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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Book Review: All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
Genre: Adult Fiction (Paranormal/Fantasy Romance)
Date Published: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Self

A dark, riveting, beautifully written book—by “a brilliant novelist” according to Richard Bausch—that combines noir and the gothic in a story about two families entwined in their own unhappiness, with, at its heart, a gruesome and unsolved murder.

Late one winter afternoon in upstate New York, George Clare comes home to find his wife killed and their three-year-old daughter alone—for how many hours?—in her room across the hall. He had recently, begrudgingly, taken a position at a nearby private college (far too expensive for local kids to attend) teaching art history, and moved his family into a tight-knit, impoverished town that has lately been discovered by wealthy outsiders in search of a rural idyll.

George is of course the immediate suspect—the question of his guilt echoing in a story shot through with secrets both personal and professional. While his parents rescue him from suspicion, a persistent cop is stymied at every turn in proving Clare a heartless murderer. And three teenage brothers (orphaned by tragic circumstances) find themselves entangled in this mystery, not least because the Clares had moved into their childhood home, a once-thriving dairy farm. The pall of death is ongoing, and relentless; behind one crime there are others, and more than twenty years will pass before a hard kind of justice is finally served.

A rich and complex portrait of a psychopath and a marriage, this is also an astute study of the various taints that can scar very different families, and even an entire community. Elizabeth Brundage is an essential talent who has given us a true modern classic.

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage was a hard book to get into. The first three quarters or so, it head hopped a lot. So much so that you didn't always know whose perspective you were getting until there was enough context to figure it out. And honestly, some of those perspectives were completely unnecessary. Like Willis' point of view or the realtor's or what was going on with the sheriff's daughter. None of those things mattered with regard to the story. Not really. 

I actually watched the movie first, so I enjoyed getting more of the background on the house, the family that lived there prior to the Clare's, and the Clare's themselves, but there was so much that it really took away from the story as a whole. Sometimes less is more, you know? 

At about half way or so, things got better, and I thought ok, so this might make up for all the fluff after all. The writing was less choppy. I'd gotten to know the characters enough to tell who was whose head I was in. Things started to get going. Then the last third or so happened... I mean.... why? It was completely different from the movie, for the most part, but just as unsatisfying.

February 23, 1979

Again, it was snowing. Half past five in the afternoon. Almost dark. She had just laid out their plates when the dogs started barking.

Her husband set down his fork and knife, none too pleased to have his supper interrupted. What’s that now?

June Pratt pulled aside the curtain and saw their neighbor. He was standing there in the snow, holding the child, her feet bare, neither of them in coats. From the looks of it, the little girl was in her pajamas. It’s George Clare, she said.

What’s he selling?

I wonder. I don’t see a car. They must’ve come on foot.

Awful cold out. You better see what he wants.

She let them in with the cold. He stood before her, holding the child out like an offering.

It’s my wife. She’s—

Momma hurt, the child cried.

June didn’t have children of her own, but she had raised dogs her whole life and saw the same dark knowing in the child’s eyes that confirmed what all animals understood, that the world was full of evil and beyond comprehension.

You’d better call the police, she told her husband. Something’s happened to his wife.

Joe pulled off his napkin and went to the phone.

Let’s go find you some socks, she said, and took the child from her father and carried her down the hall to the bedroom where she set her on the bed. Earlier that afternoon, she had laid her freshly laundered socks over the radiator, and she took a pair now and pushed the warm wool over the child’s feet, thinking that if the child were hers she’d love her better.

They were the Clares. They had bought the Hale place that summer, and now winter had come and there were just the two houses on the road and she hadn’t seen them much. Sometimes in the morning she would. Either when he raced past in his little car to the college. Or when the wife took the child out of doors. Sometimes, at night, when June walked the dogs, you could see inside their house. She could see them having supper, the little girl between them at the table, the woman getting up and sitting down and getting up again.

With the snow, it took over a half-hour for the sheriff to arrive. June was vaguely aware, as women often are of men who desire them, that Travis Lawton, who had been her classmate in high school, found her attractive. That was of no consequence now, but you don’t easily forget the people you grew up with, and she made a point of listening carefully to him, and acknowledged his kindness to George, even though there was the possibility, in her own mind at least, that the bad thing that had happened to his wife might have been his own doing.

