Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

OUT june 2nd 2020! Thank you to HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

From Amazon

♥♥♥♥ (4 stars)

Friends, family, and loved ones gather on a remote island off the coast of Ireland to celebrate the marriage of a perfect couple. In fact, all anyone seems to be able to talk or think about is how good Jules and Will look standing next to each other. And they do seem a perfect match. He, a reality TV personality, the star of his own survival show. She, the founder and CEO of a successful blog and lifestyle brand. But when tragedy hits on their wedding day, one is left to wonder if looks are in fact deceiving.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is an exciting thriller told both in split narrative and split timeline. Chapters alternate from perspective to perspective, and readers are treated to the thoughts of the bride, several wedding party members, wedding guests, and the wedding planner. The story jumps back and forth in time during the wedding weekend on the island, as Foley expertly reveals tantalizing bits of information little by little. She likes to take her time with the reveals, which only adds to the delicious suspense. Readers are also treated to multiple flashbacks from several of the characters. Foley’s The Hunting Party follows a similar structure, so if you’ve read that and enjoyed it you will most likely enjoy The Guest List as well.

Foley excels at weaving a good mystery, drawing us in, leading us astray, only to shock with a juicy reveal that changes everything. While some of her twists were predictable, some were genuinely a surprise! And even those that felt obvious were still exciting to follow, thanks to Foley’s skill with suspense. Her characters are created with true humanity and feel very real, their actions believable. What happens when you feel like you don’t belong? When you already doubt yourself, and then someone takes advantage of your insecurity? How much harm can be done, and what are the ripple effects? This book examines the tensions between classes and ‘boys just being boys’. It will inflame your rage and satisfy your thirst for vengeance.

And can I just take a second to discuss this SETTING!? Talk about setting as a character. Treacherous cliffs, deadly tides, quietly fatal bogs, winds that threaten to rip you apart. In both The Guest List and The Hunting Party, Foley selects settings that are both stunning and brutal. Nature alone would kill you in these places, but their beauty is so enticing. This is just like how I would imagine a siren to be. The island itself is so dangerous and holds so much death, grief, and history that you can never quite count it out as the perpetrator.

This was a fast-paced, plot-driven, wild ride full of twists and turns! Like many people, I’m finding it hard to focus on reading right now. My attention span is all over the place. But reading The Guest List was so much fun and proved to be a welcome delight and distraction from the stress of life right now. It swept me up and kept me entertained. If you are likewise struggling to focus, I highly recommend picking up this new release.

The summary of The Guest List on Goodreads describes it as an update of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which I think is an excellent comparison. Make no mistake, Foley is the Christie of our time.

 

 

Book Review: Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

OUT NOW! Thank you to Riverhead and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

48635845♥♥♥♥ (4 stars)

I adore Schweblin’s work. Fever Dream blew me away when I read it a few years ago, so imagine my excitement when I was approved for an ARC of Little Eyes. This book was not what I was expecting, and I struggled to focus for a lot of it (that could very well be due to living during a global pandemic, however), but in the end I came to appreciate the quiet points made in Little Eyes. It’s a slow but fascinating look at the overlap of technology and the human desire for connection

Little Eyes has a speculative-lite premise, focusing on several narratives as the world gets caught up in the latest tech craze: Kentukis. Kentukis are small robotic stuffed animals that can be bought and kept in the home like a pet. The catch is that the robots are independently and anonymously operated by strangers who buy codes/connections to “dwell” in the Kentukis (via tablet, phone, or computer) and thus, in other people’s homes. You are either a “dweller”, someone who buys a connection to be paired with a Kentuki and remotely control a robot somewhere else in the world, or a “keeper”, someone who buys the little robot and keeps it as a pet. The narratives focus on both “dwellers” and “keepers,” and, not to give too big of a spoiler, it doesn’t go too well for either set.

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Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

OUT FEBRUARY 25th! Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Goodreads

♥♥♥♥ (Four stars, trigger warnings for child neglect, torture, death of a parent, graphic violence.)

