Book Review: Don’t Forget the Girl by Rebecca McKanna

A slow burn. Dark and introspective.

Rebecca McKanna’s fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery Stories 2019 and honored as a distinguished story in The Best American Short Stories 2019. Her work has appeared as one of Narrative Magazine’s Stories of the Week and has been published in Colorado Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, Joyland, Third Coast, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other publications. She has received financial support from the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. An assistant professor of English at the University of Indianapolis, she earned her MFA from Purdue University. Rebecca was born and raised in Iowa.

Don’t Forget the Girl by Rebecca McKanna explores the complexities of friendship, and focuses on the lives of the victims, direct and indirectinstead of the serial killerswho are often forgotten about. The premise was interesting and I enjoyed learning about the relationships between the three women across two timelines. The multiple POVs was engaging, and the suspense leading up to Abby’s death kept me turning the pages. It was very introspective and the use of the crime podcast, along with the online commentary, broke up the text making it easier to read. I enjoyed the online media snippets regarding the crimes and thought it was a nice creative touch, breaking up the structure of the novel, rather than revealing in dialogue or internal character narration. The best part of the book (for me) was the friendship between Chelsea and Bree, and how it strengthened over the course of the story.

That being said, I definitely prefer more pulse pounding action, and I would have liked to learn about the other victims to fully understand the extent of Jon Allan Blue’s crimes, without going into too much detail. An aspect of the book that didn’t work for me came at the end. After learning about Bree’s major character flaw early onhaving a sexual relationship with her studentI think the final repercussions weren’t severe enough given the nature of the crime. It made for somewhat of a dissatisfying ending to her character arc.


For readers who enjoy complex characters, strong female protagonists, and dark topics.

Published June 20th, 2023


We never remember the dead girls. We never forget the killers.

Twelve years ago, 18-year-old University of Iowa freshman Abby Hartmann disappeared. Now, Jon Allan Blue, the serial killer suspected of her murder, is about to be executed. Abby’s best friends, Bree and Chelsea, watch as Abby’s memory is unearthed and overshadowed by Blue and his flashier crimes. The friends, estranged in the wake of Abby’s disappearance, and suffering from years of unvoiced resentments, must reunite when a high-profile podcast dedicates its next season to Blue’s murders.

Book Review: Play the Fool by Lina Chern

A charming debut!

Lina Chern has been published in Mystery WeeklyThe Marlboro ReviewThe Bellingham ReviewRhinoThe CollagistBlack Fox Literary Magazine, and The Coil. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and is represented by Joanna MacKenzie at Nelson Literary AgencyPlay the Fool is her debut novel.

Katie True is an under achiever, working in a small antiquities store in a mall in Chicago. One day, while performing a tarot reading for a client, Katie catches a glimpse of his phone screen and to her horror, sees an image of her friend and coworker, Marley, lying dead with a gunshot to the head. She inserts herself into the case as an amateur sleuth, assisting the police and using her tarot reading skills to hunt down the killer.

This book felt more like a fun mystery than a thriller to me. I loved the humor of the protagonist, Katie True, which brought a light-heartedness to the book and lifted some of the tension around her obvious character flaws. I found the chapters a little long (for my taste), but the pace was steady enough. I enjoyed the fact that, even though most of her life was unstable, the one thing she could rely on was her intuition and the gift of reading tarot (and people). Chern’s descriptions are vivid and her characters felt well fleshed out.

3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy a lighthearted mystery with a headstrong protagonist.



For Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. After a failed attempt at adulting in Chicago, she’s back in the suburbs living a bit too close to her overbearing parents, jumping from one dead-end job to the next, and flipping through her tarot deck for guidance. Then along comes Marley.

Mysterious, worldly, and comfortable in her own skin, Marley takes a job at the mall where Katie peddles Russian tchotchkes. The two just get each other. Marley doesn’t try to fix Katie’s life or pretend to be someone she’s not, and Katie thinks that with Marley’s friendship, she just might make it through this rough patch after all. Until the day when Katie, having been encouraged by Marley to practice soothsaying, reads the cards for someone who stumbles into her shop. But when she sneaks a glance at his phone, she finds more than intel to improve her clairvoyance. She finds a photo. Of Marley. With a gunshot wound to the head.

