Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark [review]

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Published by Harper Collins on February 27, 2018
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
4.19 (as of 2019-03-14)
Spoiler-free Review

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A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by McNamara’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I think almost everyone has heard of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark at this point. It is the true crime book of the last few years. The disturbing, intriguing mystery is enough to pique interest, but Michelle McNamara’s sudden death combined with the fact that the Golden State Killer (aka the East Area Rapist, aka the Original Night Stalker) was arrested shortly after the book’s release makes I’ll Be Gone almost impossible to disregard. I bought a copy of the book back in August and put off reading it for the “right” time, afraid to pick it up for fear it would trigger a bought of paranoia that even a locked door wouldn’t fend off.

There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat now.

Fortunately, that was not the case. While a decent portion of the book is devoted to the Golden State Killer’s crimes, the focus is more on his methodology than any graphic details. Although, what we are told about is chilling: a startlingly literal form of stalking, wherein the GSK learns every pertinent detail of his victims’ lives so that he might have complete control over them while attacking. Our homes are sacred places to us, and any safety or comfort residents of the communities he attacked may have felt was ripped away from them in the aftermath of these events.

The EAR is a card face down on a table. Our speculation is a cul-de-sac. Round and round we go.

More than the crimes themselves, McNamara focuses in on the process of hunting the GSK. It seemed he foiled investigators at every turn. Even after the study of DNA analysis continued to grow, even when they had multiple samples linking him to countless crimes, they were unable to determine who this man was. Instead of presenting the experiences of faceless cops, McNamara digs deep into the investigators’ involvement and brings them to the forefront as their own fully-fledged selves. We even watch her build personal connections with them as she herself attempts to unveil this masked predator they all have in common.

“Has he ever gone back?” the thirteen-year-old asked the investigators interviewing her after the attack.
“Never,” said the first investigator.
“Never, ever, ever,” said the second.
“The safest house in the area,” said the first.
As if any house was ever going to feel safe again.

In this way, I’ll Be Gone is more than just a compilation of the events and evidence surrounding the Golden State Killer; it is a memoir detailing McNamara’s relationship with the investigation itself. We learn about her life, how her obsession alarms her in the way it mirrors the killer’s own obsessions. We learn where she was when learning vital pieces of information, as well as how deeply she was willing to dig in order to uncover this night terror made real. McNamara was no mere true crime writer; she was truly part of this investigation in a way that few seemed to be.

A ski mask won’t help you now.

The book isn’t perfect, but there’s no way it could have been. Michelle McNamara passed away suddenly while still writing, leaving her editor and friends to piece together her work into what has become its final form. The last part of the book, the shortest, is more of a summary of notes than anything else. But, somehow this works. I shed tears more than once while reading, knowing McNamara was unable to see what had come of her work. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, wrote an afterword that left me absolutely heartbroken. Somehow, the book manages to end on a positive note: a letter from Michelle McNamara to that shadow in the dark, the absolute nightmare of a man who she knew would someday be caught. And knowing that he has been strengthens this letter into the triumphant swan song of a woman who left this world just too soon.

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If, Then [review]

If, Then by Kate Hope Day
To be published by Random House on March 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
3.69 (as of 2019-02-21)
cw: infidelity, grief
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The residents of a sleepy mountain town are rocked by mysterious visions of an alternate reality in this dazzling debut that combines the family-driven suspense of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere with the inventive storytelling of The Immortalists and Station Eleven.

In the quiet mountain haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in a parallel reality. Ginny, a devoted surgeon whose work often takes precedence over her family, has a baffling vision of her beautiful coworker in her bed, and begins to doubt the solidity of her marriage. Ginny’s husband Mark, a wildlife scientist, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation–and grows increasingly paranoid, threatening the safety of his wife and son. Samara, a young woman desperately mourning the recent death of her mother and questioning why her father seems to be handling it with such ease, witnesses an apparition of her mom healthy and vibrant, and wonders about the secrets her parents may have kept from her. Cass, a brilliant scholar struggling with the demands of new motherhood, catches a glimpse of herself pregnant again, just as she’s on the brink of returning to the project that could define her career.

At first the visions are relatively benign, but they grow increasingly troubling–and in some cases, frightening. When a natural disaster threatens them all, it becomes clear that the visions were not what they first seemed, and that the town of Clearing will never be the same.

