Author Archives: Jenn

Fall Book Preview: September, 2014, Part III

We’re in the final stretch! I’ve already shared Part I and Part II of my most anticipated books of September. Today, I’m pleased to wrap up this series with the final post.  Didn’t I warn you there were a lot of excellent books publishing in September? Click on the book cover or title to pre-order!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Sept. 16):

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction, and here she has delivered again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters’s finest achievement yet.

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill (Sept. 16):

When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it’s Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?

With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements–speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king–and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship.

The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Sept. 16):

Cassie Sullivan and her companions lived through the Others’ four waves of destruction. Now, with the human race nearly exterminated and the 5th Wave rolling across the landscape, they face a choice: brace for winter and hope for Evan Walker’s return, or set out in search of other survivors before the enemy closes in. Because the next attack is more than possible—it’s inevitable.

No one can anticipate the depths to which the Others will sink, nor the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

Hardcase by Dan Simmons (Sept. 16):

Award-winning author Dan Simmons takes the reader on a trip with Kurtz through the cold, windy streets of Buffalo where one wrong move could mean a belly-full of lead…

Once Joe Kurtz needed revenge–and revenge cost him eleven years in Attica prison. Now Kurtz needs a job, and the price is going to be higher. Out of prison, out of touch, Kurtz signs on with the Byron Farino, Don of a Mob family whose son Kurtz had been protecting on the inside. Farino enlists Kurtz’s help to track down the Family’s missing accountant–a man with too much knowledge of Family business to have on the loose.

But someone doesn’t want the accountant found–and with enemies inside the Family vying for his throne, and turf warfare just around the corner, Farino needs an outsider like Kurtz to flush out who’s really behind this latest affront. As the story twists and turns and the body count rises, Kurtz no longer knows who he can trust. Everyone seems to be after something, from the mob boss’s sultry yet dangerous daughter, to a hit man named The Dane, an albino killer who is good with a knife, and a dwarf who is armed to the teeth and hell-bent on revenge. Kurtz has always been an ace investigator. Now he’s about to discover that to get at the truth, sometimes you have to go after it–hard.

Edge of Eternity: Book Three of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett (Sept. 16):

Throughout these books, Follett has followed the fortunes of five intertwined families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh – as they make their way through the twentieth century. Now they come to one of the most tumultuous eras of all, the enormous social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s through the 1980s, from civil rights, assassinations, mass political movements and Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Presidential impeachment, revolution – and rock and roll.
 
East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for the rest of their lives…George Jakes, the child of a mixed-race couple, bypasses a corporate law career to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department, and finds himself in the middle not only of the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but a much more personal battle of his own…Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a Senator,  jumps at the chance to do some official and unofficial espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is a much more dangerous place than he’d imagined…Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Nikita Khruschev, becomes a prime agent both for good and for ill as the U.S. and the Soviet Union race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister Tania carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw – and into history.  
 
As always with Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. With the hand of a master, he brings us into a world we thought we knew but now will never seem the same again.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Sept. 23):

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.

Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (Sept. 23):

A gorgeous, moving memoir of how one of America’s most innovative and respected journalists found his voice by coming to terms with a painful past

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow mines the compelling poetry of the out-of-time African-American Louisiana town where he grew up — a place where slavery’s legacy felt astonishingly close, reverberating in the elders’ stories and in the near-constant wash of violence.

Blow’s attachment to his mother — a fiercely driven woman with five sons, brass knuckles in her glove box, a job plucking poultry at a nearby factory, a soon-to-be-ex husband, and a love of newspapers and learning — cannot protect him from secret abuse at the hands of an older cousin. It’s damage that triggers years of anger and searing self-questioning.

Finally, Blow escapes to a nearby state university, where he joins a black fraternity after a passage of brutal hazing, and then enters a world of racial and sexual privilege that feels like everything he’s ever needed and wanted, until he’s called upon, himself, to become the one perpetuating the shocking abuse.

A powerfully redemptive memoir that both fits the tradition of African-American storytelling from the South, and gives it an indelible new slant.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (Sept. 23):

Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love…until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.

Whew! What a list! Plenty of books to keep us all busy! Did I miss any books? Which titles are you most looking forward to?

Fall Book Preview: September, 2014, Part II

Yesterday, I shared the first of three posts spotlighting the September releases I’m excited about. Today I’m pleased to share the second list.  Once again, I’ve included the publisher’s summary and a link to preorder. Without further ado…

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday (Sept.9):

Annabel Lee is summoned from Siam to live with her father in 1820’s Philadelphia shortly after her mother’s death, but an unconventional upbringing makes her repugnant to her angry, secretive father.

Annabel becomes infatuated with her father’s assistant Allan, who dabbles in writing when he’s not helping with medical advancements. But in darker hours, when she’s not to be roaming the house, she encounters the devilish assistant Edgar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Allan, and who others insist doesn’t exist.

A rash of murders across Philadelphia, coupled with her father’s strange behavior, leads Annabel to satisfy her curiosity and uncover a terrible truth: Edgar and Allan are two halves of the same person – and they are about to make the crimes detailed in Allan’s stories come to life. Unless Annabel stops them.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Sept.9):

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters—dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian.

As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem—and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Sept. 9):

Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.

Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

 

The Marco Effect: A Department Q Novelby Jussi Adler-Olsen (Sept. 9):

All fifteen-year-old Marco Jameson wants is to become a Danish citizen and go to school like a normal teenager. But his uncle Zola rules his former gypsy clan with an iron fist. Revered as a god and feared as a devil, Zola forces the children of the clan to beg and steal for his personal gain. When Marco discovers a dead body—proving the true extent of Zola’s criminal activities—he goes on the run. But his family members aren’t the only ones who’ll go to any lengths to keep Marco silent . . . forever.

Meanwhile, the last thing Detective Carl Mørck needs is for his assistants, Assad and Rose, to pick up a missing persons case on a whim: Carl’s nemesis is his new boss, and he’s saddled Department Q with an unwelcome addition. But when they learn that a mysterious teen named Marco may have as much insight into the case as he has fear of the police, Carl is determined to solve the mystery and save the boy. Carl’s actions propel the trio into a case that extends from Denmark to Africa, from embezzlers to child soldiers, from seemingly petty crime rings to the very darkest of cover-ups.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Sept. 9):

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—and encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.


Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (Sept. 9):

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Sabotage by Matt Cook (Sept. 9):

A missing Stanford professor and a cruise ship held hostage begin a thrilling story of action and espionage on the high seas.

A cruise ship loses power in the North Atlantic. A satellite launches in the South Pacific. Professor Malcolm Clare—celebrated aviator, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer—disappears from Stanford University and wakes up aboard an unknown jet, minutes before the aircraft plunges into the high seas.

An extortionist code-named “Viking” has seized control of a private warfare technology, pitting a US defense corporation against terrorist conspirators in a bidding war. His leverage: a threat to destroy the luxury liner and its 3,000 passengers.

Stanford doctoral student Austin Hardy, probing the disappearance of his professor, seeks out Malcolm Clare’s daughter Victoria, an icy brunette with a secret that sweeps them to Saint Petersburg. Helped by a team of graduates on campus, they must devise Trojan horses, outfox an assassin, escape murder in Bruges, and sidestep treachery in order to unravel Viking’s scheme. Failure would ensure economic armageddon in the United States.

Both on US soil and thousands of miles away, the story roars into action at supersonic speed. Filled with an enigmatic cast of characters, Matt Cook’s debut novel is a sure thrill ride for those who love the puzzles of technology, cryptology, and people. 

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Sept. 16):

A criminal mastermind creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses in Lauren Beukes’s new genre-bending novel of suspense.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.
If Lauren Beukes’s internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.

Whew! Another outstanding list of books, right? Stay tuned for tomorrow for the final post in this series!

Fall Book Preview: September, 2014, Part I

School is starting back up here again in the next few weeks and the promise of cool, fall weather is just around the corner.  Fall is, by far, my favorite season of the year.  Here in Virginia, trees begin to change color, a piece of artwork created by Mother Nature I look forward to each year.

Fall also brings a flurry activity in the publishing world! September, alone, has dozens of books publishing that have caught my eye.  So many, in fact, that it requires I have not one, not two, but three posts previewing the books I’m most exited about.

As always, I’ve provided the publisher’s summary and a link to pre-order (by clicking on the title or book cover). Enjoy!

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sept. 2):

A vast, intricate novel that weaves six narratives and spans from 1984 to the 2030s about a secret war between a cult of soul-decanters and the small group of vigilantes who try to take them down. An up-all-night story that fluently mixes the supernatural, sci-fi, horror, social satire, and heartbreaking realism and will elevate David to an even higher level of success.

 

 

 

 

Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis (Sept.2):

Just like any other morning, Skylar Rousseau is late for school, but when she is greeted by a blanket of silent stares upon entering Blackfin High, she discovers that the whole town thought she fell from the pier and drowned on her sixteenth birthday three months earlier. However, Sky remembers the last three months living her life as normal, and since she is a full, living breathing human being, she has no idea whose body is buried underneath her tombstone. Everyone seems reluctant to help except her steadfast friend and crush, Sean . . . and a secretive man who draws her to a mysterious circus in the woods.

Sky must wade through impossibilities and lies to discover the truth about what happened to her, which proves to be a bit difficult when someone is following her every move with the intent to harm her. And Sky’s only hope of finding the answers she seeks may have already been turned to ashes.

 

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon (Sept.2):

After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors.

While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he’s offered one, he decides he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s lost his passion.


His adopted son, Dooley, wrestles with his own passion—for the beautiful and gifted Lace Turner, and his vision to become a successful country vet. Dooley’s brother, Sammy, still enraged by his mother’s abandonment, destroys one of Father Tim’s prized possessions. And Hope Murphy, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, struggles with the potential loss of her unborn child and her hard-won business.


All this as Wanda’s Feel Good Café opens, a romance catches fire through an Internet word game, their former mayor hatches a reelection campaign to throw the bums out, and the weekly Muse poses a probing inquiry: Does Mitford still take care of its own?

The Secret Place by Tana French (Sept. 2):

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Skeleton Takes a Bowby Leigh Perry (Sept. 2):

While using his head to play Yorick’s skull in a high school production of Hamlet, Sid the Skeleton witnesses a murder. Now Georgia Thackery and her bony best buddy will both need to keep their heads as they stick their necks out and play sleuth to catch the killer…

Personal by Lee Child (Sept. 2):

Lee Child has become a bestselling juggernaut, and his iconic hero Jack Reacher has been dubbed “one of the most enduring action heroes on the American landscape.” (The New York Times). With each new entry, critics fall harder for Reacher and legions of new fans climb on the bandwagon. Now, Child once again gives a jolt of pure adrenaline to the suspense genre, with a story so gripping that even the most weathered Reacher fans will find themselves on the edge of their seats. Where will Reacher turn up this time? And which bad guys are in for a hard fall? Stay tuned to this spot—as one of the most popular authors in the world is about to become even bigger.

Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer (Sept. 2):

The final installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy

It is winter in Area X. A new team embarks across the border on a mission to find a member of a previous expedition who may have been left behind. As they press deeper into the unknown—navigating new terrain and new challenges—the threat to the outside world becomes more daunting. In Acceptance, the last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may have been solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound—or terrifying.

A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country’s most famous museum of medical oddities

Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time. Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

Award-winning writer Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter’s efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation—despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mütter’s “overly modern” medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the “P. T. Barnum of the surgery room.”

The Barter by Siobhan Adcock (Sept. 4):

The Barter is a ghost story and a love story, a riveting emotional tale that also explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel follows two young mothers at the turning point of their lives.

Bridget has given up her career as an attorney to raise her daughter, joining a cadre of stay-at-home mothers seeking fulfillment in a quiet suburb. But for Bridget, some crucial part of the exchange is absent: Something she loves and needs. And now a terrifying presence has entered her home; only nobody but Bridget can feel it.

On a farm in 1902, a young city bride takes a farmer husband. The marriage bed will become both crucible and anvil as Rebecca first allows, then negates, the powerful erotic connection between them. She turns her back on John to give all her love to their child. Much will occur in this cold house, none of it good.

As Siobhan Adcock crosscuts these stories with mounting tension, each woman arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making, tinged with love and fear and dread. What will they sacrifice to save their families—and themselves? Readers will slow down to enjoy the gorgeous language, then speed up to see what happens next in a plot that thrums with the weight of decision—and its explosive consequences.

Whew! Quite a list, right? And these are just titles published the first week of September! Check back tomorrow for Part II!

Frightful Friday: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is Conversion by Katerine Howe:

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780399167775
  • Source: Library copy

The seniors at St. Joan’s Academy, a private school in Danvers, Massachusetts, are wrapped up in the stress of their final year of school prior to graduation. The students are expected to take this pressure all in stride. Then one day the school’s most popular girl, Clara Rutherford, breaks out into uncontrollable ticks in the middle of class. Soon, other girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, including hair loss, seizures, and violent coughing fits. With reason, students, their parents, and faculty are all on edge. What is causing these unusual, abrupt symptoms? Could it be something in the environment at the school poisoning them? Or perhaps, is it somehow tied to the town’s dark history?

Colleen Rowley is one of the students immersed in this chaos. The stress of graduation has overcome her as well. Working on an extra credit assignment on The Crucible, she uncovers what many others have not: Danvers is not the original name of this small Massachusetts town. Originally known as Salem Village, Danvers has a history of unexplained epidemics involving young women. Is it possible this modern epidemic is somehow related to that of the past?

Using parallel narratives, Howe gets inside the minds of two young girls, separated by three centuries of history. Ann Putnam was a young woman fully involved in the Salem witch trials. It was she who accused her neighbors of witchcraft. Today, Colleen Rowley holds powerful information about the town’s past and how it could be related to what is transpiring now.

With a substitute teacher serving as her mentor, Colleen’s research into The Crucible and the dark history of Danvers provides valuable evidence about the power of those in charge:

There are parts of the story that are overlooked . Maybe because they don’t fit with what the people in charge have to say…look beyond the dominate narrative…you can rewrite the narrative if you ask the right questions.

This knowledge forces Colleen to take a different approach to uncovering what is happening to her classmates. As she continues her research, the truth about the past becomes more apparent, simultaneous with revelations as to what is happening in her town today.

Howe forces readers to examine the power of manipulation, how the actions or word of one individual can shape the actions of an entire town. Conversion touches on the pressures society forces upon young girls, both today and centuries in past.  We demand that they not only get good grades and move on to prestigious colleges, but to maintain an appearance of control in the midst of one of the most challenging phases in their lives.  The pressure to be perfect is tremendous and therefore it shouldn’t be out of the realm of belief for consequences and side effects of this stress to be manifested physically.

Conversion has been compared to Megan Abbott’s The Fever. I admit, their similarities put me off at first. I Having read Abbott’s book first, I didn’t think I could continue reading this one.  How is it possible for two books, published just weeks apart, have such a similar storyline?  Simple! Both books are loosely based on true events. In 2012, eighteen girls in Le Roy, NY began exhibiting strange symptoms, including verbal and physical tics.  Ultimately, their symptoms were diagnosed as conversion syndrome, a disorder in which emotional stress is so strong that it begins to manifest into physical symptoms. Both Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe are from New York, so it is guaranteed that both women read about this unusual case. I don’t know about you, but if I was a writer an read about this case, I’d want to write about it two.

All this said, while Abbott and Howe both loosely base their novels on one actual event, there are enough differences to set them apart as unique novels. Each deserve their own attention and praise for they are truly outstanding and unique novels.

Going in, I didn’t realize Conversion was a young adult novel.  Both teens and adults are certain to enjoy this novel, each taking away something wholly different. For teens, it is the acknowledgement that we know they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and the importance of verbalizing their difficulties before they take a physical toll. For adults, it serves as a reminder that we are often responsible for exacerbating an already stressful time in our teens lives, often forgetting our own experiences in lieu of pushing our children to achieve perfection.

Bottom line, Conversion is a novel that I wholly enjoyed. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know if it was due to the setting, or the fact that my own teen son is starting high school this year. Whatever the reason, I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Have you read both Conversion and The Fever? What did you think?

Review: Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 7 hours and 17 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (March 11, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher, via Audiobook Jukebox

Liv Bloom, a foster child, is thrilled when she obtains a scholarship to attend Wickham Hall, a school known for its arts program.  As a scholarship student, she doesn’t have a lot in common with the other students, all legacies of their rich family lines. So, when Malcolm Astor, another art student from one of the school’s original families, begins to pay her attention, she’s ecstatic. Unfortunately, other students are less than thrilled with this match-up. Gabe, a fellow scholarship student, warns Liv from becoming involved with a “Wicky.” Liv is the happiest she has ever been and ignores Gabe’s warnings. Gabe is a bit of an outsider, beholden with a secret ability that might cause his expulsion from Wickham Hall…and entry into a mental hospital.

Liv’s happiness is cut short when she’s brutally murdered. With Gabe as her only tie to the living, the unlikely trio begin a desperate search to identify Liv’s killer. They soon realize Liv is only the most recent victim to a series of deaths that go back over a century. With the school and the authorities believing her death to be a suicide, Liv, Gabe and Malcom must uncover a dark and deadly history that hangs over Wickham Hall.

Liv, Forever has all the traits of a supernatural fiction that I adore: an elite, private high school; dark, foreboding setting; untimely death; and centuries of unexplained killings. I was a little wary that the love story between Liv and Malcom would overpower the storyline, but I was pleased to discover this was not the case. Rather, Talkington develops an incredibly engaging and addictive plot line that forced me to come up with every opportunity to listen more.

Additionally, through Liv and Malcom’s characters, Talkington weaves the art world into the storyline. Each piece of art mentioned has specific and detailed ties to the storyline. I found myself searching the author’s website for images of the art,  adding a completely new dimension to the story.

The characters Talkington has crafted are unique, well-developed, and rich with dimension. As you read (or listen), it’s hard to be wary of everyone, unsure of who can be trusted. A whole host of people could be responsible for Liv’s death, including those closest to her.  When all is revealed, readers will be handsomely rewarded with a truly heartfelt ending.

A note on the narration:

This is my first experience with narrator Jorjeana Marie.  Looking at the list of other books she’s narrated, they all seem to be in the thriller or mystery genres. Now that I’ve listened to her work, I can understand why. She has a haunting and mysterious tone to her voice that really adds a new dimension to the listening experience. I’m hooked; I definitely plan on seeking out more of her narration projects!

 

Bottom line: if you are looking for an uber creepy supernatural fiction, this is the title for you. Whether you read or listen to it, Liv, Forever is a title destined to be appreciated by readers of all ages. Highly recommended.

 

Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 31, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780670016389
  • Source: Publisher

Ten years ago, Janie Jenkins was convicted for the death of her murder. Now, released on a technicality, Janie alters her appearance and goes on a rouge mission to discover the identity of her mother’s killer. The challenge: Janie isn’t exactly sure that person isn’t her.

Traveling to an small South Dakota town, Janie uncovers an old photograph, an abandoned home, and a diary that tie her mother back to this small unknown town. As the townspeople become more wary of her identity, Janie struggles to hide from the press and the police as she digs deeper into her mother’s (and ultimately her own) history. She soon discovers that her mother, known for her striking beauty and trail of wealthy husbands, is more like her than she could have ever imagined.

This stunning debut thriller held my attention from beginning to end. For once, I was thrilled to be on a business trip for it afforded me several hours of uninterrupted in-flight reading time.

Little creates a vivid character in Janie Jenkins, one that, despite her many faults, you can’t help but root for. Janie is an unlikely heroine, a truly self-destructive character who, if you met on the street, you’d likely rush to avoid her.  Additionally, Little creates a well-developed cast of secondary characters, rich in their own secrets and faults. This, along with the expertly crafted plot twists all adds up to a truly outstanding read.

While there were aspects of the story that were unbelievable, if readers can suspend disbelief and allow themselves to become immersed in the storyline, they will be taken on a whirlwind read of epic proportions. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (August 12, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385538152
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

After an unknown cousin commits suicide, twenty-something A. finds himself owner of a beautiful, yet slightly ominous, estate in Point Bless, Virginia.  Questions surround his cousin’s death; he jumped out of the same 3-story bedroom that his father had before.

Joined by his mute companion, Niamh, A. arrives in Virginia to find that Axton House is riddled with mystery. Locals declare that it is haunted, a fact that is soon confirmed. Employing the use of surveillance devices, including voice recorders and video cameras, A. and Niamh attempt to track down the root of the secrets of Axton House.

Told in a series of journal entries, security tape transcripts and newspaper articles, the author quickly reveals all is not as it seems, a characteristic readers will soon realize a well. What appears to be a chilling ghost story is not; while it has some supernatural elements, at its very core The Supernatural Enhancements is more of a thriller or mystery.  The identity of the entity that roams the great home is quickly determined, leaving the focus of the storyline on the other mysteries and secrets that remain.  Mentions of a annual meeting of a secret society at the home send A. and Niamh on an intense hunt to find the answers to the dozens of questions before them.

Despite being set in present day, the setting and overall tone of the story gives this novel a Gothic feel. Had it not been for the technology Niamh and A. use to capture evidence, it would be easy for readers to assume this story to be set at the turn of the century.

Although the format of this novel prevents readers from connecting with the main characters, the captivating storyline is guaranteed to capture the attention of a wide variety of readers. A stunning and surprising ending wraps up this truly fun and remarkable novel. Highly recommended.

 

Guest Post: Stacey Graham, Author of Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles

Yesterday, I reviewed Stacey Graham’s latest book, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles Today, I’m pleased to welcome her to the blog for a guest post about how she gains inspiration to write about the ghoulish and ghastly!  First, a little about Stacey:

I’m a multi-tasking mother of five whose early jobs included faking a British accent for tourists at a historical mansion, and speaking with Italian men over the phone for far too long while working at a travel agency in Portland, Oregon.

I have degrees in history and archaeology/anthropology from Oregon State University and may or may not have seen Bigfoot at an off-campus deli. It was Oregon, it’s hard to tell. I enjoy writing terrible zombie poetry and baking delicious granola that my husband refuses to eat. I currently live on the tippy top of a mountain outside of Washington, D.C. where helicopters hover overhead when the President gets his groove on to visit Homeland Security’s secret bunker.

Inspiration is a fickle wench

I love horror. I love to roll around in it until my fingers get all pruney from the gore and I feel the need to look under my bed before I turn off the light at night. But as a horror writer, sometimes the urge to do terrible things to people doesn’t come easily. How can you jumpstart creativity when it would rather sit on the couch and binge-watch Sleepy Hollow?

• Read: And not just your usual genre — read histories of great kings, children’s books, news articles of what’s going on behind closed doors in the scientific community, and your grandmother’s cookbooks. There’s a story idea in unexpected places and your job is to find it, exploit it, and make your readers angry that you didn’t add another chapter.

• Social media: What the heck is your neighbor whining about this week on their wall? Find the nefarious in the normal, and make them pay for not returning your weed trimmer.

• Exercise: I am not an athlete – not even close. But every morning I hike with my husband up Suck Mountain and back again with the reward of creamy clouds in my coffee – and a new twist to a story. To take my mind off of the pain in my butt, I work on plot holes and marketing ideas. Sometimes they’re awesome, and other times I get distracted by swallowing a bug, but by the time I drag myself back into the kitchen, I usually have a plan for the day.

• Sheesh, Stace, get it together: Organize! When planning my blog or guest posts, I whip out my Google calendar at the beginning of the month and start filling in ideas. I brainstorm first on a yellow legal pad (who doesn’t) and try to have a good mix of business, goofiness, and promotional posts. Then I’ll transfer them to my online calendar in color-coded goodness. When on deadline for a book, my methods are similar but there’s a whole lot more legal pads, mind maps, and Excel spreadsheets – but that’s a blog post for another time.