The bottom falls out of Katie’s world. Her best friend is dead? Who killed her? She quickly realizes there are some things her tarot cards can’t foresee, and she must put her razor-sharp instincts to the ultimate test. But Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crossfire of a threat she never saw coming. Now she must use her street smarts and her inner Strength card to solve Marley’s murder—or risk losing everything.

Book Review: The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon

Dark, disturbing, and utterly addictive.

CLÉMENCE MICHALLON was born and raised near Paris. She studied journalism at City University of London, received a master’s in Journalism from Columbia University, and has written for The Independent since 2018. Her essays and features have covered true-crime, celebrity culture, and literature. She moved to New York City in 2014 and recently became a US citizen. She now divides her time between New York City and Rhinebeck, NY.

This novel kept me up until the early hours of the morning. I couldn’t put it down, determined to find out the end and desperate for justice. I can safely say, this is one of my favorite thrillers of the year.

I loved the psychological element to this serial killer story, and thought it enhanced the depth of each character, focusing on the victims instead of the antagonist. This is one of the most fascinating tropes in suspense fiction, and a topic I always find interesting when reading survivor’s accounts in nonfiction too. The author succeeded in writing a very authentic story, and the use of second person POV for Rachel, the woman held captive, created a sense of dissociation further emphasizing a sense of isolation and paranoia. The chapters were short and easy to read, alternating at a rate that created enough tension to keep me turning the pages. After the midpoint I couldn’t put it down.

Alternating between the perspectives of his latest captive, Rachel, his 13-year old daughter, Cecilia, a young woman in town, Emily, and interspersed with his unnamed victims (one through nine), it provided an in depth look at his character from multiple angles, creating a disturbing visual on the types of predators who hide in plain sight. The chapters were short and tense, making this an easy and enjoyable read. I also loved the immersive setting of the Hudson Valley, somewhere I spent a lot of time when I lived on the east coast. The scene in the basement still haunts me when Rachel finds various taped up boxes, and pulls out the sweater she was wearing the day he abducted her. The thought that that could be the last piece of her to ever exist gives me goosebumps all over.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy psychological suspense, compelling female characters, and multiple POVs.


Aidan Thomas is a hard-working family man and a somewhat beloved figure in the small upstate town where he lives. He’s the kind of man who always lends a hand and has a good word for everyone. But Aidan has a dark secret he’s been keeping from everyone in town and those closest to him. He’s a kidnapper and serial killer. Aidan has murdered eight women and there’s a ninth he has earmarked for death: Rachel, imprisoned in a backyard shed, fearing for her life. 

When Aidan’s wife dies, he and his thirteen-year-old daughter Cecilia are forced to move. Aidan has no choice but to bring Rachel along, introducing her to Cecilia as a “family friend” who needs a place to stay. Aidan is betting on Rachel, after five years of captivity, being too brainwashed and fearful to attempt to escape. But Rachel is a fighter and survivor, and recognizes Cecilia might just be the lifeline she has waited for all these years. As Rachel tests the boundaries of her new living situation, she begins to form a tenuous connection with Cecilia. And when Emily, a local restaurant owner, develops a crush on the handsome widower, she finds herself drawn into Rachel and Cecilia’s orbit, coming dangerously close to discovering Aidan’s secret.

Book Review: The Guest by Emma Cline

Tense, palpable, and addictive.

Emma Cline is the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls and the story collection Daddy. The Girls was a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was a New York Times Editor’s Choice and was the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. Cline’s stories have been published in The New YorkerGrantaThe Paris Review and The Best American Short Stories anthologies. She received an O’Henry Award and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review, and was chosen as one of Granta‘s Best Young American Novelists.

Cline’s writing is always a rare treat. I enjoyed her last two books, The Girls, being my favorite, and, Daddy, a book of short stories earlier this year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her second novel. The Guest isn’t like anything I’ve read before. It’s tense and uncomfortable, leading the reader through a series of bad decisions as the protagonist, Alex, navigates the Hamptons one summer after being dumped and left at the train station by the older man she’s dating. Described as, “a cipher leaving destruction in her wake,” Alex lives a parasitic existence, bouncing from one person to the next, relying on the kindnesses of others to pass the time.

