Review: The Smallest Thing

SmallestThing
Lisa Manterfield. Steel Rose Press, $16, 288p. ISBN 9780998696928

“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it gave her material for stories.” Thus says author Lisa Manterfield, who presents her second curious novel, The Smallest Thing. Set in the Derbyshire Dales village of Eyam, The Smallest Thing is inspired by the historical plague that overtook Eyam in the 1600s and led to quarantine of the village. In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield’s protagonist, Emmott Syddall, finds herself in a similar quarantine which keeps her from fulfilling her desire to move to London, and ultimately leads her to grow while questioning what she really wants to do with her life.

Manterfield has described herself as loving “fish-out-of-water stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, especially if those situations delve into the unexplained.” At closer to eighteen than seventeen years old, self-centered Emmott is quite decided on leaving her small-town life in Eyam and strained relationship with her father. Wanting to be with her boyfriend, Ro, and having found a job and apartment in London, Emmott plans to move within a matter of days from the novel’s opening. A sudden outbreak of an unknown illness traps Emmott in the middle of a mysterious sickness, complete with a village-wide quarantine, HAZMAT suits, and situation briefs. Though she searches for a way outside the town’s boundaries, Emmott is unable to find an escape past the quarantine, and when Ro abandons their plans to move, Emmott is left with crushed dreams and nothing to do but ride out the outbreak.

In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield explores not only the historical effects of quarantine, but also the personal effects of being held in close proximity with the same people for long periods of time. As a teenager, Emmott has not yet learned to think of how her actions affect the people around her. When she is forced by the quarantine to zero in on her relationships with her father, best friend, neighbors, and even Ro, Emmott learns things about the people closest to her that she didn’t know before. She also gets a rude awakening of what it is to be alone – the very state of being that she was running toward by planning to move to London.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished I could be alone. I couldn’t wait to get away from the village and out from under the watch of my parents, to be free to be myself and do my own thing, without other people and their opinions getting in the way. I wished so hard for that, and now I’ve got it. Now I am completely alone.”

– Chapter 28, Page 236

Well-written with a delicious dose of descriptive setting and metaphor, The Smallest Thing is a lesson in growing to recognize more than just a personal struggle when disaster strikes the people closest to you.

 

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Cover Reveal: Choosing Hope

Choosing Hope
Holly Kammier
Publication date: October 31, 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Thriller

A broken marriage.

A love affair.

A lie that changes it all…

Hope Rains Sullivan is living the dream—a successful husband, two beautiful young boys, and a charming home in Northern California. She should be happy. She almost convinced herself she was, until Adrian came along.

Adrian appears to be everything her husband isn’t. He works with his hands, and is even willing to use them in a fight. He’s sexy, strong, and fit, with warm brown skin that alludes to his Spanish background. Best of all, he lives for spending time with his kids. Feeling alone in her marriage, Adrian offers her a way out.

Hope’s affair is just the beginning. Her journey inward will require untangling her complicated past and surviving an astonishing revelation. Her lover is not who he pretends to be.

She’s searching for her happily-ever-after, and no matter how painful the journey, she’ll find what she’s been looking for all along—the chance to choose Hope.

Add Choosing Hope to Goodreads

Choosing Hope is a harrowing story of passion and deceit, the things we do for love, and the rabbit holes we tumble into while chasing elusive fairy-tale endings. Dark around the edges with a shocking twist that I didn’t see coming, this is the kind of book you’ll be passing around to your friends so you can talk about it. Holly Kammier delivers romance, suspense, and a strong, smart heroine who turns out to be nobody’s victim. Don’t miss this one!

Kat Ross, best-selling author of The Midnight Sea


Holly Kammier is a former journalist an UCLA honors graduate who has worked everywhere from CNN in Washington, D.C. and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, to the NBC affiliate in small-town Medford, Oregon. She is the author of Kingston Court, her debut novel.

Choosing Hope, her soon-to-be released second novel, is a cross-over to Kingston Court with overlapping characters and locations.

