By Laura Oles
So many great books and so little time.
As I work through a TBR list that is longer than the fish stories told by teens holding poles at the Blanco River, I feel very behind in my reading but also grateful for so many choices. This summer, I’m letting Netflix chill on its own and, instead, enjoying the selection of fantastic crime fiction that has been released in the last year.
Here are a few of my favorite summer reads so far:
LITTLE SECRETS by Jennifer Hillier: In this dark domestic thriller, Jennifer Hillier proves why so many readers finish her books in a single sitting. Little Secrets opens with every parent’s nightmare—the disappearance of a child in a busy public place. Marin is a busy mother with a successful business, who is trying to juggle the demands of her life while being an attentive mother. In a single moment, her young son, Sebastian, disappears when she is distracted by a phone call. It only takes a few seconds—a situation every parent of young kids understands—for her entire life to take a devastating turn. Hillier’s ability to bring complex characters into a twisty plot with a genuinely surprising ending is on full display here. Like many readers, I read Little Secrets in a single day. I closed the book, impressed with Hillier’s storytelling skills and ready for her next novel.
THE LESS DEAD by Denise Mina: A woman begins a search for her biological mother and ends up tracking her mother’s murderer. Dr. Margo Dunlap has her hands full with her career, her friend’s dangerous relationship and the recent discovery that she’s pregnant. When Margo decides to search for her birth mother, she meets her Aunt Nikki, who tells her that her biological mother had been murdered and the killer has never been caught.
This novel is a departure from some of Mina’s other novels, and I loved it for that reason as well as her ability to handle serious issues with care while also weaving in some dark humor. This book explores not only the relationships between mothers and daughters but the complicated realization that those we love keep secrets…sometimes for good reason.
BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Gardner: Frankie Elkin is a middle-aged woman who has dedicated herself to searching for missing people, particularly those cases that have gone cold and no longer receive media attention. A recovering alcoholic who carries guilt and trauma over the death of a loved one, she channels her energy into helping other families find missing loved ones. Her current case, the disappearance of Angelique Badeau, takes her to a Boston neighborhood named Mattapan, where she meets resistance from the Boston P.D. as well as those close to Angelique.
Frankie is complicated heroine who is all at once tough, broken, thoughtful and determined. She doesn’t walk into this case with the idea that she has all the answers. She is working through her own grief while working the Angelique Badeau case. Gardner’s first-person approach kept me immersed in the story and turning the pages, and the story is compelling, smart and socially conscious. I hope to see more of Frankie Elkins in the future.
THE SUNDOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James: This atmospheric novel drew me in from the first chapter. Alternating between two time periods thirty-five years apart, this story revolves around Carly Kirk and her desire to find out what happened to her Aunt Viv, who disappeared in 1982. The book switches between Viv and Carly, and the story is part mystery, part ghost story, equally compelling and creepy. And that cover? Wow.
THE SEARCHER by Tana French: When retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in Ireland, he believes his days will be spent in solitude, fixing up a run-down cottage he purchased and exploring the countryside on his own. His plans change, though, when a young boy comes to him after hearing town rumors of his past detective career. The boy’s older brother is missing, and he wants Hooper to find him.
THE SEARCHER is quite different from French’s previous novels, a slow burn character driven story with a mystery being a smaller part of the novel. French’s ability to immerse me, not only into the setting but also the lives of the townspeople, are what kept me reading to the last page. The missing brother’s story is important, but how his absence has impacted his family, how this family is treated, and unraveling the inner workings of this tight-knit community add so many layers to this tale.
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig: Somewhere in the space between life and death, a secret library exists where you can try alternative choices to see if your life might have turned out differently. Nora Seed’s life is filled with regrets, and she is struggling to get through each day. She soon finds herself at the steps of this library with an opportunity to review her own personal Book of Regrets. She’s given the opportunity to make different choices and to see where they lead. Would one of these choices change her life and make it worth living again?
This book had a Sliding Doors feel for me, and the idea that you could explore other options and experience the results is a compelling premise. Haig’s prose is easy to read and rhythmic, and he balances light-hearted moments while also addressing deeper issues such as depression, anxiety, mental health and regret. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is an uplifting and thought-provoking novel that delivers a powerful story.
RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A. Cosby: I loved BLACKTOP WASTELAND and can’t wait to read Cosby’s latest novel. His talent speaks for itself, and the glowing reviews and accolades are well-deserved. As an Elmore Leonard fan, I’m thrilled that his writing has been compared to one of my favorite authors.
THESE GHOSTS ARE FAMILY by Maisy Card: Thirty years ago, a man stole the identity of his best friend and now, on his death bed, confesses this to his family. This generational family saga is a debut novel, and the more I read about it, the more I want to read it.
THINGS YOU WOULD KNOW IF YOU GREW UP AROUND HERE by Nancy Wayson Dinan: In this novel, a teenager returns from a family wedding to discover that a friend has gone missing. This novel is set during the devastating 2015 Memorial Day floods in the Texas Hill Country. Those of us who live in the area remember that time vividly and still see the damage left behind—on our landscape and in the families who were tragically impacted by so many levels of loss.