spinning through music city

Emily Firestone is in a good place in her life, and I don’t just mean her apartment in Nashville. After years of struggling with a very difficult bipolar disorder, she finally has her spinning mind under control. She has a job she loves—working with children as a psychologist—and a good relationship with biochemist Paolo, when he’s not deep in the research lab. So when he suggests an overnight trip on a boat, she agrees, even though she can’t swim.

The boat trip starts out beautifully. The lake outside of Nashville is beautiful, and the boat calmly slices through the water. Emily’s anxiety is up, because of the water, so she takes a pill and opens some wine. But soon she is relaxed and enjoying herself, laughing with Paolo as he swims with the fish and plays with his camera, his favorite hobby.

But when Emily wakes up the next morning, Paolo is no longer on the boat. She calls for him and waits, searching the water, but she can’t find him anywhere. Finally, she has to do something, so she manages to get the boat back to the dock and have someone call the police.

As the investigation goes on, and Emily is looked at closely as a potential killer, she loses her composure more and more. Her mania rises back to the surface, and her mind spins out of control as she tries to figure out if Paolo was murdered, and by whom. It will take her all of her resources to figure out what’s going on and to get herself out of danger, but with her mental illness, does she have what it takes to solve the puzzle in time?

Author and psychologist R. J. Jacobs has crafted a clever thriller with one of the best treats, an unreliable narrator. Emily, with her anxiety and bipolar disorder, her looseness with her pills and lack of sleep, takes us on a twisty tour of the darkest parts of her mind as she struggles with the disappearance of her boyfriend and the resulting investigation. And Then You Were Gone is a solid story about a young woman on the edge, and getting a glimpse into the mind of a bipolar woman spinning out of control is enlightening.

Galleys for And Then You Were Gone were provided by Crooked Lane Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 3.24

recently finished: And Then You Were Gone by R. J. Jacobs, a twisty thriller that puts you inside the head of a character with manic depression. What a crazy ride! And most of it is in and around Nashville, my old stomping grounds, so that was fun.

currently reading: I just started My Lovely Wife, and wow! Is it a stunner! I’ve only read a few chapters, and my head is already spinning. It’s a little bit of a novel about a marriage and a little bit of a novel about a serial killer, if that tells you what direction this goes. And I’m almost done with Heroine by Mindy McGinnis. It’s' a heart-breaker of a story about a young athlete who gets addicted to opiods. It’s beautiful though.

up next: The Girl He Used to Know, which sounds like a lovely college romance that gets rekindled years later. I can use a gentle book after Heroine and My Lovely Wife.

the bright side of aging

Amsterdam elder diarist Hendrik  Groen is back! After taking a year off to recover from a dear friend’s death, he’s back at 85 to share his adventures, his wisdom, and his skills with his motorized scooter. Determined more than ever to take full advantage of the time he has left, Hendrik and his friends in the Old But Not Dead Club take to the streets to carpe the diem.

With warmth and wit, Groen again gives us a glimpse into life in an old age home, with the daily complaints about ailments, the struggles with technology, the daily bottleneck in the hallway as everyone waits for the elevator, and the meals with ill-fitting dentures and quirky digestive systems. He writes about the daily events in the home and in the world, offering a perceptive perspective on life from 85-year-old eyes.

But Hendrik is coming out of his shell. From traveling with the Old But Not Dead Club to joining in a parade in his motorized scooter, from learning percussion to making truffles, from taking over the home’s Residents Committee to sampling the cuisines of countries around the world, Groen demonstrates what it takes to stay spry and young at heart at any age. He embraces his own humanity by learning new skills, taking more risks, speaking out, and caring for friends in their times of need.

On the Bright Side is an absolute delight of a novel in every way. Things aren’t always perfect or even always happy in Hendrik’s world, but he’s honest and true and lets us all see into his mind and heart in a moving, hopeful, comforting way. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to dealing with everything that comes along with being 85, but if I find myself with just a fraction of his sense of humor, his wisdom, and his friendships, then I will consider myself very lucky indeed.