The California native and mother of two lives in San Diego, California, close to her family and friends. Holly is the Co-Founder of Acorn Publishing and is available for speaking engagements and content editing.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Release: Uncanny



Uncanny
Sarah Fine
Published by: Skyscape
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult

Two sisters. One death. No memories.

Cora should remember every detail about the night her stepsister, Hannah, fell down a flight of stairs to her death, especially since her Cerepin—a sophisticated brain-computer interface—may have recorded each horrifying moment. But when she awakens after that night, her memories gone, Cora is left with only questions—and dread of what the answers might mean.

When a downward spiral of self-destruction forces Cora to work with an AI counselor, she finds an unexpected ally, even as others around her grow increasingly convinced that Hannah’s death was no accident. As Cora’s dark past swirls chaotically with the versions of Hannah’s life and death that her family and friends want to believe, Cora discovers the disturbing depths of what some people may do—including herself.

With her very sanity in question, Cora is forced to face her greatest fear. She will live or die by what she discovers.

Goodreads / Amazon


Excerpt from Uncanny:

I did not anticipate the wind. on the sidewalk, it made jackets flap and leaves rustle. Seven stories up, it threatens to throw me right over the edge.

Is that what I want?

I’m not good at knowing what I want—that’s what she said to me, and it turns out she was right. This will be my last decision, and it could be my worst or my best, but I don’t know if it will be something I want.

But wanting isn’t relevant now.

My shoes scrape over cement as i stand on the roof’s ledge. I am battered. Faltering. My arms are out, my fingers splayed. I turn around and face the school’s security cannies, who have formed a semicircle around me on the roof as they slowly approach. outdated, outmoded, neo-plastic skin, expressionless. They are here to stop me, or at least detain me until emergency services reach us, but like me, they are not immune to gravity. If I go over, they can’t save me.

They’re programmed to save me. They won’t feel a thing if they fail, though. They can’t. That’s the difference between us.

Looking at their blank eyes fills me with a sense of the inevitable.

I can’t remember not existing, whatever happened before I became me. I don’t think it hurt, not like this. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe I’ve been here before.

I crane my neck to see past the machine men, searching for the one face I need, one I know I’ve already seen for the last time. She isn’t here. Of course she isn’t. She can’t be.

I want to see her one last time. After everything I did, she wouldn’t look at me with anything other than sorrow or maybe hate or pity. But still, I want to see her.

There. That’s one thing I know I want. even if it were relevant, it still doesn’t matter. I inch back a little. It would be easier for the wind to take me. I’d prefer that over doing this myself. But the cannies keep getting closer, and the wind is still now. Unhelpful.

“This is my choice,” I say loudly. “I’m doing this of my own free will.”

Is this what she wanted? I think this might be what she wanted.

It’s all tangled up in her, and she’s not here. I’ll never see her again. I’ll never see her again, and it’s because of the choices I made.

Free will.

Want.

I close my eyes. It’s time.


About the Author

Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast. When she’s not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now.

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Review: Emma in the Night

emma-in-the-night
Wendy Walker. St. Martin’s Press, $27, 320p. ISBN 9781250141439

Into the night suddenly disappear two teenage sisters, Emma and Cass, leaving an empty car on the beach and a single pair of shoes in the surf. Three years later, Cass alone returns to her parents’ home with a story of captivity on an unidentified seven-acre island, and a driving urgency to find her sister who has since given birth. In Emma in the Night, author Wendy Walker carefully weaves a psychological thriller that is even more carefully unwound in a way that reveals only bare hints of resolution until all is immediately exposed.

As the narration switches between Cass’s first-person recounting and a third-person limited overlook of FBI Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Abby Winter, details of Cass and Emma’s home lives before their disappearance come into light. Their mother is revealed to be a pathological narcissist who has spent years competing with her daughters for attention, power, and validation, as her girls have grown in beauty. As the oldest daughter who has realized the threat that she is to her mother, Emma has the stronger love-hate relationship with their mother, and Cass takes refuge in Emma’s shadow as a “bird on the battlefield” with an unrealized, yet growing desire to see her mother defeated.

