The Body Lies by Jo Baker


With the influx of review requests from authors and publishers alike, it has become a rare occasion for me to stumble upon a new book with no preconception of what it will be. Such is the case with my latest read, The Body Lies by Jo Baker. I was browsing Goodreads when I saw a section of recommendations based upon other books I have read. Readers of my reviews will know I love a good thriller, so this title immediately caught my eye. I elected not to read any other reviews of the book, only the publisher's brief summary. More literary in nature than your average summer thriller release, The Body Lies is the sleeper hit of the genre this season.

Set in the dreary UK, The Body Lies begins with the main character assaulted by a man one night. The pregnant woman is walking home when she sees the man race past her. Before she has time to comprehend what is happening, he has her knocked to the ground and is on top of her. When he is finished with his deed, the woman is left cold, trembling, and unable to will herself to stand. Like countless other women who face the shame and horror that comes with an assault, this one quietly continues with her life. She goes on to have her child and dutifully fills the role of wife and mother. Still, the trauma of the evening stays with her. She longs for some kind of escape.

Three years later, the perfect opportunity for a fresh start presents itself. The woman is offered a teaching job at a college away from London. Her husband is not fully on board with the idea of leaving his own teaching job, so the couple agrees to live separate, still married but in different homes. The woman is eager to teach literature, a passion she hasn't fully explored since her novel did less than stellar. When a colleague takes ill, the woman is set up to teach a course in creative writing. She has little time to prepare the course but approaches it as a chance to truly make her mark at the university.

The small class is comprised of a group of ambitious young authors, each bringing their own unique voice to the table. From the variety of conceptual short stories, fantasy, and crime rises a standout voice that is as compelling as it is frightening. Nick is not certain what his writing will become, but there is no denying his talent. His grim words of obsession and violence lift off of the pages, earning the revere of his classmates and cautious interest of his teacher. For her part, the woman is not sure what to make of Nick. She is especially concerned about the rules that he has set for his writing. One, in particular, chills her to her core. Nick only writes about things that are true.

In The Body Lies author Jo Baker elegantly touches upon the ramifications of assault, obsession, and creative expression. There is a thinly veiled element of mystery layered into the book, but don't expect a breakneck thriller. Instead, Baker writes a brooding character piece that brims with an ever-mounting edge of psychological suspense. While the book is on the shorter side, it is a slow read that takes its time in laying all of its cards out on the table. Baker combines the unnamed narrator's voice with direct quotes from Nick's writing, allowing her reader to see both sides of the character's evolutions before they combine. The Body Lies is literary suspense at its finest, the kind of novel that stays on your mind for days after the final page. While this was my first read by Jo Baker, it certainly will not be my last.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 25)

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand


I can't believe that it is already July. Where has 2019 gone?! Even though I had to work this Independence Day, I still snuck in some time to continue my summer reading. Last winter, I took a chance on Elin Hilderbrand's Winter series. Her novels perfectly encapsulated the feeling of the season. I binged all four books within a few days and vowed to read more of her books whenever I could. Enter Summer of '69, Hilderbrand's latest release and first foray into historical fiction. Just as the Winter series entranced me, this latest book quickly drew me in and took me on a great journey.

The novel sees Hilderbrand blend the rich history of 1969 with her usual approach of following the drama of a family. She deftly presents this history through the lens of the extended Levin family. They root the overarching themes in an easy to digest and relatable family drama. The family has a tradition of visiting Nantucket island each summer to spend time with matriarch Kate's mother. Despite each individual's own reservations about this yearly vacation, they still value the time they have to spend together. But this year, things just aren't going to proceed as planned.

Eldest daughter Blair is staying home this year. She and her rocket scientist husband are expecting their first child, and she is simply too pregnant to travel. Plus, her husband is busy working on the imminent lunar landing. Middle daughter Kirby is the rebel of the family. After spending time protesting and walking with MLK, she has decided to spend time with her friend's family on Martha's Vinyard. It should serve as a check on her privilege and give her some much-needed rest before she heads back to nursing school. The lone boy in the family Tiger can't take a vacation for a completely different reason. Like most other healthy, young men his age, he's been drafted to Vietnam.  This leaves the youngest daughter Jessie to fend for herself as she spends the summer with her mother and grandmother.

I never thought I would enjoy anything Hilderbrand wrote more than the Winter series, but Summer of '69 might just take the cake. Simply put, this is what summer reading is all about. Hilderbrand writes a compelling drama with a brisk pace, all set before the backdrop of one of the most significant years in American history. Hilderbrand takes some authorial license with some of the exact histories, but only ever in the service of providing a more accurate emotional payoff for her characters. She doesn't veer from the tougher aspects of our history. Hilderbrand tackles racism, sexism, and alcoholism in a way that his honest and ever reverential to the people who face them. Summer of '69 is a pure delight to read and serves as a nearly flawless summer read.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 24)

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney


Sometimes things are just too good to be true. As an avid reader, I love to browse my local library's digital catalog. I usually listen to audiobooks on my daily commute, so I've grown to love the options my library has available. My only complaint with this free resource is that sometimes the wait to read or listen to newer releases can be unbearable. Even 5 or 6 people waiting for a book ahead of you can equate to months of waiting to read. Because of this, I was excited to see that Alice Feeney's latest novel I Know Who You Are was available to listen to. I've had her popular Sometimes I Lie on hold for months now, so I eagerly downloaded her latest. I thought it was my lucky day, but after finishing the novel I realize there may have been a reason no one else had downloaded it.

