Reilly's life. Her father is the warden at Hancock County Prison.

The story of Cammie O'Reilly's mother's death is the stuff of legend. And Cammie knows the story well even though she was just an infant when it happened. But after almost thirteen years without a mom, she's decided now is the time. She's chosen her candidates well: a trustee at the prison who takes care of the warden's apartment (and Cammie) during the day, whose crime Cammie still hasn't gotten out of her, and another prisoner in for shoplifting. But as days go by and Cammie's plan to recruit a mom seems to be failing, her resolve becomes even more steadfast. 

You might think a story about a girl in search of a mom would be a sad one. You wouldn't be wrong. A lot of it is a subtle sad, the kind you get pondering over Cammie's problem and the obvious effects. Of course there's plenty of real sad as well. Cammie herself might not admit to being sad. Cammie would say she's angry.

Her anger manifests in a lot of ways, but it's clear most of that anger is honed and focused on her task. She longs for a motherly figure, attention, and, surprisingly, discipline! There's an almost heart wrenching argument that occurs at one point between Cammie and her best friend, Reggie, who, in somewhat insulting Eloda, gets Cammie to admit her goal of making Eloda her surrogate mother. But at the same time, as sad as Cammie's predicament is, it shows such a wonderful strength in her that is truly admirable!

While there were admittedly plenty of parts of The Warden's Daughter that left me misty eyed, it's really not all sad. Nor is it overwhelmingly so. It's impossible to read Cammie's story without a preponderance of hope for the girl. Cammie is strong willed and free spirited and guaranteed to win over each and every reader.

There's a great element of nostalgic fun to The Warden's Daughter too. Set in 1959, the story features a strong sense of innocence - amongst the children and, to some extent, the world via the small town of Two Mills. Cammie bikes throughout town, treats herself to her favorite meal at the local diner (she LONGS for scrapple night and day!), and has fairly free run of the prison itself, mingling with and befriending the female prisoners.

Pop culture references of the time are peppered throughout, especially in the music Cammie and her friends listen to (Reggie's dream, which is fulfilled, is to appear on Bandstand). 

That said, I feel there's a dark undertone to the tale as well, though. Darker than the grief that Cammie is feeling. A sense that the innocence mentioned above is coming to an end. It's maybe a sense too of the possible future for Cammie and the potential for parallels to some of the other characters in the tale. To say more might give something away, but I can say I walked away from this one with a sense of fulfillment regarding Cammie's story.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik + a Giveaway

Hello again! As promised, I'm following up this morning's excerpt of The River at Night with a review and giveaway!

Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra have always taken trips together, but white water rafting is a new one for them. At Pia's insistence, the four women are heading off on a five day trip that'll be packed with camping, hiking, and rafting - on a river very few have the opportunity to ride. And in spite of her many reservations, Wini agrees to go.

Unfortunately, an accident on the river turns their vacation into a dangerous fight for survival.

Oh, Wini. You're something of a creature after my own heart. I am notorious amongst our friends for being a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to outdoor activities. I'm not into camping at all and frankly I'm a bit too out of shape to really enjoy hiking. Nope, I'm happy at home with my books - where it's warm and not icky.

And that brings me to rafting and why my friends would hate that I even read this book. Our good friends are rafting guides! And they're constantly trying to get me out on the river! And it's one thing I might actually do - if we were canoeing the mellow Whiskey Chitto back home, that is.

So see, Wini and I are simpatico!

The River at Night begins with a bit of a Descent feeling to it. Which I loved! Pia is gung ho for the trip: Pia chose everything, including the guide (the son of her father's friend). And the fact that it's a river many don't raft (because of the access to a put-in, supposedly) is a big red flag for the reader. And then there's a weird run in with an area hunter before they arrive at their destination, emphasizing again the fact that almost no one rafts this river...

But it turns out the river may not be their biggest concern. With all kinds of beasties and creatures roaming the wilds of Maine, there's plenty for Wini to fear.

Things get off to a good start for the women. In spite of reservations, they're in high spirits and excited to spend time together. Of course things go downhill fast. Just one day into the trip, in fact.

