Review Time: Before She Knew Him

“I had two lives before I met Henrietta Mazur, boh fo them simple, with their own comforts and rewards. And from out of nowhere she’s come along and turned those two lives into one. One complicated mess of a life.”

As Henrietta and Lloyd get settled into their new house in their new suburban town, they find themselves over at their neighbor’s house for a get-to-know-you dinner. It’s everything Hen, who is fresh off a bipolar diagnosis and manic episode, could have wanted — nice neighbors, potentially good friends, quite little life. But during a tour of Matthew and Mira Dolamore’s house, Hen notices something on the mantle that throws everything she knows into disarray. You see, during her most recent manic episode, Hen become engrossed in the unsolved murder of Dustin Miller, a high school student who happen to live in their former neighborhood. Hen knew Dustin’s case inside and out, so when she spotted what looked suspiciously like the high schooler’s missing fencing trophy in the Dolamore’s basement, she grew concerned. So concerned, in fact, that she went to the police. But here’s the thing. Hen had a history of unchecked bipolar, which unfortunately led to a few troubling accusations while she was in college. So while Hen was increasingly convinced that her neighbor Matthew had something to do with Dustin’s murder, there wasn’t a single person at the police station who would take her seriously. So, Hen decided to take the situation into her own hands. Which, generally speaking, is rarely a good idea. Who is Matthew Dolamore? Why does he have Dustin’s trophy? And what will Hen do to track down the answers she so desperately wants?

Before She Knew Him was my BOTM club pick for March and of course it suckered me with a tagline of “Catching a killer is dangerous — especially if he lives next door.” I mean, c’mon. And it was good. But I will say that it was a little slow. The whole beginning premise is that Hen wants to find out IF Matthew killed Dustin. Which, spoiler, she finds to be true in the first handful of chapters. So you know that Matthew is indeed a killer and there’s two-thirds of the novel left. I will admit that I spent a good 100 pages trying to figure out what the rest of the book could possibly be about. Eventually, though, things pick up and by the end, the spooky, icky, creep-o factor is out in full force. There’s a major twist in there that I am still thinking about — one of those twists that makes you say “well shoot, now I might have to start all over again and pay attention to the little cues I know I missed the first time.” All in all, Before She Knew Him was a fun read. Might not be the first book I reach for when someone asks for a recommendation, but something fun nonetheless.

My favorite scene: I liked the scenes towards the middle of the story in which we are first formally introduced to Matthew’s brother Richard. Richard is that oogey, creepy character that keeps murder mysteries alive. The character that you love to hate. His introduction brought back some zip into the story, and though what he does in those opening scenes is a major spoiler (and thus my lips are sealed), trust me when I say he’s a major shithead. And I was there for it.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

Review Time: Daisy Jones & The Six

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“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story.” 

Daisy Jones & The Six are rock ‘n’ roll. They are the embodiment of cool, of depth, of intrigue. Brothers Billy and Graham Dunne started The Six in the early days of the ’70s. Daisy Jones, natural talent and groupie extraordinaire, made her way into The Six’s fold in 1977, changing the course of rock ‘n’ roll forever.

Billy Dunne and Daisy Jones were born to sing together. To perform together. To be together. They made beautiful music together. But that doesn’t mean they had to like each other. They sang songs about Billy’s love for his wife, of Daisy’s love of the drug of the day. They loved each other, and they hated each other. The band enjoyed a reign of world dominance throughout most of the ’70s, and then one day, after a sold-out concert in Chicago, never returned to the stage. Told from the voice of everyone who had a hand in making Daisy Jones & The Six the preeminent band of the era, this is a story of art, of fame, of redemption, of life, of loss, of heartbreak. It’s the story of life, lived by some of the most famous people on the planet.

First and foremost, I have to say that Daisy Jones & The Six was PHENOMENAL. I had to stop midway through the book to find out if these people were real, that’s how convincing the dialogue is. I don’t think there’s a way to convey how truly unique this book is. It’s every Netflix documentary you’ve watched, every documentary you’ve loved, in book format. You want to be each person in this story — Daisy, Billy, Karen, Graham, Camila, Simone. They all have that ’70s glamor, that carefree rock ‘n’ roll attitude that seems so alluring. It’s an incredible behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to make the music that formed — and continues to be — the background of our lives.

