Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward


"He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown."

Much has been written about the 2016 presidential election. Scholars and political commentators have devoted many pages to their take on how Donald Trump was elected to the highest political office in the country. It seems like each week brings a new insight into the dysfunctional goings on in the White House. As members of Trump's administration either step down or are fired, they each are ready to publish their "tell-all" book with firsthand accounts of just how defective the American political system has become. With each new revelation that would be considered shocking in any other administration, the President simply brushes them off as "fake news."

Enter two time Pulitzer winning journalist Bob Woodward. Woodward is like the antithesis of fake news. He was one of the key journalists involved in exposing the Watergate scandal during Nixon's presidency and has provided authoritative reporting about every president since. In his newest book Fear: Trump in the White House, Woodward presents a startling portrait of the way Trump leads the country.

I'll start by saying that Fear presents little in the way of new revelations. Rather, Woodward provides a meticulously documented portrait that confirms the things we already know and fear about our President. Woodward confirms that Trump has a short attention span, is prone to knee-jerk/uninformed decisions, and simply denies any claims of facts that are counter to what he is trying to do. "You've got to be strong. You've got to be aggressive. You've got to push back hard. You've got to deny anything that's said about you. Never admit it."

The true marvel of Woodward's Fear is not in the contents of its pages (although much of what is reported is pretty terrifying for anyone who believes in the order of the US government) but in the way in which it is documented. Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury presented many of the same topics and retellings that Woodward's book does. Wolff's fatal flaw was that he did not document his sources. That simply doesn't work in Trump's era of fake news. Woodward remedies this by providing comprehensive footnotes and sources. Each quote or claim is backed by documented interviews, recordings, or press footage. Simply put, there is no denying that what Woodward has written is true. Fear, like the countless other books about Trump's White House, will likely do little to change the opinions of the President's supporters or detractors. It will, however, serve as verifiable historical documentation of the bizarre and downright insane reign of our current President.

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

(2018, 37)

The Outsider by Stephen King


"The supernatural may exist in books and movies but not in the real world."

Although Stephen King is known mostly for his horror-filled novels that feature the kind of supernatural monsters that keep us awake long after we finish reading them, his most recent books have focussed more on the nightmares of the real world. With his latest release, The Outsider, King again roots his story in an unthinkable reality. The quiet town of Flint City has been rocked by the gruesome discovery of a murdered child. The scene is grim. The boy was sexually violated, murdered, and unceremoniously left in the city park. Only a monster could commit a crime so heinous. Fortunately for law enforcement, they have enough irrefutable evidence to lock that monster up for a very long time.

Terry Maitland is a pillar of his community. He's a loving father, husband, and teacher. Terry is in the midst of coaching the local Little League team into a championship game. The entire town is watching with respect and admiration. Suddenly the townspeople see this affection turn to confusion and disbelief. Detective Ralph Anderson arrives at the field with police lights flashing. He approaches Terry, reads his rights, and cuffs Terry's hands behind his back. With the whole town looking on in bewilderment, Terry is arrested for the appalling murder of the young boy.

Authorities know the case is a lock. It is hard to believe such a well-regarded citizen could commit such an unimaginable crime, but the evidence doesn't lie. If the multiple witnesses seeing a blood-soaked Terry leaving the park aren't enough, the DNA evidence placing him at the scene should solidify his guilt. There's only one glaring problem. Terry and his team have an equal amount of irrefutable evidence that points to his innocence. He wasn't even in Flint City during the murder. How can a man be in two places at once?!

I've always been a fan of Stephen King. I know he's seen as one of the greatest horror authors of all time, but I'd argue he is one of the greatest authors period. His penchant for well-drawn characters and intriguing plotting defies the confines of genre and makes his writing some of the best in modern literature. The first half of The Outsider solidifies this point. King presents Terry's situation in a way that allows the reader to empathize with both sides of the situation. Detective Anderson is dealing with the shock of seeing evidence that reveals an upstanding citizen and friend to be a murderer. On the other side, Terry is desperately trying to prove his innocence. He even has evidence that cements his alibi. King masterfully keeps the pages turning as he explores this impossible situation.

