Category Archives: Harper Books

Review: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

  • Series: Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 15, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062276026
  • Source: Publisher

One morning, the police are called to a cottage to investigate a murder in a quiet English village. The victim, Polly, is a beautiful young woman, known for having multiple affairs with both men and women.  Her affairs all end the same way: the other party begs for a more stable relationship which Polly quickly denies.

Soon after, a car is found at the bottom of a quarry. Inside they find the body of Barbara Fletcher-Norman, her death an apparent suicide. Barbara was a known drunk and it’s assumed her death is a suicide.

Leading the investigation on both cases Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith soon realizes that there is more to both of these incidents.  Louisa must dig into the small village’s secrets to learn more about these two women.  Unfortunately, the evidence is showing multiple potential suspects making Louisa’s job particularly difficult. As can be imagined, the villagers aren’t volunteering information. Instead, she must use phone records and eyewitness accounts to identify the individual(s!?) at fault.

Under a Silent Moon is the first in a new police procedural series from this author.  Haynes, a police intelligence analyst herself, interweaves police reports, phone messages, and interviews, along with the multiple viewpoints,  to create a rich and intense novel of suspense.  The secondary characters play a pretty active role, having the appearance of primary characters due to their involvement in the storyline.  They are each richly developed, truly making this a more dynamic read than a typical police procedural.

Haynes own background in the field certainly adds a level of authenticity to the actions the investigators perform to trace down the killer. The added addition of the police reports, etc., allows the reader to genuinely feel part of the investigation, gaining privileged access to the case information.  This information provides readers with just enough information to form an educated guess about what may have transpired.  The race to the end is intense; the need to know the truth is great.

Be forewarned that there are some graphic scenes of a sexual nature throughout the book. Certainly not gratuitous but necessary to exemplify the…intensity of one of the secondary characters.

Bottom line, like with all of Elizabeth Haynes’ other books, this one comes highly recommended! I can’t wait to read more!

Other books by Elizabeth Haynes:

Into the Darkest Corner
Dark Tide
Human Remains

 

FemmeFatale

Review: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

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  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062284398
  • Source: Publisher

Holly Judge awakens on a snowy Christmas morning with remnants of a nightmare racing through her head. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt their daughter, Tatiana.  The thought that races through her head – Something followed them from Russia – terrifies her. They were warned to name her something American, to prevent her life in Russia from following her, but they wanted to pay homage to her home country.  Now fifteen, Tatiana is a beautiful, raven-haired young woman.

The craziness of the day prevents Holly from pondering the nightmare any further. Her husband, Eric, has left in a rush to pick up his family from the airport. They are hosting Christmas dinner and the few hours they slept in has Holly rushing frantically to prepare for the day. When the blizzard raging outside prevents their guests from arriving, including her husband and in-laws, Holly and Tatiana are left alone.  As the hours pass, Tatiana’s behavior changes drastically, almost a shell of her original self. It is as if a stranger is in the house with her…

I don’t know about you, but the concept of a raven-haired orphan reminds me of one thing:

 

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I mean, the resemblance to the young girl on the cover of the book is uncanny, right?

Taking a step back, the resemblance in the appearance in the young girls is the only thing these have in common. What Holly learns as the cold, desolate, Christmas morning progresses is far more terrorizing, in my mind.  Holly reflects back on their visits to the orphanage and the experiences they have while visiting the orphanage. The cold starkness of the orphanage is reflected in the blizzard outdoors, now, thirteen years later.

The tension Kasischke is slow but heavy.  The reader knows the reveal will be quick and terrifying. And it was. In just a few pages, everything changes for this mother and child. The emotions readers face while reading this intense thriller will range from joy, to terror, and then sadness. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The ending hits you like a punch to the gut.

So why read this novel? It’s simultaneously brilliant and terrifying. Like witnessing an accident, you can’t tear your eyes away. You’ll question everything, finding it difficult to separate truth from illusion.  Completely mesmerizing, don’t be shocked if you read this relatively short book in one sitting.

What stands out for me is how Kasischke used Holly’s self-doubt and own mental insecurities to build up and reveal the terror she is about to face. The reader follows as the life she thought was perfect is slowly chipped away and the horrific reality hits her out of nowhere.

While the premise might lead readers to believe this is a horror novel it actually isn’t. Instead, it’s a emotional, gut-wrenching, mind-altering psychological thriller. Kasischke raises the bar high for other novels like this, for it’s going to take a lot to terrify me more than this novel did.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be sure to check out the other stops in the tour.

