The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison

summer children

 

The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison is being called book three in the Collector series, but don’t be fooled. It has little to nothing to do with the earlier two novels (which were pretty great by the way) and is very much a stand alone book. We return to the FBI team of the prior tales and with the appearance of some of the Butterfly girls, but The Summer Children is about FBI Special Agent Mercedes Ramirez.

“…I drop my purse, gun in hand with my finger stretched along the side of the trigger guard before I can put thought to it. In the bright glare of the porch light, a shadow sits on the bench swing. I inch forward past Siobhan, gun aimed down, until I can see more clearly through the rails. When my eyes finally adjust, I damn near drop the gun.
Madre de Dios, there is a child sitting on my porch, and it is covered in blood…”

Special Agent Mercedes Ramirez finds a young boy, clutching a teddy bear, covered in blood sitting on her front porch. The child tells her that he was brought to her home by an angel who told him he would be safe there. The child also tells Ramirez that the Angel killed his parents. But the parents weren’t just killed, they were slaughtered with a rage Ramirez and the team haven’t seen in a long time. What is soon evident is that the boy had been abused by his parents. The teddy bear he is clutching, is exactly like the teddy bears that the team gives out to abused children to comfort them. There is an avenging angel dispensing justice.

Mercedes has her own history as well. Abused by her father and with a family that turned their backs on her cries for help. Even now, so many years later, her family blames her for what happened and how they are viewed by the community. Now with a child on her doorstep, that world is coming back to her. Only, this is just the beginning and another child and another begin to find their way to her home. All of them, victims of abuse.

Someone is out there. Someone with access to private family records. Someone who is killing, with savage anger, the abusers of children. Someone who knows Mercedes Ramirez and knows what she does in the FBI. Someone who even knows where she lives.

“…Then the woman grabbed a blanket and wrapped the little girl in it, hugging her close but oh so gently. Her eyes were kind and sad, and she stroked the girl’s hair and whispered that she was going to be okay, she was going to be okay. She was safe now. She gave the girl a teddy bear to hug and cry into, and stayed with her even as others crowded into the basement to take away Daddy and all his friends. Daddy was furious, yelling terrible things, but the woman just hugged the girl, and covered her ears so she didn’t have to hear what her daddy said. The lady stayed with her in the ambulance, and in the hospital, and told her she was going to be okay.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was scared of angels.
Then she met one, and she wasn’t afraid anymore….”

Dot Hutchison has created a deep and well thought out cast of characters in her novels and each one is capable of taking its own series and running with it. In the prior two tales, Ramirez was an integral part of the team but she was only that. A part of the team. Here she steps into her own and fills each page with angst and pain and betrayal. She also fills them with hope and drive and the desire to right the wrongs that have hurt her. She is the lone warrior, standing on the shores, trying desperately to hold back the waves of horror and pain. It costs her. Her unwillingness to compromise. It costs her family and lovers.

This novel does not shy away from the truth of child abuse. Physical or sexual. It does not shy away from the inability of government agencies to cope with the horrific amount of abuse that exists in this country. It may be for some readers, hard to digest. But that is what is needed. It should offend and revolt you. You should find it disgusting on a level that you didn’t even know you had.

The murderer in this novel is someone we all know. It is in all of us. It is someone who has simply had enough.

The Summer Children is a terrific book that will leave a powerful mark on you. Be ready to hold it dear and hold it far away, with the same hand.

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The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey

girl from blind river
The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey is another novel that readers of popular fiction will pass right by and not realize the gem of a book this one really is. Gritty and brutally honest, this is the tale of what we do for the ones we love and how the forces of family and small town America can keep us down. Comparisons will be made to Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone and if you don’t know what that book is, then it is well past time for you to expand your horizons.

