Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Full Throttle [review]

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

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

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

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

Featuring two previously unpublished stories, and a brace of shocking chillers, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche.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


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

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

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

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

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

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

My ratings for each story are as follows:

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

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

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

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


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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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Aquarium [review]

Aquarium by David Vann
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on March 3, 2015
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.72 (as of 2019-09-10)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.

In crystalline, chiseled yet graceful prose, Aquarium takes us into the heart of a brave young girl whose longing for love and capacity for forgiveness transforms the damaged people around her. 


Having added this to my TBR about a year ago and not remembering why, I checked this out of the library on a whim since I had some time to kill. I didn’t re-read the synopsis before jumping in and found myself being pulled through a curious story that in turn felt both unbelievably real and not real at all. In the simplest terms possible, this is the story of a girl named Caitlin who lives an unremarkable life with her single working mom. In actuality, nothing about this book is that simple.

I Google the street and see the crime rate at three times the national average, car theft almost six times higher. I think of my mother and the teachers at school letting me walk that route every day, and I’m filled with a rage that will never go away because it comes from some hollow vertigo unfinished. I feel dizzy with fear for my former self, and how can that be? I’m here now. I’m safe. I have a job. I’m thirty-two years old. I live in a better section of town. I should forgive and forget.

The story veers wildly between slice-of-life literary fiction and edge-of-your-seat drama. While I can see how this wouldn’t work for some, I was entranced by the characters and their stories. There is very little I can get into without spoilers, but there are some deeply, deeply horrifying moments squirreled away in here. And some deeply heartwarming ones as well. I really felt like I ran the gamut of emotions while reading this.

Lungfish can slow to one-sixtieth their normal metabolic rate, but this slows time, also. One night becomes sixty nights. This is the price for hiding. Just hold your breath for one minute and find out what a minute becomes.

Worth noting is also the fact that I hadn’t taken notice of the author’s gender and spent the entirety of this book thinking it had been written by a woman. While others have disagreed, I felt this was quite authentically written and was surprised by how carefully done some aspects were. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the main character is in love with her (female) best friend and while there are some scenes that are sexual, they are portrayed in a way that I found quite tasteful and and innocent in nature.

Each thing that happens to us, each and every thing, it leaves some dent, and that dent will always be there. Each of us is a walking wreck.

Overall, I found myself deeply impacted by this book. Parts of it are truly harrowing, but the experience itself was worth it. I was quite impressed by Vann’s writing and really look forward to exploring more of his work.


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A Closed and Common Orbit [review]

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager on October 18, 2016
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.36 (as of 2019-08-15)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.


After adoring The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which planted Becky Chambers firmly on my auto-read list, I decided I better read the rest of her backlist (and continue the Wayfarers series). A Closed and Common Orbit picks up right where The Long Way leaves off and while it could be read independently, I wouldn’t recommend it. The plot of this book relies heavily on the ending of its predecessor, so spoilers from the first book will be present here.

As before, my favorite part of reading this was the characters. The main character, Sidra, is the AI formerly known as Loveless, now present in a human-like body known as a kit rather than controlling a spaceship. I really liked Sidra and found her journey towards finally feeling one with her body to be quite compelling, although I’m sure it will resonate more with some than with others. Sidra goes through a lot as she struggles to integrate into a world she wasn’t necessarily meant to be in, although she has plenty of support along the way.

Pepper and her partner Blue have taken guardianship of Sidra in order to protect her and help her find her place in the world. Pepper has a soft spot in her heart for AI, for reasons we soon discover through flashbacks into her childhood. I’m a big fan of the dual timelines when done well, which I feel Chambers has done here. And Pepper is such a fun character that I was happy to get more of her — and Blue!

Again, Chambers tackles a lot of futuristic moral issues: namely, are AIs people? As one would expect, the answer is a resounding yes but I think the way she demonstrates it is quite good. She also delves more into the cultures of other alien species, which is another thing I really liked about The Long Way. I think the aliens and the societies she creates are so fascinating and I just love learning about them. Rather than an info dump, we are taught by experiencing it all through the lenses of human (or human-designed) characters, which I think gives it a more authentic feel.

Basically, I’m just totally in love with Becky Chambers’ writing and I can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy. I’m also quite excited about her upcoming novels. If you liked The Long Way, I think you’ll also like A Closed and Common Orbit. 