Review: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 006228553X
  • Source: Publisher

Bartholomew Neil has cared for his mother for the entire thirty-eight years of his life. When she passes away from cancer, he’s left with an emptiness in his life.  He has no concept of living on his own, free of obligation and co-dependence. Prior to her death, he finds a “Free Tibet” letter from Richard Gere in his mother’s underwear drawer. His mother had a long-standing obsession with Gere, going so far as to call Bartholomew “Richard” in the days leading up to her death. Bartholomew feels that he has some sort of cosmic connection to Richard and begins writing a series of very personal, heartfelt letters, to Gere.  Bartholomew’s new lease on life is further hampered by mental and physical restrictions that tend to hold him back, a man who has lived a sheltered life now forced to deal with the world alone.

His only companions in life now are a struggling former priest, a “Girlbrarian” (the object of his crush) and her foul-mouthed brother. Together, the embark upon a journey that reveals to Bartholomew that he isn’t as hindered and dependent as he once thought. An adage his mother used “the good luck of right now” allows him to grasp the concept of embracing and accepting the life that has been dealt to you, and that any misfortune dealt to you may be a benefit to someone else.

Told in a series of letters to Richard Gere, The Good Luck of Right Now is an extremely heartfelt, heartwarming story rich with an equal measure of hope and humor. This is a book you should pick up and devour if you are having a particularly bad day, for its guaranteed that Bartholomew, and his naive yet hopeful outlook on life, will raise your spirits. This is a novel that will surprise you in its simple abundance and you will find yourself pausing as you read so that you may ponder the message relayed by Bartholomew and his quirky companions on his journey to a new life. Highly, highly recommended!

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Don’t forget to check out the other stops in this tour!

Review: Ripper by Isabel Allende

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 28, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062291408
  • Source: Publisher

Amanda Jackson has always been interested in the evil side of human nature.  It started at a relatively young age and has progressed so dramatically that she, along with her grandfather, take part in an online mystery group. While originally created to investigate the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders, the group is now investigating a string of murders that have cropped up on San Francisco. Certain to uncover something the police have overlooked, Amanda becomes closer to the case than she imagined when her mother, Indiana, a holistic healer, is kidnapped.  Amanda now has the strongest motivation ever to identify the killer, before her mother becomes the next victim.

When I learned about the premise of this book, my interest was immediately piqued.  My education has a background in both criminal justice and psychology and, like many others, I’ve always been fascinated by the unsolved Ripper killings. When I was pitched this book, I couldn’t resist. And then I got the book. And started reading. And it was nothing like I imagined.

While the serial murder cases certainly have a spot in the plot of this novel, the main focus is actually the characters. While I’m a fan of character-driven novels, I admit this was a huge disappointment. A fan of this author’s previous work, I was bound and determined to keep reading, certain it would pay off in the end. Not so much. I actually stopped reading sixty pages before the conclusion. I couldn’t do it any more. I found the novel to be inundated with so much character focus and development that I think it truly lost its point and focus. Additionally, whether it be to poor editing or a poorly executed novel, I found myself to feel insulted as a reader due to the excessive repetitive statements and facts. Things the reader had been told already would come up, portrayed as new information.

Additionally, the character focus seemed to be all over the place. One minute we were focusing on one character (which would require flashbacks to the past, etc.) and then it would spiral on to the next character, seemingly out of the blue. Decisions made by some of the characters seemed completely out of the norm that would be expected given all that we knew about them up until that point and so, ultimately, I gave up. I couldn’t do it anymore.

If this was this author’s attempt to leap into the world of thriller fiction, I think she failed. Even if she just wanted that as a backdrop and wanted to instead focus on the characters, that too failed. In the end, I feel as there was just so much information that the original intent of the novel was overlooked.

Typically, if I do not finish a book I don’t review it. Yet in this case I feel the need, the duty to report just why I couldn’t finish it, despite being so close to the end. So, take this review as my opinion and choose to read this novel if you like, but personally, I cannot recommend it. At all. To anyone.

