Another Debut Mystery

The LoopThe Loop by Nicholas Holloway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “In the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a freezing snowdrift blankets the June Lake Loop. For months, aspiring novelist Gallagher Finch has not written a single word. To pass the time awaiting inspiration, Gal satiates his boredom with Adderall, Evan Williams, and one call girl too many. On the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday, he indulges in all three…

And when he awakens, he discovers a bloody secret tangled in his bedsheets.

Still grieving from a tragic murder in the family thirteen years earlier, Gal wonders if old enemies are drawing near once again. He begins to process his nightmares, anxiety, and fear the only way he knows how – he writes. Quickly realizing his own story could be the best-seller he has been dying to publish, Gal weaves together the truth of who killed Daphne Castro, but in the process, he discovers the story that could launch his career may very well be his own deadly ending.

Family becomes foe, dark secrets resurface, and blood can be found on more than one pair of hands.”

Nicholas Holloway’s The Loop is a clever roller coaster of a book. I found this story to have strong characterization, an ideal setting, lots of unexpected twists, and a sense of word play I haven’t seen much of lately. I wasn’t sure I liked this book when I finished it, but upon reflection, I know that I did, and I liked it a lot.

We meet the Finch family in the midst of their newest crisis (and this family has had several). The siblings have survived a troubled history and now each have a collection of secrets themselves. Holloway has done a fantastic job breathing lives into each of this characters, no matter how broken.

The setting of this book is beautiful; almost a character in its own right. Such beauty hiding so much pain and danger. Northern California is a beautiful place, and the author clearly knows the region and loves it. The lakes make a nice contrast to the terrible things that are occurring throughout the area.

There were many twists and turns in this story. I rarely settled into a suspect before there was another plot twist. The layers uncovered on each page remind us all that there are shades of gray and good and bad in everyone. Anyone could be the guilty party. And the motive was always shifting.

There was a playful note throughout this book. Each chapter was given a colorful title. I thought the playful-ness may be too gimmicky, but I found myself appreciating it and at some times, even loving it. The over-arching color theme connected the threads within each chapter.

The penultimate chapter of this book almost lost me, but after having sat with the conclusion of this story for a couple of days, I have found I appreciate it even more. It was a logical twist, necessary for the ultimate conclusion.

This book appears to be a debut, but I have seen rumors of both a sequel to this one and a new stand alone by this author. I look forward to reading both.
I received a free review copy of this book from Book Sirens and am leaving this review voluntarily.

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A Debut Thriller!

Come and Get MeCome and Get Me by August Norman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “An intrepid journalist confronts a small town’s dark secrets in Come and Get Me, a breakneck thriller for fans of Tess Gerritsen and Julia Keller.

At Indiana University, someone’s been studying the female student body: their dating customs, nocturnal activities―and how long they can survive in captivity.

When award-winning journalist Caitlin Bergman is invited back to campus to receive an honorary degree, she finds an opportunity for a well-earned victory lap―and a chance to face the trauma that almost destroyed her as an undergrad. But her lap becomes an all-out race when a student begs her to probe an unsolved campus disappearance: Angela Chapman went out one Friday night and never came back.

To find the missing woman, Caitlin must join forces with a local police detective and the department that botched her own case so long ago. But while Caitlin follows the clues behind Angela’s disappearance, someone else is following her…”

This one took me far too long to read!

I started reading it and put it down after our main character announces to a room full of students that she was a rape victim. I was not sure if I wanted to continue down the path of a male author depicting any part of that. However, I am sorry it took me so long to get back to it. I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Caitlin was a fierce, strong character who I wanted to see win with minimal damage, preferably. Every other character was suspect. They were real and each took their turn to be on the hot seat. While I did not guess who the guilty party was, there were clues and bread crumbs throughout the book.

The pacing was perfect; I did not find a dull moment. The glimpses into the perpetrator’s world were well-spaced and while dark, a great addition to the hunt.

It appears this is the author’s first novel and that he is planning a series with Caitlin. I will watch for future titles by this author.

A big thanks to netgalley and the publisher for my advanced copy!

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American Judas by Mickey Dubrow

From the publisher:

“Seth and Maggie Ginsberg do their best to navigate an oppressive theocracy where fundamental Christianity is the only legal religion, and abortion, homosexuality, and adultery are outlawed. When a co-worker outs Seth as a Jew, Seth escapes to Mexico, while Maggie is sent to a Savior Camp. American Judas is a dystopian tale about a young couple’s life after opportunistic U.S. politicians abolish the wall of separation between Church and State.”

My Review:

A terrifying look at what an American theocracy could be.

This novel was heavily plot-driven, with a lot of message to its readers. The story started out innocuous enough, with just an undercurrent of dread. But it quickly escalated to worst-case scenario and became very grim. As is frequently needed in end-of-world novels, there was certainly some violence, but I would not call it gratuitous. Be forewarned there is some violence.

The author did a good job with interjecting some humor into his story. A few of my personal favorites:

“The Savior camps are not just for lapsed Christians and those afflicted with the disease of homosexuality. They also cure drug addictions, adulterers, Satan worshipers and Liberals.”

“What’s the point of being the damn American Judas if you don’t make it so that a man can drink his beer in peace.”

Tearing down the wall between church and state did not go so well in this world and provided a good reminder in these turbulent times. A state run church is not a new idea in this world, but radically changing the priorities and ideals of a freedom loving country is bound to create some backlash.

At one point, our protagonist Maggie asks Tiffany (an adolescent viewed as an example for all others) “Are you so perfect that you get to decide for other people?” And Tiffany’s answer sums up for me how people can fall into this vicious scenario: “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.” My belief allows me to make mistakes and make decisions for others I believe are right. Scary stuff.

Overall, I found the pacing of this novel to be engrossing. I turned every page needing to know what happened next. Some aspects of the story were tied up with nice little bows, some aspects were left undone, and some aspects were sped to a hasty conclusion. I was left with a feeling of hope, which I find very important when reading any apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction.

I see this is a debut novel from Mickey Dubrow and I thought it was well-done and timely. I will watch for future titles by this author.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advanced copy of this book.

And Then You Were Gone by R.J. Jacobs

From the Publisher:

After years of learning how to manage her bipolar disorder, Emily Firestone finally has it under control. Even better, her life is coming together: she’s got a great job, her own place, and a boyfriend, Paolo, who adores her. So when Paolo suggests a weekend sailing trip, Emily agrees—wine, water, and the man she loves? What could be better? But when Emily wakes the morning after they set sail, the boat is still adrift…and Paolo is gone.

A strong swimmer, there’s no way Paolo drowned, but Emily is at a loss for any other explanation. Where else could he have gone? And why? As the hours and days pass by, each moment marking Paolo’s disappearance, Emily’s hard-won stability begins to slip.

But when Emily uncovers evidence suggesting Paolo was murdered, the investigation throws her mania into overdrive, even as she becomes a person of interest in her own personal tragedy. To clear her name, Emily must find the truth—but can she hold onto her own sanity in the process?

This book read more like a cozy mystery, to me, than it did a psychological thriller. I happen to be a fan of cozies in addition to thrillers, so it did not bother this reader.

The amateur sleuth, Emily, struggles with bipolar disease and this is front and center to the narration. While I have little personal experience with this condition, I thoroughly appreciated the unreliability of the narrator due to her own questioning of her sanity and interpretation of events. During a romantic overnight trip on a boat, Emily’s boyfriend mysteriously disappears. She becomes suspect number one, and sets off on a self-destructive quest to clear her name. Due to some poor personal choices, she loses her job and ends up living at her mom’s house, so she has plenty of time to conduct her own investigation. She finds a willing sidekick in a friend of her missing boyfriend.
The majority of the violence happens off-screen. A boyfriend disappears, a body is discovered, and Emily hears secondhand about a potential serial killer in her area complete with some of the violence that has transpired.

For a plot-driven novel, there was a lot of inner monologue presented. These thoughts provide a lot of the background to the story. I did not find these to be very distracting, but neither did I find them showing growth in Emily.

I liked the solution to this mystery. I felt like it was a little rushed at the end, the final solution being sprung on the reader with fewer hints/clues than I would have liked. There was a lovely red herring though!

Overall, I thought this was a well-done debut novel. I read somewhere that this may be the beginning of a series, I hope that means we will get to see more of Emily in future installments. I will absolutely read the next book this author publishes.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book.