Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Growing Things and Other Stories [review]

Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2019-10-01)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

A chilling anthology featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction from the multiple award-winning author of the national bestseller The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives.

Four men rob a pawn shop at gunpoint only to vanish, one-by-one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.”

In “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster . . . or not.

Joining these haunting works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts—Merry, who has published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full.

From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, Tremblay illuminates our primal fears and darkest dreams in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds.


No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t absolutely love this collection. After reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I knew Tremblay would become one of my favorite horror authors. It took me way too long to pick up another one of his books, but my conflicted experience Growing Things certainly won’t make me give up on loving his work. Here is a list of the stories, as well as my individual rating for each:

  • Growing Things 4/5
  • Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks 3/5
  • Something About Birds 4.5/5
  • The Getaway 4/5
  • Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport 3/5
  • Where We Will All Be 2.5/5
  • The Teacher 4/5
  • Notes for “The Barn in the Wild” 4.5/5
  • _____ 3/5
  • Our Town’s Monster 2/5
  • A Haunted House Is a Wheel upon Which Some Are Broken 4/5
  • It Won’t Go Away 4/5
  • Notes from the Dog Walkers 2/5
  • Further Questions for the Somnambulist 2/5
  • The Ice Tower 3/5
  • The Society of the Monsterhood 2/5
  • Her Red Right Hand 2.5/5
  • It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks 4/5
  • The Thirteenth Temple 4/5 

I’m the baseball pitch that stops before home. I’m an empty notebook. I’m half the distance to the wall. I’m the video with an ending I won’t ever watch.

That comes to an average of 3.26, which I rounded down to a 3. The collection certainly wasn’t bad, but there were just enough stories I didn’t get along with to make it a less-than-spectacular reading experience. There was a lot to appreciate here. I found Tremblay’s meta and self-referential tendencies to be quite fun and look forward to tying bits here to his other works as I make my way through them. There is even a notes section at the end that includes tidbits — inspirations, writing processes, etc. — about many of the works. It was quite insightful and added  a lot to the experience for me.

Time is not an arrow. It is a bottomless bag in which we collect and place things that will be forgotten.

I think this collection will work well for those who like authors to play around with their writing. As I mentioned above, some of the pieces are meta and Tremblay definitely isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. Horror fans in general will probably enjoy this, but I can see it appealing to those who aren’t diehard genre readers as well. I think the nature of short story collections usually mean that everyone can find something they’ll like.

I used to hope that when I died I’d go to some kind of afterlife where I’d instantly know all these weird statistics like how many heartbeats I had in my life or how many breaths or how many times I said the word “tomato” or how many people thought I was a good person or how many holes there were in the ceiling tiles of my dentist’s office.

Overall, while this didn’t quite live up to expectations, I still enjoyed it and will be recommending it to others!


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Sick: A Memoir [review]

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour
Published by Harper Perennial on June 5, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.41 (as of 2019-09-25)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

For as long as author Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn’t know why. Several drug addictions, some major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease. 

Sick is Khakpour’s grueling, emotional journey—as a woman, an Iranian-American, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems—in which she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness and her addiction to doctor prescribed benzodiazepines, that both aided and eroded her ever-deteriorating physical health. Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course—New York, LA, Santa Fe, and a college town in Germany—as she meditates on the physiological and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life. 

A story of survival, pain, and transformation, Sick candidly examines the colossal impact of illness on one woman’s life by not just highlighting the failures of a broken medical system but by also boldly challenging our concept of illness narratives.


It seems impossible to separate Khakpour’s life of illness from the remainder of her life. As she details, no one has been able to ascertain for certain when exactly she acquired Lyme. Some doctors have pointed to her health problems in childhood as symptoms, while others have indicated that college seemed like a likely bet. Having gone through one trauma after another, it’s also difficult to disentangle the symptoms of her Lyme from symptoms of primarily unrelated PTSD, depression, and anxiety. As she mentions, women typically struggle more with Lyme because they are often treated as psychiatric cases only and therefore left undiagnosed and untreated longer. As a quick note, there are extensive discussions of both drug abuse and suicide throughout the book, so if you find those triggering it may be best to steer clear.

And there it came: his half smile. And here it followed: my rage.

One thing that bothered me a lot was that she’s somewhat judgmental of one of her friends in Chicago, a wealthy woman who eventually reveals she’s a prostitute. This judgment comes unchallenged by the present Khakpour looking back and it’s clear she was sickened by the thought of her friend making money in this way, and pities her even though she herself is weak and slowly disintegrating while her friend is happy and stable. It was strange reading about someone who can look down so strongly on others when they themselves are struggling even more.

