The Force by Don Winslow

I find most of my reads while I’m looking through journals at work or when patrons suggest authors to me that I should try. Don Winslow came to my attention both ways. One day I saw his newest book in a journal I was flipping through. The next day a patron came to the desk and, through conversation, suggested I should try one of his books. As I’m a believer in coincidence, I knew I needed to give him a try.

Wanting to start with a standalone first to see if I liked him before I dragged myself into yet another series, I decided to start with Winslow’s newest standalone, The Force . This book is a fantastic representation of Winslow’s crime writing abilities. He is a gifted crime writer, proving that he really understands the subject matter that he chooses to write about.

In The Force, readers are brought into the world of Denny Malone and the mean streets of New York. Malone says at the start of this book, ‘Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true’. If you knew how your life, your job, or your relationship was going to end at the beginning, would you change your decisions? What about at the end of your career? If you could go back and change, would you? At the beginning of this novel, Malone finds himself contemplating all the decisions that he has made throughout his life. This book serves as a glimpse into everything that happened in Malone’s life that led him to where he is now.

Denny Malone just wants to be a good cop. When he started work as a police officer, all he wanted to do was make a difference for the public that he served. Now Malone is the king of Manhattan North. Working as a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant has changed Malone from the straight and narrow cop that he started out to be to his current position as the real leader of what is known as ‘Da Force’. Malone is a cop who knows that there are lines that, once you cross them, can never be uncrossed. Knowing that doesn’t stop him from crossing those lines, a little at first and then bigger and bigger. People in Manhattan North, cops and the public alike, know not to mess with Malone or his team because he isn’t afraid to use his position of power to get what he wants.

While Malone is working to clean up Manhattan North from drugs, guns, and gangs, there is decidedly some shady activity going on behind the scenes. While Malone and his team are credited with the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history, some(okay A LOT) of their actions surrounding said bust were not 100% legal. Since that bust, Malone and his partners have stolen millions of dollars worth of drugs and cash. If word got out of what they had done, they would all be in a great load of trouble.

Malone is going about his daily life surrounded by other corrupt cops, politicians, lawyers, and judges just struggling to provide the best for the public, his family, and himself. Called into a meeting that quickly turns sour, Malone is faced with a choice that, no matter where he turns, will end badly. He finds himself balancing on a thin tightrope being pulled in multiple directions. Malone must choose who to betray: his family, the woman he loves, his partners, the police force, or his brother. Will he end up betraying them all? While Malone finds himself going through this struggle, the city he loves so dearly, New York, is on verge of collapse. A racial confrontation between the police and the public could destroy the city, let alone the nation.

The topics covered in this novel are incredibly relevant to today.  Several of the events discussed within happened in real life. I really enjoyed how Winslow pulled events from today’s headlines and incorporated them into the fictional world that he created for Winslow and his fellow police detectives. Read this book and let me know what you think!


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The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

The three women who wrote this book are all talented writers on their own, so when press started surrounding The Glass Ocean, I knew this novel would be something special. I’m usually pretty skeptical of books with multiple authors, but this book was a perfect blend of all three writers’ specific styles. I’m not sure how they managed this blend, but I couldn’t pick out who wrote what. Perfect.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White crafts a well-written historical mystery with a hint of romance. Three women are linked years apart: two in the past and one in the present. All three are also tied to the RMS Lusitania, a passenger liner doomed from the minute it set off. Heading from the United States to England in April 1915, the RMS Lusitania ferried a large number of people heading to a new life, running away from the old, or heading back home. Whatever their reasons, the RMS Lusitania was seen as the perfect way to get wherever they were going.

April 1915. Caroline is a southern belle with a marriage in crisis. Her husband, Gilbert, used to be attentive, but as of late, something has seemed off. Caroline is hoping that this trip to London will reignite the spark that they are missing. The first-class accommodations afforded to them on the Lusitania will certainly help. What Caroline doesn’t account for is her old friend Robert Langford. He turns up on the ship, throwing all of Caroline’s well-laid plans out the window. Does she want to reconnect with Gilbert or start something new with Robert? Trapped on this ship and feeling restless, Caroline must decide how she wants her life to turn out.

