Book Review – The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Welcome, book lovers! 

In this post, I discuss a mystery and thriller, The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. If you’d prefer to listen to this review, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. (This is a spoiler-free post.)

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The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Published: May 2021
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Format: Paperback
My Rating: Read It
My GR Rating: 4/5 ⭐

Book Synopsis: 

GoodReads Description: Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they’re also building a new future—one neither of them could have anticipated.

Overall Opinion:

For my first mystery/vanishing/uncovering secrets of the past/thrillers, I really enjoyed myself. I basically read this book in just two sittings. I couldn’t put it down because it just sucked me in so much. I kept wanting to know what would happen next. Questions kept popping up for me that I wanted to uncover along with the characters.

Book Details:

  • Length – I read the physical paperback book and it had 303 pages. This was a really quick read for me because it sucked me in right from the beginning. It only took me two days to read it. I couldn’t put it down. 
  • Writing Style – It was easy-to-read, simple prose. Nothing flowery or lush. It was descriptive when it needed to be, which I was content with. There is not a lot of filler, but yet the story still came to life for me through the vividly imagined characters. It was great storytelling. It also had great pacing, and I was never left bored with it. The plot was tight and captivating. The chapters were short, crisp, and to the point, which I really appreciated. 
  • Cover Art – Not impressed. It could’ve been better.

What I Didn’t Like About It:

  • The editing was a little sloppy. I noticed some typos and grammatical errors, which is always a pet peeve of mine. 
  • There wasn’t a lot of action, and it would’ve been nice to have a few more thrilling scenes. I expected a little more suspense than what I got. 
  • I felt like the big reveal was a bit anticlimactic. There was a lot of build up, and then it fell a little flat. I wasn’t disappointed by the reveal, but I felt like it could’ve been done better. Honestly, I suspected the reveal about 50% into the book, so when I realized what was going on, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I’ve seen enough movies and TV series to see how this type of story plays out. But it still kept me reading and intrigued on how it would end and what would happen to the characters. Also, I wouldn’t say this book was predictable because it wasn’t, but I had some good guesses that turned out to be true. But it didn’t ruin anything for me. 
  • As you uncover the truth about Owen and his past, there is a threat that comes into play; however, that threat never really felt that dangerous. It almost felt a little distant and empty, and I would’ve liked it to be more confrontational, looming, and intimidating. 
  • The POV of this story is from Hannah, which was fine. But I saw another reviewer admit that she would’ve liked to see either a dual POV from Hannah and Owen throughout the story, or the main POV be from Bailey. I thought those were interesting insights, and then I wondered if choosing the new wife for the POV was the best choice for this story. Maybe it could’ve been told by someone else, or told in multiple POVs, which could’ve created more of the suspense I was looking for because we’d be in Owen’s head and understand more about this threat or danger that he’s running from.

What I Liked About It:

  • The overall premise of the book was very intriguing. Why would a father leave his only child with a woman that he just married? From the start, I wanted to know what was going on with this family. Why Owen was being so secretive and cryptic. Why he just left his family the way he did. It was a very believable plot, nothing outlandish. Not at any point of the book did I question the validity of the story. This is definitely something that could happen, and probably has happened, in real life. 
  • Even though she had her faults, I liked Hannah’s character. She was an intelligent, clever, resourceful, strong, and good-hearted woman. She respected her husband’s wishes and did everything she could to protect her stepdaughter. The love, sacrifice, and determination that she gave was inspiring and emotional in some parts of the story. She never had any children of her own, but you see her maternal instinct kick in when she’s trying to protect Bailey. That’s her one job to do and she does it really well. She doesn’t really think about herself, it’s only about her stepdaughter. We see her selflessness and her loyalty to her husband and to her new family. I also appreciated how she navigated this difficult relationship with Bailey with grace. Because her stepdaughter is not the easiest person to get along with. She’s not that super angsty, annoying teenager you find in books, but she was a rebellious, snarky teenager that showed her feelings on her sleeve. At parts, it was hard to like Bailey.
  • I didn’t expect for this book to get emotional, but toward the end, it does. At least for me, it did. There were parts that were very relatable to me. When I was 15, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died when I was 16, and at 17, my father remarried. So I could especially relate to Bailey being 16 with a new stepmother and understand the whole stepdaughter/stepmother dynamic. It hit very close to home for me, so I may have gotten a bit more emotional than others who read this who haven’t gone through this experience. I really enjoyed watching their relationship develop as they were forced to work together to figure out what was going on with Owen, which ultimately did bond them closer together. 
  • I didn’t really know what to expect going into this book. I wasn’t sure if it was more on the mystery side or more on the thriller side. I would say it’s more on the mystery side. It’s definitely deep and compelling from the very start. Hannah and Bailey weren’t really in that much danger for most of the book because they didn’t know what was going on and what they were dealing with. So for the majority of the story, it was Hannah trying to get Bailey to remember things about her past to give her clues to go off of. It was unraveling this mysterious past of her husband’s and taking his daughter along with her as her guiding compass, which I enjoyed. I think this is really what kept me reading was uncovering the clues and trying to piece it all together. 
  • I also enjoyed the flashbacks throughout the whole story. You keep witnessing scenes of Hannah and Owen together in the past and it keeps going further and further back. It helped to understand their story and relationship. I felt that it also allowed me to draw my own conclusions about what kind of man Owen is, and the relationship that they had. I felt that it did help to shape the story into a more cohesive book.
  • I absolutely loved how Laura Dave incorporated real-life locations and events into the story. So the majority of the book takes place in Austin, TX, which I’ve never been to, but was curious if some of the things in the book matched with real-life. And sure enough, it did!

