Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone tells the tale of a mother’s worst nightmare: someone taking her children and no one believing her. They were here with her one minute and gone the next. And now fingers of the townspeople and the law are pointing at her.

She was desperate to leave her abusive husband and set out with her 10 and 6 year old kids across the country to seek refuge with a friend.  On the way to a new beginning, free from her husband’s abuse, Audra is stopped (in what appears to be a routine traffic stop) by a sheriff in a small, old-fashioned town and everything changes in an instant. A large bag of weed which was obviously planted in her trunk, is found during the stop, so now the sheriff can take her in for questioning and press charges for possession with intent to sell. With Audra’s history of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, she doesn’t stand a chance in the eye of her accusers, even when she has been clean for two years. As she watches helplessly locked in the back of the sheriff’s car, another policewoman comes and loads her children up to take them to a “safe place.” Locked in the town jail until she can appear in court the next morning, Audra demands to know where her children are, but the only response she receives is “what children?”.

How can she ever find her children when no one in the town believes that the children were in the car with her when she was stopped by the sheriff? And it certainly doesn’t help when her terror of a husband and evil mother-in-law portray their side of the story to the media, painting a portrait of Audra as an abuser and unfit mother who has likely killed her children. Talk about an impossible situation to be in. I was blown away by the sheer terror of this story, and I could not put it down until I figured out how Audra was going to find Sean and Louise.

The story switches back and forth between the points of view of Audra, her children, and a stranger named Danny Lee. When the reader is introduced to Danny Lee, he or she may wonder what in the world he has to do with the kidnapping of Audra’s children, but Danny Lee becomes very important to the plot. You’ll see!

This book was terrifying, but so good that I read the whole thing in a few hours last night. The characters are uniquely drawn and the plot is well thought out as well. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, that’s for sure. Major props to Haylen Beck for a fascinating and stimulating roller-coaster novel. It’s sure to be a summer hit and I would highly recommend it for fans of suspense, thrillers, and mysteries.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the review copy. It was wonderful!! I can’t wait for her next book to release.

Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

41BJHcaW-KL.SX316Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells will be released for publication on 6/27/17.

Howells’s debut novel is set in present day Cornwall, in a small coastal town. Part of the Silence is an atmospheric suspense novel, with many of the major scenes in the story occurring in or around the woods. The story unfolds in alternating points of view from different main characters, as well as flashbacks from Casey,  a character who doesn’t show up in many of the present day scenes. The way Casey is introduced and weaved into the story begs the questions: “Where is Casey now?” and “What became of her?” The questions regarding Casey certainly enhances the mystery of the story.

Howell really set a high mark with rich character development in her first novel. Readers will feel like they know some of the main characters very well; Jack, Charlotte, Jen/Evie, and Casey.

Jen, now known as Evie, was brutally assaulted and left for dead in a cornfield. She has no memory of what happened, but eventually remembers her name as Evie and the name, Angel, her three-year-old daughter. However, there is no sign of Angel, as well as no evidence Evie ever had a child – no birth records, no children’s clothing or toys at the house, and no one but Evie who claims to have seen a child. Even Nick, her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has lost her mind because he doesn’t know a thing about a child. Jen/Evie was babysitting three-year-old Leah Danning 15 years prior when Leah was abducted. Is Jen imagining she had a daughter but thinking of Leah, from all those years ago? Even in her fragile state of mind, Jen/Evie knows without a doubt that she has a three-year-old daughter. But where is she? And why does it seem like she never existed?

Jack is a great detective, despite being preoccupied with grief from the loss of his fifteen-year-old son two years prior and, more recently, being left by his wife. Jack is the type of detective who doesn’t leave work at work; always on the job and observant of his surroundings.

Charlotte becomes involved with Jen/Evie when she realizes that Jen was her schoolmate long ago. She offers to help Detective Constable Abbie Rose keep an eye on Jen and serve as a friend, hoping it might spark Jen’s memory. Charlotte has a live-in, surfer boyfriend named Rick and their relationship is not too stable.

As mentioned, Casey’s character is revealed in flashbacks weaved into the story. She is the older sister of Leah Danning, who went missing fifteen years ago. Casey’s life has always been tough, beginning when she was sexually assaulted as a child. She surrounded herself with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and bad relationships, and all the while she was jealous of people like Jen, with her easy childhood and movie-star looks.

