Saturday, December 22, 2018

First Books of 2019

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Make-up artist Jessica Farris is barely eking out her living in Manhattan when she hears about an ethics study involving women 18-32 years old that pays several hundred dollars for a few hours of answering anonymous questions.  Dr. Shields, who is conducting the test, finds Jess, known as Subject 52, especially fascinating and asks her back for further questions, and eventually to the office where Jess is asked to perform all sorts of morality “tests” including trying to pick up men in hotel bars.  Deeper and deeper, Jess is unwittingly drawn into a dangerous, jealous, cat and mouse game, and finds herself doing things she could never imagine doing, even for money, and finds herself unsure who to trust.  Fans of psychological thrillers will finds many familiar elements, but will still enjoy the unfolding plot line and the complicated characters. 

Looker by Laura Sims
An unnamed woman becomes obsessed with one of her block neighbors, a famous actress who lives with her husband and three beautiful children.  The unnamed narrator is estranged from her husband after multiple failed attempts to become pregnant, left with his cat, named only Cat, to whom she is allergic, and in whom she professes no interest, yet with whom she forges a begrudging bond.  Teaching poetry at a nearby college provides much less personal satisfaction than she would have thought, and becomes drudgery, even as she senses an older student making advances towards her.  Her reality begins to spiral out of control; a dissent into madness begins, culminating at a neighborhood block party that turns disastrous, and ultimately deadly.    This slim, sparse debut novel, elegantly framed and keenly observed, has the control and pacing of a much more seasoned fiction author; a character study with chilling implications for all involved.

As Long as We Both Shall Live by Joann Chaney
Matt Evans comes racing off a mountain in Estes Park, Colorado, frantically telling rangers his wife Marie fell off a sheer drop cliff into the roaring river below while the couple was hiking.  While rescuers search, for presumably Marie’s body, police begin to investigate the couple to learn what might have happened, and find out that Matt’s first wife Janice also died under suspicious circumstances.  A body retrieved from the rifer proves to raise more questions than provide answers, making police dig through Matt and Marie’s lives revealing the delicious, dark and deadly secrets the couple has kept for over twenty years in this fresh take on domestic thrillers.

Freefall by Jessica Barry

In Owl Creek, Maine, a mother, Maggie Carpenter, is stunned to hear that her 31-year-old daughter Allison was in a single-engine plane crash in the Rocky Mountains and is presumed dead.  The plane was owned by Allison’s fiancĂ©, pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, another surprise for Maggie who has been estranged from Allison for two years since the death of Maggie’s husband, Allison’s father.  Maggie, a retired librarian feels the need to look into Allison’s life and the crash and quickly comes to the conclusion that Allison is still alive.  And Maggie is right.  Allison has survived the crass and is hiking out of the wilderness, trying to out run “The Man” who is pursuing her.  The plot effectively unfolds, alternating chapters between Allison and Maggie, each not only revealing present day events, but relating the past, providing a fuller picture of the complex relationships, as well as Allison’s life during the past two years, culminating in a dramatic conclusion.

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
At 35, Jodi McCarty has just been released from prison after serving 18 years for the murder of her girlfriend.  Before returning to her West Virginia hometown, Jodi heads to Georgia where she plans to rescue the brother of her girlfriend from the abusive home he grew up in.  Along the way, she meets Miranda, a young woman who needs help getting her sons away from her husband, but has the car Jodi needs.  As the disparate group makes their way to Wes Virginia, Miranda and Jodi begin to fall in love, a relationship that feels doomed from the beginning.  Lush prose celebrates the Southern atmosphere while at the same time magnifying the bigotry, hate, abject poverty, and destruction of the environment due to fracking, the group encounters in this debut novel.

Crewel and Unusual by Molly MacRae

Blue Plum, Tennessee is ablaze in fall colors, just in time to celebrate the opening of the Blue Plum Vault, an arts and crafts co-op in a former bank.  Fiber shop owner Kath Rutledge, textile expert, is disturbed to hear some of the rumors that center on two of the new shop owners.  Nervie Bales, who teaches embroidery at Kath’s shot the Weaver’s Cat, is accused of selling other people’s patterns as her own, and Nervie in turn accuses newcomer Belinda Moyer of selling fake and stolen linens.  Kath gets a peek at Belinda’s linens and they appear to be the real deal, though Belinda is very defensive and more than a little prickly.  Just before the grand opening, Belinda’s best tablecloth is cut to shreds, and Nervie, who has the alibi of teaching at Kath’s shop, stands accused.  Just after the opening, Belinda is found dead, stabbed in the back with a pair of scissors from Kath’s shop.  Kath’s shop ghost, Geneva, claims to have seen the murderer, but cannot identify the person, and isn’t a reliable witness since only Kath and her manager Ardis can see Geneva.  Kath finds herself back on the trail of a murderer, and also wondering if Belinda’s killer might also be the person who killed Garland Brown, a banker, and member of the Arts Council who was killed a few weeks earlier.  With the help of Geneva, Ardis, and handyman boyfriend Joe, Kath sets out to unravel another murder, uncovering family secrets along the way, all the while keeping Weaver’s Cat spinning along, needles clacking.  Characters who feel like family populate this series full of warmth, charm, and plenty of fiber crafts and textile history.  

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
One hot July night, 1983, 14-year-old Aurora Jackson was camping with her older sister and their friends in Brinken Woods and disappeared.  Now, thirty years later, Aurora’s remains have been found near the campsite, along with the remains of drugs, in a place that only someone who hid her would have known of.  Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens is on the case again: he was one of the original investigating officers, very green at the time, having been a few years ahead in school of the suspects.  Now he returns to them with Detective Constable Juliette Hanson to try and uncover what happened that night, and who has been keeping secrets all these years.  The plot alternates between the present and Aurora’s narrative in the past, effectively revealing clues one at a time, until the entire picture is revealed and justice is finally served.  Jonah Sheens is a complex character with many more secrets to troll, in this first of a planned series.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White
Kimberly Leamy, a photography teacher in Australia could not be more surprised when an American shows up claiming she is Sammy Went, a girl from Manson, Kentucky who, twenty-six years ago, at the age of two, went missing.  Kim is shocked and can’t imagine her kind and loving mother, who has recently died from cancer, kidnapping her, and sets off to America to try and make some sense of this claim.  What she finds is a birth mother who is involved in The Church of the Light Within, a snake-handling Pentecostal fundamentalist church.  As the truth is slowly revealed, Kim’s world is shaken even further, and she finds her life in peril once more, not knowing who to trust and what the truth is.

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurden
Reading aloud is something that is often something that is only thought of as done with children at bedtime, and this should not be so.  Reading aloud promotes more than just good language skills: it can also lead to an all-around healthier and happier life, and should continue into our adult lives.  References and a list of suggested Read-Alouds are sure to inspire family reads and maybe even reading aloud to oneself.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

British reporter Kate Waters has helped her most reliable source Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes solve more than one case in recent years, but this time, as Kate becomes part of the story, she must step back and play the role of a desperate mother: one who has excellent reporter instincts and great connections.  Kate’s son Jake left university where he was studying law and has been in Thailand for the past two years, during which time he has become more and more incommunicado with his family.  Now, 18-year-old Alexandra O’Connor and her friend Rosie Shaw have gone missing in Thailand while traveling.  At first Sparkes appeals to Kate who befriends Alexandra’s mother trying to help locate the two young women, but as the story takes an unexpected twist, Kate finds herself on the opposite end of the pen in this complicated, compelling thriller hat tests familial bonds on so many levels.

The Current by Tim Johnston
Audrey Sutter, at college in a Southern school, decides to return home to Minnesota where her father, the former sheriff, is dying from cancer.  Her best friend Caroline decides to make the fateful 700 mile trip with Audrey, and the pair plunge into the Black Root River, bordering Iowa and Minnesota, killing Caroline, but sparing Audrey.  The case eerily echoes a case from ten-years ago when Holly Burke was found drowned in the same river; her father Gordon still holds a grudge against Sheriff Sutter, claiming he didn’t do enough to prove who killed his daughter, and even on his deathbed, Tom regrets never closing the case.  Audrey, grieving from her accident, the loss of her friend, and the loss of her father, sets out to learn how their accident occurred, and at the same time uncover the truth about Holly Burke’s death.  Gothic and haunting, this book is hard to define as a thriller, or as a literary mystery, as it is so much more: deceptively simple at first, this novel is nuanced and multi-layered, even the death of a rescued dog echoes the larger plot; each complex character plays many roles: survivor, unwitting witness, suspect, all leading to a stunning conclusion. 

The Woman Inside by E. G. Scott
After twenty years of marriage, Rebecca and Paul have all but come apart at the seams, individually and as a couple.  Rebecca, whose dependency on opiates and other pharmaceuticals, has lost her job as a pharma rep; Paul has been struggling in the building industry since the economy took a downturn.  Both have been having affairs, but now Paul’s mistress is stalking them and Rebecca learns that Paul has been keeping even more secrets and has plans to start a new life, presumably without her, forcing her to come up with her own plan, one that could destroy everything in this dangerous he said she said game of cat and mouse that surprises at every turn.

                          And check out Library Reads for more great January reads!

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