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Evicted [review]

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Published by Crown on March 1, 2016
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.48 (as of 2019-06-23)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In this brilliant,heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


Y’all know that meme that’s like “Uh, hey guys? Just found out about [bad thing everyone has been aware of for quite some time]. Yikes!” Anyway, that’s how I feel about landlords after reading this book. A lot of the people in my leftist circles have been damning landlords for quite some time now and while I didn’t love the fact that they profit off of the ubiquitous need for shelter, I just didn’t quite get how they were worse than any other staple of capitalism. Now I know.

It was easy to go on about helping “the poor.” Helping a poor person with a name, a face, a history, and many needs, a person whose mistakes and lapses of judgment you have recorded — that was a more trying matter.

Evicted follows two landlords in Milwaukee — Sherrena, who owns many properties in the inner city, and Tobin, who owns a trailer park — as well as several of their tenants. It does so gracefully, interweaving life experiences with research and statistics in a way that makes sense and enhances one’s understanding of the topics at hand. Most notable is the cycle of eviction and how impossible it seems to climb out of. There are so many factors at play but Desmond is able to explain them all without losing the reader.

Part of the reason why this works is the narrative format; with concrete real-life examples it is much easier to become invested in wanting to know how the system functions. Marrying the bare facts with personal histories turns a series of numbers into an infuriating and heart-wrenching reading experience. And believe me, you will be infuriated. The entire time I was reading this book, I found myself discussing it with family and friends. Learning the details of the housing system, I was deeply disturbed. I realized more fully how privileged I’ve been to live the way I’ve lived.

When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.

While it’s easy to place accountability the landlords, making six figures and taking tropical vacations while throwing tenants out onto the streets, the blame is spread more widely than that. Although don’t get me wrong, they do deserve to shoulder plenty of it. They will intentionally refuse to maintain properties of poorer residents, particularly those who owe money. If a resident who owes calls a building inspector, the landlord will often evict them for the trouble — technically illegal, but not if the landlord cites the missing rent as the reason for the eviction. They will charge tenants using housing vouchers well above market value. Technically, the tenant doesn’t pay extra out of pocket, but an estimated 588 additional families in Milwaukee could be housed using the surplus money the landlords are charging.

One particular practice I hadn’t been aware of was nuisance property ordinances, in which the police departments can penalize landlords for their tenants’ behavior — meaning that the more the police are called to a specific property, the more likely they are to fine the landlord. Of course, this practice can have dire consequences for domestic violence victims. Instead of being supported, a battered woman is evicted as a “nuisance.” This leads women to remain silent about their abuse even more often, which could in turn lead to their deaths. Additionally, nuisance property ordinances aren’t fairly enforced. In Milwaukee, citations were given to eligible properties in primarily black neighborhoods at over twice the rate they were given in primarily white neighborhoods. Through this, the police have a direct hand in forcing more black residents to be evicted than white residents.

But those solutions depend on how we answer a single question: do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be an American?

All that barely scratches the surface of what Desmond has to share. This really is quite an engrossing read, and really educational. I’d like to put some work into researching tenancy laws and practices in my area, both to know my own rights and to lobby for necessary change. My only complaint is that Desmond doesn’t leave us much in the way of solutions, but I suppose that could fill an entire second book. He also notes that solutions will likely vary region to region and city to city, so the local context counts for a lot. Overall, I really cannot recommend this book enough. It is quite eye-opening and quite important and I’m so, so glad that I read it.


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Red, White & Royal Blue [review]

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on May 14, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.50 (as of 2019-05-14)
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

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which the First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


I put this on my TBR when I saw it on Reads Rainbow’s Enemies to Lovers rec list (PS pls follow their blog, Charlotte and Anna share some wonderful stuff and are always beefing up my to-read list!). I was #BLESSED with a review copy from Netgalley and have spent the last week and a half getting my heart destroyed by this book.

Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.

RW&RB is a skillful combination of both the “enemies to lovers” and “fake relationship” tropes, although the fake relationship is a fake friendship rather than fake dating. The main character, Alex, is a bisexual biracial angel who falls in love with the (extremely gay) Prince Henry of Wales after plenty of angst and a lot of drama. I will admit it’s a little instalove-y, if that’s something that bothers you. Luckily it’s not something I mind and I found their relationship so, so precious!

[…] Henry, who knows him. Henry who’s seen him in glasses and tolerates him at his most annoying and still kissed him like he wanted him, singularly, not the idea of him.

