The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis

If you’re familiar with James Patterson’s books, then I’m sure you’ve noticed that Patterson likes to co-write his books with other authors. Over the past year, I had decided to do an informal test of sorts: I would read a variety of Patterson books and see if I could discern a style and/or writing difference between the books that he writes with different authors. Well I can say, not even halfway through my test, that I was correct: the books he writes with various authors have definite differing writing styles!

My current favorite pairing? James Patterson and David Ellis. I’ve made my way through all of the books they have written together and blogged about most of them as well. The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis was my latest read. This book has all the elements that hook me in fiction: murder, thrills, suspense, crime, fast-paced, entertainment, etc. The blurb hooked me in and I knew I would enjoy it. Now onto the description!

Billy Harney’s family is a family of cops. His father is the Chief of Detectives while Billy and his twin sister, Patty, are also detectives. Being a cop, especially in Chicago, means that Billy is willing to risk anything for his job. It’s just what you have to do to solve a crime.

Billy soon finds himself embroiled in a massive crime conspiracy with far-reaching implications when he is shot in the head and left for dead. Billy is believed to be dead when he is discovered alongside the bodies of his former partner, Kate, and an assistant district attorney, Amy. Billy’s sister and father are on hand right after the bodies are discovered. Both emotionally distraught and furious about the theories being thrown around, Patty and her father demand re-tests and to be included in the investigation.

With Billy suspected of the murders of both Amy and Kate, investigators are anxious to figure out what Billy remembers about the shooting. There’s a slight problem: Billy remembers absolutely nothing about the shootout, as well as the two weeks before. Billy becomes an outcast in the police force and is publicly ridiculed when he is charged with double murder. Rumors swirl through the community as everyone tries to figure out what really happened in the bedroom where such carnage took place.

Told through flashbacks to the past and glimpses into the present, readers are privy to Billy’s valiant attempts to clear his name. With visits to counselors and walks through the neighborhood, Billy retraces his steps to try to figure out what he was working on that resulted in two murders and his own injury. His memory of the two weeks before refuses to come back no matter what he does, but what Billy does remember is the department’s intense desire to find a little black book that is proving crucial to a major investigation. Without it, the perpetrators will be set free, but with it, multiple high-ranking city officials and famous individuals could get in serious trouble.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Billy is willing to do anything to remember the crime that happened in that bedroom as well as what happened in the two weeks before. Digging into the past proves increasingly dangerous as Billy discovers that everything he thought was true is not. Everyone he thought he could trust: double crossers. The only solid person he can truly rely on is himself and the only events and recollections he can trust are the scattered pieces he can pick from his messed up memory.

The Black Book by Patterson and Ellis was an engaging read that had me constantly trying to figure out what had really happened. I really enjoyed the flashes to the past juxtaposed alongside the present. This book also gives the point of view of Billy’s sister, Patty, which adds necessary suspense and drama. Give it a read (or a listen) and let us know what you think!


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My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Coming-of-age stories usually prove hit or miss with me. I’ve noticed that the ones where the main character has an idyllic childhood that transitions over to a smooth adult life, with some pretty obvious life quirks along the way, do not engage me at all. I need my coming-of-age stories to have some serious life issues, entertaining if not slightly off the wall relationships, and some sort of crisis that forces the main character to really examine their life thus far. (As you can probably tell, I’ve read my fair share of coming-of-age tales.) As a result, I’m usually hesitant when I come across an adult fiction book with a young person as the main character. My latest read, My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, is a coming-of-age story that I discovered was listed on multiple book lists. Because of the press surrounding this book, I decided to give it a go.

I’ll admit that when I first started this book, I was skeptical: skeptical of the main characters, skeptical of the press it received, and skeptical that I would actually like this book. I’m glad I decided to stick with this book through to the end because I finally understood all the hype. My Absolute Darling was much better that I thought it would be.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle is the living embodiment of the term survivor. Living off the beaten path in the woods along the northern California coast, Turtle has the run of the wilderness for miles. She knows the creeks, woods, rocky islands, and tide pools like the back of her hand. Throw her into the wild and she can do literally anything. This is all due to the intense training done by her father, Martin.

Turtle’s mother died when she was young, leaving Turtle to grow up at the hands of her father, Martin, with some help from her grandfather. Martin is slightly crazy, holds deep and somewhat fanatic beliefs on a variety of subjects, and is tortured by events from his past. Raising Turtle to be a survivalist in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, Martin tries to do his best, but it quickly becomes clear that the life the two are living is not safe and they cannot go on the way they have been for very much longer.

Turtle may have absolute command of the outside physical world, but her personal world is in utter chaos. Dealing with middle school is torturous: the other kids don’t understand her and while her teachers are trying to help her, Turtle knows she can’t let them get too close otherwise they will realize her truth. Outside of school, Turtle’s life is limited to her father, their cabin, and to the woods, whenever she is able to sneak away from her father to enjoy it.

A chance encounter with a high-school boy named Jacob completely changes Turtle’s life. Jacob and his friends are care free, live in big clean houses, and think Turtle is amazing. The fact that she knows so much about the wild and can clearly handle herself blows them all away. Turtle enjoys their company and finally has her first healthy relationship in years. Hanging out with Jacob and his friends gives Turtle her first real friendships and the fact that Jacob is pretty cute gives Turtle her first teenage crush. This new group of friends is exactly what Turtle needs to finally realize the truth behind Martin’s actions and to see that the way Martin behaves towards her, and towards others, is not healthy. She can’t live like that anymore. With her newfound courage and the survival skills her father has instilled in her since birth, Turtle starts to think that she can escape from her father. Turtle must learn to trust herself and believe she is willing to do whatever it takes to escape.

I really enjoyed this book even though I didn’t understand all the press and awards it was receiving until almost the very end of the book. If you’re thinking of giving up on this book, don’t! Promise me you’ll stick through to the end! Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a go. I hope you’ll be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.


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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Guest post by Laura

I am interested in health in general and digestion in particular but was expecting a somewhat dry tour of the digestive system when I checked Gulp by Mary Roach out. After all, the alimentary canal is the route along which food passes through the body from entry to exit. How exciting can details about the esophagus, stomach, and intestines be, right? Wrong!

The author has a sharp wit and sense of humor that isn’t afraid to tackle taboos. She explores the scientific study of various digestive mechanisms from ancient to modern times. One of these ongoing science experiments was between Alexis St. Martin who was accidentally shot in the stomach with a musket and William Beaumont who would conduct experiments using the open hole left after the wound healed. Rather than reading like a school science textbook documenting the methods and findings, she goes into the human aspect of the drama of the sometimes strained relationship between the two men along with the scientific details biology geeks will eat up. Pun absolutely intended.

From the probable origins of the fire-breathing dragon legend to competitive eaters, this book has facts and stories that both entertain and inform. I usually read or listen to audiobooks during my lunch hour and it takes a lot to make me queasy but I have to admit I had to turn it off once because of the content. Overall, this was a gratifying romp through the alimentary canal with some fun, grossness, and enlightenment along the way.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is quickly becoming one of my go-to, will-never-disappoint authors. I know I will enjoy whatever she writes because her books always pull me in and wrap me up in their suspenseful psychological messes. Bonus: the narrator for both of her books that I listened to was thoroughly engaging.

The Lying Game tells the twisted, complicated story of four young girls who met at Salten, a boarding school near the cliffs of the English Channel. Fatima, Thea, Isabel, and Kate helped each other navigate the murky waters of this boarding school during their teenage years. Their friendship was so strong that no matter what happened, they each knew that the other three girls would have their back. These girls became inseparable and solidified their reputations as untouchable and the ‘bad girls’ with the invention of the lying game. The lying game may have started out harmless, but quickly grew out of control as the girls’ abilities to keep their lies and truths straight deteriorated. The number one rule of the lying game: don’t lie to the other players. That rule became more and more difficult to follow the longer the game went on, something that had the possibility to destroy all of their lives.

After leaving abruptly in the middle of the school year, all four friends find themselves thrust back into the regular world without a clue what to do. Fatima, Thea, Kate, and Isabel have woven a complicated, messy relationship that none of them can escape.  Each will still drop whatever they are doing to come to the rescue of the other, even though many years have passed.

One morning in June, the four friends’ lives begin to unravel. Human remains are discovered near Salten by a woman walking her dog next to a tidal estuary. The discovery of the body shocks this peaceful town out of its idyllic reverie. Fatima, Thea, and Isabel soon find themselves thrust back into Salten life when they receive a distressing text from Kate saying that she needs them. Arriving back into town, the four’s shared past bursts to the surface and their realities come crashing down.  A shared secret has the ability to destroy their current lives as well as drastically change their pasts.


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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I had read Celests Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, when it first came out and it captivated me. The story of a family torn apart by the disappearance and death of the middle child, Lydia, captures the rifts and examines the ways that family members struggle to try to understand each other. When I saw that Ng was coming out with another book entitled Little Fires Everywhere, I knew I needed to read it because Ng has the ability to craft domestic fiction that is both engaging and realistic that I simply can’t put down.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng tells the story of the residents of Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that prides itself in its ability to plan. This progressive suburb has rules for everything: the colors of the houses, the layouts of the roads, the types of houses, the schools, etc. Every little thing is laid out, even the jobs and lives that residents are expected to lead.

This highly structured, yet surprisingly calm and tranquil, community is normal to the residents that live there, especially longtime resident Elena Richardson. Leaving for college, coming back with a husband, raising four children, and working at the local paper are all things that were expected from Elena. The order and sense of community are both major appeals for Elena in Shaker Heights. She believes that the rules are there for a reason and lives her life making sure everyone around her follows the rules.

Elena’s sense of security is shaken when Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl move into town. Mia is a single mother who makes a living as an artist. She and Pearl move around every couple months, but Mia promises Pearl that Shaker Heights is the place they will stay forever. Arriving in town, Mia rents a house from the Richardsons and soon both families become tangled together. All four Richardson children find Mia and Pearl to be mysterious and are quickly drawn to the pair. The closer the two families become, the more questions come to the surface.

Mia’s arrival in Shaker Heights begins to unsettle the delicate balance of rules and order that the community relies on to survive. To start, Mia has an untraditional job, a very mysterious part, and a disregard for the standard of living that Elena holds dear. Mia keeps part of her past hidden for good reason and some of the Richardson family members take it upon themselves to figure out why.

Mia’s disruption of the status quo comes to a head when Mia and Elena find themselves at opposite sides of a custody battle that’s splattered all over the news. An old family friend of Elena’s is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby. Mia finds herself championing the biological mother, while Elena is firmly on the side of the adoptive parents. Elena is determined to do anything for her friend, even if that means digging into Mia’s past to discover her secrets and motives. Little does she know that her obsession will quickly unravel her life and the lives of everyone around her in abrupt and unforeseen ways.


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Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

I absolutely cannot wait to get back into my car and drive from Davenport, IA to East Moline, IL across the frozen tundra that is the Quad Cities. You might think I’ve lost my mind, and perhaps I have a little bit; but let me tell you that the Ali audiobook, narrated by Kevin R Free, and based on author Jonathan Eig’s “definitive biography” is absolutely stunning. Although my experience with audiobooks is relatively limited, I have to say this one makes me want to read all 623 pages of the biography. Free, who also considers himself a storyteller,  narrates the larger-than-life biography of Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) with conviction and eloquence, the perfect example of a well-executed audiobook and also a testament to author Eig’s finely-crafted prose.

Normally, it’s easy for me to snooze on audiobooks and lose focus in the middle of a chapter (or worse, a sentence). In fact, listening to audiobooks has proven to be an act of meditation: I’m consciously directing my attention to the narrator and, sometimes painfully attempting to stay focused on the developing story. Too often, like a child who loses interest in a new toy just moments after receiving it, I lose interest in the storyline unless the narrator is particularly emotive, funny, or engaging. But every chapter Free narrates makes me feel like I’m watching an award-winning film. The imagery, writing, and narration are that good. I’ve read a few reviews, and one commenter noted that he felt like he was “ringside” during the fight descriptions because the writing truly is that good.

Cassius Clay, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, endured 200,000 punches throughout his career. I cannot possibly conceive of what that would feel like. He was wildly inspired by Sugar Ray Robinson, a famous boxer well known for being particularly outlandish, flashy, and bold. Ali was single-mindedly focused on becoming the greatest boxer who ever lived; yet he was insanely complex as well as he came into his own in the context of segregation, The Blood of Emmett Till, and the Little Rock Nine. One might simply state that Ali was a fighter in every sense of the word: you can be sure he fought fiercely against racism and injustice that plagued the post-war United States.

I’m nowhere near finished with this book, but I can only imagine it gets better. Check out this article with Author Eig who concludes, after 500 hours of interviews with Ali that “no biography is complete. There’s always more to explore.” Here is what NPR , the Washington Post, and The New York Times had to say. Of course not all the reviews are shining. This particular article claims that Eig did not shed light on the last 30 or so years of Ali’s life and that the book provides “a somewhat perfunctory account of how his story fits into the larger arc of race in America.” As someone who is only about ten chapters in, I appreciated the historical backdrop that Eig establishes early on in the book; although it’s not like a few measly chapters could possibly address the terrible blight of racism on our collective history, so I will wait to see if maybe Eig delves more deeply into issues of race in America. One hopes that a “definitely” biography has earned its heavyweight title, just like the greatest boxer of all time.

The Child by Fiona Barton

In The Child by Fiona Barton, Barton weaves a twisting tale of psychological suspense that will rip through your senses as you try to figure out what is happening. Have you ever wondered what happens when old houses are demolished? What if they discover something hidden in the ground? Hidden in the walls? What of the secrets that are uncovered?

The Child begins with the discovery of a tiny skeleton during the demolition of an old house in London. Journalist Kate Waters stumbles upon this story and decides to dig deeper into what happened to the child. Piecing together what information she can gather, Waters is continuously left with more and more questions with the chief one being: who is the building site baby? Forced to work with a young male intern, Kate is able to convince her boss, Terry, that she needs to investigate.

Angela is a grieving mother who is struggling to comes to terms with a devastating event that tore her family apart almost forty years ago. Her family is trying to help Angela move on with her life, but they are just as torn up as she is.

Emma is a young wife who is going through some major anxiety. She is having trouble just living her life, much to the chagrin of her husband who is trying to help her however he can. Emma’s issues seem to stem from her past. She was raised by her single mother, Jude. The two have a strained relationship that will leave readers wondering what exactly happened between the two to cause such dislike.

Angela, Emma, and Jude all have some interest in the building site baby. Kate’s investigation into what happened to the baby elicits a different reaction from each woman. Kate finds herself going back to the building site and visiting each house to try to track down someone who knows something about the baby. The more she investigates, the more secrets and connections Kate digs up. Kate finds herself becoming a keeper of Angela, Emma, and Jude’s secrets. Her journey to find out what happened to the building site baby evolves into a much larger conspiracy that consumes Kate’s life, but leaves her hesitant about what she can and cannot disclose to the authorities.


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The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

John Grisham is the king of legal thrillers. I always know whenever I pick up one of his books, I am going to be introduced to another part of the legal system that I had no idea existed.  I recently finished listening to The Rooster Bar, Grisham’s latest. Grisham dives into the gritty world of law schools, student loans, and financial scams. Speaking as someone who still has a pretty good chunk of student loan debt, I found the premise of this book to be interesting.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham is a legal suspense thriller that is packed full of crime. Mark, Todd, and Zola are all third-year law students at Foggy Bottom Law School. All three decided to go to law school to try to change the world, but now that they are in their third year, Mark, Todd, and Zola have realized that they have been scammed. Only one of them has a job lined up and it’s not in the best law firm. His job is contingent on passing the bar exam, something that only 50% of Foggy Bottom Law School students do. The job market is a mess anyway, at least for FBLS graduates. With student loan collectors hounding them, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that they have hundreds of thousands in debt, no solid job prospects, and a soon-to-be worthless degree from a third-tier, for-profit law school. Things are bleak.

When another one of their friends hits his breaking point, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that their school is part of chain owned by a hedge-fund operator out of New York who ALSO owns a bank that specializes in student loans. That school is shady! This whole situation reeks of a scam and the friends decide they have to do something about it. Mark, Zola, and Todd name their situation The Great Law School Scam and try to figure out a way to expose it.

Mark and Todd slowly come up with a plan to get rid of their massive debt, expose everything, and maybe make some money to survive. They decide that continuing to go to Foggy Bottom Law School is a complete waste of time. Why not just stop going?! After all, what’s the worst that could happen?? The Rooster Bar is an examination of Mark, Todd, and Zola’s life decisions and what happens when they decide to actually take their lives into their own hands. It’s a good read. You should check it out.


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Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Conspiracy theories run amuck in Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. This piece of psychological fiction will pull your mind taunt with the heart-breaking, suspenseful story of a woman struggling to find herself while her life falls to shambles around her.

Since We Fell tells the story of Rachel Childs’ journey to find herself again after she has a mental breakdown on air while working as a journalist. Obviously many stressors piled up to lead to Rachel’s breakdown and watching Lehane plot out Rachel’s demise is fascinating. Readers are privy to Rachel’s close examination of her life and how she ended up where she is today.

Rachel’s childhood was fraught with turmoil. She was raised by Elizabeth Childs, a self-help author with a Ph.D. who spent her days criticizing Rachel and left her life as damaged as she could. Elizabeth relished in the fact that only she knew the true identity of Rachel’s father while Rachel was left wondering continuously who her father could be. The fact that her mother kept her father’s identity such a secret from her left Rachel missing a part of her identity and determined to do whatever necessary to find her biological father.

Rachel’s relationship with men is a testy one, yet she always finds herself looking for the good in them. Enter in Sebastian and Brian. Both men pop up at important moments in Rachel’s life. Sebastian is a producer at the TV station where Rachel works. Brian is a man that Rachel knows casually, a man that Rachel tried to enlist to help find her father. Both Sebastian and Brian propel Rachel forward and drag her back in life. They add both positivity and negativity to her life.

Rachel finally feels like she has everything under control filled with a loving husband and a worthwhile career. After she has her on-air meltdown however, Rachel becomes a shut-in and life becomes significantly more difficult. One rainy day while out of her apartment, Rachel has an encounter that drastically changes her life. She soon finds herself questioning everything. Rachel’s life starts to unravel and she can’t pull herself out of the conspiracy that she finds herself thoroughly enmeshed in. Dealing with her mental breakdown and subsequent psychological issues, Rachel has to work to discover what is actually true despite all of the madness, deception, and violence that continuously rock her life.


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Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.

Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!

Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do.  She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.