Theory of Good and Evil

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka counts down convicted killer Ansel Packer’s final hours before his execution, while also alternating among various female characters.

In the countdown, Ansel’s describes his theory on human nature, the reason for his kills, and how he was able to finally find peace within himself. Unfortunately, these latter events occur too late for him and for his victims. Now he must come to terms with his actions.

There are three women who complete Ansel’s story. All contribute different views and background about his character. Lavender is his mother, who spent four years enduring a controlling, abusive relationship before leaving her husband and two sons behind. Saffy first saw some of his disturbing behavior while sharing a foster placement together. Now she is a detective and Ansel is on her radar again. And finally there is Hazel, twin sister of Ansel’s wife Jenny.

This was a highly entertaining read that had me thinking deeply about human nature and all of the little events and choices that shape us.

Special Friends

The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz is first and foremost a story about friendship with a couple of murder mysteries thrown in.

Owen and Luna have been best friends since college. This friendship remained through various family dynamics, and through Owen’s ex-girlfriend’s murder investigation.

As adults, they encounter police scrutiny once again when Luna finds her friend and Owen’s wife murdered. This new investigation brings up additional details and secrets from their pasts.

Is their friendship strong enough to endure?

Treading Water

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley is the raw story of Kiara’s life on the streets in Oakland.

Seventeen-year-old Kiara and her older brother Marcus have been on their own ever since their dad’s death followed by their mom’s incarceration. Marcus becomes determined to become a music star, and Kiara finds herself on her own to pay rent. She makes a dangerous decision to make her money in the streets, and in doing so gets caught up in a terrifying sex trafficking ring within the police department. Through all of this, she also takes on the responsibility of caring for her young neighbor whose mom is a neglectful drug addict.

Each scene and character is conveyed with a combination of straightforward reality, desperation, and strength in the midst of life’s brutal challenges. I couldn’t stop reading this book in hope for justice and a positive ending for Kiara and those she cared about.

Crazy Times

The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale provides a peek into the male-dominated world during the late 1800s, with specific attention to Nellie Bly’s break into New York’s bustling newspaper industry.

Nellie Bly is escaping her hometown secret by doing everything in her power to secure a job as a reporter. She luckily meets a group of lady reporters (women’s pages), which lands her a chance to meet an editor who previously refused her. Her pitch is to go undercover in the infamous Blackwell’s insane asylum. This place is known for not letting any reporters in, and is spoken about for its deplorable conditions. Getting this story could be Nellie’s big break, but is it worth the risk?

Nellie manages to get herself committed. She sees firsthand the wretched treatment, food and conditions, while also building relationships with several of the women inside. Each “inmate” adds her own persona to the story. Meanwhile, Nellie has competition with a new male reporter who is trying to scoop her story while she is locked up. Nellie must remain hopeful that she will be released in time to share her viewpoint, and to make a difference for women.

There is an authentic, old-fashioned feel to the story, which combined with human interest and Bly’s bravery make this an interesting read.

Save the Planet

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a sci-fi lover’s dream come true.

Brilliant minds are needed when a new cellular life form is discovered that is basically eating our sun. This would lead to the end of humanity in a relatively short period of time. Ryland Grace is one of the scientists chosen to investigate a solution from a star that is not “infected.” It is a suicide mission because of the space time and limited resources they have available to make the journey.

Upon awakening from his medically induced coma, he quickly realizes that his crew-mates didn’t survive the trip. It is now up to him to figure out answers and send them back to Earth. Fortunately, Grace teams up with a large, spider-like alien who he names Rocky. Rocky is on the same mission from his home. They combine forces to save their own planets, in doing so, becoming true friends. Along the way, readers discover the events leading to this vital mission.

This book was very entertaining and educationally fascinating.

Survival Mode

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson is my third read from this past week. It combines elements of the previous two reads: female empowerment and murder, but in a completely different way.

The Violence is the name given to a post-Covid virus from mosquito bites. Those infected go completely blank while violently attacking whoever is unlucky enough to be nearby. Chelsea is an abused wife and mother who decides to use her husband’s next attack to her advantage. She reports him to the infected help line which gets him taken away long enough for her to plan an escape.

Escape seems impossible once she realizes that she actually does have the Violence. Chelsea reaches out to her rich, dismissive mother for help with her daughters, sixteen-year-old Ella and five-year-old Brooklyn. At this point their paths all diverge as they go through individual hardships.

Ella and Chelsea are on their own when Chelsea’s mom shuts them out, and her mom is left to take over parenting Brooklyn. Everyone is in survival mode and trying to figure out how to safely reunite.

This book did have some disturbing moments (it is called the violence after all!), but I found it to be very well written. Beyond the topic of violence is the strength of family, the will to overcome challenges and the ability to change. Great read!

Strength in Numbers

Smile and Look Pretty by Amanda Pellegrino is a female empowerment novel.

Four best friends regularly meet up to discuss their horrible work situations. They deal with harassment, empty promises of advancement, and demeaning errands. They decide to make their complaints public while maintaining anonymity in a blog named twentysomething. They take turns writing about some of their nightmare experiences, while inviting readers to share their own too.

The blog gains more popularity which causes plenty of drama. The four friends must battle issues amongst each other, boyfriends, and the effects of their growing confidence with their employers.

Events reach a head when enough women come forward to speak out against a famous tv news host. Will the friends risk losing everything in order to to take down a known harasser?

A Case of Murder

The Judge’s List by John Graham is a page turning murder mystery.

A woman named Jeri has been secretly investigating her father’s murder for years. Her digging has revealed that her father is one of many victims of a powerful, patient serial killer. He has killed in numerous states out of revenge, and has sometimes waited more than ten years to enact his kill. The killer is intelligent and seemingly untouchable because he is a Florida judge with no clear evidence to connect all his kills.

Jeri finally reveals her years of research to judicial board investigator, Lacy. It’s now up to Lacy and her team to follow through, unless the judge is able to outsmart them all once again.

This was a great read to kick off my summer break!

Fresh Start

Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover is Kenna’s redemption story.

Five years earlier, she was charged with her boyfriend Scotty’s death in a car wreck. Now she is out of prison trying to rebuild her life, and meet the daughter she was forced to give up while serving her sentence. Her daughter, Diem, is living with Scotty’s parents, and they make it very clear that they do not want Kenna entering their lives. Kenna works through her feelings by writing letters to Scotty.

Meanwhile, Kenna manages to make a strong connection to Ledger, one of Scotty’s best friends and childhood neighbor. The author alternates between Ledger and Kenna’s points of view, all the while building the sexual tension between them, and revealing back story. Everything leads to the critical moment in which Ledger must choose between his relationship with Diem and Scotty’s parents or Kenna.

Online Match

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger is a fictional work exploring the potential dangers of online dating sites. You never know who someone truly is…

Wren makes a match using the Torch dating site, which her friend pushed her to try. After several quick flings, she makes a meaningful connection to Adam. They spend several wonderful weeks together before he suddenly ghosts her. All traces of him lead to a dead end. She may have eventually moved on, except a private detective approaches her about him. It seems that this behavior is a repeat offense for Adam, and the girl before Wren is still missing.

Wren can’t help but get involved in trying to locate Adam and the missing girl. In doing so, we discover that there are plenty of secrets in Wren’s past.

Adam finally reaches out to lure Wren back. Will she go to him and will doing so give her the same fate as the girls before her? This is a decent read for some drama and suspense.