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Leave the World Behind

Title: Leave the World Behind

Author: Rumaan Alam

Genre: Psychological thriller

Hands down the best book I’ve read so far this year. How’s that for a first line of a review? This book is exactly the type I love. Beautiful language, interesting characters, disaster-type plot, dark, tense, but subdued in its entirety. The terror I felt while reading was so palpable, yet there really was not a certain thing to be afraid of. It’s not like there was a concrete horror, but more of an underlying what in the world will happen next. Alam captured the mood perfectly.

From Goodreads: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

This book struck me as a less horrifying version of Cabin at the End of the World, which I also absolutely loved. The fact that the characters know there’s a blackout but have no idea why it’s happening or if there are other events happening out there is really traumatizing. Alam has a clever way of hinting at outside events to the reader without letting the characters in on the information. The characters react in realistic ways, trying to figure out what to do next, solve whatever problems (and there are many) arise, but they aren’t perfect. They cry and scream and meltdown, because who wouldn’t? But Alam’s writing is to be recognized. The understated way he captures parenthood is gorgeous. Any parent knows that feeling the weight of their child against them is a moment of perfection. I didn’t want this book to end. I loved everything about it, and it’s one I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

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Allegedly

Title: Allegedly

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: YA family fiction

I’ve now read all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books. Monday’s Not Coming, Grown, and Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Unfortunately, I got rejected by Netgalley for her newest. Bummer! But with these four contributions, she’s on my must read list. Anytime a new book comes out, I’ll read it. No question. She has solidified her place in the YA world, in my opinion. And Allegedly, her first novel, is simply outstanding. I was on edge the entire time.

From Goodreads:

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Whew. Who knows, indeed? Is the real Mary the quiet one who never speaks? Or the one with big dreams? Or the one who intentionally killed a baby? Or the one who accidentally killed a baby? Or one who loves her mother so much that she’ll take the blame for the death? Or is she a combination of a few of these? How this story unfolds is just fantastic. As you get to see more of Mary’s current life (she’s the narrator), she slowly reveals her past to you. And it’s hard at times. If Mary is to be believed, her life as a child was very traumatic. But…. can you believe her? That really is the crux of the story, honestly. And Jackson writes it perfectly. You so desperately want Mary to be a good person, because she still is just a kid after all. But, not all kids are good people. For a first novel, this one was just excellent.

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Darling Rose Gold

Title: Darling Rose Gold

Author: Stephanie Wrobel

Genre: Psychological fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge: a book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title

I’m not a big fan of ripped from the headlines plots in books. This story clearly was inspired by that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. However, I couldn’t put this book down. The story was different enough that I had no idea where it was going. Rose Gold was such a great character. You never really knew her true motivations because the story is told out of order. You have a present day storyline where Patty gets out of jail and lives with Rose Gold. But then you back and forth between past and Rose Gold is trying to navigate life after the deceptions are revealed and the present day of living with her mother. This book was cleverly crafted so the true plot isn’t revealed until the very end.

From Goodreads: For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes. And Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling… And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

I couldn’t stop reading this book. And I was so nervous while doing so. Patty really is the worst. Very early on after her release, you realize she hasn’t changed at all. She still has no remorse for what she did, and she didn’t learn anything from her incarceration. So, when Rose Gold takes her back, you immediately cringe because you fully expect the worst to happen. I flew through this book. It is a tough read because it deals with some pretty awful stuff regarding children, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

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The Glass Hotel

Title: The Glass Hotel

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Genre: Financial thriller

I was introduced to Mandel back when I was a member of The Rumpus Book Club. You pay $35 a month and every month you get a book in the mail that hasn’t been released yet. They pick the books, of course, and you get to interact with the author at the end of the month (or at least that’s how it used to be). Through the club, I was introduced to some amazing authors: Tayari Jones, Cheryl Strayed, George Saunders, Emma Straub, and Mandel. What a group that is! I’ve since followed their careers and read more from most of them. And although I had mixed feelings about this one, I realize what a fantastic book this really is.

From Goodreads:

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives

I am struggling to pinpoint what didn’t work for me in this book. Because the story and characters were interesting. I guess the back and forth timeline was frustrating. And the choppiness of how the story unfolded didn’t grab me. But I definitely wanted to see what happened and the writing was beautiful. I loved Station Eleven. I think about it a lot, honestly. As jumpy as the plot is, I was really interested in the “financial thriller” aspect. I think I’m in the minority of not loving this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and I liked it. I was just hoping for something more.

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Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Title: Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Author: Anna Sale

Genre: conversation etiquette guide, social skills, interpersonal relations

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: a book by a blogger, vlogger, YouTube video creator, or other online personality

I don’t follow any blogs of people who have published books, and instead of just picking one at random, this book was one I knew I wanted to read. So, I’m considering Anna Sale an “online personality” because she hosts a podcast. I don’t think that’s a far reach at all. She is the host of Death, Sex, and Money, which is one of my favorite podcasts. Sale has just a lovely speaking voice (critical when you’re a radio/podcast person) and asks such great questions. Clearly, some are prepared because you can tell she has done her research and put a lot of thought into them, but also she responds so well to her guests’ answers. I love that she covers difficult topics with grace. The “sex” aspect might be a turn-off (pun intended!) to some people, but it’s not graphic, and Sale doesn’t really dig into personal details. It’s not salacious in any way. A lot of the sex part is about relationships, intimacy, and connection. I highly recommend you check it out.

