Review: The Last Time I Lied

**5 Goodreads Stars**

“But the past clings to the present. All those mistakes and humiliations following us as we march inevitably forward. There’s no ignoring them.”

If you had the chance to return to a place where your worst nightmares came true if it meant you might be able to face them, would you?

That’s the premise of Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied, the second of books published under Sager’s currently alias. I read Sager’s Final Girls last year and rated it 3/5 stars. My review can be found here. One of the reasons I rated Final Girls 3/5 stars was because I am not a huge fan of horror, and I think that’s what turned me off. Nonetheless, Sager is a fantastic writer, drawing you into the story with lush prose.

Emma is an up and coming artist who is struggling to paint, haunted by a dark past that is literally part of every single painting she has made. As a teenager, she was sent to an all-girls camp for rich kids called Camp Nightingale. There, three of her bunkmates disappeared in the middle of the night, never to be seen or found again. Emma was the last camper to see the three girls – Vivian, Natalie, and Allison– and has felt guilt over their disappearance ever since. The three girls are always the first things she paints, hidden behind the main subject but always lurking in the shadows.

Emma is asked to return to the camp for its reopening since the girls’ disappearance many, many years ago. Initially, she hesitates. However, Emma’s burning desire to find out what happened to her friends propels her to return to Camp Nightingale. Her return is met with suspicion, but she is there to discover something, anything, that will help her find closure and help solve the mystery of the missing girls.

This book has all the elements of an engaging mystery: an all-girls camp shrouded in mystery; love and tortured teenage romance; questionable camp staff who have suspicious backstories; and archaeological ruins that may hold the clue to the girls’ disappearance.

Things go awry the minute Emma goes to camp. She is terrorized by someone who claims to know what happened to the girls and who believes Emma is responsible for their disappearance. Does Emma hold the secret to finding the girls? Has she suppressed her memories of what took place that fateful night? Or is someone else concealing the truth?

I am so excited to see where Riley Sager’s writing takes us next. Sager is the master of suspense, building tension slowly and intentionally. Sager also makes you care deeply about all the characters, even when the book is told in the first person. Thank you to the author, the publisher, Random House/Penguin, and Edelweiss+ for an advanced reviewer copy of The Last Time I Lied.

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Review: A Higher Loyalty

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

“Ethical leaders know their own talent but fear their own limitations – to understand and reason, to see the world as it is and not as they wish it to be. They speak the truth and know that making wise decisions requires people to tell them the truth. And to get that truth, they create an environment of high standards and deep consideration – “love” is not too strong a word – that builds lasting bonds and make extraordinary achievement possible. It would never occur to an ethical leader to ask for loyalty.”

“Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation. We all bear responsibility for the deeply flawed choices put before voters during the 2016 election, and our country is paying a high price: this president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty.”

I admit I picked up James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty because I wanted the scoop on what happened with Donald Trump. I checked out this book at my local public library assuming that what I was going to read was going to be somewhat biased against Donald Trump (and, frankly, I am not sure how you could write anything in support of him at this point in time), but what I got was actually something quite different. James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty is a refreshing take on what it means to be a leader, to work as a public servant in the US, and what it means, at least in Comey’s world, to be ethical.

I walked away with a newfound appreciation of someone I wasn’t quite thrilled with given the Clinton email situation. I learned that James Comey is a family man who has desired to balance his work life and home life in order to be present for his 6 children and wife. I learned that he experienced bullying as a kid, and that experience shaped how he saw the world and how he approached leadership. Comey helped build diversity curriculum into FBI staff training, including modules where all FBI employees learn about the FBI’s history with Martin Luther King, Jr. He and his wife, Patrice, are also foster parents. I also learned that he is human and, at times, has been a bully, made mistakes, and has regrets. But unlike Trump, Comey seems to be aware of his personal faults and actually uses them to strengthen his character and make better decisions.

If you are looking for juicy details about Comey’s relationship with Donald Trump, you’ll find them at the end of the book. However, that is not what this book is about. It is about Comey’s experiences working under Bush (W) and Obama and in the FBI. As much as you may dislike either former President, he has kind, thoughtful things to say about both of them (though he clearly enjoyed working under Obama, who “had the ability to really discuss something, leveling the field to draw out perspectives different from his own”). He provides intimate insight into the inner-workings of the White House and FBI. I found discussions of both Obama and Bush very enlightening, especially in contrast to the president who is currently in office. Comey writes:

“It was no surprise that President Trump behaved in a manner that was completely different from his predecessors – I couldn’t imagine Barack Obama or George W. Bush asking someone to come onstage like a contestant on The Price is Right. What was distressing was what Trump symbolically seemed to be asking leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to do – to come forward and kiss the great man’s ring. To show their deference and loyalty.”

What did I take away from this book? As someone who is committed to continually improving my approach to teaching and leading teams (something I see as a work in progress, because I am human!), I found this book very useful. For example, he argues that good leaders don’t demand loyalty from their followers and coworkers. They listen to all sides of an issue and then make an informed decision. He likens ego-driven leaders to the Italian mafia members he tried and convicted early in his career as a lawyer. He sees Trump as someone akin to the Italian mafia: as a person who only cares about himself and his personal loyalties, as someone who has never thought twice about lying. Towards this end, he writes:

“I see no evidence that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain, which is sad and frightening. Without all those things – without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth – there is little chance Trump can attract and keep the kind of people around him that every president needs to make wise decisions. That makes me sad for him, but it makes me worry for our country.”

Trump, Comey notes, has absolutely no experience working with groups of people who don’t answer to you, which is what government work entails. He writes:

“Running a private family-held company is, of course, quite different from running a nation – or even running a large public corporation. You have to deal with various constituencies who don’t report to you and to live under a web of laws and regulations that don’t apply to a typical CEO.”

This book is clearly timely given that Trump is in office, and there is also some discussion of the Russia investigation. According to Comey, Trump requested several times over that he “lift the cloud” of the investigation. As Comey emphasizes throughout the book, the FBI must be independent from the Office of the President or else the FBI isn’t doing its job. Comey believes Trump does not understand this basic principle because he operates under the principle of loyalty (like the mafia mentioned above) and expects the FBI to work for him, not for the citizens of the United States:

“The Life of Lies. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. Loyalty oaths. An us-versus-them worldview. Lying about things, large and small, in service to some warped code of loyalty. These rules and standards were hallmarks of the Mafia, but throughout my career I’d be surprised how often I’d find them applied outside of it.”

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book, which is beautifully written. Comey made me understand who he is as a human being, what it means to truly be moral and ethical in a corrupt world, and how those of us who are working for the state or federal government can lead our society in a more positive direction. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in leadership and/or American politics.

“President Obama would never have considered such a conversation if he did not have enough confidence in himself to show humility. In fact, if I saw any hint of imbalance with President Obama as a leader, it was on the confidence side of the scale.”

“Humans tend to do the same dumb things, and the same evil things, again and again, because we forget.”

“…in a healthy organization, doubt is not weakness, it is wisdom, because people are at their most dangerous when they are certain that their cause is just and their facts are right.”

“Ethical leadership is also about understanding the truth about humans and our need for meaning. It is about building workplaces where standards are high and fear is low. Those are the kinds of cultures where people will feel comfortable speaking the truth to others as they seek excellence in themselves and the people around them.”

Review: Our Kind of Cruelty

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

“And you should never trust people who yearn to be something other than who they are.”

Araminta Hall’s debut thriller Our Kind of Cruelty takes you into the inner recesses of a deeply twisted mind. This is one of those books that won’t leave my head for years to come.

Mike Hayes, the narrator, falls in love with a beautiful lithe woman named Verity while in college. Verity has a penchant for danger, finding arousal and excitement in a game that she and Mike have nicknamed the “Crave.” Crave involves Mike and Verity going to nightclubs separately. Verity entices men at the nightclub, luring them to dance and/or kiss her. As soon as Verity gives Mike a sign (which involves touching an eagle necklace she wears), he intervenes and starts a fight with whoever is with Verity. Then Mike and Verity have passionate sex, sometimes right there in the public eye of a nightclub. Sometimes they take the game further, luring men and women into their hotel rooms.

Upon Verity’s insistence, Mike leaves London to take a high paying job in the banking industry. According to Mike, Verity encouraged him to take the job so that they could save up enough money to retire in their 40s. He also took the job so that he could buy Verity a beautiful house in London.

However, Mike is lonely on his own in New York and makes a fatal mistake by having a one night stand with a coworker who he doesn’t even like. When Mike returns to London for Christmas, he admits his betrayal to Verity, who immediately breaks up with him. Mike cannot believe that one brief affair could lead to the destruction of their long-term relationship. He begins to think that this is a new form of the Crave, as absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Much to his surprise, Mike discovers that Verity is getting married to a wealthy socialite a short 9 months after she broke up with him. He cannot believe Verity would move on so quickly after nearly 9 years of dating, so Mike continues to believe this is all part of the Crave. To what length will Mike go to get Verity back? Is her engagement part of an extended version of the Crave? Or is Verity playing both partners as part of a more elaborate game?

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I read this book in a day. I absolutely could not put it down. The narrator’s voice is infused with intensity, making you wonder what Mike is truly capable of. Is, for instance, the Crave all in Mike’s head? Or is something even more twisted than the Crave taking place?

Thank you to Araminta Hall and the publisher, MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, for an advanced reader copy of Our Kind of Cruelty. I cannot wait to see what Hall publishes in the future!

Review: The Absolved

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**3 Goodreads Stars**

It’s the year 2036 in Matthew Binder’s The Absolved and humanity is living a questionable existence, one where automation has rendered human labor nearly obsolete. The “Absolved” refers to the majority of humankind who no longer have jobs. Instead, they are given a minimum wage on which to live and provided a home, food, and minimal comforts.

The story is narrated by Henri, a wealthy oncologist who has yet to be absorbed by machinery. He has a beautiful wife, Rachel, and a young son. He also has a woman on the side named Taylor who hopes to attend medical school someday. Henri is shielded from the reality of the Absolved for the most part, but every now and then he gets a thrill by hanging out in a dive bar frequented by many of the Absolved.

I had a lot of hope for this book because I enjoy speculative fiction and the premise sounded promising, but unfortunately, it fell short for me. For one, 2036 really didn’t feel that far off from today’s society; it felt like an amplified version of it, but nothing too drastically different for me to feel as though I was in an entirely unfamiliar and new world. I expect speculative fiction to present creative twists on the world as we know it, especially when it is set only 20 years from today’s society. This world, for me, was too close for comfort. For instance, healthcare is one of the few areas of life that are not dictated by machinery. However, healthcare mandates passed down by politicians have resulted in universal healthcare that is based upon cost-benefit analyses of human life. I’d say this practice is very much alive here in the United States, where insurance coverage often dictates the care a patient is able to obtain.

The characters also left me wanting. Henri is self-motivated and narcissistic, engaging and indulging in anything that pleasures him despite who it might hurt. His wife, who has some fairly odd behaviors (such as dressing up as Snow White??!), is also superficial, obsessed with her looks, decorating their house, and her son’s education. The characters’ self-worth is entirely wrapped up in their money.

I kept trying to figure out what the plot was and how the characters would transform, but I was disinterested by the time the author got to it. Henri does experience a moral reckoning, but those around him fail to experience the same transformation. I felt that women, in particular, were painted as one-dimensional characters who were out for themselves or as objects of sexual desire: there is so much more to humanity (and women!) than this.

Thank you to the author, Matthew Binder, the publisher, Black Spot Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Absolved.

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Review: The Perfect Friend

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

From the outside, Carrie and Alex’s relationship seems healthy: two survivors who found each other at a support group for people suffering from all kinds of afflictions. Carrie, who is 24 years old, is in remission from a cancer that completely ravaged her body. Alex, who was abandoned by her twins and husband, is recovering from anorexia: a disease that started as a way to cope with the depression and sadness of being neglected by her family.

Both Alex and Carrie have more in common than they realize: they are both liars and are concealing secrets from each other and their support group. The secrets start to unravel as soon as Carrie’s cancer comes back, which draws Alex into Carrie’s life even further.

Threatening notes are left on Carrie’s doorstep, which Alex intercepts thinking they are associated with the lies she has been telling Carrie about her past. Then Carrie’s cat disappears and her car windows are smashed, suggesting that whoever is after either Alex or Carrie is intensifying their behavior. Alex begins to fear that whoever is targeting her or Carrie is going to harm them, so she starts digging deeper into Carrie’s past. She finds that Carrie may have a darker past than herself, one that is coming back to haunt the both of them.

I really enjoyed the pacing of this book and how secrets were slowly unraveled chapter by chapter. This helps keep tension throughout the book, which made me want to keep turning the pages. I thought both of the characters were well-developed, and, as someone who has struggled with eating issues, I also felt that the representation of anorexia was accurate and absolutely heartbreaking. If you like a simmering, well-written mystery, this book should definitely be on your shelf!

Thank you to the author, Barbara Copperthwaite, the publisher, Bookouture, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of The Perfect Friend.

The Perfect Friend - Blog Tour

Amazon Links:         mybook.to/TPFBCSocial

Description

She’ll do anything for you…

My name is Alex, and my world has been shattered.
My husband has left me.
My children won’t speak to me.
My friend Carrie is the only person I have.
She’s the only one I can trust to keep all my secrets.
She’d never do anything to let me down.
Would she?

This dark, gripping psychological thriller will have you holding your breath until the very last page. Fans of Behind Closed DoorsSometimes I Lie, and The Girl on the Train will be captivated.

Barbara Copperthwaite author picture

Author Bio

Barbara is the Amazon and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, THE DARKEST LIES, and HER LAST SECRET. Her latest book is THE PERFECT FRIEND.

More importantly, she loves cakes, wildlife photography and, last but definitely not least, her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy (who force her to throw tennis balls for them for hours).
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Having spent over twenty years as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, Barbara has interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She is fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line.

When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.

Author Social Media Links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraCopperthwaite

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BCopperthwait

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/author_barbara_copperthwaite/

Website: www.barbaracopperthwaite.com

Review: An Unwanted Guest

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

“How quickly and how absolutely trust – built over many years – can collapse.”

I took a break from reviewing this past month as I had several big work projects I wanted to finish. I am glad to end my review hiatus with Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest, which was a thrilling whodunit mystery set in a mysteriously rustic wooded retreat.

If you enjoy Agatha Christie novels, you will love Lapena’s newest book. Much like Christie’s And Then There Were None, the cast of characters in An Unwanted Guest all have curious, intriguing backstories. The backstories are slowly revealed to the reader as guest after guest is picked off. There’s the dowdy empty-nest couple who have yet to jumpstart their relationship after devoting it to raising their children. There’s a young couple who are devastatingly attractive and appear to be passionately in love, but are perhaps hiding secrets of their own. There are two formerly close friends who have come to the resort seeking to rekindle their friendship, which begins to unravel even further as soon as their trip starts. There’s the lawyer who has been publically defamed for his wife’s death despite failing to be convicted for it. Finally, there’s the lonely writer who is trying to pen her next big hit and is seeking solitude at the remote resort in the woods.

What I enjoyed about this book is how each one of the characters could be implicated in the murders. The author reveals just enough information about each character to make you wonder about their motivations for coming to the lodge. Are they there to commit foul play? To connect with a loved one? To betray?

I also enjoyed the setting of the novel, which is at a historic hotel in the woods. An ice storm strikes the area, causing the power and phone lines to go out. Cell phone service is non-existent. The roads are impassable. Thus, the hotel guests are left to their own devices to help find the murderer before he or she (or they??) kills again.

This is a read that I finished quickly amid a busy work period. It was also my first book by Lapena. Thank you to the author, Bantam Press, and Edelweiss+ for an advanced reader copy of An Unwanted Guest.

Review: Natural Causes

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

“In the health-conscious mindset that has prevailed among the world’s affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are ‘sinfully delicious,’ while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as ‘guilt-free.’ Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures like fasts, purges, or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

I had a different reaction to aging: I gradually came to realize that I was old enough to die, by which I am not suggesting that each of us bears an expiration date. There is of course no fixed age at which a person ceases to be worthy of further medical investment, whether aimed at prevention or cure.”

Have you ever struggled to get a medical diagnosis? Been told that you aren’t sick or been dismissed by a doctor? I am guessing most people at some point in their lives have experienced this frustration, and while Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Our Illusion of Control isn’t specifically about misdiagnosis, it’s about the many problems involved in the healthcare industry.

Some people have written about this book as though it’s merely about deciding not to have preventative care once you reach a certain age, but that’s only part of the picture. Ehrenreich takes on the health industry full stop, debunking the myths that manage to still dictate patient care and revealing the industry as it is, which is that it is a business. She also unravels the wellness and mindfulness industry that pervades America right now, which severely lacks evidence to support its claims.

What I came away with after reading this book is that medicine (and the mindfulness industry), while wonderful and helpful, is still in the dark ages on certain issues, such as the immune system. We still have a lot to learn about how the immune system compromises and interacts with the rest of the body. The book also made me feel less responsible for what happens to my body, because sometimes you can do all of the right things that society tells you to do – exercise, eat well, meditate, etc. – and still end up with a body that turns on you. As Ehrenreich states:

“What is the point of minutely calibrating one’s diet and time spent on the treadmill when you could be vanquished entirely by a few rogue cells within your own body?”

I like that Ehrenreich explores both the business side of medicine as well as how our culture pushes for control over one’s body. Controlling one’s body has become a business, whether it is one’s looks, one’s weight, or one’s health. It’s not just the medical industry that is trying to create more tests and interventions to prevent the inevitable – death – but it is also patients demanding more testing. But Ehrenreich does not see value in subjecting herself to more testing that has no evidence to prolong people’s lives when they get to old age. She writes:

“I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”

Her reflections, of course, only apply to those of us healthy enough to not need regular prescriptions. It does not apply to people with chronic health issues or those who have been and are sustained by medicine. I personally know I could not get my inhalers – which I rely upon twice a day to breathe – without seeing my asthma doc at least once a year.

This review barely scrapes the surface of this book. There is so much good information here and so many thoughtful discussions about healthcare, medicine, and culture in the Western world. I think I highlighted half of the book. This is one of those books that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf for years to come (as is the case with Ehrenreich’s other publications!). Thank you to the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!