The Barefoot Summer by Carolyn Brown

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One man, three wives, and a murder. Kate has been married to Conrad Steele for fourteen years, twelve of them unhappily. Jamie has been married to him for seven years, and had her daughter Gracie. Amanda married him seven months ago, and is expecting his baby. All of them share the same anniversary, December 30th, just seven years apart, and yet they didn’t know about each other until Conrad’s funeral. Determined to get to the bottom of the murder is Waylon, a good looking investigator who was trying to give up his career to work on his family farm. Unfortunately, his plans get interrupted as he tries to figure out who killed Conrad.

Kate, Jamie, and Amanda all flock to the cabin that Conrad honeymooned them in, each one trying to stake a claim on the place. Kate believes as the first wife, it’s hers. Jamie wants it to pass down to Gracie, Conrad’s eldest child. Amanda claims it as hers, as the last wife, believing that there must be divorce paperwork somewhere with Kate and Jamie’s names on them. As they each get used to each other existing, not just in the same living space but as actual wives conned by the same husband, they start to look into the mystery of Conrad’s death.

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Kate does a lot of investigating, and finds some interesting information buried in the back of a drawer in the cabin. Documents stashed by the previous wife showed that the wife learned what kind of man Conrad was after they were married, and witness from the neighbors certainly pegged his character. Yet, there is something about Waylon that makes Kate hesitate to confide her investigative work to him.

Kate, Jamie, and Amanda eventually find themselves enjoying each other’s company and the surrounding little town of Bootleg, and each can easily find reason to stay. As they spend the summer together, they each find out what they really want out of their lives, despite awaiting their names to be cleared, and they learn that though their marriages were a sham, they were still family in a way.

This is the first I’ve read from Carolyn Brown, and I enjoyed reading about the conned women and their mysterious murdered ex. I thought the author pulled things together well, and though the pace was slow and redundant at times, there was great dialogue and character personality to shine through and keep moving the story along. It was easy to be the reader observing these women as each chapter clearly showed who’s point of view was in focus, and there was some great foreshadowing and symbolism when it came to footwear, which I found very clever. If you need a light summer read, I’d definitely check it out!

 

 

 

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The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

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I picked this one up on one of my compulsive thrift hauls, sitting on my shelf since sometime this past fall. I was curious to see if Shreve would leave the same impression on me, as this is my second Shreve novel (the other being Testimony, which I read back in 2011). I found them similar in that they were slow to start but packed a punch by the end.

For me, The Pilot’s Wife took a little while to get into because of Shreve’s writing style between chapters. There isn’t much awareness between the present moments and the change to past memories, with the exception of a chapter break and the punctuation of dialogue, which changes from quotations to em dashes. The first few chapters, the present tense would hook me into the plot, and then the flashback chapters would confuse me. It was almost as if I should be looking for clues in the flashbacks, but I had no idea what to look for. This slowed the pace, and I’m not a fan when the author controls my pace, haha. I want the action! This was similar in Testimony, so I’m going to guess that this is Shreve’s style. (Fans of hers, am I correct?) The other similarity I picked up on was how the plot is revealed. At first, there’s a lot of detail, background and setting and character relationship information. This bogs me down, but Shreve uses really beautiful language and there was enough interesting tidbits within that made me want to continue reading, not quit.

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Right from the very first chapter, Shreve introduces her main character, Kathryn, who is awoken in the middle of the night by a man knocking on her door. Her daughter Mattie is asleep down the hall, and her husband Jack, an airline pilot, was overseas in London and due back around lunchtime. When she finally answers the door, a man named Robert, a rep from the airline union, gives her the worst news: Her husband’s plane had exploded over the Atlantic, and there were no survivors.

Kathryn, now a widow, is faced with the aftermath, including varying rumors that the accident was Jack’s fault. Trying to help her daughter and herself come to terms, Kathryn attempts to prove Jack’s honor, but ends up finding seemingly insignificant details coming together to prove that Jack had something to hide. When Kathryn pieces everything together, the reader is left to wonder how the pilot’s wife will continue on with the newfound knowledge.

