The Bucket List by C.J. Murphy

Imagine you’re a super smart biogenetic engineer, looking for a breakthrough in your research, and you literally stumble into the pages of the lesbian version of ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

What was the book about?:
Professor Jordan Armstrong, a biogenetic engineer, is at an impasse in her super food research. In order to move forward, she is adamant that her former professor, Noeul Scott, is the key. The problem is, Noeul vanished after the death of her wife. Jordan stumbles upon a coded ‘bucket list’ that she hopes will reveal clues to where she’s gone. With the help of her cryptologist sister, Jordan follows clues to several National Parks where hidden memorials to Noeul’s deceased wife contain the next set of coded ciphers. Jordan must decode each in order to reveal the next location. Along this expedition, she is guided by something, or someone, she can’t see. Unexplained happenstances continue to direct her steps.

Featured Tropes: Grief, new love, moving on, age-gap, paranormal/spiritualism, professors, science, code-breaking

Book Strengths:
The clues and the intricate, complicated journey that Jordan goes on appealed to my inner nerd. Dava, Jordan’s cryptologist sister and her code-breaking skills, was really cool. Remember those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books when we were kids where you got to the end of a chapter and there were codes or puzzles to answer, and then you had a choice about which plot line to take. Then based on your choice, you flipped to that page in the novel to find out if piranhas ate you? This novel felt very much like that, except we travel alongside Jordan and Noeul as they make their choices, and there are no piranhas.

Another strength is that Murphy gives us the depth and breadth of each character’s emotions. We really feel Noeul’s pain and heartache with the death of Aggie three years ago. We understand her grief.

Book weaknesses:
Sometimes a painter looks at their canvas and decides to add another element, then another colour, then another brushstroke, then one more colour, then a dab here, and a dot there, then suddenly it’s all just such a lot of stuff on the canvas and the viewer stands there and says, “Mate, you really should have stopped ten colours ago.” This book is little like that. Everything is described, commented on, added, and it isn’t necessary. It makes for a very, very dense book. It is already richly layered with the journal entries, the codes, the flashbacks, the journey, the characters, and the story in general. It was the other minutiae that frustrated me, for example when a character picks up her junk mail, and she’s going to chuck it, but we have lines and lines describing every piece of junk mail in her hand. I would have been happy to know that it was simply junk mail and that she tossed it in the trash. I started to skip lines in the book.

Character Chemistry:
The character chemistry between Noeul and her wife, Aggie is awesome. Murphy does an excellent job creating their love and connection in the flashbacks. The connection between Noeul and Jordan takes a while to get going but eventually it is super lovely, and authentic.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥

This novel is sweeping, layered, descriptive, and complicated. I really did like it. If C.J. Murphy’s books are all like this, then I’ll go in search of them. I hope I have to decipher codes to find each one.

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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