Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Trish is excellent at her job. Recruiting people to donate sleep for the growing insomnia outbreak, using the story of her own sister to get people to sign on, is something she excels at. And the company she works for says they're committed to providing dreams to those who need them. 

But when Trish becomes a bit too interested in Baby A, a universal donor who's own parents are conflicted about her use, she starts to uncover some shocking information. In the midst of this, another anonymous donor has started a worse outbreak. That of a shared nightmare resulting from his own donation. 

Things start to come to a head when the public becomes more and more afraid of potential nightmares and Trish becomes more and more disillusioned with her job. 

What a weird little book to read during a pandemic. 

Vintage rereleased this novella last month, making it available in print for the first time. They also added illustrations to this creepy and magical little tale. 

Funnily enough, I read this during a bout of insomnia! Maybe that's not funny. It actually made it quite eerie to read. And as a longtime sufferer who is also a newish parent, I found myself equally sympathetic to Trish and Baby A's parents. It wasn't exactly a comfortable place to be!

And again, a weird book to read during a pandemic. Even if you don't suffer from insomnia, it's impossible not to draw parallels between our current situation and this book. And to wonder just how far you'd go for a cure...Sleep Donation is unsettling, but also quite entertaining. 

Russell's writing is something I've been delving into for the first time this year. She's a truly gifted talent, blending the weird and outright paranormal with familiar themes. Her stories (that's all I've read thus far) are quirky and easy to sink into. They also haunt you long after you finish!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck

Roger Kaponen is well known for his occult thrillers. But no one ever expected a murderer to use his books as a blueprint for their crimes. And yet, when Kaponen's own wife is discovered brutally murdered in their home, it seems someone has done just that. 

Jessica Niemi is one of the investigators on the case. And she's the first to draw the connection between the books and the crime. Soon, she and the rest of her team realize they're being manipulated by a murderer who is always one step ahead. And with Kaponen's books as guides, they know there are more bodies to come. 

I have been all about Nordic Noir of late. In fact, I'd say it helped get me out of a pretty major (and understandable) reading slump this year! Thankfully, there's a ton of backlist to delve into and just as many new releases on the horizon!

Max Seeck's debut is one of the latest and is out on shelves today. 

This is a fun one because, in addition to the regular Scandi Crime darkness, it's got an extra creepy layer that makes it a perfect Halloween-y read!

A woman is found in her own home, murdered and gruesomely posed. The placement bears a striking, and later confirmed, resemblance to a murder that takes place in her own husband's bestselling crime series. 

Jessica Niemi is a smart cop with a secret past. Throughout the book, she's not the only one keeping secrets. Her mentor is ill and trying to keep his health concerns under wraps as best he can. But the case is all consuming, which means he doesn't have much time to worry about his own diagnosis. Especially when it becomes clear that Jessica has caught the attention of the killer. 

Seeck throws bodies at the reader pretty continuously as the book goes on. Any time the police think they may have a lead, there seems to be yet another murder to add to the growing list!

Jessica is a fascinating character. There are flashbacks to a trip to Italy that takes place when she's 19. How these figure into the story as a whole don't really become clear until the very end, but it's yet another part of her past that she's intent on not revisiting. 

Interestingly, Goodreads has the book listed as Jessica Niemi #1. A quick search reveals there is indeed a second book that has just been released overseas. I'll be looking forward to reading more and seeing what happens next with Jessica. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Social Distancing With Nordic Noir

Reading through the pandemic has been a challenge but I seem to have caught my stride by diving into the things I like to read the most, darker fiction. Horror, thrillers, dark sci fi, all of them have been serving well as distractions as we muddle our way through the current situation this year. 

I know this isn’t the case for all readers. Many are finding comfort in lighter reads. For me, darker fiction has always been my jam and one of my favorite genres is Nordic.

Nordic Noir is simply crime fiction set in Nordic countries (Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden). But any fan of these books can attest to the fact that there’s a definite aesthetic to the genre that sets it apart from crime fiction from other regions.

Nordic Noir is brutal. It’s gritty and dark and features some of the most twisted and depraved criminals I’ve ever seen in fiction. So it’s definitely not a genre for everybody. But it is a genre that has a huge fan base, so much so that there multiple festivals celebrating these books in various countries!

Henning Mankell is one of the most well known authors of the genre. His Kurt Wallander series made its way to the English language readers early on and was adapted into a Swedish film series and TV show as well as an English TV show starring Kenneth Branagh. But it was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that really kicked the genre into the mainstream.