I loved The River at Night! I thought it was a fabulous debut and absolutely great page-turning fun! The characters are fabulously drawn, as are the relationships between them. These are women who have known each other for over a decade - the best of friends - but as with all friends there's an underlying tension between them. I think Ferencik captures that well, illustrating the bonds and friction that make up close relationships. And while there's not much time to focus on each woman's background (it is a rather slim read - just under 300 pages - and there's the whole rafting trip gone wrong to focus on), I found that Ferencik did manage to inject quite a bit of detail (subtle and otherwise) about each of them and their histories. I felt comfortable with these women, like I knew them and knew them well!

Of course all of that adds to the overall experience of this read, and again it was a page-turning one. The story is packed with tension and action, enough so that I desperately wanted to finish in one sitting - I was close, up again and finishing at 5 am!

Rating: 5/5

And now for the giveaway: To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, January 23. Open US only and no PO boxes.

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Purchase Links: AmazonSimon & SchusterBarnes &Noble

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik - Excerpt

Good morning, everybody! Today I have two posts for one of January's most anticipated thriller debuts, Erica Ferencik's The River at Night. First up, an excerpt to give you a little taste.

But before we dive in, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

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.

The River at Night hit shelves just yesterday, and it's an IndieNext pick!

The River at Night
by Erica Ferencik

Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.

A slapping spring wind ushered me through the heavy doors of the YMCA lobby as the minute hand of the yellowing 1950s- era clock over the check-in desk snapped to 7:09. Head down and on task to be in my preferred lane by precisely 7:15, I rushed along the glass corridor next to the pool. The chemical stink leaked from the ancient windows, as did the muffled shrieks of children and the lifeguard’s whistle. I felt cosseted by the shabby walls, by my self-righteous routine, by the fact that I’d ousted myself from my warm bed to face another tedious day head-on. Small victories.

I’d just squeezed myself into my old-lady swimsuit when the phone in my bag began to bleat. I dug it out. The screen pulsed with the image of Pia Zanderlee ski-racing down a double black diamond slope somewhere in Banff.

My choices? Answer it now or play phone tag for another week. Pia was that friend you love with a twinge of resentment. The sparkly one who never has time for you unless it’s on her schedule, but you like her too much to flush her down the friendship toilet.

“Wow, a phone call—from you!” I said as I mercilessly assessed my middle-aged pudge in the greasy mirror. “To what do I owe the honor?”

Of course I knew the reason. Five unanswered texts.

Pia laughed. “Hey, Win, listen. We need to make our reservations. Like, by tomorrow.”

I fished around in my swim bag for my goggles. “Yeah, I haven’t—”

“I get it. Nature’s not your thing, but you’re going to love it once you’re out there. Rachel and Sandra are chomping at the bit to go, but they have to make their travel plans. We all do.”

With a shudder, I recalled my frantic Google search the night before for Winnegosset River Rafting, Maine.

No results.

“Just wondering why this place doesn’t have some kind of website. I mean, is it legit?” I asked, my voice coming out all high and tinny. Already I was ashamed of my wussiness. “I’d hate to get all the way up there and find out this is some sort of shady operation—”

I could feel her roll her eyes. “Wini, just because some place or something or someone doesn’t have a website doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” She sounded windblown, breathless. I pictured her power walking through her Cambridge neighborhood, wrist weights flashing neon. “It’s a big old world out there. One of the reasons this place is so awesome is because no one knows about it yet, so it’s not booked solid before the snow’s even melted. That’s why there’s space for the weekend we all want, get it? This year, it’s the world’s best-kept secret—next year, forget it!”

“I don’t know, Pia . . .” I glanced at the time: 7:14.

She laughed, softening to me now. “Look, the guy who runs the white-water tours is a good friend of my dad—he’s my dad’s friend’s son, I mean, so it’s cool.”

“Can’t believe Rachel would want to—”

“Are you crazy? She’s dying to go. And Sandra? Please. She’d get on a plane right now if she could.”

With a wave of affection I pictured my last Skype with Sandra: kids running around screaming in the background, papers to correct stacked next to her. When I brought up the trip, she’d groaned, Hell, yes, I’m game for anything—just get me out of Dodge!

“Wini, listen up: Next year—I promise, we’ll go to a beach somewhere. Canc├║n, Key West, you choose. Do nothing and just bake.