Startling, deeply imagined, and compulsively readable, Kate Hope Day’s debut novel is about the choices we make that shape our lives and determine our destinies–the moments that alter us so profoundly that it feels as if we’ve entered another reality.

I’m sure all of us have wondered what if. All those little — and big — choices that we’ve made throughout our lives. What they would have led to, where we’d be today had we chosen a different path. If, Then explores what would happen if we got a glimpse of these once possible other lives. The plot is mostly slow-moving and even when big things happen, the focus is almost entirely on the characters’ internal lives. Kate Hope Day is a remarkably good writer, and I was surprised to find this was her debut novel. She writes flawed, believable characters whose lives you will truly care about. It’s hard to delve too much into without reaching “spoiler” territory, but I’ll try.

She waits for a rush of gratitude for all the good, solid things in her life. But it doesn’t come. Her life will continue just as it is. She’ll go home and figure out what to make for dinner. She’ll have a glass of wine, feed the cats, and talk to Mark about what to do if school is cancelled next week. She’ll iron a shirt for clinic tomorrow.

Ginny was probably my favorite character (although I’m probably biased because she’s queer). She starts out as the stereotypical woman-who-can’t-have-it-all, a surgeon who doesn’t have time for her family, but as her thoughts and experiences are exposed to us she becomes her own person outside of the trope she lives. I do wish that her husband, Mark, had felt a bit more sympathetic to me, but I think that’s also due to some personal bias. It was interesting to see how Ginny’s perception of their relationship seemed to change the nature of the relationship itself, although Mark had something to do with that as well.

She’s not very good at it — loving and being loved.

Samara is deep into mourning the loss of her mother, and I enjoyed seeing their relationship explored in a different way than Ginny and Mark’s. Most would assume that the death of a person ends your relationship with them, but it was clear that Samara’s bond with her mother was able to strengthen even after the death of the latter. I liked how this was displayed, through Samara imagining the things her mother would say and how those things shifted after Samara’s impression of her had changed.

The picture Cass has of herself — it doesn’t match the woman in the rocker at all. When she thinks of herself the picture is colorless, all light eyes and skin and hair. Washed-out. Static. An overdeveloped driver’s license photo that lives permanently in her mind. But this other Cass is a polychromatic wonder. Full of agile, assured movement, even in routine pose. Full of grace.

Last but not least, I just adored Cass and seeing how her relationship with herself changed. Cass is a new mother and former doctorate student who put her studies on hold in order to care for her child. After giving birth, she lost all motivation to write and sees no way of returning to her former life in academia. As someone with depression and chronic fatigue, I can relate to having the need to do something while also lacking the ability to do it. Watching Cass grapple with this internal struggle felt simultaneously saddening and inspiring. With not just Cass, but the entire cast of characters, Day shows that change, even when necessary, is not easy.

What I really loved was the ending. There is a slowly rising wave of emotions building throughout the novel that come to a thrilling climax near the end. The aftermath of this wave is examined in a thoughtful and realistic light, and Day makes no promises of easy happy endings. She recognizes that although things are hopeful for these characters and their futures, difficulties still lie ahead. I’m no longer satisfied by carefree endings and enjoy the more nuanced world Day was able to provide. The journey of these characters is not at an end, and that is made clear to the reader. I put down the book with a surge of emotion, and hope that Day’s next novel will give me a similar experience.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet [review]

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
To be published by Hodder & Stoughton on August 13, 2015 (originally 2014)
my rating: ★★★★ ★
Goodreads avg: 
4.17 (as of 2019-03-05)

Spoiler-free Review

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Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

I know I’m late to the party on this one, but I’m just glad I finally got around to it. Everyone has been singing praises of The Long Way for what feels like ages, but I kept putting off reading it because for some reason I get intimidated by “hard sci-fi” books even though I almost always end up loving them. Luckily, I managed to win a giveaway thrown by Debbie’s Library back in August, and received a copy of it then! I finally got around to picking it up and wow am I glad I did.

With a terrible silence, the sky ripped open. It swallowed them.
Rosemary looked out the window, and realized that she’d never really seen black before.

