Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #12

An Anonymous Girl
cw: sexual assault, infidelity, domestic abuse
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.

This story starts out with a somewhat intriguing, if not completely exciting, premise. At first it’s difficult to figure out where things are going, but things begin to fall together soon enough — at least, that’s what we think. I was impressed with the twists in this, although the ending does leave something to be desired. I felt things were tied up a little too nicely and a little too quickly, so I didn’t end up feeling very satisfied by it. Overall, though, it’s a quite compelling read and worth picking up.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I Was Your Girl
cw: homophobia, transphobia, violent hate crimes, suicide

I’m not planning to write a proper review because it took me forever to read this (because I started it on audiobook, had my hold expire, and then took a while to get the eBook). The audiobook is excellent, so well-narrated. The story itself is great and I loved it. My only nitpick was that the Homecoming scene felt overly convenient and not necessarily super realistic but that’s really quite minor. Overall I’d definitely recommend this!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
cw: racism

While I’m bummed to see this series come to an end (although I believe there is an additional novella out and potentially a new series coming out?), I thought this was a really nice way to wrap things up. I’ve been working my way pretty slowly through the books and left a lot of time between reading each so I wouldn’t binge them and get sick of it (as I’ve been known to do). It’s hard for me to write a traditional review of this, because all I want to do is gush about it. I care so, so deeply about all of these characters and can envision all of their mannerisms and I think Maggie is such a talented writer. She’s definitely going on my must-read list and I’m excited to see what kind of work she has in store for us in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #11

In Her Skin
cw: domestic abuse, self-harm

The only people who talk about dead like it’s something pretty and fanciful are people who haven’t seen it up close.

I’ll admit that although I found the premise somewhat interesting, most of the reason I picked up this one was because it took place in Boston. That aspect was really fun, since I recognized most of the places mentioned and could really imagine myself there. The writing itself was interesting, too. It was a mixture of first and second person and worked really well for the story. Kim Savage ended up keeping me on my toes and I absolutely inhaled the last half or so in one sitting. My only complaint was that it felt kind of queerbait-y and I ended up pretty frustrated by that.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Unrequited 
cw: graphic sex, power imbalances, sexual assault, infidelity, suicide, off-page drunk driving, stalking, and probably much more

They’re a perfect match. I think anybody who’s in love with anyone is a perfect match. I don’t believe in crap like There’s somebody better for you out there. I don’t want better. I want the guy I’m in love with.

I picked this up on a whim after seeing Melanie’s glowing review and it was absolutely worth it. While the morals throughout are highly questionable, the writing is great and the author knows how to do steamy scenes well. I rarely read straight-up romance novels, but in this instance my rating is based more on personal enjoyment than objective quality. I’ve been going through a rough time and this was exactly the kind of read I needed to distract me from that. If you’re looking for a fun romance that’s a little on the kinkier side, this should hit the spot for you.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sex at Dawn

I’ve read some of the criticisms of this book, and also recognize that it was published almost a decade ago and may be a bit outdated. Regardless, it’s nice to read a book that validates your sexuality and makes you feel more “normal” than society at large might have you believe. As a queer, polyamorous woman I thought this was a really good starting point to learn about human sexuality. I’ll certainly be picking up some other works and doing further research, but I found this book to be well-written, humorous, and just what I needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)

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The Stepford Wives [review]

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Published by HarperCollins on April 26, 2011 (originally 1972)
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.74 (as of 2019-01-03)

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret — a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

At once a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives is a novel so frightening in its final implications that the title itself has earned a place in the American lexicon.


An odd medicinal smell soured the air — coming on the breeze at her back. It almost reminded her of something in her childhood, but fell short.

→ What I Liked:

The Characters
This is a rare instance in which the female characters seem to be more developed than the male characters, and I loved it. They had so much individuality (aside from the Stepford wives of course), whereas the men were defined more by their jobs than anything else. One of the women was even implied to be asexual!

The Writing
While simplistic in style, the way the story was written was just fantastic. It started off relatively innocuous (even knowing what the ending would be), but built to an incredible climax full of anxiety. He pulls off a similar climb in Rosemary’s Baby, which I also really enjoyed.

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Foreword
To be fair, this was added later to the book and was not written by Ira Levin. The fact remains, however, that Peter Straub’s introduction was painfully condescending. He went on and on about how the average reader wouldn’t be able to properly appreciate Levin’s writing and how subtle and literary it is. I can appreciate him wanting to explain the nuances of this simplistic writing style, but the way he did it just really rubbed me the wrong way.

