Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed (DS Manon, #1)Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
Published by The Borough Press

Manon Bradshaw is a detective working on the Cambridgeshire police force, and she’s extremely devoted to her job and well-respected in her field. When beautiful, wealthy graduate student Edith Hind turns up missing for twenty-four hours, Manon and her team get to work, investigating Edith’s boyfriend, her rich and high-society parents, and her best friend, uncovering many threads that seem to be leading somewhere but turn out to be a bunch of loose ends. As the mystery of Edith’s disappearance unfolds, Manon’s personal life takes a journey of its own – she’s thirty-nine and desperately looking for a connection with that one special person, if only she could find him.

Missing, Presumed is the first novel in a planned mystery series starring detective Manon Bradshaw, and it definitely kicked the series off to a promising start. Manon is the type of heroine you can’t help but root for – she’s smart, driven, sarcastic and witty, yet she is helplessly flawed in that she can’t help desperately wanting a life that she simply has not been given. She’s so desperate for a partner, a baby, a family, that she spends nearly every minute of her non-working life obsessing over the hope that she will find “the one”. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her, while at the same time hoping she will figure out a way to be happy despite the fact that she doesn’t have the exact life she wants.

Now, the mystery. It was crafted pretty well, in my opinion. There were enough clues sprinkled throughout to keep me guessing, and I didn’t have all the pieces put together at any point throughout the book – a mark of a good mystery, if you ask me. Steiner surprised me with the ending and while I’m not sure I loved it, it was unexpected enough for me to appreciate it. I also liked how the book was written from multiple points of view – that really gave the story an extra dimension and level of complexity that I think it needed.

Overall, I enjoyed Missing, Presumed and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up more books in this series. It’s definitely one to look out for if you like mysteries and especially those starring kick-ass female detectives.

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Hidden by Catherine McKenzie

HiddenHidden by Catherine McKenzie
Published by Lake Union Publishing

When Jeff Manning is suddenly struck by a car and killed, leaving behind his wife, Claire, and ten-year-old son, Claire is understandably devastated. But someone else is equally devastated – his co-worker, Tish – and unlike Claire, Tish is unable to share her pain and grief with anyone, least of all her own husband and young daughter. But why exactly is Tish taking Jeff’s death so hard? Was there something between the two of them or were they just people who worked together?

Hidden seems like a simple novel about an affair between two people who work together, but the way that McKenzie tells this story leads the reader to feel as though they have no clue what the relationship was between Jeff and Tish. While the story is told from three perspectives – Jeff’s, Claire’s, and Tish’s – it is not revealed until the very end of the book the extent of Jeff and Tish’s relationship. There are clues and hints sprinkled throughout the book, but the information is not shoved in the reader’s face until the last few pages of the book. McKenzie is keeping the true gist of their relationship hidden from not only Claire and the people she confides in about her suspicions, but the reader as well.

I liked this book well enough but didn’t love it. I liked the characters – Tish and Claire especially – and was hooked enough to want to finish the book to get to the heart of things. I cared about Claire and wanted her to get the answers she was looking for, but I strangely also really cared about Tish and felt real sorrow for her. Even though it’s not told what exactly the relationship status was between Jeff and Tish, it was clear that no matter what had happened between the two of them, she cared deeply for him and was truly devastated when he died. That pain was written extremely well by McKenzie and she made these characters’ emotions very believable.

At the end of the day, Hidden was the type of novel that is entertaining but forgettable. I liked it, I enjoyed the time I spent with the characters, but I will ultimately not remember reading this book after a few months. I would still recommend it if you’re looking for an entertaining, character-driven story.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of ThemSay You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Published by Little, Brown and Company

These two novellas and three short stories tell about life in five African countries from the perspectives of the children who are facing some of the most difficult crises of our time. An eight-year-old living in a shanty in Nairobi experiences his twelve-year-old sister selling her body to pay for the family’s most basic needs, such as food and school fees. A young girl in Ethiopia learns that she must cut ties with her best friend because of the religious wars going on all around her. A Muslim boy denounces his religion and attempts to pose as a Christian on a bus in Benin, headed for a distant relative’s home to escape religious persecution. Two young children in Nigeria have been orphaned by the AIDS crisis and are being sold by their uncle into slavery. And the last story, set in Rwanda, is about a young girl who watches her parents, on opposite sides of the conflict there, resort to the most devastating choices possible as a reaction to their circumstances.

