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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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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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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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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Mini-Review Compilation #18

Dead Astronauts

I don’t know if this book and I were ever going to get along. I’m a huge Jeff VanderMeer fan, but didn’t initially realize this was set in the Borne universe. Borne wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t end up loving it. From what I read, the connections seem pretty loose — same universe, different characters. There is just so MUCH going on here that at 27% in I had no idea what I was reading. The prose was gorgeous, but I struggled to follow the plot. This book is going to make you work, and I cautiously recommend it to those who are up for the challenge.

Rating: DNF

In the House in the Dark of the Woods

I honestly have no idea what this book was trying to accomplish. It starts off as a lighthearted fairytale of sorts and turns into…? It alternated between dry and confusing, sometimes both. There was one point where I thought I genuinely liked it and thought it had a great ending — until I realized I had only hit the 75% mark and had to muddle through to the true ending. This had the potential to say so much about abuse and trauma, which I thought was its purpose for a while, but it ended up being a bit of a meandering mess that I genuinely regret spending my time on.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I can definitely appreciate the points this book hit, but it just didn’t vibe with me very well! It’s a relatively quick read and I certainly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in it, though. As a YA book, it touches on a lot of important issues from abortion to drug addiction to teen pregnancy. One of my issues was that I felt like it was trying to touch on too many things and thus lacked a bit in focus. I’d also look up trigger warnings for this beforehand, as there are a lot of potentially upsetting topics at hand. My final criticism is that it read more like a MG book than a YA book as far as voice goes. I kept surprising myself when Gabi would say something about graduating from high school or applying to college because I honestly kept thinking she was 13.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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Undead Girl Gang [review]

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Published by Razorbill on May 8, 2018
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.79 (as of 2019-08-27)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. 


This was a really fun read with plenty to enjoy! The main character, Mila, is a fat latinx girl who practices Wicca with her best friend Riley. While I can’t personally speak to any of the rep, I’ve seen glowing ownvoices reviews about (that I can no longer locate but would be happy to link should I come across any or have any shared with me in the meantime). We find out right off the bat that Riley has died under mysterious circumstances, and Mila funnels her grief into investigating her best friend’s death.

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals.

The story has a great balance of serious topics and humor. There is a large exploration of grief’s impact, from the way it changes one’s own behaviors to the way it changes how others interact with a grieving person. But mixed in, there are plenty of cute moments and funny quips to lighten the mood. Dark humor is definitely a huge part of this book.

“And, for fuck’s sake, stop using normal as code for white,” I snap. “Your life isn’t the ruler that the rest of the world gets measured against.”

It was quite good, but not perfect. There were moments when I had some difficulty telling characters apart. I wish there had been some aspects that had been explored further, like Mila’s status as a bruja. I also felt like the twist hadn’t been properly set up and came a little out of left field.

I feel like I’ve been betraying them every time I’m not miserable. And I know that’s not how grief works. One second of being happy doesn’t erase all the other moments of mourning. I know that I can’t stay sad all day, every day.

As a whole, though, this was quite fun and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested.


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Mini-Review Compilation #14

Praise Song for the Butterflies

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

An American Marriage
[spoilers below]

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Lovely and the Lost
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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