Archive for April 2020

A Mother's Lie by Sarah Zettel


"Her secrets were more than burdens. They were vicious, living things with claws and fangs."

This year marks the eighth year for A Book A Week. Over those years, I've counted many of my fellow bloggers as mentors and friends. Luanne at A Bookworm's World has been one of those from the very start. She posts insightful reviews of a variety of genres, hosts unique features, and has some of the best giveaways. In fact, that is how I came to acquire my latest read, A Mother's Lie by Sarah Zettel. At first, the publisher cautioned that it might take a while for me to receive my copy due to the ongoing restrictions from COVID-19. They even forwarded an ebook copy to hold me over while I waited! Out of the blue, my physical copy arrived last week, way earlier than I expected. Book mail is always a sweet surprise, but it is even better to receive it during a quarantine!

Beth Fraser has worked extremely hard to shield her teenage daughter Dana from the harsh realities of the world.  No, she's not one of those crazy mothers who deprive their daughters of the milestones that come with growing up. By all accounts, Dana is well adjusted. She has close friends, a love for cooking, and even has a promising summer internship on the horizon. Dana's father calls to cancel plans with her, attempting to avoid the difficult conversation with her by having Beth relay the message. This isn't really a surprise. He never really wanted anything to do with the girl, and Beth actually prefers it this way. Better for Dana to learn of the disappointments of the world now while her mother is still there to protect her.

The steel facade of Beth's life his built upon the wealth she's acquired with Lumination, a hedge fund company. She helped build the company and her reputation by sniffing out the sour apples, advising against poor investments, or suspicious individuals. Beth has a knack for reading people. Because of this, a situation with Dana's father shocks her. As she begins to deal with the ramifications of him reaching out, a Pandora's box to her past begins to open. Suddenly she is being forced to face her history, the lies, secrets, and yes, even her manipulative parents. With her carefully safeguarded life beginning to crumble, Beth faces the difficult task of attempting to keep everything together while dealing with the blowback of a past life being revealed to her daughter.

Coming off of a rather challenging read, A Mother's Lie by Sarah Zettel was the perfect novel to binge through. Zettel writes a compelling thriller that mixes in a family drama that is as riveting as the action. Chapters alternate between the perspectives of Beth and Dana, allowing the reader to see both sides of the drama as it unfolds. As each character is developed, more secrets are revealed. In the thick of the novel, I really couldn't decide who to believe. This only adds to the suspense and paranoia. There's nothing flashy here, no giant twists or big set pieces. Still, A Mother's Lie page-turner propelled by the intriguing family dynamic and shifting POV's. This is the kind of compulsive read that had me blowing through the pages and staying up way too late. In short, everything I want from a thriller.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 17)

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


"Slavery is everyday longing, is being born into a world of forbidden victuals and tantalizing untouchables---the land around you, the clothes you hem, the biscuits you bake. You bury the longing, because you know where it must lead."

To say that Ta-Nehisi Coates has a way with words would be an understatement. He is acclaimed for contributing to countless magazines and newspapers, written celebrated collections of non-fiction, and won the National Book Award for his book Between the World and Me. Coates has even been awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" for his writing. I first became aware of the author when a friend shared a clip of Coates speaking about the idea of reparations for enslaved people at a US House committee hearing. The eloquence and thoughtfulness with which he spoke really captured my spirit and inspired me to seek out his writing. An interview with Coates and Oprah for her book club on Apple TV+  narrowed down my selection to The Water Dancer. For anyone who has encountered the words of Coates, it should come as no surprise that his first work of fiction is the kind of transformational, visionary writing that only the greatest authors dare to achieve.

What immediately struck me as I began reading the book was Coates's powerful use of language and description to transport the reader to a specific time and place. To borrow from his own writing, he used, "...words with their own shape, rhythm, and color, words that were pictures themselves." Be warned, this kind of highly pictorial prose takes a bit of getting used to. The first paragraph alone is but one long sentence that establishes time, place, character, and mood. This is not the kind of writing that you casually pick up during brief breaks while working from home. I found that I had to commit to reading for hours at a time, letting myself become immersed in the words, falling into the rhythm of the syntax. Don't let this deter you from giving The Water Dancer a chance. Once I was fully immersed in the language, I was entranced by the spell that it cast upon me.