My own introductions were Kirsten Ekman's Blackwater and Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Though the latter not considered true Nordic Noir, it is helmed as a predecessor to the trend. I don't recall much about Ekman's book at this stage. It was her first to be translated to English and I read it around 1996, so it's been a while. 

I recall more of Smilla's Sense of Snow thanks to having seen the movie so many times! In the book, a child falls off the roof of a building and dies but Smilla is convinced it wasn’t an accident. When no one listens, she decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate. It’s an odd read, but as a teenager I loved it and it opened the way to my reading more Nordic authors!

One of my longtime, current favorites is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is heavily inspired by actual events and history in Iceland and each book always has just a hint of the supernatural to it. One is even based on the Icelandic folklore around trolls! The first in the series, and the author’s debut, was Last Rituals, a book that finds Thóra, an attorney and single mother, aiding in the investigation of the murder of a college student.

Sigurðardóttir has recently kicked off a new series as well, this one featuring a psychologist. The first book is called The Legacy. I was lucky enough to be in Houston on the very day she was doing an event last fall and got to hear her speak!

As a longtime reader of mysteries and thrillers, it’s always a treat to find an author who can keep me guessing straight through to the end and Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of those authors. His Department Q series is an absolute favorite of mine and features a grumpy detective relegated to sifting through cold cases thanks to his bad attitude. Unfortunately for the powers that be, Carl Mørck and his misfit cohorts prove to be better at their jobs than anyone expected. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first book in the series and it is fabulous. Be warned, though, it is incredibly dark! (The movie adaptation is fabulous as well and I highly suggest seeking it out! There are actually movies based on the first four books, but the last one hasn't made it's way to the States as of yet, sadly.)

This year saw me reading my first Lars Kepler novels. These are penned by a husband and wife team. The series kicks off with The Hypnotist. If you read the blog often, then you've also seen my recent coverage of Ragnar Jónasson, Sara Blaedel, and Søren Sveistrup. Other well known and excellent authors in the genre include Jo Nesbø, Jenny Rogneby, and Camilla Läckberg amongst others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Note: This book was previously published as The Undertaker's Daughter

Ilka Jensen hasn't seen her father in over a decade. And now he's died and left her a funeral home in Racine, Illinois. And so she travels from Denmark to the US to settle her father's estate in spite of her mother's warnings. And her mother is well within her rights to warn Ilka. After all, Paul Jensen abandoned them, leaving her mother in charge of a funeral home in Denmark that was buried in debt. 

As it turns out, Paul's gambling and penchant for racking up debts didn't change when he moved to the US. The funeral home is struggling and the IRS is ready to seize its assets to cover Paul's massive liability. And yet, Ilka is hesitant to go against her father's wishes in regards to the business. 

As if dealing with those issues weren't enough, Ilka finds herself in a confusing power play with the other employees of the funeral home. And, to make matters worse, one of their most recent pick ups turns out to be a man who was accused of murder many years ago. Just having his body in their cold storage seems to have made them a target for the town's ire, which hasn't faded one bit over time. 

It's been ages since I read Sara Blaedel. In fact, this year has seen my return to numerous Nordic Noir series and authors I've long been familiar with. But it's Blaedel's Louise Rick series that I've read and this, The Daughter, is a completely different series. 

I love Ilka! She's got spunk and attitude! 

Ilka is a photographer. She's also a widow. And she's already dealt with and moved past her father's abandonment of her when she was a child. Or so she thought. 

She also thought clearing up his estate would be easier than it turns out to be!

Ilka is dropped into the middle of everything. Her first day in town, she has to meet with the family of a deceased woman and discuss their funeral plans! She also has to pick up a body at the morgue. Some of it is a bit of a power play, some of it is frustration at the fact that she hasn't much paid attention to what's going on around her. She signed papers taking over the funeral home without realizing what they were—after warnings to read them prior to signing!

And strangely, though her father apparently felt no responsibility towards his first child, she feels an obligation to his business. 

The Daughter is a mystery, but it's also a bit of a family drama. And it's the first of three books, which becomes more and more apparent the closer you get to the end. Yep, there's something of a cliffhanger and an actual "To be continued..." at the end of the last page. 

While I expected it to be heavier on the mystery plot after reading a few of the Rick books, I was overall quite pleased with this new series from Blaedel. As I said, I really liked Ilka. She's forthright and pretty clear in her motivations. Unraveling her father's issues and finding the core of them—and why he left in the first place—is her overall goal but she also cares about the business and the people coming to them in their time of need. 

