The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Putnam!)
Summary: When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined.
Genre: Mystery, a hint of the paranormal, Southern Gothic

I spot the fence first, its black metal pickets flashing through the trees. The winding road suddenly straightens, and there before me, between two massive stone pillars, are the gates of Evangeline.

Charlie once had it all: a wonderful husband, a little boy she adored, a glamorous job writing for a women’s magazine (okay, maybe not so glamorous) – but then tragedy struck. Now she’s grieving the all-too-soon and completely unexpected death of her child while her husband (now ex-husband) begins a new family with his new wife. And her journalist position? The magazine has recently been purchased and the staff have all been given a heads up that very few of them will be kept on with the new owners.

So when she gets an e-mail from an old boss at a pulpy crime magazine, Charlie wastes no time in weighing her options – or, rather, she wouldn’t if she had any options. The project she’s pitched, writing a book about a thirty-year-old cold case, sends her down South to the Louisiana bayou and into the gilded gates of the famed Evangeline estate.

Thirty years ago the youngest Deveau child, Gabriel, simply vanished. His bedroom door was locked just like it had been when the family went to sleep, no windows were broken into, not even a bark from the family’s dog. Naturally the family (and staff) all had seemingly airtight alibis: the two socialite daughters were celebrating their sweet sixteen with a big bash, the parents had been away, the eldest son had been with a friend. With no evidence (and at a time before DNA testing) the police had nothing to go on. Now, thirty years later, the twins (now in their forties but with their former It Girl mentality ever-present) want an exclusive tell-all to be published…and that’s where Charlie comes in. Little do the Deveaus know, however, is that since accepting the position Charlie has been experiencing rather odd dreams. Dreams of a little boy on a boat, a little boy crying out for Charlie’s help.

It’s a little odd to me that The Gates of Evangeline is slated to be a trilogy – typically mysteries like this are wrapped up within one book and this one was, so I’m not sure what to expect from the other two books. That said, I’m VERY intrigued! Meeting Charlie, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into – especially once her prophetic (? psychic?) dreams began occurring. There’s a very, very fine line when it comes to books like this where a supernatural or paranormal element is present while still being firmly rooted in reality. I’ve found that the story could either come off as campy and hokey or, in a skilled author’s hands, believable. I’m pleased to say this novel falls into the latter category (though I’ll admit I was a little eye-rolly at the end.)

The Deveau family was the real star of the show, from the twins to elder brother Andre (who’s hiding some interesting secrets of his own) to the mother and her severely declining health – both physical and mental. The Deveau patriarch passed on and as Charlie digs into his real persona, not the one shown in the tabloids, she comes to realize this family is not at all what she had assumed. Super vague I know, but I don’t want to spoil this one for anybody! Who wouldn’t want to uncover the dirt on celebrities, even fictional ones??

While the mystery element kept me turning the pages at a blinding pace, I could have done without the romance. Gabriel’s disappearance was more than enough to hold my interest and the romance that springs between Charlie and the gardener felt hurried and tacked on. Love story aside, however, I was thoroughly enchanted by The Gates of Evangeline. This Southern Gothic mystery reads like a true crime novel and had me guessing until the very end (and I feel I owe an apology to certain completely innocent characters I had initially pegged as being guilty!) Though the ending left me wanting – it’s a little too sitcomy for my tastes, especially with the rest of the novel being somewhat gritty – I enjoyed this one immensely and eagerly await the next installment!

weekly wrap-up 8/23

Happy, happy Sunday! If it seems like it’s been a while since I’ve done a weekly wrap-up it’s because I skipped last week. Why? WE GOT A PUPPY! I’ll have a post properly introducing her soon, but that’s Baylor. ♥ Last week involved a lot of running around. Since then, she’s pretty much taken over my instagram account. Love.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
After losing her child, Charlie begins having extremely vivid dreams of children seeking help. She’s certain she’s losing her mind until she finds herself in the middle of a missing child case. This one is getting some MAJOR buzz and I believe it’s supposed to be a trilogy..? I’m currently reading this one and although I’m only a few chapters in, I’m pretty intrigued! Also, a few days after I received the ARC a finished copy arrived at my door, so keep your eyes peeled for a giveaway! Thank you, Putnam!

