Friday, August 21, 2020

When I Was You by Amber Garza: Review & Excerpt

When I Was You by Amber Garza
About the Book

YOU meets FATAL ATTRACTION in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester's growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son's pediatrician to confirm her upcoming "well-baby" appointment. It's a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there's another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

But Kelly can't stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can't help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician's office, it's simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.

About the Author
Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.

Author Links

TWITTER: @ambermg1

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Q & A with Amber Garza

Please give the elevator pitch for When I Was You.
Two women in the same town with the same name. One goes missing and the other may know why.

What's the "story behind the story" with When I Was You?
There’s another Amber Garza who lives in my town. I’ve known about her for over ten years. We used to go to the same gym for a time, and I only know this because I would have to give my birthdate when I checked in, so they could differentiate between the two of us. We also went to the same doctor at one point. People who have met her say we look similar and both have friendly, bubbly personalities. We’ve never met, but I’ve often wondered about her.
Also, I live in suburbia, and there’s so much comparison going on here. It’s that whole “keep up with the Joneses” thing, you know? And as much as I try to stay away from it, it’s so easy to get caught in that trap. After finding out about the other Amber Garza, I thought about combining these two ideas. What if two women with the same name met and wanted each other’s lives? And from that question, this novel was born.
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Which came first: the characters or plot line?
The plot line.

Why do you love Kelly and why should readers root for her?
Kelly is a mom who loves her son fiercely and would do anything for him. She may do some crazy things in this story, but deep down I believe she has good intentions. It comes from a place of deep love and loyalty.
What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
To be patient. I feel like I always want things to move faster than they are in this industry. It’s definitely been teaching me patience. But, honestly, I feel so blessed and grateful. And I do get why things take so long to happen. There’s a lot of work that goes into releasing a book successfully. So, even though I spend a lot of time refreshing email, I know it’s all worth it.
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Do you have any specific writing rituals?
No, not really. I often write with music playing in the background, but I can just as easily write without it. I’m actually a person who needs a lot of variety. I get bored frequently. So, I write in different rooms of the house, including outside. I go to coffee shops when I can. I mostly work on my macbook, but sometimes I’ll switch to my desktop. I have an office, but I rarely write there.
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Which character in this novel is most like you and why?
Kelly (1) for sure. Not in her craziness, I hope. Ha! But we are similar in a lot of practical ways. When I wrote this novel, my husband was working in the Bay Area and my son was nineteen. I, myself, was wrestling with some loneliness, and felt challenged by the changes in the relationship with my son. I was essentially discovering who I was outside of being a wife and mom, so much of that is explored in Kelly (1)’s character.

What can you tell us about your next project?
The working title is WHERE I LEFT HER. It’s the story of Whitney and her fifteen-year-old daughter Amelia. One evening, Whitney drops Amelia off at a friend’s house for a sleepover. From the car, she watches Amelia walk up to the front door, sees the friend let her in. The next day Whitney returns to the house to pick her daughter up but is greeted by an elderly woman who has no idea what she’s talking about.
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My Thoughts

When I was You by Amber Garza is an intriguing thriller.  It has a twisty plot that keeps you guessing.  There are two Kelly Medina’s but there is about a twenty-year age difference.  The older Kelly has a son who is enjoying college while the younger Kelly’s son is just a baby.  The older Kelly is having a hard time adjusting to an empty nest especially with her husband in the Bay Area during the week.  There are odd connections, secrets, and danger.  I did have trouble getting into the story.  The narrator’s voice was inconsistent, and I was never able to relate to the characters. I believe When I was You is one of those books that some will love and others not so much.   I enjoyed the suspense as the plot strengthened and it has a remarkable ending.  Those readers who enjoy a tangled psychological thriller will enjoy reading When I Was You.  

It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand.  Unknown number.
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Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office.  “Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back.  “Is this Kelly Medina?”

Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up.  “Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.”

“Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.”  “Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused.   “My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.”  “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard.  “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.”
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“There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now.  Until you.

“Yes. Her child is a new patient.”  It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name.
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 “I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.”

I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner.
Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do.

Boys were supposed to grow up and leave.  In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go.  After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen.  The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence.
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The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before.

But they were right.  Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone.
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Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child.

When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town. 
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As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed.

Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron.
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The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now.
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Heart pinching, I blew out a breath.  I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had.

Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip.
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Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started.

Aaron?  Nope. It was a text from Christine.  Going to yoga this morning?
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I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house.

Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today.   No, I typed. Then bit my lip.   Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen - disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes.
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You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head.  The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading.  I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready.

Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning.
Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more.

Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring.
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I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’  Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.”

My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you.
“No. She was here super early.”  Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant.  “Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in. 

Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room.
I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips.  She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.”  “Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers.

“I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.”  Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.”  “Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.”
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“Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families.  “I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.”  “Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically.

Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…”  I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.”

Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining.
Group of women stretching before yoga class in studio
 “I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.”

“Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.”
“Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed.  

The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous.
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“Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room.  I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day.

Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child.

It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it.  But why? 
Are you ready to read When I Was YouWhen I Was You publishes August 25 and is available at Amazon*, Harlequin, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, Google, and iBooks.  You can find Amber Garza's other novels here.  This book reminded me of two incidents where I encountered someone with the same name as mine.  I went to  middle school with a Christina M. Anderson who was born on the same day in the same year.  In high school there was another Kristina Anderson.  I was a senior and she was a freshman.  We both went by Kris and we looked very similar.  Have you had similar experiences?  Thank you for dropping by today.  Tomorrow I am sharing my review of Penned In by Lynn Cahoon.  It is A Farm-to-Fork Mystery novella.  I hope you have a calming day.  Take care, be kind, and Happy Reading!


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