Book Preview – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have had Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian sitting on my To Read shelf for some time so while I recognized her name when her upcoming The Shadow Land came up in my possible preview pile, I hadn’t actually read her work before. The Shadow Land also fell into my recent inclination towards historic fiction that explores the nations of Europe in the aftermath of World War II so I jumped to preview it. Though it proved for me to be slow reading, the depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s is a harsh one that the area struggles to deal with even in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Alexandra Boyd decided she needed a change so she signed up to teach English in Bulgaria but before she can even reach her hostel and start to settle in, things begin to go wrong. Assisting a middle-aged man and his elderly parents into a taxi, Alexandra soon discovers that one of their bags has gotten mixed in with her own. Containing the ashes of someone obviously dear to them, she sets about trying to find them again so she can return the urn and apologize for the mix-up. Her taxi driver, Asparuh who tells her to call him Bobby, offers to help her in her efforts to track the family down. Receiving an address from the police, Alexandra insists on returning the remains personally. As she and Bobby follow a trail of breadcrumbs, it becomes clear there’s more to the story of the man in the urn and his family than they realized. Continue reading


Book Preview – The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

forgotten girls - book coverThis is the second time I’ve inadvertently read a book from the middle of an ongoing series rather than started from the beginning. Incidentally, both series happen to be in the crime/thriller genre and—due in part to the nature of the genre—both worked well enough as standalone novels (the first more so than this one). The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen will be the sixth book in his Stevens & Windermere series when it is released on March 14.

If you’ve ever seen a crime procedural on television, you’re probably familiar with the facts: that many victims of violent crime are women, that women of color are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and that transients, drug addicts, and sex workers are likely to wind up as victims of violent crime. These are the very demographics that make up the target victims of a dangerous serial killer train hopping around the northern Midwest. It’s a case that falls into Stevens and Windermere’s laps and quickly proves larger and—thanks to the winter weather—tricky hunt for the killer. Continue reading

Book Review – Alone by Lisa Gardner

book cover - aloneI was amazed by how well Find Her read after I discovered it was actually the eighth book in an established series. Since I tend to be a bit of a completest, I decided to go back to the beginning of that series to read the others as well. Going to the start of Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series, Alone, I have high hopes that the books will all end up being strong enough to stand-alone like the series’ first and latest installments.

Bobby Dodge is a Boston cop who also works as a sniper with a special tactical response unit. The first to respond when the team gets called to a domestic incident in which a husband is holding his wife and child hostage, Bobby finds himself taking the shot and killing the husband as the man raises his gun on his wife and puts his finger on the trigger. As if killing a man weren’t enough, it turns out the man was the son of a very influential judge who has it out for Bobby, accusing the officer of colluding with the dead man’s wife to kill him. Pulled into the thick of the case by the judge’s vendetta against him, Bobby learns more about the widow, Catherine Gagnon whom the judge accuses of abusing her son for attention. Continue reading

Book Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

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Book Preview – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

i let you go - book coverClare Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is being released in North America in a few weeks. While I hadn’t heard about the book prior to reading the description, I’m not surprised that it’s been a hit in the UK pretty much since it’s 2014 release there—I am a bit surprised it hasn’t been released in the US sooner. Though it can be read as a thriller, there are much deeper themes speaking to privilege, emotional and physical abuse, and atonement and forgiveness.

Tragedy strikes in the novel’s prologue as five-year-old Jacob is struck by a speeding car as he’s crossing the street in front of his house, his mother only a few steps behind him. The driver rushes away with only the boy’s traumatized mother as a witness. The narrative then follows the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation as well as Jenna Gray who is running away from her life and finds a small, seaside Welsh village where she can disappear and start over. The police’s leads quickly dry up and other cases get moved to the top of the pile; it looks like Jacob might fall through the cracks when an anniversary appeal to the public gives them the break they’re looking for and the police arrive on Jenna’s doorstep to arrest her for the hit and run. Moving into the novel’s second half, Jenna’s past is explored and questions begin getting answers—but the answers aren’t easy to stomach. Continue reading

