It was a great reading month where I discovered new authors, a few debut novels and revisited an old friend. This month’s list includes a thriller that will leave you checking the locks, a paranormal novel that is the first in a seven-book series, a creative interpretation of actual historic events and a novel about first love and self-discovery. Enjoy! 🙂
Every now and then I stumble across a novel or author completely by chance. Tami Hoag was such an author and I am so glad that I did! When perusing my local library I found a novel called “The 9th Girl” by Hoag and I felt an incredibly pull to the book. I had to read it – yesterday! Then I found out that it was book 4 in a set and I felt somewhat deflated, realizing this novel would have to wait. “Ashes to Ashes” is the first book in this set and the first book I have ever read by Tami Hoag, one that I had to break down and purchase because my library system only had books 2-4. Thank goodness I did, because had I simply borrowed this book from the library I would have immediately purchased it as soon as I finished reading it.
“Ashes to Ashes” is one of those rare thrillers that does everything a thriller should (even the things you do not particularly care for). Reading this book as quickly as I did was a challenge because despite the blurbs from authors and critics about readers feeling the need to lock their doors, I didn’t give such a notion a second thought. Every thriller that is worth reading puts the reader on edge (at least a little bit), or the author is not doing their job. I quickly realized, however, that I could not read this book when darkness set in, even with the door locked! I could not read this book alone in broad daylight either. In our family room, I perched myself in the chair in the corner, able to see the entire house (both floors) with my coat and shoes on as though I was expecting a crazed killer to suddenly appear and I would need to make a mad dash for it. After thirty minutes, I gave up until my husband came home.
I know that I felt a certain kinship towards the main protagonist (if there is one), Kate Conlan, though that helped me connect to the story and care about the people involved in the story rather than up the chill factor. Kate is a former FBI agent turned victim advocate who is tough-as-nails, no time for bullshit, blunt, and a stubborn redhead with a painful past. (I have no idea at all why I would relate to her… that was sarcasm.) In college I spent roughly two years working as a victim advocate. The job is draining and in its own way constantly rips open wounds meant to heal because you find out you can’t save everyone. And for a stubborn person with a mission knee deep in personal motivations that reality is never acceptable. It is impossible to not become too attached and so you act like a hard ass to hide how much the job makes you hurt. I was speaking for the character (well, it goes for me too).
The villain of the piece… they call him the Cremator, a sexual sadist who rapes, tortures and murders his victims and then lights them on fire in a public ceremony. His first two victims were prostitutes but when he strikes out at a billionaire’s daughter (Jillian, who is the supposed third victim – no head, no way to physically identify her) the city of Minneapolis is up in arms to catch him before he ups his body count. Enter John Quinn of the FBI and an entire ensemble of cops, politicians, federal agents and connections to Jillian, each with his or her own agenda. Kate is called in because there was a witness to the third victim’s burning ritual, but as Kate tries to work with the witness who is only a teenager she struggles to figure her out. Is her witness an intended victim or something even more troubling?
I figured out the Cremator’s true identity about two thirds in, but I think I am the exception because as soon as I thought this I was like, “no that is too twisted,” and I admitted to myself a lot of it was theory based on what I knew, rather than what the book actually presented to me. Even if you are in the minority and figure it out, it does nothing to ease the need to find out what happens next and consider having a sharp object nearby.
Is Jillian the third victim? If not, how is she involved (because she is)? What terrible secrets is Jillian’s father hiding that led her to this place? Is Kate’s witness in danger? Will Kate figure out that puzzle in time to save her witness, or even herself? If you have a thing for thrillers, mysteries or crime novels this is a must-read. Do not borrow it, buy it. It will be a book you go back to, I promise. This book will make you feel like bogeymen are real and right outside your door!
“The Bone Season”
by Samantha Shannon (August 20, 2013)
The year is 2059 and the world is nothing as we know it, for now it belongs to Scion. “The Bone Season” by Samantha Shannon is a stunning debut novel and the first in a series. Paige Mahoney is a clairvoyant or specifically a dreamwalker, able to walk in and out of the dreamscapes of others. According to Scion law, Paige even breathing is considered treason, punishable by death.
When Paige is captured and drugged she is transported to Oxford, a city built on secrets for the past 200 years. There she learns the truth about Scion and discovers her gifts, her potential and herself. What matters more: to be allowed to live, or to be free? The lives of several others or her own life? Shannon has created a fantastic blend of fantasy and the familiar to create a world much likes ours and yet worlds apart all at once. Paige is a compelling heroine and the book hits the ground running with the pace never faltering.
Shannon has said the inspiration for this book came from the idea of what would happen if there was a second Salem Witch Trials, dystopia dealing with the supernatural. There have been many comparisons made linking Shannon and this novel to other successful franchises like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. Personally, I don’t see it beyond the author’s intention to have seven books in the series (Harry Potter) and that rather than Paige being the chosen one, the unlucky one in the wrong place, at the wrong time is more like it (some may say this is similar to Katniss Everdeen in the The Hunger Games). While the themes of the book have been done, I am unable to make comparisons to this novel because it has not ‘been done’ before. On the contrary, the story itself is incredibly original; I have never read anything like it.
Shannon has created an intricate world, a mainstream social and political structure, and a clairvoyant caste system that makes the book easy to follow and that much more authentic. This book was a People find and simply reinforces why their book review section is key to me finding great reads I may not have otherwise discovered on my own. I am much happier with the book, knowing that it is an installment of a series rather than a standalone novel. There is simply too much in this universe (and Paige’s journey) to fit everything into 452+ pages. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of the second installment (out in October 2014).
I wish I could say more about this book, but fear leaking spoilers and much of the fun in this book is all about the discovery. You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t read this book, but if you knew, you would be sorry. Save yourself from that kind of turmoil and read this book.
“Dare Truth Or Promise”
by Paula Boock (October 25, 1999)
Love is universal and first loves are unforgettable. “Dare Truth Or Promise” by Paula Boock is a novel about both of these things and so much more. Louie is excited for another terrific (and successful) year of school. She is in the school play and running the school’s comedy club. Willa just wants to remain invisible as the new girl, hoping to simply get through the year (her last until she graduates) with as little fuss as possible. They are both about to learn that life does not care about their plans.
I first read this book in high school. I actually found it in my school’s library and I was shocked since it was Nebraska circa 2000. Why? It is a love story between two young women, Louie and Willa. For Louie, this is also a tale of self-discovery as she has never had feelings for another girl before and they awaken an internal struggle about larger things, such as faith and God. For Louie, this is a coming out story of sorts, but even more a story about figuring oneself out, which is an ongoing process, and that it is all right to not have “all of the answers” at one time. I think Louie’s struggles are relatable to any teen that has come out to something short of a celebration. From hearing it is a phase, parental pushback, fundamentalist promises of fire and brimstone – her first love is more like falling off a cliff then floating in euphoria. Ultimately healing words come from a priest when he says, “I think love comes from God. And so, to turn away from love, real love, it could be argued, is to turn away from God.” Willa’s journey is very different and more about falling in love and taking a chance after already having her heart broken and while this story may seem less significant, it is told just as beautifully.
This was one of the first books I read where the book had dual point of view (POV) narratives from both Willa and Louie, throughout the novel, adhering to a strict “A, B, A, B” formula. To this day, this remains one of my favorite ways to enjoy a story – when I am not trapped inside a single character, but I am still privy to thoughts and motivations that wouldn’t necessarily be accessible in an omniscient narrator. (This month’s top pick also does this very nicely, though there is no set pattern it follows like this book where every other chapter is Louie or Willa.)
While this story or its premise is not original, the prose is simplistic and beautiful. It made such an impression on me in high school that I looked for a copy to own in college, simply because it left that impression. For someone who reads as much as I do, a lasting impression is the best praise one can give. If you want to read a tale of first love, coming out, self-discovery or simply a beautifully written and easy read, I highly recommend checking out “Dare Truth Or Promise”!
“The Daylight Gate” is a fictionalized account of the Pendle Witch Trials in England. The people are real and I appreciated the author’s obvious research regarding the trials of 1612, the events that led up to them and the people involved. Reality ends there, however, because this is a tale of politics, magick and sex that has no historical basis beyond the names and the outcome of said events. Most people refer to this book as a novella (longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel), rather than a novel because while the page count would be that of a novel, the words that are on each page would make it a novella.
I thought long and hard on what to rate this book. This was a People find and I was thrilled my library had it. I snatched it up and two days later there was a long waiting list of people waiting for a copy. I wanted to be into this book, I tried so hard, and yet for something that should have been an easy read in two hours or less, it took more than a week. I just couldn’t get into it or even stay interested, which is surprising because I love history and certain events like witch trials, overthrowing royal families, social revolution, etc. are topics that are usually a ‘sure thing’ with me. Yet the entire time I was reading it, all I could think about was all of the other books I would rather be reading.
I didn’t even begin to care until about fifty pages in and then my investment went in and out, much like the book seemed to. Now that I have finished it, I have read what other reviewers are saying and many seemed confused. I was never confused, but overall unsatisfied. The author barely scratches the surface of the events or the people associated with them and without some kind of connection how can a reader care?
The most interesting element of the book (for me) was when Alice Nutter (the book’s protagonist) was telling a lover about her past. Her past, thirty years prior, told as a story rather than flashbacks, was the most intriguing thing about this book, which spells out problems. A book about the past should not depend to get by living in its own past. I didn’t get into a good reading rhythm until page 128 (the book is 224 pages).
This book did inspire me to at least Wikipedia both the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. (While I don’t advocate the use of Wikipedia for research, it is great to satisfy immediate curiosity.) I wish I knew Alice Nutter better and I wish the other characters had life to them rather than seeming more like life-sized cutouts. Still, the writing wasn’t boring, the story was creative, original and fantastic – it was just a lot of surface without any actual depth, to the very end.
The original top pick slated for this month was bumped to next month because I felt the need to share “Ashes to Ashes” now (it was slated for May’s list). I have promised myself that it will not get bumped again, so check back next month for a thriller that will pain you to put down until you finish it!
I would love to have your take on any of these books (or receive any reading suggestions). If you have read anything on this list, please share your reading experience and if this blog has prompted you to pick up any of these titles, let me know what you thought once you have finished. 🙂 Until next month…
*Don’t miss this month’s noteworthy nonfiction list tomorrow!