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.

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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.”