The Ending
While I understand to a certain extent why the ending felt so abrupt, I wish it hadn’t. I felt pretty unsatisfied by it, even though I “get” it. Maybe Peter Straub was right and I just can’t properly appreciate it. 😉

→ TL;DR:

  • Well-developed female characters
  • Great pacing
  • Pretentious foreword (not written by the author)
  • Abrupt ending

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Believe Me [review]

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Believe Me by JP Delaney
Published by Quercus on July 24, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg:
3.69 (as of 2018-11-16)
cw: slut shaming, gore, CSA, self-harm, abuse
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

In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation.

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions. The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap? But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

But then, this isn’t lying. This is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Which, as you will discover, is very different.

→ What I Liked:

The Twists
While I’m not one of those people who can guess the ending to every mystery, I can sometimes be hard to please with twists. I like them to be somewhat believable, meaning that there needs to have been an indication somewhere that this was a possibility. Not necessarily anything glaring, just something to point back to as a foundation. This was actually one of my biggest issues with Dangerous Girls. While the very last bit of the book is so full of twists it’s messy, JP Delaney masterfully puts together most of the pieces in such a way that the reader can’t help but be impressed. I really thought I knew where this book was going at the beginning, but I was very wrong.

The Characters
Claire, our narrator, is a British actor living in NYC. It’s clear from the start that although she’s down on her luck, she’s just brimming with talent. She’s easy to sympathize with, but far from perfect. Although she has somewhat of a stereotypical background, in my opinion she was quite an original character. Patrick, the man accused of murdering his wife, felt really well-done as well. While at first the reader thinks they have him pinned down, that soon comes undone. Seeing him through Claire’s eyes, we find out just how difficult it is to discern who someone truly is.

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Ending
I tore through the entirety of this book, loving the build-up, but felt entirely dissatisfied by the ending. The author threw in so many red herrings I could barely see straight. Everything began shifting wildly and rather than astounding me, it caused me to lose any suspension of disbelief I had. It felt cheesy and cheap and I’m positive JP Delaney had the talent to create something better than this.

→ TL;DR:

  • Great twists
  • Page-turner
  • Believable characters
  • A terrible ending
  • Would recommend

 

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Haunting of Hill House [book review]

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Classics on October 3, 2013 (originally 1959)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2018-11-07)
content warnings: gaslighting, suicide

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Nothing is ever really wasted, she believed sensibly, even one’s childhood, and then each year, one summer morning, the warm wind would come down the city street where she walked and she would be touched with the little cold thought: I have let more time go by.

Hi all!! I’m trying a new review layout that I feel really helps me organize my thoughts better. Let me know how you like it. 🙂

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Characters

Our main character, Nell, gave me a lot of mixed feelings. At times I adored her and at times I found her unbelievably annoying. The rest of the characters I disliked even more. I didn’t understand the motivations of most of them, and I found their sudden changes in mood and demeanor off-putting. I can see the purpose of this: to wonder whether it was all in Nell’s head, whether it was caused by the house, and/or whether these people were truly acting like this. The problem was, I found it so distracting and confusing that it detracted from the atmosphere of the novel for me. I was, quite frankly, annoyed by most of the characters.

→ What I Liked:

The Writing
While I had issues along the way, the fact remains that Shirley Jackson is an incredible author. She is just fantastic at atmospheric writing (although as noted above, the characters ruined some of that for me) and knows how to add in twists that you won’t expect, even if her books aren’t outright scary. In fact, the ending saved this book entirely for me. It was a solid 3-star read until the last bit, which had me on the edge of my seat. That ending cemented Nell as a solid character in my mind and I really felt what she was feeling.

→ Additional Thoughts:

I was quickly convinced that this book was a huge inspiration for House of Leaves, one of my favorite books. From the general aura of the house, to the scientific exploration of the unnatural, to the strange dimensions, this had an HoL vibe through and through. In fact, I’m sure in the months to come, I’ll be noting a lot of books and movies that are influenced by Jackson, as she has clearly made a mark on literature with her writing.

→ TL;DR:

  • I found the characters somewhat annoying
  • Spooky vibes, but not really scary
  • Shirley Jackson is a god-tier writer
  • The ending is SO GOOD
  • Definitely helped inspire House of Leaves
  • Recommend!

