What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney

“We’re all waiting to die aren’t we?” – What You Don’t Know

What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney made my skin crawl. It’s one of those stories where almost every character is disturbed and quite interesting at the same time. It’s all very dark, but that makes for a good crime novel right?

Detective Hoskins and Loren are looking for a serial killer. They’re unlikely partners, but Hoskins is the only one who can put up with Loren. The book begins as they arrest Jackie Seever, a man who had done unspeakable things. Seven years later, people begin dying again in ways similar to Seever’s victims. The problem is that Seever is still in jail and detectives are stumped.

The book switches between quite a few points of view including detectives, reporters, and even the wife of the serial killer. Everyone is a suspect and as the story moves forward, some of them move further from reality.

The pace of What You Don’t Know was a little slower than I would have liked, but I was intrigued by the dark story and twisted ending.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

In an interview with Harper Audio Presents (the podcast) Jessica Shattuck said that she hopes for readers to describe her book, The Women in the Castle, as compelling. I can confirm that it most definitely is. This story is told from the perspectives of three German women before, during, and after World War II. I’ve read a lot of books set during this time period and I was fascinated by the controversial points of view presented here.

“She was the last man standing, the decoy left holding the key.”

After the war ends, Marianne (who can be described as a “camp director” type) fulfills her promise to protect the wives and children of the men who participated in the Hitler assassination attempt. She finds two of these wives and their children and brings them to the abandoned castle that belonged to her husband’s family. The three women are very different and yet they compliment one another. They are left to recover after a brutal war and it turns out that all are not necessarily who they seem to be.

It was inspiring to see such determination during a terrible time. I really recommend The Women in the Castle, even to those who have already read many World War II based novels!

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

If you could go anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go? Rome, Paris, and London all cross my mind. For Nell Stevens (who actually received this absurdly lucky opportunity through her fellowship), her destination is Bleaker Island where she will live alone for weeks on end.

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens is made up of her time on the island (in the style of journal entries), memories, and her fictional writing (including what she had originally set out to write on Bleaker Island). While I wouldn’t choose to spend three months on a dreary island, Nell’s choice was intriguing. There were quite a few points while reading when I was internally shaking my head at her – why didn’t she pack more food? Another book? But it’s entirely possible that she wanted to suffer a little bit for her art.

 Bleaker House is a slower paced novel, but it didn’t just feel like an extended diary. It’s interesting that she went to the island to write a fictional novel and ended with an entirely different book.

Above all else, reading Bleaker House motivates me to continue writing myself along with eating lots of fresh food, which weren’t available on Bleaker Island. I enjoyed this book because it’s different from what I typically read in both genre and pace.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach is enchanting with a punchy voice, quick pace, and unexpected twists. I didn’t want to put down this vibrant book!

Ava and Zelda, twin sisters, come from a wacky family filled with alcoholics who have expensive taste and very little work ethic. The mother, Nadine, is psychotic and sharp while their father, Marlon, is charming when he wants to be and absent the rest of the time.

The book begins when Ava receives an email calling her home from Paris because Zelda has died in a fire. Whoa. Although she’s shocked, Ava doesn’t panic because she doesn’t believe it. Once she returns home mysterious emails, letters, and clues from Zelda appear that lead her on a wicked scavenger hunt. We eventually learn why Ava had left their home in the first place and what Zelda has planned for her.

Caite Dolan-Leach writes beautifully, casting an eccentric line of characters in a beautiful (albeit unsuccessful) vineyard in a small town. Images of the vineyard, the lake beyond, and the endless glasses of wine and booze came easily to mind. Beyond the mystery of the story, it was thoughtful as Ava (and Zelda) reflect on their relationships with one another and their family.

I really liked Dead Letters with all of the intensity, vibrancy, and would like to re-read it.

Quotes:

“I’m pretty sure he thinks that birthdays and funerals and dishes and housework are all magically arranged by some sort of domestic deity who oversees life’s practical considerations.”

 “…Maybe this was how she though about parenting us: as an unbalanced checkbook where she never got the sum she earned.”

“…That Zelda was unknowable, that any intimacy you thought you shared with her was a fiction she graciously let you maintain.”

 

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

Before reading The Shattered Tree, a Bess Crawford mystery, I was unfamiliar with the mother-son writing pair, Charles Todd. Charles and Caroline Todd come from a family filled with storytellers and write books together!

Bess Crawford is an English battlefield nurse during World War I and one night, an injured officer is brought to Bess’s station. He’s freezing, bloody, and was found besides a shattered tree. As Bess stabilizes him she’s surprised to learn that the officer isn’t British, he’s actually wearing a French uniform and speaks fluent German. Her curiosity and suspicion spark the story that unfolds in The Shattered Tree.

Soon after, Beth is wounded and sent to Paris to heal. It turns out that this mysterious man is also in Paris although his whereabouts are unknown. Beth can’t shake the thought of him; what if he’s a spy? She goes on a mission to find the man with the help of American Captain Barkley.

I thought Bess was pushy and nosy although her determination was impressive. She had very little connection to this officer and mystery she stumbles upon. Despite this, she pushes her way in. Throughout the story there was a sense of urgency, however I didn’t feel it as a reader.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time engaging with the story although it was an interesting idea.

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. For me, The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is one of these stories. The book feels like a shout-out to all the teenagers  who feel out of place and awkward.

Billy is a fourteen-year-old teenager who spends most of his time hanging out with his friends, playing video games, and thinking about girls while also avoiding them. Despite having terrible grades in school, Billy’s brilliant with computers and has taught himself to code his own games.

When an edition of Playboy is released featuring Vanna White, Billy and his two best friends will do just about anything to see the photos. Because they’re under eighteen (and cannot legally purchase the magazine), they develop an elaborate plot to get their hands on a copy. In the process, Billy meets Mary Zelinsky and everything changes. She’s an expert programmer and together they develop The Impossible Fortress, a video game, to enter in a large competition. Of course the plan gets off track and Billy finds himself torn between what he knows is right and peer pressure.

One of the major themes of the book is sharing what it feels like to be a teenager when anything feels possible and you’re at the beginning of rest of your life. I really felt for Billy, a shy, hopeful, and at times, naïve kid. Despite his principal openly telling him that his future is drear and video game programming isn’t a career option, he works even harder to complete The Impossible Fortress. I was rooting for him!

In the end I was a bit confused about Mary’s motivations (Jason Rekulak, I have a few questions for you!) that I don’t feel were well explained, but overall this book is really good! The Impossible Fortress shares many similarities with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (which I really liked as well) and I recommend both!

I thought this quote sums up Billy’s teenage temperament well:

“I didn’t try to compete with either of them. All I knew was that I didn’t know anything.”

 

 

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

monsters-a-love-story-by-liz-kayAre you looking for a romantic comedy with some sharp edges? Check out Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay for a book filled with sarcasm, romance, and quite a bit of swearing.

Stacey Lane is a poet, a widow, and a mother. When her husband Michael died, she quickly begins to feel like she’s losing control and focus. The story begins when her book of poetry is chosen by an A-list Hollywood actor Tommy DeMarco to be made into a film. From the first time they meet, a romantic tension builds between them and is filled with snarky banter and physical connections. Before long, these feelings grow into something neither of them knows how to handle.

Throughout the book, which spans years as the movie goes through production and it’s release, everything seemed to fall into place too perfectly. It’s not only the positive things; the bad things seemed to fit too easily into place as well. Unfortunately, the story felt unrealistic and slightly predictable, but sometimes that’s what makes a light story enjoyable in it’s own way.

I found it strange that at times Stacey’s character would say things that implied she’s a feminist fighting off unrealistic expectations of women, but then her actions would prove to be the opposite. Regardless of her stance, the character felt inconsistent. On the plus side, I thought Stacey’s son Stevie was very sweet!

Monsters: A Love Story is a light read (ideal for a vacation), however it wasn’t one that would make the list of my favorite reads.