Cover Image: Knife River

Knife River

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author, for an ARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
"Knife River" by Justine Champine
was a great debut novel that had me interested the entire time.
It was a dark & gritty slow burn character driven murder mystery.
The ending was a surprise.
I will definitely be on the lookout for the author's next book.

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Funnily, I read this as an immediate palate cleanser after a terrible bleak NetGalley rec about sisters and their mother issues not realizing the similarity in theme. However, Champine managed to make me care about this pair and their despair in their small, tragic town. Jess and Liz are a mess, but it’s easy to root for these underdogs as they hope to finally learn what happened to their mother after she disappeared 15 years ago. This debut novel is a heartfelt description of familial strife and care hidden in a thriller with a satisfying ending.

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As a bona fide mystery/thriller snob, I was super impressed with KNIFE RIVER as both a debut novel and literary thriller. The writing style was accomplished, and the narrative structure so solid; the slow pace of the action allowed for a deep dissection of Jess and Liz's relationship and their diverting approaches to dealing with their mother's unsolved disappearance, all while maintaining the grittiness and bleakness running like an undercurrent through the narrative's bones.

That said, I did have occasional trouble visualising the setting, which might have been forgivable if the town didn't have the same name as the book; and I was frustrated by Jess's romance with Eva, which in my opinion really detracted from her character development as the book (and their relationship) progressed.

Also, in addition to being a snob, I am someone for whom books can, quite dramatically, live or die by their endings, and I just wasn't satisfied with this one. I had already prepared to not find out what happened to the girls' mother by the end of the book, because as tends to be the case with literary thrillers, the mystery isn't quite the point, it's everything else happening around it -- so, when we *did* find out what happened, in the final chapters, it felt like a throwaway, an appeasement that sort of diminished what had come before it. I would have preferred not to know.

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Sisters Liz and Jess come together when their mother's remains are discovered 15 years after her disappearance. Jess left small town Knife River as soon as she could while Liz remained in their childhood home.

I wouldn't really call this book a mystery or a thriller. The pace is extremely slow. It's about the impact of trauma and grief. Both sister's lives are upended by their mother's disappearance, but handle it in totally different ways. Jess goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, never really connecting with anyone. Liz puts her life completely on hold. I loved seeing the sisters reconnect when Jess returns. They finally begin to understand each other.

It took me a week to read 40% of the book, then I read the last 60 in a day.

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I expected this to be crime fiction, but although a mother's disappearance and death are at the heart of it, Knife River is a literary novel about the relationship of two sisters. The writing is evocative and insightful as the author explores the effect of their mother's disappearance on the sisters over the years and their reactions in the present to the discovery of her bones. This may be too slow for mystery fans, but it's a well-written novel of family relationships.

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This was a great book! I very much enjoyed it and I look forward to reading the author’s next work! Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

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Have to say, I really enjoyed this book. I lived the mystery, the chapters and the setting.

I immediately connected with the main character, Jess, as she sought to find out what happened to her mother.

I was with her every step of the way. A great read.


Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Random House Publishing Group/ Dial Press, for this great mystery.

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Knife River by Justine Champion had the potential to be a great novel, but with it's very long, drawn out storyline it was just too tedious to get there. It was a great concept, a mother disappears, leaving her two daughters alone. Fifteen years later, her bones are found, but they're unable to determine a cause of death initially. The older daughter, Liz, stays at home and has no life other than waiting for their mother to return. The younger one, Jess, wanders from place to place, relationship to relationship, never settling in one place for very long. I slogged through and didn't find much reward at the end. Just not for me. Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

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Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Random House, and The Dial Press for this copy of "Knife River."

Fifteen years ago, Jess' and her sister Liz's mother walked out the door and never returned.

Liz did her best to become a caregiver for young Jess, but Jess moved away from Knife River right after high school while Liz stayed in case her mother returned or was found.

But now, their mother's bones have been found. Can they finally find out what happened to her 15 years ago?

There was almost too much detail that slowed the pacing, especially with flashbacks to Jess' childhood memories and life in the small town.

But it was fascinating to watch as Jess learned to appreciate Liz's and her mother's life and choices through adult perspective.

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The basic premise of this novel is an interesting one: Fifteen years after Natalie Fairchild disappeared, leaving behind her teenaged daughters to grow up on their own, her body is discovered. The question then becomes will Natalie’s now-grown daughters, who have reunited in their small hometown, find an answer to what happened fifteen years earlier. Despite this intriguing premise, the novel is pretty depressing and moves along way too slowly in character development and even more slowly in plot development. Nonetheless, overall I thought this was a good read, particularly because of a few twists and turns that occurred.

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The things I loved about this novel, I loved fiercely. It’s a gorgeous literary thriller, with pieces of writing so shockingly beautiful, I didn’t know what to do with myself after reading them.
But when I hit the 60% mark and I still had no idea where the story was going, it became hard to sit with. It’s a slow burn, is what I’m trying to say, and I think one should know that, going in.
I think it’s worth sticking out until the end, because it’s satisfying in more than one regard.

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Ugh I really thought I’d love this one. Mysteries and complex female relationships are my bread and butter, but I just could not connect with Knife River. The last 20% picked up pretty well but it was rough getting there. Just a tad slow for my taste. It was really very interesting to see how the trauma of losing their mother impacted the sisters differently and how it manifested in their personalities.

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Knife River by Justine Champine is a recommended slow moving, literary family drama and character study following two sisters and their grief over their mother's disappearance.

