“Everything You Want Me To Be” by Mindy Meji

Last night I finished Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia. It had been on my TBR list for some time and I was excited to finally grab a copy at the library. I absolutely adore the cover of this book, it just screams dark and twisted. This book was labeled as a thriller/murder mystery, but I’d put it in the sub-genre of “high schoolers having inappropriate relationships with adults/teachers.” I’ve actually read and watched a surprising number of books and shows with this theme lately (The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, Dare Me, Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, etc.) so I feel like I’m a little burned out, but Everything You Want Me To Be did it well.

The book opens with a dead, mutilated body found in an old shed, which turns out to be that of Herietta “Hattie” Hoffman, all-American high school senior and star of the school play. Hattie is a good student, a promising actress, and a kind, albeit sharp-tongued young woman. She has a happy home life and dreams of moving to New York City after graduating to pursue a career on Broadway. Hattie has no enemies, or so it seems, which makes her death within a small town even more shocking.

The investigation soon reveals that Hattie is having a fiery internet relationship with a stranger named “LG.” But when it turns out that Hattie and LG are less of strangers than they think, he calls their relationship off and sends Hattie spiraling. The story is told from alternating points of view between Hattie, her English Teacher Mr. Lund, and lead detective, Del. The mystery has your classic lead suspects: a lover scorned, the cheated-on spouse, the ex-boyfriend, the jealous best-friend, etc. While there are several minor red-herring moments, the big reveal didn’t prove to be terribly shocking.

This book has a few holes and lose strings, and I found myself being less intrigued in “whodunit” and more invested in Hattie’s illicit relationship with the older man. You start to feel empathetic to the adult in charge, as his and Hattie’s feelings and relationship seem to be genuine, real love. Thinking about this too much made me feel a bit uneasy and sick to my stomach. But, maybe that was the point. An overall enjoyable read.

3.5/5 stars.

www.mindymejia.com

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“Find Her” by Lisa Gardner

I love a good crime story. I enjoy the suspense of the “whodunit,” piecing together clues and sorting through red herons. But I am always hesitant to start “detective series” because I’m not a huge fan of police procedurals. I can often get too bogged down in the details, and, sometimes pointless, backstories of the detectives and police personnel. So I was a little hesitant to begin Find Her by Lisa Gardner, as it is a part of the Detective D.D. Warren series. Number ten, actually. I also try my hardest not to read series out of order—I hate reading things in more recent books which can be spoilers for those that came before. But thanks to Find Her’s rave reviews and the fact that my employer’s library had it in stock, I picked it up and was pretty impressed. Gardner’s alternating perspectives between the aforementioned Detective Warren and the victim-turned-potential-perpetrator makes this book a perfect blend between thriller and crime.

Flora Dane has recently returned home after a 472-day abduction, during which she was brutally raped and tortured. While her family desires for her to return to her normal life, normal is no longer enough for Flora. She sets out on a vigilante mission to stop other abductors before it is too late. But when she pursues the disappearance of local college woman, Flora quickly finds herself reliving the nightmares of her own captivity and unable to cope.

This book is extremely fast paced and has constant twists and turns to keep the reader’s interest. In addition to the alternating perspectives, Gardner adds in some flashbacks of Flora’s time with her abductor, which makes the story even more engrossing and gives the reader internal conflict regarding siding with Flora, or, with the law. While some of the plot line may be rather far-fetched, Find Her is an entertaining read, sure to keep thrill seekers and crime enthusiasts on their toes. This was my first novel by Lisa Gardner (pretty insane considering she’s written almost 30,) but I’ve since read Love You More and have Right Behind You  on my TBR list. Reviews promised to come soon!

4.75/5 stars! 

www.lisagardner.com

“In a Dark Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

I’m 28. I’m at the age where most of my friends have recently gotten engaged or married, or are on their way. So bachelorette parties have been on regular rotation as of late. I’ve been to D.C., Ocean City, and Atlantic City and will be heading to Charlottesville in a few weeks, all in the name of penis straws, bride-to-be sashes, shots of Fireball, and “Never Have I Ever.” Maybe that is why I enjoyed In a Dark Dark Wood  so much, because I felt that I could somewhat relate. Although, thankfully, none of my recent bachelorette adventures have included a murder.

In a Dark Dark Wood begins with Nora/Lee/Lenora receiving a random invitation to her long lost BFF Clare’s hen party (British for bachelorette.) She can’t get a feel for why she was invited, but after talking to another mutual friend decides there’s no hurt in going. The hen party gathers in an almost fully glass cabin in the middle of the woods, ready to celebrate bride-to-be away from civilization.

Nora can’t admit to the group that she hasn’t spoken to Clare in over ten years, she isn’t invited to the wedding, and she doesn’t even know who Clare is marrying, without ruining the illusion that she and Clare are blissfully reunited in the name of love and everlasting friendship.

The book alternates between scenes of tequila shots and bumps of cocaine, and Nora in the aftermath in a hospital bed, no memory of the two nights prior. I enjoyed the flipping back and forth, I felt that it added to the suspense and whodunit appeal.

A story of murder, marriage rituals and dark jealous friendships, In a Dark Dark Wood will keep you on the edge of your seat as a quick, thrilling read.

4/5 stars.

www.ruthware.com

“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

I was super excited to read Sweetbitter after seeing celebs rave about it on Instagram: Eva Longoria, Emma Roberts, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Troian Bellasario, etc. The pink book jacket with broken wine glass cover art was practically screaming my name, and its Insta-fame had me dying to dive in.

I have to be honest, I really disliked this book at first. There was so much restaurant lingo, half-finished conversations, and narrator ramblings that I couldn’t quite catch what was going on and found myself utterly confused. I hit my 100 page mark and really almost gave it back up to the library. But I could feel Spencer Hastings and Chanel Oberlin begging me to read more. And you know what? I’m glad I did. I ended up really liking it. This book was certainly different than my recent reads, and I agree with many Amazon reviews that there really is no true “plot.” But once I stopped searching for the storyline and quit stressing my brain trying to understand the different types of oysters and regions of wine, I let myself enjoy the reality of Tess’ navigation of adulthood. I really truly enjoyed it.

While Sweetbitter is strictly a novel and not memoir, it closely mirrors the journey of author Stephanie Danler as she makes her start in New York City and the restaurant business. The story opens with Tess moving from her vaguely unhappy life in Ohio to a microscopic apartment in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not VA, for you Virginians like myself.) Determined to find employment of any kind, and with a resume boasting previous barista work, snags a job as a back-waiter in one of Union Square’s most prestigious restaurants. Tess is in over her head, navigating a new city, new job, and completely new lifestyle, all while facing the typical challenges of  young adulthood. She experiments with drugs, alcohol, sex, and her newfound freedom in the city. She experiences complicated adult relationships, as well as heartache, loneliness, and wondering “is this it?” While Tess’ coming-of-age was much wilder and exotic than my own, I felt nostalgia for that confusing and blissful period of early womanhood. By the end of the novel, I felt I had grown up with Tess and could really feel the transformation she underwent in just one short year.

If you are interested in an action-driven, event-filled, cant-put-down read, this novel may not be the best for you, but I would encourage you to give it a go (past the first 100 pages) to experience beautiful writing, gorgeous metaphors, and an appreciation for growing up and figuring out life.

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My blind beagle Gracie loved it, too.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

www.stephaniedanler.com

“Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

I read Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl a while back and really enjoyed it, so her other two novels have been on my list to read for quite some time. I managed to snag Don’t You Cry in a large print edition at my local library. I felt like a speed reader turning those pages with the big words so fast!

Don’t You Cry tells two separate stories for it’s first 80%. Storyline A is that of Quinn, early 20’s, entry-level career, trying to make a life for herself in Chicago. Quinn lives in a somewhat decent apartment in the heart of the city with her roommate, Esther. One groggy morning, after a night out drinking, Quinn wakes up to find Esther missing. While not immediately alarmed, panic begins to bubble up as Esther doesn’t return for several hours. Or the rest of the night. Or the next few days…
Quinn spends the rest of the week desperately trying to find out what happened to Esther and why she has disappeared–did she leave on her own free will, or is she in danger? Is Esther really the sweet, gentle roommate Quinn knows and loves?

Storyline B follows Alex (for the first few chapters I thought he was a girl, damn those unisex names) who is working a dead-end job as a diner dishwasher in his run-down hometown. Alex turned down a college scholarship to stay home to take care of his incoherent alcoholic father. The highlight of his day is delivering the lunch orders to his agoraphobic neighbor. His life is dreadfully dull, until he meets a mysterious, and incredibly odd girl in the diner, who he affectionately names “Pearl.”

Quinn becomes more and more suspicious of Esther, after finding dark clues from her past in the apartment.

Alex becomes more and more fascinated by Pearl’s lunacy, but is blinded by her attention and companionship.

The pieces start falling together as to how these two tales will align, and while I thought I had it all figured out, I definitely didn’t.

This was a quick read, although a little slow to start and get into. Once the suspense started building, I found it engaging with a fairly okay twist at the end.

4 out of 5 stars.

http://www.marykubica.com

“The Girls” by Emma Cline

I’m really obsessed with cults. I know, I know, that makes me sound like the ultimate emo creep. But it’s true. They’re just so fascinating! I’m really intrigued as to how someone gets sucked into the commune lifestyle, abandons their family and friends, and blindly follows a savior, who inevitably is a decently attractive, charismatic, middle-aged white man. It’s just so hard for me to wrap my brain around, which makes it all that much more interesting. Thanks to my slightly sociopathic obsession, I’ve seen my fair share of cult documentaries, shows, books, etc. and I was super pumped to get my hands on one of the summer’s trendiest books, The Girls, by Emma Cline.

The Girls parallels the story of Charles Manson and his family almost to a T. I think maybe this is why I didn’t love this book as much as I had expected. I was hoping for a more imaginative story, or at least some great insight as to the secrets of the family and their lifestyle. But, being already pretty familiar with the Manson case, I didn’t find this storyline especially shocking.

Evie Boyd opens the novel in modern day, reflecting on her former life as a part of the “family.” She flashes back to age 14 where she is living a life pretty typical of a teenager in the late 60’s. Her parents are divorced, she is an only child, and she spends her days in suburban California drinking beers in her best friend’s basement, gossiping about girls at school and crushing on the upperclassmen boys. There is nothing especially remarkable about her life, but also nothing horrendous enough for me to buy her slipping into the claws of a murderous cult.

Evie happens upon a group of hippie older girls, with whom she is immediately infatuated. The center of her obsession is Suzanne, the 17-year old female leader. She develops what can only be described as a massive crush on Suzanne, hanging on her every word, doing everything she says. Suzanne and the girls bring Evie back to “the ranch,” where she meets, and, unsurprisingly, hooks up with Russell, aka Charles Manson. Evie becomes a daily fixture at the ranch, and gets away with always  being gone from home by telling her mom she’s sleeping over at her best friend’s. This is another thing that didn’t really make much sense to me in the book; even a somewhat absentee mother would start to think it odd after not seeing her daughter practically the entire summer. And the author does nothing to make us think that Evie’s mom is abusive, an alcoholic, plain old horrible, etc. How does Evie become a full fledged member of a cult with her normal-ish mom not even realizing she’s missing? Anyway, I digress.

Evie’s story continues with the family slowly unravelling, eventually to the point of homicide, just as we know to be true in the case of the Manson followers. Sans Helter Skelter. And then that’s just kind of the end. (Did I just ruin it?)

While the literature and prose of this book was gorgeous, I just didn’t love the story nearly as much as I wanted to. And I desperately wanted to love it. I was expecting this book to be one of my favorites of all time, but I found myself struggling to push through certain dry parts. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t amazing. Now, if you’re looking for a stellar first-person life-in-a-cult account, check out Holy Hell on Netflix. One of the best cult documentaries I’ve seen (and again, I’ve seen a lot.) Hours of footage and testimonies from folks actually living inside a cult (for 22 years!!!!!) I’ll let you have that nugget of info for free.

3 out of 5 stars.

http://www.emmacline.com

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

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Take 50 Shades of Grey, marry it to The Girl on the Train and you’ve got A.R. Torre’s The Girl in 6 E. I thought this was one of the most imaginative and brilliant stories I have read in a while. The author combined two of today’s hottest genres, thrillers and borderline erotica, into this un-put-down-able page turner. I really don’t know why I haven’t heard more rumblings about this book, it was one of my favorites of the past year. While it’s pretty heavy on the (webcam) sex, it’s not sleazy or cheesy (cue, 50 Shades) and it has a really fresh and intriguing plot.

Deanna Madden is young, beautiful and rich. Filthy rich. She also happens to be single, an agoraphobic hermit, and a wildly successful live webcam solo porn star. Oh, and she’s also a virgin.

For the last several years, Deanna has not left her apartment. At all. She has also not had human contact with anyone, because of her fantasies. Not sexual ones, but ones of killing. So, like any good hearted psychopath, she keeps herself deliberately separated from the prey she so desires to hunt. While this idea sounds crazy, she actually seems to make it work without going completely insane, hungry, or disconnected from the outside world. It is the sacrifice she feels she has to make to contain her monster inside.

But when Deana suspects one of her webcam clients of committing a crime against a  young girl, she must make the decision to keep her suspicions to herself, or tear down all of her safety walls and face the outside world. In her mind, someone will get killed either way.

I’ll leave it there, not wanting to give too much away.It’s really not a smut novel (believe me, I hate those) and I wish Amazon, Goodreads, etc. would stop classifying it that way. Seriously, if you want a good thriller with a different, spicier flavor, check out this series.

4.5 out of 5 stars.