Thursday, August 29, 2019

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassie Hanwell is a star on the rise in the Austin Fire Department. The youngest firefighter (and only woman) to be awarded the department’s Valor Award and having recently passed the Lieutenants Exam mean an inevitable big promotion—until she screws it all up by very publicly assaulting a local politician.

Not that it happened without reason. Which is why she’s granted a bit of a reprieve and a chance to get out of the limelight until the trouble passes. Coincidentally, her mother has asked Cassie to move in for a year and help her recover from eye surgery. So Cassie finds a position in a tiny town outside Boston. A position given to her only because the department is so desperate for men that it’ll even take a woman! But Cassie knows her place as the first female in the old-school Lillian Fire Department is precarious. It means, per her old captain’s warnings, keeping her head down and never drawing undue attention to the fact that she’s not technically one of the boys. But Cassie isn’t one to keep her head down and when she meets to new rookie, she knows it’s going to be harder than she ever thought it could be!

Oh, I loved Katherine Center’s latest! Strained family dynamics, sexism, harassment, and more can’t keep Cassie Hanwell down. But it’s how she deals with it all that makes this such a great read.

Cassie and her mother have a terrible relationship, all thanks to her mother walking out on Cassie and her father on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday. And while that’s bad enough, the reader quickly learns that that birthday was worse than just that.

But as it turns out, and as is made clear by Cassie’s own father, Cassie’s mother isn’t a bad person. And living with her for a year gives Cassie a chance to finally learn that. It's also an opportunity to forgive her for her actions all those years ago. If, that is, Cassie is willing to give her the chance.

Cassie is as tough as she is stubborn. She’s also smart and incredibly likable. Which makes reading her story such a treat.

I’ll add, too, that I enjoyed this one so much I immediately downloaded the audio short that’s a bit of an accompaniment to this one. (It also cements a tie in with How to Walk Away that fans will definitely catch reference to early in the book.) The Girl in the Plane is read by Center herself and includes a first chapter excerpt of the audiobook of Things You Save in a Fire.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abby Waxman

Ever since I read The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, she’s been an author on my must-read list. And her latest couldn’t have been more fun!

Nina Hill is comfortable with her routine. She goes to work, she goes to book club, she goes to trivia. Once a week she goes to the movies, usually by herself. She doesn’t own a car, her world is basically walking distance from her cozy house where she lives with her books and her cat.

But when Nina finds out the father she never knew has passed away, all of that changes. Apparently, her dad had quite the family. Which Nina has now inherited. The introduction of a slew of strangers in her life means Nina’s carefully managed day to day existence is in complete upheaval. And she’s not sure she likes it one bit!

This latest from Waxman is just as sweet and funny as her previous outings. Plus, I feel a special kinship with Nina considering she’s book people :)

So Nina grew up without a dad. And mostly without a mom, too. Her mom is a photographer who travels the world and never really told Nina much about her father. Instead, Nina was raised by a nanny who was more of a parental figure than either of her biological parents.

And as it turns out, her father was asked to stay away and never contact her. Of course once he’s passed away he figured that deal was over and done with. Which is why Nina is contacted by a lawyer and told she’s a beneficiary in the dead man’s will.

Nina was the product of an affair. The man in question also married three times and had children in each marriage. And some of those children have children now as well. Which means Nina has quite a large family of complete strangers to get to know. And some of them are pretty intent on that happening - Nina getting to know them, that is.

But Nina is so stringent in her routine that she even has Thursday evenings blocked off to do literally nothing. And she won’t even budge for a date!

Turns out Nina’s strict scheduling is her way of dealing with anxiety, something I can sympathize with.

Like I said, her story is sweet and fun. It’s a pretty light and breezy read as well, though it does touch on anxiety issues in a way that I think even those who don’t suffer from it can understand.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is the perfect read for the end of summer. Something happy with lots of heart, perfect for these final long, sunny evenings!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Passengers by John Marrs

Happy Book Birthday to John Marrs whose latest, The Passengers, released today.

Eight people have been taken hostage. Their fates are in the hands of a cruel hacker out to prove a point and intent on using the court of public appeal, via social media, as help. The eight people are as different as can be. One is an aging actress, one is a pregnant mother-to-be, one is a cop while another is actually her husband, one is an immigrant housewife in the wrong place at the wrong time, one is an asylum seeker, one is a single man, and one is a veteran. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all Passengers.

Their cars, powered by AI trusted to get them safely from one place to another, have been hijacked. The hacker has told them all that they will likely be dead in two hours. And the whole world is watching.

In the near future, autonomous cars are mandatory. Roads are safer, insurance is cheaper, and the government offers incentives for people in need of an upgrade.

But things aren’t as rosy as they appear in this future. In Marrs’s imagined future, these cars are supposed to be impossible to hack. But someone has figured out how to do it and his end goal is...well, that's part of the plot.

In addition to the perspectives of some of the Passengers, the novel also features Libby Dixon, a civilian member on a jury tasked with examining cases where people have been killed in car accidents. But, of course, the job is a little different now. Now it's determining whether the AI is responsible or not. And the hacker has his eye on them. In fact, it seems that the issue the hacker may be trying to bring to light is the fact that the cars aren’t as safe as the government would have us believe. And yet, as the book continues, it becomes clear there’s something deeper going on. Each of the characters hints at something hiding in their pasts. And it seems maybe the hacker's purpose is much darker than simply bringing to light the government's part in reliance on an untrustworthy technology.

Obviously it's darker than that. He's willing to kill people!

If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, this is a must read. The over reliance on technology, greedy agendas, shady government participation, it's all on point for anyone who has a healthy skepticism about these things. Which makes it both a dark and fun read!

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.