Archive for May 2020

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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"Sometimes you just jump and hope it's not a cliff."

I'm very late to the party with this one. I've seen Red, White & Royal Blue shared by countless other bloggers and reviewers over the last year or so. I actually listened to this one with my boyfriend as we drove from Texas to California last summer. A month before, we spent several weeks touring London and the surrounding area with his family. When we returned from our trip, we longed to relive our time there. A friend recommended this one to me, and a gay romantic comedy that just so happened to feature a member of the royal family seemed like the perfect way to spend the next three days traveling halfway across the country.

Alex's life is far from normal. His mother is currently serving as the President of the United States, making Alex first son. His life is scrutinized by the press almost as much as by his mother and her team. She is mounting her reelection campaign, so her family must maintain their pristine image. Naturally, Alex puts all of this into jeopardy when he attends a royal wedding. He gets into a very public and very hostile situation with none other than Henry, Prince of England. The two have never been more than cordial to each other, but this instance pushes things over the edge. The geopolitical ramifications of their sparring force the two countries to formulate a plan for redeeming their image. For better or worse, Alex and Henry must put aside their differences and play nice for the cameras.

At first, their meticulously planned play dates are excruciating. Both Alex and Henry completely loathe each other. Spending time together, even if it is for the better of their respective countries, is unbearable. But soon, the hard shell of their rivalry begins to deteriorate. It turns out that being the children of high-profile world leaders is a unique experience that they can both relate too. Plus, there is an undeniable physical attraction between the two. Alex slowly begins to question his own sexuality. He's always dated girls, but there's something about Henry that he just can't shake. Maybe he's bisexual?

"Straight people, he thinks, probably don't spend this much time convincing themselves they're straight."

As their rivalry gives way to romance, Alex and Henry begin to grapple with what their relationship will mean for them personally, their families, and their countries. Alex obviously doesn't want his sexuality to become firing power for his mother's political adversaries, especially during a contentious presidential campaign. Henry is wrestling with the obligation of tradition that has spanned the history of his royal family. A prince marries a princess. There's not really any gray area there. So the battle wages on two fronts. They must deal with the normal growing pains of a new relationship, understanding each other's flaws and intricacies, while also managing the impending global fallout of their relationship becoming public.

I don't normally read romance novels, but there is something about Red, White & Royal Blue that just sucked me in completely. Casey McQuiston imbues this rival to romance story with the kind of heart and reality that just rang completely true to me. Yes, the situation itself may seem a little bit outrageous (I mean, what are the odds?), but she grounds the entire novel in a sense of reality that is undeniable. McQuiston takes her time building the romance, allowing her characters to grow and change in a way that made the characters all the more relatable. Alex coming to terms with his own sexuality, in particular, was portrayed in such a thoughtful and genuine way. Beyond the two main characters, McQuiston inhabits her story with a supporting cast that is equally fleshed out, bringing a further sense of reality to the narrative. As much care and detail are provided for Alex and Henry's physical relationship as their emotional one. This is the kind of representation that is vital in literature today, and I was very pleased to see it play out in such an honest and respectful way. Red, White, & Royal Blue was an absolute joy from start to finish, and I highly recommend it as a must-read.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 40)

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

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"Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger."

This has been a strange week for me. I go back to work today after 10 weeks of working from home. I'm excited to finally return and be able to interact with my co-workers from beyond just video conferencing, but I'm also a little anxious about living in this new version of normal. All things considered, it should have been no surprise that I had trouble focussing on reading. In fact, I started reading no less than four other books before settling on this week's read. I just couldn't find a groove with the books I thought that I wanted to read. I ended up veering a bit outside of my normal reading habits to read Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. This was a Christmas gift from my boss, so it had been sitting on my shelf for a few months. Something about Gladwell's matter-of-fact explanations of a complex subject really worked for me. Before I knew it, I was 100 pages in, thoroughly invested, and finally able to focus on reading.

