Saturday, January 2, 2016

Just Jennifer

Coming in February...

He Will be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker

Maggie Sparks grew up in a privileged home and thinks she has eschewed the trappings of her family’s wealth by starting a charity building homes in Africa.  When she is called home after the death of her best friend Celine Gonzalez, the daughter of her family’s live-in for many years Maggie is devastated as she thought of Celine as her sister.  As Maggie begins to pack up Celine’s Lower East Side apartment, she realizes the Celine she remembered was one of her own making, one she saw as she wanted to see, and not the Celine who fought desperately to pay the bills and make her dream to enter the Hollingsworth Institute of Art within her reach, not the Celine who took too many pills, drank too much vodka and crawled in bed to never wake up again.  Maggie finds secrets hidden among Celine’s treasures and a scandalous photo of a man who Maggie thinks is connected to Celine’s death, a death she is certain her friend would never have accepted willingly.  As Maggie relives the past year of Celine’s life, she realizes she didn’t know Celine as well as she thought she did, even as a child, and begins to reevaluate her life, her choices, and the motives behind her acts of charity…she also finds herself in mortal danger as she gets closer and closer to a truth that no one is willing to believe.

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma
This sophomore novel from the author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards tells the story of five college graduates, trying to create lives for themselves, lives that include each other, in the late aughts of a Manhattan that is experiencing the Great Recession, never expecting that personal tragedy will affect them more than the loss of their money and dreams.  Sara Sherman is the glue that holds together these friends, with her boyfriend, astronomer George Murphy whose years of research are about to be debunked.  Jacob is their poet, William Cho, an investment banker who never quite fit in and the lovely Irene Richmond, a sensitive artist who will be fallen in love with and who will ultimately be the downfall of the group after a lump under her eye turns irrevocably tragic.  The group carries on through all their missteps and sadness,  together, individually and groups in this incredibly beautifully wrought tale of friendships, where hope and love are stronger than any outside forces could ever be. 

The Widow by Fiona Barton
When Jean Taylor’s husband Glen is accused of an unspeakable crime against a child, she finds herself doing and saying things that make her unrecognizable, but must be done and said if there is to be any hope of the couple continuing their well-constructed lives.  Jean played the role of the perfect, support wife for many years, but Glen has just died in a tragic accident and she finally feels free to tell the truth, but can Jean remember what the truth is after living with the lies for so many years?  Told from several points of view, Jean’s, the reporter to whom Jean finally agrees to tell her story, the detective who couldn’t help convict Glen and the grieving mother of the child Glen is tried for kidnapping and possibly murdering, the story of a marriage, a crime and the aftermath of both slowly unfolds with tension and the dangling possibility of another version and motive of the crime, one that will make Jean one of the most unreliable, but intriguing narrators to come along in a while.

The Doll’s House by M.J. Arlidge
Detective Helen Grace is back in this third mystery to be published in the U.S., one that delves even further into this complicated character.  A young woman’s body is dug up on a beach and is found to have been dead for several years and has been still sending text messages and tweeting to her family.  As Helen and her newly assembled team begin to investigate this death, Helen suspects a connection to another recently reported missing young woman the time and location of whose texts and tweets correspond to the dead woman’s.  Helen’s gut tells her there are more women who fit this profile and against the directive of her superiors begins to pull the files of other young women who have been reported missing.  After the bodies of these women are also found on the beach, Helen and her team ratchet up their investigation to find the missing woman before she becomes another victim of a very methodical killer. 
Though the investigation is not as suspenseful as some of Helen’s previous cases, this book adds much to the characters as it explores more deeply Helen Grace’s family situation and a very jealous Detective Superintendent.  Helen is also experiencing growing pains as the team that had been so carefully assembled and had worked so well together is dissolved, through a tragic death, Charlie on maternity leave and the reassignment of other members.  As Helen works to get her bearings, learning to trust the members again, learning who she shouldn’t trust, she comes close to making a fatal error in the name of family, but quickly recovers, coming out victorious as before. 

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
M.M. (Mimi) Banning wrote a bestselling novel when she was barely twenty but has not written anything since.  Now on the brink of financial ruin, she agrees to deliver on her promise for her second book if her publisher will provide her a hefty advance to keep things going until she finishes it along with an assistant to keep her household affairs including a nine-year-old son, Frank, in order.  Alice Whitely isn’t thrilled with traveling to Los Angeles to fill the role, especially when she arrives and meets the less than charming Mimi, her oh-so-charming, but wildly eccentric son and the handyman-piano teacher-who-knows-what who further complicates Alice’s time in L.A.  Frank is brilliant but has the sensibilities of a 1930’s movie star complete with the wardrobe and grown-up manners, though his paranoia and odd rules lend a childlike quality to his eccentricities.  Frank begins to warm to Alice as she learns to navigate this oh-so-strange family her patience and good-humor, Mimi typing furiously behind closed doors all the while.  These charming, flawed, though maybe not, characters will endear themselves to readers as Johnson shows each from many different angles, making the picture not as strange as first imagined. 

