14 by Peter Clines

When Nate Tucker moves into his new apartment he begins to notice strange things about the building. All the apartments are just a bit odd. The building is wrapped in mysteries, from the padlocked apartment 14 to the apartment with no doorknob. The building manager has repeatedly warned the tenants not to ask questions, but Nate and his new friends can’t seem to stop investigating. What they unravel may be the end of them. It may be the end of everything.

14 is a fast-paced apocalyptic novel that takes the reader on a wild adventure.  I’ve been seeing this book on popular reading lists, so I had to give it a try. It was well-worth it. As the tenants of the Kavach building got to know each other and embarked on this adventure I felt that I was right there with them. The characters were witty and interesting.  I hesitate to call this a science fiction book (though it definitely is) because so much of the story is spent unraveling the mystery. I think people that are not into science fiction will enjoy the story just as much as those that are. If mutant cockroaches don’t give you the heebie-jeebies, then you will probably love this book!

The Storycatcher by Ann Hite

Sixteen-year-old Shelly Parker works as a servant girl for the Dobbins family. All her life she has had the gift of “sight”. She is constantly accompanied by the dead that roam Black Mountain. Then one day the spirits begin to warn Shelly of a danger that lies ahead.  Pastor Dobbins is an evil man with a dark secret, and Shelly finds that she is the one that can unravel the stories, uncover the truths, and save them all.  Set in the south during the depression, The Storycatcher travels from the hills of Black Mountain to the Georgia coast. Told from multiple points of view, Ann Hite does a remarkable job of weaving the story together and connecting all the pieces.

It has been a while since I have read a book so fast. I devoured this book. The Storycatcher has all the right elements: a vivid setting, well-developed characters, a mystery that will pull you in, and just a touch of magic. The pace of the book moves in such a way that you feel like maybe you could just get in one more chapter before bed, and then find yourself huddled in for fifty more pages. I hesitate to use the word haunting since it is a story about spirits, but the story lingers in the shadows of your mind even as you try to put the book away. Ann Hite captures the voices of her characters and the voice of the south brilliantly.  This is a story that you will not soon forget.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

Teddi Overman is the owner of a successful antique shop in Charleston, SC. She has an eye for what can be made beautiful, and maybe that is why she has so much trouble letting go. Teddi’s charming southern life is haunted by a family she has disconnected with and the disappearance of her beloved brother. When signs begin to appear that he may still be alive, Teddi begins a journey that will return her to her past in rural Kentucky where she finds more to her family’s story and ultimately herself.

Looking for Me is a lovely book. The characters are real and lovable, from the quirky old lady that habitually steals from her shop to her dear best friend that collects Pez dispensers. Teddi’s relationship to her mother is fragile and heartbreaking. It is a story of loss, rebirth, searching, and finally hope. The mystery of her missing brother is what will keep you turning the pages, but there is so much more to this book. 

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One seemingly normal day, Emily Coleman walked away from her life. She left her little family and her lovely home behind and created a new identity and a new life. What could drive a person to do this? Could you really completely reinvent yourself? Is running away ever the right answer? What is the mysterious date that looms before her and will force her to face her past? No one can guess Emily’s secret. Will you?

One Step Too Far is a brilliantly crafted book. I never guess Emily’s secret. It’s rare that a book catches me off guard, but this one did it! I had to reread the ending twice just to make sure I read it right, then I went back through the story looking for the clues I missed.  The book is so well-paced, you will keep turning the pages to see where Emily will take you next. The most interesting part of the book was unraveling the secret, but the book poses other underlying questions. Is there anything that could justify simply walking away from your life? Is Emily broken or just selfish? Is it possible to leave yourself behind and become someone new? 

Flat Out Love by Jessica Park

When Julie moves to Boston for college, she finds the apartment she rented from Craigslist doesn’t actually exist. Stranded in an unknown city, she moves into the home of her mother’s old college roommate. The Watkins family is a little strange to say the least. The parents seem a bit absent, one son is traveling the world, the other is practically a social recluse, and the daughter speaks without using contractions and carries around a life-size cutout of her absent brother which she calls “Flat Finn.” Julie finds the family odd, but lovable, and quickly finds herself becoming a part of their home.  As she tries to find a way to help the awkward daughter Celeste, she finds herself falling in love with one of the brothers. But which one? The nerdy boy in the bedroom beside her? Or the adventurous traveler that she’s been chatting with online? And what is the big secret that everyone seems to be hiding?

Flat Out Love is a sweet story about a girl finding her way and a family finding each other. The characters are quirky and interesting. I have to say the storyline was a little predictable, but I kept reading and second guessing myself right up to the very end. In short, it’s a neat little love story that is just different enough from all the others to keep you turning pages well into the night.

**If you love this book, there is a companion piece called Flat Out Matt that retells some of the important chapters of the book from another character’s point of view. I haven’t read it yet, but my curiosity is piqued!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

When Jacob Jankowski hopped a train to run away from a family tragedy, he couldn’t have imagined the world in which he would find himself. He soon learns that the train is that of the Benzini Brothers Traveling Circus. An almost graduate of veterinary school, he is put in charge of the welfare of the menagerie. Jacob makes a few friends and quite a few enemies on the fateful journey. At the heart of the book is a love story between Jacob and one of the star performers, who happens to be married to a paranoid schizophrenic animal trainer that can’t decide if he wants to kill Jacob or love him like a brother. Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob’s time with the circus and all the oddities that life brings. Taking place during the depression era, the story is vivid, beautiful, surprising, and at times sad.

