Review – The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the Species
by Mindy McGinnis

Genre: Young Adult

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 20, 2016


A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives.

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.



But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.

Alex Craft is filled with righteous anger in a way we don’t see in a lot of female protagonists. Another blogger suggested The Female of the Species to me after I reviewed Sadie, by Courtney Summers, and talked about how much I appreciated the way Sadie’s justified anger was portrayed in the narrative. Alex bears some similarities to Sadie; the violent death of a sister has triggered something dark in both girls.

In The Female of the Species, McGinnis attempts to examine rape culture. I think some of the aspects of the backdrop of this novel undermine this a bit. The major characters, while not totally one-dimensional, can be easily pigeon-holed into various high school stereotypes which have been done to death (daughter of the town preacher, popular jock, slutty cheerleader, etc). It’s difficult to make a serious point about slut shaming when a major plot line involves a rivalry between the “good girl” and the “slutty, boyfriend stealing cheerleader” without ever subverting our expectations about those characters in any major way.

I think McGinnis felt the need to include these other POV characters in part create breaks from Alex’s somewhat flat emotional state. The drama between the preacher’s daughter, the cheerleader, and jealousy over boys creates for a very different tone from Alex’s chapters, which are (for the most part) dominated by frustration over what happened to her sister and countless other girls and women and a thirst for vengeance. (I think Courtney Summers’ novel, Sadie, proved that one can devote a lot of time to a character like that and still make for a really interesting novel, but I don’t want to beat this book to death with comparisons to Sadie.)

For me, Alex’s chapters were the most engaging, with the rest of the characters falling too cleanly into stereotypes for me to really connect. Alex is the primary reason for my four star rating. Alex’s emotional journey was very well written, from memories of her childhood that hinted at a dark side to her even before her sister’s death, to the simmering rage of much of her life, and finally to a hint at a possibility of healing when she begins to learn to let others in. (Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “teen romance can heal all wounds” books. Alex gets a boyfriend, yes, but her friendship with Peekay is also a huge turning point for her.)

I won’t get into spoilers, but I will say I wasn’t the biggest fan of how  McGinnis wrapped up the ending. It felt to me like she went for something dramatic and final simply because she didn’t know where else to leave off with this story. McGinnis ends the story with a bang when I feel like the subject matter might have been better served by a bit more subtlety.

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The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Mess

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. I have two full sets of the books, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read them. Harry Potter is synonymous with my childhood, and anything set in the HP universe is bound to trigger warm and fuzzy nostalgia for me. The bar is set very low when it comes to my enjoyment for things in this franchise. I’m in the minority of fans in the sense that I didn’t even mind The Cursed Child. It was kind of silly, but you better believe I curled up in bed and read that screenplay in a single sitting, because the final Harry Potter book came out in 2007 and at this point I’ll take what I can get.

That being said, we need to talk about The Crimes of Grindelwald. Spoilers ahead. Obviously.

First and foremost, Queenie Goldstein deserved better. Queenie was one of my favorite characters in the first movie; I thought she was ridiculously charming and funny. The Queenie in the first movie exuded sweetness. I don’t recognize the Queenie in The Crimes of Grindelwald. One could argue that her habit of reading minds without permission foreshadowed the serious lack of respect for another person’s agency that we see in her willingness to place Jacob under a spell. However, I think there’s a huge gap between reading someone’s thoughts (something the second movie suggests she may not always be able to control via the scene where she has an emotional breakdown in the street while overwhelmed by the thoughts of the crowed around her) and totally removing their free will with a charm.

Queenie’s relationship with Jacob is so sloppily written and lacks internal consistency. Jacob lives Queenie and wants to continue a relationship with her; marriage and children are not in the cards due to laws in America, and he worries too much about her safety to try to circumvent that. (Side note: they’re in Europe for the duration of this movie, where, unless I’m mistaken, marriage between witches and muggles was legal at the time. If this was such a sticking point, wouldn’t you think Queenie would resort to moving before she’d resort to taking away her lover’s free will?)

Queenie can’t accept Jacob’s conditions for the relationship, so after their falling out over his understandable outrage at being magically controlled, Queenie takes off, where she’s intercepted by followers of Grindelwald, who successfully recruit her. What? Queenie is so distraught over not being allowed to marry her muggle boyfriend that she aligns herself with an anti-muggle hate group? And on that note, why was she recruited by Grindelwald’s followers in the first place? It seems he made a special point of getting to Queenie, but there was never anything in the narrative to suggest why she was a target for recruitment. And on that note, the whole concept of having a character with the last name “Goldstein” (i.e., coded as Jewish) going over to the side of a character who is basically a stand-in for Hitler is…. yikes.

