Thursday, January 18, 2018

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt - Excerpt

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Margot Hunt's Best Friends Forever. Today I have an excerpt for you, number 12 if you're following the tour, but first here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Kat Grant and Alice Campbell have a friendship forged in shared confidences and long lunches lubricated by expensive wine. Though they’re very different women—the artsy socialite and the struggling suburbanite—they’re each other’s rocks. But even rocks crumble under pressure. Like when Kat’s financier husband, Howard, plunges to his death from the second-floor balcony of their South Florida mansion.

Howard was a jerk, a drunk, a bully and, police say, a murder victim. The questions begin piling up. Like why Kat has suddenly gone dark: no calls, no texts and no chance her wealthy family will let Alice see her. Why investigators are looking so hard in Alice’s direction. Who stands to get hurt next. And who is the cool liar—the masterful manipulator behind it all.

Agh, it sounds so good! I can't wait to dive in!

And now to the excerpt:

Best Friends Forever
by Margot Hunt
excerpt #12

“I don’t think anyone on the outside ever truly knows what goes on inside a marriage,” I said carefully.

Demer smiled patiently. “No, probably not. I’m just asking for any impressions you might have formed from being around them.”

“That’s just it. Whenever I saw the two of them together, well, I was there, wasn’t I? Most married people behave differently when there are other people around. I know my hus- band and I do.”

It was a nonanswer, but if it frustrated Demer, he hid it well. Oliver, on the other hand, looked like she wanted to slap me. “Fair enough,” Demer said. “Did Katherine ever complain about her husband?” “Kat,” I corrected him. “Excuse me?”

“She goes by Kat, not Katherine.” “Okay. Kat, then. So, did she?”

“Complain about her husband?” I repeated. He nodded. “Sure, from time to time. I hate to break it to you, Detective, but most women complain about their husbands to their friends.”

The wonderful thing about this statement was that it had the benefit of being the absolute truth.

“Let’s get back to Howard Grant,” Demer said.

My patience was starting to fray. “I’ve already told you, I wasn’t close with Howard. I was friends with Kat. I suggest you talk to her if you want to know about her husband.”

“Oh, we’ve already talked to Katherine Grant,” Oliver inserted.

Something about this bald statement caused a f licker of concern at the edges of my consciousness. I wasn’t sure what exactly about it bothered me. Of course, it only made sense that they would interview Kat as part of their investigation, even if she was out of the country at the time of Howard’s
death. But then, suddenly, I realized what the problem was. Kat hadn’t told me the police had been to see her. And we told each other everything, or almost everything. I knew when her insomnia was acting up, and when the dry cleaner ruined her favorite dress, and usually what she’d had for dinner the night before. So why didn’t she call to tell me the police had questioned her about her husband’s death?

“When did you speak with Kat?” I asked.

Demer shot Oliver a glance. She shrugged but didn’t say any- thing more. I suddenly had the distinct feeling that there was something more going on here. That the police had not asked me to come in simply to give them background information. “What is this all about, anyway? Why are you asking me about Kat and Howard’s marriage?” I pressed.

“Like I said, we’re looking for background,” Demer said. “We’re just trying to make sure we’ve covered everything.” “And they brought you all the way down here from Tallahassee to do that?” I asked.

Demer looked at me steadily but didn’t answer my ques- tion. It was clear there was something going on, some reason they had for questioning me, and I didn’t know what that was. “Why don’t you tell us about when you first met Howard

Grant?” Demer suggested.

“I’m not sure if I remember,” I said, thinking back. “It would have been three years ago.”

“Try,” the detective said. “Take your time.”

Best Friends Forever doesn't officially hit shelves until Jan 23, but you can read through all of the excerpts on the tour if you want more of a taste. 

For more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. Be sure to come back here on February 12 to see my review of the book!

For more on Margot Hunt and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Elementals by Michael McDowell

For me, the start of a new reading year is always exciting. Setting goals, starting challenges, closing out the prior year with my list of faves... And I did all three at the dawn of 2018: I submitted a top ten to Bookbitch.com and posted my expanded "Favorite Reads of 2017" here on the blog. I set my Goodreads goal for 2018 (150 with the expectation [hope] that I'll have to set that higher as the year goes by - I squeaked by with my 180 goal of 2017, so we'll see), and I chose a few challenges for the year as well. This year, I'm sticking to the Litsy Reading Challenge bingo card and Book Riot's Read Harder challenge. (I'm also doing BookBar's Read-o-Lution challenge, but it's only a few weeks long.)

