REVIEW – The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

Attention true crime fans: you’re going to want to pick this one up. I hadn’t heard of Tony Costa (the Cape Cod Vampire) before, but WOW was he a piece of work.

Costa was active in the mid to late 1960s and, honestly, got away with a lot of his crimes due to the time period but also some really inadequate law enforcement procedures and protocols. There were moments in this book where I wanted to scream about the missed connections and lack of shared information between departments. Lives might have been saved, but isn’t that the case with a lot of serial killers?

The Babysitter is part true crime book and part memoir – Liza Rodman grew up in Provincetown and Tony Costa was her “babysitter” at times (our idea of a babysitter now is not really what Tony was back then. He would take Liza and her sister on errands with him to get them out of their mom’s hair while she worked or went out on the town with her friends). Liza’s sections alone could have been their own book – she was a child who didn’t really stand a chance with her own mother. Liza’s mother was neglectful and mean and hurtful and irresponsible. Definitely proceed with caution if child abuse (mostly neglect and verbal abuse) is a touchy topic for you.

The book moves at a relatively slow pace but it stands up against the heavy hitters in true crime literature like In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, The Stranger Beside Me, etc. Tony Costa might not be as well known as Ted Bundy, but he was just as horrible (and probably would have been much worse if they hadn’t caught him in time).

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux. – After the darkness of war, the light of books.”

The Paris Library is historical fiction for book lovers. Using dual timelines (WWII-era Paris and 1980s Montana), Janet Skeslien Charles weaves a beautiful, emotional story that focuses on friendship, love, family and forgiveness.

I had no choice but to give this five stars – the writing is absolutely beautiful. The characters! THE LIBRARY. Just stunning – you’ll fall in love with (almost) everyone and find yourself wanting to spend forever amongst the shelves.

Odile and Lily are truly the stars of this book, and their journey is lovely and sad and hopeful. Get ready to feel all of the feelings.

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

The Princess Spy is a great nonfiction choice for fans of historical fiction (especially of the WWII variety). The book is incredibly well-researched and outlined, and begins with a thoughtful, intriguing preface from the author.

When Pearl Harbor is bombed during her final semester of college, Aline can’t help but want to get involved with the war effort. She spends some time modeling but ends up meeting a man who offers her a job. He can’t tell her what it is but he gives her instructions of when and where to be at her interview. She dives in headfirst without knowing any details and quickly finds herself in training to become a spy for the United States.

From there, this book is pretty exciting – Aline’s life almost seems fictional because it’s so exciting and many of the elements and events feel pulled right out of a spy movie. Intrigue! Espionage! A little bit of bullfighting! (Yep. Bullfighting.) Glamourous dinners and Bond-villain-esque “characters.” Sure, The Princess Spy romanticizes the idea of being a spy during WWII just a bit, but you can’t help but be amazed by Aline’s intelligence (and, in some cases, incredible luck).

Her time as an actual field agent is short-lived, but that doesn’t make her service any less impressive. She does fall in love along the way, and the final part of the book covers her budding relationship with her eventual husband.

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

This book is DARK. Full stop. It has a very strange and surreal vibe the entire time, like everything is smudged and dirty and unsettling. At the very least, Langan does a great job of putting you right into this suburban neighborhood (smack in the middle of summer, and there’s a heat wave…it’s just SO uncomfortable).

Good Neighbors is set in the near future in a seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood. I won’t give too much away, but there’s a sinkhole (complete with weird smells!) and a child dies and it turns into a modern-day (or future…) version of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. There’s an uncanny valley element to this book – there’s nothing supernatural in the story but it doesn’t feel entirely realistic. All of the characters are exaggerated and irrational (however, maybe that’s not so far-fetched after all…) and the commentary about the “mob mentality” is jarring and scary.

One character, in particular, is absolutely psychotic and terrifying (and not even in a fun way). The entire book reminded me of The Regulators by Stephen King (although minus the gratuitious horror and violence).

This would be a great choice for a book club because there’s so much to discuss (although it’s a tough book to rate!)

