Archive for August 2023

With a Kiss We Die by L.R. Dorn


Before delving into my customary review for this week, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate a significant milestone for A Book A Week. Since 2012, I've maintained consistent blogging, documenting my literary journeys. Every year, I set a target of reading at least one book per week, tallying up to 52 books annually. Over time, my success rate has varied, influenced by life's fluctuations. Occasional interruptions have caused me to fall short of the goal, while recent years have seen me comfortably meet the December 31st deadline. This year, however, has been exceptional. Today, with a good four months remaining on the calendar, I'm thrilled to present my review for the 52nd book, achieving my goal in record time! If I continue at my current pace of reading and posting, which seems likely, this year will stand as my most prolific reading endeavor to date. With titles like the one I'm sharing with you today, it is easy to see why. 

In crime fiction, a unique niche has emerged where authors choose the podcast format to tell their tales. As literary trends surface, authors inevitably contribute their interpretations. The outcome of this foray into podcast-driven mysteries has been a mixed bag, yet talents like Megan Goldin and Holly Jackson have harnessed its potential to great success. In 2020, I was introduced to the debut novel of the writing duo L.R. Dorn. Their work, titled The Anatomy of Desire, unfolded as a series of transcribed podcast episodes while simultaneously taking on the challenge of reimagining the classic novel An American Tragedy. Despite my initial reservations about such an ambitious undertaking, the result was a captivating read that skillfully blended an engrossing mystery with a contemporary twist on a timeless tale. In their latest release, With a Kiss We Die, Dorn once again employs the podcast-style narrative, this time with no overt ties to classic literary works. 

Propelled by the charismatic Ryanna Raines, The Raines Report, a true-crime podcast, has amassed a dedicated following. Recognized for its compelling investigative journalism and Ryanna's fearless determination, the show's popularity continues to surge. Now, armed with a voice recorder and an unyielding quest for justice, Ryanna steps into uncharted territory. She's about to participate in a live criminal investigation that tests her investigative acumen like never before.

A jolting double homicide within a lavish Southern California estate has reverberated through the affluent community. While the initial shock of the crime garnered immediate attention, it's the identities of the prime suspects that are poised to ignite a media frenzy. The couple's twenty-two-year-old son and his college theater student girlfriend are positioned at the heart of the inquiry. The pair teeters on the precipice of impending arrest and legal proceedings. In an attention-grabbing twist, they've exclusively sought Ryanna's engagement, offering interviews with the aim of authentically representing their viewpoint. Through a meticulous series of penetrating interviews, Ryanna navigates diverse vantage points, delving beneath surface contradictions to unveil an eerie and disquieting truth.

With a Kiss We Die showcases L.R. Dorn refining the style introduced in their debut, expertly amplifying the form for a multidimensional book. The story carries shades of a Bonnie & Clyde dynamic as the central couple fights to assert their innocence, yet Dorn skillfully avoids incorporating any direct source material. This allows for a fresh and original narrative. Amidst uncertainty surrounding the accused, Ryanna Raines emerges as the unwavering force committed to unearthing the truth. By anchoring Raines as an unequivocally virtuous character, Dorn provides a stable focal point for readers amidst the enigma of the alleged murderers. Presented in the format of podcast episodes, each chapter adds a layer of realism to the story, immersing readers in its fictional world. As I observed in Dorn's previous work, acclimating to the podcast-style narrative on a written page required an adjustment. I switched between the physical book and the audiobook and found the latter to offer a particularly engaging experience. Regardless of the chosen format, L.R. Dorn undeniably emerges as a distinctive voice within this densely populated genre.