From Goodreads: Anna Sale wants you to have that conversation. You know the one. The one that you’ve been avoiding or putting off, maybe for years. The one that you’ve thought “they’ll never understand” or “do I really want to bring that up?” or “it’s not going to go well, so why even try?”

Sale is the founder and host of WNYC’s popular, award-winning podcast Death, Sex, & Money, or as the New York Times dubbed her, “a therapist at happy hour.” She and her guests have direct and thought-provoking conversations, discussing topics that most of us are too squeamish, polite, or nervous to bring up. But Sale argues that we all experience these hard things, and by not talking to one another, we cut ourselves off, leading us to feel isolated and disconnected from the people who can help us most.

In Let’s Talk About Hard Things, Sale uses the best of what she’s learned from her podcast to reveal that when we have the courage to talk about hard things, we learn about ourselves, others, and the world that we make together. Diving into five of the most fraught conversation topics—death, sex, money, family, and identity—she moves between memoir, fascinating snapshots of a variety of Americans opening up about their lives, and expert opinions to show why having tough conversations is important and how to do them in a thoughtful and generous way. She uncovers that listening may be the most important part of a tough conversation, that the end goal should be understanding without the pressure of reconciliation, and that there are some things that words can’t fix (and why that’s actually okay).

Touching, personal, and inspiring, Let’s Talk About Hard Things is a profound meditation on why communication can connect us instead of divide us and how we can all do it better.

It’s funny because Sale writes exactly how she talks. The same phrasing, the same word choice, which was so comforting. I read the entire book hearing her voice in my mind. What I loved best about this book is that it didn’t feel at all like a self-help book, but even though it was, of sorts. It wasn’t preachy at all. I’m sure people read this to learn how to be a better person or to understand other people who are different from them, which is why I mostly read it. It’s the same reason I listen to the podcast. To hear other stories, see how I relate to them, see how I can learn from them. I cannot recommend the podcast and this book enough.

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The Other People

Title: The Other People

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: thriller

I cannot stop reading CJ Tudor’s books. She might be my new favorite author, and I will definitely be reading all her books. Looks like I only have one book left- The Hiding Place. And…. just put it on hold at my library. Hooray! What I love about her books is that they are so tightly written. This one was so full of so many threads that seemed to have nothing to do with each other, but of course they did, and when it all came together, it was just fantastic. Tudor did a great job putting the hints of plot points without revealing exactly what’s going on until later. She digs those hooks in and strings you along, digging the mystery deeper until the reveal. And she’s so good at it.

From Goodreads: Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’ It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy. He never sees her again.

Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights traveling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.

Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter.

Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past. His search leads him to a group called The Other People. If you have lost a loved one, The Other People want to help. Because they know what loss is like. They know what pain is like. They know what death is like. There’s just one problem . . . they want other people to know it too. 

Gabe’s story is just so heartbreaking. Losing his wife and daughter. No one believing him. Wallowing in his grief and frustration. The Other People plot line is really terrifying. The “far deeper in his past” storyline is really creative, and I loved how it ultimately tied to the present. There are some really great side characters, as well. I thought this book was so great. I’d get sucked in and look down and realize I had read 50+ pages in one sitting and it felt like only a few minutes had gone by. That’s a sure sign of a well-written book for me.

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Goblin

Title: Goblin

Author: Josh Malerman

Genre: horror

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

I love Josh Malerman. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on: Bird Box, Malorie, Inspection, Unbury Carol, A House at the Bottom of the Lake, and Black Mad Wheel. So when I was approved for this one, I was so excited. He’s an author who I read, no matter what. I had no idea what this book was about, didn’t care, didn’t matter. Just was going to read it anyway because it was his. This book is a really fun, twisty one. Six stories are set in the town of Goblin, and all intertwine a bit in plot, characters, etc.

From Goodreads: A MAN IN SLICES: A young man wants to prove to his long-distance girlfriend that they have “legendary love,” better than Vincent van Gogh, so he sends her more body parts than just his ear in the mail.

KAMP: A man so horrified of encountering a ghost that he sets up a series of “ghost traps” all over his apartment, desperate to catch one before it can sneak up on him.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HUNTER! Big game hunter Neal Nash leaves his own meat-themed birthday bash to go hunting for Goblin’s hallowed (and protected) Great Owl. But the North Woods are unkind at night.

PRESTO: In the pages of Presto magazine, a young boy reads that his favorite magician, Roman Emperor, is coming to town. Problem is, Pete doesn’t know that Emperor’s magic is real, and his latest trick involves audience participation… a little boy volunteer.