I also kept saying something I had heard some other therapist or doctor say at some point, maybe in the psych ward: Let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all. I was mesmerized by what “the bottom of this” could be, but I knew I wanted it.

Occasionally, the timeline feels mixed up. She’ll jump ahead only to jump immediately back and I forget where we are in the story. There are bits repeated throughout — stories she tells multiple times, to my confusion — that give the whole thing a sense of deja vu. Its meandering nature felt sometimes without purpose and I found myself checking where I was in the book to see if it was close to over. Her story itself is exhausting to read, and god knows how much more exhausting it must have been to live through, but its monotony made it disengaging when combined with the matter-of-fact tone she communicates her experiences in. Having had (much less serious) chronic illnesses of my own, I understand how hopeless the seemingly endless chain of doctors who don’t know what’s wrong with you is, but the negativity also felt like it would drown me without adding much to my experience as a reader.

So many men had tried to fix me; so many men were convinced they could help. What was one more.

Overall, in spite of my criticisms, I think this book is worth reading if you’re interested even if it didn’t quite work for me.


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The Price of Salt [review]

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Published by She Winked Press on March 1, 2011 (originally 1952)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2019-09-13)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound 

Soon to be a new film, The Price of Salt tells the riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover.


While this didn’t end up becoming a new favorite, I was able to appreciate both the writing and the importance of the novel in history. The Price of Salt was written in the 50s and is the book that the movie Carol was based off of. What I was expecting was the development of a relationship between two women with the quietest hints of romance; what I got was a frank exploration of a young woman’s blossoming sexuality. 

She wished she could kiss the person in the mirror and make her come to life, yet she stood perfectly still, like a painted portrait.

The main character, Therese, is a 21-year-old sales clerk at the outset of the book. She has a boyfriend who she feels little for and hopes to make a living as a set designer for plays. While working at a toy counter in a department store, she meets Carol, who quickly changes her life. The relationship between these two women was all-consuming and a little bit frightening. Therese is quite unsure of herself and there is a layer of anxiety the reader must wade through as the novel progresses. Therese and Carol eventually embark on a road trip that only enhances their whirlwind romance.

An indefinite longing, that she had been only vaguely conscious of at times before, became now a recognizable wish.

I’ll clarify here that classics and I do not always get along very well; I find the writing style in older books to be a bit more difficult to follow and think that a lot gets lost on me. It’s possible that this is what happened here. I did not understand Therese’s attraction to Carol, other than the fact that she was inexplicably drawn to this woman. I did not understand how she came to love Carol so deeply; to me she seemed quite cold and didn’t have much going for her. While Therese was quite a sympathetic character, I found myself a little lost and didn’t emotionally connect as strongly to the novel as I had hoped I would.

I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched, and you are raining down upon me.

Overall, though, I do think this is worth reading. It is enjoyable to watch Therese find herself, and the book is littered with beautiful prose. Not only that, but it is refreshing to see queer women represented in literature written over 60 years ago. I have yet to see the movie, but am hoping to now that I’ve finally read the book that inspired it.


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Mini-Review Compilation #16

The Night Sister

Jennifer McMahon has been a little hit-or-miss for me. I absolutely adored The Winter People but felt The Invited wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Fortunately, The Night Sister put her writing back on track for me. This is a creepy little novel that takes place in Vermont, where a mystery is unfolding over three different generations, all tied closely to The Tower Motel. 

I thought the time jumps were handled quite well and I suffered minimal confusion with them. I also quite liked most of the characters, although I felt the relationship between Piper and Amy was a little queerbait-y and wished there had been more to it (this was also something I struggled with in The Invited, but that may just have been my reading of it). The horror itself was handled well, it was spooky but not terrifying. And the way the plot unfurled was great, I didn’t see the twists coming and wasn’t sure how things would end until they did.

Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable book and a quick read. I’d definitely recommend it and will be reading more of McMahon’s work in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Good People

This novel follows Nóra as she grapples with the grief of losing both her daughter and her husband. Left alone to care for her grandson, Micheál, who at four years old is no longer able to walk or talk, she takes in a maid named Mary to help her around the house. The book focuses quite closely on Irish superstition with particular attention paid to changeling lore. While the townspeople as a whole are quite superstitious, Nóra experiences a psychotic break of sorts that leads her to believe her grandson has been changed and is a fairy. She funnels her rage toward the boy, desperate for a cure.

What this book suffers from most, in my opinion, is it’s length. I felt like it took far too long to pick up its pace and was far too drawn out near the end. The content is difficult and this should have been a much more difficult read than it was, but I struggled to connect emotionally to any of the characters. There were a few parts where I felt some anxiety and really wanted to know what happened next, but for the most part I was just trying to get through it.

Rating: ⭐⭐.5

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

This book and I just didn’t get along well. I can see why others would get something out of it, but it is a difficult read. I felt like I couldn’t fully comprehend the story and the message due to my struggle with the writing and it didn’t feel fair to halfheartedly finish this only to give it a poor rating because it was a bad fit. And, honestly, some of the content is harrowing and I’m really just not in a good place to push myself through that as well.

Rating: DNF


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More Than This [review]

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Published by Candlewick on September 10, 2013
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-08-26)

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .


PSA: There will be spoilers!

I felt quite underwhelmed with More Than This, which is a shame since so many people seem to have loved it. This is the story of a boy named Seth who wakes up in a strange place with the echoes of his death still ringing in his head. While the landscape is familiar, it is a world overrun with decay and there are no other human beings in sight. Seth is convinced he is in Hell, and the reader isn’t quite sure what to believe.

To start with, I really enjoyed it. I liked the idea of a strange afterlife like this, and was increasingly convinced that Seth was actually in a purgatory of sorts, someplace liminal and in-between. I liked the flashbacks that we got, and felt the pacing was good. Seth would wander and contemplate for just the right amount of time before something new cropped up to grab our attention. And I was excited when the two (technically three) new characters were introduced.

It really dropped off for me after that. Once the plot started to shift, I stopped caring almost entirely. It wasn’t unreadable by any means, but I found myself pushing through so I could see how things ended rather than caring about the journey. Maybe I’m just jaded but… I’ve seen The Matrix and felt like I was just reading a new version. I didn’t find it to be a novel, exciting concept and felt like so much was left unexplained — in a lazy way, not an intriguing way. And honestly, I felt like a lot of things were dropped in just for shock value rather than actually adding much to the book itself.

All this is not to say that it’s a bad book! Patrick Ness is a talented writer and there was plenty to enjoy. I was incredulous to find out that this was a 480-page read because it seemed to fly by so quickly. I don’t want my criticisms to turn anyone off reading it, unless they seem like things that are pet peeves of yours as well.


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When You Find My Body [review]

When You Find My Body by D. Dauphinee
Published by Down East Books on June 1, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.05 (as of 2019-06-16)
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


When Geraldine “Gerry” Largay (AT trail name, Inchworm) first went missing on the Appalachian Trail in remote western Maine in 2013, the people of Maine were wrought with concern. When she was not found, the family, the wardens, and the Navy personnel who searched for her were devastated. The Maine Warden Service continued to follow leads for more than a year. They never completely gave up the search. Two years after her disappearance, her bones and scattered possessions were found by chance by two surveyors. She was on the U.S. Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) School land, about 2,100 feet from the Appalachian Trail.

This book tells the story of events preceding Geraldine Largay’s vanishing in July 2013, while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, what caused her to go astray, and the massive search and rescue operation that followed. Her disappearance sparked the largest lost-person search in Maine history, which culminated in her being presumed dead. She was never again seen alive. The author was one of the hundreds of volunteers who searched for her. Gerry’s story is one of heartbreak, most assuredly, but is also one of perseverance, determination, and faith. For her family and the searchers, especially the Maine Warden Service, it is also a story of grave sorrow.Marrying the joys and hardship of life in the outdoors, as well as exploring the search & rescue community, When You Find My Body examines dying with grace and dignity. There are lessons in the story, both large and small. Lessons that may well save lives in the future.


When You Find My Body is a nonfiction account of the last months of Gerry Largay’s life. Gerry went missing on the Appalachian Trail in 2013, her remains found approximately two years later. The book spans from the time Gerry spent preparing to hike the trail through the aftermath of her final campsite being found. Dauphinee interviews some of Gerry’s trail friends as well as wardens who were involved in her search. He examines every aspect of her hike in the interest of providing as many answers as possible to readers.

While it’s obvious that Dauphinee is a good writer, he is not without his faults. Most notably, I found myself distracted by his unnecessarily gendered writing. He talked about “farm boys” who were “able to experience the exotic and beautiful unshaved, makeupless women”; how he has “seen men in kilts, which is always okay, but [has] also seen men in skirts”; and in one sentence is able to discuss how some people lose skin and toenails, but describes women as dealing with “feminine issues” instead of using the dreaded word “menstruation.” While clearly not intended to be harmful, I still found myself rolling my eyes and frustrated by it all nonetheless.