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #10

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The Woman in Black
cw: child death

At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.

This was my first Susan Hill read and I can say that I’m now very excited to explore some of her other works. I don’t read a lot of gothic horror, but this definitely worked for me and I’d like to wade a little further into the genre. The writing conveyed such a strong atmosphere and I found myself really swept up in everything. It was definitely spooky, but didn’t outright scare me, which is a nice happy medium. I thought the characters were well-done, although we only spend time with a few of them. My only complaint was that the ending felt rushed and a little abrupt.

Buddy read with Sarah!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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River of Teeth (River of Teeth #1)

I had high hopes for this one, but it just didn’t really do anything for me. The characters were good, but the story felt rushed and I didn’t get very invested in it.

Rating:⭐⭐.5

Sadie_FINAL cover image

Sadie
cw: pedophilia, CSA, abuse, drug addiction
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.

Every little thing about you can be a weapon, if you’re clever enough.

It seems like nearly everyone has been talking about Sadie lately. Intriguingly, pieces of it felt like they tied pretty closely to The Female of the Species, which I read directly beforehand. The formatting is what was most interesting about it. Half of the book is a podcast — where I’d imagine the audiobook version would have come in very handy — and the other half is from Sadie’s perspective directly. In this way, things that we could never necessarily know from one perspective are revealed to us through the other. While this method could be flawed in the wrong hands, Courtney Summers is able to carefully craft a chilling masterpiece, slowly (but not too slowly) revealing the full story to her readers.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The Female of the Species [review]

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The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on September 20, 2016 
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.24 (as of 2018-10-10)
content warnings: animal death, animal abuse, rape, pedophilia

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives. 

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

The Female of the Species had been on my radar for a while now, and apparently I’m going through a spell of reading YA books about sexual assault because this is one of three I’ve read in the last few weeks. Luckily they were all well-crafted in their own ways and I didn’t have to worry about killing them with comparison.

Fuzzy faces peering through bars can be unbearable for many.

Change the face to a human one and the reaction changes.

This switches between three characters’ points of view: Alex, Peekay, and Jack. At first I found these changes somewhat jarring, but either the book or I eventually settled into a rhythm where they became more natural. I ended up adoring each character for different reasons, although I struggled with Jack towards the beginning. I liked the dynamics between them, although occasionally I was confused about their motives behind certain actions.

The plot itself was interesting, and differed a lot from most contemporary YA novels. While it does follow the typical “high school kids falling in love and learning more about themselves as they contemplate their futures” path, it also deals with something a lot deeper: the subjectivity of morality. The reader finds themself siding with a vigilante murderer — or at least I did — thus showing that things aren’t quite as black-and-white as they seem.

Her eyes are on mine and it’s like there’s no such thing as casual flirting with this girl. Every word she speaks is intense as hell and thoroughly investigated before she lets it out of her mouth.

While I ended up enjoying the book a lot, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. As I noted above, the perspective switches were a bit disconcerting for me to begin with. I also didn’t know how to feel about Jack’s “secret” regarding Alex’s sister. It’s revealed pretty early on, but I won’t spoil it. All I’ll say is that I don’t really understand its purpose. Perhaps it was meant to create some sort of tension between the two at the outset, but it never gets brought up or used in any meaningful way and I truly just forgot about it several times.

But overall, this is definitely a worthwhile read. I found the moral questions it unearthed very interesting while also just enjoying it as a work of fiction. I’d definitely recommend you pick this one up if it seems like your thing.

The books didn’t help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own.

I am vengeance.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #9

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Disquiet
cw domestic abuse; stillbirth

I found this novella in a local thrift shop and picked it up on a whim. I thought the cover was nice and the story sounded interesting — and told myself that even if I didn’t like it, I’d only be working through 120 or so pages. I’m glad I went for it because this is one of those hidden gems that I probably never would have found otherwise. It’s simply written, but hauntingly beautiful. It’s a little odd in a way I can’t put my finger on, but also in a way that really piqued my interest. I definitely recommend it and know I’ll be picking it up again sometime.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Give People Money
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’m really glad I picked this up, as I felt it provided a pretty comprehensive overview of the idea of a universal basic income (UBI). The author talked about the history of the idea and research that had been done on similar programs both within and without the United States, as well as the potential pros and cons of setting such a thing in motion. She also spoke of the difficulties of trying to change the current system in a way that I (in my limited knowledge and experience) thought seemed realistic without being cynical. Overall, this felt like a really good primer and makes me want to seek out more information, both about this particular idea and related ones. I highly recommend this read for anyone who finds the concept of a UBI interesting, as well as anyone who wants to learn some ways we can create a more nurturing society that’s less focused on the worth of individuals only insofar as they’re valued in the workplace.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The Vegetarian
cw: rape; self-harm; disordered eating

Why, is it such a bad thing to die?

