Archive for January 2022

Chasing History by Carl Bernstein

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Where do you get your news? Like most of my fellow millennials, I mostly consume news from social media and on my phone. I'm grateful to have access to so many different sources, but filtering through all of the noise can be quite the task. My earliest recollections of being aware of the news stem from watching my grandfather consume the morning newspaper and completing the daily crossword puzzle. For decades, the local newspaper was the best way to learn what was going on in your community. Acclaimed journalist Carl Bernstein is no stranger to the allure of the news. In fact, his landmark reporting on the Watergate Scandal marked the beginning of the end for Richard Nixon's presidency. In his new book Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom, Bernstein recalls his early years as a young man looking to make his mark on history. 

At just sixteen years old, Carl Bernstein landed a job as a copy boy at Washington's Evening Star. Using his knowledge of the town he grew up in, he quickly ingratiated himself with the more tenured newspaper men. A career in journalism, however, seemed far away for the young man who was struggling to pass even the most rudimentary of high school courses. It isn't that Bernstein wasn't smart. In fact, in his early days with the Evening Star, he was already showing the potential to become an observant and nuanced reporter. Still, he would have to graduate from school if he ever dreamed of making a career out of the news. 

Bernstein's beginning in the business couldn't have come at a more noteworthy time. Some of his first assignments centered around attending campaign events for the young presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, crime sprees in the city, and the growing movement for civil rights. Unlike other reporters, both up and coming and tenured, Bernstein had a knack for connecting with the people involved in the stories he told. His connection to the city and the people gave him an advantage that saw him become a reporter for the publication at only nineteen years old. 

Chasing History is a time capsule of sorts. The time and place that Bernstein tells about is one that I've only read about in history books or seen in old newsreels. Bernstein transports the reader to this era through his vivid descriptions, candid recollections, and quick wit. Just as the country was on the cusp of great changes, so was this young man growing into adulthood. Bernstein's personal life is intertwined with news-making history. He's grappling with the injustices of racism as he struggles to graduate from high school. He sees the nation mourn the death of a young president as he brims with the hope of growing personal romance. Bernstein's willingness to give the reader unbridled access to his life during this time helps to ground the larger historical moments in a reality that every reader can relate to. Chasing History succeeds as a memoir, origin story of an incredible career, and chronicle of history. 

For more information visit the author's website and Goodreads

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

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Gloomy weather this weekend has kept me indoors, reorganizing my bookshelves to include all of my Christmas gift books. While I usually dread taking every title from my shelf and shifting things around, the task was made a bit more bearable by accompanying it with a new audiobook. It seems as if the entire book world is buzzing with anticipation for Stacy Willingham's debut novel A Flicker in the Dark. Lucky for me,  Macmillan Audio provided a review copy of the new title for me to review. Now having listened to the book, I completely understand the hype. 

The trauma in Chloe Davis's life started in her childhood. The summer when she was just twelve years old, six girls from her small town went missing. The community became saturated in paranoia, fearful that at any moment another girl could be next. This summer of fear came crashing down when Chloe's father was arrested as an accused serial killer, confessing to kidnapping and murdering each of the missing girls. How does a family reckon with this startling revelation? Chloe, her elder brother, and mother are left shocked, feebly attempting to pick up the pieces of their shattered life. 

A couple of decades later, Chloe is an adult who has mostly moved on from those darker days. She's learned from navigating her own troubles and now works as a psychologist helping her patients to overcome their own hardships. Chloe is in a loving relationship with a fiance who truly cares for her. However delicate her happiness may be, she feels as if she finally has a grasp on a life that isn't about the horrific deeds of her estranged father. But then a local teenage girl goes missing. Then another and another after that. Suddenly Chloe's past comes rushing back to her, filling her with fear and paranoia that she hasn't felt in years. 

It is hard to believe that A Flicker in the Dark is Stacy Willingham's first go at a novel. She expertly balances building complex characters with a driving plot that never lets up. As the work progresses, the main character begins to unravel, overwhelmed by the similarities between her past and the present-day crimes. I've grown to be a bit tired of the unreliable narrator trope that permeates much popular suspense these days, but Willingham imbues her character with enough of a grip on reality to help overcome that. Karissa Vacker's narration perfectly captured the tone of the book, allowing me to fully invest in the story as it unfolded. I did guess the ending fairly early in the book, but Willingham provided enough twists and red herrings to keep me thoroughly engaged. Overall, A Flicker in the Dark is an extremely solid psychological thriller that is worthy of all of the hype it is receiving. 

