The Other Mrs. By Mary Kubica

3 stars

I bought this book through a BookBub special, despite already having an e-reader full of digital downloads. It caught my eye because of the author. Mary Kubica made me a fan of hers after I read The Good Girl a while back. Although its been a few years since I read it, the story structure and unexpected twists in The Good Girl left a lasting impression.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

While The Other Mrs. is absorbing, it didn’t have the same impact on me. The plot centers around a family who has just moved to an island in Maine to become caregivers for the husband’s teenage niece. 

For the first two-thirds of the book, the plot comes across a bit convoluted with seemingly disconnected characters and side stories thrown in. Then, it all suddenly starts making sense. I feel like I’ve read other books that have similar twists so the big reveal wasn’t so surprising. I did enjoy some of the smaller twists and I didn’t see them all coming.

Ultimately, I’m glad I downloaded this one, even though it wasn’t as good as my first read of hers. It was still a fast, engaging read – and Kubica’s writing was again sharply observant, particularly with the female characters. She did an excellent job making me feel Sadie, Mouse and Imogen’s emotions.

The Dark Cygnet Files

The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson
The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The fourth installment in the Nemo & Company series, this book delves into The Cleaner’s family history. I liked that we learn more about The Cleaner and other characters in the series. In this book, we get some answers. Or, at least we think we do, as I’m never quite sure with this series what’s reality or what I’ll discover later was only a mirage.

“You always think you have more time in this life than you actually have.”

J.E. Clarkson, The Dark Cygnet Files

The storyline has evolved way beyond the original book. What started as a story about a woman working for an anonymous boss at a mysterious company has exploded into a haunting technothriller series about deception, a secret society, conspiracy, and deep mistrust. 

Can we spend a moment appreciating the breakneck pacing present in all of the books in the Nemo & Co series? Short chapters packed with action and intrigue always have me feeling like I can’t gobble up each book fast enough.

In The Dark Cygnet Files, like the other books in the series, the characters are constantly making their way through a maze of confusion and furiously trying to escape the present. And, again, readers are left with so many questions. Who will survive? And, will we ever learn The Cleaner’s name?

This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order, so be sure to start with The Vanishing Office. As for me, I already downloaded book number 5 – I will be seeing this series through until the end.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

4 stars

In this thriller by Lisa Jewell, teenage parents Tallulah and Zach disappear after a rare night out. Certain that her daughter wouldn’t have abandoned her son, Tallulah’s mom, Kim, is determined to find the truth about that fateful summer night.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

The story unfolds through chapters that alternate between past and present. The story focuses a lot on Kim and what she’s thinking and feeling but you quickly realize this is Tallulah’s story. Her relationships and decisions drive the story.

Jewell pulled on my emotions as a woman and a parent at every turn in this one. It was both highly suspenseful and enjoyably predictable. I had my suspicions about who was involved in the disappearance, which had me racing through each chapter and gathering clues right along with Kim.

This is my second read by Lisa Jewell – the first was Then She Was Gone. The stories have similar settings and both center on a mother of a missing daughter, so if you liked that one you will probably enjoy this one too.

I actually preferred The Night She Disappeared to Then She Was Gone, primarily because the characters stayed true to themselves and the ending was more satisfying.

I will definitely be picking up more Lisa Jewell books in the future.

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.

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.

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.

Branches by Adam Peter Johnson

Four stars

I was drawn to this book because the description compared it to Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which is one of my all-time favorite books. There are definitely some similarities between the two multiverse novels, but Branches is different enough that it still felt fresh and interesting.

Branches by Adam Peter Johnson displayed on an i-pad mini.

With the re-election campaign of an unnamed male authoritarian president shaping the events in Branches, this novel has a more political undercurrent than Dark Matter. However, its primary focus is on a family of three, and how different decisions could change their fates.

The science doesn’t get too technical and, with its contemporary setting, there isn’t a lot of world-building in this novel. This well-written story focuses on the decisions of one man – a husband, father, and son – and his slow realization of the impact his choices have on the people he loves.

Fate isn’t fate at all. It’s just people, and people are stubborn. The systems they build even more so.

Adam Peter Johnson, Branches

Branches was intriguing, observant, confusing, repetitive, and even funny (the paint colors!) at different points. One thing it never was: boring. It held my attention and made me think and feel. 

I recommend this for science fiction, semi-dystopian, and political thriller connoisseurs. Fans of Blake Crouch and of a story told across multiple timelines will enjoy this one. 

However, if you don’t want reminders of the 2016/2020 presidential elections embedded in your fiction, you may want to hold off on this one for now.  As for me, I will definitely be picking up the second installment of this series.

Branches is available for purchase on https://www.adampeterjohnson.net/

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.