Cover Image: Knife River

Knife River

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The premise to this novel sounded excellent, but unfortunately the writing felt a little clunky and I couldn't get into the story.

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Knife River by Justine Champine is such a wonderful debut novel.
The slow burn made for an intriguing and engrossing read.
Champine weaves a suspenseful narrative that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, blending elements of paranoia and mistrust into a compelling story.
An intense literary fiction mystery suspense about two sisters, grief, secrets, lies, trauma and family.
A wonderful literary fiction mystery that I couldn’t get enough of.

Thank you NetGalley and The Dial Press for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Jess and her sister Liz grow up with their family in Knife River. One day their mother goes on a walk and never comes back. They manage to move along with their lives-Lizzie staying in town, and Jess leaving as soon as she is old enough, wanting to forget her childhood there. Years later they get a call that their mothers bones have been found and Jess returns to her childhood home to find Liz trapped in time. Everything looks the same, the house, the decor, and Liz's life has not changed much. They are now forced to work together to solve the mystery of their mother's murder despite them being at odds with each other most of the time.
This is a slow burn and focuses on the relationship between the two sisters and the small town itself, rather than the murder mystery of their mother. Jess falls back into a relationship with her high school girlfriend and time slows. It seems at some point they'll never find out what happens.
This was well written and interesting but I've read many books like this that I've liked better. All in all, a great first effort from this debut author.

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This one is definitely a slow burn, and I think readers going into this should know that it's more literary mystery than a page-turning, action based story. It's very internal as Jess discovers more about her hometown, her sister, and the other people who have stayed in Knife River in the years since she's left. A steady build to a solid ending, and definitely well written.

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Knife River is a slow burn. If you go into it with the expectation of constant twists and reveals, you will be disappointed. If you go into it patiently and allow yourself to fall into the story of two sisters living with the mysterious disappearance of their mother, you will see it as a well written suspense filled with small town secrets. Justine Champine’s town of Knife River has elements that all of us that are from small towns will recognize, will love, will devour.

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Thank you, The Dial Press and NetGalley, for the advanced copy of Knife River.

I had to mark this one as DNF. The book was listed as a thriller, but it reads more like contemporary fiction (maybe?). It was more of a sleeper. I did not want to keep coming back to this book, but I did in hopes that the story would pick up. It didn't. Maybe I'll come back to it one day, but it is not what I thought it would be.

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Jess was thirteen when her mother went missing. Her and her older sister, Liz, never found out what happened. Jess left town and wanders from relationship to relationship. Now, remains have been found and Jess goes back to Knife River.

This story is a slow burn but an in-depth character study. While a missing person story, the book takes place fifteen years later and shows how the two sisters, and the town, were affected by the events. This may not be for everyone, as it’s a very quiet book, but it’s also very genuine, and emotional.

“For fifteen years, I’d imagined this exact moment. I thought it would crash into me like a great wave, lifting the dam on a lifetime of anger and fear and wondering. It was wondering that ate me from the inside - there was no refuge, no depth of dreaming that could stifle it.”

Knife River comes out 5/28.

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"Knife River" is a beautifully written debut novel. It's a character driven, slow burn kind of mystery. The book is about two sisters Jess and Liz. When they are 13 and 19, their mother mysteriously disappears. The novel begins fifteen years later when Jess returns to Knife River for the first time in years because some evidence related to their mom's disappearance is found. Knife River is a small town in upstate NY which has seen better days.

At its heart, this is a story about two sisters. Jess and Liz have both been affected very differently from the trauma of their mother's disappearance. Jess spent ten years living as a nomad moving from place to place, from girlfriend to girlfriend. Liz stayed put in the town and home they lived in just in case their mom returned. Now Jess has come home and the sisters are hoping for answers about what happened to their mother. But answers don't come quickly at all and often lead to more questions.

We are brought back to the day of the disappearance and other times before and after that as Jess remembers the past. All in all, I really loved this book and it's one that will stay with me for quite a while. This was a haunting, emotional story of two sisters reconnecting and moving forward after living through such a horrific, traumatic event.

Fun fact: I figured the author must be from NJ (where I'm from) because two of the restaurants that are in this novel are the names of beloved restaurants in NJ that sadly have been shuttered for years.

