The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter (2017)

the good dauther

Is there any feeling as delicious as opening a book by a favorite author and knowing — from the first paragraph — that you are not only going to love the book, but you are going to ignore all of your responsibilities and stay up way to late to finish it all in one sitting? That is exactly how I felt reading The Good Daughter. Karin Slaughter’s latest stand-alone novel is perhaps her best yet; perfectly paced to keep the reader breathless with anticipation; told from the point of view of flawed but relatable characters; with just enough of the story withheld so that you are kept guessing until the very last pages. It was a absolute treat to read, I only wish it were longer!

Charlotte Quinn was a happy thirteen-year-old girl living in a rural Georgia town, who until late found the only tension in her life to be the precarious position her father holds in the community. Rusty Quinn is a defense attorney to the worst the town has to offer: drunks, abusive husbands, thieves, and drug dealers. This makes him hated among the town police and its more law-abiding citizens, who find his work keeping criminals out of jail deplorable. He is also often targeted by those he failed to keep out of jail, so much so that his family — at the start of the novel in 1989 — have been victims of a arson attack by a disgruntled client that has burned down their house and left them with nothing, forced to live in rotting farmhouse outside of town.

Rusty believes deeply in his work. While he may represent men and women who have failed to make good choices, he truly believes that punishments should fit the crimes and everyone (almost) deserves a second chance. But his work puts him in many dangerous situations and the risks to his family seem to be growing worse, when, one night two armed men break into farmhouse and shoot his wife and older daughter, leaving Charlotte to run for her life.

Charlotte escapes and, showing the grit of a much older woman, testifies in open court against the killers: two brothers from a well-known family of violent criminals. The trial does not lessen the town’s dislike of Rusty and forces them both to live out her remaining childhood being targeted by the killers’ family, who think she framed their relatives. Charlotte also struggles for years to live down the horror of her attack and the loss of her beloved family, all the while living alongside a town that offers daily reminders.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years, we find Charlotte still in her small town, now a defense attorney herself working alongside her father defending the very people the rest of the town wants locked up. Charlotte and her father have struggled for years to heal from their grief; but for Charlotte it remains dangerously close to the surface, a simmering anger that she can only sometimes control. Of late, her marriage has failed and her hold on her sanity seems to be slipping.

Then, by set of almost impossible circumstances, Charlotte finds herself inside of the local middle school when a student with a gun attacks, taking the lives of two people. The shock of the shooting unlocks all of the terror of that night long ago, and suddenly Charlotte cannot keep her demons at bay.

In true Rusty fashion, her father signs on to represent the school-shooter and enlists Charlotte to help him build her defense. However good a lawyer she may be, Charlotte is finding in next to impossible to be involved in yet another traumatic murder trial. She feels so lost and dangerously close to unraveling completely, but cannot help but get involved in the case, since her father appears to believe that the school shooting is far more complicated than the police and the media are presenting it to the public and that perhaps an innocent girl has been caught in a larger web of crimes.

The tale that unfolds is thrilling, intelligent, heart-wrenching, and even at times funny, and shows (once again) that Karin Slaughter is one of the absolute best thriller and crime writers writing today. Not to be missed!

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The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor (2017)

black tip shark

When she was twelve years old, Maeve Donnelly was bitten by a shark in the waters outside her Florida home. While this trauma would have left many fearful of sharks for the rest of their lives, the exact opposite was true: Maeve became obsessed with sharks. She made learning about them one of her greatest passions as a child and, as an adult, made protecting and studying them her life’s work.

Maeve’s other great passion was her first and only love, Daniel. Their love began when they were teens on their island home and continued until, in their early twenties, Maeve chose to move to Fiji to study sharks rather than stay with Daniel. Her choice and her absence led Daniel to have an affair that resulted in a baby daughter. That betrayal was too great for Maeve to forgive, she left Daniel and dedicated the next several years to shark research around the world. She channeled her grief and sadness into ground-breaking work; she kept her heart closed to all but her sharks.

“I’d been an island of my own making.” 78

When Maeve returns home to a job on her beloved Palermo Island after years away, she is shocked to find that Daniel and his daughter, Hazel, have moved back after Hazel’s mother’s sudden death. Outraged that he would invade her home and horrified that she would have to face — daily — him and his daughter, the little girl she could not help but feel should have been theirs; Maeve is determined to keep her distance.

But that proves to be much harder than she ever imagined. The island is small and her life and Daniel’s seemed destined to intersect. Soon, being so near to the man she had loved so deeply for so long, begins to weaken her resolve to keep him out of her life. In the end, it is Hazel and her open-heart and her curiosity for the ocean — so like Maeve’s when she was a girl — who breaks down Maeve’s walls. She “slips right over the falls” and back into Daniel’s arms.

“What we were doing was miraculous, as if we’d lost our way back then, had been blown wildly off course, and were finally rescuing ourselves, rescuing our life together.” 126

As she returns to her home, her work at a local marine conservancy, and to Daniel; Maeve begins to settle into a pattern that she cannot help but feels like coming home, the life that would have been if not for Daniel’s betrayal seven years previously. However, there are flaws in this “perfect” new life and, despite her best efforts, they begin to wear on Maeve. Daniel is perplexed by vigilant defense of the local marine life, hurt when it takes up her time, and he is out-right jealous at her plans to travel to Africa for further research.