Ilka's story continues in Her Father's Secret and The Third Daughter. All three titles are out now (I've already got Her Father's Secret queued up and ready to go on audio!). 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

Cody Hoyt is a cop with a drinking problem. But recently he's decided to make a go of being sober, if nothing else so he can be a better role model for his teenage son. 

All of that is upended when his sponsor turns up dead, the victim of an apparent accidental fire. At least, that's what the open bottle of liquor recovered at the scene would suggest. But Cody knows the man wouldn't have thrown away years of sobriety. He also knows that there are things about the scene that don't add up. Things that point to homicide. 

Unfortunately, Cody makes the mistake of shooting the coroner and getting suspended. And then he finds out there's a connection between his sponsor's death and an outdoor adventure group that just so happens to be hosting his wife's new husband and Cody's own son. Now the investigation is about more than justice for his friend, it's about saving his son!

C.J. Box is the author of the wildly popular and long running Joe Pickett series. And what kind of respectable mystery/thriller fan am I that I haven't read any of those?! To be fair, I have read Box's stand alone, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, which I read in one sitting because it's that fabulous!

Back of Beyond is the first book to feature Cody Hoyt and also the first book in the Highway Quartet (which has grown beyond four books). Book two, The Highway, is the basis of Big Sky a new TV show premiering in November. And beyond it being the second book in the series, it brings back some characters (other than Cody and his son) from Back of Beyond. So it's fortunate that I can never easily bring myself to start a series mid stride, but have to start from the beginning by habit!

Cody is a likable but complicated character. He's got a big drinking problem, he tends to find it hard to trust people (and vice versa), and while the crusty detective who bucks authority makes for a great lead character in a series, Box explores a bit more of the complications that creates within the job of actual policing here. 

Cody has, in fact, pretty much burned every bridge he has. His wife, his colleagues, everyone except the man who was helping him through AA, who's now dead. So it's understandable that Cody would be reaching for something beyond accidental death or, worse, suicide. Though he is careful to bring in another detective and ask for his take on the scene before making any comment about his own thoughts. Which is to say, Cody is very good at his job even if he doesn't play well with others. 

The book transitions pretty quickly from the tiny town Cody calls home to the wilds of Yellowstone. It's remote, it's dangerous, and it's clear from the start that there's something going on with the actual tour outfit, thanks to a second narrator, Gracie Sullivan. 

Poor Gracie. Her father wants to connect with her and her older sister, Danielle, by taking them on this trip. And Gracie is actually interested in the experience. But Gracie is an observant person and she quickly deduces that there's something not quite right going on. I loved her, but she gets kidnapped in book two along with Danielle! 

Back of Beyond is a fun and engaging mystery. I loved the setting and I'm looking forward to diving into book two ahead of the show. (And continuing the series beyond that as well.) I'm always in the mood for a good PI series, and this one just might fit the bill. We'll have to see as the main character moves beyond Cody in The Highway

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson

It's February, 1988, and bodies have been found on a remote farm in Iceland. 

Hulda Hermannsdóttir has only just returned to work as a police officer, after facing her own family tragedy at Christmas. But she insists she's ready. 

The farm is a shocking scene, with multiple dead and no immediately obvious suspect. And while even Hulda herself would admit that it's too early, the case does provide a distraction that she's much in need of. 

It doesn't take long for Hulda to begin to uncover evidence that lay hidden from those around her. But can she set her own issues aside in order to focus on the investigation at hand?

And here we are at the end of the Hulda series, which is actually the beginning!

This is by far my favorite of the Hulda series, and for many reasons. First, it's Hulda's origin story. The one we've been waiting for. And it's just as tragic as you imagined it would be. If you chose not to read the series in order and instead started here at the end (the beginning), then you had no time to prepare, really. 

The second reason this is my favorite, though, is that it's basically a Christmas book. I'd never consider myself a fan of Christmas books by any means: basically, I find it stifling to feel as though I can only read a book at a certain time of year. This is not THAT kind of Christmas book. But it does take place at Christmas, so if you wanted to save it (and savor it) then, you'd be well within your rights. Especially considering it's set in Iceland, the country with Jolabokaflod!

Jónasson sets the scene so perfectly here! Erla is up late when we meet her, reading a book—her last from the local library and so her last new book until Christmas. And it's their tradition to read on Christmas Eve anyway, so she's ok to wait. 

But then a stranger arrives at the farm. And Erla is suspicious. His story doesn't line up, his behavior is concerning, and their farm is already so isolated...