The novel focuses on Hiram "Hi" Walker, a young man enslaved at the Lockless plantation in Elm County, Virginia. The boy has a gift with memory, a skill that first earns the delight of the fellow enslaved and later that of the white people who own the land. Hi remembers everything. He can recall in perfect detail the exact words of an overheard conversation. This gift soon sees him invited to join a higher rank of enslaved people within the main house. Hi's father is the White owner of the Lockless estate. He is impressed when Hi's memory entertains some of the Quality (white slave owners) at a dinner party, distracting them from their barbaric desires toward the other Tasked (enslaved people).

Despite Hi's gift of memory, there is one important recollection that evades him. His mother was sold by his father when Hi was just a young boy. He knows how the other Tasked speak of her with revere to both her beauty and kindness, but Hi does not remember her himself. Gone is the tone that she spoke to him with, the subtlety of her physical features a blur of uncertainty. "She'd gone from that warm quilt of memory to the cold library of fact."

As he grows, Hi becomes disillusioned with the fate that he is sure to encounter. He is tasked with caring for his older half-brother Maynard, the unintelligent, but the correct skin-toned heir to Lockless. Times are changing for the worse. After years of thriving tobacco output, the land of Elm County is starting to dry up. The writing is already on the wall, and the Quality is starting to panic, selling off their Tasked for whatever value will keep their withering estates afloat. A tragic event and unexplainable transportation leave Hi eager to move beyond his enslaved state. That combined with a boyhood crush that is blossoming into love leaves him with the resolution that many other enslaved people dare not seek. Hi is going to try to run.

The Water Dancer sees Ta-Nehisi Coates write about memory and the weight of memory with thoughtfulness and imagination that has kept me reeling with emotion and reflection long after turning the final page. His writing envelops you with each word, transporting you into the mind of Hiram and the world that he inhabits. Coates worked on this novel for ten years, researching and visiting the places of this history, never discounting the importance of the story he strived to tell. As such, The Water Dancer strikes a perfect balance between the historical accuracy that gives it a sense of realism with the development of its layered characters and plot. As I became engrossed in the history, I found myself unable to put the book down.

There are countless allegories layered into the novel, calling on the themes of family, racism, and systems that are put into place that disproportionately benefit one person while harming the other. Coates introduces an element of magical realism that elevates the novel's themes while not detracting from the carefully established history of the setting. Like Colson Whitehead's physical Underground Railroad in his novel of the same name, Coates uses the idea of Conduction to provide both physical and metaphorical bridges between the physical places and the memories of his characters. The description of Conduction in the novel perfectly captures my own reaction to The Water Dancer: "The jump is done by the power of the story. It pulls from our particular histories, from all our loves and all of our losses. All of that feeling is called up, and on the strength of our remembrances, we are moved."

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 16)

Cold Storage by David Koepp


While I certainly wish I could be going to work and going about my life as normal, I do enjoy some of the perks of staying at home. At the start of the year, I resolved to work through a backlog of reviews from the year previous. Like most good-intentioned resolutions, this one quickly fell to the wayside. Lucky for me, I've been gifted a rare second chance to make good on that goal. I'm still maintaining my 2020 goal of reading and reviewing at least one book a week, but I now have a bit of extra time to devote to some of the books that I didn't get to feature in 2019. The first backlogged review couldn't be more timely.

In Cold Storage, author David Koepp writes of the attempted containment of a highly mutative organism that, if left unchecked, has the potential to take over the earth. This thing is nothing to mess with. The novel opens with a Pentagon official Roberto Diaz investigating what is believed to be some sort of bioterrorism attack. What he discovers is the thing nightmares are made of. No, this isn't a monster or an evil terrorist. In a world that is facing the realities of a novel virus, the threat of this little fungal organism seems even more devastating. One touch of this organism and you're done for. Diaz wastes no time containing the fungus and burying it deep in an underground Kansas facility.

