Book Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

4⭐️’s from me

Goodreads Summary: “An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.

Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.

A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power—Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?”

My Review:

I have always been a fast reader, but man I was surprised at how fast I finished this one. This is a book you can devour in one setting.


Gin Phillips tugs on the heart strings of mothers as she describes the horrifying drama of a mother tr

ying to protect her son at the zoo. Articulating the terrifying ordeal of maintaining rational thought while protecting our young is no easy task. Yet, Phillips’ writing has it all – the emotions are raw, frazzled, and intense. Survival mode.

I particularly liked how Phillips switched point of views from the mother to the shooter and occasionally other characters. This technique allowed Phillips to delve into the motivations of individuals, questioning whether its even possible to identify potential killers before these horrific events happen. A poignant reminder of how fragile life is and how our lives can be scarred forever from just one event – especially given today’s reality.

Without saying too much, I did want more from the ending. I ultimately wanted to know more…

A thrilling roller-coaster of a ride, this is one of the best thrillers that I have read this year.

2017 Book Review, BOTM Club

Book Review: American Fire by Monica Hesse

4⭐️’s from me

Goodreads Summary: “The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate—there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.

The culprit, and the path that led to these crimes, is a story of twenty-first century America. Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse first drove down to the reeling county to cover a hearing for Charlie Smith, a struggling mechanic who upon his capture had promptly pleaded guilty to sixty-seven counts of arson. But as Charlie’s confession unspooled, it got deeper and weirder. He wasn’t lighting fires alone; his crimes were galvanized by a surprising love story. Over a year of investigating, Hesse uncovered the motives of Charlie and his accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick, a woman of steel-like strength and an inscrutable past. Theirs was a love built on impossibly tight budgets and simple pleasures. They were each other’s inspiration and escape…until they weren’t.

Though it’s hard to believe today, one hundred years ago Accomack was the richest rural county in the nation. Slowly it’s been drained of its industry—agriculture—as well as its wealth and population. In an already remote region, limited employment options offer little in the way of opportunity. A mesmerizing and crucial panorama with nationwide implications, American Fire asks what happens when a community gets left behind. Hesse brings to life the Eastern Shore and its inhabitants, battling a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. The result evokes the soul of rural America—a land half gutted before the fires even began.”

My Review:

Lately I have found myself more and more attracted to the true crime drama, both in written form and film. In many ways it can be more thought-provoking than fiction – because you know it actually happened.

I had heard rumblings about American Fire before it became published. So naturally, when I had the chance to get a copy – I made sure to get it. American Fire tells the captivating story of a couple, Charlie Smith and Tonya Burdick, who set fire to sixty-seven abandoned buildings across Accomack County, Virginia. As Hesse sets out to discuss the fires, we learn that this is so much more than just a plethora of fires.

Hesse uses her journalistic skills for an in-depth exploration of the historical, psychological, and motivational explanations behind arson in order to expertly relate her research to the events in Accomack County.  She explores the personal histories of Charlie and Tonya; And with that comes the exploration of rural America today, a different exploration of identity altogethers. The struggles of families in Accomack County could ring true in many rural American towns today making the story so much more intriguing.

Then on top of it all, this is ultimately a love story – a love story that Hesse compares to the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and other crime couples of the ages. An age-old motive, love is at heart of these arsons and, perhaps, the reason for their unraveling.

A must-read for true-crime lovers. Hesse will have you hooked from the very beginning.



Book Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

The IdenticalsHappy Fourth of July!

I hope you all have enjoyed some time at the beach like me.  And, of course, I used it to catch up on some fun summer reads – including this 4⭐️ Novel!

Goodreads Summary: Nantucket is only two and a half hours away from Martha’s Vineyard by ferry. But the two islands might as well be worlds apart for a set of identical twin sisters who have been at odds for years. Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point. When a family crisis forces them to band together–or at least appear to–the twins come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the resentments that have driven them apart.

My Review:

By now I know if I need a good summer read, Elin Hilderbrand is a sure bet. Her newest novel, The Identicals, is complete with the summer beach setting and family drama. The twin theme was a great conflict to base the novel around – and the characterization some how has the reader sympathize with both sides, almost begging for a reconciliation between the sisters. Hilderbrand mirrors the sisters’ differences and similarities with the differences between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to keep you turning each and every page. Family drama, love, revenge, deception, lies, and the beach – all the magical elements of a great beach read!