The second half of the book sees the narrative shift in a way that takes away a bit from the drama of what precedes it. It almost reads as if King wasn't sure how to explain the impossibility himself. To be fair, the ending is still well written, but I left me wanting a little bit more. King continues to build his own world by incorporating a character from his Bill Hodges trilogy. Having read many of King's novels, it is always fun to spot little easter eggs from his other works. The Outsider falters a bit in the end, but it is still a reminder of Stephen King's extraordinary storytelling prowess.

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

(2018, 36)

Alert by James Patterson


Besides his Alex Cross series, James Patterson's Michael Bennett series is one of the more consistent of the author's prolific output. I've really enjoyed reading about Bennett and his extended family of 10 kids, a priestly grandfather, and an Irish nanny/love interest. This unique family dynamic couples with Patterson's penchant for a fast pace and short chapters to make consistently satisfying novels.

Alert, the eighth novel in the Bennett series, sees Michael and his nanny Mary Catherine back in her homeland. The couple has finally decided to pursue their relationship, ending a series-long "will they/won't they" that was beginning to overstay its welcome. Plans for the sale of Mary Catherine's property fall through, leaving her in the motherland while Michael heads back to his responsibilities in New York.

New York brings challenges to both Michael's personal and professional lives. His grandfather recently had a bout of amnesia that doctors fear may have been the result of a stroke. Just as he is beginning to deal with the realities of his grandfather's health, Michael is faced with an even worse event. A large explosion has gone off in the NYC subway system, a terrorist attack the likes of which the city hasn't experienced in years.

All told, Alert delivers on just about everything you'd come to expect from a James Patterson novel. Patterson strikes a perfect balance between the family and thriller aspects of his story. The thrills may be mostly surface level, but I still enjoyed them. More importantly, Paterson places his characters in life situations that are both vital to their evolution and relatable to readers. Alert may not be remembered as one of the great literary works of all time, but it certainly works as a diversional thriller. In the end, that's all it really needs to be.

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

(2018, 35)

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough


It is safe to say that Lisa's life revolves around being a mother. Not that she's upset about that. As a single mom, Lisa devotes most of her time and energy to raising her daughter Ava. Lisa's past has some darkness in it that she constantly tries to overcome, but Ava is that shining light that keeps her going. Ava is a teenager now, and Lisa knows she can't hang on to babying her forever. Things get interesting when Lisa meets an attractive client at work. Could this be the start of the next phase of her life?

Ava loves her mom, but she's starting to feel a little suffocated by all of the attention. She's not a little girl anymore. Her friends from the swim team have all had sex already, and Ava feels like nows is as good a time as any for her to lose her virginity too. There's the boy at school who she's been dating that Ava knows is ready for sex. But Ava has another person in mind. She's been messaging an older man who really makes her feel like a woman. She's never experienced these feelings before. With her mom, Ava is still a little girl. With him, she is a fully grown woman.

Lisa and Ava's life is given a jolt when Ava rescues a drowning child from a river. Instinct kicks in and she rushes into the water to save him. Just like that, Ava is a local hero. It only takes a few pictures of Ava and her proud mother to run in the press for everything to come crashing down. After years of running from her past, Lisa is forced to face it. Can she come to terms with the darkness she's been running from? More importantly, can she shield her daughter from all of the horrors that are about to ensue?

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough is a mystery that left me with decidedly mixed feelings. When I was contacted to review the novel by TLC Book Tours, I was really eager to read it. Pinbourough's Behind Her Eyes had lots of reviewers buzzing with excitement, so I knew I was in for a treat with her latest. Chapters alternate POV between Lisa and Ava. Both women are dealing with secrets of their own, some of which even the reader doesn't know. I was instantly drawn to both characters and their enticing personalities. Pinborough takes advantage of the thrill of the unknown by stringing the reader along for as long as possible without revealing the true nature of the mystery. In fact, I'd argue the first part of the book was more successful than the latter simply because of this secrecy. The revelations ended up being more typical to the genre than I would have liked, but I can't argue the fun of discovering them.