The side characters are equally wonderful and McQuiston does an incredible job of fleshing them out. The two we see the most are Alex’s older sister June and his best-friend-sort-of-ex Nora who is openly queer, although I don’t think she uses any particular label on-page. There are several other queer side characters, including a trans woman and a pansexual character. I love that this book kind of demonstrates how we gays tend to stick together, since I’d say a good 95% of my friends have identified as lgbtqia.

He rolls onto his side and listens, trails the back of his hand across the pillow next to him and imagines Henry lying opposite in his own bed, two parentheses enclosing 3,700 miles.

Besides containing a truly unbelievably cute romance, this book explores discovering your sexuality, politics, and mental health. Alex and Henry have very different feelings about their lives in the public eye, and the expectations set upon them as the children of leaders conflict with what they’d prefer to do with themselves. Henry also deals with depression, which is touched on but isn’t the focus of the story.

“Ugh! Men!” she groans. “No emotional vocabulary. I can’t believe our ancestors survived centuries of wars and plagues and genocide just to wind up with your sorry ass.”

Overall, I just loved this book more than I can even convey. I cried several times reading it and am positive I’ll return to it in the future. It’s fluffy, it’s steamy, it’s political, and it is quite honestly PERFECT. Casey McQuiston is heading straight to my insta-read author list.


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Freshwater [review]

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Grove Press on February 13, 2018
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-05-09)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.


I finished this after the Women’s Prize shortlist is released and all I can say is: it’s a damn travesty that this book didn’t make the cut. It was initially interesting to see that it was longlisted — Akwaeke Emezi is nonbinary, which the judges were not aware of until after they had decided upon the list. Emezi gave their okay for the book’s inclusion regardless and fans were glad to see it gain further recognition. But for the judges to leave off this masterpiece in favor of the combination they did… I won’t get into it, but it sure doesn’t make any sense.

The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.

I actually received a Netgalley ARC of this in January 2018, which I far too quickly DNFed in a “I’m not sure I Get this, maybe later” scenario. Maybe for the best, since I don’t know that I would have fully appreciated this novel without the growth my literary tastes have experienced over the last year. While I’m still not sure I was able to fully appreciate it — there were doubtless many things I missed — this is one of the most impactful books I have ever read and I’m sure I’ll never forget it.

The boy made Ada a gibbering thing in a corner — this is the truth, but he would never get her again. I had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh. I was here. No one would ever touch her again.

Freshwater is an exploration of many things, but at the forefront lie trauma, gender identity, and spirituality. It’s hard to explore the plot too deeply without spoilers, but I’ll say that this is one of the best portrayals of trauma that I’ve ever read. The entire book requires endless trigger warnings and it’s quite an intense experience, but I found it so rewarding. If you’re in the space where you can pick this up, I cannot recommend it enough.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Normal People [review]

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by Hogarth on April 16, 2019 (originally 2018)
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.08 (as of 2019-05-09)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.


While I knew from the start that this book would be different than anything I had experienced before, I had no idea how much I would love it. Normal People tells the story of Connell and Marianne, two very different people who somehow just keep meeting. It begins while they’re in secondary school and spans the course of their university careers. At its heart, this is the story of two people whose lives cannot untangle.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening.

While their relationship is often not quite healthy, I really rooted for them to be together. Sally Rooney writes in such a way that you can understand them both even while condemning their actions. Oftentimes their conflicts are the result of miscommunications that could have easily been avoided by pressing one another further rather than making assumptions. Deep down, they both care quite deeply about each other and none of the hurt is intentional.

Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?

I found myself repeatedly caught up in the depth of emotion I felt while reading this. Sometimes I would have to put it down for a moment, breathless, as I contemplated the characters and their situations and the parallels I was able to draw to my own life. I nearly wept at the closing page, but at the same time felt buoyed by its message. I’d say I thought my reaction to this was just me, but everyone else in my Women’s Prize group also gave the book 5 stars.

Life offers up these moments of joy, despite everything.

Sally Rooney is really something else. I was worried my expectations for her were a bit too high, but she still managed more than I could have even hoped for. I have a copy of Conversations With Friends sitting on my shelf at work that I cannot wait to dig into. If you were thinking about picking up Normal People, I cannot recommend it highly enough.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #13

Tarot Elements
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’ve been meaning to read Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova for ages now, so when Destiny let me know that Tarot Elements was available for request on NetGalley, I was stoked. The spreads all seemed immensely helpful and Melissa described their purposes very well in addition to providing some exercises to help you stay in the proper headspace for each element. My only complaint is the specific examples given for each spread. While these were helpful to a certain extent in understanding how the spreads worked, they felt quite repetitive and I ended up skimming through most of them. Regardless, I did enjoy reading through this and will definitely use these techniques in the future!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Squire (Protector of the Small #3)

