Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Burn Our Bodies Down [review]

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
To be published by Delacorte Press on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4)
Goodreads avg: 
4.13 (as of 2020-06-22)
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.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website


It’s about time love left a mark on me.

Okay, I really liked this. While I enjoyed Power’s debut, Wilder Girls, I feel like she really hit her stride here. I found myself drawn into Burn Our Bodies Down almost immediately. Margot came to life for me right away and I was so invested in her story and where it would go. The mystery was soo twisted and I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. And I was absolutely wrong at every turn. My only problem was really some inconsistencies I’m sure will be ironed out in the final copy.

I never got good at recognizing attraction in other girls–it took me long enough to recognize it in myself, and even longer to say “lesbian,” without blushing.

I also love the queer rep in this; the main character is a lesbian and while there is no romance she has that little “do I want to be friends with her or do I want to kiss her” struggle that I think most wlw experience when they meet another woman they’re drawn to. I’m glad a romance wasn’t shoehorned in here; I feel like it would have been out of place in the story considering what’s going on.

Overall, this book is soooo good and I’ll definitely be recommending it in the future!

content warnings: Fire. Emotional abuse by a parent, including gaslighting. Familial and generational abuse. Body horror, some gore, blood (lighter, relative to Wilder Girls). Death. On page character death. Child/infant death (takes place off page but implied violence – pages 301 and 308 in the print ARC). Off-page gun violence. Emesis (mention of vomiting). (I removed one cw that I felt was a spoiler, but you can click the link for a more comprehensive list from the author that she will be updating as she receives feedback!)


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Disappearance at Devil’s Rock [review]

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on March 14, 2017 (originally 2016)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2020-03-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.


Elizabeth sends her a list of groceries. As she types milk 1% and diet soda and 1 lb turkey and cheese and bread she wonders how it was she got here, to this particular moment; calmly texting an ordinary grocery list seconds after shutting off a national cable news show discussing the evils of her missing son.

This took me a bit to get into but ended up being quite thrilling. There were some very spooky bits and the “twist” (I suppose it could be called) was so disturbing it actually made me nauseous and I had to put down the book for a bit. This is an interesting combination of horror and thriller, and it’s hard to figure out which the book really is, so I’d classify it as both. I didn’t feel any of the characters besides Elizabeth were particularly compelling, but I did find the plot interesting and am glad I read it.


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Mini-Review Compilation #22

Gone at Midnight

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 kept trying to push myself to pick this up, but just couldn’t press any further. The writing leaves a lot to be desired; I didn’t feel engaged with the content at any point. It really felt like the author was just regurgitating info they found online, and jumping from topic to topic without much of an idea of where they’re going.

There were several points at which I had to wonder how much independent research they had really done. One of these involved a quote from Elisa’s tumblr, where some thought she could have been commenting on graffiti from the roof. But I recognized it right away — it’s literally a quote from the Game of Thrones books. Could she have just been reading asoiaf? Yes! There’s no way for me to know whether the author knew this but either they intentionally left it out to make it look like Elisa had written it herself or they didn’t do the bare minimum of research it would take to realize this was a popular quote from a popular book series.

Regardless, I just didn’t feel like putting time in energy into reading a book I wasn’t at all enjoying.

Rating: DNF @ 15%

Face Off

pros:
-quick read
-mostly fun

cons:
-biphobic mc; assumed another wlw must be a lesbian and later said that she thought her ex (who she had dated for YEARS) who left her for a man was just a straight woman looking to experiment with “a dyke”
-the premise itself didn’t make that much sense to me (two people obviously into each other decide to fake date instead of just… dating)
-using an abusive stalker ex for drama
-mc has a homophobic teammate for ?? no reason, just more drama i guess even tho nothing comes of it
-editing issues (inconsistent timelines, mixed up names, etc)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The Outsider

This was a really great read, especially after I struggled so much with Mr. Mercedes. We run into just a couple of the same issues — namely, King’s obsession with Holly taking Lexapro (yes, Holly makes an appearance!). It was kind of funny to see Holly saying she absolutely could NOT drink because of her Lexapro when just about everyone I know who is on it drinks to no ill effect. Regardless, I thought this was a pretty clever way of doing the shapeshifter trope. As I began it, I thought “wait, how is he going to do this in a creative way?” but he really pulled it off. This was quite the spooky read and I had to put it down a few times while reading it alone at night. My only real complaint is that things kind of fell apart in the finale and I felt dissatisfied at the ending. Regardless, I highly recommend this but do be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the Bill Hodges trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the trilogy before this, do NOT read this first if you do plan to read the trilogy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


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Mini-Review Compilation #21

Foul is Fair

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.

