Lifestyle

ASMR Rooms for the Perfect Ambiance

Hello neglected blog. I’ve been absent for awhile thanks to a hectic schedule at work and a general lack of motivation to write any book reviews (which I am now woefully behind on). I swear I’ll get to them soon, but in the meantime I thought I would share some of my favorite ASMR rooms.

For me, finding the perfect environment to read is almost as important as finding the right book to capture my attention. I tend to do more reading outside of my house (parks, bars, the beach) so quarantine has put a bit of a damper on my reading routine. Enter ASMR rooms. I didn’t use them prior to quarantine, but now I can’t get enough. Whether I’m looking to feel like I’m sitting on a bench in a busy park or trying to get spooky for a thriller, YouTube has a room. I’ve even started keeping an ASMR room up and running throughout the day for background noise while I’m working. My husband laughs at me when I want to close the blinds and dim the lights to pretend it’s raining outside.

So, here we go. My favorite ASMR rooms based on the mood I’m trying to achieve.

A warm spring day in the park. Birds chirping. Wind blowing. Pen and paper scratching. Light chatter. Pairs well with a cold beer or lemonade.

A cozy and rainy afternoon. Simple light rain. Pairs well with your to-do list and a cup of coffee.

A dark and stormy night. Thunder. Rain. Wind. Crackling fire. Pen and paper scratching. Pairs well with a weighted blanket and cup of hot chocolate.

A haunted forest. Spooky tones. Birds. Crickets. Ghostly murmurs. Pairs well with a dark room, your favorite kindle horror novel and maybe a flashlight for safety.

Go find your favorite ambience and get to reading! Happy (or scary) adventures, my friends!

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving ...

Stating that I am a fan of true crime as a way to kick off this book review seems unnecessary. If you’re reading this blog, you likely know me in some way be it personally (Hi, Mom!) or through bookstagram. Just in case, my true crime journey is just like that of other murderinos, crime junkies, and web sleuths. I grew up with an interest in true crime, but avoided talking about it because people already thought I was a little dark, no need to add to that perception. Then the true crime revival occurred. All of the sudden podcasts and documentaries were coming out left and right. I went from hiding my interest to diving into the deep end. The more I learned the more I felt frustrated by the injustices. The more frustrated I felt, the more I felt compelled to do something, anything to make a difference. Advocating for changes to various policies was already in my wheelhouse as a self proclaimed policy wonk, but I still felt (feel, really) like I needed to do more. In addition to knowing of Billy Jensen from Michelle McNamara’s book and through the My Favorite Murder podcast, that need is what led me this book.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen details his journey from an investigative journalist to a victim’s rights advocate actively working to solve the unsolvable. As a journalist, Jensen noticed that stories about unsolved cases, aka stories without an ending, often got less attention than those that were able to be neatly concluded. Spurred by several different events, including the death of his friend Michelle McNamara, Jensen began taking on the role of citizen detective. No longer content with simply reporting, he began actively using social media to help provide detectives with need information. Information that can and has resulted in an arrest(s). A conclusion to the story.

The first thing I noticed while reading Chase Darkness is how beautifully Jensen’s passion comes through the pages. It’s a little hard to describe, but at times the chapters almost seemed a little frenzied. You would jump from one case, to a different case, to a story from Jensen’s life, back to the previous case. I know that may make it seem like the book is hard to follow, but that was not the case at all. Instead, it really illuminated how it must feel to be driven by a need for justice in an arena that is hardly ever linear. Each case will have it’s own ups, downs, leaps forward, steps back. Knowing someone with as much purpose as Jensen is actively working on unsolved crimes made me feel hopeful.

In addition to explaining his journey, Jensen’s book sets up a plan for using citizen detectives and crowd sourcing as a way to solve crimes. I’m in no way surprised that the biggest roadblock to solving a crime is resources, plain and simple. I’ll admit that I was hesitant to believe that citizen detectives was the way to solve that problem. I was having flashbacks to meetings with too many cooks in the kitchen and conversations running amuck, no progress made. I am very happy to say that this book completely changed my mind. In the book’s addendum Jensen sets up a plan with a set of steps and rules to guide those interested in getting involved. The plan was clearly developed with serious thought, drawing from Jensen’s direct experience and knowledge with the techniques. Perhaps most importantly, the plan ensures that everyone is treated with respect, including the police departments, victims, families, and accused. If you’re someone who usually skips over prologues, addendum, epilogues, or appendices, this time DON’T. The information provided at the end of this book will help you turn inspiration into action.

I’m not sure what my origin story is, though I am sure a memory will hit me eventually and I’ll know why I first chose to google “serial killer.” I haven’t found my white whale, but I do know where my passion sits. Throughout the book it becomes clear that Jensen has a passion for solving those cases that have gone cold for police, especially those that don’t get the media attention necessary to keep public pressure high. For me, my passion has always been in missing person cases. Perhaps it’s my anxiety and control issues, but the thought of living with such a striking unknown feels impossible and it seems like these cases often leave police with little information to go on. How can someone just evaporate? As Jensen described, it seems like organized and targeted crowd sourcing could make a difference.

Overall, I felt like the book gave me a productive direction to channel my interest in true crime. This is an easy five out of five stars for me. As Jensen notes, getting into this type of work is not for the faint at heart. It takes a significant amount of time and commitment. I plan to start small. As detailed in the book, I’ve set up an email address and news alerts for my area. We’ll see where it goes from there, stay tuned.

Content Warnings: brief discussions of violence and murder.


A brief note on current events: Like many of you, I have spent the last few weeks reflecting on my privilege as a white woman and what I can (and should have already) been doing to support the Black community. My full thoughts, as well as resources for organizations to support, BIPOC book bloggers to follow and amplify, etc. can be found on my bookstagram page (@shelfishlybookish), which has a larger following than my blog. You will be noticing a change on my blog. While I will still be reviewing the thrillers, fantasy, and true crime books I love, you will be seeing an increase in books written by BIPOC authors. I should have been doing this a long time ago and want to make sure it becomes a part of my regular bookish routine, not just something I’m paying attention to this week.

Billy Jensen is someone I am proud to follow and support. In Chase Darkness with Me he speaks directly to issues related to racism and crime reporting. Over the last week he has posted content on Instagram (@billyjensen) that shows me he is an ally, a supporter of BIPOC and actively anti-racist. Since I had already finished reading his book, it seemed a shame to not review.

I’ll wrap this up by saying Black Lives Matter. More so, Black lives are worthy. Black lives are important. Black lives are needed. As someone interested in books (I assume), please take the time to seek out BIPOC authors. More generally, take the time to listen to members of the Black community. Learn from them and amplify their voices. Willingly make changes when necessary, and offer the movement help in whatever way you can. Human rights is not a political issue.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Amazon.com: My Dark Vanessa: A Novel (9780062941503): Russell ...

I’ve struggled with writing a review for this book. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s hard to tell if I loved or hated the book. The first thing I want to cover in the review is trigger warnings. Usually I place trigger warnings at the end of my reviews, but the content of this novel is so challenging that I want to be clear up front. Please do not read this novel or this review if you find any of the following are triggering: rape, child abuse, child pornography mention/acts, gaslighting, sexual assault, physical abuse, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, grief, eating disorders, death of a pet.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell tells the story of 15-year old Vanessa Wye, a bright high school student who becomes involved with her English teacher, 42-year old Jacob Strane. The story is told through Vanessa’s point of view during two very different times in her life. In 2000, Vanessa is starting a new year at a boarding school in rural Maine. She recently had a falling out with her best friend and is struggling to find her place. This is when she first meets and begins an intimate relationship with Strane. In 2017, amid the #metoo movement, Vanessa is struggling to come to terms with what happened between her and Strane, and how it has defined her life. Allegations about Strane abusing other girls comes forward, complicating her feels.

The power of this book cannot be overstated. It details the trauma Vanessa went through at the hands of Strane so eloquently that it will make you feel physically ill. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but given the content of the book, that is a compliment. At more than one point while reading I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t seem to find my voice. I wanted to cry, but the tears seemed to be stuck. When I finally finished reading, I spent a long time just sitting and trying to digest the journey I had just gone on with Vanessa. This book is one of the most challenging stories I’ve ever read.

All of the above being said, I think this book is incredibly important and if you can stomach the content it is absolutely worth the read. It illustrates just how well predators are able to target and manipulate their prey. There were things that Strane said to Vanessa (or tactics he used rather) that I recognized from past relationships. Unfortunately, I’m sure majority of women will recognize that language Strane uses with Vanessa. When I was in my 20s it was hard for me to identify that I was being gaslighted. I can’t imagine being subjected to that kind of manipulation in high school, let alone recognizing it as such.

Last, but certainly not least, Russell’s was able to illustrate the struggle Vanessa goes through as an adult in a way that is understandable and fills you with compassion. Vanessa’s relationship with Strane has defined her entire life. Living in a society that is asking you to change your life narrative from love and adoration to abuse and manipulation must be excruciating. In addition to dealing with the impacts to your own life, you now have the #metoo movement and others urging you to come forward for the cause. The pressure. There were times where I wanted to give Vanessa a safe space, a moment of peace, anything to help slow her racing mind.

Overall, I am giving the book five stars out of five stars. It was powerful, beautifully written, and has stayed with me long since I finished the last page. I wouldn’t necessarily say I would recommend this book to others outright. I would recommend it with a huge caveat: know the content. Understand what this book is about and read it when you’re in the right headspace to absorb the story.

Lifestyle

My Mental Health Journey

Over the past few years, the stigma surrounding mental illness has slowly begun to erode away. However, as a society we still have a long way to go before taking care of your mental health is as important and normal as taking care of your physical health. I’ve decided to take the time to tell my story here for a few reasons. First, it’s Mental Health Awareness month. Second, the importance of mental health during the coronavirus pandemic has been all over the news, so it’s a salient issue. Third, hearing other people tell their stories has helped me feel comfortable being open and honest with my own struggles.

My mental health issues were likely building for years before I finally hit a breaking point. I’ve always been described as high strung, anal retentive and a worrier. All personality traits that can be summarized as anxiety. I used to associate those parts of my personality with being an overachiever. In fact, I used to think the high level of stress I experienced was what made me so successful. Afterall, I made it through an undergrad degree, a master’s degree, and had begun work on my doctorate. I excelled. Always a teacher favorite, always receiving compliments, always being relied on to get things done well and on time.

The real trouble began in 2017 when I took a new job. I’d spent years trying to get into an incredibly niche field. I wanted this job, with this group, in this location. Unfortunately, when the group was hiring, I still hadn’t finished my doctoral degree. No matter, I applied ABD (all but dissertation) and was offered the job with the assumption that I would continue to work toward and eventually receive my PhD. Would it be hard to work full time and try to finish a dissertation? Of course, but I was confident that I could get a done. What’s a few years worth of working nonstop to finally have my career dreams come true? Other people have done both at the same time, why not me?

I’m sure this wasn’t a shock to anyone looking in from the outside, but it was much harder than I expected. Trying to do both left no time for anything else. I quit eating healthy. I quit getting any exercise. I didn’t go out with friends or coworkers. I didn’t even spend much time talking to my husband T (boyfriend at the time), unless it was to pick a fight so I felt like I’d accomplished something. I was operating at a high level of stress all of the time. The kind of stress usually reserved for finals time, or trying to get that grant or paper finished last minute, was my new normal. I managed to make it through about a year before things took a downward turn.

It was December, just a few weeks before Christmas, and I was sitting in a staff meeting. All of my big stresses for the year were over. My last big work meeting of the year was complete and the end of the semester had come and gone. I was really looking forward to the time I was going to take off over the holidays. T and I lived in two separate cities due to work obligations and he was set to arrive that night for a week long visit. After, I was going to head north to spend a week or two with my parents and siblings for the holidays. Everything seemed to be winding down and I could not have been happier.

All of the sudden, I felt incredibly faint. I was positive that I was about to pass out in the middle of a staff meeting. Fortunately, I didn’t pass out, but I could not shake that woozy-about to drop at any second feeling. I had a coworker drive me back home because I was afraid of getting behind the wheel of my car. I was able to get an appointment with a primary care office later that day and she was kind enough to pick me up and take me to that appointment. There, the physicians assistant took my vitals, did a cursory exam, and sent me to get some bloodwork done. Ultimately, the only thing odd was that my blood oxygen level was a little low. He concluded that I had an anxiety attack and recommended that I consider taking anti-anxiety medication. I was incensed. How dare he just write off my physical symptoms as anxiety without looking into other possible causes first. Sure, I was under a lot of stress, but I was managing it just fine. Stupid men assuming that all women have anxiety problems.

T and I exploring New York City last Fall.

I spent the next week not feeling much better. I couldn’t go out or do much of anything without feeling woozy and unable to focus. T was incredibly patient and understanding. He wasn’t angry if we went out and I wanted to leave after five minutes and he didn’t complain about spending his entire vacation cooped up in my apartment because I couldn’t get out of bed. In fact, he fully believed that something was physically wrong with me. Halfway into his stay, he took me to an urgent care office because I wasn’t eating well and couldn’t get out of bed. They did several tests, including a CT scan because intense headaches were now among my symptoms. Again, nothing abnormal showed up and they encouraged me to just take a few days of bed rest.

Unfortunately, T eventually had to leave and go back to work. I was terrified to be alone. Not just nervous, but truly terrified that I was sick and something would happen to me while I was alone that would lead to me dying. So, my dad come to stay with me. T and him had a conversation that day (which I only found out about later) where T assured my dad that he thought something was genuinely wrong with me. It wasn’t just in my head. It means the world to me that he didn’t second guess me for a moment. T had been on me long before all of this happened to get my anxiety levels in check before I passed the point of no return. Yet, he believed that my symptoms were real.

My Dad stayed with me at my apartment until it was time to go home for Christmas. He even took me to ER one night upon my insistence that the headache I was having was not just a normal tension headache or migraine (spoiler alert – it definitely was). The ER experience was probably the low point for me. I was given the migraine cocktail, which honestly made me feel worse than the actual headache. However, because I went to the ER, I had to make a follow up appointment with the family practice run by the same company. This would be a positive turning point. More on that later.

Christmas that year wasn’t exactly all fun and joy like I had originally hoped. I spent majority of the two weeks up in my childhood bedroom. I didn’t feel up to eating dinner with family, working on our yearly family puzzle, or playing games. We didn’t even read our traditional stories on Christmas Eve because I wasn’t feeling strong enough. However, despite all of the challenges, there were some bright spots. My Mom bought me magazines and nail polish to pass the time, something she used to do for us as children when we were home sick from school. She introduced me to The Marvelous Ms. Maisel and sat through a few episodes with me even though she’d already seen them all. She even slept in bed with me one night when I was convinced that I was waking up and feeling like I was going to pass out (which sounds crazy now, but at the time I was fully convinced that it was happening and it was life threatening). Every single member of my family was kind and patient that year. They were understanding when I wasn’t up to doing our usual activities and listened when I explained how scared I was that something was wrong and the doctors didn’t believe me.

Unfortunately, the holidays were quickly passing. I spent New Years with T, but our celebration was thwarted by my health. We usually spend New Years with a friend of his who lives a little less than an hour from my parents’ house. We made it there, but instead of spending the night drinking and watching different cable television specials, we spent the evening in bed watching Shark Tank (one of my guilty pleasures). I had to practically push him out the door early the next morning to go to the annual New Year’s Day disc golf round that he’s been playing with his friends for the last decade. I eventually convinced him to leave and my dad came and picked me up.

My Dad and I watched a lot of Kara and Nate’s travel vlogs on YouTube while he was staying with me. We learned about the Tim Tam Slam from their videos. Here he is giving it a try and making me laugh.

Then it was time to return to my apartment, the holidays were over. My mom came back with me this time and spent a few days at my apartment with me. She even took some time off work to stay with me. I still didn’t feel comfortable being alone. Eventually she switched places with my Dad, who ended up staying with me for almost two months. During this time, I gave my health insurance a real workout and saw a slew of doctors from neurologists to ENTs to osteopathic doctors to cardiologists. Nothing was coming up abnormal. By all medical accounts, there was nothing physically wrong with me.

It was time for me to accept that perhaps my mental health was playing a role in how I was feeling. What really helped me turn the corner was one of the doctors I saw after my trip to ER back in December. She believed me, she sent me to several different specialists and only after ruling everything else out did she broach the idea that my symptoms could be the result of anxiety and depression. She made it clear that she still believed that my symptoms were real. It wasn’t all in my head and I wasn’t crazy. Poor mental health can result in physical symptoms. The question then becomes is the poor mental health causing the physical symptoms or are the physical symptoms causing the poor mental health. Since we’d ruled out any specific physical cause, it seemed like the former. So, I finally agreed to begin taking medication for my anxiety and depression. She promised me that if I didn’t feel better after a few months, that we could go back to the drawing board. I felt heard, I felt seen, I felt like I wasn’t seen as just another crazy hypochondriac.

It took a few weeks, but eventually the medication did start to help. The fog was beginning to lift and I felt like I could get through the day a little easier. The medicine helped me begin working on the other things that I knew were going to be necessary to get me the rest of the way to healthy. I started seeing a therapist once a week who helped me with strategies to loosen the grip anxiety had on my life. Perhaps the most valuable lesson she’s given me (we still meet every few weeks) was that I can’t let anxiety gain a foothold in my life. If I spend too much time trying not to anxious, I’m only feeding the problem. Instead, I should accept that certain situations are going to make me anxious, that is just life. If I simply accept the anxiety and move on, it can’t gain a foothold and being to control my life.

It’s been almost a year and half since the incident at the staff meeting that sent me spiraling. I still struggle with my mental health everyday, but now I know how to handle my anxiety. My parents always remind me that mental health is not a linear path, there will be good days and there will be bad days. As long as your progress is is generally trending in a positive direction, you’re doing just fine.

Throughout this whole experience, there were a couple of people who helped me try and visualize my mental health, two pictures stuck with me. The first was from a family practice doctor that my parents and siblings have been seeing for years (note: I prefer doctors that are not super chatty and when I was younger intentionally saw someone else, so the fact that I remember the information he passed on to my parents says a lot). He explained that stress and anxiety were like the water in a bathtub. As long as the bathtub wasn’t overflowing, it was easy to drain. However, once the bathtub starts you overflow, it becomes a huge mess that is going to take awhile to clean up. I had let my bathtub overflow and it was going to take me some time to clean up the mess. The second way to visualize stress came from my father. He explained that life was a stovetop with four burners. The four burners represent the energy you put forth toward your work, your hobbies, your health, and your family/friends. You cannot burn all four burners on high heat or the stovetop will break. You have to prioritize your energy. I regularly use this example to help ground myself. I also remember him telling me that we should never judge another person for how they choose to prioritize their burners. A life lesson that I’ve really taken to heart.

In addition to the bathtub example, the doctor told my dad that there would be four things I needed to help me recover from my breakdown (or overflowing bathtub if you will): medication, therapy, exercise, and sunshine. Like I said above, I had finally agreed to start taking medication for my anxiety and see a therapist. Now that I see how much those two things have helped, I want to kick myself for waiting so long to give it a try. The stigma around these two things remains strong to this day. I thought that taking medication would make me weak. I felt like it would simply be covering up the problem and I wanted to learn strategies to help me cope. Turns out you can do both. The medication doesn’t have to be a lifelong thing. Rather, it can help you get to the point where you’re able to work on the strategies that will help you cope with anxiety and depression. There shouldn’t be any stigma around taking medication for your mental health. We all need help sometimes.

And speaking of how we all need help, therapy. Everyone should go to therapy. It helps. Truly. I was lucky enough to find a therapist that worked for me on the first go, but I encourage you to take the time to find someone who is going to be a good fit. I knew my therapist was the right one when she was trying to get me to use some more abstract methods of controlling my anxiety. It wasn’t working and as soon as she realized I needed something more concrete, she switched methods without a second thought. All she cared about was finding something that was going to work for me. I still see her regularly and always leave feeling like I leave with a new perspective.

Getting the sunshine necessary was easy. There is literally nothing I love more than reading outside, preferably on the beach. The exercise component is a little bit more challenging. I am not a fan of exercise for exercise’s sake. I hate jogging, don’t enjoy biking, or HIIT classes, or really any cardio. I love yoga, but it doesn’t get my heartrate up quite enough. I still struggle with maintaining an consistent exercise routine, but I am lucky to have people that help motivate me. Especially T, who is always getting me up off the couch to go hiking or on a walk through the neighborhood. Even in the rain, he’s ready to get outside and get it done.

Mom and I at the Volvo Tennis Tournament

This brings me to my last point, the people. It wasn’t on the doctor’s list, but I find it to be one of the most important aspects of maintaining my mental health. I could not have recovered without the help of my family. My mom shared her mental health struggles with me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone. She was there when I needed to cry and she was there when I needed a little push to be stronger. I remember going to a tennis tournament with her once I started to feel a little better. She was patient when I needed to take a break from the crowds and encouraged me to hang in there. It was one of the first times I really felt like I was going to be okay. My dad stayed with me for months to help me work through everything going on. He made sure that I started exercising and that I go out of bed and made progress on healing everyday. He also let me vent. Most days I would come home from work and lay on the floor of the office he was using and just vent and vent and vent. He never once stopped listening and always tried to help.

My siblings did everything they could to make me smile. My brother made joke after joke and once he found one that made me laugh, he said it over and over again. It made me feel like everything I was going through was okay and I wasn’t losing the bond I had with my siblings. He wasn’t laughing at me, we were both laughing at life and it felt good. My sister, who has the kindest heart of anyone I know, was there for me constantly. She checked in regularly, even after Christmas break was over and we’d all gone back to our own lives. I knew she was there, always. Someone I could call for love and comfort at any moment of the day. Even extended family was there for me. It was so helpful knowing that someone else had been through a similar situation and made it out the otherside. Anxiety can be so hard to explain to people that don’t struggle with it daily. When I talked to her I felt like I didn’t have to constantly explain how I was feeling. She truly understood and I didn’t feel crazy. I’m so grateful that in the hardest times, the two of us make an effort to check in on the other.

And my husband, I honestly don’t know what I would have done without him. Like I said earlier, he had been warning me for years that ignoring my mental health was going to come back to bite me. When it finally happened, he never once said “I told you so.” He was patient and understanding when I wanted to talk to him every second of every day to feel safe. He was patient and understanding when I didn’t have the energy to talk to him for days on end. And he was patient and understanding when I swapped between the two without any warning whatsoever. He is the one constantly reminding me to exercise, get outside, take breaks, and take care of myself. He understands that mental health is something I will likely struggle with for the rest of my life and he is committed to helping me through the hard times.

Some of the most intelligent and loving women I know.

All of this to say, don’t be afraid to open up to those around you. It’s okay to ask for help. I know the stigma is there and it can be challenging to admit that you are struggling. I hope that years from now the stigma is completely gone. I also believe the journey to that point starts with us. Hearing my mom and cousin tell me their stories helped give me strength. Hearing celebrities, scholars, and other people I respected tell their stories gave me strength. That’s why I wanted to tell my story. If one person reads this and feels just a little more comfortable, then I’ll have done some good. You’re not crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Seek out the help you need in whatever way you can. Anxiety and depression are constant struggles, but they aren’t insurmountable. A cheesy way to end this I know, but I do indeed get by with a little help from my friends (and meds).

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

If you’ve been following me for long enough, you know that I love a thriller where setting plays an important role in the story. I find it helps immerse me in the mystery. In fact, I’ll set up my reading space to fit the mood. Dark and rainy? I’ll draw the shades, turn on a table lamp, and use an ASMR room that simulates a storm. Caribbean beach? I’ll put on the sound of waves and light a candle that smells like sunscreen. So when I heard that this book was set on an island off the coast of Ireland, I knew it was time to set the mood and dive right in.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley tells the story Will and Jules’ wedding. Jules, publisher of a successful online magazine, and Will, survivalist TV star, are the perfect Hollywood couple. After a whirlwind romance, the decided to get married on a beautiful yet eerie island just off the coast of Ireland. The wedding promises to be the event of the season and guests are coming from far and wide. Those guests include: the maid of honor, the best man, the bride’s best friend’s wife, and of course, the wedding planner. Unfortunately, people are human and perfection is elusive. As readers we know that by the end of the wedding, someone will be dead and we’re left to figure out who will die, who will kill, and why.

When I first started the book, I was worried that the number of perspectives was going to become confusing. However, I found that the characters were so unique that it was easy to keep track of the story. The different perspectives actually provided a level of character development that is unusually for thrillers. The more I learned about each character the closer I came to figuring out the mystery. This is what propelled me forward even during the middle of the book when things got a little slow. I wanted to understand what was driving everyone’s behavior, even the unlikable characters (I’m looking at you Johnno).

The setting. You knew that I was going to talk about the setting. It was incredible. Foley described the island so fully and perfectly that I felt as if I were attending the wedding myself. The waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, the salty breeze, the marquee trying to hold fast in the midst of a storm. I could picture the graveyard and the fog making it challenging to see the safe paths across the island. I could even smell the peat from the bog. All of these different descriptions painted a picture of the sense of unease the island put into all of the main characters.

Overall, this was a classic “whodunnit” thriller, written in the style of mystery queen Agatha Christie. It was well written, suspenseful, and kept me guessing. My only criticism is that the middle became a little slow and the book ended rather abruptly. Many of the motives were revealed within the last 50 pages. I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. The Guest List by Lucy Foley comes out June 2nd, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a puzzle-eque thriller.

Content Warnings: self-harm, abuse, drug use, alcohol use.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Final Girls by Riley Sager

If you are a fan of thrillers, you’ve heard of Riley Sager. In all likelihood you’ve read a few of his books. Maybe you’ve read all of them. Now that I’ve finished Final Girls, I am officially in the “I’ve read every single one of his books” camp. That is until Home Before Dark comes out later this year, of course. It wasn’t just about the mysteries, the importance of setting in his books is what drew me in and kept me reading. The lake and cabins of Camp Nightingale (The Last Time I Lied). The winding hallways and gargoyles of the Bartholomew (Lock Every Door).  However, his first novel was a bit different.

Final Girls by Riley Sager tells the story of Quincy Carpenter, a Final Girl. You know the final girls. They’re part of every horror movie, the last one standing, the beauty who manages to survive the tragedy. In college, Quincy and her friends went to Pine Cottage for a weekend getaway. Instead of a weekend away from responsibility, five of her friends are brutally murdered. There are two other Final Girls. Lisa, survivor of a heinous attack that killed nine of her sorority sisters and Samantha, who took down the Sack Man at Nightlight Inn. Ten years after her harrowing experience at Pine Cottage, Quincy’s life resembles that of a typical girl. Then Lisa ends up dead and Samantha shows up at Quincy’s door. As it turns out, there are more secrets to be revealed. If only Quincy can remember everything that happened to her ten years ago.

I was certain that I was going to enjoy this book. Positive. Would’ve bet money. Now, while I did enjoy the book, it is definitely my least favorite Sager novel. All of the characters were supremely unlikable. I wanted to figure out the mystery, but ultimately, I did not care what happened to any of the characters. Even the main character, Quincy, was tedious. Her entire personality revolved around trying to get everyone around her to believe she was fine and had successfully moved past everything that happened to her at Pine Cottage. There were points in the book where I just wanted to scream “we get it!!” The rest of the characters were equally one dimensional. Samantha was rough around the edges and bitter. Coop was strong and silent. Jeff was pretentious and controlling. Snooze.

Then there was the ending. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read this one yet, so I’ll try to keep it vague. There were two twists to the story, both I saw coming ahead of time. One felt believable, but the other I hated. I wanted to throw the book across the room. It didn’t track at all with the rest of the novel. I know twists are supposed to come out of nowhere and surprise you, but they should at least track with the story in some fashion. Characters shouldn’t do a complete 180 in personality without a little lead up. In my eyes, the ending just didn’t make any sense.

Ultimately, I was interested in the mystery and that was enough to drive me through the book. I wanted to know what happened to Lisa and why. I also really wanted to understand what happened at Pine Cottage. However, the lack of setting and any real character development kept this from being exceptional and gets three out of five stars from me. Worth a read, but don’t let this one steer you away from reading the rest of Sager’s novels, which are outstanding.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michele Campbell

I’ve enjoyed puzzles since I was a little girl. Word searches, the New York Times crossword, putting tangrams into specific shapes. My family even puts together a 1000-piece puzzle (or two or three) each Christmas. However, logic puzzles are my all time favorite challenge. You know the kind, the camper with the surname Williams (who isn’t Andrea) has a dog named Fido. I love them and this book was one big logical puzzle.

The Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michele Campbell tells the story of Tabitha and Nina, two women who couldn’t be living more different lives. Tabitha grew up in a working class home. They made ends meet, but it was never easy. When the novel begins she still in that town, waiting tables at the local watering hole. At the same time, Nina is living a life of pure luxury. Her late husband may have left her with a few neuroses, but he also left her his considerable wealth. What these two women do have in common is Connor Ford. Tabitha fell in love with him during a youthful summer, but he broke her heart. Nina fell in love with him years later and eventually married him. However, Nina and Connor’s marriage is not as happy as it may seem to outsiders. When Connor runs into Tabitha again, an old spark turns into a roaring fire. Then Nina turns up dead and everything spirals out of control.

This book was a typical thriller in many ways. Two different perspectives (Nina’s and Tabitha’s) are used to tell the story. It’s hard to tell which characters are being honest and which are being deceitful. And of course, there are a few characters you’ll want to scream at (I’m looking at your Tabitha). What’s different about this book is that you’re not being led up to some big twist. Instead, the reader is given a set of puzzle pieces to try and fit together in order to see the whole picture. It almost felt like I was the detective trying to piece together what happened to Nina. By the middle of the book I felt like I had all of edge pieces put together, but there were a few middle pieces that I just couldn’t get to fit right. I was trying to think things through up until the answers were given at the very end, the book never got boring.

Continuing on with the puzzle imagery, there were a few pieces that I felt never quite fit. They weren’t big pieces, so the picture at the end of the novel was clear. However, there were just a few questions I felt never got answered, plot points that seemed important but then fell by the wayside. I don’t want to give too much away because figuring out what is important and what isn’t important is part of the fun, but there are a few things I would’ve loved to have more information on by the end.

Overall, The Wife Who Knew Too Much was an incredibly enjoyable read. I actually stayed up well past my bedtime because I was so engrossed in the mystery (a common occurrence for many of us bookworms) . This book is an easy 4 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I was just a few steps away from setting up a police procedural style bulletin board to put all of the facts of Nina’s case up in front of me. This one comes out July 28, 2020 and you definitely don’t want to miss out. If you’re looking for a read that you can easily get through during an afternoon at the beach (fingers crossed we can go to the beach by July) this is exactly the book to pick up.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this ebook in exchange for my review.

Content Warnings: rape, drugs, domestic abuse.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Palm trees. Smooth sand. Salty hair. Sun-kissed skin. Warm breezes. Frozen cocktails. Fish tacos. I decided to jump into this book to feel like I was in the middle of a tropical island. The tropical vibes were definitely there, especially near the beginning of the novel. However, that’s where the book stopped meeting my expectations.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin tells the story of sisters Claire and Alison. When Claire was only seven years old, her sister Alison went missing during a family vacation to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. A few days after she goes missing, Alison is found dead in a remote area. Two local men are accused of the crime, but ultimately the evidence is slim and they are released. Years later, Claire is living in New York and a true coincidence thrusts one of the accused men back into her life. This sparks her desire to understand who her sister really was and what happened on Saint X years ago.

First, let’s talk about expectations. In addition to wanting a setting full of everything that screams tropical paradise, I wanted a thriller. Now, I don’t consider myself someone who is picky when it comes to thrillers. I love realistic thrillers, crazy thrillers, slow-burns, heart-pounders etc. While it was marketed as one, this book is definitely not a thriller. Yes, there is an element of mystery surrounding Alison’s death, but majority of the book focuses on character background. We learn a lot about how Claire and her parents chose to cope after Alison’s death. We learn about the childhoods of the two accused men. And of course, we learn a lot about who Alison really was at the time she went missing. The mystery drives the story forward, but ultimately plays a very small role. If anything, I would consider this more of a character study. I did enjoy the short interludes between chapters that illustrated how others, such as guests at the resort, were impacted by Alison’s death.

I also found Schaitkin’s writing style a bit odd. It took me awhile to nail down exactly what wasn’t sitting quite right for me, but in the end I determined that the book was excessively detailed. I appreciate books that spend time to set the scene and create an specific atmosphere, but Schaitkin’s descriptions didn’t really do that for me. They felt repetitive and unnecessary. There are only so many words to describe a beach environment and every single one of them is in the book (many more than once). Lastly, and perhaps I am being too sensitive, but I found the commentary on how the white and wealthy act towards those different from them juxtaposed with how islanders were shown to speak just a little ironic.

Overall, I felt this book started with a great idea but ultimately missed the mark. 2.5/5 stars from me. I enjoyed the beach setting, I enjoyed getting to hear how Alison’s death affected side characters, and I enjoyed seeing how Claire dealt with her sister’s death. But this book was not a thriller and it could have been about half the length. If you’re interested in a book that details how individuals react to tragedy, pick this up. If you’re looking for a fun thriller, try something else.

CW: death of a family member, alcohol and drug use

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Look for Me by Wendy Walker

Don't Look for Me: Wendy Walker: 9781250198709: Amazon.com: BooksHoly wow! This book took me by surprise! How in the world is it possible that up until this point I had never read a book by Wendy Walker?! You can be sure that my kindle will be filling up with her other books shortly.

Don’t Look For Me tells the story of Molly Clarke who disappears into thin air after running out of gas on dark and stormy night. The story is told from two perspectives: Molly’s perspective starting with the night she rain out of gas and her daughter Nic’s perspective as she determinedly searchers for her mother. I don’t want to give much else away for fear of ruining the perfect twists and turns found throughout the novel.

There are two types of thrillers, those that focus only on mystery and suspense and those that add in the extra element of character development. I enjoy both types of thrillers, but this one definitely falls into the later category. The struggles each character was experiencing prior to the events of the book pervades all of their decisions. As the reader you get to follow them as they use their current circumstances to understand and grow from past events. In a book that highlights the terrible aspects of human nature, this is the ray of sunshine that come through the dark.

As for the suspense aspect, Walker does this flawlessly. It was almost as though the entire novel was shrouded in a deep gray and sepia fog. The pace of the novel was perfect. I felt on edge the entire time, but never rushed or bored. Like most thrillers, this book contains a few twists and turns. I read a lot of thrillers, so I pride myself of being able to guess any twists before they happen. I thought I had it with this book. I remember thinking smuggly to myself “ha, you didn’t fool me Wendy Walker, I see what’s coming.” Then BOOM, out of nowhere, something that never even crossed my mind. I actually said, out loud, “wait. WHAT?!”

This is hands down one of the best books I have read this year and one of the best thrillers I have read in quite some time. A very easy five out of five stars from me. This book will publish on September 15, 2020 and you will not want to miss it! It will be perfect if you enjoy suspenseful reads during the Halloween season.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this ebook in exchange for my review.

Content Warnings: death of child, child abuse, alcohol, trauma.

 

Lifestyle

Finding A Smile in Stressful Times

Hello again. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but world events are a little scary right now. I’m someone already prone to anxiety around illness and I’m still recovering from a serious breakdown in my mental health less than a year ago. So, on the negative side, I am painfully worried about all of my loved ones. On the positive side, I am now a pro at dealing with this type of anxiety and being stuck inside the house, voluntarily or otherwise.

I’m going to save you from my analysis of the current COVID19 situation, I’m not a doctor or an epidemiologist. I am also going to save you from another post rambling about washing your hands and not stressing over toilet paper, I’m sure you know it all.

What I am going to do is tell you a few things that made me laugh or kept my mind away from anxious thoughts when things were really bad. Hopefully at least one of these will make you forget your worries and smile.

The Golden Ratio

Are you a dog lover? Then you need these pups in your life. The Golden Ratio is a family of five golden retrievers (plus a few angel dogs) who live with Jen (GR Mom) and Ingo (GR Dad). The family splits their time between the Florida Keys and the Washington DC area (aka living my dream life). Videos are posted on Snapchat and YouTube daily, not to mention posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Not only are dogs lovable and entertaining but the posts made by GR Mom are full of encouragement and kindness.

 

Kara and Nate

I didn’t start watching travel vloggers until last year when I came across Kara and Nate. They are a husband and wife who decided to drop everything and travel for a year. Well, turns out they were pretty good at the YouTube game and a year turned into another and another. They just recently met their 100 country goal, but still haven’t had enough of travel. Kara and Nate stand out to me because of their joy for life and their genuineness. You can’t help but smile when Kara gets excited about trying food from a different culture or when Nate is scheduling another last minute AirBnB. My dad and I have watched over 400 of their vlogs together and I don’t regret the time spent at all.

 

Angie Bellemare

I know, I know, an influencer? really? Angie does fit the stereotype. She does beauty hauls, home decor hauls, morning routines etc. etc. However, she’s also a fitness coach and it shows. She is extremely motivational and will honestly make you believe that all you need to live a truly fabulous life is a goal and a pair of Disney mouse ears. Plus, her Halloween and Christmas decorating game is off the charts. If you are here for “vibes” you’ll love her channel. I’ve actually started working out more regularly thanks to her encouraging vlogs and I can already tell how much it is improving my mental health.

 

Podcasts

There are lots of podcasts I listen to and love (This American Life, Last Podcast on the Left, Criminal, Pod Save Us) but I am going to give a shout out to My Favorite Murder. I think most everyone is familiar with this famous comedy and true crime podcast. But if you haven’t ever listened to an episode you might not know that the hosts (Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark) are huge proponents of mental health. They actively talk about their struggles and encourage people not to be afraid or ashamed of wanting to go to therapy. They also end every episode something positive known as their “fucking hooray.”

 

Girls’ Night In

This website and weekly newsletter is for us girls who would much rather spend an evening curled up at home than out at a loud club. The articles focus on self care and mental well being, whether that means taking some time to yourself or gathering your close friends for night of laughter. You’ll find a monthly book club, interviews with your favorite authors, and articles on all things lifestyle from how to keep your anxiety in check during stressful periods (hello, relevant) to which moisturizers are best for your skin.

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This week has been heavy, so we took a "take what you need" approach to the newsletter this week and dedicated this issue to just ✨COMFORTING ✨ things (because that's what we do best around here). ❤️⁠ ⁠ Resources in our bio now: ⁠ ⁠ 🍝 1. Issue 160 – Just comforting things⁠ Read this week's issue for baking inspiration, things that made us laugh this week, ideas for keeping kids busy while social distancing, what we're watching and reading at home, and more. ⁠ ⁠ 💗 2. Small Steps to Taking Care During Scary Times – @alisharamos wrote a personal note to share with those in our community looking for resources to help stay calm, prepare, and take control over what you can during COVID-19. (We also added some very helpful articles we've been reading this week.)⁠ ⁠ 👩‍💻 3. Working from Home? Here's How to Take Care as You Do It ⁠ Need some help acclimating to a new normal of working from home? We've got some tips that can help give some structure to your days. (We originally published this piece last year, but it still applies in many ways.)⁠ ⁠ 🤗 4. Open Thread 〰️ For Anyone Who Needs a Hug Right Now⁠ This week, many members of our community have reached out with worries about work, older family members, big life events that may get postponed, and just the state of things. Here's an open thread you can participate in with members of our community who share your concerns.⁠ ⁠ 🏃‍♀️ 5. At-Home Workouts We're Trying Right Now⁠ Originally published last year, it feels like a good time to re-up this list (curated by our community) of the best free or inexpensive at-home workouts for times like these. ⁠ ⁠ Thinking of you all, and let us know what other resources we can provide. We're all in this together, you know? ⁠ ⁠ (image via @manrepeller / @werenotreallystrangers)

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Online “Window” Shopping

I am not a fan of shopping in store to begin with and this current situation makes it even less appealing. However, I also need to make sure that I don’t end up spending all of my hard earned money on anything and everything I can get via Amazon Prime 2-day delivery. So, I have started “window” shopping both as a form of entertainment and as a way to keep from impulse buying. Do I need those dinosaur taco shell holders? No. Should I buy those dinosaur taco shell holders anyway? uh… maybe? Into my “kitchen decor” wish list they go. Adding them to my wish list usually quells my impulse to buy immediately because it is saved somewhere so that I won’t forget.  Plus, it’s just fun to see all the crazy stuff an Amazon or plan a whole new wardrobe.

tacosaurus

 

Puzzles

This one has been a family favorite for years. Every Christmas my family sits around the table and talks, laughs, drinks, and puts together a puzzle (or two or three). I started putting together puzzles on my own because it reminded me of the happy memories I have with my family. While not everyone will have these memories, I can say that putting together a puzzle is a great way to keep your brain engaged when you’re binge watching Netflix (or in my case ID Discovery). My recent favorite HERE.

dali

So that is it, that is what I have for you. Just a few things that made my days a little brighter when I struggling. Remember to be kind, check-in on those you love, and wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least twenty seconds.