I could go on for a lot longer, but to summarize this part, basically everything about Queenie’s storyline was baffling to me.

Why does Jacob have his memories back?

Yes, I know, this is probably the last original complaint about this movie, but that’s because it’s valid. That hand-wavy explanation offered in the movie (“It only erased bad memories!!!”) is so ridiculously unsatisfying. That’s not how it was written in the first movie, and you can bet that if only bad/traumatic memories were actually erased, there were a lot of other muggles (sorry-“no-mag”) running around New York with memories the MoM doesn’t want them keeping.

What was particularly frustrating to me about this plot point was that it was totally unnecessary to keep Jacob in the story. If they wanted to bring him back, considering there was somewhat of a time jump between the movies, there were better ways to do this. Queenie finds Jacob in his bakery at the end of the first installment.

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Queenie and Jacob had more than enough time to gradually fall in love all over again and for Queenie to fill Jacob in on everything that had been erased. And even if that all necessarily happened off-screen, it would still be an infinitely more satisfying story than “the spell didn’t take because Rowling realized Jacob was a fan favorite and didn’t know how to bring him back without retconning her own story.” If the franchise had switched writers between installments, I’d probably be more inclined to ignore the parts that don’t line well with the first movie, but this is all Rowling. After all the work she put into the HP series, how is she seemingly unable to properly plan ahead from one movie to the next?

Dumbledore’s Blood Pact and the No-Homo-McGuffin

In a shameless case of Rowling wanting to have her cake and eat it too, we finally have a story that touches on Dumbledore’s youth and his love affair with Grindelwald that was never confirmed in the original series because it “wasn’t relevant to Harry’s story.” Well, it’s relevant now, but do we have any canon acknowledgement of Dumbledore’s sexuality? Ehhh, yes and no. One could argue for the “we were closer than brothers line” being just that, but given the needless inclusion of the blood oath plot line, which seems inserted solely to distract from any possible romantic motivations behind Dumbledore’s inability to fight Grindelwald, it’s pretty clear that the creators aren’t comfortable with any explicit acknowledgement of Dumbledore’s sexuality outside of J.K. Rowling’s twitter.

The blood oath story isn’t an issue in and of itself; it’s the fact that we were already given an explanation for Dumbledore’s motivations, and Rowling is now too afraid to explore that in the actual story. Instead, we are given a magical artifact as the embodiment of that oath for our heroes to obtain and then find a way to destroy, because we didn’t already see enough of that with horcruxes, I guess. I’m sorry, but which of these is the more interesting story:

  • The hero knows that the villain is evil, but struggles to fight him because of their long personal history and lingering feelings of affection, or
  • The hero can’t fight the villain because magic?

Dumbledore is a flawed individual, and even in his old age in the HP series, we see some similarities between Grindelwald’s line of thinking and his own. Grindelwald’s catch phrase, “For the greater good,” could easily be applied to an older Dumbledore’s willingness to sacrifice Harry to fulfill a prophecy to defeat Voldemort. The Crimes of Grindelwald offered up the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the darker side of Dumbledore and his emotional struggle to separate himself fully from his former lover. Instead, we got, “Sorry, guys, I can’t fight him because we did this ultra-magic pinky swear.”

Nagini: Just Why?

No one was scrambling to get a backstory for Voldemort’s snake, and in the face of criticisms about lack of representation, making an Asian woman the pureblood supremacist’s future pet was possibly the worst possible response. But if they were going to do this, they could have at least given her some dimension. What does she add to the plot here? She follows Credence around looking sad. She could have been entirely removed from the plot with little to no consequences to the overall narrative. To be fair, there are more movies to come in this franchise, so perhaps that changes, but as it currently stands, I’m baffled as to why she was even in the movie.

Everything About Credence

Leaving aside the fact that his survival of the events of the first movie feels ridiculously far-fetched (why don’t we at least have more characters questioning how he’s still alive?), the revelation of his back story is so convoluted it makes my head spin. First you have the convoluted back story of the person Kama believed him to be: little brother of Leta Lestrange, who Kama was determined to kill for revenge, because Leta’s father essentially kidnapped and raped Kama’s mother through use of the Imperius Curse. Kama wants to kill the one thing Leta’s father loved the most, and he never loved Leta (sorry, Leta) so he’ll have to kill the little brother instead. Their father had sent them overseas to keep them safe.