Cass’s experience growing up with a narcissistic mother is reflected in Dr. Winter’s character, whose mother was also a narcissist. Having investigated Emma and Cass’s disappearances since the beginning, Dr. Winter brings a contrasted, systematic aspect to the novel’s premise of psychosis, while remaining approachable to the reader by her own emotional investment in the case. As Dr. Winter learns of Cass’s childhood, she remembers her own, and is ultimately able to discover Emma’s whereabouts by understanding the dynamic in Cass’s household.

Throughout the novel, Cass is repeatedly put into situations requiring either swift decisions or well-thought-out planning, nothing in-between; Cass is forced to quickly become an adult, and learns that survival in her environment requires rigid observation, manipulation, and sacrifice. Wendy Walker presents the argument that people will believe what they want to believe, and paired with Walker’s working knowledge of the causes and effects of narcissism, Emma in the Night allows its audience to keep guessing at what the truth behind the girls’ disappearance and captivity might be.

Guest Post and Excerpt: Hunger Moon

HMBrand new from Alexandra Sokoloff comes Hunger Moon, the latest installment in The Huntress Moon Series (which is in development as a TV series!). The Huntress Moon Series is the product of years of screenwriting in Hollywood and wondering why most serial killers are men. Today, Sokoloff shares an excerpt from Hunger Moon, and writes to share what inspired The Huntress Series, and what has molded Agent Roarke’s character. As a fan of true crime and how psychology is involved (and also of small towns with neon hotel signs), I can only begin to try to communicate through my fingers how interesting this series sounds.

Hunger Moon
Alexandra Sokoloff
Publication date: October 24, 2017
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Thriller

“Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”   – The New York Times


From the Author: Where The Huntress Moon Series came from 

“My motivation for writing the Huntress Moon series is pretty basic. I am sick to death of reading crime novels and seeing movies and TV shows about women being raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered. I’m not too happy about it happening in real life, either.

So, my Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer.

I worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for ten years before I snapped and wrote my first novel, and in that time I worked on several film projects featuring serial killers. One of my core themes as a writer is ‘What can good people do about the evil in the world?’ – and as far as I’m concerned, serial killers are an embodiment of evil. So for several years I was doing research into the subject every way I could think of, besides actually putting myself in a basement with one of these monsters. I tracked down the FBI’s behavioral science textbook before it was ever available to the public. I stalked psychological profilers at writing conventions and grilled them about various real life examples. I went to forensics classes and law enforcement training workshops.

And while I was doing all that research, one thing really jumped out at me about serial killers. They’re men. Women don’t do it. Women kill, and sometimes they kill in numbers (especially killing lovers or husbands for money – the “Black Widow” killer; or killing patients in hospitals or nursing homes: the “Angel of Death”). But the psychology of those killers is totally different from the men who commit serial sexual homicide. Sexual homicide is about abduction, rape, torture and murder for the killer’s own sexual gratification. (And please don’t get me started on books and films that portray serial killers as having an artistic or poetic bent. Ridiculous….)

Hunger Moon bannerThe fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those years (centuries, millennia) of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there… wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say, ‘Enough!’?

And maybe even strike back?

I believe my job as an author is to give my readers a thrilling, sensory, gripping adventure that makes them feel — and also makes them think. It’s all about the fight against everyday evil, for me, and about the deep connections people make with unlikely other people when they commit to that fight.

With the Huntress series I finally have an umbrella to explore, dramatically, over multiple books, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.

As one of the profilers says in the book: ‘I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more women acting out this way. God knows enough of them have reason.'”


 

Excerpt from Hunger Moon:

A bleak sky, streaked with white, stretches over the desolate South Rim of the canyon. There will be snow tonight.

The grinding of a pickup truck grates through the silence.

A four-door Tundra. Tonneau cover over the bed. Two men dressed in camouflage inside. Fast-food and jerky wrappers litter the wells at their feet. In the back seat, a cooler packed full of beer.

And three rifles, three-inch twelve-gauge magnums, strapped to the padded back-seat gun rest.

Hunters, driving the rim.