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Autumn, 1966. An affair with a politician that results in a baby. A restored vintage Mercedes. Pepper is sure that the sale of the car will bring in enough money to take care of her child, and she soon discovers the car’s new owner carries some secrets of her own..secrets involving a Nazi husband and a Jewish lover. You KNOW how I feel about WWII novels (♥♥♥) and Ms. Williams comes HIGHLY recommended from a friend, so I’m very, very excited for this one! Thank you, Putnam!

Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman
The story of Cleopatra told through the eyes of her younger sister. OH MY YES! After recently listening to The Woman Who Would be King, a biography about Hatshepsut, I’ve become fascinated by the Egyptian kings and queens. Definitely looking forward to this one! Thank you, Little, Brown!

The Lake House by Kate Morton
Kate is one of the authors at the tippy-top of my Auto-Buy list. I love her to pieces and the moment this one showed up on netgalley I immediately requested it. The 1930s. An abandoned house. A missing boy. A seventy-year mystery. At this point Kate could write a phone book and I’d be ecstatic! Thank you, Atria!

In Case You Missed It
I wrote a few mini-reviews! An Aussie historical fiction, the previously mentioned Hatshepsut bio, and a WWII rescue.

A Jennifer McMahon novel was the very first book I ever reviewed here, way back in August of 2011! Four years later she’s become another Auto-Buy author and her latest, The Night Sister, is excellent. Deliciously creepy and kept me turning the pages well into the night (even though I KNEW I’d be even more spooked in the dark!)

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters was nearly abandoned. Told in two eras, naturally I devoured the WWII story, but the present day one…ugh. I didn’t care for the main character at all, but the grandmother’s story (a loveless marriage, a Polish soldier, a letter from her husband dated after he was said to have died in the war) was too intriguing and I devoured this one in record time.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Putnam!)
Summary: Forgive me, Dorothea, for I cannot forgive you. What you do, to this child, to this child’s mother, it is wrong…

Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother’s belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew – dated after he supposedly died in the war.

Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later…
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII-era fiction

I feel that an awful lot of my reviews begin with “If you know me, then you know that…” but it’s true: there’s a distinct bent to my reading. I know what I like and rarely stray from that, particularly when it comes to unknown-to-me authors. One of my all-time favorite tropes in historical fiction is the discovery of a letter. Oh, how my heart sings when someone stumbles across a hidden stack of letters from the past! With Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase, a letter discovered by a woman’s granddaughter proves very interesting indeed: it’s written by the woman’s husband and dated 1941…a year after he was said to have been killed in the war. COLOR ME INTRIGUED!

In the present day, Roberta is going about her day-to-day job as a used bookseller and spends her nights unlucky in love (she’s currently having a lackluster affair with a married man.) As she sorts through the books the store takes in, she uncovers forgotten mementos of previous lives: a child’s handmade card to his mother, photographs, love letters. What she never expected was to come across a letter of her own. While going through her grandmother’s belongings after moving her to a nursing home, Roberta finds a suitcase belonging to a Mrs. Sinclair and inside a curious letter. You see, the letter is from her grandfather, written to her grandmother. While that isn’t necessarily odd, what’s strange is that the letter is dated 1941…and Roberta had always been told her grandfather had been killed during the war in 1940. Letting her curiosity get the better of her, Roberta spirals down a path seeking answers to questions that might be better left in the past.

I love, love me some dual era novels. You write a novel set during WWII and the present day and there’s an EXCELLENT chance I’ll be drooling all over myself. It wasn’t any different with Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase and I was practically foaming at the mouth until I had it in hand and was able to start reading. And here I must be honest: Roberta was such an off-putting character that I nearly abandoned the book after just a few chapters. I was wildly interested in Dorothea’s story (she’s in a loveless marriage and later meets a Polish Squadron Leader after a plane crash practically in her backyard) but nothing about Roberta’s life captivated me. Perhaps this is just a ‘me’ issue: I know exactly what it’s like to work in a used bookstore and discover a wealth of things (both good and hideously disgusting) inside books. Flipping through an 1800s copy of a bible, for example, could reveal numerous letters and odd bits of paper. So perhaps because I know that life it doesn’t seem as romantic and enticing? Roberta’s boss, the man she’s seeing, her coworker’s abortion…none of it interested me and I found myself bored to the point where I seriously considered cutting my losses and moving on to the next novel.