He was thinking of Emerson, the terrible aristocracy that is in Nature. Because there were things in this world you couldn’t control. And because even now he was thinking of her. Even now, with his wife lying dead in that house.

He could hear Joe Pratt on the phone.

George waited on the green couch, shaking a little. Their house smelled like dogs and he could hear them barking out back in their pens. He wondered how they could stand it. He stared at the wide boards, a funk of mildew coming up from the cellar. He could feel it in the back of his throat. He coughed.

They’re on their way, Pratt said from the kitchen.

George nodded.

Down the hall, June Pratt was talking to his daughter with the sweet tone people use on children and he was grateful for it, so much so that his eyes teared a little. She was known for taking in strays. He’d see her walking the road with the motley pack at her side, a middle-aged woman in a red kerchief, frowning at the ground.

After a while, he couldn’t say how long, a car pulled up.

Here they are now, Pratt said.

It was Travis Lawton who came in. George, he said, but didn’t shake his hand.

Hello, Travis.

Chosen was a small town and they were acquaintances of a sort. He knew Lawton had gone to RPI and had come back out here to be sheriff, and it always struck George that for an educated man he was pretty shallow. But then George wasn’t the best judge of character and, as he was continually reminded by a coterie of concerned individuals, his opinion didn’t amount to much. George and his wife were newcomers. The locals took at least a hundred years to accept the fact that somebody else was living in a house that had, for generations, belonged to a single family whose sob stories were now part of the local mythology. He didn’t know these people and they certainly didn’t know him, but in those few minutes, as he stood there in the Pratts’ living room in his wrinkled khakis and crooked tie, with a distant, watery look in his eyes that could easily be construed as madness, all their suspicions were confirmed.

Let’s go take a look, Lawton said.

They left Franny with the Pratts and went up the road, him and Lawton and Lawton’s undersheriff, Wiley Burke. It was dark now. They walked with grave purpose, a brutal chill under their feet.

The house sat there grinning.

They stood a minute looking up at it and then went in through the screened porch, a clutter of snowshoes and tennis rackets and wayward leaves, to the kitchen door. He showed Lawton the broken glass. They climbed the stairs in their dirty boots. The door to their bedroom was shut; he couldn’t remember shutting it. He guessed that he had.

I can’t go in there, he told the sheriff.

All right. Lawton touched his shoulder in a fatherly way. You stay right here.

Lawton and his partner pushed through the door. Faintly, he heard sirens. Their shrill cries made him weak.

He waited in the hall, trying not to move. Then Lawton came out, bracing himself against the doorjamb. He looked at George warily. That your ax?George nodded. From the barn.

Elizabeth Brundage is the author of four previous novels, including All Things Cease to Appear, which was a WSJ best mystery of 2016, and was the basis for the Netflix film Things Heard and Seen. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she received a James Michener Award, and attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Witness, New Letters, Greensboro Review and elsewhere. She has taught at several colleges and universities and lives with her family in Albany, New York.

To learn more about Elizabeth Brundage and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, InstagramBookBub, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Book Review: Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas

Devil in Disguise (The Ravenels #7) by Lisa Kleypas
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historical Romance)
Date Published: July 27, 2021
Publisher: Avon

An enthralling and steaming romance between a widowed lady and a Scot on the run—who may have connections to one of London's most noble families.

Lady Merritt Sterling, a strong-willed young widow who’s running her late husband’s shipping company, knows London society is dying to catch her in a scandal. So far, she’s been too smart to provide them with one. But then she meets Keir MacRae, a rough-and-rugged Scottish whisky distiller, and all her sensible plans vanish like smoke. They couldn’t be more different, but their attraction is powerful, raw and irresistible.

From the moment Keir MacRae arrives in London, he has two goals. One: don’t fall in love with the dazzling Lady Merritt Sterling. Two: avoid being killed.

So far, neither of those is going well.

Keir doesn’t know why someone wants him dead until fate reveals his secret connection to one of England’s most powerful families. His world is thrown into upheaval, and the only one he trusts is Merritt. Their passion blazes with an intensity Merritt has never known before, making her long for the one thing she can’t have from Keir MacRae: forever. As danger draws closer, she’ll do whatever it takes to save the man she loves . . . even knowing he might be the devil in disguise. 

Devil in Disguise is the seventh book in the Ravenels series by Lisa Kleypas. This was such a fun story! It was full of flirting and banter. Very steamy too! Kier is Scottish perfection. He was one of those characters that had a presence.  I mean, for a fictional dude, he makes an impression. I enjoyed Merritt's way too. She knew just how to handle Kier and keep him in his place. She had her own mind,  and did what she wanted. These two were adorable and deliciously snarky together... probably my favorite couple of 2021. And the wedding? I loved that part the best. It wasn't at all the wedding I pictured, but it was so very fitting.

Have you read the other books in this series?

Lisa Kleypas is the RITA award-winning author of 21 novels. Her books are published in fourteen languages and are bestsellers all over the world. She lives in Washington State with her husband and two children.

To learn more about Lisa Kleypas and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Book Review! Wolf Chosen by Alexis Calder

Wolf Chosen (Moon Cursed #3) by Alexis Calder
Genre:  New Adult Fiction (Paranormal Romance)
Date Published: September 23, 2021
Publisher: Self

Fate is cruel, but I’m done playing her game.

It’s time for me to finally gain control of my own life and make my own choices. I’m done playing by other people’s rules.

It’s time for me to rise.

Wolf Chosen is the riveting conclusion to the Moon Cursed trilogy. 17+ for steam and darker themes.

Wolf Chosen is the third book in the Moon Cursed trilogy by Alexis Calder. Lola and her mix of misfit friends have really come a long way in a short amount of time. I liked them all, and they all played integral parts within the story with makes a big difference. I'm not going to talk about Tyler or Alec, because I don't want to accidentally spoil anything, but I'm pretty happy with how everything played out.  I'm so sad that this is the last book in this trilogy. I'm not ready to leave this world, but I love how it was concluded. This was a fantastic trilogy and quickly became one of my favorites this year. I will definitely be picking up more from this author.

Chosen by Alexis Calder was kindly provided to me by Book Sprout for review. The opinions are my own.

Check out my reviews of the other books in this trilogy!

Alexis Calder writes sassy heroines and sexy heroes with a sprinkle of sarcasm. She lives in the Rockies and drinks far too much coffee and just the right amount of wine.

To learn more about Alexis Calder and her books, visit her on GoodreadsFacebookFacebook Reader GroupTwitter, and BookBub.

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Book Review: Beautiful Wild by Anna Godbersen

Beautiful Wild by Anna Godbersen
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Historical Romance)
Date Published: November 3, 2020
Publisher: HarperTeen

You are invited to set sail on the maiden voyage of the SS Princess of the Pacific in this indulgent historical romance from Anna Godbersen, the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe series.

High society intrigue and deliciously shocking scandals meet a gripping fight for survival in this sweeping romance, sure to thrill fans of Kiera Cass and Katie McGee.

Vida Hazzard can see her future: aboard the heralded “Millionaire’s Ship of the West,” she’ll charm the young scion Fitzhugh Farrar, resulting in a proposal of marriage.

But Vida didn’t plan on Fitz’s best friend Sal, a rough-around-the-edges boy with a talent for getting under her skin. Nor did she anticipate a hurricane dashing their ship to pieces, along with her dreams.

Stranded on an island with both Fitz and Sal, Vida is torn between the life she’s always planned for, and a future she’s never dared to want. As they desperately plot a course for home, Vida will discover just which boy can capture her wild heart—and where her future truly lies.

Beautiful Wild by Anna Godbersen introduced us to Vida, who I liked quite a bit. Vida had all these ideals of how her life would be, and she went about reaching her goals her own way.. even if it meant the people would start talking. She wasn't a wild girl. She didn't set traps to obtain a husband. She was just.. a normal girl really. But, people of this time have expectations for behavior and what not, and Vida was just a smidge on the more carefree side of those expectations. She was fun!  Survival on the island took Vida out of her perfectly planned life and placed her someplace completely out of her comfort zone, and let me tell you... she thrived. This changed her forever. As it would anyone, I'd imagine. Only now, her perfect life may look a little different. I loved the journeys in this story... the literal journey on the ship that felt a bit like the Titanic, to the Island and back home again. I also loved Vida's internal journey of finding herself and what she's truly capable of. The Vida before was quite a bit different than the Vida after, and I enjoyed watching her figure things out. 
I haven't read an Anna Godbersen book in a while, and I was long overdue! This was a good one!

Anna Godbersen is the author of the New York Times bestselling Luxe series. She was born in Berkeley, California, and educated at Barnard College. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

To learn more about Anna Godbersen and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Twitter.

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Book Review & Excerpt: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep (Sky in the Deep #1) by Adrienne Young
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Fantasy/Historical/Romance)
Date Published: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Part Wonder Woman, part Vikings—and all heart.

Sky in the Deep is the first book in the Sky in the Deep series by Adrienne Young. I wasn't sure what I was going to think about this one, but it turned into one of my favorites of 2021. Eelyn lives in a brutal world that revolves around survival, and I'm not just talking about the day to day hunting and gathering kinds of survival. They have to do that, of course. These folks have to always be training and ready for attack, and they start preparing from a young age. There is so much hate among the different clans. They are raised to hate and fight each other. It's all they know, and there are some pretty brutal moments. We are introduced to three different clans within this book, and when two have to come together for a chance to survive the third, it's.. well, it's not easy to say the least. What I loved about this story was the underlying theme of unity. And, it wasn't one of those forced down your throat kind of messages. It definitely wasn't an easy process. There's still a lot of work to be done, and I'm really excited for the next book to come out already, but it was kind of beautiful and unique how these people came together. United we stand, divided we fall, right? If only we can all remember that in real life.

The last of them disappeared into the trees behind her and I turned, looking for the blue wool tunic my father was wearing beneath his armor. “Aghi!”

The heads of the Aska in the field turned toward me. Mýra took hold of my arm, pressing the heel of her hand into the wound to stop the bleeding. “Eelyn.” She pulled me to her. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

I found my father’s face across the field, where the fog was still pulling up from the land like a lifting cloud.

“Aghi!” His name was raw in my throat.

His chin lifted at the strangled sound and his eyes searched the body-littered expanse. When they found me, they transfigured from worry into fear. He dropped his shield and ran to me.

I sank to my knees, my head swimming. He fell beside me, hands running over my body and fingers sliding over blood and sweat-soaked skin. He looked me over carefully, dread pushing its way onto his face.

I took hold of his armor vest, pulling him to face me. “It’s Iri.” The words broke on a sob. I could still see him. His pale eyes. His fingers touching my face.

My father’s gaze went to Mýra before the breath that was caught in his chest let go of his panic. He took my face into his hands and looked at me. “What’s happened?” His eyes caught sight of the blood still seeping from my arm. He let me go, pulling his knife free to cut at the tunic of the Riki lying dead beside us.

“I saw him. I saw Iri.”

He wrapped the torn cloth around my arm, tying it tight. “What are you talking about?”

I pushed his hands from me, crying. “Listen to me! Iri was here! I saw him!”

His hands finally stilled, confusion lighting in his eyes.

“I was fighting a man. He was about to . . .” I shuddered, remembering how close to death I’d come—closer than I’d ever been. “Iri came out of the fog and saved me. He was with the Riki.” I stood, taking his hand and pulling him toward the tree line. “We have to find him!”

But my father stood like a stone tucked into the earth. His face turned up toward the sky, his eyes blinking against the sunlight.

“Do you hear me? Iri’s alive!” I shouted, holding my arm against my body to calm the violent throbbing around the gash. His eyes landed on me again, tears gathered at the corners like little white flames. “Sigr. He sent Iri’s soul to save you, Eelyn.”

“What? No.”

“Iri’s made it to Sólbjǫrg.” His words were frightening and delicate, betraying a tenderness my father never showed. He stepped forward, looking down into my eyes with a smile.

“Sigr has favored you, Eelyn.”

Mýra stood behind him, her green eyes wide beneath her unraveling auburn braids.“But—” I choked. “I saw him.”

Adrienne Young is the New York Times, USA Today, and Indie list bestselling author of Sky in the Deep, The Girl the Sea Gave Back, Fable, Namesake, The Last Legacy, and the forthcoming Spells for Forgetting. She is a foodie with a deep love of history and travel and a shameless addiction to coffee. When she’s not writing, you can find her on her yoga mat, sipping wine over long dinners or disappearing into her favorite art museums. She lives with her documentary filmmaker husband and their four little wildlings in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

To learn more about Adrienne Young and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Instagram.
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