The Pupil: A Novel by Dawn Goodwin

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I’ve been thinking about your book and I’d like to help. Call me, Sam. 

Best selling novelist Sam Morton sees potential in pupil Katherine Baxter, he could be the perfect mentor in guiding her into a best-selling author. He certainly isn’t producing anything of value, nor meeting deadlines at the moment. Katherine spends her days caring for her two children in a beautiful home, provided by her older husband Paul but writing has forever been her passion, one she’s had to put on a shelf. Paul isn’t supportive of her dreams, if she has any chance of finishing a novel and being published, it will be through Sam, but it will require deception and favors from her friend to keep Paul in the dark. Paul treats her as a fragile creature who could break at any moment, something happened in the past, some sort of breakdown that requires medication to keep Katherine stable but she’s had enough of Paul’s watchful eye. She’s ready to move on. It isn’t only Paul who feels her quiet life is safest, after the ‘incident’, her friend Helen believes her writing, and the notoriety it could bring ‘if’ it’s successful is better left as an unfulfilled dream, more risk than it’s worth. Why can’t Katherine just be happy with her very comfortable, happy life?

Sam is attractive, but it’s his skill as a writer that’s the real draw. He has the life she wants, the sense of accomplishment that comes from attaining ones dream. Then there is the wife, Violet- the power behind the man. The woman comes to know Katherine, and realizes she has seen her somewhere else before. Violet will never allow any woman to come between she and Sam, pupil or lover. She knows something damaging about Katherine, something explosive, unforgiveable!

There are flashbacks of Katherine’s youth, from the father who walked out on she and her mother, to her first love that left her with more than just memories. The bond between she and her mother is strained, a mother who had big dreams for her daughter, dreams that didn’t entail settling. All she wanted was for her daughter to blaze a trail to a solid career, so she would never end up as she has, dependant on a man. Her mother has kept things from Katherine too, it seems everyone is deceptive in their own special way in this novel.

Just as she is finally laying claim on her own future, she begins to receive threats through texts messages, someone knows who she is and what she has done, and by the novel’s end so will you, dear reader.

Katherine is the shrinking wife at the start, meant to be content under a husband who acts more like a father than a lover, the bright spots of her day should be going for walks with her friend Helen, eating healthy food that the well to do have the money for, cleaning her beautiful home and nurturing her perfect children. Bury your own dreams and go about your life with a smile, take pills to recover from your tragedy, move along, nothing to see here. I don’t know, Katherine didn’t ever become a woman I liked. I get it, she is meek but even the meek have an inner fire, anger that simmers beneath their calm exterior, especially a woman looking to chase her dream. Sam didn’t feel like a real person to me either, he was just sort of there, I expect a handsome famous author to be more charismatic. I never felt that magnetism. Things spiral madly between Violet, Sam and Katherine and I was left wondering what the point was. It is tragic, it really is, the big secret shadowing Katherine but I was perplexed, and honestly, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Violet, even if she is off her rocker.

Not sure how I feel about this one, I’ve read other novels about mentors that are far more sinister, I don’t think this is a love triangle, which may well be the point. Violet is meant to feel threatened, when there isn’t a true threat from Katherine. She’s done far more horrible things than fall in love with Sam, whether she is to blame or not. I thought this was going to be a wild love affair full of violence and vengeance. Well, I leave it to you reader to decide for yourself.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Aria

 

 

 

 

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Her Pretty Face: A Novel by Robyn Harding

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She was having a girls’ day out. Like other women did. Like women whose children didn’t require special diets and structured routines and constant research into treatments and behavioral modification therapies.

Frances Metcalfe clings to the hope that life will be better now that her troubled son is accepted into Forrester Academy, but like all the elite places in the world, it too has it’s hierarchy and one that doesn’t easily forgive children who deviate from the norm. When her son Marcus gets back at a student for bullying him, it’s vile and ‘disturbing’ to the child’s mother and any chance of fitting in seems lost forever, once again they are outcasts. Frances may as well be back in school herself, unlike the wealthy parents she and her husband have modest means, a second mortgage on their house to afford their son’s tuition, anything to help him get a ‘clean slate’ and flourish as he begins middle school. Unlike her handsome, charming husband she is nothing like the other mother’s, not at 5 feet and carrying excess weight, she’s never going to fit in. With their disapproval, she is sinking further into depression. Her social anxiety is at an all time high and the other women aren’t even attempting to make it easy on her. Then salvation arrives, in the form of Kate Randolph.

Kate doesn’t worry so much what the other mother’s think, she is just as beautiful and wealthy as any of the mothers. She doesn’t need anyone’s approval, in fact she enjoys sparring with the other mothers, cutting them down to size which is exactly what she does to Alison Moss in support of her new friend. When Kate’s around, the weight of the world is lifted and why she accepts Frances in all her awkward glory is a mystery, even Kate’s son Charles is the opposite of Marcus, naturally loved by everyone and like a godsend when her son has a meltdown. Charles and Kate save the day, finally her son has someone at school who is in his corner. Nothing could warm her heart more, after years of therapy and struggle, it’s such a welcome site she could cry. For once, she has found support, a mother and son who don’t treat her son like a freak. Could life finally be turning around for the better?

The two form a deep bond, Kate pushing Frances to tap into her wild side. Not all of their fun is ‘harmless’. Kate’s daughter Daisy knows her mother has another side, that she has high expectations of her, Charles is the apple of her eye while Daisy feels unwanted. Daisy should have a perfect life, “Girls who looked like Daisy were instantly popular, no matter the defects in their personality.” So why is she so sad, and distant from her mother, whom she looks so much like? Moving around so much takes its toll, and  teenaged Daisy is flirting with her own disaster. Both Kate and Frances have dark secrets, ones that makes it wise to keep one’s guard up but both are vulnerable with the other, the trouble is one of them is a cold-blooded murderer. Just whose secret is the most devastating?

DJ is a character that wants justice, just a child when his sister was brutally murdered. Amber Kunik is at the heart of the tragedy, and he refuses to forget her. The novel has short chapters that reach into the past, the trial of Shane Nelson for her murder. The moment that changed the entire trajectory of Dj’s life.

Both women are hiding from something, or someone. Each are haunted by the transgressions of their youth that have cost other people everything. Someone is going to uncover their devastatingly shocking secrets, and neither family will be the same. The bonds of their friendship will be tested, just how much do they really know about each other?

This story was engaging and sad. Any mother can empathize with Frances and her struggles with her son. What mother doesn’t want their child to thrive, to be happy and have friendships. In any child with difficulties it’s the little things that make or break your heart, the slights and rejections are just as brutal an attack on a mother’s heart as the child’s. Lacking the confidence to stand up to the ‘in crowd’ (let’s face it, the popularity contest in school can be just as ridiculous in the adult world) who wouldn’t welcome the edgier Kate? Kate’s life is by no means perfect either, she has her own issues that Daisy has a knack for putting a spotlight on. Both women are deeply damaged in different ways. Dj breaks your heart, his story gets tangled in theirs and his own plans go wildly awry, and still it’s hard not to feel for him too. This book evoked both horror and sympathy.

Shocking, brutal and sad both women are guilty but which one can be forgiven? What will it cost the children when revenge comes to call?

Publication Date: July 10. 2018

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Gallery/Scout Press

 

Read Me: A Novel by Leo Benedictus

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My subjects do not choose to be my subjects, it is true, but only because such a choice is impossible. If you volunteer to be studied, you stop being you. 

Frances doesn’t know it, but her life is going to unravel when a violent stalker choses her for his attentions. A man who has the wealth through inheritance to spend his days as he pleases choses to hunt people, through observation, manipulation and violence. His wealth inspires in him a need to “behave strangely”, one that never lets up. It all begins with his first victim, Laura where curiosity becomes obsession. Stalking the hairdresser with dreams of acting, in the beginning he studies people with no intention of harm. Just creeping about, learning everything he can never daring to interact directly. After his first, he begins to switch to other people with ease, always knowing he can return to those he has abandoned for a time.

