Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

IBGDIt’s a warm day here down in the south. I have my curtains pulled back and my windows open. My apartment is cloaked in sunshine and there is a light breeze in the air. The exact opposite of the atmosphere you’ll find in I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. The nature of the crimes detailed will make you jump at every little noise and second guess every shadow.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark details McNamara’s obsessive search for the then unidentified Gold State Killer (GSK), also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker (EARONS), a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, McNamara passed away before she could complete the book and, most tragic of all, before she could finally see the GSK unmasked. Billy Jensen, Paul Haynes, and her husband Patton Oswalt worked together to to complete the book after she passed. I felt they did her and all of the extraordinary research justice. Even in the chapters and sections that were complied by them from her notes, you can hear her voice shining through the pages.

In my eyes, the plot of this book can be summarized in three parts: Michelle’s past and personal experience crime, the GSK’s crimes and victims, and the history of forensic science. Instead of separating each section and providing all of the background information upfront, McNamara seamlessly interweaves all three parts together. The book never comes off as disjointed, rather each part serves to bolster and explain the others. McNamara’s past serves to explain her dedication to these cases. The forensic history serves to explain where and why the investigators struggled to find answers. And of course, the crimes and the victims, this is the story that must be moved forward.

My favorite part of this intensely researched and thoroughly told book is the respect McNamara gives to the victims. She says their names and tells their stories. There is no blame, no judgement, just an honest retelling of what happened to them. In the end this book is about them and the justice they deserve.

The GSK, Joseph James DeAngelo, was identified and arrested on April 24, 2018, only a few months after I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published. While police said her book didn’t provide any specific information that led to his arrest, their use of the GSK moniker illustrates the crucial role she played in keep this case alive and in the media. Overall, I’d give this book an easy five out of five stars. It’s interesting without being sensational and fact-based without being dry. This book should be mandatory reading for all those interested in true crime.

Content Warnings: Rape, Murder, Death, Anxiety, Depression, Drug Use

Book Reviews

Summary of My 2019 Reads (Part Two)

LED8. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager (4 Stars)

CW: Death, Violence 

Another great mystery from Riley Sager! Just like The Last Time I Lied, setting is an important part of this novel. The passages describing the Bartholomew were so well written that I felt like I was actually there in the building. I could picture the lobby, the apartment Jules was staying in, even the gargoyles on the outside of the building.

As with his other books, the mystery starts from the very beginning and keeps you guessing until the very end. The ending of this one had a little less shock value than The Last Time I Lied, but I was still on the edge of my seat wondering how Jules was going to get herself out of the apartment building. I also loved the back and forth timeline and at one point I found myself audibly saying (in a public space) “wait, WHAT?!”

If you liked Sager’s other books or just want a fun thriller you can read through in one sitting, definitely check this out. It doesn’t disappoint.

AP9. American Predator by Maureen Callahan (5 Stars)

CW: Rape, Murder, Graphic Violence

It was easy to give this book five stars. One of the best true crime books I’ve read in some time. If you haven’t heard of Israel Keyes before, I encourage you to read this book before looking at other information on him. I’ll try not to spoil anything in this short review.

One of the many things I loved about this book was that it told Keyes’ story as it was experienced by the many LE agencies involved (ie. it started with his arrest not his first crime). This puts readers on an even playing field with LEOs and prevents the “how’d they not notice this!!” feeling as much as possible.

Along that same line, the book illustrates that unique challenge of working with serial killers. You must walk a tight line to get the information you desire. You also must walk that line while holding the weight of victims and the weight of bureaucracy.

Last, but certainly not least, if you’re looking for a true crime book that’ll give you chills, read this one. I don’t want to spoil anything but I don’t think Callahan could have written a more perfect epilogue. I was spooked. This is a story unlike anything you’ve read before.

PH10. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (5 Stars)

A beautiful and fun autumn story of two friends enjoying their last fall together. I adored this graphic novel so much. The pumpkin patch is every fall-lovers dream and the relationship between the two main characters will warm your heart. This one is going to become a yearly read for me, it’s that sweet. Everyone needs a friend like Deja.

 

 

Heroine11. Heroine by Mindy McGinnis (4 Stars)

CW: Drug Use, Overdose, Death

There is a lot of stigma associated with drug use. I’ll admit, I’ve never been the most understanding person, especially when it comes to addiction. One of my biggest flaws is being a bit of an elitist. Drug overdoses are happening (and increasing) all over the country. It’s time that I check my arrogance and try to better understand addiction. I started by reading Heroine by Mindy McGinnis.

