On a peaceful summer evening in the town of West Table, Missouri, the quiet of the night was shattered by a thunderous explosion. In 1929, the Arbor Dance Hall blew apart with a force that flattened the two story buildings adjacent to it, with a blast that was felt in the next town some 20 miles away. Forty-two people lost their lives and countless others suffered terrible injuries from either the fire or having been blown from the building. The devastation wrought by the dance hall explosion had an impact on every resident of the town. Daniel Woodrell’s new novel The Maid’s Version recounts many of their stories.
The mystery of what caused the explosion and who was responsible was never discovered. Could it have been mob related? Was it the evil deed of a band of Gypsies? Was it just a tragic accident or possibly something more ominous the town leaders wanted covered up? This literary novel is comprised of numerous small chapters, frequently describing the circumstances of individuals who ended up at the dance that fateful Saturday night. Interspersed throughout the minor character vignettes is the story of Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a woman who believes she knows the truth.
This remarkable tale is a fictionalized account of an event that occurred on April 13, 1928 in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Woodrell believably captures the historical and cultural characteristics of the inhabitants of the Ozarks. It is the author’s skillful narration that will mesmerize the reader and bind them to this powerful yet tragic tale.
For three years, 10 months and 12 days, Regina LeClaire was held captive, the sex slave of a sadistic madman. It was only a bizarre twist of fate that led to her liberation and return to her family. Now, almost seven years later, she continues to see her therapist weekly to help cope with the post-traumatic stress and daily fears that keep her imprisoned in a self-imposed isolation. Everything changes, though, when 12-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued after being trapped for 13 months in a similar type of hell. Tilly’s parents ask Reeve, as she is now known, to help their daughter readjust to life outside of captivity. There is a significant difference between these two situations, however. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tilly had more than one abuser. The man she dubbed “Mister Monster” is still out there and she knows he is watching.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton is a gritty, suspenseful story that is as unsettling as it is spellbinding. The reader is, at turns, in awe of Reeve’s courage as she relives her past to help Tilly, and frightened as the villain continues his surveillance of his recently freed prize. Notable author Chevy Stevens summed it up best when she stated, “The Edge of Normal is a heart-pounding thrill ride that had me holding my breath to the very end. With a compelling, tough-as-nails heroine and a truly terrifying villain, this is a book you won’t soon forget.”
This is Norton’s debut fiction novel, and it has already garnered the Royal Palm Literary Award. Norton has previously had success as a true crime writer with The New York Times bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box which was co-written with Christine McGuire. This horrific account of a woman kept in a box under her captor’s bed except when brought out to be tortured has become required reading for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and obviously inspired some aspects of The Edge of Normal. Though not a novel for the faint of heart, this is an excellently written story that has all the markings of another bestseller for Ms. Norton.
Love triangles, a cursed movie set, magic potions, gruesome murders; R.L. Stine’s newest teen fiction A Midsummer Night’s Scream has it all. Claire Woodward is a 16-year-old girl living a life of privilege in Hollywood. Her parents own a film studio and have finally given consent for her to act in one of their movies, the remake of Mayhem Manor. The excitement of being cast in a movie with her best friend as well as some notable actors is tempered when talk turns to how the movie set is cursed. The original Mayhem Manor was a horror film about six teens who get trapped in a spooky old house and one by one, die a terrible death. Shooting stopped after not one, but three of the actors died during the filming. Sixty years later the producers elect to reshoot the movie at the same location. Author R.L. Stine has proven to be a master of macabre with the success of his Goosebumps and Fear Street series, so readers will not be surprised when his newest novel takes a decidedly dark turn.
This story is part teenage romance, part horror story. There is a mystical element in the character of Benny Puckerman, who peddles magic potions, can only be seen by Claire and has his own agenda regarding the movie remake. Claire narrates the story in a casual conversational tone, at times directing comments to the reading audience. Those discerning readers looking for a sophisticated Shakespearean work should keep on looking, but if you are interested in a quick-moving, fantastical tale with a nice touch of suspense, A Midsummer Night’s Scream will really get your heart pumping.
