The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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Deadline by Sandra Brown

I love romance books. They are the perfect stress-free read. When I’m feeling anxious or need a break, I tend to gravitate toward the romance section in the library for a new(to me) romance read. I can usually fly through a romance novel in a day or two and get back to my other reading. I needed a good romance read recently and decided to look for one online. I checked out a copy of Deadline by Sandra Brown a week ago through OverDrive. I had just finished another book, saw Deadline, thought the cover looked interesting AND saw it was available immediately for checkout, so I decided to give it a listen. I had never read anything from Sandra Brown before, so I was expecting a regular suspenseful fiction read. Boy, was I wrong.

Deadline by Sandra Brown is a fantastically crafted piece of romantic suspense fiction that deals with family secrets, post-traumatic stress disorder, presumed deaths, missing persons, domestic terrorists, and a massive hunt for the truth. Dawson Scott is a journalist who has traveled the world writing stories. He just returned from Afghanistan after spending almost a year in combat conditions. Dawson is trying to cope with battle fatigue, but finds alcohol and drugs to be his only solace. He’s haunted by what he witnessed overseas and simply trying to get through his life one hour at a time. After being told by his boss that he is to fly somewhere less than desirable to cover a story, Dawson receives a phone call from his source within the FBI that has the power to completely change his life.

Amelia Nolan is struggling to get over the death of her ex-husband, former Marine Jeremy Wesson. Jeremy disappeared and was later presumed to have been murdered after the mutilated body of his married girlfriend was found eaten by dogs. Jeremy’s DNA was found on scene and authorities have presumed him dead. The woman’s husband is on trial for his murder and Amelia has been called to testify. Tackling this case while raising two very young children as a single parent, Amelia is working hard to keep her life together. With her nanny in tow, Amelia and the boys spend time on the beach, their safe haven from the craziness around the trial.

Dawson’s source has called to say that the DNA found at the Wesson crime scene has found a match. Jeremy is actually the biological son of a pair of domestic terrorists who have been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 40 years. Pleading with Dawson, his source convinces him to cover the trial of Jeremy’s presumed murderer to try to find out more information about Jeremy’s life. Walking into the courtroom, Dawson plans on staying for a few days, writing his story, and moving on. The minute he sets eyes on Amelia though, his plan goes out the window. In an effort to learn more about Jeremy, Dawson decides to get closer to Amelia and soon finds himself developing feelings for her. Dawson has to stay focused, figure out who Jeremy Wesson really is, and if he is still in contact with his domestic terrorist parents. Could he catch them? Just how much danger are Amelia and her boys in?

This book is definitely a thriller with a bit of romance. Brown has crafted a book that is very suspenseful, but has some definite steamy scenes. This book is well-crafted with a plot that is quite twisty and chockful of red herrings. I was engrossed through this book as Dawson and Amelia worked to find out the truth. Highly recommend. I can’t wait to read more Sandra Brown!


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The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

When I was working on my ordering, I stumbled upon the name: B. A. Paris. For some reason, I thought she was a well established author already and decided to give her newest book a try. Later when I began listening to said book, I looked her up on Fantastic Fiction, one of my favorite author websites. Low and behold, Paris was not an established author! Her first book, Behind Closed Doors, had only been released in 2016. I’m glad that I decided to pick up her newest book, The Breakdown, on a whim and give it a listen. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Breakdown is Paris’ second novel. In this thrilling piece of suspense fiction, Paris searches for the truth around a murder investigation. Cass is a school teacher on her way home from work, itching to begin her much needed summer break. A major storm has hit her area making her drive home more treacherous than it usually is. There’s a shortcut between her school and her house that she usually takes, much to her husband’s chagrin. Calling him before she leaves, her husband tells her not to take the shortcut because even on a clear weather day, that isolated wooded road is difficult to drive on. Taking a major road on the way home, Cass is almost run off the road and makes the split-second decision to take the short-cut home.

Almost home, Cass sees a stalled vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. She stops to help, but the weather picks up and Cass decides to leave and call the authorities when she gets home to alert them of the stalled vehicle. The next morning, the news reveals that the stranded driver had been brutally murdered the night before. Cass is immediately thrown into great turmoil. When she drove by, the driver was still alive and according to the timeline released by the authorities, was killed most likely right after Cass left for home. Did she see who did it? Was the murderer in the car? If Cass would have exited her car to help the driver, would the driver have been saved or would Cass have been murdered as well? Should she call the police and let them know she saw the driver? What should she do? These questions and so much more race through Cass’s mind all day and night. Her life becomes consumed by guilt and the nagging thought that she failed and could have saved the driver.

Add in the fact that Cass’s memories are starting to fade, Cass begins to immediately doubt herself.  Her mother suffered from dementia and Cass is worried that she has it as well. Cass’s worries about her health and her massive guilt over not stopping to help the stranded driver exacerbate her confusion. She starts to forget way more things than usual. Cass mixes up dates, forgets purchasing things, and becomes increasingly paranoid. Her worry over the driver ratchets up several notches when she starts receiving silent phone calls that she is convinced are from the murderer. Her husband and best friend are very supportive, however, and Cass finds herself relying on them more than usual to get through this turmoil. If only the two got along better, then Cass’s life would be even easier. Nevertheless, she knows that they will stick by her and support her as she works through her issues.

This book was riveting and had all the necessary crazy, psychological twists that I love in suspense thrillers. Each character is very well-developed and fits neatly into this intensely twisty, clever, and engrossing plot. I was definitely caught off guard when the twist happened, so much so that when I finished this book, I immediately put B.A. Paris’ other novel on hold!


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Invisible by James Patterson

 

James Patterson has slowly wormed his way in as one of my favorite authors. Every time I pick up one of his books, I know I’m going to enjoy it. If he’s not writing a book by himself, Patterson teams up with other writers, thus making his books change slightly from person to person. I have yet to find one that hasn’t piqued my interest and as such I plan to keep reading books by James Patterson until I grow tired of him.

Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis was my latest listen. I had listened to another Patterson/Ellis book previously, so I pretty much knew I was going to enjoy it. Bonus part: the male narrator of this book(there are multiple narrators) is someone that has narrated other books that I have really enjoyed. His delivery really captures each character’s personality.

In Invisible, Emmy Dockery is on leave from the FBI. After her sister’s grisly death, Emmy finds that she can’t do her job as a research analyst for the FBI as effectively as she used to. On leave, her sister’s death consumes her. Emmy is obsessed with finding a link between hundreds of unsolved cases that she believes are connected. Having set up Google alerts for crimes similar to how her sister died, Emmy is inundated with newspaper clippings of events that all seem to be related. Waking up gasping in the middle of the night, Emmy’s recurring nightmares mimic how her sister died and leave her even more desirous to connect these unsolved cases. Calling in a favor from her ex-boyfriend, field agent Harrison “Books” Bookman, Emmy hopes that he will be able to help her finding the missing piece in this string of brutal kidnappings, rapes, and murders that all have a fire element. No one believes her that these unsolved cases could be connected, even when she lines up all the facts that she has gathered. It isn’t until Emmy finds a certain piece of evidence that Books perks up and begins to believe that what she is saying could possible be true. This story alternated between Emmy’s story and a mystery man’s story. Reading those alternate chapters back to back really ups the creepy, thrilling, suspenseful nature of this book.


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You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison

I tried expanding out of my comfort zone to read a nonfiction book and quickly fell asleep. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started it before I went to bed… As a result, the next day, I turned to the next book on my list, a suspenseful thriller by Colin Harrison called You Belong to Me. This book started out slow for me, but quickly picked up. If you decide to read it, I urge you to stick with it. This piece of literary fiction tells the tale of old maps, immigration troubles, lost loves, hit men, obsession, murder, and betrayal. I loved it. It was riveting.

Paul Reeves works as an immigration lawyer, a fairly successful one at that. His boutique firm handles cases for famous people, successful businessmen, and large companies working with foreign nationals. Paul may like his job, but his real love is maps. His passion is collecting old maps of New York. Seeing the city change throughout the years through a print record gives him chills. As he’s walking the streets or looking at his maps, he can see, in his mind’s eye, New York growing, changing, and morphing into the city that he lives in today. Paul can frequently be found at auctions throughout the city bidding on different New York maps. He attends an auction one afternoon with his neighbor Jennifer Mehraz. Jennifer is the beautiful young wife of an Iranian financier-lawyer, a man who has the best things in life and knows what he wants. Jennifer’s husband knows how to complete deals and expects his life to keep going the way that it is. Halfway through the auction, a man in soldier fatigues appears and Jennifer’s entire demeanor changes. She abandons Paul and takes off with this mystery man.

This man who showed up out of the blue to see Jennifer is a long-lost love from her past, from when she used to live in Pennsylvania. His arrival sets off a frightening chain of events that entangles Paul, Jennifer, her husband, the mystery man, and a wide variety of other people in a messy dangerous game. Jennifer, remaining somewhat tight-lipped about this mystery man, leaves those close to her very confused as they try to figure out just who he is and how they are connected. Her husband, being Iranian and very important in his chosen work field, feels her dalliance with this mystery man as a major embarrassment and wants the whole situation to disappear, no matter the consequences nor the expense.

Paul has more than Jennifer and her possessive husband to deal with though. He is desperate to get his hands on one of the world’s rarest and most sought after maps. Paul thought it was out of his reach until he was directly contacted by the seller with an offer for him to buy it. Before he can put in his offer, another buyer swoops in and buys it right from under Paul. He’s furious about this incident and is desperate to figure out who this mysterious buyer is. Paul will do anything to get that precious map into his possession, especially since it was promised to him and therefore should belong to him.

I enjoyed this book, even though it took me a few chapters to get hooked. The characters are very compelling and developed well. There are multiple story lines throughout this book that kept me hooked while I was reading. Every character has their own personal problems to work through, but they each remain entangled together. I enjoyed watching each character’s story grow as the plot developed.  Harrison has written several older books that I’m hoping are just as riveting as You Belong to Me was. I’ll let you know!

The Litigators by John Grisham

The Litigators by John Grisham is a legal thriller that revolves around lawyers, litigation, and what it takes to be the best. David Zinc is an associate at a Chicago firm that has paid him an immense sum over the last five years. He’s on the fast-track, along with thousands of other lawyers in this high-rise firm, to becoming a big name lawyer. Or at least that’s what they’re telling him. Going into work one day, David has a panic attack and dives back into the elevator to escape. Stumbling into a bar, David gets completely drunk and ends up at the law offices of Finley & Figg.

Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are law firm partners in a boutique legal firm who don’t particularly like each other. They bicker in the office over anything and everything, from advertising methods to who they take on as clients to when they come in to work. Add in some shady legal dealings and Finley & Figg find themselves in hot water over some of their cases quite frequently. Just barely making even financial wise, but not nearly making enough to be comfortable, the senior partner Oscar works to bring in some money while managing junior partner Wally comes up with crazy marketing schemes to bring in any and all clients. Neither lawyer is without fault and with the addition of a cantankerous secretary, who is actually a former client, it’s a minor miracle that the building is still standing, they’re still making some money, and no one has quit.

Wally’s latest scheme revolves around product liability and class action lawsuits dealing with medications. Wally sees dollar signs and a huge payday when he learns of a major pending class action lawsuit against the company that manufactures Krayoxx, a cholesterol-reducing drug that is suspected of causing heart attacks, death, and weakening of the heart. Oscar, and now David, are less than thrilled about this lawsuit, but once Wally gets an idea in his head, he’s going to see it through, no matter the consequences or what others think. A massive medical lawsuit ensues against the pharmaceutical company that owns the drug, Varrick Labs, with Oscar, Wally, and David quickly finding themselves in over their heads. The three join the class action and believe they are on their way to fame and fortune without ever having to set foot in a courtroom. Most of these class actions end up being settled anyway. This book is a suspenseful, entertaining read filled with courtroom drama and theatrics both inside and outside the legal system.


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Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor

I love reading autobiographies by funny people. I can see them in my head acting out each part of their life and I’m instantly amused. I feel like I’m being given a behind-the-scenes look into their daily lives every time I pick up the book. It’s fascinating. Finding new autobiographies by funny people, who also do their own audiobook narration, is one of my favorite things to do. I recently found another and decided to give it a go.

Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor popped up in my Rivershare OverDrive book list one day and I knew I needed it. I put the audiobook on hold and quickly forgot about it. When the email finally came that it was ready for me to check out, I downloaded it instantly and began listening.  Jeffrey Tambor is funny and spends equal amounts of time on each part of his life, which is a great plus.

Now, I must preface this blog by saying that I have never seen an episode of ‘Arrested Development’ or ‘Transparent,’ both shows that Jeffrey Tambor starred/stars in, respectively. Now you’re probably thinking , “Well then, how did you know he was funny? Why’d you check this book out?” I frequently see commercials for ‘Arrested Development’ on television late at night when I can’t sleep and decided to give his book a go. That was a good decision all around.

In this book, Tambor writes a series of autobiographical essays about topics all the way from his childhood to his current life. While some of the topics discussed are indeed humorous, most of his stories are more emotional. Every topic he writes about he labels as a ‘formative event’. Beginning at the start with the question ‘Are you anybody?’, Tambor moves the book right along by answering with a resounding ‘No’. His relationships with his Russian and Hungarian-Jewish parents and his childhood as a husky kid with a lisp shaped his years of work in repertoire theater which in turn led to his first film, ‘And Justice for All’, and then later led to fame in various television roles. Each defining moment in his life is hashed out in relation to what he had to do to get to that point. Tambor’s driving motivation throughout the book is his overwhelming desire to rise above his troubled upbringing and provide a better life/home for himself and, now, his family.

Reaching to the present, Tambor discusses how his ‘Are you anybody?’ question revolves around his family now. His creative process has expanded and Tambor finds that in his more than four decades of entertainment, he still has no idea who he is. That’s not a problem per se, more of a challenge to figure out how to balance the triumphs and pitfalls of the entertainment industry. Tambor also is quick to mention that even if you’re successful, that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Failing, while disastrous, heart-breaking, and depressing at the time, may actually lead you down a better path to who you want to be.

