Thursday, August 15, 2019

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Summer's almost over and that makes me sad. It's always been my favorite time of year, with fall a close second (because fall = Halloween!). But the shortening days and colder weather are definitely not my jam. Give me sweltering heat, afternoons under a ceiling fan or sitting poolside (I wish!), or a tropical drink and a beach any day!

And books! But those get me through year round :)

Over the years I've shied away somewhat from the term "beach read" mostly because A. my preferred beach reading is very different from other people's (I mean, I read Rebecca and It one summer and consider those a perfect benchmark for "beach" reading, as a result). But when a book is actually centered around a beachy theme...

Catherine Steadman's Something in the Water by definition then falls into the "beach read" category!

Erin and Mark are newlyweds already wading through complications. Mark has recently lost his job, something that forced them to drastically downgrade their wedding plans and their much-anticipated honeymoon. 

But they are still honeymooning! In Bora Bora, no less. While diving one day, though, they make a shocking discovery that kicks off a dangerous set of circumstances and a series of decisions that take them further and further down a path they can't recover from. 

You know things aren't going to end well for Mark and Erin. The book begins with Erin musing over how long it takes to dig a grave—because she's being forced to do just that. But the path that got her to this point is a twisty turny one that Steadman throws the reader headfirst into shortly thereafter.

Erin is a documentary filmmaker working on a project about three prisoners soon to be released back into society. And it's obvious from the start, because of the amount of time spent on this part of her story, that this is going to play some role as the plot proceeds.

The couple is still in the planning stages of the wedding (the final planning stages) when Mark loses his job. The resulting arguments and stress are exactly what you'd imagine considering weddings are EXPENSIVE! But the couple comes to a compromise that still allows them a honeymoon in paradise.

Of course, that's where things start to get really bad. But also heady and exciting for the couple. And the reader is well aware that this is an "if it seems too good to be true" scenario!

It reminded me more than a bit of Peter Benchley's The Deep. (Or rather the two movie adaptations, since I've not read the actual book.) And if you're familiar with that storyline, then you can kind of imagine the path Steadman's debut takes. To make the comparison might be a bit spoilery except that as soon as Mark and Erin make their discovery, you can kind of guess where the story is headed anyway.

Something in the Water isn't a complex cerebral read. But it is quite enjoyable, even if it is a tad predictable. I liked Erin more and more as the story progressed. Can I mention again that we meet her as she's digging a grave? And she's googled about the process on the dead person's phone. So she's no dummy. And even when some of the decisions the couple makes are questionable, it makes you wonder as a reader what you'd do in the same situation, something I really enjoyed mulling over after I'd finished reading.

This is another book I read on audio while hanging with the tiny and it is a phenomenal audiobook! Narrated by Steadman herself, who is also a screen actress (she was in Downton Abbey). It's always a bonus when an author has the ability to narrate their own books. By which I mean when the author has the talent to really do a book justice on audio (because some of them do their own audiobooks when they really shouldn't). And in Steadman's hands (or voice), Something in the Water really shines on audio! (Check out a sample over on Libro.fm.)

I had so much fun with this one that I'm anxiously awaiting Steadman's new release, Mr. Nobody, in January.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Short Fiction Friday: The Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow

Did you know there are multiple phobias related to water? For example, I love the water. I find it relaxing. In fact, I'd spend every waking minute in a swimming pool if that was an option!

But I have a major fear of open water. Specifically, in searching, thalassophobia seems to be the culprit—a fear of deep water and the things in it. Paired with a teeny bit of claustrophobia this guarantees you'll never find me in a dive suit. Never. (Which is funny because my parents both loved diving!)

But this fear is the thing that makes me reach for movies like Black Water and the upcoming Crawl. It also makes books like The Devil and the Deep a must read for me!

This book features everything from ghosts and sea monsters to viruses and everything else you can imagine in between.