But wait! Leta’s brother is already dead, because Leta swapped him out for a less obnoxious baby (harsh, Leta) on the voyage over to the US. Of course, at the very moment she executed what was supposed to be a temporary swap, the ship started sinking. Little brother’s lifeboat capsized, but Leta survived with the mystery baby (which apparently looked enough like Leta’s brother to fool the nanny who was travelling with them, since she never seemed to have any suspicions.)

The revelation at the end is that Credence is some long lost Dumbledore brother. (Based on everyone’s ages in this film, it might take some rather fuzzy math to make that happen, but considering we have Minerva McGonagall teaching in this film, fuzzy math doesn’t seem to be a deterrent here.) I’m honestly hoping against hope that this is Grindelwald trying to manipulate him, because I don’t see how this can lead up to the later story that we already know from the original series. Surely with all the emphasis on Dumbledore’s backstory in Deathly Hallows, an extra Dumbledore brother who was a major driving force in the conflict with Grindelwald would have come up at some point?

Inconsistent Characterization of Grindelwald

This may seem like a minor quibble, but I can’t get over the scene with the lizard… thing. Screenwriters have long used hurting animals as a shortcut to get us to hate a villain. What bothers me about it in this case is how it doesn’t seem to jive with what else is going on in this scene. Grindelwald has escaped prison by swapping places with a follower in disguise. He then risks everything to break out that follower, seemingly a sign that he values loyalty. What exactly was the motivation for tossing his loyal pet out the window? I get what Rowling was going for here, but I don’t at all get Grindelwald. The scene just felt like a gratuitous, cheap “see? he’s evil!” nod to the audience.

I don’t feel like we know any more about him at the end of this move than we did at the end of the first. He’s a master manipulator and evil. We’ve got that much already. (Also, if you were going to use cruelty to an animal to motivate us to hate him, Rowling, you could have just had him kick a niffler. Done.)

The Saving Grace: Newt Scamander

The many messy plot lines of this installment almost served to completely obscure the hero of the first movie, Newt Scamander. He often felt like an afterthought in this movie, which is an absolute shame, because he’s definitely one of my favorite male heroes in a long while. Newt’s primary characteristics are his curiosity and nurturing nature. Newt is shy and awkward, and seems to show signs of being on the autism spectrum (various mannerisms, difficulty with social cues, his lack of eye contact and physical contact, fantastic beasts as a special interest, etc.). The world has seen so many hyper-masculine heroes whose primary hobbies are brooding and punching things that Newt feels really refreshing and interesting. Newt is a Hufflepuff, through and through, and the world can definitely use some more Hufflepuff heroes. This installment really fell flat for me, but lord knows I’ll be back for the next installment to see more of Newt.


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Review – Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 464 Pages

Release date: November 6, 2018


Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.



Nine Perfect Strangers seems to have really mixed reviews on Goodreads, and while I really enjoyed it, I can absolutely understand why it didn’t work for some people. The first half of the book felt like a bit of a slog. The pacing is seriously off, and weirdly enough, the novel almost seems almost self-aware and defensive about it. One of the major characters is a novelist who muses early on about her editor constantly nagging about pacing, seeing this as indicative of an epidemic lack of patience in modern society. Am I reading too much into this passage? Maybe. But it was a kind of surreal experience to have a fictional character lecture me about readers being too picky about pacing in a novel that takes forever to get moving.

This is structurally different from other Moriarty novels I’ve read, which typically alternate between two timelines, hinting at a big reveal about something that happened in the middle of the two, while taking ages to get there. Nine Perfect Strangers is told from beginning to end, with backstories peppered in through conversation rather than flashbacks. I actually liked this change of pace and I think Moriarty avoided the pitfall of her novels starting to seem too formulaic by mixing this up.

There’s also this weird blend of madcap absurdity and serious plot points. Based on other reviews, the zany bits drove some readers over the edge, but I didn’t mind these. The crisis in this book will absolutely strain your suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. It’s ridiculous and darkly funny, but if you’re able to just run with it, the story is a lot of fun. It does have the effect of making the novel kind of tonally odd, however. You have this over-the-top scenario unfolding whilst the characters are dealing with very real emotional turmoil over various painful endings: death, divorce, and fading careers.