Bones have been found fifteen years after Natalie Fairchild went missing. Jess was 13 and her older sister Liz was 19 when their mother disappeared, leaving Liz to care for Jess and both girls grief stricken. The two were semi-estranged until Liz called Jess to let her know that the bones are their mother's remains. Jess immediately leaves her current girlfriend and travel back to Knife river and her childhood home where Liz still lives. The home is eerily the same, frozen in time. Jess is determined to stay in knife River until the sisters get some kind of answer.

This is much more a literary novel and depressing character study of two sisters who experienced trauma and grief and how the loss of their mother effected their lives. The family drama is in the retelling of the sisters trying to process their grief immediately after their mother disappeared and later, after her bones were found. It is a very slow moving novel that carefully examines past memories, secrets, and relationships. The lack of a real investigation by police adds to the sister's frustration.

This is Champine's debut novel and the writing is quite good, both atmospheric and descriptive. The portrayal of grief and the effects of it one both sisters is well done. On the other hand, the pace is glacially slow and left such a feeling of hopelessness and despair while reading. This is a talent to watch. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The review will be published on Edelweiss, X, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

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For a first novel, this was pretty good. A little slow and ponderous, this is a character study set in a dying upstate NY town. There's not a whole lot of action, but the main characters seem realistically portrayed and the dialogue mostly rings true. There were no real surprises here in the outcomes of the stories, but I still felt invested in the journey.

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars. I would read more from the author.

I received a complimentary copy of the novel from the publisher and NetGalley, and my review is being left freely.

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4.25 stars

Justine Champine's debut KNIFE RIVER (publishes May 28, 2024) shows the reverberations of a woman's disappearance on her teenage daughters into adulthood.

Main character Jess floats through life from girlfriend to girlfriend, but, when she's summoned back to Knife River after her mother's bones are potentially found, Jess has to confront the mystery around her mother's disappearance 15 years ago as well as reconnect with her sister Liz and her high school flame Eva.

This is a character study of how Jess and her sister Liz dealt with the disappearance of their mother. Liz refused to leave the family home, despite having wanted to go to across the country for college, and she chained herself to her job as a bank teller. Jess has much more wanderlust and doesn't want to be tied down in any way.

The ambiance of upstate New York makes the reader feel secluded, and much of it takes place during winter.

Two things that inhibited my enjoyment some:
1. There is very little tension in this mystery. I want to feel propulsion to find the killer, and that was lacking with some pacing problems (a lot of languishing).
2. The timeline in this didn't make sense. Now I had an ARC, and I'm hoping this is fixed in publication. And I think it can be easily fixed. "Present day" is 2010 in this story with the mother's disappearance happening 15 years prior (1995). The mother's birth year is 1965, which makes her 30 years old in 1995 - but she has a 19 year old and a 13 year old. That would make her a mother at 11 years old. But later in the novel it indicates she went missing in 2002. But if it's 15 years later, that would be 2017 instead of 2010. So hopefully the book will change "present day" to 2017. That would make everything work.

I found this to be excellent debut, and I enjoyed this character-driven literary mystery. If you like a slower burn mystery, I think you'll like this one.

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This was definitely not what I expected. I thought this was going to be a thriller. It’s not it’s a mystery and a family drama all wrapped into one it’s far more about the sisters relationship and how that was shaped by their mother death than the death itself. It’s only a four star instead of a five star because it felt slow to me. I’m not a huge fan of slow burns and sometimes it felt like it was dragging, but I’m not sure that the story could’ve gone faster either. I suspect this is a book that could be somebody’s five star easily, but for me the slowness, even though the story was fantastic

*I received this book as an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) through NetGalley. I received this copy free in exchange for my honest review.*

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I was lucky enough to chat with other readers and the team at dial press about this book. Gritty, unsettling and dark, this was a book that left me changed. I read it in one sitting, unable to put it down. This book has convinced me to read anything Chapman writes.

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I enjoyed this but don’t think it’ll be for everyone. A very very character driven slow burn. This is more of a character study of the aftermath of someone’s disappearance as opposed to a whodunit. What happens to those that are left behind ? Interesting, but very wordy. Lots of descriptions of setting, which helped me picture their crumbling town. The ending was also satisfying. 3.5 rounded up.

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I found this to be a very depressing and dark book.
Two sisters become orphans when their mother disappears. The eldest takes on all the responsibilities, the younger moves away as soon as she can and they have little to do with each other for 20 years. That is until bones were discovered in a field that matched their mother's DNA, and they are reunited under duress.
The obsession with the disappearance of the mother has locked the eldest in a time warp. No relationships, no friends, just work and repeat. The youngest flits between relationships, constantly regretting the one she left behind 20 years ago.
They manage to take on a unified approach with the police at the discovery of the remains because they are convinced they know who the killer was and was never prosecuted.
It's a hard road for these sisters to sort out their new relationship with each other and the reader does catch some kind moments on both parts, but they are long in coming.......too long.
The most excitement happens in the last 20 pages......that part I couldn't put down.

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A book about loss, sisterhood and regrets. This book felt somewhat flat to me.

The sisters in this book lost their Mom at a young age when she left one evening and never came back. Her bones are found many years later, and the estranged sisters reunite in hopes of finally finding out what happened to their mother.

This book was interesting and I really liked the exploration of the sister’s relationship- but ultimately it just felt a little meh to me. Recommend with slight hesitation.

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