Talking to someone you don't know, someone who maybe does not have the shared experiences you do, the same political leanings, or maybe even someone who does not speak the same language as you can be inherently challenging. Gladwell presents the challenge of talking with strangers through a case study of the infamous traffic stop of Sandra Bland. If you're not familiar with this tragic story, I'll give a brief rundown now. Bland was an African-American student who was pulled over for what should have played out as a routine traffic stop. She was annoyed at the stop, and the officer reacted in a way that led to the arrest of Bland. She committed suicide in her jail cell. Gladwell posits that this scenario was the result of the officer failing to properly respond to various verbal and non-verbal cues, ultimately culminating in the unnecessary death of an innocent woman. On a larger scale, he believes this points to a general failure of society to carry to proper tools to effectively communicate with strangers.

From this, Gladwell then explores three main ideas through other anecdotal evidence. The first is the idea that people generally default to the truth when speaking to people they don't know. We are essentially wired to believe anything that can't be easily contradicted. The second is related to the idea of transparency, the idea that we rely on non-verbal hints as much as what the person says. Gladwell specifically mentions how culture can change the way body language and facial expression matches with the intent of words. Finally, Gladwell delves into the idea of coupling. This is the idea that the context of a person's life directly impacts their behavior in specific circumstances. He combines these three examples to help make sense of the Sandra Bland story and to provide us with ways to be aware of how we interact with strangers in our own lives.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting Talking to Strangers to be as compulsively readable as it was. Gladwell has the unique ability to distill complex concepts and situations down to be understandable without betraying the innate intricacies that each of them holds. I found his writing to be fairly balanced toward both sides of his examples, even when my own emotional response leaned more toward one truth than the counter perspectives he provided. Examples of rape and pedophilia in specific were difficult for me to see both sides of. In the end, I'm not sure Gladwell presented any revelatory advice beyond what I already knew. If anything, his examples have simply made me more aware of the ways I interact with people I do not know. And maybe that is the most we can hope for from a book like this. In a time when people seem more divided than ever, Talking With Strangers is the kind of tool that gives us the perspective to try to better interact with the stranger that we encounter in our own lives.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 23)

The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan

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Working from my backlog again this week, I turn to The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, so naturally there are countless authors who I have yet to encounter. Macmillan is one such author. I've been aware of her books for several years now, but I've never gotten to an opportunity to read one of her books. Enter The Nanny. I jumped at the chance to review this one when the publisher offered me a copy late last year. I devoured the novel in a few short sittings, and then, as is too often the case, it sat on my list of books to write a review for. At the start of this year, I vowed to work through that list of last year's reads, and have done a pretty good job of working my way through it. So without further ado, here are some thoughts on The Nanny. 

As is popular in many modern thrillers, The Nanny unfolds through alternating time periods, shifting between the past and present. I usually have a mixed reaction to this technique. Frankly, the shifting time periods can often muddy the clarity of the narrative and make it hard to follow along. That is not the case with this one at all. Macmillan effortlessly manages to keep the two time periods distinct while slowly driving them toward a very satisfying conclusion. If you are going to employ a common technique, you better do it well. Macmillan masterfully weaves together both of her narrative threads.

The novel focuses on the wealthy Holt family. Thirty years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Holt hired a nanny named Hannah to look after their daughter Jo. Jo's mother has always been more concerned with maintaining the family's high societal position than fostering a strong relationship with her daughter. While Lady Virginia Holt meticulously tended to the Holt estate, a strong, mother-daughter like bond formed between Hannah and Jo. Then one day everything changed. Hannah went missing out of the blue. Jo was beside herself, longing to continue the warm relationship she had with her nanny. Lady Virginia told Jo that she was the reason for Hannah's sudden departure. Jo's bad behavior became too much for the nanny to bear and drove her away.

In the present day, Jo and her young daughter Ruby are abandoning their life in California and returning to her childhood home in the English countryside. The sudden loss of Jo's husband precipitated the need for this sudden change. Jo and Virginia have been estranged for years, but they are the only family each other has left. Nothing brings a family together like a tragedy. As Jo and Ruby begin to settle into their new life, they decide to take a rowboat to the island in the middle of the small lake that rests behind the Holt estate. On the island, Ruby makes a startling discovery, the remains of what can only be a human skull.

The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan mixes family drama and childhood trauma with a modern-day thriller, the kind that will have you devouring the book in only a few sittings. I've already mentioned that the alternating timelines work well in this one. They truly add to the suspense as the revelations of the past begin to impact the motivations of the present-day character. The story in this one unfolds pretty much as I expected it to. I'm not sure if that has more to do with the story itself of just the pure amount of thrillers that I read these days. Still, there weren't any real shocks or twists that I didn't see coming in advance. That being said, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glued to this book. Each of the characters are well-written, the kind of characters that have enough emotional depth and complexity to sustain this otherwise straightforward narrative. Macmillan writes of a family drama that is relatable and increasingly engaging as the novel progresses. The Nanny is a solid thriller with the kind of flawed and believable characters that I love reading about. I'll be eager to read more from Macmillan soon.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 39)

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

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"I've lived my whole life with a land mind. Thinking land thoughts. But I want to think sea thoughts. I want to have a sea mind."

What defines a summer read? For me, summer reading is a mindset, a shift to addictive page-turners that pull on my emotions through either strong character drama or twisty thrills. I think a good summer read should also have some relationship to the season. That could be as simple as a book taking place in the summer or even just a tropical or vacation-like setting. The best even have both. As I've had more time to read than ever before (thanks COVID-19), I've ventured into the kinds of books I normally wouldn't read. Usually, my reading time is so limited that I choose books that I'm certain I will love. Now I have the time to explore those titles that I would normally be on the fence about. As the summer reading season begins to set in, I've vowed to be more adventurous and try to redefine what a summer read means to me.

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is the perfect starting point for this endeavor. I mean, look at that lush tropical landscape on the cover! I'd much rather be exploring that island than being quarantined at my house, but at least I can turn to a book to transport me there. Sea Wife adheres to some of my preconceptions of a summer read while simultaneously redefining them.  This is the literary tale of a family who decides to escape the banality of suburban life by purchasing a sailboat and sailing across the waters of the Caribbean. It combines the adventure of a high seas expedition with the more intimate reflections of family life and the drama that comes within. In short, a truly riveting read that won't soon be forgotten.

"Sometimes life just writes you tiny, awful poems."

Juliet traded her dreams of earning her advanced degree in poetry for a life as a wife and mother. Her life just turned out so conventional and ordinary. She was a bright student brimming with promise when she met Michael. One marriage and two children later, and Juliet just couldn't get around to finishing her dissertation. She kept pushing out the deadline until it could be pushed no more. Finally, she had to succumb to the inevitable. The life she planned to live wasn't going the be the life she was given. That's a hard fact for a woman with a history of depressive episodes to face. Her marriage is beginning to strain under the pressure of her perennial disappointment, and Juliet is not sure things can be saved. Then Michael comes to her with a crazy idea.

Michael has a life that most men would envy. He's got a good enough job, a beautiful wife, two healthy kids, and a house in a nice enough neighborhood. Still, he can't shake the feeling that something is missing. His marriage isn't what it used to be, and he fears he is wasting the best years of his life. Inspired by fond childhood memories of sailing with his father, Michael uses his lunch breaks to escape to the local marina. He stares out at the boats, recollecting and wishing for something more. At the marina, Michael befriends an elderly man who quickly takes to talking about boats, the open sea, and the life that could be. Eventually, he presents his plan to Juliet. They can buy a sailboat, take a year off of work, and sail with the family to Panama. Life at sea would give them a chance to break from the rut of their lives, show their children a different part of the world, and maybe even help them begin to mend their broken relationship. Juliet hesitantly agrees. After all, life can't get much worse than what it already is.

"This is it. This is what a life is. A journey with no signposts. The seas roll out in every direction. There but for the grace of God."

In Sea Wife, Amity Gaige writes of a family's emotional journey that is as harrowing as the physical journey they have undertaken. In fact, the adventure at sea can almost be seen as a kind of analogy to the internal story of Juliet and Michael's emotional exploration. Gaige reveals her narrative from two separate perspectives.  The first is of present-day Juliet reflecting upon her time at sea. She is in one of her depressive states spending her days in the bedroom closet, struggling to deal with the ramifications of the family's time at sea. Nestled into this perspective is that of Michael in the form of a captain's log that Juliet is slowly reading. In this log, Gaige presents the time at sea as it chronologically unfolds, allowing her two divergent threads to slowly make their way to convergence. She veils her challenging, emotional story into that of a seafaring adventure, the kind of read that I normally gravitate to this time of year. This combination allows Sea Wife to be both a page-turner and intimate character study, the likes of which had me facing emotions I wasn't prepared to feel. I think I related more to this story because of our current quarantine situation. It was hard not to sympathize with a four-person family confined to the small space of a sailboat. It is safe to say that Sea Wife has helped me to challenge my own perception of what constitutes a summer read by forcing me to expand them. I still need the adventure and the strong character drama, but now I'm more apt to seek out the more introspective emotional aspects too. For that reason, I think Sea Wife is a must-read for any serious summer reader.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 22)

Hangman by Jack Heath

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Last year I stumbled upon Just One Bite by Jack Heath. That story about a cannibal turned FBI investigator was one of the most inventive and downright fun thrillers I read all year. It found a way to make me root for its serial killer with a strange moral compass Timothy Blake. Think a cross between Dexter and Hannibal Lecter and you'd have Blake. Add to it the fact that the mystery was downright addictive, and you have yourself the kind of page-turner that requires copious amounts of coffee and very little sleep! It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized it was actually a sequel. Never one to shy away from reading yet another book, I quickly added the original novel to my TBR list, and here we are today.

Hangman is an origin story of sorts. We learn of Blake's abusive childhood and how he came into some trouble with the law. Despite his troubles, Blake is super smart and has a photographic memory. A mind like that is a terrible thing to waste, so the authorities offer him a unique arrangement, one that will satisfy his mental curiosity and a primal hunger that he simply can't ignore. They put Blake to work as a consultant for the FBI. He mostly helps solve missing person cases. In exchange, he gets his pick of the freshly executed criminals from Huntsville Prison's death row.

When a 14-year-old kid disappears, Blake is brought in to investigate. He is used to working alone. I guess even the FBI is a bit wary of someone who eats people. But this case is different. He is paired with agent Reese Thistle, a take-no-prisoners kind of woman who is immediately bitter at the idea of working with a civilian. Blake isn't very enthused either. His hunger can overtake his better judgment sometimes, and the temptation sitting next to him is not going to help matters. Things in the case escalate in the twisted way you'd expect from a book like this. The two unlikely partners will have to rely on each other and deal with their own personal demons if they want to make it out of this alive.

Hangman is another great read from Jack Heath. After loving the sequel so much, I was worried that this first novel might not deliver the same thrill. I'm so happy that I was wrong! Take away the richly complex character for a moment, and let's talk about that plot. Heath has the ability to weave the twists and suspense like none other. I was glued to the story from start to finish. In Timothy Blake, Heath crafts a character that is reprehensible but also endearing. Yes, he eats people, but he's also this layered human who is dealing with the traumas of his past while also trying to better himself and the lives of the people he investigates. If you're going to root for a cannibal, you could do a lot worse than Timothy Blake. It should be a given that the subject matter might be difficult for some people to read, so if you're squeamish this might not be the one for you. I can't say enough great things about this book or this series. I really hope Heath is working on a third.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 38)

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

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There's no denying the fact that I'm a Stephen King fan. Be it his doorstop sized horror novels or the crime novels he's turned to more recently, I always look forward to reading his writing. He has the ability to suck the reader into a story and connect with characters in a way few other authors do. All that being said, I've never read his collections of short stories or novellas. Sure, I've enjoyed his shorter works like Elevation and Joyland, but I've yet to cross paths with any of his collections. Enter his latest release If It Bleeds. This collection of 4 novellas was the perfect excuse to explore a new to me side of King's writing.

