Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Trail of Lightning [review]

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Published by Saga Press on June 26, 2018
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-11-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.


I’m familiar with Rebecca Roanhorse because she was a panelist at the sci-fi/fantasy convention I went to last year. While there, I heard a lot of praise for Trail of Lightning and added it to my TBR (along with 100 more books). After seeing some great reviews and seeing that the Dragons and Tea Book Club had chosen it for their November read, I checked it out from the library and absolutely blew through it.

The world-building here is just fantastic. This is a near(?) future version of the US, where the oceans have risen and the world is in minor chaos. Maggie Hoskie lives in what was formerly a Navajo reservation and is now one of the only places safe from the Big Water. In this new world, the gods and monsters of old have arisen again, and Maggie has made a career out of hunting them. Along with gods and monsters, we have a great deal of magic floating around. It’s all based on Navajo legend, which is really cool. Some of the characters have “clan magic” and I loved seeing all the varieties that existed.

I had conflicted feelings about Maggie as a character, honestly. I found her quite irritating at times, but a lot of her flaws came from her struggles with PTSD and were kind of realistic in that way — and it’s great seeing her work through her trauma in order to get to a place where she can start healing. She was a fun character to follow, but I also just wanted to shake her and help her make better decisions. The romance was also quite obvious from the start, but I thought it was really well-done regardless and enjoyed seeing her and Kai interact.

The plot itself was somewhat intriguing but felt secondary to the characters. I got a little lost in it towards the end and felt some of the twists required a bit too much suspension of disbelief, but I was still absolutely glued to the pages. This is one of those books where the flaws are far outweighed by the things I loved.

I was confused when I went to shelve this as “adult” and saw that it had been shelved mostly as “young adult.” I couldn’t recall an age being mentioned, but definitely got adult vibes, although I was waffling on whether this could be considered “new adult.” I happened to come across an interview with Roanhorse where she admits she intentionally left Maggie’s age vague but that she’s “more like 20” and is definitely not a teen. So I guess just a heads up that the author would not classify her book as YA and respectfully asks that others not do so.

Anyway, I really loved this book and am excited to pick up the sequel! I have minimal experience with urban fantasy, but after this I’m thinking I may have to explore the genre a bit more.


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There There [review]

There There by Tommy Orange
Published by Knopf on June 5, 2018
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.99 (as of 2019-11-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid–tied to the back of everything we’d been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We’ll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.


Tommy Orange springs forth with a marvelous debut novel that falls just a bit short of its potential. There’s a lot here that works, but also some that doesn’t. It’s weakness to me was the breadth of characters. Perhaps this is a personal shortcoming of mine: I struggle with books that host a large cast of characters. I feel it’s difficult to balance so many personalities while also keeping them all memorable and fully-formed. While Orange succeeds at the latter, I found the constant switches in perspective complicated and was always a step behind in remembering each character’s earlier chapter.

There were some bits I really loved: the nonfiction interludes were fascinating and eye-opening to me as someone who really knows minimal information about the history of Native Americans. It made me want to go out and grab some full-length nonfiction books in order to supplement my knowledge — which I plan to do now. It also brought me awareness of urban American Indians, which I had known little to nothing about previously. The way the characters’ lives overlapped, whether a little or a lot, was interesting to see as well. Sometimes it was played more subtly than others, and I think with fewer characters to follow it would have had a much larger impact on me.

And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?

The way Orange directed the tone of the story was also interesting. I started off having truly no idea where things would be going. The tension picks up so slowly that once you realize it’s there, you have to wonder when it started. By the end of the book I was bracing myself for an impact that I knew would come — I just didn’t know when, or how it would resolve. I do have mixed feelings on the ending, which I felt was somewhat abrupt, but I’m not sure I have an alternate to propose.

TL;DR: While this book was highly commendable in many ways, the number of POVs just didn’t work for me.


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Bird Box [review]

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Published by Ecco on May 13, 2014
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2019-11-12)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Something is out there…

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos.

But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?


How do I begin to review Bird Box? First published five years ago and probably one of the most hyped horror novels in recent memory, I had sky high expectations going in. And somehow Josh Malerman managed to exceed every single one. I think we all know how difficult it can be to write five-star reviews that are not just “I adored it” ad nauseam, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

This is truly one of the most creative, original pieces of horror media I have ever consumed. I’m sure many are familiar with the concept at this point: a post-apocalyptic world in which creatures roam the Earth who will end your life if you set eyes upon them. The Netflix adaptation led to criticisms that the plot was too similar to A Quiet Place for comfort, but obviously this novel debuted long before the aforementioned film. 

