Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Lost Girls by Heather Young

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Heather Young's The Lost Girls

The Evans family have been residents of Williamsburg, Minnesota for decades. Their house was a primary residence for some time, then a summer home, and then primary residence once again. 

In 1935, sisters Lucy, Lilith, and Emily have returned with their parents for their annual summer trip. And almost everything is the same as it has been every summer. But this year, Lilith is older. And this year, Emily disappears. 

Decades later, Lucy is the only one left and she's decided it's finally time to tell her side of the story. One last thing before she dies and leaves the estate to her grandniece, Justine. 

Justine's life hasn't been easy. First, moving place to place with her wanderlust mother. Then, for a while, settled with the father of her children. But he left and her new boyfriend, supportive and loving, maybe isn't as safe as she'd thought. 

The house and estate she inherits from Lucy is a bit of a saving grace. But her inheritance is more than just a house and money. It's the story of a lost girl that has haunted the family for so very long. 

The Lost Girls alternates between Lucy's story and Justine's, so dual narrative and dual timelines. 

I really enjoyed the rich detail and emotion of this book. From the start, I had so much empathy for Justine and her situation. 

Here we have someone who longed for a chance to put down roots. And her life had so much upheaval that she swore she'd never do the same to her own children. And yet, when the story begins, she's faced with the decision to do just that or stay in a situation that's clearly untenable. That only becomes clearer to the reader, and the Justine, as she justifies her decision to herself in considering just what kind of life the three of them would face if they stayed where they were. 

And yet, the home in Minnesota that seemed like such a saving grace, taxes the little family in ways Justine couldn't have predicted. And that's without considering the mystery of Emily's disappearance, Justine's own mother, and Justine's ex, all of which are hurdles to be faced in their own right. 

Emily's story—told by Lucy—is truly tragic. And it's a shadow over the book as a whole. The reader is aware, from the beginning, that whatever the truth might be, it's an awful one. And it's weight has been a burden on the little hamlet as well as the family as a whole, even when Justine wasn't necessarily aware of it. 

But more than Emily's story and the mystery that surrounds her disappearance, this is a family drama. The relationships between women—Lucy and Lilith, Justine and her daughters, and Justine and her own mother—play a large part in the overall narrative. 

Having read The Distant Dead first, I was probably a bit more prepared for Young's overall style. While both books ostensibly seem like suspense/thrillers, they're the kinds of books that tug at your heartstrings with characters facing the dark reality of the world and ultimately trying to find hope in that reality. 

The Lost Girls is out now in the UK from Verve Books and in the US from William Morrow. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro

Readers, I am so excited to be part of the Random Things tour for V. Castro's latest, The Queen of the Cicadas (La Reina de las Chicharras). 

Belinda has returned to Texas to attend her friend's wedding. And thought she'd helped choose the site for the ceremony, she didn't realize it was a place linked to a legend that has haunted her since childhood. 

Decades ago, a migrant farmworker was brutally murdered in Alice, Texas. Milagros, like many, sought freedom from her small town life and fled across the border in search of new opportunities. Her aim was to send money back home until her entire family could join her in the States. Even the hard work and horrible conditions would have been bearable were it not for the unwanted advances of the landowner's nephew. And the horrific treatment she experienced at the hand of his wife. 

And so Milagros planned to leave for California, where it was rumored that another worker was set on unionizing the farm hands. Surely it would be a future better than the one that she faced in Alice. 
But Milagros never left the farm. And the locals weren't interested in bringing her killer to justice. So Mictecac√≠huatl, the Aztec goddess of death, intervened on her behalf. And so many years later, Belinda is determined to see that Milagros's fate is never forgotten. 

I have to say, this has been one of my most highly anticipated reads of the month. I was actually attending a virtual panel at StokerCon, listening to Violet Castro speak about her latest, when I got the email about the tour. And let me tell you, the happy dance that I did on my end was epic!

Thankfully, the book lived up to my extremely high expectations!

The book begins with Belinda at the wedding. It's being held in a tiny town in Texas at a grand old house. And, as it turns out, it's a house with a dark past. 

Dilapidated and falling down when Hector, the current owner, bought it, it's been restored to it's former glory. But the story that brought it's ruin has never been forgotten. 

And it's a story that Belinda is familiar with. One she'd heard as a child at a sleepover decades ago. 

But now, at a bit of a crossroads in her own life, and finding herself at the scene of the crime, so to speak, Belinda decides that she's going to dig into the story more. 

The book fluidly transitions between Belinda's narrative and the past, and so it's the readers who witness Milagros's story first hand even as Belinda is recounting it to the wedding party or researching it present day. 

