Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

After someone dies, loved ones are left to pick up the pieces. That usually means sorting through personal possessions and reading through the will. Secrets can be revealed during this time leaving loved ones to wonder who exactly the deceased was in life and why they were hiding some things. Lisa Jewell discusses the topic of secrets in her 2013 novel, Before I Met You.

Before I Met You  by Lisa Jewell tells the story of two women growing up decades apart. In 1990s grungy London Soho, Betty Dean has arrived to find the mysterious Clara Pickle. Clara was listed as the main beneficiary in her grandmother Arlette’s will. No one in her family has ever heard of Clara Pickle. Arlette never mentioned her. Going through her grandmother’s possessions, Betty finds hints tucked in coat pockets and hidden in books. Betty has always dreamed of getting out of Guernsey and moving to Soho. Trying to find Clara provides Betty with the perfect reason to head to Soho and begin a new glamorous life filled with excitement and hope.

In 1920s Jazz Age London, Arlette finds herself on the doorstep of her mother’s childhood best friend. Becoming friends with the woman’s daughter, Arlette quickly becomes drawn into the bohemian lifestyle of the Bright Young People. Arlette is beautiful and charismatic, but a bit sheltered since she spent all of her life before London growing up on the quiet and secluded island of Guernsey. Arlette is looking for love, a change, and acceptance now that the war is over. Two years later, Arlette’s new life is on course to give her what she wants. Right when she is ready to settle down, tragedy strikes and Arlette heads back to Guernsey where she stays for the rest of her life.

Betty searches high and low for Clara. While doing so, she learns even more secrets about Arlette’s life in London during the 1920s. Glamour, fashion, and music all played major roles in both women’s lives. Betty uncovers photographs and stories about Arlette’s life. She soon realizes that Arlette had major reasons for keeping her past firmly in her past.

While this is an older book, I enjoyed the topics discussed throughout. The parallels between Betty’s life in Guernsey and London in the 1990s as compared to Arlette’s life in the same places in the 1920s were so striking that I was left to wonder continuously throughout whether Betty would make the same life choices as Arlette. Betty’s journey to find Clara was fascinating because she kept searching for answers even when people told her to give up.  Read the book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


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The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

From the outside, certain families may look like they have everything together. They all get along and everyone new is welcomed in with open and loving arms. The ultimate goal: the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is whole and loving. Sally Hepworth takes this idea of the perfect family and destroys it in her newest novel, The Mother-in-Law.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth tells the story of the complicated relationship between Lucy and her mother-in-law Diana. Told through flashbacks between the past and present, readers learn about how their relationship began. This story is also told from different point of views, which allows secrets to flourish between each character.

When Lucy first met Diana, she noticed something was off about her. Diana is always unfailingly polite to everyone and generous, but she never completely warms up to Lucy. Lucy knows she isn’t the wife that Diana envisioned for her son, but despite that she still tries to win her over. Diana has been happily married for years, works hard as a recognized figure in the community, and advocates for female refugees in order to help them succeed. All of these things form a bubble of likeability and lovability around Diana. Everyone loves her. Lucy doesn’t. Try as she might, she just can’t think of a nice thing about her.

Flash forward five years.

Diana’s dead.

A suicide note is found by her body.

The family is devastated. Thinking that the cancer that has run through her body finally killed her, the family tries to come to terms with it. Major problem: the autopsy finds no cancer. What it finds instead: Poison and evidence of suffocation.

Police begin an investigation into Diana’s death and start asking questions of the family members. Diana changed her will close to her death and disinherited both of her children and their spouses. There’s no way for them to access any of her money or possessions. Could that be motive for her murder? Lucy doesn’t seem too concerned or broken up over Diana’s death: something that quickly marks her as a suspect.

The Mother-In-Law is ripe with hidden secrets, disintegrating relationships, and complex motives for little actions. Check it out and let me know what you think!


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City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The cover of this book caught my eye. Flipping through the book, I realized that it revolves around the New York City theater world during the 1940s. I looked into the author and discovered that this Elizabeth Gilbert was the same author who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, among other fiction and non-fiction titles.

