Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

After waiting 5medium years for John Green to publish another young adult book, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the long wait was totally worth it!

Turtles All the Way Down is the story of Aza Holmes, a 16 year old high school student, and her daily struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. The author also struggles daily with obsessive compulsive disorder, and in a sense Aza’s story has been and continues to be his story. Though the story is fictional, he also writes from a very personal perspective, as he has struggled with the same mental illness since his childhood. At first, I wondered and pondered where in the world the title and the fabulous stack of orange turtle shapes on the cover came from. But then I read a great interview/article about Green and the meaning of the book and it all made sense. About three-quarters of the way through the novel, Green reveals (through Aza) why turtles are used as a symbol for Aza’s OCD thought spirals. You can read the article here.

As with most John Green novels, there is a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance to keep the story unique and oh so fun to read. Additionally, the novel takes place in Green’s hometown of Indianapolis, which I love. Born and raised a Hoosier, and having lived in Indianapolis for a number of years, I find it so cool to read about places I’ve been and roads that I’ve traveled on in a fictional story. Total fan girl moment!

Aza spends her days in class and many evenings hanging out at Applebees with her best friend Daisy. Daisy is a fun-loving character who writes Star Wars fan fiction, and certainly a friend I would like to have. Aza’s mom is a high school teacher, and her father passed away suddenly when Aza was younger. Aza dreads her required visits with her therapist, Dr. Singh, and doesn’t always take the prescribed medication, as she feels that a tiny white pill shouldn’t be in control of her decisions or her self. The story takes an interesting twist when Aza crosses paths with an old friend from “sad camp,” Davis Pickett.  Davis lost his mother at a young age, so he and Aza share a common loss – that of a parent. Davis’s father, Russell,  has mysteriously disappeared, and there is a $100,000 reward at stake for anyone who helps authorities locate him. Russell Pickett is extremely rich, but also a fugitive, who is wanted for a fraud and bribery. He disappears in order to avoid being arrested, a move which leaves Davis and his younger brother Noah to fend for themselves. Aza decides to investigate and drags Daisy into her plans. What else has she got to do? And it will give her a chance to get to know Davis a little better, now that he’s all grown up and stirs in Aza new feelings that she hasn’t felt before.

As Aza digs into Russell’s disappearance and tries to sort out what little clues there are, she also grows closer and closer to Davis. However, she is having more difficulty maintaining control of her thought spirals and OCD-induced behaviors. The story peaks and then ends on a bittersweet note, but not in an expected or predictable way, which is much appreciated.

Turtles All the Way Down is now my favorite John Green novel. Green’s personal experience with mental illness shines through in Aza’s character, causing the story to take a life of its own in such a beautiful direction. I would highly recommend this novel to teens and adults. The language is more of the adult nature, but there aren’t any explicit scenes as in some young adult books. As with all John Green novels, there are some memorable passages and quotes that will always stick with me.

Here are a few of my favorites:

When Aza sees Davis in the restaurant on date night, she notices his sleeves are exposing his forearms and notes, “I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been pretty keen on the male forearm.” I think this is perfectly quirky and lovable, just like Aza.

And my ultimate favorite is on the final page during a good-bye moment, “no one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.” Ending the book in that way leaves a hopeful outlook for Aza.

Read this book. You will love every page. Trust me. I read and I know things! (That’s on a t-shirt I saw, and I think I must have it.)

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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.

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

9780062497772_c19aeA Simple Favor will be released on March 21, 2017.

The story unfolds through the points of view of three separate unreliable narrators. One is Emily, a woman who goes missing and is presumed dead. Two is Emily’s loving, devoted, and distraught husband, Sean. The third is Stephanie, Emily’s best friend, and the mother to Emily’s son Nicky’s best friend, Miles.