It's hard to play favorites with such an honestly excellent collection, but a few stand outs for me were: Alyssa Wong's "What My Mother Left Me," a chilling tale of loss and desire; Siobhan Carroll's "Haunt,"a historical horror set on a doomed ship; Michael Marshall Smith's "Shit Happens," which is amazingly comical and gross; and Seanan McGuire's dark and twisty take on The Little Mermaid, "Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You the Sea."

The book also features quite a few of my go to authors in this genre including, McGuire, Stephen Graham Jones, Christopher Golden, and Brian Hodge. There were quite a few new-to-me authors featured as well, such as the aforementioned Carroll, Lee Thomas, Terry Dowling, Ray Cluley.

Here’s the full TOC:

Deadwater by Simon Bestwick
Fodder’s Jig by Lee Thomas
The Curious Allure of the Sea by Christopher Golden
The Tryal Attract by Terry Dowling
The Whalers Song by Ray Cluley
A Ship of the South Wind by Bradley Denton
What My Mother Left Me by Alyssa Wong
Broken Record by Stephen Graham Jones
Saudade by Steve Rasnic Tem
A Moment Before Breaking by A.C. Wise
Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You to the Sea by Seanan McGuire
The Deep Sea Swell by John Langan
He Sings Of Salt and Wormwood by Brian Hodge
Shit Happens by Michael Marshall Smith
Haunt by Siobhan Carroll

Whether you're terrified of the sea or entranced by it, you're absolutely sure to love this horrific collection of water based terrors!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sweet Tea and Sympathy by Molly Harper

When up and coming superstar event planner Margot Cary loses control of a huge event in a disastrous way, she finds herself without a job and with dwindling options. No one wants to hire the star of the latest viral video. No one except Margot's long lost Southern family she can't even remember meeting.

Margot's mother whisked her daughter away after having had enough of her husband's drinking. And that was the last time Margot had anything to do with her father or his family in Lake Sackett, Georgia. In all the years since, no one's reached out to her and she's been fine with that.

But they're reaching out now, in the form of an offer of employment. And a place to live. As serendipitous as the offer is, Margot isn't sure she wants anything to do with these people. But with no other offers to speak of, she's willing to do it long enough to land a job elsewhere. The last thing Margot planned on, though, was getting attached!

This is the first book in the Southern Eclectic series. Considering these are quirky rom-coms set around a southern family who runs a bait shop and funeral home (that's one business—a bait shop on the lakeside and a funeral home in the back), with no fangs or fur, it's a bit of a change for Harper!

What isn't a change is Harper's signature humor and charm, which are both present in spades!

These were recommended to me when I asked for something lighthearted and happy—and this first in the series is certainly both.

I liked Margot. She's a bit high strung and also a bit of a snob but she comes by it honestly. As she and her family get to know one another, though, and she falls for a local, she begins to loosen up. And yet, her determination to leave the small town behind and return to the big city and a big job are always at the edges of the story. Which makes the will she won't she aspect much of the tension.

Sweet Tea and Sympathy is perfect if you're in the mood for something light and breezy. It's feel good to the extreme. And if you love it, as I do, there's more! Ain't She a Peach features Margot's cousin, the town coroner, and Gimme Some Sugar focuses on their other cousin, Duffy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Vincent, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules have been called to a last minute meeting. A last minute, mandatory meeting at that. They arrive at a random office building in the middle of nowhere, South Bronx, and are told they're going to participate in a team building exercise—an escape room. 

What was supposed to be an hour long detour in each of their evenings, stretches out much longer than expected. Trapped in an elevator with a series of clues to unravel before they can leave, the coworkers, all team members at a highly competitive investment firm, quickly find themselves at each others throats. Each new riddle leads to more and more explosive revelations and it soon becomes clear that this is not about team building at all. 

The Escape Room is an absolute edge of your seat read!

Escape rooms have become more and more popular with each passing month and have entered into pop culture in what has to be the most expected, sinister way—as fodder for horror movies and thrillers. Because what sounds more fun than being trapped with a bunch of people trying to untangle clues and riddles before you can leave, right?

