Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fiction Review: Before the Fall

I noticed all the attention that Before the Fall by Noah Hawley got after its publication in 2016, so I gave it to my husband for Christmas last year. He enjoyed it and moved it over to my side of the TBR bookcase! The R.I.P Challenge in October gave me the extra motivation to finally read this gripping and thoughtful literary suspense novel.

In the second chapter of the novel, a small private plane crashes on its way from Martha's Vineyard to NYC. David Bateman, head of a controversial 24-hour news network, owns the plane. He and his wife, Maggie, and their two children - nine-year old Rachel and four-year old J.J. - board the plane first after its small crew of pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendant. Their friends, Ben, a Wall Street big shot, and Sarah, board soon after, and a painter named Scott rounds out the passenger list, along with the Bateman's bodyguard, Gil. Flying in a private plane is way beyond Scott's usual mode of travel, but he is friends with Maggie, who's a fan of his paintings, and she invited him along when she heard he was traveling to NY tonight also. En route, the small plane crashes into the ocean. Only Scott and J.J. survive, and Scott, a past competitive swimmer, saves the small boy's life by swimming to shore with him.

The rest of the novel untangles exactly what happened before and during the flight and how and why the plane crashed. This is accomplished through an investigation team, but the novel also delves into the lives and backgrounds of every person on that plane, one at a time, so the reader gets to see what was happening in his or her life in the days before the crash. There is a lot of suspense here and plenty of surprises, and my guesses about what happened and who was responsible shifted with each new bit of information. But this novel is more than just a mystery. It also digs thoughtfully into issues in our world today, with respect to the media, privacy, fame, and human nature. I was riveted by this in-depth look at what happens after a disaster, to both the victims and the survivors, and the mystery at the heart of the story kept me guessing until the final pages.

390 pages, Grand Central Publishing

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Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. My review is my own opinion.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


Before the Fall
by  Noah HawleyTrade Paperback
Powells.com

Or order Before the Fall from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fiction Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I wasn't too excited when my book group chose The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom because although I had loved Albom's first two books - the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie and his unique first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven - I had been a bit disappointed in a later novel, The First Phone Call From Heaven. I ended up liking this latest novel better than I expected, though I still didn't love it. However, the rest of my book group raved about it and rated it very highly, so maybe you shouldn't listen to me! I'll tell you about it, and you can decide for yourself whether you might enjoy it.

The novel is narrated by Music and is about a baby born in Spain who later grows up to be a famous musician known as Frankie Presto. Frankie has a rough start in life, orphaned at birth and eventually brought up by a blind musician and shipped to America to keep him safe from the war. Frankie, however, is fortunate in one thing: he has amazing musical talent that is helped along by his early teacher. He also has some magic strings on the guitar he brought with him from Spain. The narrative structure is built around Frankie's funeral, as various people from the world of music (many of them real-life famous musicians) each give a eulogy and tell a piece of Frankie's life story, while Music fills in additional details about how Frankie eventually came to be a famous and very talented musician. Frankie lives a pretty amazing life, meeting up and playing with Duke Ellington, Little Richard, Elvis, Hank Williams, and more. But his life is also very tragic, with many losses along the way.

With Music as the narrator, the story is filled with musical references and metaphors. Weaving in so many real-life musical talents is an unusual but very effective approach - the author explains at the end how he contacted each of the famous musicians to interview them and get their permission to appear in this fictional story. So, why didn't I love this novel? It just felt a bit forced and emotionally manipulative to me, like Albom was trying too hard to be profound. I'm also not a big fan of magic realism, and there is a small thread about Frankie's magic guitar strings that runs through the novel. But, again, I was in the minority - most of the members of my book group were completely swept away in the story. My middling response may have been in part because I went into it with low expectations. If you've read other Albom novels, then you probably know whether you enjoy his approach. One thing's for sure, music lovers will likely enjoy this novel very much.

489 pages, HarperCollins


Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
by Mitch AlbomHardcover
Powells.com

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TV Tuesday: Friends from College

When my husband was away in Europe for work two weeks ago, I was searching for a new show to binge on streaming and decided to give Friends from College a try. Its all-star cast is very funny, but it also tackles serious topics - the very definition of a dramedy.