 

Review: What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell

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  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062237845
  • Source: Publisher

Olivia Reed didn’t have the most stable of childhoods. Her older sisters, twins, were stillborns who died a year before Olivia was born and are forever memorialized by her mother, Myla, a bipolar psychic. One of Olivia’s many tasks around their home is to clean the nursery, a morbid constant reminder of loss Myla cannot forget. Myla refuses to admit the girls are gone, going as far as preparing bowls of food to feed them. And then there is Olivia, a girl of fifteen just coming to terms with her own identity, forgotten by her own mother. Myla would have manic sessions and then disappear for weeks, forcing Olivia to fend for herself.  This abandonment led to rebellion and at fifteen, the summer of 1987, Olivia left her home of Ocean Vista.

Fast forward twenty years and Olivia has returned to Ocean Visita, this time with her two children, her teen daughter Carrie  and a nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Olivia is running from the life she had in Texas, desperate for some solace after her divorce. However, instead of a quiet and calm reunion, she is forced into panic and terror when Daniel son goes missing.

Alternating between past and present, What I Had Before I Had You is a hauntingly poignant examination of bipolar disorder and how it affects not only the individual diagnosed with it, but how it is passed on and forever alters those around them. Myla believed the disorder granted her the gift of her psychic visions and never received treatment for the disease. Olivia learned to handle her symptoms, desperately trying to balance this “gift” passed down to her by her mother with the demands of being a mother.

What moved me the most about this novel is its impact. Not only is Oliva on a desperate search for her missing son, she is also seeking some answers to her own identity, aching to come to terms with who she really is. A powerfully moving novel, What I Had Before I Had You is a heart-wrenching, intensely thought-provoking experience. Days after finishing this novel, I’m still processing the intensity of its message.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour!

Review: The Kept by James Scott

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062236733
  • Source: Publisher

Set in 1867 at an isolated farm in upstate New York, Elspeth Howell, a midwife, returns home to find her husband and four of her children brutally murdered.  Before she is able to locate her remaining son, she too becomes a victim of gunfire. She survives thanks to the aid of Caleb, her surviving son,  who hid in the pantry while the farm was under attack.

Twelve-year-old Caleb nurses his mother back to health and, after fire decimates their home, the two embark upon a journey in search of the men responsible for destroying their family.

I’ve intentionally kept this summary short as to not give away too much of the novel’s premise. Upon reading the publisher’s full summary myself, my initial perceptions about the novel ended up being completely different than what actually transpired. While this is not necessarily a fault, I did find myself confused as I read, expecting something completely different.  So, what is this novel about? To me, it’s a novel about a mother and son and the things they discover about themselves and one another after a tremendous tragedy.  The journey they embarked upon together was far beyond just physical, but mental and emotional as well. Young Caleb is forced to grow up far faster than he should and, during the journey, uncovers secrets that alter his perceptions of himself and his family.  Elspeth is forced to face and overcome her own inner demons herself, a painful past of lies and deceit that are now hitting her full force.

The Kept is certainly not a light novel, but one that will encroach upon your life, taking your emotions prisoner, forcing readers to approach moral decisions and implications that are dark and devastating.  What this author has crafted is a brilliant masterpiece, a novel so eloquent and beautifully crafted, despite it’s morose tone.  This is a novel that will make you think, long and hard, about the characters’ decisions, closing with an ending that will leave you speechless, stunned by the realization of what has transpired in the pages beneath your fingertips. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

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

The featured title this week is Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes:

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (August 20, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 006227676X
  • Source: Publisher

Despite the fact she doesn’t have many friends, Annabel would never consider herself to be lonely.  Her work as a police analyst and the regular care of her ailing mother keeps her rather busy.  One evening, she returns home and notices a pervasive, foul odor.  Her cat has returned home, drenched in the same odor. She notices a light on in her neighbor’s home.  The couple next door recently parted ways, so when she didn’t see anyone entering the residence in some time she assumed they had moved.  Upon entering her neighbor’s home, the smell increases. Annabel assumes the odor is caused by food that hasn’t been thrown own. Instead, she discovers the decomposing body of her neighbor. How could she and her surrounding neighbors have gone so long without noticing something?

Her neighbor’s demise shocks Annabel so greatly that she begins to look into other similar incidents and uncovers a chilling pattern: Over 20 individuals have been found dead, decomposing in their homes as life continues to go on around them.  They weren’t missed by anyone, simply lonely individuals who passed away unnoticed. Unfortunately, Annabel’s coworkers show no interest in her findings…that is, until they hit a little close to home. One sick and twisted individual is responsible for coaxing…leading these lonely individuals to their deaths.

