Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Paper Palace [review]

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The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
Published by Riverhead Books on January 6, 2021
my rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.88 (as of 2022-04-17)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


And I thought: now there is no turning back. No more regrets for what I haven’t done. Now only regrets for what I have done. I love him, I hate myself; I love myself, I hate him. This is the end of a long story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the blurb: Elle awakens at her family’s summer home the morning after sleeping with her childhood best friend and over the next 24 hours has to decide whether she wants to leave her husband. What I didn’t expect was for this to span decades, generations. While the story itself does take place over only a single day, much of it is filled in with flashbacks that slowly fill in the context until we understand more fully what Elle’s decision truly entails.

I caution readers to take care before picking this up, and to look up the content warnings. Both Elle’s history and her mother’s contain child sexual abuse and rape as well as parental abuse and neglect. I found the reading experience intense and graphic, but not needlessly so. Heller skillfully shows the aftermath of trauma and how tightly it manages to grip you.

The writing in this is truly beautiful, I marveled at the author’s way with words and was shocked to discover this was her debut novel. I cared so deeply for Elle and Jonas and was genuinely invested in their lives both together and apart. I know reading about cheating can be a dealbreaker for some people and while I don’t think cheating is a good thing, love can be complex and I think this was handled realistically and gracefully. Elle is torn between the life she thinks she should have with the husband she truly loves and the life she truly should have had with the man she has been connected to for decades. This isn’t a simple or easy choice and Heller didn’t paint it as such. I also found it interesting that many readers found the conclusion open-ended, I was positive I knew what she had chosen so other reviews surprised me!

My one issue is with a reveal that freed Elle in a way I felt she should have been freed from the start. I can’t go any deeper without spoilers but I will say that while I had no issue with the reveal itself, I didn’t particularly love Elle’s reaction to it.

All in all, I found this to be a beautiful yet devastating novel that will stick with me for years to come. I really look forward to what Heller puts out next and am glad this was selected for the Women’s Prize Longlist, which is what prompted me to read it.

click for content warnings.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Fingersmith [review]

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by Riverhead Books on October 1, 2002
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.98 (as of 2022-01-01)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


Sometimes she would close her eyes. ‘How well you know me,’ she might say. ‘I think you know the turning of all my limbs.’

This was my first Sarah Waters and it may very well be my last, unless someone wants to convince me otherwise. Maybe it was my mistake reading this during the dark dreary parts of winter, but this was just absolutely miserable. While I loved bits of the relationship between Sue and Maud, I found most of the characters themselves to be incredibly irritating. Sometimes it felt like we were spending full chapters watching them just mope. I think that I would have enjoyed this more if a lot had been cut out; at some points it truly just dragged.

I’ll try to stay vague to avoid spoilers, but I also really struggled to suspend my disbelief when it came to some of the twists. I don’t need my fiction to be 100% realistic, but there were moments where I just thought, “Really?? You expect me to believe they got away with this?” At first I was impressed with how Waters managed to catch me by surprise, but eventually it felt more like she was trying to write something as complicated as possible regardless of how much sense it made.

That being said — I do see what others could enjoy in this. Sometimes I think I find myself a little too empathetic when it comes to reading fictional POVs, which means I can struggle with darker content. This book really pulled me down into its mood and was a difficult reading experience. I did enjoy the Victorian lesbian romance as well as the commentary on women’s lack of agency. I think it would have made a big difference if I didn’t feel so, well, miserable reading it. I do think this is worth trying if you enjoy historical fiction and are looking for something sapphic and mysterious, but just be prepared for some sob stories.

click for content warnings

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The Lost Village [review]

This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten transl. Alexandra Fleming
Published by Minotaur Books on March 23, 2021
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2021-10-27)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


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.

The comps for this were spot on — it truly is Midsommar meets Blair Witch Project, but somehow less compelling than either of the two. It was incredibly readable, but really fell apart in the last act for me. There was a hint of a paranormal element that just wasn’t fully explored in any way, and some plot points that I wish had been expanded upon were just glossed over. By the end, I just kind of felt like “that’s it?”

The treatment of mental illness in this was also… not great. I did like that the author addressed how draining it can be to be the sole support of a friend in the midst of crisis, but that was canceled out by writing off an entire character as psychotic and violent because they [checks notes] take abilify.

The concept itself was really interesting and could have turned out so much cooler with some more thought-out writing. I will say that I got pretty creeped out at some parts and it was an incredibly atmospheric read. This would be a fun horror read if you’re not looking for anything too well put together.

(SPOILERS HERE)
Side note — I got huge queer vibes between Alice and Emmy and was so disappointed when nothing happened between them. I thought it was obvious that they were in some kind of intense queerplatonic relationship with unspoken (or forgotten?) feelings between the two of them and can’t believe that wasn’t the case.


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The Underground Railroad [review]

This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Bahni Turpin
Published by Random House Audio on September 3, 2016
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.04 (as of 2021-09-23)
Spoiler-Free Review

Goodreads | Bookshop


I truly feel bad that I didn’t like this. There was not much with the book itself; Whitehead is an excellent writer who creates believable characters. I do wish the Railroad itself was featured more heavily or more creatively, as is this was really just an over the plate historical fiction where the Underground Railroad happens to be a literal railroad. The concept itself felt underutilized and I think the book would have had the same impact on me had Whitehead not changed this, which left me wondering why he did.

It feels wrong to say that I felt bored reading this, but I truly did. I didn’t feel attached to Cora or any of the other characters and didn’t feel very involved with the plot itself. I kept wondering where it was going to go. This is where I mention that I think it was my mistake to read this book — I rarely enjoy straightforward historical fiction and I read this thinking it was going to be something different because of the railroad. The fact is, this read like any other historical fic novel and it’s a me problem that I didn’t enjoy that.