Jeffrey Tambor may be a television legend, a Broadway star, and an accomplished screen actor, but he is still struggling to figure out just who he is and if he is anybody. I enjoyed that he swept between essays about famous people (check out his shout-outs to said people) and every day discussions of his family (his stories about his young children crack me up). The differentiation between those two types of essays lends a necessary balance to this book that allows readers to view Tambor as a normal person who just happens to be famous. He still gets up in the morning to make his kids’ lunches, takes them to all of their practices, and then makes sure they read every night. Just like the rest of us. If you have the chance to listen to or read this book, I recommend you give it a go. I enjoyed it and now I’m off to start ‘Arrested Development’!


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Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

 Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is a mysterious, suspicious, relentless page turner of a book. Leo Demidov is an officer in Moscow’s MGB, the organizational precursor to the KGB. Leo is also a decorated hero of WWII with his picture plastered all over the newspaper. Working for the MGB in 1950s Stalinist Russia means that Leo’s life, and the life of everyone around him, is rife with fear and paranoia. Leo has a tiny bit of protection since he works for the MGB, but he is more than aware of how quickly the security afforded to him by his job can be snatched away.

The Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule lives under the heading that there is no crime. That simply isn’t true. Crime that happens is quickly quelled by the MGB and is usually stopped before it happens by quick capture and interrogation. Leo handles a variety of cases and on one of his missions, he is assigned to talk to the family of a young boy who died. The family is convinced that the boy was murdered, a fact made worse by the fact that the boy’s father works for Leo at the MGB. Tasked with making sure the family understands the boy’s death was an accident, Leo tries to get them to understand the situation.

Another of Leo’s cases puts him at odds with a different subordinate, to the point that the man seeks revenge. Forces come to a head and Leo’s steady life is rocked. Faced with the decision of whether or not to denounce his wife as an enemy spy, Leo seeks advice from his parents and wrestles with his decision. Leo is a believer in his country with his work record and military history backing up his beliefs. Asking him to denounce his wife has the potential to push him over the edge.

Circumstances collude to destroy Leo’s life. He is dispatched out of Moscow and exiled to a country village. Leo finds the body of a child killed in the same way as the young boy in Moscow, a fact that puts his whole demeanor on edge. The death he was forced to cover up in Moscow cannot be a coincidence and Leo soon believes a serial killer is after Russia’s children. The official government standpoint is that these deaths are a coincidence. This rankles Leo and sets him down a path to find the real killer, while he also works to keep he and his wife safe.

This book was a riveting read. Tom Rob Smith conveys the melancholy and oppressiveness of Stalin’s Soviet Union very well. Add in murder, espionage, intrigue, and suspense, this piece of thrilling historical fiction comes to life as Leo works to solve crime in a country where crime simply doesn’t exist. This is also the first book in a trilogy, so you can keep reading about Leo’s adventures (The other two are on my list!).


This book was made into a movie starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. It’s on my holds list! Hopefully they stayed somewhat true to the book.

 


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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a massive undertaking of a book. (The audiobook was over 30 hours long!) Despite its length, this book is masterfully crafted and deals with a wide variety of topics from drug use to terrorism to museums to alcoholism to loss to survival. So many different themes that some reviewers have called this book an odyssey. I would have to agree with them. I definitely felt like I was being given the complete tour of the main character’s life, as well as everyone that he came in contact with.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt tells the story of the life of Theodore Decker. This book follows Theo’s life starting as a young boy in New York City to his current situation as a man in his twenties who has wound up back in New York. As a young boy, Theo lives with his mother after his father abandoned them. Out one day with his mother, Theo miraculously survives a horrendous attack that kills his mother and many other people. Traumatized, alone, and unsure of his future, Theo finds himself ensconced in the home of a wealthy friend. When his father unexpectedly pops back into his life, Theo finds himself ripped from his only place of security into a whirlwind of confusion. He bounces around the country meeting new people, but is always drawn back to New York, the girl he met the day of the attack, and the artifact he found. This artifact, a painting, leads Theo down an unexpected road into the art underworld. Theo’s life journey, accompanied by this small, mysterious painting, is perilous: full of loss, mania, fixations, power struggles, new identities, and the looming, heady sensation of anguish and grief.

This book is such a rich expanse of wonder that, once you are finished, you will be left gaping at everything that the author was able to pack in. It’s not shocking that this book won the Pulitzer Prize. Tartt has created a masterwork that takes readers through present-day America as Theo struggles to find himself amidst unbelievable loss and tragedy. Tartt pays such close attention to Theo’s feelings that readers are acutely aware of everything that is happening around him and how the tragedy he has suffered has deeply changed him. This is a story of massive loss and overwhelming survival, of obsession and the need to become a new person. Highly recommended.


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