Then he notices Frances, the main subject of this novel or should I say specimen? Frances is a consultant who ‘stirs his nerves’ in a new way. It isn’t long before minimal notes about her escalates to creeping into her house, inserting himself like a ghost haunting the living. Toying with the idea that if the victim doesn’t know, can they really be a victim? He tells us how he pulls it off, all the stalking so this book feels like a how to manual from a twisted mind. Through many chapters he stalks, and it’s hard to feel the thrill of it, all that waiting seems exhaustively pointless and boring with little reward. He spends time informing the reader that we all ‘will pay the bill’ in the future for what the person we were in the past chose to do. A little game of ‘who are you really?” which is interesting because you never quite pin down who he really is. There isn’t a solid reason why he began stalking, and as a person there is mostly detachment. He is absorbed so much in knowing everything he can about his victims that he is a half-formed thing himself. Truly, does he really know these people because he can watch them like an animal in a cage, and as with Frances when her life unravels, isn’t it true interfering alters a person? He has blown up her life, and the spoils are in watching the aftermath.

He is at times trapped in a sort of corner by his own philosophizing. It would have been a far more interesting character if we could in turn study him, but he doesn’t really have a past for us to dissect. Maybe he is meant to be without explanation, and that is the point, that there isn’t a why. He is repulsive, the novel turns to horror after a slow trudge through the watching and still I wonder… why? Did he just need something to do with himself? What the heck caused this split in his mind? Why Frances? The answer seems to be, why not?

Obviously he gets high on his voyeurism, and in a sense it’s like playing God when he manipulates things with Frances. It begins with a cup of hot tea, and ends with it as well, but will Frances still be alive at the end? It is intelligently written and the idea is horrible, people want to be seen so badly, heard, known but not like this. This is scrutiny we could all do well without. It was a decent read, and it’s disturbing, graphic in parts, but I was left scratching my head? Maybe we’re meant to feel like the victims wondering why, never really coming to any solid conclusion?

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Twelve Books

She Was the Quiet One: A Novel by Michele Campbell

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Neither Sarah nor Heath had a counseling background. They knew nothing about running a dorm, or providing guidance to messed-up girls. Sarah had spent her Odell years hiding from girls like that, and- to be honest- Heath had spent his time chasing them.

Rose and Bel Enright’s mother has just succumbed to cancer, the dreamier of the twins (Bel) wants nothing to change more than what already has. The devastating loss has already altered their known world. Both girls know without a place to go, they will end up in Foster Care so it is Rose’s idea to contact their father’s wealthy mother and take her up on her offer to send them (as has been an Enright tradition for generations) to boarding school at the prestigious Odell Academy. Rose can’t wait, the New England school is like a dream come true. It offers an education that she would never have known otherwise.  Bell can’t think of anything worse, surely their free-spirited mother would never have wanted this for her beloved, favorite girl. Soon enough, Rose and Bell are divided and Bell is in over her head, following an older, popular group of vicious, entitled girls.

The sister’s relationship veers into the point of no return when Bell takes part in hazing with Rose and her roommate as victims. Shockingly, her own grandmother can’t stand shame coming to the Enright name nor any smear upon Odell Academy. Worse, Bell seems to have their grandmother just as under her charm as their mother was. Sarah Donovan, the dorm mother, is there to support Rose when her own family turns against her. But Sarah has family issues of her own, in between juggling her young children and her husband’s ambition, there is some sort of stain they too are trying to erase, a problem the husband and wife are healing from. This was supposed to be a new start, but it seems their old school houses wealthy, dangerous girls as powerful, manipulative and intimidating as they were when Sarah and her husband were students themselves. Worse, there seems to be a scheme involving her guileless husband, a sort of dare amongst the senior girls, which soon enough Heath will laugh off as harmless.  How is a woman with a body taken over by the birth of children to feel secure around such youthful beauty, girls whose looks and artful exposure of their flesh betray their age and lack of experience? Sarah may as well be the awkward, unpopular girl she was in school. Can she trust Heath not to succumb to any untoward behavior?

Despite finding herself in serious trouble, ashamed that she betrayed her own sister, Bell is more obsessed with Mr. Heath, swooning at his every word, inserting herself as much as she can in his life, hungry for his attention. She is playing a dangerous game of seduction for a young, inexperienced girl. Heath won’t let anything ruin his chance to prove himself as a husband, father and if everything goes according to plan, be appointed Headmaster of Odell Academy. There isn’t enough scheming young bored girls can do to undermine his authority, his chance to make things up to his beloved, loyal wife Sarah. His family’s very future depends on this one year, and it’s starting out with a scandal involving the new twins. It is a stroke of luck that Bell confides in him, is willing to be steered in the right direction. Has Heath overestimated his skill as a teacher?

The students aren’t the only ones hiding dark secrets, Rose and Bell’s grandmother is distant, cold and her lawyer seems to be plotting, particularly against Rose at every turn. There is something sinister about him, as if the girls presence are a threat to his bond with their grandmother or her money. If they won’t support her and what Bell has put her through, to hell with them. She has evidence, and damned if she won’t expose Bell for what she really is, or at the very least use it as a means to wake Bell up to what she is becoming. Every character is crossing some sort of line, and when Rose is caught with blood all over her hands everyone is wondering if she is capable of murder.

I was engaged through the entire novel, with its twists and turns. Though there were times I felt like it would do better with a younger audience, 18 and over (because of the sexual nature) as at my age I have less patience for entitled rich kids, and find myself exhausted by their antics more than terrified. Then again, I’ve never been a dorm mother!  As a reader I just wanted to take poor Bell aside and say ‘oh honey, no…you are still grieving, you are so lost’. Then there is Rose, she just cannot seem to catch a break, and to think all she wanted was a good education, well she certainly got one, just not what she was hoping for. It all goes dark!

Publication Date: July 31, 2017

St. Martin’s Press

The Drama Teacher: A Novel by Koren Zailckas

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Too old to play the ingénue, I took on the role of pampered housewife instead.

Gracie Mueller isn’t about to let her husband sink the perfect life she has created for her precious family. With their home in foreclosure, she is grasping to save them from financial ruin. Luckily for her, she has skills that her husband doesn’t even know about. Her past has been shrouded from him, that other self is dead. If she has to turn his gaze in another direction anytime he comes close to uncovering her deceptions, she knows just how to do it. She has floated on her lies for years, kept her secrets locked deep beneath the surface of her housewife facade. Always a step ahead of the chaos her past leaves behind, there is nothing for her to do but find something or someone new to manipulate and if she must commit crimes to do it, so be it, it’s nothing new.

This time, however, she is getting messy and committing acts that make one question whether there is any humanity within her soul. Through a friendship, she seeks salvation and once she sets her plan in motion, no one is safe. Then we, the reader, go backwards through snippets of her life with her father and the ways they began to leave her mother. Is she a victim? What is the point of lies, what if lies are the only way a person has been taught to survive? Just how damaging is a life of constant renewal and creation? What did dear old daddy teach her, what about her first real love? Her past is poisonous and there are secrets she doesn’t know either.

Gracie is a complicated character, she is disturbed but there are times when I felt empathy while being horrified and disgusted. Monsters really are sometimes made, but can they change? The children, I love that the author lends innocents to the story. Her children are young but not so young that she can always control what comes out of their mouths, and it’s heart breaking to hear the confusion when mommy lies and her child corrects her! Does she love her children? In the only way she knows how, but not enough to stop living the only life she knows.

