The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger (2017)

“You cannot look into the outer world to feel safe, to feel at peace. You cannot look without for understanding or for justice. You must look within. ‘There is no external refuge.’ ” 352

Claudia and Zoe have never met and the two are living very different lives, but they linked to one another. At the beginning of their stories, the link that connects them is a terrible one: both women are the survivors of brutal attacks. As the story progresses, troubling circumstances will bring them together in a much more tangible way, but this time they will face tragedy with strength.

Seventeen years ago, newly married Claudia was giddy in love and ready to start a family when a man attacked and raped her in her apartment. The rape left Claudia pregnant with a baby whose paternity she stubbornly refused to verify, a refusal that led to the destruction of her marriage. Undaunted by these emotional and physical burdens, Claudia moved on: went to therapy, learned self-defense, and tried to raise her daughter with as much love and wisdom as she could. Today, Claudia is a middle-aged single mother, living and raising her teenage daughter in a rural New Jersey town. She works tirelessly to fix up an old mansion left to her by her father.

When she was fifteen, Zoe’s family was murdered in a home invasion and she was tortured almost to death. Her survival was fueled by her rage at what had been taken from her and by the love of an uncle who took her in. Today, Zoe is a twenty-something young woman who appears to be living an unremarkable life in New York City with her aging uncle and a part-time job. But behind that invisibility , Zoe is a fierce martial artist and fighter who considers herself a vigilante; seeking justice for those who are being victimized or abused.

Unwittingly, Claudia’s renovation of the house is the catalyst that sets into motion a series of events that will bring the two women together. The house Claudia inherited is the very site of Zoe’s torture and her parents’ murder. Her decision to renovate has brought great interest to the town’s residents and, unfortunately, the interest of the men who committed that horrible crime ten years prior.

Zoe chases down the men who murdered her parents, and those men are closing in on Claudia. All that the reader can hope for is that these two, fierce women are strong enough to never be victims again.

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Bonfire by Krysten Ritter (2017)

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Abigail Williams is facing her worst fear: she is returning the her rural Indiana hometown after more than a decade away. She dreads facing the cruel bullies that tormented her in high-school; dreads seeing her abusive father and the small-minded residents who turned their back on her when she needed them to help her. As much as she hates to return there, she has always known that she would be forced to.

When she fled Barrens, Indiana after high-school, the city was just beginning to settle down after public health crisis. Four girls at Abby’s high school had been exhibiting signs of a strange illness that residents feared was caused by water contaminated by a local plastics manufacturer. Just before a law-suit could be filed, one of the girls left town and the other three were forced to admit it had all be an act. Despite the revelations that the illnesses were faked, the entire episode rattled teen-aged Abby and lingered in her psyche, bringing up fears that her own mother’s death was a result of water pollution.

Present day Abby is a successful environmental lawyer whose Chicago-based firm has been asked to travel to Barrens to investigate the very same plastics company that was under-fire a decade ago. Although she is there to find evidence of recent water pollution, Abby cannot shake the feeling that she is also there to discover the real reason the girls in her high-school created such an uproar. She is convinced that the plastics company has poisoned town residents for decades and that she will be able to find evidence that the links the past health crises and present day complaints.

Abby is prepared for the local residents to put up a fight to protect the plastics company, given that they employ most of the town. What she is not prepared for is the dramatic way that being back in Barrens effects her. Facing down her former tormentors is harder in person, she finds herself unable to be cruel to them and their unexpected kindness awakens her deep-seated need for their acceptance that she longed for in school. When she finds her father forgetful and faltering with dementia, the rage she has carried with her over her father’s abuse has nowhere to go: her anger can no longer hurt him.

Soon the pressures of the case wear on Abby and she suddenly does not know who to trust, people she was sure were enemies are acting like friends. What looks like a environmental pollution case from the outside just might be be something much more sinister; if only she can get anyone to believe her.

A great novel with similarities to the movie Erin Brockovich, Meghan Abbot’s The Fever (reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-17c ) just a bit like Paula Hawkins Girl on a Train. It will make a great movie, which I suspect will star Krysten Ritter as Abby.

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger (2016)

NOTE: This book takes place in the fictional town of The Hollows in upstate New York. Several other books by Lisa Unger also take place in The Hollows. Two of the characters in this book also appear in Unger’s “Jones Cooper” series. This book does not exactly fit into a series with these other works by the author, they are loosely connected to one another. Reading them in chronological order would be the best way to have the stories flow together, but Ink and Bone can be read alone as an independent novel.

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Despite its outward appearance as an idyllic small town in the mountains of upstate New York, The Hollows has dark elements — and dangerous people — lurking just out of sight.  The town seems to exert a deep pull over some of its residents, calling them back over and over or making it hard for some to leave. Finley Montgomery is one of those people. Raised by a mother who hated The Hollows so much she had fled as a teen and hardly ever returned, Finley has known her whole life that The Hollows reached out for her, demanding she to return.

However it is not the town’s pull that finally brings the 21-year-old to live with her grandmother in The Hollows, it is Finley’s desperate need to understand and learn to control her gifts. Like her grandmother, and many of her female ancestors, Finley is a psychic with a deep connection to the dead, missing, or those in grave danger. She needs her grandmother — a world famous psychic who has helped police solve many cases — to help her learn to control how disruptive these “visitors” are, but more importantly to help teach her to interpret what they need from her so she too can help them.

In recent years, two child abduction cases have happened on the outskirts of town: the police have been unable to solve either case or definitely link the two cases together. When the mother of one of the girls taken the previous year, Merri Gleason, returns to The Hollows to seek the help of a private investigator Jones Cooper (who works with Finley’s grandmother) she sets into motion a series of events that draw in Finley into the case as well.

Soon Finley cannot keep her “visitors” out of her head and she knows without a doubt that they are trying to lead her to Merri Gleason’s missing daughter. Young and untested, Finley joins forces with the PI to investigate the disappearance of Abbey Gleason; the abduction of a young family two years prior; and man who has gone missing just that week. Although she cannot explain how, Finley knows these cases are linked and that her ghostly visitors may be able to help her solve one — or all — of them.

Finley’s instincts and the investigative skills of the PI Cooper mean that almost immediately they make some progress in finding the missing children, but the horror’s they are about to unleash might be more than they can bear.

Eerie, thrilling, and utterly unique, Ink and Bone was impossible to put down. I was simultaneously terrified and entranced by Unger’s story. She was able to take the elements of a traditional PI thriller and inject a supernatural, paranormal energy that made the story extremely compelling. I highly recommend the book…and I hope that Finley makes an appearance in Unger’s next book.

Dark in Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #46, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

Lt. Eve Dallas is back in her forty-sixth adventure, set in New York City of 2061, overseeing a murder investigation that has claimed the life of a up-and-coming Broadway star. The bizarre details of the young woman’s death strike a cord with a local mystery writer, who comes to Eve with her fears that the murderer may be committing “lethal plagiarism” by acting out the murders from her series of books called the Dark series.

Almost immediately Eve confirms that the murder of the young woman is almost an exact replica of the murder in book two of the Dark series. A short look into open cases in the city shows her that just a month prior another young woman was killed in a manner that imitated book one in the series. Now the team is scrambling to read all eight books in the series, quiz the author on her plots and motivations for the books, scour fan mail to the author, and follow the available forensic evidence; all in an attempt to stop the murderer from committing six more copy-cat murders.

A cast of strong women, led by Eve and Peabody, come together to dig deep into the damaged psyche of a murderer who went from super-fan to serial killer: to find out what happened and how he can be stopped.

 

Still Me by Jojo Moyes (2017)

This book is the third in the Louisa Clark series, which include Me Before You and After You, the later is reviewed here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-1W

Please note both blog posts contain spoilers related to Me Before You…read no further if you plan to start the series from the beginning!

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Louisa Clark’s life is on the upswing. After several devastating years following the death of her first love, Will Traynor, and a life-threatening accident that left her emotionally unbalanced, things are finally looking up. Louisa has a promising new love, Sam, and a wildly exciting new job awaiting her in New York City.

Leaving London for NYC is both thrilling and terrifying for Louisa, but with her signature determination and spirit she dives into her new life with verve. Handsomely paid to be the personal assistant to a billionaire’s young new wife gives Louisa a posh address in the middle of Manhattan and a glimpse into the glittering world of the super-rich. Soon she is riding in limos, wearing designer gowns at balls, and rubbing elbows with celebrities; a far cry from her modest life waiting tables in London.

The woman whose daily life Louisa is tasked with managing is volatile and unhappy woman named Agnes. Agnes is a young Polish immigrant whose Cinderella-esque romance with her billionaire husband should bring her great joy. Instead, Agnes is constantly on the defensive with her husband’s first wife and their daughter, not to mention the social elite of NYC, who dismiss her as a classic gold-digging second wife.

Agnes befriends Louisa, the two bond over their newness to America and the world of the super wealthy. Louisa, a woman who cannot help but care for and fix the problems of everyone around her, is drawn into Agnes’ unhappy melodrama and soon the two woman are working together to hide secrets from Agnes’ husband…a man who could destroy Louisa’s new life if her disloyalty is discovered. Although Louisa grows more and more uncomfortable with Agnes’ deceptions, she feels powerless to stand up to the woman and, more importantly, is deeply sympathetic to her plight.

