Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Books

It's here: the top books I've read for 2019. My top books are listed in chronological order of when they were read rather than a definitive number one pick. I listed the top 15 fiction titles, but could have easily done a top 30. The top picks are followed by the complete list of books read in 2019 listed by month. 

Best fiction 2019 - Top 15

1. Talk to Me by John Kenney, 1/9/19
2. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, 1/9/19
3. Crucible by James Rollins, 1/10/19
4. The Forgiving Kind by Donna Everhart, 1/23/19
5. Cemetery Road by Greg Iles, 3/6/19
6. Run Away by Harlan Coben, 3/20/19
7. Outside Looking In by T. C. Boyle, 4/7/19
8.Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, 4/17/19
9. Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf, 4/17/19
10. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher, 4/25/19
11. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, 7/24/19
12. The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter, 7/31/19
13. Chances Are... by Richard Russo, 7/31/19
14.November Road by Lou Berney, 11/12/19
15. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, 11/19/19

Short stories - top 5
Tacoma Stories by Richard Wiley, 2/6/19
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell, 5/15/19
Everything Inside by Edwidge Dantica, 8/25/19
Alien Archives by Robert Silverberg, 10/28/19
The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan, 10/28/19

Nonfiction top 10
Dannemora by Charles A. Gardner, 2/20/19
The Perfect Predator by Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson 3/24/19
Things My Son Needs to Know about the World by Fredrik Backman, 5/8/19
American Predator by Maureen Callahan, 6/30/19
Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects by Edward Posnett, 8/7/19
The Day It Finally Happens by Mike Pearl, 9/16/19
The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson, 10/8/19
A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan 10/13/19
The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe, 10/13/19*
American Epidemic by John McMillian, 10/13/19**

 2019 Books
January – 14 books
1. The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski, 382 pages, 1/4/19, so-so
2. The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless, 528 pages, 1/6/19, highly recommended
3. She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge, 368 pages, 1/6/19, highly recommended
4. Talk to Me by John Kenney, 320 pages, 1/9/19, very highly recommended **
5. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, 320 pages, 1/9/19, very highly recommended **
6. Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, 272 pages, 1/10/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
7. Crucible by James Rollins, 480 pages, 1/10/19, very highly recommended *
8. I Invited Her In by Adele Parks, 432 pages, 1/10/19, recommended
9. The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley, 352 pages, 1/16/19, very highly recommended *
10. Once a Liar by A.F. Brady, 384 pages, 1/20/19, highly recommended
11. The Forgiving Kind by Donna Everhart, 352 pages, 1/23/19, very highly recommended **
12. When You Read This by Mary Adkins, 384 pages, 1/24/19, very highly recommended*
13. What We Did by Christobel Kent, 320 pages, 1/27/19, recommended
14. Remember Me by D. E. White, 384 pages, 1/27/19 recommended

February - 11 books
15. Tacoma Stories by Richard Wiley, 272 pages, 2/6/19, very highly recommended, short stories *
16. American Pop by Snowden Wright, 400 pages, 2/6/19, highly recommended
17. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas, 336 pages, 2/10/19, recommended
18. The Next to Die by Sophie Hannah, 416 pages, 2/10/19, highly recommended
19. Never Tell by Lisa Gardner, 416 pages, 2/15/19, very highly recommended **
20. The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin, 368 pages, 2/15/19, very highly recommended*
21. Dannemora by Charles A. Gardner, 272 pages, 2/20/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction*
22. Call Me Evie by JP Pomare, 368 pages, 2/20/19, highly recommended
23. We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet, 464 pages, 2/24/19, recommended
24. Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson, 320 pages, 2/27/19, highly recommended
25. The Altruists by Andrew Ridker, 320 pages, 2/28/19, very highly recommended **