When she invents another life, she seems one breath away from collapse. It’s shocking how easy people slip out of their suspicions, how their own emotional state blinds them. I didn’t want her to get away with what she’d done, and I also wanted salvation for her and the children. I would love to dissect the entire novel, but I don’t want to give away what happens. Could people really be so gullible? Yes, of course. At the start of the story she is conning people, nothing really dark, easy cons- until the rot emerges through opportunities. Sometimes the devil is in the people you let in. Who better to be a drama teacher than a woman who lives an artificial existence? Just who are you Gracie Mueller?

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Crown Publishing

 

Providence: A Novel Caroline Kepnes

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He’s coming at me fast and it turns out I am not the kind of kid who springs into action when it’s time to fight. I freeze. I choke. Same way I do on the baseball field at reccess.

This is certainly original, and very strange. Jon and Chloe are best friend living in New Hampshire, sweet on each other with a tender innocence. Safe to confide their passions and secrets in a shed it’s easy to see Jon is awkward. He’ll never be the cool guy, the athlete. He’s the sort of boy whose sweetness is his curse when it comes to other boys, his sensitivity making him a target. With his mind on Chloe, ready to tell her how much she means to him, hoping for more, his substitute teacher (Mr. Blair)  kidnaps him. The teacher was obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, and seemed to despise all the kids who only cared about fitting in. He felt differently about Jon, but being his ‘special student’ is not a lucky turn of fate. Mr. Blair will want Jon to be ‘a part of something’ that will make humanity better. He is the chosen one.

Chloe is reeling when it happens. She is the only person who might know where he could have gone.  At times embarrassed by her love for him, she wonders if her moment of meanness involving another boy, Carrig, has caused Jon to run away. Even when he is missing, there is cruelty in the excitement surrounding the kids. Tidbits of his behavior is gossip, like finding out he slept with his hamster. It’s evident she is the only one who liked him, who knew everything and understood who he was. She starts to resent that no one really cares, beyond pretending for the sake the drama, and she wants them all to know Jon will not be forgotten! There is shame that she was torn between Carrig and Jon, attracted to them both for different reasons. But Jon is the person she is her most real self with.

Chloe comes apart, for a time, distancing herself from her ‘cool’ friends but being a misfit isn’t going to bring Jon back, and it’s evident he is not coming back. She had remained loyal, saving issues of the Telegraph that he so loved, drawing pictures of him each night but still… he isn’t home. Life has to go on, she returns to her friends, she tries to fit in. But Jon is still so much a part of her. Then we are with Jon, four years have passed. We know something terrible has been done to him, but what? It sounds like some sort of experiment. All he knows is he has been ‘out’ for a long time, a long induced sleep, a coma and now he has incredible power. But what? He is special, but why? Special in what way?

Through a phone call, Chloe finds out they found Jon. As soon as he returns, he wants to run to her, but everything is wrong, as it always has been for him. This power may be yet another thing that stands in the way of the love they have always felt for one another. It all gets even weirder, it’s a supernatural sort of power and the funny thing is, now that he is back he knows he has to leave again to protect Chloe from his special gift. Terrible things are happening to others, a detective takes up the mysterious case, the creepy deaths and is soon after Jon. Is he involved? This is where the story of Lo and Eggs comes in. Eggs gives a raw emotional insight about his son Chuckie, whose room he now uses as his personal office. We know Chuckie suffers from an ‘affliction’, be it autism or something else and can no longer live with them, is in a special home. He can’t connect to this son with a ‘mess in his head’, there is a story inside of the detective that makes him more of a person and not just your typical ‘good guy’ on the trail of Jon. I think a younger reader will vilify Eggs, how he has been reacting to his son, keeping his distance. As much as he feels Chuckie is damned by whatever disorder he was born with, anyone can see he suffers as much as Jon, in a way. He can’t get past his emotional chaos enough to be with his son. A more mature audience can understand the struggle, the loss of what he hoped would be and what is. Not to say you won’t feel disgust that he distances himself from Chuckie, but maybe the real ‘head mess’ is in his own mind. For me, it was this story I loved the most. The very end pulled at my heart, but that’s the mother in me. Jon and Eggs share, at least for a time, the same emotional storms, but in different ways. The difference is, Eggs emotional barrier is self-induced.

