Archive for May 2023

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin


Justin Cronin has been on my radar since his novel The Passage captured audiences' attention in 2010. At that time, I was just getting back into reading, and I hadn't even started my blog yet. As is often the case, I put the book and the subsequent trilogy on my TBR list, but never got around to actually reading it. I vowed to read whatever new work Cronin came up with next. Enter his latest novel The Ferryman. Cronin's publisher sent me a copy of his new standalone book, and I finally had an excuse to read his writing. 

For the survivors, the small archipelago of Propera has become a place of refuge. As the world surrounding this place crumbles, Prospera has become a utopia of promise. Those lucky few who call the place home live their days of comfort and satisfaction, a life in sharp contrast to the people living in the outside world. The only caveat to this utopia is that it can't last forever. Each citizen is equipped with a monitoring device in their arms. As their physical and psychological well-being drops, they voluntarily retire to a place called The Nursery. Retirees board a ferry that takes them to be mentally and physically renewed. 

Proctor Bennet has the important job of being a ferryman. He's responsible for guiding citizens through the retirement process, beckoning them to the boat that will take them to The Nursery. Usually, this is an almost celebratory moment as the elder citizens welcome this next chapter in their lives. Sometimes, though, Proctor has to more forcefully enforce the tradition. Strange things have been happening with Proctor. It is supposed to be impossible to dream on Prospera, yet he dreams vividly. Even more strange, his monitor is beginning to show he is rapidly declining, approaching the very state that sees him guide people to the ferry. His personal and professional lives come to a head when Proctor is tasked with helping his own father retire. At the last moment of the ritual, Proctor's father becomes agitated, needing to be restrained and forced to the ferry. In these brief moments, he relays a cryptic message to his son. This message will set into motion a series of events that will leave Proctor questioning everything he's ever known. 

The Ferryman sees Justin Cronin conjure a world filled with moral ambiguities that will have readers contemplating the truths of everything they are presented with. I was instantly drawn into the world that Cronin created. His main character Proctor serves as a kind of in-between for the reader, allowing us to see the beautiful utopia of the world while questioning the motivations of those who have created it. The first third of the book had me completely enthralled. Cronin alternated between the POV of his main character with that of someone tied to the outside world, giving the reader an into each side of this fantasy. Toward the middle of the book, I became a bit lost in the weeds. The driving plot began to meander, and I wasn't sure what was happening. Things come together for a satisfying and twisty conclusion, but the book is probably a hundred pages too long. 

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

(2023, 28)

Verity by Colleen Hoover


"I think the idea of me is better than the reality of me."

Colleen Hoover is another one of those authors I've always been aware of but have never read for myself. I don't usually gravitate toward romance novels, so I haven't really been drawn to her books. Verity, however, promised to be more of a psychological thriller, my go-to genre. Like many hyped books, I've owned a copy of Verity for a while, just waiting for the right opportunity to give it a read. When a few of my co-workers mentioned they were planning to give the novel a go, I decided to join in the fun. We committed to reading the first five chapters by the end of the week. Within the next two days, each of us had finished the entire book!

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling author who is at a kind of crossroads in her life. For the last several months she cared for her terminally ill mother. Being a full-time caregiver left her little time to work on the novel that she was already late on delivering to her publisher. The money that came from the advance of that undelivered work has dried up, and Lowen isn't sure where her next check will come from. But then the break of a lifetime comes her way, the opportunity to co-author the next book in the bestselling series from acclaimed author Verity Crawford. Verity suffered catastrophic injuries in a car crash, leaving her unable to complete the remaining three books in her series. Desperate to earn some money and curious about the mysterious nature of Verity's injuries, Lowen agrees to write the next books in the series. 

As she arrives at the Crawford estate, Lowen can't help but feel out of place. The home is sprawling, filled with the kind of opulence that Lowen can barely comprehend. Beneath the facade of perfection, though, lies a sense of foreboding and tragedy. Lowen begins to comb through Verity's office. She hopes to find an outline of the series or even just the next book. Amongst the scattered piles of papers and boxes, Lowen stumbles upon a full manuscript. It isn't the next book in the series. No, this is something more personal. It is Verity's memoir, an autobiography that chronicles her relationship with her husband, and the tragedies that have filled their lives. It is clear that Verity never meant this work to see the light of day. With each stunning chapter, Verity reveals her true self, a self that is far more troubling and dangerous than Lowen could have ever dreamed. 

I come away from Verity with a fairly mixed reaction. There's no denying that Hoover has written a page-turner that demands the reader's full attention. My group of work friends devoured this book, hanging on to each shocking twist and turn that came next. Hoover ramps up the suspense, winding her story tighter and tighter until it bursts into a conclusion that matches the shock and awe of everything that precedes it. This book is dark. Much of the momentum in the novel is driven by various tragedies, described in detail. As we are given deeper insight into the psyche of the titular character, we learn the true depravity of her being. Graphic depictions of sexual acts and violent thoughts litter the pages of the book. A few of these moments took things further than I'd normally be comfortable reading, but Hoover's driving plot propelled me through even the most troubling moments. Coming away from this book, I can certainly see why it has taken so many readers by storm. It won't be my favorite read of the year, but it sure kept me glued to the pages for the time I spent with it. 

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

(2023, 27)

Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe


Do you remember the moment you lost your childhood innocence? For some people, that passage into adulthood is a vague series of events that slowly change them from childhood to adulthood. For others, there is a defining moment in their life when their childhood was irrevocably ripped away. In her debut novel Last Summer on State Street, author Toya Wolfe explores that coming-of-age journey through the lens of poverty in America. Her poignant exploration of girlhood within the projects of Chicago proved to be as moving as it is enthralling. 

The year is 1999. Young Fe Fe lives with her protective mother and older brother in one of the many Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. There is no denying that this is a community stricken by poverty, but for Fe Fe, this is the only home she knows. That summer, she and her two best friends play in the streets, a blissful time filled with double-dutch and laughter. This innocence isn't to last. The new millennium is upon them, and Fe Fe's life is about to change forever. 

The change comes first with the introduction of a new friend Tonya. Fe Fe's mother scolds her for visiting Tonya's home, making the girl promise to never set foot in that building again. Fe Fe doesn't understand this new rule. She's visited her other friends' homes. What is so different about Tonya? One night, there is a commotion around the building. Police enter Fe Fe's home and arrest her older brother. He stays behind bars for only one night, but he is forever different. He is not the same brother he was before. Finally, Chicago's Housing Authority announces that Fe Fe's building is the next one set to be demolished and redeveloped. This will be her last summer in this place. With all the changes around her, this may be her last summer of childhood too. 

Last Summer on State Street is a dazzling coming-of-age story that reflects upon the impact of place, community, and family. Toya Wolfe writes the novel from the perspective of her young main character. By only describing the events that unfold from this child's perspective, we witness her transition from the innocence of youth to the harsh realizations that come with maturity. At just a hair over 200 pages, the novel unfolds at a brisk pace, moving from scene to scene with an urgency that builds with each turning page. The journey depicted here is constructed in layers, simultaneously illustrating the personal growth of the main character, the distortion of a family and friend group, and the radical alterations to the fabric of a community. The heavy subject matter stays grounded through deliberate prose and a perspective that I immediately empathized with. All told, Last Summer on State Street is a remarkable debut novel from a skilled new voice in literary fiction. 

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

(2023, 26)

Silent Prey by John Sandford


There's a kind of fog that exists in my brain after I finish a really good book. I get to the point where I don't want to read something too similar to the book I just completed, but I also struggle to find anything new that will catch my interest. I've been in that very place again this week. Three new books were started, but none of them were fitting my current mood. It seemed as if I was in a dreaded reading slump. Whenever this happens, there's only one thing I can do to get my reading mojo back in order. I fall back into comfort reading. In this instance, that means I picked up the next book in John Sandford's Prey series. Sandford's penchant for intriguing mysteries, brisk pace, and dry humor were exactly what I needed to propel me through this slump. 