As is typical of a longer book with a larger cast, it took me a bit to get into The Long Way. Chambers does a skillful job of introducing us to the world and the characters, but I always get overwhelmed anyway. Once I made it through the first hundred pages or so, I was hooked. The majority of the book takes place aboard a spaceship called The Wayfarer, as the multispecies crew is joined by their newest member, Rosemary. While there’s a decent amount of action, what I really fell in love with was the world and the characters that Chambers has created.

Being alone and untouched… there’s no punishment worse than that.

The characters are all so unique in wonderful ways, but my favorites are definitely Sissix and Rosemary. It felt like Rosemary was our portal into this otherwise foreign world — she had grown up planetside and was unfamiliar with a lot of the ins and outs of space travel (although through her studies she had learned a lot about different alien cultures). This was a nice way to ease the reader in without making it seem like they were being spoon fed every piece of information about the world. Meanwhile, I really loved learning about Sissix’s culture. She comes from a lizard-like bipedal species that’s polyamorous as hell and relies strongly on physical contact to express affection. I found it interesting to learn more about them, and to see how Sissix is able to modify her own methods of socialization in order to mesh better with the crew.

He was not a prisoner of those memories. He was their warden.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg as far as the new species and cultures Chambers has come up with. She’s also able to navigate some interesting ethical dilemmas that may evolve with more progressive technology, such as advanced body modifications, cloning, and the potential rights that could be given to AI. Somehow she can incorporate all these elements without sounding preachy or like she’s squeezing too much into the story.

I’ll never understand how the rest of you expect brand new adults to be able to teach kids how to be people.

Overall, I just loved this book and truly didn’t want it to end. I felt a wild wave of emotions crest over me when I turned the last page, because in a way I was losing some new friends it seemed I had just gotten to know. While I’ve been known to get emotional over books, they rarely make me feel quite this strongly. The Long Way is really something special and I highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested. I just can’t wait to see what Chambers’ other books have in store for me.

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The Lady from the Black Lagoon [review]

The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara
To be published by Hanover Square Press on March 1, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.72 (as of 2019-02-06)
cw: suicide, sexual harassment
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The Lady from the Black Lagoon uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters.

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

I was so excited when I learned that Mallory O’Meara was putting out a book. If you’ve ever heard her speak (and if you haven’t, you should give her podcast Reading Glasses a shot!), you’ll know that she’s passionate about filmmaking, feminism, and literature. This book, part biography, part memoir, and part film history, not only combines these interests but also allows Mallory’s strong voice and devotion to shine through. You can tell from the very first page that she has poured every ounce of her being into this story.

Milicent was holding open a door for me that I never realized I had considered closed. Come on, she said. We [women] belong here, too.

I did feel that the writing started off a bit choppy — something that may have been smoothed out in the final version — but it steadily finds its footing. Regardless, even when the writing feels like it may use a little work, the content itself is arresting. Mallory sets up Milicent’s place in history by describing the gender inequality we still see in the film industry today through an effective mixture of statistics and personal anecdotes. She also makes it clear that otherwise privileged women — straight, white, cisgender, and able-bodied — are just the tip of the iceberg. If even these women are kept from succeeding, how can women facing additional layers of oppression have a chance?

Women are the most important part of horror because, by and large, women are the one that horror happens to.

After sinking her hooks into you with this introduction, she begins wading into the life of Milicent Patrick. I will admit that I felt a little lost toward the beginning. She starts well before Milicent’s birth and I felt that for the first third or so, more attention was given to certain pieces than seemed necessary. While it certainly set a context for Milicent’s life, I found it a bit difficult to remain attentive while reading it. Luckily, Mallory breaks up the history by sharing pieces of her own journey to discover Milicent.

The problem with being the only woman to ever do something is that you have to be perfect… This way of thinking is a maladaptation women have developed over the years to be able to deal the fact that we’re getting passed on for jobs because we’re female. You force yourself to believe that there just haven’t been any women good enough for the job, rather than accept the fact that the entire system just doesn’t want you in it.

This book is truly as much about Mallory’s relationship to Milicent as it is about Milicent herself. Through her, Mallory was able to find inspiration, was able to see women as belonging in what had always been more of a boys’ club. It is clear that Mallory is not just fascinated by Milicent as a person, but also Milicent as a beacon to all the girls out there with interests in fields that they may find themselves excluded from. Because she dared to stand out, Milicent was buried in the pages of history. Thankfully, Mallory was able to dig her back out.

