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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A Crime in the Neighborhood [review]

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
Published by Algonquin Books on January 6, 1997
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.43 (as of 2020-01-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

An auspicious debut novel by a young writer who will remind readers of Anne Lamott and Anne Tyler “A Crime in the Neighborhood” centers on a headline event — the molestation and murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a Washington, D.C., suburb. At the time of the murder, 1973, Marsha was nine years old and as an adult she still remembers that summer as a time when murder and her own family’s upheaval were intertwined. Everyone, it seemed to Marsha at the time, was committing crimes. Her father deserted his family to take up with her mother’s younger sister. Her teenage brother and sister were smoking and shoplifting, and her mother was “flirting” with Mr. Green, the new next-door neighbor. Even the president of the United States seemed to be a crook. But it is Marsha’s own suspicions about who committed this crime that has the town up in arms and reveals what happens when fear runs wild.


I’m sure there are readers who adore this book. I’m sure there are brilliant messages one can glean from the words written here. Unfortunately, that was all wasted on me. This book and I just did not get along. There’s nothing especially heinous about the writing or the plot; I just felt like I was being dragged through it. Part of this is my fault: I was expecting something closer to a thriller while the crime aspect of this novel is very much downplayed. This is absolutely more slice-of-life literary fiction with a dash of mystery to it.

By then she was already referring to my father in the past tense. “Larry used to like that show,” she might say if we were all in the living room trying to watch television. He would look up and lightly shudder.

Another thing I struggled with was just not enjoying the narrator. I found Marsha to be quite bland. As a child, she wanders around, watches people, and eavesdrops on conversations. The little agency she has is used negatively, and brought me to actively dislike her. While this book is about adult Marsha looking back on her childhood, I felt this perspective didn’t add much. The analyses she provide did not help me to better understand what I was reading.

She stumbled a little, reaching out toward the screen. The notebook fell open at her feet, just behind the heel of her left sandal. One of the pages had got bent in the throwing, and for some reason, this bent page shocked me; it seemed as grievous an offense as what I had just done to my mother.

I’m truly not sure how much of my dislike is purely personal preference, so I would not turn anyone away from reading this, as long as they understand that this more an exploration of suburban life and less a true mystery. This was a buddy read and I hope that the rest of the group has a better experience with it, because I think there is promise here that I was just unable to unearth myself.


Here I will later be sharing reviews from the rest of the buddy read group as they are posted! (I finished extremely early).


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Jane Anonymous [review]

Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz
To be published by Wednesday Books on January 7, 2020
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.17 (as of 2019-12-28)
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

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?


I was going into this expecting an interesting exploration of trauma and that was… not what I got. Clearly I’m in the minority, looking at the average GR rating, but I felt like this was a major disappointment. This follows Jane, a teenage girl using a pseudonym as she writes about her experiences as a captive but also as she tries to adjust to life back home. The story flips back and forth between past and present as Jane recollects what happened to her.

There were so many frustrating pieces of this that I felt went beyond my suspension of disbelief. Jane’s friends and family are honestly downright awful to her after she returns. I’m sure this is realistic to an extent, but what could have been an examination of how trauma impacts everyone differently just turned into her mom telling her she needs to get over it and be happy she’s home now. I just wasn’t able to believe that her parents, who also went through extreme trauma after their daughter was kidnapped, refused to have any sort of sympathy for her. One of her friends did do really well with understanding her trauma, but I wish that had been looked at on a deeper level. There were also some pretty nasty depictions of wounds and unwashed bodies that felt, frankly, rather unnecessary and more for shock value than anything else. Some of them, especially towards the end, actually had me rolling my eyes and wondering why this had to be so over-the-top. 

There were other bits that had me wondering whether I was living in a separate reality, and that I hope were caught by an editor before the finished version. One was when Jane picks up a 25 lb object and remarks on how grateful she is for her strength training. Like, okay, don’t strain yourself. The second was when Jane noted that after maybe two months in captivity, her leg hairs were two inches long. I’m sure this is possible, but is it likely?? Probably not. (For comparison, I haven’t shaved my legs in 7 years and mine is around an inch long. An article I found in a five-second google search tells me hair grows an average of 1 cm every 28 days and body hair typically stops growing after 30-45 days.)

Anyway, the last two may have been nitpicky but they also pulled me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes and laughing — something you don’t really want in a tense thriller. I think at least the twist would have been exciting had I not seen someone spoil it in a review that was not marked for spoilers, ugh. If the above aren’t things you think would bother you, I think this would be worth reading. I think it was the combination of unbelievable factors and the lack of more nuanced exploration of trauma that really made it not work for me.


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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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When I Am Through With You [review]

When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 1, 2017
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.23 (as of 2019-12-20)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.


This found its way onto my TBR after Rachel’s five-star review of it, and I’m thankful I let her guide my decision to read it instead of paying attention to the relatively poor rating it has on Goodreads. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that this is a YA thriller and to adjust expectations accordingly. I wasn’t going into this expecting a new and meaningful favorite; I went into this wanting to read something entertaining, which is what I got.

Tragedy is infinitely more interesting than bliss. That’s the allure of self-destruction. Or so I’ve found.

The reader knows from the outset that one of the main characters will die, but we have no way of knowing how, when, or why. The tension in the novel slowly builds as the narrator unfurls the story of what happened. There were points where I felt things were a bit absurd in how dramatic they got, but by the last 15-20% I was fully hooked on wanting to know what would happen and thought the eventual reveals were really well-done.

“But even if he were my boyfriend, it wouldn’t be my fault that he’s an asshole.” 
“I didn’t say it would be.” 
“But you were thinking it, weren’t you? Everyone always blames women for the things men do. It’s why men never learn.”

In addition to being a solid thriller, I felt like the underlying commentary here was quite interesting. Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just briefly say that I think this book does a great job of showing the harm toxic relationships can cause while also demonstrating how difficult they can be to leave. There are multiple instances of these, both familial and romantic, and range from outright abuse to dependency. The messages conveyed are important and while the setting has a level of drama that doesn’t quite rise to realism, it’s still easy to see how they can be translated to real life.

That was noble, wasn’t it? To think of others first? I’d always told myself that, but doubt chewed at the edges of my certainty. Maybe the truth was that I preferred death to guilt.

One of my only complaints is that some of the background characters felt interchangeable and unnecessary, but I think the larger cast was necessary for the plot to progress the way it did. For the most part, though, this was a really solid thriller. It fully captured me and ended up being a good read. I’d definitely recommend it to those who enjoy the genre.


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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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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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