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

(2023, 52)

And Don't F&%K It Up by Maria Elena Fernandez


At my home, we have a weekly tradition of tuning into the latest episode of the Emmy-winning sensation RuPaul's Drag Race. Our Friday nights often revolve around this show, with both the regular seasons and the riveting All-Stars episodes taking center stage. For those who have yet to become acquainted with the program, it is a captivating competition among a group of drag queens. They take on diverse challenges each week, showcasing their prowess in design, comedy, and production. The lowest-scoring two queens from every challenge engage in a lip-sync showdown, with the loser bidding adieu to the competition. Beyond its commendable representation of LGBTQ+ performers, the show's ingenious fusion of reality show genres has remarkably captured a broad audience, earning it well-deserved critical acclaim. As RuPaul's Drag Race solidifies its place in the cultural lexicon, author Maria Elena Fernandez presents a captivating oral history of the show's inaugural decade within the pages of her book, aptly titled And Don't F&%K It Up.

Centered on the first ten seasons, the book delves into the early years of the show, chronicling its modest origins and gradual evolution into an Emmy-acclaimed sensation. The initial season's unassuming nature struck me profoundly. It was a testament to its low-tech beginnings. Guided by the same production company that propelled him to stardom, RuPaul's initial apprehension towards hosting a reality TV show was palpable. However, as he gradually warmed up to the concept, the production team faced their own challenge: navigating the uncharted waters of reality TV production. Although the debut season may not have possessed the polished veneer of its successors, it unquestionably laid the groundwork and established the blueprint for the program's transformation into the iconic spectacle it has become today.

And Don't F&%K It Up masterfully weaves the rich cultural tapestry of RuPaul's Drag Race, painting a vivid portrait through the authentic narratives of those who brought its magic to life. With a meticulous journey season by season, the book draws from interviews with an ensemble cast: the dedicated production team, charismatic contestants, tireless crew, discerning judges, and even celebrity admirers. This collective chorus of perspectives harmonizes into an intimate insider's panorama, replete with intriguing backstage anecdotes and revelations. The profound impact of the show on its participants and the wider drag community is staggering. Many former contenders have blossomed into accomplished drag performers, while the show itself has propelled the art form into mainstream consciousness. Amidst a backdrop of political discord and attempts to stifle this vibrant queer expression, RuPaul's Drag Race stands resilient—a potent antidote to intolerance. It serves as a weekly testament to embracing your authentic self and shunning societal expectations. As RuPaul's catchphrase eloquently puts it, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" 

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads

(2023, 51)

Triple Cross by James Patterson


As an avid reader devouring at least one book every week, striking a balance between my towering TBR list and ongoing series can be quite the juggling act. When I launched my blog, crime fiction was my bread and butter. I delved deep into series like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta novels and John Sandford's Virgil Flowers stories, savoring every page. Although I occasionally dip back into these series when time permits, one collection holds an unwavering grip on my reading routine: James Patterson's Alex Cross books. 

It all started with Mary, Mary, a gift from my Mom during my freshman year of high school, a tale that hooked me onto the genre with its breakneck pace and mind-bending twists. A cherished tradition now, every Christmas, like clockwork, my Mom presents me with the latest Alex Cross installment. With the year winding down (seriously, how is it almost September?), I decided to finally delve into the book that found its way to me last year. The 30th installment in the series, Triple Cross, follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, delivering another rapid and exhilarating read.

In the shadows of Washington, DC, a systematic killer targets families spanning generations, operating under the shroud of darkness and leaving behind a baffling absence of any physical clues or alarms. While Alex Cross diligently investigates the chilling case, a charismatic true-crime author also examines the perplexing puzzle, unraveling patterns that elude the grasp of the detectives. Branded as "The Family Man," this eerie killing spree is hailed by the writer as an exemplar of a flawless crime, a notion that Alex contests. For Alex, every crime is a puzzle waiting to be solved. But could this be the one that defies resolution?