I’ve been trying to draft a review of this for almost a week, but I’m struggling to piece something together because I feel like I covered it all in my reviews of the first two books! The series continues much as it has been, with Kel experiencing ups and downs and learning along the way, this time as a squire. The big difference here, besides Kel truly getting her feet wet as a soldier, is that we finally have a solid romance plot. Without spoiling anything, my only complaint was that the romance felt a bit abrupt and that I didn’t feel there was much build-up. Other than that, this book was amaaaazing. I finished it in one day, which I haven’t had the energy or focus to do in a while!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shift (Silo #2)

Shift is book two of the Silo series, which I first devoured in 2014 and which (thankfully) stood up to the test of time, just as Wool did. The best thing about waiting so long to reread these is that I had almost entirely forgotten the specifics of the plot. I was on the edge of my seat all over again, waiting to find out what would happen. While not quite as compelling as the first book and, clocking in at almost 600 pages, just a tad too long for its own good, Shift still stands well as a sequel. We are introduced to some new characters while also getting to know some familiar faces a bit more thoroughly. Any more explanation than that may start heading into spoiler territory, but I will say I was kind of disappointed to see that only men received POV chapters in this one as far as I can recall. If you’ve started the Silo series, I highly recommend continuing. I can’t wait to pick up Dust!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark [review]

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Published by Harper Collins on February 27, 2018
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
4.19 (as of 2019-03-14)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by McNamara’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.


I think almost everyone has heard of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark at this point. It is the true crime book of the last few years. The disturbing, intriguing mystery is enough to pique interest, but Michelle McNamara’s sudden death combined with the fact that the Golden State Killer (aka the East Area Rapist, aka the Original Night Stalker) was arrested shortly after the book’s release makes I’ll Be Gone almost impossible to disregard. I bought a copy of the book back in August and put off reading it for the “right” time, afraid to pick it up for fear it would trigger a bought of paranoia that even a locked door wouldn’t fend off.

There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat now.

Fortunately, that was not the case. While a decent portion of the book is devoted to the Golden State Killer’s crimes, the focus is more on his methodology than any graphic details. Although, what we are told about is chilling: a startlingly literal form of stalking, wherein the GSK learns every pertinent detail of his victims’ lives so that he might have complete control over them while attacking. Our homes are sacred places to us, and any safety or comfort residents of the communities he attacked may have felt was ripped away from them in the aftermath of these events.

The EAR is a card face down on a table. Our speculation is a cul-de-sac. Round and round we go.

More than the crimes themselves, McNamara focuses in on the process of hunting the GSK. It seemed he foiled investigators at every turn. Even after the study of DNA analysis continued to grow, even when they had multiple samples linking him to countless crimes, they were unable to determine who this man was. Instead of presenting the experiences of faceless cops, McNamara digs deep into the investigators’ involvement and brings them to the forefront as their own fully-fledged selves. We even watch her build personal connections with them as she herself attempts to unveil this masked predator they all have in common.

“Has he ever gone back?” the thirteen-year-old asked the investigators interviewing her after the attack.
“Never,” said the first investigator.
“Never, ever, ever,” said the second.
“The safest house in the area,” said the first.
As if any house was ever going to feel safe again.

In this way, I’ll Be Gone is more than just a compilation of the events and evidence surrounding the Golden State Killer; it is a memoir detailing McNamara’s relationship with the investigation itself. We learn about her life, how her obsession alarms her in the way it mirrors the killer’s own obsessions. We learn where she was when learning vital pieces of information, as well as how deeply she was willing to dig in order to uncover this night terror made real. McNamara was no mere true crime writer; she was truly part of this investigation in a way that few seemed to be.

A ski mask won’t help you now.

The book isn’t perfect, but there’s no way it could have been. Michelle McNamara passed away suddenly while still writing, leaving her editor and friends to piece together her work into what has become its final form. The last part of the book, the shortest, is more of a summary of notes than anything else. But, somehow this works. I shed tears more than once while reading, knowing McNamara was unable to see what had come of her work. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, wrote an afterword that left me absolutely heartbroken. Somehow, the book manages to end on a positive note: a letter from Michelle McNamara to that shadow in the dark, the absolute nightmare of a man who she knew would someday be caught. And knowing that he has been strengthens this letter into the triumphant swan song of a woman who left this world just too soon.


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