Think Twice by Harlan Coben


There's nothing quite like discovering a new author and wondering why it took you so long to read their writing. Harlan Coben is one of those authors for me. Although I had heard his name praised among thriller enthusiasts for years, I didn't delve into his work until I picked up I Will Find You. That book felt like a summer action movie, brimming with exciting twists and turns, offering the perfect escapism. I was captivated by the novel's setup—an impossible situation that I couldn't wait to see unfold. I promised myself I would read more from Coben, and that time has come with his latest book, Think Twice.

Attorney and ex-professional basketball player Myron Bolitar has just resumed his duties at his agency, representing sports stars and celebrities, when things take an unexpected turn. Two federal agents storm into the office, demanding answers from Myron and his business partner, Win. They are seeking information about Myron's former client, basketball star and coach Greg Downing. The agents relentlessly refuse to accept Myron and Win's assertions that they have no new information. After all, Greg has been dead and buried for the past three years!

The agents present evidence suggesting that Greg may not be as dead as Myron and Win believe. Both had attended his funeral, but this evidence is hard to deny: Greg's DNA was discovered at the scene of the recent murders of Cecelia Callister and her son Clay. Nothing about this situation makes sense, and this newfound evidence only raises more questions. As Myron and Win dig deeper, they uncover a pattern of seemingly related murders. Are they dealing with a resurrected friend and former client, or is this the work of a cunning and nefarious serial killer?

Think Twice is the 12th novel featuring Coben's hero, Myron Bolitar, and the first new installment in 12 years. As this was my first introduction to the character, it took some time to fully grasp the relationships and dynamics among the characters. I've heard there are Easter eggs for longtime readers of the series, but any hidden references or features went entirely over my head. Nevertheless, I was instantly intrigued by the premise of a dead man's forensic evidence showing up at a murder scene.

The opening scene reveals that the killer is framing someone, but Coben keeps the identity and motives of the culprit a mystery. He promised readers wouldn't see the big reveal coming, which was true for me. Like the last Coben novel I read, this one stretches the bounds of believability, but I didn't mind. It was a fun and twisted ride, capturing my attention over several sittings. That said, reading the previous novels first would enhance the experience. While Think Twice can work as a standalone, you may miss details and context that enrich your enjoyment of the story.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 51)

Pitch Dark by Paul Doiron


I've always had mixed feelings about long-running series. On the one hand, I appreciate the depth of following characters across multiple books. On the other hand, starting a new series can be daunting, especially with annual releases. With this trepidation, I approached Paul Doiron's latest book, Pitch Dark. The premise of a game warden investigating a crime in the remote wilderness intrigued me, and when his publisher offered me a review copy, I was eager to dive in. However, I was also apprehensive because Pitch Dark is the 15th novel in Doiron's Mike Bowditch series. I wondered if I could jump into the story and still follow along.

As the novel begins, Mike Bowditch, an investigator for the Maine Bureau of Warden Services, receives a call from a young warden about a potentially missing man. This man was searching for Mark Redmond, a skilled builder working on the property of Mike's friend and experienced bush pilot, Josie Johnson. Upon arriving at the scene, Mike finds Mark missing. Josie mentions Mark's exceptional craftsmanship, a rare skill in this remote area. Mark had agreed to build Josie's home in exchange for living on the property and homeschooling his 12-year-old daughter, Cady.

Mike immediately senses something amiss, and his suspicions are soon confirmed by a gruesome murder shortly after his arrival. He sets off through the dense Maine forest towards Canada with only his experience and instinct to help him chase down the allusive fugitive. Mike marvels at his adversary's superior bushcraft skills as he navigates the dense terrain. As he tries to save the life of a young girl, Mike faces the unsettling question: is he the hunter or the hunted in this deadly game?

Paul Doiron immerses readers in the rugged landscape of the Maine wilderness, plunging them straight into the heart of the action. As someone new to the series, it took me a while to grasp the characters and their dynamics, yet this initial unfamiliarity did little to diminish my enjoyment of the narrative. The explosive start captivated me, and I eagerly anticipated each twist and turn. While familiarity with the preceding novels would provide deeper context, Pitch Dark reads just fine on its own merits. If anything, it left me eager to explore the earlier installments from the beginning.