One of the hardest things about misogyny in the film industry isn’t facing it directly, it’s having to tamp down your anger about it so that when you speak about the problem, you’ll be taken seriously.

This book doesn’t fill just one niche, and I can see it sparking the interest of many. Enjoy reading about film history? Crave feminist non-fiction? Love a good humorous memoir? The Lady from the Black Lagoon may hit the spot for you. I was a little nervous picking it up because, while I love a lot of non-fiction, I’m not very interested in film-making. I was glad to find myself entertained, educated, and satisfied upon finishing. If you find your interest piqued after this review, I definitely recommend picking Mallory’s book up.

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Page [review]

Page (Protector of the Small #2) by Tamora Pierce
Published by Ember on January 2, 2018 (originally 2000)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.24 (as of 2019-02-12)
cw: past abuse, attempted assault

My review of the first book can be found here!

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

As the only female page in history to pass the first year of training to become a knight, Keladry of Mindelan is a force to be reckoned with. But even with her loyal circle of friends at her side, Kel’s battle to prove herself isn’t over yet. She is still trying to master her paralyzing fear of heights and keep up with Lord Wyldon’s grueling training schedule. When a group of pages is trapped by bandits, the boys depend on Kel to lead them to safety. The kingdom’s nobles are beginning to wonder if she can succeed far beyond what they imagined. And those who hate the idea of a female knight are getting desperate—they will do anything to thwart her progress.

For the first time she could understand how someone in a rage might do murder. “How dare you touch an unwilling woman?” she asked.

This book follows Kel through her second, third, and fourth years as a page. I was surprised that this was all to be packed into one book, but it made sense that there was only so much to be covered once the probationary period was out of the way. We get to see the return of all Kel’s friends along with meeting some new ones, including her new maid Lalasa.

Lalasa is a great character in her own right, a young woman who has suffered from great abuse at the hands of men. She is timid when she first enrolls in Kel’s service, but quickly comes into her own with the page’s encouragement. We get to see Lalasa develop alongside Kel in a mirror image of sorts. It’s really nice to see this friendship between women blossom in such a male-centric environment.

Kel also has to deal with the beginnings of puberty while undergoing her trials as a page. One thing I love about Tamora Pierce is that she’s not afraid to write the real stuff. She’s blunt and honest without being crude. Kel begins to grow breasts, experiences several jumps in height, and gets her first period. If only we also lived in a world where a magical talisman was the solution, but I guess we have birth control!

It’s also really great to see Kel further dealing with her phobia. As revealed in the first book, her terror of heights came out of previous emotional abuse she experienced from her brother. While resistant at first she knows that overcoming, or at least confronting, these fears are key to her becoming a knight. As someone who has dealt with severe anxiety, I think it’s really important to see strong characters who struggle with it as well.

Overall, I continue to adore Kel as a character and find her story fun to follow. I usually don’t tend to like lawful good characters as I find them a bit boring, but Tammy is a master of developing people you love to read about. I mean, how can you not love a girl knight-to-be taking down abusers? I’d definitely recommend this book, and the series, to any lovers of Tamora Pierce as well as readers of YA fantasy.

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It Devours! [review]

It Devours! (Welcome to Night Vale #2) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Published by Harper Collins on October 17, 2017
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.08 (as of 2019-02-09)

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a mystery exploring the intersections of faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God.

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret. 

I’ve had this on my shelf for close to year, and finally got around to reading it! I used to be a huge fan of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, but stopped listening a couple years ago because I personally found that the content felt a bit repetitive. I also read the first book and didn’t find it really held my interest, but thought it was still worth it to give the second one a shot. I’m glad I did! It was an interesting, compelling read. While not plot-dependent on the podcast or the first book, if you take in the content out-of-order you probably will spoil yourself, just as a heads up.

Sometimes it’s okay to find something beautiful without correctly understanding it.

The book itself ran me through a lot more emotions than I expected it to. Honestly, I was almost in tears at the end of the first chapter. No joke. There’s just enough of a mystery that you’re not quite sure what’s going on without encroaching too far into nonsense, which could have been easy to do with a world filled with such fantastical elements. There were a few places where I didn’t feel quite as invested in the story as I could have, but it really held my attention for the most part.