As the first episode begins, Ethan, played by Keegan-Michael Key, and his wife Lisa, played by Cobie Smulders who was Robin on How I Met Your Mother, are moving to NYC where they will be reunited with their close group of friends from college. The six friends all went to Harvard together and are now facing their 40's. One of the group, Marianne, played by Jae Suh Park, will be sharing her tiny apartment with Ethan and Lisa until they can find their own place. Max, played by Fred Savage who starred in The Wonder Years as a child, is another of their group, now happily living with his partner Felix, played by Billy Eichner. Nate Faxon, who I enjoyed watching on Married, plays Nick, who is still single and still acting like a college boy. The sixth member of the group is Sam, played by Annie Parisse, who is married, has two adorable children, and lives with her wealthy husband Jon, played by Greg Germann, in a big house in Connecticut.

Viewers know right from the beginning of episode 1 that Ethan and Sam have continued sleeping with each other since college. It was an occasional thing for the last 20 years, but with Ethan now living in NYC, life gets a lot more complicated. The six old friends revert to college-aged behaviors when they get together, much to the chagrin of their spouses. Felix is particularly stumped as to why his usually sophisticated partner, Max, turns into a raucous adolescent with these people.

As you would expect from the cast list, the acting is top-notch, even the supporting roles. Fred Savage is especially good as Max, and of course Keegan-Michael Key is hilarious whenever he is on-screen. There are a lot of laughs here but also plenty of drama. The "close" friends actually have a lot of secrets hidden among them, and the show even deals with some serious issues, like infertility (and of course, infidelity, too). So, it's funny but sometimes with an undercurrent of sadness. None of these people is as happy as they pretend to be to their old friends. I watched the entire first season in that week while my husband was away and enjoyed it. It was definitely a bit darker than I expected - but still funny.

Friends from College is a Netflix exclusive show, available only on Netflix. Season 2 will be released in 2018 - I'll be watching it!


Monday, November 13, 2017

It's Monday 11/13! What Are You Reading?

Whew, this whole month is incredibly busy! I took the train to Connecticut last week and spent three days with my mom (you can see photos here). We had a very nice visit - played Scrabble, went to a play (Romeo & Juliet), took a walk in a lovely park, ate wonderful food, and talked nonstop! I spent the weekend catching up at home (luckily, I got some writing done on the train - best way to travel!).

Next, we have two more trips coming up - a quick 3-day mini vacation to Florida with our sons and a visit to see family for the holiday. And today, I am driving to Baltimore to see a specialist about one of my medical conditions. It's fairly rare (and very painful, especially during winter), but I have heard this one doctor at Johns Hopkins knows how to treat it, so fingers crossed! I am feeling hopeful.

Now, the important stuff - here's what we've all been reading this week:
  • I finished NightSun by Dan Vining, my next review book for Shelf Awareness. It's a  detective story set in 2025 LA, so it's a combination of suspense and dystopia. It was well-written and compelling, though not a typical mystery/detective story. Now I have to write my review before we start traveling!
  • I finished the graphic memoir, Spinning by Tillie Walden, for Nonfiction November. It's a coming-of-age story about her adolescence as a closeted lesbian heavily involved with figure skating. It was very good and a fascinating peek into the figure skating world.
  • I am now reading another memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. It's about a woman who was brought up in a strict Mennonite household and leaves her modern life in academia temporarily to go back home after several life-changing events. It's very good and absolutely hilarious so far. I was driving my husband crazy last night, laughing nonstop while we read!
  • I also started another graphic memoir, Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, a real-life middle-grade story of a cliquish group of girls and her struggles with making and keeping friends amidst all kinds of mean girl behavior. I'm enjoying it very much so far.
  • On audio, I am listening to Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan. Her lyrical writing is here, along with fascinating stories from her childhood and beyond. Wow, her family has a fascinating history!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, a time travel farce, combining historical fiction (set in Victorian England), time travel, and plenty of humor. I enjoyed it, and he is starting to get into it.
  • Jamie, 23, had to take a break from his favorite kinds of fiction to read a nonfiction book for a class, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustave Speth. He is majoring in environmental engineering and specializing in sustainability. I used to work in environmental management consulting myself, so I think this book sounds interesting! He is probably finished by now and back to fiction, but I only saw him for five minutes last night - this is why we need a little family vacation!
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Carol, a romantic (but sad) story of forbidden love

Fiction Review: If I Run by Terri Blackstock, book 1 of a suspense trilogy

Saturday Snapshot: Fall in Connecticut - photos from my trip last week

Fiction Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, a creepy sci fi classic


What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.


What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.    

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fiction Review: The Invisible Man

Since I have been doing so dismally on my 2017 Classics Challenge this year, I decided to combine that with last month's R.I.P. Challenge and find a classic with a creepy angle to it - the last few years at this time, I read Dracula, Frankenstein, The Time Machine, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (all excellent - reviews at the links). This year, I chose The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and enjoyed the fast-paced sci fi story very much.

As the novel opens, a stranger checks into a small inn in a rural English town. The inn's owners, a husband and wife, are surprised by his unusual appearance and behavior over the next few days. He arrives bundled up with only his nose showing, has a large number of crates delivered that are filled with chemistry equipment and chemicals, and isolates himself in his room. Before long, his temper flares, and he runs from the town after a violent altercation. By then, the inn owners and townspeople have realized that he is invisible under all those layers...and that is how he escapes, without his clothes and completely invisible. He travels through several towns, wreaking havoc along the way, until by chance, he comes to the home of an old classmate. Thinking he can finally confide in someone, he tells his old colleague his entire story, from the beginning, of how he came to be invisible, what has happened since, and what he plans to do next.

The storyline here is wholly unique and creative (even after 120 years!), with plenty of plot twists and surprises. Very much like the other classic horror novels I have read, the story is at least as much about what it means to be human as it is about the "monster" featured in the novel. The invisible man has a terrible temper and - as we find out - nefarious plans, but the intriguing part is how he came to be that way. It's a suspenseful story, not knowing what will happen next (and for much of the novel, how he came to be invisible), but I was also pleasantly surprised to find a thread of humor woven in, especially in the first half and especially with respect to his invisibility. I enjoyed the novel very much and can see why it has held up for so many years, making me want to read Wells' other two classics that I haven't read yet: The War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr. Moreau.

181 pages, Signet Classics
(my copy included an afterword by Scott Westerfeld)


Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library. My review is my own opinion.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

The Invisible Man
by Hg WellsTrade Paperback
Powells.com



Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Fall in Connecticut


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

This week, I took the train to Connecticut (about 3 hours away) to visit my mom for a few days. We had a very nice time together. We played Scrabble (our favorite), watched movies, ate LOTS of fabulous food, saw a play at the Westport Playhouse (Romeo & Juliet), and talked nonstop for 3 days! We also took a short walk at Tilly Pond Park in Darien, CT on a lovely fall day. Here are some highlights:

Hot game of Scrabble with Mom!

Walk through the park on a fall day

Mallards on Tilly Pond

Reflections on Tilly Pond

A mallard convention! Dozens of ducks.

Leaf prints on the sidewalk

Mom and I at dinner before the play

View of NYC from the train on my way home.


Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fiction Review: If I Run

Last month, I listened to a suspense novel on audio, If I Run by Terri Blackstock, that I downloaded free from the SYNC website during the summer (sign up for alerts for next summer!). It was an engaging and suspenseful story that turned out to be the first of three books in a trilogy.

There is no slow start here - the novel begins with its main character, Casey, throwing some things in a duffel bag and leaving town in a rush, certain that the police will be after her soon. She is covered in blood, having just left the crime scene where her best friend, Brent, was murdered. She knows her DNA will be all over the scene. That's about all we know to start with, as Casey begins her life on the run and gets on a bus out of town. Sure enough, before long, the police are looking for her as the #1 suspect.

At Brent's funeral, his grieving parents hire Brent's childhood friend, Dylan, to help track down Casey and bring her back home. Dylan has just been discharged from the military, and he has some experience with military investigations. However, Dylan suffers from PTSD from his experiences in the war. Eager to help find out what happened to his friend and ease the pain of his parents, Dylan sets off looking for Casey.

