Archive for November 2023

Unnatural Death by Patricia Cornwell

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Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series has consistently been one of my preferred choices for crime fiction reading. Her skillful integration of captivating mysteries, empathetic characters, and forensic science has kept the series relevant for decades. Although Cornwell took a brief hiatus from Scarpetta, she reintroduced the character with a soft reboot in 2021. Now, she returns with the 27th Scarpetta novel, Unnatural Death. As a devoted fan of the series, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to receive a copy of the novel from Cornwell's publisher. True to its predecessors, this latest installment retains all the familiar elements fans adore while introducing new twists bound to captivate even the most seasoned mystery enthusiasts.

Kay Scarpetta faces an ongoing battle to maintain order in her role as Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia. Unanticipated challenges arise from the loyalists to her predecessor, who are determined to complicate her life. The situation is exacerbated by severe budget cuts, making the procurement of basic supplies nearly impossible and pushing Kay to the edge. The story unfolds as she boards a helicopter with her CIA niece, Lucy, bound for a remote location where two deaths have occurred, unleashing a myriad of questions and confusion.

Upon arriving at the scene, two bodies are discovered—one male and one female. The gruesome sight is not for the faint of heart, with the man's body appearing to have been torn apart before being discarded in an abandoned mine shaft. At the same time, the woman's remains float in a nearby lake, becoming prey for the creatures inhabiting it. The question looms: is this the work of a deranged killer, or have the creatures of the wilderness reclaimed their territory? As Kay grapples with this horrific scene, her longtime investigative partner, Marino, presents an even more perplexing discovery—a cast of a human-like footprint, seemingly too large for a man. Convinced it proves the existence of the legendary sasquatch, Marino faces skepticism from everyone else at the scene. Despite her doubts, Kay must utilize all her skills to unravel the mysteries of this unsettling sight.

The 27th book in the series introduces readers to another perplexing mystery. The narrative takes a while to gain momentum, with Cornwell dedicating the initial third of the novel to catching readers up on Kay's professional and personal life. While longtime series fans may appreciate these updates, first-time readers might find the opening a bit slow. However, the beginning's political intrigue and personal challenges soon lead to a mystery that taps into current events and paranoia that thoroughly hooked me. In addition to the detailed exploration of the victims' causes of death, Cornwell introduces lingering uncertainties about the possible existence of a mythical creature at the crime scene. Kay and Marino become entangled in a conspiracy that forces them and the readers to question everything they encounter. This creates a suspenseful narrative that held my interest throughout. Unnatural Death delivers all the elements I expect from Cornwell's series and lays the groundwork for even more compelling adventures in future books.

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

(2023, 83)


Holly by Stephen King

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Stephen King needs no introduction. His name has been synonymous with bestselling novels for decades. However, it's worth noting that King is often unfairly categorized solely within the horror genre. In reality, his talent for crafting deeply complex characters and gripping narratives is what has solidified his position as a literary icon. Consider his self-proclaimed "favorite character," Holly Gibney. She debuted as a minor character in the initial book of his Bill Hodges trilogy in 2014, but her impact on both the author and his readers was so profound that she has since appeared in four additional books. This culmination has led to King's latest work, Holly, where the private detective takes on a solo case that promises to enthrall not only King's loyal fan base but any reader who appreciates a good mystery.

The story begins during the height of the pandemic, a challenging time for everyone. Holly finds herself grappling with the recent loss of her mother, a tragedy exacerbated by her mother's skepticism regarding the virus's risks. Her private investigating partner, Pete, is also sidelined due to his own battle with COVID-19, and the operations of their agency, Finders Keepers, are temporarily suspended. Given Holly's tendency toward hypochondria, the new normal of isolation and health protocols actually suits her. When she receives frantic pleas for help from Penny Dahl, a mother desperately searching for her missing daughter, Bonnie, something within Holly is stirred. Whether it's the mother's overwhelming distress or Holly's own grief over her mother's passing, she can't ignore this case. Despite her reservations, Holly decides to take on the investigation, embarking on a solo journey to unravel the mystery.

Blocks away from the last known location of Bonnie Dahl stands the unassuming residence of Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. These octogenarians have mostly retired from their academic careers but maintain an active social life, hosting gatherings for fellow scholars and students, projecting an image of bourgeois respectability. To outsiders, the Harrises appear to be an ordinary elderly couple enjoying their retirement. However, beneath this fa├žade lies a dark secret hidden in their basement, a secret that demands cunning, patience, and ruthlessness. It is this very secret that holds the key to the Bonne Dahl case. As she delves deeper into the investigation, this secret may very well cost Holly her life. 

