That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

Good Monday! I took a little time off because…well, really, if you live in America and understand the stupidity that less than half of us have gotten the rest of us into, you’d need some time off, too. It’s been a disheartening couple of months, but now is the time for action and resistance. This all leads into That Burning Summer, a book about a young woman resisting the chaos surrounding England during World War II and listening to her gut to save a downed pilot.

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Title: That Burning Summer

Genre: Historical fiction/YA

Publication date: January 24, 2017

Summary:

Romney Marsh, July 1940. When invasion threatens, you have to grow up quickly. Sixteen-year-old Peggy has been putting on a brave face since the fall of France, but now the enemy is overhead, and the rules are changing all the time. Staying on the right side of the law proves harder than she expects when a plane crash-lands in the Marsh: it’s Peggy who finds its pathetic, broken pilot; a young Polish man, Henryk, who stays hidden in a remote church, secretly cared for by Peggy. As something more blossoms between the two, Peggy’s brother Ernest’s curiosity peaks and other secrets come to light, forcing Peggy and Henryk to question all the loyalties and beliefs they thought they held dear.

Okay, first off, let me tell you about that cover. That is not the cover that first appeared on NetGalley when I requested this book, but I love this cover so much that I had to put it up here. It reminds me of a comic book, and I’m glad for the prettiness right before opening it up to the sadness.

Peggy and Ernest are learning how to live at their uncle’s farm after being forced to move there with her mother and little brother, her father gone. Ernest follows the rules set by England, memorizing the pamphlet that’s been sent to everyone and spouting off the rules like a good boy. Peggy listens to these rules, but doesn’t follow them as closely as Ernest, and that’s obvious when she finds Henryk, a Polish pilot who had to bail out of his plane. She takes him to an abandoned church so that he can live there safely until they can figure out what to do with him. But the road there is fraught with other patriotic Englishmen, questions from Peggy’s family, and the ever-present thought that Henryk is not who they think he is.

Henryk is an interesting character. He’s barely a man, yet he has already lived the kind of life that very few can envision. His home in Poland had been invaded by Nazis and he was forced into Romania, with the plan of getting into France where the Polish government had re-formed in Paris. He joins the air force, fighting for the Allies, but finds no pleasure in it. He only wants to find a home, a place where he can forget his mother and sisters who did not make it out of Poland. He spends a majority of the book in the church, thinking over his life and the choices that he’s made that got him there. His story unfolds slowly, his life spread through the pages like a trail of breadcrumbs.

While the love story surrounding Peggy and Henryk is sweet and so pure, it’s the oppressing thought of what’s going to happen to Henryk if he’s discovered that takes all your attention. I tried to keep my hope to myself that these two would find love and run off into the sunset with smiles, because with a sudden murder, the discovery of a radio, and suspicious villagers coming out of their homes to search, happiness was too much to hope for. I found myself hoping that Peggy and Henryk would just make it out of this problem with their heads still attached.

Can I also say that, besides the looming threat of Nazis, the biggest villain in this book is Aunt Myra? Maybe villain is too big of a word for her. Pain in the butt? Yeah, that sounds more appropriate. I understand that she has her own family to watch out for, but the absolute rudeness displayed with Peggy is almost too much. Peggy isn’t a bad kid, but she does like to wander around by herself and doesn’t like household chores like her cousin June, or any woman, I guess, for that matter. Rules were harder and more defined during this time, and Peggy doesn’t really fit into those rules, and that drives Aunt Myra crazy. But there are plenty of times where I want to slap her.

Also! Even though the characters are all fictional, this book was inspired by real events, like a German airman who bailed out of his plane and survived for nine days until he turned himself in. This book might have a happier ending than that one {no spoilers}, but that story sticks with you until the end. The worry and the constant breathlessness is forever there, and I think it only helps the book. There is no guarantee of a happy ending and that keeps the reader on his or her toes until the very end.

Like I said before, this is a book that I needed in these last few months. Peggy is strong and resourceful, and she resists for as long as she can before certain things come into play. She believes in herself and does what she thinks is best, even if Henryk could be a Nazi. She knows this and yet still is kind to him, still provides him with food, and still tries to help this poor boy stuck in a foreign country who believes him to be a threat even if he’s not. It’s beautiful and sad and sweet, and sometimes all these feelings are felt at once and you want to burst. But don’t! Trust me. This book is too good to have your burst right in the middle of it and never finish it.

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

And here we are, back at Monday once more. I took yesterday off because it was Sunday and on that day, I do absolutely nothing. Seriously, lazy as my cat. But now I’m back for the end of my first week here, and I may have saved the best for last.

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Title: Little Heaven {496 pgs}

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Summary:

A trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.

Last year, I dedicated most of October to rereading It, the book that brought about my terror of clowns and Stephen King. It’s also one of my favorite books by him, and it’s the one that always calls to me when I walk by the bookshelf. It was right around then that NetGalley approved my request for Little Heaven, and I rushed through It as fast as I could so I could get to Nick Cutter.