Mr. Harrington's Phone sees King flashback to 2007, the year the iPhone was released. This one reads like something from The Twilight Zone! A young boy, Craig, is encouraged to read at church and catches the attention of the local billionaire Mr. Harrington. The elderly Harrington is in the twilight of his investment career and is losing is eyesight. For a few bucks each day, Craig reads to the man each day. Harrington also gifts the boy scratch-off lottery tickets. When Craig strikes it big (a couple thousand bucks) he buys an iPhone for himself and another for Harrington. This opens up a new world for the man, foreshadowing the way technology would impact the lives of many. When Harrington dies, the boy places the iPhone in the casket with him. Days later and really missing his mentor and friend, the boy decides to call Harrington's phone. Unsurprisingly, the call goes to voicemail. When the boy texts him, though, he is shocked to receive an answer!

The Life of Chuck is Kings most ambitious entry to the collection. Told in three acts going in reverse, it teases the end times and focuses on the life of Chuck Krantz. The earth is being ravaged by extreme weather and the failure of the grid. Advertisements line the streets with the strange message "39 great years! Thanks, Chuck!" Told backward, King answers the questions of the reader just as each act gets to a peak. While I enjoyed the structural ingenuity of this one, I felt like it was the weakest of the bunch.

The titular novella If It Bleeds is worth the price of admission alone. It sees the return of King's go-to hero of the last several years, Holly Gibney. This is the same socially awkward private detective from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy and The Outsider. If you haven't read either of those books, you might be better off skipping this story for now. There are spoilers aplenty about the ends of both of those narratives, so consider yourself warned. This novella sees Gibney face the kind of monster she thought she was rid of in The Outsider. This one feeds on the suffering and grief of others and takes the form of a news reporter to satisfy its hunger. This is easily the best entry in the entire book. I loved being able to revisit the characters from the previous novels, and I thought King did an excellent job of expanding the mythos of the monster he created in The Outsider. King seems to love writing about this character. If every work featuring her is this strong, I say bring them on!

If Mr. Harrington's Phone was like an episode from The Twilight Zone, then the final entry Rat is more like something from Tales from the Crypt. It tells the story of author Drew Larson and his obsession with trying to write a novel. You see, Drew has been acclaimed for his short stories, but attempting a novel-length work always ends in the kind of mental breakdown that causes him to rethink his entire life. But now he has an idea for a new novel. The kind of work that could really put him on the map. Drew convinces his wife to allow him to travel to his father's isolated cabin to write the book. At first, the words come easily, but then the familiar downward spiral begins. In a last-ditch effort to save the book and finally finish a novel, Drew makes a dark deal with a rat in exchange for finishing the novel and then...well you'll just have to read to find out!

If It Bleed is yet another solid piece of writing from the famed Stephen King. I found three out of the four stories to be completely engaging and inventive. The really great thing about this book is that it shows a variety of the kind of books King can write. You've got the moral fable of Mr. Harrington's Phone, the formal inventiveness of The Life of Chuck, the hard-boiled mystery tinged with the supernatural of If It Bleeds, and the pure psychological horror of a classic King novel in Rat. As with any collection that features different styles throughout, your mileage may vary with some of these, but I think they are all worth a read. I can finally check off a Stephen King story collection from my list, and I'm happy that If It Bleeds was the one I chose to read.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 21)

Magnolia Table, Volume 2 by Joanna Gaines

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It is not every day that I do something new for a book review. After so many years of posting weekly, I've pretty much read and reviewed just about every kind of book there is. That's what makes this review such a rarity. For the first time in the history of A Book A Week, I'm reviewing a cookbook! Now, anyone who knows me outside of the book blogging world knows that I'm actually an avid home chef. I love trying new recipes and spending time in the kitchen. I'm also a fan of home and lifestyle guru Joanna Gaines. I fell in love with her design and family while watching her hit HGTV show Fixer Upper. I've read her book about the founding of her company, and have enjoyed watching her turn her humble little Texas design shop into a full-on empire. Her first cookbook was a wonderful mix of family recipes, photos, and stories. When her publisher offered me a copy of her next cookbook Magnolia Table, Volume 2, I jumped at the chance to give it a read!

At first, I struggled when trying to figure out how to review this one. Usually, I can just summarize the plot of the book and give a few reactionary shots. Somehow that didn't seem like the best approach for a cookbook. A book can look great and be aesthetically pleasing, but the recipes have to be cookable. I mean, if the food isn't any good, the book didn't really do its job. And so I did the only logical thing I could think of in this case. I dove into my kitchen and got to cooking.

A recent article said that the demand for yeast has grown around 647% since the COVID-19 outbreak. It seems that being forced to stay home has inspired us all to try our hand at bread baking. I'll be the first to admit that baking is not my strong suit, but I'm fortunate to have a boyfriend who is a master at all things baking. One perk of being forced to stay home is that my house has kept a steady supply of fresh baked goods. This week just so happened to have a loaf of home-baked brioche, the perfect base for trying out Gaines's French toast recipe. Armed with all of the proper ingredients, I set out to give this recipe a try.

One of the great things about the recipe, from the very start, is that the ingredients are all pretty much staples in most kitchens. With the exception of heavy cream, I had everything ready to go. While that's not necessarily the most important thing in judging the effectiveness of a recipe, it is certainly helpful right now. My local grocer has been pretty hit or miss when it comes to having even common food items in stock. The only thing I ended up omitting was the Strawberry Butter. I couldn't get my hands on Strawberries, so I used just regular butter instead. No one's ever complained about butter of any kind at my house anyway!

From there the recipe was fairly straightforward. Gaines suggests keeping a wire rack on a sheet pan in a warmed oven to keep the French Toast warm. This was the kind of helpful hint I always appreciate in a cookbook. You could really tell that she tested this out in her kitchen with her family. The toast is cooked in batches, so this tip ensured the complete serving was hot at the end of cooking. I'm normally not a huge fan of sweets, but this French Toast recipe was a perfect balance. Crunchy on the outside, softer on the inside, well seasoned, picture-perfect. I was honestly most surprised at how pretty my plate looked. It was so appealing, in fact, that I almost didn't want to eat it. Almost.

Magnolia Table, Volume 2 serves as a wonderful companion to Gaines's first cookbook and is sure to inspire creativity and gathering with the recipes it contains. The French Toast recipe was simple to prepare but super tasty, the kind of recipe that I can easily foresee being added into the rotation of staples at our house. Something new to this installment is a brief guide to herbs and seasoning substitutions. This illustrated guide includes suggested parings and spice blend recipes that are informative and integral to having a basis for preparing recipes. Glancing through other recipes reveals that not only are they mostly minimal effort with the maximum end result, but they are also endlessly riff-able. I could see myself mixing and matching seasonings and sides to create more unique dishes. Whether you are an avid home cook like myself or a more novice chef, I think Magnolia Table, Volume 2 would make an excellent addition to any home kitchen.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 20)

The Whisper Man by Alex North

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"If you leave the door half open, soon you'll hear the whispers spoken."

One of my biggest challenges as a book blogger has always been balancing the number of new releases I read with the titles that are already on my bookshelf. More often than not, the new releases take precedence. There are just so many exciting books to share each week. During this quarantine time, I've really committed to trying to give more attention to the books that are already on my shelf. The Whisper Man by Alex North is one of those books. I got it as a Christmas gift last year and have been dying to read it ever since.

"If you play outside alone, soon you won't be going home."

Tom has just moved to Featherbank in the hopes of finding healing and closure for his devastated family. Well, at least for him and his young son Jake. After the sudden death of their wife/mother, both of them are eager to start over. Jake is kind of a peculiar child. He carries with him a bag of "special things", memorabilia from his life that he holds close. Jake doesn't really talk to Tom, but Tom has noticed him talking to the empty chairs and spaces around him. Normal, imaginary friend type conversations, Tom hopes. Just as the two are starting to settle in, the town's dark history begins to resurface.

