Just One Bite by Jack Heath


Sometimes a book jumps onto your radar and completely surprises you. I've been busy keeping up with some ARC's that publish soon, so I've done my best to avoid distractions. But last week I stumbled upon Just One Bite by Jack Heath. The cover grabbed my attention first, and the summary really intrigued me. Add to it that the book takes place in Houston, Texas (the city I currently call home) and let's just say my reading schedule was now completely derailed. Thankfully, the book hooked me from the beginning. One sleepless night and several cups of coffee later, I'm a huge fan of Jack Heath's Just One Bite.

Timothy Blake is a man of contradictions. He used to be a consultant with the FBI, helping them solve particularly perplexing missing person cases. Now, he works for a local crime lord making bodies disappear. Blake is a genius with a photographic memory, but he also has a dark secret that he has to protect at all costs. He likes to eat people. Yep, good ole fashioned cannibalism. Like Jeff Lindsay's Dexter, Timothy Blake isn't just some cold-hearted killer. He follows a code of conduct, if you will, that sees him only eat the bodies he's disposing of. If you're going to eat people, it might as well be the worst kind of people in the world.

Blake is living large, freezer full of half-eaten remains when the FBI comes calling. Men are starting to disappear in Houston, and the FBI is at its wit's end. They task him with teaming with his former partner at the agency Reese Thistle to solve the case. The two awkwardly pick up where they left off. Thistle and Blake share a similar past. Thistle used her trauma to work her way through the ranks of law enforcement while Blake, well, you already know. Blake is brought to a halt when Thistle reveals the identity of the lastest man to go missing. He knows that face. The man's head is currently sitting in his freezer!

I can't even begin to adequately convey my love for this book. In Just One Bite author Jack Heath shocks and thrills while making you root for a morally conflicted hero. He avoids the obvious comparisons to Thomas Harris's famed Hannibal Lecter by grounding Blake with a quick wit and self-awareness that had me chuckling to myself several times. Heath takes readers on a twisted investigation through unique settings and well-rounded characters that made for one of the most fun reads I've had in a while. I was about 2/3rds through the book before I realized that it was the second in a series, so don't worry if you haven't read the first one. The main character is a cannibal, so be forewarned that Heath doesn't shy away from the grisly details of his hero's violence. Still, don't let that deter you from this clever and stellar read. Go ahead and take a bite.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 20)

Ladies Who Punch by Ramin Setoodeh


The View has graced televisions across the US for over twenty years, becoming as well known for talking about the news as it has for making news of its own. What started as a strange turn in the career of famed journalist Barbara Walters soon became a ratings and cultural juggernaut. Walter's simple format of combining women of varying ages, cultures, and backgrounds to discuss current events not only worked well but inspired numerous other imitators. In his book Ladies Who Punch Ramin Setoodeh combines revealing interviews, newly unearthed audio/video clips, and his own narrative prowess to provide a complete and unflinching look at the history of the hit show.

I'll admit to tuning into some episodes of the show from time to time, but I wouldn't call myself a huge fan. When it works, there is no denying the power of the conversations that The View is able to produce. The problem recently is that the show really hasn't been working. Throughout the history of the show, in fact, it seems to have faced a large amount of controversy, both on and off the air. From the start, Barbara Walters's idea to create a daytime talk show seemed like a huge gamble. The veteran reporter had a particular amount of clout and esteem within the industry and many feared a morning show would dilute that reputation. As Setoodeh writes, the behind the scenes drama and controversy may have sullied Barbara's reputation to some, but for better or worse she is largely recognized today as the creator of the show.

The biggest draw for many readers will be the new insights that are provided by Setoodeh's interviews with several of the key hosts. Beyond a pretty wild transcription of Elisabeth Hasselbeck having a meltdown during a commercial break one day, there really isn't a ton of new information. If you followed the news as major events happened on the show, you're pretty much already in the loop. That being said, Setoodeh is able to provide first-hand perspective and insight around specific events that really illuminate some of the more controversial moments. Rosie O'Donnell, in particular, was extremely forthcoming in her conversations about all the on and off air happenings involving her.

As the title suggests, Ladies Who Punch revels in the tabloid moments from The View, especially the infighting between co-hosts. The publisher's summary of the book compares the drama to Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, and I think that is a pretty accurate comparison. Like that political "tell-all" Setoodeh's book makes a big show of the soap-opera turmoil in favor of giving a nuanced, balanced take on each situation. To be fair, not every co-host agreed to an interview with Setoodeh. Still, there are times when his own personal feelings about a situation overtook the narrative. In the end, Ladies Who Punch is not that different from the show it discusses. At times, it provides thoughtful commentary on moments in time. Other times, it is a mess of excessive opinion and drama. Even still, I couldn't stop reading.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 19)

Your Life Is Mine by Nathan Ripely


"That's when life can feel most chaotic, when things that you aren't controlling keep falling into place..."