The two major characters are clearly Frances (washed-up romance novelist struggling with menopause) and Zoe (20-year-old mourning the death of her twin brother.) While there are other characters that Moriarty spends a lot of time attempting to develop, none of the others every really feel like they quite get there. Frances and Zoe feel fleshed out and real while all the others feel like a rough sketch. The other characters being less developed isn’t so much a problem in and of itself; it’s the sheer amount of time devoted to all of these characters for little payoff. I feel like a lot of the pacing issues came form Moriarty trying (and failing) to fully develop the entire cast of characters, when that really wasn’t necessary.

This review feels like directionless rambling, but it’s kind of difficult to put my thoughts on this novel into words without giving away the whole plot, and you really need to watch it unfold yourself to appreciate it. Nine Perfect Strangers is a truly weird book with a sometimes unbelievable story, but I had a great time on this roller coaster of a novel with Frances and Zoe.

CW: Suicide plays a major role in the plot of this novel.

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Review – Still Lives, by Maria Hummel

Still Lives
by Maria Hummel

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 275 Pages

Release date: June 5, 2018


Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.

As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala. Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

Set against a culture that often fetishizes violence, Still Lives is a page-turning exodus into the art world’s hall of mirrors, and one woman’s journey into the belly of an industry flooded with money and secrets.



I really thought I was going to love this book. With so much of the plot revolving around an art installation that was meant to be critical of society’s voyeuristic fascination with murdered women, I thought Hummel might have some point to articulate about it with a bit more substance than, essentially… “thing bad.” If it was there, perhaps it went over my head, but the book as a whole felt so meandering and disjointed that I don’t feel I can really be blamed. The artist in question, Kim Lord, is missing for the majority of the novel, and her disappearance provides the thrust of the story. This almost feels like a missed opportunity, as Kim Lord seems like she would have been a much more interesting character to explore than the protagonist, Maggie.

Maggie works in typesetting for the art gallery hosting Still Lives, Kim Lord’s most recent exhibit. Kim Lord’s current boyfriend, Greg, is Maggie’s ex, which is what draws Maggie into the action after Kim disappears. Maggie seems to still be pretty hung up on Greg, but we never really know enough about him as a person or their relationship to know or care why.

Honestly, a lot of Maggie’s back story seems to be really thinly sketched out. The novel is fairly short at under 300 pages, and I’d say perhaps it could have used some more space to fill out Maggie as a character, except that the 275 pages we already have seem to drag by rather slowly. I won’t go into details, but Maggie is struggling with a death in her past for which she feels responsible. Hummel tries to paint a picture of what led up to this to help us understand Maggie’s guilt, but even after finishing the novel, I feel pretty fuzzy on this.

I had a lot of difficulty keeping the characters straight, which isn’t generally a problem for me. There’s nothing worse than hitting a big reveal in a mystery novel only to say, “Wait, who was that again?” Character motivations felt like a bit of a stretch in more than one instance, in part because most of the characters were so thinly developed that they never felt like people.

Still Lives had a lot of promise, but I felt really let down by the author’s failure to fully flesh out any of the characters or to explore any of the themes she raised in any meaningful way. I wanted to love this book, but I think the best thing about it was the pretty cover.

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WWW Wednesday 12/05/2018

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


I’m currently reading…


Killing Adam
by Earik Beann

This is an ARC of a January 1st release. As you can see I’ve just started it, so I haven’t really formed an opinion yet. This novel takes place in a futuristic society where virtually everyone has chips implanted which allow them to access virtual reality, which seems to increasingly take the place of actual reality. A small portion of the population, for varying reasons such as genetic anomalies or brain injuries, is unable to have these chips. The protagonist, Jimmy Mahoney, is one such person.

Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty

This is the newest release from the author of Big Little Lies. It has kind of mixed reviews, so I was a little unsure going into it, but I’m glad I picked it up. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get into it, but I’m loving watching this ridiculous cast of characters in this ridiculous, somewhat unsettling scenario. It takes place at a health resort with rather… unconventional methods.

I recently finished reading…


The Gilded Wolves  (ARC – Pub. date: 01/15/2019) 
by Roshani Chokshi

A full review of this will be up closer to the publication date, but for now I’ll say it was really interesting. It’s a YA fantasy novel with an interesting magic system, secret societies, and a heist. And it looks to be the first installment of a new series, so I can’t wait to see where it’s going.

Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich

Review to come. The short version is this: if you’re familiar with the musical, there won’t be a ton of surprises in store here, obviously, but the author has made some changes and additions. I liked this and went through it pretty quickly, but I’m not sure the novel was the best format for this story, and I think it works better as a musical.

The Night Olivia Fell (ARC – Pub. date: 02/05/2019)
by Christina McDonald

Again, I’m waiting until closer to the release date to put up my full review, but this one really fell flat for me. Full disclosure: I seem to be in the minority opinion in that regard, as it has a 4.47 Goodreads rating right now. I part of my issue with this is simply that it bore far too many similarities to Reconstructing Amelia. I honestly felt like I was reading the same novel all over again at times. If you haven’t read Reconstructing Amelia, you’ll probably get a lot more enjoyment out of this than I did.

Still Lives
by Maria Hummel

And another dud for me. Full review will be up tomorrow. This novel revolves around the disappearance of a famous artist on the night her new exhibition opens. The setup had a lot of potential to do some interesting things thematically and then the author just… didn’t. The pace was slow, the characters felt flat, and I found myself not even caring about solving the mystery.

Maybe in Another Life 
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

(Full review here.) This was my third Taylor Jenkins Reid novel (plus one short story) and I’ve liked all of her work that I’ve read so far. Maybe in Another Life is about the “what ifs” in life, and follows through two vary different story lines for the protagonist, each hinging on one seemingly minor decision. The paths widely diverge as Reid explores the domino effect and the concepts of fate and soulmates.

Up next…

The Lost Man
by Jane Harper

This is an ARC I received through NetGalley. Jane Harper is the author of The Dry and Force of Nature, both of which I really enjoyed, so I requested this one without even reading the blurb first.

“Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.”


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Review – Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Maybe in Another Life 
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Length: 342 Pages

Release date: July 7, 2015


From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.



I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices and they led me somewhere else, led me to someone else. And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn’t end up with you.

This book had me thinking a lot about Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch. …Bear with me for a minute here. I thought it was interesting how two very tonally different books stemmed from the same central idea: the vastly different paths one’s life can take based on a single choice. Specifically, a romantic decision. Dark Matter takes this idea and runs with it, culminating in a dark science fiction story about alternate universes which hinges on the protagonist’s choice to prioritize his career or his romantic partner. In Maybe in Another Life, Taylor Jenkins Reid uses a nod to the multiverse theory to write two love stories for her protagonist, each mutually exclusive.

I think we’ve all spent time thinking about what seemingly inconsequential choices have altered the course of our lives. What tragic accidents have been narrowly avoided? Who are the people who would have changed your life that you almost met? Reid takes Hannah’s decision about whether or not leave a party with her ex boyfriend and runs through the drastically diverging scenarios which emerge. While each story is somewhat engaging on its own, the appeal to this novel is mainly in seeing how one decision can trigger a thousand more, leading to one storyline bearing little resemblance to the other.

When you fall in love, it can be difficult to picture things turning out differently. Reid seems particularly interested in exploring the concept of a soulmate. Hannah (minor spoiler here but not really) eventually ends up happy in both scenarios. Who is to say that one is right or wrong? Who is to say that anyone’s perfectly happy marriage is the only way things could or should have turned out?

I’m just going to do my best and live under the assumption that if there are things in this life that we are supposed to do, if there are people in this world we are supposed to love, we’ll find them. In time. The future is so incredibly unpredictable that trying to plan for it is like studying for a test you’ll never take. I’m OK in this moment.

I loved Hannah as a character. She was a bit of a hot mess, but a self-aware hot mess, and determined to work on herself. It’s difficult not to root for her. I think a lot of Millennials will find her relatable; she’s in her late twenties and struggling with the sensation that things should have fallen into place by now. She should have a stable career, stable relationship, stable life. Instead, she’s untethered and there’s a sense that adolescence is clinging onto her far longer than she’d prefer.

Maybe in Another Life was published two years before The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I think it’s fair to say that Taylor Jenkins Reid has grown a lot as an author in those two years. If you’re going into this novel expecting it to be similar in tone and quality to Seven Husbands, you may find yourself disappointed, but taken on its own merit, Maybe in Another Life is cute, sweet, and a worthwhile read.

Purchase links

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Thank you for reading! Have you read any novels which hinge on the idea of a multiverse theory or diverging storylines based on a single choice? Let’s discuss in the comments!


