The Collective by Alison Gaylin
Camille Gardener has been grieving. Having lost everything, she contemplates suicide. The only thing keeping her going is the burning desire to seek revenge on the young man who raped her daughter and left her to die. A privileged young man found innocent of the crime. But she does not act on the fire in her gut to seek vengeance. That is, not until she discovers a dark organization of woman who share her desire to right a wrong. Camille is quickly drawn into the sinister group and is eventually faced with a moral dilemma she may have no way out of. The Collective is a stirring story of the power of a well organized group, motivated by hate and anger, that will stop at nothing to meet their goals.
Your Son Is Alive by James Scott Bell
Five-year old Kyle Reeve is kidnapped in broad daylight, he is never found. Fifteen years later his father receives a note saying 'Your son is alive.' Dylan Reeve reunites with his now ex-wife, Erin, to deal with the pain brought on by the cruel letter. The letter is followed with more letters and phone calls, which they are helpless to ignore. If there is any chance Kyle is alive, they have to find out. The domestic thriller moves along quickly as the suspense heats up. I had no idea where the plot was going and had a difficult time putting the book down. It has just the right combination of suspense and creepiness. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it.
Velocity by Dean Koontz
My first Dean Koontz novel I've read in a while and it did not disappoint. Billy Wiles is an easy-going bartender with an ordinary job. That is until one day a note is left on his car. The note threatens to kill a different person based on what action Billy takes or doesn't take. Billy calls his friend, a cop, who thinks it's a crank and nothing is done about it. But when a young schoolteacher is killed less than 24 hour later, he knows better. As more ominous notes appear and more innocent people are killed, evidence is planted to incriminate Billy.

The hunt is on to find the psychopath before the madness comes to an end and Billy is killed. There is plenty of suspense, mystery, and a surprise ending. Definitely worth the read.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen year old Starr Carter has to carefully navigate two worlds. One is the poor neighborhood she lives in, the other is the suburban prep school she attends. She is adept at keeping the two separate until one day she witnesses her childhood friend, Khalil, shot by a police officer when his car is pulled over. Khalil dies at her side and is her second closest friend to die from a shooting. She tries to keep all this a secret from her friends at school, but it eventually comes out.

Her two worlds collide as the shooting of the unarmed black man garners national attention. Racial tensions rise and a grand jury is called to determine if the officer will be charged, putting Starr in the middle of it all. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the book vividly describes the cultural and racial differences that divide us. It was made into a movie, but the book adds so much more depth. I was thrown into a world I know very little about. Great read.
The Family Across the Street by Nicole Trope
Katherine and John are new arrivals to the quiet neighborhood, but something is not quite right. It is unusually quiet at the busy house and Gladys, the nosy neighbor, suspects something is wrong across the street. Logan attempts to deliver a package to the house and is troubled when he gets an unusual response. He wants to intervene, but his past criminal record and current job are holding him back. Meanwhile, inside the house Katherine and her twin children are unable to answer the door. Strange circumstances bring the three people together on a hot summer day. The suspense heats up as the story moves quickly from one character's perspective to the other until they all meet in the climactic ending. This is a well written psychological thriller with a shocking twist.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard has a secret, a secret that could endanger him and those around him. Born in 1581, his appearance is that of a 40 year old man, but he has a condition that has kept him alive for hundreds of years. He remains the same while those around him grow old and die. But he is not alone, there are others who share his affliction and a secret society is watching. To avoid being discovered, he is ordered by the society to move on and assume a new identity every eight years. He is also told to never fall in love. Breaking the rules could get him killed, but Tom yearns for an ordinary life. He fell in love once and now searches for his daughter, who he believes shares the same affliction that he has. The society has offered to help him find her, but only if he agrees to recruit others.

How To Stop Time is a story of a man of all ages. Roaming the world for centuries, Tom wants nothing but a simple life and he is searching for a solution. He has witnessed so much change over the years, yet human nature remains the same. He has learned how precious life is and the value of living for the moment.

"In those moments that burst alive the present lasts for ever."
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
"... far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters." Abandoned by her siblings, mother, and finally her drunken and abusive father, Kya grows up isolated in the marsh off the coast of North Carolina. Called the "Marsh Girl" and scorned by the town people, she chooses to hide from humanity. She escapes to the marsh, where nature nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. Spending her time alone in the marsh, she eventually becomes an expert on all the life it holds. But nature can be harsh, and if not for the help of a poor couple providing food and clothing, she would not have survived.

