The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Although I’m from the Pacific Northwest, which is relatively close to Alaska compared to the rest of the United States, I haven’t had much of an interest in visiting the Northern state. That is, until reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I’m reminded (again) that books, especially powerful vivid ones like this, have the ability to sway our thinking.

Hannah takes the reader on a survivor’s journey in her new book, The Great Alone. Leni and her mother are two peas in a pod, inseparable, and when her father returns from the Vietnam War where he was a POW, they have the opportunity to live as a family again. Unfortunately, Leni’s father, Ernt is having a hard time adjusting back to his old life and is haunted by vicious memories. Violent memories. Then they receive a letter saying that there’s a piece of land and a cabin in Alaska that’s all theirs and the family packs up a VW bus and drives on up.

They are shocked by how unprepared they are for the rugged Alaskan lifestyle as well as the beauty that greets them. Leni comes to love her new home and feels accepted in a way she never has before. She meets Matthew, who quickly becomes her best friend. As they settle into their new life, with the help of the community around them, Ernt becomes increasingly paranoid and dangerously violent. So much so that Leni and her mother need to make a choice regarding how they want to live their lives.

The story is filled with vivid descriptions of the Alaskan terrain, pioneer spirit, and heart wrenching relationships. Hannah sure knows how to pack a punch. Needless to say, I loved this book!

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Author interview: Olivia Kiernan

It has been quite some time since my last author interview and I’m thrilled to welcome Olivia Kiernan, author of TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE, to the blog. This dark, deceiving thriller is Kiernan’s debut and kept me wondering until the very end!

The book focuses on a police investigation – how did you conduct research for this?

I think as someone who is interested in crime, crime fiction and the mode of crime, I find myself watching many true crime programmes, documentaries and listening to podcasts on crime analysis. Over time the routine of how police might approach a crime scene does sink in, so initially I didn’t actively do a lot of research. I tried to approach the book through the main character, DCS Frankie Sheehan, and follow what I felt a detective of her experience would do with the finance, time and knowledge available to her. It’s probably relevant that I’ve studied in science for many years, so the more technical aspects of the autopsy were a little easier for me to write.

Once I had the first draft down, I spoke to two members of the gardaí, one sergeant and one detective and a member of the police force here in the UK to ensure that police procedure was as accurate as I could make it. I do remember phoning a forensic data clinic to query what sort of information could be gleaned from a waterlogged phone. I began the conversation by saying I was a writer and wanted to know whether police would be able to retrieve information from a mobile phone that had significant water damage. Throughout the conversation, the guy on the other end kept referring to the phone as mine. I must have sounded very shifty indeed. No matter how many times I said I was researching for a book and that this was a fictional world I was exploring, he overlooked it. I’m sure he thought I’d committed some heinous crime and I wanted reassurance that the police wouldn’t be able to access my records. He was so convinced I was that person who phoned up to ‘ask for a friend’ that he gave me a price breakdown, including VAT on what the process would cost.

Why did you choose to write from the perspective of Detective Frankie?

Frankie is a tough cookie but also someone of great integrity who has always seen herself firmly in the role of protector. At the beginning of the novel, we see her struggling in a new role, that of victim. Her approach to her work changes, her perspective altered, she now looks through the veil of this recent experience. And she struggles with this added vulnerability. To her, at the start of the novel, it feels like a confrontation against her self-image. I felt this was the best way to explore the themes of victim and predator in the novel, who we think or who we expect to fit those roles, as Frankie herself is dealing with this same conflict.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

Mostly, I want readers to have a cracking good crime thriller read. And maybe come away with their interest piqued in some of the themes the novel explores: the art of Chagall, for instance, the colourful history of Prussian Blue, or the shady recesses of the Dark Web. If the novel draws some questions on victimology, I would hope it to be around the theme of control.

Who are your favorite authors?

There are always too many to list and that list grows every year. I love Tana French’s novels for her character detail and absorbing plots. I really enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sharp Objects and am waiting, not so patiently, for her next novel. I love the work of Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Cormac McCarthy for the elegance of their prose. I could go on.

What are you working on next?

My next novel is titled, The Killer In Me and takes up with DCS Frankie Sheehan in Dublin. Murder convict, Sean Hennessy is released from prison to return to the seaside community of Clontarf in Dublin. Hennessy has always professed his innocence. But within months of his release, two bodies appear in Frankie’s hometown. As the investigation continues and the threat closes in around the small community, Sheehan is forced to confront her own darkness to discover exactly what it takes to become a killer.

Thank you to Olivia Kiernan for stopping by and answering a few questions! TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE is available on April 3, 2018.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Louisa May Alcott is a well known name in the literary world as it belongs to the author of the famous book, Little Women (which I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read… yet!). The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper tells the story of May Alcott, the younger sister of the famous author. Although May has been largely overshadowed, she was just as ambitious as her sister and her art is painting and drawing.

May has been passionate about art for her whole life, but while in her 20’s she questions whether she’s earned the title of “artist.” When does someone truly become what they want to be? Is it when they practice it? When they earn a living from it? When they’ve achieved fame? I thought this question was really interesting, especially as May travels around the world to master her skill and find confidence. She prioritized studying with fine teachers and copying the masterpieces that hung in museums.  

Both May and Louisa challenged the traditional female role in the 1800’s by forging their own independent paths. There’s an unmistakable rivalry between them, although it’s complicated due to their sisterhood. Their relationship is filled with conflict, love, and support all at once.

Besides May and Louisa, Hooper shares a glimpse at the lives of other female artists during the time period who were trying, against the odds, the make names for themselves and find success. Their perseverance is admirable and an inspiration.

The pace was slow and steady, but I was interested throughout and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, powerful female characters and/or complex sibling relationships.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Sometimes I avoid picking up a book, even if I really want to read it. I’ll carry it to a coffee shop or I’ll bring it on a trip, but when it comes to actually reading it – I can’t bring myself to do it. This is exactly what happened with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This story is incredibly intense and emotional; I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

After years of avoiding it, I read A Little Life and it was more devastating than I could have believed.

Soon after Jude, Willem, JB and Malcom become roommates during their freshman year of college, they become best friends. They are inseparable for a time and move to New York as so many young people do. The book follows their lives and what has led them to New York. They are each extremely talented, even if not all of them believe it, as an artist, an architect, an actor and a lawyer. In some ways their lives are ordinary and in other ways, extraordinary.

When I told my mom about this book, she asked why I’m reading it. It’s a fair question. As heartbreaking as this story is, it’s also filled with hope, compassion and love. In a way, it’s a tribute to the perseverance of humankind in times of terribly tragedy.

A Little Life is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it, but know that it has an intensity (both positive and negative) like none other.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2017

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Everyone needs to read this book. It’s honest, uncomfortable, and eye-opening. Starr lives in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, but attends a wealthy and predominately white school and she feels like her two selves are at war when she witnesses her friend Khalil get fatally shot by a police officer. Seriously, read this book. 

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Sometimes a book is so endearing and nostalgic to teenage years that you can’t help getting brought along for the ride. Billy is a fourteen-year-old who spends his time with friends, playing and creating video games, and thinking about girls while also avoiding them. We follow along as he navigates through high school.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This stunning, eye-opening novel very clearly shows how reading fosters empathy. In a heartwarming tone, it discusses a topic that a lot of people aren’t familiar with in a very eye-opening and relatable way.

Dead Letters by Claire Dolan-Leach

Caite Dolan-Leach writes beautifully, casting an eccentric line of characters in a beautiful (albeit unsuccessful) vineyard in a small town. Enchanting with a punchy voice, quick pace, and unexpected twists!

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

This father-daughter story stars the gun-toting Samuel Hawley and his daughter, steel-toe boot-wearing Loo. Despite their rough exteriors, the duo charmed me as Loo tries to reconcile with her father’s dark past.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land, a psychological thriller, is SO eerie! The story is told by the daughter of a serial killer, Milly, and begins when she turns her mother into the police. That’s right, this particular serial killer is a female. Surprising huh? At first they didn’t believe Milly, what are the odds of a murderous mother? But the police are quickly convinced when Milly shares her terrible trauma.

 

While Milly prepares to testify against her mother in court, she stays with a foster family. Mike, Saskia and Phoebe, a fellow teenager, take her in and saying that Phoebe and Milly don’t get along is putting it mildly. As Milly settles into her new life, we see glimpses into the horrors that Milly’s mom put her through. Land was able to convey these awful experiences without being too graphic or gruesome, which I found to be impressive.

It’s very clear that Milly is battling against herself, her good self and bad self. Between who she feels she is and who she wants to be. She struggles to be normal, but is constantly reminded of the lessons her mother taught her and consistently speaks to her mother throughout the story, addressing the audience as “you.” The true question Milly longs to answer is whether she’s her mother’s daughter after all…

This debut novel from Ali Land is well written and chilling. If thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend it!

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

Imagine that you’re alone in the woods with no way to contact help and it’s starting to get dark. This is where Amy Raye, an experienced hunter, finds herself during Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets.

When Amy Raye sets out alone to track a bull elk during the last weekend of the hunting season, the weather takes a turn for the worse. Before long, she’s lost and it’s getting dark. Amy Raye’s two fellow hunters report her missing, which launches a search and recovery mission to find her. Throughout the story, the perspective shifts from Amy Raye to Pru Hathaway (a member of the search team) and we learn about the perseverance of each of these women as the conditions go from bad to worse.

Breaking Wild is filled with vivid descriptions of the Colorado wilderness as well as detailed hunting explanations. While I don’t have any experience hunting (or any interest in it really), it was a unique perspective to read from and Amy Raye’s survival skills are beyond impressive. It’s inspiring to read about a character with such a strong will to survive.

Although the book wasn’t a thriller like I thought it might be; it was still a race to the finish.  I recommend this book as the weather turns colder and we find ourselves bundled up inside!