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Review – Before We Were Strangers, by Brenda Novak

Before We Were Strangers
by Brenda Novak

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: December 4, 2018

Publisher: MIRA


Something happened to her mother that night. Something no one wants to talk about. But she’s determined to uncover her family’s dark secrets, even if they bury her.

Five-year-old Sloane McBride couldn’t sleep that night. Her parents were arguing again, their harsh words heating the cool autumn air. And then there was that other sound–the ominous thump before all went quiet.

In the morning, her mother was gone. The official story was that she left. Her loving, devoted mother! That hadn’t sat any better at the time than it did when Sloane moved out at eighteen, anxious to leave her small Texas hometown in search of anywhere else. But not even a fresh start working as a model in New York could keep the nightmares at bay. Or her fears that the domineering father she grew up with wasn’t just difficult–he was deadly.

Now another traumatic loss forces Sloane to realize she owes it to her mother to find out the truth, even if it means returning to a small town full of secrets and lies, a jilted ex-boyfriend and a father and brother who’d rather see her silenced. But as Sloane starts digging into the past, the question isn’t whether she can uncover what really happened that night…it’s what will remain of her family if she does?



My thanks to The Girly Book Club and Booktrib for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The concept behind Before We Were Strangers felt really promising to me, and I was excited to dig into it. The protagonist is seeking to solve a 23 year old disappearance and she suspects her own father; that should surely come with an interesting set of challenges. Unfortunately, the novel fell really flat for me, and I think a lot of my issues with it can be summed up by saying that it simply did not have believable character motivations in a lot of different plot points.

For starters: the romance. Sloane’s high school boyfriend, Micah, and her best friend, Paige, married after Sloane skipped town at 18. When Sloan returns to her hometown early in this story, their marriage has fallen apart because (obviously) no one could ever hold a candle to Sloan (groan) and Micah is still hung up on his high school girlfriend when he’s pushing 30. I truly hope it’s self evident to anyone over the age of 22 why this just makes me cringe. It’s not romantic, it’s obsessive and weird. The only thing that throws this into the “romance” category rather than “stalker” category is the fact that it’s somehow miraculously reciprocated. Your high school sweetheart being The One can be a cute angle; less so when your high school sweetheart is still pining after you after 10 years of no contact.

Strike two: big, bad daddy. As is clear from the blurb, Sloane returns home in large part to confirm her suspicions that her father was responsible for her mother’s disappearance. From the sound of things, it appears that most of the people in town agree with that sentiment; they’re all just too terrified of him to do anything about it. What can they possibly do to stand up to this intimidating, powerful… small town mayor? Yes, he has money and connections, but surely I’m not the only one who had trouble buying that an entire town would suspect him of murdering his own wife and yet be cowed by his seemingly unlimited power as… mayor.

Sloane’s brother, Randy, stands by their father to a frankly confusing degree, seemingly for no other reason than to provide a contrast to Sloane and throw one more obstacle at her. We are shown over and over just how horrific of a person their father is, in regards to his parenting, his treatment of women, and his willingness to manipulate everyone around him for his own gain. And yet Randy is his most steadfast supporter, despite being older than Sloane and presumably more aware of the abuse their mother suffered at his hands before her disappearance.

His jaw hardened. “You’re crazy! Our mother abandoned us! That’s the harsh truth you’re trying to avoid–and you’re willing to risk sending our father to prison in order to achieve it. Why? How will tainting Dad’s reputation or getting him embroiled in a police investigation help you or me or anyone else?”

“Our mother deserves justice!”

“And our father deserves more thanks than to have his daughter return to town only because she’s bent on destroying him.”

Finally, the writing style as a whole fell really flat for me. The dialog often felt clunky and unnatural, and the descriptions were sometimes unintentionally funny when they were meant to be building tension. One such example is this: “He hurried through the dining room to the kitchen and saw a large knife lying on the floor. That caused him to gulp, but it was nothing compared to finding the blood on the carpet…” The phrase “that caused him to gulp” was so awkward and cartoonish and that it made me burst out laughing in the middle of the climax of a thriller. I’m going to have to go out on a limb and say that’s probably not what the author was going for with that line.

Overall, this was just a disappointment for me. It had such great potential as a concept, but the plot felt incredibly flimsy, the characters consistently lacked believable motivations, and the writing was really unpolished. Novak has a good deal of novels under her belt, but this felt like a first attempt.

Purchase links

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Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Novak’s work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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