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. Her blog is about the everyday excitement (as well as mundane day-to-day happenings) of raising a child, and it has quite a following. Stephanie’s husband was killed a few years prior in an accident, so she has been raising Miles on her own. Upon meeting Nicky’s mother, Emily, Stephanie is instantly drawn to her and soon considers them to be best friends, just like their sons. Stephanie seems jealous of Emily’s marriage and her prestigious career as a marketing manager for a well-known fashion brand. While Emily is wearing the latest fashion and turning heads, Stephanie is playing “Captain Mom.”

As friends and neighbors, Stephanie and Emily often help each other out with childcare, so Stephanie doesn’t think twice about saying “yes” and keeping Nicky as a simple favor for Emily when she has to work late one evening. However, when Emily doesn’t return, text, or call Stephanie after many days, she becomes very worried. Stephanie reaches out to Emily’s husband, a business man who is often away on trips and not too present as a Dad to Nicky. Together, they try to piece together their last conversations with Emily in the hope that they can find her alive and well. When Emily’s body turns up at a cabin in the Michigan woods a few months later, the plot thickens; and soon readers don’t know if any of the characters can be trusted. I won’t give away any more details, because I am a big believer in spoiler-free reviews. However, you won’t want to put this book down once you get started. It is fast paced with surprises and thrills around every corner.

A Simple Favor has many definite, undeniable similarities to Gone, Girl. Fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Luckiest Girl Alive will not want to miss this irresistible psychological thriller from Darcey Bell.

Thank you to Harper Collins for an advanced digital review copy of this title.

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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I enjoyed the first psychological thriller from Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood, but this novel was oh so much better – with a luxury cruise liner as the setting and an abundance of possibilities among the guests as to who could be the killer(s).

Laura (Lo) Blacklock, a travel journalist from London, has just landed a dream assignment – to spend a week on-board a private luxury cruise liner with a limited amount of cabins on its maiden voyage in the North Sea. On board are rich and famous people, including the owners Lord Richard & his wife, Anne. Also along for the trip are other travel journalists, including Lo’s ex, Ben. Determined to make her boss proud, no-nonsense Lo decides to enjoy her time getting to know the other passengers a bit, even though she would probably rather be a recluse in her cabin.

After being woken up in the middle of the night by a loud splashing sound, Lo thinks she sees a woman being thrown overboard from cabin 10, the cabin adjacent to hers. Cabin 10 was to be empty for this trip, but earlier in the week Lo borrowed a mascara from a young girl who appeared to be staying in Cabin 10. Now the girl is nowhere to be found, and none of the passengers or crew have seen her. Did Lo imagine it all? Is she being ultra paranoid after the recent break-in at her own flat? When she seeks help from security and then the ship’s owner, they turn it into her problem, claiming she drank too much and the medication she is on caused her to imagine the whole thing. But Lo knows she saw the girl, and she vividly remembers the blood smeared on the veranda window and the splash of a body into the frigid North Sea. So who was the girl in Cabin 10? Was she thrown overboard? By who? And now the killer knows Lo has seen something. If Lo can just keep it together until they reach a port, she thinks she’ll be able to find someone to believe her. But soon the stakes get higher and she is in way over her head. Will she be able to get away before the killer silences her for good?

This is a very fast-paced novel with an Agatha Christie-like plot. A strong-willed woman with a skeptical past thinks she has witnessed a murder, but no one believes her, causing her to become more and more paranoid of everyone around. Lo is on her own, unsure of who she can trust, while trying to solve a mystery and steer clear of a killer in very cramped quarters out on the open seas. I couldn’t put this book down, and it was suspenseful up through the final pages. Fans of psychological thrillers and authors like Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, and Mary Kubica will truly enjoy the works of Ruth Ware.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the advanced review copy.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

This story alternates between9780393081428.jpg 1919 San Francisco and 1960’s Napa, California. In 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is holding on to a dream that her long lost love, David, is still alive somewhere. David has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when it ripped Vivien’s home and entire world apart. Vivien knows grief all too well, which is how she is able to comfort complete strangers who have lost loved ones, when they come to her asking her to write an obituary.  Sadly, with both the Earthquake and the Spanish influenza, Vivien is very busy writing obituaries, and many of which are for young children. Vivien believes that dates (date of birth, date of marriage, date of death) do not matter so much as the deceased person’s story – their passions, their loves, their quirks. Her talent allows her to write perfectly fitting tributes for so many lives.