I knew going into this book that it would be a brutal emotional roller coaster, and I was not wrong about that. These stories made me feel anger, frustration, rage, sadness, devastation, and horror at what the people in these stories were forced to endure and especially at the fact that these are real life situations that millions of children in the world have had to experience and, in some cases, are still experiencing. There is no milder way to say it other than that this book is heartbreaking and extremely difficult to get through. You have to put on an emotional thick skin in order to read this book, but once you do, it is definitely worth the pain. You can’t help but feel deep empathy for these characters while at the same time hoping and praying that the world will one day become a better place and people won’t have to suffer this way at some point in the future.

As far as my feelings about the individual novellas and stories, I have to be honest and say that I found the short stories more compelling than the novellas. I felt that in both novellas, the author was a bit meandering and the detail wasn’t quite enough for me to understand why those particular stories were chosen to be novellas and not short stories. There just wasn’t enough meat in these two, in my opinion, and I felt they would have both been better served had they been cut almost in half. That being said, the short stories were insanely good and I wanted more from each of these, which to me is the mark of a fantastic short story. The characters were extremely compelling, nuanced, and sympathetic, and I wanted to read more about them, to see how they were able to persevere despite their circumstances, long after I finished their stories. Of the five stories in this collection, it is the three short stories that have stayed in my brain space long after finishing the book, not the two novellas.

Say You’re One of Them, while a slightly uneven collection, overall really impressed me. I hesitate to recommend the entire thing because I wasn’t as into the novellas as I was the short stories, but as the short stories were truly incredible I do still recommend the book. I wish the two novellas hit me as hard as the three short stories did, but still this is a collection worth reading. A difficult, extremely emotional book, but an important one, too.

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3)The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Published by Harper

After feeling like the second book in this series was good but not fantastic (and I had a MAJOR issue with one particular element in that book), I went into the final installment in this series with a bit of trepidation. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised – I liked this book better than the second and almost as much as the first in the trilogy.

One thing that I really liked about this book is that I felt like all of the characters really came into their own. Sure, some of the more important characters of the first two books are less so here, but others feature a more prominent role. Also, Kelsea gets inside the mind of yet another person from the past – only this time, it’s a teen girl who was born just a few years after The Crossing – and this peek into the Tearling twenty years post-Crossing was hugely transformative in Kelsea’s understanding of how the world became what it currently is and helped her shape her ideas of what it “should” be. I particularly liked these parts of the book, as the author uses this avenue into the past as a way to fill in gaps in understanding that she’d been keeping from the reader (and Kelsea) for the entire series.

One thing I feel that was missing was a better ending for the evil Queen – yes, she is evil, and no I don’t think she deserved a “happy” ending; but I felt that Johansen did an incredible job showing the humanity of this horrific woman, and there were still things about her that, even at the very end, I didn’t really understand. I felt that she did that particular character an injustice by having her story end the way it did.

Now the ending. Without giving away any spoilers I will say that I was VERY surprised by the ending. Not at all what I was expecting, or what I could have expected in my wildest dreams. However, I think I kind of liked it. It was unconventional, maybe a little too neat and convenient, maybe “easy” for the author, but I thought it was kind of cool. And again, totally unexpected.

So overall – a great series that I’m really happy I read. While not everything about all three of these books was perfect, and there was one particular element to them that enraged me, overall I seriously enjoyed the time I spent with these books and with Kelsea.

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

Deal Breaker (Myron Bolitar #1)Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben
Published by Delacorte Press

Deal Breaker is the first in Coben’s Myron Bolitar mystery series. I read one Coben book years back, a standalone, and really enjoyed it, and always meant to read more of his books but just didn’t get around to it. I wanted to read the Bolitar books in order so I started here. The basic premise is that Bolitar, a sports agent, is trying to help one of his clients, a college football star, with the fact that he recently got a call from someone who he thinks is his ex-girlfriend. Only problem is, she disappeared several years ago and everyone believes she is dead. Bolitar enlists the help of his best friend, his assistant, and his own ex-girlfriend (who happens to be the sister of the “dead” girl) and attempt to figure out what is going on and if his football star client is in on it.