As the previous novel Eyes of Prey closed, Lucas Davenport was at the end of a long rope. His attempt to rekindle any type of personal life ended in tragedy, and he was forced to resign from his position with the police department. The only good thing to come out of that ending was that Davenport was able to put the sadistic serial killer Dr. Mike Bekker behind bars. This novel opens with Davenport trying to put the pieces of his life back together. As he struggles with the hardships of his personal and professional misfortunes, he receives the kind of news that he's dreaded to hear. Mike Bekker has escaped from prison and has his sights set on Davenport. 

Silent Prey, the fourth novel in John Sandford's series, sees the author place his protagonist in a desperate fish-out-of-water situation. Davenport is thrust from his home in Minneapolis to New York. By placing the character in a new city, Sandford forces him to navigate the case without the comforts of familiarity that he had in the previous books. While this was a fun spin on the character, I did find myself missing his supporting cast. Sandford chose to bring back the villain who was quite a force to reckon with in the previous novel. In this second outing, though, I found him to be less threatening. One outing was probably enough. Beyond my minor quips about story choices, I easily devoured this book. Four novels in, I can see why the Prey series has maintained its popularity. This was the exact book I needed to force me out of my reading slump. I'll have the fifth book on standby for whenever the inevitable next slump arises. 

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

(2023, 25)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


I've mused before about those books that it seems like everyone reads. It is rare, but every once in a while a novel comes along that seems to universally grab readers. I tend to be behind the curve with such titles, waiting for the hype to die down a bit before diving in. It should be no surprise then that it has taken me this long to read Celeste Ng's acclaimed Little Fires Everywhere. I was aware of the book when it was published in 2017, and I was reminded of it when the mini-series based on the novel was released in 2020. Still, it wasn't until last week that I decided to finally give it a read. As is often the case with these buzzy titles, I was left wondering why it took me so long to see what all the hype was about. 

Shaker Heights is the master-planned community that suburban dreams of being made of. Every last detail of this place is meticulously thought out, ensuring peace and happiness to all who call the area home. Perhaps no one aligns with the values of Shaker Heights quite like Elena Richardson. In her mind, her life represents the quintessential American dream. Mrs. Richardson has a loving husband whose law practice provides the family with a comfortable lifestyle. The Richardsons are parents to four perfect children, two boys and two girls. When she's not maintaining her home, Mrs. Richardson has a fulfilling career as a print journalist for the local newspaper. Yes, it is safe to say that Mrs. Richaradson's life perfectly aligns with the ideals of the community she calls home. At least, that's what it looks like from the outside. 

Mia Warren is about as different from Elena Richardson as you can get. A single mother, Mia travels from town to town, only staying long enough to complete her latest art project. She supplements the artist lifestyle with whatever part-time work she can wrangle up to fill in the financial gaps of her passions. This life isn't much, but it works for Mia and her daughter Pearl. The pair settle into Shaker Heights, renting in a duplex owned by Mrs. Richardson. The Richardson clan is instantly drawn to the free-spirited Warrens. Mia's go-with-the-flow approach to life directly contradicts the orderly nature of Mrs. Richardson and the larger Shaker Heights community. Mrs. Richardson can't shake the feeling that Mia is hiding something. She'll stop at nothing to discover Mia's secret past. In doing so, however, her perfect little life may just come crumbling down. 

Little Fires Everywhere sees Celeste Ng dismantle the picture-perfect facade of life through challenging scenarios that don't have exact answers. Despite our best efforts, life isn't perfect. In fact, it can often be downright messy. That seems to be the main thesis of the book. Ng sets her story in an idyllic community during the 90s, a time at the very beginning of the internet and predating social media. I was struck by the differences in the period from our present day. Life both seemed simpler but was nonetheless complex. The main characters here are both mothers who are doing the best they can in the situations they are in. Even when Ng focuses on the perspective of the children, the mother's influence on their lives is deeply felt. I was completely enthralled with the characters in the book, unable to put it down until I had finished it. I completely understand the hype around Little Fires Everywhere, and I only wish I hadn't waited so long to read it. 

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

(2023, 24)

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