Also on the ship is Tessa Fairweather. Her accommodations are much less lavish than Caroline’s. Having secured second-class lodgings, Tessa is returning home to Devon. Or is she? Tessa has really never left the United States and is traveling under an assumed name. She’s the daughter of a con man and has the ability to forge and steal almost anything. Tessa has been told that after she accomplishes this heist on the Lusitania she can start a whole new life. As Tessa begins scoping out this heist, though, it quickly becomes apparent that her partner is holding something back from her and that this heist is not as straightforward as it seems.

Flash forward to May 2013. Bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling. Her finances are low, she can’t find an idea for her next book, and her mother has Alzheimer’s. Desperate to find a way to solve her problems, Sarah decides to open the chest her mother made her promise never to open. In said chest, Sarah finds items that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. Searching through his belongings, Sarah discovers something that has the ability to change history forever. Needing to validate her discovery she heads to England to hopefully gain help from newly disgraced Member of Parliament, John Langford. After all, given that his relative, Robert Langford, was on the RMS Lusitania, his family archives might hold the key to Sarah understanding what she found in her chest.

This book was a delightful mix of three different characters whose lives were all drastically affected by the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. Read this book and let me know what you think!

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

I am a sucker for a good thriller with a mystery twist. I stumbled upon Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman while looking for a new book to listen to over the holidays. The light blue cover with the shock of red instantly made me think of murder. Even though covers sometimes don’t relate to the content of the book (which is a topic for another time), I was ready to give this book a try. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the cover actually related! Win!

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman is the story of a married couple thrust into a troublesome situation with differing views of how to handle it. Erin and Mark are a lovely couple. Living in England and passionately in love, they live a bit of a charmed life, hardly lacking for anything. Erin works as a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough. Working her contacts, she is in the midst of filming a documentary following three people in prison. Promising to discuss their arrests, talk to them while they are in prison, and then follow up with all three after they are released, this documentary has the potential to shoot Erin to the top of desired filmmakers when it’s finished. Mark is a investment banker with big plans for their life together who seems to bankroll Erin’s dreams.

While in the midst of wedding planning, Mark is let go from his job. Since Mark brings in the bulk of the money, Erin and Mark are forced to tweak their wedding plans. They decide to honeymoon in Bora Bora, a dream honeymoon in the tropics. Jetting off to Bora Bora, Mark and Erin are ready for two weeks of relaxation in the sun and sand with just each other, exactly what they need after the stress of Mark’s dismissal.

A few years ago, Erin had a bad scuba diving experience. Despite this, she agrees to go scuba diving with Mark, since it is something  he really enjoys doing. While scuba diving after a major storm, they find something in the water. Erin understandably freaks out, leaving Mark to investigate on his own. What he finds isn’t good and leads the two down a dangerous path. Just when they think they have left that event in their past, Mark finds something else connected to what they found in the water. After trying to get their resort involved, Mark and Erin realize that they must decide whether to speak out even more or to keep everything they found a secret. What would you do if you found something that had the power to drastically change your life circumstances? If no one else knew you found something, what would be the harm in keeping it? Whatever they decide will lead them down a life-altering series of events that has the possibility to destroy their comfortable lives forever.

This book is also a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick from 2018, so you know it’s a good one. Get to reading (or listening) and let me know what you think!


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A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a writer that never fails me. I know when I pick up one of her books, there’s a very good chance I will enjoy it. I recently finished her newest book, A Spark of Light, and found myself hooked from beginning to end. I seldom recommend you read a book over listening to it, but for this book, I recommend doing just that. My reason? This book is told backwards. If you have a somewhat short attention span(like I do), you might miss the verbal announcement of when they go to a different hour.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult takes on provocative issues in this book. Picoult shows that each issue presented needs alternate viewpoints in order to see the full truth. Trigger warning: this book deals with topics of abortion, gun violence, racism, and mentions rape and incest. These topics are all timely, presented equally, and are certainly worthy of debate in any society.

Morning begins like any other at the Center. Staff open the women’s reproductive health services clinic to a wide variety of people who need care. Whether you need abortions, birth control, cancer screenings, wellness checks, etc., the Center is there to help. The fact that the Center even exists is controversial, with demonstrators barricading the road and building every day trying to derail, confuse, and degrade the people who need the Center’s help.

Everything comes to a screeching halt when a single protestor makes his way into the Center armed with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Seeing events unfold from the viewpoints of staff, visitors, and patients allows readers to better understand their reasons for behaving the way they do. Unraveling the day backward hour by hour, this novel starts at the tensest moment with Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, negotiating for the release of all inside the Center. The gunman, negotiator, doctors, nurses, and women who have come to the Center have their lives examined as we start at their lowest point and move back.

Each person with ties to the Center is equally fascinating. A police hostage negotiator is trying to work when his phone vibrates and his heart stops. His teenage daughter and his older sister are trapped in the clinic alongside a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, a doctor working seemingly in opposition to his faith, a nurse attempting to calm her panic to save a wounded woman, a young woman there to end a pregnancy, an older woman who needs help understanding some devastating news she received, and the armed hostage taker who just wants someone to listen to what he has to say.

Even though this novel is told backward, the story unravels naturally as each characters’ lives are slowly peeled away. Readers are privy to the complexities involved in trying to balance the right to life with the right to choose as the reasonings for each person’s trip to the Center is slowly revealed.


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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg’s Night of Miracles  is the sequel to The Story of Arthur Trulov.  What a happy surprise to discover that some of the characters from Trulov continue in Berg’s newest novel.  Lucille and Maddy are back, as well as a lot of new folks from Mason, MO.

Berg does a great job of altering the prism through which we see the small Missouri town; it serves as the nexus for the various characters in this book.  For example, Iris’ story starts in Boston but, after her divorce, she makes a detour to Mason and her story comes to fruition there.

The town diner, Polly’s Henhouse, serves as a new setting with new characters. Polly and Monica work there, and interact with regular customers like Tiny and Iris. Iris, then, connects us back to Lucille. Iris eventually gets a job working for Lucille, facilitating her cooking classes. This web reflects how life in a small town works.

Berg changes point of view for each character, too, so we are privileged to peek into their interior life, and yet we also view how they are seen in the community. It’s a good reminder that we exist in other people’s minds in an entirely different way than how we exist in our own. We give ourselves much more latitude, and are much more forgiving of our own faults and idiosyncrasies. It’s interesting to see Lucille through Lucille’s eyes, rather than through Arthur’s, who thought, at least initially, that Lucille was pretty annoying. We see instead Lucille’s frailty and admire the lifetime’s worth of knowledge and skill that she puts into her baking.

Once again, Berg creates a world in which we gradually get to know and love the very human people who inhabit it. I wouldn’t mind spending time in Mason, myself but I’m pretty sure that it exists only on paper.

Speeches of Note compiled by Shaun Usher

Speeches of note: an eclectic collection of orations deserving of a wider audience – compiled by Shaun Usher (is) “An illustrated collection of 80 of history’s most interesting, profound, and sometimes unknown speeches from a range of scintillating personalities such as Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Groucho Marx, and Tina Fey”– Provided by publisher.

This is an incredible compilation of speeches. Definitely worth your time to read. Highly recommend this book for anyone lacking inspiration in their life or in need of the greater element of the human spirit that we only sometimes exude – if ever. All the speeches in this book are….and no understatement here…..incredible. I especially enjoyed: President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech in 1912 after just having been shot….he went on to give his speech and said, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” – seriously??? do you know of any politician who would go on today to give a speech for an hour and thirty minutes after just having been shot??? this is madness and no….I mean wow…this man…too bad he was not elected again in 1912 just think of what more he could have done – as we have him to thank in part for the United States National Park Service and protected lands through his conservationist actions.; Meghan Markle gave a beautiful speech on gender equality in 2015 to the United Nations (UN) on International Women’s Day; Malala Yousafzai’s first ever public speech at the UN which called for worldwide access to education; Donovan Livingston, a Master of Education graduate student, made a beautiful, verging on poetic, speech that echoed the need for change for students of color calling on all teachers and faculty to be that change – his speech created tremors  throughout the world via the internet giving Livingston instant international acclaim; and lastly, Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech that was never delivered….and..it made me cry. Check out this book. It is incredibly wonderful, inspiring, and moving.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Have you heard of Hank Green? Hank is the brother of prolific young adult author John Green. Hank is a genius in his own right though: cocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow. Hank has branched out into fiction now! In his debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thinghe has created an intriguing story about a young woman somewhat content in her own peaceful life who becomes an overnight celebrity. Her sudden celebrity is part of a much bigger, stranger, and weirder situation that anyone in the world could possibly comprehend.

April May is stumbling home from work in the wee hours of the morning when she runs into a giant sculpture that seems to have just popped up in the middle of the sidewalk out of nowhere. Delighted – and confused – by this discovery, April does the most logical thing that she can think of: she calls her friend Andy, a local vlogger, and guards this sculpture until he comes with his video equipment. April and Andy decide to make a video with this expertly crafted artwork that she has aptly named Carl. Carl is a glorious piece of craftmanship – a 10-foot-tall Transformer-looking sculpture covered in a suit of samurai armor. After shooting this video, they stumble to their respective homes where Andy uploads the video they shot to YouTube.

Events quickly spiral out of control. The next day April wakes up to a very popular viral video and a rapidly changed life. Andy is understandable overwhelmed as he calls April to report that their Carl isn’t the only Carl. Carls have been discovered in dozens of cities all over the world. They all seemed to have popped up at once with no organization or government claiming ownership of their construction or arrival. April is now considered to be the first person to have had contact with a Carl and thus becomes the center of an immensely intense and ever-growing international media spotlight.

Luckily April has some pretty strong friends and family in her corner. (Whether or not she acknowledges their usefulness is another matter altogether.) These individuals have to fight against April’s growing ego as she believes that she is the only person who could possible figure out the Carl situation. After all, she found the first Carl. April struggles to balance her new fame, old and new relationships, her identity, and concerns over her safety as people quickly realize that the Carls are even more not what the public thinks. April tries to put herself at the forefront of Carl research and becomes even more of the face of the Carl movement as people learn more and more facts about the Carls. People all over the world question the Carls’ existences: why, what, who, etc. April and friends soon realize that the Carls may want something from the people of Earth, but figuring this out may tear them all apart for good.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is an impressive and surprisingly relevant read when compared with today’s society. This book takes on issues of social media fame, conversations, and calls to arms. It also talks in great detail about how the world in general, and also people at an individual level, deal with change, fear, and the uncertainty that change can bring. I really enjoyed the way that Green builds April from a nobody to an immensely popular celebrity. That juxtaposition between her former and current selves was fascinating as it really showed the dehumanization and other-worldly qualities the general public thrusts on people in the public eye.

I enjoyed this book! Check it out and let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.


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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai’s latest novel, The Great Believers  is one the New York Time’s 10 Best Books of 2018. Recently, I heard speak Makkai when she gave a reading at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City.

Her novel explores a time in Chicago’s history that is little documented, according to the author.  A native of Chicago, she spoke of the difficulty of finding primary and secondary sources about the AIDS crisis in her hometown. New York and San Francisco were much more likely to be  the subjects and settings of the print and film record of the time. So, of necessity,  she ended up interviewing survivors, healthcare workers, caregivers, residents of Boystown, as well as doing other research for several years. She attributes the emotional resonance of the book to the fact that she was forced to seek out and talk to people, getting the telling detail and anecdote, rather than just reading about the crisis.

The book’s thread is Fiona, the sister of an early victim of AIDS – before it even had a name. As a young girl, she appears in both the eighties portion of the book as well as the sections dealing with the more immediate past. These chapters are set in 2015 when Fiona goes to Paris to try to connect with an estranged daughter, now involved in a cult. Makkai weaves Fiona through the lives of the principal characters of the book; for example, when she’s in Paris, Fiona stays with a now-famous photographer who chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

I found the chapters set in the eighties by far the most compelling. The main character here is Yale Tishman, who is a development director for an art gallery. His personal story is shadowed by  the fear he feels about every cough or fever – every possible sign of illness.  He and his friends try to deal with the mysterious and little understood disease in different ways. Told from Yale’s point of view, you get a small inkling of the paranoia and confusion of the time.

Because Yale is involved in obtaining an art collection owned by an expat living in  Paris of the twenties, the novel finds parallels with that time and place. The book’s title refers to a line by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the generation that was decimated by World War I and the flu epidemic that followed. After this time period, artists and others who didn’t necessarily fit into mainstream society gravitated to Paris of the twenties:  “We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

What would you do if you were stuck in a remote lodge in the middle of winter for a long weekend? This lodge has hiking trails, a library, fireplaces, and other outside activities. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? I thought so! Author Shari Lapena takes every bookworm’s dream weekend getaway and turns it into a nightmare in her newest novel, An Unwanted Guest. Fans of murder mysteries will want to read this book as Lapena crafts a book with descriptions similar to an Agatha Christie novel.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena tells the story of a group of people headed to a cozy mountain lodge named Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskills for a perfect weekend retreat. Things start to turn dicey on the drive to the lodge as a winter storm starts to barrel down on the area. Once everyone is settled at the lodge, they all settle in for various romantic, relaxing weekend activities. As events unfold, it becomes obvious that each person is not what they seem. When planned activities come to a screeching halt as the weather increasingly becomes worse and worse, the guests are forced to rely on each other for companionship.

As more and more guests arrive at the inn, they greet each other with interest, wondering about their reasonings for being there, but not wanting to get involved. The weather keeps guests and limited hotel staff stuck inside the Mitchell Inn without any hope of rescue from the outside. Waking up to a horrifying scream the next day, guests discover a dead body laying at the foot of the stairs. As the weekend progresses, the situation further deteriorates out of control with a frightening new truth coming to light. There’s a killer in their midst. None of them can escape. There is nowhere to run. They’re trapped, desperate for help, and finding that their trust in others is quickly slipping away. Searching for the truth, tensions run high as they all try to find out who is the killer and, most importantly, stay alive!


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The Witch Elm by Tana French

I have always wanted to read a book by Tana French. For ten years, French exclusively wrote the Dublin Murder Squad series. I don’t like reading series out of order, so I filed French down to the bottom of my to-read list until I could find all the books in the series. When I realized that her newest book was a stand-alone, I was excited! I could finally fulfill my desire to read Tana French. (And yes, I know I could have found her series and read them, but it’s much easier to find (and read) a standalone.)

The Witch Elm by Tana French is her latest novel released in the beginning of October 2018. This standalone mystery is separate from French’s Dublin Murder Squad series(I can’t stress that enough!). Based on the reviews that I read, The Witch Elm is a prime example of why you should check out what a book is actually about about before you pick it up. Most reviewers were excited that Tana French had put out a new book and decided to immediately read it. As I progressed through different reviews and websites, I saw that most had assumed this was a continuation of her Dublin Murder Squad series or had assumed that her newest would be a detective-centric story. It’s not! Having not read her others, I’m not sure how this one stacked up to her previous works, but I enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel a great deal.

In The Witch Elm , readers are introduced to happy-go-lucky Toby. Everything always seems to work out for Toby.  From his job to his girlfriend and his apartment, Toby seems to have it all. At the very beginning, Toby steps outside of the storyline of the book to inform readers that things have taken a turn for him. Through this novel, Toby says he will lay out the ways that his life has taken a turn. One night Toby is out having drinks with his friends, telling the story of how he has managed to come out of a touchy work situation in a positive manner. Hoping things will turn around, Toby drunkenly heads back to his apartment where he is surprised in the middle of the night by two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Not able to recover or live on his own, Toby finds himself living back at the Ivy House, his family’s ancestral home, taking care of his sick uncle.

Left damaged and traumatized after his attack, Toby struggles to take care of himself and his sick Uncle Hugo. Luckily for both men, Toby’s girlfriend moves into Ivy House to help care for them. This brutal attack has forever altered Toby and he isn’t sure how to adjust to his new normal. Uncle Hugo’s illness has left the family in doubt as to what will happen to Ivy House after he dies, which may happen sooner than they all think. All together for lunch one day, Hugo begins to broach this topic. Before they get very far, a scream is heard from the garden. The children have found a skull, tucked into the old witch elm at the foot of the garden.

With this discovery, Toby’s life will spiral even more out of control. Detectives, crime scene investigators, and the media descend in droves on Ivy House. Everyone in the family is on edge with Toby confused in the center. The aftereffects of Toby’s attack has addled his brain, making it hard for him to keep events straight. Constantly confusing the past and present and forgetting what is false and true rocket Toby to the top of the detectives’ suspect list. Through the course of their investigation, Toby is forced to look back on the idyllic childhood he lived and his perfect recent past. What he believed to be the truth may not actually be what happened. This novel takes a deep look at how what we believe to be true may not actually be how others remember what happened. While I enjoyed the suspenseful storytelling weaved throughout this novel, Toby was a character I had to work to love. Tana French crafted Toby’s character this way in order to force readers to really look at what we would do when forced to change ourselves into someone new. I encourage you to read this book and let me know what you thought in the comments below!


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