Why You Should or Shouldn’t Read It:

If you like fast-paced, gripping domestic mysteries with some emotion, then you’ll probably like this one. If you like strong, intelligent, well-written female protagonists, then you’ll also enjoy this book. 

If you’re looking for a lot of action, tons of suspense, and a thrilling, pulse-pounding page-turner, then this will probably fall short for you, and you may want to skip it.

Book vs. TV Series:

  • Overall, I thought the series was done very well. The different locations shot were beautiful, especially when they were supposed to be in Sausalito. I liked the actors that they chose, and the acting was done well. I also really liked the musical score and some of the songs used in the series.
  • One thing that I didn’t like, and this is probably me being a prude, is that they say the f word quite a bit in the series. There is some cursing in the book, but it didn’t seem like a lot, only when it was really needed. But in the show, I felt like they added a lot more and it was unnecessary. I don’t like a lot of cursing in my entertainment, so that was off putting for me. 
  • As far as book to screen adaptation, I thought it was pretty spot on with a few small changes. I did notice in the credits that Laura Dave was part of this project. She helped write and develop this series, so I think that’s why it felt so closely tied to the book. Obviously, there were some differences because there always are, but for the most part, they did a really good job.
    • I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were two changes that I noticed right off the bat. The first was Bailey’s hair. In the book, I got the impression that all of her hair was dyed purple. But in the series, they gave her pink and purple strips throughout her hair. 
    • Then, the second one was Jules, Hannah’s best friend. In the series, they made her a gay black woman. In the book, it doesn’t say she’s black but from the few descriptions given about her, I didn’t get that impression, but maybe she was. But in the book, Max, her partner, is definitely a guy, and in the series, she is a woman. Not that that changed anything about the story, but it was just an obvious change from the original material. Also, the woman who plays Jules in the series, Aisha Tyler, I really like her as an actress but she did not fit the description of Jules in the book. In the novel, it says she’s small-framed and wears an oversized sweatshirt that makes her look smaller. Aisha Tyler is six foot. She is not at all a small human. She is a large-framed woman, which is the opposite of the book description. Don’t get me wrong, she plays the best friend role very well, but she was not what I was expecting, that’s all. 
  • The other big thing that I noticed between the book vs. the series is that the TV show definitely builds up the suspense and makes things more dramatic than they are. For most of the book, it was just a mystery you’re trying to figure out, and no one is really in any danger. I didn’t really feel much suspense or thrilling excitement reading it. I was more intrigued and wanted to figure out the mystery. But the show puts this spin on it, which I thought was interesting and makes it a bit more interesting. But I could also see how viewers may be let down because it’s not some big-over-the-top action thriller. 
  • And finally, I thought Jennifer Garner did a great job of playing Hannah. But I really liked Angourie Rice’s portrayal of Bailey. I thought she did an excellent job of playing the daughter caught in the middle of all this drama. I looked her up on IMDB and I’ve seen other movies with her in them, but I don’t remember her. However, she definitely will stick out in my mind with this series. In the book, to me, Bailey came across as this sassy, snarky teenager with an attitude, and I didn’t really care for her at first. But she grew on me and her character developed as the story went on. But in the series, you can visually see Bailey struggle with things right from the beginning. She still shows a bit of attitude and acts like a bratty teenager, but it’s not annoying and doesn’t last long. Quickly, she’s thrown into this whirlwind that uproots her entire life and she’s trying to cope with all this new information being thrown at her. It’s a lot for an adult, let alone a young teenager. I thought the actress did a very good job of playing this character. I really liked her. She was probably my favorite character in the TV series. 
  • Personally, I liked the book better because we get more details of the story and go deeper with the character development that didn’t quite come through in the series, but I still enjoyed the TV show. I’m glad that I watched it. It’s also short, just seven episodes that range from 50 minutes down to 35 minutes. Some of the last few episodes are shorter than the beginning episodes. So you could easily binge and get through the show pretty quickly, that’s what I did. If I had to rate the show out of five stars, I’d probably give it 4-4.5 stars, in terms of how well it was adapted from the book. If I was rating it based on if I had never read the book and just wanted to watch a thriller show, I’d probably give it 3 stars.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, the cornerstone of this story was the stepmother/stepdaughter relationship. They are forced to trust and depend on each other in this wild, unexpected situation. I love the messaging about being a mother. You don’t have to be blood-related to act like a mother. You don’t have to give birth to a child to love them, make decisions on their behalf, and make sacrifices for them and their future. Again, this really hit home for me since I had a stepmother come into my life when I was a teenager. I loved seeing the two main characters form this new bond and deepen their relationship. The mystery of the story was very intriguing and kept me turning the pages where I finished the book in just a couple of days. I definitely want to read another book by Laura Dave. I think she’s a great storyteller and knows how to bring characters to life and give them depth and develop them over the course of the book. Definitely recommend this one!

If you’re interested in this book, you can purchase it here.

*Please note that I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and a member of other affiliate programs. I may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made through links in this article.

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