Cover Image: Knife River

Knife River

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The synopsis of this book sounded promising, but I struggled to enjoy it. I liked the character development, especially Jess. I enjoyed that the storyline included the two long-lost/distant sisters reuniting to finally learn what happened to their mother after she went missing many years prior. I liked littld old Brenda and her fierce protectiveness of the sisters. That said, the book just dragged for me. It felt really slow and honestly kind of boring for most of it. The ending did manage to surprise me. I won’t add details because I hate spoilers, but I really didn’t foresee what happened in the last few chapters.

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“Knife River” is a debut novel by Justine Champine. This book follows the main character, Jess, whose mother went missing 15 years prior. A phone call from Jess’s sister, Liz, brings Jess back home to Knife River. I think this book was more of a coming of age book with a bit of a mystery thrown in. Jess basically has been drifting in life - trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from life, while Liz has been, more or less, stuck in life. At times the murder/mystery seemed to take a backseat to the self-discovery of both women. Not to say that self-discovery books aren’t good, but at times this one felt so overwhelmingly depressing (though losing a parent in the way they did was difficult). The timeline at times jumped from present to Jess mulling about the past - sometimes jarringly. While that’s pretty typical of how people go about their daily lives (folding laundry and one flashes back to an earlier time folding laundry), on the page at times it felt and read awkwardly. For a debut novel, this wasn’t bad - but I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t need to read it again.

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Knife River is the story of what happens to two sisters when their mother mysteriously disappears when Liz the older is a teenager and Jess the younger is still a child. The consequences are destructive to both sisters lives, making it hard for both to settle and develop relationships. It's described as a mystery, but it's more of a sisters story. It lovingly tracts female relationships not just of the two sisters, but also the various women in their lives. The female characters are all well developed, the male character less so calling into stereotype. The book is very atmospheric, but very sad. The well-developed female characters and the mystery kept me reading.

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This book was both surprising and disappointing. I somehow expected a mystery/thriller and instead got an atmospheric smalltown upstate New York location, with two sisters working through the mysterious disappearance of their mother. Unexpected was the central theme of a young woman trying to live her life as a lesbian. How was Jess' inability to commit connected to her mother's disappearance? And was it really Eva, her high school crush and first love who was still in town that was responsible?

There was some very lovely poetic writing in this novel, particularly the descriptive sections of weather and landscapes. It was, however, a novel that went on for much too long a period of time where nothing much happens, (with the exception of much repetitive soul-searching and some very uncooperative police) until the rapid and surprising denouement. This happens within the last few pages. In between, the sisters, two neurotic women Jess drinks too much and can't sustain a relationship and Liz, her older sister, still a virgin at almost 40, devoted to her job as a bank clerk). Perhaps I was expecting more of a mystery, or less about two characters I found unrelatable, but this book did not grip me.

Thanks to Net Galley and The Dial Press for an ARC copy of this novel to review.

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From the very first page I was curious to find out what was going on. During the first few chapters more information about the disappearance of their mother was slowly revealed. However that didn't last that long.

Most of the book was about the main character trying to navigate in a world while not really knowing herself. The book takes time to explain how certain characters work and why they are the way they are. It felt like the mystery itself wasn't the main focus of this book. The story mostly talked about how people deal with such a mystery.

Reading how two sisters dealt with a disappearance of their mom and the grief it brought along sure was an interesting take for both had their very own beliefs and theories. I really liked how different they dealt with thinks. That isn't always highlighted in books.

I did feel confused by the timeline in this book. Scenes ended abruptly and then the next chapter could be weeks later without a clear connection. It made me feel like I was reading random snippets of a bigger story. For some reason some character's also immediately knew when the MC was hiding something. All of it felt a bit too convenient to me.

I am also not a fan of the smut scenes in this book. Things felt chaotic so it was hard to follow what was happening. For example, some erotic things were briefly mentioned then you'd read a lot of deep thoughts from within the main character's mind before being thrown back into the smut scene.

The ending was well done and while I think this book wasn't meant for me I am glad I did finish it because the ending did serve the tension I would expect from a thriller.

So if you are a fan of reading how characters deal with the grief and sadness that comes along with losing a loved one that went missing, then this might be the book for you!

I was giving a chance to read this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Special thanks to The Dial Press, Justine Champine and Katy Nishimoto!

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Justine Champine writes BEAUTIFULLY. At times in the story, I found myself becoming frustrated because nothing was happening. However, the more I reflect on that, the more intentional I think this decision was, to portray the absolute purgatory of not-knowing that these sisters experienced for many years of their lives. I will be picking up future Champine novels!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an invitation to read this engaging novel.

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this eARC.

Interesting character study of the impact a missing single parent has on her two daughters left behind, as they grow and experience life throughout the years, forced to live without knowing who took their Mother's life.

This has to be one of the most painful situations someone can experience, someone is there one day, gone the next, with no answers and precious few, if any clues left behind.