She looks at the bruises on my neck and the scratches across my face, but she doesn’t say anything.
So I point at my hair, and I say, This color. Know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says, Good girl. Kill him.

This is the revenge story I’ve been dreaming about for ages and it was great. Apparently a Macbeth retelling (I am wholly unfamiliar with Macbeth), this was bloody as hell and pulled no punches. While ultimately an enjoyable read, both Jade and her coven were so cold and heartless that nothing about this felt realistic. Occasionally it felt a little repetitive and there were points where I just wanted to see where things would go. So while I would recommend this and am glad I read it, I’d also say it’s not necessarily a perfect read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

The Roanoke Girls

This was really not what I was expecting, although not to the book’s detriment. What I thought would be more paranormal YA turned out to be an adult thriller. This is a tense story about some pretty serious topics and is masterfully woven throughout multiple timelines. Sometimes I find this confusing, but I felt it was extremely clear when we were in the story and was able to keep each point in time separate in my mind. The characters are all distinct and pretty fully fleshed out. I liked how dubious Lane’s morals felt at times and thought her character was handled well overall. Overall this was a pretty compelling read whose only downfall was that it sometimes felt pretty far-fetched. I’d definitely recommend it to those who can handle the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pucked (Pucked #1)

Picked this up hoping for a fun, distracting romance and ended up having to DNF. The main character is SO childish and I struggled with the immaturity a lot. I didn’t feel any chemistry between Violet and Alex and the writing also wasn’t great enough to warrant continuing. What really pushed me over the edge was the *incessant* slut-shaming. Violet never stops putting down other women, assuming the worst of them, and thinking them terrible for… wanting to sleep with hockey players. Take a chill pill and get over yourself.

Rating: DNF


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We Need to Talk About Kevin [review]

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Published by Counterpoint on May 1, 2011 (originally 2003)
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.07 (as of 2020-02-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child’s character is self-evident. But generalizations about genes are likely to provide cold comfort if it’s your own child who just opened fire on his fellow algebra students and whose class photograph—with its unseemly grin—is shown on the evening news coast-to-coast.

If the question of who’s to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.

In relating the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses her estranged husband, Franklin, through a series of startingly direct letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son became, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general—and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

We Need To Talk About Kevin offers no explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents—whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton—have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in the most prosperous country in history. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story with an explosive, haunting ending. She considers motherhood, marriage, family, career—while framing these horrifying tableaus of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.


Well, this was dark as hell. I think I had a general idea of what We Need to Talk About Kevin was about before going into it, but I had no idea the extent to which it would go. It’s formatted interestingly: a woman’s letters to her ex-husband exploring their past together, primarily her relationship with their son. Unfortunately this format didn’t work especially well with the writing style — it’s simply not believable to think someone would write letters like this — but ultimately did work extremely well in conveying what it was trying to convey.

I knew this about myself in advance, too: that I was just the sort of woman who had the capacity, however ghastly, to rue even so unretractable a matter as another person.

There was a lot to say about gender roles and expectations surrounding women, particularly the pressures to have children and how the experience is built up to be so much. There’s also some decent commentary on how women can be treated less like people and more like property once they become pregnant. The main character is clearly following the script she feels she should, rather than building the life she wants to. There’s also plenty of commentary on nature vs nurture that I won’t even begin to get into.

A boy is a dangerous animal.

If unlikeable characters are not your deal, you will not like this book. Eva herself is absolutely insufferable: she’s condescending and rude, and even though you root for her to a certain extent and see what she’s seeing, it’s easy to see her husband’s perspective as well. On the flip side, Franklin is a terrible husband. My internal monologue was saying “girl, dump him” the whole time I read this. He’s sexist, controlling, and completely stops seeing his wife as her own person. Please, do not even get me started on Kevin. It’s clear from the outset that he’s not a character we will like.

“You know, it is different when it’s yours. You can’t go home.” Indeed, my yearning to go home had grown recurrent, but was most intense when I was already there.

My biggest issue with this was that the first quarter or so felt dry as hell. While I understand why the slow buildup, I just kept waiting for something to happen. Once the ball gets rolling, though, this is pretty packed with underlying tension and had me waiting on the edge of my seat for what I knew was coming. There were a few moments where I actually brought my hand to my mouth in horror: not because Eva explicitly announced some terrible event, but because she hinted to it so subtly and clearly that it hit even harder. The subsequent descriptions weren’t nearly as impactful as the quiet reveals themselves.

Kevin was a shell game in which all three cups were empty.

I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t make a comparison, but this is one heavy and gripping piece of literature. I assume there’s no way the subtleties and introspective details of this novel could be translated to film, so I’m expecting a more surface-level story once I do watch the adaptation. Regardless, I definitely recommend this to those who feel they can work through the more dense literary fiction to get to the thriller within.