Readers may wonder why Charlotte becomes so involved with Jen/Evie’s situation and offers to help, being a mere acquaintance from school so many years ago. Is she feeling guilty about something? Does she have something to do with three-year-old Leah’s disappearance fifteen years ago? And what about her surfer boyfriend, Rick, who comes and goes like the swell of the waves he surfs. Does he have something to hide?

Someone knows what happened to Leah and to Jen/Evie’s daughter, Angel, providing there really was a daughter who was abducted at the time of Jen/Evie’s attack. Is it Casey? Xander? Nick? Miller? Charlotte? Jack? The story allows for many possible suspects to keep readers guessing until the end.

The plot doesn’t move along as quickly as most psychological suspense novels. It wasn’t a “read in one sitting” novel for me, but it did keep my interest until the end. I was blind-sighted by the twist and turn of events in the final chapters. Fans of psychological suspense and unreliable narrators will love this story.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

9780316375191_91b3aThe Identicals will be released on June 13, 2017. It’s definitely going to be a hit summer beach read, as are most of Elin’s novels.

Elin Hilderbrand’s novels have a way of transporting me into the story with such force that I can think of nothing else but the characters. I’ve no shame in admitting that my mind was wandering during the sermon on Sunday, thinking about Harper and Tabitha, looking forward to finishing the book during naptime. I look forward to her books with such intense anticipation, but then I read them too fast. Then, I am left wishing that I would have savored them at a slower pace.

Twin sisters Tabitha and Harper are as different as can be, even though they look identical. It’s fitting for Hilderbrand to write this story, as she is also a twin, though not an identical. Readers will appreciate her authentic voice as the author, fully aware of the unique relationship between twins. The story unfolds in alternating points of view between Harper and Tabitha, but also between the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket themselves.

Harper lives with her father, Billy, on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha lives with her mother on Nantucket. Where Harper is laid back and reckless, her twin sister Tabitha is dignified and methodical. Harper is often the subject of gossip on the island, and her current love interest happens to be Billy’s married doctor. She’s made a few mistakes, but she could care less what people think of her. Their mother, Eleanor Roxie-Frost, a famous fashion designer, owns clothing boutiques which carry her brand and designs. Tabitha works for her mother in the Nantucket boutique, and caters to Eleanor’s every whim, while also trying to ride out the moods and rebellion of her teenage daughter, Ainsley. Though the twins only live 11 miles apart on separate islands, they haven’t seen each other for more than a decade. Since they were teenagers and the fateful day they were forced to split up, one moving to Martha’s Vineyard with Billy and one staying on Nantucket with Eleanor, Harper and Tabitha have avoided each other at all costs.

The drama escalates when the twins decide to switch islands in order to handle matters for their parents in the best possible way. Billy’s house needs remodeled and sold, a task which Tabitha is best fit. What she discovers over in the Vineyard may change her outlook on the future, at least where her love life is concerned. Over in Nantucket, however, the boutique needs a fresh outlook and Ainsley needs some adult supervision and encouragement. Will Harper be able to handle her sister’s matters, or will she disappoint her and drive them further apart? Her love life is a hot mess, so she figures that getting a little distance from the Vineyard and all the gossip won’t hurt.

You will not be disappointed with this story. It is full of humorous moments, tender family situations, heartbreak, love, and even a few (sorta) steamy romantic scenes. It has everything readers would want for a summer beach read. I read the book in one evening! Elin also compares and contrasts Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket as sister islands which are unique, much like Harper and Tabitha.

The Identicals ripped my heart out and pieced it back together with the final chapter, narrated by Fish (a dog), Harper’s faithful companion and best friend. This was a clever and fitting way to end such a beautiful story. I can hardly wait for her next summer novel to be released!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

9781250099563_3fe1aOne Perfect Lie is due for publication from Macmillan on April 11, 2017.

I always enjoy Scottoline’s stand-alone novels. They are quick reads because they are hard to put down, with just enough mystery mixed into the story line to keep readers guessing until the very end. The topics of her novels are varied so that when you read them, it doesn’t feel like a mystery you’ve read many times already with the same general story line. I appreciate that, on account of the large number of mysteries that I read. Unique is good!