Thank you to the publisher for the advance digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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The character development in this novel was really well done. The sisters were both fully formed, the details of their personalities reflected the trauma from their childhoods in a very realistic way. I wish the pacing of the plot had been a little bit better. Despite this being a character driven novel, it was still slated as a mystery, and the lack of forward movement with the case was a bit frustrating to read.

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This slow-burn literary fiction mystery explores what it means to lack closure. 15 years ago, a mom of two teens goes missing while out on a routine walk. Now, remains are found and questions long left unanswered are asked again. What secrets have been kept in a small town? One sister ran at her first opportunity and has been running ever since. The other sister has been too scared to leave. As a missing persons case, neither has had the closure to pursue the adult life they would have wanted.

This is a book that will most appeal to lovers of literary fiction. It is not a thriller, and there is very little action. There is a whole lot of introspection and character growth. As the mystery unravels, choices and confessions are made that are just mind-blowing when you think about them. Sometimes, you wonder if you might be better off not knowing in the end.

Knife River is a debut novel. The writing is lyrical and reflective, and it really doesn't feel like a first book. The themes feel almost personal. There is a claustrophobic and voyeuristic sense when reading that feels completely unique.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House | The Dial Press- for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

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Knife River By Justine Champine
Publication Date: May 28, 2024
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

📚MY RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


If you enjoy slow burn mysteries, allow me to introduce you to your new favorite book: Knife River.

When I say "slow burn," this is what I mean: sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwww burn. Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and its well-written story. It was heavy into character development, which I liked. I also really liked that Champine gave the reader such deep dives into the inner thoughts, the vulnerabilities, and the flawed nature of these characters. What I especially loved was that the book is just as much a story about redemption and healing as it is a story about a mystery of a missing woman.

While the ending featured a twist or two that I didn't expect, it took a little too long to get there, in my opinion. The majority of the book felt to me as if the mystery was merely playing a supporting role within the story of this family and life in their small town -- not the main plot of the book. Given that this book is listed with general adult fiction as its first genre, and mystery/thriller as its second genre, I imagine this was intentional by Champine. And it worked well in the telling of the story.This debut novel, although not exactly what I expected, turned out to be a great read that I definitely recommend. If you are someone who prefers adult fiction, with a side of mystery cooked at a really slow burn, you'll love this book!

A big thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for this advanced reader's copy in exchange for my honest review!

#KnifeRiver #JustineChampine #NetGalley #ARC #slowburnreads #debutnovel #bookstoread #bookreviews #bookrecommendations #slowburnmystery #booklover #booknerd #bookcommunity

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Justine Champine's impressive debut, KNIFE RIVER, is a moving, darkly atmospheric literary fiction mystery suspense about two sisters, grief, trauma, family, and a mysterious whodunit.


Set in Knife River, a rural small town, in 2010, Natalie Fairchild, a mother, goes missing and is never seen again when going out for a walk, leaving two daughters behind: Jess (13) and her older sister, Liz.

No leads nor a body was ever found due to a lack of local investigation. Neither sister had closure, and it even affected the trajectory of their lives. The girls stayed up all night waiting for the phone to ring, staring at maps of the trail system, waiting for answers that never came.

The town was tucked in the valley between two sprawling forests divided by the runoff of a towering waterfall. It has hundreds of trails, many of which originate just north of the Canadian border.

Jess, a lesbian, finally left the small town and has always wandered from one relationship to another, never getting too close. Liz, a bank teller, remained in the childhood home.

Then, fifteen years later, a shocking discovery is made-children uncover bones in the nearby forest. The sisters, Jess and Liz, are left to grapple with the chilling realization that these bones could be their long-lost mothers, setting the stage for a suspenseful turn of events.

Both sisters handle their grief in different complex ways. What happened to their mother? Who murdered her and why? Why has no one come forward? Is the murderer closer than they think, or was this possibly an accident that someone tried to cover up, but why? Will they ever know the real truth that haunts them about their mother?

My thoughts...

KNIFE RIVER is an atmospheric and claustrophobic setting with life in a small rural town full of struggles and an overwhelming sense of loss as two young girls try to move on with their lives. Gracefully written, heart-rendering, with vivid settings, a chilling tale of mysterious buried sins and secrets.

Hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, slow-burn suspense with lyrical writing. A feeling of hopelessness and grief richly layered and an exploration of haunted souls. Psychologically rich, a whodunit suspense thriller, as well as a character study of siblings, women, guilt, regret, love, loss, memory, trauma, secrets, family, and relationships.

I look forward to reading more from this new voice in fiction!


KNIFE RIVER is for fans of Laura McHugh, Heather Gudenkauf, Kimi Cunningham Grant, Julie Heaberlin, Wendy Walker, Willow Rose, and Brooke Beyfuss.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Blog review posted @
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
My Rating: 4 Stars
Pub Date: May 28, 2024
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Jess was thirteen years old when her mother never returned home after taking a walk. The police were unable to find out what happened to her. After Jess finished school, she left the small town of Knife River, where she had been living with her older sister Liz, and moved to the big city. Her life was full of sorrow. She lived in the shadow of her mother’s death, causing her to struggle through numerous relationships.
Fifteen years later, she received a call that her mother’s remains had been found. She returned to Knife River to her childhood home where her sister Liz still lived. Together they tried to get answers as to how her mother died. Her body had been exposed to the elements for so long that it was difficult for the pathologists to determine what caused her death. As a result, Jess and Liz are presented with several different theories as to how their mother died. Jess is determined to find the truth and her determination finally pays off in a spectacular ending.

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I saw a lot of early good reviews about this book, so I really expected to love it. It is SO SLOW though. Don't go into this thinking it is a mystery. It's really a literary fiction book about 2 sisters. I made myself keep going, because I kept waiting for it to pick up. Disappointing. Good for a library check-out, but I am glad I didn't buy it.

I received an advanced reader copy via NetGalley.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the ARC.
This slow burn mystery is more about the relationship between two sisters, and how the loss of their mother affected them. The development of the story’s slow place lost me at times. The ending was well done.

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This was a very interesting debut mystery. The writing was unique and I can’t tell if it is the writer’s style or it was based on the odd personality of the main character. This mystery was a slow burn and while I can appreciate a slow burn sometimes, this was slow to the point of me struggling to stay focused on this book. The beginning was wonderful and I liked the ending even if I personally didn’t find everything to be as satisfying as it could have been. Jess was a child when her mother went out for a walk and never came back. This greatly changed the lives of both Jess and her sister Liz. While Jess left Knife River as soon as she could Liz stayed and has tried to push for a resolution to their mother’s assumed death. The book starts with Liz calling Jess to let her know they found bones and they think it’s their mother. This brings Jess home and a lot of the book focuses on her relationship with the town, herself, her trauma and alcohol. The book was interesting but not was I expecting. I definitely am curious at what this author will do next.

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Be prepared for some surprises. Two sisters searching for their mother’s killer have to reflect on how they have been impacted. The small town setting makes for an authentic story. The story is easy to read with great characters.

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Fifteen years after their mother’s disappearance, remains are found bringing Jess back to Knife River and her older sister Liz who never left. It is a very character driven book and not really a thriller where you’re looking for clues trying to solve the case yourself. Instead we compare the two sisters lives; one who has never settled down, constantly moving and putting Knife River behind her, the other who has stayed and dealt with the aftermath of losing a mother at such a young age, constantly seeking closure.

This is a very slow burn thriller, where almost 3/4 of the way through the book I’m convinced, like Jess, that they’ll never discover what happened all those years earlier. I would have been fine with that frankly. Even after the case if officially closed we get some delicious redemption that left me shocked.

At quite literally the end of the book, Jess finally discovers the truth, it’s sort of an underwhelming conclusion, but both sisters are able to move on finding lives outside of Knife River.

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This was a very slow burn mystery, which I typically don’t mind. But in this one, I struggled to get invested in the story and I couldn’t really see how all of the storylines were connected.

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I had a hard time really getting invested in this book. The premise of finding bones of a woman that has been missing for 15 years is a great story. I felt very disconnected from these characters. Jess was the primary focus. I think I would have liked to know more about Natalie as a person and mother. I wonder if the author was hoping for the reader to feel disconnected as a way of having the reader feel some of what Jess would feel by losing her mother at just 13. I felt awful for Liz. She spent her life trying to figure out what happened and to get justice for her mom. Liz was stuck. I do think that the author did an amazing job of showing how each girl dealt with the loss of their mother at such important times in their lives.

I feel like there was so much going on. Jess and her love affairs, the dying town, Liz's life being stuck. The desire of Liz to see the man she thought was responsible for Natalie's death to pay. I liked the ending and that we did find out what happened to Natalie but it felt like muddling through. I think this author has a lot of potential but I didn't feel this book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House | The Dial Press for the ARC of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.

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