Gilded Cage by Vic James
The debut of a notable new fantasy author has blown me away. This book kept me up late at night, gave me a few goosebumps, and completely enthralled me. The story takes place in England, yet an England that is rather unrecognizable. A few hundred years ago, a law was passed that the aristocracy, the Equals who have Skill (aka magical powers), decreed that commoners owed the landed gentry ten years of their lives in slavery. Fast forward to modern times, and we see a family who is embarking on their decade of enslavement, having secured a spot at the oldest magical estate in the land. However, when the day of departure comes, their son Luke is stolen away to a slave city, known to be dangerous and lawless. Thus the story begins. Not only is the setting unique and creative, the plot line exciting and full of curve balls, but the characters are rich and deep. The Jardine sons are each unique and complex. Luke, the family's son relegated to the slave city grows into a heroic rebel and don't let the daughter, Abi, fool you into complacency about her 'weakness.' The magical aristocracy has intriguing depth, as do the rebels who must fight against them. The only negative about this book is that the second book is not written yet; I will be first in line, guaranteed.
The Dry by Jane Harper
After hearing about this book on different blogs and literary sites, I am thrilled that Net Galley allowed me a copy in exchange for a review. Set in Australia, in the severe drought of the Outback, Aaron Falk returns to his small childhood town for the funeral of his childhood friend who had committed suicide after allegedly murdering his wife and six year old son. The distraught parents ask Falk, a Melbourne police officer, to work with the local constable to prove that their beloved son could not have committed such a heinous act. The side characters are well-drawn and fully developed: Raco, the big-hearted and highly intelligent police captain; Gretchen, the faded high school beauty with secrets from the past; Mal Deacon and his creepy nephew, consummate no-goodniks with an evil bent; Ellie, Aaron's lost friend and love whose death and subsequent scandal chased the teenage Falk and his father from their home; the small town principal who worked with the murdered wife and has some inner demons; and the friendly barkeep who, in the style of the wild wild West, protects and defends the 'good guys.' Debut author Harper peels back the layers from the two deaths, one from twenty years past and one from the present, and ties the characters together in both surprising yet thoughtful ways. This book kept me up late, turning pages, trying to figure out 'who dunnit' and left me 100% satisfied. I will absolutely reach for another Jane Harper book in the future - well done!
Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld
Infuriating, frustrating, thought-provoking are the first words that come to my mind with this new book due out in January (thank you Net Galley for the advanced release copy). First, the topic is provocative and should provide your book club with some juicy discussion topics. This satire revolves around Karen, an overly-involved mother of an only child, bleeding heart do-gooder who works for an NGO, distracted wife with a shaky marriage, and constantly stressed and anxious over society and its perceptions of her. Many times, I wanted to strangle Karen, and her whiny brat of a child; they are not particularly likable, but I'm pretty sure that was the point. Thematically, the idea of social class is woven throughout the book, highlighting issues of equity amongst schools depending on their neighborhood and racial make-up, exposing the true feelings of parents and what is 'right' for whose kids, making the reader see one's self in so many of the characters that it becomes disconcerting. Rosenfeld uses plot devices, such as finding new friends at school, navigating snarky PTA parents, infidelity in marriage, even embezzlement, to highlight much deeper issues. On the surface, this could be just a book about a mom who would do anything, and I mean anything, to make herself feel better about society and the class differences that exist. However, delve deeper and talk about these issues and you will have one humdinger of a book discussion. The topic of social class is one that garners much less discussion and examination than it should; I appreciated the author's courage and creativity in dealing with this topic.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
On the New York Times best Thriller/Mystery book list of 2016, this first novel by British write Clare Mackintosh deserves every accolade it has received. This was the biggest "mind-f#*%" I have read since Gone Girl, and let's face it, every thriller these days seems to be judged by Gillian Flynn's masterpiece of 2014. Finally, finally, a book actually lives up to that one. Here's the very short synopsis, otherwise I would give too much away: Jenna, a talented sculptor in small-town England is involved in a hit-and-run that kills a child. In order to escape the agonies of the death of her child, she runs away to Wales. Enough said. I read this book obsessively and refused to lift my head up from the page until it was complete and I felt fully sated. Excellent writing, intriguing and complex characters, and a chilling completion. Need a good thriller for a rainy day or a vacation at the beach, DO NOT MISS this one, trust me!
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
I have been a fan of Bohjalian for many years, with The Sandcastle Girls my personal favorite. The ability this author has to explore a variety of themes and topics throughout his long writing history has always impressed me, moving from historical fiction, family drama, magic and surrealism. His latest book (publication date January 2017) is another of his very unique, at times disturbing, plot lines. The book revolves around the idea of parasomnia, disturbances during sleep. We meet the main players of the story, an 'ordinary' family in small town Vermont: mom, who suffers from dangerous sleepwalking, having mysteriously disappeared from home weeks earlier; dad, a professor at a nearby elite college, finding comfort in a bottle and the keeper of secrets; Lianna, the oldest daughter who quits college to care for her family, desperate to find the answers of her mother's vanishing; and Paige, the youngest sister who doesn't seem to quite 'fit' in the family, with a private life of her own. Throw in a hot detective named Gavin who Lianna is drawn to, and the story takes a strange turn. As Bohjalian pulls in the idea of sleep sex surrounding the parasomnia, the ensuring violence may be disturbing to some readers. Ultimately, I did find the story fascinating, but it was not my favorite of his due to the inordinate amount of time given to the ideas of sex and sleep disorders, and I am not a prude when it comes to reading about the topic - it just was a weird turn for me.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Ah, the world of competitive gymnastics in small town America...a place rife with jealousy, violence, and the worst collection of parents ever. This book drew me in immediately, seeing some of the same parents I stood next to on soccer pitches, watching their daughter play, thinking she was going to be the next Mia Hamm; I quickly learned to avoid those parents. Megan Abbott does a stellar job of examining motives and desires in this expose/thriller. The story revolves around the Knox family, having entered their daughter into this competitive world as a way to help her heal from a terrible accident that shave part of her foot off when she was just three years old. As Devon ages, she is found to be a gymnastics prodigy, thus directing the Knox family into an ugly world. Father Eric becomes heavily involved in the booster club, willing to do anything to advance Devon's chances for the Olympics. Mother Katie tries to pretend she's just following Devon's wishes, but as we dig deeper, we see Katie's own ego surrounding her daughter. The poor, lonely, left-out son Drew is an excellent example of what happens to the less-talented child in a family that revolves around the 'winner.' A hit-and-run death galvanizes this crazy gymnastic club and the crazy really comes out then. Abbott does a fantastic job of reeling out the clues and keeping us turning pages; my only complaint was the ending. I don't need perfectly wrapped denouements, particularly when the final scene while frustrating may make sense, but this ending left me wanting some kind of satisfaction that never came.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Short-listed for numerous book awards this year, this is a lovely short book about a unique relationship post-Civil War. Crusty, curmudgeonly Colonol Kidd travels throughout Texas, reading the news of the world to a news-starved populace. Yet, when given the chance to earn a goodly sum of money, he takes it - returning ten-year old Joanna back to her parents after living four years with the Kiowa natives. This young girl no longer knows the English language, has been fully integrated into the Kiowa culture, and has no desire to return 'home' when she considers the tribe her family. As the elderly soldier and the rebellious young girl travel together, a beautiful relationship begins to develop. They battle bad guys, native tribes, and gossipy, interfering women together, with humor and courage. Listening on Audible, this was a delightful, short story.