The novel alternates between two time periods. In the present day sections, we meet Aimee Sinclair, a budding actress who is on the brink of becoming a huge star. She comes home to discover that her husband is missing. His phone is still there and it doesn't look like he packed any clothes, but he is nowhere to be found. The couple's relationship had been on the rocks for a while, but he would never leave without saying something. As the investigation into his disappearance starts to mount, Aimee finds herself turning from worried wife to suspect number one. After years of pretending to be other people, Aimee isn't sure who she really is. Could she be responsible for her husband vanishing?

The flashback sections of the novel see Aimee as a six-year-old. She has an abusive father, so she often turns to her brother for refuge. One day as she is out wandering the streets, she encounters an older woman. The woman convinces her that Aimee is lost, so she should come with the woman to contact her parents. Aimee complies, leaving with the woman and never seeing her family again.

I Know Who You Are sees Alice Feeney play out two storylines into a thriller that tries too hard to shock. I was initially intrigued by the premise of the novel, a kind of Room meets Gone Girl setup, but Feeney seemed unsure of where her story was going. She kept throwing in new narrative darts seemingly hoping that any of them would stick. The end result is a story that moves at a rapid pace but with no clear direction. There's an obligatory twist at the end that really shocked me with pure disgust at the revelation. I'm all for the dark or taboo subject matter, but this one wasn't earned. Because I wasn't truly invested in the character or the narrative, the twist came off as simply distasteful. Clearly, I didn't love this novel. I'll hold out hope that Sometimes I Lie is as good as everyone says it is, but I Know Who You Are did not live up to my expectations.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 23)

If She Wakes by Michael Koryta


I've been a fan of Michael Koryta for years. When I first started my blog, I was enamored with the way he mixed supernatural elements into the plots of his thrillers. More recently, Koryta has cranked out new standalone mysteries, eschewing the temptation of settling into a regular series in favor of original plots and characters. I enjoyed How It Happened so much that I instantly vowed to read whatever he came up with next. Koryta's publisher generously provided me a copy of If She Wakes, which I eagerly devoured over the last few days.

Tara Beckley is trapped inside her own body. She lies in the hospital bed, attached to machines and fully conscious, but unable to speak or move. Heck, even a blink would be welcomed at this point. She remembers driving the professor to his speech. She remembers his odd request for a detour. She remembers the van crashing into her car, leaving the professor dead and her lying in this hospital bed with locked-in syndrome. Tara just needs to be able to tell everyone what happened.

Abby Kaplan has a simple job to do. As a claims investigator, Abby has been tasked with making sure Tara's university can't be faulted for the death of the visiting professor. They had Tara pick the guest lecturer up from the airport, so they want to make sure their own interests are covered. The driver of the van has already admitted his fault in the accident, so Abby is merely there as a formality. She is a former stunt driver who gave it all up after a horrific accident. As she looks at the tracks on the street and angles of the cars, Abby realizes that everyone has simply trusted the van driver's story. The evidence points to something much more nefarious.

There is no denying Micahel Koryta's skill at crafting intriguing stories with relatable characters. If She Wakes hinges upon a simple premise and is full of the kind of characters I love to read about. Still, I couldn't help like something was missing from this novel. Instead of a plot propelled by layers of deep character development and thoughtful contemplations on larger themes, If She Wakes serves more as pure action entertainment. That's not to say I wasn't sucked into the momentum of the novel, I was. I guess I've just come to expect more from Koryta's work. Still, I'm a sucker for a thriller with the kinds of twists and turns If She Wakes presented, so I'll recommend it as a worthy addition to any summer reading list.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 22)

Recursion by Blake Crouch


"That's what it means to be human--the beauty and the pain, each meaningless without the other."

Several years ago, Crown Publishing reached out to me with an advanced copy of Blake Crouch's Dark Matter. I was hesitant to jump into science fiction, a genre I don't normally read, but decided to give it a shot. That novel became one of my favorite reads of the year, and Crouch became a must-read author. When Crown offered me a copy of Crouch's latest novel Recursion, I eagerly accepted. As was true with Dark Matter, the less you know about the plot, the better. I won't give away all of the secrets, but here's a brief rundown of this sci-fi thriller.

Barry Sutton is a jaded NYC police officer who is on his way to meet his ex-wife on the day that would have been his daughter's birthday. All of these years after the hit and run that claimed her life, Barry still can't forgive himself for not being able to stop it from happening. As he walks the sidewalks of the city, he is drawn to the scene taking place 41 stories above him. He races up to the heights of the building where a woman is precariously perched, threatening to jump to her death. She tells Barry of a husband and child who vividly remembers having, but who have been removed from the world. They simply do not exist. Before Barry can make sense of what is real and what is imagined, she thrusts herself from the building and hits the ground below.

Dr. Helena Smith is a young neuroscientist who is about to lose funding for her passion project. For several years now, she has studied the science behind memories. What are they? How and why do we experience them? If she can map the process that the brain goes through when experiencing a memory, she may be able to help her mother, who is rapidly losing a battle with Alzheimer's disease, to relive the moments of her life that have been lost to her. Just when it seems like her life's work is drawing to an unceremonious close, Helena is approached by a wealthy philanthropist. He has taken an interest in her work and wants her to work in his ocean-based lab to complete her work. In exchange for a stake in whatever Helena creates, she will receive whatever funds the project requires. What could possibly go wrong?

In Recursion Blake Crouch effortlessly executes a high-concept science fiction work that is as thrilling as it is thought-provoking. He forces us to question what is real and imagined in a way that no other author has dared to. The fact that Crouch packages this quiet reflection of memory into a multi-faceted thriller only further cements his skill as a masterful storyteller. For all of the mind-bending action that Recursion possesses, it stays grounded through strongly developed characters. Each character brings a new layer of emotional depth to the story, raising the stakes of the situation and sucking the reader further into the wormhole. I was completely blown away by Recursion and can't recommend it enough. No matter what genre you normally read, there is something for everyone to love in this book.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 21)

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)

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