I’m not sure I can give this a proper review, as I had a very… complicated relationship with the text. A lot of things struck me very hard (this was definitely an instance of finding a book “at the right time” for me), but a lot of these things ended up connecting strongly to very personal aspects of my life. Aspects that I don’t currently feel comfortable sharing in a book review. I’ll simply say that this was a beautiful, haunting read and one that I know will stick with me for a long time. I’d been meaning to pick up some of Han Kang’s work for a while now and this was honestly the perfect introduction for me. I highly recommend this book, even though it may be a difficult read for some.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #8

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Sleeping Giants

This was so much better than I could’ve even imagined, in great part because I listened to the audiobook version. A lot of people recommended the audio as the go-to version and they were definitely spot-on with that. There are different voice actors for all of the characters, which I thought allowed the listener to really separate each of them. I can struggle to distinguish character voices in audiobooks and this really helped me understand what was actually going on.

The characters themselves were great and I enjoyed their interactions for the most part. I thought the romance felt a little forced, but luckily it didn’t play too too much into the story. The twists all made sense, but weren’t necessarily things I saw coming. I also really liked the writing style, but I was a huge World War Z fan, so that’s to be expected. Overall I really loved this book and I highly recommend it.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Acceptance (Southern Reach #3)

You could know the what of something forever and never discover the why.

I did really like Acceptance. It did a great job of tying everything together while still letting Area X keep its air of mystery. If you want answers to your questions, you’re going to hate how this series ends. I personally thought it was very well-done. The chapters switch between perspectives, giving us some new POVs and some insight into characters that had previously been pretty mysterious. I loved that we were able to delve back into Area X, which I find to be such a compelling environment. I think Jeff VanderMeer does an incredible job of creating the atmosphere there and I just adore reading about it. If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, it’s definitely worth it to continue with this one.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3)

As Gansey shut the door behind him, he heard Adam say, “I don’t want to talk,” and Ronan reply, “The fuck would I talk about?”

I’m so sorry, because I’m not one of those people who has “book boyfriends” and whatnot but I am possible deeply in love with Gansey. I don’t know how or why Maggie Stiefvater did this to me, but I want her to stop. I also don’t want her to stop. I almost ran out and bought The Raven King immediately after finishing BLLB, but I don’t want the series to end, so I’m trying to drag things out for myself. Anyway, this is definitely my favorite book in the series so far and I know this isn’t a review so much as a gush, so again I’m sorry, but UGH. Damn, Maggie knows how to write romances.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)

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Dark Places [review]

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Published by Broadway Books on May 5, 2009
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg:
3.93 (as of 2018-07-27)
cw: suicidal ideation; pedophilia; animal abuse; animal death

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

I’d go for months without smoking, and then remember: I need a cigarette. I’m like that, nothing sticks.

I decided to read Dark Places in spite of disliking Gone Girl. I could tell that Gillian Flynn was a good writer regardless of how much I enjoyed that book, and I figured I’d give her another chance. I actually chose this one by selecting, pretty much at random, a book from my to-read shelf that started with D for the A-Z reading challenge. I kind of regret not grabbing Sharp Objects, just because the TV show is newly out, but I’ll get to that one later.

I did enjoy this book. I found the story really compelling, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. I felt like Gillian Flynn did a really great job with the pacing, switching back and forth between past and present at just the right moments. The characters were complex and well-done. I found myself having visceral reactions to the things they did while still feeling sympathy towards them.

My only issue with this is really the ending, which honestly ruined the book a little. Things felt really thrown together and coincidental and just not quite… realistic. I know that a lot of thrillers tend to end kind of wildly, but I think if it had been drawn out a bit more, it wouldn’t have felt so jumbled. There’s not really anything else I would’ve changed, though.

Although the end knocked my rating down a bit, I did still like this book and would recommend it to thriller fans — who probably have read it, I may be the only person left who is just getting into Gillian Flynn. I do plan to keep moving through her works, I think she’s a talented writer who comes up with some great stories. I hope I like her others even more!

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)