One day while boating along the marsh, Kaya sees a young boy named Tate. Over the years a special relationship is developed from afar. Gifts are left for Kaya on a nearby tree stump. Later on, Tate teaches Kaya to read and she begins to open up. But one thing leads to another and Kaya is left once again rejected. Yearning for contact she falls into the arms of a young man and another rocky relationship. The drama builds when there is a murder which the town people want to pin on the "Marsh Girl."

Crawdads is a heart-breaking and heart-warming coming-of-age story of a young girl living in isolation and dealing with rejection.
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Our bodies deteriorate and break down. Over time we lose physical and mental function. Who wouldn't want an upgrade? Not a reboot or reset to original factory settings, but an upgrade to a whole new model. That's exactly what happens in Blake Crouch's latest novel.

Logan Ramsay lives in a world where genetic modification is commonplace, his job is to shut it down. While investigating a case, he is infected with an unknown virus and begins to change. He experiences heightened intelligence, awareness, strength and other amazing abilities. Because of this, Logan is captured by the organization he works for and put in isolation. His family is told he died. He later escapes with the help of his sister, Kara. The two of them are morphing into a new species, the next generation in the evolution of Homo sapiens. But as Kara attempts to spread the virus around the world, he has a decision to make. Will altering the human race be beneficial or a detriment?

Logan has changed, he can never go back to who he was. The future of humanity is bleak. But will genetic engineering be their last hope for survival? Upgrade is a non-stop thrill ride, asking thought-provoking questions on our future.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
My second read from Crouch and I was not disappointed. Another spin on alternate realities, and this one interestingly deals with our perception of reality. An epidemic is spreading that drives people mad. For those affected, the world around them has drastically changed and they recall vivid memories of an alternate reality. The phenomenon is explained as a disease called FMS, or False Memory Syndrome. New York City Detective Barry Sutton sees it firsthand when he responds to a woman suffering from delusions who is contemplating jumping off a high-rise building. He learns more about the disease and begins investigating the phenomenon. That leads him to a secret hideout, where he is thrown into a chair, drugged, and wakes up in a new reality, one where is daughter is still alive.

Meanwhile, back in 2007, Helena Smith is working on research to help her mother retain her memories before dementia takes them away. A rich investor, named Marcus Slade, offers to fund Helena's project and she agrees. But Slade has a hidden agenda and uses the discoveries to alter events. Things soon get out of hand and multiple realities are created with disastrous results. Barry and Helena meet, become romantically involved and experience several recurring lifetimes, some together, some apart. Multiple attempts are made to undo the damage and I will not spoil the ending. Recursion is an interesting look at both the good and bad experiences in a lifetime and how they can change everyone involved.
The Humans by Matt Haig
Best book I have read in a while. An alien is sent to earth to prevent damage to the future by an important breakthrough, one that will take mankind a giant technological leap forward. He takes the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, who made the discovery. The visitor moves into Martin's home with his wife and teenage son. Tasked with eliminating Martin's family and anyone with knowledge of the discovery, he searches for people Martin may have told. The alien is at first repulsed by humans and knows nothing of their ways. But as he immerses himself deeply into Martin's life, his views slowly change. He develops a bond that never existed with the son and grows to love Martin's wife. He grows into the father and husband Martin was not. But he has a mission to accomplish and he is being watched.

Haig weaves a story that dives deeply into the nuances and core of what it means to be human. It has both humorous and emotional moments that will tug at your heartstrings. I would highly recommend The Humans to anyone.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
"Quantum superposition." Jason Desson has a normal, happy life. But like many others, he harbors a few regrets. One night he steps out to visit a friend at a local pub. On the way home he is abducted and wakes up strapped to a gurney, surrounded by men in hazmat suits. He finds himself in a strange world where he does not recognize any of the people around him, people who say they know him well. Closely watched and fearing for his life, he escapes and later discovers: he never married, and his son was never born. On the run from his abductors, he struggles to unravel the mystery.

The riddle is explained with parallel universes and alternate dimensions. The subject has been covered before, but Crouch creates a whole new spin on it that I won't reveal. Jason finds himself in a life or death struggle to return home, but that may not be possible in the strange world of quantum superposition. Brilliantly plotted and mind-bending, I could not put it down. The best I have read in some time, it will keep you on the edge of your seat to the end. Whether you are a sci-fi fan or not, I would highly recommend this book.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Ryland Grace wakes up from a coma, alone on a strange spacecraft with no memory of how he got there. As memories slowly return, he discovers he was sent on a one-way mission to save humanity. The Sun's light is being absorbed by an alien life form, called Astrophage, which will result in the death of virtually all life on Earth. Grace's spaceship is orbiting a star called Tau Ceti. The star is for some reason immune to the Astrophage, and Grace was sent there to find out why. Shortly later an alien spaceship arrives with only one surviving crew member. Grace makes contact with the alien, later called Rocky, and finds out he is there to save his world from the same fate as Earth's.

Weir paints a story heavy on science, which can be overwhelming at times, but nevertheless fascinating and authentic. The relationship between Grace and Rocky grows as the two work together to solve the mystery. The tension heightens as they deal with one catastrophe after another. There are plenty of twists and turns, but at the center of it all is the heart-warming bond between two vastly different creatures working together towards a common goal. Hail Mary is a story of friendship, sacrifice and the fight for the survival.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Originally published in 1969 and taking place from 1945 to 1955, The Godfather reflected the turbulent times and culture of the 60s. Our society and government were undergoing a monumental upheaval, the country was divided. Graphic images of war and protests were televised each night on the evening news. The war dragged on, young men watched anxiously as their draft numbers were drawn from the lottery. To quote Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin'."

I first read The Godfather in high school and like many others my age at the time, read it for the sex scene with Sonny and Lucy. That was the hook and it occurred in the first chapter. I thoroughly enjoyed the book back then and again now, though it was different this time around having seen the movie. I think this is one of those rare times where the movie is better than the book, though both were excellent. I pictured all the characters from the film which won an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor.

Nevertheless, in case you were living on another planet and are not familiar with it, the story is about Vito Corleone, the Godfather or Don, of a powerful New York crime family. Vito controls an empire profiting from gambling, loansharking and various other illegal activities. He and his three sons go about their daily lives in a vastly different way than you and I. Violence and murder are mixed with religion, family and loyalty in an odd way. It begins with business as usual but the Don is getting old and other families are moving in on his turf. The Godfather is a gritty story of violence, corruption and survival in a brutal world.
1984 by George Orwell
First published in 1949, this was an amazing read which I could not put down! Most of us are familiar with "Big Brother" and the general theme of the story but the level of detail Orwell put into his futuristic, dystopian world is astonishing. Mind control is taken to a whole new level.

Oceania is one of three super states and is at perpetual war with the others, but nothing is as it seems. Facts are twisted, history is rewritten. Slogans like "WAR IS PEACE", "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY", "IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH" point out the contradictions. Doublethink is a process where one is expected to accept two contradictory beliefs as correct. Four ministries, named for the opposite of what they do, control all aspects of life. The Ministry of Peace supports Oceania's perpetual war; The Ministry of Plenty rations food, and all essential items; The Ministry of Truth spews out lies and controls information; The Ministry of Love arrests and tortures dissidents.

Winston Smith is the main character who goes through life under the watchful eye of The Party, an all powerful totalitarian government. His job at the Ministry of Truth is to alter historical records to support their propaganda. With emotional contact not permitted, Winston begins a secret relationship with Julia and the two begin to question the world around them. They join a resistance called The Brotherhood and embrace a book written by the leader, Emanual Goldstein who was a former Party member. Winston and Julia are eventually captured and tortured into conforming. The mind twisting process is graphic and described in great detail.

I found 1984 to be a deep and thought provoking story, every bit as relevant today.
Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I have wanted to read this one for a while and it did not disappoint. Nora Seed finds herself at a crossroads. Her life unfulfilled and without friends, she has lost the will to live. Ultimately deciding to end it all she finds herself in a library occupied by a single librarian. It is a magical place where time stands still. There are an infinite number of books, each representing a unique life. Each book opened allows Nora to experience an alternate life, formed by different choices she could have made. As she experiences different lives, her outlook begins to change. But there is a catch, if she does not select a suitable life before the clock begins ticking, she will be forced out of the Midnight Library to the final stage of her existence.

I especially liked how the author described the possibility of an infinite number of parallel dimensions or lives, each created by the decisions we make. The library was a great metaphor for life and there was even a Book of Regrets. Midnight Library was a short and thoroughly enjoyable read.
My Raibow To Keep by Michelle Jeffreys
A heartfelt story of unimaginable loss and despair. Michelle's personal journey through the sudden death of her daughter, Zoë, drew me in from the beginning. For anyone who has experienced trauma in their life, this will tug at your heartstrings. I felt Michelle's pain and though on a different level, related to many of her experiences. The book was hard to put down and being a shorter read than I am used to, it left me wanting more. I would recommend My Rainbow To Keep to anyone experiencing loss or dealing with a friend struggling with grief.
House Rules by Jodi Picoult
Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He is intelligent but has difficulty communicating with the outside world and feeling or expressing emotions. Jacob has many peculiar habits, one of which is an obsession with solving murder cases, both real and fictional. When the young girl who is helping him with his social skills winds up missing, an investigation is opened. Jacob seems to know more than he should and is suspected of being involved in some way. The plot heats up when the body is found and Jacob is charged with murder. As the trial unfolds, Jacob is advised by consul to remain silent, his erratic behavior is not helping his cause. Told through several viewpoints including Jacob, his brother Theo and his mother Emma, I found it very insightful. Picoult masterfully tells the story through each character's perspective keeping you on the edge of your seat until the end.
Hearts In Atlantis by Stephen King
Hearts In Atlantis is actually five interconnected stories, each rooted in the 1960s. The first story, "Low Men in Yellow Coats," deals with a young boy growing up in the 60s, a dominating mother and missing father. He has a crush on a neighborhood girl and together they encounter bullying which deeply effects their lives. A man moves in upstairs who befriends the boy. Tensions rise when the man is later chased by supernatural characters in true King fashion. In the title story a group of college boys get hooked on a card game amidst a war protest occurring across the country. Another story deals with a Vietnam vet's struggles with dealing with a post Vietnam era country.
The era is depicted expertly, the characters loosely connected and brought together roughly in the end. But I expected more. It felt a bit confusing and the stories could have been tied in better. Nevertheless, these are absorbing stories with the visuals and emotions that we have come to expect from King.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Cold Mountain alternates between two main characters and how their stories intertwine. A wounded Confederate soldier, W. P. Inman, becomes disillusioned with the war and decides to undertake the long trek home on foot. His story is filled with peril and he is hunted down as a deserter. Meanwhile, Ada, the girl he left behind struggles to survive back at Cold Mountain, a rural community in North Carolina. In addition to the day-to-day hardships, Confederate soldiers steal her food and livestock to support the troops. Written in the language of the era, the story is sometimes hard to follow. I enjoyed Inman's tale but found myself skimming over some of the other chapters. All in all, it is beautifully written and paints a vivid picture of a harsh time during the final years of the Civil War.
Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove
An alternate history depicting what it would be like had Joseph Stalin been born in the United States. Joe Steele rises in the political world eventually being elected a US Congressman. Through ruthless measures he winds up being elected President instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Instead of FDR's New Deal, he devises a Four Year Plan to end unemployment and grow the economy. He nationalizes banks and collectivizes farms and factories. Those who oppose his measures are accused of spying for Germany and arrested. Courts are stacked and military cronies are appointed. Work camps are created to further crush all political opposition.
As Hitler rises to power Joe Steele exceeds the current two term limit for president and leads the US into war against the Axis. Steele remains in power until his death in 1953. Joe Steele is a fascinating story depicting how a government "for the people" can be altered dramatically. It points out how fragile our democratic republic truly is.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Hodder & Stoughton, Oct 11, 2016 - Fiction
When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not. Small Great Things is about prejudice; it is about that which divides and unites us. It is about opening your eyes.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Dutton Books, 2012 - Young Adult Fiction
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
The Reckoning by John Grisham
Set in rural Mississippi in 1946, Pete Banning, a decorated war hero, is accused of a brutal murder. There is no doubt he did it and he does not deny it. The only question is why. He refuses to explain his actions and the story takes you from the war and his horrific experiences as a POW in the Philippines to the Jim Crow south.
The question remains unanswered until the very end and for me was a bit of a let down after the long build up. But in true Grisham fashion, the events, characters, and location are vividly described. There is also plenty of courtroom drama.
Masked Prey by John Sanford
The daughter of a US Senator finds anonymous pictures of herself and other children of powerful politicians on the internet. Along with the pictures are vicious political rants and disturbing comments from radical groups. Worried that the children could be in danger, the FBI looks into into who is involved. When the investigation stalls, Lucas Davenport is called in to work outside their legal bounds. He questions several Congressmen, Senators and their children as well as shady characters with radical connections. He dives into the underbelly of extremist groups and how they operate, pressuring them for help. The fear of a lone wolf intent on targeting the children soon becomes the main focus and the hunt is on. The killer is out there, but can they find him/her before it is too late?

I found the story relevant and full of details on the workings of the FBI as well as fringe radical groups. It is well written and a good, but not excellent, read.

More Great Books...

Fahrenheit 452 by Ray Bradbury
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Recursion by Blake Crouch
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Firestarter by Stephen King
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn