Scaring Away the Sunday Scaries (32)

“You can’t live your life acting for other people. Other people will just use you up. You have to know yourself and figure out what you want. I can’t do that for you. Nobody can.”

-Mindy Mejia, Everything You Want Me to Be

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United States of Books: Kansas

Week sixteen of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…


Starting with the obvious…

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

236093Follow the yellow brick road!

Dorothy thinks she’s lost forever when a tornado whirls her and her dog, Toto, into a magical world. To get home, she must find the wonderful wizard in the Emerald City of Oz. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. But the Wicked Witch of the West has her own plans for the new arrival – will Dorothy ever see Kansas again?

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

5886881Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

 

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

6606456Engrossing, lyrical, and suspenseful, The Scent of Rain and Lightning captures the essence of small-town America—its heartfelt intimacy and its darkest secrets—where through struggle and hardship people still dare to hope for a better future. For Jody Linder, maybe even love.

One beautiful summer afternoon, from her bedroom window on the second floor, Jody Linder is unnerved to see her three uncles parking their pickups in front of her parents’ house—or what she calls her parents’ house, even though Jay and Laurie Jo Linder have been gone almost all of Jody’s life. “What is this fearsome thing I see?” the young high school English teacher whispers, mimicking Shakespeare. Polished boots, pressed jeans, fresh white shirts, Stetsons—her uncles’ suspiciously clean visiting clothes are a disturbing sign. 

The three bring shocking news: The man convicted of murdering Jody’s father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-six years since that stormy night when, as baby Jody lay asleep in her crib, her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody’s uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents’ ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night. 

Now Billy Crosby has been granted a new trial, thanks in large part to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father’s innocence. As Jody lives only a few doors down from the Crosbys, she knows that sooner or later she’ll come face-to-face with the man who she believes destroyed her family.

What she doesn’t expect are the heated exchanges with Collin. Having grown up practically side by side in this very small town, Jody and Collin have had a long history of carefully avoiding each other’s eyes. Now Jody discovers that underneath their antagonism is a shared sense of loss that no one else could possibly understand. As she revisits old wounds, startling revelations compel her to uncover the dangerous truth about her family’s tragic past. 

Engrossing, lyrical, and suspenseful, The Scent of Rain and Lightning captures the essence of small-town America—its heartfelt intimacy and its darkest secrets—where through struggle and hardship people still dare to hope for a better future. For Jody Linder, maybe even love.

 

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

11557In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets; Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station; and Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself.

 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

9920On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

 

 


Next stop, Kentucky!

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Title: Everything You Want Me to Be29276588
Author: Mindy Mejia
Pages: 340
Year: 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: No one knows who she really is…

Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community.

It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s impulsive, daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

This is a review that I have sat on for a while now, just because I was so stunned by this book. Everything You Want Me to Be is a book that has stayed with me since the very last page, and I’ve had a difficult time putting into words just how much I enjoyed it and how deeply it disturbed me.

The story is told from three alternating points of view; Hattie’s, Peter’s, and Del’s (the Sheriff investigating Hattie’s murder). Both men know vastly different versions of Hattie, and this is made apparent right away. In a small town setting where everybody knows everything about everybody, people are very surprised to learn that the popular girl they thought they knew was not all that she seemed.

This book is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable, but not in the reasons that you’re thinking. While being about the murder of one of the main characters, Everything You Want Me to Be is actually pretty tame when it comes to graphic violence. What’s disturbing about it is Hattie’s final year in high school, the events leading up to her death, and what caused everything to fall apart.

Hattie is a master in the art of manipulation, and by the time she turns eighteen, it’s as natural to her as breathing. This is not to say that she is a sociopath, but that she has learned how to perceive what will be most pleasing or attractive to each person in her life and changes her personality based on those preferences. Her manipulations are grounded in good intentions, but that level of self-regulation is exhausting to Hattie. When she finally decides to end the charade and mold herself into her best character yet (herself), she is murdered.