James Patterson's writing undeniably follows a formula. Characterized by concise chapters, non-stop action, and shifting perspectives, it is a winning recipe. As the 30th installment featuring his iconic protagonist, it's no surprise that much of this formula remains intact. The captivating mystery takes root from the outset, propelling the narrative's energy. Patterson inserts a clever twist by pitting Alex Cross against a formidable investigative rival, stirring doubts in Cross's established beliefs. While the moments of familial depth centered around Alex Cross's grandmother Nana Mama offer emotional resonance, they've become somewhat predictable over the series. In the grand scheme, Triple Cross upholds the tradition of providing immersive escapism within the Alex Cross series. It remains faithful, delivering the anticipated entertainment without veering off course. It is a dependable choice that firmly cements its place in my reading rotation.

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

(2023, 50)

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


Amidst the relentless Texas heat this week, I'm capitalizing on the opportunity by seeking refuge indoors, accompanied by the soothing embrace of air conditioning and the pages of an engaging book. The literary world has been swept up by Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures since its emergence in the spring of 2022, a title that caught my attention through the abundance of bookstagram features it garnered. Drawn to its heartwarming story and unique narrator, I was enticed to read it from the moment I came across it. 

Now, why has it taken me this long to dive in? The explanation is rather straightforward: I found myself at position 642 on the waitlist at my local library. Over the course of several months, I watched this number steadily diminish until, at last, I received a notification this week informing me that my turn had come to experience the book. Wasting no time, I eagerly delved in, and I'm delighted to affirm that Remarkably Bright Creatures proved to be well worth the wait.  

Loss is a familiar companion to Tova. Almost thirty years ago, her teenage son Erik vanished, last seen sailing on a boat in Puget Sound, never to return home. More recently, she mourned the passing of her devoted husband. Left alone in a phase of life that feels like a transition, she has found solace in a newfound routine. As the nighttime janitor at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, Tova's role in instilling order within the facility provides her with a fleeting yet essential sense of purpose.

Cameron, a young man on a quest to discover his path in the world, enters the scene. Raised primarily by his aunt, Cameron's life has been shaped by his mother's unceasing battle for stability and the void left by his absent father. When we encounter him, he has decided to invest every last cent he possesses into a journey to Sowell Bay, driven by a fervent desire to uncover the truth about his father's identity. Could this voyage finally unveil the answers he has long yearned for?

Lastly, we encounter Marcellus, the giant Pacific Octopus. Held captive within the confines of the aquarium for several years, Marcellus stands as an embodiment of intelligence and perceptiveness. Unfortunately, he is acutely aware that he approaches the end of his species' average lifespan. Faced with his impending demise, Marcellus forms an unlikely bond with the night custodian of the building. While he typically regards humans with indifference, this particular woman intrigues him. He detects a deep sadness within her, which he eventually learns is rooted in the loss of her son and the unresolved questions that continue to haunt her. As his final act, Marcellus is determined to give her the answers she seeks.

It is easy to see why Remarkably Bright Creatures is as popular as it is. This book embodies the type of compulsively engaging narrative that I find myself craving during the summer season. Shelby Van Pelt masterfully crafts a work populated by a group of characters, each possessing a charming complexity that endears them to the reader. It was impossible for me not to be drawn into the human characters' pursuit of purpose, a theme that struck a chord within me. The true standout, however, is Marcellus, the octopus, a sentient being who assumes the mantle of the narrator and injects the story with a witty sarcasm that brilliantly counterbalances the more tender moments from the human perspective. His "woe is me" mindset had me chuckling at various points throughout the book. While perceptive readers may foresee the eventual convergence of these characters well before the pivotal revelations in the closing chapters, such foreknowledge should not dissuade you from embarking on this literary journey. The book offers a heartwarming slice of summer fiction, with a touch of depth that elevates it to a rewarding experience. I found myself thoroughly charmed by its pages.

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

(2023, 49)

Mister Magic by Kiersten White


Let's journey back to our childhood memories. Do you recall that one show that captured your heart and brought you comfort? For me, it was Barney, the friendly purple dinosaur, who had me glued to the screen. From VHS tapes to public broadcasting, the show was a cultural juggernaut in children's programming. Even after three decades, the fond memories of Barney still linger. In Kiersten White's latest novel Mister Magic, the notion of a beloved children's show takes a chilling turn, creating a thought-provoking allegory that is certain to captivate readers.

