Finished Indecent by Corinne Sullivan. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Shy, introverted Imogene Abney has always been fascinated by the elite world of prep schools, having secretly longed to attend one since she was a girl in Buffalo, New York. So, shortly after her college graduation, when she’s offered a teaching position at the Vandenberg School for Boys, an all-boys prep school in Westchester, New York, she immediately accepts, despite having little teaching experience—and very little experience with boys.

When Imogene meets handsome, popular Adam Kipling a few weeks into her tenure there, a student who exudes charm and status and ease, she’s immediately drawn to him. Who is this boy who flirts with her without fear of being caught? Who is this boy who seems immune to consequences and worry; a boy for whom the world will always provide?

As an obsessive, illicit affair begins between them, Imogene is so lost in the haze of first love that she’s unable to recognize the danger she’s in. The danger of losing her job. The danger of losing herself in the wrong person. The danger of being caught doing something possibly illegal and so indecent.

Exploring issues of class, sex, and gender, this smart, sexy debut by Corinne Sullivan shatters the black-and- white nature of victimhood, taking a close look at blame and moral ambiguity.”

When we read about female teachers who sleep with students, they all seem to be young and incredibly pretty and super confident—sort of like the “cool girl” rant from Gone Girl. Imogene is not that girl. She’s painfully shy and compulsively picks at her face. She’s not awful in any way, but she’s the complete definition of average.

When the relationship starts, Imogene basically initially is carried away by its momentum. Adam Kipling (“Kip”) pursues her, and she basically is very “This is not my fault; I tried to resist.” Except she really didn’t. Picture the world’s flattest delivery of “You should go; you can’t be here.”

Once things turn physical, it starts to switch. Kip isn’t super into her anymore (or, slightly more accurately, it’s the push-pull relationship that we’ve all had at least once) and she starts to get a little obsessive. Like repeatedly texting and occasionally showing up and just in general doing everything that girls know they’re not supposed to do but do anyway, especially when they’re young (as Imogene is).

There is a steadily increasing sense of dread as the novel continues. Initially, there are multiple ways it can end well and all of those options start slowly falling apart. I wouldn’t say I necessarily liked Imogene, but I felt horrible for her.

This book is incredibly thought-provoking and I think it’s a great choice for book clubs. Recommended.


The Beauty That Remains

Finished The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.”

This is a really hard book to read because it portrays grief in such a painful, immediate way. Three teenagers are dead, and the people closest to them are struggling to keep going. They are furious and devastated and they don’t have time for the usual pleasantries or to try and make other people feel better.

This is incredibly well-written and poignant (but never maudlin, which is probably incredibly easy to slip in to, given that it’s about grief). It’s maybe not a book that you’ll love reading (it’s so sad!) but it’s definitely the kind of book that will stay with you.



Ever since the big theater chains started doing Oscar passes, I’ve wanted to do it. The problem is that for most of those times, I worked weekends (up until last year) and had a dog (also up until last year).

I’m spending the better part of today and the next three days (up to and including Oscar Sunday!) at the movies. I’m seeing the nine best picture nominees (four of them are rewatches) and the Oscar shorts (live action and animated) AND Black Panther. (If you’re going to see nine, why not see 10, right?)

Today’s offerings: Black Panther, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (rewatch) and Phantom Thread.

Tomorrow: Dunkirk, Lady Bird (rewatch), Get Out (rewatch)

Saturday: Call Me By Your Name, Shape of Water, Oscar shorts

Sunday: Darkest Hour, The Post (rewatch)

I’ll try and post on Facebook and Twitter each day, but we’ll see. I’m happy to get to see all the nominees and to also get to FINALLY see Black Panther!

In Search of Us

Finished In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The author of the beloved Love Letters to the Dead returns with a parallel story of a mother and daughter each at age seventeen. Marilyn’s tale recounts the summer she fell in love and set out on her own path. Angie’s story is about her search for her unknown father.

This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie’s father, James, who was African-American. But Angie’s never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she’s never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him, hitching a ride to LA from her home in New Mexico with her ex-boyfriend, Sam. Along the way, she uncovers some hard truths about herself, her mother, and what truly happened to her father.”

