Archive for March 2022

Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson


"The demons of the past were the hardest to slay."

At first glance, bestselling author James Patterson and country music superstar Dolly Parton make for an odd couple. Patterson has written countless bestselling novels that have thrilled readers for years. That being said, most people probably wouldn't recognize the author walking down the street. On the other hand, Parton is one of the most recognizable stars to grace the radio waves and screen for the past several decades. Her signature style, songs, and voice have made her a household name. It's safe to say that this pair is about as different as you can get. But consider for a moment that both of these creative masterminds share a lifelong passion for promoting child literacy and are both seasoned storytellers in their respective mediums. The pairing begins to make more sense. Their co-authored effort Run Rose Run combines elements of their sensibilities into a book that you'll be hard-pressed to stop reading. 

AnnieLee Keyes is hitchhiking her way across the country to live out her dreams. She's not exactly sure of the details, but her mission is clear. AnnieLee wants to become the biggest star in country music. As she arrives in Nashville, she's momentarily halted by her own lack of preparation. AnnieLee has no money and no guitar to play on. Still, she's determined to make her break here. She wanders into a rundown bar, convinces the bartender to lend her a guitar, and plays her first set in the city. Her talent is undeniable. In that first set, AnnieLee catches the eye of session musician Ethan Blake. It just so happens that Ethan plays with the recently retired country music legend, Ruthanna Ryder.  

Ruthanna's days of touring and producing albums are long behind her. By going out while she was on top, she's left her fans wanting more. It seems as if her manager is calling her every day to try to convince her to put on a reunion concert. Still, Ruthanna sticks to her guns. She's more content spending time in her basement studio toying with new material that she swears will never be released to the public. When her guitar player Ethan mentions a new talent that she just has to hear, she's hesitant to waste her time. New singers are a dime a dozen. Ethan persists, and Ruthanna concedes. When she hears AnnieLee sing for the first time, two things are clear. One, AnnieLee is beautiful and has a natural talent that is undeniable. Two, this town will spit her out so quickly that she'll wish she never opened her pretty little mouth to sing. 

Run Rose Run sees Dolly Parton and James Patterson come together to tell a story that mixes melodrama and thrills. Parton's voice clearly contributed to the details about breaking into the music industry and trying to maintain a career. She also wrote 12 new songs for a few of the characters and released an accompanying album under the same title. Listening to the songs certainly helps to bring the story to life. For Patterson's part, his signature short chapters and the inclusion of a few secrets being harbored by the main characters help to keep the pages turning. For most of the book, the story plays out like an episode of the hit TV show Nashville. The inclusion of some more typical thriller elements was a bit jarring at first, but ultimately made sense once every character's secrets came to light. I devoured this novel in a few hours, and suspect other readers will do the same. 

For more information visit the websites of James Patterson, Dolly Parton, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2022, 11)

The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen


I read a lot of thrillers. Dating all the way back to my days in high school, I would spend way more time devouring the mass market paperback edition of whatever thriller was besting the NYT bestsellers list than the books I was supposed to be reading for school. All these years later, the genre continues to be one of my favorites. The only downside to reading as many thrillers as I do is that they've become a bit formulaic. It is rare for me to get to the end of one of these books without guessing the big twist. The books by writing duo Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have been some of the few exceptions. In fact, the way they built upon established formulas while completely subverting expectations in their novel The Wife Between Us cemented them as must-read authors in my yearly TBR list. Their new novel The Golden Couple was sent to me by their publisher, and I couldn't be more excited to read their latest effort.  

Avery Chambers is a formerly licensed therapist who has newfound success after losing her initial career. You see, without being required to follow a prescribed method to treat her patients, Avery has been able to take a more unconventional approach. And it works! These days, she only takes on clients who she knows can be cured within 10 sessions. How does she do it? It's simple really. Avery obsesses over her clients, learning every aspect of their lives and relationships, even interjecting and setting up specific scenarios for them to live through. Like I said, unconventional but effective. After so many years of this kind of success, Avery feels pretty confident when her latest clients enter her office for their first session. Little does she know that she's about to meet her match. 

On the surface, spouses Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem like a normal couple. For all appearances, their relationship seems strong, and the pair have made a loving home for their young son. There's no such thing as perfect, and the Bishops are about to prove the point. As they walk into Avery's office, Matthew is unsure of why they are at a therapist. Then Marissa drops the bomb. She's cheated on Matthew, and, for the sake of their marriage, wants Avery's help in patching things up. There's only one problem. The more Avery dissects the Bishop's marriage, the more confusing things become. Amongst the lies and infidelity rests something more sinister, the kind of secret that has the potential to destroy a marriage and the lives of anyone who comes close to it. What is the secret? You'll have to read to find out. 

With The Golden Couple, authors Hendricks and Pekkanen take all the things that have made their previous novels so intriguing and ramp them up another notch. The story is told through shifting perspectives, giving the reader just enough breadcrumbs to follow into the next moment without giving too much away. The authors eschew the usual crimes or murders that typically drive the suspense in this genre in favor of even more electrifying personal relationships and character revelations. Things get a bit convoluted, but I didn't really care. I was so enamored by the actions of each of these characters that I couldn't stop reading. Even better, I didn't see the big ending coming. That's always a win in my book. If you're looking for the kind of book that shocks, surprises, and keeps you reading into all hours of the night, look no further. The Golden Couple proves once again that Hendricks and Pekkanen have got the goods. 

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

(2022, 10)

The Final Case by David Guterson


Think about the way your parents cared for you as a child. It was their job to keep you safe and help you to grow both mentally and physically. For most of us, that care continues well into adulthood. To this day, my parents will still send me home with a cooler full of food just to "make sure I have enough." There comes a time in life, however, when the roles get reversed. Suddenly the people we've always turned to for advice or a shoulder to lean on become the ones who need the support. In The Final Case, author David Guterson explores a father and son relationship facing this shifting dynamic. 

Our narrator is a middle-aged novelist who hasn't published in many years. His father Royal has been the stalwart head of the family for as long as he can remember. Beyond his place in the family, Royal has enjoyed a decades-long career as a respected lawyer in the community. We meet the characters as the narrator is called to help his father who recently was in a car accident. The incident was the final straw in Royal's life as a driver, and his son has been tasked with driving him to the office. As his father goes about his morning routine, the son begins to see that the world and the profession that his father devoted his life to are moving on from him. Subtle things like the way Royal has a preference for paper memos over emails only prove this point. Moreso, the jobs just aren't lining up like they used to. On this morning, Royal has no prospects whatsoever. He's simply going through the motions of his daily routine. 

To both father and son's surprise, Royal receives a call asking for him to take on a murder case. The defendants and Royal's clients are Delvin and Betsey Harvey. The couple has been charged with the murder of their adoptive daughter Abeba, a child these white Christian parents brought over from Ethiopia. The couple's extreme measures around discipline come to light, and all signs point to their abuse and negligence as causing the girl's death. More concerning perhaps is that the couple has four other children.  As Royal takes on what will become his last case, he must grapple with justice and retribution, all while facing the reality that his relevance in the field that he loves is coming to an end. 

David Guterson is best known as the author of the award-winning novel Snow Falling on the Cedars.  His first novel in over a decade, The Final Case proves his mastery of crafting a moving story across a complex set of themes. At the center of the novel is a reflection on parenthood. The octogenarian lawyer tries to hang onto the last bits of his independence as not only a father but a career professional. The son struggles with becoming the primary caregiver for his aging father while second-guessing his own childless life. Who will be there to care for him when he reaches his father's age? Finally, the family at the heart of the murder trial is being held accountable for their harsh, conservative parenting style that ultimately led to the death of their daughter. Guterson's matter-of-fact way of presenting all of this gives the reader the space we need to contemplate each of the character's motivations. The Final Case is a deceptively straightforward narrative that slowly surrounds you with an emotional heft that will leave you reeling long after the final page. Guterson never tells the reader how to feel or think. Instead, he allows us to draw our own conclusions and judgments. I was moved by the entire experience and thank Guterson's publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review. 

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

(2021, 9)

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