Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser is a mysterious read about a group of neighborhood women who are all connected to each other. Yellow Springs is a small Ohio town that is rocked by the sudden and shocking disappearance of young mother Kristin and her twins.

The women of Yellow Springs are excited to realize that their baby monitors all reach one of the women’s backyard. They gather around a firepit one Saturday night to relax and take a night off from husbands, kids, and life in general. They drink too much and share more than usual. After all, everyone has secrets.

On Monday morning, whispers begin to circulate around town that one of the women is missing. Kristin, the adorable twin mom, who seems to have everything together and under control with her handsome doctor husband, has disappeared into the night without a trace with her two children. As police begin investigating, they dig up secrets surrounding each woman. Instead of finding answers about what happened to Kristin, whether she’s dead or alive, police discover that Kristin doesn’t seem too worried about her impending divorce, even with her husband moved out. Kristin’s husband, Paul, finds himself at the center of the investigation as he moves back into the family home and starts packing up their belongings to move on with his life.

Kristin’s closest neighbor, Clara, is having difficulties with Kristin and her children’s disappearance. Clara’s past is troubled. With the police searching the neighborhood and interviewing the neighbors, this incident is triggering memories of her past that Clara would really like to forget. Soon Clara unwittingly finds herself dragged right into the center of the investigation. When she’s thrust into the spotlight, Clara’s suspicions begin to rise.

Each neighbor is forced to closely examine their own lives behind closed doors as secrets begin to leak out and suspicions about what really happened thrown around. Kristin and the twins’ disappearance becomes a cold case, leaving the neighborhood feeling confused, betrayed, and worried that something sinister could be lurking around their idyllic town of Yellow Springs.

This book was an interesting read as it sheds light on what really is happening behind the scenes and how real life usually always varies from what is presented in the media. While I had issues with some characters, I liked how the author went beyond the surface details and let us see the divide between what we present to the public and what is actually happening behind closed doors.


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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I had read Celests Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, when it first came out and it captivated me. The story of a family torn apart by the disappearance and death of the middle child, Lydia, captures the rifts and examines the ways that family members struggle to try to understand each other. When I saw that Ng was coming out with another book entitled Little Fires Everywhere, I knew I needed to read it because Ng has the ability to craft domestic fiction that is both engaging and realistic that I simply can’t put down.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng tells the story of the residents of Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that prides itself in its ability to plan. This progressive suburb has rules for everything: the colors of the houses, the layouts of the roads, the types of houses, the schools, etc. Every little thing is laid out, even the jobs and lives that residents are expected to lead.

This highly structured, yet surprisingly calm and tranquil, community is normal to the residents that live there, especially longtime resident Elena Richardson. Leaving for college, coming back with a husband, raising four children, and working at the local paper are all things that were expected from Elena. The order and sense of community are both major appeals for Elena in Shaker Heights. She believes that the rules are there for a reason and lives her life making sure everyone around her follows the rules.

Elena’s sense of security is shaken when Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl move into town. Mia is a single mother who makes a living as an artist. She and Pearl move around every couple months, but Mia promises Pearl that Shaker Heights is the place they will stay forever. Arriving in town, Mia rents a house from the Richardsons and soon both families become tangled together. All four Richardson children find Mia and Pearl to be mysterious and are quickly drawn to the pair. The closer the two families become, the more questions come to the surface.

Mia’s arrival in Shaker Heights begins to unsettle the delicate balance of rules and order that the community relies on to survive. To start, Mia has an untraditional job, a very mysterious part, and a disregard for the standard of living that Elena holds dear. Mia keeps part of her past hidden for good reason and some of the Richardson family members take it upon themselves to figure out why.

Mia’s disruption of the status quo comes to a head when Mia and Elena find themselves at opposite sides of a custody battle that’s splattered all over the news. An old family friend of Elena’s is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby. Mia finds herself championing the biological mother, while Elena is firmly on the side of the adoptive parents. Elena is determined to do anything for her friend, even if that means digging into Mia’s past to discover her secrets and motives. Little does she know that her obsession will quickly unravel her life and the lives of everyone around her in abrupt and unforeseen ways.


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The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

When I was working on my ordering, I stumbled upon the name: B. A. Paris. For some reason, I thought she was a well established author already and decided to give her newest book a try. Later when I began listening to said book, I looked her up on Fantastic Fiction, one of my favorite author websites. Low and behold, Paris was not an established author! Her first book, Behind Closed Doors, had only been released in 2016. I’m glad that I decided to pick up her newest book, The Breakdown, on a whim and give it a listen. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Breakdown is Paris’ second novel. In this thrilling piece of suspense fiction, Paris searches for the truth around a murder investigation. Cass is a school teacher on her way home from work, itching to begin her much needed summer break. A major storm has hit her area making her drive home more treacherous than it usually is. There’s a shortcut between her school and her house that she usually takes, much to her husband’s chagrin. Calling him before she leaves, her husband tells her not to take the shortcut because even on a clear weather day, that isolated wooded road is difficult to drive on. Taking a major road on the way home, Cass is almost run off the road and makes the split-second decision to take the short-cut home.

Almost home, Cass sees a stalled vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. She stops to help, but the weather picks up and Cass decides to leave and call the authorities when she gets home to alert them of the stalled vehicle. The next morning, the news reveals that the stranded driver had been brutally murdered the night before. Cass is immediately thrown into great turmoil. When she drove by, the driver was still alive and according to the timeline released by the authorities, was killed most likely right after Cass left for home. Did she see who did it? Was the murderer in the car? If Cass would have exited her car to help the driver, would the driver have been saved or would Cass have been murdered as well? Should she call the police and let them know she saw the driver? What should she do? These questions and so much more race through Cass’s mind all day and night. Her life becomes consumed by guilt and the nagging thought that she failed and could have saved the driver.

Add in the fact that Cass’s memories are starting to fade, Cass begins to immediately doubt herself.  Her mother suffered from dementia and Cass is worried that she has it as well. Cass’s worries about her health and her massive guilt over not stopping to help the stranded driver exacerbate her confusion. She starts to forget way more things than usual. Cass mixes up dates, forgets purchasing things, and becomes increasingly paranoid. Her worry over the driver ratchets up several notches when she starts receiving silent phone calls that she is convinced are from the murderer. Her husband and best friend are very supportive, however, and Cass finds herself relying on them more than usual to get through this turmoil. If only the two got along better, then Cass’s life would be even easier. Nevertheless, she knows that they will stick by her and support her as she works through her issues.

This book was riveting and had all the necessary crazy, psychological twists that I love in suspense thrillers. Each character is very well-developed and fits neatly into this intensely twisty, clever, and engrossing plot. I was definitely caught off guard when the twist happened, so much so that when I finished this book, I immediately put B.A. Paris’ other novel on hold!


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Mistress by James Patterson

James Patterson is an author that I recently started listening to quite frequently. One of my favorite things about James Patterson’s books is that he partners with a lot of different authors. Those partnerships mean that all of his books have a distinct feel to them and are not formulaic. With every Patterson book I pick up, I know I’m going to get something unique. I really enjoy that.

 Mistress by both Patterson and David Ellis was my latest listen and I enjoyed it. When this book first started, it instantly reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes, a book I blogged about back in March. Both books begin with a noticeable creep factor. Mistress starts with the main character Ben breaking into a woman’s apartment and rummaging through her belongings. My mind instantly went, “Oh no! We’ve got another obsessed kidnapper/stalker love story.” I braced myself for that inevitability and kept reading. Boy, was I wrong! This book may seem like a creepy stalker story, but Ben is way more complex than I initially thought.

Ben is consumed by his obsessions and his racing thoughts. He may seem like he’s got it all together, but once you’ve been around him for a while, you notice that he has four major obsessions: motorcycles, movies, presidential trivia(which he spouts out frequently thanks to his father) – and the beautiful woman whose apartment he was in named Diana Hotchkiss. When Diana is found dead outside of her apartment shortly after Ben leaves it, Ben’s obsession spirals out of control. He must find out what really happened to this beautiful woman who was the love of his life.

While Ben digs into Diana’s death, the truth of his life begins to leak out. The origins of his obsessions, how he makes his living, and his reasons for behaving the way that he does all start to be revealed.  Ben discovers that Diana has been leading a double life, something that he never expected and she never mentioned. He doesn’t know how to handle that information. The more secrets he uncovers, the more he realizes that he really didn’t know Diana. Someone doesn’t want Ben digging into Diana’s life and sets out to stop him. Ben has to decide what he’s willing to risk to find out the truth about Diana and what he is going to do to ensure that he and his sources stay safe and, most importantly, alive.

I’m glad I decided to stick with this book. I was tempted to give up at the beginning because I assumed I knew what the book was going to be about, but I was wrong. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the narrator. He did an excellent job describing Ben’s eccentricities and differentiating between the present and past. James Patterson has yet to let me down!


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Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is not what I thought it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised! (To be honest, I picked this book purely based on the cover, something I’m guilty of doing a lot.) This book is a literary thriller that tells the story of the far-reaching consequences of identity theft. Await Your reply begins by introducing the three main characters: Miles, Ryan, and Lucy.

Miles is on a mission to find his missing twin brother, Hayden. Hayden disappeared over ten years ago, leaving Miles desperate for clues. His search takes him everywhere and has Miles deciphering letters and clues that will hopefully lead to Hayden. The brothers’ relationship and their shared childhood is a major driving factor in Miles’ concern over where his brother is.

Ryan is struggling in college and basically in his life in general. He doesn’t know what to do. Add in that he just realized that he’s adopted(how could his parents hide that secret from him his whole life?!) and Ryan is even more lost than before. His desire to learn more about his past and figure out what he wants to do with his life lead him down a dark road.

Lucy is completely over her small country hometown. She wants to escape, travel the world, and find her purpose. Lucy is presented with a way to leave her hometown in the dust, something that she jumps on! Lucy’s escape quickly proves more dangerous and mysterious than she initially thought. The consequences of her rash decision will leave her reeling and confused over just who she should trust.

I found the plotlines and each character’s timelines to be a little tricky to follow at first. If you decide to read this book, I urge you to not give up because everything becomes clear towards the end. I honestly was very surprised about some of the connections and the twists/turns that the author came up with. I didn’t see them coming! Highly recommend (If you can listen to this book, do it! The narrator was very good.)


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If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


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The Magicians

Full disclosure: I have the hardest time reading or watching anything with magic. Suspending reality is very difficult for me, especially when that suspension involves negating laws of physics or science or math. I’m a slightly more left-brained person (in case you couldn’t tell by my inability to handle anything that defies logical thinking), so anything with magic needs to be crafted in a way that I find believable. The television show, The Magicians, which premiered on Syfy in 2015, has elements of believable magic(at least to me), plus really engaging character development and background information, that allowed me to suspend my logical brain for a little while.

The Magicians is what I think Harry Potter would be like for grown-ups. Just imagine Hogwarts as a college and BAM! You’ve got The Magicians. The main characters of this show are college students looking to get into different graduate schools. Quentin Coldwater is an awkward student who has been selected for an alumni interview for a prestigious university. As he and his best friend, Julia, walk into the interview, strange things begin happening.

Quentin finds himself admitted to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy(which is NOT the college that he had the interview for). Brakebills is a secret university located in upstate New York dedicated to all things magic. Quentin and his friends at Brakebills are thrust deep into the world of magic. They are learning more and more every day about their powers, but learning to control them proves difficult.  Each student has an interview/test to figure out what kind of powers they have, where they will live, and what sort of classes they will take. (Same type of concept as the sorting hat in Harry Potter! Except it’s a teacher testing them..) Quentin and friends are struggling with normal college problems with an added level of magical complications. Watching each student struggle to learn to master even the most basic spells is what made this show believable for me the most.

Add in a magical kingdom called Fillory, the land that Quentin’s favorite book series is based in, and there’s a whole new level of mystery involved! They soon find out that this magical fantasy world is actually very real. The consequences this discovery has on not only the students, but on humanity as a whole, is catastrophic and very dangerous. This television show is incredibly layered with multiple plots running simultaneously. I found this to be refreshing because it allows each character to become fully developed and have their own separate storyline that is still connected to the others. Highly recommended.


This television show is based on the book The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This book is the first in the Magicians Trilogy, which is:

  1. The Magicians
  2. The Magician King
  3. The Magician’s Land


The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

the-way-i-used-to-beThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith is a deeply moving, traumatic examination of one young woman’s struggle to overcome the aftermath of a rape. Eden, a 14-year old teenage girl, is raped by Kevin, her older brother’s best friend and college roommate. Her family is asleep down the hall while he crawls into her bed. Eden is the typical band geek, good girl who lives in fear of Kevin as he tells her that he will kill her and that no one will believe her if she talks. She is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t know what to do except try to live her life like normal, an idea that quickly fails as she becomes a new person overnight.

This book follows Eden through all four years of high school, highlighting her relationships with friends and family as she keeps this dark secret under wraps. School becomes increasingly more difficult for Eden as she turns to lies, booze, sex, and parties to smother her emotions. Kevin’s younger sister, Amanda, who Eden used to be friends with, turns against her and begins spreading vicious rumors about her around school. Eden’s best friend, Mara, knows nothing about what happened to her and the two move through high school experiencing some typical high school activities: dying their hair, first crushes, getting piercings, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes for the first time, going to parties, doing drugs, and getting their drivers’ licenses. All the while, distance begins to grow between the two. Eden also finds herself separated from her other friends and her family. She has buried who she used to be, buried her emotions, and buried her secret deep inside.

As Eden grows older, readers are able to dissect the way her rape has affected her personality and her relationships. The way Eden treats herself changes drastically from her freshman year to her senior year of high school, as evidenced through her inner monologue throughout the book. How she believes others to see her changes throughout the book as well. The long-term view of the effect this trauma has on Eden allows readers to gain a better understanding of the guilt, hatred, and complex emotions survivors face in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. The Way I Used to Be is not an easy book to read as watching Eden disintegrate is painful, but the truth and emotions revealed are so vivid and true-to-life that this book becomes a necessary read to understand the emotions survivors experience on a day-to-day basis.  Eden carries a double burden – the weight of carrying her secret and the violation of rape. She shows strength, power, survival, disappointment, pain, heartbreak, and massive loss throughout this book, leaving readers to grow attached to her well-being and her journey through a troubled adolescent made even more difficult by rape. The Way I Used to Be takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster as Eden struggles to find her way back to herself in the aftermath of her rape.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark placesDark Places by Gillian Flynn completes my mission to read all of Flynn’s work. Living in my own little bublle, I only became aware of Gillian Flynn as an author when Gone Girl became a movie. After it came out on DVD, I quickly checked it out and watched it, which lead me down a quick path to reading everything that Flynn has ever written (I’ve written blog posts about her other works, so search this blog for more info!).

Dark Places is a gripping piece of suspense fiction following the life of Libby Day, a thirty-one year old woman whose mother and two sisters were brutally murdered twenty-five years ago when Libby was just seven years old. Based on her testimony, Libby’s fifteen year old brother Ben was sentenced to prison for life for the murders. After a meeting with her trust fund manager, Libby, who has never worked a day, realizes that the public donations and life insurance money that she has been living off is almost gone. She has no idea what to do next.

A chance phone call from a man named Lyle, who is a member of the Kill Club, proves to be Libby’s somewhat salvation. The Kill Club is a club for people who are obsessed with murders, serial killers, violence, regular killers, and a wide variety of related subjects. She meets with the Kill Club and realizes that she can get them to pay her; the only caveat being that she has to dig into her brother Ben’s case and the murders of her family. Once she starts talking to people and answering the questions the Kill Club has for her, Libby starts questioning if what she thought she saw twenty five years ago was what actually happened. Did Ben really commit those heinous crimes? Or is someone else responsible. This book will have you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.

Dark Places was also made into a movie that came out in 2015 starring Charlize Theron as adult Libby Day. The library has this movie available in DVD and Blu-ray.


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Miss You Already

miss you alreadyCertain movies tug at your heart strings and leave you pulling for every character to get their happy ending. Miss You Already, starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, had me rooting for their friendship to stay strong and last through whatever they faced.

Miss You Already is a very powerful story that follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, through life’s many challenges. The two have been friends since childhood and have lived through many secrets, pregnancies, boyfriends, weddings, and sharing of clothes. Inseparable for as long as they can remember, both Milly and Jess are certain their relationship can survive anything. A trip to the doctor hits Milly with life-altering news, something that sincerely tests their friendship, as well as Milly’s relationship with her husband and Jess’s relationship with her husband. Everything is flipped upside down as Milly and Jess forge out a new path through their shared lives and find that even though life throws you curveballs, true friendship will last forever.