Archive for September 2020

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

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Last year I read The Wife Between Us, a twisty thriller that used all the conventions of the genre to string the reader along and play with traditional expectations. Writing duo Hendricks and Pekkanen absolutely exceeded my expectations and left me longing to read more from them. I made a note to be on the lookout for more from the pair. As often happens, other books distracted me, and my experience reading The Wife Between Us soon became a distant memory. Fast forward to this week, and I found myself scrolling through the list of available audiobooks from my local library. When I saw You Are Not Alone, the latest from Hendricks and Pekkanen, I jumped at the chance to read another thriller from these talented authors. 

To say that Shay Miller's life is not going according to plan would be a huge understatement. She is recently unemployed, turning to random temp jobs to make ends meet. Her roommate/best friend entered into a new relationship that leaves him physically and emotionally occupied on most days. Shay is pretty sure he'll be moving in with his girlfriend soon. To top it all off, Shay just witnessed a horrific suicide on the New York subway. The young woman looked directly into her eyes before she jumped onto the tracks. 

Shay is haunted by that final moment. She can't seem to clear the image of that woman looking at her from her mind. Inspired by a bit of guilt and the longing to put that tragic moment behind her, Shay looks up the accident and discovers the name of that girl. Before she knows it, she is attending the girl's funeral, taking in the view of her mourners. Before she is able to leave the service unnoticed, Shay is confronted by a group of the late woman's friends. She panics and concocts a story about how she knew the woman, and the friends seem to buy it. United by shared grief, Shay becomes a member of this friend group. Little does she know, the friends may have more nefarious plans for their newest addition. 

You Are Not Alone has all the makings of a fine thriller. The main character teeters precariously on the line of reliable and not. As readers, we are in on the twist much earlier that Shay is, but that doesn't deter from the suspense. In fact, knowing that Shay is walking directly into a trap only heightened my paranoia and had me rushing through the pages. Hendricks and Pekkanen layer in commentary about loneliness and reliance on others in a way adds some much-needed depth to their characters. All that said, I still felt as if there was something missing from this book that was present in their others. I can't quite discern if the plot was just a bit too unbelievable, or if the characters weren't as enticing. Suffice it to say, You Are Not Alone left me with the feeling that I was missing something. 

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

(2020, 43)

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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 "A few glasses of wine and a mystery---very social, but also gory. It is good fun."

When you think of a retirement community, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I have memories of visiting my great grandmother in her nursing home, seeing the other folks gathered in the cafeteria/activities room, playing dominoes, and sharing stories. My guess is that you would think of something similar. What you probably wouldn't imagine is a group of seniors investigating murders, but that's exactly what British TV Presenter Richard Osman has conjured up in his debut novel The Thursday Murder Club. I was so intrigued by this inventive premise that I was eager to dive into the copy of the book that Osman's publisher graciously provided me. 

Joyce is one of the newer residents of the upscale senior living facility called Coopers Chase. She's a former nurse who did well enough financially to end up spending the rest of her days in the luxury retirement community. The rooms are spacious enough, but the rest of the amenities really sealed the deal. She spends her time enjoying a glass of wine and honing her baking skills, but Joyce longs for something more stimulating to occupy her days. 

Enter Elizabeth, perhaps the most determined person Joyce has ever met. Not much is known about Elizabeth's secretive past. Suffice it to say that whatever work the woman did, she is well-connected and has a seemingly endless chain of contacts to achieve whatever she desires. One day Elizabeth recruits Joyce's medical expertise by showing her a set of crime scene photos. At first, Joyce is a bit taken aback by the images shes seeing. As she begins to study the pictures and apply her knowledge to form medical conclusions about the crime, however, she begins to feel the same thrill she has been lacking since moving into the retirement community. Joyce is hooked, and Elizabeth is pleased. 

Elizabeth reveals to Joyce The Thursday Murder Club, a group comprised of herself and two other men. The friends meet weekly in the jigsaw puzzle room and hash out their theories around various crimes. Elizabeth's connections to the police department help to keep a fresh supply of cases for their weekly gatherings. Joyce is excited to join in all the fun. When one of the owners of Coopers Chase is suddenly killed, the murder club shifts its focus from decades-old cold cases to the one that has occurred in their own back yard. If they can help solve this killing, they'll legitimize their club beyond the current perception of four friends meeting to reminisce about times gone by. 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman might be the most charming book I've read all year. Osman combines elements of a more traditional cozy mystery with the strong character work and plot points of a more hardened crime novel to form a genre-bending novel that gripped me for the entire duration. I'm not sure what inspired him to write a book about a group of crime-fighting octogenarians, but I'm really happy that he did. Osman cleverly uses the age of his main characters to build a deep history into each one of them, imbuing them wisdom and struggles that can only come from time and experience. The retirement community where the majority of the novel is set is a fully-realized world, full of detailed settings and well-drawn supporting characters. I truly felt like I was there with the characters. As for the mystery, Osman layered in enough red herrings and twists to keep me guessing all the way to the big reveal at the end. With a unique premise, alluring characters, and a captivating mystery, The Thursday Murder Club is a nearly perfect debut novel. 