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

(2022, 3)

Anthem by Noah Hawley

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"Proof is irrelevant. Reality has become a personal choice, denial of reality a weapon."

The past couple of years has been difficult. I don't think you could talk to anyone who would disagree. First, there is the global pandemic, a health crisis that has stollen the lives of far too many people. It continues to ravage us in new forms, even as I write this. With COVID has come a host of other problems. People have lost their jobs, lost their loved ones, lost their sanity as they quarantine from the rest of society. And here's the thing, the pandemic isn't the only thing that's made the last few years troubling. Climate change has reached a point of being undeniable. Storms and fires are billed as "100-year weather events" even as they seem to happen every few weeks. We are at the point of not choosing how to stop climate change (most scientists agree that it is far too late for that) but how we will mitigate the impact of it. And then there's politics. For better or worse, the 2016 US Presidential Election and the events that have followed seem to have forever changed the way politics happens in our county. People are more divided than ever. Simply put, things have not been easy. 

Noah Hawley, an author well known as executive producer, writer, and showrunner of the hit TV series Fargo as well as for his bestselling 2016 novel Before The Fall, has lived through this reality just like the rest of us. His latest novel Anthem is set in a world that closely mirrors the bleak times that we have all been facing. Be warned, this is a dark work that doesn't shy away from some tough subjects. Suicide, sexual assault, and violence line the pages of this story, reflecting the grim state of the world. There were several times where the real world and Hawley's fiction were too similar for me to stomach, forcing me to pause and take some moments away from the book. Still, he presents a powerful and poignant narrative that forces the reader to reflect on the state of the world we share, thrilling us and moving us along the way. If you can get past the initial shock of it all, the book is well worth exploring further. 

"The adults are lost. We, their children, are starting over."

The children of the world are committing mass suicide. The adults are at a loss for what to do about it. Why is this happening? It could be that spending the last few years only interacting with the computer screen in front of them instead of with real people has taken the ultimate toll on them. Perhaps it is the realization that the world that older generations are leaving to them is in worse shape than what they inherited. Whatever the reasons, youth suicide has become an epidemic. For young Simon Oliver, suicide has been all he can think about recently. Not because he has thought of the act himself, but because he was the unlucky soul to discover his older sister's body. Since that day, Simon has been in the Float Anxiety Abatement Center. He's mostly unaware of just how bad things have gotten outside. Simon's internal turmoil is about to collide with the strife of the outside world in a way that he could never have imagined. 

In the treatment center, Simon meets Louise, a young woman who has a troubled past of her own. She tells of her time in the clutches of The Wizard, an extremely wealthy, Jeffery Epstein-type man who rapes young girls to fulfill his own twisted desires. Simon and Louise encounter another young man, The Prophet, who claims that God speaks through him, encouraging him to break out of the center, establish a utopia, and rescue the country. No small task for a group of troubled youth, especially given the state of the rest of the world. America is on the brink of collapse. Fires rage across the lands and in the souls of those who inhabit them. Through these everyday kids, we see this epic tale unfold before us. 

"The apocalypse, it turns out, is easy. There is no confusion, no uncertainty about the stakes. The world is in chaos. You must survive. End of story."

It is difficult to put into words what Noah Hawley's newest novel is. Anthem is epic in scope, thrilling at times, and difficult to grasp at others. The work holds a lens up to the world we are living in, making it impossible to discern where reality ends and fiction begins. Hawley is constantly shifting perspectives to various characters, showing flashbacks and present moments, all in an attempt to fully capture the world he is portraying. He even breaks down the fourth wall several times, inserting the perspective of 'the author' into the grand narrative he tells. Despite the large scale and complexity of this story, I never felt that the book buckled under the sheer weight of itself. Hawley is a master at a character study. He takes his time to ground each character, even the villains. This helped keep me connected to the story at each moment. I'll be interested to see what other readers ultimately make of Anthem. I'm guessing you'll either really love it, or won't be able to get through it. For many, the closeness of this plot to our present lives may be too close for comfort. Like most great works though, Anthem attempts to capture a time and place, chronicling our present history through some of the most imaginative fiction I've ever read. For me, that makes it a fantastic read. 

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

(2022, 2)

If this sounds like a novel you would like to read, enter to win a copy courtesy of Grand Central Publishing. US/Canada entries only. No P.O. boxes, please. The winner will have 48 hrs from contact to respond.


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Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

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One of the first must-read books of 2021 was Rachel Hawkin's novel The Wife Upstairs. That buzzy domestic thriller was the kind of popcorn read that begged to be read in one sitting. The plot veered a bit too far into the unbelievable for my tastes, but I couldn't help but be sucked into the wild story that Hawkins concocted. This year Hawkins is back with another twisty thriller, Reckless Girls. I jumped at the chance to accept a copy of the audio version of the work from her publisher in exchange for this review. What I found was another wild narrative that completely drew me in from start to finish. 