Milagro's tale is heartbreaking. And the vengeance that takes place in her name is chilling, indeed! Not just because most of it involves bugs. Castro does not skimp on the detail, making this read both atmospheric and creepy as all get out!

Drawing inspiration from urban legends and myth, The Queen of the Cicadas is more than a little reminiscent of Candyman, so it really wasn't surprising to read that it was one of the influences for the story. But beyond that, this is a tale that is rich with Castro's own San Antonio upbringing and filled with Aztec and Latinx influences!

What was surprising, and super cool, was finding out that La Reina de las Chicharras is wholly made up by Castro herself. Because of course, as I was reading, I admit that I had started searching the internet for the story only to find nothing except reviews of the book. And as a horror fan, I love when an author can so convince me that their creation is REAL in every sense. 

I fear my review really doesn't do this book full justice, but I have to say that I feel like this is the the kind of horror that's been missing from my reading, especially of late. I predict that this is going to be V. Castro's year! And that The Queen of the Cicadas will be the first of many must reads for horror fans. (Note, this is her novel debut, but her novella, Goddess of Filth, released this earlier year. She's also published many short stories and has a forthcoming collection due out from Flame Tree as well.) 

Now you'll have to excuse me, I've got to run out and get some of her backlist while I wait for more from Castro to come!

The Queen of the Cicadas is available now in the US and UK from Flame Tree Press!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou

It's Sunday and I'm a stop on the Random Things tours today for Julia von Lucadou's The High-Rise Diver

Riva Karnovsky was at the top of her game when she surprised everyone and quit her high-rise diving gig. 

Plummeting from the highest buildings in their city, Riva was a sight to behold. Pulling up at the last minute, soaring through the skies for all her adoring fans to see. 

Hitomi was one of those viewers. But now she watches Riva in a different capacity. Because in their world, nothing is private. No one has personal space. Everything is recorded, fodder to be analyzed by people who can make decisions about just every aspect of your life. 

Julia von Lucadou's debut is a gripping look at what a future where government control gone wrong could look like. And I have to say, it's terrifying in it's possibility!

Riva's story is only ever seen through Hitomi's eyes. A psychologist who spends part of her day tracking and studying Riva's every move, Hitomi doesn't have much of a life herself when we meet her. In fact, she elects to spend nights at work so as to be seen as more efficient, essentially earning points that will reflect well on her down the line. 

In their society, productivity can land you a bigger apartment. A direct reward for your efforts. But it also locks a person into a situation where they cannot pursue the things that make them happy. 

The High-Rise Diver illustrates just how something that sounds good at the outset can actually become an insidious kind of evil. And I think, for someone like me, it comes down to control. No one in this book has control over their own lives!

Like I said, it's pretty terrifying!

The High-Rise Diver seems, at first, like a quiet book. But in fact, it's the kind of book that digs its hooks into you and forces you to see things through an affected lens. Because that's what this book does—it affects you. And once you've finished, it stays in your thoughts long after!

The High-Rise Diver is out now in the US and the UK from World Editions!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Let's Fly by

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Giles Fraser's Let's Fly

End of term, 1979, Nick Hunter had planned to travel with his girlfriend. But after she breaks up with him, he decides to move to London and start a band. 

They're living a little rough, squatting in an empty house in Notting Hill. And the band itself is short lived. But then one of their songs is used in a movie soundtrack leaving Nick more money than he'd ever imagined. 

It's a lucky break that, years later, turns out not to be so lucky at all. 

Cut to 2017, Nick is up to his eyes in debt when his wife is kidnapped. And if Nick can't come through with the kidnappers' demands, he'll lose everything. 

Let's Fly is perfectly paced and plotted, the kind of book that you can sink into on an evening and read straight through before you know it!

Nick is an average guy. When we meet him, though, he admits that his luck has run out. Or, better yet, that he didn't recognize his luck when he had it. 

High school Nick is a bit sheltered. He's grown up in a boarding school, surrounded by other boys of upper middle class households. He's into music, so much so that he met his girlfriend at a show. And plans to travel via rail to see and explore new things before having to do the adult thing. 

But she disappears, leaving only a note of apology. Which is what causes Nick's life to take the track that it does. And who knows what would have happened had he not moved to London when he did. 

Maybe his life over the next almost four decades would have been dramatically different!

Let's Fly is a fun thriller, perfect for readers who like to see everyday folks forced to face extraordinary circumstances (in other words, great for fans of Harlan Coben in particular!).

Let's Fly is available now in the UK. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

One Last Time by Helga Flatland

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Helga Flatland's One Last Time

Anne has been on her own for a while. A mother of two children, she had to learn early on to be strong and self-sufficient after her husband suffered a series of strokes that left him debilitated. Now her children are grown and her husband lives in a home with constant professional care. 

