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Friday, September 25, 2020

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

It begins with a shocking discovery on a country farm. 

Decades later, the body of a woman has been found near a playground. A doll made of chestnuts is found hanging from a branch nearby. Upon examination, an impossible fingerprint is found on the charm: that of a politician's daughter, believed to be murdered one year prior. 

Naia Thulin is ready to move on from Major Crimes Division. In fact, she's already alerted her boss that she's been actively recruited to another department, so not it's just a matter of getting the right approvals in place. Until then, she's stuck babysitting an officer being reprimanded by Interpol, sent to work in their department while under review. And it's just her luck that they're hit with an odd case right off the bat. 

Thulin would love for it to be an open and shut case. She has her eye on the most likely suspect, but the evidence doesn't line up. And when the fingerprint of a girl who's supposed to have been dead shows up at the scene, she knows this is going to be anything but an easy case. 

I have to say that I've been a fan of Nordic Noir for quite some time but this year has reintroduced me to that genre with an absolute fury!

Sveistrup is the writer and creator of the original Swedish version of The Killing (and producer on the US remake). But it's hard to make the jump from screenwriting to novels. In part because the two jobs are very different. 

Screenwriting is direction. The story relies on not just the screenplay but the people in front of and behind the camera to convey everything from the emotions and inner thoughts of the characters to the details that make a scene. 

Novels, on the other hand, rely solely on the narrative to convey everything. And I find some people versed in screenwriting have trouble shifting into that space. 

That's not at all the case with Sveistrup's debut! 

Sveistrup's attention to detail, I feel, was always going to be good. It's part of what made The Killing so interesting. But he clearly knows how to write a fully-fleshed and complicated character. And this book is filled with them!

Thulin is a single mother with big career aspirations. But her current position isn't going to get her where she wants to be. The Major Crimes Division is plagued by a lack of funds and a need for new technology that the fancy N3 department has in spades. And Thulin is particularly talented when it comes to computers, so the move is inevitable. 

Of course it would be her luck that she's saddled with a troublemaker from the Hague (who seems uninterested in being there at all) and a case that grows increasingly more complicated with each new clue. 

Mark Hess, said troublemaker, really isn't interested in being there. He's marking time until he can return to his real job with Interpol. And he never does come clean to the reader about exactly what's gotten him temporarily banished, but it very quickly becomes clear that he's every reader's favorite kind of detective: one who doesn't play well with others! 

It's Hess that won't let the stray fingerprint go. He's insistent that it be investigated, which doesn't win him any points with anyone. Thulin believes it's a waste of time and everyone else in the department sees it as as Hess taking a dig at their abilities to investigate and close cases. 

And of course he's right. There is more to the fingerprint after all! (It'd be a short book if he was wrong!)

Sveistrup doesn't stop at giving readers insight into just Hess and Thulin. There are a bevy of characters whose perspectives are explored, even if it's just for the length of a chapter or two. Which makes the book that much more interesting! 

The plot does have the kind of twists you'd expect of a story made for the small screen—the kinds of new revelations that would be a cliffhanger leading into the next episode. And rights to the book have already been sold to Netflix. The show is currently listed as "in development" so I don't know much about it as of yet except that it's a Danish production and it's set to be 6 episodes. But Sveistrup is on board as a producer, so hopefully that means it'll be done well! I'm definitely looking forward to it!

The Chestnut Man is out in paperback as of earlier this month. I have to give a nod, too, to the audiobook production. This is the kind of book that you really don't want to put down once you begin reading, and with a toddler that's not so much of an option! Which is why I leaned hard on the audiobook for a couple of afternoons of reading. Peter Noble does a fabulous job narrating (and even helped me figure out some of the pronunciations!), providing excellent voice to Sveistrup's story. I highly recommend it if you're a fan of audiobooks. You can check out a sample at Libro.fm

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

It's been a year since Lauren's father was found dead in the woods near Smith's Hollow and things have not been easy. Lauren and her mother don't get along and her younger brother, always reserved, seems to know things that he can't possibly know. 

But when two girls are found dead just a few houses from Lauren's, things go from bad to worse. Lauren sees something in the woods, a monster she thinks is all her own imagination. But she soon finds that she's able to follow the monster's trail. More surprising, though, is the town's history of dead girls. A history only a select few seem to be able to recall at all. Lauren doesn't want to believe it, but she can't deny the things she and her brother have seen of late. But can she solve the mystery before Smith's Hollow loses more young women?

Fall is certainly in the air and while I crave horror year round, this time of year makes the craving all but impossible to deny! Plus, I can always make room in my reading for an 80's-based horror :) 

And that's exactly what Christina Henry's latest is!

Smith's Hollow is a small town with a main street, an annual fall fair, and a chili factory that provides most of the jobs. But people are happy there. In fact, even those who do move away always return. They have everything they need. And, if they can't find something in Smith's Hollow, they can always head over to the new mall in the next town over. 

Things pretty much kick off with two horribly mutilated bodies. David, Lauren's brother, tells his mom that their neighbor is screaming. But they're all the way in town doing their shopping when he says this. Sure enough, they return home to find that the bodies of two unknown teenage girls have been found in that very neighbor's yard. 

But strangely, the fervor you'd expect as a result of such a case is missing. The newest cop on the force notices it. Even an out of town reporter notices. And it certain gets Lauren's attention. 

Lauren misses her father. She has a strained relationship with her mother. And even her best friend is drifting away from her. All she really wants to do is spend time in the woods the way she and her friend used to. This in spite of the fact that her own father was found dead in those very woods. And yet, Lauren has always felt comfortable there. And yet, those woods are also where she finds her first clue about the town's dark history. 

This book is so 80s! And I love it! 

Lauren disappears regularly into the woods, rides her bike down to the arcade, basically roams the way kids did when I was young. Which works great because it's only in this roaming that she's able to dig into the mystery none of the adults seem all that concerned about. 

As mentioned above, she and her mother have a pretty bad relationship. This was hard to read at times, considering the grief they're both feeling. Henry does a wonderful job with these characters and really getting the reader inside their heads (and hearts!). 

The Ghost Tree is certainly a break from Henry's most recent works, plays on Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. It's gory and fun, everything I want in horror!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Quinn Maybrook and her father are starting over. Which is why they've moved to the tiny town of Kettle Springs where her father will be taking over as town doctor. 

Kettle Springs is a dead end town. The main source of employment, the local corn syrup factory (which sports a weird clown logo) has been shut down and, just prior to Quinn's arrival, the heir to the factory tried to burn the thing down! It doesn't take long for Quinn to meet said delinquent and join in his group of rowdy friends. 

But when Quinn and the others set off to attend a Friday night party that's the talk of all the teens in town, little do they know that they've caught the attention of someone who wants them all to pay! The party quickly turns into a race for survival as Quinn and the others try to escape a deadly foe dressed as none other than the creepy clown mascot himself!

Adam Cesare's latest is a fun romp into teen slasher territory. It reminded me of a specific 90's film that I cannot name here without risking giving away the twist...

Clown begins with an accident one year prior to Quinn moving to town. There's a group of specific teens involved, the ones Quinn finds herself thrown in with her very first day in school. I wish that there had been a bit more fleshing out, though. The teens in question are in the habit of filming things to post online. Everything, according to a line by one of the teachers. But we don't really see much of this beyond the opening scene. What's more, there's no real delving into the friction that comes between these characters both as a result of the incident and leading up to the party. 

Quinn is, however, pretty well rounded. As is her dad. They've moved to Kettle Springs to get away from their own darker past—the fate of Quinn's mom. And Quinn's dad seems pretty cool. He's not worried about his daughter getting in trouble her first day, not after talking it out, and he's not worried about the party either (a good chance to make friends). 

Boy was he wrong!

I liked this outing from Cesare but I can't say that I loved it. A bit more fine tuning in the character development area and I think this could have been really great. As it stands, it's a good popcorn read perfect for Halloween season but maybe not one I'll reach for again and again. 

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha

Happy Book Birthday to Madi Sinha whose debut, The White Coat Diaries, hit shelves today!

Norah Kapadia has always dreamed of following in her father's footsteps to become a doctor. And now she's finally made it. For the next year, she'll be an intern, learning under the best at Philadelphia General Hospital. But to get through the year, she'll have to stay on her toes while working grueling hours, doing scut for higher ups, and putting up with everyone from nurses to residents and even the very doctors who are supposed to be teaching her treating her like something they scraped off the bottom of her shoe. 

At the end of her first day, Norah is more than ready to pack it in. Only her drive to continue her father's legacy, and her charming resident who may or may not be flirting with her, keeps her motivated. But with her home life becoming more and more complicated with each day, Norah finds it harder and harder to keep that bright eyed motivation going. And when Norah's own ethics are challenged, she isn't at all certain she has it in her to continue. 

I consider myself a pretty die hard fan of Grey's Anatomy, so of course a book comped to that is going to make it on my radar. Though so far Grey's has yet to introduce a character quite like Norah. 

Norah comes from a traditional Indian family, which means she doesn't drink and she's had very little (read, none) dating experience at all. She's been too focused on her career! But all that seems to matter to her mother is settling down with a nice Indian man and popping out a few grandchildren. Things that Norah hasn't been interested in at all. 

Norah is driven and smart, she's a good friend, she's a good daughter, she reads real, which I appreciated so much! I mean, the book starts with her accidentally sticking herself with a needle and immediately freaking out in exactly the way you'd expect any normal person to freak out. 

And Norah's got stress in addition to the needle stick. Her mother has been suffering from depression ever since Norah's father died (well over a decade ago). Caring for their mother has fallen to Norah's brother, who still lives close enough to check in multiple times a day, but with a new baby of his own, he's recently started lobbying for Norah's help. 

The bright spot in all of this is that Norah seems to be building some sort of relationship with her resident. He's newly-ish single and charming, willing to come in on his day off to help Norah with a patient no one else seems willing to spend time on. Oh, and he keeps asking her on sort of, could be dates that leave Norah incredibly confused. 

Are you getting the Grey's vibes? It probably helps that Sinha is an actual physician. And like the show, the medical stuff that's mentioned throughout the book is all at once fascinating and entertaining. One thing I think Sinha really shines at, that we never get in the show (TV vs books, y'all) is the internal turmoil that Norah suffers. When her friend points out that her way of talking about a patient, for example, is cold, Norah feels guilty. There's more, but I definitely don't want to give it away. After all, the drama is where the great reading is!

The White Coat Diaries is an excellent debut and Madi Sinha is officially on my must read list from here on out!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Excerpt: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm super excited to be sharing an excerpt from Katherine Laurin's These Vengeful Hearts. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone's lips. Its members--the most elite female students in the school--deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable...by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too--ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she's willing to sacrifice?

Does this not sound completely awesome?! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm a sucker for a good secret society book. And, Katherine Laurin lives in Colorado, which means she's local to me!

chapter one


Of the ways I’d want to start a Monday, finding a car covered in blood was not one of them. The murmurs began just after first period, and fragments of muted conversation led me out to the Heller High parking lot. I was curious to see the spectacle drawing so much attention.

The crush of students flowing out of the school buoyed me along in a tide of bodies. Between gaps in the crowd, I caught glimpses of the word smeared across the car’s windshield in blood red relief.

LIAR

Gray clouds hung low, casting the macabre tableau in watery light. The chill that slithered up my spine had nothing to do with the brisk October morning. I skirted a group of girls in front of me, recognizing familiar faces from my geometry class, and found myself staring down at the thick crimson streaks. The letters looked nearly dry, and I couldn’t fight the morbid impulse to touch them. A distinct tackiness remained. Was it corn syrup or actual blood? I didn’t care to investigate further.

There was no proof that the infamous secret organization made up of Heller High’s elite even existed, but this exhibition had all the makings of a Red Court takedown. Whispers from the ring of students surrounding the car reached me and I stepped backward, edging away from notice until I was part of the throng gathered to witness the scene. It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention to plain old jeans-and-a-tee-every-day Ember Williams. Good.

Other words, some so ugly I couldn’t look at them for more than a moment, marred the rest of the car’s windowed surfaces. My eyes skipped to the girl huddled beside a tree next to the parking lot. Tears stained with mascara ran in inky rivulets down her cheeks. Two of her friends rallied around her, whispering softly.

No amount of consolation was going to wash away the stain from this one. More than a few heads from the crowd were turned in her direction. I didn’t know her name, but I had a feeling she’d be remembered as that girl, the one whose car was vandalized with blood. She’d been marked by the words we’d all seen: liar, cheater, tramp.

Why did the Red Court target her? Who wanted this girl humiliated—to be brought so low in front of the whole school? Or had she been reckless enough to throw in with them and ask for a favor she couldn’t repay? No. The vulnerability in her expression was too raw to fake. This girl was a pawn in the Red Court’s game. The pull to learn more about the group known for dealing out ruin and favors in equal measure went beyond cursory interest. I needed to know more.

My stomach gave an uncomfortable tug, as if my body was eager to put distance between me and the girl now that I’d seen the damage. A sob shuddered through her, and I tore my gaze away, shifting my feet and noticing a stickiness below my sneakers. A thick coat of red clung to the bottom of my shoes, marking me too. Ugh. I must have stepped in a pool of the blood. I told myself it was fake blood because I couldn’t stomach the alternative. I’d have to go change into my running shoes before next period.

“Everyone back inside,” a teacher called from the main doors. His tone left no room for argument.

The mass of students quickly dissolved, moving back into the school. The whispers rose to chatter as theories were passed around like mono on prom night. I trailed behind a couple holding hands as they maneuvered through the crowd.

“This is the worst one so far,” the girl said.

Her boyfriend scoffed. “Worse than the video of Brett Shultz’s keg stand? No way. He got kicked off the football team for that. Brett had Division I schools scouting him, too.”

A rogue Facebook account cropped up just after the school year began with some incriminating footage of the varsity running back at a party in a stunning display of upper body strength and chugging technique. The video made it all the way to Principal McGovern, who reluctantly had him removed from the team, along with the school’s shot at a state title.

“Do you really think she cheated on her boyfriend?” someone behind me asked.

“Does it matter?” his friend responded.

I shook my head in silent reply. It didn’t matter. That was the power of the Red Court; gossip and innuendo were all it took for a star student to fall from grace after accusations of cheating.

As I passed a small cluster of teachers just inside the doors, I stepped nearer to catch the edges of their hushed exchange.

“—needs to do something.”

“The district’s policy on bullying—”

“I know the policy, but this is beyond ‘bullying.’ It’s the third time since the school year began.”

This may have been the third public display of destruction in the last six weeks, but it was hardly the third time the Red Court had struck. Their takedowns were legendary and highly visible to ensure maximum exposure, but they also excelled in the small things no one would notice unless they were looking for anomalies. My eyes were wide open.

For as long as anyone could remember, there have been rumors that the mysterious Red Court was pulling the strings behind the scenes at Heller High School. Its ranks were shrouded in mystery, but its influence was undeniable. Rigged Student Council elections, changed grades, and ruined reputations were all in their repertoire.

Half of the school treated them like the Boogeyman, the near mythical thing that was out to get you. It was easier to deny their existence than to acknowledge the specter of their presence. Takedowns like the one outside were as likely to be attributed to the Red Court as they were to be pinned on anonymous wannabes posing as the Red Court to allay suspicion. It seemed like the other half of the over two thousand students at Heller made a sport of trying to guess which members of the prom court were legitimate and which ones owed their wins to the Red Court.

But I knew the truth.

The Red Court was real, and I needed in.

I pushed my way through the crowded halls to get to my locker. All around me a chorus of voices carried the news of the Red Court’s latest victim, the story spreading faster than I could move.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was probably my best friend. I ducked into an alcove to check my texts.

Gideon: Did you hear?

Me: I saw, actually

Gideon: And?

Me: It was probably them. Who else would mess around with that much blood?

Gideon: Ew. Was it real blood?

I thought of my shoes again and shuddered.

Me: Who cares? The car looked like the prom scene from Carrie. They got their point across.

Gideon: I saw Mrs. Martin leading the girl into her office.

If something like that ever happened to me, I’d want to be put in the hands of the nicest—and most capable—guidance counselor, too.

Me: Yeah, I saw her outside.

Gideon: It’s too bad. She looked wrecked.

We were reaching the point in the conversation at which I was supposed to condemn the monsters who did this. I wasn’t ready to go there with Gideon. Revealing the true depth of my disgust at everything the Red Court stood for was not something I could do over text. Truthfully, my feelings about the Red Court were this gnarled mass inside of me, too big to start talking about at all.

Me: I gotta run. Lit is calling.

Gideon: Ok, see you after.

Before I’d made it halfway across the school, the warning bell rang. I gave up the attempt to change my shoes and turned to book it upstairs so I could suffer through American Lit with a room full of disenchanted sophomores. Oh joy. On an ordinary day, class was a chore to get through. On a day like today, with my mind busy dissecting the latest Red Court takedown, it seemed like my school would live up to its nickname after all. Welcome to Hell High.

“Ember?” Mr. Carson called my name like a question.

Crap. I must have missed something. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on Mr. Carson’s analysis of Leaves of Grass, which was a shame. Whitman had some serious 19th century game going on. “I sing the body electric” gave me chills the first time I read it.

“Yes, Mr. Carson?”

He sighed impatiently. Or perhaps disappointedly. “Do you have any thoughts on the final section?”

I glanced at my notes from the night before to read the scribbles aloud, but a mocking voice cut in.

“Whitman’s talking about the physicality of the body and how it is part of the soul or is the soul. Like it’s just as important as the soul, which at the time was elevated above a person’s body in significance.”

I threw a baleful look toward Chase Merriman—insufferable know-it-all—and was given a smug half-smile in return. He just loved to one-up me. Mr. Carson turned his gaze to me for more input, but my premeditated discussion points wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue. I gave my Lit teacher as unaffected a shrug as I could manage even though a sharp retort branded with Chase’s name tried to claw its way out of my throat. I pushed it down, not deigning to give Chase the satisfaction of knowing he got under my skin.

Mr. Carson continued droning on, asking for our “thoughts” and “feelings” about the poem. Poor guy didn’t seem to understand his audience. Disengaged was our default setting. It really took some doing to rouse us. Though Whitman’s work was taboo back in the day, most of the students here had probably seen something more risqué in their Instagram feeds over breakfast this morning.

The bell rang and Mr. Carson’s shoulders slumped. Another day of not making a difference. I almost felt bad for him, but this was his chosen career path. He had to know what he was getting into when he signed up to teach freaking poetry at a public school.

“Could you hang back a minute, Ember?” Mr. Carson’s words caught me six inches from the door and freedom.

I smiled tightly. The next period was my off-hour, but Gideon would be waiting. Every moment I wasted in the classroom diminished the chances of running out for my caffeine fix, which were already slim since I had to trek back across the school to change my sneakers first. I would not spend a moment longer than necessary in these shoes.

“What’s up, Carson?” He was one of those teachers who thought using “Mr.” in his title meant he was uncool, so I dropped it whenever I needed extra brownie points. Not that my brownie point bank account was in that much need.

“It’s unlike you to space out during an epic poetry discussion. Everything ok?”

Mr. Carson was probably my favorite teacher, and we had a strong rapport, but I couldn’t tell if his use of “epic” was sincere. I hoped for his sake he was being cheeky.

“Just having one of those days, you know?” Vague, Ember, be vague. “I’m sure I’ll be back to contributing the only meaningful insight tomorrow,” I added with a rueful smile, which he returned.

“Sounds like a plan. So you know, I’m always here if you need an ear.” He shut his copy of Leaves of Grass with a snap, effectively ending our conversation.

“Thanks!” I bolted out the door as fast as I could without seeming rude.

Running down the steps two at a time, I nearly crashed into Gideon as he waited at the foot of the stairs near the school’s main entry.

“What’s the rush, Em?” His words came out in a whoosh as he caught me.

“I need to stop by my locker before we get coffee. Let’s go!”

“Seriously? There isn’t time for a detour if we’re going to make it back before the hour is up. Let’s just hit the library instead.”

He was right of course, but I was in desperate need of a large Americano. I wanted to argue, but once Gideon made a decision, there was no way he’d change his mind. If only there was someone as bullheaded as him on the debate team with me.

Gideon broke down what he’d heard about the takedown this morning as we walked through the halls. I was too busy sulking to add to the commentary. I spun the combination on my locker, wondering how in the world I could explain the bloody shoes to my mom. The door swung open, and I tossed my bag to the ground. I was already toeing off my sneakers when a flash of red caught my eye.

The Queen of Hearts sat alone on the top shelf of my locker, the coy smile on her face said she knew something I didn’t. If the rumors were to be believed, she did. A Queen of Hearts was the eponymous calling card of the Red Court’s leader, and its presence could only mean one thing: my invitation had finally come.


Excerpted from These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, Copyright © 2020 by Katherine Laurin. Published by Inkyard Press.

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today. 

These Vengeful Hearts is out on shelves now!

For more on Katherine Laurin and her wok you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

One By One by Ruth Ware

Snoop is set to be the next big thing in music and social media. An app that allows you to "snoop" on other people's listening habits, Snoop is literally about to break big. And the company responsible has a decision to make. 

Which is why the employees find themselves in a swanky ski chalet in the French Alps. It's to be a trip filled with skiing, and business. A celebration of things to come! 

But when an avalanche leaves them snowed in and without power, the true tension between coworkers begins to show. And as they're picked off one by one, it becomes clear that not everyone is pleased about the direction Snoop is taking. 

A group of snarky tech coworkers snowed in under already tense circumstances proves to be the perfect setting for Ware's latest thriller!

The story is told from the perspectives of Erin and Liz. 

Erin is an employee at the chalet, working alongside the chef, Danny, as the only two employees on site. They're responsible for keeping the guests happy, though neither of them is exactly pleased with the Snoop bunch. 

Liz, as we quickly learn, is a former employee of Snoop. Which means she's an outsider already. She doesn't ski and most of the staff don't even know her, making things more than a little awkward. 

And then the bodies start piling up!

Ware is a master at building suspense and tension and One By One is no exception. But I will say that as enjoyable as this latest outing was, it's not her strongest novel. 

There were, of course, twists galore, some of which were a tad predictable. Nothing I'll hold against the book at all! And I loved the setting. But the characters were a little too on the nose throughout. 

Erin is hiding a secret and the rest are playing off of one another as the story goes on. Some of them are better rounded than others, even with the focus on Erin and Liz. But some of them do come across as simple caricatures in a few cases. 

All in all, this is a fun read but one that just doesn't quite live up to Ware's previous books. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Verant

Sophie has it all—she's chef de partie at a restaurant about to receive it's third Michelin star and her career is right on track. Unfortunately, that third star doesn't come. And Sophie finds herself blamed. And fired. 

Left with nothing, the final blow comes when she discovers that her beloved grandmother is in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. So she packs up and returns to France, a trip so long overdue that nothing looks familiar anymore. 

Her grandmother's chateau is now a fancy resort with two restaurants. And her grandmother has her own award from Michelin. But she can't run it from a hospital bed. And so it's up to Sophie, who hasn't stepped foot in a kitchen successfully since losing her job, to take over. It's a job that comes with much weight, and Sophie isn't sure she can be up to the task. But being back in France serves as a reminder of all the things that set her on this path to begin with. And if anything can bring her back, it's her grandmother's faith in her abilities!

Verant makes her fiction debut with The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

Sophie really does feel like she has the world at her fingertips at the beginning of the book. She's confident both as a person and especially as a chef. But when she's sabotaged, by a cheating ex and fellow chef, she loses even her faith in her own talents. (Except that the sabotaging chef in question wants her to come work for him!). 

She spends weeks holed up in her room and ignoring the kitchen. And her first attempts to dig herself out of the funk are disastrous. 

And then she learns that her grandmother is sick. 

Sophie's backstory is quite interesting. Her mother had mental health issues, which Sophie actually becomes convinced might plague her as well. And there's a secret hidden in this backstory as well—the reason her mother left France in the first place and prevented Sophie from returning for so long. 

This is a character-driven family drama perfect for any foodie Francophile! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Feature: The Book of Hidden Wonders by Polly Crosby

This week marks the release of Polly Crosby's debut, The Book of Hidden Wonders

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

A charming, deeply imaginative debut novel about a young girl who is immortalized in her father’s illustrated books containing clues to their family secrets.

Romilly Kemp and her eccentric father have happy but sheltered lives in a ramshackle mansion in the English countryside. To help make ends meet, he creates an illustrated book with Romilly—striking girl with red hair and a mole on her cheek—as the heroine with her cat, Monty. The book becomes an instant success and their estate is overrun with tourists and adventure seekers after rumors spread that hidden within its pages is an elaborate treasure hunt.

As Romilly gets older and her father writes more books, he starts disappearing within himself. She returns to his illustrations, looking for a way to connect with her ailing father, and finds a series of clues he’s left just for her. But this treasure hunt doesn’t lead her to gold or precious stones, but something worth far more—a shocking secret that is crucial to understanding her family.

This is a book steeped in magic and sadness. It's also the kind of book that, at times, asks the reader to delve deeper into the story and read between the lines to really understand the truth being revealed. 

This isn't a book for everyone but it is an enticing read that will tug at your heartstrings. 

For more on Polly Crosby and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Happiest of Book Birthdays to Alyssa Cole! Her latest, When No One Is Watching, is out today from William Morrow and it is utterly fantastic!

Sydney Green is in danger of losing her home. Many of her neighbors have already succumbed to the offers of salivating real estate developers. That, or they've fallen by the wayside of gentrification. Sydney is intent on holding out, but her position is precarious. The bills are piling up and Sydney, divorced and newly single, has returned to help her mother as best she can. But things aren't looking good. 

Theo has just moved into the neighborhood and he's fascinated by it's history. He's also fascinated by his neighbor, Sydney. He and his girlfriend bought and are renovating the place across the street, but things aren't rosy in the relationship department. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that Theo sunk all of his last bit of money into buying the building, he'd already be gone. 

In her spare time, Sydney is developing an historical tour of the neighborhood in response to the whitewashed version currently being sold to tourists and new tenants. And Theo soon begins to tag along. Together, as they research more of the history of the area, they run up against some scary parallels to what's currently happening. Sydney has been accused of being paranoid before and she's anxious to avoid the accusation again. But she's beginning to wonder. Is is possible there's something else behind all of the new, white, neighbors moving into the historically black neighborhood? Surely the revitalization is just capitalism at work and not something dark and sinister. Surely that kind of thing is in the past, a part of history... 

Alyssa Cole is known for her historical and contemporary romance novels. But with When No One Is Watching she stretches her writing wings into the thriller genre—and she does it fabulously well!

This is the most deliciously creepy and dark thriller I've read in a while. And in terms of timing it couldn't be better. 

When No One Is Watching tackles the dark side of gentrification and slaps the reader across the face with it. Sure, it's tied up in an entertaining and creepy little bow, but Sydney herself is blatant in her lessons to Theo. Whether it's called revitalization or something else, rich people have narrowed in on her neighborhood and that means bad things for the people who have called it home for so long. 

I loved When No One Is Watching. I was already a fan of Cole thanks to her incredibly fun Reluctant Royals series but when I heard she was making her thriller debut, I immediately added it to my must have list and it lived up to my every expectation and more!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine

Wil has been on her own for over a year now, ever since her mom and Lobo, her mom's boyfriend, left for California. And they left Wil in charge of the farm and the marijuana crop they've always been known for. But this is the second year that spring hasn't returned. The crop is all gone and their tiny town is going to crap. Wil isn't sure what to do until she gets a postcard from her mom, prompting her to head their way. 

But Wil isn't going alone. And she isn't going unprepared. With stragglers alongside her and a pack of seeds held close, she knows the road is going to be rough. And when her group upsets a violent cult leader, it only gets worse. 

Holy hell! Alison Stine is a powerhouse of a writer! 

Set in the near now (I won't even say near future because there is no date) in a perpetual winter, Stine's debut explores the fall of society as we know it as almost everything we've come to rely on—technology, industry, and even mother nature herself—fails. This is the kind of book that sucks me in so completely, by the time I came up for breath at the midway point I was actually somewhat surprised (and possibly unsettled) to find that it was still mid 90s outside and the sun was shining. 

That said, this is a bleak book with glimmers of hope (those seeds and Wil herself) that is a bit hard to swallow right now. In fact, it's a story that seems all too possible as we're in the midst of a pandemic and two storms are barreling down on my hometown. 

I loved Wil from the start. She's smart and resourceful. Her mother has been dating a man who runs the illegal marijuana trade in their part of Appalachian Ohio. And because of that, Wil's surprisingly in a bit of a better place to handle the issues that are coming. 

Wil has a knack for growing things. And she works hard. Which is why, even though she'd been distanced a bit from the business growing up (schooled on how to avoid spilling the beans, but also living away from the actual operation), she's four years out of high school and trustworthy enough to be in charge of their little operation when Lobo and her mom decide to hit the road. 

But Wil also has heart. Which is how she ends up traveling with companions rather than alone. 

I thought that given everything this book would be a big downer to read. And it certainly had it's moments. And yet, Stine's writing is so utterly wonderful that I found myself reading further in spite of the niggling unease that the story is a bit too real for true comfort. 

And it's easy to see why. Though this is her debut, Stine has written extensively on poverty and Appalachia, actively covering Covid related stories of late that are thoughtful, thought provoking, and eye opening to anyone who doesn't live in that region and has never experienced the kind of life she writes about. 

Stine is a truly admirable talent and this book is one that I think really does deserve a wide readership. I think there's a lot to grapple with in the reading, but I'm positive that for most readers even the daunting prospect of reading something that feels like it could be 2020's own next bombshell will fall by the wayside as soon as you meet Wil!

For more on Alison Stine and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Huge, huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to take part in the promo tour for this fabulous book! It doesn't officially hit shelves until September 1 but you can preorder it through all the expected venues: Harlequin - Bookshop - Barnes & Noble - Books-A-Million

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thin Air by Michelle Paver

1935: Kangchenjunga, the mountain that has so far conquered most who try to summit. Stephen's brother is intent on doing so, however, having idolized and studied those who have gone before him. But from the moment they set off, it seems the mountain has an eye to making sure they don't succeed. The team doesn't abide by superstition, but their sherpas certainly do. And the signs for this trek are bad indeed. 

Stephen is a last minute addition to the team. Invited because they needed a medic, not because his brother wants to share the glory with him. In fact, the two have a strained relationship. 

Stephen gets off on the wrong foot from the get go. Kits had hoped to have a talk with the only surviving member of the Lyell expedition he'd read about so many times. Stephen instead has the opportunity but botches it, getting all of them ousted from the man's house. Stephen himself isn't even sure what he's done, but the man's silence about the expedition is legendary. 

Of course that's what really sets the tone for the book. Stephen himself bucks any and all superstition shown by the support team of locals. And it's not until things start to go very badly for the expedition that he begins to believe there might be something to all of the rumors about the mountain.

This is my first read by Michelle Paver. It was also my first time hearing about Kangchenjunga at all. The third largest mountain in the world, it definitely doesn't get the glory and attention that Everest gets. But it's funny that I hadn't heard of it considering my draw to these kinds of stories. 

Paver's story is fiction as is the Lyell expedition the team is so focused on following, succeeding where that team did not. But the other climbs she mentions are real. Interestingly, Kangchenjunga was summitted (sort of—there was a longstanding tradition of not quite going to the top until just recently) by a team led by Aleister Crowley, no less. 

Also interesting, Kangchenjunga is the center of a pretty big yeti legend! 

It's clear from the start, though, that Paver's book isn't about a yeti. The subtitle is "A Ghost Story."

And a ghost story it is! 

But it's the build along the way that's oh, so deliciously creepy and atmospheric. One of the reasons I'm drawn to mountaineering stories is because it's something I have no desire ever to do. Heights terrify me, I hate the cold, and I'm happy if the most rigorous activity I take part in is turning the pages of a book about rigorous activity :) So going into it, this was actually a pretty perfect kind of horror story for me!

Thin Air is a slow burn, so probably not the book you want to dive into if you're looking for a quick read full of jump scares. Instead, it's a book that seeps into your very core. Stephen's discomfort and eventual isolation are much more of a focus than the actual ghost. By the time the really scary stuff starts, you've already been sufficiently discomfited by Stephen's entire experience on the mountain. 

Readers, I loved it! (Though I'd also now love a yeti horror!)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Excerpt: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm excited to be sharing an excerpt from Nancy Jooyoun Kim's debut, The Last Story of Mina Lee. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

This book is pretty high on my most anticipated list, so I am really excited to be able to give you a sneak peek today!

Margot

2014

Margot's final conversation with her mother had seemed so uneventful, so ordinary—another choppy bilingual plod. Half-understandable.

Business was slow again today. Even all the Korean businesses downtown are closing.

What did you eat for dinner?

Everyone is going to Target now, the big stores. It costs the same and it's cleaner.

Margot imagined her brain like a fishing net with the loosest of weaves as she watched the Korean words swim through. She had tried to tighten the net before, but learning another language, especially her mother's tongue, frustrated her. Why didn't her mother learn to speak English?

But that last conversation was two weeks ago. And for the past few days, Margot had only one question on her mind: Why didn't her mother pick up the phone?

****

Since Margot and Miguel had left Portland, the rain had been relentless and wild. Through the windshield wipers and fogged glass, they only caught glimpses of fast food and gas stations, motels and billboards, premium outlets and "family fun centers." Margot’s hands were stiff from clenching the steering wheel. The rain had started an hour ago, right after they had made a pit stop in north Portland to see the famous 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan sculpture with his cartoonish smile, red-and-white checkered shirt on his barrel chest, his hands resting on top of an upright axe.

Earlier that morning, Margot had stuffed a backpack and a duffel with a week's worth of clothes, picked up Miguel from his apartment with two large suitcases and three houseplants, and merged onto the freeway away from Seattle, driving Miguel down for his big move to Los Angeles. They'd stop in Daly City to spend the night at Miguel's family's house, which would take about ten hours to get to. At the start of the drive, Miguel had been lively, singing along to "Don't Stop Believing" and joking about all the men he would meet in LA. But now, almost four hours into the road trip, Miguel was silent with his forehead in his palm, taking deep breaths as if trying hard not to think about anything at all.

"Everything okay?" Margot asked.

"I'm just thinking about my parents."

"What about your parents?" Margot lowered her foot on the gas.

"Lying to them," he said.

"About why you're really moving down to LA?" The rain splashed down like a waterfall. Miguel had taken a job offer at an accounting firm in a location more conducive to his dreams of working in theatre. For the last two years, they had worked together at a nonprofit for people with disabilities. She was as an administrative assistant; he crunched numbers in finance. She would miss him, but she was happy for him, too. He would finally finish writing his play while honing his acting skills with classes at night. "The theatre classes? The plays that you write? The Grindr account?"

"About it all."

"Do you ever think about telling them?"

"All the time." He sighed. "But it's easier this way."

"Do you think they know?"

"Of course, they do. But..." He brushed his hand through his hair. "Sometimes, agreeing to the same lie is what makes a family family, Margot."

"Ha. Then what do you call people who agree to the same truth?"

"Uh, scientists?"

She laughed, having expected him to say friends. Gripping the wheel, she caught the sign for Salem.

"Do you need to use the bathroom?" she asked.

"I'm okay. We're gonna stop in Eugene, right?"

"Yeah, should be another hour or so."

"I'm kinda hungry." Rustling in his pack on the floor of the backseat, he found an apple, which he rubbed clean with the edge of his shirt. "Want a bite?"

"Not now, thanks."

His teeth crunched into the flesh, the scent cracking through the odor of wet floor mats and warm vents. Margot was struck by a memory of her mother's serene face—the downcast eyes above the high cheekbones, the relaxed mouth—as she peeled an apple with a paring knife, conjuring a continuous ribbon of skin. The resulting spiral held the shape of its former life. As a child, Margot would delicately hold this peel like a small animal in the palm of her hand, this proof that her mother could be a kind of magician, an artist who told an origin story through scraps—this is the skin of a fruit, this is its smell, this is its color.

"I hope the weather clears up soon," Miguel said, interrupting the memory. "It gets pretty narrow and windy for a while. There's a scary point right at the top of California where the road is just zigzagging while you're looking down cliffs. It's like a test to see if you can stay on the road."

"Oh, God,” Margot said. “Let's not talk about it anymore."

As she refocused on the rain-slicked road, the blurred lights, the yellow and white lines like yarn unspooling, Margot thought about her mother who hated driving on the freeway, her mother who no longer answered the phone. Where was her mother?

The windshield wipers squeaked, clearing sheets of rain.

"What about you?" Miguel asked. "Looking forward to seeing your mom? When did you see her last?"

Margot's stomach dropped. "Last Christmas," she said. "Actually, I've been trying to call her for the past few days to let her know, to let her know that we would be coming down." Gripping the wheel, she sighed. "I didn't really want to tell her because I wanted this to be a fun trip, but then I felt bad, so..."

"Is everything okay?"

"She hasn't been answering the phone."

"Hmm." He shifted in his seat. "Maybe her phone battery died?"

"It's a landline. Both landlines—at work and at home."

"Maybe she's on vacation?"

"She never goes on vacation." The windshield fogged, revealing smudges and streaks, past attempts to wipe it clean. She cranked up the air inside.

"Hasn't she ever wanted to go somewhere?"

"Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I don't know why, but she's always wanted to go there."

"It's a big ol' crack in the ground, Margot. Why wouldn't she want to see it? It's God's crack."

"It's some kind of Korean immigrant rite of passage. National Parks, reasons to wear hats and khaki, stuff like that. It's like America America."

"I bet she's okay,” Miguel said. “Maybe she's just been busier than usual, right? We'll be there soon enough."

"You're probably right. I'll call her again when we stop."

A heaviness expanded inside her chest. She fidgeted with the radio dial but caught only static with an occasional glimpse of a commercial or radio announcer's voice.

Her mother was fine. They would all be fine.

With Miguel in LA, she'd have more reasons to visit now.

The road lay before them like a peel of fruit. The windshield wipers hacked away the rivers that fell from the sky.

Excerpted from The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Jooyoun Kim Published by Park Row Books

Huge, huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to be part of the tour for The Last Story of Mina Lee!

For more on Nancy Jooyoun Kim and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

The Last Story of Mina Lee is officially out in bookstores on September 1. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

When I Was You by Amber Garza

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the blog tour for Amber Garza's latest, When I Was You

Kelly Medina is lonely. Her son is in college and her husband works away from home most of the week, leaving her alone in an empty house until the weekends. She keeps busy spending time with her best friend and attending yoga classes, all very exciting. 

But then something strange happens. Kelly receives a call from her son's old pediatrician's office reminding her of a well baby appointment. When Kelly lets them know they're mistaken they let slip that there's another Kelly Medina in town. 

Curious, Kelly arranges an "accidental" meeting with the other Kelly, befriending the young mother and taking her under her wing. 

But the elder Kelly's friends are worried. Even her husband expresses concern. And it seems they may be right. Kelly becomes more and more focused on the other Kelly's life and her young son. But how can she be sure they're even real when everyone else around her is certain they aren't? And just what is the younger Kelly hiding or hiding from?

When I Was You is so twisted! 

When we first meet Kelly Medina, it quickly becomes clear that she's a woman who is unsatisfied by her current situation. Hints are sprinkled throughout about just how bad things have been for her of late—her relationship is rocky, she misses her son, and there's clearly been some sort of incident that's left those around her concerned about her. 

In short, she's adrift. 

At first, finding out there's another Kelly Medina in town is a curiosity. Clearly there are other Kelly Medinas everywhere, as she soon learns, but this one is in her town. And her baby is registered with the same pediatrician that Kelly used to take her own son to see. Not only that, but it appears this new Kelly has also used the same yoga studio.

Soon, Kelly is so intrigued that she can't help but try to meet this other Kelly. 

And she quickly decides this new Kelly needs her. In fact, she's certain the young mom and her son are lucky to have met her. 

A sense of purpose and a desire to help aren't bad things, but again there's that niggling feeling that something is off. And those hints along the way...

Garza's thriller is a fast read that sucked me in from the very start! I was dying to know what was going on with the Kellys, especially once Garza teased more and more tiny details about each of their lives. Before long, I found myself completely unable to set the book down. I just had to know!!!

Huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to take part in the tour!

When I Was You releases next Tuesday, August 25.

For more on Amber Garza and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Hi, readers! Today I'm super excited to be part of the blog tour for Megan Goldin's latest thriller, The Night Swim!

Rachel Krall's podcast has blown up. Now in its third season, Rachel has worked hard to make sure she delivers the kind of programming and content that her listeners crave. Which is why she's traveled to the tiny town of Neapolis. 

Neapolis is the site of an upcoming court case that has literally split the town. A golden boy has been accused of rape and everyone has an opinion. Rachel strives to be impartial, sharing the facts as they're presented, but when she's approached by a woman who all but begs for help in solving her sister's murder, Rachel finds that being impartial is becoming more and more difficult. 

The murder in question is over two decades old and has nothing to do with the current trial, but similarities between the victims are impossible to overlook. And that case from so long ago is starting to haunt Rachel. As she splits her time and focus between the two cases, she begins to realize that Neapolis is hiding some very dark secrets!

I will admit that I had high expectations of The Night Swim, given how much I enjoyed Goldin's debut, The Escape Room. And I'm happy to say that this book did not disappoint! 

Rachel is on her way to Neapolis when the book begins. She's on her own, thanks to an accident that has left her producer, Pete, hospitalized. Being alone isn't really a concern except that Rachel's podcast has grown more and more popular with each season. But it's her voice people recognize, not her face. 

At least that's what she thought. 

Before she's even arrived, Rachel has been spotted by someone. A woman calling herself Hannah has left Rachel a note on her windshield. In the note, the woman asks for Rachel's help, claiming it's the third time she's done so. She's desperate, that much is clear to Rachel. But Rachel has a job to do—a trial to attend and a podcast to put together. She doesn't really have time to investigate a second crime. 

Plus, she's used to people asking for her help. And she's only got so much she can give. 

Still, something about the letter intrigues her. She finds herself drawn into the case in spite of her reservations. And as it turns out, there's something to the case after all. 

The small town setting is perfect for the kind of dramatic story that Goldin has built. And interspersed between chapters of Rachel's investigation and her attending the court case she's actually in town for, are episodes of the podcast and Hannah's letters. 

Weaving together so many different threads can be a precarious thing and it doesn't always work, but Goldin manages it quite well. I never felt pulled out of the story or anxious to get back to any one part. I thought the whole thing worked and flowed so well together that the narrative moved along at a great pace. 

I also had the chance to bounce back and forth between the audio book and the physical book, which was fortunate because it meant that I never really had to put the story aside (which I was in loathe of having to do!). The audio is particularly well produced, featuring three different voice narrators—Bailey Carr, January LaVoy, and Samantha Desz. 

Considering the book revolves around a podcast, I would highly suggest the audio version! You can listen to a sample over on Libro.fm

The Night Swim is out now and is an excellent thriller that especially hits home during summer. 

Huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to take part in the tour!

For more on Megan Goldin and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Little Bit of Grace by Phoebe Fox


Happy Book Birthday to Phoebe Fox! Her latest, A Little Bit of Grace, is out today!

Ever since her husband left, Grace has held out hope that they can reconcile and be together once again. They grew up together, after all. They were best friends. They were meant for one another! But ever since Grace learned that she can't have children, things between them have been different. And since they work together and live next door to one another, it makes things a bit...awkward. 

Things become even more awkward when her ex brings home another woman, dashing all of Grace's hopes for getting back together. 

And that's when Grace discovers something. Correspondence from Florida: a note for her mother from someone who clearly was unaware the woman had recently passed. Now, Grace, not quite bereft but certainly alone, realizes that she may not be alone after all. 

Throwing all caution to the wind, Grace books a flight to Florida to meet the woman who claims to be her long lost aunt. Not only does it mean a little bit of freedom and adventure, but it also means a chance to learn some things about her mom and her family that she never expected!

Phoebe Fox's latest is a sweet read about family secrets and forgiveness. 

It's also a book about finding who you are, no matter what your age!

Grace has never really lived a life of her own. She did what was expected of her: she went to school for law, took over the family business, and married her best friend (who also happened to be the son of her mother's best friend/business partner). And when her mother got sick, she took care of her until the very end. 

Aside from her father, who abandoned her and her mother and has a new family of his own, Grace has no one but her ex. 

Until she finds a note to her mother from Florida. Grace imagines the letter is from an old friend or maybe even an old lover. She certainly never expected it to be from her mother's aunt! Until now, Grace never even knew her mother had an aunt! 

The discovery is fortuitous because Grace could really use some time away. But Grace is pretty averse to change of any kind and even the last minute plane ride to Florida is almost too much for her to handle. 

Fortunately for Grace, her Aunt Milly is exactly what she needs!

Milly has lived a life full of adventure and she's only too willing to help Grace open up. But Grace desperately wants to know why Milly was never mentioned. She wants to know this almost as much as she wants to know what her mother was like as a child. Because, as it turns out, her mother was a bit of an adventurer and dreamer as well. Very different from the woman Grace always knew. 

I enjoyed Fox's latest. It's charming and breezy! It's a beachy read in more ways than one, and one that'll ultimately make you smile!

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner

 In 2008 a body is found in a Tijuana hotel. The ID is that of a woman named Atlantis Black. The body itself is noted as not matching the ID but it is cremated before fingerprint or dental analysis is done. 

Betsy Bonner still isn't sure if the body found in the hotel room was her sister. She still isn't sure if her sister is dead or alive. She still isn't sure exactly what happened in June 2008. 

What she does know is that her sister was trying to get out of charges of which she vehemently claimed she was innocent. Atlantis also mused about finding a way to get out of the country. And her Facebook posts from the months prior point to someone on a very dark path. 

This is the story of Atlantis Black as told by her sister Betsy. 

The Book of Atlantis Black is not at all my typical read. It's non fiction—a memoir with a hint of true crime flair. It's a sister trying to suss out the maybe final days of her missing sibling. It's also a sister trying to deal with grief and loss. 

And the story itself is absolutely bonkers! I mean that in a good way. This is undeniably an incredibly compelling read. I mean, it begins with the discovery of a body!

Betsy talks about her and her sister's upbringing. Their home life, their mom and dad (both of whom had a lot of issues). She talks about the fact that Atlantis's path of destruction seemingly began before she was really old enough to know any better. 

It's a tragic story, honestly. It's not a pleasant read by any means. But it is a story that pulls you along. It's filled with paranoia and conspiracy theories, the kind you reach for when there seems to be no other logical explanation as to a mystery this bizarre!

I had the pleasure of attending a virtual cocktail hour with Tin House and they were raving about this book, which of course meant that I had to find out for myself. They were right! This is a book that you really can't put down once you begin. It's also the closest thing to a one-sitting read that I've had in a while!

Admittedly, this is a book that should come with lots of warnings. But if you're ok with dark and disturbing stuff (it's fortunately not terribly graphic for the most part) and you're drawn into sort of cold case, unsolved mysteries, this is a book you'll absolutely gobble up!

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Feature: Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim

Happy Book Release Week to Roselle Lim whose latest, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, released yesterday!

I have been looking forward to diving into this one since it was announced! Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people’s fortunes—or misfortunes—in tea leaves.

Ever since she can remember, Vanessa Yu has been able to see people’s fortunes at the bottom of their teacups. To avoid blurting out their fortunes, she converts to coffee, but somehow fortunes escape and find a way to complicate her life and the ones of those around her. To add to this plight, her romance life is so nonexistent that her parents enlist the services of a matchmaking expert from Shanghai.

The day before her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa accidentally sees her own fate: death by traffic accident. She decides that she can’t truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities. When her eccentric aunt, Evelyn, shows up with a tempting offer to whisk her away, Vanessa says au revoir to America and bonjour to Paris. While working at Evelyn’s tea stall at a Parisian antique market, Vanessa performs some matchmaking of her own, attempting to help reconnect her aunt with a lost love. As she learns more about herself and the root of her gifts, she realizes one thing to be true: knowing one’s destiny isn’t a curse, but being unable to change it is.

Roselle Lim debuted last year with Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, charming readers with an #OwnVoices story that blend of magical realism, family drama, and food! And her latest sounds to be much of the same stand out elements again, but set in Paris!

If you're in the mood for a little bit lighter fare these days, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop is perfect. Fair warning, though, you may want to stock up on appropriate snacks :)

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Excerpt: Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

Happiest of Book Birthdays to Ellen Feldman whose latest, Paris Never Leaves You, finally releases today! I'm excited to be sharing an excerpt from the book, but first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Living through WWII working in a Paris bookstore with her young daughter, Vivi, and fighting for her life, Charlotte is no victim, she is a survivor. But can she survive the next chapter of her life?

Alternating between wartime Paris and 1950s New York publishing, Paris Never Leaves You is an extraordinary story of resilience, love, and impossible choices, exploring how survival never comes without a cost.

Feldman's book is one of many that was delayed thanks to Covid-19. And also one of many hitting shelves during the mess it's created in the industry, but at long last it is out on shelves! And thanks to the publisher, I have an excerpt to pique your interest!

One


New York, 1954


Charlotte spotted the letter as soon as she stepped into her office.There was no reason it should have caught her eye. The desk was littered with papers and envelopes. Stacks of manuscripts and books filled the shelves of the small cubicle and spilled over onto the two chairs. Certainly the airmail envelope didn’t make it stand out. Most of the books she published were American editions of European works, and a good deal of her mail arrived in those tissue-thin blue envelopes. The only explanation for its attracting her attention was that she’d already gone through her morning mail and the afternoon delivery hadn’t yet arrived. Perhaps the letter had gone to another editor by mistake, and he or she had left it on Charlotte’s desk while she was upstairs in the art department. Or perhaps the mailroom had overlooked it in the morning sorting.

Gibbon & Field was a prestigious publishing house, but a certain loucheness lurked behind the scenes. That was the fault of Horace Field, the publisher. He was too forgiving, or perhaps only cannily manipulative. She’d had her earliest inkling of the trait the first Christmas after she’d come to work at the house. Leaving the office one evening at the same time, she and Horace had entered the elevator together to find a young man from the production department struggling to balance two or three oversize art books and several of a more conventional trim size. When he saw Horace, he colored an unhappy Christmas red.

“I see you’ve taken our ads to heart, Seth,”Horace said. “‘There’s a book for everyone on your Christmas list.’”

The young man turned a deeper red and shot out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. That was unusual. The staff usually deferred to Horace getting on and off elevators, and everywhere else.

“Are you going to take the books out of his salary?” she’d asked as they’d followed him across the lobby.

“Not on your life.”

“It would teach him a lesson.”

“The only lesson I want to teach him, Charlie, is to work his tail off for the greater glory of G&F.”

“And you think encouraging him to walk out the door with an armful of purloined books will do that?”

“I think the next time he asks for a raise and doesn’t get it, he’ll remember all the books he’s filched and feel guilty, or at least compensated. Same with the expense accounts the editors and travelers turn in. They think they’restealing me blind, but a guilty conscience breeds contrition. Maybe evenloyalty. They feel they owe the house something in return. That’s why I worry about you. Those expense accounts you file are a travesty. If the other editors get wind of them, they’ll never forgive you for spoiling the game.”

Horace’s philosophy permeated the entire publishing house from the grand larceny of the production department, run by a man rumored to have ties to the Mafia, to the petty pilfering and general slacking off of the mailroom. That must be why the letter had been delivered late. And the timing was the only reason she noticed it. It had nothing to do with a sixth sense, in which she definitely did not believe.

She sat behind the desk and picked up the envelope. Her name and the G&F address were written, not typed. The handwriting wasn’t familiar. There was no return address on the upper left-hand corner. She turned it over. As soon as she saw the name, she realized why she hadn’t recognized the handwriting. When had they put anything in writing? No, that wasn’t true. He’d written her once, a year or so after the end of the war. The letter had taken months to wind its way through the Drancy records and the various agencies to reach her in New York. She’d taken solace in that. He didn’t know where she was, and he was still in Germany. She’d never answered that letter. The return address on this one was Bogotá, Colombia. So he’d got out after all. She was glad. She was als orelieved. South America was still a long distance away.

What troubled her was not where he was but that now he knew where she was. She’d thought she’d been so careful. Neither her address nor her telephone number was listed in the book. The people who had tried to help her settle into her new life—social workers and do-gooders from various refugee organizations; her colleagues here and at other publishing houses; Horace Field’s wife, Hannah—had found the omission foolish and antisocial. “How do you expect to make a life for yourself in a new country,” Hannah had asked, “if no one can find you?” Charlotte hadn’t argued with her. She’d merely gone on paying the small fee to be unlisted. Gradually Hannah and everyone else had stopped asking and chalked it up to what she’d been through. No one, including Hannah, knew what that was, but that didn’t stop them from speculating.

She wasn’t much easier to find in the office, though apparently he’d managed. Her name didn’t appear in the list of editors that ran down the left-hand side of the company stationery. Most publishing houses didn’t list editors on the stationery but that was another of Horace Field’s peculiar indulgences. A year after she’d come to work at G&F, he’d asked if she wanted to beincluded.

“Think of it as a sop,” he’d said.

“A sop?” She spoke four languages, could read two others, and had taken her degree at the Sorbonne in English literature, but in those days she was still having trouble with some American slang.

“Compensation for the slave wages we pay you.”

“At least you didn’t suggest I make up the difference by stealing books,” she’d said, and added that she didn’t want her name on the stationery but thanked him all the same. Nonetheless, despite her absence in the phonebook and on the company stationery, her name did occasionally turn up in acknowledgments in the books she worked on. And my gratitude to Charlotte Foret for steering my vessel safely through the turbulent waters of American publishing. My thanks to Charlotte Foret, who first saw that a book about the Dutch Golden Age written by a Dutchman would appeal to American audiences. The question was how he’d managed to get his hands on a US edition in Europe, or now South America. The various consulates had libraries to spread the American gospel among the local populations, but the books she published rarely spread the American gospel. Nonetheless, he must have found one. Or else he’d tracked her down through a refugee agency. Once in America, she’d distanced herself from the émigré or immigrant or refugee—choose your term—groups, but she’d had to file the usual papers and obtain the necessary documents to get here. She was traceable.

From Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today! I hope this little taste is enough to whet your appetite and send you running to buy a copy!

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