Monday, January 17, 2022

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka (thoughts)


Summary from Goodreads:

"Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. He hoped it wouldn’t end like this, not for him.

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the homicide detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake. 

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men."

My Thoughts:

Wow, what an amazing book to start my reading year off with!  If there is one book that I convince you to pick up this year, I think that I want this one to be it.  I will say that I want readers to go into this one with the right expectations.  I wouldn't call it a thriller (although I have seen it on lists of upcoming mysteries and thrillers) or really even a mystery.  If I had to classify it, I think that I would go more with literary suspense.  I'm not even sure that fits this book perfectly but I do feel that is more accurate than trying to label it as a thriller or mystery.  This is one of those books that isn't meant to be rushed through.  Instead, this is one of those books where you just need to let go and enjoy the ride that the author is taking you on because it is perfection.  The thing that stood out for me with this book was the focus on the characters and especially on the victims.  This book is about Ansel Packer (who has killed multiple women and is now on death row) but it really isn't.  It's instead about his mother, the sister of his wife, and the female detective who arrested him.  And most importantly it is about his victims and the women they might have been.  I loved how the author took the time to consider those women throughout the story and the impact that they might have had.  It was a reminder of everything that was taken from them - the lives they could have led and the different things that they missed out on.  It was both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.  The writing itself was gorgeous at times and deserved to be savored.  There were just sentences that hit me hard and I had to sit with.  It wasn't always an easy read (especially at the end) but it was a really excellent read that will stick with for some time to come.  

Read this book if you enjoy character focused reads or are looking for a book that isn't your average serial killer story.  I really cannot say enough good things about this book - it is super early to say this but I would be really surprised if it didn't make my top reads list for the year.  Now I'm off to add this author's other book to my TBR because again - wow!

Bottom Line - An easy five stars!

Disclosure - I received a copy of this book thanks to the publisher.  Honest thoughts are my own.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Top Ten Reads of 2021

 It's bittersweet to read my top reads post of last year and then to see how little has changed since 2020.  We are still here - still dealing with the pandemic - but when I wrote that post I still had hope that the end was in sight and that things would be getting back to "normal" soon (not sure really what normal is anymore).  Alas, we are still dealing with the pandemic and numbers are skyrocketing again.  Boo!  Happily,  books were still there for me as they always are.  My number of books read has continued to drop - I finished 55 books in total in 2021.  This is the lowest number of books read since I started tracking so many years ago, but I continued to really enjoy the majority of what I read.  I'll take quality over quantity always.  My blogging continues to be sporadic at best.  I'm not sure that I'll ever post as consistently as I used to when book blogging was at the height of popularity.  And that's okay.  But I'm also not sure that I'll ever give it up either.  I just love sharing my thoughts on the books that I read in written form here.  If you don't already, I'm much more of a consistent poster on Instagram so would love if you followed me there too.  But for now let's move on to the top ten books that I read in 2021:

Shiver by Allie Reynolds - This book was exactly what I look for in a winter thriller!  I loved the isolated, suspenseful atmosphere that the author created.  I read this one with snow on the ground in the middle of winter and just lost myself within its' pages.  The author did an amazing job of creating a suspenseful read that kept me guessing until the very end.  I cannot wait to see what this author comes up with next!

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten - This was my first read of 2021 and I knew instantly after finishing that it would make my top reads list for the year.  It was just so good!  It was a slow burning, suspenseful read that I couldn't set down.  There was this constant feeling of dread that seeped through the pages that I just adored.  I have found that I need all of the creepy, atmospheric reads like this in my life so give me read-alike recommendations if you have them.  Another author that I am so excited to read more from in 2022 with her next release!

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner - Mystery lovers, you are seriously missing out if you haven't tried out Gardner's books yet! This was originally supposed to be a standalone but is now being turned into a series - and for good reason!  This book was just SO good!  I loved Frankie's character - there is just something about flawed main characters in my mysteries that I can't seem to get enough of.  I'm so excited for the next book in this series and highly recommend this one if you haven't had the chance to check it out!

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson - Fans of The Chestnut Man and dark mysteries need to pick this book up!  I was absolutely blown away by this series debut.  There is nothing better in my opinion than finding a new standout police procedural and this is definitely one of them.  As I'm thinking back on the books I loved from last year - it is the characters, the atmosphere, and the storylines that stick out for me.  This book had it all and then some.  I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on the second book in this series when it releases!

Gone For Good by Joanna Schaffhausen - Schaffhausen is another author that has become a favorite of mine over the past couple of years for good reason.  I'm sure you can imagine my delight when I absolutely LOVED this first book in her new series!  She just has a way with writing mysteries that I cannot set down and that keep me guessing the entire time.  The best part of this book though is the way that I thought I had this book figured out....when really I didn't at all.  Yet another series that I'm super hyped to continue on with in 2022!

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James - This is the 2nd year in a row that one of Simone St. James' books have landed on my top ten reads list.  Let me tell you that she is another author (really this statement is true for all of these authors) where you are missing out if you haven't tried her books yet.  I love that she really has something more to say when it comes to violence against women and that is present in her books.  The two timelines of this book were tied together perfectly and the hint of ghosts ensured that I absolutely loved this book.  SO good!

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon - This book reminded me exactly why I consider McMahon to be one of my favorite authors.  It's actually been a few years since I read one of her books - and this book made me wonder why I haven't picked anything up by her recently because her books are just SO GOOD!  This book had this sense of dread and foreboding that just built up page by page.  And then that ending.  Ugh - this book was perfection and was the slap in the face I needed to want to pick up everything that McMahon has ever written.  I should have done this already but at least I have more to look forward to in 2022 by her!

One by One by Ruth Ware - This is my first book by Ware (despite the fact that I own like all of her books) but it certainly won't be my last!  I also want to take a minute to appreciate the fact that this was another winter thriller that made my top reads list - and it also was a variation of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.  I loved this one from the very first page until the last.  It left me absolutely kicking myself for never trying Ware's books until now.  Yet another author whose backlist I need to work on catching up on ASAP.

Broken Places by Tracy Clark - Out of all of the books on my top reads list, this book deserves WAY more hype than I've seen it getting.  It's SO good!  I am always here for a good mystery and this one was a standout beginning to this new to me mystery series.  The characters were perfection and I loved that this author also used this book to look at both unjustified police shootings and police corruption.  I am repeating myself throughout this post but this is yet another series that I plan on reading more from in 2022!

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor - If you love spooky, atmospheric reads then this is the book for you!  Actually, there are a few on this list like that (I have a type).  I LOVED this book for so many reasons but the main one was the spooky setting that the author created within these pages.  Hints of witchcraft, a small town filled with secrets, a small church that is possibly haunted....this book had it all.  And I ate it up with a spoon asking for more!  I've read two books now by Tudor and they both were standouts.  Yet another author whose backlist I need to read all of (story of my life at this point).

There you have it - my top 10 reads list for 2021.  There were SO many other books that I rated 4.5 stars and could have been included here so I'm not even bothering including honorable mentions because the list would be ridiculous.  What did I learn about myself as a reader from writing up this post?  That I love mysteries, creepy, atmospheric reads, and winter thrillers.  If you have any recommendations that relate to these three things - feel free to share them in the comments.  I have some goals for the new year so I plan on eventually sharing them all in their own post.  But mostly it comes down to reading the types of books that I love.  After two years living through a pandemic, it makes sense to read as much of the things that I love as possible rather than saving them for a rainy day.  

What book or books were your favorites of 2021?