Decades later, the front desk attendant at a self-storage facility notices the faint beeping of some kind of alarm. None of the controls within the facility point to anything out of the ordinary, but the alarm persists. Miles away, Roberto Diaz is called out of retirement to investigate an urgent matter that only he can address. Somehow the alarm that is alerting the US government and the minimal wage storage unit are one and the same. That deadly parasitic fungus has sat 300 feet below what has now become a storage facility, forgotten by time and the complicated web of government bureaucracy. After all these years something has changed. It will take the unlikely heroes of storage facility employees and long-retired government agents to stop what could potentially be the most catastrophic breach in human history.

David Koepp is probably best known for being the screenwriter for blockbuster films like Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, and Mission Impossible. It should come as no surprise then that Cold Storage is an action-packed novel that is easily read in one breathless sitting. There are obvious echos of the literary style of Michael Crichton, all very welcome in this case. I would argue that Koepp takes a bit more liberty for the sake of action and pace, leaving believability behind. Still, there's no denying this is a page-turner. Cold Storage doesn't have much in terms of character development. The protagonists all fall into neat little tropes that are serviceable to the story, but a bit predictable. In fact, some of the most convincing character work is actually for the parasitic fungus itself. There's one deliciously devilish description in particular written from the perspective of our fungal villain as it spreads into its unsuspecting victim. Overall, Cold Storage is a diversional "outbreak type" thriller that never truly rises beyond its inventive opening. This may be one case where a movie version penned by Koepp might be more successful.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
(2019, 37)

Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah


Week 6 of our stay at home order began yesterday, and it is safe to say that I am getting tired of staying home. Now don't get me wrong, I completely understand the need to do my part in flattening the curve. Still, the monotony of self-isolation is getting to me. I've taken comfort in the familiar. I've made some of my favorite recipes, rewatched favorite movies, and have stayed fairly consistent in reading mystery/thriller novels. This week, I chose a random title from my library's selection of ebooks Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah. With a premise that quickly caught my attention, I settled in for what promised to be an easy but satisfying read.

Remember that friend that you used to be so close to? Think of that person who you effortlessly melded with, the kind of person who could look at you and instantly discern your mood and thoughts. I'm talking best friend, kids call you aunt or uncle despite no blood relation, kind of friendship. Odds are you can probably relate that description to someone in your own life. That same description would perfectly apply to Beth and Flora. They went on family vacations together, raised their children together, and were pretty much as close as you can be to someone outside of your own family. But that was twelve years ago. The two have not seen each other in that period of time. Cold turkey cut each other off. Just like that.

As Beth drives her now teenage son to football practice, she notices Flora's house sitting as it always had along the route. Curiosity is getting the better of her, so she drops her son off and circles back to the house. Beth doesn't even know if her ex-friend still lives there, but something is drawing her to the place. She steps out of her car and waits. From across the street, she sees Flora step out from her car, a little older but still the same friend Beth remembers. Twelve years ago, Flora's two children were five and six years old. Beth is startled to watch Flora remove the same children as if frozen in time, from the vehicle. They are unmistakably the same kids, but they have not aged a day since Beth last saw them. What has happened to these children!?

In Perfect Little Children, author Sophie Hannah wastes no time in setting up a perplexing mystery that instantly establishes the obsession of both her main character and her reader. As Beth delves deeper into her infatuation with her friend's life, the suspense only deepens. Hannah writes with an urgency that makes it impossible to stop reading for fear of missing out on whatever wild reveal lies on the next page.  I was reminded of The Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10. Like the women in those novels, Beth takes her investigation to a truly unhealthy level in which it completely consumes her and isolates her from her family. I'll admit, the obsession is not necessarily the most believable thing. I'd probably have just left well enough alone, but I'm also not the protagonist in a thriller novel. I was pleasantly surprised by the way Perfect Little Children managed to capture my attention. From the stellar set up to the non-stop twists and turns, it made for a wild and entertaining ride.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 15)

Kindness and Wonder by Gavin Edwards


"Hello, neighbor!"