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
Joe Goldberg, the anti-hero from You is back, still working at Mooney’s Rare and used books in New York City after the murders (committed by him) of his girlfriend Beck and her friend Peach.  His new girlfriend Amy Adams seems too good to be true, and turns out to be when she hightails it to L.A. with the collection of Portnoy’s Complaint that she and Joe amassed and a rare signed edition of Easter Parade.  Angered, Joe decides Amy must die for her betrayal and heads out to LA to find her, all the while in the back of his mind, the mug he urinated into that he left in Peach’s Rhode Island closet, the only thing (or so he thinks) to tie him to her murder, and certainly nothing will tie him to Beck’s as her therapist is sitting in jail, convicted of the crime.  In L.A. Joe finds it easy to create a new self---same name, but he can be whatever he wants---even making forays into social media hoping to locate Amy, even though she is living “off the grid” as she says.  A few more bodies pile up as Joe continues his search (they are inevitable, the cost of doing business as it were) and Joe falls in love with a wealthy ingĂ©nue whose twin brother is more annoying than life itself, but Love is the incarnation of the word itself and Joe feels he has finally found someone with whom he can feel safe and build a life, so safe, he even begins sharing his secrets with her.  The highly charged prose takes Joe, and readers, on a roller coaster ride through L.A. and Hollywood as Joe searches for, and then mostly forgets about Amy, to a heart-pounding conclusion that will keep readers on their edge of their seats and holds promise for another book featuring this intriguing, intense sociopath.  Joe is one of the most intriguing characters to come along in a while, intelligent, paranoid, passionate and dangerous all at once. 

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Alex Dale’s alcoholism has cost her almost everything: her career in journalism, her baby and her marriage.  Now, barely clinging to life, she runs obsessively in the morning, counting the minutes until noon when she allows herself to begin her drinking ritual that helps her feel her life is under control.  In a last ditch effort to remain a freelance writer, Alex is doing a profile of a neurologist in a nearby hospital.  While interviewing him, she finds a ward of patients, less than a dozen, that are classified as being in a perpetual vegetative state.  Alex remembers one young woman, Amy Stevenson, from when she disappeared and was found for dead fifteen years ago, near to where Alex was living.  Alex becomes fascinated with the idea that Amy, and the other patients, are more aware of their surroundings and what is occurring, and their memoires, than their bodies allow them to convey.  Alex begins to wonder whether Amy, whose case was never solved, has the answers for which everyone has stopped searching, and whether Alex, through careful research, can somehow find the missing pieces and along the way, putting herself back on the road to the life she once thought she would have.  This is a fascinating story of what we know, what we remember and what we can reveal even without meaning to.  Alex is an interesting character as she tries to rationalize her drinking and convince herself she has it under control, in sharp contrast to Amy who has no control over anything, yet cannot help anyone, least of all herself.  While the ending of this story is not surprising, there are enough twists and turns along the way to hold the reader’s interest.

Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman
This astonishing debut novel tells the story of twenty-seven-year-old Lucy whose traumatic brain injury as a child has left her without people skills, terrible at organizing and slightly messy with, at times, questionable hygiene habits.  But Lucy’s gifts for drawing, her love of coffee and especially a polar bear named Gus at the Central Park Zoo, plus a certain openness, endear her to many people.  When her widowed father dies unexpectedly, she finds herself moved into her younger brother’s small New York City apartment in completely unfamiliar surroundings.  As Lucy begins to learn her new surroundings and establish new routines, her brother Nate’s life is turned upside down to the point where he realizes he cannot assist Lucy if he cannot care for himself.  During this time, Lucy finds she is a much more capable person with many more skills and abilities than she than she ever imagined, making the siblings reunion an opportunity for growth and recognition of self and each other, providing promise for a more healthy relationship and the possibility of productive futures.
Michelle Adelman writes with the assurance of a well-seasoned author.  Lucy is written as a strong character with more self-awareness than many people.  Lucy lives her life with tremendous purpose and though she can’t always clearly express her wants and needs, she knows herself and comes to learn there is more there than she thought or was led to believe and that she can trust herself.  This is an exceptional novel with an equally exceptional, unforgettable heroine.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
In many ways, Noah is a typical four-year-old but in other ways is exceptional:  he knows all about lizards seemingly intuitively, recalls a lakeside vacation he and his mother Janie never took, and talks at great lengths about Harry Potter when he only watches Nemo and Dora the Explorer and an unnatural fear of water, even handwashing, with recurring nightmares.  As Noah grows more agitated each day, Janie seeks help for him and finds it in Doctor Jeremy Anderson whose research focuses on the previous life memories of young children, memories that are generally forgotten at an early age before they manifest themselves, apparently not the case with Noah.  Jeremy is quickly losing his language skills to aphasia, but holds out hope he can help Janie and Noah and perhaps finally finish his book.  Without feeling forced or unbelievable, Noah’s story unfolds, sometimes easily, sometimes uncomfortably, but always in a way where hope lingers, redemptive and healing.  Simply astonishing…and unforgettable.