Pitch Dark delivers a tense cat-and-mouse chase through rugged wilderness, unafraid to explore its darker depths. The conclusion is satisfying yet leaves a tantalizing cliffhanger, setting the stage for the next book. I approached this novel with some trepidation, unsure of diving in without prior knowledge, but now I can't wait to see where Doiron will take the story next.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 50)

Beautiful People by Melissa Blake


Some moments in life serve as powerful reminders of humanity's inherent goodness. Ironically, these instances often emerge from darkness or adversity. In my lifetime, I recall the sense of unity that followed the tragic events of 9/11, the solidarity in communities after natural disasters, and the simple acts of kindness during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Melissa Blake exemplifies this transformative power, turning adversity into a beacon of light that illuminates our capacity for compassion and acceptance. Blake authored an op-ed for CNN in the summer of 2019, critiquing then-President Donald Trump. In response, internet trolls subjected her to vicious attacks, including demeaning comments about her appearance due to Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic condition affecting her bones and muscles. 

Rather than succumbing to negativity, Blake responded with grace and resilience. She posted several selfies to social media, defiantly reclaiming her narrative. The post went viral, catapulting Blake, a longtime writer and disability advocate, into the spotlight. In Beautiful People, a book generously shared with me by her publisher, Blake crafts a compelling manifesto. Here, she recounts her personal journey, educates readers about living with disabilities, and emphasizes our shared humanity. Her story is a testament to the transformative power of empathy and collaboration, urging us all to embrace our differences and strive for a more inclusive society.

Beautiful People is an expansive exploration that blends personal narrative with Blake's inherent humor,  offering education and entertainment. She eloquently discusses the impact of language and how unintentional ignorance about disability often leads to ableism and microaggressions. Blake candidly exposes societal barriers, illustrating how, even with legislation like the ADA, infrastructure fails to accommodate disabled people, perpetuating their invisibility.

Blake shares her own journey of grappling with self-image and acceptance, exacerbated by the absence of representation in mainstream media and the persistent presence of bullies and online trolls. Her willingness to confront her doubts deeply struck a chord with me, fostering a stronger connection to her narrative. Life's challenges aren't always uplifting, yet we can draw strength from these darker moments. This collection of thoughts culminates in Blake's assertion that disabled individuals, despite diverse medical needs, share fundamental human desires: to love, be loved, find joy, and live fully. Through Beautiful People, Melissa Blake shares her story and advocates for broader acceptance and inclusion, nudging society closer to embracing all individuals, regardless of differences.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 49)

Middle of the Night by Riley Sager


We've officially settled into summer, which only means one thing: Riley Sager has a new book out this week! Since his debut with Final Girls in 2017, Sager has consistently thrilled readers with his fast-paced standalone thrillers, blending compelling mysteries with hints of horror and the supernatural. He's become one of my must-read authors, so I was ecstatic when his publisher shared an audio copy of his latest release, Middle of the Night. Adding to my excitement, the main character in the story is also named Ethan, making it an even more irresistible read for me.

Home is supposed to be a sanctuary, especially for a child. For Ethan Marsh, his backyard on the quiet cul-de-sac of Hemlock Circle was exactly that. It all changed one July night when that sense of security was turned upside down. Ethan and his best friend, Billy, had fallen asleep in a tent set up in the yard. When Ethan woke up in the morning, Billy was gone. Someone had sliced the tent open with a knife and abducted Billy during the night. Billy was never seen again.

That was thirty years ago. Ethan left that world behind, trying to build a new life, free from the tragedy that scarred his suburban community. But no matter how far he traveled, he couldn't escape the trauma of that night. The sound of the tent being sliced open haunted his dreams, filling him with an inescapable guilt. Life has a way of forcing us to face our demons, and Ethan's journey has brought him back to his childhood home. Plagued by bad dreams and strange occurrences, he sees signs of Billy's presence in his backyard. Is his mind playing tricks on him, or has his childhood friend returned? As Ethan delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that no place is truly safe and that the past has a way of haunting the future.

Riley Sager is at his best when he writes about hauntings. Hauntings by ghosts, yes, but also by the past. This talent is on full display in Middle of the Night. Ethan is a man tormented by the "what ifs" of his life. What if he had never camped in the tent in his backyard? What if he had never told his wife he didn't want children? What if he had never returned home? Sager alternates between chapters set in the present day and the past, methodically filling in the puzzle pieces and revealing just enough information to keep readers hooked. The line between the supernatural and reality blurs, making readers question everything. The story culminates in an ending filled with twist after twist—almost too many for my taste. Nevertheless, Middle of the Night is everything I've come to expect from a Riley Sager novel: spooky, twisted, and immensely fun to read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 48)

The Nature of Disappearing by Kimi Cunningham Grant


There’s something incredibly liberating about being surrounded by nature. Immersing myself in the unspoiled wilderness, far from the stresses of daily life, is my ultimate escape. I find complete peace in those moments, allowing myself to truly relax and be present. Despite being a place of solace, the wilderness can also be unforgiving. In her latest novel, The Nature of Disappearing, author Kimi Cunningham Grant uses the vast wilderness to craft a tale that highlights its serenity and harshness. I’ve been eager to read her work since her previous novel, These Silent Woods, caught my attention a couple of years ago. Thanks to her publisher’s generosity, I had the opportunity to read and listen to her newest creation.