Micah Shughrue, Minerva Atwater, and Ebenezer Elkins are three mercenaries that have come together by the strangest circumstances. They don’t trust each other – which is a good habit for a mercenary, I suppose – but they work together to infiltrate Little Heaven and check on a woman’s nephew who was dragged there by his father. Little Heaven is a settlement run by the great Amos Fletcher, a Jim Jones-type who believes that he speaks to God and has founded the perfect town. But even he can’t ignore the children going missing and then coming back…less than themselves.

Like I said before, I had just finished reading It when I started this one, and what a great October I had! Little Heaven is creepy and just plain weird, and spans nearly fifteen years. Shug, Minny, and Eb have done well in their respective lines of work, and then each of them gets a chance at something that they want, mainly a chance at getting out of jail and staying away from those who wish them harm.

Oh man, oh man, these characters. These characters. Shug is quiet and intelligent, and while he’s excellent at his job, he doesn’t seem to care much for it. He’s the kind of guy I imagine settling down on a farm, raising a couple of kids, and not talking much about his past because it’s the past. I guess what I mean to say is that Shug is a nice guy for a mercenary. Is that a good compliment?

Eb the Englishman is…something else. I’m trying to put him into words and I just…can’t. He’s loud and brash and polite and sarcastic and funny. He calls everyone out for their racism {because most of this is written in the 60s and in small towns in America} and then laughs at them when they get angry. He’s cold and unflinching when it comes to his job, and that does eventually land him in some trouble.

The trouble? My favorite, Minny. A young girl with no family to speak of {her father was murdered the same day her brother was eaten by a snake…yeah, a snake}, she decides to become a mercenary in hopes that it will lead her to her father’s murderer. While it does, she finds herself in another bind when she finally meets the killer. But more than her killing, Minny is brave and smart, but doesn’t hesitate to show how terrified she is by killing people and the things that are happening around Little Heaven. She never falls into the mothering role or gets left behind while the men go check things out, and I loved it. I loved that she insisted on being as brave as everyone else and pushed people around with her tiny weight. She was awesome, and I know that’s a good compliment.

The citizens of Little Heaven – and the settlement itself – are also wonderful characters. These people followed Amos Fletcher {who I couldn’t stop picturing in a rhinestone jumpsuit} into the middle of nowhere based on their belief that he would create the perfect place for them to raise their children. Even when everything goes awry and the children are disappearing into the woods, these people still believe in him because, well, hell, Amos Fletcher is convincing. I knew he was a complete jerk and still I found myself being all, well, yeah, Amos Fletcher, that does sound like a wonderful way to live! Like, you got me, Amos, you butthead.

This is one of those books that I’m going to pick up in twenty years and be like, oh my god, I love this book, I have to dedicate an entire month to reading it. Honestly, move this one up to the top of your reading list. You can thank me later.

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Ohhhh, it’s Saturday, and it’s dark and cold here {which I love}, so it seems appropriate to continue with the mystery binge I’ve been on. That’s why we’re going to talk about a book that I devoured because I would probably have cried if I had to put it down.

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Title: The Girl Before {320 pgs}

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Summary:

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

Emma
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

Jane
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

Wow. This book. There are a thousand things I want to say about this book and I’m going to be so careful not to say them all because spoilers, sweetie.

We start off with Emma and Simon, a young couple who have just experienced a terrible break-in and are looking to start fresh somewhere new. They find One Folgate Street, the kind of place meant for museums and not really to live in. But they move in anyway, because Emma believes that this house will change her life, and Simon, madly in love with her, agrees to make her happy.

Their story is broken up by Jane, a woman in the very near future who has gone through her own terrible loss and decides that she can’t live in her place anymore. Enter One Folgate Street and the odd stories that surround it: the architect is slightly insane, his wife and child died from a mysterious accident, and the girl before {who has more than a passing resemblance to Jane} has met a similar, dark fate.

Both women take on the house – and the architect, Edward Monkford – and decide that it’s going to change their lives for the best. What they don’t understand is that the house seems to have a mind of its own and the real danger lies closer than they think.

Man, oh man. What can I say about this book that won’t give everything away? Emma and Jane are two complete different women when we’re introduced to them, but as we get closer to the end of their stories, we realize that maybe they’re not as different as we thought. Lies pile up around Emma’s feet the deeper we read into her, but she’s so skillful at twisting out of them that we begin to wonder if they were really lies in the first place. Jane is curious and quiet, a combination that leaves a lot to the imagination, but then when she finally talks, you might want to shove all those words back in. They’re both messy and cunning, but only one of them truly gets what she wants at the end, and even that might be tainted.

There are so many twists in this story, and the characters are written in such a way that you actually feel betrayed when a new lie pops up. I had become so invested in Emma and Jane, and when someone pointed out something that didn’t make much sense, it’s almost offensive how wrong that person is, of course, because these two women have gone through horrible things and you only want the best for them. Until you realize who they are and then maybe the best seems like a little too much. But everyone in this story is flawed: Simon, the loving boyfriend; Edward, the slightly {more than slightly} mad architect. Everyone is an absolute mystery, so, really, they’re all kind of perfect for one another.

Look, the only thing screaming through my head is that I want everyone to read it so we can all yell at each other about the ending. Both endings. Because this is not a book to be silent about. This is a book to furiously whisper about while glaring at everyone else that hasn’t read it, because come on! Read this book!