I liked this book. I found it to be a fun ride and it was the perfect amount of entertaining. Like brain candy. Bolitar himself is funny, sarcastic, and even a little nerdy at times. The mystery wasn’t super difficult to figure out, but it wasn’t obvious either. It was a good mix of fun for the brain and something to actually think about while reading.

Because it is a series, it was quite clear that many of the characters are being set up for further reveals as the series wears on. While in theory I like that, in this book it was sort of annoying because there were just too many “clues” that will, I assume, lead to further development of these characters in future books. In theory, cool, but in practice it was just too obvious in this particular novel.

So Deal Breaker – pretty good, decent start to a mystery series. It’s not a series that I’m running out to buy the second book immediately, but I would read the next book if it came across my desk.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Riverhead Books

This book has gotten a TON of attention over the past couple of years, so I’ll just do a quick summary and move on to my quick thoughts. It’s the story of a marriage, with the first half of the book being told from the man, Lotto’s, perspective and the second half being told from the woman, Mathilde’s, perspective. It was on a bunch of best-of lists when it was published a couple of years back, and has gotten tons of great reviews.

What did I think? I really liked it, and I definitely can respect Groff as a writer. What she accomplished with this story is something that seems like it should be a surface-level character study, a basic but good literary novel about two people and their lives together, but ended up being so much more than that. These characters are interesting, twisted, nuanced, incredibly unique, strange in many ways, and their flaws make for exciting and highly entertaining reading. The book changes a LOT when it moves from Lotto’s point of view to Mathilde’s, and while it was jarring for a minute there, I ended up really being wowed by this change in writing and execution of plot.

What’s interesting about the novel is that virtually none of the characters are likable, once you really get to know them, yet the book is compulsively readable and incredibly addicting. Even though I pretty much hated the characters, there was a point at which it kind of turned for me and I found myself rooting for people I essentially despised. What Groff did with these characters and their stories was pretty remarkable.

Overall I really liked this book and I can see why it has been raved about so much. Lauren Groff is an author I definitely plan to read more from.

Signal Boost by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost (Off the Grid, #2)Signal Boost by Alyssa Cole
Published by Carina Press

After something happened to make all technology stop working, John and his family have survived the apocalypse in their safe cabin with plenty of food and water, at least for a while. When a random guy, Mikhail, is caught raiding their garden, John’s parents offer him food and shelter in their home, while John finds himself rapidly developing a crush on this mysterious stranger. Mikhail reveals he’s on his way to a nearby university to find a professor he knows who may have some answers about why the world seems to be ending, and John decides to take up the adventure and accompany him on his journey. As they walk, they get to know each other, and their secrets come out in ways that bring them closer but have the scary consequence of showing their true colors, amidst the terror that is the new world in which they are living.

Signal Boost is the second book in Cole’s Off the Grid series, the first being Radio Silence, which I REALLY liked. The series is post-apocalyptic romance, which each book focusing on a different character and his/her romantic life. The first book featured John’s best friend, Arden, as she falls in love with John’s older brother, Gabriel, as the world is ending all around them. Signal Boost was unfortunately less successful for me than the first book. It provided enough entertainment, but it wasn’t as fun or sexy as the first book and I didn’t even get all that excited or into the explanations the author began to provide for how and why the apocalypse was happening.

I think the issue for me was that the book felt very meandering and sort of boring, although I hate to say that. John and Mikhail’s relationship started off with a spark and developed from there, so that part I liked and it felt authentic to me. But it was kind of boring, to be honest. It took so long for them to really get to know each other and so much of the book just felt like a waiting game for that to happen. I also didn’t love John as a character and Mikhail was honestly kind of clueless – when they got to the university and they started dealing with Mikhail’s former professor, without getting into any spoilers, I have to say that the story really went off the rails for me at that point.

What did I like? The science stuff and the reasons for the apocalypse was a welcome addition to the book, even though by the time it got going I was sort of annoyed and wasn’t as excited about these explanations as I wanted to be. I loved the fact that within the same series, there is so far a hetero romance and a LGBT romance (not sure what the third book entails). I like Cole’s writing and the way that she writes sex scenes I think is fantastic. Overall, this was not a bad romance at all just not what I was expecting since I liked the first book so much. I may or may not read the third one at this point.