But then. BUT THEN! I don’t know what happened or what changed, but I found that ‘one more chapter’ turned into 50 pages, then 100, finally 200 pages were gone and I had reached the end. I suppose that Dorothea’s story was so enchanting that I was compelled to keep going and going until I could go no more. An unhappy marriage that’s resulted in a handful of miscarriages (and, finally, a stillbirth.) A plane crash that left no survivors. A handsome (and much younger) Polish soldier thanking her for her bravery and courage in attempting to save the pilot. It was all so fascinating and I felt all the emotions I think I was meant to feel for Roberta’s plights but never felt. Had the novel been solely about Dorothea I would have been one happy girl.

I found it odd that Roberta’s chapters were written in first-person while Dorothea’s were told in third. While I love multiple narrations, the style was a bit jarring in the beginning and by the end I never quite felt comfortable with it. There were also a few details that never really went anywhere – Dorothea’s poetry, for example. Multiple times we’re told she spends her time writing poems yet it doesn’t add to the story nor are any of the poems in the novel. Other than the author being a published poet, I don’t see any reason for its inclusion.

With blurbs from Sarah McCoy and Jessica Brockmole I was more than a little intrigued, even more so after reading a mini-interview with Louise Walters where she discussed the inspiration behind the novel (she actually owns a suitcase labeled with a Mrs. D Sinclair patch and had once come across a letter written by a Polish Squadron Leader to an English couple.) While its creation was fascinating, I can’t exactly say the same for the final product. I wish the novel would have cut out Roberta’s story completely and instead focused on Dorothea during the war, possibly even through the years to the present day (where she’s currently 109.) Although I’m glad I didn’t abandon this one early on, I can’t quite say I’m pleased to have read it. Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase left me wanting more – particularly in regards to the fates of certain characters. I will say though that it was a very quick read, I just wish it would have been a wholly WWII-set story.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Doubleday!)
Summary: Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.

Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.
Genre: Mystery, Paranormal

A new Jennifer McMahon novel is cause for celebration. The very first review I ever posted here on the blog was Jennifer’s Don’t Breathe a Word, back in August of 2011. It took a shameful three years before I read another and in February of last year I waxed poetic over The Winter People. Two novels down, two deliciously creepy stories that had me jumping in broad daylight.

When I heard about Jennifer’s upcoming novel I wasted no time in grabbing it (bless you, Doubleday, for the autoapproval ♥) There was no doubt in my mind that, once again, I’d be completely captivated – and thoroughly spooked!

In the 1950s, the Tower Motel was bustling, its 28 rooms filled to capacity. Silvie and her younger sister Rose entertain the guests with their chicken circus and famous Lucy the cow. Once the guests return to their rooms however, the sisters’ true feeling emerge. For each is convinced the other is a monster. A living, breathing, ripped-from-a-storybook monster.

With construction on a new highway comes the fall of the Tower Motel. Within a few short decades, the motel is all but abandoned, its stone tower in ruins. Amy, Rose’s daughter, and her friends Piper and Margot, spend their days playing among the stones…until they discover an old suitcase and a secret 29th room.

A decade later, the girls are now adults, their childhood friendship left behind in the past. When Margot delivers crushing news to Piper – a horrible, gruesome crime has been committed and all signs point to Amy as the prime suspect – the sisters dive back into the past and realize that maybe those monsters Rose and Silvie believed in might actually exist.

Ohhhh my. OH. MY. Yet again Jennifer has done it. I really should know better by now than to read one of her novels when I’m all alone in the house, but I couldn’t help myself and, once more, jumped at every noise I heard. The Night Sister heavily relies on folklore, particularly the mare, a person capable of transforming into an animal at night. In the hands of a lesser author, this would turn into a hokey story that would leave me rolling my eyes with each paragraph. In Jennifer’s hands I truly believed in these creatures, could envision the change, the eyes glowing at me from the darkness. Just thinking back is enough to send a chill up my spine!