The rest of the novel follows Casey and Dylan as they cross the U.S., with alternating chapters told from each of their points of view. There is plenty of tension as Casey tries to evade both Dylan and the police, and the reader only slowly learns what happened back in her hometown in Texas and why she felt she had to run. Lots of twists and turns in the complex plot keep the story moving, and there is even another crime woven in as Casey tries to establish herself in a new town. The novel was compelling, though it was a surprise to me to find out it was just the first book of a series. It ends with a side plot being resolved but Casey still on the run and Dylan still looking for her. I enjoyed it, though I probably won't read the rest of the series.

320 pages, Zondervan

NOTE: I was surprised to discover this novel is Christian fiction, since I downloaded the audio from SYNC. The references to religion were subtle at first but became more obvious toward the end of the novel, and I imagine those themes are more fully developed in the next two books. Book two is now out, but I don't yet see a release date for book three.

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Disclosure: I received this audiobook free from SYNC. My review is my own opinion.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


You can listen to a sample of the audio from Audible at this link.


If I Run
by Terri BlackstockTrade Paperback
Powells.com

If Im Found
by Terri BlackstockTrade Paperback
Powells.com




Monday, November 06, 2017

Movie Monday: Carol

Sticking with my new policy of writing shorter reviews and catching up on my movie backlog in reverse order...I just watched Carol on Saturday night and enjoyed it very much.

Cate Blanchett is wonderful in the title role, as a glamorous wealthy woman in 1950's New York who is in the midst of divorcing her husband, Harge. She adores their little girl, Rindy. While shopping in a department store for Rindy for Christmas, Carol meets Therese, played by Rooney Mara, a young woman working as a store clerk but dreaming of more. Carol leaves her gloves at the counter, and Therese goes to her home (listed on the receipt) to return them. The two women are obviously attracted to each other, though Therese is currently in a relationship with Richard. He wants to get married, but Therese is reluctant. Carol brings light into Therese's life, and the feeling is mutual, but of course, an intimate relationship between two women is strictly forbidden in the 1950's, and Harge uses their budding relationship (and a past affair) as an excuse to demand full custody of Rindy, citing a "moral clause" to prove Carol is an unfit mother.

This is a beautiful, stylistic film that garnered 6 Academy Award nominations, bringing the holiday season in 1952 New York to life, as Carol and Therese fall in love and go on a trip together. Both lead actresses give deep, emotional performances, bringing out both the tenderness of their feelings for each other and the anguish they feel at being kept apart. It's a love story but also a tragedy, as Carol's much-loved daughter is kept away from her. The movie is based on the novel previously titled The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith in 1952 and retitled Carol in 1990. I never read the book, but the movie adaptation was visually lovely, romantic, and moving. It ends on a note of happiness, but that comes at a price.

Carol is currently out on DVD and is available for free on Netflix streaming. It is also available for $7.99 on Amazon or included free with a Showtime subscription through Amazon.




Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

     


It's Monday 11/6! What Are You Reading?

I had a lovely quiet week all to myself last week, while my husband was traveling to the Netherlands for work. I had hoped to go along for part of the trip, but airfares were outrageously high by the time he knew the dates, so I made the best of my time alone. Of course, as always when he's away, I had BIG plans to get caught up on everything, tackle some writing projects I never have time for, and declutter parts of the house...and somehow 8 days flew by, and it felt like I barely got anything done! I did work hard this weekend to catch up on household stuff - bills, phone calls, to-do list, and filing - but I ended the week still feeling behind and overwhelmed. Which leads me to this...

I have decided (at least for now) to writer shorter reviews of books, TV shows, and movies here on the blog, and I started last week with my review of Horizon. I really enjoy this blog and especially the interactions with other people who share my interests, so I am hoping that continuing it but with shorter reviews will allow me a bit more time to work on other writing projects (the kind I get paid for) and maybe a little extra time with my family, too! Please let me know your thoughts and what you think of the shorter reviews. I am hoping this compromise will allow me to keep blogging...and will help to cut down on how often I say to myself, "something has to change - I can't take it anymore!"