I loved Ava Dellaira’s debut novel, Love Letters to the Dead. I’ve been eagerly awaiting her next book, and the concept of this one made it an immediate must-read for me.

As amazing as it sounds, the actual book was even better than I had hoped. It’s smart and sweet and I loved both timelines. I think a lot of times, one tends to be more interesting or I like one of the characters more, but I loved Angie and her quest to find her uncle (and, hopefully, her dad) and also Marilyn and her relationship with James.

This is such a unique book, and also one of the best books I’ve read in ages. Ava Dellaira is definitely one of the best authors writing today and I can’t imagine how much better her future books will be.

Also if, like me, you’re around Marilyn’s age, her teenage chapters will seem very, very familiar. (The best kinds of nostalgic feelings!)

Highly recommended.

This Heart of Mine

Finished This Heart of Mine by CC Hunter. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A new heart saved her life—but will it help her find out what really happened to its donor?

Seventeen-year-old Leah MacKenzie is heartless. An artificial heart in a backpack is keeping her alive. However, this route only offers her a few years. And with her rare blood type, a transplant isn’t likely. Living like you are dying isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But when a heart becomes available, she’s given a second chance at life. Except Leah discovers who the donor was — a boy from her school — and they’re saying he killed himself. Plagued with dreams since the transplant, she realizes she may hold the clues to what really happened.

Matt refuses to believe his twin killed himself. When Leah seeks him out, he learns they are both having similar dreams and he’s certain it means something. While unraveling the secrets of his brother’s final moments, Leah and Matt find each other, and a love they are terrified to lose. But life and even new hearts don’t come with guarantees. Who knew living took more courage than dying?”

This is such a fascinating book! There’s a little bit of a supernatural aspect (Leah has dreams of what happened to her donor, from his perspective, and her personality and tastebuds change) but it’s not at all a major part of this story.

There’s also a little bit of a mystery and, while I don’t think it’s necessarily hard to figure out who was responsible for Eric’s death, it’s still an engrossing storyline.

I think every YA reader can relate to Leah. Most of us, hopefully, haven’t spent time actively contemplating how short our lives will be, but I think we’re all overfond of books and the escape they can bring. (Team Blatant Book Geek!) Watching her slowly realize that she can actually start planning ahead for things was the most rewarding aspect of this book for me. I can’t imagine how scary it was, but it also makes a ton of sense. Of course after the initial relief wore off, you’d probably be waiting for the other shoe to drop. And of course there’d be guilt for living only because someone else died.

I’m an organ donor, and I love that this book is raising awareness of how valuable that is. It’s an important thing and while I know no one is particularly excited to think about their own mortality, it’s still a chance to save lives.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.”

I’ve always said that the best journalism (whether print or on the air) is the one where the reporter is almost invisible, where the story at hand gets the entire focus. I still believe that’s true, but I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a notable exception. Michelle McNamara is all over this book, and the sections where we see her life and personality are my absolute favorites.

And on a related note, I think most readers would admit that when they read truly excellent books, they feel like they almost become friends with the characters. That happened to me in this case, only I felt like I had known Michelle for years and that we were great friends. I’m very sad that I’ll never get to meet her (she died in 2016).

She became obsessed with the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer (possibly more commonly known as the Original Night Stalker). He’s never been caught and no one even has any idea who he is. It’s not one of those cases where people are pretty sure it’s one of two or three people, only the evidence isn’t quite there to convict. There’s DNA evidence and it has exonerated most of the people where it’s like, “OMG I bet it’s [suspect name here].”

It reached the point where she remarked that she feels like there’s “a scream permanently lodged in my throat.” That’s accurate. Over the few days i spent reading this book, I felt incredibly freaked out. Noises outside made me jump. Normal noises inside made me jump. My skin actually crawled at one point (it’s a really unpleasant sensation; I do not recommend it).

Part of it is the writing style. It describes everything but holds back the worst parts…until it doesn’t. Every so often, there will be a sentence or paragraph that seems to punch you directly in the face, usually literally a breathtaking sentence. And then the narrative goes on.

This is an intense book, obviously, but it’s also a great one. Highly recommended.


Finished Sunburn by Laura Lippman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through.

Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets that begin to accumulate as autumn approaches, feeding the growing doubts they conceal.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?”

This is an incredibly hard book to review because the plot is so intricate (initially straightforward but it becomes increasingly clear that this is a complete illusion). Obviously it’s a noir (ideally, this should be read during the hottest August in years, but you won’t want to wait that long) and it made me want to rewatch Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice (or maybe read them for the first time). But it’s also far more than “complete sucker of a guy” and “femme fatale” and “danger they never saw coming.”

This book is a stunning achievement and you all need to read it. (Maybe once now and again in August. I bet it’ll be even better the second time.)

Highly recommended.

Mister Tender’s Girl

Finished Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson. I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“How far are you willing to go for Mister Tender?

At fourteen, Alice Hill was viciously attacked by two of her classmates and left to die. The teens claim she was a sacrifice for a man called Mister Tender, but that could never be true: Mister Tender doesn’t exist. His sinister character is pop-culture fiction, created by Alice’s own father in a series of popular graphic novels.

Over a decade later, Alice has changed her name and is trying to heal. But someone is watching her. They know more about Alice than any stranger could: her scars, her fears, and the secrets she keeps locked away. She can try to escape her past, but Mister Tender is never far behind. He will come with a smile that seduces, and a dark whisper in her ear…

Inspired by a true story, this gripping thriller plunges you into a world of haunting memories and unseen threats, leaving you guessing until the harrowing end.”

This is obviously inspired by the Slenderman case a few years back, but it’s also very much its own story.

There are two especially fascinating parts in this for me: the idea that someone could become so obsessed with a fictional thing that they’d commit murder (or try to, anyway) for it, and the question of what would happen to the girl that almost died. This novel answers the second question, but not the first. (Which is actually fine; I’m not sure there’s an acceptable or plausible answer for this anyway.)

Alice is a survivor, although she’s currently hanging on from habit and spite. She’s not particularly close to her mom and brother (her dad, the man who created Mister Tender, has since been murdered) and she has no real friends. (To be fair, I would imagine that her past makes it hard to trust people.) I love her, but she’s not necessarily easy to love. And again, that’s all understandable.

This is a weird combination of novel and thriller, but it absolutely works. Recommended.


Surprise Me

Finished Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other’s sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected “until death do us part” to mean seven decades.

In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all.”

I have loved Sophie Kinsella since I read Confessions of a Shopaholic (which I did way back when it was a standalone). She is one of the longest literary relationships of my life. Her books are always must-buys, and this is my favorite in a while.

I absolutely love Sylvie, even though she has a tendency to jump to the worst possible conclusion. (It is highly possible that I overidentify with Sylvie.) She’s funny and good at her job and she adores her family. And yet, there are secrets. Because of course there are. Who knows absolutely everything about another person?

Except obviously sometimes secrets are horrible, even if there’s a very, very good reason for them.

Anyway. This is incredibly fun but also a solid read. It’s probably a perfect antidote for whatever’s going on in your life right now.


Finished Promise by Minrose Gwen. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“n the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

“Gwin’s gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice.” —Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.”

Before I started this book, I didn’t know anything about the tornado that devastated Tupelo. It’s probably one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history, although no one knows exactly HOW deadly, because while 200 people were killed, no one kept track of how many black people died. (I can’t wrap my head around either of those things–200 people killed in the blink of an eye or the fact that no one bothered to count how many people of color died. And since that was most likely a poorer section, it could easily have doubled the casualty rate.)

Still, though, this book is about the survivors. And somehow, against all odds, a baby survived being flung incredibly far. He’s found and saved…but he’s assumed to be part of a different family.

Everything about this story is fantastic, in both senses of the word. It’s a remarkable achievement and, even though horrible things are done, there aren’t any real villains here. I’m not a huge fan of Jo, but she did not great things for good reasons. And she had a head injury, so I’m hoping that was part of it.

This is an absolutely stunning novel. Recommended.