Please, I’m about to go crazy and my cat has heard my thoughts of this book one too many times.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

Friday, Friday, Fri-YAY! I only worked four days this week, but they were the longest four days of my life, I swear. But now it’s Friday and that means I have two whole days of nothing coming at me when I finish work tonight, so nothing can be very wrong today. That’s why I decided to end this workweek with a historical mystery where absolutely everything is wrong and the happy ending is also very bittersweet.

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Title: The Second Mrs. Hockaday {272 pgs}

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Summary:

“All I had known for certain when I came around the hen house that first evening in July and saw my husband trudging into the yard after lifetimes spent away from us, a borrowed bag in his hand and the shadow of grief on his face, was that he had to be protected at all costs from knowing what had happened in his absence. I did not believe he could survive it.”

When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?

Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation–and the next–began to see their world anew.

So, since I’m a good girl and didn’t skip to the end first thing {and also because I didn’t read to the end of the summary before pressing the request button on NetGalley}, I didn’t know that this was based on a true incident. After having reading the whole book and finding that out…how terrible.

Placidia meets Major Hockaday on the day her stepsister is getting married. She knows next to nothing about him, yet when he asks for her hand in marriage only days later, she accepts because she feels their souls calling to one another. It’s beautiful and terribly romantic, and then he takes her back to his farm, spends one night with her, and then must leave for the Civil War. Placidia is left alone in a strange place with Major Hockaday’s young son and workers who don’t listen to her. During the two years absence of her husband, the second Mrs. Hockaday becomes pregnant and then is accused of murdering it, so she is sent to jail to await trial.

This story is told through letters, which is effective in driving me crazy with wanting to know what happens next. The first half of the book is Placidia writing to her cousin Millie, and this is peppered with court reports of testimonies of what happened while Major Hockaday was gone. Placidia writes of their brief courtship and her life after the major leaves, and how she must learn to survive on her own when she’s never done it before. The second half of the book is told through letters from Achilles Hockaday, Placidia’s son, to his Aunt Millie, his half-brother Charlie, as well as letters from the younger Millie to her mother. Most importantly, though, this part contains Placidia’s diary that was written on the back of the illustrations in Great Expectations that Achilles finds one day. His parents have been dead for quite some time and he wants to find out what really happened in those two years, so he sets out on an adventure to figure out why his mother went to jail.

Since it’s pretty obvious that Achilles is Placidia’s child with the major, I’ll spoil you this: yes, Placidia and the major do get back together, so there is a happy ending of sorts. Things change and the truth comes out, and the major realizes what a jerk he was and takes back his wife because he loves her with all his heart. But that doesn’t mean that this mystery is solved the moment we see Achilles’s name in the text. No way, that just adds to the whole mystery because when Placidia’s letters stopped, she was still in trouble.

But none of this means that the happy ending leaves us with smiles. A young teenager left alone for two years on a farm in the South during the Civil War…It’s a recipe for disaster and heartache. Placidia is lucky because she the help of her brother-in-law, a sweet, kind man who does what he can to keep her alive, but who entangles himself in rumors because of his kind nature. It’s amazing to read about Placidia fighting against everything and everyone to keep Charlie and herself alive, because she’s so young. But she learns what she can and pulls through, even if, at the end, she ends up in jail for a crime that we’re not sure she really committed.

I’m going to warn you now: there’s a lot of heartbreak in this novel, and a lot of times where you will want to pull Placidia into your lap and tell her that it’s okay, you’ll take care of everything because she works far too hard and people are junk and she shouldn’t have to deal with any of them. An entire family was affected by, really, one night, and the way Achilles pushes through to find the truth would make his mother proud.

Basically, I’m telling you to put this book on the huge pile of books that come out on Tuesday, because this is one that people are going to be talking about and for good reason, too.

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Hooray for Thursday! The week is so close to being done and that means we only have two more days {one more, if you’re lucky like my boyfriend} until prime reading time. This book doesn’t come out until Tuesday {sorry!}, but now you have something to look forward to while you speed through your current read to get it done by Tuesday.

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Title: A List of Cages {320 pgs}

Genre: YA

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Summary:

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian–the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kind-hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

Rereading this summary and knowing what you’re about to dive into, it makes me want to scream the ending, because I want everyone to know…things. Oh, such things.

Adam, popular, sweet, lovable Adam, moves around his life with the kind of ease that is enviable. His friends are wonderful, a tight-knit group with their own personalities and flaws, but friends nonetheless. They all seem to know their place in school and what they’re going to do on the weekend and that they’ll all be friends no matter what, even when the girls start going for each others’ throats. On the flipside, there’s Julian, the quiet freshman who skips class due to a mysterious illness and who really doesn’t look past tomorrow, because what’s the point?

Julian’s parents died in a car accident when he was younger, and he went to live with Adam and his social worker mom before Julian’s Uncle Russell was given custody. Then Julian kind of fell off the map.

