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 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.

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: 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.


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.