I feel like I say this every single month, but where the heck did July go? How is it already August? How are we still living in a pandemic?
Deep breaths…think of Fall! This is my new mantra, along with plans to read some amazing sounding books!
I’ve yet again created a massive list of possibilities for August. This month my TMR is toppling, but I’ve decided it’s important to declare some must reads. Books I know I want to make sure to finish before the month is over. So what are they?
Buddy reads!: I’ve got Christine and He Started It as must reads so that I can discuss them with my #keeperofking group and Criminally Book Club.
Review commitments!: There are several books that I’ve committed to review this month, including The Night Swim, In Case of Emergency, Behind the Red Door, The Second Mother, and The Mother Code. They all sound fantastic, so it’s really just a matter of what to pick! My review is already up for The Night Swim and it’s one I’m highly recommending.
My backlist!: I have a handful of books in this stack that are ones I’ve recently bought for myself and want to prioritize. I’m slowly starting to realize how out of hand my backlist has become and I’m hoping to take control of that throughout the rest of the year.
See anything you’ve loved in this stack? Anything you’re excited for?
THE NIGHT SWIM by Megan Goldin: After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.
The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.
Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY by E.G. Scott: Charlotte, a mid-thirties Long Island woman, has felt so alone since her promising career in neuroscience imploded. But she has an online support group for trauma survivors; she has Rachel, a friend who has seen her through the worst of it; and now she also has Peter, a mysterious new boyfriend who has asked that their budding romance remain a total secret.
That is why she is too scared to report his disappearance to the authorities when he vanishes without a word.
Weeks later, police contact her to make an ID on a body and she fears the worst for her missing beau. Instead, she arrives at the morgue and feels a terrible relief when she sees a woman she has never met before on the table in front of her. But relief is replaced by confusion, then terror, when Charlotte realizes she has become a person of interest.
Why did Jane Doe have Charlotte listed as her emergency contact? Was it revenge or a warning? And where exactly does Peter factor into all this? As Charlotte becomes the prime murder suspect, she enters into a race against the clock to find truth about the dead woman and the connections they shared. But what she discovers is beyond anything she could have ever imagined.
CHRISTINE by Stephen King: It’s love at first sight for high school student Arnie Cunningham when he and his best friend Dennis Guilder spot the dilapidated 1958 red-and-white Plymouth Fury for sale—dubbed “Christine” by its original cantankerous owner—rusting away on a front lawn of their suburban Pennsylvania neighborhood. Dennis knows that Arnie’s never had much luck in the looks or popularity department, or really taken an interest in owning a car . . . but Christine quickly changes all that. Arnie suddenly has the newfound confidence to stick up for himself, going as far as dating the most beautiful girl at Libertyville High—transfer student Leigh Cabot—even as a mysteriously restored Christine systematically and terrifyingly consumes every aspect of Arnie’s life. Dennis and Leigh soon realize that they must uncover the awful truth behind a car with a horrifying and murderous history. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and heaven help anyone who gets in Christine’s way…
HURRY HOME by Roz Nay: Blood is thicker than water… And it could cost you everything.
Alexandra Van Ness has the perfect life. She lives in an idyllic resort town tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, shares a designer loft with her handsome boyfriend, Chase, and has her dream job working in child protection. Every day, Alex goes above and beyond to save children at risk.
But when her long-lost sister, Ruth, unexpectedly shows up at her door, Alex’s perfect life is upended. Growing up, Ruth was always the troublemaker, pulling Alex into her messes, and this time will be no different. Still, Alex will help Ruth under one condition: we will never, ever, talk about the past. But when a local child goes missing, both women are forced to confront the secrets they’ve promised to keep buried.
Utterly engrossing and claustrophobic, Hurry Home is a tantalizing reflection of the chain-and-shackles relationship between sisters that asks: what lines wouldn’t you cross for your own?
HE STARTED IT by Samantha Downing: Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.
But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.
It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory—a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.
But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.
BEHIND THE RED DOOR by Megan Collins: When Fern Douglas sees the news about Astrid Sullivan, a thirty-four-year-old missing woman from Maine, she is positive that she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure it’s because of Astrid’s famous kidnapping—and equally famous return—twenty years ago, but Fern has no memory of that, even though it happened an hour outside her New Hampshire hometown. And when Astrid appears in Fern’s recurring nightmare, one in which a girl reaches out to her, pleading, Fern fears that it’s not a dream at all, but a memory.
Back home in New Hampshire, Fern purchases a copy of Astrid’s recently published memoir—which may have provoked her original kidnapper to abduct her again—and as she reads through its chapters and visits the people and places within it, she discovers more evidence that she has an unsettling connection to the missing woman. As Fern’s search becomes increasingly desperate, she hopes to remember her past so she can save Astrid in the present…before it’s too late.
Featuring Megan Collins’s signature “dark, tense, and completely absorbing” (Booklist) prose and plenty of shocking twists and turns, Behind the Red Door is an arresting thriller that will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
THE FIRST TO LIE by Hank Phillippi Ryan: We all have our reasons for being who we are—but what if being someone else could get you what you want?
After a devastating betrayal, a young woman sets off on an obsessive path to justice, no matter what dark family secrets are revealed. What she doesn’t know—she isn’t the only one plotting her revenge.
An affluent daughter of privilege. A glamorous manipulative wannabe. A determined reporter, in too deep. A grieving widow who must choose her new reality. Who will be the first to lie? And when the stakes are life and death, do a few lies really matter?
WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK by Julia Heaberlin: It’s been a decade since Trumanell Branson disappeared, leaving only a bloody handprint behind. Her pretty face still hangs like a watchful queen on the posters on the walls of the town’s Baptist church, the police station, and in the high school. They all promise the same thing: We will find you. Meanwhile, her brother, Wyatt, lives as a pariah in the desolation of the old family house, cleared of wrongdoing by the police but tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion and in a new documentary about the crime.
When Wyatt finds a lost girl dumped in a field of dandelions, making silent wishes, he believes she is a sign. The town’s youngest cop, Odette Tucker, believes she is a catalyst that will ignite a seething town still waiting for its own missing girl to come home. But Odette can’t look away. She shares a wound that won’t close with the mute, one-eyed mystery girl. And she is haunted by her own history with the missing Tru.
Desperate to solve both cases, Odette fights to save the lost girl in the present and to dig up the shocking truth about a fateful night in the past–the night her friend disappeared, the night that inspired her to become a cop, the night that wrote them all a role in the town’s dark, violent mythology.
THE SECOND MOTHER by Jenny Milchman: Opportunity: Teacher needed in one-room schoolhouse on remote island in Maine. Certification in grades K-8 a must.
Julie Weathers isn’t sure if she’s running away or starting over, but moving to a remote island off the coast of Maine feels right for someone with reasons to flee her old life. The sun-washed, sea-stormed speck of land seems welcoming, the lobster plentiful, and the community close and tightly knit. She finds friends in her nearest neighbor and Callum, a man who appears to be using the island for the same thing as she: escape.
But as Julie takes on the challenge of teaching the island’s children, she comes to suspect that she may have traded one place shrouded in trouble for another, and she begins to wonder if the greatest danger on Mercy Island is its lost location far out to sea, or the people who live there.
THE MOTHER CODE by Carole Stivers: The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?
In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human–and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.
THE FIFTH SEASON (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin: This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (Earthseed #2) by Olivia E. Butler: In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.
THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson: Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?
JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson: A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay: In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.
Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.
Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
Disclosure: A huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press, Atria Books, Forge, Dutton Books, Sourcebooks, Berkley, and Random House for sending me free copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.
Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.