I honestly thought this was going to be a story about two boys finding each other again and learning to be friends or brothers, but it was so much deeper than that. Adam blows into Julian’s life like a storm, giving him a social life and introducing him to people who Julian might be able to call friends. Julian has never really had friends before, as he’s always been the slightly weird kid, breaking into song or falling into his own little world of adventure books and pictures, and he doesn’t change for these people, and they still accept him. Little by little, Adam pulls Julian out of his shell, while also learning about himself in the process. Adam can be a little blind when it comes to things, but he plows through, ADHD probably helping that, and does what he can to make those around him happy.

By far, though, my favorite character was Charlie, Adam’s best friend. At first, Charlie seems like the stereotypical jock, big and burly and angry. He lives in a house surrounded by a thousand siblings, and he appears to hate each one of them equally. He becomes fiercely jealous when he notices Adam hanging out with Julian more and more, and sometimes you fear for Julian’s life when he’s around Charlie. But then Charlie grows and learns that there can be more than one best friend in someone’s life, and then Charlie becomes a kind of protector and you can see that not only is he a good friend, he’s a good brother, even if he doesn’t want to be. Without him, the story would have been a lot less brighter.

This book deals with terrible things, and there were a few parts where I had to set my Kindle down and cry. But I loved reading from both Julian and Adam’s point of views. The author managed to bring out their respective personalities in their chapters, with Adam’s chapters being a whirlwind of movement and action, and Julian’s being slower and secretive. It’s written in such a way as to pull the reader into the story, so you feel like you’re walking alongside these two boys as they navigate life and the world that is to come.

This was one of the books I was most excited to read for 2017, and I did a little dance when NetGalley approved me for it. It’s a life-changer, this book, and I mean that in the best way possible.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Happy hump day, everyone! This week seems to have gone by so fast, but maybe that’s because we had a holiday on Monday {the worst day ever}. Whatever it is, there’s only two days left of this week and then the weekend and that means a whole lot of nothing! So, to get you through today, I decided to bring you a thriller of epic proportions, The River at Night by Erica Ferencik.

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Title: The River at Night {304 pgs}

Genre: Thriler/Adventure

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Summary:

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

This is one of those books where I can honestly say that I did not expect anything that happened to actually happen.

Wini is such a relatable character because she is everything I am: hates the outdoors, scared of bugs, and plans on the very worst happening. To say that she’s not into this vacation with her friends is an understatement. But she never has a moment where she turns from terrified woman into a superhero, and I love that. I appreciate that she doesn’t take the reigns when the unimaginable happens, but instead debates with herself whether or not she’s going to survive. She does have her moments where she’s strong and brave, but she’s not untouchable. She has had to deal with too much loss in her life, and she the only reason she pushes to survive is because she knows she can’t deal with anymore. It was interesting to watch {read?} her grow up, but also remain the exact same. Those are always my favorite characters, because they feel more real to me.

On the other side of Wini is her best friend Pia, a woman who knows what she wants in life and won’t let a little thing like getting lost in the woods stop her. Or so she thinks. Watching her slowly break down when tragedy after tragedy slams into her is a glimpse at human nature. She realizes that she doesn’t have all the answers, that no one really does, and being out of control does not suit her. But there’s nothing she can do, after dragging her friends on a trip that none of them were too excited about and then watching them all be dragged down by her decision.

This is definitely one of those books where I try to put myself in the characters’ shoes and see what I would do. It made me realize that I don’t have half the bravery that these women have. I would have buried myself under leaves and waited for someone – or something – to find me. Seriously, I’m not the best at the outdoor deal, just like these women, but I would not have had the kind of gumption that they had. They did their best to survive with the tools they had, which wasn’t much at all.

One of the most surprising parts of this book had to do with Dean, a young man living with his mother in the wilderness. There’s really not much I can say about Dean without giving away a lot, so all I’ll say is this: Dean is sweet and caring and it’s a shame what life dealt him. I will say this much, I guess: I’m glad Dean gets a happy ending, or at least, a happier ending that he would have had if the four friends had never stumbled upon him and his mother.

Simply, this book is about the friendship between four women and what would happen to that friendship was testing to the limits. Their test is strenuous and harmful, and working their way through it seems impossible.

I’ll be honest: this book haunted me for weeks after I read it. I already hate the ocean, and now I hate rivers. But I’m so, so glad I read this book, because it reminded me of those old  horror movies where you’re not entirely sure there’s going to be a character left at the end, and you’re not sure if you’ll be happier for all involved if that’s the case. So, be warned: this book is terrifying and pushes people to the limit, but if you survive, you’ll be forever grateful.

Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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Welcome back! Continuing on with my opening week, I have the pleasure of jumping on the blog tour for Freeks by Amanda Hocking! I read this one last month and have been wiggling with pure excitement at the chance to talk about it, and the day has finally come!

 

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Title: Freeks (400 pgs)

Genre: YA/supernatural

Publication Date: January 3, 2017 {today!!}

Buy Links:

Macmillan

Books-A-Million

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Summary: Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodies are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

This was a real surprising read for me. I requested it on NetGalley because it sounded interesting, and I thought that maybe I’d read it through a slow week at work, but I finished it in about two days. I couldn’t put it down! The characters are so wonderful and weird, and the mystery surrounding them begs to be solved. In case you were wondering, I was both totally wrong and totally right, if that makes any sense. The writing is beautiful and lush, the carnival and all its inhabitants coming alive with just a few quick words. I really fell into the story, drawing my own images of the characters and holding my breath that my new favorite wasn’t the next victim.