March -11 books
26. Fallen Mountains by Kimi Cunningham Grant, 256 pages, 3/6/19, very highly recommended*
27. Cemetery Road by Greg Iles, 608 pages, 3/6/19, very highly recommended **
28. And Then You Were Gone by R. J. Jacobs, 288 pages, 3/10/19, highly recommended
29. Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins, 256 pages, 3/12/19, highly recommended
30. The Liar's Child by Carla Buckley, 288 pages, 3/13/19, highly recommended
31. The Study of Animal Languages by Lindsay Stern, 240 pages, 3/14/19, recommended
32. Run Away by Harlan Coben, 384 pages, 3/20/19, very highly recommended*
33. Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe by Evan James, 288 pages, 3/20/19, highly recommended
34. The Perfect Predator by Steffanie Strathdee, 352 pages, 3/24/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction*
35. The Last Second by Catherine Coulter, 464 pages, 3/27/19, recommended
36. The Editor by Steven Rowley, 320 pages, 3/28/19, highly recommended

April -16 books
37. Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick, 352 pages, 4/3/19, highly recommended
38. A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie, 288 pages, 4/3/19, recommended
39. Outside Looking In by T. C. Boyle, 400 pages, 4/7/19, very highly recommended **
40. Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer, 384 pages, 4/7/19, recommended
41. The Last by Hanna Jameson, 352 pages, 4/10/19, highly recommended
42. Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline, 400 pages, 4/14/19, recommended
43. Alice & Gerald by Ron Franscell, 330 pages, 4/14/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
44. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, 368 pages, 4/17/19, very highly recommended*
45. Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf, 368 pages, 4/17/19, very highly recommended**
46. Alice's Island by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, 400 pages, 4/21/19, so-so
47. The Better Sister by Alafair Burke, 336 pages, 4/24/19, highly recommended
48. Earthbound by Paul Falk, 205 pages, 4/25/19, so-so
49. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher, 384 pages, 4/25/19, very highly recommended**
50. Strange Tales of World Travel by Gina and Scott Gaille, 240 pages, 4/28/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
51. The Innocent Ones by Neil White, 404 pages, 4/28/19, highly recommended
52. The Invited by Jennifer McMahon, 368 pages, 4/28/19, highly recommended

May -12 books
53. The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz, 288 pages, 5/5/19, recommended
54. The Book of Flora by Meg Elison, 332 pages, 5/5/19, recommended
55. The Last Time I Saw You by Liv Constantine, 320 pages, 5/5/19, recommended
56. Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler, 320 pages, 5/5/19, highly recommended
57. Year of the Orphan by Daniel Findlay, 288 pages, 5/8/19, recommended
58. Things My Son Needs to Know about the World by Fredrik Backman, 208 pages, 5/8/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
59. The Night Window by Dean Koontz, 432 pages, 5/12/19, very highly recommended *
60. Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell, 288 pages, 5/15/19, very highly recommended, short stories*
61. If She Wakes by Michael Koryta, 400 pages, 5/16/19, very highly recommended
62. Ted Bundy's Murderous Mysteries by Kevin Sullivan, 364 pages, 5/19/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
63. How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper, 336 pages, 5/22/19, very highly recommended *
64. The Last Thing She Remembers by J.S. Monroe, 416 pages, 5/23/19, highly recommended

June -19 books
65. Whatever It Takes by Jessica Pack, 256 pages, 6/4/19, recommended
66. Trace: who killed Maria James? by Rachael Brown, 304 pages, 6/4/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
67. Temper by Layne Fargo, 352 pages, 6/5/19, recommended
68. Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson, 896 pages, 6/5/19, highly recommended
69. Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale, 176 pages, 6/6/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
70. Above the Ether by Eric Barnes, 240 pages, 6/9/19, highly recommended
71. The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora, 240 pages, 6/9/19, highly recommended
72. The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister, 400 pages, 6/12/19, highly recommended
73. Tiny by Kim Hooper, 368 pages, 6/12/19, highly recommended
74. Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker, 304 pages, 6/12/19, recommended
75. Those People by Louise Candlish, 368 pages, 6/16/19, recommended
76. The Starter Wife by Nina Laurin, 352 pages, 6/16/19, highly recommended
77. The Cutting Room by Ashley Dyer, 448 pages, 6/19/19, very highly recommended *
78. The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda, 352 pages, 6/20/19, very highly recommended *
79. The Not Good Enough Mother by Sharon Lamb, 200 pages, 6/23/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
80. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, 400 pages, 6/26/19, very highly recommended *
81. The Disappeared by Amy Lord, 368 pages, 6/26/19, recommended
82. The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, 464 pages, 6/30/19, highly recommended
83. American Predator by Maureen Callahan, 304 pages, 6/30/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction *

July -16 books
84. The Girl in the Woods by Patricia MacDonald, 240 pages, 7/4/19, so-so
85. Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin, 368 pages,7/4/19, highly recommended
86. Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger, 288 pages, 7/4/19, highly recommended
87. The Liar's House by Carla Kovach, 328 pages, 7/7/18, highly recommended
89. The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele, 336 pages, 7/7/19, recommended
90. Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin, 327 pages, 7/15/19, highly recommended
91. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, 208 pages, 7/16/19, highly recommended
92. Buried by Ellison Cooper, 368 pages, 7/15/19, highly recommended
93. The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson, 352 pages, 7/18/19, recommended
94. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman, 352 pages, 7/19/19, very highly recommended **
95. Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty, 416 pages, 7/21/19, highly recommended
96. The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, 368 pages, 7/24/19, very highly recommended *
97. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, 352 pages, 7/24/19, very highly recommended **
98. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin, 368 pages, 7/25/19, highly recommended
99. The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter, 464 pages, 7/31/19, very highly recommended **
100. Chances Are... by Richard Russo, 320 pages, 7/31/19, very highly recommended**

August -18 books
101. Someone We Know by Shari Lapena, 304 pages, 8/4/19, recommended
102. The Betrayed Wife by Kevin O'Brien, 464 pages, 8/4/19, so-so
103. Lost You by Haylen Beck, 320 pages, 8/4/19, recommended
104. Strange Harvests by Edward Posnett, 336 pages, 8/7/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
105. The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney, 432 pages, 8/7/19, recommended
106. The Victim by Max Manning, 336 pages, 8/11/19, so-so
107. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, 352 pages, 8/11/19, highly recommended
108. We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White, 304 pages, 8/14/19, highly recommended
109. Radio Dark by Shane Hinton, 130 pages, 8/14/19, recommended
110. Trust Me When I Lie by Benjamin Stevenson, 352 pages, 8/14/19, highly recommended
111. The Swallows by Lisa Lutz, 416 pages, 8/18/19, recommended
112. The Retreat by Sherri Smith, 352 pages, 8/18/19, recommended
113. Stolen Things by R. H. Herron, 368 pages, 8/18/19, so-so
114. The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs, 384 pages, 8/21/19, highly recommended
115. The Warehouse by Rob Hart, 368 pages, 8/22/19, very highly recommended *
116. Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat, 240 pages, 8/25/19, very highly recommended, short stories**
117. After the Flood by Kassandra Montag, 432 pages, 8/29/19, highly recommended
118. Scan Artist by Marcia Biederman, 240 pages, 8/29/19, highly recommended, nonfiction

September -16 books
119. Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard, 304 pages, 9/2/19, very highly recommended
120. The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man by Dave Hutchinson, 336 pages, 9/2/19, highly recommended
121. The Nature of Life and Death by Patricia Wiltshire, 304 pages, 9/3/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
122. Ice Cold Heart by P. J. Tracy, 320 pages, 9/10/19, highly recommended
123. The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld, 272 pages, 9/10/19, highly recommended
124. The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger, 384 pages, 9/16/19, very highly recommended
125. The Day It Finally Happens by Mike Pearl, 304 pages, 9/16/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction*
126. When I Got Out by Peter Seth, 464 pages, 9/17/19, recommended
127. The Liar's Sister by Sarah A. Denzil, 276 pages, 9/17/19, recommended
128. Entanglement by Andrew J Thomas, 312 pages, 9/23/19, highly recommended
129. Full Throttle by Joe Hill, 496 pages, 9/23/19, highly recommended, short stories
130. Sarah Jane by James Sallis, 216 pages, 9/24/19, highly recommended
131. You Can See More From Up Here by Mark Guerin, 436 pages, 9/30/19, highly recommended
132. The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen, 288 pages, 9/30/19, recommended
133. One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski, 352 pages, 9/30/19, recommended
134. Half Way Home by Hugh Howey, 240 pages, 9/30/19, recommended