The more these problems grow, the harder it is for Maeve to ignore the feeling that she is playing house, pretending to be Hazel’s mother and continuing her love affair with Daniel as if his betrayal had never happened. In order to preserve the illusion of perfection, Maeve fear she may have to change her life to suit theirs.

Maeve begins to worry that her relationship with Daniel is a “ghost” that she has been trying to “resurrect,” all the while ignoring that truth that he intends her to give up her hopes for her future — travel, research, work — to fit better into his visions of the future.

“I’d lived with the ghost of him. I’d made a nightly pastime of remembering and imagining him. Resurrecting what used to be. I’d circled back to the place where he’d been severed from my life, trying to graft him back on. What I loved was the memory of him, the hope of him. I loved a Daniel that I’d created, one that didn’t really exist except inside of me.” 256

 

Final Girls by Riley Sager (2017)

final girls

Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter woke in a hospital and found that she had been initiated — unwillingly — into the most gruesome of sororities: she had become a Final Girl. A Final Girl was the name given to women who are the sole survivors of a mass murder.

Quincy was welcomed to the horrific club of women when she had escaped from a deranged killer who had brutally stabbed and killed five of her closet friends. Straight out of a horror flick; six college students had traveled to a secluded cabin in the woods to spend a fall weekend and an escapee from a local mental institution had attacked them, with only Quincy escaping with her life. Immediately, the media and many online “crime fan” groups were clamoring to add Quincy to the small group of infamous women who made up the Final Girls. Disgusted, Quincy refused to accept her Final Girl status and she rejects offers of help from the other Final Girls.

In the  intervening ten years, Quincy has painfully worked to forget the attack and rebuild her life. This has been eased — if that is possible — by the fact that she remembered very little of the actual attack. Quincy is shocked from the cocoon of a life she has created when she learns that a fellow Final Girl, Lisa — one who mentored many other young women going through similar trauma — has committed suicide. Suddenly, it becomes clear to Quincy that being a survivor of one horrible tragedy did not guarantee that you could survive all of life’s other heartaches. Quincy had looked up to Lisa and admired her fierce will to live; her suicide knocks Quincy off course.

Soon, Quincy is acting out, taking risks, and finding herself under the influence of people who might lead her into dangerous situations… or worse, deliver her back into her own worst nightmare.

This novel was scary, thrilling, well-written, and such great fun to read. I loved it, and think that despite the long, long list of thrillers I have read this summer, this is the one of the best.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2017)

magpie murders

After reading several “must- read summer books” lists that included this murder mystery by Anthony Horowitz, I picked up a copy at the library excited to read. Horowitz’s YA books are a staple in my house and I had liked his Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk. However, this book was a vague disappointment and felt throughout that the author was making only a partial effort to tell a story that was engaging.

The premise of the book was quite clever. The first half of the book is a 1950’s cozy mystery — the full text of Magpie Murders, the final book of a fictional mystery series featuring PI Atticus Pund is included, minus its final “whodunit” chapter — once the Atticus Pund mystery has ended, a second modern story begins.

In the second half, we return to present-day London where Susan Ryeland is reading the Atticus Pund book along with us. Our new protagonist is the book editor to a wildly popular author of the Pund books, named Alan Conway. Susan is shocked to find the final chapter of the Magpie Murders is missing, but even more shocked when she learns that Alan Conway has died.

So begins the second mystery story in the book: Susan must work to determine whether or not the author had finished the book; if so, where is the missing chapter? As she delves deeper, it becomes clear that Conway’s death is very suspicious and soon a whole cast of characters emerge who may have wanted the author dead… possibly because the Magpie Murders exposes details of a real murder.

The author did a great job in part one of the book, creating a wonderful character in Atticus Pund and a great Agatha Christie-esque mystery with Magpie Murders. However, part two falls flat with the slightly unlikable Susan Ryeland and a new mystery that should be compelling but simply is not. While the overall effect is passable, it would have been a much stronger book with a more energetic second half.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

lost lake

“There are not a finite number of things that can make you happy.” 163

The women in Eby Pim’s family are cursed. They are unhappy women, constantly furious that they do not have more — more money, more love, more admiration — and every one of them seems doomed to loose her husband while young. Upon these losses, generation after generation of women in Eby’s family come unhinged with grief, with all that they feel has been forever stolen from them, and they do not recover.

Eby, however, grows into a young woman who is steady and calm. When she marries for love, to a man named George who happens to be very wealthy; the jealous, grieving women in her life do everything they can to ruin her good fortune. So she and her new husband do they only thing they can think of: they buy a small set of cabins on a swampy lake in rural Georgia give all of the rest their money away.

“There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.” 6

With nothing to extort from her, Eby’s family disowns her but Eby and George build something better: they build a family made up of visitors and locals who are drawn to the magic of their Lost Lake resort. Lost Lake, run with love, acceptance, and understanding by the Pim’s becomes a place of refuge, happiness, and contentment for those weary souls who visit. Having spent a life of love with her husband, surrounded by so many in need her, Eby remains strong when George suddenly dies. The family curse to be ruined by grief seems to have passed her by.

Fast forward fifteen year, when Kate Pheris — Eby’s grandniece — losses her young husband in an accident, it seems that she may too fall victim to the grieving curse and crumble under her loss. But a rare bit of magic changes the course of her life; she finds a long-lost invitation to join her Great Aunt Eby at Lost Lake and knows instantly it is a place both she and her daughter, Devin, can go and heal.

So Kate and Devin arrive at Lost Lake and find they are welcome to come there to rest and heal, but sadly the resort is open for only one last summer. As the summer passes, Kate and Devin fall more and more in love with the aging, fading resort that has brought them back to themselves and one another, and they are determined to save it…for they know there are many more lost souls still in need of its healing magic.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (2017)

identicals

In The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand cleverly re-imagines The Parent Trap for grown-ups; telling the story of two identical twin sisters who have lived completely separate lives until the death of their father brings them together. Harper and Tabitha Frost were inseparable young girls and best friends when, at the age of seventeen, their parents divorced and made the cruel decision that each parent would take and raise one sister, keeping the girls apart. That decision meant the girls relationship began to fray and by their mid-twenties they had split apart for good. Harper went to live with their father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha remained on Nantucket with their mother; only eleven miles apart but out of each other’s lives for good.

When their father dies, the sisters — along with their cold and controlling mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter Ainsley — are brought back together with maximum drama. All their past hurts resurface, all that they have lost is brought back into focus, and neither woman feels as if the rift between can be bridged.

The universe, however, has other plans for Harper and Tabitha. Both women suddenly desperately need time away from their home islands and their messy lives and a solution presents itself: Harper will live on Nantucket with Ainsley for the summer and Tabitha will live on Martha’s Vineyard and put their father’s estate in order. Just like that the women swap lives and — of course — chaos ensues!

As the two women try restore order to their lives, they both grow stronger and freer in their new roles. Slowly but surely , the sisters begin to build new lives that have room for new adventures, new loves, and for one another. A great summer read!

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

The lazy hot days of late July, with the kids gone at sleep-away camp, seemed liked the perfect time to re-read some of my favorites. Carry On definitely counts as such.

Originally posted May 5, 2016

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“And it was a happy ending — even if isn’t the ending I ever would have dreamt for myself.”

carry on

WOW! I absolutely loved this book! I gobbled it up, I inhaled it, I devoured it! In fact, if there were not two wonderful people in my life dying to get their hands on my copy of the book, I would have finished the last page and immediately restarted it. Rowell has truly accomplished something magical (no pun intended) with this book…she has made a fantasy story that is quality parts Young Adult romance and whimsical fairy tale. If Fangirl and Harry Potter had a love child, it would be Carry On — it is that good. While Rowell’s Fangirl is not a prequel to this book , the world of Watford was born within the pages of Fangirl and it really is a worthy place to start this journey. You can read my review of Fangirl here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-kf

I hardly know where to start in reviewing this novel. It is a fantasy story set in a magical school in England for teenage magicians learning to use their magic. There are posh uniforms, spells to learn, enemies to thwart, and evil plots to unveil. Even if it sounds like it poor version of Harry Potter, it totally works. The world Rowell creates is just different enough that while you are reading about Watford School, you feel like you are reading about Hogwarts hipper counterpart, not its replica. In a way the story is freer than HP, because the characters do not feel compelled to be so proper, nor their relationships so chaste, and the result is a funny, sexy, and thrilling book…one that gives us spells and epic magical battles but with a much more teen twist (meaning cell phones, drinking, and sex.)

Carry On is presumably book eight in a non-existent series. However, Rowell writes the story in such a way that you learn the entire backstory, the author filling in the blanks along the way so that you feel as if the other six books do exist. The effect is miraculous: readers do not feel cheated, instead reading Carry On gives you the sensation that you have read seven wonderful books, not just one. (More bang for your buck!) As you read, you are pulled into this story and you are given glimpse of all the stories that came before it.

Carry On, at its heart, is a love story. Rowell is doing something profound with this book. In the process of telling us a really good fantasy tale she is also telling us a love story about two young men and defiantly refusing to call it a “gay love story.” It simply is a love story — no qualifiers needed. And what a fantastic love story it is: filled with all the angst and drama and power of any young adult love story but infused with a real sense of tension. As we all know, while most heterosexual relationships are given cultural permission to exist, it is often the case the those for gay men and women are deemed completely taboo. Thankfully that is starting to change, and books like Rowell’s are a reflection of those (slow) changes. She is writing a love story about two men and in no way giving readers the impression that it is off-limits or unallowable. All the characters in the book accept that being gay is just part of their lives or their loved ones. Rowell makes sure that we all know she believes who you love should never matter — only how you treat them.