Rumors are that the story was influenced by the relationship between rock ‘n’ roll gods Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. And after reading this book, I’m really kind of upset that I wasn’t alive during Fleetwood Mac’s reign of dominance to witness the “are-they-or-aren’t-they” that grips you during the entirety of this story. Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, is two for two in my book. And that’s all there is to it.

My favorite scene: I know this is cheating, but THE WHOLE FREAKING THING. Just do yourself a favor and read this in a weekend. You won’t regret it. Not even for a second.

Grade: ★★★★★

Review Time: The Innocent Wife

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“She felt suddenly very alone, as though the person she married had never existed and she had woken up to a life she didn’t recognize, in the middle of a story she didn’t understand.”

Eighteen years after the release of the true-crime documentary about the murder of 18-year-old Holly Michaels, Samantha was introduced to the world and crimes of Dennis Danson. Before she knew it, Sam was obsessed with Framing the Truth: The Murder of Holly Michaels, the documentary made about the case. She knew Dennis didn’t do it. She just knew it. She spent countless hours on message boards dedicated to finding Holly’s real killer, diving deeper and deeper into the world of Dennis Danson. One day, Sam decided to write to Dennis, and to her surprise, a few weeks later she received a response from THE Dennis Danson. And so, as they say, the story began.

Soon after Sam and Dennis started their letter writing campaign, Sam flew to Florida from her home in England to meet him in person. With the help of Carrie, Framing the Truth‘s director who was in the midst of filming a follow-up documentary, Sam began a through-the-plexiglass relationship with the convicted murderer. It was everything she ever wanted and he was the man she was meant to be with. So, when Dennis proposed, Sam accepted without hesitation. They were married in the prison, separated by the ever-present plexiglass, with the new documentary’s crew around as witnesses. As the new documentary, A Boy From Red River, continued to take shape, the crew discovered some previously untested evidence and managed to successfully get Dennis’s conviction overturned, releasing him back into the free world.

Soon after Dennis’s release from prison, Sam started questioning her decision to leave her life behind for this man who, when she was honest with herself, she didn’t really know. After a few months of living the TV-interview high life, Dennis’s father passed away, leaving Dennis and Sam with the responsibility of cleaning out his house in the backwoods of Florida. But as time went on, Sam knew that something was just not right. Could Dennis have hurt that girl? And the others that went missing before Holly died? There’s no way — is there?

The Innocent Wife was a fun read. The story was compelling, especially in today’s world of constant true-crime exposure a la Making a Murderer. It explores the concept of what would happen if the person we championed for almost two decades turned out to not be the man we backed. The end of the story, however, left a little to be desired. There were a bunch of storylines that the author opened the door to, but never ended up going over threshold for. For example, Sam popped Vicodin for a good one-fourth of the book, but in the end it just sort of didn’t matter. Like… way to get my hopes up for some raunchy stuff, lady. There are other, more blatant plot holes, but #spoileralert. Let’s just say, the conclusion was rushed. And a little lackluster, to be honest. But the first 3/4 of the book was two-thumbs way up.

My favorite scene: The afternoon after Dennis got released from prison, the documentary’s crew threw a party for him. As he mingled with and met the people who made his exoneration possible, Sam started to realize that maybe she didn’t know what she was doing and maybe she didn’t make the right decision with her life. It was a turning point for Dennis, obviously, but also a turning point in the life that Sam had pictured with her once-obsession and now-husband. Just maybe not the turning point she had hoped it would be.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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Review Time: Before We Were Yours

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“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses.”

Avery Stafford is a political up-and-comer in South Carolina — who happens to have a state senator as a father. During a press trip to a nursing home, Avery happens to meet the enigmatic May Crandall, a newbie to the nursing home and a woman with some particularly slick fingers. During their brief visit, May happens to steal Avery’s precious dragonfly bracelet, a family heirloom passed down to her from her grandmother. Avery goes back to visit May once she realizes the bracelet is gone, and so starts a journey of uncovering secrets long buried and coming to terms with the past.

Rill Foss is a enigmatic little girl, born and raised on the mighty Mississippi in a riverboat called the Arcadia. Then, one stormy night in 1939, Rill’s life, and the lives of her four siblings, are upheaved and they are thrown into a nightmare that none of them could have imagined. The children are taken by “the authorities” to the The Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an orphanage of sorts run by the incomparably evil Georgia Tann. The children are put up on the proverbial offering block, even though Rill knows her mom and dad, Briny and Queenie, are coming to get them as soon as Queenie recovers from giving birth to her new twin siblings. Except Briny and Queenie never come. And one by one, the Foss children are separated from each other, with no guarantee that they’ll ever make their way back together again.

Before We Were Yours is told from two points of view: from Avery, a woman searching for answers about a past she doesn’t quite understand and from Rill, a girl trying to figure out a future without the family she’s always known. And the answers by both find — separately and together — will change both of their lives forever.

The critics LOVED Before We Were Yours, a story built on the real-life terrors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the horrors that families faced in the stead of the notorious Georgia Tann. Rill’s story, the parts of the book that featured the orphanage and its associated evil were captivating. Tragic and moving and uplifting all in one. Avery’s part of the story, though, left a little to be desired. Avery and her sleuthing partner’s storyline felt forced and inauthentic, essentially just a means to keep the Tennessee Children’s Home underlying storyline going. Which, I suppose, is the essence of any storyline ever. But perhaps it could have been done a little less opaquely. All in all, I lived for Rill’s chapters and I cringed my way through Avery’s. The lesson I was left with, though, was that I need to find more literature on Georgia Tann. Because she was a truly awful woman.

My favorite scene: While not a singular scene, some of my favorite parts of the book where when Rill waxed poetic about life on her family’s shanty boat, how she longed to get back to life on the river and how the Arcadia was the one thing keeping her going in the wake of the trauma of her family being split up before her very eyes. Makes you (me) kind of nostalgic for a way of life that I know I could never survive because HELLO I NEED INDOOR PLUMBING.

Grade: ★★☆☆☆

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Review Time: The Child

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“Who really knows someone else? You can scratch the skin, but you never get to the meat of someone else. Into their bones.” 

One day in little London Town, journalist Kate Waters happens upon an article about the discovery of a set of infant bones in a construction site in one of the city’s lesser-quality neighborhoods. Kate latches on to the story, confident that there’s a bigger tale to tell. Who is this baby? And why is it buried in a place like that? Meanwhile, around town, two other women see the same article — Angela, a mother whose infant daughter disappeared from the maternity ward mere hours after her birth, and Emma, a book editor with a penchant for anxiety and flair.

Angela thinks the baby could be her long-lost baby Alice, though both she and her husband know that this isn’t the first time the hope of finding out what happened to Alice has surfaced.

Emma, who hides her interest about the Building Site Baby from her husband, knows a thing or two about the neighborhood the baby was found in, but surely this couldn’t be a baby she knows anything about — could it?

As Kate digs deeper into the identity of the baby for The Daily Post, the lives of these three women become inextricably intertwined. Who is the Building Site Baby? What happened to baby Alice? What in the world does Emma have to do with anything?

I got The Child as part of my Book of the Month membership (hello best subscription service EVER) and was super excited to dive into it because mystery. I’m also a sucker for multiple-viewpoint narration, so this one brought a double-whammy to the table. The twist at the end is captivating, though it’s kind of hard to not see it coming after a certain point. And there are some points that just sort of unnecessarily drag on. And on. And on. But maybe that’s some people’s cup of tea. All in all, this one was a-okay, but not one that I’d go out of my way to recommend to someone looking for a twisty mystery ride.

My favorite scene: Emma spends a good deal of time looking for the man who was her most prominent father figure — one of her mother’s former boyfriends. Though it isn’t a huge aspect of Kate’s who-dun-it narrative, Emma’s search shows real depth and emotion and it made me care a little more about this anxiety-riddle, frankly kind-of-annoying woman.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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Review Time: The Good Daughter

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“I’ve always preferred crazy to stupid. Stupid can break your heart.” 

Rusty Quinn didn’t have many fans in the small Georgia town of Pikeville. As a criminal defense attorney, Rusty was charged with helping accused criminals avoid jail and he was unfortunately pretty good at his job. It was therefore not quite that shocking when masked intruders broke into his house one night demanding justice. The night ended with Rusty’s wife Gamma dead on the kitchen floor, his eldest daughter Samantha buried alive with a bullet lodged in her brain and his youngest daughter Charlotte running for her life.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years and family has moved on, except not really. Sam left Pikeville behind for the Big Apple (does anyone actually call it that anymore?) while Charlie stayed to follow in her father’s footsteps — criminal defense. After a raunchy and drunken evening with a stranger, Charlie finds herself back at her old middle school to return a phone that doesn’t belong to her when all hell breaks loose. Shots are fired and people are dead. Two people, actually — 8-year-old Lucy Alexander and the school’s principal, Douglas Pinkman. A small goth girl is found with a gun in her hand a confession on her lips. Of course, Rusty is summoned to represent the accused school shooter, Kelly Wilson, and Charlie is tasked with being his second-in-command. As their investigation unfolds, Charlie realizes that Kelly isn’t who she seems to be. And what happened to the Quinn family 30 years ago isn’t quite what they thought, either.

I enjoyed The Good Daughter, even if I never really understood what the title meant (though, admittedly, I didn’t really try that hard to figure it out). The dual murder mystery — the school shooting and the Quinn family drama — drew me in (duh) and kept me intrigued. I will say, though, that about halfway through the book I felt a little sorry for Kelly Wilson because it didn’t seem like anyone was paying her or her trial much attention. As the story arced, though, everything came full circle and Kelly (and Sam) got the justice they deserved. Just as I thought, I’m about to go down a long, dark Karin Slaughter wormhole. See y’all on the other side.

My favorite scene: As one of the first steps in Charlie’s investigation of Kelly, she ends up at the Wilson’s family home in a poorer part of town. The girl’s mother is distraught and confused as Charlie searches the house hoping to find some clues as to who Kelly Wilson really is. What Charlie finds — items that point to a girl that is the opposite of the goth kid sitting in a hallway with a gun in her hand — make you realize just how troubled the girl truly is and gives you all the feels because something is just not right.

Grade: ★★★★☆

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Review Time: Three Wishes

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“It was always like that. They never said sorry. They just threw down their still-loaded weapons, ready for next time.” 

Cat, Gemma and Lyn are triplets and best friends (or mortal enemies, depending on the day). Lyn is a wildly successful entrepreneur who has a penchant for micro-managing her, and her sisters’, life. Gemma is a free spirit who has some serious commitment issues after the way her last relationship ended. Cat wants nothing more than to start a family — but her husband has other plans. And they just turned 33.

Their thirty-third year brings quite a bit of drama into their individual and collective lives, beginning with a revelation from Cat’s husband, Dan. (not-so-spoiler alert: he’s cheating). As Cat tries to grapple with the fact Dan has thrown a wrench in her family plan, Gemma has to try to downplay the pleasure she gets from her newest boyfriend, Charlie. As chick-lit is wont to do, a string of coincidences brings underlying tensions to the surface during what turns out to be a rather eventful (and messy) Christmas celebration. While Cat and Gemma hash out their differences over the next few months, Lyn tries to reign in her surprise parking-lot-induced panic attacks and the women’s parents, divorced since the kids were 6 years old, decide that maybe they don’t want to be so divorced any more.

Three Wishes was a lighthearted departure from my usual murder mystery and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It was fun and flirty and flippant and just a good ole time. There weren’t any characters that I didn’t care for, but some of Cat’s inner turmoil got a little tedious in places — but that’s life, isn’t it? Charlie was precious (especially at the end — heart-eye emoji), Dan was a total asshole (especially at the end — eye-roll emoji) Cat’s former flame was the worst of all. But, as Cat would say, he got what was coming for him, eh?

My favorite scene: The book opens with Lyn, Cat and Gemma at dinner to celebrate their 34th birthday at a classy seafood joint. Instead of being told what happened, the reader is taken on a bit of a “telephone” ride (remember that game? where you passed a single sentence around the circle and what came out at the end was not at all the sentence the game started with?) and as the narrator says, “Of course, no two [stories] were the same.” The sisters are having having a grand ole time until they’re suddenly not. They start fighting and one sister ends up with a fondue fork stabbed into her pregnant belly, one faints to the floor and the other is left to clean up the mess. The story of what started the fight is eventually retold within the context of the narrative, but I love that the story started with some serious drama and gossip. Because who doesn’t love a good goss session?

Grade: ★★★★☆

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