The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

4 stars

Rachel Krall has a crime podcast that aims to put listeners inside the jury box.

Fresh off a successful season, her podcast takes her to the small coastal town of Neopolis, NC, where an Olympic swim team hopeful has been accused of raping a 16 year old girl.

The book also weaves in the story of a young girl from the same town who died 20 years before. Her death was presumed to be an accidental drowning.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The stories were both heartbreaking and gripping. It was interesting how the stories were intertwined in the end. As a North Carolinian who grew up in a small town, I was intrigued by the setting. Goldin captured small town life well, with its gossip and long held allegiances.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than The Escape Room. The two books couldn’t have been more different. I cared more about the characters in The Night Swim.  I was completely invested in their lives and in the outcomes of the two cases.

I want to read another Megan Goldin book simply to see if it is different still – or similar to one of the two I’ve already read. I love it when an author can keep you guessing in multiple ways!

Group by Christie Tate

2 out of 5 stars

Everybody has a story and this book is Christie Tate’s story. The top-ranked law student in her class, Tate was as lonely and depressed as she was smart and successful.

After having suicidal thoughts, a chance conversation led her to seek out group therapy facilitated by a Harvard-educated therapist.

The story that follows is a raw and unguarded recounting of her going to group meetings and working through the ups and downs she experiences in her dating life over a seven-year time period. 

Group by Christie Tate

Before sharing my reactions, I think it is important to acknowledge how much effort Tate put into working through her issues. Kudos to her for dedicating so much energy and resources to working on herself, and for creating a support network among her group members. She seemed to find a community of people who loved her unconditionally. 

As good as these outcomes were, this book was hard to listen to and connect with. I picked Group as my Audible download for the month so I could highlight it in the mental health section of my blog. I was expecting to be able to glean some tips or insights from the author’s journey that I could apply to my own life or share with readers looking to improve their mental health. This is NOT that kind of book. While there are some vague lessons about not abandoning yourself, readers mainly get a lot of in-depth detail about the author’s sex life.

And, while I recognize that a traditional approach to cognitive therapy isn’t for everyone, Tate’s therapist’s approach was concerning to me. For one, he didn’t believe in confidentiality. She describes him using tactics many would consider unorthodox at best and manipulative and unethical at worst. 

From doling out weird assignments to sitting silently while Tate harmed herself during group, his behavior came across as questionable. At one point, Tate herself refers to him as “the puppeteer” of the group, and wonders why she gives “that strange little man such power” over her life. He didn’t always seem to have his patients’ best interests in mind. For example, it seemed a little suspect that every time Tate went to him about not feeling like she was progressing, he suggested she add another weekly group session to her treatment plan.

While this is a book I would like to discuss with others, I don’t see myself recommending it to anyone to read.

Good Girl, Bad Blood

4 stars

Good Girl, Bad Blood.

In the second installment in the A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series, Pip Fitz-Amobi and her boyfriend Ravi are reluctantly pulled into a new investigation. When the police won’t look into the sudden disappearance of the older brother of one of Pip’s friends, she takes up the case. 

I liked this book better than the first in the series. While both are good, the storyline was more focused, and, for the most part, it seemed more believable than in the first book. 

I also appreciated that the author let us see some of the personal effects the cases and the podcasts had on Pip. Being involved in the investigations of crimes against friends, finding out people you grew up with are not who you thought they were, and dealing with the notoriety that comes with hosting a popular podcast is bound to take an emotional toll on a high school student. These impacts weren’t completely ignored. I also enjoyed that Pip had matured in this story, though she still comes across as a high school student.

“Some people are pretty good at hiding who they really are.”

Holly Jackson, Good Girl, Bad Blood

If you haven’t read the first book, you will definitely want to before reading this one as some plotlines continue. One of my favorite continuances from the first book is the inclusion of Pip’s interview notes and transcripts. These details again immersed me in her investigation.

I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys YA thrillers or was a Nancy Drew fan as a kid. While the book deals with grown-up crimes, it definitely still reads like young adult fiction, so if you’re not a YA fan, you may want to pass.

My review of the first book in the series: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2022/01/03/a-good-girls-guide-to-murder-by-holly-jackson/

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

3 out of 5 stars

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda.

I learned from reading All The Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger that Megan Miranda is a fantastic thriller writer.

I have probably read at least a hundred books since I read All The Missing Girls yet the story and the inventive structure still stand out. When my family gave me The Last House Guest for Mother’s Day, I could hardly wait to dive in.

This one was a little bit of a letdown for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was still a good page-turning thriller. It just didn’t meet the high bar Miranda set with her previous reads. 

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, The Last House Guest features some of the trademarks found in Miranda’s other thrillers – small-town secrets and complicated friendships between the female main characters. For me, I think the difference is that I struggled more to connect with the main characters in this one.

The pacing was slow for most of the book and the story lacked suspense for the first third. I needed more backstory to feel invested in Sadie. The relationships also felt disjointed. The friendship between Sadie and Avery, which was supposed to be a main thread in the story, didn’t ring true.

Even with these flaws, I am still glad I read The Last House Guest. In the end, it had enough twists to keep me guessing and provided a couple of days of summer reading entertainment. Such a Quiet Place is next on my TBR list by Megan Miranda.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin.

I read The People We Keep for my book club, which focuses on books with strong women characters and/or by women authors. 

Set in the mid-90s, this tale follows the story of April Sawicki, a 16-year-old girl from a small town who has been dealt a raw deal when it comes to family. After a fight with her father, April steals a car and flees their motor-free motorhome to find somewhere she can fit in and call home.

This is a character-driven story with a stream-of-consciousness writing style that really resonated with me. We travel with April as she spends nights in her car, finds various people to stay with, and lines up various jobs and musical gigs. She meets an interesting array of people along the way, and we are immersed in her thoughts as she makes mistakes –sometimes the same mistake more than once – and learns to trust herself and others. 

The book fits the theme of my book club really well. Larkin creates a flawed, endearing, memorable character in April. Throughout the course of the novel, I was concerned, frustrated, and sad for her. Mostly, I wanted her to grow and find happiness – and Larkin ultimately allows her to do both.

The People We Keep is a touching story about found family and reminds me of both the people who have come into my life for a reason and those who will always be there no matter what.

If you enjoy books like Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, chances are you will be a fan of this one as well.

For more about The People We Keep and Allison Larkin, visit the author’s website.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

3 stars

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley.

The Hunting Party is a character-driven murder mystery set in Loch Corrin, an exclusive hunting lodge in the Highlands of Scotland.  

The story primarily unfolds over the course of a 4-day trip a group of 8 pals from university takes to celebrate the New Year. While the focus is on the present day, flashbacks to the past give context to some of the relationships and the events that transpire during the trip.

Each chapter of this closed-room suspense novel is told from the perspective of one of the individuals at Loch Corrin. I listened to the audiobook, and with so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight at first. I did enjoy the accents of the various narrators, which provided some authenticity to the story. The descriptions of the setting also translated really well to the audiobook format.

“I suppose we all carry around different versions of ourselves.”

Lucy Foley, The Hunting Party

The story starts slowly and keeps its deliberate pacing until about two-thirds of the way through when it picks up speed and becomes much more interesting. 

Foley doesn’t reveal the identity of the victim or the murderer until very late in the book, and most of the main characters are unlikable. These familiar elements, combined with an eerie remote setting, make the storyline feel a bit like a rerun of The Guest List. 

Although the storyline was strikingly similar to The Guest List, I ended up liking it a bit more. I didn’t guess all of the twists, including the identity of the killer. There was also something slightly more relatable about some of the characters. 

I do hope Foley’s newest book, The Paris Apartment, mixes up the plot a bit. I definitely do not need to read this same basic storyline for the third time.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

4 stars

Lydia owns a bookstore and her husband works as a journalist, and the couple lives with their 8-year-old son, Luca, in Acapulco, Mexico. Their home is invaded by members of a cartel during an extended family celebration, and only Lydia and Luca survive the violent massacre. A shell-shocked Lydia flees with Luca and sets off on a quest to cross the border to safety.

I listened to this as an audiobook and it held my attention in a way that most fiction audiobooks do not. From the horrific opening scenes to the obstacles Lydia and Luca constantly face through their journey, I was captivated by both the story and the narration.

American Dirt By Jeanine Cummins in a bookshelf

There were some unbelievable points and the ending wasn’t my favorite. However, I was drawn in by Lydia’s character and her dedication to protecting her son at all costs. 

I became aware of the controversy surrounding this book after I finished listening to it. Readers and reviewers have criticized the author for cultural appropriation and perpetuating negative stereotypes of Mexicans. As a white woman from the U.S. with limited personal experience with Mexican culture, I respect the opinions of those with lived experience in Mexico on the appropriateness of the material. 

Personally, I did not view this story as an authoritative source of information about Mexico or Mexican culture, or what life in the U.S. is like, especially for immigrants on the run. I viewed the book as I do other works of fiction and reacted to the quality of the storytelling, the thrilling pacing, and whether I could connect with the main characters. 

Ultimately, I thought the central theme of a mother on the run doing everything in her power to protect her son’s life made it a compelling read.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley.

3 stars

A Goodreads Readers Choice award winner, Lucy Foley’s closed-room thriller takes us to the glamorous destination wedding of a magazine editor and a handsome TV celebrity. The book opens at the reception moments before a dead body is discovered. Foley builds suspense by using multiple POVs to flashback to the events leading up to the wedding reception before revealing the identity of the victim. 

The premise of a murder at a wedding was interesting and the remote setting off the coast of Ireland added atmosphere and contributed to the intrigue. 

Overall, I thought the story was good but it didn’t blow me away. On the positive side, it was a fast, entertaining read that used gossipy secrets and a web of connections between the characters to create an abundance of motives. 

“It’s always better to get it out in the open – even if it seems shameful, even if you feel like people won’t understand.”

Lucy Foley, The Guest List

However, one of the biggest drawbacks for me was how unlikeable most of the characters were. No matter how good the story is, it’s hard for me to stay invested when everyone is either annoying, shallow, obnoxious, or downright evil. By the time the identity of the victim and killer are revealed, I didn’t really care all that much.

I did like it enough that I am interested in reading another one of Foley’s books. In fact, The Hunting Party is next on my audiobook list and I recently ordered The Paris Apartment as my BOTM pick. Stay tuned for my reviews on those books as well as many others on Goodreads, Bookstagram, and this blog.

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab

4 stars

The cover of Set Boundaries, Find Peace displayed on an e-reader.
Set Boundaries, Find Peace offers practical advice to help readers learn to set healthy boundaries.

I discovered Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed counselor, through Instagram, and was inspired by the helpful advice she offered on setting boundaries on her feed. 

As helpful as her posts are, I felt like I needed more depth than the collection of quotes and lists on her feed provided to truly apply her advice to my life. 

Her book “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself” introduced me to the definitions, practical advice, and examples I needed to be able to set healthier boundaries in my personal and professional life. 

She makes a strong case that boundaries are critical to healthy relationships and to personal peace. Her assertion that boundaries are the root of self-care was a powerful insight for me. 

Tawwab also offers practical tips, exercises, and quizzes that empower readers to assess whether they have porous, rigid, or healthy boundaries and feel more assured in setting healthy ones.

I appreciated that the book discussed a variety of settings (social media, work, friendships, dealing with toxic people) where boundaries can be applied, although it was a little repetitive at times. And, like most expert advice books, some parts resonated with me and my circumstances, and parts weren’t really relevant at all.

Recovering people-pleasers or individuals who frequently feel overwhelmed and resentful but aren’t sure why will find this book helpful. This guidebook will be most useful to those who need a foundational understanding of what boundaries are, but even expert-level boundary-setters stand to pick up a tip or two.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

4 stars

I think I’m the last person on earth to read this book. I have seen it all over Bookstagram, the Twitter Reading Community, and my Goodreads feed. I am happy to report that it mostly lived up to the hype. 

A paperback copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid on a black slate background surrounded by pearls and gold earrings.

I knew from reading Malibu Rising a few months ago that Reid is an excellent storyteller. The pages of Evelyn Hugo ooze the same intoxicating readability as Malibu Rising. Again, I encountered characters who are flawed and complex and weirdly relatable given that I don’t have anything in common with their glamorous, star-powered lifestyles.

I liked the Old Hollywood setting of this novel. Reid succeeds in making the reader feel like an insider to the real story behind the lives of these (fictional) movie stars. Evelyn’s confidence and shrewdness combined with her vulnerability made her an interesting character. While there were moments in the book where I both loved and hated her, I was never bored by Evelyn.

In my opinion, Monique was an underrated character. She doesn’t get mentioned in the title and only a few of the chapters are told from her perspective but she’s more central to the plot than a couple of Evelyn’s husbands. Her life is also impacted more by Evelyn’s choices than are several of the other people in the novel. I loved how Monique grew through the small glimpses we got of her life.

A lot of readers and reviewers have commented positively on the gossip columns and news clips that were interspersed throughout the book. Personally, I didn’t feel like they added a lot of authenticity to the story since much of the plot already felt like it was ripped right out of a People magazine story.

Although I gave this book the same star rating as Malibu Rising, I’d give a slight edge to Evelyn Hugo. And, after reading and liking both, I’m looking forward to reading my third TJR book, Daisy Jones and the Six, which is waiting impatiently on my overflowing TBR shelf.

My review of Malibu Rising is linked here.

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!