Decades after a tragic incident halted production of the popular children's show Mister Magic, the surviving members of the cast, known as the Circle of Friends, have strived to move forward. Try as they might, they can't put those memories behind them. They join the devoted fans who hold onto the show's teachings.  They long for the happiness, camaraderie, and comforting protection of the mysterious Mister Magic. With no surviving footage, production details, or information about the host's true identity, their memories are their only tether to the past.

Val doesn't even have the memories anymore. She's lived on a ranch with her father for several years and has no recollection of her time spent as part of the final cast of Mister Magic. In a twist of fate, she is reunited with the remaining five surviving cast members. As the only keepers of the circle's secrets, the truth behind the mysterious figure in the boundless black cape, and the events leading to the fatal final day, the Circle of Friends embarks on a journey to reclaim their shared history. Yet, with each revelation, they question whether they are drawn by choice or a more nefarious force. What is the true purpose of their reunion?

I was a latecomer to the buzz surrounding Kiersten White, finally delving into her novel Hide just a few weeks ago. While I was drawn to the setting and concept of that book, I felt that its narrative threads didn't fully weave together. Still, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to explore more of the author's work when her publisher offered me a copy of Mister Magic. White immediately presents an intriguing puzzle about the show's reality, leaving even its participants uncertain of its intricacies. By rendering the protagonist equally unaware of the mystery, we experience the joy of uncovering each revelation alongside her. White skillfully steers the narrative into increasingly shadowy depths, prompting us to question the veracity of the unfolding events. As the true secrets emerge, we realize that this isn't merely an exhilarating read, but also a thought-provoking reflection on childhood, authority, and indoctrination. A brief author's note at the book's conclusion unveils White's personal inspiration, further enriching the already intricate tale. I found myself utterly captivated by this novel and eagerly anticipate whatever creative marvel White conjures next.

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

(2023, 48)

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper


Do you judge a book by its cover? While I'd like to say otherwise, a book's cover often catches my attention first. Of course, I always delve into the synopsis to gauge my interest, but an eye-catching cover can definitely pique my curiosity even more. While I may not be the best judge of cover art, I received Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper from the publisher earlier this year, and admittedly, its cover didn't immediately grab me. The LA skyline and enigmatic eyes at the top seemed washed out by the bright red background. After letting it sit on my shelf for a while, however,  I eventually read the synopsis and found it intriguing enough to dive in. Surprisingly, the story inside proved to be much more enthralling than the cover might suggest.

Step into Mae Pruett's Los Angeles, a city where silence reigns, and secrets are shielded by whispers. Mae, a "black-bag" publicist for one of LA's most influential crisis PR firms, is the guardian of the rich, powerful, and morally questionable. She's become an expert at containing their most ruinous scandals, the kind of controversies that could destroy their status and reputation. When her boss is unexpectedly murdered, Mae embarks on a daring solo investigation, uncovering the labyrinthine operations of "The Beast," a complex network of lawyers, PR agents, and security firms that operates ruthlessly to protect the elite. 

Mae's journey propels her into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, a world illuminated by neon hues and fueled by pharmaceuticals and illusions. She'll face the dichotomies unique to the city she inhabits like the luxurious mansions overlooking sprawling homeless encampments and encounters with corrupt police who break the very laws they are tasked to enforce. Seeking solace in her ex-lover Chris, a former cop turned private investigator, Mae becomes entwined in a battle against the forces she once served. Along the way, she might expose the hidden truths driving the city's powerful and corrupt aristocracy.

In Everybody Knows, Jordan Harper masterfully crafts a neo-noir thriller that seamlessly blends the genre's traditional elements with a contemporary twist. Drawing inspiration from noir's rich legacy, Harper brings it into the modern era with finesse. The novel encapsulates all the classic ingredients of crime noir. Two compelling antiheroes embroiled in moral dilemmas spark reader empathy. At the same time, the vivid Los Angeles backdrop becomes an integral third character, shrouding the narrative in a blend of atmospheric intrigue and darkness.

Harper skillfully navigates the dynamic between glamour and destitution, highlighting the morally ambiguous individuals that populate his tale. Amidst these timeless noir tactics, Harper introduces a plot deeply rooted in the present, delving into the complex implications of the "Me too" movement. He fearlessly explores the intricate balance between deserved consequences and the actual impact on those who wielded their power to exploit. This merging of classic noir methods with contemporary themes results in an engrossing, unputdownable thriller that leaves a lasting impact. Despite its unassuming cover, Everybody Knows is a true gem that shines as brightly as the neon lights of the city it is set in. 

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads

(2023, 47)

Dark Corners by Megan Goldin


I've been a fan of author Megan Goldin since devouring her 2019 novel The Escape Room. She followed up that standalone thriller with The Night Swim, a searing portrait of a small-town rape trial and a cold case that cast a shadow over the entire city. When I learned she was writing a sequel to that work, I jumped at the chance to read it. Goldin's publisher provided me with the audiobook of Dark Corners. As I hit play, I was immediately immersed in the podcast, consumed by the crime and the story that was about to unfold. 

As Terence Bailey's release from prison for breaking and entering draws near, investigators' suspicions about his involvement in six unsolved murders of women intensify. Are they seriously about to let this man walk free? Things are further complicated when Madison Logan, a popular social media influencer, visits Bailey. The details of their meeting aren't known, but Madison goes missing soon after her encounter with Baily. Investigators fear she may have been kidnapped or, worse, murdered. What has happened to the young woman? More troubling, why was she meeting with Bailey?

Crime podcaster Rachel Krall isn't exactly surprised when she gets a call from the FBI. A few years ago, she covered a high-profile rape trial that spiraled into a cold-case murder investigation. Her little podcast became a national sensation, skyrocketing the reach of her work. She is surprised, though, at what they are calling her about. With Rachel's social media popularity, the FBI seeks her help to uncover answers about the missing Madison Logan. In exchange for her assistance, Rachel will receive unprecedented access to the active missing persons case. 

The case becomes even more perplexing as Maddison seems to exist solely within the realm of social media, with no trace of her offline identity. Undeterred, Rachel takes on an undercover persona using a fake Instagram account to delve into the world of influencers at BuzzCon, a significant influencer conference. As Rachel immerses herself in this fiercely competitive community, she discovers that the secrets and rivalries run deep. The discovery of a body with a disturbing tattoo raises fears that Bailey might have a dangerous accomplice and an alarming obsession with influencers, including Rachel herself. 

Dark Corners sees Megan Goldin continue the story of her most intriguing character Rachel Krull. While this is a continuation of the story that began in The Night Swim, this book can be read as a standalone. Goldin provides enough backstory to fill in any gaps you may have missed from the prior novel. Where that book focussed on small-town politics and the haunting of the past, this work is much more rooted in the present. Layered in amongst the thrilling missing person case is a deeper contemplation on the impact of social media on our everyday lives. The line between reality and the persona we see on an app is called into question, adding a unique level of suspense to the story. The audiobook is narrated by a cast featuring AndrĂ© Santana, January LaVoy, Samantha Desz. They breathe life into the characters, and the podcast sections specifically feel ripped straight from reality. Megan Goldin is a standard setter in the world of thrillers, and Dark Corners continues to set that very high mark in the genre. 

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads

(2023, 46)

The Celebrants by Steven Rowley


When you think about summer reading, death probably isn't one of the first subjects to come to mind. The last thing I want to consider in my escapism summer reads is my mortality. Leave it to author Steven Rowley to change my mind. His latest, The Celebrants, tells the story of a group of college friends who come together to celebrate the lives of each other whenever they need a pick me up. Rowley imbues the work with heart and wit, a winning combination for an emotional and engaging summer read. 

The novel follows five friends who bonded early on in their college years. Weeks before their graduation, a sixth friend suddenly passed away. Grappling with their grief, the friends lamented that their late cohort never got to hear from them how much they loved and appreciated him. They were determined not to let any remaining friend go without that love, so they made a unique pact. Each person could call upon the others to come together and give them their funeral while they were still alive. 

In the following decades, they faced failed marriages, the death of family members, and even the admittance of white-collared crime. No matter the event that spurs the call, the group dutifully came together in Big Sur to celebrate their friend's life during their time in need. These living funerals became a cornerstone of their friendship, a pact that ensured the longevity of their collective relationship. Now they are called together again to celebrate the life of one of "The Jordans," a gay couple who is facing a private crisis of their own. The secret they hold may very well mean the end of their pact. 

I went into The Celebrants blindly, deciding to read it based solely on the popularity of Steven Rowley's previous novel, The Guncle. As the novel began, I was worried that the subject matter may be too sad to endure. I shouldn't have worried. Rowley's deft hands balance the work's heavier emotional moments with a lighthearted humor that brings levity to the story. The book is ultimately a celebration. It celebrates friendship, love, and, yes, even death. The full gamut of life is captured in the pages of the work. Like life, the book doesn't follow a neat path to its conclusion. Instead, we witness the good and bad times, the neat and messy moments that make up a well-lived life. I couldn't help but reflect on my own life and the people who make living it all the richer. 

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

(2023, 45)

To Catch A Storm by Mindy Mejia


"There was comfort in the uncertainty, the possibility of the impossible."

I've been a fan of Mindy Mejia since devouring her novel Everything You Want Me to Be in 2017. Her penchant for gripping plots combined with deeply drawn characters has made her one of my go-to authors. Her last book, Strike Me Downwas released in the early months of the pandemic, and I've been not so patiently waiting for her next release ever since. Three years later, with a new publisher who kindly sent me a copy of her new work to review, Mejia is back with To Catch A Storm. This start of a planned trilogy sees the author return with all the elements that made me fall in love with her work in the first place, but with a new angle that adds an extra ripple of intrigue to her storytelling. 

Eve is flying a plane high above the winter terrain of Iowa when she sees the storm. The scientist leads her mentees in a study of the weather, capturing data about the day's atmosphere to dissect once they land. She can't wait to land and tell her husband, Matthew, about everything she saw. When they touch down, though, Matthew is nowhere to be found. Instead, Eve is greeted by the news that her husband's Tesla was found far from the family home, completely engulfed in flames. Life for the couple hadn't been easy for the last few months. Matthew was suspended from his professorship after allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a student came to light. Eve was hurt by that revelation but stood by him. Now, she's the number one suspect in his mysterious disappearance. 

Jonah appears at Eve's doorstep after his most recent vision showed her husband hidden in a barn. The same barn, in fact, that he's seen Celina in countless times before. Jonah is no stranger to disturbing visions. As a psychic, he's assisted the local police in countless cases before. Celina's case, however, is different. Jonah has been haunted by the image of her on the barn floor. Years of searching have yielded no results. When he recognized the setting of his latest vision as the same one that had invaded his consciousness for all these years, Jonah knew he had to connect with this missing person's case. If he can help uncover Matthew's location, he can finally put Celina's disappearance behind him. 

Max hasn't been active in the local police force since that fateful day when he went against his better judgment and followed Jonah to investigate a missing girl. The pair had been a reliable duo, solving several cases with each other. Of course, Jonah's involvement had to be downplayed. Still, Max couldn't deny the results. That's probably why he was willing to follow Jonah to the doorstep of a man he claimed to have seen as part of Celina's disappearance. That fateful day ended with Max being shot, suspended from the force, and completely finished working with Jonah. Now word has gotten back to him that Jonah is attempting to insert himself into the investigation of the missing professor. Max is determined to stop Eve from partnering with the psychic and avoid the same miserable fate he finds himself in. 

To Catch A Storm sees Mindy Mejia write a highly original thriller that builds upon the wonderful precedent she has already set in her previous works. All the ingredients of a great thriller are in play here. There's a missing persons case with plenty of angles to investigate, a trio of main characters who complement and play off each other, and a frigid Iowa snowstorm that adds to the danger and tension of the entire setting.  I was hesitant at first about the psychic element of the book, especially because the rest of the novel seemed to be so grounded within the real world. I never should have doubted Mejia, though. By pitting the psychic against a skeptical scientist, Mejia addresses my concerns about the veracity of his abilities, adding real believability into an unbelievable scenario. Chapters alternate perspectives between the three main characters, giving readers insights into each of their motivations while deepening the suspense of each chapter. All this comes together in a page-turning thriller, the beginning of what is sure to be an excellent trilogy. 

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

(2023, 44)

Matrix by Lauren Groff


"She will suffer, but suffering is the lot of humanity, and every moment of suffering brings the earthly body closer to the heavenly throne."

Marie de France is not satisfied with her situation. Since her mother's death, she has dutifully run the family estate, keeping the house and everything in it moving along. Marie dreams of her future within the royal family, living in relative luxury, and maybe even marrying a man to further her status in the world. Alas, this future is not to be, especially for the illegitimate daughter of a royal. With her mother out of the picture, the family no longer needs Marie. Instead, she's relegated to the role of prioress at the nunnery. 

As she arrives, seventeen-year-old Marie is shocked at the state of things. The decrepit facility is inhabited by impoverished women on the brink of starvation. As she observes the state of things, Marie can't help but think that much of their suffering is their own. The ritualistic approach to life, daily prayer, daily chores, etc., are the impetus for their downfall. Marie begrudgingly participates in these routines but can't help but think that there must be a better way of doing things. Indeed suffering for the sake of suffering isn't a good thing. 

"All they bend their bodies to is prayer; the daily office is prayer, the hard work of the body is prayer also. The silence of the nuns is prayer, the readings they listen to prayer, their humility prayer. And prayer of course is love."

The longer she stays there, the more Marie falls into the nuns' lifestyle. No, she still doesn't think they are living to their fullest potential, but she sees the beauty in the community they have created for themselves. Almost despite herself, Marie sees the holiness in the work they do. She has visions, divine or imagined, of what the nunnery can become, a sanctuary for the women who inhabit it. She rallies her sisters together, inspiring the group to build the infrastructure for a better life. Their life improves as the world outside their walls changes in terrifying new ways. Will the sisterhood that Marie has fostered stand against the pressures of the outside world?

I wasn't sure what to make of Matrix when I first borrowed it from my library. I knew Lauren Groff as an author, but I hadn't read any of her writing. I remember this book being popular when it was published two years ago. Still, the subject matter seemed outside of my wheelhouse. It isn't every day I pick up a book about medieval nuns.  I read and enjoyed Emma Donoghue's Haven about a group of monks building a sanctuary, so I should have been more confident in picking this one up. It took me a moment to adjust to the writing, but I couldn't put this down once I was in. 

Lauren Groff bases her novel around the very real historical figure of Marie de France. Rather than bog her novel down with historical detail, Groff presents a paired-down story that is as efficiently packaged as it is impactful. Much of the history of Marie de France is unknown, so Groff can take the license with the character and create a riveting story about the power of women, faith, and love. So many petty politics and rules based on gender roles ring true with more modern sensibilities. The book spans over fifty years, but Groff's writing prowess makes the story flow easily. Matrix is a powerful work from an author who is in top form. Groff has a new novel releasing next month, and I'll be eager to read that one too. 

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

(2023, 43)

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