"If your window's left unlatched, you'll hear him tapping at the glass."

Decades ago, Featherbank was haunted by a serial killer who preyed on small boys from the town. He would lure the children from their homes by standing outside of their bedroom windows and whispering to them. Each night he would speak to the children until they trusted him enough to leave with him. At first, the parents thought this Whisper Man was just a childhood superstition. Then the kids started disappearing. The culprit, Frank Carter was eventually brought to justice, forced to remain in a prison cell, unable to harm any more children. At least that's what everyone believed. Now all these years later, another boy has gone missing under frighteningly familiar circumstances. The legend of The Whisper Man is alive and well.

"If you're lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you."

In his debut novel The Whisper Man, Alex North takes fairly straight forward police procedural and morphs it into the kind of chilling nightmare that will have you turning on all the lights and anxiously checking your surroundings. Much like Thomas Harris's famed Hannibal Lecter, The Whisper Man Frank Carter is a diabolically charismatic villain whose presence permeates the entire novel with a sense of paranoia, even when he isn't directly on the page. North employs a multitude of perspectives to weave his twisted web, enticing the reader to drift ever so slightly forward into his literary labyrinth. The father-son dynamic between Tom and Jake is portrayed in a way that is genuine and heartfelt. It provides some much-needed glimpses of light in this dim narrative. Equally impressive is the way North imbues DI Pete Willis, a grizzled old detective who blames himself for not catching The Whisper Man fast enough the first time, with just enough humanity to avoid him being just another run-of-the-mill detective. The Whisper Man is a stunning debut that will have you reading into the wee hours of the night and haunt your dreams long after you finish. I'm very happy to have this one sitting on my shelf, and I already have an open space for whatever North comes up with next.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
(2020, 19)

The Gay Agenda by Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham

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The history of LGBTQ+ people is one that is rich, but frankly, the masses are simply unaware of most of it. Sure, milestones like the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US are known. There is some general knowledge of the AIDS crisis and terrible hate crimes like the murder of Matthew Shepard.  That being said, there is a more intricate tapestry of progress that mostly goes unacknowledged. I think that is just the nature of oppression. The stories of the oppressed are brushed over in the broader narrative of human history. In their new book The Gay Agenda, power couple Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham attempt to shine a light on the LGBTQ+ community, spreading a story of love, life, and progress.

I received a copy of the new book from the publisher, and I was immediately drawn to the bright cover and illustrations. The authors are a real-life couple who run a stationery company called ASH + CHESS. "They create greeting cards and art prints that are bold with retro color palettes, often using their artwork to make a political statement." With this book, they attempt to take a phrase often used to stoke fear and turn it into a celebration. The Gay Agenda is a bright and fairly comprehensive overview of the history of a remarkable group of people.

The book is divided into two sections, history and informational. The majority of the work is comprised of the history section, a historical timeline that spans from around 600 B.C.E to the present day. The timeline features brief snapshots of influential people, works, places, and events. We see authors like James Baldwin and Radclyffe Hall, activists like Emma Goldman and Miss Major Griffin-Gracey, and important vends like the formation of the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Riots. While each entry is quite brief, I felt that the authors did a great job in highlighting some of the people and events that normally are whitewashed out of history. Specifically, there is a wonderful representation of Bi, Lesbian, Non-binary, and Trans members of the community.

The second portion of the book is described by the authors as "informational". Think of this as a queer glossary of sorts, a kind of introduction to the community to those who may not be familiar with it. As someone who identifies as a member of the gay community, I found The Gay Agenda to be a wonderful starting point in exploring this side of our family. What a wonderful tool this could be to people who simply don't understand what being LGBTQ+ is like. Even I was being exposed to topics and history that I simply was unaware of. I applaud the authors for using their platform to spotlight such an important group of people. This is the kind of conversation starter that serves to spread facts and promote empathy and understanding. Despite what naysayers and political extremists will have you believe, that is truly what The Gay Agenda is all about.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 18)

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