Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

save yourselfSave Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Crown, May 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

I was interested in Save Yourself both because it’s described as suspense fiction, because it’s by a woman, and because I need to read some books set in different states of the United States if I’m to make any headway in the Reading USA Fiction Challenge this year.

The story takes place in the small town of Ratchetsburg, Pennsylvania, within driving distance of Pittsburgh, and it centers on Patrick Cusimano, an underemployed depressed man in his mid-twenties as well as Verna Elshere, a high school student entering public school for the first time after being homeschooled by very religious parents. Both main characters are in difficult positions: Patrick is ostracized because his father killed a small child while driving drunk and he is the one who called the police 19 hours after the accident, and Verna is relentlessly bullied at school because of her father’s strong stance on abstinence-only sex education, a fight he took to the school board the year before this book takes place.

Action-wise, this doesn’t feel like what I would call a thriller: there is quite a bit of violence and brutality, but it’s not a racing plot: it simmers mostly, I would say. I somehow didn’t mind the pace of the plot because Braffet is quite good at getting me to care for his characters, all of whom are damaged people dealing with big issues. It is a tough read in spots– probably the toughest book I’ve read this year, but thankfully, there is some hope in the ending. If you are in the mood for a tough book, this one is a rewarding read.

Other reviews appear in Jenn’s Bookshelves and Reactions to Reading.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

execution noaThe Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver
Crown, June 2013

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

In my quest to get out of my police-procedural rut, I picked up this debut novel that is the confessions of a woman who is on death row for murdering a young woman named Sarah. Noa meets the murder victim’s mother Marlene, who has hired a new lawyer in her own law firm to investigate a possible clemency petition to commute Noa’s sentence from death to life in prison. The novel is a series of flashbacks to Noa’s childhood, her crimes, and her nearly ten years going through the criminal justice system as she writes her story for her lawyer. There are some strange dynamics among Noa, Marlene, and the young lawyer Oliver in charge of her clemency petition.

The story didn’t really pick up steam for me until we reached Noa’s interrogation and trial, and I think it’s because I prefer legal drama to psychological drama. Character-wise, I wasn’t that drawn to the story at the beginning. This is a book that takes a long to show Noa’s character as well, and I think that is what slowed me down in the first half of the book.

I think people will read this book in order to talk about Noa’s character, especially because her character takes a long time to develop.  Also made for book club discussion are Noa’s asides about the strangeness of the felony-murder rule and the strangeness of trial procedure where the judge instructs the jury to disregard a previous statement. How can a jury really not consider the statement? That being said, for me, this book is more interesting to talk about than it was to read, and I think it’s because I’ve read too many books with strange twists lately. I’m ready for different sorts of narratives.

Other reviews appear in FictionFan’s Book Reviews and Crimespree Magazine.