I’ve been blessed lately with books that feel like they’ve come right out of The X-Files, and as a massive X-Files fan this is obviously great for me! I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bent Heavens, but I knew Daniel Kraus’ impressive track record. Despite not having read any of his work in the past, I felt like I could trust him. That trust was in great jeopardy for a lot of this book, but by the end Kraus found himself in the camp of authors that I will automatically read no matter what.

Liv Fleming’s father is gone. He disappeared one day, for the second time, but this time he didn’t come back. Was Lee Fleming right? Did aliens truly abduct him to conduct brutal experiments? Or did he just go crazy? One thing was clear, he was very unwell. Liv has done her best to move on: she has new friends and participates in new activities, but her past refuses to leave her. Her mom is an alcoholic trying to hold down two jobs and her old childhood friend, Doug, will not let her father go. He dutifully follows Lee’s instructions, confounding as they are. Every week Doug and Liv check the traps Lee built to keep them safe from the beings he swore took him.

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Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

OUT FEBRUARY 11th! Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Amazon

♥♥♥♥ 1/2 (Four and a half stars, trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood)

Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.

Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.

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Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

OUT JANUARY 14th! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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If there are people in your life (or if you are this person) who are thirsting for beautiful, thoughtful, magical YA novels with an inclusive and LGBTQ+ focus, look no further than Anna-Marie McLemore! Their classic fairy tale retellings and LGBTQ+ fantasy-lite YA novels really scratch an itch and fill the soul.

They continue to delight with Dark and Deepest Red, a retelling of both the classic fairy tale The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen and real historical events from hundreds of years ago. McLemore seamlessly moves the narrative between two teens living in a slightly enchanted modern town and a young Roma woman (Lala) trying to pass in society with her aunt and a trans boy in Strasbourg in 1518, the same year a mysterious dancing mania overcame hundreds of residents in the city. The two stories blend together and inform each other in ways that will break and mend your heart. This is a story about building acceptance, community, and self-love. It is about honoring your past, your heritage, and your place in the world.

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Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun

OUT JANUARY 7th! Thank you to Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Goodreads

While I am very solidly in the Millennial generational bracket, I really enjoyed reading Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun’s nonfiction examination of Gen X women’s experiences with aging and managing their middle-aged years. I appreciated the discussion as a way to prepare myself for midlife, which will be coming for me in about a decade. Calhoun hoped as much, that younger women would learn from the generation above them, but she also does a lot of work explaining why Gen X has been uniquely set up to experience the issues that they currently are doing battle with.

In Why We Can’t Sleep, Calhoun talks about how a lot of Gen X women have found themselves to be miserable in their 40s and 50s. Maybe their careers (or lack thereof) are nothing like they expected. Maybe they hate their children or their partner or their body. Maybe they desperately want children and are running out of time to have them. The list is long, as I’m sure we can all understand. No one is 100% satisfied all the time.

Calhoun looks at the reasons why Gen X women seem to be more miserable than the women of other generations. She looks at how they were raised, with elevated expectations after Title IX and with elevated levels of parental neglect. She looks at the geo-political climate over the course of the entire lives and what made the biggest impacts on Gen Xers. And she examines the roll advances in medicine, science, and technology have had on a Gen Xers lives and their choices, as well as the shifts in social/cultural/gender dynamics from their parents’ generation. With all of this, she concludes that Gen X just seems to be the generation in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were hit hardest by the Great Recession and continue to, as a generation, hold the most consumer debt. They have a deep distrust of authority, the biggest deficit between reality and expectations, and they have acted as a kind of oldest child to Millennials and Gen Zers…facing technologically induced problems first.

Why We Can’t Sleep is an incredibly addictive read. I found myself unable to put it down, perhaps because I craved a fuller (and more honest) understanding of real women’s experiences. Calhoun’s writing was engaging and entertaining, and she covers a good range of topics. That being said, I have a couple issues with Why We Can’t Sleep. The first is that at times it can come off as one giant complaining session and whoa is me-ing. There are legitimate reasons why Gen X has had a rough go, but some things in the book make me want to roll my eyes.

Part of that is wrapped up in the second issue…she refers to Millennials as kids multiple times. The youngest of us are out of undergrad and the oldest of us are nearly 40. We are adults with adult issues. We don’t have our heads buried in video games. We are fully engaged with what’s happening in the world, and (I hate to break this to everyone) some of us actually do remember a time without Internet in our homes OR AT ALL. We are battling with our own set of grown bullshit that is decidedly not childish in nature. She also uses some generalizations about Millennials and Boomers as ways to prove why Gen Xers have it the worst, and that just doesn’t fly with me. Stereotypes don’t prove points.

My third and probably biggest issue with Calhoun’s book is her seeming lack of diversity in voices. While there is at least one queer person’s story, we’re not really told the ethnicity or socioeconomic situation or childhood environment for a lot of the women in the book. I know Calhoun isn’t trying to conduct an exhaustive survey on the issue, but I think that the reason I felt like rolling my eyes at a lot of the stories in this book was because they felt like #FirstWorldProblems.

Loosing jobs is awful, being in debt is awful, facing fertility issues when you want children is incredibly painful, but what happens when you face these things as a Gen X woman who came from a very impoverished family or who can’t pay for groceries every week or who has been homeless or has suffered racial discrimination. I don’t think trans women were mentioned at all (and that would have been incredibly valuable). We don’t get much insight on those women’s experiences, or a look at how a Black Gen X woman or a trans Gen X woman experience the difficulties of middle age differently than a White Gen X woman. I am certain that there are notable differences that are worth discussion.

But those issues aside, this was a very readable book that does offer valuable insight into our middle aged years in the new world we live in. I found it helpful (as a white, middle class, cishet woman), and if you are a Gen X woman you will probably feel some great comfort in reading your peers’ experiences. I applaud Calhoun for sharing these details about female life. Middle aged women tend to get pushed aside and their problems not taken seriously, so this was a nice step to correcting that.

I’m at a point in my life where big decisions have to be made. These things affect the rest of our lives, and choices we make will sometimes come back to haunt us. I greatly appreciated hearing the stories and lessons of women 10-20 years my senior. Sharing that knowledge is very important, especially for women. And while I did feel comforted in some ways, I also learned that there is no right way to do anything in life. Women interviewed by Calhoun were miserable for the same reasons other women were happy. And some women were miserable because they couldn’t have the things other women had (like a family or high-powered career or both), but some of those same women who do have those things hate them and wished they’d never attained them.

So honestly, it feels to me like the best we can do is try to know and love ourselves as well as possible, make educated guesses as to how to proceed with life, try to live in the moment and appreciate what we have when we have it, temper our expectations in order to have an achievable goal of happiness, and not be afraid to change something that makes us unhappy if it is possible to change! Calhoun’s book does have plenty of positive stories to offset the sad ones, and she does leave us on a hopeful note. Many of the women she talks to who are going through a hard time end up in a better place when she follows up with them later on. Humans are adaptable and resilient, and while life is getting harder and things have changed drastically from the Baby Boomers’ experience, there is hope for happy and fulfilling lives as we age!

 

 

Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OUT DECEMBER 10th! Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Goodreads

Every year I usually end up picking up a book I know little about and then get my socks blown off by how exciting and entertaining it is. Last year it was A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay. This year, it’s The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters. Wow, this book was a complete blast! A wild ride from beginning to end!

Heather is a successful therapists who works with troubled children. This might seem ironic, considering her own childhood holds an extremely troubling and traumatic event that begins to come back to bite her. Her best friend Becca died the summer they were twelve. More accurately, Heather killed her. But it wasn’t just Heather…The Red Lady was there too.

I loved this book. I loved the “kids going on an adventure during summer break” vibe it had. I loved the constant ramping up of action, and I loved the paranormal elements. Coming of age stories will always suck me in, and as a child who grew up in a small town where I was constantly running off with my group of friends to play a town-wide game of manhunt, build forts in the woods, and tell ghost stories in the graveyard, books like The Dead Girls Club and IT really click with me. That depiction of youthful nostalgia will get me every time, and Walters does a great job of it here.

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Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

OUT OCTOBER 1ST! Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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My Aunt’s dock at Bloody Pond

A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.

We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?

I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.

Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.

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Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Image from Goodreads

I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.