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.

(2020, 42)

Love, Zac by Reid Forgrave

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"The truth is inconvenient. The truth could be painful. This is a game people love. But as a society, we evolve."

Football has become almost as American as the Statue of Liberty or the Fourth of July. I mean, think about it for a moment. My time in the high school band revolved around supporting our football team every Friday night. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without "the big game" playing on the TV. Even colleges, places that are supposed to be dedicated to higher learning, feature massive football stadiums looming over the rest of campus. American's love the game, but as author Reid Forgrave explores in his new book Love, Zac, our love affair with the sport may be doing more harm than good.

Zac Easter was the quintessential all-American high school athlete. What he lacked in size he made up for in toughness. Football and grit seemed to run in his family. Zac's dad was the assistant coach at his rural midwestern high school. His older brother was a high school football star player. Playing the sport was not only a rite of passage for the Easter men, but it was also an expectation. If you don't play football, how will you become a proper man?

Every game, Zac put forth all of his efforts, willing his body to push the limits of what it was capable of. Each play saw the young man violently collide with other players. It even earned him the coveted "big hammer" title from his coach. There were plenty of plays that left Zac raddled, dizzy, or even knocked out, but he always got up and returned to the field. Somewhere along the way, playing through the pain became the rule, not the exception. Finally, a catastrophic impact during his senior year took Zac out of the game for good. His football career was over, but the lifelong impact of his time playing the game was only beginning.

"Spread the word of mental illness and concussions, and over time, please spread my story. Great things can still happen from this event."

I don't often include trigger warnings in reviews, but I feel it is appropriate to do so with this book. Love, Zac is a gut-wrenching look at one person's struggle with injury, mental illness, and eventually suicide. This isn't normally the kind of book I would pick up to read, but Forgrave treats the subject with respect and transparency. After reading it, I'm happy that the publisher saw fit to send me a copy to review. The book doesn't just bash the sport. Forgrave even admits to being a fan of Football himself. Instead, it paints an intimate portrait of one young man's struggle with the aftereffects of traumatic hits to the head. As his headaches became a permanent symptom of years of physical trauma, Zac began to keep a journal. In reading the passages from it, we see his mental and physical anguish play out in real-time. Forgrave also interviews coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, and family members, filling in the gaps of Zac's writing and providing a complete picture of this one case. Football is ingrained into our culture, a part of our national identity. Love, Zac is never an argument against the game. Rather it is a sobering reminder of the price of this obsession.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
Zac's family has set up an organization in his honor. Learn more about CTE Hope here.
(2020, 41)

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

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Over the long holiday weekend, I decided to get as much of my last-minute summer reading in as I possibly could. By the time I sat down to write this review, the promise of an early fall cool front quickly diminished. It seems like the brutal Texas heat is going to be sticking around for a while. I browsed my bookshelf for that perfect book to satisfy my need for one more summer read, and quickly landed on Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen. I really got a kick out of his book Bad Monkey, so I felt his Florida-based mix of humor and mystery would more than meet my expectations.

Honey Santana is on a mission. While sitting down for dinner with her son, the house phone rang. Her son urged her to ignore it, but Honey is completely over these calls interrupting their family meals. She is not going to take this annoyance lying down. Honey picks up the phone and gives the caller a piece of her mind. What she didn't expect was the man on the other end to verbally fight back. He calls her words no professional telemarketer should use, let alone any other respectful person. Honey quickly reaches out to the man's manager and relays her disgust at the hateful language that he used. For most people, that would be the end of the situation, but Honey is not most people. Honey wants revenge.

Boyd Shreave is pretty much a failure at everything. The miserable man couldn't even hold down his job as a telemarketer. He let his pride get the better of him and committed the fatal sin of mouthing off to a potential customer. At least he still has Eugenia, his former co-worker, and current mistress. Boyd is ready to leave his wife and start a new life, but Eugenia does not feel the same. With the convenience of the couple working together gone, she sees little reason to continue their relationship. When Boyd comes to her with a once in a lifetime opportunity to vacation in Florida and canoe through the wetlands, Eugenia decides to extend their romance, at least for the weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Nature Girl has all the makings of a perfect summer read. Hiaasen mixes satire, crime, and compelling characters into a story that you won't want to stop reading. Shifting perspectives between each character allows for variety and adds a tinge of suspense that balances the more humorous premise. It also clues in the reader to every motivation of the characters, so we know what is happening before some of the other cast does. All of the threads in this book converge in a satisfying conclusion that teeters precariously close to the edge of absurdity. It is all in good fun though, and that's really all I want from my summer reading. Nature Girl was a perfect way to spend the last bits of the summer holiday.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 40)

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