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Lara’s Top Picks of 2020

I’m going to be completely honest with you. This year was an absolute crap year for me when it came to reading. I recognize a global pandemic may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit and read a ton, and I’m well aware that many people did that. However, I’m an essential worker and was not home nearly as much as some others this year, and I also felt so completely drained by work and the day-to-day reality of the state of the world that when I was home, I found myself wanting to do nothing more than veg out on the couch watching Netflix. I simply felt I had no more brainpower to expend on reading.

That said, I read far fewer books than I normally do in a year and kept this list a little shorter for that reason.

Another thing. Here’s the disclaimer I include every year. This is not a list of my top picks of books that were published this year (although some were). For that kind of list, I recommend the NYTimes 100 Notable Books of 2020 list. This is a list of my top picks of books I personally read in 2020, regardless of what year they were published. Below that is a complete list of the books I read this year. Enjoy!

8. The Sweeney Sisters – This fictional tale of three wealthy sisters grappling with the death of their famous father and what to do with his legacy was a perfect summer beach read. Light, easy, romantic, a little predictable and still a lot of fun.

7. Living the Sutras – Part yoga textbook and part journal guide, this book breaks down the ancient yoga sutras, detailing the theory and practice of yoga. Each of the 195 sutras go much deeper than “triangle pose!” and in this book, each is accompanied with a little writing prompt, allowing the reader to also go deep and learn about themselves while reading.

6. The Promise of a Pencil – Part memoir/part self-help, Adam Braun shares how he built an incredibly successful charitable organization from the ground up. In doing so, he also shares how he learned to let go of the corporate life he was conditioned to desire, how to be a better leader and human and the importance of leaning into your passion for the betterment of the future.

5. Unbearable Lightness – I never really cared or knew much about Portia de Rossi until I read this book, and now I have incredible respect for her. Her memoir about her battle with an extreme eating disorder and depression is dark, honest, real and compelling. And her ability to write far exceeded my expectations.

4. Universe of Two – This WWII-era historical fiction novel has nothing to do with battle and nothing to do with the Holocaust. What a gift. Instead it centers on the Manhattan Project: one of the engineers involved and the women he was in love with who lived across the country. It’s romantic, educational, beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down.

3. Waiting for the Punch – If you’re a fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, you will love this book. And if you’re not, but have always wondered what the fuss is all about, this book is your perfect way in. The book is divided into themes, and each one includes transcriptions of some of his best, funniest and saddest celebrity interviews. I may have cried more reading this book this year than any other. It is chock full of life lessons and earns its own credit separately from the podcast.

2. Becoming – What more can I say about Michelle Obama’s famous, bestselling memoir that hasn’t already been said? It is superb. It is honest, feminist, political without being too political, uplifting and inspiring. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, and honestly, why have you?

  1. Untamed – Glennon Doyle deserves every bit of praise she received this year for this book. The bestseller struck a serious chord with most of America as Doyle details her honest descriptions of falling in love, parenting, feminism, politics, charity and the importance of being true to yourself and your passions and following through with everyone you want despite the “consequences.” She calls herself on her bullshit. And you’ll read this, crying, calling yourself on yours.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

The Magnanimous Heart – Narayan Helen Liebenson

The Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun

Unbearable Lightness – Portia de Rossi

Okay Fine Whatever – Courtenay Hameister

40 Days to Personal Revolution – Baron Baptiste

The Sweeney Sisters – Lian Dolan

Universe of Two – Stephen P. Kiernan

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Waiting for the Punch – Marc Maron

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream – Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Review: Universe of Two

Recap: In the time of war with her father and brother serving their country, Brenda remains at home in Chicago with her mother and the organs shop they own. Business is slow and feelings are dulled. Until Charlie walks in. His interest in organs and Brenda excite her in a way other boys haven’t. He’s not the most generically handsome, but there’s something about that Charlie. And Brenda is not the only one who notices.

Charlie stands out professionally as well. After an on-and-off again rocky relationship, Charlie has no choice but to leave for Los Alamos on a top secret mission for which he’s been recruited. His math and engineering skills are simply too good to go to waste.

Universe of Two tells the story of Brenda and Charlie, who much later learns that he’s working to build the detonator for an atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. It’s governmental information he must keep from Brenda. While he keeps his work close to his chest, she keeps her feelings about Charlie close to hers. As times passes, they question their relationship, their work, their purpose and what really matters in life.

Analysis: Universe of Two bridges the gap between a war-focused historical fiction story and a romance story with the precision of the Manhattan Project engineers themselves. Each chapter flips back and forth between Brenda and Charlie as narrators. Where I thought I’d be lost by Charlie’s story and the mathematics of it all, I felt equally compelled by his story as I did Brenda’s. Charlie is suffering through so much guilt and shame about his work, and Brenda is clobbered with loneliness, indecision and pride.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned Charlie’s character is based on a real man, Charles Fisk. This is truly my favorite kind of historical fiction as of late. It makes the story that much better when you know there are at least hints of truth woven throughout it. Author Stephen P. Kiernan also weaves beautiful prose, which really threw me for a “just a fiction novel.” (I’ve been reading so much nonfiction lately and been so inspired by the quotes I’ve pulled from them, I’ve started to question whether fiction could hold up in the same way; as it turns out, it can.) On page one, I was blown away by “It turns out the greatest kinds of strength are hidden, and move slowly, and cannot be stopped by anything until they have changed the world.” Damn.

The ending and epilogue felt a little rushed. The book was so journey-driven that by the end, I wanted more details about the outcome. But maybe I just didn’t want the book to end. And maybe the Kiernan’s point is that life is all about the journey after all.

MVP: Charlie. Brenda is wild and fun and complicated, but she’s often mean. And she knows it. Charlie lack confidence and may not be the most intuitive to say the least, but he is smart and full of love in a humble, soulful way. The reader understands what Brenda saw in him.

Get Universe of Two in hardcover for $27.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

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Review: The Sweeney Sisters

Recap: The Sweeney sisters are known around Southport, not solely for their seemingly sweet sisterly bond or their beautiful red hair. But as is too often the case in towns based on tradition, they are known for their relation to a man: their father, the great author William Sweeney.

So when William Sweeney dies, and the country, celebrities, literary enthusiasts and the entirely of Southport mourn his loss, the women must come together with a force similar to that of their father’s prose to a) organize his funeral and celebration of life b) go through his things, sell his house and divide the earnings he left behind and c) find the memoir he wrote that he only wanted published after he died.

What they didn’t anticipate adding to that To Do List was d) forming a relationship with the sister they never knew they had, the lovechild their father had with the next door neighbor while he was still married to their mother.

The Sweeney Sisters follows put-together Liza, mad Maggie, tackle-it-all Tricia as they spend the summer coming to terms with their father’s loss by befriending Serena, their next-door-neighbor turned sister. Serena is a journalist, and they worry she may be seeking out salacious details to write a scandalous, bestselling memoir and tarnish their father’s name. It’s unclear if they can trust this new sister and if they ever really knew their father.

Analysis: Summer setting, check. Romantic sex scenes near water, check. Catty women, check. The Sweeney Sisters has all the trappings of a fun summer beach read (which frankly the world could use right now). And yet, it’s fair to say this fun novel goes a little beyond that. Sure, the ending is wrapped up with a perfect, beautiful bow, maybe a little too perfect. And sure, some of the plots were tropes I’ve read in other books.

But the relationships between the sisters feels real. These are women who are very clearly outlined, who are so different and yet so the same, who really know each other and understand why they are the way they are. Adding a fourth sister to the mix could have been done in a generic way (i.e. all the sisters hate her and then learn to love her or all the sisters love her and then realize she’s evil). Instead, it’s a slow burn and each sister has a unique, individual relationship with the new sister, making it less predictable as to how things would all wind up.

Each sister also has her own problems, aside from the death of their father and the entrance of Serena: Liza with her divorce, Maggie without a job or real inspiration for her path in life and Tricia with her difficultly in connecting with others. Between the three of them (four, if you include Serena!), there is some quality for any woman to relate to: loss, failure, fear. It’s book about women coming together to stand on their own without needing a man to help them, and that is something to be revered.

MVP: Maggie. Her ultimate ending is a little too picture perfect for me, but she is so messy and dramatic and fractured, so wild and free and fun. Her journey in the book, connecting with her late mother through art, is one of true awakening in a way that feels authentically sad and beautiful.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2019

I couldn’t let the new year (and decade!) begin without my favorite blog edition…my top picks of 2019! Fair warning: this year life really took hold. Suffice to say, I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do or would like to. But I read enough to select my 10 favorites! This is a list of the best books I personally read, not necessarily books that were released in 2019. For a list of those, here you go.  At the bottom, I’ve also included the complete list of books I read this year.


10. Before We Were Yours – This historical fiction novel showcases the awful beginnings of child adoptions in the United States. Its time jumps and changing narrators add suspense to the story of little Rill, who does everything she can to keep her family in tact when Tennessee Children’s Home Society (a real place in an otherwise made-up story) does everything it can to disrupt that for money.

9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – It’s the anti-self-help self-help book. The book that tells you it’s not a self-help book and it’s going to tell you all the opposite things from a regular self-help book. And that’s kind of true. Which is why it’s so effective. A lot of my takeaways from this massive bestseller is that author Mark Manson relies on a lot of Buddhist methodology to explain how best to live your life – with the understanding that life is suffering and once we accept that, things can start to be a little better. Prepare for some foul language and real talk truths.

8. Not That Kind of Girl – Writer/director/actress Lena Dunham shares her life in this messy memoir made up of short stories and essays, unveiling the depths of her anxieties, neuroses and mental health issues as well as just being honest about what it is to be a girl and woman in the modern world. Some stories are sad, some are hilarious riots, but all are well-told, vulnerable, and bluntly honest.

7. How to Read Literature Like a Professor – This how-to for making literally any book better is divided into themes and symbols to explain what matters in a story and what it means. Chapters focus on anything and everything from the significance of ill characters in books to Bible references to food and sex and seasons. Most of the examples were from books and literature I haven’t read BUT the writer explains everything so well that it’s not only changed how I understand and appreciate books, it also applies to TV, film and pretty much any creative medium. A true game-changer.

6. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Author Jon Kabat-Zinn book on the power of meditation is a simplistic, effective how-to for those who have been meditating for years and those looking to start a regular practice. He’s science-based, but instead of constantly throwing facts, studies and research at the reader, he shared personal anecdotes and understandable metaphors to make meditation manageable. 

5. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin does it again, choosing real people in history whose stories have remain mostly untold and telling them, with her own fictionalized dialogue and writing. This one is set in 1940’s Paris during WWII. It tells the story of a real couple, Claude and Blanche Auzello, who lets their marriage waiver as they focus on saving Jews during the Holocaust.

4. The Storyteller’s Secret – This fictional tale about love and love lost starts after modern-day Jaya has another miscarriage and separates from her husband. On a search for connection and answers to life’s questions, she travels to her family’s native India. During the course of the book, her story and her grandmother’s intertwine in a beautiful, heartbreaking and heartwarming way.

3. The Light We Lost – I went back and forth on where to rank this one because I loved it so much. The romance of two young people in NYC during 9/11 continues over the next 13 years. It is gripping, tragic, romantic, sexy. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to finish a book and simultaneously not want it to end so badly.

2. The Girls in the Picture – I was halfway (or more?) through this book before I realized this wasn’t only historical fiction about the beginning of the film industry in America in the early 1900s. It was also historical fiction about a real actress and female screenwriter who were friends. This film story that’s really about friendship and feminism detail the lives and careers of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford in a way that’s fun and dramatic.

1. The Four Agreements – Simple, but not easy. This big-time bestselling nonfiction quick read give you the basics everyone can and should follow to live a better, happier life. There are four agreements you must make with yourself. They sound simple enough, but life makes it really hard to make them easy. This book details the how and why. Once you read it, it is truly life-changing.

BOOKS I’VE READ 2019

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Peronsal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories – B.J. Novak

The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Badani

Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

The Girls in the Picture – Melanie Benjamin

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

Stinky Tofu: A Comedic Novel – Ross Henry Nodell

Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Unqualified – Anna Faris

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson

How To Read Literature Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Dietland – Sarai Walker

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Review: Before We Were Yours

Recap: The location is a hospital in the South. The time is the 1930s. The twins delivered did not fare well. The parents are destroyed.

And now here we are, in present day, following the life of Avery Stafford. The 30-something lawyer is used to living in the limelight of her father and his long political reign. But now he is sick, and she is forced to prepare to take his spot in politics as he also deals with an ongoing scandal involving nursing homes. In visiting her grandmother at one, Avery meets another elderly woman who is completely taken with her. A misplaced bracelet and a curious family photo forces Avery to return to the woman as she itches to learn more about her and whether this woman is somehow connected to her own family.

Now we are back to the 1930s, and Rill Foss is left in charge of her brother and sisters after their parents rushed to the hospital. Living on the river in Tennessee, they are now orphans as their parents never return. They are scooped up and taken in by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, and they face every form of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual. Living in a constant state of fear, Rill feels compelled to take care of her siblings, but there’s only so much a 12-year-old girl can do.

The stories of Rill and Avery intertwine more and more throughout Before We Were Yours in a beautiful and mysterious way, but it’s the fact that this historical fiction novel is based on true events from the real horrors of adoption in the 1930s that make this book so haunting.

Analysis: One of the characters we come to know in the book is the woman who run’s the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Georgia Tann. But Georgia Tann was a real woman, known for having made adoption in the United States an industry and for charging families an exorbitant amount of money for adopting children. These children were bought and sold, practically as a form of slavery and treated traumatically in the process.

Author Lisa Wingate tells this story through the lens of a little girl during the time and through the eyes of a present-day woman who, like many of us, had no idea any of this was happening in the 1930s.

Despite the horrors, Wingate does an excellent job of keeping the reader invested in the characters, curious about what happens next and still manages to offer hope through the love we see shine through her characters. Before We Were Yours takes a bit of time to get into, but once you start to put together the pieces of the puzzle and realize that Rill and Avery and the old woman she meets are all connected, the journey to get there is worth every word.

MVP: Rill. She has been through so much and has been forced to grow up very fast at a very young age. She has no choice. But she does it with vigor and comes out on the other side.

Get Before We Were Yours now in paperback for $10.29.

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Review: Then She Was Gone

Recap: Laurel Mack has been struggling for a long time. Her daughter went missing at the age of 15 and was never found. It was the kind of tragedy that destroyed her marriage and broke her relationship with her other children too, as they remained just that: “other.” So when she meets a nice man, the first who has taken interest in her in quite some time, she is flustered, flattered and fairly fixated on him.

Very quickly she meets his daughter, Poppy. Laurel can’t seem to get Poppy out of her mind. Poppy and her daughter, Ellie, look so much alike that Laurel finds herself consumed with the disappearance of Ellie once again. She doesn’t want to let her family in on it since they’ve finally reached a point in which they’re getting along well again after so many years of grief, pain and awkwardness.

So she sets out for answers by herself, and what she learns leaves her astonished.

Analysis: Holy, Gone Girl vibes. This twisty thriller was a page-turner, but offered a different determination than Gone Girl did for me (and yes, Gone Girl has become my go-to book of comparison for all modern-day, female-written and female-driven thriller novels); where Gone Girl‘s twists captured me by complete surprised, I’ve now come to expect the shocking surprises. Instead of desperately trying to learn what happened in Then She Was Gone, I found myself powering through to figure out if my theories were rights.

As it turns out, it was. And therein lies the problem for me. As much as I enjoyed this book – and I really did! – the foreshadowing was anything but subtle. Several friends who read the book along with me also figured out at least some aspect of the mystery. And while it’s fun to play to detective, I think it’s more fun to be completely blown away. Without giving away any spoilers, my prediction of what led up to the book’s ending was definitely off. Some of the story lines played out a lot creepier and weirder than I expected.

What really made the story for me were the alternating characters narrating, as my favorite novels do. The book goes back and forth between present day and the time of Ellie Mack’s disappearance, offering us many more breadcrumbs as to what may have happened to Ellie.

MVP: Ellie Mack. Though we know less about her than some of the other characters, we learn enough to know that despite what she’s been through, despite her age, compared to the other characters, she might be the only one to have a good head on her shoulders.

Get Then She Was Gone in paperback now for $8.78.

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Review: Stinky Tofu

Recap: It’s the 80’s in Chicago and banker Sam Lowe is living his best life. He’s a man about town: making good money, always fit and well-dressed and dating around. He’s well-respected at work and happy living in Chicago. Until he’s not. Expecting a big bonus, he’s instead sent off on a new project. He finds himself at a conference that he’s completely dreading until one woman changes everything. Linda Liu. She’s so beautiful, he doesn’t even know quite where to begin.

But Sam’s sure-of-himself attitude takes over and soon the two are seriously dating. After months of long distance, he moves to New York to be with her and marry her. Sam is Jewish. Linda is Chinese. What Sam didn’t realize is that before they could marry, Linda would first need approval from her family in Taiwan. They make the trip and spend some good quality time with her family. They’re not too sure of him at first, and they don’t hesitate to put him through the ringer.

But once again, Sam miscalculates. The family not only approves of him. They now want to move to New York with Sam and Linda too. Suddenly Sam’s life is being controlled by his wife’s family, and he doesn’t seem to have much say in the matter.

Analysis: Here’s the thing. This semi-autobiographical novel is described and marketed as “a comedic novel.” But mostly it just feels racist and uncomfortable. Every bit of Asian culture Linda and her family bring into Sam’s life, he rejects and then ultimately succumbs to it.

I read the book because I identified with Sam. I’m Jewish and thought this would be like if I married someone Asian or even someone non-Jewish. The book is about the marriage of two cultures, and that’s something everyone can relate to in this day and age. But the lines meant to be funny read as offensive. The worst part is the author doesn’t even seem aware of how offensive his writing is. Lines like “I tried speaking to her in English, but it was as if she’d just stepped off the boat” is the least of it.

Set aside the racism, the writing feels juvenile and the characters are unlikable. Sam bends over and takes whatever Linda and her family throw his way. You could say he does it for love, but we never get a clear picture of just how in love he and Linda are. He comes across as weak, and Linda and her family are so selfish and demanding, they’re not likable either.

MVP: No one.

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Review: The Light We Lost

Recap: Can you really blame Lucy? It’s not entirely her “fault” she fell obsessively in love with Gabe. It was an impressionable age, an impressionable time, an impressionable place and period in history even. New York City, September 11, 2001. A chance meeting in class at Columbia followed by a tragedy at a level the city had never seen before. Lucy and Gabe ran together, watched the city go up in smoke and kissed. They needed a glimmer of hope and found it in each other. They needed to believe this wasn’t the end and that while everything broke around them, they could still find something fresh, beautiful and new. And yet. Gabe had a girlfriend. Or an ex who kept them from really exploring the relationship until more than a year later.

By then, they’d considered it a sign. And they were off and running, falling madly, deeply in love with each other in only the way people can when they’re under the age of 25 — romantic to the point of cheesy and incredibly lustful.

Which is why when they break up, Lucy defines break. She falls apart into a million pieces, unable to function or move on. September 11th inspired Gabe to travel to the Middle East and find work as a photojournalist. It was the only thing he felt he could do in response to the terror attacks of that dreaded day. But Lucy couldn’t bring herself to go, and Gabe couldn’t stay.

Lucy eventually finds solace, comfort and ease in Darren. They marry. They build a life together. But Gabe is always there, even when he’s not. The years pass and the more she thinks about him, the more confused Lucy becomes about what Gabe means to her and if their love was ever real at all.

Analysis: From page one, Lucy takes the reader full-throttle into the depths of her heart and mind. She speaks in the second person to “you,” an unusual choice. We don’t immediately know who “you” is but very quickly learn it’s a guy (insert heart-eyes-smiley emoji here). It takes the entire book to find out why she’s speaking in the second person to him, and when we finally do, it’s shocking and desperately sad. But in its completely depressive state, we — and Lucy – finally realize who means what to her. It’s a formatting and narrative decision that really pays off in the end, and throughout the book. Author Jill Santopolo does an excellent job of foreshadowing and dropping just enough hints and clues to force me to turn the page.

The book less has a plot than it really just follows Lucy throughout 13 years of her life, but it’s compellingly written and has unexpected twists and turns, even though that seems like something appropriate for murder mysteries. I felt so in tune with who Lucy was and what she struggled with that I simply devoured the book. Her feelings of first love are nostalgic and relatable for any reader. Each person I know who has read this book has said the same thing: “it’s sad, but it is the most honest portrayal of first love I’ve seen in a book” and THAT is powerful.

MVP: Lucy. She’s complicated, and I didn’t always agree with her decisions or actions, but she’s also like anyone else: just trying to figure it out along the way and doing the best she can given the circumstances and curveballs thrown her way.

Get The Light We Lost in paperback for $11.77.

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Review: The Girls in the Picture

Recap: It’s the early 1900’s and Frances Marion isn’t sure what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t want. She no longer wants to be married to a man she doesn’t live in San Francisco, a city that does nothing for her. So she moves to Los Angeles just as the movie industry starts to develop. She is fixated on somehow being a part of the world of cinema, but isn’t sure how. Until she meets Mary Pickford. And that’s when everything changes. 


The two quickly become best friends. Mary works toward a career in acting, while Frances soon finds herself writing screenplays. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, they are unicorns: women in the film industry. But they have the support of each other to keep working toward their dreams. They promise to never let men get in the way of their friendship. 


But it’s a promise made at too young an age to keep. When Mary falls in love with an already-married actor and Frances finds the perfect husband, Mary and Frances begin judging each other and the choices they’re making. As they stop supporting each other personally, they stop supporting each other professionally too. But will the different directions their lives are taking them ultimately bring them back together?


Analysis: I knew this was a historical fiction novel from the beginning, but didn’t know until midway through the book when author Melanie Benjamin started name-dropping other celebrities that Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were real women, and this was their true story, written in a fictionalized view, making the story all the more interesting. 


But more than anything else, the story is relatable. Every woman goes through ups and downs, even with their closest girlfriends. Every woman goes through ups and downs professionally. It’s a timeless story of women trying to balance friendship, work and love in modern times.


But their story is also timely. Historical fiction has a way of showing us how much and how little things have changed over the years. The film industry has changed immensely since it began in the 1910’s. All movies are “talkies” now, and shot in color and digital and the list goes on and on. But the #MeToo era proves that the painful experiences that women in film face — sexual harassment, pay disparity and lack of respect, power and opportunity — live on even after more than 100 years. 


Both tragic and beautiful, The Girls in the Picture gripped me so deeply, I couldn’t stop talking about it or recommending it to any woman or any fan of movies. 


MVP: Frances. Though stubborn in her ways and often judgemental, she is far more realistic than Mary about her role in the world. That gives her the ability to see clearly and realize when she has to take a step back from certain parts of her life. 

Get The Girls in the Picture in hardcover for $12.08.

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Review: Dead If You Don’t

Recap: It was supposed to be a fun Saturday soccer (football) game. Everyone and their mother seemed to be going — or father as the case may be. But the day quickly turned as stadium officials received threats of a terrorist attack at the game, threatening to kill and injure hundreds of fans. But that was just the beginning. Before the game even began, Kipp Brown realized his son, Mungo, was missing. They’d been fighting earlier, but surely his teenage son wouldn’t leave the biggest game of the year over a fight with his father.

The police are slammed, facing both a potential terror attack and kidnapping. The kidnapping is no big surprise considering who Mungo’s father is; Kipp is a well-known and successful business. Anyone would go after him for his money, but they’d be sadly surprised to learn that Brown also has a massive gambling problem and little to no money to his name.

The ransom calls start coming in, and soon Detective Superintendent Roy Grace must step in to deter the terror attack and find Kipp’s son. The investigation leads him to a group of dangerous Albanian men who have made a life for themselves in England by killing anyone who gets in the way of their greedy quest for money, wealth and power. But where is Mungo? And will they get to him in time before he becomes another victim?

Analysis: A straight-up crime detective novel, Dead If You Don’t pulls no punches, getting right to the many tropes that make a crime novel a good one: lots of characters, winding and intertwined storylines, good guys and bad guys, unforeseen turns and short chapters with little cliffhangers that help move the story along quickly.

It didn’t, however, necessarily feel like Roy Grace was the main character of the story. I was more invested in Kipp Brown, his family and his financial stupidity — hoping and praying that he’d learn his lesson when it comes to money. To be fair, of all the officers, Roy Grace was the one whose name I knew the best; he was clearly the star of the unit and the man in charge, but his story was less compelling than some of the other characters in the book. Basic in its structure, but effective in its plotting, Dead If You Don’t was the perfect read if you’re in the mood for a quick and easy crime novel.

MVP: Roy Grace, for the sole reason that he saves the day and Kipp Brown never quite lives up to his full potential.

Get Dead If You Don’t in paperback now for $14.35.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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