I definitely recommend readers interested in historical fiction, particularly Southern history, pick this up. It’s well-written and is obviously enjoyed by many. Unfortunately I just wasn’t the right audience for this.


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Mexican Gothic [review]

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.83 (as of 2020-08-16)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads Bookshop | Author’s Website


While I can see what others may have gotten out of it, this book just wasn’t for me. The first half dragged, and even when things picked up I didn’t find myself interested in continuing. I could go days without reading it just because I didn’t care. Even though the pacing and story didn’t really click with me, I recommend picking this up if you’re interested. The book is exactly what it labels itself: Mexican gothic. It is a genre I’d like to read more of, and I found myself reminded of Lovecraft Country in a lot of bits. I am glad to see I do seem to be in the minority as far as disliking this goes, and would like to give more of Moreno-Garcia’s work a shot.


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The Ballad of Black Tom [review]

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by Tor.com on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★.5 (2.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2020-07-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.

I buddy read this with Hadeer, who enjoyed it and wrote a much more thorough review than I did. Go check hers out!

This is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s stories, which I have not read. Lovecraft himself is infamously racist, so LaValle’s retelling is a commentary on racism. What I found myself most struck by was how some of the explicitly racist bits could have been pulled straight out of today’s world even though the story takes place some 100 years ago. I found myself absolutely horrified by one scene, only to immediately see how it is paralleled by stories in the news today. But while I appreciated LaValle’s commentary, I couldn’t connect to the character’s or the story itself and had a difficult time feeling invested in the novella. I’ll still be recommending it to others, and am glad to see most people have enjoyed it more than I did.


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The Ten Thousand Doors of January [review]

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Published by Redhook on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.11 (as of 2020-07-03)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


She became something else entirely, something so radiant and wild and fierce that a single world could not contain her, and she was obliged to find others.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the story here. For me, this was a page-turner but I know others have found it slow and I agree that the pacing lagged in some areas. The characters were fun to read but largely felt one-dimensional; I felt like I should have cared more about the side characters than I did and while I liked the story of January’s parents, I wasn’t really drawn to them as people. But the concept made up for it and the twists really got me. I read this as a YA fantasy and I believe the MC is in her late teens for the bulk of the book, but the author has said it was written for an adult audience, just for the record!

content warnings: loss/grief; animal abuse; forced institutionalization; racism


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Lovecraft Country [review]

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Published by Harper on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.05 (as of 2020-06-21)
Spoiler-free review

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


That’s the horror, the most awful thing: to have a child the world wants to destroy and know that you’re helpless to help him. Nothing worse than that. Nothing worse.

I found myself so drawn into this so quickly, but unfortunately that didn’t last. I thought this would be one continuous story, but it’s sort of more of a collection of interrelated stories that become more fully tied together as the book progresses. The start of the first was a pageturner and so, so eerie but shifted to more of a middling pace and became less outright spooky. I went through bursts of really wanting to read it and others where I was just kind of waiting for the next thing to happen. The characters, though, really made the book. I found them all to be distinct and realistic and didn’t have to worry about mixing any of them up which I usually do with a slightly larger cast.

I had gone in a little nervous about reading a full cast of Black characters written by a white man, but I think Matt Ruff handled this pretty well (I’m not really able to fully speak on this, though). I was pleased to see that at the end of the edition I was reading, he had a recommendation list containing some historical books on the Jim Crow era as well as sci-fi books written by Black authors. It was nice to see him using his platform to lift up others and to point his readers in an ownvoices direction.

Overall, I found this very readable and will likely be recommending it to others!

I am a white woman and my review is written through that lens. If you are an ownvoices reviewer who would like your review linked here, please let me know!

content warnings: Jim Crow era racism


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The Mercies [review]

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Published by Little, Brown and Company on February 6, 2020
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.06 (as of 2020-06-08)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


Though his touch is gentle it feels bruising even through clothes: she can’t suffer a man to touch her, however well meant.

I wonder if I would’ve gotten along better with this had I not consumed so much media about the Salem witch trials over the course of my life (fun fact: one of my ancestors was in the trials). While the setting is different, the story is largely similar to those out of Salem — but make it gay. The novel is based on true events, though. My issue is just that I didn’t feel Hargrave brought anything new to the table with it; it was easy for me to see what was coming and I dreaded picking the book up. While I love my fair share of sad stories, I feel like I always get something out of them and that just wasn’t the case here. If you haven’t been inundated with stories of witch trials, I think this would work better for you. For me, it just felt like another of the same.

content warnings: death of a loved one, sexual assault, miscarriage


My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. The Man Who Saw Everything
  5. My Name is Monster
  6. Ninth House
  7. Bunny
  8. The Mercies
  9. Frankissstein

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The Man Who Saw Everything [review]

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on October 15, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.72 (as of 2020-05-25)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


I was frightened of everything in the past and whatever was going to happen next.

This is a short novel that packs quite a punch. The first half feels slow, and a little strange at times, but everything is suddenly turned on its head in the second half. There is so much going on and yet it never seems like too much for the page count. A lot of the writing is very simplistic, which I think works. Had it been more complex, I think it would have been easy to get lost in. It’s hard for me to say much about this without spoilers, but I do think this was quite a worthwhile read although I was left wanting. Not a new favorite, but I can see why this has been so highly lauded and perhaps worth an eventual reread to see if that ties things together a bit better.

content warnings: domestic abuse; nazi mentions; homophobia.


My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. The Man Who Saw Everything
  5. Ninth House
  6. My Name is Monster
  7. Frankissstein

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