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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Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is not what I thought it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised! (To be honest, I picked this book purely based on the cover, something I’m guilty of doing a lot.) This book is a literary thriller that tells the story of the far-reaching consequences of identity theft. Await Your reply begins by introducing the three main characters: Miles, Ryan, and Lucy.
Miles is on a mission to find his missing twin brother, Hayden. Hayden disappeared over ten years ago, leaving Miles desperate for clues. His search takes him everywhere and has Miles deciphering letters and clues that will hopefully lead to Hayden. The brothers’ relationship and their shared childhood is a major driving factor in Miles’ concern over where his brother is.
Ryan is struggling in college and basically in his life in general. He doesn’t know what to do. Add in that he just realized that he’s adopted(how could his parents hide that secret from him his whole life?!) and Ryan is even more lost than before. His desire to learn more about his past and figure out what he wants to do with his life lead him down a dark road.
Lucy is completely over her small country hometown. She wants to escape, travel the world, and find her purpose. Lucy is presented with a way to leave her hometown in the dust, something that she jumps on! Lucy’s escape quickly proves more dangerous and mysterious than she initially thought. The consequences of her rash decision will leave her reeling and confused over just who she should trust.
I found the plotlines and each character’s timelines to be a little tricky to follow at first. If you decide to read this book, I urge you to not give up because everything becomes clear towards the end. I honestly was very surprised about some of the connections and the twists/turns that the author came up with. I didn’t see them coming! Highly recommend (If you can listen to this book, do it! The narrator was very good.)
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Sharp Objects was Gillian Flynn’s literary debut in 2006, followed after with Dark Places in 2009, Gone Girl in 2012, and The Grownup in 2014. Flynn’s first three works are all suspenseful, dark books full of thrilling chases, tragedies, secrets, and lies. I was introduced to Gillian Flynn through Gone Girl and immediately dived into her other books.
In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker is working as a journalist for a second-rate newspaper, the Daily Post, in Chicago when her boss, Frank Curry, gives her a new assignment. Camille is to head to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to cover the murder of one young girl and the kidnapping of another. Camille soon finds herself back in Wind Gap for the first time in eight years, working on her career-boosting serial-killer-in-the-making article.
In this psychological thriller, Camille struggles to break through small-town barriers to find the truth about what happened to those two girls. Once the body of the second girl is found, Camille finds herself swept into the story amidst all the rumors flying through town about who committed these vile acts. These murders are especially hard for Camille and her mother, as her younger sister died when she was 10 of a mysterious illness. Local police call on the help of a profiler from Kansas City, MO and Camille works closely with him to discover Wind Gap’s secrets.
Camille has secrets of her own. She comes from a dysfunctional family and one of the things she turned to to cope was self-mutilation. She was once institutionalized for this; her body covered in scars, words littering every surface of skin. Her trip back to Wind Gap forces her to relive her disturbed childhood, digging into old family secrets and things simmering under the surface. This book is truly suspenseful, leaving readers guessing about the murderer and the truth those simmering secrets until the very end.
This book is also available in the following formats:
I love book lists. Give me a list of award books or a list of books you absolutely adored, and I will slowly make my way through the list until I have read them all. Today’s book is one I discovered on an award list. The title is Everything I Never Told You and is Celeste Ng’s debut novel. I first heard of Everything I Never Told You when I was tuned in to watch the Alex Awards online. The Alex Awards are an award given out by the American Library Association (ALA) to the 10 best adult books that have special appeal to teens. (This book has also been on numerous other lists and won another award. Check out Celeste Ng’s website for more information.)
Everything I Never Told You begins, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” After those simple, yet devastating, few sentences, Ng weaves together the story of a Chinese-American family growing up in 1970s Ohio. Each family member is outlined: the professor father James, stay-at-home mother Marilyn, older brother Nathan who is desperate to leave home, younger sister Hannah who seems to blend into the background, and the middle golden-child Lydia whose mother and father have placed all of their hopes on her shoulders, as well as several other members of the community. When Lydia’s body is found in the lake right down the street from their house, the entire family falls apart.
This book delves into the complex nature of the Lees: family, history, home, and the struggles we all make on a daily basis to understand each other and to find ourselves.
If that description caught your interest, check out No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. This book deals with similar concepts of love, loss, and the tragic and upheaving nature of death. This book takes place in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, where residents have been shocked by the discovery of high school student Ruth Fried’s body in a cornfield. Her best friend, 16-year-old Kippy Bushamn, finds herself trying to solve her best friend’s murder. Ruth’s mother has given Ruth’s diary to Kippy with the express instruction to redact the sexy parts. Kippy sets out to find out who murdered her best friend and discovers that in her small Midwestern town, everyone seems to have secrets.
This quirky murder mystery will have you following Kippy around as she emulates her idol, Diane Sawyer, to figure out who her best friend really was and what really happened when she died.
Told in two parallel stories set in different times, Random Acts of Heroic Love is about the power of love, of how it can devastate but also uplift and empower us do what might seem impossible.
In one story, Leo and his girlfriend Eleni are traveling through South America when a horrific bus accident takes Eleni’s life. Nearly crushed by guilt and grief, Leo tries to make sense of his loss by seeking answers through science, but the weight of being left behind is almost too much.
The second story takes place in Poland where shortly after Moritz and Lotte declare their love, Moritz is swept into the horrors of the First World War. Captured by the Russians and sent to prison camp in Siberia, he is literally thousands of miles from home. After escaping from the camp, Moritz undertakes the arduous journey back to his beloved.
At first the stories are so disconnected that you may wonder what the author is up to, but about two-thirds of the way through things begin to come together, rewarding the reader with a poignant examination of love and redemption across time and distance.