And Anne has just been diagnosed with cancer. 

Sigrid has always had a complicated relationship with her mother. And now she has a complicated relationship with her own daughter, Mia. But Anne's diagnosis changes things. 

Told from both Anne and Sigrid's perspectives, One Last Time is a story about life and relationships—specifically relationships between mothers and daughters. 

Sigrid has held on to a lot of heartache over the years. She blames her mother for things, a lot of them stemming from her mother's caring for her husband, Sigrid's ill father. Interestingly, she remembers things differently than Anne, which is part of the trouble between them. 

Meanwhile, Sigrid, who had her daughter very young, is faced with her daughter about to start college and reuniting with her birth father. The newly forming relationship between daughter and dad is one that strains the entire family. 

The parallels between Sigrid and Anne's experiences and the differences in the way they recall and latch on to parts of their own shared story and experience make this book so utterly real. 

Anne's diagnosis, rather than being the main focus of the book exclusively, is the driving force that brings the three generations of women together. It's the thing that finally makes them confront some of the issues that have been weighing over them for so long. And it's easy to see, as a reader, parallels in our own lives as well even if we haven't experienced exactly the same things as Anne, Sigrid, and Mia have. 

Helga Flatland's book is at times heart wrenching, but it's also eye opening in that it might make you reevaluate some of your own feelings about family. 

One Last Time is out now in the UK and will be out in the US in October from the fabulous folks over at Orenda!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Fragile by Sarah Hilary

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm part of the Random Things tour for Sarah Hilary's latest, Fragile!

Nell and Joe are on the run, living rough. But one night, Joe takes off with another woman. Nell followed him, saw him leave with her, saw him disappear into a building, and that was it. 

Determined to find Joe, Nell manages to get hired on as housekeeper at the house where she last saw Joe. But there's no sign of him. In fact, it's just a man living in a house filled with boxes and dust. But Nell's new position gives her an opportunity to dig further and the secrets this house holds are darker than she'd expected. 

As Nell searches for traces of Joe, someone else is searching for Nell. 

Sarah Hilary breaks from her DI Marnie Rome series with this taut and suspenseful stand alone!

Nell has secrets. Secrets she's trying to escape.

She grew up in a foster home where she made herself useful. Cleaning, helping with the little kids, that sort of stuff. From her perspective it wasn't a happy existence, but it had its good points. Namely, Joe and Rosie. 

But something happened to Rosie. And Meaghan, the woman who fostered them, isn't going to forget. 

In her attempts to hang on to the things she cares about—in this case, Joe—Nell lands herself in a situation that isn't what she expected. 

Teasing out truth from lies, staying one step ahead of the Meaghans of the world, and, above all, taking care of the things that are important to her, take all of Nell's energy. 

Interestingly, though, we're given both Nell's and Meaghan's perspectives in the narrative. And while the beginning of the book sets up Nell as our heroine and Meaghan as the bad guy, that set up becomes murkier as the story takes off. 

This is twisty—and somewhat bleak—psychological suspense of the highest order!

Fragile is available now in the UK. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Hunting Wives by May Cobb

Sophie O'Neill is anxious to fit in amongst the Texas elite. Specifically Margot Banks's group. 

She follows Margot online way before she has a chance to meet her. And then, surprisingly, when they do finally meet, Margot invites her to go shooting. 

Every Friday, Margot and her friends get together to drink and shoot skeet. And sometimes they go hunting afterwards. Not hunting game in the traditional sense. Hunting for young men they can flirt with. And sometimes more. 

But when a dead body turns up on Margot's property, Sophie's world is turned upside down. Now it's up to her to find out who is responsible, or she could find herself facing murder charges!

May Cobb's latest is like a combination of Real Housewives meets Girls Gone Wild. 

Sophie and her husband have moved from the big city to a small Texas town in hopes it'll be a better environment to raise their son. They spend weekends at the farmer's market. Sophie has a garden that takes a lot of attention. And they have barbecues with one of Sophie's childhood friends on the regular. 

But Sophie has been closely following Margot Banks's every move. She's even tried to force their paths to cross on a few occasions. And when it finally happens, she's determined they're going to be friends. 

Sophie is obsessed with Margot. So much so that she's pretty much willing to do anything the queen bee says. And that's where Sophie starts to get in trouble. 

I can't say that Sophie is a main character I particularly liked. She's pretty determined to follow a path that the reader outright knows will be her downfall from the very beginning. And not only does she follow that path, she's pretty wasted the whole time she's on it. Some A+ decision making there. 

The Hunting Wives is a quick read. One it's hard to turn away from as Sophie's life becomes a train wreck of epic proportions. 

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review!

The Hunting Wives is out now from Berkley!