Anna’s April Wrap Up

I read some truly great books in April! I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of them.

If I Had Your Face-Follows the interconnected lives of four women. Largely about the impossible beauty standards of women, especially in Korean culture.

Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders– The story of two women and lovers who were murdered and the fight for justice around their deaths. A scary realization that even our national parks aren’t a safe place to be a woman.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St.John Mandel’s newest book is just as amazing as everyone is saying it is. You won’t know what’s truly going on until the end, and I loved the touch of scifi. 

Audiobooks:

A Far Wilder Magic– Cozy magic with just enough small town politics and romance. My second Alison Saft book of the year. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

The Push– the best thriller I’ve read this year. This will make you terrified to be a parent.

Anna’s August Wrap Up

I didn’t read as much as I normally do this month, but that’s okay! I was busy going to the beach and filling my weekends with other end of summer experiences. 

I finally read Hamnet this month, and loved it as much as everyone else did! It’s a lyrical written story about grief and Shakespeare’s (fictionalized) family. This is exactly what I’m looking for in literary fiction- beautiful writing and expertly written characters. Maggie O’Farrell clearly did her research on the Shakespeare family, but she also tells an original story that stands on its own. Hamnet is also the first book that made me cry in years.  

I liked the descriptions of food and NYC in Sweetbitter, but overall it was too slow & way overwritten. My favorite thing about this book is what I learned about working in the restaurant/food industry, specifically fine dining. If you can get through Tess’s overly naive and heady descriptions of her life after randomly moving to New York City, you’ll learn about the inner-workings  and politics of running a famous restaurant. Seriously, this girl doesn’t know anything about New York City (or life) when she gets there. Yet somehow she’s likable, sexy, and a protegee at her job? What saved this book for me, as someone who lived there for a year and worked in two unforgiving industries (publishing & retail), is the love/hate descriptions of working your butt off living in New York City. 

The Perfect Nanny was the most underwhelming thriller I’ve read all year. Translated from French, this book has a lot of half-baked ideas and proclamations about motherhood, race, and class. All these ideas and themes were underdeveloped. 

But the biggest problem I had with The Perfect Nanny is that it’s a thriller, and yet there was no surprise or twist. At the very beginning of the book, we learn that a French couple’s nanny, Louise, has killed their two children. Spoiler alert, she did. And there’s no nuance to why she did it. I also didn’t find Louise’s character very believable. There’s not nearly enough to justify her mental breakdown at the end.

I love a good campus novel with a mystery and vapid teenage girls, and The Divines didn’t disappoint. This one has surprisingly low/poor reviews on Goodreads. Maybe people don’t like it because it’s slow-paced and the characters are extremely dislikable. Although that description also fits the much-loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt French, and I thought The Divines was better. What I really liked about this book was how the reader learns about Joe’s experiences and trauma at boarding school affected her adult life. This book also takes an interesting look at how memories can change over years and how people remember the same events differently. 

I also read Moonflower Murders (not pictured), the second book in the Susan Ryeland series by Anthony Horowitz, which was just as good as the first! I don’t want to spoil anything from book one, Magpie Murders, but these books have some of the most masterful plotting I’ve ever read. They’re also both murder mysteries within a muder mystery. I really hope there will be a book three! 

With August ending, I can’t wait to officially kick off my fall reading in September!

Review: Mexican Goth by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Alexis:

This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read in a while. It reads like a gothic, psychedelic nightmare. Moreno-Garcia’s gross, creepy descriptions shine. High Place is dripping in mold, villainous characters, and ghost-like visions.

What I enjoyed:

The gothic feel of this novel. I love the homage to books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I love the fairly upfront references to The Yellow Wallpaper.

Moreno-Garcia’s descriptions are wonderful (but in a horror type of way). And she describes everything in masterfully drawn descriptions with high amounts of detail. You’ll have no trouble visualizing High Place or its contents. The descriptions of the mold alone made my allergies want to flare up.

This book touches on a lot of the ideas of the 1950’s, even the unfavorable ones…like eugenics. But I enjoyed the discussions of anthropology and botany.

Francis’ character was definitely my favorite; he grew on me more as the book went along.

What I wasn’t a fan of:

The beginning of this book is so slow. The entire first chapter feels almost unnecessary. The first entire half of the book basically has no plot; it’s just Noemí trying to figure out what the heck is going on at High Place while also trying to comfort her cousin, Catalina. For that reason, I don’t think you can call this book “suspenseful.”

As for Catalina, there are reasons that pop up later as to why we don’t get to know her character that well, but at the same time, I don’t feel like I know her at all. We get Noemí’s perspective on her cousin, but I didn’t even get the notion that she even knows Catalina that well to begin with.

Overall, I wish the plot had been more solidified.

All in all, this book is split pretty much down the middle for me. The first half is slow moving and has a gothic atmosphere, while the second half is faster moving and leans more on horror.

If you want a lushly written, atmospheric, bizarre gothic story with a twist of horror, then this might be the book for you. Just be aware that it unravels slowly, but the descriptions and the twists at the end will stick with you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Trigger warnings: Rape/sexual assault, violence, murder/death. Mentions of suicide, cannibalism, eugenics, incest, and miscarriage.

In the Woods and mood reading!

Anna: It’s finally (slowly!) feeling a bit more like fall! 

As cooler weather approaches, I’ve been in the mood for crime fiction. This is the second Tana French novel I’ve read in a month. The first in her Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods follows Detective Bob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox as they investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl found dead in the woods…the same woods where Ryan’s two childhood friends went missing years before. I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Witch Elm, but I’ve heard this series only gets better, and I think it’s one I could easily binge this fall.

Are you a mood reader?

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5 star review: The Witch Elm by Tana French

Anna: New favorite book (and author?) alert! VERDICT: 5 stars

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Toby is the kind of guy who has always had it easy. He’s always been fairly popular, successful at his job, and has never had to worry about money. Until one night, when he’s beaten so badly in his apartment that he nearly dies. Afterwards, he experiences amnesia and some brain trauma. Following his accident, Toby learns that his Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. Toby and his cousins return to Uncle Hugo’s Ivy House, where they spent their summers growing up. When they find a dead body in the Witch Elm on the property, everyone in the family is a suspect–and Toby, it seems might be suspect number one.

I couldn’t put this down. The Witch Elm is the kind of book that rewards you the more you read, as the events in the beginning seem unrelated at first and slowly become more and more a part of the larger plot. What I really love about this book is that French’s characterization is fantastic. Toby is an often unlikable and undeniably realistic character who I’m pretty sure I would hate in real life. After Toby’s accident, he’s forced to examine how he’s treated others over the course of his life. 

There’s also the murder aspect of the book, which twists and turns the more you read. Because of Toby’s amnesia and other evidence, Toby is immediately one of the top suspects in the murder, and he graps at nothing as he tries to remember what he might have done. On top of it being a who-done-it-book, at its core The Witch Elm is a complicated family drama about the secrets families keep together and the ones they keep from each other. 

I’ve already put In the Woods, at hold at the library, the first book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I can’t wait to read her backlist!

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry has been on my tbr for a long time, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one!

The Dry is crime fiction set in Australia. Federal Agent Aarron Falk returns to his hometown for a funeral of a childhood friend, Luke. Luke allegedly killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself. Aarron hasn’t been back since he and his dad quickly left town after Aarron was linked to the death of a girl in town. The reader soon realizes that the past and present are more closely intertwined than they might seem.

If not a tiny bit predictable, this book had rich characterization and the parallel storyline captivated me from beginning to end. I would pick up the second book in this series at some point. I don’t recommend reading this book in the height of a hot and humid Virginia summer.

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VERIDCT: 3.5/5 stars

June Reads

Anna: It’s officially key lime pie season! Here are just a couple books I read in June– I don’t have a whole stack to show this month because a lot of my copies were due back to the library, but here’s my full wrap up: 

4 stars:

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

My Sister, the Serial by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Columbine by Dave Cullen

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close 

 

3 stars:

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

No Exit by Taylor Adams

What did you read this month? I’ve had a great weekend so far lounging and reading by the pool, which I plan on doing more of this afternoon! 

 

Anna’s Currently Reading: A Snowy Thriller in June

Anna: I know summer just officially started, but I’m channeling some winter vibes with my current read! This book was getting much hype earlier in the year on Bookstagram, and I just got my library hold in. I’m not usually a huge fan of thrillers, but so far this is so fast paced and addicting that I already know I’m going to fly through it. I easily read around 100 pages when I cracked it open last night. 

If you’re looking for a pace-y book that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, check this one out!

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Anna:

Welcome to my first audiobook review! As I mentioned in my last post, I recently moved. While I haven’t had much time to read physical books, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks while I unpack.

I’ve heard so much buzz around Sadie by Courtney Summers since it came out last September. This is a YA thriller, and though it definitely deals with some heavy and difficult themes (sexual assault, child abuse, murder, etc.) I didn’t find it very explicit. I’d definitely say it’s genre/age appropriate.

Sadie has had to be a grown up for as long as she can remember. Abandoned by her addict mother, Sadie essentially raised her younger sister, Mattie. But when Mattie was 13, she was murdered. Sadie sets out to kill the man who took her sister away from her. Meanwhile, in a complementary storyline, a podcast called The Girls has been created to retrace Sadie’s path, as Sadie has since gone missing.

First off, I think including a point of view from a podcast is brilliant. Not only is this creative, but it captures the obsession in recent years with serialized murder podcasts. This book exposes society’s fascination with murder podcasts and dead girls while also praising the attention brought to poorly-investigated deaths. (The police are utterly useless in helping with Mattie’s death and Sadie’s disappearance in this story.) Summers criticizes the use of serialized podcasts to exploit murder and sexual assault victims for listener’s entertainment, which I applaud her for.

 

Sadie is a complicated protagonist. You kind of hate her because of how stubborn she is, and yet you can’t blame her because she’s wicked strong and had a terrible childhood. Her redeeming factor is the fierce and protective love she has for her sister.

Sadie has a stutter, and her relationship with her stutter and, subsequently, her own body, is fascinating. Other people’s reaction to hearing her speak is heartbreaking. I think this is important representation for people with stutters, who I have never before encountered in literature. (Besides Quirrell in Harry Potter, and that’s definitely not a positive representation of stuttering…ouch….)

I enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of this because of the way The Girls sounds like a real podcast. The fact that the podcast has strummy, haunting intro music makes it that much more realistic. The voice of the show’s host is also spot on of what you would expect (and of course a show about two girls disappearing is narrated by a man! This feels like pointed commentary on the author’s part).

However, there are multiple voice actors in this and some of them are REALLY bad. I could have read some character’s lines more convincingly. But for the most part, I think the audiobook is well done.

I love that YA thrillers are becoming more of an established genre, and Sadie did not disappoint!

BOOK VERDICT: 4/5

AUDIOBOOK VERDICT: 4/5