Archive for June 2019

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)

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)

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