Even though there is a relationship between Hattie and a teacher, I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this as I would have previously imagined. This is not to say that I was completely comfortable with it, I wasn’t. But the 8-year age gap between Hattie and Peter seemed less and less significant as time went on, and I found myself feeling sorry for them knowing what was to come.

Peter Lund was a fascinating character. He’s a young teacher, new to the profession, having all the excitement and characteristics that make up the best kinds of teachers. However, he is not without his own problems. He’s become increasingly distant from his wife, as a result of being transplanted from big city life to his wife’s small hometown. He misses the opportunities that city life affords him, and feels alien to the farm life in which his wife is so capable.

Sheriff Del Goodman is less of a defined character. His purpose is to provide the reader with more details and discoveries about the investigation into Hattie’s murder. Being an old friend of Hattie’s family, he has a personal stake in the case and is therefore more involved and forthcoming with information, but he is still not as developed as the other narrators.

As far as structure, I thought that the pacing was very good. Mejia gave us certain revelations at the perfect times and withheld others until later. The investigation was filled with twists and false assumptions that kept me guessing until the very end. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was shocked yet again. Highly recommended to fans of the psychological thriller!

United States of Books: Iowa

Week fifteen of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

Hiya, Iowa!


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges

34804096Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband’s suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert’s long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus–in that order, but the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert’s younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself.

 

What We Saw Aaron Hartzler

20922826Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

68210In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father–an ardent pacifist–and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend’s wayward son.

This is also the tale of another remarkable vision–not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames’s soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten. 

 

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

6335026It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.

Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

83674On assignment shooting the covered bridges in Iowa, photographer Robert Kincaid falls in love with the Iowa house wife, Francesca Johnson, during four days of love, magic, and beauty.

This is the story of Robert Kincaid, a wandering magazine photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, an farm wife born in Italy waiting for fulfillment of a girlhood dream. It shows readers what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.

When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience of uncommon truth and stunning beauty that will haunt them forever. 

Their encounter, fraught with dangers, survives only in their psyches. Both know that what could have been, should have been, could not be. Yet, hearts persist, tickling both characters’ minds. Both remember a few stolen moments when two souls sang in perfect harmony, but through circumstance must not sing again.


Next stop, Kansas!

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Title: With Malice26153925
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 316
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 3.75/5

Goodreads Synopsis: It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

Imagine waking up in a hospital bed with no recollection of the last month or so of your life. This is how Jill Charron’s story begins, as she recovers from a devastating car accident that killed her best friend, Simone. The gut-wrenching twist? The police don’t believe it was an accident at all. Statements are emerging saying that Jill fought with Simone before the accident, that the crash looked intentional, and that their friendship was more sinister than it seemed.

Jill doesn’t remember any of this. She only remembers a loving relationship with her oldest and dearest friend. But as the evidence begins to tower over her, she wonders if she is capable of the things everyone is saying she has done. Could she have let a boy come between their friendship? Could she have fought with Simone? And could she have murdered her best friend?

Jill’s narrative is split up between interviews, online conversations, media segments, and descriptions of Italian landmarks. This format worked very well for me. I thought it was a fun way to break up the novel and to give more points of view other than our protagonist. It showed just how much the “truth” can differ between different people, and how flimsy that truth can be. Even when Jill’s memory begins to return, her doctors remind her that her “memories” could be influenced by what she has been told by her family and the press, making her an unreliable narrator and leaving a lot of what she remembers up to interpretation from the reader.

I felt sympathetic for Jill as she is cruelly depicted by the media and slut-shamed by peers and strangers alike. Her parents and lawyers don’t believe in her innocence either, simply trying to make it all go away. Everyone believes that Jill is hiding something, and remembers a lot more than what she is letting on. However, while the plot hinges on Jill’s memory, it is only moved forward by the statements and interviews gathered by police as they build the case against her. This is not a novel driven by character development, but by the development of the plot.

So, did Jill murder Simone? Read this fast-paced thriller and find out!

 

Scaring Away the Sunday Scaries (30)

“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”

His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.

Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.” 

-Diana Gabaldon, A Dragonfly in Amber