Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews two recent releases that prove the phenomenon known as the “sophomore slump” is anything but inevitable: Susan Strecker’s “Nowhere Girl” and Caroline Kepnes’ “Hidden Bodies.”
When Connecticut’s own Susan Strecker emerged as a new voice in contemporary fiction with “Night Blindness” in 2014, HBE called her “an author to watch”—and she more than delivers on that promise with her follow-up, “Nowhere Girl” (Thomas Dunne Books). Out earlier this month, the book marks a departure into mystery territory, but maintains its roots in the deep, nuanced portrait of a family in crisis that colored Strecker’s debut. In it, novelist Cady Bernard is struggling to deliver her latest manuscript; she’s also struggling to discern the truth of her twin sister Savannah’s violent death sixteen years before. But the closer she gets to finding long sought answers, the more likely it becomes that she may share her sister’s fate.
Cady is not your stereotypical protagonist. Rather, she is an anxiety-ridden, slightly overweight, unhappily married thirty-something who also happens to write bestsellers in the hopes that her research into criminal minds might bring her closer to identifying Savannah’s killer. But when her most recent project shows the promise of doing just that (not to mention bringing her face-to-face with a charmingly cunning serial killer of the Hannibal Lecter variety), it also upsets the tenuous grasp on normalcy that her grieving family members and friends have achieved. An admirable and entertaining offering, “Nowhere Girl” transcends standard whodunit fare by virtue of its emotional resonance. Do not miss this book—or its author, who continues to impress with the depth and diversity of her talent.
And, speaking of charmingly cunning, Caroline Kepnes revisits unforgettable sociopath Joe Goldberg in “Hidden Bodies” (Emily Bestler Books)—the much anticipated sequel to her Stephen King-endorsed debut, “You” (2014). After having put his romance with Guinevere Beck to rest, Joe leaves the comforts of New York City, and the East Village bookstore where he’s acted out a sordid story or two of his own, to begin anew in Hollywood. The promise of a fresh start, and the potential for finally finding true love, fills him with an all-consuming sense hope … until he discovers that his past may be about to collide with his present in the most undesirable of ways. Given that he has more to lose now than ever before, it’s only a matter of time before the bodies start dropping.
Joe also has to contend with the dreamer, and often cut-throat, mentality that dominates Los Angeles living. He’s no longer the proverbial king of the hill, and his creator has a palpably good time dethroning him by adding some serious sweat to his swagger—all while showing off her pop culture savvy. Both timely and topical, this is a book that will have you laughing one minute (you’ll never again think guac without thinking Joe) and lamenting the next. “Hidden Bodies” is ambitious in all the right ways, and solidifies Caroline Kepnes’ place as one of the most unique and undeniable voices of her generation. Fans of “You” will not be disappointed …
What books have thrilled you of late, dear readers? Sound off in the comments section below.
Review copies of “Nowhere Girl” and “Hidden Bodies” were provided by Thomas Dunne Books and Emily Bestler Books, respectively.