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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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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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware knows how to write a novel full of twists. Bonus: if you listen to the audiobook version of really any of her books, you will be treated to some pretty neat accents. The Death of Mrs. Westaway, her latest book, is dark, dramatic, mysterious, and full of family drama.

Hal reads tarot cards on Brighton pier, a job that does not pay the bills very well. This makes it hard for her to afford food, rent, etc. Hal’s mother used to read tarot cards, so after she died a few years earlier, Hal easily slipped into the job she had watched her mother do for years. Struggling to make ends meet, Hal is at her wits end when a mysterious letter arrives detailing that she has been bequeathed a large inheritance. Reading said letter, Hal knows that this can’t possible be true, but the timing of the letter seems like a gift. She decides to accept the inheritance and head to the giant, cold, and gloomy Trepassen house. Leaving for Trepassen, Hal knows that doing so is a mistake. Having taken a loan from a loan shark with massive interest, Hal also knows that she has no other options to even begin paying back what she owes without taking this inheritance. Onward she goes.

Traveling down to the English coast, Hal pours over the letter looking for clues about the family that she is heading to meet. She is at a loss as to how to introduce herself, but knows that the cold-reading skills she has honed as a tarot card reader should help her claim the money and trick the others. Arriving amidst rain, Hal is led into the funeral of the deceased. Observing family and friends, Hal begins to feel that something is off with the whole situation. Something is just not right.

Following the family back to Trepassen house, Hal gets her first look at this massive, cold, and dour house. Just looking at the place, Hal feels like there are many, many secrets hidden within the walls. The family is both tight-lipped and easy to share, a concept that throws Hal off. Left to sleep in a tiny bedroom at the very top of the house by herself, Hal and the others begin to sort through the messiness of the deceased’s will. As they get further and further involved, the wrongness that Hal initially felt grows stronger as the situation begins to spiral more out of her control. Not knowing who to trust nor who is telling the truth, Hal begins her own investigation into what is really happening. This novel reads like a bit of a detective story with Ware knowing how to spin a crafty and spooky atmosphere rich with crime, gothic, and murderous twists.


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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to authors. I have yet to run across a book of hers that I haven’t liked. Slaughter writes suspenseful mystery thrillers that leave you wondering about past lives, secrets kept, and relationships both broken and sustained throughout the years. I like my fiction a little bit dark and twisty. If I don’t figure out the whodunnit and why until almost the end, even better. For me, Slaughter writes successful fiction because I’m consistently surprised with the twist her fiction takes.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is her newest book. I. Was. Blown. Away. This novel takes a close look at the relationships with parents and their children. While we may think we know our ancestry, this novel proves that these thoughts may be completely and totally wrong. There are so many different pieces to each person. (Play on the title, get it??) We also have different identities. One woman can be a mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife, etc, with each separate part of herself hiding something from the other.

In Pieces of Her, Andrea discovers that she never really knew her mother, Laura at all. Even though she has a very close relationship with her mother, even living in her garage apartment, one day throws everything apart. Andrea knows that her mother has spent her entire life cloistered in their tiny beach town of BelleIsle. Her mother has no secrets, but is seen as a steadfast and trustworthy member of the community. With Laura’s life changed by a cancer diagnosis, Andrea moves back home and becomes enmeshed in her life. This cancer scare is a deviation from the norm, but Andrea knows her mother’s reactions are only a result of her cancer treatment.

Heading to the mall one afternoon with her mother, Andrea soon sees a completely different side of Laura. The violent scene that erupts in front of Andrea shows her that her mother was a totally different person before her, more so than her simply not having a child. The intense media scrutiny and the police’s desire to find answers brings unwanted attention to Laura and she quickly shuts down. Laura changes in front of Andrea’s eyes, telling Andrea to run away from the whole situation with only slight clues of where to go. Laura refuses to speak to anyone, instead lying low and trying to protect her daughter by pushing her away. Andrea leaves town, following the tiny bit of clues her mother has left for her. Digging into her mother’s secrets, Andrea quickly discovers that if she can’t figure out the real truth of her mother’s past, there might not be a future for either of them.

Reviewer’s note: Karin Slaughter is not shy when it comes to using graphic scenes, violence, and blood in her books. This book is no exception. If you’re squeamish, I would steer clear. In my opinion, this novel only benefits from her descriptions.


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Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

I recently stumbled upon author J.T. Ellison while looking for a new book to read on OverDrive. I had heard of Ellison in the past, but had never read anything she had written before. The description of her most recent standalone novel Tear Me Apart captured my interest because the description of the book seemed pretty straight-forward, but once I started reading, I realized that this book was going to be anything but straight-forward.

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison tackles the question of how far a parent is willing to go to save the life of a child. Mindy Wright is a competitive skier at the top of her field. Despite being only a teenager, Mindy has a great chance of making the Olympic team. Competing on a course she is very familiar with, Mindy is sure she will win her current race. The weather is getting progressively worse, yet race leaders haven’t decided to halt Mindy’s run. Mindy’s life is derailed after she suffers a catastrophic downhill crash. Her leg is broken and she is rushed to surgery.

In surgery, doctors discover a complication: Mindy is suffering from a severe form of leukemia. On top of recovering from surgery, Mindy must undergo treatment for leukemia. With her condition worsening, the doctors realize that a stem cell transplant is her only hope. Mindy’s parents and her aunt are tested to see if they’re a match. When the results come back, they are all stunned to see that Mindy is not biologically related to any of them.