Emlyn knows firsthand the healing power of nature. A few years ago, she hit rock bottom. Her best friend Janessa couldn’t accept Emlyn dating Tyler, especially after she warned her against the relationship. But Emlyn was in love and wouldn’t let her friend’s opinion stop her. Unfortunately, Janessa was right. Three years ago, Tyler left Emlyn stranded on the side of the road in the freezing cold, half dead. Now, Emlyn has found peace working as a fishing and hunting guide, spending her days in Idaho’s endless woods and scenic rivers. 

Her serene life is upended when Tyler reappears. Janessa, now a social media star with her survivalist boyfriend, has gone missing, and Tyler fears the worst. Despite their turbulent past, Emlyn realizes her tracking skills could be vital in finding her friend. Reluctantly, she teams up with Tyler to navigate the rugged terrain. Emlyn can’t ignore the lingering sparks between them as they trek through the wilderness. Though she hadn’t anticipated a reconciliation, the undeniable connection remains. As they travel deeper into the forest, Emlyn is gripped by a new sensation - unease. In her mission to rescue her friend, she may have inadvertently placed herself in danger.

In The Nature of Disappearing, Kimi Cunningham Grant crafts a multifaceted narrative that seamlessly weaves elements of a gripping missing persons saga, an exploration of complex relationships, and a contemplative meditation on the wilderness’s profound influence. Grant’s vivid descriptions instantly transport readers to the sprawling Idaho wilderness, imbuing the story with a palpable sense of grandeur and atmosphere. Against this vast backdrop, the intimate drama of the characters unfolds, adding layers of depth to the narrative. The search for the missing couple, led by Emlyn and Tyler, serves as the primary driving force of the plot, gradually unveiling the intricacies of their intertwined past and relationships. While the story maintains a compelling momentum, there is a slight lull in the third act, where the sense of revelation momentarily stagnates. However, this minor flaw doesn’t detract from the overall buildup, as Grant’s skillful storytelling and well-developed characters remain engaging throughout. Whether experienced through reading or listening to the beautiful audiobook version, The Nature of Disappearing captivates with its atmospheric prose and thought-provoking themes. It is a summer read that entertains and invites deeper reflection—a winning combination that leaves a lasting impression.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 47)

Like Happiness by Ursula Villarreal-Moura


"Nothing mattered but the stories, my understanding of them, how the stories affected me, and the dreams the story ignited."

The year is 2015, and Tatum feels settled in life for perhaps the first time. She lives in Chile with her partner Vera and works at her dream job in an art museum. It's a stark contrast to the life she once thought she wanted. Tatum spent the previous decade in New York, believing all her dreams would come true, but now she has doubts. Much of that time was consumed by her admiration for acclaimed author M. Domínguez, whose novel Happiness captivated her with its portrayal of the Latinx experience. It was the first time she felt represented in literature, prompting her to write a heartfelt fan email to the author. To her surprise, he responded, sparking a decade-long relationship that Tatum still doesn't fully comprehend.

Their bond was complex—sometimes a friendship, sometimes a romantic entanglement, a mentor-student dynamic that defies any simple definition. When a reporter contacts Tatum about multiple assault allegations against M., her carefully constructed separation between her past and present begins to unravel. She is forced to confront the true nature of her all-consuming relationship with the author. The questions and uncertainties she had pushed aside resurface, challenging her understanding of the past decade and compelling her to reevaluate the impact M. had on her life.

In her debut novel Like Happiness, author Ursula Villarreal-Moura invites readers to delve into the intricacies of relationships, power dynamics, sexuality, identity, and memory. The story unfolds through a dual narrative, alternating between Tatum's present day and a letter she writes to M., recounting and reclaiming their complex relationship. This structure reflects the protagonist's struggle with her past, emphasizing the back-and-forth and uncertainty she faces. Villarreal-Moura doesn't provide easy answers or steer readers in a specific direction; instead, she infuses her characters with raw emotion, making them relatable even when their situations are far from straightforward.

I loved reading a novel where the main character grew up in the same city as I did. San Antonio will always be home to me, and Villarreal-Moura beautifully captures the people, places, and history that make it unique. There is a profound sense of humanity throughout Like Happiness, allowing readers to easily immerse themselves in the story and reflect on its themes. With this debut, Villarreal-Moura establishes herself as a distinct voice in literature, leaving me eager to read more of her work. Like Happiness is one of the best novels I've read this year, and I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with a copy.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2024, 46)

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