• Use your smart phone as a mobile idea machine: To save space in my purse, I use a note app and the voice recorder to get ideas down instead of a notebook. Have an idea while waiting for the train? Do a quick Google and get the bones down in your notes app before you throw some elbows for a seat. There are tons of apps available to use for notes, one of the most popular being Evernote, so try a few that work best with your habits and get crackin’.

I find that inspiration hits hardest right as I’m finishing a book. I have loads of ideas – and little time to work on them due to edits for the contracted book. No problem: write them down, make a Pinterest board, email ideas to yourself, paper a wall with Post-Its, sharpie it on the back of your toddler – whatever you have to do to get it down. Don’t let it slip away.

“Write or don’t write,” to shamelessly misquote Yoda. It’s your time — go ahead and call yourself a Timelord if that’s what you’re into — and what you choose to spend it on is what makes you awesome. If you need another level of Candy Crush, go crazy, I’ll be outside sucking up bugs.

Thank you, Stacey! Please be sure to visit Stacey on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her website

Review: Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles by Stacey Graham

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (August 8, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0738739081
  • Source: Author

There’s a reason so many of us find dolls to be creepy. Their uncanny likeness to human children. Their lifelike eyes and expressions. Horror movies often pick up on this fear, manipulating our terror by focusing on a demonic doll that torments anyone that crosses its path.

Sometimes, however, our fears are validated when we learn of dolls and other inanimate objects that seem to have a ghostly presence tied to it. In Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles, Graham examines a host of reports of haunted objects and places, from skulls refusing to be removed from their homes to portraits that transform right before one’s eyes.

As a fan of antique stores, flea markets, and yard sales, I’ve always been wary of sinister feelings I experience when I handle a particular object. Graham has evidence to prove that objects close to a person can hold on to their essence long after that person has passed.  Some of the more chilling segments hit me quite close to home…hauntings that take place in the very town in which I live, or sites that I have visited myself.

As an avid reader and viewer of anything remotely ghostlike, I was familiar with a few of the objects Graham featured.  A startling number were new to me. Unlike other books of this sort, Graham provides readers with advice on how to deal with haunted objects they experience and provides testimony by the victims of these haunted objects. Each segment is brief yet vivid with detail. Additionally, Graham inserts her own experience in ghostly matters, adding a wholly personal and therefore believable spin to this haunting collection. All in all, Graham provides a truly captivating and chilling read.

Haunted Stuff is the perfect reading material for the upcoming Halloween season, or to read at a campfire late at night. The cover alone sends chills down my spine! As a writer “about the spookier side of life,” Graham has degrees in both history and archaeology/anthropology. She knows her stuff when it comes to haunted history.

If you are looking for a book that will give you goosebumps, sending chills down your spine, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles is the book for you. A must read this Halloween season. Highly recommended.

Come back tomorrow for a spooktacular guest post from Stacey Graham herself!

A Month in Review: July 2014

 

Wow! I can’t believe it’s August already. Where did the summer go!? In just a few weeks, my boys will be going back to school and we’ll be back to our insanely busy schedule.  I need to get going on my reading!  First, let’s look back on what happened on the blog in July.

Books Reviewed

Total books reviewed: 12

Pick of the month: Why do I even bother? When was the last time I picked just one book? So this month, I won’t even narrow it down to my top two or three. They were all excellent!

Special Events

What books am I looking forward to in August?

Summer Book Preview: August 2014, Part I
Summer Book Preview: August 2014, Part II

SubscriberBonus

You may remember my post mentioning I wanted to do something to give back to my subscribers: hosting a monthly giveaway of all the print books reviewed that month. Well, here is your opportunity!

Now, many of the copies I review are electronic and unfortunately there is no way for me to share those titles. So, following are the print copies the selected winner will receive:

How do you enter to win? Simply fill out the form below. You must be a subscriber of this blog in order to win (I will check before selecting the winner).  I don’t care if you’ve been a subscriber for years or if you just signed up. The winner will be contacted next Friday, August 8. Since I am paying for the shipping, open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!