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Mini-Review Compilation #20

You Are Not Alone

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 wish I had much to say about this, but I don’t. I’m sure this will satisfy a lot of people as an entertaining thriller. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the plot was compelling and thought that Shay was sort of a weak, boring character. Usually thrillers have me desperate for answers, even if they’re lacking otherwise, but I didn’t have that experience here. It was readable enough for me to finish, but I think the biggest issue is that I didn’t feel a sense of urgency; I felt sure Shay would get out of this mess and instead of worrying for her, I just waited to see what would happen. The only piece I really liked was the running theme of statistics. Shay is a big and I loved the data book she kept. Clearly I’m in the minority on this though, and it is great that the somewhat large cast is almost entirely female.

Rating: ⭐⭐.5

Enduring Love

Objectively, I can see the appeal to this. It is generally well-written and there are some interesting aspects to it. Unfortunately, it totally lost me. I found myself mostly bored and not caring enough about the outcome to bother picking it up unless I had nothing else to do. I can certainly see this working for other people, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Penance

This was, uh, strange. I struggled with it a lot and am not sure if that’s due to the writing itself or things getting lost in translation. The tone felt strangely monotone, which made it difficult for me to fully engage with the story. I also struggled to differentiate all the characters — partly because of the flat tone and partly because I felt like I was constantly having names thrown at me. I wish I had enjoyed this more because the format was interesting, as was the story itself. It will definitely stick with me, but it wasn’t something I really enjoyed reading.

Rating: ⭐⭐


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The Marsh King’s Daughter [review]

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
Published by GP Putnam’s Sons in December 2019 (originally 2017)
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.85 (as of 2020-01-30)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too…until she learned precisely how savage he could be.

More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King–because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.


This is certainly one of the best thrillers I’ve read. There are a lot of interesting aspects of it, including a more creative take on the abduction story as well as survivalist elements. I’m a sucker for wilderness survival stories; it’s so interesting to me to see how people live(d) without modern technology and resources. It also really helps me to appreciate my own life!

I really loved Helena as a character; she really makes you want to root for her while also acknowledging the bad decisions she’s made. She really felt fully-formed to me and this honestly felt more like a memoir than a work of fiction. The formatting also works quite well, we follow Helena through the present day as she searches for her father with relevant flashbacks that fill in the context of her earlier life.

This is also one of those books that you just don’t want to put down. The pacing is incredibly well-done. You’re led right to the edge of a precipice and then the story pivots, jumping into the past for just long enough before finally giving you the information you’re gunning for. I probably could have read this in one long sitting had I had the opportunity, and I think that would have been a breathlessly wonderful way to get through it.

I highly recommend you pick this up if the plot sounds up your alley, I’m glad I finally got around to it!


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Mr. Mercedes [review]

Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1) by Stephen King
Published by Pocket Books on December 29, 2015 (originally 2014)
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2020-01-14)

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


Minor spoilers ahead.

This was generally quite readable, but I didn’t find myself invested in the main character at all. The romance was half-baked, didn’t feel real, and was only included so the LI could be fridged in order to further motivate Bill. The casual/explicit racism in this runs rampant: King is constantly using the n-word, gives a black side character a recurring joke about being a literal slave to the white MC (to the point where the kid calls him “Massa Hodges”), and makes the villain vilely racist in a way that I felt was just not necessary.

Hodges has read there are wells in Iceland so deep you can drop a stone down them and never hear the splash. He thinks some human souls are like that.

Both Bill and the aforementioned side character, Jerome, treat a second side character, Holly, like absolute garbage because of her mental illness. She seems to suffer from only anxiety and OCD, but gets treated like she’s a lunatic because she takes… lexapro. Lexapro is an extremely common medication used for anxiety and depression. I felt like mental illness was being hugely stigmatized here, especially because Holly is treated like she’s soft and useless. King is almost able to flip the trope he’s using, but falls short. Instead of having Hodges and Jerome admit their preconceived notions were wrong, he has them say shit like “it’s humbling to find he’s been scooped by a Lexapro-dependent neurotic.”

The last sound she makes on earth–everyone should be so lucky–is a laugh.

Anyway, I just didn’t have any patience for this. You can write realistic, flawed characters while still challenging problematic viewpoints, which wasn’t accomplished here. To add insult to injury, I didn’t find anything compelling about the plot itself. While I could sit down and read for sizeable chunks of time, I was still just reading for the sake of finishing it and not because I truly wanted to. Mr. Mercedes was honestly a huge disappointment and I have no plans to finish out the trilogy.


