Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

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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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

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

Goodreads | IndieBound 

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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What Doctors Feel [review]

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine by Danielle Ofri
Published by Beacon Press on June 4, 2013
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.16 (as of 2019-09-27)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Physicians are assumed to be objective, rational beings, easily able to detach as they guide patients and families through some of life’s most challenging moments. But doctors’ emotional responses to the life-and-death dramas of everyday practice have a profound impact on medical care. And while much has been written about the minds and methods of the medical professionals who save our lives, precious little has been said about their emotions. In What Doctors Feel, Dr. Danielle Ofri has taken on the task of dissecting the hidden emotional responses of doctors, and how these directly influence patients.

How do the stresses of medical life—from paperwork to grueling hours to lawsuits to facing death—affect the medical care that doctors can offer their patients? Digging deep into the lives of doctors, Ofri examines the daunting range of emotions—shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair, and sometimes even love—that permeate the contemporary doctor-patient connection. Drawing on scientific studies, including some surprising research, Dr. Danielle Ofri offers up an unflinching look at the impact of emotions on health care.


What Doctors Feel explores how doctors’ emotions impact both their own lives and the lives of their patients. This isn’t a non-fic where you’ll find yourself getting bored. Dr. Ofri writes conversationally and includes specific examples from her years as a doctor to get her point across. The only downside being that you’ll have to be someone who can stomach hearing about some less-than-pleasant things. I didn’t feel myself losing interest at any point while reading, and found this to be quite a compelling read. I was expecting there to be more of an academic focus, but Dr. Ofri relies fairly heavily on anecdotal storytelling. Make no mistake: she always specifies whether her assertions can be backed up by solid research or whether they are yet unexplored hypotheses. This combination helps the reader learn while also being able to tie everything discussed to real-life situations.

High empathy scores predict which students will excel in their clinical clerkships, who will be nominated by their peers for exemplary professionalism, and who will be ranked as highly empathic by residency program directors and by patients themselves.

One thing I found quite fascinating was the differences medical students can experience during their third year of med school. This is the time students spend in clinic, following interns and residents around while learning all they can. This third year can be a roll of the dice and make or break the student’s education as well as influence their path moving forward. Medical students also adjust to the humor used by physicians and in doing so can begin using phrases that phase out empathy — by making jokes about drug addicts, for instance, instead of empathizing with their difficulties. Indeed, there is a documented decline in empathy at this point in a medical student’s education. While Dr. Ofri is clear to caution that these results are preliminary, studies have shown that patients of doctors with higher empathy scores experience things like better medication compliance, higher quality of life, and even less severe colds.

When continuing into residency, Dr. Ofri shares how there is little to no time for clinicians to process emotional situations. She shares specific instances of doctors who witnessed traumatic deaths without so much as blinking, only to break down later on in the throes of PTSD. Additionally, doctors are driven to strive for perfection. It makes sense after all, patients can die from mistakes. But there is often a dichotomy perceived: either you are a perfect doctor or you are a failure, no grey areas allowed. In the medical field, it is difficult to learn from one’s mistakes without feeling an overwhelming sense of shame and self-doubt — and shame can prevent someone from coming forward to admit their mistake. Coming forward may be the right thing to do, but studies have also shown that acknowledging and discussing such errors leads to changes in clinicians’ behavior that prevent future mistakes.

Fear, like all emotions, is neither good nor bad; it is simply one of the normal states of being. Overwhelming fear can be incapacitating, as I learned during my first code. But appropriate fear, as I witnessed in my obstetrician, can be crucial for good medical care, especially during critical situations.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read and recommend it to anyone interested in the inner workings of the healthcare industry, particularly where the impact of emotions is concerned.


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Sick: A Memoir [review]

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour
Published by Harper Perennial on June 5, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.41 (as of 2019-09-25)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

For as long as author Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn’t know why. Several drug addictions, some major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease. 

Sick is Khakpour’s grueling, emotional journey—as a woman, an Iranian-American, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems—in which she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness and her addiction to doctor prescribed benzodiazepines, that both aided and eroded her ever-deteriorating physical health. Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course—New York, LA, Santa Fe, and a college town in Germany—as she meditates on the physiological and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life. 

A story of survival, pain, and transformation, Sick candidly examines the colossal impact of illness on one woman’s life by not just highlighting the failures of a broken medical system but by also boldly challenging our concept of illness narratives.


It seems impossible to separate Khakpour’s life of illness from the remainder of her life. As she details, no one has been able to ascertain for certain when exactly she acquired Lyme. Some doctors have pointed to her health problems in childhood as symptoms, while others have indicated that college seemed like a likely bet. Having gone through one trauma after another, it’s also difficult to disentangle the symptoms of her Lyme from symptoms of primarily unrelated PTSD, depression, and anxiety. As she mentions, women typically struggle more with Lyme because they are often treated as psychiatric cases only and therefore left undiagnosed and untreated longer. As a quick note, there are extensive discussions of both drug abuse and suicide throughout the book, so if you find those triggering it may be best to steer clear.

And there it came: his half smile. And here it followed: my rage.

One thing that bothered me a lot was that she’s somewhat judgmental of one of her friends in Chicago, a wealthy woman who eventually reveals she’s a prostitute. This judgment comes unchallenged by the present Khakpour looking back and it’s clear she was sickened by the thought of her friend making money in this way, and pities her even though she herself is weak and slowly disintegrating while her friend is happy and stable. It was strange reading about someone who can look down so strongly on others when they themselves are struggling even more.

I also kept saying something I had heard some other therapist or doctor say at some point, maybe in the psych ward: Let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all. I was mesmerized by what “the bottom of this” could be, but I knew I wanted it.

Occasionally, the timeline feels mixed up. She’ll jump ahead only to jump immediately back and I forget where we are in the story. There are bits repeated throughout — stories she tells multiple times, to my confusion — that give the whole thing a sense of deja vu. Its meandering nature felt sometimes without purpose and I found myself checking where I was in the book to see if it was close to over. Her story itself is exhausting to read, and god knows how much more exhausting it must have been to live through, but its monotony made it disengaging when combined with the matter-of-fact tone she communicates her experiences in. Having had (much less serious) chronic illnesses of my own, I understand how hopeless the seemingly endless chain of doctors who don’t know what’s wrong with you is, but the negativity also felt like it would drown me without adding much to my experience as a reader.

So many men had tried to fix me; so many men were convinced they could help. What was one more.

Overall, in spite of my criticisms, I think this book is worth reading if you’re interested even if it didn’t quite work for me.


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Pet [review]

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Make Me a World on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.30 (as of 2019-09-23)
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

Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?


After absolutely loving Freshwater, there wasn’t a question in my mind of whether or not I’d pick up Pet. I was actually lucky enough to grab a copy off Netgalley! Pet tells the story of a black trans girl named Jam, who lives in a utopian society where all “monsters” have been vanquished. The problem is, an otherworldly creature crawls out of a painting created by Jam’s mother and insists that there is a monster, and that it has come to hunt it.

But unpleasant things must be done for unpleasant purposes out of unpleasant necessity.

I found that I loved a lot about the characters in this novel. As far as I remember, none of the characters were white. Jam herself is trans, which was just a fact of life and not the source of any kind of conflict, and is also implied to have selective mutism. She speaks sign language with most of the people around her, who have learned it so that she can communicate more comfortably. Jam’s best friend Redemption also has parents who are in a polyamorous relationship, which I was thrilled to see!

I found the message of the story to be quite important: that monsters are often hiding in plain sight, and that we must be willing to look for them. The problem with this utopian society was that in believing all of the monsters were gone, they no longer kept their eyes open and were blind to the reality in front of them. While it’s scary to realize that we’re not as safe as we think, it’s important to look out for red flags and to protect everyone around us. I thought this was really well-done and hope that this story can reach children and young adults — and even adults — who need to hear this message.

One of my only complaints was that I struggled to pick apart most of Redemption’s family. They all sort of blurred together for me, save for his uncle Hibiscus and brother Moss. I think this is less that they don’t have distinct personalities and more that not enough time is spent with them for those personalities to feel fully developed. It didn’t cause much trouble for me, but did occasionally get a bit confusing.

The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen, it whispered in her mind. A thing which is happening happens whether you look at it or not. And yes, maybe it is easier not to look. Maybe it is easier to say because you do not see it, it is not happening. Maybe you can pull the stone out of the pool and put the moon back together.

Overall, this was definitely a solid read and I’m glad that Emezi is able to spread such an important message.


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The Wolves of Winter [review]

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Published by Scribner on January 2, 2018
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.75 (as of 2019-09-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.


I tend to enjoy plague dystopians, but this one was a little different in that it didn’t really focus on the illness itself. It did feel a little different, a little more realistic than most: the “end of the world” really came through a culmination of believable factors rather than one big bad thing. The Wolves of Winter follows one family who has escaped to the great white north in the aftermath of society’s downfall. They are almost entirely cut off from humanity, and live like survivalists until the day a Mysterious Stranger happens by.

Snow is the quietest kind of weather.

As much as I enjoyed this, a lot of it was a bit heavy-handed. The twists are hinted to generously, and are easy to see coming. Lynn’s grief for her father felt overdone and less than genuine. It certainly had its place, but I often felt more annoyed by the repeated references to his death rather than feeling sympathetic or saddened. Aside from Lynn, her parents, and Jeryl, the other characters all sort of blurred together for me. Jax, Ramsay, and Ken didn’t feel like they had much in the way of personality other than just being men — Jax was really only easy to tell apart as the outsider.

My stomach stirred like I was hungry. But I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t like the feeling.

I will say that I did like Lynn, but she was sort of the stereotypical one-of-the-boys-and-stubborn-as-nails heroine. My favorite character was probably Jeryl, just because he felt the most lifelike. Thinking about it, though, pretty much all the characters were kind of stereotypes in their own way. The plot itself is also kind of formulaic and I didn’t really end up getting caught by surprise much, although I wasn’t able to predict all of the details and thus was interested in finding out “the truth” alongside Lynn.

“And nothing can happen more beautiful than death,” Walt Whitman says. Fucking liar.

Overall: this wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun read and I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up more by this author!


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Everything I Never Told You [review]

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press on June 26, 2014
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.85 (as of 2019-09-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, but I found myself hooked within the first fifty pages. This is the quietly beautiful examination of a family as they struggle with the loss of one of their children. The middle child of an interracial couple, Lydia is the dream girl, everything her parents couldn’t be. Losing her finally upsets a balance that had no business continuing as long as it did, and the family must come to terms with what they’ll discover, or risk losing everything.

At its core, this is really the story of secrets gone wrong. There are so many tipping points at which, had the characters chosen to act differently, a divergent outcome could have been triggered. James, the father, has rejected his background as the child of Chinese immigrants, wanting nothing more than to fit in. Marilyn, the mother, regrets allowing motherhood to overtake her dreams of medical school. Nath, the oldest son, feels unloved and forgotten. Lydia is pressured by both her parents to fit in and to succeed where they could not. Hannah, the youngest daughter, watches quietly from the background and notices what the others are too preoccupied to notice.

There is so much that is deeply explored here, and it is difficult to point fingers and place blame. One must come to terms with the fact that everyone in this book has made mistakes, and that their silence has come at a cost. Each of the characters is deeply sympathetic in their own ways and all of their stories are equally important. Don’t come into this book expecting an exciting thriller, because the who of Lydia’s death is less important than the why, and what will happen afterward.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Price of Salt [review]

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Published by She Winked Press on March 1, 2011 (originally 1952)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2019-09-13)
Spoiler-free Review

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Soon to be a new film, The Price of Salt tells the riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover.


While this didn’t end up becoming a new favorite, I was able to appreciate both the writing and the importance of the novel in history. The Price of Salt was written in the 50s and is the book that the movie Carol was based off of. What I was expecting was the development of a relationship between two women with the quietest hints of romance; what I got was a frank exploration of a young woman’s blossoming sexuality. 

She wished she could kiss the person in the mirror and make her come to life, yet she stood perfectly still, like a painted portrait.

The main character, Therese, is a 21-year-old sales clerk at the outset of the book. She has a boyfriend who she feels little for and hopes to make a living as a set designer for plays. While working at a toy counter in a department store, she meets Carol, who quickly changes her life. The relationship between these two women was all-consuming and a little bit frightening. Therese is quite unsure of herself and there is a layer of anxiety the reader must wade through as the novel progresses. Therese and Carol eventually embark on a road trip that only enhances their whirlwind romance.

An indefinite longing, that she had been only vaguely conscious of at times before, became now a recognizable wish.

I’ll clarify here that classics and I do not always get along very well; I find the writing style in older books to be a bit more difficult to follow and think that a lot gets lost on me. It’s possible that this is what happened here. I did not understand Therese’s attraction to Carol, other than the fact that she was inexplicably drawn to this woman. I did not understand how she came to love Carol so deeply; to me she seemed quite cold and didn’t have much going for her. While Therese was quite a sympathetic character, I found myself a little lost and didn’t emotionally connect as strongly to the novel as I had hoped I would.

I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched, and you are raining down upon me.

Overall, though, I do think this is worth reading. It is enjoyable to watch Therese find herself, and the book is littered with beautiful prose. Not only that, but it is refreshing to see queer women represented in literature written over 60 years ago. I have yet to see the movie, but am hoping to now that I’ve finally read the book that inspired it.


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