Hawkins trades the suburban setting of her previous work in favor of a tropical paradise in this one. We meet Lux McAllister in Maui where she's living the not so glamourous life as a housekeeper in one of the island's luxury resorts. This isn't the life she dreamed of when she moved to the island, but she has come a long way from her meager life before. Lux's boyfriend Nico comes from a completely different background. His wealthy family has ensured that Nico has never lived without. Still, the young man is more interested in living a life of independence, spending his days tending to a ramshackle boat that he purchased than he is in continuing his family's legacy. Unfortunately for Nico, this means the gravy train may be slowly drying up. 

The couple's transient lifestyle is further threatened when Lux loses her job. Nico, however, may have the perfect answer to their troubles. Brittany and Amma, two young women who have been traveling together in search of adventure, have chartered Nico's boat for a trip to the infamous Meroe Island. The remote isle has a dark past dating back to WWII, a reputation that continues to deter regular travelers to this day. Lux and Nico share a brief hesitance in traveling to the island, especially with two strangers, but the money the girls offer them is too good to pass up. The foursome soon travels to the isolated island, destined for either the vacation or nightmare of a lifetime. 

As she did in her previous novel, Rachel Hawkins employs shifting perspectives and jumping timelines to tightly wind the suspense in Reckless Girls. She reveals just enough information to keep the narrative moving while never fully showing her cards until the last possible moment. I was a bit apprehensive about the tropical paradise gone awry story, but I couldn't help but be pulled into it. Each of the characters is hiding something. Hawkins strings us along as they all work to maintain their own secrets. As was the case in her previous novel, there isn't really a traditionally "good" character in the bunch. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't invested in their story, especially as the different perspectives and timelines came together. Barrie Kreinik's pitch-perfect narration captures all of the deceit as the novel propels to a devilishly twisted ending. There's an epilogue to the book that, in my opinion, didn't need to be there, but otherwise, Reckless Girls is a fantastic popcorn read that is sure to be another must-read thriller from Rachel Hawkins. 

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

(2022, 1)


10 Years of A Book A Week

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Happy New Year! 2022 is a special milestone for me because it marks 10 years of blogging. It is hard to believe that a decade has passed since I published my very first post. Back then I was in the midst of my undergraduate studies, struggling to balance my scholarly reading with reading for pleasure. So much has changed in the years that have followed, but A Book A Week has been a constant. As I've grown and evolved in my personal and professional life, so has this blog. As I embark on this new year of maintaining my book a week challenge, I thought it would be fun to recall how this crazy adventure all began. 

I grew up as a fairly avid reader, but balancing being a full-time student and teaching band and private lessons were really stretching my time thin. I vividly remember taking a full 3 months to read Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers. It was one of only 5 or 6 books that I read that year. Near the latter half of 2011, I was bound and determined to do better. I began researching ways to track my reading and hold myself accountable. I stumbled across Goodreads and was instantly hooked! On the site, I was able to connect with other readers, discover new books, and most importantly set a reading goal. In Goodreads, I had found a group of like-minded bibliophiles, a community that would become a much larger part of my life in the years to come. 

As I grew more and more serious about reading and tracking my progress, I began to toy with the idea of beginning a blog. I was still struggling to hold myself accountable for reading more books. Try as I might, I kept getting distracted from reading. As the new year approached, I decided to make a bold resolution. I planned to read one book each week. In sticking with this goal I would end the year having read a staggering 52 books. A Book A Week was born on January 1, 2012, as a personal means of marking my progress with that reading goal. I posited that in writing a review of each book and posting it I would not only keep myself accountable for my reading but maybe inspire one or two people to pick up a book too. I couldn't have imagined just how many people would read and interact with my silly goal over the next decade. 

Today, A Book A Week continues to prosper. I've read hundreds of books over the years and shared my thoughts on each of them. More importantly, I've gotten to interact with so many other readers, authors, and publishers. The relationships that blogging about books has afforded me are something I truly value. The blog looks a bit different from those early days, especially as I've grown more confident in managing and designing it, but the original concept remains the same. In this celebratory 10th year of A Book A Week, I have once again resolved to maintain my original goal of reading 52 books. I also plan to post more retrospective content, share many more giveaways, and continue to feature author interviews and new works. I can't thank you enough for continuing to support me, this site, and the reading community at large. Let's make 2022 the best reading year yet!


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