Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mr. Mercedes [review]

Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1) by Stephen King
Published by Pocket Books on December 29, 2015 (originally 2014)
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2020-01-14)

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


Minor spoilers ahead.

This was generally quite readable, but I didn’t find myself invested in the main character at all. The romance was half-baked, didn’t feel real, and was only included so the LI could be fridged in order to further motivate Bill. The casual/explicit racism in this runs rampant: King is constantly using the n-word, gives a black side character a recurring joke about being a literal slave to the white MC (to the point where the kid calls him “Massa Hodges”), and makes the villain vilely racist in a way that I felt was just not necessary.

Hodges has read there are wells in Iceland so deep you can drop a stone down them and never hear the splash. He thinks some human souls are like that.

Both Bill and the aforementioned side character, Jerome, treat a second side character, Holly, like absolute garbage because of her mental illness. She seems to suffer from only anxiety and OCD, but gets treated like she’s a lunatic because she takes… lexapro. Lexapro is an extremely common medication used for anxiety and depression. I felt like mental illness was being hugely stigmatized here, especially because Holly is treated like she’s soft and useless. King is almost able to flip the trope he’s using, but falls short. Instead of having Hodges and Jerome admit their preconceived notions were wrong, he has them say shit like “it’s humbling to find he’s been scooped by a Lexapro-dependent neurotic.”

The last sound she makes on earth–everyone should be so lucky–is a laugh.

Anyway, I just didn’t have any patience for this. You can write realistic, flawed characters while still challenging problematic viewpoints, which wasn’t accomplished here. To add insult to injury, I didn’t find anything compelling about the plot itself. While I could sit down and read for sizeable chunks of time, I was still just reading for the sake of finishing it and not because I truly wanted to. Mr. Mercedes was honestly a huge disappointment and I have no plans to finish out the trilogy.


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The Body Lies [review]

The Body Lies by Jo Baker
Published by Knopf on June 18, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.49 (as of 2020-01-10)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote English countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the bustle of London and the scene of a violent assault she is desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of her new life and the demands of single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative-writing class. When a troubled student starts turning in chapters that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognizes herself as the main character in his book–and he has written her a horrific fate. Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late? At once a breathless cat-and-mouse game and a layered interrogation of the fetishization of the female body, The Body Lies gives us an essential story for our time that will have you checking the locks on your doors.


I was first drawn to The Body Lies after reading Rachel’s incredible review of it. I’m glad to have gotten her perspective, because I can see how going into this expecting a thriller would be disappointing. This is not a fast-paced crime novel; this is a quietly terrifying piece of literary fiction. Baker presents an examination of trauma as well as the objectification of women’s bodies that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

The atmosphere is key here. An undercurrent of tension runs throughout this novel. As a reader I nearly always was on the edge of my seat waiting for things to go south even though, strictly speaking, not much was happening. Baker is masterful at making you truly feel the main character’s anxieties without even telling you what they are. I was incredulous at how certain events impacted me; events that objectively I wouldn’t have felt anything for become absolutely heart-wrenching when placed into context.

This is in part a tongue-in-cheek commentary about how women’s bodies are typically used in thrillers. Baker turns these tropes on their head, criticizing them while also demonstrating how to utilize them effectively. The setting really works here: a creative writing class allows us to see examples firsthand in an organic manner. The excerpts of her students’ writing don’t feel forced, and they add a great deal to the story.

What I found most impactful in this book was its portrayal (and analysis) of trauma. At the outset of the book, the narrator is attacked by a man on the street. The ways this impacts her life are both large and small, and I felt Baker did an incredible job of demonstrating that. Additionally, it quickly becomes clear that those outside a traumatic incident are not necessarily able to understand, or even notice, these impacts. My heart ached reading this; I felt like Baker was able to reach deep down inside me.

I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. As I said before, it will do you no good to go into this expecting a true thriller with a twisty plot. But if you’re looking for something dark and quiet that explores the way we treat women, you’re in for quite the treat. I’m certain I’ll be coming back to this again and recommending it left and right. Already my favorite book of the year (although I’ll revisit this in December), The Body Lies is honestly a masterpiece.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

I haven’t read this in I don’t know how many years, but it holds up! I’ve been in a mini-slump recently but was able to slam through this old favorite. There were parts where I actually found myself laughing out loud. Ella’s humor is so great. Really my only complaint is that Ella is canonically unable to save herself but can save… a dude she’s in love with. Not my favorite trope, and not my favorite message to send (that a man is more important than you, even though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come across that way).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

Me during the first 95% of this book: Yeah this is good I guess
Me during the last 5%: [sobbing, but make it queer]

Anyway, this was pretty much your typical YA thriller. The writing was a little hit-or-miss at times but it was a mostly entertaining read. It went a little hard on the internalized homophobia and I kind of hated the deceased best friend because of how she treated the main character. Their relationship was way more toxic than it was cute. She was redeemed somewhat toward the end, but that didn’t really undo all the time she spent treating people poorly? Feel free to pick this up if you’re interested, but I’d keep expectations low.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

Not perfect, but definitely a pretty great short story! It was just lengthy enough to get me invested, and the twist did take me by surprise. This is probably my favorite piece by Gillian Flynn so far. My only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit silly and abrupt, but I have no regrets reading this.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Dead of Winter [review]

Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke
Self-published on December 11, 2018 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2019-12-24)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Winter it’s coming… it’s already here, and with it comes a horror no door can keep out. It’s there in the yard, in the faces of the snowmen a young boy doesn’t remember building. It’s in the oddly empty streets below Santa Claus’s crumbling sleigh. It’s in the unnatural movement of the snow that suffocates a widower’s town, and in the cold eyes of a lonely man’s estranged children.

Here, there is no holiday cheer, only spine-chilling fear, in the DEAD OF WINTER.


This was my first time reading Kealan Patrick Burke and in all honesty, I was pretty disappointed. This collection had an average of 4.2 on Goodreads, so I was expecting something rather spectacular. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly fell short of what I was hoping for. This is a rather short book (only 96 pages!) containing 7 short stories. I think that part of the issue for me is that it’s difficult to fully develop a story in so few pages. Some stories did remarkably well considering their length, but others just didn’t do much for me.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

  • Snowmen 3.5/5
  • Doomsday Father Christmas 2/5 
  • Black Static 2/5 
  • Visitation Rights 4/5
  • Home 4.5/5
  • The Quiet 3/5 
  • They Know 4/5 

Which comes to an average of 3.29. Like I said, not a bad rating by any means. My favorites, as you can probably tell, were Visitation Rights, Home, and They Know. In particular, Home went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and really hit me in the gut, as did Visitation Rights. They Know was the longest story in the collection and its length allowed for a lot more development of the story and the characters. A couple of the stories have tugged at the back of my brain in the couple days since I’ve finished the book, which I always take to be a good sign as well.

I have to wonder if this was just a poor introduction to Burke’s work for me, and think that may be the case. When I love short story collections, I really love them, but others can fall flat easily. This unfortunately settled into the latter category. I had a similar reaction to Paul Tremblay’s book of short stories recently, but I love his novels from what I’ve read. So I’ll definitely be picking up more of Burke’s work, even if this set of stories didn’t work very well for me personally.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Into the Water [review]

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books on May 2, 2017
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2019-12-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from–a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface–you never know what lies beneath.


Into the Water follows a multitude of characters in small-town England following the death of one of the town’s inhabitants. Only, as it turns out, many others had perished in a similar way. I did find this quite engrossing at first. The mystery was intriguing and the backstory that was being slowly revealed was enough to keep me interested. I initially thought that what the novel was trying to say was good — something about how women have been dismissed and disposed in similar ways over time. 

Part of where things fell apart for me was the large cast of characters. I found it somewhat difficult to follow who was who, and would get thrown out of the story while I tried to remember. There was also a plotline about rape that I just didn’t love. I recognize that this is certainly more of a personal opinion rather than anything else, but I felt that it was handled sort of strangely and the message that it was trying to relay, while commendable in nature, came across as flat and trying too hard. There is a way to discuss and portray the nature of victim-blaming and coming to terms with assault without throwing it in your audience’s face that you’re doing so, which is what I felt like happened here.

Another very specific thing I disliked was that there was one queer character whose queer identity was not known until near the end of the novel, where another character viciously outed them using slurs. This happened in a single paragraph and was never acknowledged again. I wouldn’t even deign to say that this has lgbtq rep, as it is so brief and poorly used — it is literally for shock value.

Aside from the few points above, I can see why people would enjoy this. As a thriller it’s decent and the red herrings make it quite difficult to pinpoint exactly what is going on until the end. It’s another book that I wouldn’t outright recommend, but also wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone from reading unless anything I’ve mentioned sounds like a dealbreaker to you.


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