Dr. Nadine Lavoie is a psychiatrist who is both driven by the desire to help people and skilled with the tools needed in mending broken lives and spirits. However, it is her own emotional state that becomes fractured when she discovers a commonality with her newest patient, a woman admitted to the psychiatric ward for an attempted suicide. During the course of her therapy, the young woman admits to having recently left a commune known as the River of Spiritual Light Center, which is under the leadership of Aaron Quinn. It only takes a quick Google search to confirm Nadine’s fear that this is the same man who ran a cult she and her family lived with as a child. Until this point in her life, she has been powerless to reclaim missing memories from her youth, and possibly the cause of her claustrophobia. Now the barrier has been breached, what she now remembers is terrible. Always Watching by Chevy Stevens is a suspenseful story involving past crimes and current consequences. In her crusade to bring Aaron Quinn’s past deeds to justice, Nadine risks her own life and the lives of her family members.
Fans of Chevy Stevens will recognize the protagonist in Always Watching as the psychiatrist in both of her previous novels. Dr. Lavoie is the silent doctor involved in healing the damaged women in both Never Knowing and the stunning debut Still Missing, a New York Times Best Seller. When readers wanted to know more about this character, Stevens decided to tell her story. In an interview on Global BC, a Canadian television station, the author remarked how she enjoys incorporating family dynamics and a deeper message into her stories, combining these features with a suspenseful tale. She also hinted her fourth thriller will be released next summer.
The Earth has been horrifically damaged by the Seven Stages War. Water supplies are contaminated by nuclear waste, vegetation obliterated and mutations of animals and humans roam the wild charred remains of North America. There are 18 colonies of survivors throughout the land who are governed by the United Commonwealth, with the mission of regenerating the Earth and improving the quality of life. Their method for choosing the future leaders of the land is simple, selecting only the very brightest students from each colony, they offer this elite group an opportunity for The Testing. If successful, they go on to University where they will learn skills to continue improving their world. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau chronicles these challenges as faced by Cia Vale, and her specifically chosen peers.
Cia has always tried her best in school in the hope that she may qualify for The Testing, and a University education just like her father. When she learns she has been picked to go to Tosu City she is overjoyed, although her father’s reaction is much more reserved. He tells her about terrible nightmares of events he thinks may have taken place, but because of the mandatory mind wipe he has never been certain what was real. The only words of advice he can offer are “trust no one.” 120 students have been selected for Testing, yet only 20 will be offered coveted positions at the University, and failure in any of the four stages has severe consequences. Cia quickly learns that more is on the line than her future education, her very life is in danger.
Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will not want to miss this debut book from Charbonneau, which is also the first of a trilogy. The Testing requires more than intelligence and instinct to survive, and some of the students will do whatever it takes in improve their odds. Cia’s optimism and altruistic values in the face of the United Commonwealth’s sinister methods are also endangered. Will she ultimately sacrifice her humanity in order to pass The Testing?
A bottle is discovered off of the coast of Scotland. Inside is a message written in blood. Once it's determined that note is written in Icelandic, the case becomes another mystery for Department Q. A Conspiracy of Faith is the third Department Q novel written by Jussi Adler-Olsen and is the winner of the Nordic crime-writing honor The Glass Key Award. He is in excellent company as previous winners have included Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell. Readers who enjoy these authors won’t want to miss out on this thrilling story.
A Conspiracy of Faith follows two primary storylines. Detective Carl Morck and his team work to decipher the damaged and decaying note found in the bottle and determine the identity of the author. Simultaneously, the reader follows a serial killer as he methodically plans to take his next victims. Although the message is determined to be several years old, Department Q works to find its origin, completely unaware that a similar crime is about to occur at the same location.
Jussi Adler-Olsen creates a cast of characters that are as real as they are complex. He establishes an authentic police environment as well as interesting interpersonal relationships, which draw the reader into the story. The novel moves along at an exciting pace and builds in intensity towards the dynamic conclusion.
Sylvie Mason’s family life is anything but ordinary. Her parents earn a living exorcising tormented souls and traveling the country giving lectures on these experiences. Her older sister Rose rebels at every opportunity, and has a serious mean streak. There is also a possessed Raggedy Ann doll caged in her basement. Things aren’t any easier at school where Sylvie faces constant ridicule from classmates as a result of the bizarre stories circulating regarding her parents. Then tragedy strikes one stormy night when her father and mother are gunned down in their church, which is where Help for the Haunted by John Searles begins. These senseless murders set the tone for this cryptic and eerie novel.