So, back to the important stuff - here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I am still reading NightSun by Dan Vining, my next review book for Shelf Awareness. It's a  detective story set in 2025 LA, so it's a combination of suspense and dystopia. It's very creative, and I'm enjoying it so far.
  • I have also started a graphic memoir, Spinning by Tillie Walden, for Nonfiction November. It's a coming-of-age story about her adolescence as a closeted lesbian heavily involved with figure skating. It's excellent so far.
  • I finished listening to Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas on audio. It's about a British woman who is still haunted by her best friend's disappearance 18 years ago and returns to their hometown to see if she can finally find out what happened. It was engrossing, with lots of unexpected twists and turns.
  • Now, I am listening to Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan. Her lyrical writing is here, along with fascinating stories from her childhood and beyond.
  • My husband, Ken, picked out the lightest-weight and longest paperback he could find on our shelves for his week-long trip! He is reading To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, a time travel farce, combining historical fiction (set in Victorian England), time travel, and plenty of humor. I enjoyed it, though he said he didn't have much reading time and was too exhausted to concentrate much!
  • Jamie, 23, had to take a break from his favorite kinds of fiction to read a nonfiction book for a class, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustave Speth. He is majoring in environmental engineering and specializing in sustainability. I used to work in environmental management consulting myself, so I think this book sounds interesting!
Blog posts last week - you can see I was trying to catch up!
Movie Monday - If I Were You, moving, funny story starring Marcia Gay Harden

TV Tuesday: Wisdom of the Crowd, crowd-sourced crime solving

Fiction Review: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry, creepy suspense story set in wintertime Adirondacks

Middle-Grade Review: Horizon by Scott Westerfeld, fast-paced sci fi adventure

Saturday Snapshot: Middle of Fall - fall color comes to my neighborhood!

Fiction Review: The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott, set in early 20th century Brooklyn

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.


What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.    

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Fiction Review: The Ninth Hour

Although I have often heard great things about acclaimed author Alice McDermott's award-winning novels and short stories, I had never read any of her work before. So, I was thrilled to have the chance to review her latest novel, The Ninth Hour, for Shelf Awareness.

The Ninth Hour is an immersive story about how one man's suicide in early 20th century Brooklyn reverberates through generations, affecting his wife and daughter, as well as his daughter's children. Woven through the story, a group of local nuns play a large role in the neighborhood generally and in the lives of the mother and daughter left behind.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the writing and the story and now see why McDermott has garnered such praise over the years. This novel would be perfect for a book group, with plenty to discuss. Now, I will have to read some of her backlist!

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

Have you read any Alice McDermott novels or short stories? Any recommendations for me?


I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Ninth Hour
by Alice McdermottHardcover
Powells.com


Saturday Snapshot: Middle of Fall


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

It took a long time for us to see any fall color here in Delaware this year, and we still have a lot of green, but the colors are beginning to pop now! Some fall color from my neighborhood this week:

Bare white branches against a colorful background

Green to brilliant red from left to right!

Sunshine through the colorful leaves

Some bright pops of color!

Some trees are already shedding their leaves

And a few are completely bare already!

Hope you are enjoying a great weekend!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: Horizon

NOTE: With this review, I am switching (at least for now) to shorter reviews for books, TV shows, and movies. This will allow me to hopefully catch up on my long backlog of reviews and also to have more time for other writing (and maybe my family, too!). Let me know what you think of the new approach!
During the R.I.P. Challenge last month, I listened to the start of a new middle-grade series on audio, Horizon by Scott Westerfeld. It's a fast-paced adventure that mixes a survival story with science fiction...and plenty of mystery!

Four kids are on a flight from the U.S. to Japan for a robotics competition when their plane suddenly crashes. Most of the passengers (and all of the adults) are gone, but eight survivors remain: the robotics team, plus four other kids. They know immediately that something is very wrong (besides the plane crash itself) because they'd been flying over the arctic, but they crash-landed in a jungle-like environment. Stranger still, all of the plant life, birds, and animals they see are bizarre things they have never heard of before. Luckily, the robotics team has some engineering know-how, and the other kids pitch in as they try to make the best of what's left of the plane while they explore their surroundings. The more they learn of this unique place, though, the stranger it becomes, leaving many questions unanswered.

