Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

A House at the Bottom of a Lake [review]

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A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
Published by This Is Horror on October 31, 2016
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.23 (as of 2021-10-26)
Spoiler-free review

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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. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

I was nervous to pick this up after seeing so many middling-to-low reviews of it, but am glad my curiosity won out! I thought Bird Box was fantastic and had to pick up more of Malerman’s work.

The concept itself is so interesting – a mysterious house at the bottom of a lake! It took me a few pages to gel with the writing (it’s a lot of teenagers being teenagers), but I was both literally and figuratively at the edge of my seat the whole time. The plot itself is relatively slow-moving, but the tension really got to me. It felt like I was holding my breath through half of this book and I had to put it down a few times to take a quick breather here and there. I kept texting people to be like, “this book is freaking me out!!”

I tore through this in just one sitting and have already recommended it to several other people. If the concept interests you, give this a shot!


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The Dead and the Dark [review]

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The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
Published by Wednesday Books on August 3, 2021
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2021-10-24)
Spoiler-free review

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this was so fun and spooky with a really nice sapphic romance! the small town energy was on point. i was really glad to see such an upfront portrayal of comphet and how easy it can be to lose yourself in others’ expectations. i didn’t realize this was a debut until i hit the acknowledgements and was really impressed with Gould’s writing. i think some things in the final act didn’t quite work for me, but this was still so compulsively readable that i tore through it in just a couple sittings. i’m so excited to see what Gould comes out with next (more lesbians, she’s promised) and have already decided that she’s an auto-buy author for me.

content warnings: Homomisia & homomisic slurs; Hate crimes; Death of a child; Murder & attempted murder; Gun violence; Attempted drowning; Vivisepulture (being buried alive) (per the Trigger Warning Database)

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The Last Graduate [review]

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The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik
Published by Del Rey Books on September 28, 2021
my rating: ★★★.5 (3.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.49 (as of 2021-10-06)
Spoiler-free review

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I definitely didn’t like this quite as much as the first book. The info-dumping didn’t get any better and, honestly, I felt like I ended up unintentionally skimming a LOT because we would go into pages of detail on how exactly the magic system works. It also felt like there was a lot of day-to-day slogging, following the characters way more closely than necessary. I felt bored for a lot of the first half.

The second half was much better, and I found myself much more invested in the plot even though it also struggled with some of the points noted above. I truly wish Novik would have spent a little less time cramming every bit of info she had about the magic systems into this and a little more time showing us more character interactions. It made the story feel a lot more at arm’s length and harder to get invested in when having information beat into my brain instead of getting to know the characters more.

Anyway, I did like this! I blew through the last third of the book (even though I think the end is mildly ridiculous) and am looking forward to the sequel. And I’ll probably preorder it so I have pretty matching books on my shelves.


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Chemistry [review]

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Chemistry by Weike Wang, narrated by Julia Whelan
Published by Random House Audio on May 23, 2017
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.72 (as of 2021-09-23)
Spoiler-Free Review

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Reading this while on medical leave from graduate school and in the midst of a depressive episode (the very same school our narrator is attending, in fact) was… tough, to put it lightly. Wang succeeds in portraying the deep ambivalence and lack of motivation that mental illness and loneliness bring. The narrator’s history slowly unravels to the reader as we follow her through this breakdown. The daughter of two Chinese immigrants, she feels immense pressure to succeed in obtaining her Chemistry PhD and can think of little else. She avoids unpacking her childhood trauma at all costs and sees little value in looking backward, even when it keeps her from moving forward.

A short and sweet novel, I found this incredibly compelling and felt deeply for our unnamed narrator. I certainly see how this wouldn’t be for everyone, but highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys quietly introspective literary fiction.


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Outlander [review]

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Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter
Published by Recorded Books on July 13, 2006 (originally 1991)
my rating: ★★★.5 (3.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.23 (as of 2021-09-17)
SPOILERS AHEAD!

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Wow, this is very much a product of its time. I’m going to be delving into some spoilers, and want to put a content warning up front for discussion of pedophilia and sexual assault. It took me a bit to settle into the writing style, which I found to be elegant if a little dry at first. I’m not sure I would have made it very far if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook. The narration was so immersive and really added to the experience. Once I got into the rhythm, I found that I really loved the book!

That wore off about halfway through. I know a certain amount of sexism is to be expected given that Gabaldon wrote this in 1991 and it takes place over 200 years ago. But there was a lot I really could not handle. At one point Claire leaves where Jamie has left her only to be captured by the Big Baddie and is saved just before being raped. Jamie then BEATS HER for disobeying his orders because otherwise the other men will be ~upset~, as if almost being raped wasn’t severe enough. I was absolutely livid and considered DNFing, but managed to keep listening and ended up enjoying the story again.

Lol, just kidding. I mean, I did manage to get back into the story but unfortunately it went way off the rails again. There are two gay men in this book and one of them is a pedophile. At least he’s portrayed as harmless enough… as harmless as a pedophile can be portrayed, I guess. The other gay character is a sociopath who tortures people mercilessly and literally rapes the male love interest. Again, I know this was written in 1991 but seriously? The rape plotline really soured the end of the book for me, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

It sucks because the first half of the book had me expecting a 5-star rating and recommending it to my friends. The second half made it really difficult to decide on a rating and had me rescinding those recommendations. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to continue the series and I really don’t know if I want to. I guess I can at least check out the TV series. I hate that I ended up being so disappointed by this after loving it so much. I’m not sure I can recommend this on good conscience without warning about everything mentioned in the spoiler brackets above; some of the content truly made me nauseous.

content warnings: sexual assault, pedophilia, domestic abuse, gore (graphic injuries), animal death


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The Girl With All the Gifts [review]

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, narrated by Finty Williams
Published by Hachette Audio on June 6, 2014
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2021-06-15)
Spoiler-free review

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I went into this knowing pretty much nothing except that the general plot ‘zombies but different’ and think that was the right way to do it. I think this was an incredibly creative take on the zombie genre and was very impressed with the science of it — although I can’t attest to how accurate it was. I really loved Melanie and getting to know the rest of the characters was great as well. My only pet peeve was that it was very apparent that this was written by a man; there were bits where the group would be in life-or-death situations and the men would be thinking about having sex or masturbating. The sex and romance felt shoehorned in and took away from the story imo. Aside from that, this was an incredible book that I’ll be recommending quite a lot.