After years pass, familial remains are found, however, there are still no answers provided (the two daughters always assumed that their Mother was dead, as she certainly would not have left them). However, now the sisters must deal with the ineptitude and inexperience (even a lack of interest) of the local small town cops of Knife River.

No spoilers here, you will have to pick up a copy of this book to see if the two young women must continue living in a hellacious form of limbo, or if they will finally get an answer to the pressing question of what happened to their beloved Mother.

Okay, I posted this when ALMOST done with this book, so I am returning as the last two chapters were just the perfect way to end this book, I loved these characters so MUCH (the two Sisters and older friend).

Note to author: a home run with your first novel is amazing. PLEASE revisit these characters, they are almost like family to me now, I would buy a reunion book (perhaps they lose a friend and find clues) Knife River Volume 2 in a heartbeat! Thank you for this amazing read.

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I had higher hopes for this book based off the premise. I'd say this book falls more with contemp fiction vs. mystery/thriller but ultimately was a good read. The author kept just enough questions guessing that I wanted to finish it.

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Nice flowing mystery that explores the relationship of sisters and the ones they choose to love. Jess and her sister have gone through hell in their own ways.

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I had a hard time getting through this book. The premise was promising. A woman comes back to her hometown when bones are found that may be her mother who has been missing for 15 yrs and to her sister who still lives in their childhood home. The character development was good and I felt I really understood these two women and why they led the lives they did. I was hoping for more action regarding the murder of the mother. The story moved very slow, however I did like how the author wrote about the girls/women and the stifling town where they grew up. It became a character on its own. Thanks to the author and Dial Press for the opportunity to read this book.

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Life is sometimes full of heartbreaking experiences and this book captured the dreadful feeling of deep despair with two sisters. It showed how trauma can change the direction of those left behind when someone close has been murdered.

One evening, Natalie, took off after dinner in the small town of Upstate New York. She never returned and her two daughters were desperate to get answers from a detective working on the case. They suspected someone killed her but no substantial clues were found after an exhaustive search.

Fifteen years later, the older sister, Liz, got a call. A skull and bones were found by a young girl playing with her brothers in a field near their home. Liz, 34, was still living in the same house but her younger sister by six years, Jess, was now in New Jersey. Liz called and asked her to come home.

It was easy to imagine the town that had a few favorite restaurants where gossip rolled out quickly. The pace of the murder was slow which made the story long and drawn out, sometimes crawling in parts. The author added a subplot which took it into another direction with Jess trying to resolve a renewed relationship with her high school lover, Eva.

It's a depressing story of sisters living of the edge for months in a distressed state. It was often cold outside and Jess was covering her pain with drinks. The house was undesirable and Liz didn’t feel safe. It left me feeling sad and hopeless. The end caught me completely by surprise.

My thanks to The Dial Press and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book with an expected release date of May 28, 2024.

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Thanks Netgalley for allowing me to read this book. Its been Jess and her sister most of her life. Her mom went missing many years ago. When they return home many years later. Little has changed in the town. This book was well written.

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I had high hopes for this book because it was set in Northern NY and I spent a lot of time there when I was younger. I thought the author did capture aspects of what the landscape and culture was like. However while reading this book I felt like there was a dark cloud over everything. Ultimately this book just made me feel sad and depressed. I felt bad for both Jess and Liz. The unexplained death of their mother has weighed heavy on both of them and shaped their ability to have healthy relationships. I thought that things would move a little quicker with the mystery and the reader would find out a little sooner or at least get more details about what happened to their mother. I did enjoy the love triangle relationship in the book but overall this was not the book for me. I just did not connect with either character and felt the pace of the book was a little too slow for me. I do think others might enjoy this story especially if they like a slower build up and crime style novels.

Thank you to The Dial Press and NetGalley for this ARC.

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A mystery wrapped up in a family drama that explores the aftermath when a mother disappears.

Two Sisters, one 13 and the other 19 and ready to make her way in the world. Jess, the youngest, bides her time to get out of Knife River after her mother goes missing. With no answers to what happened to her mother, Jess fumbles through the her life with many short-term relationships, too much alcohol, and meaningless jobs.
The eldest daughter, Liz, has had her life put on hold. She can't move on and can barely live in the house from which her mother disappeared. She becomes more of a recluse, fearful and angry and certain she knows what happened to her mother and by whom.

When bones are found 15 years later, the sisters are thrown back together to piece what it all mean to finally, acknowledge what each went through and gave up and how their memoires have been distorted over the years.

This book has such a feeling of authenticity about it. Grief and anger mixed together. That and where the resentment leaves you and the life it steals from you. Liz and Jess process their grief differently and unfortunately separately. Jess just wants to move on. Liz cannot. A harsh catalyst that rings true when following these sisters to a conclusion you just don't see coming.
4.25 Stars
Thank you to Dial Press Book Club for access to an early e-copy. All opinions are my own.

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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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