This ability (curse?) carries on through generations – I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone, so all I’ll say it that it didn’t end with Rose and Silvie. And that the 29th room was like something out of my wildest dreams. I’m quickly discovering that Jennifer McMahon has an incredible talent and I’m not about to let another year go by without reading more of her work. Luckily for me, she’s got quite a backlist! Needless to say I absolutely loved The Night Sister, easily ranking among my favorites of 2015. If you’re new to this author, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this one.

mini reviews: Aussie histfic, Ancient Egyptian bios, + WWII rescues!

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham | August 11, 2015 (Thank you, Penguin!!)

1950s Australia. A once-exiled woman returns to her hometown to care for her ailing mother, Mad Molly. Myrtle Dunnage – now Tilly – left Dungatar two decades ago after a terrible accident left fingers pointing her way. Since then she has studied fashion in some of the world’s most fashionable places: Paris, London, Spain. With her mother’s health (both mental and physical) failing, Tilly packs up and returns to the town that doesn’t want her. Once the women see the wonders she can do with a bolt of fabric however, they all but fight over her, only to have tragedy strike once more, convincing Tilly she is indeed cursed.

For such a wide range of characters and threads (ha!) I have surprisingly little to say about this one. I first became aware of The Dressmaker through the movie trailer (gorgeous Kate Winslet, shirtless Liam Hemsworth – need I say more??) and was instantly charmed. While I still have every intention on seeing the film, I can’t exactly say the book had the same effect on me. To be honest, I’m hoping the movie strays from the book – yes, gasp, I know.

The cast was overwhelmingly large and, even having finished it, I’m still having a hard time getting everyone straight. Ms. Ham’s attempt at memorable characters was a letdown and, instead, every person in this book was a complete caricature: there’s the frumpy spinster, the highbrow mother-in-law, the crossdressing sheriff. By the end of the book, there’s an odd veer into a town production of a Shakespeare play and a baffling moment when Tilly gets her revenge that left me scratching my head. While I enjoyed the peek into small-town life, I wish The Dressmaker would have stuck with Tilly’s story. I wanted to know so much more about this woman, particularly her past, but those moments were unfortunately dedicated instead to characters I didn’t care for at all.

The Woman Who Would be King by Kara Cooney

This one is subtitled Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt and I couldn’t have been more delighted when I saw it was available at my library. Lately I’ve found I LOVE listening to non-fic on audio, particularly while running (some of my favorites ended up in my top reads of 2015 post!) While I especially love non-fic that digs into history, I’ve come to realize that the bios I do read tend to be male-focused. Determined to make a change – and learn about a little-known woman – I scooped up this one and dove right in.

While I immensely enjoyed it, I will admit that this one definitely wouldn’t appeal to die-hard Ancient Egypt fans or academics already knowledgeable on the subject. In the preface Cooney states this book heavily relies on guesswork and suggestions and is completely upfront about taking several liberties since so few records have survived. Because of this, many of the sentences begin with ‘maybe,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘one can assume,’ etc. With this style of writing, The Woman Who Would be King comes off as more of a historical fiction novel than a researched biography. Personally I adore histfic so this didn’t detract from my enjoyment, though I would have preferred either a 100% fictional account of Hatshepsut’s life or a more unbiased text.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff | April, 2011

I have a HUGE thing for WWII novels, yet rarely venture into WWII non-fic. I had put in a request for this one at my library after reading several rare reviews and was ecstatic when it was finally my turn. Having read it, I’m left wondering how could an adventure story, this plane crash that only left a few survivors in an uncharted jungle filled with cannibals be so boring??

That’s not quite fair though. The beginning was truly fascinating and I found myself wholly swept up in the story. There were a few moments with Zuckoff (who did the audio – yay for authors who read their own work!) pronounced words incorrectly and that threw me out of the story, but those were few and far between. By the halfway point, however, my attention span grew mighty thin. I wanted to know more about this handful of survivors – some of whom had gangrenous limbs. I wanted to know more about the native tribe who took them in. Sadly, as the novel progressed its intrigue lessened and by the end I was so far removed I barely noticed. Bummer.

weekly wrap-up 8/9

Hello lovelies! I’m going to keep things short and sweet this week, so let’s jump right into the books!

