Bookworm Blogging, Monthly Wrap-Ups

April 2019 Wrap-Up

Books Read:

  • Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden. 3.5 stars, review.
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. 4 stars, review.
  • Dust by Hugh Howey. 4 stars, re-read.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 3 stars, review.
  • The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. 4 stars, review.
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. 4 stars, review.

Books read: 6
Average rating: 3.75 stars

Other Media:

  • Shrill [2019-?]. This series is very good, very entertaining, very emotional, and very impactful. I very much recommend it.
  • The Perfect Date [2019]. 4/5 stars. Cute!
  • Ant Man [2015]. 4/5 stars, rewatch. Fun, probs one of my fav Marvel movies!

My Month in Photos:

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Invited [review]

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
To be published by Doubleday on April 30, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
3.93 (as of 2019-03-04)
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

A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times best-selling author of THE WINTER PEOPLE, returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house, they start building one from scratch, without knowing it, until it’s too late…

In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home – wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks — she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day. 


Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People became one of my favorites when I read it last year so of course Rachel let me know the second she saw it on Netgalley and I requested it immediately. McMahon’s books combine my love of horror with my love of all things Vermont (and New England) and I’ve been meaning to pick up more of her books for quite some time now. Rachel actually lent me a copy of The Night Sister, which I’ve got sitting in my physical TBR pile. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed The Invited, it just wasn’t as strong a book as I had hoped for.

What people don’t understand, they destroy.

As with The Winter People, McMahon sets up alternating perspectives. We have Helen, an outsider who is building a house with her husband Nate on supposedly haunted property. We also have Ollie, a girl in her early teens who is searching for a treasure that may or may not exist. I sympathized with Helen and while I found Ollie a bit irritating at first, I quickly warmed up to her as well. I also adored Ollie’s aunt, Riley, with her dyed hair and many tattoos and love of local lore. At one point I briefly hoped that Helen would leave her husband for Riley, but alas, that was wishful thinking.

Sometimes Olive got so caught up in her own grief that she forgot other people were grieving, too.

The plot itself is somewhat interesting: Ollie searches for the treasure and for traces of her mother who had left while Helen searches for more information about the spirit that may haunt her new home. McMahon puts her own unique twist on the classic ghost story, incorporating new elements and giving us just the right amount of red herrings. A lot of my nitpicks came less from issues with the story itself and more from inconsistencies in the writing and the difficulty I had getting invested until about a third in. Hopefully some of this gets pulled together better in the final copy.

“Sometimes a vivid imagination is a curse,” her mama used to tell her.

Overall The Invited was interesting and enjoyable, but it unfortunately lacked the oomph that would have given it a higher rating and put it on my favorites list. Still, Jennifer McMahon manages to explore the storied history of New England and its comparison to modern-day life. I definitely recommend this to anyone who has read and liked any of her other books, as well as to those who like the exploration of relationships between women in horror.


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Book Tags

The Liebster Award #3

I was tagged by Naty a few weeks ago to do the Liebster award again!

Rules:

  • Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
  • Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
  • Nominate 11 people
  • Ask the people who you have nominated 11 questions

Naty’s Questions

What book you wish you could un-read to experience it for the first time again?
Hmm, maybe The Pisces?

What’s your Hogwarts house?
I’m kind of an equal split between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Sometimes I lean a bit more to one side or the other. I probably would have been sorted into Ravenclaw.

What popular book have you not read yet?
The Lovely Bones is still on my TBR, I know it was pretty popular back in the day.

What are some of your favorite authors?
Joe Hill, Tamora Pierce, Maggie Stiefvater

What book do you LOVE but you don’t normally recommend to people? 
The Pisces, again!

What book are you always recommending to people?
Hmm, probably Annihilation!

What middle grade book do you wish you had read as a kid?
I can’t think of anything off the top of my head!

How many books do you have on your TBR?
Umm… 1189. Oops.

What bookish universe could you live in?
Haha, probably something contemporary and normal. 😛

What genre do you read most?
Fantasy!

What is a bookish goal you have for 2019?
Less pressure on myself! I don’t want to get stressed out about reading, I want to love it.

My Questions:

If you could control the weather, how would the seasons change for you?
What are you reading right now?
If you could magically acquire a new talent, what would you choose?
How would you describe your “aesthetic?”
What is something you’re hoping to accomplish in the next year?
What is your most used emoji?
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
If you didn’t have to work for money, what would you do with your time?
What’s the last text you sent?
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What’s your phone background?

I tag:

Rachel
Callum
bookwormmuse
Becky
Hannah
Destiny
Avery
Kristin
Ally
Kaleena
Meeghan

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

My Sister, the Serial Killer [review]

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Published by Doubleday Books on November 20, 2018
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.82 (as of 2019-04-26)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…


I would argue this is probably the most “accessible” Women’s Prize book I’ve read so far due to its readability. This was so easy to breeze through, in part because the pages in my copy were quite small, in part because of its length, and in part because it’s such a page-turner. The narrator of this little novel is Korede, a young woman whose sister Ayoola is a serial killer. Korede is the responsible older sister and works as a nurse. Ayoola is the spoiled younger sibling who spends her time at home designing clothing or out being courted by men.

While Ayoola’s purported innocence is explored somewhat, the focus of this book lies far more in the characters’ various relationships as well as the malleability of our own morality. As we discover during the story’s beginning, Korede has helped Ayoola cover up her crimes and deals with immense guilt for playing a part in the deaths of potentially innocent men. At the same time, she feels an intense responsibility to protect her sister, particularly due to their shared history which is slowly revealed as the story unravels.

I really loved Korede, and felt like she was an incredibly sympathetic character. She has grown up with a gorgeous younger sister who turns heads everywhere she goes, while she herself is not nearly as aesthetically gifted. She is responsible and works hard and seems to suffer for it, as she is not appreciated by her coworkers nor her own family. I became extremely invested in her story and found myself becoming frustrated and sad alongside her. Of course, Korede comes to a fork in the metaphorical road where she must decide how to proceed with her sister. Can she allow Ayoola to continue on as she has been, or will she finally find a way to intervene? There seems to be no easy answer and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen.

Overall, I found this to be quite an enjoyable read. I wouldn’t summarize it as a traditional thriller or mystery, although that’s what I’ve seen it shelved most often as. As I said above, it is more an exploration of interpersonal relationships and how these impact our morals. I’ll definitely be recommending this one around, though, as I think it will interest a wide variety of readers. It’s probably close to the top of my favorites list for Women’s Prize books so far.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #14

Praise Song for the Butterflies

This is a difficult book to review; it feels wrong to give it a number and talk about it as “good” or “not good.” The story follows the life of a girl named Abeo, who is born into a relatively privileged West African family. After bad luck befalls them, Abeo is brought to a shrine and is left in ritual servitude. Praise Song for the Butterflies is quite simplistically written, but its matter-of-fact tone makes the horrors within all the more appalling. Unfortunately, it also holds the characters at arms length and makes it difficult to empathize with them on anything more than an artificial level. While the story is important and eye-opening I didn’t find it to be a meaningful literary experience. I’d recommend it to anyone interested, if you can stomach the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

An American Marriage
[spoilers below]

I’ve struggled for days to write this review. An American Marriage is well-written and engaging and while I appreciate what Tayari Jones did with this book, I just felt so frustrated reading it. Roy, the husband in the couple at the center of the story, treats his wife Celestial like little more than property and at one point even tells her he could rape her if he wanted to. I felt like he was irredeemably awful at times to the point where I wanted to put down the book and not pick it up again. I wish I had loved this more and it certainly wasn’t bad, but it also isn’t something that I see sticking with me.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Lovely and the Lost
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.

I blew through this book, which I requested from NetGalley on a whim. It follows a girl named Kira who trains search and rescue dogs with her adoptive family. Kira herself has a mysterious past that slowly comes further to light as the story progresses. While there were a couple of moments that seemed a little overdramatic and pulled me out of the story, I found this to be wildly compelling otherwise. The characters were all distinct in their own ways and I loved seeing their relationships play out on the page. The plot kept me interested, and I didn’t predict the twist at the end. Overall a really good read, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ work.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Lost Children Archive [review]

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on February 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2019-04-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

From the two-time NBCC Finalist, a fiercely imaginative novel about a family’s summer road trip across America–a journey that, with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity, probes the nature of justice and equality in America today.

A mother and father set out with their kids from New York to Arizona. In their used Volvo–and with their ten-year-old son trying out his new Polaroid camera–the family is heading for the Apacheria: the region the Apaches once called home, and where the ghosts of Geronimo and Cochise might still linger. The father, a sound documentarist, hopes to gather an “inventory of echoes” from this historic, mythic place. The mother, a radio journalist, becomes consumed by the news she hears on the car radio, about the thousands of children trying to reach America but getting stranded at the southern border, held in detention centers, or being sent back to their homelands, to an unknown fate.

But as the family drives farther west–through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas–we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, unforgettable adventure–both in the harsh desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations.

Told through the voices of the mother and her son, as well as through a stunning tapestry of collected texts and images–including prior stories of migration and displacement–Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving. 


I can easily see a lot of people hating this book. In fact, I can see myself hating this book. It’s dense and it’s work to get through. This is yet another one I would almost definitely not have finished if I wasn’t reading it for the Women’s Prize. The writing style isn’t my thing and it’s immediate from the start that layout of the book itself is atypical, for lack of a better word. It’s a “family story” and a “road trip book,” both of which I also tend to stay away from. There are plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, but somehow I did.

The thing about living with someone is that even though you see them every day and can predict all their gestures in a conversation, even when you can read intentions behind their actions and calculate their responses to circumstances fairly accurately, even when you are sure there’s not a single crease in them left unexplored, even then, one day the other can suddenly become a stranger.

There are so many layers to this, and I know I didn’t fully understand all of it. The main character and her husband are sound archivists, which right away makes for a bit of an intriguing tone. It explains the unusual formatting and lets our narrator examine things in a light we may not be accustomed to. It also helps to incorporate the underlying theme of the novel: illegal immigration in the United States.

No one thinks of those children as consequences of a historical war that goes back decades. Everyone keeps asking: which war, where? Why are they here? Why did they come to the United States? What will we do with them? No one is asking: why did they flee their homes?

The narrator and her husband meet while working on a project to record all of the languages being spoken in New York City. The narrator herself was born in Mexico and becomes obsessed with the children crossing the border, hoping to join their family on the other side. Once the language project is complete, she decides to make her next project about giving voices to these lost children. Meanwhile, her husband’s next project is on the other side of history: he has become deeply obsessed with the history of the Apache tribes of Native Americans.

[…] reading others’ words, inhabiting their minds for a while, has always been an entry point to my own thoughts.

I found myself becoming deeply emotionally connected to the narrator throughout the first half of the book, until the focus shifts to the son. From there, I became more enthralled with the plot itself. I found the switch interesting; I went from somber introspection to a more dreamlike reading experience. I enjoyed both parts of the book and felt like they really balanced each other out.

Hard to explain why two complete strangers may suddenly decide to share an unbeautified portrait of their lives. But perhaps also easy to explain, because two people alone in a bar at two in the morning are probably there to try to figure out the exact narrative they need to tell themselves before they go back to wherever they’ll sleep that night.

There are so many deep themes to this that I wish I could discuss in detail, but just can’t grasp strongly enough to wrangle into a coherent analysis. I really wish I had read this in a lit class in college, I know I would have gotten so much more out of it. Regardless, I’ll probably be reading whatever pieces I can find on this, so if you happen to see something interesting please send it my way!

Once he even recorded our voices talking in the backseat of the car, and then played them for Ma when they thought we were both sleeping and not listening. And it was strange to listen to our own voices around us, like we were there but also not there. I felt like we’d disappeared, thought, what if we are not actually sitting back here but only being remembered by them?

All in all, while this was a challenging reading experience for me, I really felt it was worth it. Luiselli succeeded in making me think deeply while consuming her work, and I hope to return to it in the future — perhaps with a better context to place it in. I recommend picking this up if you’re looking for some slower moving literary fiction to make your brain work.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Book Tags, Not Books

Versatile Blogger Award

Last month I was tagged by Becky @ Strikeouts + Sprinkles to do the Versatile Blogger Award! Definitely check out Becky’s blog, she’s fun to follow. 🙂

Award Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Link to the blog of the person who nominated you.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 more bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.

Seven Facts About Me:

  1. I’m surprisingly restrained when it comes to buying books, I try to keep myself from buying them unless I’m almost certain I’ll love the book or have already read it and want my own copy.
  2. My favorite movie is Jurassic Park.
  3. I’m allergic to cats but intend to own at least 5 when I have my own place (I’m not so allergic that I can’t live with them).
  4. My hair is rarely not dyed; I’ve been dyeing it on and off since I was ~12.
  5. I love cephalopods so much that I have an aquarium membership so I can go see my babies whenever I want to.
  6. I own a longboard even though I’m not great at longboarding and am terrible at getting myself out to practice.
  7. I’d like to move to Austin, TX at some point!

My Nominations:

  1. Hannah
  2. Destiny
  3. Emily
  4. Avery
  5. Rachel
  6. Lindsay
  7. Callum
  8. Kristin
  9. Ally
  10. Kaleena
  11. Sara
  12. Meeghan
  13. Cerys
  14. Christopher
  15. Shalini

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Book Tags, Bookworm Blogging

A to Z Book Tag

Destiny tagged me in this a few months ago and I’m fiiiinally following through. It was started over at The Perpetual Page-Turner.

a. Author you’ve read the most books from.
Lemony Snicket, I read the entire A Series of Unfortunate Event series, plus one or two others.

b. Best sequel ever.
Right now I have to say Squire by Tamora Pierce, I read it recently and looved it.

c. Currently reading.
Lost Children Archive and Dust.

d. Drink of choice while reading.
I usually don’t drink anything while reading at home, but a drip coffee or a vanilla latte if I’m at a coffee shop! Occasionally I’ll sip a cider or cocktail while reading if I’m out waiting for someone at dinner or a bar.

e. E-reader or physical book?
I really have to say both! I read so much more on the go because of ebooks, but I do tend to prefer physical books.

f. Fictional character you would’ve dated in high school.
Alex, the brother’s best friend, from Girl Made of Stars. He was so sweet and absolutely the kind of guy I would’ve dated in high school.

g. Glad you gave this book a chance.
Recency bias here, but Ordinary People! Like I said in my review, it’s not something I would have read on my own but I did end up enjoying it.

h. Hidden gem book.
I recently did an entire post on this!

i. Important moment in your reading life.
Honestly, starting The Pisces felt really important because I just knew right away that the book would be so, so meaningful to me.

j. Just finished.
I just finished Praise Song for the Butterflies, one of my Women’s Prize reads.

k. Kind of books you won’t read.
There’s not much I absolutely won’t read, but I typically avoid books about food, just because they don’t interest me much.

l. Longest book you’ve read.
According to Goodreads, it’s A Storm of Swords!

m. Major book hangover because of…
Umm, I don’t get book hangovers very often, so I don’t remember!

n. Number of bookcases you own.
Technically 1, but I have a couple more DIY ones set up, ha!

o. One book you’ve read multiple times.
Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce!

p. Preferred place to read.
Either propped up in my bed or on the couch! I wish I had a nice armchair to sit in, though.

q. Quote that inspires you/gave you all the feels from a book.
UGH, the Editor’s Note in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark that announces Michelle McNamara’s death tore through me.

r. Reading regret:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, always.

s. Series you’ve started and need to finish (all books are out).
Most pressing right now are the Themis Files and the Protector of the Small series.

t. Three of your all-time favorite books.
House of Leaves, Annihilation, and The Pisces.

u. Unapologetic fangirl for…
Tamora Pierce! ❤ u ❤

v. Very excited for this release.
The Exile’s Gift by Tamora Pierce. Ha, see above.

w. Worst bookish habits.
Returning library books late, having a TBR waaay too long, and stressing myself out about numbers and what I “should” be reading.

x. X marks the spot! Start at the top of your bookshelf and pick the 27th book.
The Artist’s Way! I still have never been all the way through this, oops.

y. Your latest book purchase.
A Field Guide for Science Writers, which I got when I thought I might want to be a science writer.

z. Zzz-snatcher, the last book that kept you up way too late.
Umm, I don’t remember! I don’t read much before bed anymore, specifically for this reason.


I tag anyone who wants to do this! I’m too sleepy to make a list. 🙂

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Circe [review]

Circe by Madeline Miller
Published by Little, Brown and Company on April 10, 2018
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.32 (as of 2019-04-03)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.


Circe had already been on my TBR since I really liked The Song of Achilles, but I had seen lukewarm praise by friends and decided not to prioritize it. Its place on the Women’s Prize longlist is what skyrocketed it to the top of my list. I can see to some extent why it’s so well-loved: Madeline Miller manages to create a feminist retelling of Circe’s place in history. Miller’s prose is lovely, as expected, and it’s quite an easy read.

I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips towards yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.

Unfortunately, I just found there to be something missing. With The Song of Achilles, Miller really managed to tug at the heartstrings in a way that I didn’t experience again in Circe. Part of this may have been due to the length of the story, which takes place over thousands of years and which necessitates large gaps in time. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint anything else, though. There’s nothing I can point to as causing my neutrality, I just… wasn’t quite as invested in the story as I would’ve liked.

I did not care. I thought: give me the blade. Some things are worth spilling blood for.

Overall, though, Circe is a worthwhile read. Miller is a great writer and I don’t regret picking this up. It seems by and large to satisfy audiences, so I’m definitely in the minority with my rating.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Bookworm Blogging, Monthly Wrap-Ups

March 2019 Wrap-Up

Books Read:

Books read: 7
Average rating: 4.29 stars

Notable Posts by Others:

Other Media:

  • Coherence [2013]: I saw this on Rachel’s recommendation and it… sure was something.
  • #SquadGoals [2018]: My sister and I watched this on Netflix and it was… bad. Our running joke the entire time was that there is apparently only one scholarship in the entire world.
  • Deadly Detention [2017]: This was just terrible and I have no idea if that was intentional or not. It’s basically The Breakfast Club but with a lot more death.
  • Await Further Instructions [2018]: I don’t kNOW what I watched.
  • Haunting on Fraternity Row [2018]: This was bad but also really entertaining.
  • Carrie [2013]: I was expecting/hoping to like this a lot more than I did, but Chloe Grace Moretz was incredible.
  • Us [2019]: I had some mixed feelings, I thought this was very good but it didn’t end up being one of my favorites. The score was absolutely fantastic, though.

My Month in Photos:

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