Content warnings: child abuse, brief mention of rape, brief mention of drug use, brief mention of suicide, murder-suicide

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Deep State by Chris Hauty

I don’t typically read political thrillers, but I couldn’t ignore the reviews for this one. Deep State follows Hayley Chill, an Army veteran who has moved to DC and landed an internship in the White House. Hayley quickly uncovers a plot to assassinate the newly elected POTUS, and this discovery leads her down a dangerous path.

I’m echoing a lot of reviewers, but I will say that this book would probably be better as a movie – but that does not make it an unenjoyable read. A screen adaptation of this would undoubtedly be a blockbuster action movie perfect for summer (picture it: a cool theater, a heart-pounding movie, a giant tub of popcorn and some overpriced candy. Damn you, COVID!)

The twist is really the draw here, and it’s worth it. I’m excited to read the next book in the series now that Hauty has laid a great foundation for what’s sure to be a fun sequel.

Thank you Atria Books for the NetGalley ARC of Deep State!

REVIEW – Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

I was so excited to get a chance to read the new Lisa Jewell book early! I LOVED The Family Upstairs and had high hopes for this one. Did I love Invisible Girl quite as much? No. But it was still an enjoyable read, and I think a lot of Lisa Jewell fans are going to love it.

We follow Saffyre, a teenage girl with a complicated family history and a dark past; Cate, a mother of two and her husband Roan; and Owen, who is arguably the most interesting character in the book (and i’m sure parts of his story are going to be polarizing for readers!)

Saffyre goes missing and Owen is the last person who saw her. As you can imagine, all of these characters are interconnected in some way, and the answer to Saffyre’s disappearance isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. I’d recommend going into this book as blind as possible! I was really intrigued to find out what happened next, and the turns this book takes really caught me off guard.

That being said, I think it fell just a little flat. Maybe we didn’t get enough time with the characters. Or maybe some themes and ideas just weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. But if you’re a Lisa Jewell fan (or a thriller fan in general) you’ll probably want to pick this up!

Content warning: self harm, sexual assault, incel culture

Thank you Atria for the NetGalley ARC!

REVIEW – Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

“Her sister’s words from the night before echoed in her mind again. It’ll only get worse from here. At this moment, perhaps for the first time, it felt true. She felt raw, as if life was scraping her along without her consent.”

What would you do if you won the lottery? It’s fun to think about, right? In Louisiana Lucky, we meet three sisters who are struggling – Lexi is trying to plan a wedding on a shoestring budget and an unreliable, inconsistent paycheck. She’s also desperate to impress her future mother-in-law, and can’t seem to make a connection. Callie is working as a reporter for the local newspaper, which is trying (and failing) to gain more readers. She’s working to break a big story, but keeps getting derailed by the paper’s desire for more “fluff” content. Hanna is a mother of two just trying to keep it together. She and her husband have been working to renovate their home for years but, with two unexpected pregnancies, their finances have been allocated elsewhere.

These women have pretty much had enough. When they get together for their traditional junk food and lottery ticket night, they finally win the jackpot. Problems solved, right? Well…as you might imagine, winning millions of dollars isn’t the instant fix the sisters think it will be.

Louisiana Lucky is a cute summer read. It’s predictable, but fun. You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the decisions the sisters make but you’ll also root for them.

Thank you Atria Books for sending me a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

REVIEW – Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

{Available August 18, 2020} How far would you go to protect your child? Or someone else’s child? Little Disasters primarily follows Liz, a pediatrician, and her friend Jess, a stay at home mom of three. When Jess brings her youngest to the ER one night, Liz quickly suspects something sinister at play and takes action. As Jess’ life begins to unravel, we learn that everyone has their dark secrets to hide.

Phew. This book is pretty dark and disturbing. I’m not usually too bothered by books that feature child abuse (wow, that sounds bad. What I mean is that i’m not overly sensitive. Hopefully someone else gets it!) but this one just felt so REAL. Little Disasters is really a book about motherhood, which isn’t something that I have personal experience with. I’d assume that some mothers would really struggle to get through this one, but some might also be able to relate to some of the dark and terrifying thoughts that can occur in the minds of new mothers who are struggling to connect with their babies.

Although the synopsis might make you think this is a thriller, it’s really a domestic drama that examines the struggles and secrets of a handful of people and families. And it’s disturbing just how many adults fail in this book – fail to communicate, fail to care for children, fail to own up to their mistakes.

Little Disasters is an uncomfortable read but it’s good. I would just caution readers before picking this up – be prepared to be sad and angry and disturbed.

Content warning: child abuse/neglect, traumatic birth experience, PPD, OCD, alcoholism, infant death/SIDS

Thank you Atria Books for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of Little Disasters!

REVIEW – Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins

{Available August 4, 2020} The opening of Behind the Red Door will grab you immediately (I believe I emitted a “holy sh*t” before I finished the first page). It’s dark. It covers some traumatizing topics, kidnapping being the least horrific, honestly.

Fern Douglas is a social worker with pretty intense anxiety (not the best mix…). Her past is a bit fuzzy, but we know she has a very strange relationship with her parents (i’ll get to that in a second). The story really kicks into gear when we learn that Astrid Sullivan, a woman who was kidnapped as a child but was returned after a brief period of time relatively unharmed, has gone missing again. Did the original kidnapper take Astrid again? Will she be returned this time? Does her disappearance have anything to do with her recently released memoir detailing her kidnapping 20 years ago? And why does Fern think she’s met Astrid?

We do get to read a few chapters of Astrid’s memoir throughout the course of the book, and we slowly learn what really happened to her.

Fern heads back to her hometown to help Ted (her dad, but she calls her parents by their first names) pack and move to Florida. Oh boy. Ted. Ted is an academic psychologist who can’t focus on anything beyond his Experiments (yes, with a capital “E”). We slowly learn that Fern’s parents were incredibly neglectful, and downright horrible people. Fern can’t see that she’s a victim of extreme parental abuse. Ted has often drawn the line between physical (what he considers “real”) abuse and other varieties – and they’re all so blind to it that it’s incredibly frustrating as a reader. But maybe it’s rooted deeply in reality. Victims of abuse often block or downplay their experiences because they refuse to see themselves as just that – victims.

Fern decides to investigate Astrid’s disappearance and uncovers some incredibly horrific truths. I had an idea of where this book was headed right from the jump, and I was (mostly) right, but the experience of uncovering the mystery of Astrid’s disappearance and Fern’s history was more than worth the read. I was SO ANGRY for parts of this book – it takes a great writer to elicit that kind of experience.

Content warning: abusive parent/child relationships (one with a religious undertone), abduction of a child.

Thank you Atria Books for the NetGalley ARC of Behind the Red Door!

REVIEW – Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

“I know, deep down, I am made of strong stuff. Rebuilt with it, at least, the way we all are, over the years, with age and experience, skin thickening, heart softening, patched up double in the places prone to breakage. A sum of all the things that have hurt us, scared us, sheltered and delighted us.”

Dear Emmie Blue was not at all what I expected – it ended up being so much more. I thought this was going to be a cute little rom-com about a girl who has had some bad luck over the years. This book gets a little dark. And it’s much sadder than I thought it would be.

“I’m scared of the loneliness that swamps me sometimes, so much I feel like I can’t breathe.”

Oh, Emmie. You just want to hug her. Be her friend. Help her sort through her feelings and tell her everything is going to be okay. It takes a few chapters for us to learn her entire backstory, but it’s heartbreaking. You want to slap the people who have hurt her, and keep her in a happy little bubble forever.

“Maybe home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. Of being looked after and understood. Of being loved.”

Can we talk about Emmie’s work friends for a minute? The parts with Fox and Rosie are some of the funniest and most joyful bits of the story! Rosie is the friend we all need in our corner. And speaking of friends, LOUISE. I won’t say much, but I loved Louise so much. Despite the underlying sadness, there are a lot of heartwarming moments in this book, and I didn’t think anything felt forced. Some might find the ending a little cliche, but I felt that it was the perfect conclusion to this part of Emmie’s story.

Content warning: difficult/manipulative parent/child relationship, narcissistic parent, sexual assault of a minor.

Thank you Atria/Emily Bestler Books for the finished copy of Dear Emmie Blue!