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!

Godsgrave – Review

“Nothing stinks quite like a corpse.”

BAM! The very first words, after a brief reintroduction to the characters, slam us in the face with a reminder of the world we are re-entering. Mia is back, and after the ending from the last book, her list for vengeance has only grown instead of shrunk.

There will be some possible spoilers in this review, not for this book, but for the first, so if you have not read Nevernight, you may want to stop reading. Might I also suggest that you GO PICK UP NEVERNIGHT AND START READING!!!!!

Okay, let’s proceed…

Mia has accomplished her goal of becoming a Blade for the Church, although, not exactly as she imagined when she left Godsgrave the first time. Things have gone a bit awry, and Mia finds herself a Blade, but stuck in some small town in the Republic where she will likely never encounter the people she still intends on slaying.

“Patience, she thought. If Vengeance has a mother, her name is Patience.”

But, as we have gotten to know Mia, we know that following rules isn’t something she’s prone to doing.

Our beloved narrator is back, once again, providing us with snarky little comments and helpful pieces of history as he sees fit. I say he, but who knows who the narrator is really. While there are many, many pieces of this puzzle that I am dying to figure out, the identity of the narrator is in my top three!

Instead of getting pieces of Mia’s past as a little girl, here Kristoff has played with the plotting a little more. We start the book in the midst of Mia’s new scheme and have to snap back to fill in the gaps from where we left her in Nevernight. I actually really like how this is written, because we feel immediately drawn into action rather than a slow build.

“Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

And talk about action. If Nevernight has hints of a Roman empire in some far away world, Godsgrave throws us into a Gladiator Arena. Literally. Or the Godsgrave equivalent.

Kristoff has given us the introductory course to brutality in Nevernight. It’s a perfect sort of poetry that Mia is introduced to the violence of her new world as a student of the Church, and in the same way we were too. Now, we are unleashed and thrown deep into the world where we find slaves fighting for glory and the one chance for freedom. Except, Mia has other plans. She always does.

But as we discovered in Nevernight, Mia hasn’t quite lost her heart. Even though it’s been battered, and bloodied, and bruised, it’s still intact. The problem is, to accomplish her goals, to really exact the revenge she craves, she might have to lose her heart entirely.

“Little kindnesses that spoke of the biggest hearts. Mia wondered where her own might be.”

For all the harshness that this world shows us, there is such humanity in it. There’s hope, fear, love, determination, stubbornness. Everything that raises us to our best and drags us down to our worst. I love how the ideas of good and evil aren’t cookie cutter or even clear as you read. There are villains, but they aren’t always who you expect them to be. Neither are the heroes.

If you’re wondering whether this book is as violent or gory as Nevernight, I can only quote another writer who drinks the tears of his readers (Pierce Brown, Red Rising) and say, “Shit escalates.” Kristoff has raised the bar on everything in Godsgrave, and that includes the savage nature of the world. The fights are jaw dropping, heart pounding, simply stunning in their elegance and detail. You know what it is to fight in an Arena. You feel it, you hear it, you smell it.

“Dark delight in her belly. Warm blood on her hands. Mia closed her eyes. Raised her blade.”

As we race towards the end of the book, all I kept repeating in my head was no, no, no. Because there was no way I was going to get any sort of satisfaction with the pages remaining. If cliffhangers rip your heart out while it’s beating, you may want to hold off on this book. Kristoff holds your bleeding heart in his hands and laughs.

This world and these characters will crawl deep under your skin and take root. You feel as if you’ve lived in this world your entire life, and that you’ve known these characters all that time as well. These books are where book obsessions grow. And if you’re like me, you’ll ache when the book ends, and miss them as the days pass.

I am counting the days until the third (and I think final) book is released. Murder and magic may not be a combo that everyone falls in love with. But for those of you who revel in the darker side of fiction, where good and evil are a bit murkier than normal, this is a world I think you’ll fall in love with! I know I have.

 

Nevernight – Review

“At the heart of it, two kinds of people live in this world or any other: those who flee and those who fight.”

Enter the world of Mia Corvere. The little girl who barely escapes with her life after her father plots (and fails) a rebellion. Now, she is grown and has vengeance in her blood, driving her forward. Her goal is the Red Church. A school of the worlds most deadly assassins, all fighting for one of four position as Blades of the Church. She leaves Godsgrave and everything she knows to pursue her singular goal.

Jay Kristoff writes in such a unique and addicting way. There is the story, with the narration telling the story of the present but also jumping back to reveal glimpses into Mia’s past. Helping us build the horror of her past into the horror of her future. But, we get an additional narrator, in the footnotes added throughout the book.

At first, to be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure I liked that format. It felt distracting and I kept getting pulled out of the action. But, slowly, without even knowing it, I realized that this is done purposefully and adds to the immersion into the world of Itreya in a way that normal narration simply wouldn’t have allowed. It adds a second personality, and one that I quickly fell in love with.

“Here is the truth gentlefriends: when in doubt, it’s best to be polite when dealing with lunatics.”

This narrator is snarky and sarcastic in all the best ways. He adds all the details and history of the Republic, along with legends and stories from the past. It’s information that would be difficult to add in otherwise, and the humor is fantastic! To be yelled at for reading a footnote in the height of a fight, by the footnote, is just a special sort of magic.

The humor of the mysterious narrator is also needed, because this book while delightful is incredibly dark and violent. I happen to find that sort of dreariness delightful, but be warned, this book is about a school of murderers striving to become assassins in a very brutal world. Kristoff does not hold back when writing about severe punishments inflicted for breaking the rules, or in the very vivid descriptions of torture and torment, or in the fast paced and heart pounding fighting that occurs.

“The wolf does not pity the lamb,” Drusilla said. “The storm begs no forgiveness of the drowned.”