Erla and Hulda are our two main viewpoints, but there are a couple of others, and the story plays out in the days leading up to Christmas and Hulda's investigation almost two months later. 

This book is darker in my opinion than the previous two. In part because we finally get a story that's been alluded to in the previous two outings. But it's the crime in the farmhouse itself that I think makes it darker. And certainly it's a bit more graphic than the other two as well. 

Never fear, though! Jónasson falls on the lighter end of the Nordic Noir spectrum!

The Mist is gritty and atmospheric, snowfilled and dark (literally and figuratively), and an utterly perfect seasonal read no matter when you decide to dive in. I read it in shorts and flip flops and still felt the chill of winter deep in my bones!

The Mist is out now, order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger

Selena Murphy has recently learned that her husband is having an affair with their nanny. She hasn't told anyone. That is, until she mets the woman who calls herself Martha. 

They're seat mates on the train. And Martha opens the conversation by revealing that she's been having an affair with her boss. Something about the woman makes Selena want to open up to her. But when her nanny goes missing, Selena recalls Martha's statement that maybe things would be solved if the nanny just disappeared...

Lisa Unger's latest is a thrilling suspense tale reminiscent, a bit, of Strangers on a Train. Except in this case, Selena very clearly never asks for help with her issues. And neither does Martha aka Anne. 

See, we quickly learn that Anne is a con artist. She's playing a game. But exactly what that game is is the question. What's her aim in targeting Selena? Is it coincidence that they met on the train? Seems so, until the plot progresses further and "Martha" begins texting Selena. 

I've been a fan of Unger's work for some time. Like most of my favorites in this vein of suspense, she takes the most average, unsuspecting sort of person and throws them into a plot that upends everything around them. And sometimes, that unsuspecting person isn't so innocent at all. 

Selena and her husband's relationship is already rocky. He's had affairs before and, like her mother before her, Selena forgave him. But the suspicion was there. Which is why she moved the nanny cams around in the first place, catching him in the act this time around. And her musings about how she feels about her husband are telling. 

But Selena's isn't the only story here. Geneva, the nanny, gets her say. Martha/Anne also tells her side of the story. And then there's Pearl. How she fits into the story is something that starts to become more clear about halfway in. 

Confessions on the 7:45 is a puzzle of a thriller, one whose pieces assemble with each new chapter. It's a deliciously paced story that keeps you guessing until the final page! 

Huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to take part in the tour! For more on Lisa Unger and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

In 1987 a girl is found dead in a summer cottage. From the start, the investigator in charge knows he has the killer dead to rights. 

Ten years later, on the anniversary of the girl's death, her friends gather for a reunion in her honor. They're to spend the weekend at a hunter's lodge on an island off the coast of Iceland. Alone. But before the weekend has ended, one of them is dead. 

Hulda Hermannsdóttir is called to investigate what at first seems like a tragic accident. But as more evidence unfolds, it becomes clear that someone in the group had a motive for murder. And it all ties back to that case from a decade earlier. A case Hulda's own boss made his career on.

This second in the Hidden Iceland series takes readers back to 1997 and the middle stages of Hulda's career as a police officer. We're getting closer to Hulda's own tragedy, which we know the details of thanks to the reveal in The Darkness, but we're not quite there yet. Even so, the weight of that event is more raw in this second book. 

As mentioned above, the book begins in 1987, which is an important year in Hulda's history, but the piece included in this book doesn't actually touch on that period for Hulda at all. Instead, we begin with a couple and their babysitter—which doesn't make much sense until we get to the end of the book—and then dive straight into a young couple and their weekend getaway. 

It's a getaway that ends in a death, but bits are missing for us, the readers. We see the suspect arrested and we also get a peek at just how the case is twisted in order to be closed so quickly. All information that Hulda herself isn't privy to...just yet. 

Ten years later, the friends of the girl who died in 1987 are reuniting for the first time in a decade. And for the reader, it's the first time we see the dead girl's boyfriend since their trip. Yep, you heard me, we meet her boyfriend, we know his girlfriend died, and we know who was accused of and arrested for the death but no one, including us, knows what her boyfriend's hand in all that may have been. 

The group includes said boyfriend, the girl's brother, and two women. And the original trip itself is a secret only the reader is privy to. Or so it seems. Because by the time their little reunion is over, one of the group is dead! Enter Hulda and her investigative skills. 