Human Remains is a tremendously dark, and sometimes disturbing, glimpse inside the world of individuals so lost and lonely that they become vulnerable to persuasion. What makes this thriller unusual is that they aren’t killed by stabbing or gunfire, but instead coaxed and guided to allow themselves to die of thirst and starvation.  The perpetrator, an incredibly disturbing individual wields so much power over them, yet never renders any sort of physical brutality toward them.  He is obsessed with and turned on by decay and the decomposition process.

Additionally, Haynes focuses on the fact that so many individuals go on with life, ignoring the well-being of those around them. This includes Annabel herself, unnoticed and ignored until her life is at risk. Grown children ignore their sick and ailing parents, neighbors ignore one another. It isn’t until the deaths become noticeable that they think to check up on their loved ones.  Annabel’s persistence, aided by young and dedicated reporter, bring to light the real circumstances involving these deaths.

Due to some of the content, this isn’t a novel that I would recommend to just everyone. There are some pretty graphic scenes, including some pretty graphic scenes of a sexual nature.  If you are able to get beyond this, you will be handsomely rewarded with a brilliant, well-plotted thriller.  Passages from the deceased that serve as voices of the dead add a chilling element that borders on horror.  Having read all of this author’s previous work,  Human Remains is by far the darkest.  If you are looking for a terrifying psychological thriller, look no further. Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 11, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062112244
  • Source: Publisher

In Simon Van Booy’s most recent masterpiece, he explores how characters that are seemingly unrelated are tied together, responsible for one another’s fate.The one thing that ties each of these individuals together is a seemingly insignificant act of kindness, an act that might have immediate meaning but instead developing in intensity as time passes. Like the phenomenon known as the butterfly effect, the actions of these characters have resounding effects and repercussions. Based on actual stories, this novel spans quite a bit of time, from New York in 1939 to World War II France, fast forwarding seven decades later to England and Los Angeles in 2010.

The characters are what truly bring this novel together into one truly brilliant piece of art. Hugo is a former German soldier, forever disfigured by war. Decades later, he continues to atone for his crimes. Martin works in a retirement home, Hugo is the most recent resident. Amelia is in her twenties, blind, searching for love as she works to create programs that benefit the blind at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. John survived after his B-52 plane crashed over France, eventually joining the French resistance. Initially, this large magnitude of characters may appear confusing but the joy is in discovering how the lives of each of these individuals are intertwined.

Van Booy’s true skill is the magnitude in his brevity. In just a few short words, he can provide more meaning than what another author may provide in pages of detail. Each sentence is clearly well plotted out, each and every word has a purpose and meaning.  The revelation of each of the characters involvement in each other’s fate isn’t readily revealed; Van Booy provides his readers with a treat in devouring his eloquent prose as they pull away the veil of illusion that separates them.

I honestly do not think any other writer could have accomplished what Van Booy has done in The Illusion of Separateness. The premise is not necessarily a new or unique one, but Van Booy’s execution of these interconnecting story is what makes this novel so profound. In just a few short words, he evokes an overwhelming amount of emotion, bonding reader to character instantaneously. We forgive the characters for any crimes or ill-actions in their past, instantly developing a feeling of sympathy and adoration for what they have endured and for the gift they have given to one another.

The Illusion of Separateness, like all of Van Booy’s work I have read, has quite a profound effect on my life. Despite the fact that we all may have times in which we feel insignificant, each of us have some sort of impact on the world, be it big or small. It is up to us to decide just how large our footprint on the world will be. It is this sort of thinking and contemplation that truly outstanding writing evokes from me. Thank you, Simon Van Booy, for reminding me to strive farther and reach higher.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Review: Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 23, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 9780062105622
  • Source: Publisher

Nineteen-year-old Maya Nidal has grown up in Berkley, living with her grandparents after being deserted by her mother and all but forgotten by her father. Her grandmother, Nidia, is a force to be reckoned with. A strongly independent woman, she rebuilt her life after immigrating to the United States from Chile in the early 1970s.  Her grandfather, Popo, is an African American astronomer and professor who brought a sense of calmness and peace to Maya’s tumultuous adolescent life.

When Popo dies of cancer, Maya’s life is upended. Nidia, a normally strong woman, is devastated, forgetting that Maya exists. To deal with the emotional turmoil after her grandfather’s loss, Maya loses control and goes off the deep end.  Her addictions to drugs, alcohol and petty crime lead her to Las Vegas where she becomes involved in a deadly underworld that involves run-ins with the police, FBI, and Interpol. Desperate to get her granddaughter on a better track of life and to avoid capture by the authorities, Nidia sends Maya to her homeland, a small remote island off the coast of Chile. Life has a slower pace here and Maya has the opportunity to reflect upon her own life, as well as the secret past of her grandmother, in an incredibly soul-enriching bout of self discovery.

