Review: Between the Lies

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**4 Stars**

Michelle Adams’ Between the Lies starts with bang: a woman – Chloe – awakes from a coma, completely unaware of who she is, what has happened to her, and, most importantly, who she can trust. She knows little about her past – just that she was in a serious car accident that took the life of her son, a car accident still under investigation by the police.

Her father, a psychiatrist studying memory, brings her home to their historic mansion, which is situated on sprawling acreage in the countryside. She is monitored closely by her father, her sister, and her mother, all of whom express concern and worry about her condition.

But something doesn’t feel right, and Chloe must regain her health to figure it out.

Soon, Chloe begins to suspect her family are not telling the truth about her past. They are keeping secrets from her and she must find a way off of their fenced-in property to discover who she was and what has happened to her. She also believes her father may be using her as part of a medical experiment, deliberately withholding memories from her to help her avoid dealing with the trauma of what happened.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot in fear of revealing of it. I will say that Adams is a master at crafting characters with whom you instantly relate, people who you want to befriend even if they are damaged or made terrible albeit all so human choices. Chloe felt like a real, living, breathing human being, fully fleshed out to me as a reader. I look forward to reading more of Adams’ books in the future. Thank you to Adams, NetGalley, and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced reader copy of Between the Lies!

Review: The Stranger Inside

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**4 Stars**

In Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, Kimber Hannon’s life seemed to be going smoothly until she returns from a vacation to discover someone has moved into her house and taken over essentially her entire life. She calls the cops, who are completely unhelpful. They tell her the person who is in her house has a valid lease, and that she will have to figure out somewhere else to live until the courts can get things figured out.

Shocked and having no roof over her head, she seeks solace from her best friend, Diana, who lives in a huge cushy mansion with her handsome husband and delightful young daughter. Things seem okay while Kimber is safely enclosed within the four walls of Diana’s posh house, that is until she ventures out of the house and to her job. Things to start to deteriorate at work and in her personal life, making her wonder if someone – such as the person who has taken over her house – is intentionally trying to destroy her life. And just maybe Kimber holds some responsibility for this situation.

If you enjoy books with an unreliable narrator and lots of shocking twists and turns, The Stranger Inside is definitely for you. It’s well written and the suspense builds page after page. Thank you to Laura Benedict, Mulholland Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of the book!

Review: The Last

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**4 Stars**

“The giant slate of the world was clean. Consequences no longer existed.”

If I had to choose one word to describe Hanna Jameson’s The Last, it would be “haunting.” The Last is a brilliant piece of work that is a satisfying mix of old school Agatha Christie who-dun-it murder mystery and dystopian apocalyptic world gone to hell in a handbasket thriller. It will be a pleasant treat for fans of both dystopian literature and classic murder mystery.

As an academic who travels for work, the premise of the book is terrifying to me. The lead of the book, Jon Keller, is attending an academic conference abroad in Switzerland at a hauntingly beautiful historic mansion turned hotel. Mind-numbingly horrific life-altering news shatters the serenity of his trip: nuclear bombs have been detonated over the US and the UK. Jon is ripped from his family – his wife Nadia and two young daughters who are in the US – as all television and Internet communications go down, leaving a vast geographical space between him and all that he loves.

To cope with the terror around him, he does what any academic would do: meticulously documents and details the events that transpire after the nuclear blast:

“I need to write about day one, before too much time passes and my memories of it become too repressed. That’s what the mind does with trauma; it erases it, making you relive it occasionally in flashbacks and dreams, sensations of vertigo, hyperventilation and panic. But the memory itself becomes a work of fiction.”

In the process of creating this historiography of a world amid nuclear fallout, Jon immediately realizes the limitations of modern society. All his resources are no longer available, as so much of them have been digitized:

“I had no journals, no library, no resources. The era of instant information was over.”

As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, Jon and his colleagues discover the body of a young child in the water tank of the hotel. This places a curtain of suspension over the entire hotel and its guests, leaving Jon wondering who he can trust. Is the murderer hiding in plain sight, or did they leave the hotel when the first exodus of guests occurred immediately after the fallout?

As Jon tries to piece together this mystery and make sense of what his life will look like in this brave new world, secrets are revealed about his past that also call into question his motivations for telling us his story and essentially writing the history of this post-apocalyptic world. Who can we believe if the storyteller isn’t honest with his readers?

The ending left open the possibility of a sequel, which I would definitely be up for reading. I hope to read more from Hanna Jameson and appreciate the opportunity to read this advanced reader copy of The Last! Thank you to Hanna Jameson, Atria Books, and NetGalley for a copy of the book!

Review: The Favorite Daughter

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**5 Stars**

Kaira Rouda’s latest book, The Favorite Daughter, is a haunting, first-person follow up to her hit Best Day Ever. In both books, Rouda painstakingly details what it might be like to live in the shoes of a psychotic, narcissistic person who thinks any and every single thing revolves around their needs, desires, and wants.

Jane Harris – the lead character – is an Orange County, California housewife and socialite who has spent the last year mourning her bright young daughter’s strange disappearance and subsequent murder. Her family life is crumbling around her – her husband seems to be straying and her other daughter is hanging out with the wrong crowd – but Jane is determined to take the helm again and show that they are strong amid tragedy. Getting her family to comply won’t be easy, but soon enough they will once be the talk of Orange County’s elite circles. To do so will also mean hiding a past – one that the police involved in her daughter’s case are onto.

This was a quick read for me because 1) I’m from Orange County, California, where this story takes place and can relate a lot to the places and shallowness of the wealthier subset of folks living there, and 2) because I love well written first person thrillers. I appreciated that Rouda tried to dive deep into the mind of someone who tries to rationalize every single terrible, destructive decision they make. She really gives you a sense of what a sociopath might be thinking when they decide to betray, trick, and con the people they supposedly love.

I saw some of the plotline coming, but that didn’t ruin it for me. If you are a fan of thrillers and domestic noir, you’ll like this book a lot. There are lots of crazy twists and turns for every the most seasoned thriller readers.

Thank you to Kaira Rouda, NetGalley, and Harlequin for the opportunity to read this exciting new thriller!

Review: Recursion

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**5++ Stars**

“When every memory contains a universe, what does simple even mean?”

“He has wondered lately if that’s all living really is – one long goodbye to those we love.”

“…is deja vu actually the specter of false timelines that never happened but did, casting their shadows upon reality?”

I was so excited to get an advanced reviewer copy Blake Crouch’s newest book, Recursion. I loved Dark Matter, and am happy to report that Recursion is even better than Dark Matter! I read this book in less than 24 hours – it is impossible to put down.

The book begins with Barry, a seasoned detective who is called to a disturbing scene on the rooftop of a skyscraper. He finds a woman who claims she is suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a recent virus that has infected a good deal of people across the world. She recalls vivid memories of a life she never lived, of a child she never ever cared for, and of a husband who loved her deeply. She cannot live with the pain of not being able to live that life again even though she knows it never happened. She jumps off of the roof to her death, and Barry feels compelled to investigate FMS cases.

Helena Smith is a researcher who has devoted her life’s work to the study of memory. She has chosen this path because her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is losing her memories day after day. I sympathized with her plight as someone who loves and cherishes their research, so much so that sometimes everything else in life can become background noise:

“Her life as of late has unspooled under the fluorescent lights of laboratories and revolved around the processing of raw data. She has never managed to achieve escape velocity from the irresistible gravity of her work – for her mom, but if she’s honest, also for herself. Work is the only thing that makes her feel alive, and she’s wondered, on more than one occasion, if that means she’s broken.” 

“In her experience, few people ever found that raison d’etre. What teachers and professors never told her was about the dark side of finding your purpose. The part where it consumes you. Where it becomes a destroyer of relationships and happiness. And still, she wouldn’t trade it. This is the only person she can be.”

Helena and Barry’s lives become entwined in complex, complicated ways that I don’t want to reveal here in my blog for fear of ruining this story. Let’s just say that this book is about a technology so powerful that it reinvents how humans experience the world and their memories. It holds the power to change human history – for better or, perhaps, for worse.

This isn’t just about science, technology, and memory, however. Like Dark Matter, Crouch explores what it means to be human despite the power of technology. What would it be like if we could back in the past and alter the course of events? Should we even do so? How might science and human history improve if we had the chance to stop the Holocaust, stop high school shootings, or prevent the death or loss of a loved one taken much too young? What are the consequences of this for time and space? And what if we could live multiple lives, redoing the things we failed at, learning from our experiences, and, perhaps, advancing science in a way one lifetime does not permit?

There is SO much good thinking material in this book. It’s beautifully written and there are several parts that made me cry. It is a haunting tale of love, of revenge, and of science. This is definitely the book to read of 2019! I’ll leave you with some additional lovely quotes that make this book so much more than a fun sci-fi thriller through time and space. Thank you to Blake Crouch, Crown Publishing Group, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

“There are so few things in our existence we can count on to give us the sense of permanence, of the ground beneath our feet. People fail us. Our bodies fail us. We fail ourselves. He’s experienced all of that. But what do you cling to, moment to moment, if memories simply change. What, then, is real? And if the answer is nothing, where does that leave us?”

“He takes another sip of coffee and watches the sunlight stream through the branches of the oak tree, striking the frosted grass, which begins to steam.”

“Your perspective changes when you’ve lived countless lives.”

“Could the fate of reality itself really depend upon one person not getting randomly hit by a bus?”