- Short Review #5: In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt (2018)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: In the House in the Dark of the Woods
Author: Laird Hunt
Published: 2018 (Little, Brown and Company, New York)
Pages: 214 (hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, New England Colonial, Paranormal
The Colonial American thriller, In the House in the Dark of the Woods was definitely an odd book for sure! The synopsis makes this short novel with a long title sound eerie and threatening, but honestly, I did not find this book to be scary. There were some horror elements for certain, but I wasn’t frightened or kept on my toes. Overall though, I enjoyed this book because of the masterful twists, and the storytelling was lyrical like out of a fairy tale.
I admired the creativity and mythology in the story as the main character, an unnamed Puritan wife and mother referred to as Goody, ventures through the forest and as she becomes lost, ends up on a surreal and more personal journey. She encounters seemingly wiser and haunted characters of the forest who guide her, but everything is not as it seems.
I found the book to be more intimate and hopeful as the story progressed, and as we deep-dived into Goody’s psyche. But just wait until the twists! That alone makes this book worth the read. If you read this book for one reason alone, it should be for the plot elements and twists. My only negative remark would be the story at times almost became too dense and hard to follow. Maybe it’s just the writing style trying to reflect the historical time period, but near the middle I almost did not want to finish it. If you encounter the same, I encourage you to power through it!
“A tale is a funny thing, and even when it’s your own and you have a quill in your hand you must be careful where you touch it” – Laird Hunt, In the House in the Dark of the Woods
If you’re looking for a redemptive New England Colonial horror and fantasy novel, In the House in the Dark of the Woods is a perfect book to try. Natural and supernatural elements of an American Puritanical setting collide to form a story revolving around one woman’s accidental wandering… Or is it?
Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
- Book Review #17: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (2019)
My Review: 3.5 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Secrets We Kept: A Novel
Author: Lara Prescott
Published: 2019 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)
Pages: 349 (Hardcover)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Cold War, Romance, Thriller, Spies
Hello! I hope everyone is staying healthy, safe and calm during this crazy time. I’m currently mourning that our grocery stores are continuously out of pasta (one of my favorite foods), because everyone is preparing for the apocalypse, apparently…
But practicing social distancing provides a great opportunity to catch up on reading. My review this week is about the novel, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. I was interested in this book for awhile, and recently received a chance to borrow it from a friend. When I first found this book online, I was instantly intrigued by the synopsis. But, there was a wait-list for this book at the library (over 30 people waiting for this book!). The Secrets We Kept is a Cold War-era thriller surrounding several characters in ‘The East’ (Russia) and ‘The West’ (United States) connected by one real-life book, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, who is also a character in this novel. In my opinion this novel can be read without previously reading or having any knowledge of Doctor Zhivago.
“Only privileged men romanticize tragedy” – Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept
Some of the characters in this novel are typists at the CIA, so I thought it appropriate to take a picture of this book next to my keyboard at work (see pictured above), where I spend almost every day of the week typing away emails and other communication on. Certainly I do not work for the CIA (that you all know of…), but the endless ground work of typing day after day may only be interesting because of what or why I’m typing. That is what makes these women in the novel turn an ordinary profession into an extraordinary one. They are side characters and treated as such, but they saw everything that was going on inside the CIA and supported the narrative of the novel through their observations.
“We unveil ourselves in the pieces we want others to know, even those closest to us. We all have our secrets” – Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept
I also found this novel exciting to read due to the noted differences between oppression in Russia and the United States at the time. Of course, the oppression of the Soviet Union rang true in dramatizing the author Boris Pasternak and his mistress, Olga’s tumultuous lives as they were imprisoned, questioned and spied on due to Boris’ writing. But the sexism and oppression of women in the United States ruled the lives of the female characters in this novel as well, even if they had ‘freedom’. In Russia, the women seemed to have more power in their roles, they could maintain a household, have a career and their opinions were respected… Even if they weren’t always included. While in the United States, even though the idea of democracy rang truer than in Russia, women were not always given credit for their work, their career choices were extremely limited, and they were expected to fall into a certain role for a man.
“This book will take us down a spiral from which there will be no return” – Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept
The strong female characters and their dilemmas on both continents made this novel compelling, and it was thrilling from start to finish. The novel jumped around to different characters during different periods sporadically, but the story connected and flowed to form a wonderfully told spy thriller based upon true life events surrounding the publication of Doctor Zhivago. I enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a well-written Cold War-era historical fiction spy novel that appropriately portrays female protagonists.
I give this book a 3.5 out of 5!
- Short Review #4: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (2018)
My Review: 2.5 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Immortalists: A Novel
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Published: 2018 (G.P Putnam’s Sons, New York)
Pages: 347 (paperback)
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Happy International Women’s Day! I thought it was appropriate the book I’m reviewing today is by a female author, Chloe Benjamin. Before reading this book, I had not heard of the author before. I found my copy pictured above while shopping at one of my favorite places for used books, music & various paraphernalia, Zia Records. Most of the books I read and review on here are checked out from the local libraries. But I found this copy at Zia’s for a very economical price, which made me suspicious… but the synopsis sounded alluring so I decided to give this book a shot.
“Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence–fall in love, have children, buy a house–in the face of all evidence there’s no such thing?” – Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists
The novel is about four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon, bonded by not only relationship, but one single experience that changed the course of their lives. As children, they visited a mystic who predicted their death, and since that moment, the siblings choices and attitudes became based upon that knowledge. All four siblings had the same experience, but vastly different reactions and life choices. The story is told through the different siblings perspectives up until their death. The novel focuses on individual destiny and chance through the weary trials of the siblings.
“The power of words. They weaseled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations.” – Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists
Even though the story lacks luster and a more exciting execution, I enjoyed the story as a whole very much. I definitely thought there was going to be more real magic and illusion, but it taught a certain awareness about life and how we perceive our time and purpose.
“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” – Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists
I recommend this book if you’re looking for a literary fiction book with magical elements and realistic characters that cover hard-hitting subjects. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, but there is an ounce of hope here and there as well. Final warning: the subject matter of this book does contain more sensitive topics such as self harm, death and illness.
Overall, I give this book a 2.5 out of 5!
- Book Review #16: To Keep The Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari (2019)
My review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: To Keep The Sun Alive: A Novel
Author: Rabeah Ghaffari
Published: 2019 (Catapult, New York)
Pages: 272 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Iranian Revolution, Islamic Revolution, Family, Historical Fiction
Hello! The book I am about to talk about, To Keep The Sun Alive, is a joyful and heartbreaking read, and not what I quite expected. After I read the synopsis, I thought this book was going to be mostly depressing, and I would maybe learn about a piece of history that I did not have extensive knowledge of before. But instead I received so much more from reading this novel. I learned more about a piece of history through the eyes of a fictional family connected by blood and situation, divided by beliefs and politics. The stories were told through their flashbacks to Iran before and up to 1979 during the Iranian Revolution, to one character’s outcome in their present-day Paris. Warning: the book does contain some subjects such as violence, oppression and assault.
“Sometimes passion is so quiet, you have to close your eyes to hear it” – Rabeah Ghaffari, To Keep The Sun Alive
At first as I was reading this, I kept thinking about the graphic novel and movie Persepolis (2007 – directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Based on the graphic novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi). It is an illustrated movie and memoir about the author, a head strong girl growing up in Iran during the revolution and her wild adventures. I watched the movie when I was younger on TV, and at that time, I didn’t know anything about the Iranian Revolution. I just thought ‘hey that’s a cartoon, I want to watch that’, but it turned out to be more devastating and violent than I thought. I bring Persepolis up, because it was my first introduction to the Iranian Revolution in pop culture. This book is my second, and that is unfortunate because I wish I knew more about the history and tumultuous movements in Iran. But maybe that can change.
” ‘How can you (Nasreen) not care about politics?’ he (Madjid) finally said. ‘To ignore injustice is a crime.’…
… ‘I want my own life to be worth living. And if I can do something that moves you, maybe makes you feel less alone in the world, how is that a crime? ” – Rabeah Ghaffari, To Keep The Sun Alive
*SOME SPOILERS IN THE BELOW SECTION* –
Is it better to focus on the self and autonomy, or put our desires aside for the sake of society and justice? To Keep The Sun Alive explores this, and other themes such as family, tradition, love in all forms, morality, philosophy, the power of stories, control and so much more. Ghaffari does a wonderful job telling the story of a family, and all their joys and sorrows. The book is full of promise and hope, and a warning about the faults of humankind. The only aspect I would change is to expand more upon the characters, and to expand upon the ending. The book escalates from the second half to the end, and the climax is achieved and stings until the end. The book ends on a devastating note, which actually made me feel momentary heartbreak for the characters in the novel. But I still ended up loving the story.