You are saving their lives for a life not worth living.

Malerman is able to use this kind of environment to his advantage, building up a level of tension I’m not sure I’ve experienced in a novel before. I was literally on the edge of my seat and there was a moment or two where I actually jerked in surprise. Aside from the atmosphere, it was incredibly interesting to see what the characters would come up with in order to navigate this new world.

The characters themselves were honestly forgettable, but that didn’t matter much to me. All of the novel’s other merits more than made up for it. When I think back on this, I don’t expect to remember how much I loved the characters, but how much I loved the atmosphere and the writing itself. That being said, I did think the exploration of Malorie’s motherhood was interesting. She is often asking herself whether she is a good mother, and it’s a difficult question to answer. In trying to protect her children, she must also do things she probably never imagined she would.

How can she expect her children to dream as big as the stars if they can’t lift their heads to gaze upon them? Malorie doesn’t know the answer.

TL;DR: This was a tense, legitimately scary novel that I’ll be recommending to all horror fans.


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Full Throttle [review]

Full Throttle by Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow on October 1, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.13 (as of 2019-11-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

In this masterful collection of short fiction, Joe Hill dissects timeless human struggles in thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including “In The Tall Grass,” one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.

Featuring two previously unpublished stories, and a brace of shocking chillers, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears, and demonstrates this exceptional talent at his very best.


Joe Hill does it again, folks. From the first story, I was absolutely glued to this book. I actually started it just before game 1 of the World Series and, uh, I really just had to finish that short story, y’all. To the detriment of me missing some incredible plays. I don’t know how the man does it — the weakness of short stories is that sometimes it is difficult to develop a connection to the characters or to feel that the story itself isn’t quite fully-formed; this collection doesn’t suffer from either. I found myself gripping the book tightly, bent over it in anticipation as I waited to see what would happen next. Each story managed to elicit strong emotions: anxiety, grief, horror, or some combination of the three. And each story was completely different; I never felt like I would mix up plot or characters, and always felt like I was being given something fresh and original.

Joel looked at her in surprise. “You’re the smartest little girl on this side of the lake. You talk just like you’re reading from a book.”
“I’m the smartest little girl on either side of the lake.”

One of the things that really impresses me about Joe Hill is that he’s able to write such good bad characters. There were characters in this I truly despised, extremely bad people. But the way he writes them makes you truly interested in reading more about them. He humanizes them without justifying the horrible things they’ve done or asking you to forgive them. Sometimes you even root for them, but not always.

Who is worse, Christian, the sadist who serves his true nature honestly or the ordinary man who does nothing to stop him?

The foreword is not something I’ve really seen before in a short story collection and was a bit meandering, but since I’m biased and adore Joe’s writing, I didn’t mind it at all. I think once you’ve become so loyal to an author, learning about their history and writing process becomes much more interesting than it may have been otherwise. The story notes following were also insightful, although much briefer.

The price of being alive is that someday you aren’t.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

  • Throttle (with Stephen King) 4.5/5
  • Dark Carousel 4.5/5
  • Wolverton Station 4/5
  • By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain 5/5
  • Faun 4/5
  • Late Returns 4/5
  • All I Care About Is You 4/5
  • Thumbprint 3/5
  • The Devil on the Staircase 3/5
  • Twittering from the Circus of the Dead 3.5/5
  • Mums 4/5
  • In The Tall Grass (with Stephen King) 3.5/5
  • You Are Released 4/5

While that only comes to an average of 3.92, I was just so consistently impressed and haunted by this collection that I have to give it five stars. Even the stories that I didn’t feel rated highly stuck with me, which I think says a lot about Joe Hill’s writing and how he’s able to truly understand how good writing impacts the human psyche. This honestly may be my favorite book of the year — although we’ll see come December. I was constantly dropping this into my lap just to stare into the distance and contemplate how haunting some of the content was.

Her song — a low-pitched, unearthly dirge, like the forlorn cries of the whales that have long been extinct — has no words. Perhaps there never are for grief.

Overall, Joe Hill is incredibly talented. Please read this.


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Half Way Home [review]

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 1, 2019 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.72 (as of 2019-11-05)
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.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

WE WOKE IN FIRE 
Five hundred colonists have been sent across the stars to settle an alien planet. Vat-grown in a dream-like state, they are educated through simulations by an artificial intelligence and should awaken at thirty years old, fully-trained, and ready to tame the new world.

But fifteen years in, an explosion on their vessel kills most of the homesteaders and destroys the majority of their supplies. Worse yet, the sixty that awaken and escape the flames are only half-taught and possess the skills least useful for survival.

Naked and terrified, the teens stumble from their fiery baptism ill-prepared for the unfamiliar and harsh alien world around them. Though they attempt to work with the colony A.I. to build a home, tension and misery are rampant, escalating into battles for dominance.

Soon they find that their worst enemy isn’t the hostile environment, the A.I., or the blast that nearly killed them. Their greatest danger is each other.


Half Way Home was originally published in 2010 but was recently re-released. I’ve consistently enjoyed a lot of Hugh Howie’s books so I was excited to pick up this one, which was no exception. Quite an original concept, Half Way Home explores the potential future of space colonization. Colonists are sent to planets and raised sleeping in vats as an AI sets up the start of the colony. After 30 years, the colonists awaken fully-grown, trained, and ready to take over. In Half Way Home something has gone wrong, and the colonists are awakened early. They must figure out how to make it without their full training program and without all of the resources they were supposed to have.

While it had a lot of potential, this really just missed the mark for me. There were a lot of interesting bits — in particular, the flora and fauna unique to this new planet — but there wasn’t enough to impress me. It felt like there was just something… missing, and I felt a bit let down by the ending. Part of this can probably be chalked up to a lack of proper world-building. Howey definitely has skill when it comes to building a sci-fi world (Wool speaks to that), but there was a lot here that felt like it should have been expanded upon. I just never felt fully convinced by the environment he had created here. It felt so limited; we’re only really introduced to a couple of new species with the implication being that they are the only ones.

Besides that, I felt really uncomfortable about the characterization of the main character. He’s gay, and the “hints” towards it are quite heavy-handed. He’s also often likened to a woman and is made fun of by the other characters for being a “sissy.” This isn’t at all challenged or addressed, and doesn’t do much except play into existing stereotypes. There’s also a love triangle that doesn’t really get resolved; the drama with it feels forced and even the main character admits that it’s ridiculous to think so much about dating when lives are on the line.

For all my criticisms, this is a pretty enjoyable read. I ended up getting sucked in whenever I’d pick it up, and had no problem jumping back into the story. The pacing is good and I was always intrigued to see what would happen next — even if it didn’t seem like much would. Overall, this is a decent sci-fi novel, but nothing I’ll be scrambling to recommend.


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American Predator [review]

American Predator by Maureen Callahan
Published by Viking on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.11 (as of 2019-10-10)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Most of us have never heard of Israel Keyes. But he is one of the most ambitious, meticulous serial killers of modern time. The FBI considered his behavior unprecedented. Described by a prosecutor as “a force of pure evil,” he was a predator who struck all over the United States. He buried “kill kits”–cash, weapons, and body-disposal tools–in remote locations across the country and over the course of fourteen years, would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles in order to use his kits. He would break into a stranger’s house, abduct his victims in broad daylight, and kill and dispose of them in mere hours. And then he would return home, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter.

When journalist Maureen Callahan first heard about Israel Keyes in 2012, she was captivated by how a killer of this magnitude could go undetected by law enforcement for over a decade. And so began a project that consumed her for the next several years–uncovering the true story behind how the FBI ultimately caught Israel Keyes, and trying to understand what it means for a killer like Keyes to exist. A killer who left a path of monstrous, randomly committed crimes in his wake–many of which remain unsolved to this day.

American Predator is the ambitious culmination of years of on-the-ground interviews with key figures in law enforcement and in Keyes’s life, and research uncovered from classified FBI files. Callahan takes us on a journey into the chilling, nightmarish mind of a relentless killer, and the limitations of traditional law enforcement, in one of America’s most isolated environments–Alaska–when faced with a killer who defies all expectation and categorization.


Wow, this one was definitely a doozy. I picked up American Predator for week one of the #FridayFrightAThon 2019, hosted by Melanie, Amy, Jen, and Chelsea. It hadn’t really been on my radar before that, but I thought it sounded intriguing and decided to participate. And oh boy, intriguing doesn’t even begin to cover it!