The Island can essentially be read as a standalone, but it is the second book in the series. And it's a rather enjoyable one. Hulda is an experienced detective, not as experienced as when we met her in book one, but experienced nonetheless. And it's here that we see just how Hulda's been done wrong by the department she works for! 

As was the case with the first book, Iceland itself is more than a setting here. The island in question is a tiny, uninhabited island off the coast. The cabin in the beginning is also in an incredibly isolated part of the country. Both settings as murder scenes make investigating the crimes both easier and more difficult. 

The Island is out in paperback now and is not to be missed! I will again warn you that while these are definitely closer to cozy than any other Nordic Noir I've read so far, there are some darker themes that you'll be aware of if you've read the books in order. If you haven't yet read The Darkness, I will say that while those themes are never explicitly outlined in any of the books, they're particularly less clear in this second outing. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 5, 2020

Excerpt: The Code for Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor

Happy Monday, readers! Today I am excited to share a taste of Jillian Cantor's The Code for Love and Heartbreak with you, courtesy of Inkyard Press. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Emma Woodhouse is a genius at math, but clueless about people. After all, people are unreliable. They let you down—just like Emma's sister, Izzy, did this year, when she moved to California for college. But numbers...those you can count on. (No pun intended.)

Emma's senior year is going to be all about numbers, and seeing how far they can take her. When she and George, her Coding Club co-president, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born—a matchmaking app that goes far beyond swiping, using algorithms to calculate compatibility. George disapproves of Emma's idea, accusing her of meddling in people's lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma's code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other and her own feelings defy any algorithm? Emma thought math could solve everything. But there's nothing more complex—or unpredictable—than love.

And now for a little taste:


I’ve always loved numbers a whole lot more than I love people. For one thing, I can make numbers behave any way I want them to. No arguments, no questions. I write a line of code, and my computer performs a specific and very regulated task. Numbers don’t play games or hide behind some nuance I’ve missed. I write an equation, then formulate a definitive and absolutely correct answer.

And maybe most importantly, numbers never leave me. I tell this to Izzy as she’s sitting on her suitcase, trying to force it closed, having just packed the last of her closet before leaving for her freshman year at UCLA, which is exactly 2,764 miles from our house in Highbury, New Jersey. A number which seems insurmountable, and which makes me think that after this day, Izzy’s last one at home until Christmas break, we’ll be more like two strangers floating across a continent from one another than sisters.

“Numbers,” I say to Izzy now, “are much better than people.”

“You’re such a nerd, Em,” Izzy says, but she stops what she’s doing and squeezes my arm affectionately, before finally getting the suitcase to zip. She’s a nerd, too, but not for numbers like me—for books. Izzy is running 2,764 miles away from New Jersey to read, to major in English at UCLA. Which is ridiculous, given she could’ve done the same at Rutgers, or the College of New Jersey, or almost any one of the other sixty-two colleges in our state, any of which would’ve been within driving distance so we could’ve seen each other on weekends. Izzy says she’s going to California for the sunshine, but Dad and I both know the real reason is that her boyfriend, John, decided to go to UCLA to study film. Izzy chose John over me, and that part stings the most.

“I can’t believe you’re actually going,” I say, and not for the first time. I’ve been saying this to Izzy all summer, hoping she might change her mind. But now that her suitcase is zipped, it feels like she’s really leaving, and my eyes start to well up. I do love numbers more than people. Most people.

Izzy and I are only seventeen months apart, and our mom died when we were both toddlers. Dad works a lot, and Izzy and I have barely been apart for more than a night in as long as I can remember, much less months.

She stops messing with her suitcase now, walks over to where I’m sitting on her bed and puts her arm around me. I lean my head on her shoulder, and breathe in the comforting scent of her strawberry shampoo, one last time. “I’m going to miss you, too, Em,” she says. “But you’re going to have a great senior year.” She says it emphatically, her voice filled with enthusiasm that I don’t believe or even understand.

“You really could stay,” I say. “You got into two colleges in New Jersey.” This has been my argument to her all summer. I keep thinking if I say it enough she really will change her mind. But even as I say it, I know it’s probably too late for her to change anything for fall semester now, no matter how much I might want her to. And she just looks back at me with worry all over her face.

“Em, you know I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” I wipe my nose with the back of my hand, pulling away from her.

She leaves me on her bed, and goes back to her suitcase. She shifts it around, props it upright and then looks back at me. “You know what you need?” she says, breathing hard from managing the weight of her entire life, crammed inside this giant suitcase. “To get out there this year. Be more social. Get some friends. Maybe even a boyfriend.”