Book Preview – Find Her by Lisa Gardner

9780525954576_p0_v2_s192x300I don’t usually begin series in the middle—I’m a firm believer in starting at the beginning. But I was really intrigued by the description for Lisa Gardner’s upcoming Find Her and requested to preview it before I realized it was going to be the eighth book in her Detective D.D. Warren series. It caused me to pause as I started reading—this far into a series there are usually well established arcs carrying over from the previous books and it can leave new readers feeling like they’re missing something. I was relieved to discover this wasn’t the case for Find Her and enjoyed the book enough to go and add the earlier books to my library wish list for later reading.

Detective D.D. Warren is on restricted duty as she returns to work following an injury but despite the physical therapy she still has to complete, she won’t let her restricted status keep her tied down to a desk. She shows up at what is supposed to be a murder scene where the perpetrator is in custody only to discover that the victim may actually have been a sexual predator who’d abducted her perpetrator. Flora Dane, the young woman who killed her attacker, is more than she appears having survived four hundred seventy-two days of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse five years earlier at the hands of a different predator. Evidence suggests the man she killed may have been involved in the disappearances of two or three other women in the last year but he can’t answer D.D.’s questions being dead and she blames Flora Dane. When D.D. goes to speak with Flora Dane again the next day, she finds the young woman’s apartment empty, Flora gone and the number of missing women goes up by one more.

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Book Preview – The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich

winter girl - book coverWhen I see the phrase “Hitchcockian thriller” I can’t help paying attention—proving it is an effective marketing tool. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that Matt Marinovich’s upcoming The Winter Girl about a man in a stalled marriage who becomes obsessed with the fact that their neighbor’s houselights appear to be on some sort of timer really fits the idea—or at least, my idea—of a “Hitchcockian thriller.”

Scott and his wife, Elise, are spending the winter in her father’s house near Southampton, which is also rather abandoned due to the season. Her father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and they are “taking care” of his house while they essentially wait for him to die. But every night, Scott notices the lights in the neighbor’s house—they go on every night at the same time and turn off at the same time, rotating from one room to the next in the same eerie order. Bored, Scott decides to investigate one day, peering through the windows. He never sees anyone inside and the place looks abandoned. When he tries the front door, it’s unlocked. Scott soon drags his wife into exploring the house but they find a few things that have them wondering why it’s been abandoned—or if it is abandoned at all. Never a fan of his father-in-law, Scott discovers that there are many secrets to his wife’s past, her father, and the house next door. Continue reading

Book Review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train - book coverMonths ago, I entered a contest to be able to preview The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I didn’t win so I had to wait until it was officially released… and then I forgot about it until it began hitting all kinds of Must Read lists. I had to wait for many weeks on the wait list at the library but it’s not like I didn’t have plenty to read in the meantime. I was surprised by how much this book reminded me of Gone Girl – not in the plot exactly, but in the general feel of the book.

Rachel Watson rides the train to and from London every day to keep up appearances since losing her job because of her drinking. The other reason for riding the rails daily is the glimpses she gets through the window – the train always pauses right behind the house where she lived with her now ex-husband, Tom (the house he now shares with the woman he left Rachel for, Anna, and their infant daughter). A few doors down from her old house, Rachel watches the idyllic life of a couple she’s dubbed Jess and Jason – they have the life and marriage she thought she had with Tom. One Friday morning Rachel sees Jess in the arms of a man that is not Jason; a few days later it hits the news that the woman – named Megan, not Jess – has gone missing. Rachel is eager to assist in the investigation in any way she can but her personal issues leave the police with doubts as to Rachel’s reliability and motives. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

9781476795553_p0_v2_s260x420Sascha Arango’s upcoming The Truth and Other Lies is one of those books where the description did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me want to read the book. A meandering examination of an unenthusiastic criminal mind, The Truth and Other Lies was ultimately a disappointment. There were so many elements that had tremendous potential but fell steamroller-flat for me.