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The Body Lies [review]

The Body Lies by Jo Baker
Published by Knopf on June 18, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.49 (as of 2020-01-10)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote English countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the bustle of London and the scene of a violent assault she is desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of her new life and the demands of single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative-writing class. When a troubled student starts turning in chapters that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognizes herself as the main character in his book–and he has written her a horrific fate. Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late? At once a breathless cat-and-mouse game and a layered interrogation of the fetishization of the female body, The Body Lies gives us an essential story for our time that will have you checking the locks on your doors.


I was first drawn to The Body Lies after reading Rachel’s incredible review of it. I’m glad to have gotten her perspective, because I can see how going into this expecting a thriller would be disappointing. This is not a fast-paced crime novel; this is a quietly terrifying piece of literary fiction. Baker presents an examination of trauma as well as the objectification of women’s bodies that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

The atmosphere is key here. An undercurrent of tension runs throughout this novel. As a reader I nearly always was on the edge of my seat waiting for things to go south even though, strictly speaking, not much was happening. Baker is masterful at making you truly feel the main character’s anxieties without even telling you what they are. I was incredulous at how certain events impacted me; events that objectively I wouldn’t have felt anything for become absolutely heart-wrenching when placed into context.

This is in part a tongue-in-cheek commentary about how women’s bodies are typically used in thrillers. Baker turns these tropes on their head, criticizing them while also demonstrating how to utilize them effectively. The setting really works here: a creative writing class allows us to see examples firsthand in an organic manner. The excerpts of her students’ writing don’t feel forced, and they add a great deal to the story.

What I found most impactful in this book was its portrayal (and analysis) of trauma. At the outset of the book, the narrator is attacked by a man on the street. The ways this impacts her life are both large and small, and I felt Baker did an incredible job of demonstrating that. Additionally, it quickly becomes clear that those outside a traumatic incident are not necessarily able to understand, or even notice, these impacts. My heart ached reading this; I felt like Baker was able to reach deep down inside me.

I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. As I said before, it will do you no good to go into this expecting a true thriller with a twisty plot. But if you’re looking for something dark and quiet that explores the way we treat women, you’re in for quite the treat. I’m certain I’ll be coming back to this again and recommending it left and right. Already my favorite book of the year (although I’ll revisit this in December), The Body Lies is honestly a masterpiece.


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A Crime in the Neighborhood [review]

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
Published by Algonquin Books on January 6, 1997
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.43 (as of 2020-01-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

An auspicious debut novel by a young writer who will remind readers of Anne Lamott and Anne Tyler “A Crime in the Neighborhood” centers on a headline event — the molestation and murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a Washington, D.C., suburb. At the time of the murder, 1973, Marsha was nine years old and as an adult she still remembers that summer as a time when murder and her own family’s upheaval were intertwined. Everyone, it seemed to Marsha at the time, was committing crimes. Her father deserted his family to take up with her mother’s younger sister. Her teenage brother and sister were smoking and shoplifting, and her mother was “flirting” with Mr. Green, the new next-door neighbor. Even the president of the United States seemed to be a crook. But it is Marsha’s own suspicions about who committed this crime that has the town up in arms and reveals what happens when fear runs wild.


I’m sure there are readers who adore this book. I’m sure there are brilliant messages one can glean from the words written here. Unfortunately, that was all wasted on me. This book and I just did not get along. There’s nothing especially heinous about the writing or the plot; I just felt like I was being dragged through it. Part of this is my fault: I was expecting something closer to a thriller while the crime aspect of this novel is very much downplayed. This is absolutely more slice-of-life literary fiction with a dash of mystery to it.

By then she was already referring to my father in the past tense. “Larry used to like that show,” she might say if we were all in the living room trying to watch television. He would look up and lightly shudder.

Another thing I struggled with was just not enjoying the narrator. I found Marsha to be quite bland. As a child, she wanders around, watches people, and eavesdrops on conversations. The little agency she has is used negatively, and brought me to actively dislike her. While this book is about adult Marsha looking back on her childhood, I felt this perspective didn’t add much. The analyses she provide did not help me to better understand what I was reading.

She stumbled a little, reaching out toward the screen. The notebook fell open at her feet, just behind the heel of her left sandal. One of the pages had got bent in the throwing, and for some reason, this bent page shocked me; it seemed as grievous an offense as what I had just done to my mother.

I’m truly not sure how much of my dislike is purely personal preference, so I would not turn anyone away from reading this, as long as they understand that this more an exploration of suburban life and less a true mystery. This was a buddy read and I hope that the rest of the group has a better experience with it, because I think there is promise here that I was just unable to unearth myself.


Here I will later be sharing reviews from the rest of the buddy read group as they are posted!

★★
Emily


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