Goldin's tale alternates chapters between the four in the elevator, present, and a woman named Sara Hall. Unemployed and desperate, Sara has run through a series of interviews at a series of investment firms to no end. Until she catches a lucky break that gets her hired at Stanhope and Sons. The very firm Vincent, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules work at. In fact, along with one other employee, Lucy, they make up the very team Sara works alongside.

But Sara and Lucy are conspicuously missing from the escape room antics, which is just the first of many twists of the novel.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. The pacing was excellent and those twists kept me intrigued throughout. I just had to know what was going to happen next!

This is Goldin's debut release stateside. The Australian native has one previous release that hasn't made its way here as of yet, but I certainly hope that it will. What's more, I'll be looking forward to more from her down the road!

As an aside, I had the chance to listen to this one on audio thanks to Libro.fm and, if audiobooks are your jam, I absolutely recommend it! The audio features two narrators: Ramon de Ocampo and January LaVoy (LaVoy reads Sara's chapters and Ocampo reads the rest).

Friday, July 26, 2019

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Laura Lippman's latest standalone, Lady in the Lake.

It's 1965 and Maddie Schwartz is tired of all the charade. She's tired of being married to Milton Schwartz. She's tired of doing what's expected of her. She's tired of her limitations. And so she leaves her husband and sets out on her own. 

But being on her own means paying her own bills. Which means she needs an income. 

Her lucky break comes at the expense of another. A missing girl and a search party Maddie isn't welcome to join leads her to her own search. Unfortunately she finds the girl, but it's what sets Maddie on the path to becoming someone. And that someone is a reporter. Maddie has no problem digging into other people's business. No problem sticking her nose where people say it doesn't belong. But the drive and determination behind that, the motivation to make something of herself, doesn't go unnoticed. And it doesn't take long for Maddie to start uncovering the wrong person's secrets. 

Lippman's books are always such a treat. She's smart and her books are smart!

Lady in the Lake is, as mentioned, a standalone. Though it is set in Tess Monaghan's world—albeit before Tess's time (with a little nod to her parents).

Race relations are a huge part of the story as are women's roles in the 60s. Maddie bucks expectations in more ways than one and finds ways around most of them. It's not easy, though. And the roadblocks she faces were par for the course for any woman in the 60s.

The "Lady in the Lake," Cleo, is a great parallel to Maddie. Another woman driven to make something of herself, to provide for her children, Cleo is willing to do whatever it takes. But Cleo is black and most definitely not well to do, which means even more roadblocks than Maddie faces. It's also the reason no one looks deeply into her disappearance and murder, in spite of her mother's concerns.

Both Maddie and Cleo are given voice in this story. Interestingly, so are the characters that cross Maddie's and Cleo's paths along the way. Interspersed throughout the book are outtakes of a sort, chapters from the perspectives of police officers, waitresses, reporters...a bevy of people who make up Maddie's and Cleo's  worlds. In less deft hands, these chapters might hang up the story, affecting the overall momentum of the mystery itself. But Lippman weaves these chapters in so organically that the pacing flows perfectly.

As I said, Lippman's books are always a treat and Lady of the Lake further proves that!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour post here.

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell

Dorothea believes wholeheartedly in charitable works. And if her chosen focus—the conditions at Oakgate Prison—just happen to allow her to explore her passion for phrenology, all the better. 

When Dorothea meets Ruth Butterham, she is simply desperate to get at the girl's skull. Ruth's crime is a heinous one and Ruth's confession upon their first meeting that she has killed many, intrigues Dorothea even more. But Ruth's supposed crimes are of a peculiar sort. Each time they meet, she tells more of her tale to Dorothea and it's one woven with oddities that the society woman immediately writes off as superstition. The more she learns of Ruth and her victims, however, the more Dorothea questions whether there's something more than imagination to the tale. 

If Victorian gothic is your jam, Laura Purcell needs to be in your reading plans!