Last summer I was simultaneously shocked and thrilled by Nathan Ripely's debut thriller Find You In The Dark. It was the kind of book that dared to explore the darker sides of society, a part of the world that you always knew exist but couldn't bring yourself to look into. I remember breathlessly turning the pages, appalled by what was taking place, but too enthralled to stop. I was so taken by Ripley's writing that I eagerly awaited his next offering. When his publisher offered me a copy of his latest novel Your Life Is Mine, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Parents are supposed to be a model that we strive to emulate. When we're young, we look up to them, copy their actions and mannerisms, confide in them, and love them.  Young Blanche Varner is no exception to this rule. She loves and obey's mother, but she absolutely adores her father. The family of three live a simple life in their rent-by-the-month trailer park, but Blanche knows of nothing different. Her father Chuck has taken her by his side and molded her into the person he wants her to be. Blanche dutifully does her part by attentively listening to his lectures and completing all the tasks and activities that they do together. One afternoon, Chuck takes her to the local mall and patiently sits her at a table in the food court. He tells her to watch him carefully and to stay quiet. Then he pulls the gun outs and starts to shoot.

Years later the shadow of Chuck's horrendous acts still haunts Blanche. She's changed her last name and moved away from the town where the nightmares happened, but it is hard to completely purge herself of a childhood of horror. The worst part is that after the mass shooting that took the lives of many innocent victims, Blanche quietly walked back to her home as if nothing had happened. So entangled in the cult-like web of Chuck's "Your Life Is Mine" teachings was she, that Blanche continued to adhere to his strict guidelines for years to come. In an ironic twist of fate, she now is carving out a career as a true-crime documentarian. For obvious reasons, Blanche keeps her past tucked neatly away from the public, but the death of her mother threatens to reveal all of her secrets.  Chuck's teachings live on and Blanche is about to see that her life is still very much intertwined with them.

In Your Life Is Mine, Nathan Ripley once again dares to shine a light in the darkest recesses of his imagination. With this second novel, he proves that he is unafraid to tackle the taboo. Frankly, it is this willingness to cross lines that others fear that makes his writing so endearing. The best part of all of this is that Ripley shocks and frightens without ever needing to be graphic or obscene. The mere suggestion of events is enough to chill you to the bone. All of this darkness melds with the very real emotional drama and turmoil that helps ground the story in undeniable humanity. Blanche walks a thin line between innocent bystander and willing accomplice. She is always morally questionable, but I couldn't help but empathize with her. On the surface, Your Life Is Mine looks like any other summer thriller, but I found it to be deeper than the summary would have you believe. If you're willing to lose yourself in Ripley's writing, you just might discover the kind of book that lingers long after the last page.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 18)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling


I recently got to spend the better part of two weeks on vacation in London. Visiting the historic places in the city and the surrounding area really inspired me to pick up some new books and to revisit others. One set of books that have had a huge impact on the city is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The first book launched a worldwide phenomenon that inspired a seven book series, ten films, a two-part theatrical production, theme park attractions, and countless other media and products. I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as a kid almost twenty years ago. Like so many other readers of my generation, Harry Potter became a defining part of my childhood. As I visited locations like Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross and toured the studio sets where the films were made, I decided it might be time to give Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone a reread.

Summarizing the novel would be an unnecessary exercise at this point. Even if you've never read the books, odds are you've seen the films or at least have a basic understanding of the central plot. Rather than rehash the story, I think it is more pertinent to share some reflections on this read, especially on my perspective of it now as an adult. For starters, Sorcerer's Stone is undeniably a children's novel. As a young reader, I guess I never realized how much the novel was geared toward my reading. From pace to word choice, Rowling has clearly targeted readers who share the age range of her characters. I think that this is most apparent in the pacing. Reading the novel now, I realized how much plot was burned through each chapter, especially toward the book's climax. This really makes me appreciate the way in which Rowling grew her story and writing to coincide with the growth of both her characters and readers.

Despite being aimed at younger readers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone still has a lot to offer adult readers. I was pleased to pick up on references that foreshadowed events to come in later books that I would never have noticed on my initial reads. It really shows how intricately plotted the series was from the very start. Rowling builds her wizarding world with rich detail that provides it with a sense of reality and history that many budding fantasy writers never fully achieve. Reading as an adult this time also gave me a better appreciation for the motivation of the adults in the novel. Specifically, I found myself relating more to the situation Dumbledore was placed in and even empathizing a bit with the Dursleys. Don't worry, I still hate them as much as I ever did. I just understand where they are coming from a bit more.