One Perfect Lie is trademark Scottoline – equal parts thrilling and entertaining. “Chris Brennan” has just secured a teaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. Handsome, quick-witted, and perfect for the job, he is hired without much trouble. He’ll also be the assistant baseball coach, allowing him to get even closer to some of the students and find a much-needed baseball player to serve as a pawn . The only catch is that Chris isn’t a teacher at all, so why is he at Central Valley and what kind of game is he playing? As the intriguing stranger gets to know the students and their families, the mission he is on becomes a bit more personal, even if know one knows his real name or the reason he is hiding out at Central Valley as “Coach Brennan.”

Readers will find out Chris’s true identity and purpose about halfway through the novel, so I won’t reveal it here. What would be the fun in that?!  When one of his fellow teachers is found dead, the stakes increase and Chris has to decide what is most important to him – keeping the secrets and sticking to the mission or finally letting down his guard and feeling like he has a home. No family of his own, Chris grew up in foster care, leading him to live a pretty private adult life perfect for the type of work he is caught up in at Central Valley. He’s a very likable character, despite appearing to be the “bad guy” in the beginning of the story. Once you find out why Chris is at Central Valley, your opinion of him will likely change.

I will mention that there are quite a lot of other main characters in the story, including baseball players Jordan, Evan, and Raz and their respective families. There is even a hint of possible romance involved. Each of the young men and their family have their own unique situations and challenges. Scottoline weaves their stories in with Chris’s mission to add to the richness of the story. I just chose to focus my review on Chris’s character, but rest assured there is a lot going on in this story!

Thank you to Macmillan for the early review copy of this book.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

After having seen the book-to-movie film preview for this novel, I purchased a copy, thinking it would be like so many of the historical fiction novels of WWII that I’ve read and enjoyed. Though it was very different, I still enjoyed it very much. It took me quite a bit longer to read it than others, but I believe that is because of the large amount of quotations and well-researched background information. This is a nonfiction narrative based upon the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski during WWII in war-ravaged Warsaw, Poland. Jan was the zookeeper for the well-known and successful Warsaw Zoo. His wife, Antonina, shared a special bond with the animals at the zoo, and her courageous and compassionate personality allowed her to save over 300 people, mostly Jewish, who were seeking refuge from the Nazis during WWII. The reason the Zabinskis were able to hide so many Jewish people on the zoo property and in the villa is because of the Nazis obsession with preserving certain animals in their purification scheme. Were the Nazis not concerned with animals and zoology, Jan and Antonina would likely not have been able to save lives like they did.

The descriptions of exotic zoo animals and even common animals in the story are detailed and realistic. The author clearly completed many hours of extensive research in order to tell the Zabinski’s story, as evidenced by the lengthy chapter-by-chapter details section and the bibliography at the end of the book. This story was different from most of the WWII novels that I normally read because rather than focusing on life in a concentration camp, it detailed the daily life of those living in Poland during the war, which for some was living in constant terror and fear. Because of the wealth of detail and personal stories weaved into the story, this was not a quick read. It took me a while to get through the book, but it was worth the read and I did enjoy it very much.

I look forward to seeing the movie, because I believe it will be a nice complement to the book.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

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The River at Night is one of the best suspenseful, action-packed thrillers that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s a debut novel from author Erica Ferencik, and what a brilliant first novel it is! The story pacing rolls and twists erratically, much like the dangerous river Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra are rafting through the remote Maine wilderness. Ferencik’s characters are vividly portrayed, each uniquely drawn but vitally important to the story. The four women have been friends for many years, but don’t spend as much time together as they would like. Pia, the most adventuresome, fearless and usual leader of the group, plans a trip to the Allagash wilderness in a remote mountainous area of Maine, 30 miles from the closet town. The plan is to meet up with a river guide, Rory, a complete stranger they will have to trust with their lives to get them down the river safely. Despite the trepidation and worry involved with trying something new, Wini and the others are excited for a fun annual girls trip together. Wini is especially excited to have something to focus on, after losing her younger brother and the recent end to her 15 year marriage. The women have no idea what kind of adventure, danger, and thrills await them on the river and in the surrounding wilderness.

Rory is a twenty year old, ruggedly handsome playboy making money by offering guided trips down the raging river. Pia and Rory hit it off a little too well, causing some heated tension between the women. However, they must put their feelings aside, realizing that they depend on Rory for safety and survival. About a third of the way into their trip and partially down the river, an unforeseen tragedy strikes, plunging the women into  a living nightmare. Suddenly they are hopelessly lost and have nothing – no river guide, no supplies, no raft, and no map. Fortunately, they have  each other, but not for long.

As night descends around them in the cold, damp wilderness, they see a beacon of hope – a campfire on the side of the mountain within walking distance. Reinvigorated a bit, they set off toward the fire to find a very primitive camp inhabited by two people. Wini quickly realizes that this backwoods, filthy pair is not actually going to help the women back to civilization at all. Instead, they aim to make the group disappear by all means necessary. Thus begins a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the women flee for their lives, but also race against the clock to survive before hunger, thirst, shock, and injuries consume them.

Readers will be dumbstruck by some of the lightning-speed plot twists near the end of the story. I loved the story, even though it didn’t end on a happy note, because (small spoiler alert!) not all the women make it out of the wilderness alive. The writing is vividly real, with brutally raw, emotional scenes between the friends as they cling to each other for support and survival. I also appreciated the way the river was portrayed as a character in itself, a beautiful, but relentless force of nature.

I highly recommend this book. I read it in one evening. You won’t be able to put it down, and I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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I’m not one to re-read books. One of the reasons for this is that I always have so many books in my TBR pile, that I must keep moving forward. However, there is one particular book, which is more of a short story really, that I re-read every year around Christmas. What is even more special, perhaps, is that every year I have the pleasure of reading it aloud to my grandmother, Mary. Each year we enjoy it more so, even though we could recite many of the passages by heart. For over 15 years, we have been reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is our own Christmas tradition, a Christmas memory I hope to pass down to my children and to their children as well someday.

When people think of Capote’s work, most likely they think of In Cold Blood, a famous story with a very graphic murder scene. However, A Christmas Memory, is a personal memoir based upon Truman Capote’s young life. A Christmas Memory is about as different as can be genre-wise from In Cold Blood. The story tells of a young boy named Buddy and the time he spent with a beloved, much older relative before he was sent away to boy’s school as a teenager. (The far left book cover photo above shows a young Truman Capote and his older relative and friend.)

The story is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. Buddy, age 7, and the older Miss Sook, who was in her 60’s but had a child-like mind, lived in a house with other distant relatives who didn’t approve of them or pay much attention to them. Though they had the essentials (food, water, shelter, and clothing), Buddy and Miss Sook lived a no-frills, but enjoyable lifestyle, delighting in simple pleasures such as collecting ingredients and then making fruitcakes in the winter, playing with their old dog, Queenie, and even killing flies in return for pennies from the other relatives in the house. Perhaps their favorite time of the year and fondest memories are during “fruitcake weather” when they focus all their time, energy, and scant funds to making fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and even some people they have never met. My personal favorite is Mr. Ha-Ha Jones, who donates some liquor in exchange for “one of them fruitcakes.” Another poignant memory is making gifts for one another every Christmas, where they always realize that their friendship with one another is better than any gift money could buy. The story is pretty short, but it is filled with descriptive details which allow readers to close their eyes and easily imagine the scenes throughout. This is one of the reasons it is such a great read-aloud book. The writing is beautiful, raw, and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. If you haven’t ever read this story, I would highly recommend it. There is actually a movie out now, but the book is so much better! Read it before you watch the film.

The first time I had ever heard of A Christmas Memory was back in high school. Our English teacher read it aloud to our class, and I am so thankful that she did. Something about the story really resonated with me. I was at a used bookstore a few months later and happened to find a copy of it. My grandma and I have always talked about books and both love literature, so I shared it with her one year and we have read it every Christmas season since then! Reading this with my grandma every year is something we look forward to and enjoy so, so much. In recent years, other family members have listened in a few times, including my oldest son who is now 7 years old, Buddy’s age during the time of the story.

My grandma has always encouraged me to write, even from when I was little writing her poems and notes (which she has no doubt kept safely preserved in a box all these years). I’ve always had a special, close friendship with my grandma and she is so dear to me. And literature and the written word have always been a big part of our bond. For both of these, I am truly thankful. Below is a picture of my grandma with each of my sons when they were very young.

Is there a book or story that holds a special place in your heart? One that you have read multiple times? Please let me know in the comments!