In 1960’s California, Claire is stuck in a loveless marriage with Peter. She is under-appreciated and her hopes and passions stifled by her husband on a daily basis. She wouldn’t dare leave him because of their young daughter, Kathy, and fear of what she would do on her own. Then, she meets Miles, a man who appreciates her, listens to her, and makes her come alive in ways she has never experienced before. Will she decide to remain with Peter, sacrificing any chance at future happiness? Or will she go against what is expected of her and attempt to start over.

This is a wonderful, historically-rich tale of family, loss, love, hope, and courage. Both Vivien and Claire are strong women and lovely characters who will draw readers in and capture their hearts. The author brings the two women together in a most unexpected and extraordinary way at the end. I would highly suggest this story for fans of historical fiction, romantic fiction, and mainstream adult fiction. It’s a quick read, but it will remain in your memory far after you turn the last page.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners offers fast-paced thrills and suspense. The main character, Tessa, is sort of an unreliable narrator, causing readers to wonder whether she can truly be trusted, or if she is in on some secret herself. As more of Tessa’s family history and past is revealed, readers may start to feel sorry for her, rooting for her to make it out of the nightmare her life has become.

We first meet Tessa as she travels from Florida, where she lives with her aging Gram, back to her hometown. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, and is only going to say goodbye to her father, who is in prison and dying of cancer. He has been in prison for most of her life, and the memories of her father from childhood are mostly sad and violent. Tessa ends up staying with her former best friend and childhood playmate, Callie, who she also hasn’t seen in 10 years. Callie was born into a loving, stable family whereas Tessa came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Despite their differences, they were best friends once, prior to being separated at the age of 8. Now, neither wants to admit the truth of what actually happened 10 years ago to the other.

While they are in a sort of standstill with each other, one of their mutual old friends, Arial, goes missing and her body is found shortly thereafter. Her murder matches that of the Ohio River Monster, a man named Stokes, who is only behind bars because of 8 year old Callie’s and Tessa’s testifying that he abducted and then killed Callie’s cousin, Lori. So, if Stokes is still locked up, does that mean the Ohio River Monster is still on the loose and has been the whole time? Add into the mix that neither Tessa’s mother or sister have contacted her in 10 years and she is unable to locate either of them. What does that mean for Tessa? Who can she trust, and why is her family in hiding? Tessa has to figure out who the real serial killer is before it’s too late.

The ending is totally unexpected and will throw readers for a tailspin, in a good way, of course. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to suspense, mystery, and thriller fans.

 

The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block

This book will be published September 8, 2015 by Grand Central Publishing.

The Girl Without a Name is a psychological suspense novel that I really enjoyed. Dr. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist completing her residency in the children’s psych ward. Certain events in Zoe’s past are still coming back to haunt her, and she actually sees a psychiatrist herself, which is rather ironic. Zoe’s real mother and foster mother have both passed away and her only remaining family is her brother, Scotty, and dog, Arthur. She also has a boyfriend, Mike, who is an ER doctor. When a new patient arrives, Zoe begins to doubt some of the treatment courses the attending physician, Dr. Tad Berringer, prescribes. The patient, referred to as “Jane,” because her identity is unknown, is a young African American girl in a catatonic state who doesn’t remember where she came from, or how she ended up in the hospital. She has a peculiar scar on her ankle, and is mysteriously being given medications even though no once claims to have prescribed them for her. Zoe begins working alongside a seasoned police detective with whom she has come into contact in her past. She starts to uncover clues about “Jane,” and puts her own career in jeopardy to ensure that “Jane” is safe. It doesn’t help that Dr. Berringer is a married, heartthrob who begins to take more interest in Zoe after he informs her that he is getting a divorce. Will Zoe fall for his charm? How can she know who to trust with the truth about the patient. The plot is fast paced, and I read it very quickly.