Member Reviews

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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Follows two sisters fifteen years after their mother’s disappearance. When there’s finally a break in her case, they reunite in the small town where she went missing to confront their grief and finally get some answers. If there’s one thing I love, it’s a literary thriller and boy did this deliver! This is like if Mare of Easttown and the Taylor Swift song “tis the damn season” had a baby. It’s an extremely slow burn, but the payoff is well worth it.

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Jess and Liz have mourned their mother since she disappeared but now her bones have been discovered and they have to face facts. Jess had moved away from Knife River while Liz stayed. They are very different in personality and approach but they're now going to get answers. And Jess is wafting through relati0nships. This is grit lit set in a small failing town filled with secrets and lies. It's also a study of the sisters who are well drawn. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A good read.

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Knife River is the story of Jess and her sister Liz. When they were young, their mother went out for a walk and never returned. Jess and Liz grow up as a shell of their former selves. As soon as Jess is able she leaves Knife River. When the sister get the phone call that they have been dreading for 15 years now, their mothers remains have been found. Jess returns to Knife River where Liz is still living. Thinking they are going to get the answers they have been searching for are still questions. Even more questions arise when they learn how their mothers remains were found.

This was a very slow burn for me. I wanted to get invested into these characters, but I found it very difficult.

My thanks to Random House Publishing Group, The Author, Justine Champine as well as NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Knife River

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This is a quiet, haunting novel with lovely writing. Fifteen years ago, Jess’s mother vanished in her hometown of Knife River. Jess left town five years later and never looked back. Her sister, Liz, however, stayed and has been tormented by the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. When their mother’s remains are discovered, Jess and Liz get reacquainted as they search for answers.

There is a sense of unease and tension throughout the novel and the story unfolds in a leisurely pace. The reader’s patience is rewarded with a thrilling conclusion. The connection between Jess and Liz was moving and I loved how they protected each other in their respective ways. Recommended to anyone looking for a character-driven mystery.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a copy.

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This book was not what I was expecting.
This was a character-driven novel that really delved into a relationship between sisters. After surviving the disappearance of their mother, the sisters grew apart. They both remained haunted by the lack of information about what happened and unable to move forward with their lives.
I was expecting more of a mystery novel, but I enjoyed seeing where the story took me. I'm glad there was a resolution.
Thanks to Net Galley for the book to review.

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An extremely slow burn, if you can stick it out, the ending is worth it in my opinion. I started and paused reading many times. I liked the premise, however, it was very literary and character driven.

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In Knife River by Justine Champine, we meet Jess and Liz. Their Mother disappeared when Jess was thirteen and Liz nineteen. She left the house for a walk and never returned. The sisters are left to wrestle with the aftermath of this mystery. Jess cannot seem to find any peace. She drifts from relationship to relationship, never finding her place, never having a home of her own. Liz shuts down completely, remains in the family home and leads a contained life, preoccupied by her Mother’s disappearance. After 10 plus years, bones are found which are identified as their Mother’s. When the police appear to reach a dead end regarding the disappearance, the sisters become obsessed with finding out exactly what happened to their mother. This leads them to discover things about their mother they never knew and to question their own memories. When the sisters eventually learn what happened, they are then free to explore other aspects of their lives and to seek some happiness. An interesting novel.

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Two sisters, a missing mother, love, loss, and coming home......

Jess was thirteen when she and her sister, Liz, were left alone when their mother went for a walk and never returned. They knew their mother would never leave them. Something must have happened to her, but the police never found their missing mothers. Liz was left to take care of Jess until Jess was old enough to leave town. Liz continued to live in their childhood home, obsessed with true crime while hoping for answers about her mother's disappearance. Jess left town hoping to leave her grief behind but carries it with her everywhere she goes. Now that their mother's bones have been found fifteen years after her disappearance, the sisters will reconnect while waiting for answers.

I enjoyed how the author showed how grief affects people differently. Liz stayed in town, frozen in time, obsessed with true crime, while not having answers about her mother. While Jess runs from one relationship to the next, never getting to close, not wanting to be left behind again.

This book had a few twists and a shocking reveal.

This was a slow burn which I struggled with at times. Despite the slowness, I enjoyed the examination of love, loss, grief, relationships, and family bonds.

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