Meanwhile, long-distance is wreaking havoc on the brand new romance between Louisa and Sam, who remains back in London. Sam feels intimidated by Louisa amazing new life; Louisa feels intimated by Sam’s new (gorgeous) work partner. Soon the two are spiraling toward break-up and neither seems able to stop it.

When Louisa’s employer finds out that she has been helping his wife deceive him, she is fired and left homeless in NYC. Louisa, fearing no life awaits her back in London and determined not to return home disgraced, plucks up her courage and tries to find another way to build a life in the city.

Told with Moyes signature humor and heartache, Still Me gives readers a hundred more reasons to love Louisa Clark and her indefatigable spirit. A great conclusion to the series.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2017)

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“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch.” 4

Celestial Davenport and Roy Hamilton are newlyweds, living in Atlanta and on the cusp of an exciting life. Part of the city’s African-American upper-class, Celestial is an artist whose work is starting to get noticed, and Roy is an energetic, entrepreneurial man who believes he knows how to make her a success.  While their marriage is passionate, it is also not always solid: Roy struggles to let go of his playboy past, and Celestial resists starting a family, worried if Roy strays she will end up a single mother…a stereotype she refuses to become.

While traveling from Atlanta to Roy’s hometown in rural Louisiana, the couple — perhaps with a sense of supernatural premonition — fights about the differences in their upbringing and whether or not those differences are causing problems between them. Roy and his family fought long and hard to get him out of their small town and into Spelman. Roy sees his material success as fragile and feels compelled to demonstrate their wealth in order to make it seem real. Celestial was raised in Atlanta with professional parents who are millionaires; she does not feel she has as much to prove and often bristles at Roy’s need for “flash.”

While in Roy’s small Louisiana home town, Roy is accused of the rape of a white woman and thrown in jail. Celestial’s protests that she was with Roy the entire night and he is innocent fall of deaf ears. The police, judge, and jury see a black man and nothing else. His race, not his actions, determine his guilt. Roy is found guilty and sentenced to 12-years in prison.

Shocked and terrified, the couple clings to hope that this miscarriage of justice will be reversed, but they are wrong. Not one single person in the system cares if Roy is innocent.

“Sleeping by myself didn’t kill me then and will not kill me now. But this is what loss has taught me of love. Our house isn’t simply empty, our home has been emptied. Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all of your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again. ” 41

In the early days of his incarceration, Celestial and Roy fight for his release and remain committed to saving him. Soon, however, their marriage begins to show cracks. Celestial is weighted down with this enormous grief and worries she cannot cope. “Their is still rice in my hair,” she laments. Roy needs so much from her — reassurance, love, money, attention, visits — and she is overwhelmed by the demands of this new reality. The magic and passion of their marriage fades from her mind, replaced only by the horrific reality of her husband being in jail.

“The chilly hindsight is what exposes the how and why of something that once seemed supernatural. It’s the magician’s manual that shows you how the tricks are done, not with sorcery but with careful cues and mysterious devices.” 111

As Roy’s life grows bleaker and bleaker, Celestial’s star rises. Her art begins to get noticed, her shop (which Roy once envisioned) thrives, and her heart strays to another man.

Then, in the days before Christmas, Roy’s appeal is granted, his conviction overturned and he is coming home. Stripped of everything: his future, his money, his career, his dignity, and five years of his life; Roy has only Celestial. But their marriage has been only one of fact for so long, the reality is that his wife has moved on without him and he is terrified that he will find their is no longer room for him in her life.

Jones has crafted a beautiful, haunting, complex tale that explores the challenges of modern African-American’s in America face as well as the challenges of a marriage tested before it is ready. A truly outstanding novel, as gorgeous as it is eye-opening.

“Yesterday I sat under the hickory tree in the front yard. It’s the only place where I find rest and just feel fine. I know fine isn’t a lot, but it’s rare for me these days. Even when I am happy, there is something in between me and whatever good news comes my way. It’s like eating a butterscotch still sealed in the wrapper. The tree is untouched by whatever worries we humans fret over. I think about how it was here before I was born and it will be here after we’re all gone. Maybe this should make me sad, but it doesn’t.” 80

 

The Wife Between Us (2017)

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

In this brand-new thriller, the authors create a complex tale about one woman’s desperate attempts to find security and happiness after a troubled adolescence. She deeply believes she has found the safety and love she craves when she marries Richard…but she is wrong.

Two different narrators lay out the story of Nellie and Richard. Neither of these narrators is telling readers the whole truth and so the picture of this not-so-perfect marriage takes quite a while to come into focus. Are they happy? Or are they not? Is his desire to control their relationship the problem? Or is her alcoholism and mental health to blame?

Alternating between past and present, our narrators try to show you what happened and why but it becomes clear that the story is very complicated and therefore the telling of it must be as well. Twists and turns populate nearly every chapter, right up until the very last page; making the reader feel on edge every step of the way.