Paper Ghosts

Finished Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer. That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted. before his admission to a care home for dementia. Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip. Only she’s not his daughter and, if she has her way, he’s not coming back . . .

Because Carl’s past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he’s killed, other young women. Including her sister Rachel. Now they’re following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel. Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he’s guilty of nothing and she’s the liar. Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she’s taking a terrible risk. For if Carl really is a serial killer, she’s alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .”

This book reminded me of the foreign film The Vanishing, in that the main character puts herself (himself, in the movie) in a situation that is beyond unsafe in order to know what happened to her sister (the girlfriend, in the movie). With every single move that the narrator makes (we don’t learn her name until the very end), I seriously wanted to shake her and yell that she was doing the literal dumbest thing possible.

Even so, I understood why she did it and I also found myself being lulled into complacency around Carl. (Yes, I wanted to yell at myself, too.)

This book is absolutely stunning and you won’t see anything coming. Highly recommended.

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In Her Bones

Finished In Her Bones by Kate Moretti.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Fifteen years ago, Lilith Wade was arrested for the brutal murder of six women. After a death row conviction, media frenzy, and the release of an unauthorized biography, her thirty-year-old daughter Edie Beckett is just trying to survive out of the spotlight. She’s a recovering alcoholic with a dead-end city job and an unhealthy codependent relationship with her brother.

Edie also has a disturbing secret: a growing obsession with the families of Lilith’s victims. She’s desperate to see how they’ve managed—or failed—to move on. While her escalating fixation is a problem, she’s careful to keep her distance. That is, until she crosses a line and a man is found murdered.

Edie quickly becomes the prime suspect—and while she can’t remember everything that happened the night of the murder, she’d surely remember killing someone. With the detective who arrested her mother hot on her trail, Edie goes into hiding. She’s must get to the truth of what happened that night before the police—or the real killer—find her.

Unless, of course, she has more in common with her mother than she’s willing to admit…”

I was pretty sure I knew what was going on (I had picked my ideal suspect, who was…well, not really a red herring, but someone I thought made a lot of sense based on an initial encounter) and I was completely wrong.

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that I liked Edie, but I was intrigued and I also felt awful for her. She had the least normal life possible even before her mom was arrested and as one would imagine, it went downhill pretty quickly once that happened. She also had what would be considered a creepy interest in the people who were affected by her mom’s murders. (I’m not sure how best to phrase that; Edie called them the remainders, and that’s accurate but not particularly kind.)

And I’m also pretty sure that we all use Google as a weapon, right? We’ve all Googled exes and also their current relationships. We’re all only a few steps away from going full Edie but I do think they’re important steps.

This is an unsettling book, but it’s more creepy than outright scary. It’s also a fascinating concept that’s executed really well. It’s my first Kate Moretti book but it won’t be my last.

Amal Unbound

Finished Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal—especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.”

I loved Amal so much, and I was so worried for her. All she wants is to go to school and become a teacher but she ends up forced to work as a servant in her landlord’s house. And her landlord is a completely awful guy. (He may not be as awful as he could be, granted, but he is still a hideous person.)

The worst part was seeing how quickly she lost touch with her family. They were very tightknit (Amal took care of her siblings, especially while her mom was recovering from having a baby) and it was obvious how much the separation hurt her. She created a new family of sorts among the other servants, but it wasn’t really the same.

This is the kind of book that sticks with you. It’s a short book, but each page counts. We like to think things like this don’t happen in 2018, but they do. I’m hoping this will inspire people to become more involved globally.

Highly recommended.

The Great Treehouse War

Finished The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.   By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join her. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, Winnie discovers that things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.”

I love Lisa Graff’s books. They’re so fun and generally really sweet, but there’s also an undercurrent of real emotion.

It sounds pretty fun to have parents who are literally competing over who can show you the best time, right? But it’s not as great as you’d think; Winnie’s parents have spent so much time trying to curate the best experiences for their time with Winnie that they forget to do things like make sure she’s having a good time. (Or that she’s doing her homework, which she isn’t.)

Similarly, you may think that it would be a great time hanging out with your friends constantly. And at first, you’d be right. But then a treehouse starts to feel cramped and a lot less fun than before.

I love Lisa Graff’s books so much and this is an excellent one to start with if you haven’t read her before. It’s also a great gift for any middlegrade fans in your life.

Highly recommended.

What You Hide

Finished What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…”

I loved this book. The strange happenings at the library is much less central to the plot than the synopsis would have you believe, so be aware of that going in.

What’s actually going on (and what’s far more interesting anyway) are the internal issues with Spencer (what does he want to do with his life?) and the external issues with Mallory (her stepfather is awful and her mom isn’t much better—she’s initially a lovely woman, but she is so cowed by her husband, Charlie, that she becomes a lousy mom).

I was very concerned for Mallory. There’s nothing overtly awful with Charlie. He seems maybe a bit overprotective but there’s nothing he says that seems threatening. It’s more the way he says it and what’s in the pauses between his words. Mallory is so scared and this seems like a very rational response. I was so worried that Charlie would figure out where Mallory was. I didn’t know for sure what he would do, but there’s nothing that’s off the table, really.

I wasn’t worried for Spencer, really, but I hoped that he’d figure out how to be happy.

Everything about this book is completely gripping and even though it’s close to 400 pages, it felt so much shorter. Recommended.

AFI List!

Every year, the AFI announces its 10 best movies and TV shows. It’s become one of the highlights of my year, and it also highlights just how behind in TV I am.

MOVIES:

BlacKkKlansman

Black Panther

Eighth Grade

If Beale Street Could Talk

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

Mary Poppins Returns

A Quiet Place

A Star is Born

THOUGHTS:

I’ve only seen BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther and A Quiet Place and loved all three. I wish Hereditary had been on here, though. It was the best movie I’ve seen this year.

TV:

The Americans

The Assassination of Giovanni Versace

Atlanta

Barry

Better Call Saul

The Kominsky Method

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Pose

Succession

This is Us

THOUGHTS: The only show on here I’ve watched regularly is This is Us. I think The Good Place should be on here instead; this isn’t TIU’s strongest season and The Good Place is consistently wonderful.

I have seen the pilot for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I enjoyed it.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand

Finished My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship…but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.”

I completely adored this sweet-and-hot book. It’s my first adult Christina Lauren novel (I also liked Autoboyography), and I definitely want to keep reading their backlist.

When we have the “mistaken identity” trope, it’s usually the Shop Around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail way where the people involved hate each other in real life but are falling in love via letters/email. It’s nice to see it Roxanne-style instead. (NOTE: I will always show up for a You’ve Got Mail-esque story, though. I’m just saying a change of pace is cool.)

I enjoyed both perspectives but I am so in love with Millie. She’s not perfect (there is so much baggage!) but she’s smart and fun and her job is amazing. I would like a spinoff of Millie and true crime, please and thank you.

Recommended.

The Accidental Beauty Queen

Finished The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize. 

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.”

This book is exactly what I needed. Obviously like every actively literate person, I over-identified with Charlotte. I also didn’t understand Ginny and her pageant obsession at all (although I started to get it when it became clear that it was her way to connect with their mom, who died when they were little).

I do wish we had gotten more of Charlotte and Ginny, but I love what we did get. And I also love Charlotte’s thing with Gray, and the way she became more confident. This book is total girl power, and I love how the contestants were friends and not competitors. This book reflects my experience with women, which is that we are awesome and help each other. (I am so tired of books where women do nothing but tear each other down.)

If you are a fan of romantic comedies (or Miss Congeniality!), this is for you. There’s a lot to adore about this book.

My Friends Were Right

As you may know, I’ve been behind on pretty much every major/great TV show for the past 20 or so years (except for Breaking Bad and Mad Men, plus Stranger Things, This is Us and the sitcoms of Mike Schur). For years, I’ve been promising my friends that I would watch Friday Night Lights and then not do it. (In my defense, I have seen the pilot three times now but never got much past that.)

I am now all in (well, three episodes in) and my friends were right. I’m glad they kept pressuring me to stick with it.

I don’t know what my next show will be, but I have something like 70 episodes to decide.

(Feel free to weigh in in the comments. You have A LOT to choose from.)

The Case of the Golden State Killer

Finished The Case of the Golden State Killer by Michael Morford and Michael Ferguson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1976, a serial rapist terrorized Sacramento County in California. The masked predator made his way into the homes of his unsuspecting victims, leaving a trail of devastation and destruction behind him. He moved on to other areas in Northern California, and then onward to Southern California where he sank to an all new level of depravity, and his evil urges drove him to murder; again, and again.

In Northern California, he was known as the East Area Rapist. In Southern California, he was called the Original Night Stalker. When his crimes all over California were finally connected, he would become known as the Golden State Killer, and by 1986, he had racked up a staggering tally of over 100 home break-ins or burglaries, 50 or more rapes, and at least 12 murders.

On the heels of their wildly popular 2017 Season One podcast series on the Zodiac killer, veteran podcaster Mike Morford, and true crime research/blogger Mike Ferguson, the hosts of true crime podcast Criminology teamed again in Spring 2018 to unmask this killer in a story that spans more than 40 years. Joined by the investigators who hunted him, the witnesses who saw him, and the survivors who lived to tell their stories, Criminology Season Two: The Case of the Golden State Killer examines the story of the most prolific serial rapist and murderer in American history.”

I wish you could’ve seen my face when I saw this on Netgalley. As you know, I have been…we’ll go with “very interested” in this case since I started listening to My Favorite Murder and then read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and THEN when he was caught.

I haven’t listened to the Criminology podcast yet, so I don’t know how similar that is to this book. On its own merits, though, this book is definitely a must-read. It’s more detached than I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and there is new information in this. It also benefits from the fact that we now know who the Golden State Killer is. (Allegedly.)

A lot of the information is the same, granted, but this book has interviews with survivors and investigators (as did I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) but it still is a completely different reading experience.

If you have true crime fans to buy presents for, pick this up. Recommended.