The book starts with a deep dive into the disappearance of Samantha Koenig, who had gone missing in Anchorage, Alaska. Detailing the investigation start to finish, Callahan reels us right into the story. Police finally tracked down Israel Keyes, who reveals to them his extensive history of crime. The story becomes more and more compelling as we learn about Keyes’ past, motives (or lack thereof?), and methodology.

I got literal chills reading this because it was so impossible to fathom someone this cold-blooded and calculated really existing. As the blurb mentions, it is truly amazing that Keyes is not more well-known! He is a fairly recent serial killer (arrested in 2012) and is frighteningly intelligent and good at what he does. Honestly, if not for a few slip-ups, it’s hard to say whether he would have ever been caught. There is even information hinting that he possibly “[began] biohacking his own body in his quest to become the perfect serial killer” through surgeries he traveled all the way to Mexico to receive.

While it sometimes comes up that law enforcement has not revealed all aspects of Keyes’ crimes, that’s never the sense the reader gets. Callahan so smoothly fills in the gaps that it is difficult to feel like anything is missing — even if there are questions unanswered, that often seems to come from Keyes himself rather than a barrier the author is unable to overcome.

Callan begins her conclusion by stating, “Any one of us could have been a victim of Israel Keyes.” And that’s the sense one gets while reading this. He criss-crossed the country and he committed crimes well beyond the bounds of the United States. He was smart and he was confident, taking people in broad daylight and in well-traveled areas. He is truly far more than your run-of-the-mill serial killer, if such a thing exists. It is clear that not much was an obstacle for him.

Overall, this was a chilling and fascinating read that I’ll be recommending left and right.


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Lilli de Jong [review]

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
Published by Nan A. Talese on May 6, 2017
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.99 (as of 2019-10-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can’t bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”


Lilli de Jong is the story of a young quaker girl who finds herself pregnant in a society where an unwed mother is a scourge and disgrace. I enjoyed the book at the start; not knowing much about quakers, I was intrigued to hear more about Lilli’s life. I also enjoyed the journal format, with Lilli speaking directly to the reader as if we were her diary. Which, in the narrative, we are.

How is it that shame affixes itself to the violated, and not to the violator?

Lilli is forced to seek shelter in a home for single pregnant women, and is lucky enough to be boarded and fed as she waits to birth her child. While the norm is to adopt one’s baby out and to continue life as though the pregnancy had never happened, Lilli stands her ground and decides that she wants to keep her baby. As expected, this leads to many difficulties.

So little is permissible for a woman—yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.

I found it intriguing for quite a while, but over time the hurdles Lilli faced became tiresome. I’m sure the events were realistic to an extent, but it was difficult to suspend my belief when the worst seemed to happen at all times. As soon as things began turning around for Lilli, something even worse would happen. At first this was surprising and kept me on my toes, but I felt the author took it just too far. I was also quite frustrated at how Lilli behaved some of the time, she seemed to change her mind on a whim and had no idea how to make decisions that would actually benefit her. It’s likely because she was quite young, but still, it became irritating to read through. I will say that I had no issue with the writing itself. Benton knows how to create an atmosphere that will draw the reader in, and how to create interesting side characters to support her lead.

Did she go to the grave with painful secrets? Must every woman? Will I?

It was clear that Benton wanted to shed some light on the hardships women faced during this time period. As she mentions in the afterword, these girls’ stories went untold — I’m actually excited to read some of the books she used for her research. She also clearly wanted to show the deep bond a mother feels toward their child. In that respect, this may be more impactful to readers who enjoy reading about motherhood. Parts of it may be difficult if you do have a child — without spoilers, I’ll just say she and her daughter are put into some dangerous situations — but I think that would make it easier to relate to.

This knowledge is not a curse. Separation from the garden’s innocence is not a sin. It is a beginning.

Overall, while the book was well-written, I struggled with the seemingly endless tragedies the title character faced and got less out of this than I was hoping to.


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Rebecca [review]

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Published by Little, Brown, and Company on December 17, 2013 (originally 1938)
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.22 (as of 2019-10-05)
Spoiler-free Review

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Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.


I’ve been intending to read Rebecca for quite some time now and after some insistence by, well, pretty much everyone around me, I finally did it! I found it to be quite intriguing and thought it would make for a really interesting study had I read it in school. And I almost wish I had, since there was so much I’m sure I didn’t pick up on. At its core, it’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a widower, only to find herself in the shadow of the late Rebecca.

No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.

