Reviews

  • Book Review #40: Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
    Title: Ready Player Two (Sequel to Ready Player One (2011))
    Author: Ernest Cline
    Published: 2020 (Ballantine Books)
    Pages: 367 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction, Adventure
    CW: strong language, adult situations and themes, references to sex
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Ready Player Two by my desk neon cactus

    Hi everyone, I hope you’re all hanging in there and having a good weekend! I’m getting ready to move homes soon so I haven’t had as much time for reading recently. The last time I moved was a couple years ago, but I definitely forgot how hard it was… Anyways, this week I finished the especially anticipated science fiction read, Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline. This book is the sequel to Ready Player One, the first novel by the author written in 2011. I read Ready Player One shortly after it was released, and I loved it. I was grossly entertained by the story, and the references to different nerdoms were well represented and covered. The book was basically a homage to different types of nerds, and how technology impacts society on a civic, economic and cultural level. Ready Player One, as many of you may know, was turned into a movie of the same title released in 2018 and directed by Steven Spielberg. Side note: I did NOT like the movie at all, like many people who read and loved the book. Basically half the plot was changed around, and it become more commercially driven than I expected, plus the pacing was just terrible… But can you tell how much I liked the first book?

    And sometimes, when you think you’ve finally reached the end of the game, suddenly you find yourself standing at the start of a whole new level. A level that you’ve never seen before. And the only thing you can do is keep right on playing. Because the gamer that is your life still isn’t over yet..” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two

    Ready Player Two continues from the first book in the sci-fi series a couple years after contest winner heir, Wade Watts, inherits his tech empire in a not-so-distant dystopian future where a VR world called the OASIS is a way of life for the global population. After Wade stumbles upon a new and groundbreaking technology created by deceased OASIS creator, James Halliday, to further push the world into the tech realm of possibilities, a new contest is born. This contest was also created before Halliday passed away, and the prize is unknown both to Wade and the rest of the world. As he continues down a dangerous and perilous path while learning more about Halliday’s motives, a new enemy emerges, and Wade and his friends must face them together or allow this enemy to kill millions in order to find the prize.

    Maybe every time an intelligent species grew advanced enough to invent a global computer network, they would then develop some form of social media, which would immediately fill these beings with such an intense hatred for one another that they ended up wiping themselves out within four or five decades” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two

    When I started seeing others’ reports on this book, I saw many bad reviews. There were a variety of reasons why across the board, some more unfair and ridiculous than others. I tried to go into this one with an open mind, unbiased from the first book (key word is tried). Overall by the end, it was not bad, but it also was not great. I agree with the consensus that the first book was better, like many series with sequels are. I enjoyed the story and general plot, and how it connected and continued with the first book. The story flowed well, and at certain times I could not put the book down. I also enjoyed the discussion of dangerous and grey-area ethics surrounding new and groundbreaking technology. But honestly, I thought the author was trying too hard to push current social issues into themes for this book that were obviously lacking in the first book to appeal towards a current audience. The idea of questioning social representation in science fiction and fantasy books/movies is fantastic (as we should be doing), but it felt forced in this story to try to appeal to a current, young audience. This was not done or at least was not transparent in Ready Player One. To be fair, the first book also questioned gender roles and toxicity in science fiction, but Ready Player Two takes this a step further. I also thought the side characters’ roles were unnecessarily drier, and the romance between Wade and Samantha/Art3mis was lacking and a little forced in this story.

    If it weren’t for Tolkien, all of us nerds would’ve had a lot less fun during the last ninety years” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two

    I’m glad I read this one, but I would not say this was a worthwhile read. In my opinion, Cline could have done more with this story, and focused less on Wade and more on some of the badass and new side characters. Why should you read this book? If you like science fiction or have read Ready Player One and are ready to be potentially disappointed but equally entertained, this is the book for you. I wouldn’t believe all the negative reviews, the book is still written well and the pacing was good. But definitely go into this one skeptically.

    I give this one a 3 out of 5! (I’m still a fan of the series… I admit)

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I read/write about?? Click here.

  • Short Review #27: Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man by Maynard Wills (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
    Title: Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man
    Authors: Maynard Wills, Nick Braccia, Michael Monello
    Published: 2020 (Tiller Press, Simon & Schuster, New York)
    Pages: 372 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Horror, Anthology, Short Stories, Occult
    CW: Murder, Death, Strong Language, Trauma, Suicide, Gore, Violence
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Video Palace on top of my laptop

    Hi everyone! I know I haven’t posted in a while, but now I’m writing technically my first review of 2021. There has only been 14 days so far this year, and I know everyone is going through current events differently. But I hope everyone is coping, staying sane and reading on. This week I read a not-so-sane book, Video Palace: The Search for the Eyeless Man. This short story anthology is a continuation/based off Shudder podcast Video Palace. I listened to the podcast last year, and the podcast was wildly entertaining and a little creepy. If you know me, you know I love horror movies/TV and spooky books. When I heard about the book, I had to read it mostly because I really enjoyed the podcast. But after I read the book, I found myself having reactions I did not think I would have.

    Maybe all supernatural things are just our guilt manifested. We are able to justify the heaviness we carry with us by blaming it on ghosts or demons. Or maybe that’s what I want to think because the other possibility is too scary” – Brea Grant, Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man

    Video Palace is a collection of short stories written by contemporary horror writers centering around a mythical, Slenderman-like figure, the Eyeless Man. The book is set up like non-fiction (this book was even in the non-fiction section at my local library), but the stories are more of an immersive experience surrounding the disappearance of the book’s “author” Dr. Maynard Wills, an adjust professor at The New School in New York who was investigating tales about the Eyeless Man across different cultures and areas. Supposedly edited by his assistant, the stories and his notes support his discoveries about the Eyeless Man. The Eyeless Man is a Pied Piper-type urban legend that gets in the head of its victims through video/media or special VHS tapes, and controls their thoughts and desires, taking over before it engulfs them completely. If you’re unfamiliar with the podcast, the podcast focuses on a podcaster named Mark Cambria, who watches one of the VHS tapes, and then begins to have strange dreams and chant in his sleep. Mark and his girlfriend, Tamra Wulff, investigate the origin of the tapes while reporting on his podcast until it leads them to a burned down video store called Video Palace, where the tapes were supposedly made, and drives Mark into a dark place. This book seems to be a continuation of the podcast.

    All you can do is try to be a better person. Help others when ever you can. Shine light on the darkness. Show it for what it is. Because it’s never gonna go away. Nor should it. It is part of the design” – John Skipp, Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man

    As far as what I thought of the book, I thought it was dreadfully creepy. The editors did a wonderful job immersing the reader and convincing them this is real, I was even convinced a few times. But by the end, it was exhausting at times to read about the same central figure over and over again in different short stories. My favorite part was the beginning, but maybe the reason why was at that point I was still questioning more whether the backstory was real or not. If you enjoy reading about urban legends or Creepypastas and horror, this is a great one. There was a lot of effort made into creating this book, and it shows. The writers, who all have backgrounds in contemporary writing/acting in horror, were also interesting in their own rite, and I enjoyed most of the stories. Some of them I thought could have been written into full books. There were a few I was not totally a fan of, but I was able to get past them for the most part.

    I give this one a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate my books? Click here!

  • Short Review #26: One by One by Ruth Ware (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: One by One
    Author: Ruth Ware
    Published: 2020 (Scout Press, New York)
    Pages: 372 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary, Crime
    CW: assault, murder, crime, trauma, language, minor gore
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of One by One in front of our Christmas decorations in front of the fireplace

    Hi everyone, 2020 is almost over, Happy New Year! This is my last review of the year, and I thought it was only appropriate I picked a book that was released in 2020, and takes place in the snowy winter like many of us face in December/January… except me, since I live in central Arizona. This thriller/mystery new release One by One is by widely-known author, Ruth Ware. I have only read two books by Ware including The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway. After seeing the hype and the long waiting list at the library, I finally got the chance to dive into this one. But after reading, I was not as impressed with this one as I was with the other two books I read.

    They think that life can’t touch them–just like I used to do… Only now it has. Now life has them by the throat. And it won’t let go” – Ruth Ware, One by One

    Taking place at a rustic ski chalet in the French Alps, a group of employees and their founders from a London-based tech startup called Snoop are staying for a week-long retreat to bond and ski together. The setting and scenery are beautiful, and the retreat is going well thanks to Erin, the chalet host, and Danny, the personal chef for the chalet. But then after a devastating avalanche cuts them off from the outside world, the guests start to disappear one by one… Who is after them and why, are the biggest questions the group and reader stand to decide.

    I was not as intrigued by this book as I hoped to be. I really enjoyed The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway a great deal, and Ware is a good writer, but One by One had a dry story and bland outcome for such an interesting scenario in theory. Ware does a great job diving into the backgrounds of her characters, and how it affects the present story. She does the same in this book as her others, and it is probably my favorite part. The only aspect that really bugged me was the lack of motive and explanation for the antagonist’s actions (I do not reveal spoilers so I won’t go into detail of what that is). Part of the character’s motive did not make sense, and I was not a fan of the way the story rounded out in the end. Maybe I missed something, but overall this book was not entirely my cup of tea. The writing was still fantastic, and the read was enjoyable and the setting is intriguing itself. I also liked how the entire narration of the book went back and forth between two very different perspectives at the chalet.

    Why should you read this book? If you’re interested in easy-to-read, mystery thrillers taking place in the French Alps with a large cast of contemporary characters who have their own secrets and dramas, this is the book for you. I’m still a fan of Ruth Ware, but One by One is definitely my least favorite of the books I have read by her.

    I give this a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I write about!? Click here

  • Book Review #39: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)

    Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Devil and the Dark Water
    Author: Stuart Turton
    Published: 2020 (Sourcebooks Landmark)
    Pages: 463 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Thriller, Suspense, Supernatural
    CW: murder, violence, sexual references, rape, crime, supernatural, torture
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Devil and the Dark Water underneath my Christmas tree

    I hope you all had and are continuing to have a wonderful Holiday! I hope you’re all doing something you enjoy or celebrating either by yourself or surrounded by your loved ones. This Christmas looked a little different for me because of the pandemic, but I’m glad I chose plans that made me and the people around me more safe. I was still gifted some fantastic new books I cannot wait to talk about on this blog. Plus I got a lot of reading done, and it may not seem like it since its been a while since I posted my last review. But my next read took extra time, because it was over 460 pages long. This week I finished the newly released The Devil and the Dark Water by English author Stuart Turton. This is his second novel. The first I read earlier this year, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I remember really enjoying The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle once I got past my confusion and the dense slowness of the story in the beginning. And remarkably enough, I felt similar reading The Devil and the Dark Water.

    The weak shouldn’t have to fear the powerful, and the powerful shouldn’t simply be allowed to take what they wanted without consequence. Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

    The Devil and the Dark Water has a spooky title which matches a spooky tale. Taking place in 1634, a fleet of Dutch United East India Company ships leave the trading post of Batavia (which I had to look up is somewhere in now Jakarta, Indonesia) to go to Amsterdam, a grueling 8-month journey at sea. On this particular ship, the Saardam, is a cast of characters, but the story mainly focuses on prisoner Sammy Pipps, a charming and famous detective Sherlock Holmes-type character, and his loyal and intelligent but physically massive bodyguard, Lieutenant Arent Hayes. Also included is the cruel and wealthy merchant Governor General Jan Haan, and his clever, healer wife who hates him, Sara Wessel. When an old demon who goes by ‘Old Tom’ threatens the safety of the Saardam and its passengers/crew by way of scare tactics and unholy warning signs, Arent and Sara begins to investigate in order to save the crew on board from destruction. This story is part mystery and part suspenseful thriller. The story is filed with deadly human superstition, and leaves the reader guessing at how supernatural the culprit may or may not be.

    ‘Courage isn’t an absence of fear’, cried out Sara. ‘It’s the light we find when fear is all there is. You’re needed now, so find your courage‘” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

    As I mentioned a little before, I encountered the same feelings I did as reading his first novel. It took me a bit to get into this one, the beginning was slow and the number of pages makes this a daunting read if you’re not used to reading long novels (like me… I admit it). But once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it! The mystery was well-constructed and thought out, and I did not even guess the big twist. Turton does a wonderful job setting the scene, and immersing the reader into the gritty setting with his lengthy descriptions. Honestly, I kept thinking the story felt like the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney movie franchise meets Sherlock Holmes. But, I do not have a lot of experience reading about this particular time in history.

    ‘Most men would say this isn’t women’s work’…
    My father was one of them’, admitted Arent, ‘He taught me that women were frail creatures purposely crippled by God that men might prove their virtue by protecting. Sounded right enough until I went to war and saw men pleading for their lives while women swung hoes at the knights trying to take their land’, his tone hardened, ‘Strong is strong and weak is weak, and it doesn’t matter if you wear breeches or skirts if you’re the latter. Life will hammer you flat’” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

    Turton admits in an amusing afterward called ‘An Apology to History. And Boats‘ that all the facts and technology may not be historically accurate to the time, but he did research. He just took liberty on certain parts. I also thought it was interesting that he did not want this book to fit into the historical fiction genre but instead cited, “This is historical fiction where the history is the fiction“. He took what he wanted from this time period, and ran with his own story. For me, I don’t mind at all, especially if the author is being completely honest about it. If you’re going to be really bothered by inaccurate historical facts to this time period, do not read this book. But nothing is terribly blatant unless you’re a history buff who is an expert on 1600s Dutch trade (which I am definitely not, by the way).

    Guilt was like dirt. It got under the skin and didn’t come clean. It made people second guess everything that was done, find fault where there was none and imagine mistakes that weren’t made. Soon enough, worries were worming out of them, growing fat on their doubt” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

    Why should you read this book? If you like mysteries taking place in the 1600s that are full of gory action along with slow-burning suspense and lengthy scene descriptions, this is the book for you. Despite the harsh negatives I talked about previously, I gave this one 4-stars mostly due to the quality of the story, and how the mystery masterfully wrapped up in the end. Definitely pay attention to the ‘CWs’ I list near the top of this review, the themes are heavy and touch upon a lot of serious issues for women at the time.

    I give this one a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate these books?? Click here to find out.



  • Top Five Favorite Books Read in 2020

    Hello everyone! I saw quite a few bloggers post these end-of-year ‘Top-something” lists, and thought I would try this out. I read a lot of books in 2020, and am still in the process of finishing books from my stack. I surpassed my Goodreads Challenge 2020 goal. I might have to make my goal next year higher. This was definitely one of my most difficult years life-wise, especially when I was dealing with the stress of being furloughed with the pandemic and all. But I’m grateful I had the chance to grow this blog, my book related social media, and speak with so many wonderful book lovers and bloggers. This also was one of my most interesting years, and I learned a ton from the books I read to the experiences I gained, and the things I lost. As far as books goes, I expanded my reading horizons more than I’ve ever done in years past, and started reading outside my comfort zone. I started this blog in 2019, but 2020 was my year of serious growth.

    I’m not sure if I’ll do any more of these ‘Top-something” lists, but if you would like to see more or have any ideas – comment below or send me a direct message!

    Anyways, I wanted to talk about my top five favorite reads from 2020 and why. This list is in no particular sequential order, and honestly, this was difficult to decide. The criteria for why they’re my favorite is kind of mixed, and not only based on star ratings. Mostly my favorites depend on how this book interested and impacted me. Part of my criteria also goes along with how I rate the books I read in the first place. My rating scale can be found here. Obviously, as always, the opinions are only my own.

    1. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
    Finished: June 5
    Rating: 4/5

    First up is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles! I remember this book felt like a long journey, but it was rewarding indeed. This book was memorable for me, because of how invested I found myself into the story and characters. There was a diverse cast, and at times felt like a lot to follow along, but the fantastical story roped together nicely and the underlying themes were memorable. I enjoy historical fiction novels, even though I do not read a lot of them, but this was definitely my favorite historical fiction novel read in 2020. The elegant details described in the Metropol Hotel, where the story takes place, and its glamorous characters reminded me of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Link to description

    2. There There by Tommy Orange (2018)
    F
    inished: September 19
    Rating: 4/5

    The bright orange cover of this book is certainly attractive, but the narrative was even more lively. There There was set up in multiple perspectives, and led up to a typical climactic ending where all the characters come together, but the journey along the way was what sucked me in. Highlighting the struggles of their pasts, contemporary Native Americans grapple with their predicaments and find communion in the present leading up to a big powwow in Oakland. I learned a lot about Native culture and perspective by a Native American author. I focused this year on reading more books by Native voices, and plan to in 2021 as well. Diversifying my reading became important to me, and I’m trying to hold myself accountable to it. There There was a wonderful read by a talented story teller and author, and the themes were powerful and heart-felt. Link to description

    3. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
    Finished: April 6
    Rating: 3/5

    This was the first book I read after I was furloughed, coincidentally. It was appropriate almost, because I would become a lot lonelier after that event, no longer going to work and having to spend more time by myself. The Lonely City is not only about being lonely, this nonfiction work by the author investigates the different types of loneliness and how artists she researched in New York used and lived through their own version of loneliness. I was more fascinated by this book more than I thought, and the writing itself is more invigorating than the description makes it out to be. You may be wondering why this is one of my favorites even though I gave it 3 stars. This book was one of my favorites, because it was wholly unexpected and more emotionally investing for me than I thought. I have an art background, but had not pondered the concept of loneliness shown through art and the lives of artists until reading this book. I live a more solitary life in general by choice, and am content with it, and I have not seen the experience summed up so well in a book before. But maybe if you’re quarantined, do not read this book. Link to description

    4. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (2020)
    Finished: August 4
    Rating: 4/5

    Ottessa Moshfegh has become one of my favorite authors in the last few years, and I talk about this in my review as well. I was really excited for this book to come out in 2020, despite the release date being pushed back due to the pandemic (probably). And when it finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised by how creeped out this book made me feel. There were so many eerie moments and details that created a strange sense of dread in me. I remember really trying to figure out the mystery of this one. Even though there were a lot of slow moments, I kept wanting to figure out how this book was going to end the entire time. It was one of my favorites, because of how this book made me feel in the end, which I believe was the author’s intention. I also love Moshfegh’s writing in general. Link to description

    5. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020)
    Finished: November 11
    Rating: 4/5

    This book was wholly original and the narrative was fantastic. A work of nonfiction, The Undocumented Americans follows the lives of undocumented persons living in the US and their stories. The stories were intimate and invited the reader into the lives the author interviewed. Villavicencio changed names and some details to protect privacy, but the stories are true. I talk about this in my review as well, but the main reason I loved this book was because it was not just a puff piece trying to change the reader’s hearts about undocumented Americans. But more like an expose into the day-to-day lives of how their status and backgrounds affect their way of life unlike others who have the privilege of being born in the US. It’s not only about the negative social and policy issues someone watches in US news, but how undocumented Americans work as hard as anyone else and the obstacles mentally and physically they face with uncertainty and courage. It’s not ‘poverty porn’ as they call it by any means, its only real life and educating the reader. I highly recommend this book to anyone who lives in the US, despite how one feels about illegal immigration policy. I also enjoyed the author’s perspective as well, coming from an undocumented American who sought out to write a book about friends and strangers who face similar or different issues. As you can see by how passionately I talk about this book, it is definitely one of my favorites. Link to description

    Side Note: list is not in any particular, sequential order

  • Book Review #38: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (2020)

    Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
    Title: Winter Counts: A Novel
    Author: David Heska Wanbli Weiden
    Published: 2020 (Ecco, HarperCollins, New York)
    Pages: 325 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Crime, Suspense
    CW: drug use, violence, trauma, death, teen issues, depression, Native American issues, bullying
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Winter Counts in front of some dry grass and a lake

    I hope everyone is having a good week so far and getting ready for the holidays! Whether your holiday is filled with no celebration or absolute shenanigans, I hope you all take advantage of the time where everything does not feel as ordinary. My holidays are going to be pretty quiet this year, but honestly, I do not mind it. I’m excited to finish my year by reading more books before 2021 arrives, and this week I finished my latest, Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one, and I was intrigued by the title and synopsis. I believe this is Weiden’s first novel, and by the end of it I was invested. This novel was good!

    … I remembered what she told me just before she died. ‘Akita mani yo’, she said, See everything as you go. I think she meant that I needed to be aware of the world as it really existed, not the way I wanted it to be. Indian awareness” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts

    Winter Counts is a tale of vigilantism and confronting not just bad guys on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The tale follows Virgil Wounded Horse, a member of the Lakota Nation, as he tries to raise his teenage nephew Nathan Wounded Horse and lives his life as a local enforcer. Virgil takes justice in his own hands on the reservation by taking revenge on those who do evil things to others and the community. When the police and feds fail them, it’s up to the people of the reservation to solve their own problems, which is how vigilantes like Virgil are made (which is based on true stories, by the way). When Nathan becomes mixed up in a heroin scandal, Virgil comes to his aid to protect his young nephew from getting caught up between US federal and tribal matters. Joined by his ex-girlfriend Marie, Virgil investigates the drug and criminal troubles that have plagued his community. Virgil must also confront his own problems and shortcomings if he is to save Nathan and move forward.

    I don’t know much about justice. But I think the white man has a different idea about it. A lot of our young men are in prison for crimes they didn’t do – maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the people come to you for justice, right? When the police won’t do anything about some winyan who got beat up, you’re the one they call. For justice” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts

    The story was incredibly action packed, and there was never a dull moment from start to finish. I normally do not read many novels where the main focus is a vigilante out for justice, but I was impressed. This novel was not only action-filled, but the drama surrounding Virgil’s and Nathan’s predicaments was also captivating. The author takes the time to dive into each character’s backgrounds and feelings, which only created a richer feel in the narrative. He also highlights current Native American cultural and social issues due to the US’s history of oppression and fallacies. But to me, this is only to provide the backstory into the reservation and the character’s motives. The author maintains focus on an almost complete cast of strong and authentic Native American characters, and their stories.

    Even the Supreme Court agreed that the Black Hills had been illegally seized, and the Lakota nation won a big lawsuit against the government in 1980, with hundreds of millions of dollars awarded in damages. But the leaders of the Lakota nations refused to accept the settlement, stating that they wanted the land back, not the money. The government wouldn’t hand over the Hills, and the Lakotas wouldn’t take the blood money, and so the settlement sits in a bank account earning interest, over $1 billion. If the seven Lakota nations were to accept the money and divide it equally among the people, every man, woman and child would get about $25,000 each… As I drove through the Hills, I felt guilty for thinking about the money again, but I resolved to wise up. What did I care about some rocks and valleys?” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts

    The main part of this novel that I was not a fan of was that the big plot twist was predictable. I won’t spoil it (promise!), and this may not be all the reader’s viewpoints, but after the first quarter of the novel after the reader learns the main conflict, I already figured out what the big twist could be. And I was correct, in case you were wondering. But if you can get past that and the general cheesiness of the plot, I think many readers will enjoy this one!

    What I’d discovered was that sadness is like an abandoned car left out in a field for good—it changes a little over the years, but doesn’t ever disappear. You may forget about it for a while, but it’s still there, rusting away, until you notice it again” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts

    I can not only tell that the author is an academic from his writing, which is intelligent and organized. Weiden has had multiple fellowships, and he received his MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and is currently a professor of Native American studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He did thorough research, and his background as someone belonging to the Lakota nation gives a valuable perspective into writing a fictional tale about members living on a Lakota reservation. Why should you read this book? If you enjoy energy driven and thrilling novels about Native American vigilantes out for revenge and self-discovery, this is the book for you.

    I give this one a 3.5 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    Are you wondering how I rate the books I write about? Click here.

  • Short Review #25: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (2019)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Mostly Dead Things: A Novel
    Author: Kristen Arnett
    Published: 2019 (Tin House Books, Portland, OR)
    Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, LGBTQ, Adult
    CW: taxidermy, death, sex, violence, suicide, bodily fluids
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Mostly Dead Things lying next to a cup of coffee

    Hello, and happy Friday! I hope you all have fun things planned, or experience as much enjoyment as you can this weekend. Overall for me, this week has not been the best by any means and I’m glad it’s coming to a close, but I did have the opportunity to finish Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. Filled with taxidermy, middle-class sweltering Florida, bizarre reconciliation and broken hearts – Mostly Dead Things is not one to disappoint. This is the first piece of writing I have read by Kristen Arnett, and for many reasons I loved her writing style.

    We spent so much time looking for pieces of ourselves in other people that we never realized they were busy searching for the same things in us” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things

    The novel is told in Central Florida taxidermist Jessa-Lynn Morton’s point of view, consisting of flashbacks of her experiences and traumas. Jessa’s father has committed suicide inside their beloved family-owned taxidermist shop, and on top of that, her brother Milo’s wife, Brynn, walked out on them and her children out of the blue. Brynn was Jessa’s best friend and love of her life, and she was sleeping with Brynn behind Milo’s back. After Jessa’s mother starts making obscene sculptural art with taxidermy animals in lewd sexual positions, the family’s issues start bubbling to the surface and Jessa starts to realize something needs to change. This novel deals with major issues and then some such as grief, family crises, fitting in and accepting yourself.

    Though I planned out everything, my life was somehow made up of an endless series of unwanted surprises” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things

    The characters were witty, and the story was darkly comedic and gritty. I did not absolutely love this novel, but the writing was by far the most captivating part. The language was highly descriptive of the dirty details a lot of authors will brush over, especially when it came to blood and dirt. This left a raw and vulnerable feel in Arnett’s writing, which added to the heart of the story. She’s definitely a fantastic writer, and the literary aspects of the story were directed well.

    Say the word love and it’s there for you; say the word love and the other person feels it too. What I should have told him that day: love makes you an open wound, susceptible to infection. But he was young then and so was I, and I wanted their happiness more than my own” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things

    Why should you read this book? If you like LGBTQ literary dramas about taxidermists in Central Florida and you don’t mind reading about anatomical functions, this is the book for you. Definitely give this book a chance if you’re thinking of expanding your LGBTQ repertoire reading, and if you’re ready to feel quite a few emotions.

    I give this a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I review?? Click here to find out!

  • Book Review #37: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (2020)

    Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
    Title: The Glass Hotel: A Novel
    Author: Emily St. John Mandel
    Published: 2020 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)
    Pages: 302 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Literary Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Contemporary
    CW: drug use, vandalism, death, violence, trauma, financial hardships
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Glass Hotel in front of our Christmas tree

    This has been the longest week, but I made it through with some books and some coffee! And speaking of books, this week I read The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, and I finally received a copy after being on a long wait list at my local library. I’ve seen a lot of praise for this one, and some mixed reviews as well. But after spending some time with this one, I really liked it by the end.

    One of our signature flaws as a species: we will risk almost anything to avoid looking stupid” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel

    This novel was written in the perspective of a lot of characters connected by the same events… like so many characters I stopped trying to count. This type of narrative luckily brought a lot of meaning to the dialogue, otherwise I probably would not have been able to follow the sporadic style jumping back and forth between each character/year. The story focuses around a central group of characters connected by a five-star hotel on an island off the coast of British Columbia and a Ponzi scheme led by the hotel’s owner and finance guru, Jonathan Alkaitis. The story jumps around a number of years in the 2000s. Focusing on Jonathan himself, and a bartender-turned millionaire’s trophy wife-turned-ship employee named Vincent, and a drug addicted composer named Paul, and an aging shipping executive named Leon, the wildly different cast of characters connects and fulfills their separate destinies. Their narrative is connected by bond on a similar meta-level.

    I’m no expert, but I remember reading somewhere, every time you retrieve a memory, that act of retrieval, it corrupts the memory a little bit. Maybe changes it a little” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel

    As you might be able to tell, this book can be difficult to describe. This novel is a mysterious thriller, but at the same time it reminds me of author David Mitchell’s sort of speculative writing and prose. The beginning for me was rather slow, but after the first quarter it picked up quickly until I was turning page after page, trying to anticipate what would happen next. At first I was afraid I was not going to like this one, but after I became invested, I knew I was going to keep enjoying it. The end was so-so (I won’t spoil it here), but at least it wasn’t a completely incomplete ending for such speculative a novel.

    Give me quiet, he thought, give me forests and ocean and no roads. Give me the walk to the village through the woods in summer, give me the sound of wind in cedar branches, give me mist rising over the water, give me the view of green branches from my bathtub in the mornings. Give me a place with no people in it, because I will never fully trust another person again” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel

    This is the first book I’ve read by Mandel, but I’ve heard her other novels are very good. And I don’t read many books that take place partially in Canada so that was interesting for me as well. The way the author brings insight into her characters made this novel worthwhile, and it made me really interested (yet temporarily) in the finance world and the collapses of Ponzi schemes. The story itself was well written, and the plot development came together nicely eventually.

    … You know how rare it is to work with someone who loves their life?” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel

    Why should you read this book? If you love mysterious and contemporary thrillers that bring speculative insight into the finance world and bonds between damaged persons, this is the book for you. Overall, this novel explored a lot of themes about being human, and how we deal with our ghosts. It can be a lot to take in at times, but this novel will keep you thinking.

    I give this one a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I write about? Click here!

  • Short Review #24: The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Invention of Sound: A Novel
    Author: Chuck Palahniuk
    Published: 2020 (Grand Central Publishing, New York)
    Pages: 229 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Adult, Contemporary
    CW: Ages 18+ Only, Sex, Violence, Child Death, Strong Language, References to Child Molestation
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Invention of Sound next to a cup of hot apple cider

    I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving weekend so far! Mine has been filled with too much hot apple cider (not complaining though). To celebrate such an American holiday, I finished a book by an author that has used his writing in the past to formulate satire about American societal culture. I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing. He’s written such globally popular books, he has made some good points about culture, his set ups are scathing, and he’s formed excellent and twisted story lines. And a few books have been turned into movies. But his writing is what gets me. It feels like he’s rushing through his books, and the writing feels messy. Definitely my opinion only, and this doesn’t get better in his newest release, The Invention of Sound.

    Since the dawn of films when young women had been tied to railroad tracks and tied to logs sent into huge sawmill blades, Hollywood had never lacked new ways to take pretty girls apart” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound

    I was really skeptical about the plot, but honestly I ended up liking the execution in the end. The novel centers around two perspectives: Gates Foster, a father who lost his 7 year old daughter Lucinda a long time ago who is obsessed with finding out what happened to her, along with trying to punish child molesters everywhere. And Mitzi Ives, a young, reserved Foley artist who creates screams for movies by taking over her father’s business. Her screams are in high demand in Hollywood, and sound a little too realistic…

    Taco Tuesday. Only in prisons and aboard submarines were people more excited about food than they were in office jobs” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound

    Of course, their stories connect and the book’s ending is in true Palahniuk fashion. I think if I was a bigger Palahniuk fan, I would like this book more. But the plot, for being incredibly basic sounding, was executed really well and I looked forward to what happened next. The perspectives between Mitzi and Foster change very quickly (sometimes paragraph to paragraph) back and forth. But I found I was still able to follow along. Full of 18+ subject matter including violence and a lot of sex, I wouldn’t read this unless you are an adult, for sure. Even though his books are very good, I do find him a bit overrated due to his major success with publications like Fight Club.

    ‘A major trait of psychopaths,’ she explained, ‘is that they don’t yawn when people around them yawn. Psychopaths don’t feel empathy. They lack the mirror neurons’” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound (Side note: this is actually true, I fact checked it here)

    When I read Chuck Palahniuk, I imagine him writing in a dingy basement somewhere in a large city on some type of drug or too much coffee on a typewriter. I even found a few blatant grammar errors, but I’m hoping it was on purpose… It might have been. Anyways, why should you read this book? If you like Chuck Palahniuk’s writing or enjoy fast-paced thrillers about questionable and risque subject matter full of violence and redemption, this is the book for you.

    I give this one a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I read?? Click here.


    Also, if you want to follow me on Goodreads, here’s my profile. I want to see what you all are reading too. ✨

  • Short Review #23: Verity by Colleen Hoover (2018)

    Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Verity
    Author: Colleen Hoover
    Published: 2018 (Hoover Ink, Inc)
    Pages: 314 (Paperback)
    Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Romance, Suspense, Adult
    CW: Ages 18+, Death, Murder, Sexual Content, Cancer, Mental Illness
    Link Here

    My copy of Verity next to an apple

    Hello everyone! I have not posted in a while, because I needed to take a break from writing reviews. I’ve been doing plenty of reading and posting on my social media, but I needed to take a step back and make sure I still enjoyed writing on my blog. I still want to look forward to reading at the end of the day, and not because I need to post about it. Reading is a large passion and comfort, and keeping sight of that is important to me.

    Some families are lucky enough to never experience a single tragedy. But then there are those families that seem to have tragedies waiting on the back burner. What can go wrong, goes wrong. And then gets worse” – Colleen Hoover, Verity

    Anyways, now I’m ready to talk about my latest read, Verity by Colleen Hoover. I kept seeing Colleen Hoover’s name all over my social media, and I decided I needed to give one of her books a chance. Hoover is the author of Young Adult, thriller and romance books… and more. Her books have attracted a lot of attention for their well-rounded characters, and she seems to enjoy mixing multiple genres and themes. By the end of Verity, I understood the hype and I was surprisingly struck by this book.

    The book centers around female protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, a flailing and failing young writer on the brink of financial ruin after the passing of her mother. Lowen is ready to lose all hope until she receives an incredible offer – to ghost write and finish a series by one of the most acclaimed, best selling fiction authors, Verity Crawford. Lowen is hired by Verity’s attractive husband, Jeremy. Lowen finds out Verity was in a terrible car accident that left her partially brain dead, and Jeremy essentially takes care of her full-time in their Vermont home. As Lowen spends time in their home researching and pouring over Verity’s notes on the series, she discovers a sinister manuscript written by Verity that leaves Lowen asking questions about what Verity was like before her accident and how it connects to the death of her twin daughters.

    I do not want to give away too much, but this plot gets juicier as the book goes on up until the climactic end. The plot is essentially my favorite part of the book. I enjoy the way Hoover writes about her characters, and the details and twists were imaginative. This was a perfect and entertaining combination of a thriller and romance. And please keep in mind, the sex scenes are… descriptive and explicit, I definitely did not expect that. And this book definitely becomes very dark at times with disturbing elements. This book was a nice change of pace to what I’ve been reading recently, and overall the mood felt more unhinged as the story went on.

    Why should you read this book? If you enjoy adult romance and thriller books that leave you on the edge of your seat with mildly disturbing elements, this is the book for you. Verity is also one of Hoover’s self-published projects and not through her main publisher, Atria Books at Simon & Schuster. I haven’t read a self-published book in a while, and I did not find anything negative because it was.

    I give this a 3.5 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

  • Book Review #36: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020)

    Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Midnight Library: A Novel
    Author: Matt Haig
    Published: 2020 (Viking, Random House)
    Pages: 288 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Science Fiction, Adult, Mental Health
    CW: death, addiction, mental health topics, suicide
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Midnight Library with a view of the park I was reading at in the background

    I just finished my next read with a beautiful view on a clear day in the park (pictured above). On the West Coast, the weather is not too shabby this time of year in the fall! It did not take me long to finish the new fiction release, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This is the first book I’ve read by Haig, but I heard a lot of good things about his writing. His latest book has a lot of hype over the internet. He is a children’s book and speculative fiction author who is widely known for his writing, and commentary on mental health.

    Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

    By the end of this contemporary novel I was hooked, and couldn’t put it down! The story centers around Nora Seed, a young woman who is having a difficult time and contemplates dying. She then finds herself in the Midnight Library, a place between life and death where she can change her circumstances, and live a different life in a number of parallel universes. She faces her regrets, and begins to see things as they really are throughout the book as she decides which ‘book’ or universe she wants to live in. Nora slowly learns what makes life worth living, and rethinks her outlook. The characters and story are enchanting from start to finish. There’s a fantastical but dismal quality about Haig’s writing not only from the plot.

    A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

    My first thought was that this book reminded me of a more contemporary It’s a Wonderful Life. But it’s a female protagonist, takes place mostly in a cosmic library, and not meant to be shown around Christmas time… among other reasons. Haig appropriately describes mental health issues through Nora with honesty and succinct directness. This novel makes great points about putting life and the choices we make in perspective. It was encouraging with a lot of quips that sounded like they were from an inspirational book, and also a little saddening at the same time. I also found myself connecting to the characters almost immediately, and they felt incredibly human.

    Maybe it wasn’t the lack of achievements that had made her and her brother’s parents unhappy, maybe it was the expectation to achieve in the first place” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

    This book was a little hard to get into at the beginning, but once the details and plot lines started to connect, the story became more engrossing. The structure of the novel is definitely contemporary, and causes the reader to really follow the details. And Haig has a surreal writing style which I loved, and definitely added to the fantastical realism elements. I also liked how he describes small, everyday details with such purpose. The ending itself though was my favorite part, and basically made the rest of the book worth it. I won’t give any spoilers away though.

    “If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

    Why should you read this book? If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction with magical and cosmic parallel universes addressing life’s greatest problem which is navigating it itself, this is the book for you.

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    Also, on a complete side note, I’ve decided to start linking the books I write about on one of my favorite sites, Bookshop, instead of Amazon. I don’t know if it will be a permanent thing on my blog yet, but I just learned about them and I love the organization. It’s a one-stop book seller to support independent book stores across the US and UK, they donate most of their sales to independent bookstores. You can also buy from a specific bookstore on the site or have the proceeds from your sale sent to the store directly.


    How do I rate the books I write about? Click here!

  • Book Review #35: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020)

    Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Undocumented Americans
    Author: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
    Published: 2020 (One World, Penguin Random House, New York)
    Pages: 185 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Social Justice, US Immigration
    CW: Death, Illness/Cancer, Assault, Abuse, Violence, Disasters
    Link Here

    Hi everyone! I am back this week to talk about this genuine and spirited work of nonfiction about a controversial topic in the United States: immigration, specifically, undocumented immigrants, or as author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio appropriately calls them, Undocumented Americans. I saw a lot of positive reviews about this one, and knew I’d have to pick this one up. This is Cornejo Villavicencio’s first book, but she has written for multiple print publications from The New York Times to Vogue. She is undocumented, and a Harvard graduate pursuing her PhD at Yale. Cornejo Villavicencio writes about a variety of topics, but this time in her first book, she writes about her own experiences to help tell the stories of other undocumented persons like herself as she traveled around the country recording them. Overall, this book is rewarding in itself, and I recommend most Americans should read this to add to the debate of US immigration.

    One study found that family income dropped around 70 percent after a deportation. Another study found that American-citizen children born to immigrant parents who were detained or deported suffered greater rates of PTSD than their peers” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

    Undocumented Americans explores the lives of different persons experiencing similar and different economic and social issues in the US, because of their immigration status. She highlights experiences from persons in New York, Miami, Flint, Michigan, Cleveland and New Haven. The author comments on her own experiences as well as an undocumented immigrant on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and in a University setting. She also comments on her relationship with her undocumented family, and how it impacts her mental health and daily life in the US. Though this book did appeal to emotion at some parts, it objectively highlighted persons’ actual experiences as undocumented. This book was not like a social media influencer calling for government or NGO action about immigration, or someone aiming to change people’s hearts and minds. These memoirs are derived from actual experiences and stories, and gives the reader another side to read about immigration as a social struggle.

    What I saw in Flint was a microcosm of the way the government treats the undocumented everywhere, making the conditions in this country as deadly and toxic and inhumane as possible so that we will self-deport. What I saw in Flint was what I had seen everywhere else, what I had felt in my own poisoned blood and bones. Being killed softly, silently, and with impunity” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

    I really enjoyed the writing style, and the way the author told others stories. She did so with her own perceptions about the persons, but respecting their wishes and image at the same time. Overall, I thought this book was fantastic, and a must read if you want to learn more about the life of undocumented Americans in the US. I do not read many books that cover topics like US immigration (besides what I read about in the news), which is surprising to me because of how often I’ve been part of discussions about it amongst family and friends.

    I think every immigrant in this country knows that you can eat English and digest it so well that you shit it out, and to some people, you will still not speak English” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

    Why should you read this book? If you enjoy nonfiction books about social justice issues and immigration, which objectively lay out life for those who are undocumented, this is the book for you. This book made me think about my assumptions about those who are undocumented, and my place of privilege as an American citizen as well. It also made me want to keep up with current policy, and I realized how much I did not know. The author’s personal stories mixed in as well only add to the narrative, and I enjoyed seeing how it applies to why she wrote this book in the first place.

    I give this a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I write about? Click here!

  • Short Review #22: These Women by Ivy Pochoda (2020)

    Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: These Women: A Novel
    Author: Ivy Pochoda
    Published: 2020 (Ecco, HarperCollins New York)
    Pages: 335 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Crime, Contemporary Fiction
    CW: prostitution, language, murder, violence, grief
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of These Women while I was reading outside

    This week I’m writing from home while sick. I’m not COVID-19 ill, as far as I know (I’m currently waiting on my test results just to be safe). But this means I have extra time for reading, and I just finished reading These Women by Ivy Pochoda. This is the first book I’ve read by Ivy Pochoda, who is the author of several other works of fiction and her writing has appeared in many major publications including The New York Times. I have not seen a lot of hype over this book, but saw a lot of good reviews online. The premise sounded interesting, and I’m trying to expand my crime drama repertoire especially regarding social issues. Overall, by the end, I was hooked!

    … A warning about the senselessness of rage. Because in the end it’s just you. It will always be you. So it’s a waste of energy sending all that venom and anger out into the world because the return is nothing. It’s a one-way ticket. You give and give your anger and get nothing in return except more anger, leaving nothing behind” – Ivy Pochoda, These Women

    This novel is narrated from the perspectives of five different women in a South Los Angeles community surrounding a series of serial murders of prostitutes from the 90s and then in 2014. Between the daily dramas of women who walk the streets of West Adams in LA as prostitutes to the cop trying to face her own demons and find a serial killer, this novel of fiction contains a diverse cast of characters that shed light on real-life community problems. This heart-gripping story highlights different social issues such as police departments not taking murders of women who have ‘high-risk professions’ such as prostitution seriously, minority women not being believed or taken seriously by positions of power, and racial and community tensions.

    These photos are a truth far beyond the reaches of Marella’s creativity. As for her work – well, she can only tell stories and not even her own. These women, the powerful mess of them. The confidence fading to vacancy. The power dissolving into despair. The challenge they pose to the viewer, the confrontation and the temptation. The strength and desperation” – Ivy Pochoda, These Women

    I ended up enjoying this novel! It was slow to start, but by the end I was really into the story. I loved the way the author revealed details to the reader that were outside of the plot, but added to the reader’s suspicions of what was going to happen. I like that aspect regarding works of contemporary fiction, especially when it’s well communicated in the story line. I won’t give away any spoilers, because I want you, reader, to read this book. The author touched on some important issues regarding race and privilege in various ways to think about. And she told the stories regarding women who face these issues well without romanticizing it inappropriately. Also, the drama and story was entertaining as hell. Why should you read this book? If you’re a fan of crime dramas surrounding serial killings, but touch on social issues among the grittiest parts of LA, this is the book for you.

    I give this a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    How do I rate the books I write about?? Click here

  • Book Review #34: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (2018)

    Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel
    Author: Ahmed Saadawi (Translated to English by Jonathan Wright)
    Published: 2018 (English, Penguin Books, New York), 2013 (Arabic, al Kamel)
    Pages: 281 (Paperback)
    Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary, Arabic Fiction
    CW: Violence, War, Magic, Death, Gore, Sexual Content
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Frankenstein in Baghdad sitting next to a plastic pumpkin and leaf

    Happy Halloween, fellow readers and bloggers 🎃 This is the day we have been waiting all month for, and I hope everyone has a safe and fun day! Eat some candy, dress up in costumes, have small or socially distanced gatherings to celebrate all things spooky, or do whatever you want. I’ll be watching scary movies, and sitting by a fire on a chilly night. That being said, today I have a tactfully spooky book to talk about: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi.

    ‘Yet I ask you not to spare me: listen to me; and then, if you can, and if you will, destroy the work of your hands’ —Mary Shelley, Frankenstein” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

    This quite extraordinary book was written by notable author, Ahmed Saadawi, who was the first Iraqi to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction where he won for this novel in 2014. He also won France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy. He is a novelist, poet, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. Quite an extraordinary author for an extraordinary book. But I have to be honest, I was confused at some points in this novel where I really had to pay attention to the character list at the beginning and connect events and developments to different points in the novel. You definitely need to follow the events and characters closely. I found the English translation easy to read and follow, but like any internationally translated novel, there may have been meanings not carried over into the English translation.

    We try to avoid meeting one another, although we are moving around in search of one another” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

    Taking place in US-occupied Baghdad, this novel focuses on a contrast of characters in relation to a monster referred to as many things including The Whatsitsname, created by a junk collector named Hadi. Hadi stitches together a single corpse from human body parts left over from acts of violence and bombings as a statement in order for the government “to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial” (p. 27). What Hadi did not expect was the corpse coming to life, and leaving his home to carry out a mysterious mission of murderous revenge, and soon the monster begins committing plain-old-murder towards those left in his path. This monster needs human flesh to survive, physically and spiritually, and is more intelligent and sensitive than he appears. To me, Saadawi derives the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein‘s Monster, who was created out of grief and goes on a rampage. Which is much like The Whatsitsname who was also created out of the citizens of Iraq’s grief, and is animated by a vengeful but noble ghost of a security guard who carries out his revenge and executes the criminals he sees fit.

    If you can foresee what’s going to happen, then that’s a gift from God, and He’s telling you that you can change fate for the better” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

    There is a large cast of characters that can be tricky to follow along, like I stated previously, but this political allegory was complexly and wonderfully executed. The parallels between this book and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were clear, but this time the backstory is war-torn Baghdad switching between the characters’ viewpoints of the events, who are journalists, Syriac Christians, business owners and other ordinary Iraqi citizens. Overall this book is kind of wild, and I’m still not 100% clear of what I just read. This book is scary in a war realism and science fiction standpoint, but nothing extremely frightening. Unless you do not like gore and murder, then it’s pretty frightening.

    Following the monster’s psychology and how other characters viewed the monster was very interesting, and my favorite part of this novel. Some of the events and attitudes definitely left me guessing how this novel was going to play out. Honestly, I wish I had more intelligent things to say about this novel and go on about my ideas of what I thought events/ideas meant, but I don’t know where to begin. There was so much going on besides the monster at times like magic, family, prophecy, violence, government bureaucracy, ambitions in journalism, love and longing, and more.

    Anyways, why should you read this novel? Read if you like science fiction, horror or contemporary novels focusing on gruesome monsters hellbent on murderous intentions who try to prevent more death and destruction in a warn torn country. Unless you can’t stand the complexity or hate science fiction or gore, you won’t be disappointed.

    I give this a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


    I read a lot of this book listening to a Spooky Spotify playlist I absolutely loved that I wanted to share with you all! I’m sorry (but also not) if this music is not your thing.


    How the heck do I rate the books I read? Click here

  • Book Review #33: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Familiar Dark: A Novel
    Author: Amy Engel
    Published: 2020 (Dutton Books, New York)
    Pages: 238 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Suspense
    CW: murder, corrupt police, family abuse, violence, mentions of sexuality
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Familiar Dark on a weighted blanket

    Two reviews in one week! But the book I’m here to talk about was a quick read. Anyways, I read another spooky book, but this one was more crime-thriller spooky than horror spooky (the next book in my stack is a monster of a novel, though). Currently, that book is The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, who also wrote The Roanoke Girls. Engel is a thriller novelist who also, fun fact, used to be a criminal defense attorney (according to Goodreads). I don’t talk about this enough on my blog, but I actually like reading blurbs about the author’s I read. I view it like finding a credible news publication, sometimes the insight into their backgrounds makes the content all the more worthwhile. This definitely is not the case every time though.

    I thought about all the press conferences I’d seen over the years, parents trotted out for missing kids, killed kids, abused kids. Everyone feels sorry for those parents, those mothers, until they don’t. Until the mothers are too put-together or not put-together enough. Until the mothers are angry. Because that’s the one thing women are never, ever allowed to be. We can be sad, distraught, confused, pleading forgiving. But not furious. Fury is reserved for other people. The worst thing you can be is an angry woman, an angry mother” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark

    Eve is a single-mother living in a small town called Barren Springs in the Missouri Ozarks, and is a lot like the others in the town: poor white trash, knocked up as a teenager, and hanging onto the hope she will leave Barren Springs one day. When her 12-year-old and only child, Junie, is murdered on a playground she once played on, Eve discovers she wants revenge and takes a page from her own abusive, cruel mother’s book to make whoever committed the crime pay. During which, Eve battles her own grief, while facing her own demons and the injustices she’s been handed since she was a child.

    Truth is, there’s no good way to navigate being female in this world. If you speak out, say no, stand your ground, you’re a bitch and a harpy, and whatever happens to you is your own fault. You had it coming. But if you smile, say yes, survive on politeness, you’re weak and desperate. An easy mark. Prey in a world full of predators. There are no risk‑free options for women, no choices that don’t come back to smack us in the face” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark

    This book was a fantastic crime thriller! I definitely recommend if you can get past the triggers in the CW section I mention at the top. I heavily want to note the violence. But overall what I liked most was the perspective of this novel. Sometimes I’m personally exhausted by the increasing popularity of the ‘true crime’ podcasts, books and Netflix shows. As interesting as they are, at the end of the day, the producers and authors are showcasing a family or friend’s tragedy and putting it on display for the world to comment and criticize in a sick fascination. That’s it. Only occasionally do these publications ‘help find the killer’. Otherwise it’s the same thing as publishing a shooter’s name in the news, I believe. (But on a rare occasion I watch/listen to these so I’m fully acknowledging right now I’m slightly hypocritical…) I believe The Familiar Dark comments on this by offering the mother’s perspective with her own criticisms on how others are handling her daughter’s murder. The book also briefly addresses the ‘true crime’ craze, and it was certainly somewhat enlightening.

    Why should you read this book? If you enjoy crime thrillers taking place in a small Ozark town in the victim’s family’s perspective, this is the one for you.

    I give this a 3 out of 5! (I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing or original)

    _Elizabeth


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  • Short Review #21: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (2019)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Twisted Ones
    Author: T. Kingfisher (alias of author Ursula Vernon)
    Published: 2019 (Gallery/Saga Press, New York)
    Pages: 385 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Horror, Thriller, Fiction, Folk Horror, Supernatural
    CW: violence, supernatural elements, mild sexual themes, abuse
    Link Here

    The Twisted Ones lying on a wooden backdrop a.k.a my hardwood floors

    Hello, everyone! This week’s review is going to be pretty short. Not because of anything negative about this book, but because I do not have much to say on it. This is the first book I’ve read by alias T. Kingfisher, a.k.a Ursula Vernon, who by her real name writes children’s books and comics. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one, and by the end of it, I was mostly not disappointed.

    A semi came screaming around a bend in the road, interrupting my thoughts and reminding me suddenly of why walking by the side of the road on a country lane was best reserved for historical romance and Led Zeppelin songs” – T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones

    This work of supernatural and folk horror is about a young woman nicknamed Mouse as she goes to clean out her recently deceased grandmother’s old home in North Carolina. Mouse’s grandmother was a a hoarder, and a pretty severe one at that. But as Mouse starts clearing away the piles of creepy dolls and newspapers, she finds something more sinister watching her from the woods. Between the creepy tales from her step-grandfather’s journals to noises that go bump in the night, this tale is pretty sinister from start to finish.

    Books on World War II appear spontaneously in any house that contains a man over a certain age. I believe that’s science” – T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones

    I liked this spooky read! Lovecraftian in style and execution, The Twisted Ones keeps the reader guessing. This book was spine-tingling creepier in certain aspects, but lacking in actual gory and bone-chilling horror. The author’s writing was simple but witty, and to me, the narration fell in line with the fast paced quips of a true crime podcast. The only part I wish were different is more emphasis on character development, and focus on some of the lesser-mentioned characters. But maybe because this book was supposed to feel more like an oral tale, the character details were not the main focus. I would read another book by T. Kingfisher, but maybe not by Ursula Vernon… but only because she writes children’s books.

    I give this a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


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  • Book Review #32: Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (2020)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐
    Title:️ Utopia Avenue: A Novel
    Author: David Mitchell
    Published: 2020 (Random House, New York)
    Pages: 574 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, British Novel, Music Scene, LGBT
    CW: Drugs, Sexual Content, Violence, Mental Illness, Child Death
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Utopia Avenue resting on my yoga pant wearing legs

    Hi all! This week I did not read a spooky book, but the next one I have lined up is pretty spooky. Anyways, I finally got my hands on this new release from the library, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. British-born Mitchell is the author of a fairly well-known novel Cloud Atlas (which side note, I did not care for the movie version). He has written several other popular novels over the years, and Utopia Avenue is his latest release.

    My Dutch grandfather used to say, ‘If you don’t know what to do, do nothing for eight days’, Dean asked ‘Why eight?’, ‘Less than eight is haste. More than eight is procrastination. Eight days is long enough for the world to shuffle the deck and deal you another hand’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

    Utopia Avenue follows the rise of a fictional psychedelic, folk-rock band by the same name. Based out of Britain, the band consists of four very different persons: folk singer and higher-brow front woman and pianist Elf Holloway, demon struggling blues-style bass guitarist Dean Moss, psychologically troubled and talented guitarist Jasper de Zoet, and rough-and-tough Yorkshire drummer Peter Griff or ‘Griffin’. Their adventures start from very different styles and beginnings to a masterful partnership and family found in each other. The band is fictional, but several of the characters mentioned are based on real persons in the 60s music/art scene. The story and vast dialogues are filled with art, music, drugs, mental illness, love, family and of course, psychedelic tropes and ideas of the 1960s.

    … For a brief spell, we share a stage. Other are coming to kick us off. But while you’re here, write yourself a good part. Act it well…. There’s nothing else to say because there’s nothing more to say” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

    Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I felt invested in the counterculture of 1960s Britain, and how it’s youth were changing and forming music at the time. Mitchell does a great job of immersing the reader in the story and characters. The contemporary style of storytelling also really emphasizes the trippy and imaginative feel of this novel. This is, admittedly, the first novel I’ve read by Mitchell, but I’ve heard a lot about him. As I kept reading, I felt like I had no idea what to expect next. I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing, but I was invested in the demanding and sensory prose. The way he brings the reader into the music scene during this time, and makes them feel like they’re apart of what’s happening was my favorite part.

    Your best teachers aren’t always your friends. Sometimes your best teachers are your mistakes” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

    But I do have to say, this book was super long. I haven’t read a book this verbose in a while. It honestly felt like I was reading Charles Dickens at certain times, like some passages seemed so unnecessarily lengthy. But of course, the story itself was long and spread over a certainly wide period of time, I believe. Plus there were a lot of flashbacks, and rapid back-and-forth between current and past moments for each main character, which only added to the contemporary feel.

    ‘It’s your body,’ says Elf, ‘Your news. Your timing’… ‘If that’s feminism’ says Imogen, ‘sign me up’…’It’s not feminism. It’s just… true’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

    Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary but historical fiction novels about 1960s British psychedelic rock bands that challenges societal notions and difficulties, this is the book for you. It really was good, but I don’t think this author is as fantastic as everyone says it is. He’s definitely talented and invested so much care in crafting his stories, but that’s all he is, admirable and celebrated for his efforts. I would have also liked to see more involvement and focus on other side characters and one of the main band-mates (I won’t say who, but it’s not the bassist this time..), instead of only the four band-mates, and at rare times a few of their family members.

    Art is memory made public. Time wins in the long run. Books turn to dust, negatives decay, records get worn out, civilizations burn. But as long as the art endures, a song or a view or a thought or a feeling someone once thought worth keeping is saved and stays shareable. Others can say, ‘I feel that too’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue

    (The above quote is my favorite, by the way) I give this book a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


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  • Book Review #31: Writers & Lovers by Lily King (2020)

    Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
    Title: Writers & Lovers: A Novel
    Author: Lily King
    Published: 2020 (Grove Press)
    Pages: 324 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Romantic
    CW: sexual content, cancer, pedophilia, assault, adult situations
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of Writers & Lovers by a plant

    Hi all! This week I read a book that was not-so-spooky. Writers & Lovers has caused a lot of hype in the book community since its release, and I’ve seen so many reviews for this novel online. Already a celebrated author, Lily King really hit me in the gut in numerous ways with her humorous and fractured protagonist in Writers & Lovers. And fair warning – I have a lot to say about this one.

    I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers

    The novel centers around 31-year-old writer and former golf prodigy, Casey Peabody, a woman down on her luck after a failed romance, piling student loan debt she cannot pay off, and losing her mother. Casey moves back to her hometown in Massachusetts to start over somewhere familiar, and finish her novel. The reader divulges into the nook-and-cranny aspects of Casey’s life, along with her heartache, ambitions and conflicts. Casey is a highly relatable character, who honestly made every other section of this novel a punch in the gut if you’ve ever been a woman who lost direction in life, lost a relative/friend, been through a horrible breakup, assaulted in any way or just been through any emotional crisis at all. The reader follows Casey’s journey while she writes her novel, and the relationships she has on the way during the summer of 1997.

    There’s a particular feeling in your body when something goes right after a long time of things going wrong. It feels warm and sweet and loose… For a moment all my bees have turned to honey” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers

    I definitely did not love this novel as much as others. For how amiable I seem towards it, I was really unsure of both this book and myself as I put it down after finishing. The writing was definitely well-done, and almost poetic at times. But I almost thought it was a bit pretentious, not just with the main character, but her community as well. I probably would have given it a higher rating if it hadn’t been so, and also if it had flowed better in real emotion. Maybe the pretentiousness was purposefully done, to show us how the literary community actually interacts and treats each other, and I understood that at times. The characters just seemed so privileged and tedious, including the main character even though I know she went through horrible traumas, and no one of note was down to earth about literally anything whatsoever. Casey is either complaining about not having money or about others who have money/status/fame for a majority of the novel, but my question is: how was she able to live in Spain, and travel all around the world throughout her 20s? There had to have been some money somewhere. I know she pulled out loans for school, but I’m sorry, if you had the time/ability to get an Bachelor of Arts and a MFA in Creative Writing, and sit in cafes talking to other writers a lot of your time when you weren’t waitressing, you’re not that underprivileged. But I leave the possibility open that I may not have understood something about her situation. How can I better summarize this book? It was like Girls (the HBO series created by Lena Dunham) meets Kicking & Screaming (1995 indie film), but was written by Nora Ephron.

    I squat there and think about how how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers

    This novel was full of familiar tropes and situations, but King’s style of storytelling and prose was refreshing and humorous. Despite my negative comments before, I did enjoy reading this novel, and my heart ached at times during some of Casey’s experiences. I found some aspects of her romances and debt experiences almost painfully too familiar. Plus, the experiences of working in the food industry such as waitressing were on par… even in the 90s when this story takes place. And the summarization of the misogyny problem among male writers in the literary community was also spot on.

    Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ …. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers

    Like I said, I would have given this novel 4 stars, but the pretentiousness made me question how much I was actually enjoying it. It was like a charming, privileged New American Colonial setting meets psychological and societal problems among ‘failure to launch’ Gen-X’ers. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m so critical of this novel, because it’s not like I haven’t read books with privileged characters before. But anyways, I found this novel highly quotable with enjoyable quips (can you tell by how many quotes I included in this review?). I also loved the prose and conversations between characters, except for Casey and Silas… That relationship I’m still questioning even as I write this. I won’t say why, because I do not want to give away spoilers.

    I hate male cowardice and the way they always have each other’s backs. They have no control. They justify everything their dicks make them do. And they get away with it. Nearly every time. My father peered through a hole at girls, possibly at me, in our locker room. And when he got caught, he got a party and a cake” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers

    Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary, literary fiction about Gen-X’er writers who are down on their luck, among their romantic escapades, this is the book for you. This book was in fact about writers and lovers. On a side note, I had to listen to my 90s alternative, indie rock playlist as I wrote this review. Looking back now, this is one of my lengthier reviews… maybe I thought higher of this book than I evaluated?

    I give this a 3.5 out of 5! (Still super conflicted about my rating)

    _Elizabeth


  • Short Review #20: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon (2019)

    Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Invited: A Novel
    Author: Jennifer McMahon
    Published: 2019 (Doubleday, New York)
    Pages: 353 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Paranormal
    CW: violence, paranormal
    Link Here

    Borrowed copy of The Invited by some apples

    October is officially here! 👻 And what better way to kick off spooky month than reading a paranormal horror novel? This week I read The Invited by Jennifer McMahon. I don’t remember where I heard of this one, but I liked the synopsis and thought it was going to be spooky. I read mixed reviews, and especially harsher ones from who have read previous thrillers by McMahon.

    What people don’t understand, they destroy” – Jennifer McMahon, The Invited

    Helen and Nate are a married couple who decide to quite their teaching jobs in a city of Connecticut, and buy a plot of land in rural Vermont and build a farm home. They’re seen as outsiders by the local townspeople while adjusting to a quieter life near the wilderness. Soon, strange things begin to happen as Helen investigates the dark history of their property in line with a local legend, Hattie Breckenridge, a suspected witch killed in the 1930s who may still be roaming the property and bog today. As they adjust into their new lives and meet some new faces, the couple begins to suspect they’re really building a haunted house for a questionable purpose.

    Overall, I thought it was a great ghost story. I can see why others thought it was a bit slow moving at times, but honestly I was a fan by the end. But this is the first book I’ve read by McMahon so maybe I’m not biased enough. There were a few parts that I thought could have gone quicker, but the storytelling and atmosphere of the novel were strikingly told. By the end, I did have some chills running down my spine, and I didn’t guess the chilling ending either. To me, it was an interesting concept to write a novel where the couple is building the haunted house, not moving into one. Definitely kind of an original concept, to give McMahon credit. I thought the story was going to go in a different direction based on the premise, but I’m not complaining either.

    Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for a fairly original haunted house/ghost story taking place in rural Vermont, you’re reading the right review. It is definitely a great, chilling pick for spooky season!

    I give this one a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


  • Short Review #19: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin (2019)

    Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Escape Room: A Novel
    Author: Megan Goldin
    Published: 2019 (St. Martin’s Press)
    Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Wall Street
    CW: Sexual assault, alcoholism, violence, cancer, trauma
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Escape Room on my bookshelf

    Hello all! Have I been posting more often? Yes. I only realized that today myself as I’m writing this review. I’ve been taking more time for myself, and for reading and reflecting due to mental health reasons so if you see me posting a lot more often, that’s why. It doesn’t help I’m on a reading kick too since there are so many books I want to read/am waiting for on my library’s waiting list.

    Exactly. I pointed to the f*cking rock on her finger and told her that investment bankers don’t need religion. We don’t need to wait for the next life to enjoy paradise, not with the money we make” – Megan Goldin, The Escape Room

    The quote above basically summarizes the entire vibe of this book. Australian author, Megan Goldin’s thriller centers around a sinister plot, greedy implications and a destructive cast of characters. The narration flips between a team of four Wall Street finance powerhouses, and a woman whose connection to them we don’t fully understand until the end. An elevator in a brand new building in the South Bronx becomes a prison for four employees at a fictional financial firm called Stanhope and Sons, who are trapped in an ‘escape the room’ game after their company deems their participation as a ‘mandatory team building exercise’. As the story unfolds, the reader learns more about why the team becomes trapped in the elevator, along with the realities and problems with working on Wall Street. Do I know if these realities and problems are truthful? No, but I imagine they may be given the author’s investigative journalist background. I also kept picturing Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street the entire time I was reading this book, by the way. Not that it’s similar, but I kept connecting the issue of too much greed from wealth.

    I saw a lot of reviews that said this book was cheesy, and I agree. The story painted a vivid picture of what it could be like to work in finance on Wall Street. I did not get a lot out of this one, but I was grossly entertained. I finished this book in 3 days, which doesn’t happen to me a lot. But I kept getting pulled in, and I really wanted to know how this book finally ended. It dragged on, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but more like a ‘this has gone on long enough, how does it end??’ kind of way. I do not like revealing spoilers, so I won’t go into what I thought of the ending.

    Why should you read this book? If you like cryptic thrillers and twists from horribly behaved characters with just maybe a hint of revenge, and can tolerate reading so much about Wall Street, read it! I honestly think this book could be a blockbuster mega-hit thriller movie or a cheesy B-rated horror/thriller movie.. either way it should be a movie.

    I give this a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth


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