Category Archives: 2021 Books

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m going to do a super quick roundup of what I’ve been reading since the last time we spoke.

I’ve been on a really great streak of books lately.

I read and loved Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult! She’s one of my favorite authors anyway but this book is her best yet. I loved everything about it and you should absolutely get this when it comes out later this year.

The Final Girl Support Group is a great book for anyone who loves horror movies. Grady Hendrix is one of my favorite authors and this one is just unrelenting. It’s suspenseful and creepy but also just an incredibly fun read.

I read Skye Falling (Mia McKenzie) on Julia’s recommendation and I loved this one so much! It’s very funny and I loved everything about it. It’s a Book of the Month pick and they absolutely nailed it this time.

Finally, I read The Idea of You by Robinne Lee and it was just completely wonderful. My friend Kathy recommended it and I am just so glad I read it. I cried quite a bit (and it’s also very steamy, so I do not recommend it for everyone) but such a great book and I hope she hurries up and writes another book soon.

Survive the Night

Finished Survive the Night by Riley Sager. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.”

I’ve been a fan of Riley Sager’s for years, ever since I read his first book. I’ve enjoyed all of them; this one is my favorite.

A big part of it is the fact that Charlie loves old movies (like I do) and I enjoyed all the references she made. (I haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt yet, but I hope to fix that soon, ideally this very weekend.) Like Charlie, I also tend to process things with movie references and I definitely over-related.

But a lot of it is also the situation she’s in. She may or may not be in the car with a serial killer. And it’s the early 1990s, so her options aren’t great. She can’t send a pin with her address to anyone or sneakily call 911 or even make sure anyone knows where she is and who she’s with. All she has to rely on is herself.

As you would expect, there are a ton of twists, turns and red herrings. I didn’t expect any of them and it was the best ride I could possibly imagine. Highly recommended.

What I’ve Been Listening To

So I’ve become a very big fan of audiobooks! (Thank you to libro.fm and their very awesome ALC program.) I’ve been listening to a lot of them and it’s been a lot of fun.

I’ve enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby (read by Mia Farrow!), You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey (very funny; very infuriating and how Lacey has survived with an intact sense of humor is a real miracle), The Anatomy of Desire, On Juneteenth, Somebody’s Daughter, The Wreckage of My Presence, The Anthropocene Reviewed and Dear Miss Metropolitan.

I’ve enjoyed all of these books and I think the most valuable thing is that most of them I wasn’t really aware of. I’ve seen these books that weren’t on my radar and they’ve all just been absolutely amazing.

The two memoirs in particular (The Wreckage of My Presence by Casey Wilson and Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford) were stunning and I loved both so much. I plan to listen to every memoir I can on audio, especially if they’re read by the author.

I’ve got a bunch of great audiobooks lined up, so I’ll keep you posted on what I’m listening to. If you want to try libro.fm, you can get two books your first month with the promo code WHATYOUSHOULDREAD.

Malibu Rising

Finished Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.”

I absolutely adored this book. Like everything she’s written, it can be boiled down to one sentence but it also absolutely defies that easy categorization. Her books are both intelligent and fun, the kind of stories that make you sit down to read a chapter or two and end up stopping only when you turn the last page and you realize the house has gotten dark or that you’re really, REALLY hungry.

I love the Riva children (and their mom; their dad is another story). Seeing their story playing out, juxtaposed with their parents June and Mick, was one of the most interesting things about the book. If you’ve ever wondered how much of your personality is due to the parents you have, this is a book for you, because that’s one of the central themes.

But it’s also just an absolute joy to read. This is one of the most fun books I’ve read in ages, and that’s not at all surprising. Highly recommended.

Sunshine and the Full Moon (an interview)

I’m so excited for this post! In a couple weeks, Sunshine and the Full Moon by Jon Robinson will be out. (Learn more about it and preorder here.) It sounds like something I love…because it has werewolves. I am very into werewolves!

But fun fact: Sunshine is based on the author’s daughter. It’s not a perfect parallel but there’s definitely some basis in reality. And here’s the funniest interview with Jon and his daughter.

Jon: So, how does it feel to have the main character in my book based on you? Did I do you justice?

Sunshine: I guess now I know why you were following me around with a notebook and writing things down every time I made you laugh. It’s pretty crazy to think that when people are talking about how funny the character is in the book, they’re actually talking about me.

Jon: Can you give us a few examples of ways in which you’re different from Sunshine?

Sunshine: In the original manuscript, I swear a lot more, so if the book becomes popular, maybe people will want to read the Sunshine-cut of the book. I also stopped playing softball at 10 and switched to playing baseball against the boys, so that also jumped out to me as you have me still playing softball.

Jon: Is there anything you want me to keep in mind as I write this character for my second book in the series?

Sunshine: Sunshine fought a werewolf in the first book, so no way some bully at school or anyone else should step to her. Haha. I’m curious where you’re going with this, especially since I know you’ve already started working on the sequel. I just hope people like the character and that people can relate to the realness behind the things Sunshine says and does, even in the unreal world of werewolves, if you know what I mean.

Sunshine: How’s it feel to have such a badass daughter to inspire your Sunshine character?

Jon: You’re a girl who won her first martial arts tournament, made her high school boys baseball team as the only girl, and cracks me up on a daily basis. Badass is an understatement.

Sunshine: Do you really think I’m sassy? …or more like cheeky?

Jon: You are the definition of sassy, no doubt.

Sunshine: When the book sells like crazy, how much is my cut from the profits?

Jon: See, that’s just the kind of sass I’m talking about … and love.

Sunshine: No, seriously, how much are you going to give me?

Jon: How about we start with a new bat and glove and go from there?

Sunshine: I’ll make that deal as long as you tell me the title to the sequel.

Jon: Sunshine and Eternal Darkness . Sorry, babe, you’re about to step into the world of vampires.

Sunshine: I’m so down!

I absolutely cannot wait for this book! It’s going to be a favorite.

Never Far Away

Finished Never Far Away by Michael Koryta. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Once a wife, mother, and witness to a gruesome crime, Leah Trenton was extended a miraculous olive branch in the form of the state’s protected witness program. But for this second chance at life, Leah would have to leave behind her Midwestern roots to the northernmost tip of Maine. Alone and isolated along the banks of the Allagash River, she is determined to focus on the present, on her reclaimed future, but the demons of her past are relentlessly chipping away at Leah’s protected hideaway.

Meanwhile, in the wake of their father’s untimely death, Leah’s children are sent to stay with her, though they are desperate to return back home. They embark on a cross country homeward journey but before they reach their destination, danger finds them and it is Leah who must come out of her seclusion to search for and protect her children.

Told with the deft plotting and enthralling storytelling of a genre master, these two captivating chase narratives will converge along the rugged Allagash River, in the wilds of Maine, where the wills, morals, and ingenuity of a broken family will be tested against all odds.”

I’ve been a Michael Koryta fan for a long time, since I got an ARC of So Cold the River at BEA. Every book since has been better than the previous ones and they’ve also gotten much more tense.

Never Far Away is no exception. I hate snow and winter and nature and this book takes place in Maine. Even so, the setting is one of the least terrifying things about this book. The Blackwell brothers pop up in the beginning and Dax is also here. AND somehow they’re not the scariest things, either. See, there’s this other guy who goes by Bleak. And you may think “Oh, that doesn’t sound too bad!” but you would be very, very wrong.

This is such a relentless thriller and I felt so much dread the entire time. I don’t know if it’s possible to top this, but I’m sure he will. Highly recommended.

Life in the Balance

Finished Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Veronica struggles to balance softball, friends, and family turmoil in this new honest and heartfelt middle grade novel by Jen Petro-Roy, Life in the Balance.

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.

Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.

Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?”

I’ve loved every novel that Jen Petro-Roy has written, but this one may be her best yet. It’s impossible not to love Veronica. She’s trying so hard to keep her life as normal as possible, but her mom’s in rehab (for alcoholism) and she’s afraid to talk about it. And she’s hoping to make the all-star softball team, because that’s something she and her mom always did together. (And it’s also a thing that the women in her family do; her great-grandmother was even a member of the Women’s Baseball League during World War II.)

But she’s also really angry and really sad and really scared (AND really guilt-ridden for it). She clearly feels like it’s her job to make everything easier for everyone else, so she pushes all of her feelings down while also lashing out sometimes. (As someone who would rather be angry than sad and scared, I relate.)

This is such a great story and I think it’ll help a lot of people. Even if the middlegrade audience reading this don’t necessarily have a relative or family friend with alcoholism, I think everyone can relate to uncertainty and major mood swings. (Thanks, pandemic!)

Highly recommended.

Gone at Midnight

Finished Gone at Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam by Jake Anderson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The case that captivated a nation and inspired the Netflix series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel!

Fortune Magazine “Most Anticipated Books of 2020” Selection
A Goodreads Featured Release for February 2020
Oxygen’s List of “Best True Crime Books of 2020” Selection

“The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles is a palpable presence in Gone at Midnight. Given the checkered history of the Cecil Hotel (which was recently named to the Los Angeles registry of historic landmarks), I wouldn’t rule out Jack the Ripper.” —The New York Times

“Outstanding…true crime buffs won’t want to miss this gripping search for the truth.” —Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

A Los Angeles hotel with a haunting history. A missing young woman. A disturbing viral video followed by a shocking discovery. A cold-case mystery that has become an internet phenomenon—and for one determined journalist, a life-changing quest toward uncomfortable truths. Perfect for Murderinos looking for their next fix…


Twenty-one-year-old Vancouver student Elisa Lam was last heard from on January 31, 2013, after she checked into downtown L.A.’s Cecil Hotel—a 600-room building with a nine-decade history of scandal and tragedy. The next day, Elisa vanished. A search of the hotel yielded nothing. More than a week later, complaints by guests of foul-smelling tap water led to a grim discovery: Elisa’s nude body floating in a rooftop water tank, in an area extremely difficult to access without setting off alarms. The only apparent clue was a disturbing surveillance video of Elisa, uploaded to YouTube in hopes of public assistance.

As the eerie elevator video went viral, so did the questions of its tens of millions of viewers. Was Elisa’s death caused by murder, suicide, or paranormal activity? Was it connected to the Cecil’s sinister reputation? And in that video, what accounted for Elisa’s strange behavior? With the help of web sleuths and investigators from around the world, journalist Jake Anderson set out to uncover the facts behind a death that had become a macabre internet meme, as well as a magnet for conspiracy theorists.

In poring through Elisa’s revealing online journals and social-media posts, Anderson realized he shared more in common with the young woman than he imagined. His search for justice and truth became a personal journey, a dangerous descent into one of America’s quiet epidemics. Along the way, he exposed a botched investigation and previously unreported disclosures from inside sources who suggest there may have been a corporate conspiracy and a police cover-up. In Gone at Midnight, Anderson chronicles eye-opening discoveries about who Elisa Lam really was and what—or whom—she was running from, and presents shocking new evidence that may re-open one of the most chilling and obsessively followed true crime cases of the century.”

I have become very emotionally invested in this case (thanks, Netflix!) and after many deep dives, the only thing I know for sure is that there’s no answer that 100% makes sense. Every possibility requires a major leap of faith.

This was a very interesting and well-researched book. There are some parts where supernatural events get more attention than I think they should (I fully accept that this hotel could have bad energy, but I have a really hard time believing that it’s almost a sentient being, and that’s how the book comes across sometimes.) But it also raises very valid questions, and I do think this case should be reopened.

If you’re also very interested in this case, definitely check this out. (It’s free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited.)

Ultimately, though, I think that she was having a mental health crisis but that also someone in the hotel (maybe a resident or maybe an employee) took advantage of this mental state and she ended up dead.

Black Widows

Finished Black Widows by Cate Quinn.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Blake’s dead. They say his wife killed him. If so… which one?

Polygamist Blake Nelson built a homestead on a hidden stretch of land—a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah—where he lived with his three wives:

Rachel, the first wife, obedient and doting to a fault, with a past she’d prefer to keep quiet.
Tina, the rebel wife, everything Rachel isn’t, straight from rehab and the Vegas strip.
And Emily, the young wife, naïve and scared, estranged from her Catholic family.

The only thing that they had in common was Blake. Until all three are accused of his murder.

When Blake is found dead under the desert sun, all three wives become suspect—not only to the police, but to each other. As the investigation draws them closer, each wife must decide who can be trusted. With stories surfacing of a notorious cult tucked away in the hills, whispers flying about a fourth wife, and evidence that can’t quite explain what had been keeping Blake busy, the three widows face a reckoning that might shatter all they know to be true.”

This is the kind of book that will have you second-guessing everything. I went back and forth on which sister-wife I trusted (to be fair, the answer was usually “none of them”) and what I thought happened. There were many theories (all wrong).

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I am very into cults lately, and this one is a fantastic example. Blake’s first wife, Rachel, is a survivor of a cult and that definitely affected the rest of her life. While this could easily have overpowered the main story, it was used perfectly to explain a lot about Rachel, and it definitely was very, very suspenseful in its own right.

If you’re looking for a book that is incredibly fun and incredibly tense, this is for you.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire

Finished We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts–a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice.

But the victory is lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence “makes me want to use a fucking sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.”

I love this book. I was pretty sure I would when I read the synopsis, but I had no idea just how much I needed to read it.

I’m going to be honest now, I’ve been angry for a long time. I could say since 2016, but probably before that. Everything about this world feels insultingly wrong sometimes and I hate it. And if this is how you also feel, this is the book for you.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book is perfection. Highly recommended.