It’s clear from the start that our narrator can’t hold a candle to Rebecca herself — she speaks explicitly of it, but also implies it by leaving herself nameless. She obsesses over every difference between them, both real and perceived, down to the fact that the narrator must call Mr. de Winter “Maxim” while Rebecca called him “Max.” As she settles into her new life as Mrs. de Winter, she must adjust to others’ expectations of her as well. Instead of making her time her own, she adheres to the schedules and habits previously exhibited by Rebecca. Yet she still can tell that she is always being held to a standard she cannot meet. 

Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca.

The dichotomy between the two women is the main focus of the book. Where Rebecca was boisterous and well-loved, the young bride is cautious and shy. Where Rebecca was tall, dark, and beautiful, our narrator is small, plain, and compliant. It’s easy to hate the main character as much as she hates herself; as a reader, I wanted her to buck up and make an effort instead of tiptoeing around everything. It’s difficult not to agree with her that Rebecca was better in every way. 

I knew now the reason for my sense of foreboding. It was not the stranded ship that was sinister, nor the crying gulls, nor the thin black funnel pointing to the shore. It was the stillness of the black water, and the unknown things that lay beneath.

I can’t get much deeper into the plot without spoiling the mystery, but there is truly mystery abound here. There are slow bits, but once things creep up on you, you’ll find yourself flying through the pages to get to the end. And the end itself is quite shocking. Honestly, my only complaints really are those slower pieces (honestly, just cutting a bit out would have cured this) as well as the lack of spine in the main character. She’s quite boring at times, but it also serves a purpose for her to be the way she is.

It doesn’t make for sanity, does it, living with the devil.

Overall, I’m quite glad I ended up reading this. It was an interesting book and great for those who love gothic reads.


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Growing Things and Other Stories [review]

Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2019-10-01)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

A chilling anthology featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction from the multiple award-winning author of the national bestseller The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives.

Four men rob a pawn shop at gunpoint only to vanish, one-by-one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.”

In “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster . . . or not.

Joining these haunting works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts—Merry, who has published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full.

From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, Tremblay illuminates our primal fears and darkest dreams in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds.


No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t absolutely love this collection. After reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I knew Tremblay would become one of my favorite horror authors. It took me way too long to pick up another one of his books, but my conflicted experience Growing Things certainly won’t make me give up on loving his work. Here is a list of the stories, as well as my individual rating for each:

  • Growing Things 4/5
  • Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks 3/5
  • Something About Birds 4.5/5
  • The Getaway 4/5
  • Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport 3/5
  • Where We Will All Be 2.5/5
  • The Teacher 4/5
  • Notes for “The Barn in the Wild” 4.5/5
  • _____ 3/5
  • Our Town’s Monster 2/5
  • A Haunted House Is a Wheel upon Which Some Are Broken 4/5
  • It Won’t Go Away 4/5
  • Notes from the Dog Walkers 2/5
  • Further Questions for the Somnambulist 2/5
  • The Ice Tower 3/5
  • The Society of the Monsterhood 2/5
  • Her Red Right Hand 2.5/5
  • It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks 4/5
  • The Thirteenth Temple 4/5 

I’m the baseball pitch that stops before home. I’m an empty notebook. I’m half the distance to the wall. I’m the video with an ending I won’t ever watch.

That comes to an average of 3.26, which I rounded down to a 3. The collection certainly wasn’t bad, but there were just enough stories I didn’t get along with to make it a less-than-spectacular reading experience. There was a lot to appreciate here. I found Tremblay’s meta and self-referential tendencies to be quite fun and look forward to tying bits here to his other works as I make my way through them. There is even a notes section at the end that includes tidbits — inspirations, writing processes, etc. — about many of the works. It was quite insightful and added  a lot to the experience for me.

Time is not an arrow. It is a bottomless bag in which we collect and place things that will be forgotten.

I think this collection will work well for those who like authors to play around with their writing. As I mentioned above, some of the pieces are meta and Tremblay definitely isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. Horror fans in general will probably enjoy this, but I can see it appealing to those who aren’t diehard genre readers as well. I think the nature of short story collections usually mean that everyone can find something they’ll like.

I used to hope that when I died I’d go to some kind of afterlife where I’d instantly know all these weird statistics like how many heartbeats I had in my life or how many breaths or how many times I said the word “tomato” or how many people thought I was a good person or how many holes there were in the ceiling tiles of my dentist’s office.

Overall, while this didn’t quite live up to expectations, I still enjoyed it and will be recommending it to others!


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