Sometimes where you live is just a place, no matter how long you live there.

I really adored the main characters. Nilanjana was great and I liked getting to see her struggles as an outsider in Night Vale. I found Darryl really interesting as well, especially with his background and how it tied in to some events towards the end of the book. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters didn’t have much characterization. Carlos was given some depth, but I felt like the rest of the scientists and Darryl’s friends all seemed like caricatures and were quite one-dimensional.

When considering our place in the universe, we must recognize that by having this one position we are negating every other possible position we could have.

So, overall it was a fun read and I would definitely recommend it to fans of Welcome to Night Vale or to anyone else who finds themselves interested in it. I don’t see myself picking it up again in the future, but I definitely don’t regret reading it!

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The Mystery of Hollow Places [review]

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 26, 2016
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.48 (as of 2019-01-20)
cw: portrayals and discussion of bipolar disorder and severe depression

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when Imogene was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life. 

…with enough time and the right conditions, precious stones could grow in hollow places.

This was my second Rebecca Podos book (my first being her 2017 release Like Water) and it was just as great as I had hoped it would be. I was honestly shocked when I got to the end and realized that this was her debut novel. This was one of those books that sucked me right in and filled me with emotion. Following Imogene on her journey felt both meaningful and real. It was easy to see where her thoughts, feelings, and coping mechanisms (or lack thereof) came from. The story follows Imogene as she attempts to find her long-lost mother and, in turn, her newly missing father. While she has little in the way of clues, between her wits and the assistance of her best friend Jessa she starts out on a path that will impact her life forever.

I thought Imogene was a sympathetic, believable main character and enjoyed being inside her head. While her constant Sherlock references wore on me a bit, I understood the point being made. Her relationship with Jessa was appropriately complicated, I liked the reference to symbiosis as I think we all have friendships that rely on shared exchanges like these. There were some romantic undertones between Imogene and Jessa’s brother, Chad, but I think this was well-balanced and certainly wasn’t anything close to the main focus of the story.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Imogene’s non-traditional family structure. She spent most of her life living alone with her father, who struggled with bouts of severe depression where his daughter had to fend largely for herself. Her mother left before she could remember and exists only in the peripheries of scattered photographs. Lindy, her stepmother, is a family therapist and recent addition to the family. To be honest, I never grew to like Lindy very much. While I could absolutely see where she was coming from and didn’t actively disliked her, I just didn’t think I was given enough to really develop much in the way of positive feelings toward her — but that could definitely have just been me.

But if there’s one thing Dad’s bad times have taught me, it’s this: I never, ever want to have something I can’t survive without.

The only downside was that I didn’t love the end. There was a climax that I enjoyed, but after that I felt like I was just skimming the last bit to finish out the book. It was sort of like in movies where they have the on-screen text to explain what happened to each of the characters in the aftermath of the main plot. I personally didn’t feel that it added much, although I’m not sure what I would have suggested as an alternative.

Overall, though, this was an excellent read that I would highly recommend to lovers of contemporary YA, as well as those who like a bit of mystery in their books. I’m really excited to see what Rebecca Podos comes out with next, as she’s proven herself to be quite a strong writer! I think this is one that I’ll definitely be thinking back to in the future.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

First Test [review]

First Test by Tamora Pierce
Published by Random House Children’s Books on May 23, 2000 (originally 1999)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.25 (as of 2019-01-19)

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In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year. It is a trial period that no male page has ever had to endure and one that separates the good natured Kel even more from her fellow trainees during the tough first year. But Kel Is not a girl to underestimate, as everyone is about to find out…

I read this quite some time ago, but only owned the first book and never continued with the series. For Christmas, I received books 2-4 and decided to re-read this so that I could jump into the rest. I had forgotten most of the plot, although all of it felt familiar to me. While I couldn’t have predicted anything that happened, once it happened I thought to myself “oh yeah, I remember that.” Luckily, I enjoyed it just as much as Tammy’s other books and am very excited to finally finish the series!

