A cozy New England hamlet definitely needs some mystery and dark secrets to make life interesting, and Karen Brown delivers with The Longings of Wayward Girls. In the summer of 1979, Sadie is a 12-year-old girl with a big imagination, a flair for the dramatic and just enough boredom to lead her into trouble. She also physically resembles another neighborhood girl who disappeared five years prior, a coincidence that will continue to haunt her into adulthood. Sadie and her best friend play a trick on Francie, a younger neighbor, leaving her a series of letters supposedly written by a boy from an earlier era. Francie’s letters back to the imaginary person become darker and more telling of trouble at home, but Sadie and her friend are not mature enough to understand this. Soon after, Francie becomes the second girl in the neighborhood to disappear, and Sadie and her friend harbor guilt over her disappearance. Twenty-four years later, Sadie is living the quintessential stay-at-home mother existence in her hometown. Yet she remains haunted by her dysfunctional family history, a recent stillbirth and her own lack of professional accomplishments, not to mention the long-ago unsolved disappearances of the two girls.
In some ways, this is a typical suburban drama about families with underlying issues: Sadie’s alcoholic, suicidal mother; Francie’s abusive father; another neighbor’s odd obsession with Christmas displays. Yet Brown fine tunes the characters and brings enough details about suburban living into the writing to authenticate the scenes. The characters are not always likeable, but their past traumas and upbringings do provide a modicum of explanation for their current actions and personalities. Those who enjoy authors like Jennifer McMahon or Heather Gudenkauf will become intrigued with this community brimming with past and present secrets.
For Celia Cassill, life since her husband's premature death has been about keeping what's important close to her. Her memories, her grief, her personal space are hers alone. The young widow in Amy Grace Loyd's graceful debut, The Affairs of Others, goes about her days like a figure in a dollhouse, her life compartmentalized in the converted Brooklyn brownstone she purchased after her husband died.
Celia has carefully chosen the tenants who rent her three apartments based on their ability to respect each other's privacy and mind their own business. "There is a certain consonance of character I look for," she tells George, an English teacher who wants to sublet his rooms to a recently divorced middle-age woman named Hope. Celia reluctantly agrees. Soon Hope's problems seep into her landlord's guarded milieu and Celia finds herself increasingly drawn into the attractive woman's orbit. It's not long before the lives of her other tenants ignite her curiosity as well, like the mismatched couple whose relationship is on the rocks and the elderly ferry captain who suddenly wanders off. Celia begins tiptoeing around their messy lives as she reevaluates her own through trial and error, sex and violence.
Loyd, the former literary editor at Playboy magazine, exposes with elegant, spare prose grief’s manifestation and its tentacle-like reach. “Certain grief trumps others,” Celia says in her somber, observant voice that resonates with the intimate knowledge of dying. Readers of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking or Lily Tuck's I Married You for Happiness will recognize lost and found joy in this accomplished first effort.
Bestselling author Tom Clancy passed away this week at the age of 66. A native of Baltimore and a Loyola College alumnus, Clancy is best known for his military and espionage thrillers. From the publication of his 1984 debut novel The Hunt for Red October, Clancy’s work helped redefine the modern thriller genre. That novel, which he sold to the Naval Institute Press for $5,000, went on to sell over five million copies. His books have inspired video games and several blockbuster movies including The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games and The Sum of All Fears.
Even after Clancy’s death, his iconic hero Jack Ryan will endure in his final novel Command Authority, which will be published in December. Jack Ryan, a new movie starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, will also be in theaters later this year.
In addition to his literary achievements, Clancy was vice chairman of Community Activities and Public Affairs and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. This moving obituary from The Baltimore Sun brings to light Clancy’s strong ties to Baltimore and his lasting impact on the community.
Thrills abound in three new titles featuring strong men solving crimes, catching bad guys and even saving the world. Catherine Coulter, best-selling author of the FBI Thriller series, teams up with crime writer J.T. Ellison for a new series featuring Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond of Scotland Yard. Readers meet the dark and dangerous Drummond in the first entry, The Final Cut. American-born, but raised in the UK, he is called to New York to investigate the murder of a colleague and the theft of an exhibit of Crown Jewels. Drummond partners with FBI Agent Michaela “Mike” Caine and the two travel the globe in search of answers. This page turner has plenty of action and a hint of romance down the road.
Is there a more debonair spy than Bond, James Bond? Fans will be thrilled at his return in William Boyd’s Solo. Boyd is the third author commissioned by the estate of Ian Fleming to write an official Bond novel, and he returns Bond to the 1960s where 007’s assignment takes him to an African country ravaged by civil war. As Bond attempts to determine the forces fueling this brutal campaign, he uncovers a conspiracy which takes him from Africa to London to Washington. This gripping thriller captures the essence of Bond and is complete with all the cool gadgets, liaisons with beautiful women and narrow escapes expected of the super-spy.
NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat and journalist Jameson Rook partner in the fifth entry in the bestselling series written by Richard Castle, hero of the popular ABC show Castle. In Deadly Heat, Castle’s creations continue their quest to locate the former CIA agent who ordered the execution of Heat’s mother. As they dig deeper, they unearth the motive behind that murder and uncover an alarming and active terror plot. Further complicating their search for justice and attempt to stop the terrorists is a serial killer who is threatening to make Heat his next victim. The action, romantic tension and dynamic characters are guaranteed to keep readers riveted.
John Brown: abolitionist, Harper’s Ferry raider, failure. Dry high school American history text material, forgotten right after the test…or not, especially if presented by author James McBride in his bawdy and raucous new novel, The Good Lord Bird.
Henry is 10 years old. He helps out in the rural Kansas barbershop in which his father works. Both Henry and his father are slaves, owned by Dutch. Henry’s father is barbering the scripture-quoting Old Man when Dutch walks in; an exchange with the Old Man gets heated and after guns blaze, Dutch is wounded, Henry’s father is dead and the Old Man is unmasked as the despised John Brown. Brown rescues Henry, though he mistakes him for a girl and calls him “Henrietta.” “She” is incorporated into his motley band of family and stragglers embarked on a mission to free the slaves.
McBride presents this story as 103-year-old Henry’s recollections, recorded by a fellow church member. Written in the coarse lexicon of the times, the rich and illustrative language can result in a comedy of errors. Henry is biracial and becomes adept as passing for a girl, and sometimes as white, to ensure his safety. As he travels through the states, alone or with Brown, he offers an out-of-the-mouth-of-babes razor-edged skewering of blacks and whites, slaves and owners, and country and city folk. The Good Lord Bird is historical fiction and McBride freely molds icons like Frederick Douglas and Brown into his own flawed characters. This book is not a choice for the easily offended.
Only in the hands of a talented writer like McBride could subjects like slavery and emancipation manage to entertain and amuse while also inform and illuminate. Despite the irreverent approach, ultimately the reader is left with Henry’s observation on slavery and its poisonous legacy when he says “the web of slavery is a sticky business. And at the end of the day, ain’t nobody clear of it.”
Jenn McKinlay has come out with a new series, Hat Shop Mystery. The first installment of this series is Cloche and Dagger. The novel follows Scarlett Parker as she uproots her life and travels to the U.K. to help her cousin Vivian run the hat shop that they inherited from their grandmother.
Scarlett’s move isn’t so much voluntary as necessary, since her boyfriend turned out to be a married man. Scarlett discovered this when she stumbled upon him throwing an anniversary party for his “beloved” wife. Though she prides herself on being a people person who can handle any sticky situation, she lost it and began hurling anniversary cake at her boyfriend. The whole act is caught on camera and posted online where it goes viral. Everyone pesters Scarlett for the inside scoop on the cake throwing debacle, from the average Joe on the street to members of the media.
To avoid the fallout, Scarlett escapes to London. When she arrives in London she discovers that her cousin has neglected to pick her up, and the mystery begins. Where is Viv? Why is a person associated with the hat shop dead? Scarlett finds herself the subject of the investigation and must discover who the real culprit is in order to clear her name.
This quick and quirky read is like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series with a little less grit. Cloche and Dagger has an endearing amateur detective trying to get by, and a dash of love and intrigue to keep the reader engrossed.
Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins are two of today’s most popular contemporary romance authors. Their new novels feature pretend romances that ultimately become the real thing. Always on My Mind by Shalvis begins with a little white lie. Leah Sullivan is talking to Dee Harper, the mother of her childhood friend. Dee thinks she is dying, and is scared that she has made her son Jack afraid of relationships. Leah panics and says that she and Jack are together to give Dee peace of mind. Dee is elated, and soon the whole town has heard about the fake relationship. Leah and Jack both quickly realize that this relationship might not actually be phony, but Leah has a history of running when things get too hard for her to handle. Can Jack persuade her to stick around this time and make their relationship permanent? Always on My Mind is another great entry in Shalvis’s popular Lucky Harbor series.
The Perfect Match is the second novel in Higgins’s Blue Heron series. After her doctor reminds her that her biological clock is ticking, Honor Holland proposes to her friend and long-time crush Brogan. The night is an embarrassing disaster. To add insult to injury, Brogan announces a few weeks later that he is marrying Honor’s best friend after a whirlwind courtship. Humiliated, Honor begins searching for a man to settle down with. Tom Barlow needs to get his Green Card so that he can stay in the U.S. to be in his teenage stepson Charlie’s life. Honor agrees to a marriage of convenience to help Tom, who sees no other alternative. They move in together, and things get even more complicated. Add a strange federal agent, a feisty little dog named Spike and Honor’s crazy family, and you have a charming story told as only Higgins can.