“…I see it all the time. Kids like Toby are like a tidal wave that just rolls over you. Parents think they’re creating something better than themselves , something beautiful and wondrous, but it isn’t like that. Kids are their own form of grief-if they don’t pull you under, they show you what you’re made of…”

The Elders family are criminals and cheats. A simple truth that has haunted nineteen year old Jamie Elders all her life. A truth that will continue to keep her down as long as she stays in Blind River. But she cannot leave just yet. She is her uncle Loyal’s ward and her younger brother Toby has to stay on the straight and narrow so that he can join the Army one day. That in itself is the challenge. But Jamie has a plan. She is a wiz at online poker and slowly, she is creating a savings that will buy her away from Blind River. Toby gets to be in the Army and she gets out. No more Blind River. No more running errands for her uncle Toby’s illegal gambling business and no more being just another crooked Elder. She can go where the Elder name won’t follow her.

But plans have a way of changing and in Jamie’s case, falling completely apart. There is a dead body and all her money disappears and now she is in debt to her Uncle Loyal and the only way to pay him back is to help him hide a body. Jamie feels herself sliding deeper and deeper into the Elder ways. But it is when her younger brother Toby is accused of murder that she feels it all slip away.

“…That day. The preacher was baptizing people.’
‘You made me wait so you could take a turn.’ He’d been so stubborn about it and she’d sat there sweating in the sun for an hour.
‘That river was cold. I always thought that’s what it’d be like to die, you know? Everything just goes cold.’ He pushed up from the table.
‘Toby, don’t go there. Don’t do that.’
But he was already banging on the door. The guard opened the door, unlocked the chains, and grabbed Toby’s arm. She tried to grab his sleeve, but the guard blocked her hand.
‘Give me a little time, Toby,’ she said, but he didn’t turn back. His metal anklets clanged against the concrete floor as he disappeared into the sound of a dozen slamming doors…”

Now Jamie has to bet it all on one last long shot gamble. To free her brother, to get her freedom and be the one Elder who amounted to something. But with a crooked Judge and her criminal Uncle and ex-con mother and the whole area of Blind River in her way. Will she even survive?

Gale Massey has written a terrific novel of the struggles of escaping the home that is its very own prison. Jamie Elder is a character that we can all relate to as we try to become more in our lives than the world around us wants us to be. She has every reason to give up. A best friend who has become the very thing they both swore that they would not be. A younger brother whose self destructive tendencies keep both of them chained to their small town. An uncle who is both burdened and angry at having to raise two children that are not his. A mother who looks out only for herself. And there is Blind River, a prison without walls.

The Girl From Blind River is the evolution of the American Novel. It is not trying to make some deep social and political statement. It is a novel about people and a place. It is about struggle and hope. It is about all of us.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

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The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian is a book that is simply not what it seems at first glance. I guess I should have expected such from his previous novel, The Guest Room. That also is a book that slowly and cleverly morphs into something different. The Flight Attendant follows the misadventure of Cassandra Bowden and her night of drunken sex that ends with terrifying consequences.

“…And there he was. For a split second, her mind registered only the idea that something was wrong. It may have been the body’s utter stillness, but it may also have been the way she could sense the amphibian cold. But then she saw the blood. She saw the great crimson stain on the pillow, and a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. He was flat on his back. She saw his neck, the yawning red trench from one side of his jaw to the other, and how the blood had geysered onto his chest and up against the bottom of his chin, smothering the black stubble like honey…”

Cassandra is a binge drinker, so waking up with a strange man in bed with her and little to know memory of the night before is nothing new. Her job as a flight attendant makes these nights incredibly easy. Fly into a city, hit the bar in the hotel and let someone take her to bed. She’s done it so often that she’s made a lifestyle of it. Only this morning this man was not in the hotel bar. He was a passenger on the plane and people had seen them flirting with one another and now here he was. Naked. Dead. Murdered as she slept next to him after a long night of sex. Had she done it herself? She had been violent before when she was drunk. Not that she remembered but she had been told. If not her then who? What Cassandra knew what that she was hungover, with a dead body in the hotel room, in Dubai and with her flight home leaving in two hours.

Now Cassandra must do something else she’s very good at. She lies. She lies to the other Attendants as they fly to Paris and then back to New York. She lies to the FBI and when the truth gets to close she gets an attorney and then she lies to her as well. But Cassandra begins to realize that perhaps the dead man is not just any dead man. She begins her own investigation but can she control her self destructive impulses?

“…I did something stupid last night?’ she confessed, and she told Ani what had occured at the bar. But instead of firing or even chastising her, Ani sounded as if she had come to expect this sort of bad behavior from her client. There was an edge of disappointment to her response, but mostly she just sounded sad.
‘Someday you’ll hit bottom,’ she said. ‘For most people, that would have been Dubai. Not you, apparently. We’ll see,’
‘How much trouble am I in?’ she asked.
‘For calling the Sokolov family in Virginia? Oh, probably no more than yesterday. You should be embarrassed, but I’m not sure it’s really possible to shame you, Cassie…”

Cassandra soons finds herself embroiled in a plot of espionage and assassinations and murder. All because of one drunken night. It soon becomes clear that her greatest worry is not that she is a suspect in the murder of a man in the hotel room in Dubai. But that she may be the next target.

Here is the thing, Cassie is an irresponsible bitch. Really and no this is not slut shaming. She could sleep around all she wants but there are parts in this book that she does things that are cruel and painful to other characters because it is just who she is. She hurts her own family, not to mention drunk prank calling the parents of a man who whose brutally murdered in a foreign country. She is really unlikable so it is to Bohjhalian’s credit that we start to actually care about her. Cassie deserves the worst that can happen but we don’t want it to happen to her. We want her to learn and redeem herself but she never does. She avoids and brushes it off until when finally she is staring into her own death, she can only lament how she came to this place. In the end Cassie is Cassie and she can never be anything else.

A terrific twist and turn book that refuses to be categorized as a thriller or as women’s fiction. In the end it is not just the plot that has the pull here, but the characters and Cassandra is a character you will long remember.

The Flight Attendant is a really good read.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

pisces

The Pisces by Melissa Broder is marketed as a romance/fantasy novel. It really is not. It may be labeled as women’s fiction and in some ways it may pass as such. But for me I found it more of a satire on the current glut of girl power and self healing books in the market. If anything it strikes at the core of female insecurity and skin deep independence. Instead, in somewhat a fantastical manner, it lays bare the bad decisions that false strength and insecurity can bring about and the consequences of such actions that we all hope to avoid. Female or male.

“…Fuck you, you fucking asshole!’ I yelled. And then I hit him in the face.
I had never hit anyone before. This is not what I had planned. I hadn’t planned anything actually. We were both in shock. I didn’t know what what to say. Two drops of blood ran from his nose, down his lip, and splattered onto the floor. He put his hands up to his face.
‘Son of a bitch,’ he said.
‘Jamie,’ I said. ‘Jamie, wait, let me see. Let me see.’
‘Just go,’ he said. ‘Go!’
He slammed the door. I pivoted on my heel and walked back down the street to my car. I felt worse.
Later that night I got a visit from a police officer investigating the incident. Apparently, Megan had called the police from the hospital-or she had coerced him into it. I had broken Jamie’s nose. The cop said that the couple would not be pressing charges if I agreed to got to therapy. The couple? Now they were making decisions as a unit?
‘What did she look like?’ I asked him.
‘Uh-‘ he faltered.
‘Would you say she’s better-looking than me?’
‘Ma’am,’ said the cop, ‘I’m going to strongly recommend that you seek help for your anger issues. This time we’re only going to give you a warning. But if the couple hadn’t been so forgiving, you could be facing serious charges of battery right now.’
‘Battery!’ I said. ‘Do I look like a batterer?’
He was silent.
‘Can you tell me. Aside from the broken nose, did they seem happy….”

In a moment of desperation to get attention, Lucy asks for time off from her boyfriend Jamie and their relationship. Only Jamie misses the clue and takes the time off seriously. Too seriously. Now Lucy is falling into a depression in Phoenix, Arizona. Her boyfriend and love of her life is in another relationship and has the audacity to look happy! Her dissertation into Sappho that has been the gist of her academic career has dragged on for thirteen years and the University is daring to ask her to actually complete it. She is at rock bottom with no way out when she gets a call from her sister in California. Come to her beach house and get away from it all. All Lucy has to do is watch over her sister’s beloved diabetic dog and get therapy for her anger and abandonment issues. She’ll even have the house to herself since her sister and her husband going to Europe.

In California, Lucy falls into a routine. Feeding and walking the dog and listening to the women in her love addiction group and their misery. A group run by a doctor who herself has not been able to maintain a relationship in years. But it is on a stroll on the beach that Lucy runs into a young man swimming in the ocean. They begin to talk and soon they cannot hide their attraction from one another. Then the swimmer reveals the truth of who he is.

“…He put his beautiful white arms on the rock and hoisted himself up, then flipped himself over so that he was sitting next to me,
Around his pelvic region was a thick beige sash, like an oilcloth. Below it was the wet suit: scaly and coal black, covered in barnacles. At the bottom were what looked like a pair of fins or flippers, of the same color as the suit, connected to the rest of the black rubbery scales. He looked more like a scuba diver than a swimmer and more like a thick piece of cod than a scuba diver. The suit seemed odd-like it had been soaking in the ocean for years-with all the barnacles attached to it, bits of seaweed. It wasn’t sleek or shiny like I had seen on the surfers. It almost looked like the rocks we were seated on. Like he was part of the ocean landscape…”

Lucy soon realizes that the man she has been sharing her broken heart with isn’t really a man at all. Instead he is a merman. Half man and half fish. A creature of legend and myth and he wants her to leave her earthbound life behind and join him.

Pisces is not a romance but it is a story about love. It is about the overwhelming need we as a species have for love. This notion that there is another person in this world that will somehow complete us. The lengths we will go to have it and the sacrifices we will make along the way. It is also about the selfishness of love and the evil we will do as well. The violence and the pain and the neglect.

It is also a satire on the female condition in our time.

Pisces is funny and sad at the same time. It is a terrific read that will leave you loving or hating it. The is little room for middle ground.

For me it was a really good read.

The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz

chateau
The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz is book #9 in the Original Sinners series and one of the better stand alone stories in this set. Centering on the character that at times is our favorite bad boy to our most tragic in this world of love, sex and pain. I am talking about, of course, Kingsley Boissonneault.

“…So?’ Kingsley said. ‘A man has a right to run off with a woman if he want to. Not telling people where he is makes him thoughtless, maybe even an ass, not a criminal. Or her.’
‘They don’t want to arrest her. Or him. They just want someone to go in and talk him out. He’s young.’
‘If they have her phone number, can’t they find her address? Send his mother to go talk to him.’
‘Untraceable number, apparently. She’s got friends in high places. Someone’s protecting her privacy. Makes her very hard to find. The only option is for someone to meet her, talk their way in. Like you.’
Kingsley closed the file. ‘This assignment is a shit sandwich,’ he said. ‘I’m not getting involved with someone’s family soap opera. It’s none of our business if somebody’s kid wants to screw an older woman.’
‘I guess it would be none of our business,’ Bernie said, ‘except the missing man is Colonel Masson’s nineteen-year-old nephew, Leon.’
Kingsley stared at Bernie. Stared and glared.
‘What?’ Bernie asked.
Kingsley opened the file again.
‘Bernie, in the future, tell me the important part first…”

Lieutenant Kingsley Boissonneault has done it all in service of the French military intelligence agency. At 24 years of age he has spied, lied and killed for his government. Now his new assignment has Kingsley infiltrated a secret cult to rescue the nephew of his own boss. The cult’s is dedicated to living a life dedicated to their holy book, Story of O. Only they live it to the manner that it is the women who are in control and the men that serve. But are the men willing subjects? That is what Kingsley is tasked with finding out.