Henry Hayden is an international best-selling author with more than just a closet full of secrets, the first of which is that he didn’t write a word of the novels he’s published as his own – those were entirely the work of his wife, Martha. Her support of their arrangement is put in danger when Henry’s mistress (“his” editor), Betty, turns up pregnant and pushes him to come clean with Martha and leave her once and for all. But when Henry attempts to solve his Betty problem one his own, a series of events begins unfolding that forces him to follow the self-preservation instincts that grew out of his dark past. Continue reading

Book Review – The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

51m4P63APoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like most of the world, I hadn’t heard of a book called The Cuckoo’s Calling or a writer named Robert Galbraith until a story broke that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling. I’d like to pretend that I would have read The Cuckoo’s Calling whether I’d known it was really written by Rowling or not but I doubt I ever would have heard of it to read. I’m glad that I have read it, and I look forward to The Silkworm later this month. The murder mystery/thriller genre is one that I only venture into once in a while but I usually enjoy it thoroughly and The Cuckoo’s Calling was no exception.

Cormoran Strike is going through a rough patch. His private detective business is deeply in debt and his longtime on-again, off-again relationship is almost definitely off for good. But his prospects look a little more promising when the older brother of a childhood friend shows up begging Strike to investigate the presumed suicide of his sister, who happened to have been a prominent model.

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Honing my rewriting skills

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener

Now that my thesis is officially and completely done, I’ll be posting some of the short stories that were included in the collection (and will be posting about the progress of trying to get some of the others published). Actually, the name of this blog, Nightmares, Day Dreams, and Imagined Conversations, was the title I gave my thesis project.

The first story from that collection, “A Mother’s Love”, I originally wrote in high school. My friends and I wanted to spend a summer making a movie and needed a story to start the process. I wrote it with the intention of adapting it to a screenplay but we never managed to coordinate and we didn’t have the right equipment anyway (as it turns out, having a camera that works with the computer so that filming and editing can actually happen are key components to the filmmaking process). The story was written for a small cast and the descriptions of place and objects are based on the intended filming environment, my parents’ house.

I have rewritten it a few times now, most recently for the inclusion in my honors program thesis project. Because of the length of the story, I haven’t had success with it on the literary journal circuit. It was published in my high school’s literary magazine my senior year (though my position as secretary probably didn’t hurt).

Excerpt from “A Mother’s Love”:

Lavinia opened the door and got out of the car. She allowed her mother to take her arm and lead her to the house. Her father took her things out of the trunk. He opened the door with the third key on the ring and held the door open for the other two. No one said anything to the others. Lavinia’s small bag was placed beside the door as they encouraged her to look around the house and reacquaint herself with everything.

There were framed photos along the wall leading up the stairs to the second floor bedrooms. Lavinia pointed to a young girl in one of the photos. “Is that me?”

Her mother nodded and smiled broadly towards her husband. He nodded and smiled meekly back. They remained silent.

Lavinia walked closer to the photograph behind the glass, set in the gilded frame. The girl was sitting between her parents at a professional photographer‘s studio, smiling with her hair pulled away from her face. She didn’t even recognize her own picture. Did she really look like that only a few years ago? How much her face had changed during those pivitol years of adolescence. “I don’t remember,” she declared, never taking her eyes from the girl’s face. The smiles disappeared from her parents’ faces but they continued to encourage her. She gauged their reactions from what she could see reflected in the mounted photo.

“It’ll come back to you. It’ll just take some time, but it will all come back,” her father said. It was like an order for her mind. Her mother walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. Lavinia shrank back from the woman’s touch. The mother’s face couldn’t hide the pain. She quietly excused herself and left the room with tears in her eyes.

Lavinia sighed when she realized it was her fault. “I’m… I’m sorry. I want to remember, but… I don’t know how to make it come back.” Lavinia continued to gaze at the girl.