The front-seat passenger sets his sights on something moving ahead of them, leans forward greedily. “There we go, there we go.”

The driver follows his gaze, fixes on what he is tracking. Not a deer, but a young girl, shining black hair underneath the hood of her parka. Schoolgirl’s backpack on her shoulder.

On the men’s faces, something crude and capering.

“That’s some tasty-looking pussy.”

“Oh, yeah, that’ll do.”

“Let’s go.”

“Get her.”

The driver swerves the truck over to the side of the road, squealing brakes.

The girl hears the sound, stiffens, is starting to run before she even completes the glance back.

The truck skids to a stop in the snow. The doors fly open; the men are out of the car, grabbing for their rifles.

The girl runs for the rocks, but her pursuers are bigger, faster. Two of them, grown men, against a teenage girl.

They move forward into the strong wind, a military-style formation, heavy boots crunching in the sandy snow.

They pause at the rock outcropping, looking out over the boulders. The girl seems to have disappeared. Then a scrabble on the rocks betrays her. Hearing it, the men grin at each other.

The driver rounds the rock first, his mouth watering. He is already hard in anticipation…

The tire iron bashes him across the face, breaking his jaw. He staggers back, howling inarticulate pain.

The girl kicks him viciously in the knee, crumpling him, then swivels as the second hunter rounds the edge of the rock. She slams the tire iron against the side of his head.

Now both men are collapsed on the ground, moaning and cursing.

She steps forward, no longer feigning that youthful, hesitant gait.

She lifts her arm and uses the tire iron on their skulls. Two, three, four blows, and there is no more moaning. Thick crimson drops spatter the snow. Her breath is harsh. Her face is ice.

There is only the wind, swallowing the sound of her breathing.

Cara stands at the edge of the canyon, looking out at the spires of Spider Rock, the vast open gorge.

Below her is an icy crevasse. The canyon has any number of them, deep splits in the rock wall where whole sheets of the cliff have broken away. Behind her is the hunters’ pickup truck.

Their bodies lie at her feet.

She drags one, then the other, to shove them over the cliff’s edge, stepping back to watch each body hurtle down into the crevasse, tumbling into oblivion.

The snowfall tonight will cover all trace of them. Later, birds and animals will pick the bones clean.

Another offering to the canyon, and the gods and ghosts that haunt it.

Goodreads / Amazon

Pre-order today!

PLUS: Books 1-4 are on SALE for $1.99 each for a limited time only!

Previous books in the Huntress/FBI Thrillers Series:


About the Author

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black Quill Award-nominated author of the Amazon bestselling Huntress/FBI series (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, Cold Moon, Bitter Moon, Hunger Moon – now in active development as a TV series), and the supernatural Haunted thrillers (The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters, The Space Between). The New York Times Book Review called her a “daughter of Mary Shelley,” and her books “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”

As a screenwriter she has sold original horror and thriller scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. She has also written three non-fiction workbooks: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, Stealing Hollywood, and Writing Love, based on her internationally acclaimed workshops and blog (www.ScreenwritingTricks.com), and has served on the Board of Directors of the WGA West and the Board of the Mystery Writers of America.

Alex is a California native and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, where she majored in theater and minored in everything Berkeley has a reputation for. In her spare time (!) she performs with The Slice Girls and Heather Graham’s all-author Slush Pile Players, and dances like a fiend. She is also very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But not an addict. Seriously, it’s under control.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Review: With Malice

9780544805095_hres
Eileen Cook. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18, 320p. ISBN 9780544805095.

In her latest thriller, With Malice, author Eileen Cook places two girls in Italy and brings only one of them back – with broken bones and memory loss.

Cook opens her novel presenting Ivy League-bound Jill Charron waking up in a hospital, having just been emergency airlifted from Italy and not knowing that she was ever in Europe. After being told about the car accident that left her with a broken leg and aphasia, Jill struggles to put together the pieces of her missing memories. Jill tries to use a hospital phone to call her best friend, Simone, convinced that Simone will be able to fill in the gaps of her memories, but Jill is rudely thwarted by Simone’s parents. Jill later learns that although she and Simone had gone on the school-sponsored trip to Italy together, excited to immerse themselves in all the art and history that Italy has to offer, Simone didn’t return from Italy – and Jill is the leading suspect in Simon’s apparent murder.

Already wrestling with her lack of memory, Jill is burdened with pressure from her family’s lawyer, who is trying to control what the media publishes; from the Italian police, who want to extradite Jill to face charges of manslaughter; and even from her parents, who have doubts of Jill’s innocence. All the while, Jill strives to remember any piece of her time in Italy, her supposed “lover”, and what could’ve caused such an argument to lead Jill to possibly murder Simone.

Cook expertly keeps the reader from deciding between Jill’s innocence or guilt by venturing out of the normal form of writing a novel. Cook builds the story partially through published snippets of blog posts, Facebook posts and comments, text message threads, and interview transcriptions. Cook alternates her chapters from publishing witness accounts and social opinion of the Jill’s innocence or guilt, to progressing Jill’s story as she spending her weeks in therapy and residential care, anticipating the day when she’ll have to go to court. As soon as one piece of evidence is revealed that seemingly proves Jill’s guilt, another eyewitness account is presented that convinces of Jill’s innocence. This method of writing draws the reader into the story, and largely contributes to the thrill of reading on to find the truth.

Cook develops Jill’s character around internal struggles, self-discovery, personal growth, and the questioning of faithfulness, all of which a teenager battles during transition between high school and the “real world.” One common coming-of-age reality that Jill comes to face is the reality that she’s going to have to move forward with college and the rest of her life without her best friend, Simone, whom she’s known since fourth grade. Cook challenges this concept with Jill’s roommate in the recovery home, who teaches Jill to be open to trusting people regardless of how long or how well she knows them.

With Malice is a suspenseful read that explores the values of honesty, loyalty, and friendship, as well as the argument that a person’s real character is only discovered by persevering through difficult times.

Review: Before The Fall

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Noah Hawley. Grand Central Publishing, $26, 400p. ISBN 9781478987581
Into a world that has grown focused on the appearance of self and the embellishment of truth, Noah Hawley installs a cast of characters representative of both connivance and compassion. Our society today knows to accept news reports at arm’s length, unless the sources are verified and the facts are proven to be correct. Hawley’s latest thriller, Before the Fall, epitomizes this conflict between reported fact and fiction, drawing the reader in closer and closer until the truth is finally revealed in quite literally the very last pages of the novel.

Thirty miles off of the coast of New York, a private plane falls out of the sky taking the lives of nine very wealthy passengers with it. The only survivors are a struggling painter, and the four-year-old son of a news magnate.

Scott Burroughs, middle-aged and not quite the successful artist, manages to find the boy floating amidst the waves and wreckage. Having somewhat of a history in swimming, Scott is able to get himself and the boy safely, heroically, to the shore. Scott is soon thereafter greeted not with a hero’s welcome, but instead with accusations of conspiracy to assassinate the boy’s parents and the others that were on the plane.

Investigators are taught to ask the hard questions, and unfortunately,  this sometimes sheds a darker light onto mysteries surrounded by unfortunate circumstances. Why was Scott on a plane with ten other people worth millions of dollars? What was Scott’s true relationship with the boy’s mother, who seemingly “invited” Scott to make the flight with them? And how is it that Scott is the only survivor, save the little boy whose well-being Scott seems to be unusually concerned with? Instead of recognizing Scott for the selfless feat that he accomplished in swimming thirty miles to shore with a young boy on his back, the media tears apart supposed innocent coincidences in an effort to prove Scott guilty: all in the name of having someone on whom to pin the murder of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hawley proves to be a master of weaving together pieces of a puzzle that he’s already solved, in a way that teases the reader so that putting down the book before the reader is satisfied is simply out of the question. By the end of the book, every single detail presented by Hawley falls into place and complements the whole in a way that leaves nothing unresolved. Before the Fall is an investigation that the reader is invited to participate in, carefully waging the forces of truth and fiction against each other in a skillful battle for liberation.