October - 16 books
135. The Lying Room by Nicci French, 432 pages, 10/1/19, highly recommended
136. A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie, 384 pages, 10/7/19, highly recommended
137. The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown, 328 pages, 10/7/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
138. Sassafras by Trish Heald, 322 pages, 10/7/19, recommended
139. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson, 464 pages, 10/8/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
140. Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman, 416 pages, 10/11/19, very highly recommended *
141. A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan, 384 pages, 10/13/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
142. The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe, 272 pages, 10/13/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction*
143. American Epidemic by John McMillian, 304 pages, 10/13/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
144. Sudden Traveler by Sarah Hall, 128 pages, 10/21/19, recommended, short stories
145. Interference by Sue Burke, 320 pages, 10/21/19, very highly recommended *
146. Alien Archives by Robert Silverberg, 404 pages, 10/28/19, very highly recommended, short stories *
147. The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan, 736 pages, 10/28/19, very highly recommended, short stories *
148. Let Justice Descend by Lisa Black, 336 pages, 10/28/19, very highly recommended
149. Disaster's Children by Emma Sloley, 320 pages, 10/29/19, so-so
150. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, 352 pages, 10/29/19, very highly recommended *

November - 13 books
151. Days of Future Found by Mary Wark, 330 pages, 11/4/19, recommended
152. The Empty Nest by Sue Watson, 290 pages, 11/4/19, recommended
153. Cold Country by Russell Rowland, 232 pages, 11/5/19, very highly recommended*
154. November Road by Lou Berney, 320 pages, 11/12/19, very highly recommended **
155. Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor by Peter Watts, 320 pages, 11/12/19, highly recommended, essays
156. Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge by Sheila Weller, 416 pages, 11/13/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
157. The Andromeda Evolution by Michael Crichton, Daniel H. Wilson, 384 pages, 11/13/19, very highly recommended**
158. The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg, 304 pages, 11/18/19, recommended
159. The Lying House by Rick Mofina, 512 pages, 11/18/19, highly recommended
160. Single by K.L. Slater, 342 pages, 11/18/19, recommended
161. Old Bones by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, 384 pages, 11/19/19, very highly recommended **
162. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, 432 pages, 11/19/19, very highly recommended **
163. How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid, 416 pages, 11/30/19, highly recommended

December - 15 books
164. Anyone by Charles Soule, 432 pages, 12/2/19, highly recommended
165. Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle, 368 pages, 12/2/19, highly recommended
166. The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters, 280 pages, 12/3/19, so-so
167. Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn, 320 pages, 12/8/19, highly recommended
168. If You Tell by Gregg Olsen, 428 pages, 12/8/19, very highly recommended, nonfiction
169. The Wives by Tarryn Fisher, 336 pages, 12/12/19, very highly recommended
170. Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison, 464 pages, 12/16/19, highly recommended
171. The Playground by Jane Shemilt, 384 pages, 12/16/19, highly recommended
172. Inside the Hot Zone by Mark G. Kortepeter, 336 pages, 12/17/19, highly recommended, nonfiction
173. Hide Away by Jason Pinter, 368 pages, 12/17/19, very highly recommended *
174. The Heap by Sean Adams, 320 pages, 12/26/19, highly recommended
175. The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller, 327 pages, 12/26/19, so-so
176. The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green, 384 pages, 12/26/19, highly recommended
177. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, 352 pages, 12/31/19, very highly recommended *
178. The Tenant by Katrine Engberg, 368 pages, 12/31/19, highly recommended

The Tenant

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg
Gallery/Scout Press: 1/14/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982127572

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg is a highly recommended debut police procedural set in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case of a young woman found brutally murdered in her apartment. The victim was stabbed, beaten over the head, and then had a design carved on her face. As Anette and Jeppe investigate the murder of 21-year-old student Julie Stender, they interview her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, a hard drinking retired academic who wants to be a writer. The investigators are pursuing some of the people associated with Esther, but also Esther herself, especially when it is revealed that a description of Julie's murder turns up in the manuscript of Esther's unfinished crime novel.

Jeppe and Esther are well-developed characters, with other characters either playing a supportive role or portrayed as somewhat of an enigma. Engberg establishes the struggles the detectives have working with each other and the personality clashes they frequently experience. Jeppe is the more contemplative, cerebral of the two, while Anette is outspoken, blunt and matter-of-fact. They are definitively opposites, but they do work well together and complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. Other detectives in the force are also involved in the case.

The writing is good and the plot moves along swiftly. Since this is a translation of Engberg's debut novel, any qualms with the writing could be due to the translation, so I'm not basing a rating on the writing. There are several false leads in the investigation. Additionally, parts of the plot require suspending disbelief, while other elements seem commonplace and familiar elements that are found in many procedurals. The narrative alternates between characters, with Jeppe and Esther being the main focus. This is an interesting procedural where nothing is as it seems.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press.

Dear Edward

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Penguin Random House: 1/6/20
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781984854780

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is a very highly recommended heartbreaking novel that examines the before and after of a boy surviving a terrible tragedy.

Twelve-year-old Eddie Adler is the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his older brother, Jordan, his parents, and 183 other passengers on a flight in Newark to Los Angeles. Eddie wakes up in the hospital with a broken body, no immediate family members, and a huge media presence. His Aunt Lacey, his mother's sister, and Uncle John take him in, and hastily try to make the nursery (set up for their never-born children) his room. He is now called Edward. Edward ends up wandering next door and sleeping on the floor of Shay's room. She's the girl who lives next door and represents the one person he can relax around. His connection with Shay helps him on his road to recovery and a way to go on.

Chapters alternate between the present and the past. The past chapters flashback to the flight and chronicle some of the doomed passengers on the flight, along with Edward's family. We learn about their lives and hopes for the future as the flight continues toward what we know is their demise. The present chapters follow Edward’s recovery during the years between 2013 and 2019. In 2016 he and Shay make a discovery, hundreds of letters written to him and saved, but hidden, by his Uncle John. These letters help set him on a road to finding his purpose and a way to live in the world.

Dear Edward is an engaging and beautifully written novel. This sensitive, heartbreaking, extraordinary coming-of-age story compassionately captures Edward's pain and struggle to recover both emotionally and physically, as well as to find a meaning and purpose to his life. The alternating chapters keep fresh in your mind the scope of the upcoming tragedy that Edward is struggling daily to recover from. It also serves to highlight that you don't know the future and what tragedy could await any of us. It helps keep the magnitude of Edward's loss and the breadth of his recovery in the forefront of your thoughts.

Edward is a perfectly imagine well-developed character. His post-trauma recovery is described realistically but with compassion and empathy. The other characters, Shay, his family, and some of the people on the plane are also well-developed. Allowing the reader to know the intimate thoughts of a selection of the doomed people on the flight makes the tragedy even more poignant and heart-rending.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Prized Girl

The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green
Penguin Random House: 1/14/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781524745103 

The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Twenty-six year old Virginia Kennedy is the black sheep of the family and an ongoing disappointment to her father. When her half-sister, 13-year-old beauty queen Jenny Kennedy was found raped and murdered, Virginia becomes obsessed with finding out who is guilty. Although she wasn't close to her half-sister, she is determined to find justice for her. As Detective Brandon Colsen  works the case, Virginia stays in contact with him and shares clues she finds.

There is more going on than the police know. The main suspect is a developmentally disabled man, Benjy Lincoln, who followed Jenny when she was in beauty pageants, but Virginia knows there could be other suspects in the small town where they live. Virginia also doesn't have a problem with looking into suspects or snooping around on her own. Her teenage years in this small town were troubled, and resulted in the mess she has made of her life to date. Every Saturday night she allows herself to take pills and drink until she passes out, but she also knows the secrets no one is mentioning.

The chapters alternate between events leading up to Jenny's final days and Virginia's present day search for the truth. It becomes clear immediately that Jenny was not living the charmed life everyone thought and Virginia has a reason to be a mess. There are several suspects presented in the novel that could all be equally culpable in Jenny's demise. As Virginia works with Detective Colsen, he makes clear he is interested in her beyond the case.

I enjoyed this thriller and liked the assortment of potential suspects. Green does a good job introducing several suspects that could all equally be guilty. Choosing to alternate between the point-of-view of the two sisters in the two different timelines is an effective way to tell the story. Everyone is keeping secrets and holding back the truth. The pace picks up as the novel progresses and I was actually surprised at the final denouement. I quite enjoyed this psychological thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright

The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller
Bookouture: 1/9/20
eBook review copy:
ISBN-13: 9781786817419

The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller is a so-so novel about a woman having a mid-life crisis.

Kay Bright has been following the same routine day in and day out for twenty-nine years. She works in her husband’s stationery shop, she does the shopping and the cooking, she practices yoga, and every other month she writes a letter to her best friend Bear (Ursula) who is living in Australia. Every other month Bear sends a letter to Kay. They have done this since they were teens and Bear moved to Australia. Kay is now concerned because she hasn't heard from Bear in 6 months, that's three missing letters. This is the impetus that causes Kay to pack a bag, take her wedding ring off, and leave her husband. She is planning to travel to see Bear, and then travel, hopefully going to Vienna. She feels like life has passed her by, her husband is a bore, and she needs to escape to do her own thing. In alternating chapters Kay's daughter Stella is going through her own crisis - trying to find her way in the world.

What appealed to me was the epistolary aspect of the novel. Generally I like novels that tell part of the story through letters (or emails, texts, etc.). They did add to the plot, but not quite as much as I anticipated. Kay's reaction to not hearing from Bear was over-the-top nonsensical. Maybe Bear doesn't reply to emails or is hard to get a hold of on the phone. If her friendship means this much to you, Keep Trying. In the end, the life long friendship actually seemed a shallow one. Kay didn't even seem to have a real deep friendship with her other "best"friend, Rose. I was certainly expecting there to be more behind her leaving than the reasons given. She is able to talk and perhaps it would have behooved her to use her words and talk to her husband. She also was strangely competent and comfortable traveling for someone who longed to do it but hadn't done so for over 30 years.

I don't actually even know why I finished this novel as I generally don't like romance novels. I guess I was anticipating some depth of character and emotions that were both sorely lacking. Kay is a selfish, self-centered, annoying woman who seemed to have the missed boarding the maturity and deep-thinking boat years ago. Obviously this was not the novel for me. I actually bumped it up to two stars because it was so obviously a bad choice for me and lots of readers liked it. FYI: Don't fall for the hype; it is not as good as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, A Man Called Ove, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.

The Heap

The Heap by Sean Adams
HarperCollins: 1/7/20
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062957733

The Heap by Sean Adams is a highly recommended dystopian novel chronicling the rise, fall, and recovery effort of a massive high rise complex.

Los Verticalés was a massive high rise housing complex in the desert. Towering nearly 500 stories tall, the complex collapsed into what is called "the Heap," a pile of rubble covering 20 acres. A community of Dig Hands now live nearby in CamperTown. In exchange for digging gear, a rehabilitated bicycle, a tiny trailer, and a small living stipend, Dig Hands spend their days removing debris, trash, and bodies from the building’s mountainous remains. Orville Anders is a dig hand who, along with his co-worker Lydia, and many others, is looking for his brother, Bernard. Miraculously Bernard has survived the collapse and is broadcasting his radio show from somewhere in the Heap. Orville calls in to Bernard's show every night after work and talks to him on air.

Chapters in this debut novel feature chapters from the present day life in the community of Dig Hands in CamperTown after the collapse and glimpses into life in Los Verticalés and the residents before the collapse. Life in the tower beforehand had two very different groups of inner and outer residents - those who could still see natural light through their apartment windows, and the rest who had to rely on images on UV screens. Life in CamperTown is a third very different community with its own set of rules and a social atmosphere. All parts of the novel become increasingly disjointed and menacing, especially when a cartel comes into the story.

The Heap is an entertaining novel with some interesting world building and unique aspects in the society. While the writing could use some assistance in a few areas, the idea behind the novel and the plot help to overcome the parts that are lacking or a bit slow moving. The addition of the weird and absurd, but menacing, cartel, and the rather heedless, nonsensical and peculiar activities of the characters added a quirky, intriguing aspect to the inventive plot.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hide Away

Hide Away by Jason Pinter
Thomas & Mercer: 3/1/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781542005906
Rachel Marin Series #1

Hide Away by Jason Pinter is a very highly recommended procedural thriller and a wonderful start to a new series.

Rachel Marin is a mom to two kids who became a vigilante after an unspeakable crime shatters their lives. The novel opens seven years in the past on the day Rachel's life changed and then jumps to the present day when a mugger jumps Rachel on her way home. She expertly incapacitates him and hurries home to her children, Eric, 13, and Megan, 7. The family is now living in Ashby, Illinois, a small town where Rachel is hoping her kids can be safe and they can live a quiet incognito life.

When Rachel sees a news story that a former mayor of her town is found dead, most people are thinking suicide, but Rachel is one intelligent woman and she immediately figures out from the news account who the victim was, the former mayor of Ashby, Constance Wright, and that it was murder. She calls the detectives anonymously and tells them what she thinks and why. Detectives John Serrano and Leslie Tally are on the case and they track Rachel down to question her. The detectives resent her involvement in the case, but Rachel wants justice for Constance and can't leave it alone.

I'm just going to admit that once I started this thriller I stayed up way-too-late reading "just one more chapter" to finish it. I really like the character of Rachel and I liked the flashbacks that explained how she made herself into the woman she is today. Yes, she is a vigilante, but she ultimately is trying to seek justice to protect others from harm. We also won't learn exactly what the trauma was that changed her life until the very end. This means there are two cases being followed in the narrative - the present day murder mystery and the mystery about Rachel's past.

The writing and plot development is exceptional. All the characters are well-developed and have backstories and an emotional depth to them. The plot is fast paced, the suspense is relentless, and chapters set in both the present and past are equally compelling. I like the complexity of the plot and had no trouble following what was happening in both timelines. Hide Away is an extraordinary start to a new series and I can't wait until the next book is released. (Normally I read and review closer to publication dates, but my ARC initially had an earlier publication date.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Inside the Hot Zone

Inside the Hot Zone by Mark G. Kortepeter
Potomac Books: 1/1/20
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781640121423

Inside the Hot Zone: A Soldier on the Front Lines of Biological Warfare by Mark G. Kortepeter is a highly recommended look inside USAMRIID during 1998 to 2009.

Doctor and U.S. Army Col. Mark G. Kortepeter served as the deputy commander and a biodefense expert at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, during the tumultuous years of 1998 to 2009. During his years of service the U.S. experienced some of the more frightening threats in modern germ warfare. Think about it, this was during the aftermath of 9/11 and the anthrax letters, the threat of biological weapons during the Iraq War, and a potential botulism attack on the President. USAMRIID is called out whenever the potential use of biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) may be used and could cause unbelievable casualties. They have highly secured labs that go up to the Biosafety Level-4 maximum containment lab.

Kortepeter calls the six highest threats the Chessmen of Doom: the Pawn is botulism, the Rook is tularemia, the Knight is Ebola, the Bishop is plague, the King is smallpox, and the Queen is anthrax. He then discusses each of these and the threat they pose during different scenarios depending upon how the terrorist group weaponizes them, and the counter measures/treatments they have to have ready in case of any scenario. The account includes personal stories and the roles he and his colleagues took on, as well as the challenging and, quite frankly, sometimes unethical treatment experienced. (Okay, I was incensed at the FBI harassment of a colleague.)

This personable, entertaining account is part biography and part insider look at the Hot Zone. It is written in a manner that can be easily understood by the average reader and doesn't require an experts knowledge of biological agents or scientific research. Kortepeter clearly provides an insiders look at how complicated and detail oriented his job was, by necessity in today's political climate, and what it means to be called to action during a crisis, like the presidential botulism scare. This book will appeal to both the professional and the interested novice. The book includes 28 photos, notes, and an index.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Potomac Books.