Wednesday, February 8, 2017

January Reading Round Up

by Holly West

Pursuant to my resolution to review every book I read this year, I'd like to report that January was a stellar reading month for me. So much so that I increased my reading challenge goal from thirty-five to fifty books, and even so, I'm two books ahead of schedule. I'll likely slow down a little as the year progresses but if January is any indication, it's going to be a great reading year.

Here's are some of my favorites:

AT RISK by S.G. Redling

Publisher's Description:
Colleen McElroy grew up wealthy and pampered, the daughter of a prominent society family in Lexington, Kentucky. But her privileged upbringing could not prepare or protect her from her cruel and abusive first husband. Although her calamitous marriage left her with physical and emotional scars that have yet to heal, they haven’t prevented her from doing her best to rebuild her life.

Charismatic Patrick McElroy has scars of his own from his traumatic childhood in the foster care system, but with his business partner, John, he has built a celebrated, state-of-the-art home for at-risk youths. When one goes missing, Colleen is plunged into a nightmare of uncertainty about the girl’s disappearance. Is she paranoid, seeing disasters where there is just bad luck, or does an unspeakable evil lurk behind the new life she’s made for herself? No longer sure of whom she can trust, Colleen will have to rely on herself to discover the truth.

My review: 
I really enjoyed this book! I saw S.G. read at a Noir at the Bar several years ago and was impressed but this is the first of her novels I've read. Fast-paced and really well-drawn characters. No spoilers but the ending left me a little breathless (a good thing). Good stuff and I look forward to reading more by S.G. Redling.

(Hey, I warned you I wasn't great at writing reviews. But from now on, I won't let that stop me from introducing you to books I like).


Publisher's Description:
Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He's a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You d like to get to know Grace better.

But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.

Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn't work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.

Some might wonder what's really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.

My review:
This book might be classified as a beach read, but there's a good reason for that--in spite of its subject matter (a wife being held prisoner by her "perfect" husband)--it's compelling and hard-to-put-down. Though it skirts the edge of reality, it's believable enough to be creepy/scary and oh, so good. Glad I listened to my sister's recommendation to read it.

Publisher's Description:
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She's even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life--as she sees it--is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My review:
I really enjoyed this book, and have little criticism of it. At times, I found Rachel to be a tedious character (it was sometimes tiresome to be in her head) but overall, I thought she was an interesting character. I wonder if telling the story through three characters (Rachel, Megan, and Anna) was truly necessary, and if it might've been stronger w/out Anna's input, but then again, her realizations did ultimately make for a more compelling story.

Publisher's Description:
How far will you go to achieve a dream? That's the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits--until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.

As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers--about her daughter's fears, her own marriage, and herself--forces Katie to consider whether there's any price she isn't willing to pay to achieve Devon's dream.

My review:
Of Megan Abbott's last few novels, DARE ME was my favorite. But YOU WILL KNOW ME might've beat it. Set in the competitive world of girls' gymnastics, it's a gradual uncovering of uncomfortable, then horrible, and finally, unthinkable truths, and how we manage to convince ourselves we can live with them. I like it when, as a reader, I can relate to the characters enough to wonder what I might do in similar circumstances. How far would I go to protect the one thing that mattered most?

(h/t to Kristopher Zgorski's Bolo Books review)

Publisher's Description:
The danger isn't all in your head . . .

Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

But soon after her arrival at Corbin's grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own--curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey's. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey's place, yet he's denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman's old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves . . . until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment--and accidentally learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? And what about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn't sure. Jet lagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself . . . So how could she take the chance on a stranger she's just met?

Yet the danger Kate imagines isn't nearly as twisted and deadly as what's about to happen. When her every fear becomes very real.

And much, much closer than she thinks.

My review:
This book hooked me from the beginning. Who wouldn't want to escape to another country for six months, live in a great city, and bonus, a fantastic apartment? Of course, it all goes wrong, and fast. I was intrigued by the way this novel unfolded--the beginning is told from the main protagonist's POV then it kind of switches back and forth between a few people, but not in a set pattern. The first time it shifted to another POV it was just a bit jarring, but in retrospect, it was the perfect way to tell the story. I was actually sorry it ended, and wouldn't mind hearing more from these characters.

From looking at these books, there are some patterns emerging. All but one are by female authors. All of them feature vulnerable women who find themselves caught up in dangerous circumstances that demand them to dig deep in order to survive.

February's book choices have already changed this trend for me, but it's clear I have a penchant for female protagonists who many would consider to be weak (whether by nature or by circumstance) but who are nonetheless able to (spoiler alert?) save themselves. 

I have a feeling that beyond sharing the books I enjoy, I'll learn something about myself as a reader and writer by keeping track of and recording my thoughts about each book I read this year. 

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