City of Girls  by Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of Vivian Morris. After receiving a letter from a male friend’s daughter asking for Vivian to finally explain to her what her relationship really was to her father, Vivian uses City of Girls as a long-form letter to the woman. Ninety-five-year-old Vivian looks back on her youth with a mix of sadness, regret, pleasure, and passion. Through this book, Vivian learns about her body, sexuality, and female promiscuity. She learns how to heal from various wrongs done to her and wrongs that she has committed.

In the summer of 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt. Having been kicked out of Vassar College, Vivian, along with her suitcase and sewing machine, is relegated to New York by her parents who just don’t know what to do with her. Luckily for Vivian, she soon finds lodging and employment at her Aunt Peg’s dilapidated theatre, the Lily Playhouse, as the seamstress. Vivian learned how to sew from her grandmother and is good at making something out of nothing. By just looking at someone’s body type or looking at an outfit/type of fabric, Vivian can figure out what is wrong, what needs to be changed, and what would look best on someone.

Vivian quickly becomes the talk of the showgirl community as word circulates that she can make glamorous costumes out of seemingly nothing. The longer she stays at the Lily Playhouse, the more interesting characters she meets. Vivian meets showgirls, sexy actors, a famous actress, a disgruntled writer, and her aunt’s friend who serves as the stage manager trying to keep the Lily Playhouse alive. Vivian’s new life brings another new and exciting chapter of discovery: sex. Vivian discovers what makes her happy and that she has the power to make herself happy no matter what other people think.

When Vivian makes a personal mistake that threatens to ruin both her personal and professional lives, she is forced to start a new life again. The consequences of her actions will take her years to unravel and understand. The new life she makes for herself will lead her down a path she never imagined for herself: a life where she understands what she actually wants and how she has to behave/act/live in order to have it. Vivian also meets the love of her life while she is making a new name for herself. This love is completely different than anything else she has experienced before, but it proves to change her the most.

City of Girls is a glittery and glamorous look at ninety-five years of life. Vivian is able to look back at her life and acknowledge how the actions that she made changed the course of her life forever. Her life would have shifted to a more traditional role and been completely different if she had chosen one different path. Vivian was never afraid of what life threw at her. She was able to live an autonomous life that was not available to many women who grew up during the same time period as her.


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Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Some days (or weeks or months), all I want to read are romance novels. I’m deep in the midst of several romance reads right now. These books serve as a major deviation from my usual reads of twisty crime thrillers and are a necessary light read for me when I just need a break.

I noticed the cutesy cover of Helena Hunting’s latest romance novel peeking out from the new shelves a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough to start it.  I devoured this book in less than 3 days. Such a fun light read with charming characters! Meet Cute by Helena Hunting tells the story of a couple’s long road to a happily-ever-after with a pinch of Hollywood magic when a famous hunky heartthrob bumps into his ultimate fangirl again after years apart.

Kailyn Flowers knows exactly what she wants and exactly what she needs to do to get it. Described by friends and family as very controlled, rational, and calm under any circumstances, Kailyn has one glaring exception that leaves her breathless: Daxton Hughes. Daxton is the former teen actor that she had a complete and total crush on when she was younger. In law school, Kailyn believes herself to be in control until she literally runs into Daxton and the two are left sprawled on the ground. Kailyn reverts back to her fangirl self and may have mortified herself by professing (loudly) her undying love for Daxton. After that situation ended, Kailyn thought she’d never see him again, but oddly enough their meet cute leads to a friendship and a sort of friendly rivalry that helps them both survive law school. Their friendship takes a huge hit at the end of school however when Daxton betrays Kailyn in a way for which she will never forgive him.

Flash forward years and Kailyn has an established job at a reputable law firm that gives her joy. One day, a new client comes into the office and she is floored. Daxton Hughes has walked back into her life and he desperately needs her help. Dax is now guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister and is very overwhelmed. Kailyn finds herself drawn into his messy life. Once meeting Dax’s younger sister, Kailyn knows she would do anything to make sure this struggling girl and her older brother find a positive way to manage their new normal.

Dax and Kailyn meet frequently to discuss work matters. While these meetings are initially chilly, they quickly turn friendly. Once Dax’s sister starts meddling, these friendly and benign meetings turn into flirty charming dinner dates that leave the both of them yearning for more. Kailyn is hesitant to go further because despite the chemistry palpable in the air, how can she let Daxton back into her life when he has hurt her in the past? Their complicated past and even more complicated present may be enough to keep the two apart.


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The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is a twisty book that requires readers to pay close attention to what’s happening in order to catch the murderer.

Evelyn Hardcastle is going to be killed tonight. This isn’t the first time she’s been killed though and it probably won’t be the last.

Evelyn’s parents have invited the same people who were at their house for a weekend nineteen years ago back to their house for a party to celebrate the return of their daughter Evelyn from Paris. Why the nineteen year gap? Nineteen years ago to the day, their son Thomas was murdered by the lake near Blackheath, their home. Seldom returning to Blackheath, this party is a reunion for all.

The party is meant to be a celebration, but as the clock strikes 11:00pm, Evelyn is killed by the reflecting pool as fireworks explode overhead. As one of the guests brought to Blackheath eventually realizes, that is not the first time Evelyn will be killed and it won’t be the last. Until he can solve her murder and until he delivers the name of the murderer to an interested party, this guest is destined to repeat the day of Evelyn’s death over and over.

How is this possible, you may ask? This book isn’t your typical murder mystery. The main character repeats the same day eight times. If he doesn’t solve the crime by the end of the eighth day, his memory is wiped and he begins the loop again. Every day, he is told that if he brings the name of the murderer to a person waiting at the edge of the lake at 11pm, he will finally be allowed to leave Blackheath. He must fight against many forces beyond his control in order to stay alive. He only has 24 hours in each host, but if he is killed in a host before his 24 hours are up, he bounces to the next host. As each day begins anew, he wakes up in the body of a different guest with the task to solve Evelyn’s murder. He finds himself struggling against the hosts he has inhabited and also against the people working to stop him from ever leaving Blackheath.

This high concept murder mystery is certainly not for the faint of heart. Like I mentioned before, readers must pay attention to what is happening in the book in order not to be lost amidst the many shifting plot lines. Read this book and let me know what you thought! I’m curious what others think of the plot structure and the many twists and turns.


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I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Have you ever recognized someone on the street or in a picture online, but you just can’t place where they’re from? Alice Feeney uses that as a piece of her main character’s development in her latest novel, I Know Who You Are.

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney is twisty thriller following an actress working to make a name for herself. Aimee Sinclair has the face of someone that most people recognize, but they can’t remember where she is from. Even Aimee has trouble keeping her past life and present life separate. You see, Aimee has a past that she has never shared with anyone and with that past comes a devastating secret that, if uncovered, would have the power to destroy the life she has carefully crafted for herself. There is just one problem: Someone knows Aimee very well. They know her past, what she did, and who she really is.

Aimee seems to have everything going for her, but bubbling just under the surface of her life, things are preparing to destroy everything. Coming home one night, Aimee finds her husband missing. She is at a loss of what to do since his cell phone and wallet are still sitting on the dining room table alongside a giant bouquet of apology flowers. While she is worried, she isn’t in a full-on panic because the night before they had gotten into a heated argument where they both exchanged words that they did not mean and he did things that she will never be able to forget.

Thinking that he will eventually come home, Aimee gets up the next morning for a run and a trip to her favorite coffee shop, only to discover her card has been denied. Calling the bank, Aimee finds out her account has been emptied, theoretically by her. This unnerves her. After reporting her husband missing, detectives show up at her door to question her. Telling them what happened, detectives begin to believe that she is hiding something. They aren’t wrong. Unwilling to divulge everything she knows, Aimee unwillingly sends the police in the wrong direction while the police work to prove that Aimee is behind her husband’s disappearance. Actions come to a head when both sides come up against a wall regarding Aimee’s husband’s disappearance. Aimee’s past has finally come back to haunt her and demands acknowledgment in such a dangerous way that has the power to destroy everything around her.

This novel takes everything that we think we know about ourselves, actors and actresses, the police, and disappearance cases and turns it all on its head. I’ll admit that I thought I had the plot twist figured out pretty early on, but the ending of this book quickly caught me off guard. Check out this book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


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One Day in December by Josie Silver

This book caught my eye when it popped up as a Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick. Seeing that there was a wait list, I decided to hold out and wait until it came out on OverDrive. Just this last week, I stumbled upon this title again as available. I hurriedly checked it out and started reading. I devoured this title in less than two days!

One Day in December by Josie Silver may be in the fiction section, but it definitely is full of romance as two of the main characters feel the constant push and pull of attraction throughout their lives over a ten year history.

Laurie is on her way home when she spots a mysterious man at a bus stop. Through the foggy and misty window on the blustery snowy December day, Laurie is floored by the instant attraction that courses through her. When he lifts his head up and their eyes meet, something jolts through her body and she knows that he is the one for her. Stymied by indecision, Laurie is at a loss of what to do. Just as she’s gathering her courage, her bus drives away.

Thoroughly believing that she and bus boy are fated to find each other again, Laurie and her best friend Sarah spend the next year scouring every conceivable place in London looking for him. She becomes even more obsessed thinking that she sees him in crowds, in cafes, at different bus stops, anywhere and everywhere. Her journey to find bus boy comes to a screeching halt at their annual Christmas party when Sarah finally brings her new boyfriend to show off for Laurie. As they are introduced, Laurie feels that jolt pass through her again. The man that Sarah has been gushing about for months is Jack. Jack is bus boy. Laurie is understandably devastated.

Not wanting to destroy Sarah’s happiness, Laurie and Jack enter into an unspeaking pact to never tell Sarah that the two have met before. As a result, Laurie, Sarah, and Jack live the next ten years somewhat normally. They go through heartbreaks, intense friendships, new romances, family troubles, and new careers, all while fate works behind the scenes to guide them where they need to be.

Told through snippets of different days throughout the ten years that pass after Laurie first saw Jack, One Day in December tells the story of how love changes and morphs as we grow older. While Laurie may not believe in love at first sight, this novel works to prove that fate has a hand in every decision that we make and ultimately will lead us towards happiness in many different forms.


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Sadie by Courtney Summers

I spend a lot of time in the car either driving to work or driving to explore. This means that I have so many hours to fill that the music on the radio starts to repeat itself. I have learned to spend this time listening to podcasts and audiobooks instead. Looking at award-winning book lists, I found Sadie by Courtney Summers: a book that is presented like a true crime podcast. This sounded perfect to me.

Sadie by Courtney Summers highlights the story of Sadie and her sister Mattie. When thirteen-year-old Mattie goes missing from her small Colorado town and is eventually found murdered, her nineteen-year-old sister Sadie is devastated. Sadie has been raising Mattie by herself for years ever since their mother left. While she had some help from her surrogate grandma, Sadie took on the bulk of the responsibilities associated with her and Mattie’s welfare. When Sadie all of a sudden disappears about a year after Mattie is found, her surrogate grandma reaches out for help.

West McCray is a radio personality who has been slowly making his way across the country to work on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America. While stopped in one such town, he overhears a local talking about Sadie’s disappearance. Shortly after, West is contacted by Sadie’s surrogate grandma and finds himself drawn into the case. West decides to turn his examination into the disappearance of Sadie and the murder of Mattie into a true crime podcast called ‘The Girls’.

When Sadie runs away, rumors abound about why she left and where she’s going. Told in the alternating perspectives of both Sadie as she runs away and West’s podcast about her disappearance, readers are able to follow this story from both points of view. While Sadie has run away in order to track down her younger sister Mattie’s killer, West and the rest of her family don’t have access to that information and struggle to find out why she’s gone, where she is, and what has happened to her.

I enjoyed this book as it combines three of my favorite things: true crime, podcasts, and audiobooks. After looking at different reviews, flipping through the print book, and listening to the audiobook, I agree with others when they say that, if given the option, you should listen to the audiobook. By doing so, you are privy to the little audio clues present in the podcast sections that you would miss out on if you only read the book. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


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We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

What would you do if you found a child abandoned on a bus? In current times, there are procedures in place for how to handle this. Now travel back to World War II. Imagine you found a small child asleep on the backseat of an empty bus after a mass evacuation from a town miles away that had just been bombed. What would you do now? We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet tackles this topic and more as civilians in England during World War II struggle to find a new normal.

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet begins in December 1940. German bombs are falling on Southampton. In the midst of a massive and chaotic scene, residents are evacuating from the bombed town on buses to rural villages to escape the devastation. Helping to clear one bus in Upton village, Ellen Parr is stunned to find a young girl sleeping in the back of an empty bus, entirely by herself. Picking up the exhausted child and walking through town to search for her mother, Ellen quickly realizes that five-year-old Pamela is utterly alone. Left with no other options, Ellen and her husband take the child and some other refuges home with them.

While the other refuges leave their house in the morning, young Pamela stays. Newly-married Ellen and her husband never thought that they would have children. In fact, they knew that they could never have any biological children of their own, something that Ellen always thought that she was fine with. The addition of Pamela to their home, as well as some other children that the Parrs have taken in, begins to change Ellen’s mind. The longer Pamela stays, the more attached Ellen becomes (Pamela gets attached as well). Ellen starts to think that after the war, Pamela will stay with them and their family will be complete. Once the fighting settles down however, circumstances occur that will once again shatter the quiet idyllic life that the Parrs have created with Pamela. They realize that Pamela was never truly theirs to keep.

Frances Liardet has written a masterful story about the many different forms family and friends can take. As we go through life, Liardet spins a tale of the many different ways we can reach out and change the lives of others. Both the smallest gestures and largest acts can forever alter the lives of others.


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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

I love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum so much so that I wrote one of my final thesis papers comparing the book to the movie starring Judy Garland. This book and the subsequent series helped shape me to become the person I am today.  Knowing this, imagine my excitement when I saw a new book by Elizabeth Letts called Finding Dorothy on the  shelf at work.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is inspired by the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum’s wife, Maud, serves as the catalyst for this book by showing readers what is happening both in 1938 Hollywood and in her past both as a child and a newlywed. In Hollywood in 1938, Maud has learned that M-G-M is adapting Frank’s masterpiece for the screen. Without being asked her opinion on this development, seventy-seven-year-old Maud is convinced that she must make it on to the set in order to talk to the movie producers. Eventually making her way to the lot, Maud is eager to fulfill the promise that she made to Frank: the movie will stay true to the spirit of the book. Maud is the only one left who remembers the secrets of the book.

Maud is invited to the set where she witnesses Judy Garland rehearsing ‘Over the Rainbow’. As she closes her eyes, Maud finds herself transported back to the past. The yearning that Judy infuses into the song is reflective of the yearning that burned through Maud as she was growing up. Maud grew up in the shadow of her suffragette mother. When she decided to go to college, Maud made her way as one of the first women in the Ivy League. Meeting Frank one day drastically changed her life and Maud soon found herself growing fond of this young fellow. As their life grew together, Maud and Frank struggled. Desperate for a new beginning, they moved to the prairie where their life became even harder. The difficult times they experienced together on the prairie helped influence and inspire Frank as he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Watching Judy Garland bring Dorothy to life reminds Maud of the young girl that she helped to raise in South Dakota. Maud strives to help Judy more than she was able to help the other young girl. Seeing Judy under immense pressure from the studio and witnessing first-hand the advances the men made towards her serves to further strengthen Maud’s resolve to protect Judy.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts works to tie together two storylines: the lives of the Baum family members beginning in the 1860s and the development of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1938 Hollywood. Even though Letts imagines the dialogue between the characters, this book is a reflection of her dedicated abilities as a conscientious researcher. Her in-depth research into the lives of Frank and Maud Baum allowed Letts to capture how one family persevered through a mess of love and loss to create a book that has inspired many generations of readers.


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