“…He was raised to serve women. He did the cooking and cleaning at home. I had the paper route. You look so shocked,’ she said, reaching out and tweaking his nose playfully.
‘I am,’ he said.
‘All over the world right now,’ she said, ‘girls are being raised in homes where they’re expected to serve men-first their fathers and then their husbands. The boys get the jobs outside the home and the girls do the cooking and cleaning inside the home. So many countries, so many cultures, it goes without saying that the women serve the men of the household. For some reason-sexism-when it’s reversed, when the fathers and the sons are expected to do the cooking and the cleaning, people assume we’ve all gone insane…”

Inside the home of the cult, the Chateau where they all live, Kingsley quickly falls under the allure of the leader. The woman refered to as Madame. She is powerful and wise and seems to know all his secrets. Madame offers Kingsley the one thing he has always wanted, but to do so, he must forever give up the only person he has ever loved.

For readers of the Original Sinners, this stand alone novel will fill in some of the time when Kingsley had left Soren to find himself and his time as an assassin and soldier in the French military. For newcomers it is a delicious taste of what these series of tales are like. The Original Sinners are far more than novels about BDSM and not solely reliant on sex and the shock value it might provide. These novels are about people and the choices they make. The lives they lead, that while not conventional and come at a cost of love and family, are still the lives that fulfill them. They are honest, emotionally and mentally and sexually. There is something to be admired about that.

Of course these books are not for everyone. But then again, no books are. I personally cannot pick up soapy romantic novels with bare chested men on the cover. That is me. But for those who have pre-judged erotic novels that have BDSM, you have not read TIffany Reisz yet. There is a humanity to her characters that far over shines the sexual aspect of their natures.

Yes, she is that damn good.

Another terrific read from Tiffany Reisz!

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

house of broken angels
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea is a glimpse of hispanic life in the United States that will seem foreign and strange to many but endearing and reminiscent to so many others who grew up in a family so much like the one under the care of Big Angel.

“…He took her hand and spoke: ‘Mother, I have come.’
‘What?’ she said.
He talked louder. ‘Mother, I have come.’
‘Que?’
‘MADRE!’ he shouted. ‘AQUI ESTOY!’
‘Ay, Hijo,’ she scolded. ‘I never taught you to be so rude! What’s the matter with you?’
And then she died…”

Family Patriarch Miguel Angel De La Cruz, referred to by everyone as Big Angel, is dying. The sickness has taken over his body and his once imposing body is now shrunken down and he needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair and cleaned by his wife and daughter. But the imposing legend of Big Angel still rules over the family and he summons the entire clan for one last party to celebrate his final birthday. But as the day approaches, his mother of nearly one hundred years, passes away and now the family has two events to commemorate. A family whose past is filled with legends larger than life.

“…You son of a whore. You come into my home and threaten my guests? You dare to wave a knife at me? I will kill you and your entire family. I will kill your children, and I will kill your grandchildren. And I will dig up your ancestors and shit in their mouths.’
‘Hey.’
Don Antonio tore his own shirt open. ‘Stab me, chingado. If you think you can kill me, stab me now. Right in my heart. But be sure I’m dead. Because I am about to unleash all of my wrath on you, you fucking dog.’
The sailor stared at him with true terror on his face. He had no idea who this maniac was, but he was clearly the one man in La Paz the sailor did not want to fight. The sailor didn’t even pause to muster his dignity. He spun around, ran into the street, and charged as fast as he could toward the sea, upending trash cans as he fled.
For the rest of his life, no matter what he thought of his father, no matter what hardships or sorrows, what humiliations or horrors befell him, Big Angel remembered that moment as the single most heroic thing he would ever witness. He thought he would never be able to be a man like his father…”

Over a bittersweet weekend where Big Angel buries his mother and prepares for his final birthday, he reflects on his life and his family. On the stepsons he has buried and lost, to the streets and to estrangement. To his brother, the one they call Little Angel. The child from a different mother. The brother who was half Mexican and half White. The brother, whose mother his father had deserted their family for. Everyone is coming home one final time. The whole family.

“…And Lalo hears his own voice again, sounding alien, as if it were his father’s voice, saying: ‘We got to stop. We just running in circles. Payback, payback, payback. You ain’t never gonna pay nothing back.’ The pistol drops to his side. The man on the couch opens his eyes, sees the gun has dropped away from his face, and suddenly deflates with disbelief. He is revealed: a middle-aged loser who has disfigured his own face and is not a threat to anyone in the world. Not even worth shooting.
‘This ain’t what we are, homes,’ Lalo says. ‘This is not us. This is the story they tell about us, but its not true…”

The House of Broken Angels is the story of a Mexican American family, their early lives in Mexico and their journey across the border and establishing themselves in this New World of the United States. The story of Big Angel and the mother and family whose love once great, had dissolved under the infidelity of his father. Big Angel’s own love that would drive a wedge between him and his mother and his unwavering dedication and love of his family. No matter how much pain they brought to him.

When the current vision in the media, in politics, and in the representations of film and books, of Mexicans is state of drug lords or house maids; Luis Alberto Urrea writes of family and duty and love. In these pages you will find people you grew up with and in some passages, you will find yourself.

A terrific read!

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

vanishing season

 

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen is going to be one of this season’s books that will gain a following through strong reviews and word of mouth before it garners the attention and success it so richly deserves. Though it will be saddled with the genre classification of mystery thriller with strong female lead like so many that are being written, and some quite badly right now, The Vanishing Season is a tale that is not likely to be forgotten as too many of the others will be.

“…I am wrong,
She struggles briefly when he puts the cloth over her mouth, then goes limp in his arms. He stuffs her into the back of the car so fast I think I must have imagined it. I am wooden, transfixed. He sees me when he loads her bike into his trunk; our eyes meet across the street. Still I cannot move.
He stares hard at me for a long moment and then raises a finger to his lips.
The slam of the car door makes me jump. He drives away and I don’t see his face again until much later, on the news, next to faces of more young girls who disappeared.
Until then, since then, I see his face in my mind, his finger pressed to his lips. I see her rag doll body shoved into his car. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.
I never have…”

Ellery Hathaway is a small town deputy on the heels of a serial killer. Only she cannot convince anyone that her suspicions are right. Not the Chief of Police or the lone Detective assigned to their area. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in the small town of Woodbury, MA. But Ellery Hathaway knows serial killers and not from her training either. Ellery Hathaway was once Abby Hathaway. The seventeenth victim of serial killer Michael Coben. The one that got away.

FBI Agent Reed Markham was the one who save Abby from Michael Coben. Markham figured out the missing clues that led to the serial killers arrest and the saving of young Abby. But Markham has hit hard times in the many years since and his once shining star has fallen in the FBI.

Three people have disappeared in Woodbury in the last three years, each once around Ellery’s/Abby’s birthday. A birthday no one should know. No one knows in Woodbury who Ellery really is. But someone is sending her birthday cards and people are going missing. Someone knows Ellery’s secret and someone is playing a dangerous game. She can only turn to one person because her birthday is coming up again and the vanishing season is upon us. Who will go missing next?

Ellery calls on Reed Markham to help her but times are changed and Reed is no longer the man who once saved the terrified little girl from a killer’s closet. But Ellery has changed as well and she is no longer that terrified little girl in the closet waiting for a killer to cut off her hands.

This is Joanna Schaffhausen’s first novel and as such she can be forgiven for somethings. Like being a little cliche in some parts. Small town junior officer believes there is a major crime going on but no one else sees the pattern. Grizzled old washed up cop/FBI agent looking for a shot at redemption. Lone female police officer looking to prove herself in a male dominated field and getting no respect and the sexual tryst with her boss added in as well. All of this cliche and yet Schaffhausen rises above these trapping and creates a mystery and characters that will keep you enthralled until the end.

Not since I read Kathleen Kent’s The Dime have I come across a more original and intriguing female lead like Ellery. Taken captive and tortured by a serial killer as a young girl and then to be the only survivor of such an ordeal. Then to go through the media scrutiny and in hopes carve out a life of her own, only to have it taken back by another killer who is not only killing the people in her care; but targeting her as well. Ellery is a heroine with a lot of scars and the trauma of her early life is a constant battle. But it is one she is trying to win and on some days, she does.

If you are looking for a female lead character to drive the book you are reading and like me, are tired and somewhat insulted with the carbon copy books out on the market; then The Vanishing Season is definitely the book for you.

Do Not Miss It!!
vanishing season