This quick read really illustrated how easy it is to fall into opioid addiction. What starts as a crutch to get you through the day without pain, or meet a deadline, turns into a full fledged addition. It’s startling, scary, and shows that nobody is immune.

Note: I’m aware that this novel presents a very specific and narrow portrait of opioid abuse (young, middle class, white girl). I will be, and encourage others to, pick up other books that present different perspectives on drug addiction.

SSDGM12. Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (5 Stars)

CW: Drug Use, Eating Disorders, Death, Anxiety, Depression, Alcoholism

f you enjoy the My Favorite Murder podcast, but haven’t read SSDGM, get on it now. It’s the perfect book for all the kind-hearted muderinos who want to stand up for themselves. Biggest takeaway: fuck politeness isn’t about being rude. It’s about not letting fear of judgement keep you quiet when someone has invaded your space somehow. SSDGM.

TFU13. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (4 Stars)

CW: Death, Brainwashing, Child Abuse

This book was fantastic! I’ve read other books by Lisa Jewell and they’ve fallen a little flat for me. But The Family Upstairs pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoyed all three of the main characters, especially Henry who toed that line of heroic but sinister the entire novel. However, the best character in this book is the setting, the house. I can still picture the kitchen, the staircase, the haunting backyard. I enjoy books where setting is a key part of the story and this one fits the bill.

I’d definitely recommend this book to those who like slow burn thrillers.

ITSL14. In The Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaajte (3 Stars)

CW: Alcoholism

This is not a book I would have normally picked up. Luckily, I thought it was a beautiful read. ITSOAL tells the story of Patrick Lewis as he lives and loves in 1930s Toronto. While the main story focuses on Patrick, the underlying story focuses on the migrant workers who built many of Toronto’s landmarks. It’s actually the prequel to Ondaajte’s most famous novel, The English Patient.

In true Ondaajte fashion, the novel is incredibly descriptive. You can see, smell, taste, hear, and almost touch every moment in the book. Some may find the novel too wordy, but I felt the long descriptions helped add to the introspection I felt throughout the book. Overall, I found Patrick to be a bit of an idealist, the type of guy who falls in love with any woman who pays him the least amount of attention. However, the story was beautiful and well worth the read.

Book Reviews

Summary of My 2019 Reads (Part One)

I started bookstagram long before I decided that a blog was something I was interested in trying out. I thought I would summarize my thoughts on the books I read throughout 2019 so that anyone reading this (thanks!) can get an idea of the kind of books I tend to gravitate towards. From here on out, each book will get an individual book review with more detail on the plot, my thoughts, trigger warnings etc. etc.

ITW1. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (3 Stars)

CW: Suicide, Rape

I picked this book up because I loved The Girl on the Train. While both are thrillers, I felt like they had completely different tones. The Girl on the Train was fast-paced and energetic, I was pulled into the mystery from the start. Into the Water on the other hand was more of a slow burn. The beginning of the book felt like a lot of unanswered questions with no coherent path forward. It also took me awhile to care about the characters. It wasn’t that I disliked them, I simply felt indifferent.

However, that all changed during part two of the book. I finally got a bit more background on the characters and the pace of the novel picked up. I found myself more attached to Lena and Jules and I had enough information to start guessing (sometimes incorrectly) about what really happened to Nel.

Ultimately, I found the end of the book satisfying. I’m glad I didn’t give up after the first part. While not the most engaging thriller I’ve ever read, I encourage everyone to give it a shot. You’ll find yourself caring about the characters more than you think.

AWINM (2)2. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (5 Stars)

CW: Abuse, Rape, Suicide

My life experience could not be further from the experiences of the characters in this book. I was raised by parents that allowed me a significant amount of freedom, even for American standards. I always knew I was going to go to college. I don’t want to get married or have kids, and my family loves me all the same.

The novel touches on many themes: motherhood, family, culture, gender roles, and destiny versus choice. The story is told through the eyes of three generations of Palestinian-American women, allowing the reader to experience different perspectives on each theme. The writing is raw and simplistic. It really drives home the importance of culture and the challenges faced by immigrants who feel torn between two different ways of life.

I am certain this experience is not the same for all Palestinian-Americans, nor do I believe Rum meant to say her story was universally true. Additionally, I believe she did a beautiful job of separating the cycle of abuse seen in this one family from Arab culture in general.

Overall, the book helped answer the why for me. Why do women stay in situations that appear oppressive? Well, the answer just isn’t that simple.

TSWG3. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (3.5 Stars)

CW: Death, Abuse

I had a hard time narrowing down the rating I wanted to give this book, but ultimately settled on 3 1/2 stars, rounded down to three. First off, I did enjoy reading this one. The book was well written, easily held my attention, and it wasn’t hard to make myself finish.

However, the mystery was easily solved and the book didn’t have any shocking twists and turns. It just didn’t read like a normal thriller and wasn’t suspenseful. The ending felt rushed and some of the characters just felt odd, especially Poppy. That’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t had a chance to read this one.

Overall, I think this book makes for a fun beach read and I would read more by Jewell, but it wasn’t my favorite thriller.

TSP4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (5 Stars)

CW: Depression, Death

I absolutely LOVED this thriller! Well written, intriguing, suspenseful, chilling, with a big twist. Everything I am looking for in a well-written thriller.

I’ve seen some reviews call this book a slow-burn. Which is true, sorta. Yes, the book builds slowly, but in the perfect way. It is never boring. Rather the book reads like you’re watching a horror movie and the music is slowly starting to build. You know something is about to happen, something is going to jump onto screen. You’re tense, on the edge of your seat. The Silent Patient made me feel that way from page one up until the final popping twist. I think there were some points where I forgot to breathe I was so tense and invested in the story.

The characters are multi-dimensional, which really adds to the story and is uncommon in most thrillers. I enjoyed learning about both Theo and Alicia’s backgrounds. Best of all, I didn’t see the final twist coming. I read a lot of thrillers and can usually figure out what’s going on. This one actually took me by surprise.

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that between work and school it takes me forever to finish books. However, this one I finished in just two days. It was that good. If you’re a fan of thrillers, push this book to the very top of your TBR.

NE5. No Exit by Taylor Adams (5 Stars)

CW: Child Abuse, Graphic Violence, Death

I really enjoyed No Exit by Taylor Adams. I should note, when it comes to thrillers I am not there for the book to be realistic. I read thrillers for the twists and turns and shocks. No Exit had those things in spades!

I listened to the audiobook version on one of my many trips to Atlanta. More than once I found myself gasping or saying out loud “no freaking way!” The book starts off strong and never lets up. There were points where the characters had gone through so much that I thought the book must be close to over. Wrong. It was just getting started. Did I mention the entire novel occurs over a less than 24-hour time period?

I don’t want to risk giving too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say that if you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers and determined, intelligent women, READ THIS BOOK.

TWM6. The Whisper Man by Alex North (4 Stars)

CW: Death, Estranged Family, Child Abuse, Alcoholism, Death

This book was something else. One of the most unsettling books I have read in quite some time. It stood out to me for two main reasons:

1. While it was a “whodunnit” thriller, it didn’t keep me guessing the way that most thrillers do. Instead of excusing character in the book at different points, I felt like I was never really sure who was responsible for the crimes. As if that character hadn’t been introduced yet, but was lurking in the shadows. I think that is part of what makes this book so creepy and unsettling.

2. This is a big one for me, all of the characters were realistic. I don’t need the plot itself to be realistic to enjoy a thriller (though this one was scarily realistic), but I need the characters to act like normal human beings. Nothing aggravates me more than children that talk and perceive their surroundings like full grown adults. Jake reacts like a child who has had his life uprooted. Tom acts like a father who is struggling to find a way to connect with his young son. Pete acts like a guy who is haunted by his past. None of their actions seem odd or out of place.

Overall, this was a wonderfully written book and I can’t wait to see what is next for Alex North. If you like creepy thrillers, pick this one up ASAP.

TLTIL7. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (4 Stars)

CW: Anxiety, Depression, Death

Woah. This book. That twist. Woah. I will definitely be reading more by Sager.

This book pulled me in from the beginning. I could picture Camp Nightingale and Lake Midnight. I could see Dogwood cabin. I could see the Lodge, large and slightly ominous. I could feel the cool breeze that came off Lake Midnight in the early morning. The setting really made this book for me. I wasn’t just reading, I was there at camp with Emma.

The story itself is fast paced and once you get to the last 100 pages it takes off even more (which I didn’t expect). Sager knows how to tell a good mystery. I switched back and forth and back again as I tied to figure out “who done it.” In the end I was shocked. I consider myself an expert at solving mysteries early on, but this book got me good.

If you want a thriller that’ll keep you guessing, pick this one up. I’m so glad I read it and now I’m even more excited to read Lock Every Door.

Lifestyle

Fur, Paws, and Travel, Oh My!

I want a dog. I want a hairless cat. I want an iguana, a fish, a pig. I desperately want a pet. Unfortunately, part of being an adult means truly understanding what it means to be a responsible pet owner. My husband and I have a small apartment, no room for pet. We both work full time in places that do not allow animals, not time for a pet. We travel a lot for work and for pleasure, again no time for a pet.

My solution to this problem is to offer to pet sit for anyone and everyone I know with a pet. There are a few regulars that you’re likely to see throughout the blog. So, I thought I would take a moment to introduce the furry stars.

Cocoa and Jay Catsby

These odd looking creatures are my cousin’s Sphynx cats. I’m allergic to cats, so I have always avoided them as much as humanly possible. However, when Cocoa (left) and Jay Catsby (right) came to Thanksgiving last year, everything changed. Turns out, I am not allergic to hairless cats. I also found their energetic nature and strong desire for attention and snuggles endearing. Cocoa was the first to win me over. Though once mistaken for a large rat, she comes from a long line of show cats and is an expert cuddler. Grab a blanket and she’ll be the first to curl up in your lap and fall asleep. Jay Catsby on the other hand is a bit more standoffish. He loves my cousin’s husband and only my cousin’s husband. He did however eventually warm up to me. A fellow high anxiety sufferer, I am convinced that Jay Catsby is able to see things us humans cannot and is protecting us from the dangers of the underworld. He also prefers the house be kept at a balmy 100 F, so get ready for a constant state of summer.

Darwin Dog

darwinYou think your dog has a lot of energy? You have not met Darwin. I’ve been occasionally dog sitting him for one of my (now former) coworkers since he was 8-months old. He’s a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, a well known hunting dog. He has a the sweetest disposition and needs your attention 100% of the time. You can spend hours running on the beach with him, you can take him to the dog park multiple times a day, walk him for miles. Absolutely nothing will tire this guy out. I’m not complaining though, he’ll reward you with cuddles once bedtime rolls around.

Lucy Goose

2016-04-23 17.58.50My parent’s got Lucy when I was 16-years old after we moved from Oregon to North Carolina. Obviously, she holds a special place in my heart. She loved my mom more than anything, but I like to think I ruled over second place (my siblings will likely argue this point, but they are wrong). I was lucky enough to regularly dog sit her anytime my parents wanted to travel somewhere. In fact, while they were in Hawaii one year, I got her in the habit of taking daily morning and afternoon walks. A tradition that stayed in place until she passed away in March of this year. I’m grateful for the almost sixteen years my family had with her. She’ll always be my favorite study buddy and daytime nap partner. Rest in peace, Lucy.

Jinx

2018-07-15 11.28.05This lady was a smart one and she had attitude for miles. Jinx, a mix of collie, husky, and who knows what else, was the first dog I began dog sitting when I moved south for my new job. I was instantly in love. An older lady, she liked her routine. Daily walks, breakfast and dinner (with a mix of soft and dry food or not all), and naps. She wasn’t a cuddly dog per se, but she always wanted you to be within sight. Unfortunately, she passed away in December 2019. I was lucky enough to spend Halloween with her that year, cuddling on the porch and laughing as she made children looking for candy a little nervous. I still find hair of hers in the back seat of my car. Rest in peace, Jinx.

Lifestyle

The things that fill me with joy.

2016-07-11 17.22.50
At one of my favorite reading spots: Bluff Point State Park, Groton, Connecticut

Welcome to my quiet little corner of the internet! Whether you found me through Instagram, Goodreads, or know me personally (hi, Mom!), I’m really glad you’re visiting. Here you’ll find my thoughts on all things bookish with a touch of lifestyle and the occasional pet sitting adventure (more on those creatures in a different post).

My first foray into the online world of book lovers was through bookstagram. I started my account during a pretty rough part of my life. Somewhere between my 20s and my 30s, I forgot how to important it is to take care of your mental health. Thanks to increasing stress and anxiety and poor self-care, I found myself teetering on the edge of what some may call “a breakdown.” I needed several things to help pull me out: family, friends, exercise, sunshine, therapy, and BOOKS!

I have always been an avid reader, but between my dissertation and my wonderful job, I lost sight of that making time for that passion. Bookstagram was my way back. I found a community of people who not only wanted to chat books, but people who wanted to celebrate each others. I started reading more, of course, but I also started smiling and laughing more. Soon, those feelings began to permeate to the rest of my life. I was back.

Everyone has their ups and downs throughout life. I’m certain my life won’t be perfect from here on out, but at the very least I’ve found a hobby that makes me happy and takes my mind off of those down times. Which is what lead me here to this blog. One more way to share the things that fill me with joy. I hope it makes you smile, too.