Let's face it. We are currently living in a frightening time in human history. As the reality of the global implications of COVID-19 set in, the news grows more and more disheartening. Five weeks into staying home, it has gotten more difficult to keep a positive outlook. The number of people infected with the virus continues to climb. The number of people who have succumbed to the virus rises too. Even those who aren't faced with fighting the disease themselves have been affected by the subsequent ramifications of it. Thankfully, there are countless stories of light shining through the darkness and despair. From the stories of retired healthcare professionals returning to the field to aid in the fight to the truck drivers selflessly working grueling hours to get food and supplies to those who need it, we are reminded each day of the remarkable way humanity can band together in a common goal.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

As I sat in my house reflecting on these strange times, I was reminded of a book that has been patiently waiting on my shelf since the publisher gifted me a copy last fall. Kindness and Wonder: Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by Gavin Edwards seems like a perfect book for this moment in history. I was one of the countless fortunate children who grew up watching public television. I still remember watching episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, curiously hanging on the words of the friendly host. I remember the way he slowly spoke on the show, not afraid to sit in silence as he did menial things like feed the fish or tie his shoes. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the profound impact of his show and teachings. Now, I once again found comfort in his story.

Edward's book is divided into two sections. The first reads as a fairly traditional biography of Fred Rogers. It follows his unlikely rise from a young theology student and ordained minister to television star. I was struck by a couple things. First, I never realized how much thought and meticulous preparation went into the scripts of each episode of the show. Rogers carefully crafted his scripts to ensure his message would come across in a way that was both palatable and educational to his young audience. Second, Rogers was unafraid to use his platform to tackle difficult subjects. He welcomed an African American cast member to share in cooling waters of his pool during the height of the civil rights movement. He employed his quiet Daniel the Tiger puppet to have a frank discussion of assassination after Kennedy was killed. He even produced a special geared toward helping parents talk to their children in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. For such a seemingly unassuming man, Fred Rogers was perfectly willing to make vocal statements on current affairs.

The second part of Kindness and Wonder delves into the characteristics of Fred Rogers that Edwards posits can be impactful if practiced in our own lives. While the message of this section is meant to serve as an inspirational conclusion to the work, I'll admit it read as a little bit too "self-help" for my personal tastes. There are a few inspirational anecdotes, but other parts are a tad dry. Still, there is great value in reflecting on the life and mission of Fred Rogers. Kindness, humility, patience, empathy, all of these are attributes of rogers that we can strive to emulate in our own lives. At a brief 250 pages or so, Kindness and Wonder is the kind of book you can fall into during an afternoon and feel the emotional impact of immediately. It is like the warm hug of a family member or, perhaps more accurately, the reassuring voice of a long-forgotten friend. This is not the first challenge humanity has faced, and it will not be the last. Be it donating masks, volunteering at food banks, or even just reaching out to a neighbor, we can all find a way to make an impact. After all, "You've made this day a special day, by just your being you."

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
(2020, 14)

Texas Ranger by James Patterson


There are days when you are looking to be moved by the characters, words, and situations an author writes. Other days, all you need is an escape from reality, the kind of book you can breeze through in a few sittings and leave thoroughly entertained. After reading several darker, more serious titles recently, I've been longing for something less emotionally taxing. These quarantine days are becoming more and more taxing on their own. While it has been great tackling some of the more challenging reads from my TBR list, it was time for a change of pace. I turned to one of my go-to authors, James Patterson. His collaboration with author Andrew Bourelle titled Texas Ranger seemed like a solid choice.

Texas Ranger Rory Yates has an unconventional relationship with his ex-wife Anne. The couple may not be married anymore, but Yates knows he will always love her. He's knee-deep in a hostage situation when Anne calls his phone. When he finally is able to connect with her, Rory can hear the fear in Anne's voice. He begins the drive to her house (anyone who has ever driven in Texas can relate to the hours spent in his truck) he worries about what she told him. Why would someone be calling in death threats to her?