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Aussie historical fiction, you say? I am SO there! After twenty years a dressmaker returns to her hometown she had once been banished from. Although she had only intended on checking in on her sick mother, Tilly realizes the prim and proper women in town need her expertise and makes the decision to stay, all the while planning to seek revenge on those who wronged her all those years ago. I’m currently just a few chapters into this one but it’s great so far and has such a cast of characters! My (slightly crinkled!) copy features the movie tie-in cover and if the trailer is anything to go by (flawless Kate Winslet, shirtless Liam Hemsworth) it’s going to be excellent. Thank you, Penguin!

Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
A debut novel being compared to Diana Gabaldon? I’m listening. So this one is set in 869 just as the Saxons and Vikings are headed to war. As if the time period wasn’t interesting enough, things heat up once sparks fly between two members of the warring clans. I’m not too familiar with historical romance (or romance novels in general) but summer seems like a fun time to get lost in a love story. Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!

In Case You Missed It
Karen Katchur’s The Secrets of Lake Road was good, y’all. A lake community is rocked when a young girl goes missing…and when the rescue efforts begin their search, they uncover something far larger. Totally for fans of Diane Chamberlain and Lisa Scottoline!

My love for Middle Grade knows no bounds and my most recent MG read was the oh-so-charming Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, a novel I dubbed Willy Wonka for a new generation. So good!

Nooks & Crannies: Willy Wonka for a new generation!

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Library
Summary: Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance. She doesn’t have a friend in the world, except her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom.

Then, on the heels of a rather devastating announcement made by her mother and father, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted. There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed— a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Recommended for: Fans of plucky MCs, Agatha Christie, and quirky sidekicks (assuming you consider a mouse to be quirky!) Readers who grew up with Charlie Bucket

Lately it’s been Middle Grade madness up in here, between revisiting childhood favorites and stalking my library, I’ve been on a big MG kick and Nooks & Crannies is no exception. After wanting to take a break from some review novels, I went through my shelves on GoodReads (hi, I’m gatsby, let’s be friends ♥) and randomly picked one that caught my eye. The Pittsburgh library system is awesome and, despite N&C having just been released when I requested it, it was available and soon was in my greedy little hands.

Tabitha Crum would put Orphan Annie to shame. Her parents use her as their own personal maid (when they actually remember and acknowledge her existence, of course,) she has a terrible haircut, sleeps in the cold attic, and her only friend is a mouse named Pemberley. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after some rather shady bank transactions, the Crums announce they’re going on holiday to Spain…and that they’re sending Tabitha to the local orphanage. As fate would have it, however, Tabitha receives a sealed envelope that changes her life: the reclusive Countess of Windermere has invited Tabitha to her (haunted??) mansion, along with five other children, none of whom know why.

Oh, this was delightful! Absolutely adorable – though, at times, a little gory. I definitely agree with all the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-meets-Clue comparisons. A rather gruesome murder is the focal point of the plot and more dastardly deeds follow soon after. To say more would completely spoil the entire book, but let it be known that the mystery here was SO much fun (and, seriously, think back to Willy Wonka’s factory..!)

The characters were an absolute joy too – Pemberley was by far one of my most favorites. I rooted for Tabitha, came to adore Oliver and Viola, and even loved how villainous the villains were. Just loathsome enough and vile enough to send a chill up your spine.

Again, I don’t want to ruin the book, so I’m ending things on a rather vague note. Nooks & Crannies is a fantastic mystery that sent me back to my early days when I had just been introduced to Roald Dahl (and those are some pretty big shoes to fill, so high-five, Ms. Lawson!) I highly recommend this one to readers of all ages: anyone looking for a fun and engaging mystery will be sure to enjoy Tabitha (and Pemberley!) and the ghosts that may or may not haunt the Countess’s mansion. Unfortunately, Inspector Percival Pensive is neither real nor an actual series, because, like Tabitha, I would absolutely devour those books and take his advice to heart!

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!!)
Summary: Jo has been hiding the truth about her role in her high school boyfriend’s drowning for sixteen years. Every summer, she drops her children off with her mother at the lakeside community where she spent summers growing up, but cannot bear to stay herself; everything about the lake reminds her of the guilt she feels. For her daughter Caroline, however, the lake is a precious world apart; its familiarity and sameness comforts her every year despite the changes in her life outside its bounds. At twelve years old and caught between childhood and adolescence, she longs to win her mother’s love and doesn’t understand why Jo keeps running away.

Then seven-year-old Sara Starr goes missing from the community beach. Rescue workers fail to uncover any sign of her—but instead dredge up the bones Jo hoped would never be discovered, shattering the quiet lakeside community’s tranquility. Caroline was one of the last people to see Sara alive on the beach, and feels responsible for her disappearance. She takes it upon herself to figure out what happened to the little girl. As Caroline searches for Sara, she uncovers the secrets her mother has been hiding, unraveling the very foundation of everything she knows about herself and her family.
Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Recommended for: fans of Lisa Scottoline and Diane Chamberlain

I’m all for cheering on local authors…even when the definition of ‘local’ requires a bit of stretching. Karen Katchur lives on the eastern side of Pennsylvania, while I’m firmly rooted in Pittsburgh, but I can’t help but show some love to a PA writer, regardless of where in the state we may be. So naturally I readily accepted a review copy when I received the pitch and was even more delighted by the premise: dual eras are totally my jam, especially when there are mysterious circumstances linking the two!

Sixteen years ago Jo and her boyfriend Billy were inseparable, spending every waking moment with each other (and their friends) out at the lake. Then disaster struck: despite being an expert swimmer who lived on the lake his entire life, Billy somehow drowned. Unable to find answers, Jo made a feeble attempt to move on, married a childhood friend, and raised a couple of kids. Each summer her children head back to the community to stay with their grandmother and sixteen years after Billy’s death, a little girl goes missing, sending whispers throughout the cabins. When a rescue mission discovers bones, the once-peaceful community is rocked to the core and the answers Jo had been searching for all these years might finally come to light.

I’m not feeling at all eloquent right now, so I’m VERY tempted to simply say BOOK GOOD. READ NOW. and call it a day. Unfortunately, I don’t think that would fly (though, again, seriously tempted.) Lake Road is told through the eyes of multiple characters, from Jo’s 12-year-old daughter Caroline to Billy’s sister Dee Dee, from the missing girl’s mother to Jo herself. If you know me, you know I am all about multiple narrators so I was one happy camper from the very start! It’s actually pretty on point: the very first paragraph completely drew me in and I was enchanted:

No one touched the bottom of the lake and lived. If you were lucky, you’d surface wide-eyed and frantic, babbling at the darkness, the thickness of what lay below. If you were unlucky, underwater recovery dragged the lake for your body.

How could I say no after that?!

Jo really isn’t the greatest mom. Caroline feels (and certainly is) neglected, having all but given up on trying for some kind of affection, so our view through Caroline’s eyes isn’t exactly the greatest. Even the flashbacks from when Jo was a teen don’t paint a pretty picture, but I think that’s what Katchur intended. There are very, very few likable characters here, but just because they aren’t likable doesn’t mean they weren’t fascinating. I was thoroughly intrigued by each and every character: Kevin’s crush on Jo; a grown-up Pattie (now Patricia) and her severed ties with her soon-to-be ex-husband; sweet, young Adam; Caroline’s bratty (or, rather, your average tween) friend Megan; Jo’s teenage son Johnny. The entire cast was wonderfully fleshed out and I got a wonderful glimpse into their inner workings. So bravo for that, Ms. Katchur!

While the ending was a bit hurried, The Secrets of Lake Road keeps its secrets held close, giving the reader a quick peek every now and then, but ultimately saving the full reveal for its final moments. There was one twist I guessed at that turned out to be correct (and at this point I’m not quite sure it was even supposed to be a big shocker) but several others had me gasping. Quick to pull you in and hard to put down, The Secrets of Lake Road is a thrilling read sure to delight and I highly recommend it!

weekly wrap-up 8/2: we bought a house!

Rise and shine! Happy, happy Sunday! Thank goodness for scheduled posts, because I haven’t been around at all this week – for a good portion of it I didn’t even have Internet! I’ve been keeping pretty quiet about the whole thing, but now that it’s over and done with I can finally announce: Matt & I are now homeowners! It’s still a bit surreal and this weekend we’ll be finishing up the move with the rest of our clothes and bigger furniture, so at this point it kind of feels like we’re on vacation and staying in a cabin ha! Gotta love living out of boxes :) (although I’m thrilled to say we’ve moved in our computer desks, so I’m no longer working like this.)

Naturally our first guest was Leo and he found lots of places to explore! A little known fact about me: I collect gnomes. Yesterday Matt woke up super early to surprise me with a new addition ♥

SO because I haven’t been around, what have I missed?? New books announced? New authors I should watch out for?? What’s been going on?!

Time flies and I still can’t get over that my youngest niece is now a big 4-year-old! :( :( Especially since facebook’s memory feature show me the photo I shared from the day she was born. NO. Stay little forever, Faye.

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam
I was ecstatic when I was picked as the winner of Jennifer’s book in our #HistoricalFix chat! I’ve had my eye on this one for a while now and it comes recommended from friends, so yay! ♥ Thank you, Jennifer!

In Case You Missed It
J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a light-hearted, quick novel with a quirky format and ton of recipes added to further the story.

Pretty Baby is Mary Kubica’s second novel and boy was it a ride! I’m sad to say the ending didn’t work for me (though I’m positive other readers will be all over it!) but this one was incredibly addictive and ‘just one more chapter’ eventually turned into reading the book in a sitting.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
Pub. Date: July 28, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, MIRA!)
Summary: She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
Genre: Contemporary, Adult, Psychological Thriller
Recommended for: Readers who like edge-of-your-seat rides and don’t mind a hearty dash of the psychological

Mary Kubica’s debut, The Good Girl has come highly recommended to me by two good friends who share a VERY similar taste in books. While I haven’t yet gotten around to her first novel, the moment I heard she was working on a new one I knew I needed to read it.

Pretty Baby centers on a small family in Chicago: Heidi, overly caring and selfless; Chris, an investment banker who spends more time in hotels than at home; and Zoe, on the brink of 13 and angry at the world. Heidi is a nurturer at heart – Chris is no longer surprised by the appearance of a new stray kitten – but one day she goes a step too far. After noticing a young girl with a baby at the train station, Heidi makes it a point to buy the girl dinner. Give her money for formula. Lend her Heidi’s very own coat (literally off her back). But when Heidi invites to the girl stay at her house, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.

I love – love! – books with multiple POVs. With each chapter change, we see Pretty Baby through Chris’s eyes. Through Heidi’s. Through Willow’s. Digging down deep into their psyches really made the novel for me and uncovering the secrets of Willow’s past was a whirlwind (and oftentimes heartbreaking) journey. While there was a decent amount of backstory given (particularly with Heidi’s cancer that left her unable to have the big family she always wanted) I felt Willow was the character most developed and fleshed out. From becoming an orphan at 8 to living a horrible existence with a foster family (Joseph, her foster father, raped and abused her on a daily basis) and, finally, her escape, Willow felt the most ‘real’ to me. She watched as her little sister was quickly adopted and given a new name and loving home. She spent years locked away in a bedroom, forbidden from stepping foot outdoors or communicating with her foster brothers. I’m honestly impressed she was able to survive at all once she found a way out.

So while there was a nice dose of substance, there were also story lines that felt hurried and unnecessary. Heidi’s best friend. Chris’s femme fatale coworker and their almost-but-not-quite affair. Next door neighbor Graham. Many, many threads were introduced in Pretty Baby but were dropped to the wayside or hastily wrapped up in order to devote more time to solving the mystery behind Willow and baby Ruby.

The one thing I didn’t like about Pretty Baby was the virtual 180° spin on Heidi’s character at the very end – though I suppose this is where the psychological part comes in. I had a big long paragraph all typed up here before realizing just how spoilery it was. Sorry guys! I don’t want to ruin anything for you there.

While the ending didn’t quite work for me (it felt so sudden and out of the blue) and there were threads that either didn’t go anywhere or were quickly written off, I enjoyed Pretty Baby and tore through it VERY quickly. “Just one more chapter” turned into 100 pages, 200 pages, and before I knew it the book was finished. So much for savoring this one! Pretty Baby is an intense and engaging thriller, perfectly suited for poolside lounging or a rainy, isolated cabin.