A MIX-UP AT THE ZOO: Dirk Rogers works at both the Goblin Slaughterhouse and the Goblin Zoo, but the workload is really getting to him. Will he be able to separate the two jobs on the night he finally breaks down, or will the slaughterhouse and the zoo overlap in his cracked, dark mind?

THE HEDGES: A young girl finally reaches the end of Goblin’s biggest tourist attraction, The Hedges. But what she finds there sparks a mad chase between the owner of the Hedges and the Goblin Police, through the streets of the rainy city and into the terrible North Woods.

Wow! These stories are just so creepy. All are interesting, full of rich characters, and will leave you with chills. I’m usually not a novella/short story reader, but these were great, and I enjoyed them all. Malerman has knocked another one out of the park for me.

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People Like Her

Title: People Like Her

Author: Ellery Lloyd

Genre: parenting, social media thriller

I’m so far behind on my Book of the Month club readings. I just finished this one, which was sent to me in December. I just have so many library books and PopSugar Reading Challenge books to get through, so these keep getting pushed aside. However, I’m making them a priority and putting them on the top of my TBR pile, so I’m doing my best to read them. I’m trying, at least…. So many books!! I usually get the thriller/mystery book, if there isn’t anything else I recognize to pick from, such as previous authors I’ve read, or ones that just sound outstanding. And sometimes I read really great ones like, A Good Marriage, Winter Counts, or The Night Swim. But then you have bummer ones like These Violent Delights, which was so boring, and The Girl in the Mirror, which I hated so much that I didn’t review it. I’m putting this one right in the middle. It was just okay.

From Goodreads: To her adoring fans, Emmy Jackson, aka @the_mamabare, is the honest “Instamum” who always tells it like it is. To her skeptical husband, Dan, a washed-up novelist who knows just how creative Emmy can be with the truth, she is a breadwinning powerhouse chillingly brilliant at monetizing the intimate details of their family life.To one of Emmy’s dangerously obsessive followers, she’s the woman that has everything—but deserves none of it.  

As Emmy’s marriage begins to crack under the strain of her growing success and her moral compass veers wildly off course, the more vulnerable she becomes to a very real danger circling ever closer to her family.

In this deeply addictive tale of psychological suspense, Ellery Lloyd raises important questions about technology, social media celebrity, and the way we live today. Probing the dark side of influencer culture and the perils of parenting online, People Like Her explores our desperate need to be seen and the lengths we’ll go to be liked by strangers. It asks what—and who—we sacrifice when make our private lives public, and ultimately lose control of who we let in. . . .

Both Emmy and Dan are obnoxious. I just hated them. I felt bad for their kids, being put through the Instagram nonsense. Sorry if you are an influencer, but I don’t get it. And as this book illustrates, it’s entirely fake. Emmy preys upon her followers’ weaknesses to make money. It’s truly disgusting. What kept me reading was the one follower business. But it needed to be a much bigger part of the story. Too much vapidity from Emmy and too little actual mystery. I gave this one three stars because I did want to see what happened, but I just had no sympathy for the adults in the book.

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Shadow and Bone

Title: Shadow and Bone

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Genre: YA fantasy

Obviously, I’m way behind on the Grishaverse. But with the new Netflix show, I’m making a point to get through a few of the books. I’ve been told the show covers this and some of Six of Crows, so that one will be up next. I have a love hate relationship with YA fantasy. Some are just great and I end up loving them. Some just bore me to tears. So, I’m usually reluctant to try the genre, even if it gets good reviews. Because most people like it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I will. I loved The Broken Earth trilogy (The Fifth Season review), and the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Winter, Fairest, Cress sorry Scarlet for no review on your book), although this is a bit more sci-fi. But I’m happy to say so far so good on this one. I flew through it.

From Goodreads: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend, Mal, is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Alina was a lot of fun as a character. Smart, snappy, sarcastic, but still vulnerable. And although the book is mainly about Alina, Mal plays an important role as well. He’s also pretty great, loyal, and kind. As Alina is pulled from one person to another, she realizes how strong she really is deep down.

I was a bit shocked when the book ended at 58% complete on my kindle, but it had a couple excerpts from other books after that. I think this is brilliant marketing, by the way. I couldn’t believe I had finished the book in just a couple days. I couldn’t put it down and really got sucked into the world. I can’t wait to visit the Grishaverse again.

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Mirrorland

Title: Mirrorland

Author: Carole Johnstone

Genre: thriller

I started reading this on my Kindle and about 20% through, I gave up. I wasn’t into the book, and it kept flipping between past and present with no warning, and I was so confused. However, I kept thinking about it, so I tried a different format. I got the physical book from the library, which was perfect. I ended up reading the book in two days. And wow. It was worth it.

From Goodreads: Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

The aforementioned shift between past and present is confusing at first, but once you get used to it, you see how critical that viewpoint is. Cat is an unreliable narrator, and her memories clearly illustrate that. The twists and turns of this book are clever, and Cat’s revelations about both the past and present are well-crafted. I’m so glad I gave this book another chance. It was definitely worth the read.