Still not sold? {You know you are.} In that case, here’s a little excerpt to really get you:

  1. premonitions

My feet rested against the dashboard of the Winnebago as we lumbered down the road, the second vehicle in a small caravan of beat-up trailers and motorhomes.

The sun hadn’t completely risen yet, but it was light enough that I could see outside. Not that there was much to see. The bridge stretched on for miles across Lake Tristeaux, and I could see nothing but the water around us, looking gray in the early morning light.

The AC had gone out sometime in Texas, and we wouldn’t have the money to fix it until after this stint in Caudry, if we were lucky. I’d cracked the window, and despite the chill, the air felt thick with humidity. That’s why I never liked traveling to the southeastern part of the country—too humid and too many bugs.

But we took the work that we got, and after a long dry spell waiting in Oklahoma for something to come up, I was grateful for this. We all were. If we hadn’t gotten the recommendation to Caudry, I’m not sure what we would’ve done, but we were spending our last dimes and nickels just to make it down here.

I stared ahead at Gideon’s motorhome in front of us. The whole thing had been painted black with brightly colored designs swirling around it, meant to invoke images of mystery and magic. The name “Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow” was painted across the back and both the sides. Once sparkles had outlined it, but they’d long since worn off.

My eyelids began to feel heavy, but I tried to ward off sleep. The radio in the car was playing old Pink Floyd songs that my mom hummed along to, and that wasn’t helping anything.

“You can go lay down in the back,” Mom suggested.

She did look awake, her dark gray eyes wide and a little frantic, and both her hands gripped the wheel. Rings made of painted gold and cheap stones adorned her fingers, glinting as the sun began to rise over the lake, and black vine tattoos wrapped around her hands and down her arms.

For a while, people had mistaken us for sisters since we looked so much alike. The rich caramel skin we both shared helped keep her looking young, but the strain of recent years had begun to wear on her, causing crow’s feet to sprout around her eyes and worried creases to deepen in her brow.

I’d been slouching low in the seat but I sat up straighter. “No, I’m okay.”

“We’re almost there. I’ll be fine,” she insisted.

“You say we’re almost there, but it feels like we’re driving across the Gulf of Mexico,” I said, and she laughed. “We’ve probably reached the Atlantic by now.”

She’d been driving the night shift, which was why I was hesitant to leave her. We normally would’ve switched spots about an hour or two ago, with me driving while she lay down. But since we were so close to our destination, she didn’t see the point in it.

On the worn padded bench beside the dining table, Blossom Mandelbaum snored loudly, as if to remind us we both should be sleeping. I glanced back at her. Her head lay at a weird angle, propped up on a cushion, and her brown curls fell around her face.

Ordinarily, Blossom would be in the Airstream she shared with Carrie Lu, but since Carrie and the Strongman had started dating (and he had begun staying over in their trailer), Blossom had taken to crashing in our trailer sometimes to give them privacy.

It wasn’t much of a bother when she slept here, and in fact, my mom kind of liked it. As one of the oldest members of the carnival—both in age and the length of time she’d been working here—my mom had become a surrogate mother to many of the runaways and lost souls that found us.

Blossom was two years younger than me, on the run from a group home that didn’t understand her or what she could do, and my mom had been more than happy to take her under her wing. The only downside was her snoring.

Well, that and the telekinesis.

“Mara,” Mom said, her eyes on the rearview mirror. “She’s doing it again.”

“What?” I asked, but I’d already turned around to look back over the seat.

At first, I didn’t know what had caught my mom’s eye, but then I saw it—the old toaster we’d left out on the counter was now floating in the air, hovering precariously above Blossom’s head.

The ability to move things with her mind served Blossom well when she worked as the Magician’s Assistant in Gideon’s act, but it could be real problematic sometimes. She had this awful habit of unintentionally pulling things toward her when she was dreaming. At least a dozen times, she’d woken up to books and tapes dropping on her. Once my mom’s favorite coffee mug had smacked her right in the head.

“Got it,” I told my mom, and I unbuckled my seat belt and went over to get it.

The toaster floated in front of me, as if suspended by a string, and when I grabbed it, Blossom made a snorting sound and shifted in her sleep. I turned around with the toaster under my arm, and I looked in front of us just in time to see Gideon’s trailer skid to the side of the road and nearly smash into the guardrail.

“Mom! Look out!” I shouted.

Mom slammed on the brakes, causing most of our possessions in the trailer to go hurtling toward the floor, and I slammed into the seat in front of me before falling to the ground. The toaster had slipped free from my grasp and clattered into the dashboard.

Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, but I could hear the sound of squealing tires and honking behind us as the rest of the caravan came to an abrupt stop.

“What happened?” Blossom asked, waking up in a daze from where she’d landed on the floor beneath the dining table.

“Mara!” Mom had already leapt from her seat and crouched in front of where I still lay on the worn carpet. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her.