This is not a book about mercy. This is a book about vengeance and betrayal. About one girls fierce desire to take down the Republic that killed her family and destroyed her life. Mia is a fantastic character. Even though she’s more likely to slit my throat than share a meal with me, I think we would be amazing friends. She is driven by revenge, but she hasn’t lost her heart. At least, not yet. But that is something she will have to face in this quest she has set herself on.

Kristoff has given us a world that is massive and epic in detail, with the narrator contributing enormously to the richness of this world. Nevernight shows us a world with three suns. A world where the night sky is only seen rarely. A world where the city is built from the bones of a fallen God, nobles living in the gravebone ribs high above the Spine below, using weapons made of godsbone. It’s a world that is unforgiving and brutal, but wondrous and magical nonetheless.

“She could feel it. All around her. Seeping through Godsgrave’s cracks. The agony. The fury. The pure and blinding hatred nestled in this city’s bones.”

This is a book that takes the cold harshness of a Roman-like Empire and adds a touch of fantasy and magic to it. There is nothing fluffy written within these pages, but that isn’t to say that the book isn’t full of heart. This is a book that gives you the good and bad of human nature and everything in between. You may not think you can find charm in an assassin, but you’d be wrong.

Kristoff doesn’t give you cookie cutter characters where the line between good and evil is clear. Instead, he offers something more real and far more satisfying. He gives you characters that feel like people. Of course, he does add in magic, which makes everything a lot more fun!

Nevernight is a book filled with dark humor and violence. It doesn’t back away from examining the dark reality that lies beneath humanity’s shiny veneer. This is dark fantasy at it’s best. We are taken into another world. A world we don’t know but can easily recognize. We are subjected to pain and hope, betrayal and triumph, love and loss. It is a book that takes us down a very human journey, and is stunning to experience.

For anyone who enjoyed Game of Thrones or Red Rising, this book will definitely be for you!

 

The Wife Between Us – Review

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“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!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US

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

Emma In The Night – Review

“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe.”

Emma In The Night blew me away! I read this book in a morning. Devoured would be a more appropriate description because I could not put it down.

Emma and her sister Cass go missing on the same night. Three years later, we open the novel with Cass returning. She doesn’t tell us in that opening chapter where she had been, only giving us a glimpse of her mother and her family and the deeply disturbing childhood she had in that house. She tells us she had to return to that house though, to tell her story, to make them believe her so that they could find Emma.

“A story is more than the recounting of events. The events are the sketch, the outline, but it is the colors and the landscape and the medium and the artist’s hand that make it what it is in the end.”

Cass tells her story, unfolding the events from the night of their disappearance to Dr. Abigail Winters, the FBI forensic psychologist, first assigned to the case. We get the alternating narration, offering the thoughts and viewpoints of both Abby and Cass, which play off of each other brilliantly.

Abby knows there’s more the story, but in the greater effort of finding Emma, she doesn’t push Cass the way she wants to. She doesn’t force her questions in the directions her gut tells her, until the end when she begins to realize what Cass’s motives truly are.

Psychological thrillers are one of my favorite types of thrillers. There’s something messy and deviant going into the mind of someone else. It’s even creepier and more exhilarating when that someone else is unstable, violent or even crazy. I am also fascinated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

We hear narcissism thrown around fairly casually anymore. Articles telling us how people who take mostly selfies are narcissistic. Are you sensitive or a narcissist in disguise: take the quiz now. CEO’s: powerful type A’s or narcissistic sociopaths? We get snippets of these disorders, given to us in bite sized pieces that can’t possibly hope to do justice to these enormously complex issues.

So to have Walker dive into this disorder, and really give us a glimpse of what it is like, not only through Cass’s eyes, but Abby’s as well, was fascinating. The disorder is real and has very real ramifications for children living in these environments. The most enthralling part of this novel was the way Walker made me wonder whether Cass has truly escaped the cycle at all.

“It was the aspect of her research that had most fascinated her–the cycle of the illness and how children escaped it. It was as if the human soul within them was fighting to the bitter end, to survive, to find a way to hold on to this instinct to love and be loved–because that was the very thing that got lost with this illness.”

All the characters were twisted in a pattern of lies and manipulations. We knew from the beginning Cass had a motive, she had a reason for every single thing she said, everything she did. The strength in Walker’s writing is that she doesn’t give us any outright clues. In fact, the clues are so subtle, that by the end, when it is revealed I found myself going back and rereading certain parts. Only in the light of knowing can you truly appreciate the tapestry Walker weaves. Her ability to tell this story is amazing and the result is captivating.

I wasn’t hit with a stunning fact or shocking twist, even though in the end you feel both stunned and shocked. It’s a slow revelation, an unfolding of events. Walker takes us down a trail littered with bread crumbs. We follow that trail, greedily devouring the crumbs, not caring where they lead, only wanting more. In the end, I was left surprised and satisfied.

The sign of a good novel for me is one where I want more. And with Emma, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the personality disorder. I wanted to know more about the characters. And more than anything, I want to discuss this novel with anyone and everyone.

Psychological thrillers aren’t for everyone. They often include a plethora of characters that are unlikeable, unrelatable and unreliable. Personally, I like that in a novel. Because it’s true in real life. Very rarely in life, at least my life, are there people who are always likable, or relatable, or reliable. They aren’t always anything. They are always a mix. Sometimes likable, sometimes not. Sometimes reliable, sometimes not. So I appreciate an author who gives me real characters who are a mix. Ironically, I find that relatable.

I didn’t read Walker’s first book, but you can bet it’s now on my TBR. Any book I can read in less than five hours is a winner for me. If you’re ready to be taken down a twisted path, with an uncertain outcome, this is the book for you.

Thank you to BookSparks and St. Martin’s Press for sending me this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review!