I’ve just recently found out that there is also a movie of this novel, so I’m curious to see how it will compare, but I always think the book is better so I guess it doesn’t matter too much. The Pilot’s Wife has Oprah’s Book Club seal of approval, and if you’re in for an intimately gripping read, I’d give Shreve’s novel a chance.

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Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

When I checked this out of the library, I thought there was something familiar about it. Turns out, I’ve read another of Dobyns’ books, called Saratoga Backtalk. Both are ‘Charlie Bradshaw’ mysteries, where we follow private investigator Charlie as he tries to solve crimes in the horse industry. I know that the horse connection had a lot to do with picking them both out, but in all honesty, while reading these novels, you don’t care much about the horses. The reader is too wrapped up in the suspense of the mystery!

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In Saratoga Payback, Charlie is officially a retired PI (something tells me there is more to that story but it isn’t discussed in depth in this novel), yet he can’t help getting involved in the murder mystery that actually drops on his doorstep. Mickey Martin is found dead on Charlie’s sidewalk outside his home with his throat slashed and his tongue cut out. Charlie can’t quite figure out why, but he has a hunch that someone wanted Mickey to stop running his mouth, and wanted Charlie to know it too. So, trying his hardest to not meddle in police business, being that he no longer has his PI license and could go to jail for investigating, he takes on the “concerned citizen” role and tries to figure out why Mickey was brutally murdered.

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It’s a quick paced novel, and very funny despite the scary situation, what with all the vicious slashing going on. As I was reading Payback, it made me recall why I liked Backtalk. Dobyns’ character driven plots make it easy to follow along but leave enough mystery to keep you turning the page. Charlie’s easy going personality and witty banter with his clients, friends, family, and informants make these novels an enjoyable read.

 

Burn Town by Jennifer McMahon

“There is no someday. We spend so much of our lives waiting for someday, don’t we? There is only right now. This is our someday.”

Burn Town just made one of my top favorite books of the year so far. When I read Winter People, I remember liking it but not enthralled, but I’m glad I decided to try again with McMahon, because WOW.

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Burn Town had me hooked in the first 10 pages. HOOKED. By page 35, I had a running list of questions, and by page 50, I couldn’t take my eyes off the page. There are very few books that I’ve read in one day, yet here I am, adding this suspense thriller to the list. I could not put it down.

The whole story starts with the murder of Elizabeth Sandeski, the grandmother of the main character, Necco (Eva). Necco’s father, Miles, witnesses the murderer take his mother’s life, and years down the road attempts revenge. Thanks to a machine that links the living with the dead, Elizabeth reveals who killed her, and Miles takes matters into his own hands- or so he thinks. Years after that, Necco’s mother has a sort of premonition that the family is in danger again, and Necco learns that she’s in danger just before things get foggy and her memories fade to black.

Now, Necco is on the run again with the help of a high school drug dealer, a circus-crazed cafeteria lady, and a part-time private investigator, trying to figure out who is after her and what happened to her family after “the Great Flood”. Everything Necco thought she knew is nothing compared to the truth she uncovers.

Absolutely recommend the read, as long as you can handle the thrill of it!

 

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

*Warning- this novel is definitely Rated R. There’s a lot going on here.*

I was at the library and didn’t know just what to read, and nothing was jumping off the shelves. Cue Pinterest.com for my “To Read” board. I wanted something thrilling, and this was recommended as one to read in the last five years. So, I hunted it down and checked it out.

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It took me less than 48 hours to read this 350 page book because it sucked me in and I just couldn’t stop. I had to know what happened next, had to understand the chaos that is TifAni FaNelli’s life. There were many plot twists, many “Oh my Gods” and much internal debate on how I felt about the main character. Did I like her or not? I’m still not sure, but I know that by the end, I understood her so much better than in the beginning.

Ani (ahh-nee, as she explains many times) is working through her check list for the perfect life. The cosmopolitan job, the dreamboat man, the expensive flat in Manhattan, the designer clothes, the blue-blood life… Check, check, check. But of course, there’s more to Ani than what meets the eye. She’s hiding her true self behind it all, putting on a show so that TifAni FaNelli would forever be buried in the past. I expected this much at the beginning, that the main character was putting on a charade, but the plot thickened and I got a better understanding of why.

Flashback to her freshman year of high school, where fourteen year old TifAni is transferred to an elite prep school, Bradley. Determined to make a fresh start after being cast out of her last school, she starts to work her way into the popular crowd. Predictably, the popular crowd isn’t easy to get into and trouble ensues once TifAni joins them. Enter plot twist number one, where young TifAni has too much to drink and the popular boys take advantage of her and gang rape her. It’s a serious and terrible twist, but the author made it easy enough to guess that these boys weren’t trustworthy, and therefore were going to do something awful to TifAni. However, following the aftermath of this looms unpredictable plot twist number two, and there’s no way I’m going to spoil that shocker for you.

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As present time Ani flashes from her current life to her past life, she reveals the difficulty she’s had moving on past her tragic youth. Knoll, the young author, did an excellent job creating this complex character, despite some stereotyping. My only other demerits are that there were some unclear jumps between past and present in between paragraphs, and the ending left me feeling deflated. It almost felt like Knoll put the ending out of order, that it should have gone before the climax of the plot. But it did leave the reader wondering, “Will Ani ever get her happy ending?”

I would definitely recommend Luckiest Girl Alive if you were looking for a gripping read, one where you can get lost in the story. I don’t think I would reread, but knowing that this is Knoll’s first novel, I’d be very interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

The Blondes by Emily Schultz

I’m going to cut to the chase with this one- what a waste of my time.  This novel is so chaotic and melodramatic. I read it’s 350 pages in two days, and the entire time I just kept hoping it would get better.

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The main character, Hazel, finds out she is pregnant by her thesis advisor, Karl, a married man twice her age. The affair is messy, to say the least. The day she finds out she is pregnant, she also witnesses the first case of “the Blonde Fury” pandemic, later to become known as SHV (the acronym is explained in the novel if you decided it’s your thing and you want to read it). This happens in the first 20 pages or so. From there, the story shifts from past to present with very little transition notice to the reader (reading in the present, oh now in the past, oh, just kidding present again). As Hazel waffles about how to handle the pregnancy news, she has to figure out how to navigate the pandemic hair disease that they akin to rabies. It’s nuts guys.

I give credit to the author for creating an interesting fantasy outbreak (blondes contracting this disease basically attacking people like rabid animals is pretty good imagery) but to me, the plot is all over the place, the climax is anticlimactic, the character development is just really strange… I could go on. The cover jacket gives the novel high praise for it being satirical, unsettling, and intelligent, so maybe I’m just missing the point. But for those that actually take my recommendation, I’d say you could pass on this one.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

It didn’t take much for me to sign this book out of the library. I pulled it off the shelf, opened the cover, and saw that the main setting was in Vermont. Done. Signed it out, and two days later, finished reading it. The Winter People is a ghost tale thriller, and it had me turning the pages to figure out what would happen next.

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The story revolves around main character Sara Harrison Shea and her daughter Gertie. Without giving too much away, Sara and her husband Martin lose their daughter in what was deemed an accident in 1908, and the aftermath of the way they handled the situation haunts to town for years to come. This tragedy sends Ruthie and her little sister Fawn, current residents of Sara’s old homestead, on a hunt for answers after they find a copy of Sara’s diary hidden in their mother’s room.

Now, I love a good ghost story, and as I said before, this book had me hooked. However, the review is that it’s not gripping enough to make my favorites lists. The plot itself is pretty good, as necessary information is leaked out with enough suspense that it doesn’t give everything away all at once. There were some good plot twists and although some might be able to predict the ending, I couldn’t with any certainty. However, the reading level leans towards more young adult, as it’s readability is a little simple and repetitive and I didn’t love the resolution as it seemed a little Hallmark to me, though it does have a bit of a cliffhanger in it, keeping the thriller theme.

If you want a quick, gripping read, I’d say check it out. If you’re from Vermont and are excited that an author decided to write about your pint-sized state, sure, pick it up. But if you want something that’ll truly scare you, or something more believable, move along.