When Rory makes it to Anne's house, he is greeted by the flashing lights of police lights. All hope leaves his body as he works his way onto the scene. The property has already been taped off, clearly a crime scene. Someone has murdered Anne. Rory was too late. Worst, he is already being eyed as the obvious suspect in her murder. He is ordered to stay out of the ongoing investigation into his possible potential involvement in Anne's death. Lucky for readers, he ignores these orders.

I always find it challenging to review a James Patterson novel, especially his co-authored efforts. Each one is just so similar to the other. There are short chapters, copious amounts of actions, and just enough twists to keep the reader guessing. That's exactly what I'm looking for when I open a Patterson book, and Texas Ranger delivers all of that. Rory is an affable protagonist who is maybe a little too headstrong for his own good. I've lived in the Lone Star State for my whole life, so it was fun to read references to Texas cities, country music, and other cultural hallmarks. This one won't be winning any awards for literary excellence, but it was an enjoyable way to escape for a few hours. With James Patterson, you pretty much know what you're getting when you pick up his books. As each day is clouded with more and more uncertainty, there's some comfort in having a book unfold exactly as you expect it to.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 13)

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson


When I was a freshman in high school, I was really struggling to find suitable reading material. While I loved the Harry Potter series, I was less enthusiastic about other fantasy options. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings just wasn't for me. At that point, I really stopped reading outside of school assignments. Then one day my mom brought be a tattered paperback copy of James Patterson's Mary Mary. I devoured that book and many of his other Alex Cross novels. Enthusiastic about the genre, I quickly latched onto John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, John Sandford, etc. I was hooked!

If you follow my reviews, you no doubt see that I continue to be a huge fan of the mystery/thriller genre to this day. One author who has recently joined the ranks of must-read authors for me is Peter Swanson. His standalone thrillers consistently entertain each year. His most recent release serves as an homage to the kind of classic mysteries that have inspired countless readers to be sucked into the mystique of the genre. I graciously accepted a copy of Eight Perfect Murders from his publisher, and eagerly dove in.

Bookseller Malcolm Kershaw is surprised when an FBI agent pays a visit to his shop. It appears as if a serial killer is using famous mystery novels to inform his kills. The murders all happen to follow the writing of the likes of Highsmith, Tart, Christie, etc, but that doesn't explain why the FBI wants to talk to Malcolm. It turns out that he wrote a blog post years ago that listed the eight perfect murders in mystery fiction. The killer is systematically checking off Malcolm's list with each new crime. As the unwilling expert of the matter, Malcolm is invited to join in the investigation. Along the way, he'll try to find out how this murderer latched onto his list and try to hold tight a few secrets of his own.

It seems like clockwork each year that a new Peter Swanson novel drops, full of thrills, a strong hook, empathetic characters, and plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing. Eight Perfect Murders is no exception. Bibliophiles and casual readers alike should find something to latch onto in this one. If you are familiar with the eight novels employed by Swanson to inspire his crimes, you'll revel in seeing the way they are used here. If you're less familiar, you'll have eight new novels to add to your reading list. Be warned, though, that the crux of this novel lies in revealing the means of the criminal in those classics. If you're wanting to read those with fresh eyes, you may want to do that before embarking on this journey. Eight Perfect Murders sees Peter Swanson harken back to the classic stories that this genre was built on. While it doesn't add much to the contemporary genre in the same way some of his others have, it still serves as a great escape into an engaging and twisty read. In these unprecedented times of uncertainty, it was great to settle in to comfort and familiarity of a classic whodunnit.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 12)

The Need by Helen Phillips


"The need to go home. The need to dispense with this intruder, this nightmare, and return to two small impeccable bodies. the excruciating need."