Galleys for On the Bright Side were provided by Grand Central Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks.

what lies below the surface

Joe Lynch makes an impetuous decision one evening, after his son William spots Mommy’s car in traffic. Joe follows his wife Mel, so they can surprise her. He’s surprised when she pulls into an underground parking lot for a hotel. He and Wills go to the lobby to look for her, but Joe steps in front of his son, so he won’t see Mommy arguing with another man. Joe recognizes him—Ben Delaney, the husband of one of Mel’s oldest friends—but he doesn’t want his son to see the argument. So he takes Wills back to the car and distracts him with his tablet so he can talk to Mel. But Mel is so upset, she doesn’t see him. She just gets in her car and leaves.

And then Joe finds himself face to face with Ben.

There are words. And then there are fists. And then there is blood. A lot of blood. And when William starts to have an asthma attack, Joe panics and leaves to make sure his son will be okay. He gets them home and finds Wills’s inhaler. And then he heads back to the hotel. But Ben and his car are gone. Joe tells himself that Ben must have gotten up and driven home.

Only Ben never shows up at home. And the police start asking him uncomfortable questions. And Joe finds himself in the middle of a really bad situation while his entire life starts to unravel. As he makes his way through the lies and secrets, will he be left with anything at all at the end?

T.M. Logan has written a twisty story where you never quite know what to believe. There are clearly layers of truths somewhere, but sussing them out takes some work. I enjoyed this thriller. There were some aspects of the story that I thought were a little predictable, but it’s well written, and I did really like the characters. I thought it was believable and interesting. It was a fun read, and I recommend it as a solid thriller.

Galleys for Lies were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

shocked into silence

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist with a new job,. He waited for years for a job to open up at the Grove, a secure psychiatric unit that holds many potentially violent offenders, including the enigmatic Alicia Berenson. Alicia was a painter, and a wife. Her husband Gabriel, seven years her senior, was a renowned fashion photographer. They were happy. They were talented. Alicia was preparing for a big showing of her paintings.

And then she was arrested for killing her husband.

She is found home alone with Gabriel. He had been shot five times with his shotgun. Her wrists were cut. She survived. He didn’t. Since the police showed up on the scene, she hasn’t said a word. Not for the 6 years since the shooting.

Theo finds himself drawn to her, to her story, to her trauma. As a kid, he grew up with abuse, and after a very difficult young adulthood, he found a therapist who helped him heal and move forward with his life. Now he is convinced that he can do the same for her. The other doctors at the Grove are not so sure. They feel that Alicia is too far gone to be saved. Can Theo prove them wrong and get Alicia to give up the dark secrets about that night that she holds so closely, or will Theo fail in his mission?

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is one of the most talked-about books of 2019 so far, and that is well deserved. Personally, I love a good thriller. I read so many that it’s hard to shock me now. Sometimes, with a well written thriller there is a piece of the puzzle that I don’t see coming, and that makes me happy. But it wasn’t like that with this book. The twist in The Silent Patient was something I didn’t see coming at all. And like Alicia, I was stunned into silence. I’m not going to give anything away here. Just know that this book is at least as good as everyone is saying, and if you’re a thriller fan, you absolutely have to read it!

And again I say, if you’re a thriller fan, you absolutely have to read it!

Galleys for The Silent Patient were provided by Celadon Books, with many thanks.

a sure bet

Siobhan O’Sullivan is a relatively new garda, a police officer on the force in her small village of Kilbane in County Cork, Ireland. She is excited to work the upcoming festival and the major poker tournament that has brought so many tourists and guests to the village. But it’s not long before one of the poker stars find themselves holding a hand that included the 8 of clubs, 8 of spades, ace of clubs, and ace of spades, also known as the Dead Man’s Hand.

When Siobhan finds that same poker star hanging in a store room in a local pub the next morning, she has to struggle to get past the locked door to get to him. Clearly, he was alone, as there is no way to leave the room and lock the deadbolt. But every instinct that Siobhan has points to murder. Will she be able to find the killer in time to save the festival, or will the death be ruled a suicide, allowing the killer to get away?

Murder in an Irish Pub is the fourth in this series by Carlene O’Connor about Siobhan, all her brothers and sisters, and her instincts for truth and justice. I enjoy reading cozies, but to me the best cozies are the ones about strong women who I’d love to sit down with and share a cup of tea or a beer with. And Siobhan is definitely a woman I’d like to call a friend. Murder in an Irish Pub was the first book in this series that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. This is definitely a character I want to spend some time with.

Murder in an Irish Pub is a cozy that has it all: a likable main character, a compelling crime, lots of interesting family and friends, really good writing, maybe a little romance, and a strong ending. Plus, it’s set in Ireland. What could be better?

Galleys for Murder in an Irish Pub were provided by Kensington through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 3.17

recently finished: Finally finished The Silent Patient. I listened to Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, read by her. Amazing! and in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I read Murder in an Irish Pub. This is a cozy series I’ve been meaning to get into for awhile. And I was wrong. For waiting so long. It’s fantastic.

currently reading: Still reading The Killer in Me and loving it. Also reading Hendrik Groen’s On the Bright Side. Both of his diaries make me want to buy copies and hand them out to everyone. And I’m almost to the end of Beautiful Bad, and I can’t wait to see what happens! There are so many good thrillers out this year!

up next: The Altruists, which I chose partly because of the title. I remember studying altruism in social psych, and it fascinates me still. And Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss. I would like to be better about following mine. I have my bliss (shocking, but it involves books). And I have a job I like. But I wish I could find a way to merge the two, so that I can get paid to read and write about the books I love. So far, that is easier said than done, but that is my wish. Maybe, after listening to Anne Lamott all week, maybe that is my prayer.

idle hands and all that

What hasn’t Eric Idle done? There was Monty Python, of course. But he also wrote movies, made music, appeared in operas, hung out with celebrities, made a rock mockumentary, has managed to stay married to the same woman since the 1970s, and was BFFs with a Beatle. And there is no better way to hear all about his adventures than by listening to his Sortabiography, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

From his early school days through his early comedy and television work, through the Monty Python years, and on through everything else he’s done, Idle’s memoir tells so many wonderful, funny, and moving stories about the chances he’s taken, the friendships he’s built, the adventures he’s gone on, the jokes he’s told, and the times he’s gotten to sung his signature song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” for fans around the world.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is a must-listen for fans of Python, anyone who loves a good celebrity memoir (especially about comedians), and everyone who loves to hear a really good impression of George Harrison. But know that while you listen laughing and amazed through most of the book, there is heartbreak also. Listening to Idle talk about the funeral of Graham Chapman, the attack on George and Olivia Harrison, and the loss of Robin Williams brought tears to my eyes (and my cheeks). Still, worth every single minute and every single penny. So highly recommended I almost want to buy everyone a copy and deliver them myself. Listen to this book!!

Galleys for Always Look on the Bright Side of Life were provided by Penguin Random House’s First To Read program, with many thanks, but there was no way I wasn’t going to buy the audiobook of this one on my own, thanks to Audible.

secrets and the summer nanny

There have always been rumors swirling around the Summerbourne twins, Seraphine and Danny. Their mother died just days after their birth, having fallen off a cliff on the estate. And now that they are adults, Danny has put the rumors and questions about his family behind him, but his sister is not so certain. Seraphine still has doubts about what happened the summer that they were born. And when they lose their father in a devastating accident, she feels like she just has to know more about where she came from.

Looking through old mementos, Seraphine finds a couple of clues to offer her some direction. One is a photo of her mother holding one of the twins shortly after their birth. But which one is it? And the other is an information sheet about the summer nanny her parents hired that summer to look after their older brother Edwin.

A handful of internet searches brings Seraphine to Laura, the au pair from that summer. But Laura doesn’t want to talk, her grandmother and brothers are against her attempts to find the truth, and Seraphine finds her courage flagging. But as always, the truth finds its way to the light, dispelling the rumors and half-truths that kept the siblings in the dark about who they are and where they came from.

Told in alternating times, from the summer of the twins’ birth as well as Seraphine’s present-day search to find the truth, The Au Pair by Emma Rous is a delightful, twisty, slowly unfolding mystery that balances an array of human emotion with a creepy underlying uncertainty. At the end of the day, this lovely novel is about relationships and how they affect us. It’s beautifully written, a fascinating mystery, and a satisfying story of family, both the family that comes from blood and the one that comes from choices. I loved The Au Pair, and I recommend it to all readers of thrillers, mysteries, and literary fiction about family relationships.

Galleys for The Au Pair were provided by Berkley, with many thanks.

friendship, phone calls, fires, and forgiveness

Molly and Liza were friends since childhood, and it was as close a friendship as you could get. Or so they thought. But a video call gone wrong showed them that the years had not been kind to their connection. Molly, married with two kids, still living in their hometown, was struggling with chronic pain and the disappointment of not being able to find anything that will help. Liza, however, moved to Chicago to chase an important job and never found the right guy to settle down with.

As Liza and Molly realize just how much space as opened up between them, they struggle to decide if they want to build a bridge back to their closeness or just move on from their ravaged relationship. Molly makes her decision while seeing just how much it is she stands to lose. Liza looks at her decision though the lens of gaining a second chance at life.

Jessica Strawser’s Forget You Know Me is a deep dive into the relationships that define us, that hold us up when we feel weak, that save our lives, and that relieve our pain. It’s about friendship and marriages, and all the other connections that we choose to give our lives meaning.

Forget You Know Me is a beautifully written study of the small choices we make in every day life that have long-lasting consequences. It’s a look at the relationships we keep and the ones we have to let go of. It’s about finding our way in the dark and asking for forgiveness for keeping secrets. I liked this book for its honesty and unblinking frankness about all the hidden places in our friendships. It made me feel sad and angry and exposed, and I can’t think of a better endorsement for a novel. If you like a slow burn relationship novel, then I definitely recommend Jessica Strawser.

Galleys for Forget You Know Me were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

when childhood heroes grow up

Who doesn’t remember the dulcet teenage years of Richie Cunningham and Arthur Fonzarelli? Watching Happy Days is as much a right of passage in an American childhood as learning to ride a bike or teaching parents how to use their phones. So when I saw a mystery novel that brings them back, I knew I had to read it.

Years have gone by since we knew these men. Richie Cunningham is now a screenwriter in Hollywood. His mother moved out to L.A. to be near him (and his wife Lori Beth and their kids) after his father died. His sister Joanie stayed in Milwaukee, though, in the house they grew up in, with her husband Chachi (because as we all remember, Joanie loves Chachi). And the Fonz? He’s not doing so well. In fact, he’s been in a bad motorcycle accident, and he didn’t make it.

The phone call about Fonzie’s death brings Richie back home, and just in time. Struggling with what his next project should be—the one he loves or the one that will pay his bills—Richie needs a chance to clear his head and make a career decision that could make or break him. But what he finds back home isn’t as simple as it was when he was a teenager, and he finds himself facing a darkness that could swallow him up if he’s not careful.

I was so excited to read this book! I grew up on television shows, and getting to revisit the Happy Days universe was so much fun. Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice may not be perfect (I did find the middle-age angst a little heavy at times), but the ending made up for it all. And getting to check back in with Richie and Marion, Potsie and Ralph and even Al, made this trip through nostalgia a fantastic vacation to my younger, more idealistic self and the friends I knew back then. I highly recommend this one to all fans of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and all those great ‘70s shows

And if you don’t like it? (You know I have to say this!) Sit on it!

Galleys for Who Killed the Fonz? were provided by Simon & Schuster through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 3.10

Sorry for the absence. If you want more info, check out my other blog, where I explain where I’ve been and why I’ve been away. But back to the books . . .

recently finished: Forget You Know Me. The Au Pair. Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. I have a lot of writing to do.

currently reading: I just started The Killer in Me by Olivia Kiernan. It’s her follow-up to Too Close to Breathe, which I haven’t read but now I have to. This is about a twisted serial killer stalking a small town not too far from Dublin. It’s beautifully written, and I can’t wait to see how all the pieces come together!

up next: Maybe not next exactly, but soon, and I am so excited about this one—On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen. It’s the follow-up to The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, and I can’t wait to dive in. I loved reading about the adventures of Hendrik (aged 83 1/4 in his first book) and his friends, and I so ready to find out what he’s up to at 85! This is a fantastic, heart-warming series, and I hope that there are many, many more to come!