Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Just Like Home [review]

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books on July 19, 2022
my rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.53 (as of 2022-09-14)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever loved a monster.

I can’t seem to stop reading divisive books! This was my fourth Gailey read and I have to say that I am so impressed by their range. From historical fiction to thriller to horror, it seems like they can do it all. Just Like Home is about a woman named Vera who returns to her childhood home at the behest of her estranged dying mother. Vera’s father was a serial killer and her memories in this house are slowly revealed to us over the course of the book. There is also a horror element that readers seem to either love or hate — I loved it. There were just a handful of things I wish Gailey had done differently, but I found this so atmospheric. I had to tear myself away from the book at night because even though I was getting so spooked, I didn’t want to put it down. I found both the characters and the story itself incredibly compelling and really can’t wait to see what Gailey comes out with next.

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The Perfect Nanny [review]

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani transl. by Sam Taylor
Published by Penguin Books on January 9, 2018 (originally 2016)
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.39 (as of 2022-09-08)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

Already the rumor is spreading. Something terrible has happened to the children.

I picked this up after listening to a re-run of an interview with the author on the podcast Literary Friction. I was a little anxious seeing the average rating (apparently the last month or so has been me accidentally reading plenty of lowly-rated books), but decided to give it a go anyway. I’m glad I did. This is a book following Louise, a French nanny who seems perfect in every way. But the book begins with the death of the two children Louise has been nannying. This is a retrospective, more literary than thriller, giving us the greater context for this tragedy.

I could have easily read this in one sitting. I found the story and its characters utterly compelling, even if none of them were particularly likeable. Louise is outwardly perfect in every way, going above and beyond, but privately she is drowning in the debts of her late husband and is completely estranged from her daughter. I liked how we were exposed to voices from Louise’s past as we follow her in the very recent past throughout her career with these two children. The tone of this book was immaculate, with creeping dread building steadily as the family and the nanny become increasingly more codependent in their relationships.

This will be a particularly horrific read for parents and I caution you to make sure you’re prepared if you have or want kids. But Slimani is an excellent writer who is able to pack so much into such a slim novel and I will absolutely be recommending this.

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Dark Circles [review]

Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach
Published by Ballantine Books on April 19, 2022
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.41 (as of 2022-08-29)
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.

The stories told about us are not our own.

I had to pick this up because I really liked We Went to the Woods by the same author. I found it well-written and compelling at first, so the average Goodreads rating confused me, but We Went to the Woods also has a low average so I brushed it off. I really enjoyed the setup, meeting Liv and the House of Light. Olivia is an actress who had a recent public outburst that prompts her assistant slash best friend Jess to send her to rehab. The House of Light is more of a spiritual retreat and Liv thinks she knows exactly what she’s in for. Since this is a literary thriller of sorts, I think we all know that things end up taking a turn.

After the first third, this began to drag for me. I felt like the various elements didn’t quite mesh and some things began to get repetitive. It was just missing that something to make it feel compelling. It was a bit of a disappointment for me because I did like the concept of integrating a podcast into the narrative (which I think was done well here) but I struggled with the novel as a whole. I also found one of the final twists to be unsatisfying and wasn’t convinced by some of the character motives. I’m really hoping I get along better with Dolan-Leach’s next book.


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The Pallbearers Club [review]

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow & Company on July 5, 2022
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.39 (as of 2022-07-30)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t like this. I’ve read two five stars, two four stars, and one three star by Tremblay, so I have pretty high expectations that I’ll like his work at this point. The Pallbearers Club had such a different vibe from the rest of his work, and I hesitate to even classify it as horror. It’s more like a literary thriller, but one that I found myself pretty bored by. The novel itself is meant to be a memoir written by the fictional Art Barbara (a pseudonym), but the ‘memoir’ has been found by Art’s friend Mercy, whose notes fill the margins, her words quite literally filling in the gaps that Art leaves out. Art and Mercy have a complicated relationship, spending years estranged before finding one another yet again. This was… so meandering, and I couldn’t connect with either of the characters. Art was self-absorbed and irritating, and Mercy just didn’t feel real to me. I’m hoping Tremblay’s next book works better for me again.


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The House Across the Lake [review]

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
Published by Dutton on June 21, 2022
my rating: 1 star
Goodreads avg:
3.60 (as of 2022-07-19)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

So I read this for Kayla’s Literally Dead book club and I’m sad to say that this book and I are mortal enemies. A little dramatic perhaps, BUT I literally couldn’t stand this. Casey is a recent widow who is living at her lake house because she’s suffering from alcoholism and her family doesn’t want to deal with her — by the way, who sends a depressed addict to stay in an isolated house alone?? Casey thinks she sees ~things~ and is trying to solve a possible murder. Does this sound like half of the thrillers out today? Yup! 90% of the book entails Casey talking about bourbon and I was bored out of my mind. The twist is, uh, original. No one would ever guess it. Because it is barely alluded to the entire book. I need my twists to be shocking, but also something I could look back on and say, “oh, that makes total sense!” This made no sense. If you enjoyed this? Power to you. Could not be me. This was my first Riley Sager book and, shockingly, I will be trying another.


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Dead Silence [review]

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Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes
Published by Tor Nightfire on February 8, 2022
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.12 (as of 2022-02-16)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop

Okay yes, this did fit the ‘Ghost Ship in space’ bill everyone was assigning it, and did a great job at it. Dead Space follows Claire Kovalik and her crew as they find a seemingly abandoned luxury spacecraft that had gone missing two decades prior. As expected, spookiness ensues. Sidenote, do not read this if you have an issue with body horror or gore. It’s not on every page but it’s certainly prominent enough.

I did really enjoy this, the vibes were immaculate and I found myself putting it down for a minute every couple chapters to breathe. But then I would pick it right back up again and keep chugging along. Barnes really succeeded in creating a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere and an intriguing mystery. I fully did not see that plot twist coming!

It did have a couple weaknesses, though. Claire is supposed to be in her mid-thirties, but I found her somewhat juvenile. I know that’s probably because of her PTSD, but that’s another thing that bothered me. I felt like her backstory was pushed a little too hard. This might just be me, but I get really bored with books where the MC has a ~tragic backstory~ that is CONSTANTLY alluded to. I found her really frustrating to read at times because of this.

The romance subplot also seemed completely unnecessary to me. I did like Kane, but I was just like [shrug] we’re in a ghost ship in space! Why are we talking about romance! I think if this had been removed, the book could have leaned in a little farther with developing the creep factor.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed this and found it to be a unique reading experience. If anyone has recs for books similar to this, I am ALL ears. I am definitely going to be recommending this to horror fans and hope to see more from Barnes in this genre!


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In the Woods [review]

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In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by Tana French
Published by Penguin Group on May 17, 2007
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.78 (as of 2022-02-14)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop

I did NOT get the hype on this one, lads. I’d heard rave reviews about this for years and finally decided to pick it up. My first letdown was when I realized the main character was a man — it didn’t really matter, but I do tend to prefer reading about people who are not men. I continued regardless, but really found it to be a slog from start to finish. Every time I would pick it up, it was with a sense of dread because I was just bored.

Rob was truly the most roll-your-eyes boring white man. He’s supposed to be broody and complex, with his PTSD and growing instability. I just found him to be insufferable, unprofessional, and of poor judgment. Do I have to like the characters I read? No, but I do need to find them somewhat interesting or compelling. Rob didn’t hit either of those.

Around the halfway mark, I had already figured out who was behind the murder (although the means didn’t fully come together until later on) and started to skim more and more. I didn’t want to DNF after putting so much into the book already, but I certainly didn’t want to take my time finishing either. Unfortunately, the ending was just as bad. There was a missed resolution that was essentially the only thing I had been waiting for, and it gave me a gut-punch far too emotional for how incredibly uninvested I had felt throughout the book.

I have to say I will not be recommending this to anyone in the future, but I know there are plenty of people who LOVED this, so take this with a pinch of salt.


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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]

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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 Dead and the Dark [review]

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

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

Goodreads | Bookshop


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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