While the novel is relatively short, I’d argue it could have been cut down more. There is a lot of repetition, mostly when it comes to discussing Gerry’s life and her impact on those she knew. While I understand the point Dauphinee was trying to make, that she was a beloved woman who would be deeply missed by many, he hammered it in incessantly. There is also an abundance of information about how the AT originated and while some of it made sense to include, I also just didn’t find myself very interested in most of it.

Finally, I just had to wonder whether Gerry’s family gave her blessing for this book to be written. I felt uncomfortable reading this and not knowing whether anyone, her husband George in particular, had given the okay for what were potentially the hardest days of their lives to be laid out on display like this. Portions of Gerry’s diary (already made public) were shared, as well as email newsletters she had written for friends and family. It made me squirm to think there was a possibility that I was privy to something I shouldn’t be reading. I wish Dauphinee had been upfront about this.

Criticisms aside, it’s a good book. I enjoyed reading it, as much as someone can enjoy reading about a tragedy like this. It was clear Dauphinee did his research and reached out to as many different people as possible, and his writing really pulls you in. I’ll probably be recommending this to nonfiction lovers and hiker buffs.


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Mini-Review Compilation #15

Your Tarot Court

This felt more like a reference book than something you would take in front-to-back, but I enjoyed it and will definitely look back at it in the future. I enjoyed the various exercises provided as well as the wealth of information provided about the tarot court. The author also does a pretty good job at removing gender from the equation and speaking about each card more as a general archetype than anything else. I found it informative and would definitely recommend to those who partake in tarot.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Delay, Don’t Deny

This is a really helpful primer if you’re interested in intermittent fasting (IF). It mainly discusses using it for weight loss reasons, but does talk about other benefits as well. What I really liked was how Gin emphasized that this is actually a lifestyle change; any weight loss or benefits you experience WILL go away if you revert back to old habits completely. I liked that there wasn’t any of this magic bullet BS a lot of other people will try to peddle. She also explained the biology behind how it all works and provided extensive sources, referring readers to other books so that she could give a summary without bogging this book down with technical details. I’m still a little skeptical of some aspects, but am definitely interested in trying it out and learning more!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ancillary Justice

I wish I had more to say about this, but it unfortunately didn’t leave too much of an impression on me. Aspects of it were certainly interesting. The implication of AI having free will, and being intelligent and independent enough to pass as human beings was intriguing to consider. The mundanity of gender. A few other things that I can’t delve into without getting into spoiler territory. The issue mainly being that this is such a slow burn, making it feel unnecessarily long at parts. I found myself getting confused relatively easily at some points and just didn’t feel like whatever I got out of the book heavily outweighed the work I was putting into it. Still, I do find it intriguing and would like to see where the series goes so I plan to continue.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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The Silence of the Girls [review]

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Published by Doubleday Books on September 4, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.88 (as of 2019-05-22)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.


I didn’t feel like anything that might have a name.

I had quite high hopes for The Silence of the Girls, which unfortunately just weren’t met. The best way to describe my reading experience is resounding apathy. Feeling apathetic whilst reading about a woman taken into slavery during war seems wrong, but here we are. I’d attribute this to a few things: the fact that I hadn’t read The Iliad before, the standoffish way I felt the story was narrated, and the fact that the POVs were not limited to Briseis, or even only to women.

I mentioned my lukewarm reading experience to Rachel, who noted that she wasn’t sure how much this book would hold for someone who wasn’t very familiar with The Iliad. While I knew bits and pieces of the story, my knowledge was really limited to its portrayal in The Song of Achilles as well as whatever I had picked up through osmosis throughout my life. As such, this was less of a retelling for me and more, well, a telling. On its own, I’m not sure the story stands as well as it would if I had more of a background with its greater context.

So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren’t the spiders; we were the flies.

Briseis herself is quite terse throughout her narration. While she slips into emotional points, I found myself feeling untouched for most of the book. I’m certain others may disagree with me here, and I definitely think that this is quite a subjective opinion on my part. And I understand how this can be demonstrative of what she’s gone through — trauma can make or break us, and it’s clear that the Trojan women must put up walls in order to make it through the war without breaking entirely. I just wish I could’ve seen this in a way that didn’t make me feel distant from her as well.

Lastly, I was really drawn to this story as giving a voice to women traditionally silenced. So much of the focus of history is on the heroism of men and very little is on the women who they have been supported by, or who they trod on. And yet more than once the point of view is handed to Achilles, the very man who is actively oppressing Briseis. Whatever reason this may have been for, I didn’t feel that it enhanced the story for me. Quite the opposite, the first time it happened I felt jerked out of whatever immersion I was experiencing and had to reread a bit to ensure it was really happening. Each time thereafter it felt out of place and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like had the book kept its focus on Briseis, or at least stuck to the perspectives of the women.

Now he can see what he’s been trying to do: to bargain with grief. Behind all this frenetic activity there’s been the hope that if he keeps his promises there’ll be no more pain. But he’s beginning to understand that grief doesn’t strike bargains.

Criticisms aside, I can see why others enjoyed this. I can certainly see why it was included on the Women’s Prize shortlist. I wish that my experience with it had been better, but alas. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I do recommend trying it out if it seems to interest you. Particularly if you have more of a history with Greek mythology than I do! Hopefully my next pick off the Women’s Prize list treats me a bit better.


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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Mini-Review Compilation #14

Praise Song for the Butterflies

This is a difficult book to review; it feels wrong to give it a number and talk about it as “good” or “not good.” The story follows the life of a girl named Abeo, who is born into a relatively privileged West African family. After bad luck befalls them, Abeo is brought to a shrine and is left in ritual servitude. Praise Song for the Butterflies is quite simplistically written, but its matter-of-fact tone makes the horrors within all the more appalling. Unfortunately, it also holds the characters at arms length and makes it difficult to empathize with them on anything more than an artificial level. While the story is important and eye-opening I didn’t find it to be a meaningful literary experience. I’d recommend it to anyone interested, if you can stomach the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

An American Marriage
[spoilers below]

I’ve struggled for days to write this review. An American Marriage is well-written and engaging and while I appreciate what Tayari Jones did with this book, I just felt so frustrated reading it. Roy, the husband in the couple at the center of the story, treats his wife Celestial like little more than property and at one point even tells her he could rape her if he wanted to. I felt like he was irredeemably awful at times to the point where I wanted to put down the book and not pick it up again. I wish I had loved this more and it certainly wasn’t bad, but it also isn’t something that I see sticking with me.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Lovely and the Lost
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 blew through this book, which I requested from NetGalley on a whim. It follows a girl named Kira who trains search and rescue dogs with her adoptive family. Kira herself has a mysterious past that slowly comes further to light as the story progresses. While there were a couple of moments that seemed a little overdramatic and pulled me out of the story, I found this to be wildly compelling otherwise. The characters were all distinct in their own ways and I loved seeing their relationships play out on the page. The plot kept me interested, and I didn’t predict the twist at the end. Overall a really good read, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ work.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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The Witch of Willow Hall [review]

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House on October 2, 2018
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.79 (as of 2018-12-17)
cw: familial death, incest, suicide, miscarriage, child death
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

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821 

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Sometimes I feel as if we are standing on opposite sides of a great chasm, and I must watch helplessly as the gaping space between us widens.

→ What I Liked:

The Romance

I enjoyed the connection between the main character, Lydia, and her love interest. Their interactions were by far my favorite to read and the romance was really what kept me going through this. I really wanted to know how things came together (or didn’t) for the two of them.

The Readability

While it took some time to gain my interest, this took on an unputdownable quality for me. It really turned into quite the page turner and I read the entire second half of the book in one sitting.

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Characters

Besides Lydia and, to some extent, her love interest, there wasn’t much depth among the characters. They all felt quite one-dimensional and were defined by one or two qualities that didn’t really change. I also hated the way the older sister Catherine was written — she was a stereotypical catty teenage girl whose only purpose was to cause strife. I’ve been over characterizations like these for a while now.

The Lack of Subtlety

I was literally rolling my eyes at the beginning of this with how hard it was hitting me over the head with the witch stuff. There were plenty of “hints” about Lydia’s true nature, but they were so blatant that they may as well have been screaming off the page. It really drew from the story itself for me.

The Ending

There was so much stuffed into this ending that it felt very rushed to me. A lot of it just felt so very… convenient. And the focus was so much on the romance and so little on the witchcraft that I was left dissatisfied and with very many questions. I want a sequel to learn more about Lydia’s abilities and family history, but felt like the way this ended didn’t leave much room for that.

→ TL;DR:

  • Romance was enjoyable
  • Page-turner
  • Side characters needed work
  • Lots of eyerolls
  • Ending was way too busy
  • Would recommend, but think of this more as a YA romance with paranormal elements than a fantasy or horror with romance on the side
  • Will pick up Hester Fox’s next book