The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

3 stars

How far would someone go to inhabit someone else’s life? Apparently, if you’re Amber Patterson, you’d go pretty far to try to become the beautiful, wealthy socialite Daphne Parrish.

The Last Mrs. Parrish sitting on a round wood table in front of sunflowers in a mason jar vase.

If you are looking for a few hours of escapism and you enjoy diabolical characters, you will enjoy this one. With a simple plot and a small cast of characters, this book can easily be digested in a day or read in multiple sittings over time.

One of the review blurbs on the back cover calls this “The Talented Mr. Ripley with XX chromosomes.” Having just read The Talented Mr. Ripley, in some ways it is an appropriate comparison. Both books feature a central character accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. Amber is certainly as conniving, entitled, and manipulative as Tom Ripley. However, the person whose life is being coveted has more of a voice and backstory in The Last Mrs. Parrish. I really appreciated this difference. In fact, I found Daphne’s part of the book to be more engaging than Amber’s. After a while, Amber’s tricks and entitled inner dialogue got a little repetitive and boring. 

One unique aspect of this debut book is how it was written. Two sisters living in different states co-wrote it under a pen name that combines parts of each of their names. I thought that was an interesting fact, and it made me want to learn more about them and their writing process. I’d read another book written by the Constantine sisters.

3 Tips for Taking Better Camera Phone Pics

Taking great photos doesn’t require a lot of special equipment. In fact, chances are you already own a pretty amazing digital camera — your smartphone! Some of my best images have been taken with my cell phone, without any fancy add-ons or attachments. 

Here are my top three tips for taking stunning photos with your cell phone:

  1. Turn on gridlines – Composition is often the difference between a good photo and a great one. One of the easiest ways to improve your composition is to use the gridlines in your phone’s camera app. The points where the gridlines intersect correspond with where the viewer’s eye will be drawn. Having those points visible when taking a photo will help you frame your best shot on the spot and cut down on editing time later.
Taken with a Google Pixel 3a
  1. Resist using the built-in zoom – The built-in zoom feature in your mobile phone camera app operates differently than zooming in with a film or DSLR camera. Your mobile phone uses digital zoom, while a film camera or DSLR camera uses optical zoom. Digital zooming often results in grainy, pixelated or blurry photos. Try stepping closer to your subject instead of tapping on the zoom button. You can and should use the “tap to focus” feature in your camera app, though! It will help make sure your phone’s lens is focused on what you’ve chosed as your subject.
  1. Experiment – One of the best ways to create amazing shots is to experiment with the features in your phone’s camera app. These features include different lighting effects and modes, such as portrait or nighttime modes. Play with these settings and use them in unexpected ways. For example, the portrait mode on my phone’s camera is intended to be used primarily when taking photos of people or pets, because it softens the background and highlights the subject. However, I’ve found that it works great for landscape photography, creating a soft zoom effect that can’t be easily achieved in other modes or with editing. Similarly, night mode can be used at other times of day to create cool effects.

I hope you find these tips useful. Let me know if you try any of them, or if you’ve discovered any cameraphone tricks of your own!

One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

3 out of 5 stars

One Little Secret? More like countless big secrets in this domestic thriller by Cate Holahan. 

I picked up this closed-room mystery book during a BookBub special. The story centers around 3 sets of neighbors who ship their kids off to camp and spend a week together in Long Island. Soon after arrival, drama occurs and one of the wives turns up dead on the beach.

At first, the characters seemed so interchangeable, that I had a hard time remembering which spouse went with who. Once I got everyone straight, the story became more compelling. While some parts of the story were predictable, others kept me guessing. As the story unfolded, it was less and less believable that these couples, who seemed more like frenemies, willingly went on vacation together.

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

The subplot with the detective and her family added an interesting dimension to the story. 

Although One Little Secret is not a book that will likely make a lasting impression, it was a great weekend distraction.

Layla by Colleen Hoover

4 out of 5 stars

An ipad mini with the cover of Colleen Hoover's book Layla on screen. The device is laying on a bench surrounded by fall leaves.

I came across Layla by Colleen Hoover on Prime Reading. Having recently read Verity, I was excited to try another CoHo book. If you’ve read and liked Verity and you are okay with a little paranormal flair, chances are you will enjoy this book as well.

It is an incredibly fast read with several unpredictable elements. I appreciated that the story focuses on a limited set of characters. I can sometimes get lost when a story has too many side characters.  Even though I liked that there were a small number of characters, I didn’t connect strongly with the main characters. For me, I think this was because there was almost no character development leading up to their love at first sight meeting.

While I didn’t connect strongly with either Layla or Leeds, I was surprised to find myself invested in what happens to their relationship. It was purely the writing and the strength of the story that held my attention in this one.

I will certainly be reading more of Hoover’s books. Are you a Colleen Hoover fan? Which book of hers should I read next?

The Great Outdoors

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

I have a confession to make: I’m not really an outdoorsy person. Odd, I know, considering I’m a landscape photographer. But, up until I started taking nature photos in 2019, I was much more comfortable in the cozy, temperature-controlled indoors. I’d take occasional walks with my family and friends, and enjoy a few beach days here and there. However, if given the choice between spending time inside or outdoors, I could always find a reason to stay inside. 

In the summer, it’s too hot out there, I’d say. Alternatively, in the winter, my excuse was “I don’t own a coat.” The fall months always seemed too busy, while spring was written off as too pollen-y.

Over the last few years, I’ve realized how much I was missing out on by staying inside. The beauty of sunrises and sunsets are the most obvious things I wasn’t experiencing regularly. I was also missing out on endlessly interesting cloud formations. On butterflies dancing among wildflowers. On how a great blue heron presides over different spots at a local lake. On the way their unique bark patterns make each tree seem like it has its own personality.

Learning to love and enjoy time outside and in nature has been one of the greatest rewards of becoming a landscape photographer. I’ve replaced my excuses with photos of thousands of these wonderful moments — so many that a quick scroll through my phone would make you wonder if I actually live in a forest.

What has been the most unexpected reward for you as an artist?

Emma and the Minotaur by Jon Herrera

5 out of 5 stars

“There is a light inside you, Emma. Deep within. Faint and frail. Find it.”

Jon Herrera, Emma and the Minotaur
Photo by Flash Mama Photography

The first installment in Jon Herrera’s World of Light series, Emma and the Minotaur takes readers on a magical, fantastical journey. The main character, Emma Wilkins, is an eleven-year-old girl who lives on Belle Street with her father and brother, where her days are filled with going to school and interacting with her teachers and classmates.

She makes friends with Jake, a boy whose father has disappeared and her town’s mysterious forest becomes of interest as the two start searching for him. 

With her youthful innocence, loyalty to others, and determined spirit, Emma is an easy character to love. I was intrigued by her adventure, the secrets she uncovered, and the mystical creatures she met along the way. The book ends on a cliffhanger with the reader wanting to know more.

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fantastic cover art. It is truly beautiful, with the cover of each book in the series even lovelier than the previous one.

Although I enjoyed this book as an adult, I would have loved to have read it with my daughter when she was younger. I highly recommend this book for adults and young people alike.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

3 out of 5 stars 

The book, The Talented Mr. Ripley, laying on a pile of green ivy and brown sticks.

This book was on the sale table at Barnes and Noble and with a cover the color of murder, it caught my eye. I knew very little about the storyline other than a vague memory of the trailer for the late 90s version of the movie based on the book. 

I think having little knowledge of the storyline is the best way to experience this classic psychological thriller. The Talented Mr. Ripley gives readers a glimpse into the mind of a sly, manipulative psychopath. The book starts slowly and, for the first 80 pages or so, it’s hard to tell where the book is going. However, it quickly takes a turn and we see Ripley repeatedly display the full array of his “talents” for the rest of the book.

Written in the 50s, the tone of the book doesn’t feel modern, but the storyline holds up. I found it interesting to think about how the events would have played out differently if it was set in the present time with the technology available today.

While I did enjoy the book, I was frustrated by the way Marge’s character was written. As the main female character, I didn’t love that she was portrayed as so weak with very little growth. I kept rooting for her to wisen up but it never happened.

Although I’m glad I read this classic, I don’t see myself rushing out to read the rest of the books in this series anytime soon. I don’t feel the need to spend any more time in the mind of Tom Ripley.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

4 out of 5 stars

Silhouettes of the tops of pine trees with a purple and maroon sky. The sky appears starless but the moon is visible.

I learned with The Martian that Andy Weir can make hi-tech astronaut talk sound interesting all while making readers laugh out loud at the humor and ingenuity of the main characters he creates. Project Hail Mary is no exception. In his newest book, Weir almost lives up to the incredibly high standard he set with The Martian and he far surpasses the disappointing Artemis. 

In Project Hail Mary, science teacher Ryland Grace is part of a space mission designed to save humanity from the threat of Astrophage. The story alternates between the present time when Grace is in space and flashing back to pre-mission days.

If you’ve read The Martian, the early chapters of Project Hail Mary will seem familiar. You’ll immediately notice the inner dialogue of Ryland Grace sounds a lot like that of Mark Watney. Both men find themselves alone in a spaceship and have to figure out a lot to stay alive. They display a similar level of humor and creativity. However, Project Hail Mary adds in an alien being from another planet. The relationship between Ryland and Rocky and the way the two learn to understand each other is the best part of the book.

As endearing as the relationship between Ryland and Rocky was, it didn’t quite make up for how much more technical Project Hail Mary was than The Martian. I found it much more difficult to follow the technical information in Project Hail Mary and felt that some of it could have been cut out without sacrificing any of the story.

Overall, I thought Project Hail Mary was an enjoyable read. I was glad to go along on the journey with Ryland and Rocky.

Entanglement by Alina Leonova

5 out of 5 stars

With implants, DNA edits, and human memory rewrites, the storyline in this dystopian read was beyond inventive. Cay, Limea, and Vietra are layered, unique characters, who become entangled in situations that kept me guessing throughout the book.

The circumstances that these well-developed characters face force the reader to confront the question of “What is the most fundamental element that makes a person who they are?” I was completely captivated by the different paths Limea and Vietra took to uncover their true selves.

Set in a world where plant life is beginning to threaten human life, the book manages to weave in important messages about environmental preservation.

Leonova does take the reader down a few rabbit holes, but the story is so mesmerizingly distinctive that I didn’t mind. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

Thank you to the author for providing a free review copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

4 out of 5 stars

Cassie Bowden is an alcoholic flight attendant with a history of drunken one-night stands and blackouts. So it’s not surprising when she hooks up with Alex, a handsome passenger she flirted with during most of the flight to Dubai. What is surprising is when she wakes up next to his dead body the next morning, covered in blood and with no memory of what happened.

“Remember that person you wanted to be? There’s still time.”

Chris Bohjalian, The Flight Attendant

This book is a psychological thriller that deals as much with Cassie’s drinking problem, lying, and out-of-control behavior as it does unraveling the mystery of who killed Alex. We witness Cassie making one bad decision after another for 80 percent of this book. 

While Cassie isn’t the most sympathetic character, I found myself pulling for her to get it together. I didn’t totally see the ending coming, which I always appreciate in a thriller.

The Flight Attendant is my first book by Chris Bohjalian. It was compelling enough that I want to look up his other books and see what they are about.