After all this time Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is as enchanting as ever. As a series opener, it establishes vast mythology and inhabits the world with instantly relatable characters, each as complex as the world they live in. Rowling deftly sets the stage for the larger story to unfold while also providing a satisfying conclusion to the novel. I feel very fortunate to have experienced these novels as they were published. I quite literally grew up reading these books. No doubt, a large part of my enthusiasm for the books seeps in nostalgia, but my reread has convinced me that anyone who reads them can find something to enjoy. If you've never read the series, I encourage you to pick the book up and give it a go. If you grew up reading the books like I did, go ahead and dust off your copy of the first novel. I promise you the adventures of the boy who lived are as good as you remember them.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 17)

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline


I'm back from an extended trip to Europe, and boy do I have some reviews to share! I decided not to take my MacBook with me on the trip, so reviews have been stacking up, waiting to be shared. Rest assured, I read plenty on my travels and have been inspired to read even more based upon the places I visited. So without further ado, I'll kick things off with my review of Someone Knows the latest novel from author Lisa Scottoline.

Someone Knows is a novel built upon the guilt of its main character. Teenage Allie is already facing guilt after her older sister inevitably succumbed to a chronic illness. Allie struggles to hold her family together and blames herself for not being able to do more. Her father is brimming with optimism over a charity event built to honor her sister's legacy. Allie doesn't have the heart to tell him that it won't be successful. Meanwhile, her mother is slowly losing control of her emotions, falling into a depression that threatens to remove her from the immediate family unit.

All things considered, Allie is excited to potentially make some new friends in her neighborhood. The suburban development has several areas that are yet to be constructed that provide perfect hangout spots for a group of teens. She quickly becomes part of a group who are eager to explore the subdivision. Things go from innocent fun to serious when one of the teens reveals a buried pistol. Allie is cautious of the weapon but eager to impress her new friends. Despite her best judgment, she stays silent about the gun, a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

This was my first time reading a novel by Lisa Scottoline, and I was instantly drawn into the depth with which she crafted each character. The novel shifts perspectives amongst the various characters, providing the reader snapshots into the motivations and emotions of each one. The first half of the novel, in particular, sucked me into the story of each teen as the plot progressed to the impending tragedy. The scenes with the characters in the past were so engaging that I was a bit disappointed when the novel shifted into the present day. It seemed that not as much time was taken to update each character with the same detail and thoughtfulness that was used in the writing of their past. Still, I was so invested in the story at this point that this was only a minor grievance. In Someone Knows Lisa Scottoline presents a coming of age story that tackles the guilt and regret of youthful mistakes while weaving a thread of suspenseful dread to a satisfying conclusion.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 16)

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia


"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." -Robert Frost

Expectations can be a difficult thing to manage. After her breakout hit Everything You Want Me To Be, author Mindy Mejia found herself primed to release another hit novel. I really enjoyed her last effort, so I was eager to read Leave No Trace. Like any followup novel, expectations were high. Fortunately for us, Mejia more than rose to the occasion. I'm pleased to report that Mejia's latest not only met my high expectations but also presented a story that is decidedly different from her last book.

A decade ago, Josiah and his son Lucas Blackthorn hiked into the brutal terrain of the Boundary Waters and never returned. Search teams canvased the dense forests and glacial lakes. They finally found a campsite ravaged by what appeared to be bears. The Blackthorns were both assumed to have perished, and the family was forgotten.

Flash forward to the present day. Josiah has been found on the border of the Boundary Waters, ransacking an outfitter store. He won't speak and acts violently towards the police. He is quickly transferred to a psychiatric hospital where language therapist Maya Stark is tasked with getting Josiah to communicate. Maya has a history with the facility predating her time as an employee. She also was abandoned by her mother at a young age, so Maya attempts to find common ground with the silent Josiah. He refuses to budge. As she delves deeper into the psyche of her patient, Maya is forced to face the traumas of her own past, a trauma that could threaten both of their lives.

Immediately I was struck by how different Leave No Trace is when compared to Mindy Mejia's previous novel. The novel was advertised as a "suspenseful thriller", but I found it to be more of a slow-burning character study. The novel sees Mejia drop the alternating POV's of her previous work in favor of a more chronological timeline. By focusing mostly on Maya's perspective, Mejia lets the readers discover and grow with her characters. There is a mystery here, but it serves more to move the character's story than to lace the narrative with suspense. With Leave No Trace, Mindy Mejia cements herself as a versatile author who can enthrall readers through rich characters, riveting plots, and masterful prose.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 15)

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