Considering I only finished one challenge in full last year (a novella challenge), this year is starting off promisingly - I've already managed to finish a few challenge goals!

You may recall seeing mention of The Elementals on my Ghost Stories for Christmas post. Sadly, I didn't manage to actually pack the book when we left for the holidays, so I wasn't actually reading it on Christmas Eve as planned. (It's ok, though, I did have something.) I'd then intended this to be my final read of 2017, but I was sick and that didn't exactly happen either. But I did manage to make it my first read of 2018! And it satisfies a square on the Litsy Reading Challenge!

Michael McDowell, if you don't know, was a fairly prolific author whose work was mostly released in the 80s. He's best known, though, as the screenwriter behind Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. And I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first time you're hearing of him, sadly.

His work has been largely out of print for a while, but thanks to Valancourt Books and Felony & Mayhem, quite a few of his titles have been reissued in recent years. And thank goodness for that! Valancourt in particular has been reissuing McDowell's old southern gothic/horror titles, including The Elementals.

Marian Savage has died and in honor of her death, her son Dauphin, his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, niece, and maid are all headed to the family beach homes for the summer. 

The trio of buildings, built by the Savage family decades ago, have barely changed over the years. Well, with one major exception. At one time, two of the homes were sold. One was eventually purchased by Dauphin's father-in-law, but no one is sure who owns the third. No one ever visits it. And now, all these years later, in spite of looking virtually the same as the other two, the sand has begun to reclaim it.

The homes have a strange history. Dauphin's recently departed mother died there, for one. But it's more than that. Strange sightings, strange noises, and strange occurrences plague the place. Dauphin's own brother disappeared there one summer. But in spite of that, the group is determined to have a good time. 

It seems the houses have different plans, though. 

I loved the timelessness of this story. It was originally released in 1981 but, with the exception of the lack of cell phones, it could really take place just as easily now as then. The houses are cut off from the outside world and, essentially, from time itself. Which is exactly what gives it that timeless feel.

The Elementals isn't a loud or flashy horror read. Instead, it's something of a slow burn that builds in tension thanks to the atmosphere and characters within the story. The sultry heat of summer seeps from the pages as does the grainy itch of sand.

I was going to say that India and Odessa are the two most interesting characters in the story. And it's true that they're the two characters who experience most of the happenings at the beach homes. But in retrospect, they're simply the two I was most drawn to. In all honesty, each of the characters has a little something about them in turn.

India is a precocious teen who lives alone with her single father in New York City. The product of an unhappy marriage, India is perfectly happy with her home life. It would be expected that she'd be bored out of her mind at the beach, but that definitely isn't the case. Her relationship with Odessa, the Savage family maid, is rocky at first - India understandably isn't comfortable with the idea of a maid and it comes across as surliness towards the woman. But when she starts seeing things in the third home and realizes Odessa may have answers, that relationship quickly changes.

I will say that I didn't find The Elementals a completely satisfying read. I wanted more from it. And not just answers about the entities that haunt Beldame. There was something about The Elementals that felt more like a chapter out of a larger story. Like there should have been more to the tale of the Savages and the McCray's than this one summer. It was fun, but I wanted more from it - or maybe just more to it.

I should point out that I have actually read McDowell before. In 2006, Berkley released Candles Burning, which was completed by none other than Tabitha King herself. You can find my review of that one over in the Bookbitch archives.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for A. J. Finn's debut, The Woman in the Window.

Anna Fox hasn't left her home in almost a year. She suffers from agoraphobia, the result of an accident she's physically recovered from but that still affects her mentally.

To fill her time, Anna plays chess online, spends time in an online forum for fellow agoraphobics, and spies on her neighbors. Yes, spies. She even uses her camera to get a better view. She knows, for example, that the new neighbor is having an affair. She also knows that the husband has only narrowly missed catching her. And the other new family across the way has caught her eye as well. Fortunately, Jane Russell is understanding of Anna's plight and even seems open to becoming friends.

