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!

Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett

Like a Sister was my first read by Kellye Garrett. I picked it up because it sounded the most interesting of the Book of the Month selections.

The title also grabbed me — I’ve always been drawn in by books that explore different types of sibling relationships.

Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett

I’m glad I picked it up and gave it a chance. There was a lot to like in this novel. Lena, the main character, was funny and tenacious. I loved that she wouldn’t give up on finding out the truth about what happened to her estranged half-sister. I also appreciated the complex relationships Lena had with some of the other members of her family.

The comparisons Garrett made throughout the book were another highlight. I thought they were witty and gave the story a contemporary feel. I didn’t even mind all the “shitnuts” references – although I can truly say I’ve never heard one single person utter that phrase before!

The book did have a few drawbacks for me. It got a little hectic and rushed at the end. And, while I loved that it kept me guessing, there were one (or three) too many red herrings thrown in. 

Finally, there were a few times when the storyline got a teensy bit confusing and unrealistic to me – most of these scenes involved Erin’s character.

Ultimately, this is an entertaining read. Pick it up if you like stories that revolve around minor reality stars or plots that include a civilian investigator.

State Farmers Market

Our State Farmers Market offers fresh produce, a chance to practice photography, and marketing insights.

One of our favorite summer activities is visiting the State Farmers Market to pick up locally grown fresh-cut flowers and produce harvested just a few hours before.

We are repeat customers of the Farmers Market because the taste and quality of the fruits and vegetables – particularly the corn, tomatoes, melons, and peppers – are unmatched by anything we can find in the grocery stores or grow ourselves.

It also brings us joy to support the farmers, vendors, and small businesses with booths at this expansive market owned and operated by the State of North Carolina.

Besides the obvious health benefits of getting fresh fruits and vegetables to add to our diets, walking around the Farmers Market provides me with other benefits. It gives me a chance to sharpen my photography skills. 

The wide variety of colorful plants and produce available at the Farmers Market provide endless photo inspiration. The tight, brightly sunlit spaces have forced me to get better at working unobtrusively with the conditions available. 

One of the tricks I’ve learned is to set my exposure compensation at -1 on sunny summer days to get better detail in the most harshly lit areas. I’ve also learned to spot and make good compositions from existing arrangements since vendors don’t take too well to people rearranging their products!

Finally, these trips have also been a fascinating study in marketing. With handwritten signs, similar prices, and no-frills booths and display tables, the produce and flower vendors compete solely on product. The produce that looks the freshest and best is going to get bought. 

It’s a good reminder that when competition is high and there are few opportunities for promotion, one of the best ways you can stand out is to improve your product. 

The Underground Moon by Melissa Magner

4 stars

It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked on this unique YA urban fantasy/horror story. While the action starts out slow, the tension builds and significantly picks up the pace about two-thirds of the way through. The ending is unexpected and emotional.

The story follows Rosella, a 15-year-old girl, who moves across the country with her ailing Mom and her 7-year-old sister to live with her Aunt in a small, rural Tennessee town.

While exploring the woodlands in their new town, Rosella and Hettie stumble upon a hidden world. Hettie becomes increasingly enthralled with this underground fantasy world, while Rosella gets the sense that something isn’t quite right.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the bond between the sisters. Rosella is a mother figure to Hettie and the love she has for her little sister is incredibly touching. Most of the time, it seems Rosella is the only person around who pays attention to Hettie and has her best interests at heart.

Wayne and Ava are also good supporting characters. I liked the drama-free friendship that developed between Rosella and Ava. I also appreciated the growth we saw in Wayne throughout the course of the book.

The book is deeper than it seems on the surface and shows some of the impacts on children who grow up around trauma and loss. The loss of childhood innocence is one of its major themes.

Readers who like fantasy stories that don’t fit neatly into one genre will like this book. People who like YA books without romance and sensible main characters will also enjoy this one. 

The beautiful illustrations on the cover and depicting some of the main scenes are worth noting. The drawings were well done and I looked forward to seeing the next one.

Thank you to Melissa Magner for providing me with a free review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark

5 out of 5 stars

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark.

Julie Clark has done it again. She has written a completely captivating story about two traumatized women whose lives are intertwined. After reading and loving The Last Flight, I was prepared not to like this book (my June 2022 BOTM pick) as much, but I absolutely did!

In The Lies I Tell, Meg Williams is a con artist seeking revenge while Kat Roberts is a reporter looking for her big break. Everything changes for Kat after receiving a tip from Meg setting her on her own quest for revenge. 

The relationship between Meg and Kat kept me guessing throughout the course of the story. I also appreciated how technology was woven in. In my opinion, technology was used in a more believable way in The Lies I Tell than it was in The Last Flight.

There were a few confusing points and minor plot holes in the book. About 40 percent into the story, it jumps 10 years into the present day. Up until that point, I didn’t realize the parts I’d been reading were in the past. I was also a little confused when Kat was first introduced – I initially thought Kat was one of Meg’s aliases. I also didn’t completely follow the logic for when Meg used her real name and when she didn’t.

“Good fortune and second chances. Everyone wants to believe those are real.”

Julie Clark, The Lies I Tell

The writing and storytelling more than made up for these tiny issues. I could easily put these discrepancies aside because I was so invested in finding out where the story was going.

Clark is extremely gifted at writing about complicated women who are coping with difficult circumstances. She helps you understand who they are, and why they make the choices they do and makes them relatable enough that you care about what happens. Her writing is also filled with short, memorable observations that make you stop and take in just how true they are. 

Clark has now earned a spot among my “auto-buy” authors. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

My review of The Last Flight is available here.

Heir of Blood and Secrets by Linda Xia

3 out of 5 stars

This dystopian YA murder mystery is told from the perspective of Scylla Delevan, a 16-year-old daughter of a magistrate in Devovea. Despite their difficult relationship, when Scylla’s father is accused of murder, she goes on a quest to prove his innocence. Her loyalties are challenged and she uncovers a number of secrets along the way.

This fast-moving story presents interesting views on fatherhood, and I was intrigued by the class system that was built into this book. The story also deals well with a somewhat naive teenage girl figuring out and standing up for what she believes and facing the repercussions of making rash decisions. 

The cover of Heir of Blood and Secrets
Heir of Blood and Secrets by Linda Xia

This story had a lot of strengths but there were a few parts that didn’t work as well for me. I felt there could have been more depth and dimension to some of the side characters. There were also a few points in the plot where I got slightly confused.

Overall, I appreciated the world Xia created, and look forward to reading what she writes next.

Thank you to the author for reaching out to me and providing a free e-review copy. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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.

The BackUp Who Cried Wolf by Kayla Hicks

4 out of 5 stars

The cover of The Backup Who Cried Wolf by Kayla Hicks.

This post marks my 100th post on Book Picks and Pics! Whether you are a dedicated reader or just discovering this blog, thank you for your support.

I agreed to read and review The Backup Who Cried Wolf as part of my participation in my first-ever blog tour. As someone who was already a fan of the BackUp superhero series, it wasn’t hard to convince me to read book 3. 

Like with the previous two installments, Hicks delights readers with endearing characters and the continuation of the fun, creative concept of a league of backup superheroes. 

This book features Dwighter, an unreliable backup superhero with a drinking problem, as the main character. I appreciated being able to learn more about Dwighter. I also loved that Tanser Girl, my favorite character in the series, returns to play an important role.

The Back-Up Who Cried Wolf is a quick read that lives up to the expectations set in the first two books. If you haven’t already read the other books in the series, I recommend starting with The Back-Up Superhero. You will be glad you discovered this quirky, binge-able series.

Thank you to Kayla Hicks for inviting me to be part of her book tour and for providing me with a free review copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Links to purchase any books in the series can be found on the author’s website.

My review of The Original Superheroes is linked here.

My review of The Backup Superhero is linked here.

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 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.