In addition to being fan-favorite authors, Shalvis and Higgins are also good friends. Their social media banter entertains their readers and makes fans feel like these authors are their friends too. They frequently appear together on USA Today’s Happy Ever After romance blog. For a taste of their Lucy-and-Ethel-style antics, check out this recent post.
Diplomas – check. Now what? The familiar dilemmas facing recent college graduates are played out in Gemma Burgess’ fresh new series, Brooklyn Girls, also the title of the first book. While the focus is on Pia, Burgess carefully introduces readers to her roommates Angie, Julia, Coco and Madeleine, who all share a brownstone in Brooklyn.
Pia is stylish and fun, but likes to party and is unsure of her future. When she finds herself unemployed following a night of heavy drinking and an ill-advised Facebook photo, Pia is at a crossroads. Her parents cut off her allowance and insist that she return home. But after years of boarding school and college, Brooklyn finally feels like home. If she wants to stay, she needs a job fast. Waitressing is an epic failure, and her art history degree is useless. She jumps at the chance to purchase a food truck knowing there is a market for cheap and healthy breakfast and lunch alternatives. Thus, Skinny Wheels is born. The business booms and Pia also finds love, or at least like. She has always avoided relationships following a bad break-up, but when Aidan enters her life she is instantly smitten. Her life is full of ups and downs, and Pia is soon faced with roommate issues and the nice man who loaned her start-up money. Turns out he is a not-so-nice loan shark complete with menacing thugs.
Gemma Burgess has successfully recreated the emotional roller coaster that is the hallmark of post-college life with humor and honesty. Burgess wrote this series to capture the bonds of friendship during the tumultuous 20s, when you’re broke but having too much fun to care. Viewers who enjoy Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls, should appreciate this less gritty, but still realistic look at five young women getting ready to start real life. Look for the next installment featuring Angie in the spring.
Dr. Nadine Lavoie is a psychiatrist who is both driven by the desire to help people and skilled with the tools needed in mending broken lives and spirits. However, it is her own emotional state that becomes fractured when she discovers a commonality with her newest patient, a woman admitted to the psychiatric ward for an attempted suicide. During the course of her therapy, the young woman admits to having recently left a commune known as the River of Spiritual Light Center, which is under the leadership of Aaron Quinn. It only takes a quick Google search to confirm Nadine’s fear that this is the same man who ran a cult she and her family lived with as a child. Until this point in her life, she has been powerless to reclaim missing memories from her youth, and possibly the cause of her claustrophobia. Now the barrier has been breached, what she now remembers is terrible. Always Watching by Chevy Stevens is a suspenseful story involving past crimes and current consequences. In her crusade to bring Aaron Quinn’s past deeds to justice, Nadine risks her own life and the lives of her family members.
Fans of Chevy Stevens will recognize the protagonist in Always Watching as the psychiatrist in both of her previous novels. Dr. Lavoie is the silent doctor involved in healing the damaged women in both Never Knowing and the stunning debut Still Missing, a New York Times Best Seller. When readers wanted to know more about this character, Stevens decided to tell her story. In an interview on Global BC, a Canadian television station, the author remarked how she enjoys incorporating family dynamics and a deeper message into her stories, combining these features with a suspenseful tale. She also hinted her fourth thriller will be released next summer.
If you’re looking for a bold new page-turner, Koren Zailckas, memoirist of Smashed and Fury, delivers with her shocking fiction debut Mother, Mother. This physiological thriller provides two alternating narrators: that of the volatile younger sister, Violet, and the delicate yet determined mamma’s boy, William.
The plot has already thickened at the beginning of the novel when it’s revealed that the eldest and most cherished child, Rose, has fled the family for an undisclosed location. The remaining and less “perfect” children, Violet and Will, are left under the calculated and cunning reign of the matriarch, Josephine. And then there’s distracted and weak-willed father.
From an outsider’s view, the Hurst family has achieved all upper middle class aspirations. However, when an unexpected act of violence takes place in the picturesque home, the secrets surrounding the absentee Rose steadily unravel through Violet and Will’s dueling accounts; the effects of which rival the circular layers of an onion being stripped away. As tensions build, the book gets creepier and creepier. As Josephine’s tight control begins to slip, small daily activities at home prove that her and William’s relationship makes for one of the most unnerving mother and son pairs in recent history.
For those who cannot get enough of the current trope of Mother as Narcissist, as seen in Wendy Lawless’ Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir and in Cate Blanchett’s performance in the film Blue Jasmine. When you start this book, make sure you have enough time to finish it because you won’t be able to put it down.