But then Anna witnesses Jane's murder. And no one believes her. Especially when another woman claiming to be Jane, a woman Anna has never seen before, meets the police alive and well.

This story might sound familiar to a well-versed thriller fan. It's Rear Window, of a sort. But rather than an injured Jimmy Stewart, we have agoraphobic therapist Anna Fox.

Anna is on a number of medications. And she drinks much more than she should, especially paired with the pills. So of course everyone believes she imagined it when she frantically calls the police claiming her neighbor has been stabbed. But Anna knows what she saw! Or does she?

Throughout the book, Anna fights with the question of her sanity, bouncing back and forth between confidence in her mental state and confidence in what she saw, and being convinced she may have hallucinated it all. Even when strange things start happening in her own home, she can't be sure if she's imagining it all.

I really enjoyed the narrative style - yes, it's another unreliable narrator of a sort but in Finn's hands it never felt stale or ho hum. That's because Anna herself is such a strong character. She's fond of merlot (buys it by the case), she's a classic film aficionado (thrillers in particular), and, because of her profession, she's got a logic and understanding about her situation that makes it that much more interesting. She knows all the ins and outs but her own mind and body war against that logic.

Of course the plot, which is much more than Rear Window - but I won't give that away, is what makes the story really interesting. But paired with Anna, Finn again makes it unique. Not to mention compulsively readable!

The Woman in the Window has been getting lots of attention and hype, which did affect how I approached the book. I was concerned that it just wouldn't live up to everything I was hearing. Thankfully, it did!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on A. J. Finn you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Releases 1/16/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Munich by Robert Harris

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Oliver Loving by Stefan Merril Block

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward

City of Endless Light by Douglas S. Preston & Lincoln Child

The Weight of an Infinite Sky by Carrie La Seur

Walk in the Fire by Steph Post

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

New on DVD:
Happy Death Day
The Snowman

Friday, January 12, 2018

Short Fiction Friday: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Oh, what's that? It's time for another Seanan McGuire post? Yep, it is. The kids at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children are back!

Ever since the killer was stopped at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, things have quieted down some. Life has returned to normal, as normal as normal can get for kids who have returned from various worlds of whimsy, fairy, and horror. But their lives are upended once more when Sumi's daughter, Rini, falls from the sky. Literally.

It seems Rini and her world are in big trouble. See, when Sumi was killed she hadn't yet defeated the Queen of Cakes, setting everyone in Confection free from a reign of terror that's meant to come to an end. Worse yet, Sumi hadn't yet met her husband or given birth to Rini, which means that Rini's very existence hangs in the balance. And so, Sumi's friends have no choice but to enter Rini's world and try and fix things.

Oh, so fun! And a bit sad too. I love these characters so much and love the stories and worlds that McGuire has built for all of them. Kade is back, as are Christopher and Nadya. And there's a new character who gets ample face time here as well: Cora. Together, with Rini by their side, they travel through multiple worlds (yes, more than just Confection!) to try and find a way to save Sumi, Rini, and everyone in Confection.

If you haven't read this series yet, go out and buy all three books. Do it this instant! They are just phenomenal in every possible way. And trust me, you'll gobble them up in probably one sitting. They're that good (and that short, too).

This one is particularly gobble worthy considering Rini's world is literally a candy land. Everything is candy and baked goods! But in a sugary world, everything is clearly not sweet. Confection is ruled by the ruthless Queen of Cakes, someone Sumi defeated. And yet, with Sumi's untimely death, the Queen of Cakes has returned. Or never left, whichever way you want to look at it.

Beneath a Sugar Sky is a trippy, confection filled read. But it's got more than that. It and the whole series have so much heart! These are characters who don't fit in, until they find a place where they do. And those places are taken from each and every one of them. Most of them spend their days at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children trying to find a way back to the worlds they've left behind. They're misunderstood, they're abandoned, and the only place they now fit it is amongst the other kids like themselves. And oh, the feels I have for each and every one of them!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Joan and her four-year-old son were wrapping up a nice day at the zoo when she hears the pops. She isn't sure what they are but as they near the exit it becomes clear - there's a shooter inside the zoo. Terrified but determined to protect her son, Joan runs, searching out a spot that will keep them safe and hidden until the authorities can arrive. But as the hours go by, Joan is faced time and again with decisions that could put them both at risk. Can they outwit the killers and survive the night?

This latest from Gin Phillips is actually my introduction to the author. And it's an interesting read in that it forces the reader to think about what they would do in Joan's situation.

I'm not even sure how to review the book, to be honest. Being faced with the question of what you'd do in Joan's situation hits a little too close to home these days. And I've faced my own, albeit not particularly dangerous, scenario where my reaction was definitely not what I anticipated. I know everyone imagines how they'd react. The zombie apocalypse is one of my own imaginary scenarios (and let's face it, I'm not cut out for physical or seriously stressful situations!). But as a criminal justice major in particular I had thought that I could maintain a cool head in certain situations I've been proven not to be able to. So yeah, faced with the question of what I'd do personally in Joan's situation makes me uncomfortable.

Obviously not to the point of avoiding a book about it, though. This book was intense and, in the end, quite thought provoking.

So Joan and her son are visiting the zoo, hidden away in a little shady area while he plays with his action figures. A quiet afternoon spent together and a way to keep the toddler busy and amused. But closing time is coming soon and they start to head out when the first shots happen. Joan sees bodies, she sees people running, and she takes off, seeking shelter in hopes they can evade the killer.

We get snippets of a few other characters' stories - a retired teacher and a teenager working at the zoo as well as one of the shooters - but Joan is the main focus of the story. And there wouldn't be much of a story if they found a hiding spot and stayed still until the end. So you can imagine, at least vaguely, how the story plays out. It's an emotional roller coaster and an extremely fast-paced read that took me one sitting to get through.

All of that said, I do have to admit that Joan makes a few godawful decisions! Like bafflingly bad decisions! It was akin to watching a horror movie and screaming at the heroine for going up the stairs to investigate the strange noise...

All told, this is a super readable and dark story. Fair warning!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

New girl Kacey is still getting used to life in Broken Falls. Living with the father she never knew and her step and half siblings and step mother isn't quite what she expected. She's been welcomed into their home and become close with them all, but she still feels like an outsider. It still feels precarious.

The same can be said of her friendships in Broken Falls. Bailey and Jade were best friends well before Kacey arrived. But they too welcomed her into their fold. At least it seemed that way. Bailey is quick to lose her temper with both Jade and Kacey, but Kacey can't imagine what she could have done to get shunned by the two of them. And that's certainly what seems to have happened when she receives no call from them about a party they're all supposed to go to. Instead, the next thing Kacey hears is that Bailey has disappeared. 

Now, Kacey has taken it upon herself to find out what happened. But locals, especially the police, aren't too keen on the fact that Kacey keeps landing right in the middle of each new revelation of the investigation. Can she find out what really happened to Bailey before suspicion turns to her?

Thomas, as is the case with her previous books (both her Kara Thomas release The Darkest Corners and her trilogy written as Kara Taylor), maintains a quick pace throughout this latest that's driven by the underlying question of just what is going on in Broken Falls.

The town has a story about another missing woman. A woman whose whole family is killed. That woman is said to haunt the area near Kacey's new home and it's a legend that intrigues Bailey and freaks Kacey's new sister out immensely. And of course the girls go out searching for the missing woman's ghost just as the story is kicking off.

In spite of this dark history, Broken Falls isn't really the kind of place where kids go missing. It's a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. Which isn't always a good thing. Chapters are interspersed with entries from Bailey's own diary, which soon reveal that Bailey was not only hiding things from her friends but that she wasn't exactly liked by all of her peers. Of course Kacey doesn't really know this. And Kacey has problems of her own, which color her investigation into Bailey's disappearance.

Little Monsters is a YA mystery with dark leanings, but never crosses over into truly dark territory. Instead, the dread seeps in and tinges the whole story with a gray overtone, a suspicion that things aren't going to go well for the teens involved and a hope that at least the one we've followed along the way (Kacey) will come out ok in the end.

Fabulous atmosphere and a fun read!