Closer Than You Know by Brad Park

I’m afraid this comes across as a collection of backhanded compliments — I hope I’m wrong about that. If so, I didn’t mean it.

Closer Than You KnowCloser Than You Know

by Brad Parks

eARC, 416 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: December 6 – 8, 2017


When you read a book about a dog — from Marley & Me to Where the Red Fern Grows — you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going to happen near the end. Same goes for a Nora Ephron movie. Or a Horror flick. But you still read or watch them, and you cry, or laugh and “awww”, or jump in your seat when you’re supposed to. Even on repeat reads/viewings. But when done right, those things just work. Similarly, think of a roller coaster — you may stand outside the fence watching the thing go around the track while standing in line (some lines give you plenty of opportunity to study), and armed with that study, as well as the your own eyes, you know that track is going to drop from in front of you in a couple of seconds — or the coaster is about to hit the loop — that doesn’t stop your stomach from lurching when it does.

Why do I bother with that? It’s a thought that kept running through the back of my mind while reading Closer Than You Know. By the time I hit the 10% mark, if you’d made me write down what I expected to happen — the reveals, the twists, the story beats, etc. — I’d have gotten an A. I’m not saying I’m smarter than the average bear or anything, anyone who’s read/watched a handful of thrillers would’ve been able to, too. And it worked. It absolutely worked. How Parks pulls it off, I do not know, but he does. He’s just that good.

And all the stuff that I didn’t guess? Oh, man, it was just so sweet when Parks delivered it, there were a couple of scenes that just left me stunned. And, I should rush to note, the way Parks made a couple of reveals that I’d seen coming from the start were so well done, it was like I hadn’t called the shot.

In his previous stand-alone, Parks said that he wanted to write about the thing that scares him the most — his children being kidnapped. Closer Than You Know taps into a very similar fear — Child Protective Services taking your child from you, leaving you to the mercies of the machine where you’re presumed guilty. This time instead of “the bad guys,” faceless criminals, taking someone’s kids, this time it’s the forces of justice, of law and order, taking the child — they’re celebrated for it, they’re doing it “for the best interests of the child.”

What’s worse is that no one will tell Melanie Barrick why her infant son had been taken from his daycare. Melanie spent most of her childhood in the Foster Child system, and most of that time in the worse situations that system has to offer. This isn’t the stuff of nightmares for Melanie, mostly because I don’t think she has enough imagination for her subconscious to cook this up. And then she’s arrested for possession of cocaine and paraphernalia suggesting distribution — a felony that will guarantee she’s about to lose her little Alex for good.

Melanie is a “good person” — she’s one of the success stories that we don’t see as often as we’d like from the Foster Child system. She worked to put herself through college; has a great, supportive husband; a lousy job (but with benefits) — but one that will help her family get somewhere; and is a devoted, doting, loving mother. The kind of person we all want to think we’re surrounded by, but fear we probably aren’t.

From this point on, it’s a cyclone for despair as every part of her life — her job, her husband, her brother, her friends, her finances, her sense of privacy and security — is affected, is under siege during this ordeal. Can Melanie maintain her hope, maintain her innocence, maintain her conviction that she’ll hold her baby boy again?

In charge of prosecuting “Coke Mom” (the press is always so quick with these nicknames), is Amy Kaye. Amy Kaye could easily be the protagonist in any legal thriller, she’s just the kind of character you want to read in that kind of thing. She’s smart, dedicated and driven — at the moment, she’s primarily concerned with a serial rape investigation that she’s doing pretty much on her own. Amy starts to make progress for the first time in years when she’s put on this prosecution (largely for political reasons) — which she’s more than willing to do, but she hates to take away time and attention from the rape investigation. What really makes this difficult for Kaye is that Melanie is one of the most recent victims in this investigation.