The story is presented from two different perspectives with chapters alternating in time between present day, and life in the Mason household before the murders. Searles authentically captures Sylvie’s 14-year-old voice throughout the course of the novel, from her frustration with her sister and worry for her mother, to her overwhelming desire to say what people want to hear. This character driven story is also swathed with shadow and uncertainty as unexplained events keep the element of mystery growing. Searles joins the esteemed company of Laura Lippman and Martha Grimes in setting his suspenseful and creepy novel in a Baltimore County community. Readers will appreciate the many local Dundalk references and landmarks, which punctuate the story and lend it an air of authenticity. The mystery of what really occurred on the night of the murders drives the story to an exciting and astonishing conclusion. Help for the Haunted is a fascinating novel that puts a different spin on the traditional ghost story.
What does the future hold for three young girls when their father dies expectantly? Well if the year is 1878 and you are living an impoverished neighborhood on the lower slope of Montmartre in Paris, the answer would be despair. These are the circumstances framing the setting of The Painted Girls, the newest novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. In this story we meet the van Goethem sisters and follow their struggles as they put their childhood behind them and are forced to earn a wage to prevent being thrown penniless into the streets. The main role of caregiver is taken on by Antoinette, the eldest sister, filling in for their mother who is more interested in drinking absinthe than raising the children. Middle sister Marie abandons her education to join the Paris Opera with her youngest sister Charlotte. Training for the ballet pays seventeen francs a week, though it is still barely enough to put food on the table. Once she is discovered by Edgar Degas, Marie starts on a journey that will culminate in one of the artist’s most famous creations, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
This is an absorbing story based on the lives of individuals during this period of history. The author’s attention to detail paints the dire circumstances the girls find themselves in as well as the dark and seedy elements that threaten to engulf them. By observing how the sisters grow throughout the story and the importance of their love for each other, Buchanan creates a remarkable novel, as captivating as it is enlightening.
Fourteen-year-old Carey Blackburn can shoot a rabbit and cook it for dinner, raise her baby sister by herself, and survive freezing winters in an old camper without electricity, but can she handle attending high school? From the first page of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, it is obvious that this is not your typical teen coming of age story. Carey has spent the last ten years living in a secluded part of a national forest with her methamphetamine addicted mother. Raised on the story they had fled her abusive father and needed to hide to stay safe, her life in the woods have made her independent and strong. Her little sister Jenessa is the most important thing in her world and Carey’s every thought is about how to care for and educate her. Their mother leaves them alone for weeks at a time, until she ultimately abandons them altogether. The girls have endured countless difficulties, but can they manage in the civilized world once their camp is discovered by their father and a social worker.
This touching and powerful story is told from Carey’s perspective, with a backwoods dialect she tries desperately to lose. Her life experience means that she behaves much older than a typical 14-year-old; however these skills are of little value when it comes to fitting in at high school. She doesn’t know what a locker is, can’t understand teen fashion or cell phones, and has never spoken to a boy. Carey needs every bit of the willpower that ensured her survival to adapt to the new situations she encounters in the outside world. The reader cares deeply for the characters and gets invested in trying to learn what the secret of the “white star night” that has led to Jenessa’s inability to speak. If You Find Me explores the healing power of family and ultimately the definition of home.
Small town life, folklore, Norse mythology and a senseless murder are all threads skillfully woven together into the amazing literary work Little Wolves by Thomas James Maltman. A farming community, inhabited by descendants of the first German families to settle the area, is rocked when a troubled teen murders the town sheriff and then commits suicide. The boy’s father is left devastated and confused; unable to understand what possessed his son to perpetrate such an awful crime.
As the new pastor tries to help his congregation heal, his pregnant wife Clara struggles with the knowledge that she was also an intended victim. She believes herself to be haunted by the boy, who was a student in her English class at the high school. Clara, herself a student of ancient literature, focuses on Old English words and phrases to calm herself in times of stress. As a result, the novel is peppered with interesting vocabulary from a lost era, which adds an almost mystical element.
The mystery of what really brought Clara and her husband to this remote area from the city, as well as the unanswered questions from the shooting, keep the reader captivated. A reoccurring element of the story is the presence of the wolves. Wolves play an omnipresent role in the tales Clara’s father would tell her as a child, now wolves have started coming into the town at night; they haunt her dreams and fill the residents with fear. This is an intriguing novel, beautifully written and full of suspense.