Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: October 2, 2018

Publisher: Ballantine

Genre: Fiction

Blurb:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

Review:

Oh my god you guys, I actually read this book months ago and I’m still thinking about it today. As soon as I received a copy I dropped everything and started it and it totally blew me away. It has her trademark hard hitting subject matter and deeply moving storyline and she rips her storylines straight from the headlines like no ones else does. If you read one book I recommended this year I urge you to make it this one, I feel like we can all learn something profound from this book.

The structure of this was amazing, it’s told in reverse order which always sounds super confusing but if it’s done well then it’s a little bit of magic and if anyone has the magic touch it’s Picoult. I don’t know how else to describe her writing other than to say it’s beautiful and even poetic at times and she’s writing about this god awful tragedy and still hope and beauty shines through.

Abortion is arguably one of the hottest of hot button topics of all time and I so admire how Picoult examines the issue from every single angle you can think of, and also from some you would never think of yourself. She forces you to consider your own personal values and morals while doing so sensitively and with so much respect. I don’t usually expect straight up fiction novels to be twisty but she also manages to throw a knock down punch (or two) that made me gasp in disbelief. This book was total perfection in my eyes and I cannot wait to see where she takes me next.

Spark of Light in three words: Profound, Emotional and Incredible.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Rapid Falls by Amber Cowie

Amazon|Goodreads

Release date: December 1, 2018

Publisher: Lake Union

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Forgive and forget? In this twisty thriller of psychological suspense, the past and present collide for two sisters who survived a tragedy—and must now survive the truth behind it.

It’s been twenty years since Cara’s boyfriend died in a horrible accident and her sister, Anna, went to prison. The tragedy has become a local legend, but Cara has moved past her grief to have a successful career and a happy family. Pity about Anna. Recently released from incarceration, she’s struggling with addiction, guilt, and shame—a shattered life. Cara’s forgiveness seems to be the only thing that helps her pick up the pieces.

But as Anna pulls herself together, her memories of that night on the bridge start to come into focus. And few of them match her sister’s.

As past secrets unfold and nothing is what it seems anymore, Anna desperately searches for the truth. But what if Cara doesn’t want her to find it?

Review:

My immediate thought after finishing this was, now THAT is how you write a psychological thriller! I’m blown away that this is a debut, Cowie’s writing is polished and sharp and she plotted one hell of a story, if this is how she begins her career as an author I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

This follows two sisters, Anna and Cara and flips between the late nineties and 2016. The girls were in high school in 1997 and were both in a tragic accident that killed Cara’s boyfriend. Anna’s life went down the drain afterwards, she spent time in prison and developed an alcohol addiction while Cara moved on and has a picture perfect life with her husband and daughter. Two very different outcomes and both women were interesting and complex.

The events leading up to the accident are slowly revealed in alternating chapters as you begin to piece together what really happened. Let me tell you, I thought I knew what happened and I was way off, this had a good reveal, a twist if you wanna call it that but it’s not a book that’s solely dependent on a shocking twist but instead was awesome all the way through. If you can’t tell, I loved this one and highly recommend it to thriller fans!

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Blog Tour: The Ancient Nine by Ian Smith

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fall 1988

Spenser Collins

An unlikely Harvard prospect, smart and athletic, strapped for cash, determined to succeed. Calls his mother—who raised him on her own in Chicago—every week.

Dalton Winthrop

A white-shoe legacy at Harvard, he’s just the most recent in a string of moneyed, privileged Winthrop men in Cambridge. He’s got the ease—and the deep knowledge—that come from belonging.

These two find enough common ground to become friends, cementing their bond when Spenser is “punched” to join the Delphic Club, one of the most exclusive of Harvard’s famous all-male final clubs. Founded in the nineteenth century, the Delphic has had titans of industry, Hollywood legends, heads of state, and power brokers among its members.

Dalton Winthrop knows firsthand that the Delphic doesn’t offer memberships to just anyone. His great-uncle is one of their oldest living members, and Dalton grew up on stories of the club’s rituals. But why is his uncle so cryptic about the Ancient Nine, a shadowy group of alums whose identities are unknown and whose power is absolute? They protect the Delphic’s darkest and oldest secrets—including what happened to a student who sneaked into the club’s stately brick mansion in 1927 and was never seen again.

Dalton steers Spenser into deeper and deeper recesses of the club, and beyond, to try to make sense of what they think they may be seeing. But with each scrap of information they get from an octogenarian Crimson graduate, a crumbling newspaper in the library’s archives, or one of Harvard’s most famous and heavily guarded historical books, a fresh complication trips them up. The more the friends investigate, the more questions they unearth, tangling the story of the club, the disappearance, and the Ancient Nine, until they realize their own lives are in danger.

I’m so excited to be one of the stops on the blog tour for The Ancient Nine today. I have a Q & A with the author and a sneak peek at the book, enjoy!

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Halloween Night, 1927

The Delphic Mansion

Cambridge, Massachusetts

EMPTY ROPES CLATTERED against flagpoles, and street signs flapped

helplessly in the shadowy night. Two boys sneaked down a cobblestone path

crowded with heavy bushes and enormous signs that warned against trespassing.

They stood there for a moment, their bodies dwarfed by the gigantic

brick mansion

“That’s enough, let’s turn around,” Kelton Dunhill whispered. He had large competent hands and knots of compact muscles that bulged underneath his varsity letter sweater. He carried a long silver flashlight he had borrowed from the superintendent’s office of his residential house.

“I’m going all the way,” Erasmus Abbott said firmly. “I didn’t come this far to chicken out. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be inside.”

Dunhill looked up at the tall wrought-iron fence that had been reinforced with solid wood planks to obstruct any potential view into the rear courtyard. He was a tough, scrappy kid, a varsity wrestler who had been undefeated in almost three years of college competition. He was many things, but a quitter was not one of them. Very little intimidated Dunhill, the son of a banker and elementary school music teacher, but when he looked up at the mansion’s towering spires and turrets set against the ominous sky and the royal blue flag that snapped so loudly in the wind, something made him feel uneasy. At that very moment, if Erasmus Abbott had not been standing next to him, he would’ve turned on his heels and run like hell. The only thing that kept his feet planted was his greater fear of the humiliation he would face once the others got word that the scrawny Abbott had showed bigger nerve.

“If we get caught, we’ll be fried,” Dunhill said in his most persuasive voice, trying to sound rational rather than scared. “Technically speaking, we’re trespassing, and they can do anything they want to us since we’re on their property. I don’t need to remind you of what happened to A. C. Gordon.”

Erasmus Abbott took the milk crates they had been carrying and stacked them in a small pyramid against the fence, then slipped on his gloves and pulled his hat down until it settled just above his eyes. He was dressed all in black. Now completely disguised, he turned and faced Dunhill.

“There’s no proof Gordon ever made it this far,” Abbott contested. “And besides, I never believed the whole business about his disappearance anyway.” Abbott turned toward the platform of milk crates, then back at Dunhill, and said, “So what’s it going to be? I’m making history tonight with or without you. The answer is in there, and I’m not gonna stop till I find it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dunhill mumbled under his breath before pulling down his own skullcap and stepping up to the fence. It all started out as a dare, but Abbott had taken it more seriously than anyone expected. This would certainly not be the first time a student had tried to break into the well-guarded Delphic mansion. There had been many attempts over the years, but according to legend, the farthest anyone had gotten was the external foyer. No one had ever penetrated the interior. What most worried Dunhill, however, was that few had lived to share their story.

“And what’s your plan once we get on the other side of the fence?” Dunhill said.

Abbott ran his hand over the small canvas bag strapped to his waist. “Everything we need is in here,” he said. “Once we get to the back door, I’ll have the lock open in well under a minute.”

Abbott had been practicing on diferent doors all over Quincy House in the middle of the night. His best-recorded time was twenty-nine seconds with a blindfold covering his eyes and a stopwatch hanging around his neck.

Abbott was not particularly athletic, but he scaled the crates easily and in one motion hoisted himself over the top of the fence and its row of pointed spears. Dunhill heard him land hard on the other side, then made a small sign of the cross over his heart, climbed onto the crates, and hurled himself over the fence. He landed on the firm slate tiles with a jolt.

They stood on the perimeter of a large courtyard dotted with elaborate marble sculptures and a fountain whose water sat motionless in a wide, striated basin. There were no lights to guide them, but moonlight cut through the heavy canopy of trees that towered overhead. A formidable, sturdy brick wall that was even taller than the fence they had just climbed surrounded them on two sides. Abbott had correctly chosen their entry point into the yard.

A gust of wind sent small piles of leaves flying sideways from one corner of the courtyard to the next. The mansion was eerily dark except for the dull flicker of a light in a small window just underneath the sloping angle of the tiled roof. The enormous building looked cold and menacing and unforgiving.

“She’s massive,” Abbott whispered. “I didn’t think she’d be this big. Must’ve cost them a king’s fortune to build it.”

“It’s not empty,” Dunhill said, pointing at the lighted window. “I still say this isn’t a good idea. We’ve already proved our point. Let’s get the hell out of here while we still can.”

Abbott pretended he hadn’t heard a word Dunhill said. He walked quietly across the courtyard toward a set of stairs that led to a large door with small panes and a brass doorknob that glistened under the moonlight’s glow. He cupped his face to the glass and looked inside. He turned and waved Dunhill over, but Dunhill remained motionless underneath the fence, still not believing they had actually gotten this far.

Abbott unzipped the canvas bag, pulled out a couple of tools, and quickly went to work on the lock. That’s when Dunhill glimpsed a shadow moving across the courtyard. He looked up toward the lighted window and saw something that he would never forget. It was the ugliest, scariest, blackest face he had ever laid eyes on. His heart tightened in his chest, and his lungs constricted. He tried to scream but couldn’t get the air to move in his throat. He turned to Erasmus to warn him, but it was too late. The door was open, and he was already inside.