Mindy’s aunt works for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in the lab and does some looking into the DNA in the case. How could Mindy not be related to any of them? In the race to save Mindy, multiple lies and secrets are uncovered stemming back to before Mindy was even born. As her aunt tries to figure out a way to save her, readers are left to wonder if Mindy was switched at birth or if a more disquieting plot unraveled at the time of her birth. What is her mother keeping secret? Why is she holding back and seeming to change her story so often? One look at her face and others around her start to doubt the validity of her claims.

As the search for Mindy’s truth progresses, the secrets revealed and the tension created begin to tear the family apart and put everyone on edge. Certain members of the family are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their secrets. With Mindy’s fame as a skier, the press becomes involved when a statement is released pleading for help to find a match and to hopefully keep the rumors at bay.

How far would you go to save a child? To keep your secrets hidden? This novel digs deep into the hidden links, layers, betrayals, and secrets that have served to bind two separate families together over many, many years. Would you fight to keep the darkness and secrets buried even when the truth could potentially save someone? What about if those secrets could break apart your entire world? How long would it take you to thoroughly believe the web of lies you created for yourself and your family? Would you forget your real identity and the lives of the ones around you? Ellison weaves a gloriously tangled suspenseful thriller of a novel that will have you wondering if the people you see on a daily basis are really telling you the truth.


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The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer

Medical thrillers can sometimes be overwhelming if the author focuses the majority of the text on intense descriptions of medical issues. One author that I feel has managed to successfully balance medical, suspense, and mystery is Daniel Palmer, writing a Michael Palmer medical thriller.

The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer is the latest book of theirs that I listened to. This book centers around the President and his family. President Geoffrey Hilliard and his family deal with everyday issues while under intense public scrutiny. The President and First Lady are growing increasingly worried about their only son, Cam, who keeps withdrawing into himself. 16-year-old Cam is experiencing moodiness, extreme fatigue, and recently had a violent outburst that Secret Service Agent Karen Ray was present for. The main White House doctor is quick to dismiss Cam’s symptoms by saying that Cam is a teenager growing up in the spotlight and thus has developed depression. Karen, after observing Cam, becomes convinced that his issues are more serious than depression. Because the original doctor dismissed Karen’s concerns, Karen reaches out to her ex-husband Dr. Lee Blackwood for a second opinion.

The President is not thrilled with Lee’s intervention and dismisses his concerns over Cam’s condition. Lee monitors Cam through Karen and grows increasingly more worried and concerned. The President and First Lady soon reach out to Lee again when it’s discovered that Cam is getting progressively worse. Cam’s symptoms puzzle Lee because their combination doesn’t make sense.

Lee is busy doing research and comes across the case of Susie Banks, a young musical prodigy who has the same symptoms and condition as Cam. Running across Susie’s case, Lee discovers that someone has tried to kill her and no one knows why. Looking at medical records, Lee hopes to find more connections between Susie and Cam to figure out what is happening with them. Similarities start to pop up and Lee starts poking around. The cause of their condition is unknown, but Lee and Karen both know that they are on a deadline to find a cure for Cam’s mysterious disease before it turns deadly.

This book had a little bit of everything that I love in fiction: romance, politics, family drama, medical issues, suspense, and military drama. I felt, as I was listening to this book, that there was something in this book for everyone. I’m excited to read another one of their books to see if they could become one of my favorites.


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Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser is a mysterious read about a group of neighborhood women who are all connected to each other. Yellow Springs is a small Ohio town that is rocked by the sudden and shocking disappearance of young mother Kristin and her twins.

The women of Yellow Springs are excited to realize that their baby monitors all reach one of the women’s backyard. They gather around a firepit one Saturday night to relax and take a night off from husbands, kids, and life in general. They drink too much and share more than usual. After all, everyone has secrets.

On Monday morning, whispers begin to circulate around town that one of the women is missing. Kristin, the adorable twin mom, who seems to have everything together and under control with her handsome doctor husband, has disappeared into the night without a trace with her two children. As police begin investigating, they dig up secrets surrounding each woman. Instead of finding answers about what happened to Kristin, whether she’s dead or alive, police discover that Kristin doesn’t seem too worried about her impending divorce, even with her husband moved out. Kristin’s husband, Paul, finds himself at the center of the investigation as he moves back into the family home and starts packing up their belongings to move on with his life.

Kristin’s closest neighbor, Clara, is having difficulties with Kristin and her children’s disappearance. Clara’s past is troubled. With the police searching the neighborhood and interviewing the neighbors, this incident is triggering memories of her past that Clara would really like to forget. Soon Clara unwittingly finds herself dragged right into the center of the investigation. When she’s thrust into the spotlight, Clara’s suspicions begin to rise.

Each neighbor is forced to closely examine their own lives behind closed doors as secrets begin to leak out and suspicions about what really happened thrown around. Kristin and the twins’ disappearance becomes a cold case, leaving the neighborhood feeling confused, betrayed, and worried that something sinister could be lurking around their idyllic town of Yellow Springs.

This book was an interesting read as it sheds light on what really is happening behind the scenes and how real life usually always varies from what is presented in the media. While I had issues with some characters, I liked how the author went beyond the surface details and let us see the divide between what we present to the public and what is actually happening behind closed doors.


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