Holly sees Stephen King deliver an enthralling missing person story that diverges from his typical supernatural horror realm, firmly grounding itself in reality. This departure highlights that genuine horror can lurk in our own neighborhoods and emphasizes the unsettling notion that individuals who seem entirely ordinary may hide unimaginable darkness within them. Holly Gibney, the central character, receives remarkable development, struggling with the universal grief and uncertainty experienced during the pandemic. While some may interpret King's commentary on COVID deniers as overtly political, it serves to magnify the palpable reality of those times. Holly is a rare example in King's repertoire where the narrative exhibits a clear and sensible direction, even if the conclusion feels too neatly tied up. Altogether, this novel reinforces King's reputation as one of the foremost masters in the field. Each new novel he writes is a literary gift to the world, and I certainly hope he has more to share with us. 

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

(2023, 82)

When I'm Dead by Hannah Morrissey

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This year, a significant part of my reading has been dedicated to exploring the works of new authors I hadn't previously encountered. Venturing into uncharted literary territory has yielded fairly mixed results. While some authors failed to strike a chord with me, others have swiftly risen to the status of must-reads. Hannah Morrissey firmly belongs to the latter group. Her debut novel, Hello, Transcriber, captivated me with its evocative ambiance and gripping narrative, prompting me to eagerly consume her subsequent work. Now, Morrissey revisits the fictional town of Black Harbor for a third time with her latest release, When I'm Dead. True to her distinctive style, it's another page-turner that skillfully fuses atmospheric suspense, intriguing characters, and a compelling mystery. 

Black Harbor, Wisconsin, is no stranger to crime and tragedy. It holds the dubious distinction of being the most crime-ridden town in the state. In the midst of this tumultuous backdrop, husband and wife Rowan and Axel navigate their roles as a medical examiner and a detective. Their daily routines often involve responding to gruesome crime scenes. Thus, when they receive an urgent call to abandon their daughter's high school play and investigate a murder, it doesn't come as a surprise. When they arrive on the scene, however, they are taken aback to discover the murder victim is one of their daughter's best friends. The shadow of tragedy has descended upon their lives, poised to become even more personal. 

In the harrowing hours following their return home from the murder investigation, Rowan and Axel make a disconcerting discovery – their daughter, Chloe, failed to return from the school play. As the search for Chloe unfolds alongside the murder inquiry, their relationship becomes increasingly tainted with guilt and recrimination. A grim tapestry of clues gradually unravels, compelling these parents to question how well they truly knew their daughter. Did their unwavering dedication to their careers eclipse their family life? Could they have prevented Chloe's disappearance? Most disconcerting of all, could Chloe be somehow connected to her friend's death?

In When I'm Dead, Hannah Morrissey ventures into her darkest and most captivating mystery to date. As in her previous works, she skillfully constructs a grim and unsettling atmosphere within her fictional town, infusing each page with a palpable sense of foreboding. Morrissey crafts a multi-faceted mystery that delves deep into the primal fears of parenthood. The death of a child is one form of anguish; the chilling notion that one's child may be a murderer introduces an entirely distinct dimension of dread. The characters in this narrative are intricately portrayed, with the simmering tensions among teenage girls providing a delectable layer of drama and authenticity. I had the privilege of experiencing this story through its audiobook format, graciously provided by Macmillan Audio. The full cast narration featuring Andrew Eiden, Caitlin Kelly, Gary Tiedemann, and Xe Sands breathes life into the characters and adeptly captures the story's brisk pace and suspenseful essence.

Each of the three books in Morrissey's Black Harbor series can be enjoyed as standalone works, yet they seamlessly interconnect, offering readers an immersive experience regardless of their familiarity with the series. Still, I wholeheartedly recommend delving into each of these remarkable tales. Hannah Morrissey's writing has become one of my favorite discoveries this year, and When I'm Dead solidifies her status as one of my must-read authors.

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

(2023, 81)


Last Call by Elon Green

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Over the past few months, I've plunged deeply into the realm of true crime literature. Something about how these books capture real-life perspectives and experiences within extraordinary circumstances has consistently interested me. Elon Green's Last Call recently garnered attention as it was adapted and expanded into an HBO miniseries. This book delves into the chilling account of a serial killer who terrorized gay men in New York during the '80s and '90s. The moment I first heard about it, I was intrigued. Before diving into the television adaptation, though, I knew it was crucial to read the book. So, I borrowed a copy of Last Call from my library and eagerly immersed myself in its pages.

In the year 1992, The Townhouse Bar in Midtown, New York City, held a special significance for gay men in the city. It was a refuge where they could embrace their true selves without the looming fear of ridicule or violence. At the bar's heart, a group of men gathered around the piano, their voices raised in enthusiastic harmony with their favorite show tunes, relishing a precious moment of genuine self-expression.

Amidst this exuberant crowd, one man chose to stand slightly apart. He nursed a scotch and water, his demeanor utterly inconspicuous, blending seamlessly into the background. He was intentionally unmemorable, ensuring that no one in the bar could later recall his face. This very anonymity was his greatest weapon. His eyes were fixed on an older, gray-haired man, but not with romantic intentions. Instead, he saw his next unsuspecting victim. 

The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York during the '80s and '90s, displaying the chilling characteristics commonly associated with the most notorious serial killers. However, the memory of his murders has faded into obscurity due to the high murder rates of that era, the impact of the AIDS epidemic, and the sexual orientation of his victims. Elon Green's book provides a detailed chronicle of the lengthy pursuit to unmask this elusive killer. Simultaneously, it paints a poignant portrait of his victims and the resilient community that navigated the constant threat while demonstrating remarkable strength in the face of adversity.

Being a gay man myself, I was deeply struck by the apparent negligence of the authorities in their pursuit of the killer and the quest for justice. The prevalent homophobia within the NYPD blinded them to the connections between the murders, resulting in a decades-long delay in bringing the perpetrator to account. It was also disheartening to witness how many of the victims were compelled to lead closeted lives, often maintaining a double existence with a spouse and children. Tragically, their authentic selves remained hidden until their untimely deaths exposed their true identities.

Elon Green's work comprehensively examines the case, offering insights from various angles, including perspectives from law enforcement, the victims' families, and their friends. It is both astonishing and troubling that a case of such magnitude, unfolding in one of the world's largest cities, remained relatively obscured for an extended period due to deep-seated biases. Last Call accomplishes the vital task of giving a voice to those who were silenced while delivering a compelling and essential story that demands to be shared.

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

(2023, 80)

The Exchange by John Grisham

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My history with John Grisham's novels dates back to high school. Ever since my mother first introduced me to a stack of his legal thrillers, I've been an avid reader of his work. While I no longer rush to devour his latest releases as I once did, I always relish the opportunity to immerse myself in his storytelling when it comes my way. My excitement peaked late last month when I received an invitation from Grisham's enduring publisher, Doubleday, to read a copy of his newest book, The Exchange. This enthusiasm reached a whole new level because I knew that this book served as a sequel to his monumental bestseller, The Firm. Receiving that package with the latest Grisham novel was a highlight of my year!

In The Firm, Mitch McDeere faced a series of intense challenges and exposed the criminal activities of the Memphis law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke. This sequel jumps ahead 15 years, allowing us to catch up with Mitch and his wife, Abby. The couple has put the traumas of Memphis behind them and now enjoys a life in New York City. They have twin boys and are thriving in their respective careers. Abby works as an editor for cookbooks, while Mitch practices law as a partner at one of the world's largest law firms. Mitch's boss requests a significant favor – he needs Mitch to travel to Rome and meet with an old mentor named Luca. One of Luca's most valuable clients has been swindled out of payment for constructing a disastrous bridge project in Libya. They want Mitch to argue the case before an arbitration board in Geneva. 

This is where our new story unfolds. Mitch accepts the case and embarks on a journey to Libya alongside Luca's daughter, Giovanna, a talented young attorney. Their objective is to visit the site firsthand. However, in a sudden turn of events, their convoy falls prey to a terrorist organization that mercilessly kills their guides, kidnaps Giovanna, and demands a staggering $100 million ransom in exchange for her safe release. Abby becomes an inadvertent intermediary, plunging Mitch and everyone he holds dear into a high-stakes pursuit to gather the entire ransom and ensure the safety of those involved.

It's been three decades since John Grisham's The Firm captivated readers. The Exchange revisits these characters only 15 years after the events of the initial book, placing them in a post-9/11 world dominated by terrorism and global uncertainties. The evolving landscape and heightened stakes in this novel might initially seem disconcerting, but Grisham's ability to keep his finger on the pulse of current events remains unmatched. Mitch McDeere retains his commitment to justice and ethical behavior. While the plot may venture into somewhat implausible territory, my engagement with the story largely overshadowed any minor reservations. Although the focus shifts away from courtroom drama to emphasize the kidnapping plot, Grisham, in his signature style, still manages to infuse the narrative with political, economic, and legal system commentary amid all the thrills.  The Exchange may not outshine its predecessor, but it still offers an enjoyable reunion with a beloved character. Grisham hints of potential future adventures for Mitch McDeere, and I wholeheartedly welcome them. The book is another solid thriller from an author who consistently excels in his craft.

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

(2023, 79)


Cross Down by James Patterson

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Let's address the controversy surrounding the latest Alex Cross novel upfront. A quick look at the cover reveals two significant departures from the norm in this long-running series. First, James Patterson has deviated from his tradition of single-handedly writing the series by enlisting one of his frequent collaborators, Brendan DuBois, as a co-author for this novel. Second, this new installment shifts the spotlight away from the renowned detective, Alex Cross, and places it firmly on his longstanding partner, John Sampson. In fact, Alex Cross takes a backseat early on in the story, leaving Sampson to confront the latest threat on his own. While this technically marks the 31st entry in the series, these deviations from Patterson's typical formula may align it more closely with Alex Cross's Trial, another co-authored book in the series that delved into Cross's ancestors rather than focusing on the character himself. Whether this newest book can be considered a true part of the series is open to interpretation. As a massive fan of the previous books, though, I knew it was only a matter of time before I read it. 

The United States faces a dire crisis as a series of brutal terrorist attacks engulfs the nation in fear and uncertainty. In response, the President assembles a task force comprising top security and law enforcement experts. Among them are Alex Cross and his partner, John Sampson. Exiting a pivotal meeting onto the bustling streets of Washington D.C., Alex begins to voice his suspicion that the patterns of these attacks seem oddly random. Before he can elaborate further, chaos erupts in gunfire, leaving Cross critically injured. Now, Sampson is torn between tending to his wounded friend and delving into the mysteries behind the orchestrated attacks. In this turbulent time, the lines between friendship and duty blur, and Sampson finds himself on a precarious journey to safeguard the lives of the Cross family, his own daughter, and the very nation he holds dear.

Cross Down marks a significant departure for the Alex Cross series. Setting aside the controversy surrounding co-authorship and the shift in focus to a side character, the book still carries a distinct tone and focus that diverges from its predecessors. This departure doesn't necessarily equate to a negative change, but it does introduce an unfamiliar element to the series. While most previous books revolved around hunting serial killers, this installment delves deeper into political and foreign affairs, granting the story a broader scope.

Patterson's signature short chapters maintain a brisk pace, propelling the plot forward and keeping readers on the edge of their seats. With the life of the series' beloved hero hanging in the balance, the relentless pursuit to thwart a catastrophic terrorist attack adds to the suspense. Despite the jarring shift in tone and focus compared to the rest of the series, these changes did breathe new life into the story. They offered a fresh perspective on Alex's family, allowing the characters to evolve in a way they hadn't in recent books. While the next installment appears to return to the tried-and-true formula that has carried the series through 31 books, it remains to be seen how this outlier will impact the series' future. Regardless, I am eager to continue reading to see what comes next.

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

(2023, 78)

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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Bonnie Garmus's Lessons in Chemistry has gained a reputation as a genuine literary sensation, a rare book that strikes a chord with every reader who picks it up. I've witnessed countless reviewers and fellow book enthusiasts showering the book with praise, and I've been impressed by the diverse range of readers who have fallen under its spell. Always the inquisitive reader, I knew I had to find out what all the fuss was about. I placed the book on hold at my local library earlier this year. As is often the case with highly sought-after titles, I patiently waited while countless other readers took their turn with the book. Finally, my moment has come. I've set aside all my other reading materials to fully immerse myself in this story, eager to understand the source of its acclaim.

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist whose brilliance is beyond dispute, a fact she herself readily acknowledges. However, in the early 1950s, a woman aspiring to any role beyond that of a secretary or traditional housewife is a novel idea. The male colleagues who share her workspace at the Hastings Research Institute perceive Elizabeth as just another woman. In the predominantly male domain of science, she must wage a constant battle to secure acknowledgment for her work, let alone the recognition she deserves. Amid the institutional skepticism and prejudice, there is one exception: Calvin Evans, a Nobel Prize-nominated scientist who truly appreciates Elizabeth's genius. Their initial interactions foster a unique connection. Bound by their shared interests and remarkable intellects, they cultivate a chemistry that transcends the laboratory. Some might even call it love. 

Indeed, life unfolds as a grand experiment, and Elizabeth swiftly discovers its unpredictability. Suddenly, she finds herself navigating the role of a single mother and, quite unwittingly, becoming the host of a public broadcasting cooking show. After all, cooking is a form of science. True to her character, Elizabeth resists conforming to the mold envisioned by her male producers at the TV station. Instead, she approaches cooking with the same straightforward enthusiasm and expertise that she applies to science. To her delight, the unconventional recipe becomes a resounding success. Yet, her newfound influence doesn't sit well with everyone. It becomes clear that Elizabeth Zott isn't merely instructing women in the art of cooking. She's challenging them to question the established norms and instigating a transformation of the status quo.

Lessons in Chemistry is an absolutely crowd-pleasing joy to read. Bonnie Garmus skillfully creates a protagonist who defies conventional expectations, making her a truly compelling character. She adeptly explores the intricacies of gender roles and societal expectations, all while infusing a dark sense of humor that lightens even the more challenging moments in the story. It masterfully navigates difficult subjects without alienating the reader. Garmus intertwines multiple narrative threads, skillfully bringing them together to a gratifying, albeit somewhat conveniently resolved, conclusion. Lessons in Chemistry genuinely stands out as that rare book that appeals to readers of all tastes, irrespective of their genre preferences. The well-deserved hype surrounding this book is entirely justified. Don't hesitate to dive into it.

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

(2023, 77)

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

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One of the most eagerly awaited literary events of the year has finally come to fruition, and it has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. When the news broke about Britney Spears' forthcoming tell-all memoir earlier this year, the only question that loomed was just how monumental this book would become. Whether scrolling through Bookstagram or simply going about my daily life, it's impossible to miss the presence of The Woman in Me. Britney Spears' life has been a rollercoaster of superstardom and heartbreak, and this book offers a unique opportunity for her to set the record straight. Being someone who can't resist a buzzworthy book, I knew I had to read it for myself.

I decided to opt for the audiobook format primarily because the waitlist at my local library was significantly shorter, with only a few hundred listeners in line compared to the thousands vying for a physical copy. Renowned actress Michelle Williams takes on the role of the narrator, skillfully capturing Britney's life down to every gripping detail. And what an extraordinary narrative it proves to be. From a very young age, Britney's existence was marked by the stark contrast between her exuberance for performing and the dark undercurrents in her family life. While she honed her talents and gained recognition through appearances on shows like Star Search and the Mickey Mouse Club, she grappled with acrimonious disputes between her parents and her father's struggles with addiction, often leading to outright abusive behavior. This tragic reality served as a somber prelude to the years ahead.

Britney doesn't evade the controversies that have long swirled around her life. She candidly addresses the subjects of her failed relationships, pivotal moments in her career, and the polarizing conservatorship that profoundly reshaped her existence. As is often the case with memoirs of this nature, some of the most sensational details had already made headlines weeks before the book's release. However, within the context of the memoir itself, these snippets appear far less controversial than the media might lead one to believe. Instead, what emerges is the story of a woman who has consistently strived to please those in her life, whether it be her partners, her family, or her devoted fans, often at the cost of her own happiness. It appears that now, she has decided to prioritize her own well-being, regardless of the potential consequences. She seems to have shaken off the pressures that have cast such a negative shadow over much of her life.

The Woman in Me has left me with a whirlwind of mixed emotions. It's evident that the book has been significantly shaped by ghostwriters, which isn't inherently negative, but the language within its pages doesn't align with the Instagram captions Britney herself has posted in recent years. Nevertheless, I do believe that this book authentically portrays Britney's life. Her story is undeniably her own. Unfortunately, the grim details surrounding her abusive conservatorship are even more harrowing than I had anticipated. It's a difficult challenge to reconcile the fact that her family and the judges responsible for assessing her fitness to manage her own life simultaneously deemed her mentally unfit to oversee her finances, physical and mental well-being, and even the upbringing of her children. Yet, they still deemed her competent to maintain a grueling performance schedule to generate income that would ultimately benefit the same individuals who declared her unwell. This represents a deeply troubling abuse of the legal system that persisted for far too long.

I'm uncertain if sharing this story will genuinely improve Britney's situation. In some ways, it might draw further attention to someone who clearly requires solitude and time to heal from decades of abuse. On the other hand, it's heartening to witness her ability to finally recount her narrative in the way she desires. Ultimately, all of us should have the freedom to live life as we see fit, and I'm relieved that Britney finally appears to be on the path to freedom.

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads

(2023, 76)


Tom Lake by Anne Patchett

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“The stories that are familiar will always be our favorites.”

As part of my ongoing mission to discover new authors, I've turned my attention to Anne Patchett, an author I've been aware of for some time but have never had the chance to read. Her latest work, Tom Lake, has garnered attention in the literary world. This novel combines elements from the classic play Our Town with a contemporary exploration of a family's history during the COVID-19 lockdowns. While familiarity with Our Town isn't essential to comprehend this book, it can certainly enhance one's appreciation of Patchett's captivating storytelling.

Lara's promising acting career began unexpectedly when she couldn't resist stepping onto the stage during auditions for a community production of Our Town. She secured the role of Emily and believed it would be the start of her thriving career. Her journey, however, took a different turn. Lara ventured to Los Angeles for a film role that promised stardom but found herself stuck in limbo due to post-production delays. Desperate to keep her momentum alive, she joined a summer theater group in Michigan, where she shared the stage and a passionate romance with Peter Duke. Duke eventually became a household name, but Lara's path diverged significantly.

Fast forward to the year 2020, when Lara, now married with three grown daughters, finds herself quarantined in her Michigan cherry orchard due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The family is brought together under one roof, tending to the farm and sharing stories during their confinement. Lara's daughters are particularly fascinated by her summer fling with the famous actor, Peter Duke. With ample time to reminisce, Lara reluctantly agrees to recount the story of that transformative summer, revealing a side of herself that her daughters had never fully known.

Tom Lake offers a remarkable exploration of youthful love, ambition, and the enduring power of family. Although the novel unfolds during the pandemic, it avoids being categorized as a typical "COVID novel." Instead, Anne Patchett uses this unique moment in time as a backdrop to unite her characters and encourage them to share their stories. The book highlights the contrasting priorities between Lara's carefree young adulthood and her children's heightened concern for the state of the world and their roles within it. The work prompted me to reflect on my own life, my relationships, my achievements, and my apprehensions about the future. Patchett's characters come alive in a subtly impactful way, and the integration of Our Town adds depth to the narrative. Regardless of your familiarity with the play, I think you'll have no difficulty connecting with this story. Tom Lake stands as exemplary character-driven fiction and serves as an excellent introduction to Anne Patchett's writing.

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

(2023, 75)


The Great Gimmelmans by Lee Matthew Goldberg

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How do you decide on your next book to read? Being a book blogger and reviewer, I regularly receive offers from authors and publishers, presenting me with a never-ending stream of new titles. The reality is that there are far more books available than I could ever hope to read. In these situations, I often turn to the recommendations of fellow readers and reviewers to help me discover noteworthy titles. This was precisely how I stumbled upon Lee Matthew Goldberg's latest work, The Great Gimmelmans.

It all began when he shared information about his new book on the platform formerly known as Twitter. A mutual friend of ours, the talented novelist Russell Ricard (whose wonderful book The Truth About Goodbye you should definitely read if you haven't already), spoke highly of Goldberg's writing and encouraged me to explore it for myself. Generously, Goldberg provided me with a copy of the book, and I enthusiastically delved into its pages.

"There's no escaping us, Aaron. You'll always be a Gimmelman."

The book commences with Aaron Gimmelman embarking on a road trip alongside his son, Roark. It becomes evident that Aaron has been largely absent from his son's life, resulting in Roark's behavioral issues. With countless hours of travel before them, Aaron seizes the opportunity to bridge the gap between them by sharing his life story with his son. He chooses to play the audiobook of his memoir, a narrative recounting his turbulent and crime-ridden childhood. As he presses the play button, the reader is also drawn into this narrative.

In 1987, a stock market crash upends the life of young Aaron Gimmelman. His father, Barry, a stockbroker, loses everything in the crash, leaving the family with no savings and on the brink of homelessness. With only their clothes and an RV to their name, the Gimmelman family, consisting of parents Barry and Judith, along with their children Steph, Aaron, and Jenny, embarks on a cross-country journey to Florida in search of a fresh start. Along the way, Aaron begins to grasp the extent of his parents' financial struggles and the sacrifices they've made. Driven by the desire to alleviate their hardships, he resorts to petty theft from a convenience store, unknowingly setting into motion a chain of criminal activities that will forever change their lives.

"Someone is only truly dead where there is no one left to remember them."

In The Great Gimmelmans, Lee Matthew Goldberg has skillfully crafted a novel that seamlessly blends entertainment with emotional depth. This book is a captivating amalgamation of various genres, encompassing elements of a coming-of-age narrative, dark humor, and an enthralling heist story. While the fast-paced plot initially drew me in, it was the well-developed characters that held my attention throughout. Goldberg adeptly intertwines the excitement of a page-turning thriller with thought-provoking musings on parenthood, religion, and the weight of guilt. Each of these resonates powerfully within the narrative.

The characters in the story are multifaceted, each grappling with their own imperfections, grounding them in a relatable reality while participating in the larger-than-life events of the plot. Goldberg presents the story as a book within a book, a creative choice culminating in a poignant and multi-layered ending. The Great Gimmelmans is an exceptional novel that deserves a spot on every reader's must-read list. If, like me, you often choose your next read based on recommendations from fellow readers, consider this my enthusiastic endorsement for this remarkable book.

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

(2023, 74)


Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

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Even though the spooky season has ended, my appetite for creepy books remains unabated. Jason Rekulak's Hidden Pictures generated quite a buzz when it hit the shelves last year. This thrilling work with a touch of horror captured readers' imaginations and secured a spot on my ever-expanding TBR list. Although it languished on my stack of library books for most of October, patiently awaiting my attention, I've finally found the time to dive into it. I'm even more happy to confirm that the excitement surrounding this book is entirely justified.

Mallory Quinn has hit rock bottom and is now determined to climb her way back up. She's successfully completed a rehab program, taking control of her drug addiction and resolving to lead a clean and honest life moving forward. With her recovery firmly on track, Mallory is now prepared to embark on the next phase of rebuilding her life: seeking stable employment. Her sponsor introduces her to a family needing a live-in nanny for their young son. This potential opportunity could be the perfect stepping stone for Mallory as she transitions into this new chapter of her life.

Ted and Caroline Maxwell approach the decision to hire Mallory with justifiable caution. They are well aware of her troubled past, and while they are empathetic to her desire for a fresh start, their primary concern is the safety of their five-year-old son, Teddy. Mallory, understanding the Maxwell's apprehensions, is eager to demonstrate her commitment to her own recovery and Teddy's well-being. She willingly agrees to undergo random drug testing at their discretion and assures them that her intentions are solely focused on what is best for their son. Ultimately, Teddy himself plays a pivotal role in the decision, forming an instant connection with Mallory.

Teddy, typically a sweet and introverted child known for filling his sketchpad with innocent childhood drawings, surprises everyone when he suddenly creates a much darker image – a man dragging a lifeless woman's body in a forest. As time passes, his drawings become shockingly realistic and disturbing, defying the artistic abilities expected of a child his age. The origins of these macabre creations puzzle Mallory, who fears their implications. Yet, her utmost priority is safeguarding Teddy. She is committed to unraveling the mystery that shrouds these unsettling images and ensuring Teddy's safety before it's too late.

In Hidden Pictures, Jason Rekulak reimagines classic horror tropes, giving readers a fresh perspective on the genre. While I typically favor audiobooks, this novel shines best in its physical form. This preference arises from Rekulak's innovative use of the child's drawings to enhance the narrative. As each new image is revealed, it is presented in full on the page, allowing readers to share in the protagonist's shock and uncertainty. The supernatural elements combine with an unreliable narrator who is refreshingly aware of just how unreliable she must seem. I found myself utterly engrossed in the pages of this book, unable to stop reading until I reached its thrilling conclusion.

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

(2023, 73)


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