This was a quick read (listen), with nonstop action and each chapter narrated by a different character. The kids are focused on trying to survive but are also trying to figure out where they landed...and how they got there. It's a great suspenseful mix for kids who enjoy adventure, thrillers, or science fiction, with elements of all three. My only complaint is that it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger - and few of their questions answered - because this is the first of a 7-book series. It looks as though each book will be written by a different top-notch author. Book 2 , written by Jennifer Nielsen, was released September 12, and book 3, written by Jude Watson, is due out on January 30, 2018. I may not read the entire series, but I was certainly intrigued enough to listen to book 2 (which I've already downloaded). I can't wait to see what happens next!

256 pages, Scholastic

You can listen to a brief audio sample of book 1 at the Amazon/Audible link below.


Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.




Horizon 01
by Muller, Walter J.Hardcover
Powells.com


Horizon 02 Deadzone
by Muller, Walter J.Hardcover
Powells.com

Or you can purchase the first two books from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Fiction Review: A Cold and Lonely Place

Last week, I finally wrote my summary of Books Read in September, relieved that I'd finished my reviews from last month. But, alas, I discovered I somehow missed writing a review of one of my creepy suspense novels for the R.I.P. Challenge, A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry, a past Booktopia author.

The novel takes place in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, New York, in the middle of winter, providing a dark and creepy backdrop to the story. Even if you haven’t been to that northern part of New York before (I went to college in that region), you probably remember the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and how much snow there was.

Freelance writer Troy Chance lives and works in what is affectionately known by locals as the North Country. Troy lives in Lake Placid but is in Saranac Lake for the day, taking photos for a local newspaper. Today is the day that crews begin cutting huge ice blocks from the frozen lake to create the annual ice palace for the town's Winter Carnival. Troy had the idea to take photos and write articles each day, showing the structure's development from frozen lake to sparkling ice palace. Shortly after the crew begins to cut ice blocks, though, work comes to a sudden standstill. There's a body frozen in the ice…and it's someone Troy knows, a man named Tobin.

Troy rents out rooms in her house, and one of her roommates is a woman named Jessamyn, who was dating Tobin. Though no one knew much about his background, he seemed to come from a wealthy upbringing very different from the world of the small towns in the Adirondacks. He sometimes disappeared for a week or two and then returned and settled back into life in Lake Placid. The last time he left, though, he never came back, and Jessamyn had been heartbroken. Now Troy has to tell her his body was found in the ice.

From there, the story moves off in several different directions. Troy's editor asks her to write a series of articles about Tobin covering his background and childhood, his time in Lake Placid, and his demise. So, while the police are investigating his death - and it is not immediately clear whether it was an accident or murder - Troy is also digging into Tobin's life (with Jessamyn's blessing). Troy's sister, Win, arrives in Lake Placid and helps to fill in some of the gaps in Tobin's story.

Troy also learns that Tobin had an older brother who drowned in a boating accident when they were college-aged. As Troy digs deeper into Tobin's background and talks to Win, she begins to discover some questions still remain about how exactly Tobin's brother died. There are two mysteries at that point - how Tobin died and the exact details of his brother's death years earlier. Meanwhile, strange incidents begin occurring that feel like threats to Troy, as if someone doesn’t want her learning any more.

My husband and I both enjoyed this suspenseful novel and its unique setting (especially since we have vacationed in the area and know many of the local landmarks). This is not a fast-paced thriller but more of a literary suspense novel with a slow, burning tension and plenty of character development. How did Tobin die? Who was responsible for his brother's death? Who appears to be threatening Troy and why? All of these disparate threads slowly, quietly come together against the backdrop of the dark, cold Adirondack winter.

NOTE: The story makes frequent references to events from an earlier novel featuring Troy, the author's first book, Learning to Swim, which won several prestigious awards. Now I want to read that one, too! So, if you haven;t read either yet, you might want to start with the first one - A Cold and Lonely Place is not a sequel, per se, but it does reference events in the first book.

287 pages, Broadway Books

I read this one in print, but the audio sounds really good, too! You can listen to a free audio sample at the Amazon/Audible link below - you'll be hooked!

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


Learning to Swim
by Sara J HenryTrade Paperback
Powells.com

A Cold and Lonely Place
by Sara J HenryTrade Paperback
Powells.com


Or you can purchase Sara J. Henry's novels from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.