“A boyfriend?” I half laugh, half sniffle at the ridiculousness of it.

“If you keep busy, you won’t even notice I’m gone.” She speaks quickly, excitedly. There’s nothing Izzy likes more than a good plan, but this sounds terrible to me. “Christmas will be here before you know it—” she’s still talking “—then next year, you’ll be off to college, too.”

Maybe that would be true for her, if I were the one leaving, and if she were staying here. If I were the older one, leaving for California first, Izzy would stay here, spend the year with John and barely even notice my absence. Which is what I guess she’s about to do at UCLA. But I’ve always needed Izzy much more than she’s needed me.

“I hate being social. And I don’t want a boyfriend,” I say. “And anyway, you know what the boys are like at our high school. No thanks.” Mostly, they’re intimidated by me and my penchant for math, and I find their intimidation so annoying that I can barely even stand to have a conversation with them, much less a date. And the few that aren’t? Well, the one that isn’t—George—is my equal and co-president of coding club. He also happens to be John’s younger brother. We’re something like friends, George and I. Or maybe not, because we don’t really hang out outside of family stuff, school or coding club, and I guess in a way we’re supposed to be rivals. One of us will for certain be valedictorian of our class this year. The other will be salutatorian. And knowing George, he’s going to be more than a little bit annoyed when he’s staring at my back during graduation.

“You love numbers so much and you’re so good at coding,” Izzy says now with a flip of her blond curls over her shoulder. She wheels the suitcase toward her bedroom door and stops and looks back at me. “You could always code yourself a boyfriend.” She shrugs, then laughs a little, trying to make this moment lighter.

I don’t even crack a smile. “That’s a really ridiculous thing to say,” I tell her. “Thank God you’re going to be an English major.”

But later, after it all fell apart, I would blame her. I’d say that it was all Izzy’s fault, that she started the unraveling of everything with her one stupid offhand comment on the morning that she left me.

Excerpted from The Code For Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor Copyright © Jillian Cantor. Published by Inkyard Press.

This modern day take on Emma is out tomorrow!

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today!

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

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson

At 64, Hulda Hermannsdóttir is not looking forward to retirement. Especially not the forced retirement she's now facing. After giving her all to the police force, she's been asked to leave to make room for a younger detective who needs her desk. But, after some negotiating, Hulda gains permission to use her final days looking in a cold case. 

The case she chooses: the death of a Russian immigrant. Ruled a suicide just one year ago, Hulda is certain the case has more to it. And she's right. She immediately surmises that the officer in charge of the investigation cut corners in order to close the case. But Hulda's digging isn't winning her any friends in the department. What's more, the case forces her to face some of her own inner demons she's long tried to suppress. 

This first in Hulda's series (Hidden Iceland) is an interesting read because, while it's the first in her series, it's actually the end of her career. The other two books (The Island and The Mist) in the series take part in the middle of and closer to the beginning of her career, before she has as much life and work experience under her belt. Tracking her story backwards is a novel approach.  

Hulda is a healthy middle aged woman, finally dating again after years of being a single widow. As the story progresses, she finally starts to look forward to days outside of the department. In fact, she's finally starting to feel some freedom from the things in her past that haunt her so. 

I really liked Hulda. She begins the book confident but damaged in ways that only become clear as the book progresses. The book does stand alone, but I guarantee that once you've been introduced to Hulda, you'll want to dive directly into her two other stories. The desire to know where she came from pulls at you through the entirety of the book, making it impossible to read just the one installment. 

The book features two sets of flashbacks, and it's not clear just how those stories all weave together until we start to get closer to the conclusion of the book. Don't worry, the pacing is great—this was a one day read for me start to finish!

I have to be honest in that it's not just Hulda and her case that are such a draw. The Darkness is set in Iceland, a place that looms large as setting! It's one that calls to me any time I see it in a book description, especially if the author calls it home as well. 

But unlike much of the other Nordic Noir fare that I've delved into of late, this series is by far less graphic. It's still got some pretty dark themes, but by no means as dark as most. In fact, these are much closer to classic crime novels than anything else. (Don't go thinking these are cozy by any means. Like I said, there are still pretty dark themes, overall.)

There's an article making the rounds today regarding binge reading, and I have to say that this series in particular is perfect for a binge read session! Like I said, you'll absolutely want to delve into book two just as soon as you turn the final pages. And since it's one of those, just one more chapter books (you know the ones), I'll bet you'll find it won't take you long. I'd suggest making sure you're prepared ahead of time, with both subsequent books queued up and ready to go :)

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