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I’m Afraid of Men [review]

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I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Published by Penguin Books Canada on August 28, 2018
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.28 (as of 2021-05-31)
Spoiler-free review

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In I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya reflects on her experiences from being “sensitive” and feminine boy who learns to perform masculinity through her adulthood as a transgender woman. She explores how her relationships to and perceptions of men have changed with a bluntness that is educational to those who may not have experienced the intersection of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia that she has faced. This is an incredibly compelling set of essays that force one to examine how they may be complicit in the ongoing oppression of others.

She describes how carefully her life must be navigated, how she often goes out in public dressed as a man to avoid violence, how she will remove her makeup before leaving a show she’s performed at, how her boyfriend sometimes accompanies her as a bodyguard of sorts. She reflects on how this anxiety, this terror, has weathered her body and her mind:

My fear of men… both protects my body… and erodes it… I have been stricken with numerous freak pains… that practitioners are unable to explain or cure. When they suspiciously ask me, ‘Are you sure nothing happened? You didn’t fall somewhere?’ I want to respond, ‘I live in fear.’

As she reflects on her experiences with men, she notes the women in the background. The girlfriend of the classmate who spit on her, who giggled instead of stopping him. A friend at a bar who told her she should be flattered when she was repeatedly groped. Cisgender women who dismiss her stories of transmisogyny, assuming the oppression they face is the same that she faces. Women with internalized misogyny who continue to tear down other women. As she recounts them, she adds “I’m also afraid of women.”

Shraya’s essays provide unique insight into how boys are socialized and how expectations of masculinity can be damaging, both to boys and men and the people they interact with. She also shares how dangerous life can be for men who do not adhere to our expectations for masculinity as well as for transgender women. This was a short, informative read that I highly recommend. I would love to see a full memoir from Shraya someday and will keep my eye out for more of her writing.


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This Is How You Lose the Time War [review]

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Published by Saga Press on July 16, 2019
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2021-05-27)
Spoiler-free review

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I am more sensitive to your footsteps, I think, than anyone alive.

This was an absolutely beautiful novella that I had a difficult time settling into. It took me probably ~30-40 pages to feel like I wasn’t completely lost, but I was still able to enjoy the poetic writing until I got there. A lot of the worldbuilding feels simultaneously intense and quite vague, but focusing on the characters was enough to pull me through. While there is a plot, this feels more like a dialogue than a story for the most part. I truly loved both Red and Blue and their relationship had me equal parts grinning and crying; I genuinely shed tears during the last quarter or so of the book. I’m so incredibly impressed with how El-Mohtar and Gladstone were able to weave this together and know that future rereads will certainly yield more. I look forward to picking this up again in the future!


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This Common Secret [review]

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This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund
Published by PublicAffairs on December 7, 2007
my rating: ★★★ ★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.28 (as of 2020-04-07)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop | Author’s Website


“I know exactly what kind of work you do, and it is a good thing. People like you do it safely so that people like me don’t murder their best friends.”

This is an incredibly powerful book that quickly puts to rest the most common misconceptions about abortions. If you believe that life begins at conception and therefore abortion at any stage is murder, this isn’t going to change your mind but then again, nothing is. If you hold any other reservations about abortion regarding the process and its outcomes, I think this would be an interesting read for you. Even as a staunch pro-choice advocate, I learned a lot reading this.

But this is not just about abortion, this is also Dr. Wicklund’s memoir and her experiences with anti-abortion activists are truly harrowing. I did not realize the full extent of harassment and danger that abortion providers face; Dr. Wicklund is stalked, threatened, barricaded in her driveway, and even had her home broken into. She somehow still manages to go in day after day to help her patients. Her philosophy and practice comforted me a lot: she ensures that every patient is positive they want an abortion before she’ll perform one, and she always covers the alternatives available. This should be the case with any elective procedure, but particularly abortion.

My only qualms were that some conversations just didn’t feel real. Perhaps some stories were amalgamations of other stories, but at times they just felt scripted. I guess when you have the same conversations day in and day out, that can be the case though. It’s not that I felt they weren’t real, just a little too polished. But this was really a minor complaint and I’m really glad I finally got around to reading this and would recommend it to pretty much everyone.


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Surviving the White Gaze [review]

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Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll
Published by Simon Schuster on February 2, 2021
my rating: ★★★ ★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2020-04-06)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop | Author’s Website


Rebecca Carroll is a very impressive writer and I found her memoir difficult to put down. As a white person from rural New Hampshire, the complete lack of diversity and the perpetual casual racism became very visible to me once I had moved to more urban areas and began to learn about race. Carroll, the only Black person in her town, didn’t have that luxury. She’s raised by two white adoptive parents and in late childhood meets her white birth mother; she doesn’t meet her Black father until well into adulthood. Her familial relationships are charged and her journey to form her identity is long and eventful. Overall, I found this incredibly powerful and compelling; my only complaint is that it feels a bit jumbled in certain areas and the timeline isn’t always clear. I think this is a really important read, particularly for those from primarily white areas and/or parents who have or plan to adopt a child of another race.


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