“What about you?” Mom reached out, brushing back Blossom’s frizzy curls from her face. “Are you all right?”

Blossom nodded. “I think so.”

“Good.” That was all the reassurance my mom needed, and then she was on her feet and jumping out of the Winnebago. “Gideon!”

“What happened?” Blossom asked again, blinking the sleep out of her dark brown eyes.

“I don’t know. Gideon slammed on his brakes for some reason.” I stood up, moving much slower than my mother.

We had very narrowly avoided crashing into Gideon. He’d overcorrected and jerked to the other side of the road, so his motorhome was parked at an angle across both lanes of the highway.

“Is everyone okay?” Blossom had sat up, rubbing her head, and a dark splotch of a bruise was already forming on her forehead. That explained why she seemed even foggier than normal—she’d hit her head pretty good.

“I hope so. I’ll go check it out,” I said. “Stay here.”

By the time I’d gotten out, Seth Holden had already gotten out of the motorhome behind us. Since he was the Strongman, he was usually the first to rush into an accident. He wanted to help if he could, and he usually could.

“Lyanka, I’m fine,” Gideon was saying to my mother, his British accent sounding firm and annoyed.

“You are not fine, albi,” Mom said, using a term of affection despite the irritation in her voice.

I rounded the back of his motorhome to find Gideon leaning against it with my mom hovering at his side. Seth reached them first, his t-shirt pulled taut against his muscular torso.

“What’s going on? What happened?” Seth asked.

“Nothing. I just dozed off for a second.” Gideon waved it off. “Go tell everyone I’m fine. I just need a second, and we’ll be on our way again.”

“Do you want me to drive for you?” Seth asked. “Carrie can handle the Airstream.”

Gideon shook his head and stood up straighter. “I’ve got it. We’re almost there.”

“All right.” Seth looked uncertainly at my mom, and she nodded at him. “I’ll leave you in Lyanka’s care and get everyone settled down.”

As soon as Seth disappeared back around the motorhome, loudly announcing that everything was fine to everyone else, Gideon slumped against the trailer. His black hair had fallen over his forehead. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing the thick black tattoos that covered both his arms.

“Gideon, what’s really going on?” Mom demanded with a worried tremor.

He swallowed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know.”

Even though the sun was up now, the air seemed to have gotten chillier. I pulled my sweater tighter around me and walked closer to them. Gideon leaned forward, his head bowed down, and Mom rubbed his back.

“You didn’t fall asleep, did you?” I asked.

Gideon lifted his eyes, looking as though he didn’t know I was there. And guessing by how pained he was allowing himself to look, he probably hadn’t. Gideon was only in his early thirties, but right now, he appeared much older than that.

That wasn’t what scared me, though. It was how dark his blue eyes were. Normally, they were light, almost like the sky. But whenever he’d had a vision or some kind of premonition, his eyes turned so dark they were nearly black.

“It was a headache,” Gideon said finally.

“There’s something off here,” Mom said. “I felt it as soon as we got on the bridge. I knew we should turn back, but I hoped that maybe I was imagining things. Now that I look at you, I know.”

That explained that frantic look in her eyes I’d seen earlier in the Winnebago, and how alert she’d been even though she’d been awake and driving for nearly twenty hours straight. Mom didn’t see things in the way Gideon did, but she had her own senses.

“It’s fine, Lyanka,” Gideon insisted. He straightened up again, and his eyes had begun to lighten. “It was only a migraine, but it passed. I am capable of having pain without supernatural reasons, too.”

Mom crossed her arms over her chest, and her lips were pressed into a thin line. “We should go back.”

“We’re almost there.” Gideon gestured to the end of the road, and I looked ahead for the first time and realized that we could see land. The town was nestled right up to the lake, and we couldn’t be more than ten minutes outside the city limits.

“We could still turn around,” Mom suggested.

“We can’t.” He put his hands on her arms to ease her worries. “We don’t have any money, love. The only way we can go is forward.”

“Gideon.” She sighed and stared up at the sky, the violet fabric of her dress billowing out around her as the wind blew over us, then she looked back at him. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Whatever pain I had, it’s passed.” He smiled to reassure her. “We should go before the others get restless.”

She lowered her eyes, but when he leaned in to kiss her, she let him. She turned to go back to our motorhome, and as she walked past me, she muttered, “I knew we should never travel on Friday the thirteenth. No good ever comes of it.”

I’d waited until she’d gone around the corner to turn back to Gideon, who attempted to give me the same reassuring smile he’d given my mom.

“We could go back,” I said. “There’s always a way. We’ve made it on less before.”

“Not this time, darling.” He shook his head. “And there’s no reason to. Leonid assured me there’d be a big payday here, and I’ve got no reason to doubt him. We can make a go of it here.”

“As long as you’re sure we’ll be okay.”

“I haven’t steered you all wrong yet.” Gideon winked at me then, but he was telling the truth. In the ten years that my mom and I had been following him around the country, he’d always done the best he could by us.

I went back and got into the Winnebago with my mom and Blossom. Within a couple minutes, Gideon had straightened his motorhome out, and the caravan was heading back down the road. At the end of the bridge was a large sign that read WELCOME TO CAUDRY, POPULATION 13,665.

As soon as we crossed the line into town, the air seemed even colder than before. That’s when I realized the chill wasn’t coming from outside—it was coming from within me.

Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Seriously, it only goes up from there!

Also, lucky you {and me!}, here’s a little Q&A that Amanda Hocking graciously did, and while none of her answers reveal anything about the book, it will give you a glimpse of the author and what to expect:

AMANDA HOCKING Q&A

amanda-hocking-new-credit-mariah-paaverud-with-chimera-photography

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter @Amanda_Hocking

Facebook

Author Blog

Pinterest

GoodReads

  1.     Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

If it’s just the characters from FREEKS, and only one could win, I would put my money on Luka or maybe Roxie. Luka because he can heal from injuries, which gives him a crazy advantage, but Roxie is smart and she’s a survivor. Plus, she has the power of pyrokinesis, which I think I would come in handy in a battle to the death.

  1.     What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?

I almost always listen to music when I write, unless I’m writing a really difficult scene. Sometimes the silence helps me focus, but most of the time, I prefer music. For FREEKS, I got to make a really fun 80s playlist, so I especially enjoyed working to that.

  1. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

There are sooo many things. For FREEKS, I had to do fun stuff like, “What does a dead body smell like?” and “How much blood can a human lose?” And then after those macabre questions, I did a bunch of googling on fireflies and tarot cards. My search history when I’m working can be pretty exciting like that.

  1. What was your favorite part of writing FREEKS?

I love Southern Gothics and I love pulpy 80s horror movies, so I was excited to be able incorporate those things in FREEKS. But my favorite part was actually Mara and Gabe. I think they complement each other well, and it was fun writing their banter and flirtations.

  1. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from FREEKS?

For Mara, I envisioned Cassie Steele from the start. I used to be a hardcore Degrassi fan, and I loved Cassie Steele on that. For Gabe, I like Ryan Guzman. I saw him in a Jennifer Lopez movie, and I was like, “Yep. That could be Gabe.”

  1.  Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I usually write between 11 am and 7 pm. I’ve tried to write earlier in the day and have more of a 8-5 type schedule, but I am not a morning person. My brain just doesn’t want to work much before noon.

  1.   Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I usually have a goal in mind before I start writing, but it varies. Some days, it’s slow going and I hope to get at least 500 words out. Other days, I fly through with thousands of words. So it depends on where I’m at in the book, when it’s due, and how I’m feeling about the whole thing.

  1. When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

With all my main characters, I have a really good idea of who they are, and it’s just a matter of showing that to the readers. With the side characters, they tend to be rather one-dimensional, and they grow into the story as they’re needed.

  1. How did writing Freeks differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

  1. If Freeks had a theme song what would it be?

Either “Hush” by Limousines or “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.

  1.   Can you please tell us a little bit about Freeks and where you got the inspiration to write it?

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own.

  1.   Freeks is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

Mara and Gabe are my obvious favorites, since they’re the main characters because I was drawn to them and their story the most. Both of them of them have complex feelings about family and personal identity, and their instant chemistry was fun to write.

But I think Gideon – the namesake and head of sideshow – was actually the biggest surprise, which made him fun in a different way. In the original outlines of the story, he was much a different character – very one-note and cruel – but he completely changed and evolved as I was writing.

  1.   The book is based off of a type of traveling circus that is full of many mysterious acts. If you were to attend a Freekshow, which act would you want to see most?

My favorites are usually the acrobatics, but I think if I attended Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, I would be most excited to see Gideon’s magic act. With his skills and knowledge, I think it would be a really amazing show.

  1.   What do you hope readers will take away from FREEKS after reading it?

With some of my other novels, I deal with heavy themes like life and death, identity, honor, mortality, classism, and family. And while I do definitely touch on those themes in FREEKS, I mostly wrote it as an escape for myself, and that’s what I hope it is for other readers. Life can be hard and frustrating, and I just wanted to write a fun book that readers could get lost in for awhile.

  1. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Probably how chronically shy I am. Writing is a weird profession, because a good 90% of it is perfect for introverts – you sit alone by yourself and make up imaginary friends to go on adventures. But the last 10% – which involves introducing the whole word to your imaginary friends – is the most exciting and rewarding part, but it’s also the most difficult when you’re as shy as I am.

I mean, Southern Gothic carnival freaks with an 80s twist? I’d read a million of those books. This is one of those books that comes around once in a lifetime, and that is no exaggeration. Whenever someone asks me about what I’ve read, I scream this book in their faces and then calm down and tell them what it’s about, but I’m so excited to share it with everyone because I think everyone should read it. It’s fun and spooky and sweet. It’s a perfect 80s movie in book form, and really, is that what we’re all after? It should be.

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

All right, first review of 2017! I’m excited! Are you excited? You should be, because we’re starting off right with Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia. Trust me, this is one of those books that I’m going to ramble about and you are, too, because it’s just that awesome.