On the island, Maya stays with Manuel Arias, an anthropologist in his seventies not used to sharing his space with anyone, much less a teen girl. Their relationship is rocky at first but eventually evolves into one of mutual respect and appreciation. It is this relationship that allows Maya to take the first steps on her path of growth and rediscovery, aided by a truly tight-knit Chilean community rich with a need to nurture those around them.

Told in Maya’s journal entries from alternating time periods, Maya’s Notebook captures Maya’s incredibly tumultuous youth and eventual regrowth. Maya’s retellings are incredibly dark and gritty, not shying away from the horrific and disturbing situations Maya seemed to find herself in. What I found particularly remarkable about this novel was how Allende portrayed Maya’s life in truly polar opposite settings, from the dark and crime-ridden Las Vegas to the beautiful small island of Chilcote where everyone works hard to create a respectful life.

Allende delves deep into the Chilean culture, one I am not especially familiar with. This portrayal left be fascinated, wanting to learn more. Readers get a glimpse of the nation’s devastating past which served as an influence to the current contemporary hardworking citizens.

While the style of Maya’s Notebook is far different than Allende’s other books, I do believe this title will garner the attention of a whole host of new fans. Destined to be talked about in book clubs around the country, this title is one to leave a resounding feeling of healing and recovery in the hearts of every reader. Recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Please be certain to check out the other stops along the way!

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

  • Hardcover: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 006222543X
  • Source: Publisher

Kate is a single mother working long hours as a partner at a law firm. Her teen daughter, Amelia has a bright future ahead of her, a well-respected student at the local prep high school.  When Kate receives a phone call from Amelia’s school one day, she’s shocked to learn that Amelia has been suspended. Unable to get any details over the phone, she rushes through traffic to Amelia’s school. When she gets there over an hour later, she is too late. Upon arriving at the school, she sees rescue vehicles parked in front. Within minutes of her arrival she learns that Amelia is dead, allegedly killed after jumping off the roof of the school.

In the weeks that pass, Kate must get used to being alone again. Although she worked long hours, she always made time on the weekend to spend with Amelia. Just as she starts to get back to her usual routine, she receives a text from a blocked number: Amelia didn’t jump. This text is the first of many she receives from this number. Desperate to learn more she contacts the police who had, based on the medical examiner’s report, had written Amelia’s death off as a suicide. When new evidence is uncovered, Kate learns that Amelia’s death was in fact a homicide. With the aid of a Lieutenant from the local police, Kate begins going through Amelia’s email, Facebook posts and more trying to recreate the last days of her life. Riddled by guilt, Kate soon realizes there was a lot she didn’t know about her teen daughter. To make matters worse, secrets Kate kept about the identity of Amelia’s father have surfaced. Is it possible that she is partially to blame for the cruelty her daughter experienced in the last days of her life?

Reconstructing Amelia is a heartbreaking examination of teen life and the lengths that youth will go through to be accepted. Told with haunting insight on the mysterious life of teens. From hazing to sexuality, drugs, and first secret loves, McCreight reveals a truly chilling plot that, unfortunately, isn’t far from reality. Her characterization is above par, using alternating chapters and points of view the author builds truly dynamic characters. Kate is a hard-working single mother, trying to do best for her daughter. Amelia is a teen, struggling with her own sexuality and identity amidst a world governed by social media. In addition to this shift of point of view, flashbacks to the past and unique formatting really aid in the overall flow and pacing of the novel.

As the mother of a teen myself, I wasn’t necessarily shocked but chilled to read about the cruelty displayed by those in the “in crowd.” The role of social media in the lives of teens plays a key role, reminding me just how many ways youth can be bullied in current society. This novel is a good reminder about the importance of open communication and support between parent and child, no matter how busy or complex life may get. I was stunned to learn that this is McCreight’s debut novel because her writing displays talents that typically only come with years of experience.  This is a novel that will haunt me, but remind me to never take for granted the relationship we have with our son, no matter how challenging and difficult may get.  Highly recommended, specifically for young adults or parents with teen children.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Please be certain to check out the other stops along the way; I guarantee this is a book that will generate a great deal of discussion!

Find out more about the author at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.