One of the things I love about Tammy’s writing is that she’s able to create such distinct characters. While most of her books focus on “strong” women, they’re not all the same. Where the Lioness is hot-tempered and loud, Daine is timid yet stubborn, Aly is quiet and calculating, and Kel is even and impenetrable. Each of her characters have different strengths and weaknesses, and I think that makes it possible for girls to find representation they are able to relate to.

This book follows Kel in her initial (probationary) year as a page, the first female page to enter the program since girls were allowed to join. There are plenty of obstacles along the way: a lot of the boys think that a girl doesn’t belong there alongside them. Kel’s advantage is that she and her family had lived with the Yamanis as an ambassador for most of her early life. The Yamani culture is much different from the one Kel has transitioned back into and one of the biggest things she has learned is to “be as stone” and hide all of her emotions behind a smooth mask.

Overall, I found the pacing to be great and the story fun to follow. I worked through the book fairly quickly and am looking forward to what comes next, although I plan to wait until Fantastic February to continue reading since this series is obviously perfect to put on my TBR for it. I recommend this to all Tamora Pierce fans, as well as anyone looking for some YA fantasy with a strong female character.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #12

An Anonymous Girl
cw: sexual assault, infidelity, domestic abuse
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

This story starts out with a somewhat intriguing, if not completely exciting, premise. At first it’s difficult to figure out where things are going, but things begin to fall together soon enough — at least, that’s what we think. I was impressed with the twists in this, although the ending does leave something to be desired. I felt things were tied up a little too nicely and a little too quickly, so I didn’t end up feeling very satisfied by it. Overall, though, it’s a quite compelling read and worth picking up.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I Was Your Girl
cw: homophobia, transphobia, violent hate crimes, suicide

I’m not planning to write a proper review because it took me forever to read this (because I started it on audiobook, had my hold expire, and then took a while to get the eBook). The audiobook is excellent, so well-narrated. The story itself is great and I loved it. My only nitpick was that the Homecoming scene felt overly convenient and not necessarily super realistic but that’s really quite minor. Overall I’d definitely recommend this!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
cw: racism

While I’m bummed to see this series come to an end (although I believe there is an additional novella out and potentially a new series coming out?), I thought this was a really nice way to wrap things up. I’ve been working my way pretty slowly through the books and left a lot of time between reading each so I wouldn’t binge them and get sick of it (as I’ve been known to do). It’s hard for me to write a traditional review of this, because all I want to do is gush about it. I care so, so deeply about all of these characters and can envision all of their mannerisms and I think Maggie is such a talented writer. She’s definitely going on my must-read list and I’m excited to see what kind of work she has in store for us in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #11

In Her Skin
cw: domestic abuse, self-harm

The only people who talk about dead like it’s something pretty and fanciful are people who haven’t seen it up close.

I’ll admit that although I found the premise somewhat interesting, most of the reason I picked up this one was because it took place in Boston. That aspect was really fun, since I recognized most of the places mentioned and could really imagine myself there. The writing itself was interesting, too. It was a mixture of first and second person and worked really well for the story. Kim Savage ended up keeping me on my toes and I absolutely inhaled the last half or so in one sitting. My only complaint was that it felt kind of queerbait-y and I ended up pretty frustrated by that.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Unrequited 
cw: graphic sex, power imbalances, sexual assault, infidelity, suicide, off-page drunk driving, stalking, and probably much more

They’re a perfect match. I think anybody who’s in love with anyone is a perfect match. I don’t believe in crap like There’s somebody better for you out there. I don’t want better. I want the guy I’m in love with.

I picked this up on a whim after seeing Melanie’s glowing review and it was absolutely worth it. While the morals throughout are highly questionable, the writing is great and the author knows how to do steamy scenes well. I rarely read straight-up romance novels, but in this instance my rating is based more on personal enjoyment than objective quality. I’ve been going through a rough time and this was exactly the kind of read I needed to distract me from that. If you’re looking for a fun romance that’s a little on the kinkier side, this should hit the spot for you.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sex at Dawn

I’ve read some of the criticisms of this book, and also recognize that it was published almost a decade ago and may be a bit outdated. Regardless, it’s nice to read a book that validates your sexuality and makes you feel more “normal” than society at large might have you believe. As a queer, polyamorous woman I thought this was a really good starting point to learn about human sexuality. I’ll certainly be picking up some other works and doing further research, but I found this book to be well-written, humorous, and just what I needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)