For more information, visit the author's website, publisher's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
This review is part of a TLC Book Tour. Check out the full tour schedule here!

(2018, 34)

Rules of Prey by John Sandford


For years now, I've been a huge fan of John Sandford's Virgil Flowers series. I was first aware of Sandford through his long-running Prey series featuring hero Lucas Davenport. With nearly 30 novels in that series, I decided to start the Flowers series instead. Davenport frequently appears in the Flowers books, so I've been curious to see more of him. As I always do when starting a new series, I finally buckled down and started the first book, Rules of Prey.

Lucas Davenport is an immediately appealing character. He's extremely intelligent and has turned his natural logic and gift at solving puzzles into a side career of crafting the intricate stories of video games. This has given him a very comfortable life that leaves him monetarily and intellectually satisfied. Still, he seems to have found his true calling in solving crimes for the local police. By the time we meet him for the first time, Davenport is a well-established lieutenant ready to take on any challenge that comes his way.

He meets a worthy adversary in a killer dubbed the Mad Dog. The Mad Dog is assaulting and killing women throughout the twin cities.  Davenport latches onto the set of rules that the killer leaves behind at each crime scene. Each rule that is left reveals more about the way the Mad Dog is operating and leads Davenport one step closer to catching him. It will be a battle of wits until the very end.

After reading this first novel to feature Davenport, I came out liking the character, but not as much as I like Flowers. For now, Davenport comes off as a typical male fulfillment character. He's really smart, a total lady's man, and independently wealthy. He's also not afraid to get his hands dirty to solve the crime and stop a killer. That works fine for an initial outing, but he'll have to grow to keep me invested in further books. I've been told by friends that he gets much better over the course of the series. His friendship with a nun in this novel offers a glimmer of promise to the depth the character surely gains over the next 28 books.

Beyond Davenport's character, Rules of Prey offers the kind of fast and intricately plotted thriller that I've come to expect from John Sandford. As he does in many of the Virgil Flowers books, Sandford reveals to us the identity of the killer early on. This creates a suspenseful race of cat and mouse as Davenport inches closer and closer to discovering the identity of the killer that we already know. I don't know how long it will take me to catch up on the next 27 books in this series, but Rules of Prey has certainly captured my attention and cemented John Sandford as one of my "go-to" authors.

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

(2018, 33)

Friday Flicks: Crazy Rich Asians


Much will be made about the financial success of director Jon M. Chu's film Crazy Rich Asians out in wide release today. Based upon Kevin Kwan's wildly popular novel, the film marks one of the first large studio releases to feature an Asian cast. In 2018 this shouldn't be such a big deal, but the fact that most articles about the film mention this means that for better or worse, Warner Bros. has a lot riding on Crazy Rich Asians. I enjoyed the novel and got enough laughs out of it, that I decided to see what the film adaptation had to offer.

Like the book, the film follows NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she follows her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) home to Singapore. One of Nick's best friends is getting married, so this is the perfect opportunity for Rachel to see the place he grew up. Nick has always been pretty quiet about his family, so Rachel isn't sure what to expect. She grows suspicious of him the moment they board their private first class suite on the plane, an extravagance Rachel has never even dreamed of. Soon Nick reveals a huge secret about his family. They are crazy rich!

Before the plane even leaves the tarmac, the news of Nick's mysterious new girlfriend reaches his mother played by Michelle Yeoh. Eleanor Young is not impressed with Rachel. Nick may think he's found "the one", but mothers know best. Rachel is American born from a single mother and has no financial or social stature to speak of. Eleanor will not stand by while her son's emotions and bank account are taken advantage of. She has to stop this relationship.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. Chu's film improves upon the novel by making the characters more emotionally rounded and allowing the themes of culture and family to weave into the comedy. Similar to the way that My Big Fat Greek Wedding bridged Greek culture into universally relatable themes, Crazy Rich Asians finds a perfect balance in highlighting the intricacies of its own unique culture while crafting an emotionally satisfying romantic comedy that should appeal to the masses. Unlike the novel, the film ends with a true conclusion that will leave you wanting more from these remarkable characters. I can't predict what the box office results will be, but I can say without a doubt that I thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. 

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