Cover Image: Knife River

Knife River

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Knife River is a captivating debut that centers around a pair of sisters, Jess and Liz, who are anguished over their mother's unsolved disappearance. While one of them (Jess) has taken to running from the tragedy, living a nomadic existence as she skips from city to city, girlfriend to girlfriend, the other (Liz), has remained behind in their hometown, cloistered in their old family home and pouring over missing persons cases.

Fifteen years have lapsed when the call they've been waiting for yet dreading comes through: their mother's remains have been discovered.

This sends Jess back to Knife River in the hopes of finally finding closure. Of having an answer. However, with their mother's bones having been exposed to the elements for so long, any evidence they had hoped to find has run cold, with leads running stale and old suspects haunting them like a specter, leaving them with more questions than ever.

This was more of an atmospheric, character-driven exploration of grief than it was a cold case thriller, but I found that was what gave the story resonance and poignancy. Because of that, the strokes of the plot are more introspective in nature, with more internal rather than external movement happening. It's less about solving the case than it is about readers gaining insight into how this profound trauma has equally, but diametrically, frozen Jess and Liz and time. They're both stuck. Stagnated. Up to their chins in sorrow, and fear, and puzzlement--with neither one of them knowing how to move on.

The story's main strength was demonstrating how the two sisters were tethered by this tragic event. I liked seeing their enduring bond, also the way love and hurt and mystery twisted how they each coped with the loss of their mother. I did think Jess's romantic entanglements left something to be desired, though. They felt disjointed, distracting at times, leaving me feeling unmoored and uninterested. That said, I did think this was an intimate and harrowing portrayal of grief.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC in exchange for my review.

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Reviewed for NetGalley:

Interesting premise, Jess coming home to her hometown after the bones of her mother were found years later.

However, the story moved so slow at times, I had a hard time finding the momentum of where and where the story would pick up again.

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I loved the set up, and Jess is a fascinating character that feels extremely deep and well-developed. Easy three to four stars with five for the right readers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC.

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Knife River pulled me in from the start, and although it’s paced much more slowly than what I usually want in a thriller, I couldn’t stop reading.

The plot and the way it unfolded reminded me a bit of The Lovely Bone: the slower pace, how it explores all the ways people break apart after loss, especially an unexpected loss with lingering questions, and the ways they have to put themselves back together again.

The writing was incredibly atmospheric. I could easily picture Knife River - a factory town after its heyday, once the center of action but no longer. I also really appreciated the duality of Jess’s and LIz’s coping mechanisms. They’re complete opposites of each other, but throughout the story come to understand each other and their choices better. I appreciated how all the clues came together at the end and thought the conclusion was perfect for the story. Highly recommend if you love slow-burn, atmospheric mysteries.

Thank you to Netgalley, The Dial Press, and Random House for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

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A young woman, returns home to the small town she grew up in after her mother's remains are found. It is a story of coming to terms with your past, with the relationships you left behind, both family and lover, It is well written, with a mystery at the heart of it but it is mostly a psychological story with a slower pace and feel

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Thanks to NetGalley and The Dial Press for this ARC. I thought this book was a crime thriller but it primarily centers around a family tragedy and how it's impacted two sisters. I found the book to drag and felt it didn't have a clear focus. Every time I thought it would zero in on something it then veered off in another direction. I was more than half way into the book and was still waiting for something momentous to happen. I found the story to be really heart wrenching Sadly, I was just happy to finish reading it.

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I'm always a fan of grit lit and this certainly fits the category. You can almost see the pervasive gloom around the characters. I got bogged down in it for awhile, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The writing is tight and the characters are explored in great depth. And though it is a mystery, it lacks a lot of the obvious characteristics of the usual mystery and one can almost forget... until the ending. I'm not sure if the ending is strong or weak, but the detailed descriptions of both place and person will stay with me for quite some time. And that's the sign of a good book for me.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. There's a lot to unpack here.

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really good mystery and character building was spot on. Learned more justice system. It was nice to get to know them

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This was great. I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommend. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for my honest review

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This book was just okay. From the description I thought I would really like it. Unfortunately it fell a little flat for me.

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Thank you Netgalley. This was such an engrossing read!! The storyline and characters were well done and I was swept away. I am definitely looking forward to more from this author. Highly recommend

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I am in the minority on this book i guess. The reviews are all great but for me it was a very sloooow read. I kept waiting for more to happen.

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It's been quite cold here lately, and KNIFE RIVER was a great companion through the chilly days. I kept thinking that this novel would make a great TV show — I could see how each scene would play out in my mind's eye, which I think is indicative of Champine's evocative scene-setting. And while I haven't experienced a loss like a mother going missing, I felt like each main character's actions were understandable. I didn't see the final twist coming exactly, and the final pages felt satisfying. Add this to your summer thriller TBR!

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ARC review - publishing date 5/28/24.

3.5 stars rounded down. I went into this thinking it was a cold case/murder mystery vibe, and while there is an unsolved case involved this is more of a family drama and exploration of grief. The first 35% or so is extremely slow, but once things picked up I was really invested! I enjoyed the characters and the author's depiction of two very different ways of coping with trauma. Really great for a debut novel.

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#KnifeRiver #NetGalley
A thrilling ride. ,5 ⭐
When Jess was thirteen, her mother went for a walk and never returned. Jess and her older sister, Liz, never found out what happened. Instead, they did what they hoped their mother had done: survive. As soon as she was old enough, Jess fled their small town of Knife River, wandering from girlfriend to girlfriend like a ghost in her own life, aimless in her attempts to outrun grief and confusion. But one morning, fifteen years after their mother’s disappearance, she gets the call she’s been bracing for: Her mother’s remains have been found. Jess returns to find Knife River—and her sister—frozen in time. The town is as claustrophobic and rundown as ever. Liz still lives in their childhood home and has become obsessed with unsolved missing persons cases. Jess plans to stay only until they get some answers, but their mother’s bones, exposed to the elements for so long, just leave them with more questions. As Jess gets caught up in the case and falls back into an entanglement with her high school girlfriend, her understanding of the past, of Liz, of their mother, and of herself become more complicated—and the list of theories more ominous.
I loved it so much especially its ending. Wow what an experience.
Thank you NetGalley and Random House for giving me an advance copy.

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Thanks to Net Galley and Random House for the eARC.

When Jess was thirteen, her mother went for a walk and did not return - now, fifteen years later, bones have been discovered in the woods nearby.

Jess's sister has remained in their childhood home - her life, their home and the town itself seemingly frozen in time. As days turn into weeks, Jess's understanding of the past, her sister, and herself become more and more complicated.

Being the eldest of three sisters, I will always have a huge interest in sisterly novels and this one did not disappoint. Jess and Liz will need to work together for the closure of their mother's disappearance and death in order to move forward with their lives, but old habits die hard.

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This was a good read with well-developed characters. I had moments when I couldn't connect to the main character, but soon realized that was totally appropriate. Her Mom disappeared when she was young, she was forced to hide her sexuality in her hometown, and she has a long history of fragmented relationships. When I really challenged myself to be in her shoes, I started to get it. This isn't a twisty, edge-of-your-seat murder mystery. It is far more subtle.

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Knife River introduces 28-year-old Jess attempting to live a more exciting life than her small-town upbringing could provide, especially given that 15 years ago, her mother disappeared and no one has been able to uncover what happened. When Jess’ older sister, Liz, who has stayed in the house they grew up in, calls to inform her that their mother’s body has been discovered, Jess returns home and ends up dealing with even more confusion than she expected.

I really enjoyed the tone and pacing of this story–less focus on the “mystery” itself and more contemporary fiction with a healthy dose of drama and intrigue. I was initially disappointed by the lack of a traditional mystery-novel structure, but by the end, I was captivated by the intimate portrayal of the often-difficult family dynamics and the slow rebuilding of the sisters’ friendship. Jess’ tension with her former high school girlfriend played out so well as they reconnect, while also dually scrutinizing, earnestly and uncontrived, the experience of growing up queer. Top off the tension with the backdrop happenings of small town America and I’m hooked.

Right from the prologue, I was sucked in–quick and to the point, yet so full of detail and intrigue. This really caught my attention because I rarely find a prologue that feels important enough without being too overt. The sense of loss is laid out right from the jump and certainly sustained throughout the whole story. As someone who has experienced quite a bit of loss in my 28-years of life, I felt so connected to Jess and the often mundane way her losses permeated every thought and decision she has made (and continues to make). Her sister as well–they showcase how the obsession of loss can worm its way into every part of your life unless you actively don’t let it.

At some points, though, I was a little bored with the lack of mystery given that is essentially what the plot circles around. I wanted more of a build up, and while the answers we receive make sense with what we come to know of this town, it felt a little rushed without much lead up. Still, the emotional nature of this story and the heart of the characters is what shines through and makes this a great read for drama fans.

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A beautiful story of two sisters, Jess & Liz, looking for long lost answers to what happened to their mother. Jess returns to her small town where things seem to never change. What unfolds is not only a mystery but a lovely story of reconnection and healing. There were so many ups and downs and as the story neared the end I couldn’t help racing to find out what happened. This book just rips your heart apart and then mends it back together slowly.

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Natalie Fairchild walked out of her house and never returned, leaving her then teenage daughters alone to fend for themselves and enter a 15-year long waiting period – waiting for word of their mother’s whereabouts, waiting for answers to their questions, waiting for something, or anything, to happen. Then…

“Her bones were discovered by a group of children playing in the woods.”

The discovery brought Jess, now 28, back to Knife River, a town that looked and acted much like it had when she left and began her unrooted life bouncing from one relationship to another, one home to another, one family to another. Her sister Liz, now 33, reacted oppositely to her mother’s disappearance – staying in her childhood home, never changing routine, and growing more and more obsessed with solving her mother’s vexing disappearance and then death.

Upon returning, Jess sees the characters of her past through new lenses, wondering which of them might be a killer living in plain sight.

“He was just in the fabric of my memory of this place — one of the many threads making up the tapestry of a life beginning, the things you don't dwell much on but couldn't forget if you tried: a loose floorboard, identical at first glance to all the rest, under which treasures could be hidden. What branches on a certain tree in your old yard lent themselves to climbing. The face of a woman who doled out lunch in the school cafeteria the way hanging folds of purplish, creepy skin nearly covered her eyes. Bill was somewhere in that tapestry for me, a figure in the background, digging around in the trunk of his blue van.“

Other “threads” included a former love, a long-time suspect, a kindly and quiet neighbor, a former coworker, and many more.

The town is painted with a worn out and colorless brush, which amplifies the feeling of returning to a place that is not changing, growing, moving or progressing. Liz and Jess may appear they are dealing with their circumstances in different ways, but they are both stuck at the same point in their history. It’s not until the case closes that the sisters’ lives finally gain forward momentum.

At times, the story is bogged down with extraneous details of the town, the atmosphere, or just philosophizing in general, but overall the story is captivating, the characters and town are relatable, the suspense is real, and the mystery has depth. Knife River is an entertaining read, which I can confidently recommend, and a strong debut for Justine Champine.

Thank you to The Dial Press for the ARC of this book through NetGalley, which I received in return for my honest review. Review will be published to Goodreads on the tentative publication date of May 28, 2024.

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