Water for Elephants is one of the best books I have read. It is absolutely riveting. Sara Gruen does such an excellent job of engrossing the reader in the story, there were times I was sure I could smell the popcorn and wild animals. If you’ve seen the movie, the book is still worth the read. The imagery is amazing and of course the book is always better!

The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

The Front Porch Prophet is the story of A.J. Longstreet. Raised by his father and grandmother, A.J. is an honorable man and a loving father and husband. When A.J. is reunited with his old friend Eugene and learns that his friend is dying of cancer, he is forced to make an unthinkable decision. Eugene would like for A.J. to put him out of his misery when the time comes. The rekindled friendship stirs up many memories for the duo- both good and bad. This book is a collection of those memories and of the new ones they make together before Eugene’s untimely demise.
Raymond Atkins somehow manages to turn a sad situation into one of the most hilarious books I have ever read. I actually laughed out loud at several points in this book. Set in rural Georgia, the characters are unforgettable and the situations that A.J. finds himself in are unbelievable. The book reads like a couple of old men sitting around a campfire rehashing the adventures of a lifetime.  I absolutely love good southern literature. Raymond Atkins captures the spirit of the south and the humor of its people flawlessly. What I loved most about this book was that while it was very entertaining to read, at its heart it is a story of forgiveness and true friendship. I can not recommend this book enough. I would be willing to place it on my top five all time favorites list. 

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen

Due to some very bad behavior, Andrew Yancey has been demoted from police investigator to health inspector. In a related incident, Yancey also has an arm in his freezer. How the arm got there is explainable, but what he can’t explain is who it belonged to and how it became unattached. Yancey believes that if he can solve this mystery he might just get his spot back with the Monroe County Sheriff’s department. With an unbelievable cast of characters, Andrew Yancey sets out on an adventure that is entertaining, hilarious, and suspenseful.  
The characters in this book are charmingly bizarre, each one more flawed than the next. Hiaasen does an excellent job of writing people that could be real people if they weren’t in such an unusual situation. I found the mystery of the story delightful, and for once I truly did not figure out “whodunnit” until it was revealed to me.  I kept wondering how this ever-growing cast of characters were going to relate to one another, and Hiassen did a masterful job of weaving them all together. Bad Monkey is an entertaining read for lovers of the odd, funny, (possibly a little offensive), and mysterious.

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

When the power goes out in picturesque Black Mountain, North Carolina, John Matherson knows exactly what happened. A history professor and former military officer, John has read the reports of what an EMP attack would look like, he knows immediately that the United States will never be the same. EMP is an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out of all America’s power grid. Electricity, phones, and all cars built before the 1980’s are rendered completely useless, thereby crippling the country. Left to protect his two daughters and lead the small town to reform itself into a hunter/gatherer society, John must gather all his strength and knowledge to make the hard decisions that will keep his town alive. Food and medicine rationing, martial law, and battle strategies become daily decisions alongside the everyday duties of being a father. One Second After is a cautionary tale of the all too true consequences of not being prepared for this type of attack.

This book is thought provoking and moving. Forstchen tackles the questions you pray you never have to answer, and the ones you would never even imagine. One Second After looks closely at how comfortable America has become and what would happen to us if someone decided to prey directly on our complacency. I found that throughout the book I agreed with the decisions John makes, though at times I wondered if I would have the strength to do the same.One Second After is described as an apocalyptic novel but at the heart of it, this is really a book about what it truly means to be an American, to love your neighbor and your country, to find strength in your faith and family, and ultimately the resilience of the human race.

The sequel to this book, One Year After was recently released.  I haven’t read it yet, but it is definitely next on my list!

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

After a terrorist attack, thirteen-year-old Theo Decker is left orphaned and the sole guardian of a small painting that was placed in his hands after the explosion. Unable to part with the painting because it is the only connection he has left to his mother, Theo hides it away as he navigates the twists and turns of his new orphaned life. The book follows Theo’s journey into adulthood where the book takes a dangerous turn into the underworld of art. 

The Goldfinch is the recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and was also hailed as one of Amazon’s most important books to read. The book is long, ringing in at over 800 pages, so if you decide to read it be sure you are up to the task.

I have heard so many mixed reviews of this book. I don’t think anyone can argue that it isn’t well-written. Tart is best known for weaving long intricate stories. This one reads like a large meal that you have to sit back and digest for awhile. Interestingly, I truly disliked this book until I took time to discuss it with my book club. After really dissecting the pieces of the story, I have to agree with all the praise it is receiving. On a personal level, I couldn’t really find one character that I liked or could relate to and I felt that parts of the story were too detailed and cause the momentum to lag, which can really feel defeating in such a long book. However, the themes of the story are very real and moving. 

My only real advice on this one is that if you decide to take it on, don’t quit halfway through. If you start it, hang on to the end. It’s worth the closure you will feel from it.