“The boys who had argued were his age, eighteen, and already so convinced of their beliefs they were willing to hate each other. Whatever the cruelty of nature, animals, fish and birds never sought revenge or redress. So why did all human cruelties and injustices have to be accounted for?” – Rabeah Ghaffari, To Keep The Sun Alive
If you’re looking for a book that causes reflection, hope, and expanding your knowledge and philosophical horizons, this is the book. The novel may seem daunting because it surrounds a serious topic such as the Iranian Revolution, but I am very glad I read it, and I hope you give it a chance as well.
Overall, I give this novel a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #3: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018)
Title: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Published: 2018 (Sourcebooks Landmark, Illinois – Originally published as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the UK by Bloomsbury Raven)
Pages: 430 (Hardcover)
Genres: Murder-Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, British Crime, Historical Fantasy
I’ve been hearing good things about this book since it came out in 2018. Finally, I got a chance to read this British crime mystery, and review it for you all as another Short Review!
My first impression of the novel was that it seemed like a cross between an Agatha Christie novel, and the Netflix series Russian Doll meets the film Ground Hog Day. But this novel with its trippy twists-and-turns creates an imaginative mystery in a classic historical setting. A man named Aidan Bishop is trapped in Blackheath, an English manor in the country-side, where he lives the same day every day of a party in the body of 8 rotating guests, attempting to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of Blackheath’s Lord and Lady owners. Solving the murder is the only way to escape Blackheath alive, or else there will be grave consequences for Bishop.
If you’re looking for a compelling and strange British murder-mystery, this is the book for you. At times, it was almost too surreal and repetitive, but this book kept me on my toes as the story grew closer to revealing Aidan Bishop’s fate. The characters and settings were described acutely, and at times the story felt more like a sci-fi fantasy than Sherlock Holmes.
Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
- Short Review #2: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (2018)
Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Published: 2018 (Dutton Penguin Random House, New York)
Genres: Thriller, Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Thank god for a sick day, because I wouldn’t have been able to finish half of The Last Time I Lied in one sitting without throwing my responsibilities out the window! I read and enjoyed Sager’s other two novels, Final Girls and Lock Every Door. The Last Time I Lied is his second novel. I have also done a review on this blog for Lock Every Door when I first started the blog. He has an upcoming novel this year Home Before Dark coming out this year in July, and I’m looking forward to reading that one as well.
I like his depictions of female protagonists. All three of his published novels are centered around a woman with previous trauma that has to face that trauma. In The Last Time I Lied, that woman is artist and former camp-goer Emma Davis. Emma is haunted by the disappearance of three girls from her cabin at a summer camp in upstate New York. She is invited back to the camp 15 years later as an instructor, and of course, the mystery continues as Emma investigates what happened to the girls along with a few new mysteries.
I recommend this book because it’s the perfect read if you’re looking for a campy and cheesy plot-driven thriller. Some of the themes and twists were too extra at times, but Sager’s ability to focus on the characters and the strange twists makes the novels enjoyable and eye-catching.
I give this book a 3.5 out of 5!
- Book Review #15: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019)
Title: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel
Author: Ocean Vuong
Published: 2019 (Penguin Press New York)
Genres: Novel, Literary Fiction, Poetry, LGBTQ
This past week I had the pleasure of reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. This book was beautiful from start to finish. It was poetry that told a story about the author’s relationship with his tumultuous mother through letters he wrote to her, because she couldn’t read. The book is a joyous and sad tale combined into one continuous reflection on what it means to be human and exist on this planet.
“All this time I told myself we were born from war– but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty.
Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence-but for that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it” – Ocean Vuong
Vuong’s wondrous book covered a variety of topics and themes including love, survival, loss, grief, roots, beauty, addiction and masculinity. The book felt like an adventure, told with romance, grief and violence. It captured me from beginning to end. It was like living in someone else’s nostalgia and struggles mixed with beauty in the small moments. I didn’t understand the author’s perspective since we are entirely different in characteristics and background, but stepping in his shoes was a privilege and I felt as though I learned a lot from his words.
“Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted” – Ocean Vuong
The author’s prose was striking, powerful and full of meaning coming from the author’s wishes he wanted to tell his mother. The book was completely human, and emulating truth of the author’s surroundings. It was heartbreaking to read, but also full of hope and renewal. The story definitely tugged at my heart strings. And for most of the book, I felt as though I couldn’t put it down. Even the well-written parts involving sex and violence left lingering sadness and resolve.
“Is that what art is? To be touched thinking what we feel is ours when, in the end, it was someone else, in longing, who finds us?” – Ocean Vuong
I definitely recommend this book, but be prepared to feel a mix of emotions that come from reading the author’s journey from Vietnam to America. His journey was not only geographical, but emotional as well. The author carries the haunting relationship with his mother in a way that truly made me in awe of him. This Asian American author has received a lot of merit for his writing, and for excellent reason. Please give this book a chance, you won’t regret it.
“Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey” – Ocean Vuong
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Book Review #14: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2019)
Title: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Author: Olga Tkarczuk (Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
Published: 2019 (Riverhead Books, New York)
Genres: Fiction, Murder-Mystery, Crime Thriller, Polish Novel
This book was surreal to read from beginning to end. Tokarczuk transports the reader to a remote town in Poland where snow is almost a plot device since it is spoken about so often throughout the book. This thriller-mystery with a gruesome title was captivating, not because the plot was unique or exciting, but because of how the author evaluates each character. The characters are drawn out, no matter how small, and their behaviors and outlooks are vividly revealed. The twists and turns in this murder mystery were minimal, but how Tokarczuk writes about the main character was my favorite part of the book.
“Other people’s life stories are not a topic for debate. One should hear them out, and reciprocate in the same coin” – Olga Tokarczuk
This novel communicates how our behavior and philosophies affect others. The author also effectively makes the reader sympathize with the main character, Janina. An older woman who lives alone outside of a small town in Poland near the Czech Republic border who translates the work of William Blake, and loves astrology and animals, most of all her two missing dogs she views as her daughters. I won’t get into the plot too much, because I don’t want to spoil anything. But I loved getting to know Janina’s character, and I was almost drawn in too much to her tumultuous, but solitary life.
“You know what, sometimes it seems to me we’re living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves. We decide what’s good and what isn’t, we draw maps of meanings for ourselves… And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for ourselves. The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other” – Olga Tokarczuk
A connection I made with the book was that my dad’s grandparents grew up in different small Polish towns along the Polish-Czech border, like the one in this novel. I thought of them a lot while reading this book. I never met them before, but I learned a lot about them through my dad’s family and websites like Ancestry.com. I’m not saying their lives were like the characters in the book, but I believe those connections make the reader more prone to opening up to a book. And I had that connection, and kept wondering what it was like for them to grow up in that area of the world. I knew the facts, but it would have been interesting to learn what it was like from their view. But for now, I have a view of these towns through Takarczuk’s characters in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
“The prison is not outside, but inside each of us. Perhaps we simply don’t know how to live without it” – Olga Tokarczuk
I definitely recommend this book if you love thrillers and characters that draw the reader in. I was also instantly captivated by Tokarczuk’s writing upon reading this book, and describe her writing as concise and inviting. She has also won a Nobel Prize in Literature, and this book won the Man Booker International Prize. Her merit, and well-developed characters and writing made me a fan of hers instantly. I plan on reading more books she’s written in the future.
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short-ish Review #1: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019)
Title: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
Author: Jenny Odell
Published: 2019 (Melville House)
Pages: 240 (But I listened to the audio book)
Genres: Nonfiction, Philosophy, Sociology, Essays, Research, Artist
Hi all! I wanted to try something different with the reviews. Sometimes I don’t even want to go on and on about a book (yes, even me… who writes these). It’s not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I do not have a lot to say about certain books I read. Introducing – Elizabeth’s Short-ish reviews (It’s not a clever title, I know), where I will be talking about certain books I read, but in somewhat fewer words.
“Simple awareness is the seed of responsibility.” – Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
Like many others who have read this book and talk about it online, at first I thought this book was about staying off of social media or disconnecting from the masses. But it was really a complex investigation of taking a break from the masses and reconnecting with ourselves in order to really pay attention to our surroundings. Pulling from multiple historical and sociological examples, Odell discusses potential theories on how society can escape traditional capitalism, and the growing problems produced by fear and productivity.
What I had to keep in mind though is that Odell is an artist, and this book was not like reading a normal non-fiction book by a scholarly philosopher or sociologist. Odell is speaking from a place that reminds me more of a self help book than something written by a tenured philosophy professor at Harvard. I’m not doubting her opinion or knowledge on the subject, I’m only commenting on her ability to communicate clearly to a larger audience because of her place as an artist who is trained in engaging with the public. Sometimes only an artist, a self-help guru, or a philosopher can convincingly tell the public to look within themselves to find worth and purpose instead of looking towards productivity as their worth.
“I want to be clear that I’m not actually encouraging anyone to stop doing things completely. In fact, I think that ‘doing nothing’—in the sense of refusing productivity and stopping to listen—entails an active process of listening that seeks out the effects of racial, environmental, and economic injustice and brings about real change….” – Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
This book had it’s more dense and disorganized moments, but otherwise I thought it was an informative and thought provoking read. Odell makes some valid points about where our true priorities lie as a society, and how we deceive ourselves. What I got out of it the most was a reminder to look around once in awhile at the greater picture instead of getting caught up in what our neighbors, friends and social media instigators think. There are many more ideas than what I just discussed that Odell covers extensively relating to the same topic, even Bioregionalism comes up.
Was this review short? I believe it was relatively short, but I’ll try better next time to make it even shorter. Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
- Book Review #13: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (2019)
Title: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
Author: Ronan Farrow
Published: 2019 (Little, Brown and Company, New York)
Genres: Investigative Reporting, True Crime, Non-Fiction, Thriller, Expose
Hi everyone, this is my first review of 2020! Time has truly flown by in these first few weeks of the new decade. No big regrets yet, and not one New Years resolution was made. I guess the only thing that can count as a New Years Resolution is that I pledged to read 40 books this year through Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge. I’m hoping I read even more than 40, but I’m trying to keep it real here, and I like to set goals I know I can achieve.
Now, Catch and Kill was one of my Christmas gifts this year. I heard many good things about this book, and kept seeing it pop up on Instagram. So I thought, I’m going to give this book a real shot. Starting to read this book was one of the best calls I made that last week of 2019. Ronan Farrow’s harrowing and thrilling tale of the coverups of the film and news industry kept me on the edge of my seat.
“In the end, the courage of women can’t be stamped out. And stories – the big ones, the true ones – can be caught but never killed” – Ronan Farrow, Catch and Kill
Farrow’s sharp and chronological story of his 2017 expose of the Hollywood film industry in The New Yorker was more thrilling than announced. His story almost sounds like the plot of a Jason Bourne-like espionage thriller, but it’s more truth than fiction. Filled with fear, deceit, real spies, strung out corporate heads, scandal and an emotionally exhausted investigated reporter – Catch and Kill is as exciting as its name reflects. This book had just the right amount of wit and comedic undertones, while explaining the tragic situation for so many women who fell victim to a man hell bent on his own narcissism and getting ‘his way’.
What I found most surprising was how transparent Farrow was about his background and family scandal. He is the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. Most, I think, would not like to talk about their father’s abuse in his private life and in the industry, but Farrow took it head on and shared exactly what he thought. I thought Farrow’s honesty was refreshing and made the book as exposing as it was.
100% worth the read, and I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read this year (so far). This non-fictional tale made me think about how sexual and verbal abuse by someone with more power acts like a poison in a professional environment, an industry. The real abuse is someone trying to take advantage of those who they thought would not stand up for themselves and submit. It’s ultimately incredibly gross.
“Ultimately, the reason Harvey Weinstein followed the route he did is because he was allowed to, and that’s our fault. As a culture that’s our fault.” – Ronan Farrow, Catch and Kill
Everyone, please look out for your fellow humans, and hear them out when they come to you with their broken heart on their sleeve and need someone to talk to about an abusive situation. Even if you don’t believe them, at least hear them out and let them tell you their story. Be brave, and support those who need help speaking up.
Overall, I give this a 4 out of 5!