As we all adjust to the new normal of staying home to help ease the threat of Covid-19, we are also finding our own ways to deal with the stress and uncertainty of the situation. More so than ever, I'm turning to books to help keep my mind off of the real world. One of the best parts of staying home has been having ample time to tackle some of the books that have been gathering dust on my 'to be read' list. The Need by Helen Phillips is one such title. I was drawn to it for its brief length (about 270 pages), but it was the tantalizing premise that ultimately captured my attention to the point that I read it in a single sitting.

The pit is the one place Molly feels she is able to escape the monotony of everyday life. As a paleobotanist, she has discovered numerous fossils that are believed to be the first of their kind. Perhaps more curious though are the other artifacts that were in the pit with them. There is a Coca-Cola bottle with a label that is slightly off from any known to have been produced, a shiny penny that was minted in the present day (could it have slipped from Molly's pocket?), and a tiny bible containing controversial text. The bible, in particular, has garnered the most interest. On the bright side, tourists are gathering at the dig site daily to see the oddities that have been unearthed. They bring a welcomed increase in revenue to keep the operation afloat. But just like that shiny penny, there are two sides to this coin. The second side is full of hate mail and threats of violence.

At home, Molly is having a hard time seeing past the tedium of motherhood. Sure, she loves her kids. She delights in being able to introduce four-year-old Viv and one-year-old Ben to the everyday wonders of the world, but weekends like these make it hard to remember those joys. Her husband is on a weeklong business trip, Viv's birthday party is a day away, and she's just come home to find that Viv has written all over the walls. Oh, and she still needs to go grocery shopping. " What a thing it was, grocery shopping, so tedious and so crucial." I don't know that I've ever related to a quote more!

As Molly wrangles the children she catches a glimpse of what she thought were footsteps between the crack of the door. Surely her mind must be playing tricks on her. Between the stresses of work and caring for the kids, she must be imagining things. But then again, what if she isn't? Could that be the sound of footsteps just on the other side of the door? She's turned the lights off and quieted the children, bringing them both close against her. There they are again, breaks in that thin beam of light between the floor and the door. Is she going crazy? This is all too much to bear. Her mind has to be playing tricks on her. She turns the lights back on, opens the door to her obviously empty spare room, and begins to prepare dinner. Molly is flooded with the relief of that empty room, absolved of the self-inflicted horrors of her overactive imagination. That's when she notices Viv peering into the other room and hears her mutter, "who's that guy?"

In The Need, author Helen Phillips draws the reader in with the urgent anxiety of expectation and doesn't let go until the final page. Beyond the brilliant setup, Phillips employs brisk writing with short cliffhanger chapters to keep the pace rolling. I found myself saying, "just one more chapter" to the point that I ultimately breezed through the entire novel. Phillips juxtaposes this momentum with a raw, often understated contemplation on motherhood. Yes, there is an out of this world narrative, but The Need ultimately succeeds as the portrayal of Molly coming to terms with her position as a wife, mother, and professional. There is this transcendent bond between mother and child, the kind of intimacy that can rarely be captured in words. Yet somehow Phillips has done just that. At first, I didn't know what to make of the ending. As the last page turned, I felt almost as if the novel was nothing but a winding buildup. Upon deeper reflection though, I think that buildup is exactly the point of The Need. We witness Molly's unwavering need to educate, nurture, and protect her children. That is what motherhood is about, and that is what The Need beautifully portrays.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 11)

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia


"People killed for money. People died for it. Love could hurt, but money would strike you down forever."

I've been a fan of author Mindy Mejia since reading her novel Everything You Want Me To Be. Her way with characters, masterful plotting, and ability to tackle a variety of genres (see last year's Leave No Trace for something completely different) reveals her to be one of the most versatile authors of popular fiction working today. Naturally, I was thrilled to accept an offer from her publisher to read and review her latest novel Strike Me Down. If there is one benefit to having to spend all of my time at the house, it is that I can stay up into all hours of the night reading a book. Mejia's latest had me doing just that.

Nora Trier is at the top of her professional game. Years ago, she was the whistleblower who called out financial fraud at her company. She brought down the entire operation but paid the price for her actions. The head of the company was a personal family friend who guilt-tripped Nora until he ultimately ended his own life. Her family blamed her for his death and ceased all contact with her. Even worse, no other company would hire her. No company, that is, until Parrish, a forensic accounting firm, enlisted her expertise. Now Nora is one of the most accomplished people in her field. She has gained notoriety for her thoroughness (she's solved thousands of cases) and impartiality. It is no wonder then that she is brought in to solve a missing funds case for one of the most visible companies in the world. As a customer of the brand and someone with personal ties to people at the company, Nora will struggle to maintain her independence and protect her shimmering reputation.

Headed by kickboxing phenom and face of the company Logan Russo and her husband Gregg Abbott,  Strike has become one of the largest and most recognizable fitness companies in the world. The power couple has capitalized on Logan's popularity to build Strike into a company that promotes a fitness lifestyle through protein shakes, gyms, and classes. Their latest effort is a large kickboxing tournament, the likes of which has never been attempted before. The event will be held over several days and culminate in the winner taking a $20 million prize and becoming the new face of Strike. There's only one problem. The prize money is missing!

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia is another hit from the author. On the surface, there is an intricately plotted financial thriller that rivals any of the best I've read. Think an early John Grisham novel, but with a more contemporary flair. What separates this thriller from the pack is the way that Mejia explores the two main characters of Nora and Logan. Both are women who have bucked the odds to become top performers in their respective fields, both have sacrificed a stereotypical personal life to climb the professional ladder, and both are grappling with the ramifications of that decision. These women are not likable in the traditional sense, but I think that is part of what makes the novel so intriguing. Mejia dares to challenge convention and forces the reader to rethink their own expectations. Strike Me Down is another must-read novel from Mindy Mejia that brilliantly layers in contemplations on the female experience in the professional world while never sacrificing the pace and suspense of its break-neck thriller.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 10)

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen


"Heartbreak is the human condition in this town."

The once-booming Atlantic City is seeing the glitz and glamor of its heyday dimming to despair. The casinos that were so vital in cultivating the city's economy have slowly started to close, boarded up as a reminder to the town's past. The resorts that remain open struggle to fill their rooms. In the weeds of the marsh behind the rundown Sunset Motel lie the remains of two dead women, "laid out like tallies." They still wear their suggestive clothing, outfits used to attract the lustful eyes of men as they walk the streets. Unfortunately, they attracted the wrong man, the one who placed them here. Before all this is over, five more women will join their line.

Clara Voyant's whole life is based on lies and deception. Even her name isn't real. Ever since her mother left her with her aunt, the pair have operated a fortune-telling company off the Atlantic City boardwalk. Like the rest of the city, their small business struggles to attract guests. Clara has turned to petty pickpocketing to help pay the bills. Beyond her hustle, however, lies a true gift. Clara truly can see psychic visions. When a man from out of town comes in asking about his missing niece, Clara immediately recognizes the girl's face. Its been plastered on missing person posters that litter the boardwalk, just another casualty of the decaying town. Clara does see a vision about this girl, but it isn't really clear what it all means. The man leaves the shop, but the lingering dread about what she saw continues to torment her.

Lilly has come back to Atlantic City as an escape from her life in New York. In NYC, she was an up and coming art dealer, representing her hotshot artist boyfriend. He cheated on her, so she broke up with him, packed her things, and headed back to her childhood home in Atlantic City. Lilly has taken a job at one of the resort spas as a receptionist. It is not a glamourous as her art dealing job, but it will hopefully help her earn enough to make it back to the big city one day.

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen is the kind of slow-burning suspense novel that had me reading into all hours of the night. Mullen drives the novel through shifting perspectives of each character, including the different Jane Does who end up in the marsh. As we learn more about the characters, the dread surrounding the murders only grows. This is a dark read, and Mullen does not shy away from the gritty details of the city and of prostitution. The novel immerses the reader into Atlantic City. I could practically feel the creak of the boardwalk beneath my feet and smell the salty air! I can't recommend Please See Us highly enough. It will certainly end up being one of my favorite books of the year.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 9)

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