1

Harvard College

Cambridge, Massachusetts

October 2, 1988

IT SHOULDN’T HAVE been enough to wake me, but I had just drifted off on the couch in the common room that separated my bedroom from my roommate’s. It was a short scratchy sound: a pebble or sand being dragged across the linoleum floor. I looked toward Percy’s bedroom. His door was closed and his light off. I sat up on the sofa, swiveling my head in the darkness to see what could’ve made the noise. Mice were not exactly uncommon sightings in these old Harvard houses, some of which had been built more than a century ago, so I was preparing myself for vermin out on a late-night scavenge. But when I turned on the lamp and looked down at the floor, what sat there took me completely by surprise.

Someone had slipped a small cream-colored envelope underneath the front door. There was no postage or return address, just my name and room number elaborately inscribed.

Spenser Collins

Lowell House L-11

I turned the envelope over, hoping to find some indication of who might have sent it, but what I discovered was even more puzzling.

Embossed on the flap were three torches—so dark blue, they were almost black—arranged in a perfect V shape.

I heard footsteps just outside the door, slow at first, but then they began to pick up speed. I pulled the door open, but the hallway was empty. Our room was on the first floor, so I grabbed my keys and ran a short distance down the hall, jumped a small flight of steps, then rammed my shoulder into the entryway door, forcing it open into the cool night. I immediately heard voices echoing across the courtyard, a cluster of three girls stumbling in high heels, dragging themselves in from a long night of drinking.

I scanned the shadows, but nothing else moved. I looked to my right and thought about running across the path that led to the west courtyard and out into the tiny streets of Cambridge. But my bare feet were practically frozen to the concrete, and the wind assaulted me like shards of ice cutting through my T-shirt. I retreated to the warmth of my room.

Percy’s bedroom door was still closed, which was not surprising. He wouldn’t wake up if an armored tank tore through the wall and opened fire.

I sat on the edge of the couch and examined the envelope again. Why would someone deliver it by hand in the middle of the night, then sneak away? None of it made any sense. I opened the book flap slowly, feeling almost guilty ripping what appeared to be expensive paper. The stationery was brittle, like rice paper, and the same three torches were prominently displayed in the letterhead.

The President and members of the Delphic Club

cordially invite you to a cocktail party on

Friday, October 14, 7 o’clock

Lily Field Mansion at 108 Brattle St. Cambridge.

Please call 876-0400 with regrets only.

I immediately picked up the phone and dialed Dalton Winthrop’s number. Fifth-generation Harvard and heir to the vast Winthrop and Lewington fortunes, he was one of the most finely pedigreed of all Harvard legacies, descending from a family that had been claiming Harvard since the 1600s, when the damn school got its charter from the Bay Colony. Dalton was a hopeless insomniac, so I knew he’d still be awake.

“What the hell are you doing up this time of the night?” Dalton said. “Some of us around here need our beauty sleep.” He sounded fully awake.

“What can you tell me about something called the Delphic Club?” I asked.

The phone rustled as he sat up.

“Did you just say ‘the Delphic’?” he said.

“Yeah, do you know anything about it?”

There was a slight pause before he said, “Why the hell are you asking about the Delphic at this ungodly hour?”

“They invited me to a cocktail party next Friday night. Someone just slipped the invitation under my door, then ran.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? The Delphic invited you to a cocktail party?”

“Unless there’s another Spenser Collins I don’t know about.”

“No offense, Spenser, but don’t get your hopes up,” he said. “This is probably some kind of prank someone’s pulling on you. The Delphic isn’t just a club, like any fraternity. It’s the most secretive of Harvard’s nine most exclusive clubs. They’re called final clubs. The Delphic goes all the way back to the 1800s and has some of the world’s most prominent men as members. An invitation to their cocktail party is like an invitation to kiss the papal ring.”

“So, what you’re really trying to say is that they would never give an invitation to a poor black kid from the South Side of Chicago.”

“Spenser, you know I don’t agree with that kinda shit, but that’s how these secret societies operate. They haven’t changed much over the last century and a half. Rich white men passing off the baton to the next generation, keeping their secrets shielded from the rest of the world. Yale has Skull and Bones, but here at Harvard we have the final clubs. It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that some of the country’s biggest secrets are buried in their old mansions.”

“If I don’t fit their image, then why did someone just slip this invite under my door?” I said.

“Because it’s not real,” Dalton said.

“What do you mean?”

“Guys joke like this all the time. This is the beginning of what’s called punch season, which means the clubs are secretly nominating sophomores to enter a series of election rounds. Whoever survives the cuts over the two months gets elected into the club. You’ve heard of the hazing they do in fraternities. Well, this is a little like that, but it’s a lot more formal with much bigger stakes.”

“What makes you so sure my invitation is fake when you haven’t even seen it?”

“Are you alone?”

“Percy’s here, but he’s out cold.”

“Pull out the invite and tell me if you see torches anywhere.”

I was sitting in the chair underneath the window, still eyeing the courtyard, hoping I might see who might’ve dropped off the envelope. The ambient light cracked the darkness of our common room. I held up the envelope.

“There are three torches on the back of the envelope,” I said.

“What about the stationery?”

“There too.”

“How many?”

“Three.”

“What color?”

“Dark blue.”

“Is the center torch lower or higher than the others?”

“Lower.”

Dalton sighed loudly. “Now take the stationery, turn it over, and hold it up to a light,” he said. “Tell me if you see anything when you look at the torches.”

I followed Dalton’s instructions, carefully removing the shade from one of Percy’s expensive porcelain lamps that his grandmother had proudly given him from her winter house in Palm Beach. I held the invitation next to the naked bulb. “There’s a thin circle with the initials JPM inside,” I said. “But you can only see it under the light. When you move it away, the letters disappear.”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Spense, it’s the real deal!” Dalton yelled as if he were coming through the phone. “The Delphic really has punched you this season. I can’t believe this is happening. Tell me the date of the party again.”

It was rare to hear this level of excitement in Dalton’s voice. Few things got him going, and they typically had to do with either women, food, or his father, whom he hated more than the Yankees.

“Next Friday at seven o’clock,” I said. “It’s at a place called Lily Field Mansion.”

“Lily Field, of course,” Dalton said. “It’s the biggest one up there on mansion row, and it’s owned by the Jacobs family, one of the richest in the country. Stanford Jacobs used to be the graduate president of the Delphic, so it makes sense that he’s hosting the opening cocktail party.”

Secret society, mansions, ultra-wealthy families, an invitation delivered under the cloak of darkness. It was all part of a foreign world that made little sense to me, the son of a single mother who answered phones at a small energy company.

“So, what the hell does all this mean?” I asked.

“That you’re coming over here tomorrow for dinner, so we can figure out some sort of strategy,” Dalton said. “This is all a long shot, but if things go well for you on Friday night, you might make it to the next round. I’m getting way ahead of myself—but one round at a time, and you might be the way we crack the Ancient Nine.”

“The Ancient Nine?” I asked. “Is that another name for the clubs?”

“No, two different things,” Dalton said. “The Ancient Nine are an ultrasecret society of nine members of the Delphic. A secret society within a secret society that not even the other Delphic members know much about. Most around here have never even heard of the Ancient Nine, but for those who have, some swear it exists, others think it’s nothing more than another Harvard legend.”

“What do you think?”

Dalton paused deliberately. “I’d bet everything I own that they exist. But no one can get them to break their code of silence. According to rumors, they are hiding not only one of Harvard’s most valued treasures but also century-old secrets that involve some of the world’s richest families.”

Copyright © 2018 by Ian K. Smith in The Ancient Nine and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.

Sounds intriguing, right?! Now for the Q & A.

Q & A with Dr. Ian K. Smith regarding THE ANCIENT NINE

1. To begin with your beginnings, how did you get into writing?

A: I have always wanted to write stories since I was in college and read John Grisham’s The Firm, long before it became the international sensation. I enjoyed how that book made me feel, heart racing, unable to focus on anything else but the book, literally reading pages while stopped at traffic lights. I wanted to be able to create the same kind of story that had a similar effect on someone else. I like stories. I like creating. I have loved books my entire life. I decided that while my principle area of academic study would be biology and eventually medicine, that I would always keep an open mind and ambition to write and publish. That writing itch I had harbored for so many years just never went away and I refused to ignore it. Despite what many of my colleagues thought while I was in medical school, I believed both medicine and creative writing could be pursued passionately in parallel.

2. You’ve written many bestselling books about health and nutrition. What made you decide to pivot and write a thriller now?

A: Thrillers and crime fiction have always been at the top of my list for entertainment. I like to write what engages me, so I decided to sit down and create a story in the fashion that I like to read them. I love suspense and plots lines that are fast-moving and constantly make you think. I like the feeling of not wanting to put a book down and getting excited for the next time I have a break in my schedule to pick up that book again to read the next chapter. I wrote my first novel, THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS back in 2004, a thriller based on the campus of Dartmouth College where I finished my first two years of medical school. I had such great feedback from readers across the country. I would be on tour for one of my health and wellness books and invariably, someone would come up to me in the airport or a bookstore and ask me when I was going to write another thriller, because they enjoyed THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS so much and wanted more. Every time this happened, my heart would jump, and I would profusely thank the person for reminding me of my other passion and my need to go back to it and create more stories to share. I’ve been wanting to publish another thriller for a long time, and this was the perfect time in my career to do so. Fans of my fiction had waited long enough.

3. This is a novel you “waited years to write.” What is it about this story that was just begging to be told?

A: This story has everything that I love to read. There’s mystery, murder, suspense, history, and a love story. I’ve been writing this book for more than 25 years. I started when I was a senior at Harvard. While I was a very young and unpolished writer back then, I knew that it was a story that was so compelling that it needed to be told, and I knew that one day I’d be able to finish the story and publish it. This is a fish-out-of-water story with a coming-of-age feel that I think will appeal to people across the spectrum. Everyone likes a story about an underdog, and THE ANCIENT NINE captures that feel and spirit. I learned during my research that no one had ever written extensively about the Harvard final clubs. There were remote mentions in magazine and newspaper articles, but never anything that really penetrated this rarefied world of power and privilege. I just felt like this was a story begging to be told.

4. What was your personal experience with “secret societies” like? How did you decide what details to include as elements of the story in The Ancient Nine?

A: I was everything you would expect a prospective member WOULD NOT be. I was the wrong color, no pedigree, blue-collar family, and completely unaware of the elite circles in which these members traveled and inhabited. When I started to understand the lineage of the members and graduate members, I couldn’t understand why they would invite me to join. I have always been sociable, easy-to-like kind of guy, but I didn’t fit the image of a member nor did I have the money or access to privilege that the majority of members had. I wanted to include the elements as I experienced them. I wanted readers to see this world like I did for the first time, unsuspecting, unexpecting, an undaunted. I met many great guys when I was a member and remain friends with many of them to this day. Being a member was like a dual existence on campus. I was a regular student like everyone else most of the time, then I was a member of this final club that was a world of its own, including a staff that served us in our mansion and dinners with wealthy, powerful alums who were leaders of their fields throughout the country. I sat down to tables to eat and share jokes with amazing men who were extremely successful and influential, and at the same time fun to talk to and share experiences. Being a member taught me a lot about life and discrepancies and how pivotal networking can be as one tries to advance in life.

5. The Delphic Club is a very important part of the story, just like the mysteries around it. How did you come up with the mystery? Did you know how it would be solved from the beginning or did you come up with it as you wrote?

A: When I first started writing THE ANCIENT NINE, I wasn’t completely sure how it would end. I had a good idea of some of the plot twists and most of the narrative, but I had not worked out the entire mystery. As I was researching the history of the clubs—something that was very difficult to do since there has been very little written about them through the years—I discovered some amazing occurrences and legends not just about the clubs, but of Harvard itself. These discoveries were like a small, unknotted thread that once I started pulling, the story unraveled before me and everything began falling into place. I spent a lot of time in libraries, in the stacks of Widener Library at Harvard and Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, digging into the historical connections. It’s amazing how you can reach a point where a story can actually write itself, and you just become the vessel through which it’s told, trying your best to stay out of its way while you transcribe it as best as you can without losing its feel and meaning.

6. Have you received any negative feedback as a result of writing about your real-life experiences in these secretive organizations?

A: I don’t know what the feedback will be until more people have had a chance to read it. I have had some of my clubmates read it and others who are familiar with the clubs and they gave me really positive feedback. They found the book to be engaging and informative. They felt like I captured the essence of an experience that can only be felt by someone like myself who was foreign to this world. This book is not an expose or hit piece on the final clubs. This is a book that is based on real events, secrets that have been tightly guarded for hundreds of years. As the clubs are in serious and overdue conversations about opening their doors to a broader membership, some of this information will enter the public forum much easier and more fluidly than it has in the past. I would think that many current and graduate members of the clubs will find this entertaining, especially since they know very well the lay of the land on which the story is built.

7. How much does the main character in The Ancient Nine have in common with Ian Smith? How much of the story is autobiographical?

A: Spenser is based on me. His emotions, worries, thoughts, and experiences are based on mine. There are some creative changes I made such as where he was from and some of the family dynamics, but a lot of who he is and what he thinks is autobiographical. I’ve held on to this story for a long time as I wrestled with the best way to tell it and when it should be told. I was a tough, fearless kid who wanted to excel at everything and wanted to make my single mother and family proud. For those times, I was not the typical Harvard student—no trust fund or Ivy connection or renowned academic family pedigree—but I had what was most important for a student from any walk of life, the confidence that I could make it on Harvard’s storied campus. I was unafraid to try new things, mix it up, and learn as much as I could. I played sports intensely all my life, and I think that taught me a lot about the world, our many differences, the rigors and benefits of competition, and the importance of resiliency. I’ve never been one to be intimated by the chasm between what I have and what others have. Spenser sees and feels the world in exactly the same way as he remains proud of his humble beginnings and constantly works to do what is right.

8. In this novel you introduce a highly varied cast of characters, ranging from comical to mysterious, sporty

to academic. Who was your favorite character to write?

Which one would you most likely want to grab a beer with?

A: This isn’t an easy question as it’s like asking you to pick a favorite child. There are different things an author loves about the characters he or she creates, and there are different reasons why the characters appeal to the author. I will say, however, that it tends to be fun to write about characters who are very different from who you are, because it allows you to explore and imagine in a space that is not completely familiar. Writing Ashley Garrett was a lot of fun. I liked and admired her at lot. She’s from the other side of the tracks, brilliant, tough, witty, romantic, and unimpressed. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Ashley. Dalton Winthrop was also a lot of fun to write, because he was rich—something that I was definitely not—and rebellious and so determined to cut his own way in life despite the overbearing expectations and interventions of his imperious father. I don’t drink alcohol, but several of the real people who the characters are based on I actually did sit down with over the poker table and a box of pizza. I think it would be great fun to sit down to dinner with the obscenely wealthy but uproariously gregarious graduate member Weld Bickerstaff class of ’53 who lived in New York City. You just wind him up and let him go.

9. The Ancient Nine delves deep into the history and underbelly of Harvard. What was your process for researching this story?

A: I spent many months researching Harvard’s history and some of the less known facts about John Harvard’s book collection he donated to the college and the infamous 1764 fire that destroyed almost all of it. Over the years of writing this book I would find new pieces of information and the web of history and mystery would grow even larger. Little is publicly known or discussed about these clubs, and lots of secrets and knowledge have gone to the grave with many of the graduate members. Harvard has one of the most expansive library systems in the world, and I spent countless hours in many of the libraries mentioned in the book, digging up old newspapers and magazines and examining rare books. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time to connect the dots and delve into the layers of such an important university and the secret societies that have long been a perpetual irritant to the school’s administration.

10. During your research, did you find out anything surprising that didn’t make it into the book?

A: I gathered piles of research and discoveries while working on this book, but alas, an author must decide what to include and what to discard. Those decisions were gut-wrenching at times, but for the sake of the reader not having to sit down to a 600-page tome, the cuts had to be done. One thing that surprised me that didn’t make it into the book was how conflicted many of the school’s former leadership really were with regards to the clubs. Many of them publicly spoke against the clubs and the need for them to either be disbanded or opened to a more diverse membership, but privately, these administrators and school trustees had been members of a club themselves and as graduates, still supported them financially in ways that their identities and participation wouldn’t be exposed.

11. Readers will know you from your work in health and nutrition. In stepping away from that world, and into the world thriller writing, what surprised or challenged you the most?

A: It has always been fun and rewarding to write books in the genre of health and nutrition. I have enjoyed immensely helping and empowering people. My books through the years have literally been life-changing for millions of people. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to produce that type of impactful work. Writing thrillers has been equally gratifying as it has allowed me to be more imaginative and tap deeper into my creative side. I believe that a person can tap similarly and effectively into the left (science, math) and right (creativity, arts) sides of the brain. Contrary to what some have suggested, I don’t believe it’s one or the other. One thing vastly different about writing thrillers is that the plots are not linear, and therefore requires a vigilant attention to detail and great effort to maintain continuity. There are all kinds of dead ends, interweaving threads, surprises, disappointments, and moments of excitement that you must work into the story, knowing that you need to entertain your reader and keep them engaged for hundreds of pages. Accomplishing this is no small feat, but the work it takes to achieve it is worth every grinding second of it once you do.

12. What’s next for you? Will you continue to write thrillers and do you have an idea for your next novel?

A: I will definitely continue to write more thrillers. I love reading this genre, and I love writing it. My creative mind has a natural proclivity for this type of storytelling. I’m currently working on a different series of crime fiction/mystery books based on a character named Ashe Cayne who’s an ex-Chicago police officer and now a private investigator. I have learned a lot from my friends in CPD who have shown me the ropes and explained procedure. Ashe is smart, sarcastic, handsome, tenacious, morally compelled to right wrongs, broken-hearted, and a golf addict trying to bring his scoring handicap into the single digits. I LOVE this character and Chicago as the setting. The expansive, energetic, segregated, volatile, notoriously corrupt Chicago becomes an important secondary character in the book. Ashe Cayne takes on only select cases, and people of all walks of life from all over the city come to him to get answers. The first book in the series is called FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLY, and it’s about the daughter of one of the city’s richest men who mysteriously goes missing on the night she’s supposed to sleep over her best friend’s house. Her aristocratic mother hires Ashe Cayne to find her missing daughter. But it’s a lot more complicated than a missing person case. I expect to publish this book in the fall of 2019.

Follow Dr. Ian on Instagram: @doctoriansmith

Twitter: @DrIanSmith

Facebook Page: The Ancient Nine

Review: The After Wife by Cass Hunter @C_HunterAuthor #TheAfterWife

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 6, 2018

Publisher: Trapeze

Genre: Fiction

Blurb:

A surprising and emotional story starring an unforgettable heroine, for fans of Together, The Lovely Bones and The Time Traveller’s Wife

When Rachel and Aidan fell in love, they thought it was forever.

She was a brilliant, high-flying scientist. He was her loving and supportive husband.

Now she’s gone, and Aidan must carry on and raise their daughter alone.

But Rachel has left behind her life’s work, a gift of love to see them through the dark days after her death.

A gift called iRachel.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The After Wife!

Review:

This book has such a fascinating premise, imagine being able to leave behind an eerily human like robot after your death. It sounds so crazy and far fetched but also sort of possible at the same time. It was such a fresh, unique storyline and way more emotional than I would’ve guessed.

This is told via alternate perspectives giving you a birds eye look at how one family is coping with the loss of one of their own. Hunter did an outstanding job of capturing a family in the throes of grief and it was a very emotive read. The cast of characters are memorable and genuine and this was just an overall highly enjoyable read.

The After Wife in three words: Evocative, Moving and Beautiful.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 25, 2018

Publisher: HQN

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?

Review:

Yes, I realize that it’s only September and I’m already reading Christmas books and I’m totally ok with that! I’m like a little kid when it comes to the holiday season and I’m always more than ready to get into the holiday spirit, even before fall has officially started haha. The Christmas Sisters was the perfect book to bring the magic of the season to life and it made me even more excited about the holidays than I already am.

This follows a mom and her three daughters and you hear from each of them throughout the book. Suzanne adopted the girls when they were young after a tragic accident took both of their parents and it was so fascinating to see how their deaths affected each woman in a profoundly different manner. Beth, Hannah and Posy all have their own unique issues but they all stem from the past and I became entirely wrapped up in their lives and very invested in what would happen to each one.

This is set in Scotland and it was such a picturesque and gorgeous setting and Morgan described it beautifully. Her brand of writing works so well for me, it’s fun and flirty, but also heartfelt and poignant and left me with a sense of comfort in the end. I always end up caring deeply about her characters and this was no exception, I was rooting for all of the McBride women and their men weren’t too shabby either. Highly recommended for holiday reading lists!

The Christmas Sisters in three words: Enchanting, Cozy and Sweet.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher and Anna at Aro Publicity for my review copy.

Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Atria

Genre: Dystopian

Blurb:

BREAKING: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

BREAKING: London hit, thousands feared dead.

BREAKING: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm.

Jon Keller was on a trip to Switzerland when the world ended. More than anything he wishes he hadn’t ignored his wife Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer…

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what happens if the killer doesn’t want to be found?

Review:

I admittedly don’t read a ton of dystopian novels, but holy hell did this one scare the crap out of me! The main reason? It seemed entirely possible, it wasn’t all that far fetched and made me think, but what if SO many times.

This is told entirely from Jon’s point of view in journal style entries beginning at day one. He’s writing down his own personal experience after nuclear war begins as a way to document events for future generations. I loved the style, parts felt frantic, almost manic especially in the beginning but that made it feel super authentic. Who wouldn’t be feeling crazed when the world as they know it ends? As the days go by and Jon settles into a new way of life he finds his groove and the writing evens out and you begin to get more details about what happened and how a small group ended up at a hotel. The hotel itself was a fantastic setting, you get a locked room feeling coupled with an eerie, unnerving vibe due to the unknown activity outside the hotel and then you also have a murder mystery at play. Really creepy stuff, and again, so terrifying because it’s plausible.

This one raises tons of moral questions and dilemmas, when the end is nigh you see both the best and worst of humanity and it’s full of untrustworthy and unlikable characters lending to its authenticity once again. It definitely makes you think and would be perfect for fans of shows like The Walking Dead, it’s not out for awhile but put this on your radar for next spring!

The Last in three words: Haunting, Unnerving and Creepy.

Overall rating: 4/5

Special thanks to my girl Chelsea and the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Tear Me Apart by J. T. Ellison

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 1, 2018

Publisher: MIRA

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

One moment will change their lives forever…

Competitive skier Mindy Wright is a superstar in the making until a spectacular downhill crash threatens not just her racing career but her life. During surgery, doctors discover she’s suffering from a severe form of leukemia, and a stem cell transplant is her only hope. But when her parents are tested, a frightening truth emerges. Mindy is not their daughter.

Who knows the answers?

The race to save Mindy’s life means unraveling years of lies. Was she accidentally switched at birth or is there something more sinister at play? The search for the truth will tear a family apart…and someone is going to deadly extremes to protect the family’s deepest secrets.

With vivid movement through time, Tear Me Apart examines the impact layer after layer of lies and betrayal has on two families, the secrets they guard, and the desperate fight to hide the darkness within.

I’m so excited to be one of the stops on the blog tour for Tear Me Apart today! I’m hosting a giveaway on Instagram for a copy of this one so be sure to enter.

Review:

If, like me you were a big fan of Ellison’s last book, Lie to Me then you’ve been just as excited as I was about checking out Tear Me Apart. While I throughly enjoyed both books this is very different from LTM, but in a good way. While it definitely is a domestic suspense it focuses more on the dynamics of an entire family instead of a marriage and examines the relationships between mothers and daughters as well as sisters with a little marital strife thrown in. Just wanted to throw that out there so you have the right expectation before diving in.

I know next to nothing about the world of competitive skiing so I was a little unsure how that aspect would interest me but it was oddly fascinating for me. Maybe it’s because Mindy was hands down my favorite character of the bunch, but highly competitive sports of any nature are so physically and mentally grueling and I was totally invested in Mindy’s career and overall well being. Lauren is Mindy’s mom and she is a typical suburban housewife, albeit with an Olympic hopeful for a child, and Juliet is Lauren’s sister. They dynamics between these three never failed to engage me, you have a teenager who finds out her parents aren’t her biological parents, a mom who either doesn’t have or doesn’t want to share any answers and a sister/aunt trying to keep the peace. There is so much more going on than what I referenced but that alone was more than enough to hook me.

Ellison is tricky, as much as I was into this one I kept thinking I knew pretty much what would happen. Nope, she got me and in the last quarter of the book there were several shocking reveals that left me in awe of her meticulous plotting and attention to detail. There’s something both sharp and fluid about her writing style that just works for me, she’s an incredibly strong writer and she really knows how to weave an intriguing tale full of betrayals, lies, secrets and pain. She’s an auto buy author for me at this point, I’m always entertained by her books and have a hard time putting them down.

Tear Me Apart in three words: Engrossing, Sharp and Compelling.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes standalone domestic noir and psychological thriller series, the latter starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the international thriller series “A Brit in the FBI” with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the Emmy Award-winning show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband.

Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: March 5, 2019

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: Fiction

Blurb:

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Review:

So as soon as I was approved for this one I immediately abandoned my other reads and dove right in. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was one of my very favorite books last year so I knew I had to read this one right away. I had promised myself that I would wait to share my thoughts publicly until, oh I don’t know maybe the same calendar year the book is being released hahahaha but I can’t wait any longer, because you guys. This is an epic, phenomenal read that I will never forget. I’m scared to even try and write a review because no way can I do it justice but I have to try. Here goes!

The structure of this was amazing, it’s composed of oral interviews with the members of Daisy Jones and the Six and those people closest to them, so you have a large cast of characters to love. And I loved many of them. The band is clearly fictional but TJR has the uncanny ability to create these fake celebrities that feel so very real and authentic that you find yourself thinking, wait did I actually miss a huge band in the seventies called DJATS? She’s that good, I don’t know how she does it but she’s genius. Why are these characters so memorable? Because they’re so well developed, they’re larger than life and they just feel real. On top of outstanding characterization the story itself is a thing of beauty. It’s fun, wild, totally rock and roll but it’s also poignant, touching and incredibly moving. It is absolutely everything and it is a story for everyone.

If you’re a music fan in general, but especially if you loved (or still do!) music from Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, etc this is a must read. TJR captures that era beautifully and will make you want to listen to it as a background while you’re reading. Once again this read like an epic saga of a group of people’s lives, an intimate inside look behind the scenes of band and I could not get enough of it. Also, Reese Witherspoon is making a TV show and I cannot wait! If you loved Evelyn you’ll adore this one as well, if you haven’t read Evelyn go catch up while we wait for it to come out and basically if you like reading in general just do yourself a favor and pre order it now. You’re welcome.

Daisy Jones and the Six in three words: Epic, Innovative and Moving.

Overall rating: 5/5 (ALL THE STARS)

Review: Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 4, 2018

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

Review:

Sarah Pinborough has to be one of the most clever writers I’ve come across in recent years, she has a unique style of writing that works perfectly for me and I’m never quite sure exactly what to expect when I start one of her books. I was a huge fan of Behind Her Eyes, WTF ending and all so I was prepared to be surprised again and while I definitely was with this one, it had a different appeal that I appreciated greatly. I always like when an author switches things up slightly with each new book and doesn’t rely on a tried and true but formulaic gimmick and that’s exactly what happens here!

This is told from various viewpoints; Lisa, her daughter Ava and Lisa’s best friend Marilyn. All three women have secrets and half the fun of this story was trying to figure out exactly what each persons secret was. I admit, I was feeling pretty confident about where things were going but I was wrong. Yes, a few minor details were exactly as I expected but there were still some major shocks along the way.

I loved the pacing of this, it moved along swiftly and was divided into three parts which big revelations at the end of each one that just kept urging me to continue reading. Overall a fast and engaging read that gripped me and satisfied in the end.

(I do want to warn that this does contain some disturbing content that was a little shocking to me. There is nothing in the blurb that alludes to it but wanted to give a heads up that parts are hard to read. If you want more info just let me know, I don’t want to say more here)

Cross Her Heart in three words: Fluid, Devious and Disturbing.

Overall rating: 4/5

August Wrap Up

Another month in the books (haha pun totally intended) and I’m super pleased with my reading month. I’ve slowed down a bit with my reading, I’m no longer really posting on the weekends for the most part and this has helped me have more balance in my personal life tremendously. I may not be reading quite as many books as I have in the past (I’m at 20 instead of 30 this month) but I am taking more time to leisurely read instead of always feeling like I’m reading to a deadline. I did read a couple of additional titles this month but pub day is super far off so I’m trying to wait on sharing my thoughts until a little later. Overall I really enjoyed almost all of the books I did read in August and am super excited about my September TBR as well!

How was your month? Any must reads?

You Were Made For This: I was really confused by my feelings on this one.

An Anonymous Girl: Obsessive, Cunning and Riveting.

Good Luck With That: Vulnerable, Emotional and Relevant.

Leave No Trace: Atmospheric, Intense and Multifaceted.

Rush: Charming, Topical and Fun.

Big Woods: Quick, Engrossing and Deft

The Bucket List: Provocative, Empowering and Honest.

Not Her Daughter: Evocative, New and Gripping.

The Cast: Meaningful, Honest and Tender.

Do No Harm: Unsettling, Obsessive and Compulsive.

Before Her Eyes: Gripping, Dark and Intense.

Hey Ladies!: Silly, Outlandish and Wild.

The Waiting Room: Sharp, Twisty and Complex.

Sweet Little Lies: Assured, Cunning and Authentic.

Winter in Paradise: Escapist, Picturesque and Lush.

The Proposal: Cute, Sweet and Charming.

Trust Me: Original, Tricky and Complex.

Truth and Lies: Gripping, Relentless and Clever.

The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House: Warm, Sweet and Fun.

Lies: Gripping, Propulsive and Tense.