The Real Michael Swann: is all about a love story

The Real Michael Swann book review

What is this about?: In the aftermath of an explosion at Penn Station Julia races to find her husband in its aftermath.

What else is this about?: The Real Michael Swann is a love story, and it’s all about Julia and Michael Swann.


In a new novel from New York Times bestselling author Bryan Reardon, a suburban family is rocked in the wake of a terrorist attack on American soil.

On a typical late summer day, Julia Swann is on the phone with her husband, Michael, when the call abruptly goes dead. Then the news rolls in: A bomb has gone off at Penn Station, where Michael was waiting for a train home. New York City is in a state of chaos.

A frantic Julia races to the city to look for Michael, her panic interwoven with memories of meeting and falling in love with the husband she’s now desperate to find. When someone finds a flier she’s posted and tells her they may have seen her husband, her dreams seem to be answered. Yet as she tries to find him, her calls go unanswered.

Weaving between the aftermath of the explosion and Julia’s memories of her life with Michael, new developments raise troubling questions. Did Michael survive the explosion? Why hasn’t he contacted her? What was he doing when their last call was cut off? Was he—or is he still—the man she fell in love with?

Part family drama, part tragic love story, and part disaster narrative that hits terrifyingly close to home, The Real Michael Swann is a deftly plotted suspense novel with an unflinching portrait of a marriage at its heart, challenging us to confront the unthinkable–both in our country and in our own homes.

Stars: 3.5

I am torn about this one.

I think it’s one of those books with two excellent halves, that I’m not entirely sure meld well enough together – but having said that, I will also say I had my heart in my mouth and I teared up on the bus no less as I was reading.

As the blurb says, this book begins with an explosion, and Julia is left wondering and hoping her husband is alive. From there, the book becomes their love story, an examination of how they came together and built a family in the past, while in the present Julia is searching through crowds of confused people, cops anyone and anything to track her husband down.

Reardon examines the good of people when a tragedy like this happens, and the bad when others see it as an excuse to give vent to their hatred.

This is where frustration settled in – I went into this thinking it would be faster paced, not expecting the depths and intricacies Reardon would be examining in their relationship in the past.

As Julia searches ever frantically for him, there is nothing happening in the present, the story is in the past – the events that lead up to us finding out who the real Michael Sawnn is.

I will say that I wished for further examination of the relationships closest to her at such a time, because that’s when your true friends emerge – while there was a tantalising hint of trust being broken, that I would like to have seen explored but the book focuses on the emotional – on Julia’s search, on trying to explain what happened to her two boys who more than anything want their father home.

It’s the last third, perhaps, of the book that the pace picks up, as if the story in the present was waiting for the past to catch up — and for Julia to catch up to Michael, and the truth of the man she’s been searching for. Michael himself is an enigma in the present, and it’s the past that shapes him for us, as Reardon has made very specific choices in this book when it comes to the real Michael Swann. You’ll understand what drove him, his every action before the book lets you in on the truth.

While I was – and am still — torn about this book, I will say there’s one more way of looking at this: this is one of those reads where things will only make sense if you persevere to the end  — and it’s worth the journey I think.

Pacing is a big bugaboo of mine, but storywise, this is one of those reads that will make you go: Oh at the end, as if the whole world makes sense and doesn’t at the same time because Reardon excels at playing with your expectations.

The real Michael Swann, the one Julia believed in, was always a hero.


  • Kelly says:

    I can certainly see why this one left you torn Verushka, when you have an explosive, action packed beginning, long periods of character reflection sound boring in comparison. It’s a shame those memories weren’t woven throughout a present narrative dealing with the aftermath of the explosion. Frustrating to say the least. Sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed this a little more overall, but wonderful review! <3 <3

    • Verushka says:

      TY 🙂 I think I saw the words “disaster narrative” and that created some expectations for me of what it should be about. Took a bit to get my mind away from that.

  • Jen Mullen says:

    This one was still available on NetGalley, so I requested it–since you said it was worth the journey. 🙂

  • This does sound good, so I’m glad it picks up towards the end. The lull in the middle though, eh… Still would like to give it a try. Great review.

    • Verushka says:

      I had to convinced myself to stop thinking of it as anything thriller related to get through the beginning and my own pre-conceptions about it from the blurb and then it started to click for me.

  • I also dread bad pacing!! If I’m not engaged the whole way through I struggle with the rating. This sounds like a great thriller that accomplishes what it sets out to.
    Great Review!

    • Verushka says:

      Exactly! That was a problem for me in the beginning until I began to get into what the book was about, and stopped thinking of it like a thriller. The word that comes to mind with this book is “unexpected”/

  • Angela says:

    This does sound really interesting, although I feel the whole “do you really know your spouse” thing is getting a bit overplayed at this point. It seems like so many books use that as their hook. But – it does get me a lot, it makes me want to know what is really going on and if it’s going to be cliche or truly something original.

  • I like what you said about how the author explores the good and the bad in people in the aftermath of tragedies. And this sounds interesting with the past and present timelines. Glad you mostly enjoyed it!

  • Great review <3 We sort of want to pick up this book. It sounds really interesting but as you said, there's nothing happening in the present so it really makes us debate whether we want to read it or not until the end. The ending seems really intriguing, but hopefully it's"unexpected" in a good way.

    ~ Luna & Saturn @ Pendragons

  • It really does sound almost like two books in one because if I had gone into it expecting a straight adrenaline rush style thriller, I would have been banging my head on the wall at the slow pacing and in depth character exploration in the middle. Thanks for giving me the head’s up on that so that if I pick it up, I know what I’m getting myself into, lol.

    It does sound all too relevant though, especially when thinking about how differently people react in times of tragedy.

  • Lily says:

    gah I just got this for review, hoping it works out for me. I figured it was a love story tho

  • I have read any other book that didn’t pick up until the last half and I feel your frustration about that. It does sound like a gripping topic and one that will tear your heart out. I will have to give it a try myself.

  • Oh wow, this one sounds really interesting, especially in terms of storytelling! Reading your review, I was reminded of a recent read of mine – Genuine Fraud by e. lockhart – because it was the same. It starts off with a bang and then goes back through time. It takes reading the whole book to understand what was ACTUALLY happening at the beginning, and what was motivating the character to do what she was doing. The author pulled it off really well and it looks like the author of this book did, as well! I think books told in this way can be fascinating, and are a real testament to the author’s talent.

    Even though you weren’t quite sure about the two halves of the book, I’m glad you ended up enjoying it overall!

  • Daniela Ark says:

    I think I know exactly what you mean! I have encountered some stories where I thought a specific event was the core of the story but then I get disappointed when I see it was used just as an inciting incident to develop a completely different thing! Which is not bad per se but it is not what I expected!

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