Dorothea is a practical woman and she is a staunch believer in phrenology. This is the terribly maligned belief that people once held regarding the connection between behavior and skull shape. Really, it was an attempt to assign a biological explanation as to why people do the things they do. Obviously, it was short lived as a historical note in criminal justice, but it is alive and well in Dorothea's world!

Poor Ruth is just sixteen as the story takes place and the tale she recounts to Dorothea begins when she's just thirteen. She's the bullied only daughter of a former society woman who was cut off after marrying beneath her station. And they've all suffered for the sin ever since.

Things get worse for the family when Ruth is taken out of school to help her mother's knitting and sewing work so they can afford the addition of a new member to their family, something Ruth is initially resentful for even though it takes her beyond the clutches of her tormentors.

But Ruth has a talent with a needle that is the envy of even her own mother. And soon Ruth comes to believe her talent extends beyond simply creating clean stitches and beautiful patterns.

Ruth is a pitiable character. She suffers so much and the reader can't help by sympathize with her. Even Dorothea finds herself sympathizing with the girl, though she analyzes every statement with an understandable reservation. On the one hand, she believes in verifiable facts. And there are many, many verifiable facts to Ruth's story as well as logical explanations for the more fantastical parts. The story causes her to evaluate her own situation more than she'd like as well considering she's been carrying on with an illicit affair under her father's nose.

As with her debut, The Silent Companion, the thread of potential supernatural forces throughout the book remains something both Dorothea and the reader question as a reality throughout the book. And the pacing is deliberate, which, paired with a quieter sense of dread throughout, means this is a slow burn.

But what a read it is! If you have the patience and the time to really dive into Purcell's work, it is so rewarding! The creep factor ratchets up with each new chapter. The story becomes darker and darker as Ruth's story comes closer to it's end. And the unexpected (but strongly hinted at) twist is so satisfying!

I loved this book immensely and highly recommend it for fans of creepy classic gothic historicals!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Vox by Christina Dalcher - paperback release + a Giveaway

Happy Paperback Release Day to Christina Dalcher!

I reviewed Vox when it was new out in hardcover, but I'm reposting today to promote the paperback release of this explosive and terrifying debut. I'm also offering up one copy in a giveaway so be sure to read through to the end to enter!

Imagine if you were restricted, by law, to just 100 words a day. You aren't allowed a job, a career, of any kind. Your money is controlled by someone else and your privileges as a member of society have been reduced to daily tasks and chores only.

In Christina Dalcher's debut, this is the reality of the new America and the life women are forced to live when an evangelical-led government comes into power and decides it's time for a change.

Jean lives in this reality. She can recall a time when this wasn't the case - when she was allowed to speak as much as she wanted, when she held a job she was proud of, when she didn't have to constantly worry about her own daughter facing the painful consequences of speaking too many words in one day. And Jean is a linguist, so she worries about the overall effect this limit will have on her daughter as she grows, not just in terms of changing social norms but in terms of education and development.

But for now, this is Jean's reality.

And then things change. Jean's expertise is requested by none other than the president himself, giving Jean the bargaining chip she needs to garner some bit of freedom for herself and her daughter. But she soon learns that her own freedom will come at great cost.

This book. This book! Yes, it's one of those reads. The kind that shakes you to the core. The kind that's all too close to reality. The kind that gives you the chance to see just how something so horrific and previously unimaginable could actually happen. And it's terrifying, to be totally honest!

I liked this book in the same way that I liked The Handmaid's Tale, which is to say that experience reading it was tempered by the constant and overriding fear that this could indeed one day happen. And we'd all like to say, never. Or at least, never hear. And yet...

Vox is a great read if for no reason other than it will get people talking. TALKING! So even if you're potentially turned off by the fact that it definitely does hit a bit too close to home these days, it is absolutely thought provoking and may even get people thinking about just how close to a precipice we are and what we need to to do make sure something like this never happens!

And now for the giveaway! Thanks to the publisher I've got one copy up for grabs. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 29. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway