The Echo Killing – Review

“She could trace her career, her life, and her obsessive interest in crime and criminals back to that single day, fifteen years ago.”

Harper McClain is a crime journalist. A good one, making a living in Savannah, going places normal journalists can’t due to her closer relationship with the police. That relationship developed from the sense of duty and responsibility Lieutenant Smith feels over never solving her mother’s murder. She lost her mother, but gained a large police family in return.

When Harper watches a young girl being escorted out of a house with the same lost expression she once wore, she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. Everything is too similar, but everywhere she turns, she gets told to stop investigating.

But she can’t. When your world is turned upside down, and the chance to finally find the answer is offered, you can’t stop. She won’t. Risking everything she has gained, Harper plunges deeper into unraveling the murder, looking for answers the police refuse to find.

“This scene was torn from her own tormented childhood. She’d been that little girl once, standing in front of her house with Smith holding her hand.”

The Echo Killing is an enthralling read. Harper is a solid main character. She feels very real. I like that when she makes bad decisions, there were actually consequences, rather than a snappy character who manages to talk her way out of everything. It makes it feel more grounded in reality, rather than an obvious work of fiction. Plus, when she has to figure out how to proceed without her normal resources, it gives the plot unexpected paths to follow.

I also really like that when she makes her bad decisions, you still feel like her motivations are easily understood, even when you don’t agree with them. The fact that no one else seems to see the connection makes it even more maddening for her. To everyone else, this is just another case. To Harper, this is potentially life altering. Which makes understanding where she’s coming from, even when you’re screaming at her to knock it off, much easier.

Daugherty writes such vivid descriptions of Savannah, that it becomes less scenery and more a character in its own right. They aren’t overdone, but you get a sense of the landscape and scenery in a way that gives the entire book a certain feel. It’s lush and three dimensional. I also loved how she was able to highlight the differences of the city at night, Harper’s domain, and the city during the day.

“On the street, the warm, humid air smelled of exhaust and something else — something metallic and hard to define. Like fear.”

One of my favorite things about this novel is the banter. You get the sense when reading that you’re eavesdropping on real people. That’s not an easy trick for any writer to pull off. I also really enjoyed that the side characters didn’t feel created in a slew of stereotypes. They really did feel as complex and detailed as anyone you’d meet on the street.

Beyond getting a view of life as a crime reporter, we see the different faces of the people who work all aspects of these cases. As we go along to various crime scenes, we see different journalists, ambulance personnel, and witnesses. You get a feel for all the different pieces that are in play during an investigation. This realistic flair is probably due to Daugherty’s own experience. Which gives the entire novel a more gritty, realistic feel than typical crime fiction.

“In murder cases, there are two ways things tend to go — either everything happens very quickly and the killer’s locked up with twenty-four hours, or the process slows to a crawl.”

My one complaint is that I figured out who the killer was almost from the beginning. It felt very obvious to me. I’m also not sure how I feel about this plot point, which for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get into. While I did enjoy the book and the characters, I would have liked to have been surprised by the big reveal. So, watching it unfold the way I thought was a touch disappointing.

However, I did like how Daugherty planted clues leading into the next book’s plot, which I am curious about. In all, this book is quite a fun ride, and was very enjoyable to read. I loved the characters and would be quite interested in reading more of Harper’s journey in crime reporting.

The Echo Killing is available now. This book is perfect for taking on vacation, so add it to your Spring Break reading list.

Thank you Minotaur Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Wife – Review

“In an instant, I became the woman they assumed I’d been all along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.”

The Wife asks us: how far should a wife go to protect those she loves? A question we all think we know the answer to. A question we all think we can answer ourselves. This assumption, the arrogance we have thinking we know simple answers to complex questions, is precisely where Alafair Burke wants us.

From the very beginning we know a few things. We know that there’s a detective on Angela’s doorstep. One who has been involved with their family before. We know her husband is under some sort of suspicion, that the detective wants to know where he was the previous night. We know Angela lies. We know a woman’s missing.

“I should have slammed the door, but she was baiting me with the threat of incoming shrapnel. I’d rather take it in the face than wait for it to strike me in the back.”

As the story unfolds, we find out that the innocent encounter with an intern that Jason told Angela about, may be closer to harassment than he portrayed. We see how quickly Jason falls out of favor from the University he works at, and with the news stations he is a reoccurring guest on. How fast he is condemned in the world before charges are even brought.

When a new woman brings harsher allegations, sexual assault, with evidence, a simple misunderstanding becomes harder to explain. As Jason works with his lawyer to defend himself, pieces of Angela’s past start rising to the surface. Pieces that she desperately wants to keep hidden.

“I’ve told him it has nothing to do with the past. It’s rational for me to be more afraid than he is.”

To make things even more complicated for Angela, she desperately wants to protect their son Spencer from all the rumor, gossip, and speculation. Private school in New York is nothing if not deadly in the court of public opinion. Spencer is one of my favorite characters in this book. Though he loves Jason and calls him dad, he is loyal to his mother in a way that single mothers will recognize. He lives for her, and she for him. It isn’t just her own secrets that she is so determined to protect.

Burke writes sharp characters with a sharper commentary on society at large woven into the plot. Even though we don’t know exactly what happened, as the story unfolds we are given a scrap of information at a time. Burke gives us emails, news reports, clips from police reports, along with the perspectives of the detective, Corrine, and Angela. With each new piece of information we have to shift, examine what we thought we knew, and form new opinions.

The way Burke leads us down the path to assumptions is brilliant. She gives us the characters own biases and opinions when presenting the new fact, or perspective. This all helps build the narrative. The one where we think we’re being unbiased. Where we think we know where the information is leading. Each bias, each new piece of information, builds the doubt, and yet somehow, you still think you know where we are heading.

“To know something, he argued, was not the same as to be certain beyond all doubt. And to believe something was definitely not the same as to know it.”

In a world of viral news, The Wife is a stellar examination of the reality we live in. When does an allegation become fact? When should it? Beyond just the ideas of what we think our opinions are, Burke constantly knocks us off balance by presenting a different side to the same piece of information. How drastically can one side vary from another, and both feel true? In a world of twisting perceptions, how can we ever really know the truth?

We go through the court of public opinion and end up in an actual courtroom. Throughout it all we get the details as the investigation uncovers them. But, it isn’t just the pieces of information in regards to Jason that Burke presents to us and uses against us. It’s also the secrets of Angela’s past. Just like she presents the facts in regards to Jason, we get a slow unveil of her past.

The Wife is a more subtle exploration of what it is to be a victim. To be victimized. Is Angela the victim? The accusers? The accused? Burke shows us every side, shifting and changing the second we feel confident of our answers. This is an exercise in judgement. How we find it. How we wield it. It asks the question: can we ever hope to find it.

I loved this book! It isn’t just the nuance of thriller or mystery that makes it excellent. The ending blind sides you. We don’t ever get complete answers to some of the questions we’re presented with, but we discover, that doesn’t really matter. It’s a reality check that we can’t ever really know the truth of a person. We never really know who they are. What they’re capable of. No matter how many angles we look from.

Tracy from @thepagesinbetween and I are hosting a #wickedreadalong this month for this book! We hope you can join us!

March 16: pages 1 – 171 on my Instagram page @jenabrownwrites

March 30: pages 172-338 on Tracy’s Instagram page @thepagesinbetween

And please! Check out our very first #blogsquad joint review on The Obscurist, the new blog for the subscription box Paper Obscura. Go give us some love! And if you end up joining, (which you totally should), use my code WICKEDJENA for a wicked discount!


Pride & Prometheus – Review

“It showed that people could convince themselves of things that, in a sober moment, they would recognize were not true.”

Pride and Prometheus is the delightful combination of two beloved classics: Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While it may seem difficult to imagine how the two stories could merge, John Kessel makes the marriage between the two merge seamlessly. The transition happens so easily that it isn’t difficult to imagine this is the natural progression in both stories.

We pick up ten years after Pride & Prejudice ends, with the two youngest sisters, Mary and Kitty Bennett, still unmarried. Victor Frankenstein, still running from the creature he created and his, as yet, unfulfilled promise to create a Bride, runs into the sisters at a party in London. Having fled Europe under the false belief that the creature couldn’t follow him.

“As a girl Mary had believed that the notion of following the heart was foolishness, but could one find happiness without following the heart?”

There’s something delightful in the way both of these classic stories focus on marriage, the expectations of society, and the nature of love. Which makes their merging all the more natural. The Creature wants only companionship and longs for a mate, much in the way the Bennett sisters do. Once you start to see these themes emerge, it becomes obvious how these novels fit together.

Kessel nails the language and feel from both of the novels. He pulls from them to weave little details into the narration, which made Pride and Prometheus quite an authentic and enriching experience. I was thrilled to see Mr. Bennett once again, and loved that the characterization of how he would age stayed true to the Mr. Bennett we all know and love. Of course, we also see Mr. Darcy and Lizzie, though they aren’t featured very prominently in this story. However, even though their inclusion was brief, the essence of their character was held true.

“Two weeks later Darcy arrived to once again save Mary from herself. He had become accustomed to this role with regard to his wife’s sisters over the years, and though he was weary of it, he did not reprove Mary any more than she did herself.”

For anyone worried, this novel somehow blends the gothic horror of Frankenstein perfectly with the regency romance of Pride & Prejudice. The themes of companionship, love, the search for the truth of who we are are in both the original novels and work to create this new extension of the stories. The heart of the characters are maintained while giving them a plot line we wouldn’t have imagined.

Two hundred years later, and these books are once again given new life. As I was reading I found myself wanting to revisit them, to read them and imagine this new future for the characters. Seriously, how fun is it to imagine the gentlemanly duty that Darcy would embody while cleaning up the messes of the Bennett girls?! It reminds us that while Lizzie may have gotten her happily ever after, her sisters and family wouldn’t just disappear from her life.

In the same aspect, we see the future that Victor set his path on. Running, hiding, trying to deny the horror he feels of the consequences of creating life. And seeing how the Creature himself has evolved. They are still grappling with the questions we were left with: what does it mean to be human?

What really makes these two stories blend so well, is the focus of society. Women in Austin’s world had to focus on what society thought of them. They couldn’t be unchaperoned, or behave in ways that could tarnish their reputations without fear of repercussions. In the same way, the Creature shows us that darker side of humanity. How people can judge, and react, sometimes violently. In many ways the Bennett sisters and the Creature share the same plight, the same frustrations, and the same journey.

“For the Creature was right: she had no power to change what the world would think and do. But that was the nature of love: one did not offer it with any assurance that it would change the world, even if in the end it was the only thing that could.”

I realize I am not really giving much in the way of plot. That’s on purpose. This novel is a journey that should be taken a bit by surprise. Part of the joy is in discovering how these characters come to be introduced and then intertwined. It’s a novel full of surprising twists, each one encapsulating the heart and soul of Shelley and Austin.

If you enjoy taking classic novels and adding quirky twists to them, this novel is seriously screaming your name. It’s been a while since I’ve read either novel, but I was quickly drawn in and reminded of both stories. I wanted to reread them, imagining the future that lies in store for them. Kessel creates a new book, but he does so by paying proper respect and homage to these classic works. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it!

Thank you Wunderkind PR for sending me a review copy!

Pride and Prometheus hi res coverPride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

For Sale Now! Get it at your favorite retailer using the links below:

–Barnes & Noble:

About the Author:

Kessel author photo_final_(C) 2016 John Pagliuca

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel’s most recent book is the new novel Pride and Prometheus.  He is the author of the earlier novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.

Kessel’s stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Poll, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. His play “Faustfeathers’” won the Paul Green Playwright’s Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction. In 2009 his story “Pride and Prometheus” received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sf, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.

Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, live and work in Raleigh, NC.

Things To Do When It’s Raining – Review

“Some things are better kept secret. And some things are not: life’s most difficult task is to know which is which.”

Things To Do When It’s Raining is a novel full of all the deep feelings. Prepare yourself for a novel full of tragedy and heartbreaking beauty. Marissa Stapley takes you into the reality of near misses, misunderstandings, and the weight of secrets.

Mae Summers is content with her life. She has an incredible fiancé, a secure job at the growing company he owns, and is well on her way to making her dreams come true. It’s a bit of a blow when she wakes up one morning to realize it was all built on lies.

After Peter disappears revealing the scam his company, and his life were, Mae is forced to return home. Life in Alexandria Bay, the sleepy tourist town she grew up in, is far different from life in New York City. While a change of pace might be good for Mae, she comes home to ghosts of her past.

Her grandfather isn’t living at home, her grandmother is acting strangely, and Gabe, her childhood love, has returned. As Mae sorts through her emotions and tries to make sense of her new life, the answers to these questions may demand more forgiveness than she can manage.

“She starts to run, forgetting the fear of the ice and focusing instead on her fear of the truth.”

I really liked how this novel was set up. In between each chapter, there’s an item from the list Mae’s mother, Virginia, posted on the wall of their family Inn, appropriately titled: Things To Do When It’s Raining. One of the more subtle tragic twists is this list, the focus on rain, and Mae’s parents. When you put that one together, it just hurts your heart!

We also get multiple perspectives, not just Mae. Gabe, Lilly and George, all have their own secrets and struggles to work through. Changing the narration to give a more personal look at each storyline made the novel feel more realistic. Mae couldn’t possibly uncover these secrets on her own, and the novel would have felt more murder mystery if she had. Instead, we get a very rich and complex set of tangled lives. Which is generally how secrets end up. Tangled and woven into our lives in ways we never really expect, or sometimes even understand.

“She had told him she loved him then, and she had cried, and he had known that there were too many things he was never going to be able to say to her.”

The one storyline I struggled with the most was Lilly. I didn’t really understand her motives for doing some of the things she did. I mean, logically I understand the information presented. But, there were a couple of things that felt so cruel, it was hard to feel like she justified doing them.

Beyond Lilly’s secrets and actions though, the core of the novel really is about how we perceive ourselves and how we let others determine that perception. Of all of the narrations, Gabe’s is the most heartbreaking. The secrets he keeps are more from the burdens others placed on him as a child. For Gabe, while he seeks the forgiveness of others, he really needs to forgive himself. That’s the hardest thing, and leads to such heartbreak for him. There are many times you want to reach through the book and hug him. And smack the adults around him.

“He loved her because he understood what it meant to be wounded, and to inflict wounds in return.”

Stapley takes us into some deep emotions, the type that take a minute to sort out. I’m still undecided on how I feel about Lilly for example. But she also gives us redemption and hope. We get a novel that shows us life at it’s messiest. At how good intentions can quickly turn poisonous, and how difficult it can be to untangle ourselves from the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others tell us.

We get to see people at their best and also at their worst. It makes it difficult to love or hate them in a black and white spectrum, and I really enjoy that in a cast of characters. You’ll want to react but will also hold yourself back, and possible change your mind. There are times you want to strangle them or scream at them, but then you’ll be exposed to their own flawed humanity and your heart will break for them. It is an accomplishment to take you through the spectrum of reactions to multiple characters.

“People change their minds about things. It just happens. You can’t stay sure about everything your whole life.”

People change. They make mistakes. They live in regret. Forgiveness is a journey that we all go through at some stage and to some degree. Whether we seek it from others, or search from it within ourselves. Stapley does a beautiful job writing a story full of mistakes, misconceptions, secrets, lies, and at the heart of it all is forgiveness and the power of love.

Things To Do When It’s Raining is a beautifully complex novel that would be perfect for a book club, or book discussion. There’s so many facets to explore. I think the conversation would be fascinating!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review for #WRC2018!!!

She Regrets Nothing – Review

“Liberty had always been plagued by the sense that her immense privilege meant that she owed some substantial debt. But what exactly she owed, and to whom, was never clear.”

She Regrets Nothing is a coming of age tale set in the world of mass privilege and wealth. The story centers on the Lawrence family, divided nearly twenty years ago with a scandal no one will talk about.

When Liberty Lawrence, finds out they have a cousin living in Michigan, she tries to find out more about their history. And why they have never reached out to the family. But when Laila’s mother dies, leaving her an orphan, Liberty decides enough is enough and works to close the chasm in the family once and for all.

“She was reminded by meeting her cousin that you only had so much time with people, only so many chances to make things right. Holding grudges — as her father had obviously done with his brother — was never worthwhile.”

Laila Lawrence was raised not knowing the wealth her grandfather built in New York. She knew nothing of the lavish lifestyle of her cousins or the comfortable trust fund given to each of them. When she finds out she can’t help but feel that she is being denied her right to her share. She becomes determined to fight her way into the family, whether they welcome it or not.

Her refusal to give up on what she sees as her fair share, threatens to open the scandal that cut her father out of the family in the first place, along with potentially setting off a string of new scandals in her wake.

“Laila’s foremost skill seemed to be burning bridges so thoroughly that there would be no hope of return — perhaps this was her way of daring herself to keep going.”

This book is dripping full of privilege and entitlement. It would be difficult to write the story in a way that didn’t have it. The idea that Laila feels she is owed, with little knowledge of the reason behind why she has been cut out, screams nothing if not entitlement. The decisions she makes paint her in a not very flattering light, one screaming of social climber and a ruthless one at that.

That’s not to say that Laila is the villain of this book. Nearly everyone in the book could be a villain. Certainly none of them are innocent, or unblemished with their own biases that wealth has afforded them. Which makes this book a delightful and intriguing look at that darker unspoken side to wealth.

Dunlop does a fantastic job painting a vivid picture of not just the Lawrence family, but their friends and acquaintances. It’s difficult to really sympathize with any of them, short of Liberty, but even she carries with her a biased view of the world. She loathes the very money that paved the road to her independence, but anyone looking in can see that she wouldn’t be who or where she is without the money. A fact that she seems blinded to.

“It was a rich woman’s paradox: she didn’t need the money, so she didn’t chase it and was therefore followed by it everywhere.”

The fact that Laila is exactly like the rich people who look down on her is irony at it’s finest. She is just as calculating, and willing to act on her impulses and whims as they are. It’s just that she doesn’t have the pillow of wealth to protect her from the consequences and judgment like they do. Which is simply a fascinating look at how we forgive the wealthy for some horrific behaviors and then condemn the poor for behaving in the same manner.

While the book primary focuses on Liberty and Laila, there is a rather interesting examination of men and women. The roles they play, and how wealth drives the power between the genders is raised throughout the plot. There are multiple examples of how differently men and women view marriage and their role within it. While these women have much more power than the average housewife becomes questionable as each back story is revealed and explored.

Woven into this dissection of gender, is the topic of sex and beauty. Laila is clearly the young, vixen-like woman who uses her beauty as a type of currency. Again, she does this with scorn, when Nora, tries to do the same and is forgiven her efforts since she is not as beautiful but infinitely more wealthy. The conversation on beauty and how it is perceived, used and scorned is fascinating in each female characters. Liberty, conversely, is also beautiful, but sees her beauty as a liability and not an asset. But again, her wealth protects her from connotations of spinster or stuck up, and makes her enigmatic and mysterious.

“Betsy often spoke this way of Laila’s looks, as though they were a thing separate from her entirely, something that Betsy had handed down to her and that she now had a responsibility to use properly.”

There are two scenes, separated in the book, that really strike home for me the very dichotomy of Laila and Liberty and how unfairly one is viewed. They both involve sex, and without giving too many details, I found both of these encounters to be somewhat similar, but Laila’s I’m sure is met with more scorn and blame than Liberty’s. These were both powerless women being used by powerful men, yet one is more sympathetic than the other.

“How easily we’ll look past a person’s fatal flaws if their beauty is striking enough.”

This book is full of these dissections and conversations, which are very #richpeopleproblems. There is an elite tone throughout the book that is impossible to ignore, and if you get caught in that scandalous yet superficial plot, it would seem that this book is frivolous and meaningless. However, this book highlights the problems inherent in our society by focusing in on one family. We are more forgiving of wealth, and scorn those seeking it. We are more likely to hold a woman more accountable for her beauty if she uses it in any way that we view as inappropriate. We excuse ruthlessness in a man and condone it in women. We forget the privilege some people are born with and become complicit in their entitlement.

“She found it wearisome how these Manhattan kids congratulated each other so much for winning a hundred-yard dash they’d begun at the ninety-yard line.”

She Regrets Nothing is dark and devious. It is full of delicious scandal. Everything about each character is appalling yet fascinating. This book is for anyone who wants to peel back the shiny veneer on wealth and expose it for all it’s hypocrisy. The ending will shock you and yet is highly satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.

Thank you BookSparks and Atria Books for sending me a copy to read, review and promote for #WRC2018.

The Great Alone – Review

** This review (and the book) will contain possible triggers regarding domestic abuse and violence **

“It’s like his back is broken, Mama had said, and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us.”

So we meet the Allbright family. Ernt and Cora, along with their daughter Lenora, or Leni for short. They find themselves struggling to forge a life in a country torn apart by war and in the midst of social change. Ernt is broken, not adjusting back into everyday life after returning to the States from a POW camp in Vietnam. And while women are burning their bras and marching for change, Cora still can’t get even a credit card without her husband or fathers signature. Cora and Leni need Ernt.

When he receives a letter from the father of a man he served with, offering them land and a home on a piece of property in remote Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is the second chance he needs. That in the great expanse of Alaskan wilderness he will find the peace he is searching for and be able to finally take care of his family. Cora, desperate for the man she feel in love with to return, readily agrees. What they can’t sell, they pack the rest into their VW bus and head North.

“The last frontier was like her dad, it seemed. Larger than life. Expansive. A little dangerous.”

Summer in Alaska is a bit magical. Light that never quite fades, the beauty and majesty of Alaska captivating, enthralling, bewitching. Hannah captures the essence of this lush landscape in her words, and you feel the hope the Allbright’s feel in their first months in Alaska. They are welcomed into the tight community, and the constant work is good for Ernt to help keep his demons at bay.

But, we know, all magic comes with a price. And that price is Winter. As the days grow shorter, and the weather tightens it’s grip, making the world smaller, Ernt has to face the demons he’s been running from.

“Terrible and beautiful. It’s how you know if you’re cut out to be an Alaskan. Most go running back to the Outside before it’s over.”

We get this novel mostly from the perspective of Leni. Spanning her youth from 13 on, the majority of the book is spent in her teenage years. We see her parents toxic relationship entirely from her point of view, which makes it feel maddening and heart breaking. She understands and doesn’t understand. She is confused, not just what her father is going through, and why he behaves the way he does, but why her mother dances this dance as well.

This narrative is heartbreaking because we go through each tumultuous up and down with Leni. We feel her confusion. We feel her heartbreak. We feel her anger and her rage and her deep sadness. Our heart breaks with her over and over and over again.

The Great Alone is a slower novel, building into each explosive moment with quiet ease. In this way, I think Hannah does an excellent job showing how slowly these violent situations can grow. How they can start small, each explosion a little worse, and a little worse. How that makes it hard to see the violence for the truth of it. And by the time you do, it can be too late.

Showing us this slow escalation through the eyes of Leni gives us the tragic view of a child. How things can go from stable and sure, to unstable and unsure at a moments notice. Leni can only try to understand what she sees and hears from her mother, and those answers aren’t always satisfying, to her or the reader. But, she loves her mother, and as a child, she is trapped in the decisions of her parents and has to sort them out as best she can.

“But was she supposed to be trapped forever by her mother’s choice and her father’s rage?”

We also have the added element of PTSD, though the name wasn’t around at the time. This is also a slow descent into madness for Ernt as well. We don’t begin with a violent man, but time and choices wear him down. I don’t think this was done to evoke sympathy for Ernt, but perhaps to show how tangled these situations can be for the people woven into them.

Writing domestic abuse isn’t easy. Since we are getting this narration through Leni’s eyes, we don’t get full explanations. We get glimpses into understanding. Excuses and half explanation in conversation with her mother. We see how love and hate can become mixed, and how difficult it can be to really untangle when love becomes too toxic to save.

“Someone said to me once that Alaska didn’t create character; it revealed it.”

Hannah uses the actual setting of Alaska almost as another character in the book. She shows that living in this harsh, rugged environment can be incredibly beautiful, with descriptions so gorgeous they make you ache. Her prose is lyrical and wondrous, showing the beauty that can be both breathtaking and deadly. She brings Alaska alive and shows us that it is a changing, demanding, living thing.

Using the landscape of Alaska gives the entire book a visceral feel. You can feel how dangerous and beautiful Cora’s love for Ernt is in the very nature of where they live. How it can feel full of hope and light during the summer months. Yet it can be isolating and terrifying in the winter. How it can be simultaneously breathtaking and wondrous, but also cold and cruel.

The Great Alone takes us down a difficult journey. It is beautiful but painful, and there are many scenes that are incredibly hard to read. There is hope and redemption, but like living in Alaska, it takes work. You have to get through the cold, harsh winter to experience the magic of summer. This is a novel about love and loss, heartbreak and despair, resiliency and hope. It is a book that will stay with you and change you.

Thank you BookSparks and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy to read and review for #WRC2018!

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow – Review

“How quickly humans could turn on each other when fed suspicion. Like smoke tossed out as solid evidence, whispered into the frightened ears of those needing someone to blame in order to feel safe again.”

Sofi Snow is a gamer. Working as part of a team of gamers to help her Corporation fight for blood and glory in the FanFight Games, a sport combining virtual gaming with real life. In a world where the corporations took over in the place of governments world wide, playing in these games means a chance at freedom. A chance at life.

“The Fantasy Fighting Games had been the result of Earth’s unquenchable thirst for virtual fun, violent sports, and citizen-elected superstars.”

When a bomb explodes, killing her brother Shilo and nearly her entire gaming team, Sofi wakes up to a world she doesn’t recognize. A world where corporate espionage and power plays are working at things she doesn’t understand. But her life is at risk, and although all evidence shows her brother is dead, Sofi knows he’s alive.

Risking everything, she turns to a man she should hate to take her to the alien planet hovering just beyond our moon. Even though these aliens saved the planet, giving humanity life saving technology and working to establish diplomatic peace, Sofi can’t ignore feeling that her brother has been taken to their planet. Following her gut, she convinces Miguel help her get to the planet’s secretive surface.

“Miguel snorted and continued to study their faces as he sketched. A habit developed years ago by way of analyzing them. “You study them,” his father once told him, “if you want to work with them.”

Miguel enjoys high levels of freedom and privilege as an Ambassador to the Delonese. It isn’t just his reputation that he risks in helping Sofi. He’s also being blackmailed to help the ensure blame for the bombing lands on a certain Corporation.

Both Miguel and Sofi will need to decide who to trust and whether they can trust each other, regardless of their history together. The consequences of their decisions could be much higher than either of them realized.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is YA intended for the teenage reader. While adults can read, enjoy and appreciate the story, I found that this is a book written for her target audience. So while it was a fun read, and went by really fast, it was difficult for me to get lost in.

I also did not know going in that this is published under the umbrella of Christian fiction. While I didn’t find any religious undertones, I did notice that things like swearing was weird. Instead of making up swearing like many futuristic dystopians tend to do, or eliminate it all together, Weber chose to use words like gad, dangit, and heck. This felt like another example of aiming towards a very young teenage audience, but it pulled me out of the story. It felt unnecessary, and the sentences they were used in could have easily been rewritten to not allude to swearing at all, and been stronger for it.

In contrast, characters would use dialogue like ‘WTF’ and talk about how promiscuous Sofi is, which felt odd to me as well. If we can’t even say damn, why are we talking about her sleeping around? It made the non-swearing feel disingenuous, and again, in my opinion, the story would have been better had it been left out entirely. I also didn’t really understand why the promiscuity was raised at all since it didn’t fit with Sofi’s character or seem to serve a plot purpose.

All that said, I do think that this would be a fantastic book if you have teenagers at home. There are a lot of great topics to discuss wrapped in the plot like global warming, the role of corporations in our government, the use of power both in corporations and government, the advancement of technology, the potential of virtual reality, privacy, and even being able to use the idea of aliens to bring up feeling left out, different, or how to view people/cultures who are different from us. This book brings up a lot of those topics and could be used as a fantastic launching point for future discussions.

Overall, this book is a fun idea, and has enough mystery written into the plot to keep me going. I do need to find out what the deal with these aliens is. But, I do wish I had known it was intended for a younger audience, I could have adjusted my reading expectations accordingly.

The Wolves Of Winter – Review

“Snow can save you and sustain you, crush you and kill you. Snow is a fickle bastard.”

The Wolves Of Winter is a phenomenal debut post apocalyptic novel! I devoured this incredible book in a day. From the moment I opened the pages it was impossible to put down.

Gwendolynn, or Lynn, as she prefers, is living with her family in the North Yukon. After raging nuclear war and a viral flu managed to take out most of the population, her father included, her family fled to the far reaches of civilization in hopes of finding survival. And survive they did. Until Lynn comes across Jax and his husky Wolf.

“If I wasn’t embarrassed by Mom’s paranoia, I probably would have thought the sight of her cooking food with a  shotgun in her hand was hilarious.”

Jax is the first stranger they encounter, but he isn’t the last. With each new encounter, Lynn is pushed into a new world, finding out secrets about herself and her family that were long buried. Survival takes on a whole new meaning, and Lynn has to learn survival with a whole new set of rules.

“Arrows are like snow or sorrow or secrets – they seem small and light, but their weight adds up.”

As I mentioned, this book is a crazy addictive read. The way Johnson writes is simple yet powerful. He creates such stunning imagery but you never feel pulled out of the plot or the action, even when describing the snow. It all feels natural, fitting. It gives you the feel of being there, with Lynn, in this wild place. This, in addition to the pace he sets, makes you really connect with Lynn. Because in her world, even when things are quiet, you never know when deadly danger is right around the corner. That state of suspense is held throughout each page, even her memories.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this book was how Johnson handled explaining the world before compared to the world now. Lynn flashes to memories of before, but they are brief, to the point, and all tie in with what is happening to her in the present. Again, rather than pull you out of the plot, it actually pushes you further into Lynn’s head, because this is how our brains work. Thinking, remembering, all while currently doing. It made her feel more real to me.

“If fear had a sound, thats what it sounded like. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of men. Crunch. Creak. Closer. Closer. Closer.”

The world Johnson has created is chilling. Besides the obvious nod to the frozen world stuck in perpetual winter, the actions humanity took to trigger these catastrophic events sound frighteningly similar to news reports we listen to today. It’s easy to imagine this world, which makes the reading that much more intense. The goal of post-apocalyptic fiction should be to serve as a warning of things that could come, and The Wolves Of Winter nails it!

Lynn is an amazing protagonist. She’s strong and fierce but is also flawed. She’s stubborn and makes choices that make things worse for her and her family. In her defense, her decisions were based on keeping information from her, but she still defies her mother and uncle to make them. Yet, even when you know she’s making a bad choice, you feel her yearning and curiosity for the world at large. To see what’s left. To hope for something better. Her humanity is stunning in that sense, and makes her so vivid to me.

“I was in one of my moods, the ones that can be changed only by long bouts of solitude. Strange, the things that survive the apocalypse.”

For a novel full of harsh realities and intensity, there are only brief moments of violence. They happen, but aren’t graphic or overdone. They are used to illustrate and highlight the reality of this world. Survival can bring out the best of mankind, and it can also bring out the worst. Even if we don’t see the entire possibility happen in person, we still get a sense of how bad things could get. How bad people could be.

As each memory helps us understand what happened, and the days drive forward for Lynn, pieces of an obscure puzzle fit into place. Things begin to make sense, and we start to understand the reason behind the secrets. We also increase our fear as the danger in the situation continues to escalate.

I don’t want to reveal anything in the plot, not beyond the blurb because this novel unravels itself in such a beautiful way. The connections between past and present, the possibility of the future, they are all paced and revealed with amazing momentum, never too soon, and never making you wait too long. I am very curious to find out if there is more to this story, because the novel ends in a way that could simply be ambiguous and open, or as a possibility to a sequel. I am very much hoping for a sequel, myself.

If reading about the world gone wrong, with a Call Of The Wild feel added to it, combined with a beautiful prose, sounds like something you’d enjoy, then you need to pick this book up! This is a debut novel from a voice that I will be anxiously awaiting to hear again.

Thank you Scribner Books for sending me a copy to read and review.

The Wife Between Us – Review


“Assume nothing.”

The Wife Between Us warns us on the very cover to assume nothing. It tells us explicitly to expect a ride where we can’t see the road ahead. It tells us, and still, the assumptions came. Still I tried to see.

There are three people involved in this book: Richard, his ex-wife and his current fiancé. Throughout the book though, we only get the perspective of the two women. Richard is the thing that ties them together, but this book is about the women.

We are taken down a road of perceptions. How we perceive ourselves, how other people perceive us, how we perceive those perceptions. And the writers have taken it a step further and involved the reader into these impressions. They rely on how we understand and predict characters, plot, twists. This novel is fiction, but it is also interactive. We are part of the twists, whether we like it or not.

The subtlety in the writing is stunning. Hendricks and Pekkanen lull us into the very assumptions they warn us against. They woo us into believing that the warning is a hype, that there can’t possibly be another angle we haven’t thought about. Until the first twist hits you.

But unlike a roller coaster, where you can see the escalation and prepare for it, the first twist hits you like a car crash. Sudden. Abrupt. Unseen. Unexpected. I sat up in bed, my brain demanding that I stop and reevaluate everything I had read up until that point. And this isn’t happening at the end of the book, this is merely a third of the way in.

Even after the hit, once again, the authors take us down a calmer road. They once again woo us into trusting our own beliefs. They convince us that we can’t possibly be surprised again, now that we know their game, we can anticipate the next move. Except we can’t.

Again and again, this novel slams into you. Taking everything you think you know and using it against you. It is brilliant and shocking and such a fantastic ride!

It’s difficult to write this review, since there is so much written within the narrative that you simply have to experience yourself. It isn’t a book I can’t tell you about without taking away from your own ride. Just know, that it is fantastic. The psychology both in the writing of the characters and in how the writers use the readers own natural assumptions is breathtaking.

This book will be compared to many novels that have swept through the literary world. But those comparisons don’t do the novel justice. This book IS the next big thing. This is the book that thrillers will be compared to and held up to. This is the book that you will talk about and recommend and obsess over.

I know that this review is very vague. I find myself struggling with how to write a review that captures the essence of what I read. Listing every synonym to fantastic, stunning, phenomenal, etc doesn’t seem to be appropriate, yet I hesitate to put in any details. To give away any hints would be criminal.

I said before that this book is interactive. The reader is submersed into the characters in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When the narrators are unnerved, so are we. And the way we are lulled into trust and complacency is the same way that the women involved in the book are. They think they know what’s happening. We think we know what’s happening. They want to believe it will never happen again. We want to believe it will never happen again.

Over and over, the twists hit us as they hit the characters, and the visceral reactions you will feel are spectacular in their execution.

The dark themes of abuse, mental illness, power and control are chilling, in both their accuracy and their understated abundance. These themes are hard to decipher in real life, and the authors have ensured that they are hard to decipher within these pages as well. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and examined and discussed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a novel.

The Wife Between Us comes out January 9, and if there’s one book you need to get, it’s this one. Click the banner at the top of the page, or the links below to pre-order your copy today!


Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Rethinking Possible – Review

“For a family who knew so much – whose faith was so deep, love so abiding, and minds filled with mottos designed to keep us focused on the possibilities that were surely ahead – we knew nothing that could have prepared us for that kind of loss.”

Rethinking possible is listed as a memoir. A reflection of one woman’s journey into readjusting her expectations after life decided it wasn’t going to go along with her plans. But more than a story of her journey, there is a message of resilience and optimism that is stunning to read.

Becky Galli was raised as a preacher’s kid in the South. With two strong parents determined to raise their children with a sharp focus only on the possibility of life and a knack for finding the silver lining in any situation, her childhood was full of predictability and hope. Their family motto was ‘what’s planned is possible’ and they firmly believed it.

Even after an accident put her brother in the hospital, she believed he would make it, that he would achieve everything he planned. The shock of his death forever changed their family, tearing it from the solid unit they were to something different.

“I was in a life that wasn’t my own. Didn’t even have the wardrobe for it.”

It’s easy to get up after getting knocked down once, though, and life progressed for Becky according to her now revised plan. After graduating, she married and began to work on her career. With two type A personalities focusing on their life goals, they were determined that nothing would stand in their way. She even gave birth, on schedule, after Joe received his MBA and before she was 30. Everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t.

Galli faces several devastating hits when she learns two of her four children are disabled, and one developmentally delayed. The struggle of facing the extraordinary challenges in raising a family like that is remarkable, but had it’s costs. In her case, it was her marriage. As if divorce isn’t devastating enough, she was hit with a rare inflammation that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nine days after her divorce finalized.

“After all we’d been through, adventure had become our family’s euphemism for plans with uncertain outcomes. Forget plans; we mostly clung to possibility. Our lives had become one steady stream of rethinking possible.”

The most remarkable thing about this memoir isn’t the amount of tragedy in Rebecca Galli’s life, although she gets more than her fair share. The thing that moved me the most is that she isn’t a saint and she isn’t a victim. She does the best she can every day. Some days are good, and some days aren’t. But every day she does the best with what she has.

“You allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in your own self-pity. You are entitled. Go ahead, experience your pain. But don’t stay down there too long because you can drown, I’ve learned.”

Often when I read memoirs, I can feel a bit chastised. Not because of anything that the author did, or wrote, but because of the way they present their attitudes on life. Some days I throw myself giant pity parties of one. I try not to, but I do. And then you read about someone’s life and how optimistic, or cheerful, or stoic they can be about tragedy and trauma. Sometimes it’s inspiring, and sometimes it’s a bit of a punch to the gut.

But Galli lets you see the good and the bad. She vents. She questions. She wallows. And then she gets up. She finds a new perspective. She moves forward. I get that. I relate to it. I identify with it. She doesn’t always show herself in the best possible light, and so she feels real to me. She’s the woman I would want to call when life gets a little shaky. She may not have the answers, but you know she’s going to at least listen and try. She isn’t going to judge your pain or minimize how you feel.

“Life in all it’s unfairness can never take your attitude. That alone is yours to keep and change. No one does that for you. That is power.”

Life can often feel overwhelming. It can feel hard and big and just too much. There is laughter and happiness and the thousands of tiny moments worth living. But there is also pain, and with pain can come suffering. Galli was hit with a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. But she weathered each storm, and managed to accomplish some impressive feats regardless of the difficulty. She learned acceptance, and she learned that sometimes we have to accept things more than once.

“I found a new motto: ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional’.”

This book came to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Life can sometimes feel like you’ve been thrown into a cage match with no training or warning and are expected to somehow survive. You get up only to get knocked right back down. It is a constant barrage of learning, and adjusting, and accepting. It isn’t easy. But rather than make your struggles feel trivial in comparison to hers, Galli makes them relatable. She makes you feel understood.

And because she writes about her journey in such an honest way, you find that she makes you feel like you’ve just received the pep talk you needed. Her revelations about her own struggles are pointed and clear. Reading through this book, I felt like I was being cheered on, even though this wasn’t about my life. Galli gives you permission to accept life day by day, to be kind to yourself, and to realize that no matter what, you may never have all the answers.

This is a quick read. I was shocked at how fast I read through it. Though the subject matter is heavy, Galli writes with a skilled levity that brings light and warmth to even the toughest of passages. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh, even when you want to cry.

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, or have gone through, this is a book that will reach everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stop and ponder the wisdom she offers. I know I will be thinking about her words for a long time.

Thank you Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!