I felt somewhat conflicted while reading this book, finding Alex detestable while at the same time I was completely hooked, curious how her story would end. The scenarios she found herself in where cringe worthy but I couldn’t put the book down, immersed in the affluent world described by Cline. A world where people leave their shoes unattended on the sand, purses on towels, and car doors unlocked while at the beach, assuming everyone out there was like themselves. A place Alex finds easy to navigate, and people who are effortlessly manipulated. I enjoyed the fast pace and unpredictability of the scenes as she met random people, using them until Simon’s Labor Day party when she could make amends and he’d take her back. Hopefully. Cline has a talent for building and describing a world with characters so rich and relatable it’s difficult to stop reading. Adding to the tension was her last ‘relationship’ in which a man called Dom was actively stalking her, even threatening her, adding to the suspense until the cliff-hanger ending.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy underlying suspense, complex characters, and addictive prose.

Published May 16th, 2023


Summer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she’s been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarefied world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

Have a book club?

Here are some little extras from the publisher including the playlist created by Emma Cline for the novel. Have fun book friends! Download here and enjoy.

Book Review: The New One by Evie Green

Eerie, suspenseful, and addictive.

CLICK HERE to read a short excerpt!

Evie Green is a pseudonym for a British author who has written professionally for her entire adult life. She lives by the sea in England with her husband, children, and guinea pigs, and loves writing in the very early morning, fueled by coffee.

This book hooked me from the first chapter. I felt awful for Tamsyn and Ed as their 14-year-old daughter, Scarlet, upended their lives after she ran away from home one night and was involved in a tragic accident. The time spent in the hospital recovering, and the uncertainty of whether their insurance would cover her treatment created realistic tension, pulling me further into the story. When they were presented with the option of an experimental medical trial in Switzerland it definitely felt too good to be true. Tamsyn’s suspicions and Ed’s blind optimism felt authentic when presented with the trial, and since they had a lack of options, it felt like the logical next step. The new technology mentioned in the book was interesting to learn about and I enjoyed the creative spin on the genre making it feel like The Stepford Wives meets M3gan. I didn’t care for Scarlet’s character in the beginning, especially her contempt for her parents and their humble life in Cornwall. The character I felt the worst for was Tamsyn, dealing with the accident and the shock of her new living situation, while also feeling estranged from her family.

I blew through the chapters as the plot unfolded and when the first big twist was revealed at the midpoint I was shocked. It was interesting to read about the AI and reanimation technologies, especially when introduced to supporting characters in the story. I found the whole concept disturbing but couldn’t put the book down. The writing was vivid and immersive, pulling me into each scene. I enjoyed the change in perspective, learning what each character remembered around the night of the accident and what secrets they were keeping from each other. The perspectives of the reanimations—including their telepathic communication—was an interesting layer to the story. The characters were believable and the dialogue easy to follow. As much as I enjoyed this book overall, I would have loved one final twist in the last chapter.


For readers who enjoy suspense books with a sci-fi element, interesting characters, and big twists.

Published March 28th, 2023


For Tamsyn and Ed, life is tough. They both work long hours for very little money and come home to their moody, rebellious daughter, Scarlett.
After a tragic accident leaves Scarlett comatose and with little chance of recovery, Tamsyn and Ed are out of options until a lifeline emerges in the form of an unusual medical trial. In exchange for the very best treatment for Scarlett, a fully furnished apartment, and a limitless spending account, the family must agree to move to Switzerland and welcome an artificial copy of their daughter into their home.
Suddenly their life is transformed. Tamsyn and Ed want for nothing, and the AI replacement, Sophie, makes it feel just like having their daughter back—except without all the bad parts. Sophie is engaged, happy, and actually wants to spend time with her parents.
But things take a turn for the worse when Scarlett makes a very real recovery and the family discovers that the forces behind their new life are darker than they ever could have imagined.

Book Review: How I’ll Kill You by Ren DeStefano

An interesting twist on the genre!

Read an excerpt from the book HERE.

Ren DeStefano lives in Connecticut, where she was born and raised. When she’s not writing thrillers, she’s listening to true crime podcasts and crocheting way too many blankets.

Triplets with a taste for murder. Sissy, Moody, and Iris have a very special bond and will stop at nothing to protect each other including, murdering their boyfriends and disposing of the body parts in remote locations. They’re experts at their chosen craft, boasting numerous kills and no loose ends. That is until one of them falls for her mark.

The description pulled me in immediately and I was curious to know how and why three sisters could pull off such heinous crimes in the name of love and loyalty. Their dysfunctional backgroundsbeing separated and placed in foster carewere sad to read about, but interesting character details nonetheless. I found the most disturbing scenes involving them casually killing people and cleaning the crime scenes without any emotion. The tone of the book definitely offset a lot of the gruesomeness, including when Sissy’s friend, and neighbor, Dara, accidentally commits a crime and needs her help to clean up the mess in her state of shock. The way the protagonist justified her crimes was interesting and realistic, making it all the more disturbing. Sissy’s detached nature was chilling, even more so when she unexpectedly falls in love with her first target, Edisona newly widowed man she and her sisters have set their murderous sights on.

The characters were complex, Sissy in particular, and I always suspected she was a little different from her sisters. Her relationship with Edison left me feeling conflicted, especially after he learns of her background, including the plot to kill him and bury him in the desert. To my surprise, he asks her to show him the hole in which she’d (hypothetically) dump his body, and in spite of all this, he accepts her and loves her unconditionally. It was a satisfying ending for Sissy’s character since she finally met a man who could deal with her murderous nature and crazy siblings, but a somewhat conflicting one regarding the authenticity of how it might have played out in real life. But that’s what makes interesting fiction in the end!

Even though the character development was more of a slow burn for me, the plot was action-packed and filled with interesting secondary characters and background details. Definitely a fun spin on the serial killer trope, sibling relationships, and romance.


I recommend to readers who enjoy complex female characters, chilling family bonds, and dark secrets.

Published March 21st, 2023


Make him want you.
Make him love you.
Make him dead.

Sissy has an…interesting family. Always the careful one, always the cautious one, she has handled the cleanup while her serial killer sisters have carved a path of carnage across the U.S. Now, as they arrive in the Arizona heat, Sissy must step up and embrace the family pastime of making a man fall in love and then murdering him. Her first target? A young widower named Edison—and their mutual attraction is instant. While their relationship progresses, and most couples would be thinking about picking out china patterns and moving in together, Sissy’s family is reminding her to think about picking out burial sites and moving on. 

Then something happens that Sissy never anticipated: She begins to feel protective of Edison, and before she can help it, she’s fallen in love. But the clock is ticking, and her sisters are growing restless. It becomes clear that the gravesite she chooses will hide a body no matter what happens; but if she betrays her family, will it be hers?

Book Review: The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

An addictive thriller with dark twists!

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Lynne and Valerie are national and international bestselling authors with over one million copies sold worldwide. Their books have been translated into 28 languages, are available in 33 countries, and are in development for both television and film. Their novels have been praised by USA Today, The Sunday Times, People Magazine, and Good Morning America, among many others. Their debut novel, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection.

When an ex con sets her sights on a successful real estate mogul and his beautiful wife she gets more than she bargained for. I love a good suspense/psychological thriller and had heard positive reviews of this book so my hopes were high going in. It did not disappoint! It felt like The Wife Between Us meets Sleeping with the Enemy.

The first half of the book intrigued me, told from Amber’s perspective, as she quickly befriends Daphne Parrish—wife of Jackson Parrish—in an attempt to snake her way into their lives and tear them apart for her own benefit (and twisted amusement). One of my favorite suspense tools in the thriller genre is structure, especially dual character and/or timeline. This book uses dual characters to shift the narrative perspective and it really pulls the rug out by the time you reach the midpoint. Amber is meticulous, cunning, and calculative when she befriends Daphne and eventually seduces Jackson, slipping into the role she’s always felt entitled to. The language was vivid and immersive, transporting me into the lives of the super rich as Amber becomes more entwined. Daphne’s perspective shift was so different and shocking, I ended up binging the second half of the book in a few hours.

In terms of the characters, I couldn’t stand Amber or Daphne in the first half. The author(s) did an amazing job at creating a false first impression of Daphne Parrish, and I even felt sorry for Jackson at one point. By the second half my opinion shifted dramatically, and I found myself rooting for Daphne, hoping she’d eventually be free and reunited with her mother. The dialogue flowed and I loved learning about the characters’ backgrounds. My favorite scene was in the second to last chapter when Daphne finally visits Jackson at his office in Midtown and drops off a little gift for him as a final act of defiance.

The only thing I would have liked, and it’s completely personal, is a final twist on the last page or last line—even though I found everything technically satisfying—it’s always that bit darker when a final reveal leaves you hanging at the end. In saying that, every loose end was tied up and character arc complete, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page.


For readers who enjoy domestic suspense, compelling female characters, and dark twists.

Published October 17th, 2017


Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.

To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces. 

Book Review: A Flaw in the Design by Nathan Oates

Terrifying, twisted, and full of suspense.

Nathan Oates is the author of the novel, A Flaw in the Design, and the short story collection, The Empty House. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, and the Alaska Quarterly Review. His stories have been anthologized in The Best American Mystery Stories (2008 and 2012) and Forty Stories (Harper Perennial). He teaches creative writing at Seton Hall University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

I can’t believe this is a debut novel. This story tapped into one of my deepest fears and hooked me from beginning to end. Very rarely does a book compel me to keep reading past midnight. It checked all the boxes and I flew through it, savoring every scene. The characters were compelling, and the dialogue was so well-written it was enviable. It was expertly paced, and completely immersive, making it a satisfying read from beginning to end.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I enjoy reading about psychology in my spare timemore specifically, abnormal psychology. While reading this book I was impressed at how Oates expertly applied psychopathic personality traits to Matthew, the nephew of Gil, the story’s protagonist, portraying his erratic childhood behavior, callousness, and glib demeanor as an adolescent. The psychological effects he had on everyone around him as they fell for his charm, but in particular the emotional discord it caused Gil felt very authentic. Gil’s paranoia became more evident as he began following Matthew around, convinced he was responsible for the tragic deaths of his sister and brother in law (Matthew’s parents). It was very chilling to learn of their family history, and Matthew’s unstable childhood, especially when applying it to the present timeline in which he mostly portrays a cool exterior, occasionally revealing his true nature when his ‘mask’ slipsas observed by Gil on a couple of occasions.

I’m a sucker for these types of books and thoroughly enjoy stories set between New York City and sleepy suburbs in the northeast. I was immediately immersed in both worlds, curious by the stark comparison between the lavish lifestyle Matthew and his parents led in New York City, and Gil’s humble (and somewhat estranged) existence living and teaching as a professor in Vermont. The threat of Matthew’s character was constant, creating an impending doom as I tried to figure out his next moves and motives before it was too late. The last three chapters had me on edge and when I finally thought all hope was lost, that last page left me feeling optimistic that Gil might finally see justice done. Even if it would have to be in my own imaginings.


For readers who enjoy literary thrillers, suspense, compelling characters, and dark psychological themes.

Published March 21st, 2023


The cleverest psychopaths hide in plain sight.

Gil is living a quiet life as a creative writing professor in a bucolic Vermont town, when he receives some shocking news: His sister and her husband have been killed in a car accident, and their only son is coming to live with him and his family.
Gil and his wife are apprehensive about taking in seventeen-year-old Matthew. Yes, he has just lost both his parents, but they haven’t seen him in seven years—and the last time the families were together, Matthew lured their young daughter into a terrifying, life-threatening situation. Since that incident, Gil has been estranged from his sister and her flashy, wealthy banker husband. 

Now Matthew is their charge, living under their roof.
The boy seems charming, smart, and urbane, if strangely unaffected by his parents’ deaths. Gil hopes they can put the past behind them, though he’s surprised when Matthew signs up for his creative writing class. Then Matthew begins turning in chilling stories about the imagined deaths of Gil’s family and his own parents. Bewildered and panicked, Gil ultimately decides he must take matters into his own hands—before life imitates art.

Book Review: You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A slow-burning, psychologically twisted ride.

Jean Hanff Korelitz was born and raised in New York City and educated at Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels: The Latecomer, The Plot, You Should Have Known, Admission, The Devil and Webster, The White Rose, The Sabbathday River, and A Jury of Her Peers, as well as a middle-grade reader, Interference Powder, and a collection of poetry, The Properties of Breath. With her husband, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, she adapted James Joyce’s “The Dead” as an immersive theatrical event, THE DEAD, 1904. The play was produced by Dot Dot Productions, LLC, for the Irish Repertory Theatre and performed at New York’s American Irish Historical Society for seven-week runs in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Korelitz is the founder of BOOKTHEWRITER, a New York City based service that offers “Pop-Up Book Groups” where readers can discuss books with their authors. Events are now being held simultaneously in person in New York City (with participants vaccinated and masked) and online over Zoom. She and Paul Muldoon are the parents of two children and live in New York City.

I buddy-read this book after watching the series, The Undoing, on HBO because I’m always curious how closely shows follow the books they’re adapted from. The show definitely tightened up the scenes and propelled the action forward. It was also interesting to see Jonathan’s character on screen portrayed by the ever-charming Hugh Grant, instead of reading about him from other people’s perspectives and Grace’s memories.

I enjoyed the written style of the book and there was something eerily addictive about the uncertainties of Jonathan’s character that definitely created conflict for me, dithering between his guilt or innocence in connection to such a brutal crime-in spite of the fact that all evidence pointed at him. The idea that a respectable member of the community could have something to do with a heinous crime is always puzzling to those around them. But isn’t that always the case in real life? As Sylvia Steineitz says to Grace in the series, “It’s always the husband.” And I think the complexities of relationships, family, and the disruption of everyday life are something the author expertly highlights in this novel. Those themes kept me turning the pages, curious as to how these types of people so easily slip under the radar, how monsters are made, and how we can try to better spot them among usessentially (I imagine) what Grace’s self-help book, You Should Have Known, is supposed to shed light on.

The frustrating inner musings of Grace, who is in utter denial of her husband’s wrongdoings, concerned me for two reasons. Firstly, she is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in couples therapy, and second, she is on the brink of publishing a book titled, You Should Have Known, detailing all the ways in which women ignore the red flags in their relationships and ultimately fall under the spells of their dysfunctional counterparts. At first, the idea that Grace was blindly unaware of the troubles in her own marriage made me question her character’s authenticity. As my buddy reader said, “what kind of New Yorker doesn’t have a healthy dose of paranoia and suspicion about absolutely everything?” and I agree, also having lived in the city. But after giving it some thought, I couldn’t help but think of the private complexities in relationships like Grace and Jonathan’s, or of any marriage, for that matter. The idea that the people we choose to spend our lives with are not always who we think they are, or who they portray themselves to be is thought-provoking. Further to that, it creates an even more terrifying portrayal of just how slippery sociopaths and psychopaths are, especially when a trained professional such as Grace can’t spot one right in front of her. Often described as charming, friendly, do-gooder types; pillars of the community, presidents of their church, or bright young men embodying above-average intelligence. It seems they’re everywhere in modern society today.

With the exception of Grace’s childhood friend, Vita, and lakehouse neighbor, Leo, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable, including Grace. But I also think that was the point. However, I did come to understand her more as the novel progressed and she reconnected with the people from her past whom Jonathan had successfully isolated her from. That revealed a side of her character I initially didn’t see. The women she chose to surround herself with in the city were vile, and the relationships she nurtured were few and far between. My favorite part of the novel began when she left the city and moved to her family’s lakehouse in Connecticut, where she and Henry finally began to piece their lives back together. It seemed as though things would work out for them, and there was even an allusion to future romance for Grace in spite of everything she’d been through. I loved learning that in spite of everything, Grace’s publisher was not ready to drop the book deal, and interestingly, wanted to push back its publication and rewrite the forward, using the crime as fuel to drive sales which provided a glimpse of hope for Grace’s future.

Even though the pace was slow and the cast of characters was morally ambiguous, I can’t stop thinking about this novel. I recommend reading it even if you have watched the HBO series because there’s so much more to the characters than the on-screen version could possibly depict. I’m intrigued to read her other books, especially The Plot, which is being adapted into a limited series by Hulu.


For readers who enjoy slow-burning, psychological suspense, and twisted families with dark secrets.

Published February 25th, 2014


Grace Reinhart Sachs is living the only life she ever wanted for herself. Devoted to her husband, a pediatric oncologist at a major cancer hospital, their young son Henry, and the patients she sees in her therapy practice, her days are full of familiar things: she lives in the very New York apartment in which she was raised, and sends Henry to the school she herself once attended.

Dismayed by the ways in which women delude themselves, Grace is also the author of a book You Should Have Known, in which she cautions women to really hear what men are trying to tell them. But weeks before the book is published a chasm opens in her own life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only an ongoing chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster, and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself.

Book Review: American Mermaid by Julia Langbein

Fun, hilarious, and full of surprises!

JULIA LANGBEIN, a sketch and standup comedian for many years, holds a doctorate in Art History and is the author of a non-fiction book about comic art criticism (Laugh Lines, Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2022). She wrote the viral comedy blog The Bruni Digest (2003-7), which reviewed New York Times critic Frank Bruni’s restaurant reviews every week and has since written about food, art, and travel for Gourmet, Eater, Salon, Frieze, and other publications. A native of Chicago, she lives outside of Paris with her family.

Penelope Schleeman quits her job as a teacher and moves from Connecticut to LA to co-write the screenplay of her novel, American Mermaid. But her dreams quickly fade when the two screenwriters she’s been paired with to adapt the novel try to scrap the elements that mean the most to her. Meanwhile, she’s advised by her agent to attend Hollywood parties and rub shoulders with creative types to broaden her connections in the industry. Her story is interlaced between chapters of her novel in which Sylvia Granger, an androgynous eco-warrior mermaid, is wheelchair-bound after her adoptive parents split her tail as a baby in order to keep her true identity a secret from her. When she attempts to commit suicide by diving into the ocean, her legs fuse together revealing she has special mermaid powers and propels her on a revenge mission against her father for perpetuating a lie.

This book was a fun change compared to the gritty thrillers I usually read. The idea of a vengeful mermaid taking on her fictitious father and a team of Hollywood executives for trying to kill her on the page made me laugh. I liked that Penelope (or Penny), the protagonist, is a writer and finds success when the movie rights to her book are sold. I also enjoy stories set in Hollywood and it was entertaining to learn about the industry parties and strange introductions she madeincluding the eccentric fictional screenwriter, Dick Babbot, who eventually ends up being hired to bring ‘fresh eyes’ to the script following the attack of her two screenwriting colleagues by her main character. Langbein’s writing is whip-smart and hilarious, creating a strong feminist narrator in Penny as she navigates toxic corporate culture. A scene I can’t shake is when she goes swimming and ends up being dragged out to sea by a riptide before being rescued by a lifeguard and pulled back to shore. Later on, she considers that maybe it was the work of Sylvia, as a warning for Penelope to protect her story from being butchered.

I always enjoy novels about writers, revenge, and quirky characters. The chapters between Penny and the industry bros were hilarious, especially the text messages in which they discuss the script vs the novel. Some of the comments exchanged were vile and cringe-worthy, but they breathed life into the characters revealing an uglier side to Hollywood that not everyone is aware of. Penny’s novel and its main character, Sylvia, mirrored her own life in parts but I still felt it lacked in connecting the two. I would have liked a deeper understanding of Penny’s background and family, especially details of her own strained relationship with her father. Aside from that, I really enjoyed the book including the ending, when Penny’s success as a screenwriter is revealed.


For readers who enjoy a book within a book, compelling characters, and hilarious dialogue.

Published March 21st, 2023


Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a best-seller.  Lured by the promise of a big payday, she quits teaching and moves to L.A. to turn the novel into an action flick with the help of some studio hacks. But as she’s pressured to change her main character from a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Threats appear in the screenplay; siren calls lure Penelope’s co-writers into danger.  Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her mermaid come to life, enacting revenge for Hollywood’s violations?

American Mermaid follows a young woman braving the casual slights and cruel calculations of a ruthless industry town, where she discovers a beating heart in her own fiction, a mermaid who will fight to move between worlds without giving up her voice. A hilarious story about deep things, American Mermaid asks how far we’ll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale.