Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Thief of Always [review]

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
Published by HarperCollins on January 30, 2014 (originally 1992)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2022-08-30)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

Harvey had climbed the porch steps by now, and stopped in front of the open door. This was a moment of decision, he knew, though he wasn’t quite certain why.

This was a quick little MG/YA fantasy read with a pinch of horror. Harvey Swick is a kid dealing with the dreariness of mid-winter who wants some excitement in his life. And he gets exactly what he wishes for — kind of. Harvey is whisked away to a magical house, where he can play with other children and where all his wants are met. But, of course, things aren’t quite what they seem. This wasn’t a new favorite, but it was a fun little novel to zip through. I definitely recommend it to those looking for some lighter horror


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One Last Stop [review]

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on June 1, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2022-08-06)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

Jane is spun sugar. A switchblade girl with a cotton-candy heart.

I wish I could put my finger on why this didn’t quite work for me. Maybe I went in with my expectations too high: I loved Red, White and Royal Blue and I was so excited for McQuiston to put out a sapphic romance as well. Most of my friends — people I share reading tastes with — gave the book five stars. But I was able to put this down for four days after hitting the halfway point because I didn’t feel compelled to continue.

Looking back, I think I found August a little unbelievable as a character. In fact, her whole group of friends made me feel more like I was reading a sitcom than a story I could really immerse myself into. I read plenty of sff and horror, so I don’t necessarily need realism in my books but I do need to feel like the characters are real people and I just didn’t get that here. I found myself skimming a lot throughout the second half of the book because I really just wanted to finish it.

That being said, this book still made me really emotional! That McQuiston can tug on my heartstrings in a story I’m not attached to is a testament to their writing. I had to put down the book at one point because I was reading during downtime at work and didn’t want to cry in front of any customers. I think if I had read it earlier, I may have gotten along with it better so I would definitely take my outlook with a grain of salt — especially because I’m in a clear minority.


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20th Century Ghosts [review]

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 16, 2008 (originally 2005)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2022-08-03)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

She is saying something about home. She is saying something everyone knows.

This has been on my TBR for years so I’m disappointed that I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Joe Hill is one of my favorite authors, but this was his first book and it just didn’t hit like I had hoped it would. The fatphobia in this is absolutely rampant and really destroyed my interest in a few of the stories. The f-slur and the n-word were also both used at some points. As for the stories themselves, a lot of them didn’t do much for me. I’ll include my full ratings here:

Best New Horror – ⭐⭐⭐
20th Century Ghost – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pop Art – ⭐⭐⭐
You Will hear the Locus Sing – ⭐⭐
Abraham’s Boys – ⭐⭐
Better Than Home – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Black Phone – ⭐⭐
In the Rundown – ⭐⭐⭐
The Cape – ⭐⭐
Last Breath – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dead-wood – ⭐⭐⭐
The Widow’s Breakfast – ⭐⭐⭐.5
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My Father’s Mask – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Voluntary Committal – ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Scheherazade’s Typewriter – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few of them were hard-hitting in the best of ways, but overall I found the collection somewhat forgettable. I do think My Father’s Mask and Voluntary Committal both could be expanded into novels or series and make for a good time. I’m also very intrigued to see how they adapted The Black Phone because it didn’t feel to me like something that could be expanded into a full-length film. Overall, probably wouldn’t recommend this collection highly, but it’s probably worth reading if you want to see Hill’s earlier works.


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The Memory Police [review]

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, transl. by Stephen Snyder
Published by Pantheon in August 13, 2019 (originally 1994)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.75 (as of 2022-05-25)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I wish I had gotten along with this more, but it was a little flatter than I expected. It was reminiscent to me of 1984 in some ways, although I wouldn’t draw a tight comparison between the two. I thought the titular Memory Police would play a more pivotal role in this, but it felt like they only existed to add stakes to the story. I just felt a lot of “why?” reading this. I could draw connections to colonialism and the erasure of cultures, or the oppression of afab bodies, but it didn’t feel like a fully formed commentary was there. I was largely bored by this and although some aspects were compelling, I felt let down.


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Build Your House Around My Body [review]

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
Published by Random House in July 6, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.87 (as of 2022-05-23)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I’m still not sure whether I read this book or whether it was all a fever dream that I imagined. Build Your House Around My Body spans decades and follows an ever-changing cast of characters through a dark, fantastical story. The ‘main’ character, Winnie, is a Vietnamese-American woman attempting to find herself in Vietnam while slipping deeper and deeper into a depressive spiral.

While I appreciated this story overall, I found myself swinging between bored, confused, and intrigued. Sadly, too much of my time was spent waiting to get to the end of the story rather than appreciating the journey itself. This novel is often difficult to follow, although I was impressed by the way Kupersmith was able to connect the characters to each other. There were many instances where I found myself highlighting lines that would have meant little-to-nothing in another book, but that gave me an ‘aha!’ moment in seeing another connection.

I would recommend this with the caveat that if you don’t like sweeping storylines that take their time to intersect and become clear, this is probably not the book for you. It does have a lot of interesting commentary on colonialism and bodily autonomy, but I struggled to untangle this from the story itself.


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Olga Dies Dreaming [review]

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González
Published by Flatiron Books on January 4, 2022
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.03 (as of 2022-05-18)
Spoilers at bottom of review

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I liked how complex and easy to root for these characters were, even as they waded through gray areas of morality and made mistake after mistake. Olga is a wedding planner for the elite and her brother Prieto is a congressman. Both of them are of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in Brooklyn. This novel explores their personal lives as well as the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico itself. 

Olga and Prieto are both middle aged and still dealing with being abandoned (and subsequently emotionally abused) by their mother, although in different ways. Prieto has hidden himself behind a mask that is beginning to crack and Olga has avoided any kind of emotional connections. Prieto begins to question the way he’s been doing things, while Olga meets the odd-yet-endearing Matteo.

This is an interesting examination of familial trauma, race, and gentrification that works in a lot of ways but ultimately tried to hit too many topics. One of my biggest issues was that the ending felt far too neat for me, like González needed to tie everything up in a bow. I felt like we went from realistic literary fiction to a run-of-the-mill romance novel in the 11th hour; it just didn’t fit the tone of everything that preceded it.


Overall, I did enjoy this though, it just ended up knocked down a few pegs for me. Everything from here on is spoiler territory, as there are some aspects of the ending that rubbed me the wrong way. Content warning for discussion of rape ahead. The first is that the ‘third act breakup’ is preceded by Olga being raped and having a complete mental breakdown. It honestly felt like the assault was just a tool to get to this conflict, and could have been replaced by anything else. When she finally tells Matteo, he’s like ‘wow that sucks and it’s not your fault, but you can’t ignore me when you’re upset.’ Like?? Maybe cut her a little more slack dude, she was literally just raped. 

Secondly, one of the unrealistic aspects of the ending is that Matteo just happens to be rich so he can say, ‘oh don’t worry about getting a job, we can just be together and money doesn’t matter!’ How is he rich? He’s a landlord. It’s okay, though! He’s a good landlord! He’s fighting gentrification! By being a landlord! Especially coming right after the ‘sorry you were raped but don’t ignore me’ conversation, this just left a bad taste in my mouth. Matteo is supposed to be a good guy, we’re supposed to be happy. I wasn’t.

Like I said above, this is still a good book. I still recommend it. I just couldn’t love it and have trouble looking past its faults.


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My Year of Rest and Relaxation [review]

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published by Penguin Press on July 10, 2018
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.73 (as of 2022-03-22)
Spoiler-free review

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Life was fragile and fleeting and one had to be cautious, sure, but I would risk death if it meant I could sleep all day and become a whole new person.

This had been recommended to me by my friend Libby for the 12 in 12 Challenge, but it had been on my TBR since 2018 and I was looking forward to reading it. Friends of mine had very much enjoyed it and I thought the concept was interesting: the narrator decides that she wants to sleep for an entire year. So she does. Or she tries, at least. Using a cocktail of downers, she sleeps as much as possible.

I enjoyed the writing in this at a technical level, but I was just never as invested as I wanted to be. It felt like a bit of a slog, and I found myself not wanting to pick it back up except to finish it so I could move on to something else. Perhaps part of this is Moshfegh’s extremely real portrayal of depression. Real depression can be real hard to read, as it digs into your brain and pulls you down with it.

The narrator is incredibly unlikeable, something that is never a dealbreaker for me in a book since I love reading about messy women. Basically I’m that meme that’s like “I support women’s rights. But I also support women’s wrongs.” And this woman has a lot of wrongs. Unfortunately I just didn’t find them interesting in the way I normally do. I was bored by her poor relationships and her cold facade.

The end, though, that end was a punch in the gut. It pulled things together for me in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. Although I don’t fully understand what Moshfegh was doing here, I do appreciate the novel she gave us and I am intrigued enough to give her other works a try.

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear [review]

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Published by PublicAffairs on September 15, 2020
my rating: 2.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2022-03-12)
Spoiler-free review

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Many times I’ve heard that it’s dangerous to let bears get acclimated to people, I’ve never been told what now seems clear to me — that it’s at least equally dangerous to let people get acclimated to bears.

As someone who grew up not far from Grafton (the American Town mentioned in the subtitle), I absolutely had to read this. A town taken over by libertarians and bears? How did I miss this?? As it turns out, I believe the bear situation came to a head once I had already left the state for college (I was gone from 2010-2020). But in reading the book, I was entirely unconvinced by its main premise. The libertarian project did not seem, to me, to have any connection with the changing behaviors of New Hampshire’s black bear population. This is even shown directly by the author when he talks about increasing bear sightings, break-ins, and attacks in other towns. Bears in general are spending too much time around humans (and vice-versa) and their populations are skyrocketing, forcing them to move into civilization for resources. Hasn’t this been the case for years with many predatory animals?

Certainly the libertarian group who moved to Grafton made a lot of changes to the town that had some negative outcomes, but I wasn’t convinced that the town itself was very solid to begin with, either. I found myself bored by the historical pieces and didn’t understand the inclusion of some stories. I just think Hongoltz-Hetling’s writing is really not for me. When talking about the long ago history of Grafton, he mocked the colonists for… being semi-illiterate? In the 1700s. Yeah. I also didn’t like the way he talked about some of the current residents; I got a real “haha look at these weirdos” vibe whenever someone was a little more odd than expected. He even made a comment about how badly he thought some of them smelled that seemed poorly phrased to me.

There is certainly some interesting stuff in here, but I really struggled to unearth it around Hongoltz-Hetling’s jabs and meanderings. This really could have (and should have, in my opinion) been a longform piece. Or two longform pieces! Since the two topics just do not connect strongly enough in my mind. An effort was made here, but I remain unconvinced by it.


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Dune [review]

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Dune by Frank Herbert
Published by Macmillan Audio on May 17, 2007 (originally 1965)
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.25 (as of 2022-01-24)
Spoiler-free review

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I can see the appeal of this, but it wasn’t really my thing. Listening to the audiobook helped a lot except how distracting I found the switch between narration and full cast. Sometimes the general narrator would read out the dialogue and sometimes the individual actors would, for no discernible reason. Paul was like THE most boring character, which reinforced how I felt about him when I watched the movie. Watching the new movie before reading did honestly help me understand the book more (and reading afterwards helped me understand the movie more as well). Honestly I wish the whole book had been focused on Jessica, she was truly the coolest character. I briefly considered continuing the series but the next book is about more PAUL, so I think I’m going to pass. Also, it was incredibly distracting how Herbert constantly described how fat the Baron was, and I hated how he played into the ‘predatory gay’ trope, but I guess it was written in the 60s.

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My Favorite Half-Night Stand [review]

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My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.79 (as of 2022-01-15)
Spoiler-free review

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I wish I had liked this more, but I definitely didn’t dislike it. If the miscommunication trope is not your jam, I highly recommend you skip this one. The heroine is very out of touch and noncommunicative when it comes to feelings in general, and romance is no exception. That’s what ended up frustrating me here, most of the conflict stemmed from her deceiving the hero and then being too afraid to talk about it. I also just didn’t connect enough with either of them. There were also a couple unchallenged comments about weight/food that I didn’t appreciate, but it wasn’t a huge deal. Thankfully it was a quick and easy read overall. I think there are definitely loads of people this will work for, but I found it a solid ‘meh.’

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