“Look, Pia, I’m at the pool and I’m going to lose my lane—”

“Okay. Swim. Then call me.”

I tucked my flyaway dirty-blond bob—the compromise cut for all hopelessly shitty hair—under my bathing cap, then hustled my stuff into a locker and slammed it shut. Do nothing and just bake. Did she really think that was all I was interested in? Who was the one who rented the bike the last time we went to the Cape? Just me, as I recalled, while all of them sat around the rental pouring more and more tequila into the blender each day. And my God— we were all pushing forty—shouldn’t awesome and cool be in the rearview mirror by now? 

I crossed the slimy tiles of the dressing room and pushed open the swinging doors to the pool. The air hit me, muggy and warm, dense with chlorine that barely masked an underwhiff of urine and sweat. Children laughed and punched at the blue water in the shallow end as I padded over to my favorite lane, which was . . . occupied.

It was 7:16 and frog man had beat me to it. Fuck.

For close to a year, this nonagenarian ear, nose, and throat doctor and I had been locked in a mostly silent daily battle over the best lane—far left-hand side, under the skylights—from 7:15 to 8:00 each weekday morning. Usually I was the victor, something about which I’d felt ridiculous glee. We’d only ever exchanged the briefest of greetings; both of us getting to the Y a notch earlier each day. I imagined we both craved this mindless exercise, thoughts freed by the calming boredom of swimming and near weightlessness.

But today I’d lost the battle. I plopped down on a hard plastic seat, pouting inside but feigning serenity as I watched him slap through his slow-motion crawl. He appeared to lose steam near the end of a lap, then climbed the ladder out of the pool as only a ninety-year-old can: with careful deliberation in every step. As I watched the water drip off his flat ass and down his pencil legs, I realized that he was making his way to me, or rather to a stack of towels next to me, and in a few seconds I’d pretty much have to talk to him. He uncorked his goggles with a soft sucking sound. I noticed his eyes seemed a bit wearier than usual, even for a man his age who had just worked his daily laps.

“How are you?” I shifted in my seat, conscious of my bathing cap squeezing my head and distorting my face as I stole the odd glance at the deliciously empty lane.

“I’m well, thank you. Though very sad today.”

I studied him more closely now, caught off guard by his intimate tone. “Why?”

Though his expression was grim, I wasn’t prepared for what he said.

“I just lost my daughter to cancer.”

“I’m sorry,” I choked out. I felt socked in the soft fleshy parts; smacked off the rails of my deeply grooved routine and whipped around to face something I didn’t want to see.

He took a towel and poked at his ears with it. A gold cross hung from a glimmering chain around his thin neck, the skin white and rubbery looking. “It was a long struggle. Part of me is glad it’s over.” He squinted at me as if seeing me for the first time. “She was about your age,” he added, turning to walk away before I could utter a word of comfort. I watched him travel in his flap step the length of the pool to the men’s lockers, his head held down so low I could barely see the top of it.

My hands trembled as I gripped the steel ladder and made my way down into the antiseptic blue. I pushed off. Eyes shut tight and heart pumping, I watched the words She was about your age hover in my brain until the letters dissolved into nothingness. The horror of his offhand observation numbed me as I turned and floated on my back, breathing heavily in the oppressive air. As I slogged joylessly through my laps, I thought of my own father rolling his eyes when I said I was afraid of sleepaway camp, of third grade, of walking on grass barefoot “because of worms.” As cold as he could be to my brother and me, not a thing on earth seemed to frighten him.

I had barely toweled myself off when my phone lit up with a text from Pia. A question mark, that was it. Followed by three more. Methodically I removed my work clothes from my locker, arranging them neatly on the bench behind me. I pulled off my bathing cap, sat down, and picked up the phone.

My thumbs hovered over the keys as I shivered in the over- heated locker room. I took a deep breath—shampoo, rubber, mold, a sting of disinfectant—and slowly let it out, a sharp pain lodging in my gut. I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some ├╝berbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp—safe, always safe—half-fucking- dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?

Pool water dripped from my hair, beading on the phone as I commanded myself to text something.


I watched my fingers as they typed, Okay, I’m in, and pressed send.

And I'm in too! Be sure to head back here in a bit to see my review of The River at Night (psst, there's a giveaway too!). 

For more on Erica Ferencik and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter