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Home Before Dark

I’m new to Riley Sager. I’ve dug through his work in the past few months. I read Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied first. When I saw Home Before Dark was on the Book of the Month club, I selected it, even though I wasn’t sure I was sold on his books. Both Final Girls and Last Time irritated me for various reasons (click on links to read the reviews), but I went ahead and read this one. Lock Every Door is on my kindle now, and I’ll read it next!

Home Before Dark is a ghost story/haunted house story. This genre isn’t one I seek out, mostly because I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do appreciate a good imagination and creativity. And this book definitely had that. 5-year-old Maggie’s parents bought a house and because of the events that happened while there, fled in terror. Her dad wrote a book about their experiences. The book was best-seller, but Maggie knows the true. The entire book was a lie. The legend haunts her, but she vows to find the truth of what really happened.

She returns to the house in question as an adult and tries to uncover the truth of the events, and whether ghosts are real. The book is cleverly told in alternating perspectives. One chapter is the fictional book her dad wrote and the next chapter is present-day Maggie. The events in her dad’s book parallel Maggie’s current life. This book was my favorite by far. Not only was the story great, but the back-and-forth chapters were really creative. I could take or leave the other Sager books I’ve read, but this one was worth reading

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Find Me

Again, thank you to NetGalley for access to this book. It was a Kindle first option, but I didn’t select it. This decision was really hard, but I added it to my “to read” list because it sounded great. Then it was for immediate request on NetGalley, so problem solved!

Reni is the daughter of a serial killer who is in prison. When she was young, she was the bait for her father. Her life has never been the same, of course. When her dad tells the police that he’ll reveal the locations of all the bodies, as long as Reni accompanies him, she knows she has to do this to give the victims’ families closure. She hasn’t been in contact with her father, but she knows it’s the right thing to do.

This book went on paths I wasn’t expecting, which was great, but a lot was left unfinished. There were too many plot holes and was in desperate need of an editor. Side note: if you’re writing, don’t say a character wore sneakers on her feet. Where else would she be wearing them? That said, there were some great twists that I wasn’t expecting, so I still recommend the book.

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Night Shift

The cover of this book haunted my childhood. My dad had this paperback on his bookshelf. And when I was just an early reader, I would love to look at the covers of his books. I don’t remember any of them, except this. I hated it because it was so creepy. As vivid as the cover is, I had entirely forgotten which book it was until I actually started reading this one. And when I read the short story about a man with eyeballs on his hand, the memory came rushing back. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that this cover no longer haunts me. I can look at it with no ill effects.

I love individual short stories, but short story collections just aren’t my thing. I much prefer a novel. But I’ve been working my way through all SK’s books and picked this one up. It’s his first collection, published in 1978, and reading it was a blast to the past. These stories are very similar to his early novels in writing style. You also get a glimpse into the SK multi-verse.

“Night Surf” is tangentially related to The Stand. “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” revisit ‘Salem’s Lot. The famous “Children of the Corn” is introduced here, as is “The Lawnmower Man” (which is 99% different than the movie). Every one of these stories was excellent, which is rare for me to acknowledge. Usually there’s a hit or a miss in there somewhere, but I enjoyed them all. If you’re looking to get into SK but aren’t ready to tackle a novel yet, I highly recommend this collection.

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Wonderland

First of all, thank you NetGalley for letting me access this book! Second of all, this cover is gorgeous and fits the book perfectly. I requested this one simply because I loved Baby Teeth because it elicited an intense reaction from me. Every time I picked up the book, my stomach would twist in knots. I absolutely needed to know what was going to happen while also being terrified of finding out. As soon as I saw that Zoje Stage had another book coming out, I knew I wanted to read it.

I can say that this book is nowhere near as tense as Baby Teeth. But that’s okay. It’s more of a mystery than anything. A family of four has just moved to upstate NY, to escape the hustle of NYC, to have more time together, and to let the father, Shaw, explore his artistic endeavors. Pretty quickly, the family realizes the weather isn’t quite what they expected. Granted, it’s snowy, but curious things happen during their isolation. This story isn’t just one about being trapped by the elements. As the days go by, the events surrounding the family become progressively more odd.

This book was good, but I didn’t love it. I felt like it dragged in the middle, but one event shook things up, and the book got back on track. I don’t mind a slow burn book with a good ending, but this one was a bit too slow in parts. The parents were a bit obnoxious as well, but there was some great character development by the end. Overall, it was well-written, and I enjoyed it.

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Normal People

I was very skeptical about this book that EVERYONE was raving about. Review after review. Friend after friend. No way would a book about a relationship between two people would be that great. At least not to me. I’m not a fan of this type of book. At all. Give me a good horror, dystopian, or thriller. But books about people where literally nothing happens. Ugh.

You guys. I loved this book. I have no explanation. The style is wonky. Rooney doesn’t use quotation marks. Once you get that, it’s not hard to follow. The story follows Marianne and Connell through their teens and early 20s. They are best friends and sometimes lovers who really only understand each other in a world where no one else does. Marianne is an outcast in high school. where Connell is popular. In college, their roles reverse, leaving them both struggling with this switch.

I really don’t have an explanation for why I like this book. Both Marianne and Connell are endearing in one moment and utter brats in the next. I want to hug them both and strangle them both. As much as they frustrated me at times, I was also rooting for them to find their places in the world, whether they were going to share one or not. Maybe what I loved was that, even though my college days are long gone, I’ve never truly felt like a normal person and both Marianne and Connell felt familiar to me.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

This ridiculously long title actually makes sense once you’ve read the book. Let’s just get that out of the way. Like most people I know, I read and loved The Hunger Games. I vividly remember getting the last one in the mail and devouring it in two days, even though I had to work both of those days. When I heard a prequel was coming out, I immediately preordered it. The only books I actually buy are all Stephen King’s new books, illustrated Harry Potter books, and Philip Pullman’s new Lyra trilogy. I use my library for just about anything else.

When I heard it was about President Snow as a teenager, I was pretty nervous that he was going to be a terrible person from the get-go. When I read Fairest in the Lunar Chronicles, it never made me sympathize with Queen Levana. I still hated her just as much. But this one was different. Snow isn’t a bad guy. He’s suffered hardships that make his life challenging. I felt bad for him a lot. And I really enjoyed the secondary characters in this book. They brought a richness to the story.

The ending, however, was ridiculous. I didn’t buy it at all. I also felt the book could have been cut down about 75 pages and not much would have been lost. Overall, I liked the book. It was really interesting to see Panem from decades ago. I still recommend it to those who loved The Hunger Games books, but I don’t think it’s nearly as good as those.

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Books I’ve read more than once

I’m not much of a re-reader. I’m always afraid that if I love a book, it won’t hold up the next time around. That maybe I only loved it because of where I was in life at that time. My favorite movie is What About Bob? And there’s this great line about how when Bob tries to make a connection with a person, it’s like a phone…sometimes you get a busy signal, so just hang up and try again later. I think this way about books ALL THE TIME. There are books I tried to read, like On the Jellicoe Road that I absolutely couldn’t get into. I tried twice with that book. The third time, I couldn’t put it down, and it’s a book I recommend a lot. I even use my What About Bob reference in that review.

If I bothered to read these books more than once, you can guarantee their greatness. Side note: I’m not including books I used to teach, unless I read them on my own again at some point. I’m also not counting books that I reread before the final book in the series came out because I needed to refresh my memory.

1984

The Stand

The Shining

Bird Box

Chaos Walking trilogy

Southern Reach trilogy

The Handmaid’s Tale

Autumn Street (the first book I ever loved)

His Dark Materials trilogy also see The Golden Compass

The Goldfinch

A Tale of Two Cities

The Giver

A Monster Calls

Fangirl

and of course, Harry Potter. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this series.

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Miracle Creek

I do not want to read a medical thriller. When I saw that prompt on the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I was sunk. I knew I was going to have to fudge this one. I have anxiety and can’t watch medical shows on tv. I have no desire to read anything medical related. A lot of people read The Silent Patient for this prompt, but I read that last year, so I was struggling to find something. Finally, some people in the reading challenge FB group mentioned this one, and I was sold. It’s mostly a legal thriller, light on the thrills, but it involves a medical situation. I had also been hearing what a good book it was, so off to my library I went.

Not only does this book have a legal focus, it also it an own voices book. The family involved is Korean, as the author, so she’s able to provide an authentic story of the family. The story follows the trial of a woman who is accused of murdering her autistic son. She has been trying an experimental treatment for him which puts him in an oxygen chamber twice a day to help his neurological processing. He’s in the chamber with several people who are also undergoing the treatment for various reasons. An explosion occurs, and the woman is accused of setting the fire.

The story unfolds with one secret revealed after another. As the trial progresses and new information is brought to light. you begin to see how twisted together all the participants are. The Korean family who owns the chamber as well as their clients are wrapped together in more ways than you expect. By the end, you really don’t know who set the fire because it could have been anyone, since they all seemed to have some hand in the crime, whether directly or indirectly.

This book was great. It was tightly written, kept me guessing, and was captivating from the first chapter. Whether you enjoy legal stories, own voices books, or a good mystery, this book will be perfect for you.

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Joyland

I’ve been working my way through Stephen King’s back catalog. At this point, I’ve read 43 of his 50 novels, counting this one. I’m trying to read at least 4 more this year, as well. I’m way behind on his short story collections, though. Maybe next year that will be my goal. This short book was one that I’ve never heard much buzz about. His long books, ones turned into movies, and his old classics are ones that frequently are read and reviewed. But this one is highly underrated. I absolutely loved it.

Set in the summer of 1973 at a small amusement park named Joyland, Devin is spending his summer break from college trying to earn a few bucks. He’s a hard worker, great with kids, and is enjoying his time near the beach. A fortune teller warns him of some events in his future, but of course, he dismisses her, because, well, fortune telling. There’s also park legend about a woman who haunts the ride where she was murdered. The murder is true, but the haunting, well, chalk that up to the fortune telling. Devin just doesn’t believe. So, given this is Stephen King, you can probably guess that Devin’s skepticism is unfounded. Craziness ensues.

The ending of this book was perfect. Obviously, I won’t say why, but I really loved it. This book definitely needs more love. I can’t believe more people don’t read this one. It’s also a great entry point into his works. It’s short, not too graphic, and you get sucked in quickly. Cannot recommend this one enough.

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The Secret Place

Teenage girls can be the worst. My apologies if you are one of the good ones, because there are some amazing girls out there. I taught hundreds of them. But some are just wretched. They are mean and spiteful and a nightmare to be around. Unfortunately, this book features some awful girls, which greatly increased my dislike of the book. And although I love this series, this book grated on my nerves.

The entire plot is to figure out who killed this teenage boy who attends an all-boys school. The girls of the sister school are being interviewed, since they have a lot of contact with the boys. They are simply asking the girls if they know anything. These girls are clams. They won’t say a word, but enough slips out, a tiny bit at a time.

The plot is fine. Just another unsolved mystery. The detectives are clever and likable, and we get to see a very familiar face at one point. But the girls. Ugh. The two cliques involved are just so mean. Sadly, French captures this perfectly. I have known plenty of girls like this. She is spot-on with her portrayal. But I hated most of these girls so much that it just distracted me from my enjoyment of the book.