So basically, things are not going well for these two women. There are occasional moments where there is hope, where there is a hint of humor, or life for them and it’s just enough to get you to let your guard down before the gears turn again and life gets bad. Melanie seems to be a living embodiment of Murphy’s Law — things just never go her way in this book. As she notes herself, addicts talk about hitting rock bottom — she isn’t like them, she keeps finding new bottoms. It’s during this part of the book, where the gears keep grinding away, where the Justice System seems most like a machine, and least like a method for determining (not presupposing) guilt, that things will really get to you. That stomach lurching I mentioned earlier? That image came from somewhere. It feels so real, it feels like this is something that actually happened to someone that Parks spent hours interviewing. I don’t know how you read these parts of the book and not get demoralized — but unable to put the book down, because you just have to, have to know what happens next.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been a Brad Parks fan since the first time I read his debut novel — and I miss Carter Ross, the star of his series. The bad thing for me reading Say Nothing and Closer Than You Know is that these are so good, he’s going to spend years doing books like this and I don’t know if he’ll be able to get back to Carter. On the other hand, I can’t complain really if he’s putting out reading that’s this compelling. Yeah, I said the book was largely predictable — and you’ll likely find it the same. But you will be wrong about some things and you won’t know how he’ll show you that you’re right. Think of a NASCAR race — we all know that it’s basically a series of guys going fast and turning left — but it’s how they go fast and turn left that makes all the difference. Parks delivers the goods — the word riveting doesn’t do this book justice. It’s compelling, riveting, gripping, exciting, and will make you rethink so much of what you may believe of the Criminal Justice and Child Protective systems. You will laugh, you will be stunned (in good and bad ways), you will give up hope for this poor mother.

And you will hate when the book ends — as much as you breathe a sigh of relief as you know you have some degree of closure.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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The Cult of Unicorns by Chrys Cymri

The Cult of UnicornsThe Cult of Unicorns

by Chrys Cymri
Series: Penny White, #2

Kindle Edition, 234 pg.
2016

Read: December 4 – 5, 2017


Sure, all I know about the life of an Anglican priest comes from this series and Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas, (oh, and one series of Grantchester) and maybe Fantasy fiction isn’t the best source, but man, being a priest in a small village/town in England seems to be lonely and horrible — especially around Advent. Which is where we find Penny White — running on fumes, bouncing from obligation to obligation — with barely enough time for her grieving brother, her gryphon partner and her snail shark (never mind the duties in the parallel world of Daear) — not to mention casually dating a police inspector and a dragon. Throw in a murder mystery and . . . wow. How does she sleep?

Before we get to much of that Penny and her brother, James, go to Lloegyr for the trial in the death of James’ girlfriend. It is quick, decisive, decidedly alien (as it should be) and adjudicated by a panel of 3 unicorns. Apparently, Unicorns are impossibly fair, honest and just so they make the perfect judges. No one, not even the dragons would dare protest what the unicorns decide. Penny can’t help but note how almost everyone she sees reacts strangely to unicorns — she’d probably do the same, however, if she weren’t so dragon-obsessed. When bodies start showing up on Earth with what seem to be unicorn-caused injuries, Penny seems to be the only one who is willing to follow the evidence. At the same time, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t seem that Penny was too bothered by the murders — and certainly didn’t seem to spend too much energy investigating them. (although, that might have more to do with the obviousness of the culprits and the difficulty getting anyone else on board with it).

James is not handling the grieving process too well — not that anyone does — and I was less-than-impressed with the way Penny was dealing with him.. It really seemed out of character for her. I think it points to a slow-build of a problem for Penny and her dual callings. In the first book, we got hit over the head with the concern that she’d be too focused on the other world too much to do a decent job on Earth, and while it was only brought up once or twice here, I think it’s easy to see that the danger was real. I like how it seems that Cymri is moving this problem to the back burner, just so it can keep growing as a problem while being subtle about it. Professionally/vocationally, things are not going well for Penny, and I think this will continue for awhile.

While writing about book 1, I was worried about an impending romantic triangle — and I like the way that Cymri dealt with it here, much more than I assumed I would when we left it off. I’m not sure I’m ready to breathe easily about it yet, but I have hope (I also haven’t read as many romantic triangles this year as I have in years past, maybe my tolerance for them will increase). Actually, I liked just about everything about the romance angle in this book. Especially Morey’s.

The Murder plotline (and the aftermath) serves as the narrative hook for the book, but doesn’t seem to occupy as much of the time as you’d think. Where The Temptation of Dragons introduced us to this reality (or dual-realities, I guess), this one explores it — with a greater emphasis on Earth. We really spend very little time on the “other side.” Which was okay, really. I imagine that won’t always be the case (glancing ahead at the blurb for the next volume, it looks as if I’m right).

I’m not sure what else to say at this point, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been less thorough than I intended. I enjoyed The Temptation of Dragons and The Cult of Unicorns kept all the charm and wit about that, but grounded the characters and their actions better (or at least more firmly). And really, that’s about all you can hope for from a series — you keep everything you liked in the previous installment and build on it. Cymri nailed that, which serves to make me plan on getting to book #3 faster than I did this one.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — thanks so much for this book.

—–

3.5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 12/9/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • A Flame in the Dark by Faith Hunter — the third installment of the Nell Ingram series is just great. I had a lot to say about it recently.
  • The Defense by Steve Cavanagh — Cavanagh’s debut novel about a con man turned lawyer is out in paperback here in the States — a great series to jump on at a decent price.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Anushka for following the blog this week.

Book Spotlight: The One Apart by Justine Avery

Book Details:

Book Title:  The One Apart by Justine Avery
Category:  Adult fiction, 568  pages
Genre:  Sci-fi & Fantasy / Paranormal
Publisher:  Justine Avery
Release date:  Dec 4, 2017
Content Rating: PG-13

 

Book Description:

Only one obstacle stands in his way of enjoying a normal life.
He remembers—every life he’s lived before.

Tres is about to be born… with the biggest burden any has ever had to bear. He is beginning again—as an ageless adult trapped in an infant body.

He and his teenage mother face life filled with extraordinary challenges as they strive to protect, nurture, and hide how truly different he is. But Tres alone must solve the greatest mystery of all: who is he? The answer is linked to the one question he’s too afraid to ask: why am I?

In his quest, Tres discovers that all is considerably more interconnected and dynamic than he could ever imagine—and fraught with far more danger. He cannot hide from the unseen threat stalking him since his birth.

Life as he knows it—as all know it—is in peril. And Tres is the only one aware.

 

 

Buy the Book:

 

Meet the Author:

Justine Avery is an award-winning author of stories large and small for all. Born in the American Midwest and raised all over the world, she is inherently an explorer, duly fascinated by everything around her and excitedly noting the stories that abound all around. As an avid reader of all genres, she weaves her own stories among them all. She has a predilection for writing speculative fiction and story twists and surprises she can’t even predict herself.

Avery has either lived in or explored all 50 states of the union, over 36 countries, and all but one continent; she lost count after moving 30-some times before the age of 20. She’s intentionally jumped out of airplanes and off the highest bungee jump in New Zealand, scuba dived unintentionally with sharks, designed websites, intranets, and technical manuals, bartered with indigenous Panamanians, welded automobile frames, observed at the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo in Noba, Japan, and masterminded prosperous internet businesses—to name a few adventures. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree that life has never required, and at age 28, she sold everything she owned and quit corporate life—and her final “job”—to freelance and travel the world as she always dreamed of. And she’s never looked back.

Aside from her native English, Avery speaks a bit of Japanese and a bit more Spanish, her accent is an ever-evolving mixture of Midwestern American with notes of the Deep South and indiscriminate British vocabulary and rhythm, and she says “eh”—like the Kiwis, not the Canadians. She currently lives near Los Angeles with her husband, British film director Devon Avery, and their three adopted children: Becks, Sam, and Lia. She writes from wherever her curiosity takes her.

Avery loves to connect with fellow readers and creatives, explorers and imaginers, and cordially invites you to say “hello”—or konnichiwa.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter

Win an ebook copy of The One Apart and a $10 Amazon gift card (open internationally / 1 winner)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Ends Dec 18

If the handy-dandy Rafflecopter doesn’t show up above, just click this link.

 

 

Opening Lines – Dead Beat

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

On the whole, we’re a murderous race.

According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fratricide. Genesis says that in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attack was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain’s brother Abel probably never saw it coming.

As I opened the door to my apartment, I was filled with a sense of empathic sympathy and intuitive understanding.

For freaking Cain.

from Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

I’d fully intended on getting this up earlier in the week, but it provoked enough thought that I had to sit on it a bit. Hopefully that comes through.

Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick
Series: Ali Dalglish, #2

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: November 30 – December 1, 2017


Vancouver Island’s Integrated Major Incident Squad has been called out again, and Ali Dalglish is brought along to consult — she’s official now, after the success of the case in In the Still, she got her credentials transferred to her new country. So she can help Inspector Rey Cuzzocrea with his profile of the murderer and get paid for it (which is probably useful after the recent disintegration of her marriage).

There’s a series of murders (not a serial killer, technically) in the perfectly pleasant little city of Cedar River (at least for most of the residents). They’re gruesome, clearly motivated by anger, with a sexual component. Ali and Cuzzocrea quickly note evidence of a pedophilia ring associated with the deaths. Which adds a level of complexity and tragedy to the crime — and makes it difficult to care much about the victims. While no one on the VIIMIS wants to help the killer with their campaign, they want to catch her(?) to help her recover from what they think must’ve happened to her(?). The obstacles standing in their way are not the typical or expected kind, and make this difficult case even more difficult.

As before, Ali is brilliant — not just when it comes to criminology, she’s just smart — she’s witty, she’s a font of trivia, and has a vocabulary that you just want to bask in (and borrow!). [Note: I’m not referring to her “blue”/”adult”/”4-letter” vocabulary, which is enough to put off some readers] Her emotional life is a mess, she’s in a slightly better place after the breakup of her marriage, but not that much. There’s some decent character growth at work here, too. She’s just such a great character I don’t think I can do her justice here.

It would have been very easy to make this a story about Ali, the brilliant psychologist helping out a bunch of cops who are fairly clueless (yet high-ranking and successful). But Chadwick doesn’t do that. The members of the Squad are capable — more than capable — and while they needed the perspective and expertise brought by Ali, there’s a good chance they’d have eventually put a lot of the pieces together on their own. For example, Superintendent Shaw would be easy to depict as a stuffed-shirt, unimaginative, by-the-book, and blind to anything that isn’t obvious — and most writers would depict him that way (I can’t help but think of Irwin Maurice Fletcher’s editor, Frank Jaffe, frequently when Shaw shows up) — but at one point he actually puts things together that no one else on the Squad did (most readers will be faster than him, but we have better information). Ali’s not blind to this either — yeah, she has an ego about her own expertise, but she is ready (if not always eager) to acknowledge when her teammates do good to work.

There were a few mis-steps, but when you’re doing so much right, you can afford a few of those. The one that I don’t understand is how little her friend/neighbor, Marlene, was used. Yes, her contribution was essential, but if Marlene had stayed home, Chadwick could’ve found another way to get those results. If you’re going to bring her along — use her. Her brief appearances were fun or pivotal, but there just weren’t enough.

I’ve spent some time over the last week trying to describe Chadwick’s writing style, because it’s so specific and so original. At one point, I decided that “aggressive” was the best adjective — it’s in-your-face, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your nose into the text, daring you to even consider your Real Life responsibilities (family, eating, work, etc.) so it can smack the back of your head like Leroy Gibbs. But it’s also inviting, enticing, so you’re sucked in and love it — you want to wallow in the experience, desperate to find out what happens while not wanting to walk away from reading book for the foreseeable future. She’s entertaining and fun while writing about some of the most depraved and horrible things you’ve ever read — while never making the depravity or horror into anything other than evil and wrong.

Briefly Maiden is not a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts — but when the sum of its parts is so great, it can seem to be. If it was just Ali’s acerbic brilliance and skewed (skewering?) sensibilities pushing this story, it’d be something I’d tell you to read. Chadwick’s style is something to behold, no matter the subject. If it was just the heart-breaking and horrifying crime story, I’d give this a high commendation. If it was just for the inevitable but shocking conclusion, I’d say this was well worth your time and money. If it was just Ali’s vocabulary, you’d be smarter for having read it (I learned a few terms/words, and I bet you will, too). You put all that together, plus a few other points I should’ve made and didn’t (for whatever reason), and Briefly Maiden is one of the most effective (and affective) novels I’ve read this year. Stop reading this and go grab it — and In the Still, if you haven’t read that yet.

—–

5 Stars