As a reader you can dissect what it means, this ‘power’ that is more a tragic curse put upon Jon by a man who seemed to want to punish the world for his own loneliness. Jon is no longer the wimpy oddball, he is a ‘hunk’, he is a man! But their love is still damned. It’s an interesting story, because Mr. Blair is obviously the sort that can’t stand those who want to ‘fit in’, but the fact is even when we don’t, against our own inclinations the best of us find ourselves struggling with the herd mentality. It is impossible to get through life and be true to yourself with every breath, even the strongest of personalities has at some point conformed to ‘fit’. Yes, even the strongest of you out there marching to your own drum, you will conform in some way, go against your own nature, be it with family or strangers. Fate, fate is such a crapshoot for all the characters, for all of us. Mr. Blair has made it impossible for Jon to even try. With his copy of The Dunwich Horror and his written ‘clues’ from Mr. Blair, it is all he has to understand what the man did to him and why. Did it make the world better? Did it safeguard Jon from the pain of human connection? We shall see…

Publication Date: June 19, 2018

Random House

Lenny

 

 

Paper Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense by Julia Heaberlin

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Lying is a delightful thing, for it leads to truth. That’s Dostoyevsky.

This is a heck of a suspense story about a serial killer who may or may not have dementia. Can you ever really trust a killer? Sure, he’s an old man but isn’t dementia a convenient illness for someone with a lot of sins to hide? Carl Louis Feldman was a celebrated photographer, but it’s the girls he photographed that captivates the young woman who arrives at the half-way house where he lives claiming to be his daughter. She is going to take him on a trip to ‘dig up’ his lost memories of his darkness, and find out what happened to her beloved sister Rachel who disappeared when she herself was just a kid.  “Death came to her like a summer’s dream.” Her years have been haunted by not knowing what happened, if she is dead or alive. An adult now, her obsession has driven her to deceive old Carl, but is his mind really filled with holes or is it just another deception in a dark life? He isn’t a fool, nor does he trust her. Her sister climbed out of a grave once, just what will Carl reveal, will she rise again?

With photographs as clues and with Carl in tow, she is going to unravel the great horrific mystery of her life. Though during his trial for another crime he was found not guilty and went into hiding, she always knew he’d ‘crawl out.’ Never could she have imagined she would become his ‘daughter’. He wants things, and only then will he help her. He tells her it’s an exercise in madness, he doesn’t remember! Then he gives her the list, and she will give in to his demands. He starts playing with her, leaving her little gifts meant to frighten her, and it works. There are flashbacks to her memories of Rachel, and now with Carl sharing her space, she is remembering things that once seemed inconsequential. She won’t be cowed by Carl, she knows her power is in never showing her fear, never flinching in his presence, never letting him know his effect on her. With two fingers on her flesh he says, “Bump, bump. That’s your carotid.” It just shows how he loves mind games, and a woman’s fear. She plays the game right back.

She wants to know everything, even if she risks her own neck. I didn’t have a clue how this story would end, not what I expected at all. It’s scores points for originality with the dementia angle. I really liked Black-Eyed Susans by Heaberlin, this one is a bit slower but still an interesting story. He is a killer, how the hell do you cozy up to a killer who plays the liar’s game so much better than you? They are both screwed up, and is strange to see how much she has in common with him. The story is more about their psyche than any of his victims, her sister included. Sometimes the answer is worse than what you thought you knew. The memories of a chid are distorted to begin with, colored by rage and grief carried into adulthood and truth becomes a murky diseased artifact. What has Carl done? Does he really have no memory of her sister because of his dementia, or is there something else?

Without a doubt one of the strangest books about a killer I’ve read in a long time.

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

Random House

Ballantine Books