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Title: Everything You Want Me to Be (352 pgs)

Genre: YA/Mystery

Publication date: January 3, 2017

Summary:

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

This is one of those stories where the main character – Hattie Hoffman, in this case – is so despicable that I want to hate her, but so lost and confused that I can’t. Hattie seems like the perfect girl: beautiful, smart, on her way to big things. At eighteen, she has her entire life ahead of her, but she already knows what she wants to be, even if she doesn’t really understand who she is. But the deeper you go into Hattie’s story, the more you realize that her perfection is just an act, one that she protects with every fiber of her being, even if that means hurting people in the process.

Hattie’s world, as small as it is, is populated with characters that seem to encompass every aspect of human nature. Del Goodman, the old sheriff in this small town who only wants this mystery to be solved, does all he can to help Hattie and her family, close friends of his, so that they can move on with their lives. There are so many threads to pick up, including those left behind by Tommy Kinakis and Peter Lund. Tommy, the stereotypical dumb football guy, loves Hattie with his whole heart and seems genuinely surprised when she chooses him as a boyfriend. On the other side is Peter, the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school, and his crumbling marriage. He wants a way out, a new life, and he finds that with a mysterious woman online. These threads tangle and knot together, catching these three in a web of lies and deceit, and then the threads do the unthinkable: they catch others and pull them in.

This was such an old-fashioned type of mystery and I loved it. What I mean is, we know that Hattie died, but we have to read through all the stories and muck through all the lies in order to find the killer. The ending is upsetting and surprising, and there were times when I wanted to punch a certain character. But there are red herrings and secret meetings abound, so be careful! I got caught up in so many different lies and was convinced that so-and-so was the killer, because the evidence was there and very, very compelling.

The writing is seductive and daring, a taboo subject written about in such a clear, level-headed way in certain chapters that I found myself agreeing with Hattie. But that might be the point. Hattie is so convincing, a girl who changes herself into everything you want her to be, only so you’ll be on her side. Mindy Mejia has written the kind of book that, once put down, isn’t out of mind. I’ve gone back to it multiple times to reread certain parts and see if I can’t find the evidence that I missed out on the first time {I haven’t}. She writes in a way that makes you feel really silly that you didn’t see the ending coming, and then you think to yourself, well, how could I? Like I said, the ending was a surprise, and so terribly sad, and it’s one of those things where I want more, even though there is none.

Lucky you, you only have to wait until tomorrow to pick up this book, and I really recommend that you do. It’s beautiful and sad and sweet, and it’s totally a great read for the beginning of the new year. I mean, don’t get any ideas from it, but, you know. If you want to start 2017 reading some good books, then this is definitely a great way to start.

 

Happy New Year!

Hello hello everyone! Happy 2017! May this year be better than the dumpster fire that was 2016. I guess in order for that to happen, we have to do something radical like work together and not push each other into the fire. It may seem impossible, but let’s show 2016 that we’re not the same people we were in that terrible, terrible year.

Now that the dire warnings are out of the way {sorry, I’m not entirely sure where that came from}, let’s address the elephant in the room: the new website. I loved Blogger, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it was temperamental and wouldn’t let me do what I wanted, so I decided that maybe I should try something new. WordPress has been pretty okay for the little time that I’ve spent playing around with it, so we’re going to give it a year. If at the end of 2017 I want to chuck this in the dumpster fire, then so be it. But I figure I should branch out and try new things. I’m getting crazy, I know. I’m going to make some mistakes, so bear with me, okay? I’m still slightly a mess at this whole blogging thing.

But what about the amazing book reviews from Blogger? Well, I’m slowly moving them over here, as soon as I can figure out how to do that. Seriously, if anyone out there reading this takes pity on me and wants to offer help, I’m all for it. I’ve been YouTubing how-to videos, and while they help, mostly I’m just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

In case you missed my post about switching it up in 2017 from Blogger, here’s the plan: I’m going to only post reviews on this site. The writing thing is still going, and I do have a lot to talk about regarding it, but I’m reserving this space for only other people’s books. The reviews are going to be a mixture of new and old books. I’m not doing any reading challenges this year because I want to be able to read whatever the heck I want, so it’s going to be interesting. I have a book journal, but I figured that maybe my reviews of older books will help those out there who want to get started with them. Most of the reviews are going to be on my Goodreads page, but I’d like them all in one spot where I can find them easily. Because these reviews are not just for others, but for me as well. How many times have I read a book and then completely forgotten what it was about? I find that I tend to write more reviews on the blog than on Goodreads, so I’m hoping that this is going to help me and my memory issues. Fingers crossed, right?

The first review of the year is coming up tomorrow, so get ready, because not only is it the first {real} post on this new blog, but it’s also the first new book of 2017 that I’ve read. After that, I’m going to have about seven {!!!!} other reviews coming at you in the next week, and then it might slow down to about three or four a month. The books I’m planning on reading this year are all over the board, and I’m not sure how long they’ll take me. There are a lot of non-fiction books in the pile, and those I tend to pore over, but no worries, I won’t disappear for a month, leaving you to wonder if I’m dead or my fingers got chopped off.

If you’re new, welcome and I hope you have fun here. If you’re old {like me, badabing}, get ready for more of me. In both cases, I’m sorry. I’m a lot to handle when books are involved.