Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 340 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson, the latest of my buddy reads on StoryGraph, tells the tale of true crime aficionado Phoebe Walsh who comes back to Florida to help her younger brother clear out their father’s house after he dies unexpectedly. She’s working on her dissertation while clearing out her father’s house, but her love of the true crime genre has warped her sense of the world and relationships. Her brother, Connor, is a foil to her darker, sarcastic, untrusting personality. He sees everything as rosy and loves just about everyone, even the mysterious neighbor, Sam, next door, despite his lack of video gaming knowledge.

Phoebe and Connor have several years between them and each lived with a different parent — Connor lived with the mercurial father and Phoebe lived with the practical and strict mother. They saw little of each other growing up, and Connor’s memories of their father are very different from Phoebe’s memories. Both are anxious in different ways, but together they are able to work together through the anxious stuff. Their relationship was a highlight of the book, as well as Phoebe’s forced reconnection with a childhood friend.

Phoebe is a character who puts up walls and while she’s analyzing everyone and everything around her through the lens of serial killers, it’s clear she’s yearning for connection and family. Her tentative interactions with the neighbor are telling, even as she’s pushing away with comments about serial killers and the dangers of the unknown.

“‘I’ve read The Phantom Prince,’ I said. ‘The updated version with the foreword where she completely disavows her relationship with Ted Bundy. If that doesn’t convince you that romance is dead, nothing will.’

Sam stepped down from the ladder, as if he needed to be more grounded to have this conversation. ‘You do that a lot. Bring up serial killer stuff when the topic turns more serious.'” (pg. 176)

Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson was a fun read for the summer, not too creepy and not too cheesy. I really enjoyed the well developed characters and Phoebe’s journey back to her childhood and her ability to overcome her obsessions and anxiety to reconnect with her brother. The romance was steamy.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Alicia Thompson is a writer, reader, and Paramore superfan. As a teen, she appeared in an episode of 48 Hours in the audience of a local murder trial, where she broke the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and two children

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Source: public library
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto bring the aunties together with Meddy, Nathan, and Nathan’s family. The wedding plans are under way and it’s a destination wedding to Oxford, England. For some reason I went into this sequel just assuming there would be another murder. Not sure why, perhaps it was the description and the mention of the mafia.

This wedding is being planned down to the minute details, but one choice could have her wedding on the cover of the news. As Meddy gets closer to her own wedding photographer, Staphanie, and her family, similarities emerge between their immigration stories and how they interact with each other and the world around them. Meddy feels a kinship to Staph (unfortunate name, indeed), but what she find outs could upend not only her new friendship, but also the entire wedding.

“Toodle pip, cheerio!”

I turn to Nathan in a panic. “I think she’s having a stroke.”

Sutanto has a gift for comedy. Her over-the-top story lines are a bit unbelievable, but her comedic timing keeps readers turning the pages. When Meddy’s aunts adopt a British accent on the plan to the destination wedding, you can just imagine what kinds of slip ups and misunderstandings are going to happen with Nathan’s uptight, unsuspecting parents. I love all of these characters from the blood thirsty aunties to the bumbling and naive Meddy. Nathan is even lovable in all his forgiving glory.

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto is another entertaining read with a crazy cast of characters. I definitely recommend reading these books in order. You want some laughs, Sutanto is your author. I laughed out loud so many times reading this, my husband thought I was losing it.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews:

About the Author:

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and sees both cities as her homes. She has a Masters degree from Oxford University, though she has yet to figure out a way of saying that without sounding obnoxious. She is currently living back in Jakarta on the same street as her parents and about seven hundred meddlesome aunties. When she’s not tearing out her hair over her latest WIP, she spends her time baking and playing FPS games. Oh, and also being a mom to her two kids.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, was my work’s book club pick for March, is a coming of age story that takes a long trip off the rails of normal living. Meddelin Chan is an Indo-Chinese-American whose mother and aunties who can be a little stifling and over-bearing. This leaves her little room to be herself until she gets to live on a college campus and she meets the man of her dreams, Nathan.

SPOILER ALERT: Okay, Nathan would be the man of anyone’s dreams because honestly, he loves her no matter who she’s killed or what kind of trouble she gets into. That’s amazing to me. END SPOILER

When she returns from school after making a monumental life decision with little thought other than about a family curse and her familial obligations, the wedding business gets into full swing with her mother as a florist, her aunts as entertainment, makeup, and baker, and herself as the photographer. They are successful at this line of work, but Meddy is still not dating (ignore that 3 yr. relationship in college that her family knew nothing about).

This is where things go awry for Meddy. Her blind date is a horror show and the rest of the book from here is so over-the-top and ridiculous, it makes you want to cry with laughter. It’s definitely a comedy and not a serious murder mystery.

“I’m stuck in a nightmare. I know it. Maybe I got a concussion from the accident. Maybe I’m actually in a coma, and my coma-brain is coming up with this weird-ass scenario, because there is no way I’m actually sitting here, in the kitchen, watching my oldest aunties eat a mango and Ma and Fourth Aunt argue while Jake lies cooling in the trunk of my car.” (pg. 62)

The narrative style makes this relatable because Meddy is doing the talking and giving us all the ins-and-outs along the way, and the plot is just hilarious misstep after hilarious misstep. What bothered me and kept me from giving it a Quatrain rating was that it went a little too far with the over-the-top plotting. It was no longer believable to me in how the murder was resolved and wrapped up. Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto is a fun ride, and there happens to be a sequel. It’s definitely a book that will lighten your spirits even if there is a death involved.

RATING: Tercet and a half.

About the Author:

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and sees both cities as her homes. She has a Masters degree from Oxford University, though she has yet to figure out a way of saying that without sounding obnoxious. She is currently living back in Jakarta on the same street as her parents and about seven hundred meddlesome aunties. When she’s not tearing out her hair over her latest WIP, she spends her time baking and playing FPS games. Oh, and also being a mom to her two kids.

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 416 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

**don’t read this one until you’ve read the others**

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White is the seventh and last book in this ghostly mystery series. Melanie and Jack Trenholm are not in a good place at the start of this one. He’s no longer living in the Tradd Street home and they are sharing custody of their twins, while his daughter, Nola, stayed with Melanie. It’s clear that there is some tension between them, but the love they share and the heat are still present, even if they choose to ignore it.

“…faces of my children and Jack stared out at me from the computer’s background wallpaper, a reminder of everything we had lost. Or maybe we had just misplaced it.” (from ARC)

In this story, Melanie is trying to help Veronica, an old friend, solve the murder of her sister, which has been a cold case since their college days. Veronica’s husband, however, is eager to move out of their house and into a new place, as well as close the book on his sister-in-law’s unsolved murder. As with all other books, ghosts are showing up, leaving things in places they shouldn’t, and making things a little difficult for Melanie who is a reluctant communicator with the dead.

In the midst of this mystery, Marc Longo makes another appearance, and desperation has Jack and Melanie agreeing to be under the same roof and allow filming on the book Marc stole from Jack to begin in their house. You can imagine what kind of tension there will be.

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White has everything I’ve loved about this series from the beginning – ghosts, mysteries, and complicated relationships. I’m so glad this ended happily, and I cannot wait for the New Orleans spinoff series to begin.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews of the Series:

Other Books by Karen White:

About the Author:

Karen White is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—Southern women’s fiction—and has also expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and two spoiled Havanese dogs.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 364 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry has a title that I found misleading because it is not about people that Alex and Poppy meet on vacation but the versions of themselves that they meet on vacation. Alex and Poppy’s friendship blossomed after an awkward rideshare home one summer — yes, they are from the same little Ohio town, but have very different perspectives on that kind of life.

What makes this book work is the banter between Alex and Poppy, even if it seems they are so different that it is impossible to think how this relationship would work in real life. Poppy is a travel writer for R+R Magazine and he’s a high school English teacher. She’s battling “millennial ennui” and much of the book is told from her erratic point of view.

After we meet these protagonists, we spend a lot of time with Poppy. She’s tough to take sometimes, which is probably because she doesn’t know who she is. She knows she loves travel and writing, but she’s still hiding from her family (not because she doesn’t love them) and she’s keeping others at arms length. Even her fun relationship with Rachel seems a bit too close to the surface. Poppy is clearly struggling with self, and this all comes to a head on her last vacation with Alex.

“For the first time in my life, the airport strikes me as the loneliest place in the world.” (pg. 318)

Henry creates a narrative that alternates from the present to the past (Poppy and Alex have gone on previous summer vacations together). In many ways there is a countdown to the reveal of why they don’t speak when we see Poppy during her “career” crisis. It is a predictable reason, but the interactions between Poppy and Alex on this final vacation are worth the wait. You can see why their differences are complementary. You can see why they love each other and take vacations together. You see how each has grown but still has more growing to do as individuals.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry did not make me want to go on vacation with Alex and Poppy. In fact, their messy friendship kind of made me want to stay home. However, I did enjoy the journey and reading this one with a buddy. I will be picking up other Emily Henry novels, like Beach Read and Book Lovers, because I find quirky characters engaging, even if I don’t envy their lives.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 384 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax explores the unexpected friendships of a local book club in Atlanta at Between the Covers bookstore. This is an unusual book club where the members have a wide-range of backgrounds and experiences. Former tennis star Jazmine, empty-nester Judith, young assistant Erin, and bookstore assistant Sara are just four members of this eclectic book club that also has an EMT named Chaz, bookstore owner Annell, a budding fashion designer named Carlotta, and Meena, Judith’s best friend.

“It’s enough to make me wonder whether any of the things we think we know about each other are true.”

At the heart of the book is friendship, especially unexpected friendship, but this novel has a more solemn tone to it than some of Wax’s other, more light-hearted books. These women have experienced significant losses and hard times, and many of their secrets are kept close to the vest. While these women meet for book club to unwind and discuss books, the book club itself isn’t the main focus of the book, so much as the development of the characters. Jazmine is a single mother and a sports agent at a local boutique firm, but she’s haunted by the past, which keeps her closed off, ambitious, and focused on protecting her daughter. Judith is an older married woman whose husband seems even more distant, leaving her wondering what’s the next chapter for them until something tragic happens. Sara is the most blindsided of the four women when she discovers a heavy secret her husband has been hiding. Erin, on the other hand, is a young engaged woman who’s loss is for the best in many ways and allows her to blossom into a stronger version of herself.

“It’s strange how you can know people for so long yet only uncover slivers of who they really are and what they’ve been through.”

Wax explores the boundaries of friendship within this book club. Many readers have joined book clubs and have found friendship, fun, and wine, but would you call of the people in your book club a friend? Do you share personal experiences, talk about your heartaches, and delve deeper than the pages of the book to create lasting relationships outside of the book club? These are the questions that Wax explores in her novel, and while I love her lighter, beach reads, it is clear to me that these characters have depth — more so than her other characters — and that the sorrow in these pages is born of real experience.

My only complaint would be that the online dating mystery is wrapped up rather quickly and is too simplified, making it seem like an afterthought or something that was added to make it the book more relevant to today’s dating world. However, The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax is an excellent read that explores friendship and how it can evolve over time as long as you are willing to open yourself up and be vulnerable. Definitely a read you won’t forget.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Wendy Wax, a former broadcaster, is the author of sixteen novels and two novellas, including My Ex–Best Friend’s WeddingBest Beach EverOne Good ThingSunshine BeachA Week at the LakeWhile We Were Watching Downton AbbeyThe House on Mermaid PointOcean Beach, and Ten Beach Road. The mother of two grown sons, she has left the suburbs of Atlanta for an in-town high-rise, that is eerily similar to the fictional high-rise she created in her 2013 release, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey.

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 256 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a collection of poems that explore mother-daughter relationships, identity, and the racism many Blacks face every day. There are so many moments in this collection where your heart will break, just as the relationship between mother-daughter breaks. The narrator of these poems struggles with who she is and how to reconcile that with her mother’s disappointments about that identity.

In “We Host These Variables,” she says, “There’s something I want to honor here. I/ want to honor the silent story, the emotions/unaccompanied by human language. I want to/honor the weight of stillness. I want to/honor the silent ceremony between mother/ and daughter.” In this poem she explores the silence that become tense between mother and daughter because they are mirrors of one another. Later, she says, “I know the/distance between mother and daughter. How/we are many burned bridges, as well as a/wealth of brick and clay, ready to be made/anew from everything unmade of us.”

Mans explores the harsh history facing Blacks — women who get the worst part of it all. Men with the dreams, but the women who bear the burden of those dreams. One of the most powerful poems in this collection that brings this history to the forefront is “Nerf Guns: Christmas 2019 Tulsa” where the past and the burdens of racism are never far away. “The/only way a bullet becomes laughter is when it/plays pretend in its own foam shadow./” In this poem, little boys play with nerf guns and play dead and the narrator was never allowed to until she was grown and playing with her cousins. She realizes the ironies and implications of this game, while her cousins do not. “My father knew death too well to let us mimic it. Or, maybe death mimicked us too well for him to allow it’s ‘pretend’ in his house.” She wraps “herself in/that joy. The joy that nothing spilled of them/but the sound of their own silly.”

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a journey of identity and learning how to cope with the past to bring oneself into the future. There are truths in this collection that shouldn’t be shied away from, especially for Black men and women. We need these stories to remind us that we can do better. “I know trauma uses silence as a survival mechanism.” Let’s break that cycle and break that silence.

Rating: Cinquain