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books and reading

The Guest List

This book was my first from Book of the Month. I was shocked to know that the books are only $15 with add-ons just $10. That’s a heck of a deal for brand new books. I don’t buy a ton of new books, but this deal is too good to pass up. You get to select one book from five choices and add-ons are other books from that month (if you can’t pick just one) or previous book selections. I love a good thriller, so unless the other options are authors I already know and love, I’ll usually end up getting a thriller. Coming soon….my review for the May thriller I chose.

The Guest List is set in Ireland and doesn’t use dialect, but does use common Irish phrases, so a few things went right past me because I was unfamiliar with them, but overall, this book was pretty easy to read. The story is told from various perspectives, as well as the day before a wedding, the morning of the wedding, and the wedding night. Each chapter is easily labeled, so it’s not confusing. And I really wanted to like this book. The premise is great, wedding on a spooky island, people have secrets, Bridezilla, but ultimately, I thought it was preposterous. I ended up giving it three stars because I did want to keep reading, but by the end, I was rolling my eyes so hard that I couldn’t finish the book quickly enough.

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The Last Time I Lied

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I decided to give Riley Sager’s books a chance, given all the buzz around them. I started with Final Girls not even realizing it was his first. I didn’t intend to read them in order but ended up doing so. I thought Final Girls was good, but not spectacular, but I  decided to keep going because you just never know. Funny enough, the main character of this book is also a final girl. Different storyline, though.

Emma is at summer camp when she’s 13 and her bunkmates disappear and are never found. Now, present-day Emma is invited back, 15 years later, to be a counselor and get “closure” on the event. She goes, but she is still nervous. She’s been painting her bunkmates in her artwork. They are always in white dresses, but she paints over them with trees and darkness, burying them. Emma vows to find out what happened to them, why they disappeared, who took them (if anyone), and where they are now.

Even though I gave both books four stars, I did enjoy this one more. It kept me guessing and the main character was nowhere near as annoying as the one in Final Girls. I just didn’t like her or believe her. Emma seems more realistic and the events surrounding the disappearance were more believable, up front. I’m going to give his most recent book a chance when it comes to my library. Maybe third time’s a charm, and this one will be spectacular.

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books and reading

Foe

If I’m going to read one book by an author who has published two books, I might as well read them both, right? When I got I’m Thinking of Ending Things from my library, I also got Foe, because I had heard such good things about Ending Things. I read these two books back-to-back and was really surprised at how great they both were, just in different ways.

Foe is clever where Ending Things is just crazy. Foe is about a married couple who live in the middle of nowhere, but the husband, Junior, has been selected for this special program to go into space. A “replacement” who looks and acts exactly like him will take his place so his wife doesn’t miss him as much. Things aren’t great between Junior and his wife, Henrietta, through this process. They just aren’t clicking much since this big space announcement. It takes Henrietta quite some time to get used to the upcoming separation. And all along you are wondering what this replacement will be like.

This story would make an excellent episode of Black Mirror. I had the book figured out pretty quickly, but only because of a tiny clue the author put in there. I have to say I was really proud of myself for catching said clue. And even though I knew what was happening, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. Where Ending Things is just flat out awesome and insane, Foe is clever and creative. Both are great reads.

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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I’ve been hearing about this book for a while. A friend convinced me to put it at the top of my reading list. Sadly, my library has been closed and only has hardcopies, so no ebook for me. I went ahead and put it on hold in the hopes that it comes to me eventually, and thankfully they started curbside pickup last week! I sat down, started reading, and finished the same day. I could not put it down.

Jake is taking his new girlfriend home to his childhood home to have dinner with his parents, but the story’s told from the girlfriend’s perspective and we learn that she’s deciding whether or not to break up with Jake. Things just aren’t going how she hoped. He’s a nice guy, but just not really her type. The trip is just very odd. It’s dumping snow, and it is hard to drive in. The farm Jake grew up on is more remote than she was expecting, and his parents are, well, you’ll see.

Obviously, this is a book where spoilers will entirely ruin the story, so I’m keeping quiet. But I will say that, even though you know things aren’t right, where the story goes was very clever, and I didn’t see it coming at all. And I haven’t read a book like it. I am always looking for a good, unique thriller, and this one delivers. Highly recommend. I loved it.

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books and reading

Bubblegum

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One of my all-time favorite books is The Instructions. Published 10 years ago, it’s a little-known book with only 2000 reviews on Goodreads. But it’s also one I recommend to everyone. So, when I heard that the author had a new book coming out, it was a no-brainer that I was going to buy it. Even better, I was going to do a group reading with the friends that I read The Instructions 10 years ago. And while I think The Instructions is a book a lot of people will enjoy, Bubblegum is just strange enough to be off-putting to the majority of people. I thought it was fantastic, though.

The story follows Belt Magnet (yes, his real name) as he goes through life with voices in his head, struggling with life, and with his beloved Curio named Blank. Uh, what? Belt lives in a version of our world that has no internet, but instead, has flesh-and-blood robots. These Curios serve various purposes- pets, sport, entertainment, drugs, just about anything you can imagine. And they are adorable. As they were described, I kept imagining a hybrid of a hamster, a mogwai, and a fingerling. Belt struggles in various ways to simply be a functioning adult, and even though he is a bit of a sad case, I found myself hoping he would get past all his issues and make something of himself.

As I said, this book won’t appeal to the masses. It’s almost 800 pages, a huge book, and not just Belt’s story. You also read manuals, transcripts, autobiographies of other people, monologues, and thesis papers. I’m not a person who enjoys Infinite Jest, but I am convinced that if people like that book, they’ll love this one. It’s along the same lines, minus the footnotes. Also, the cover is scratch and sniff.

 

 

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The Nickel Boys

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I buy books on Amazon for my Kindle when they are cheap. Somehow, I ended up buying this one about a month ago, having no idea it was going to win the Pulitzer. Did you know only four authors have won two Pultizers? Booth Tarkington, William Faulker, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead. I was shocked that it was so few, but also of who wasn’t on the list… Steinbeck, Hemingway, Toni Morrison to start.

I read The Underground Railroad before it won the Pultizer and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a tough read, but worth it. When I heard amazing things about this one, I bought it when the price dropped and added to my ever-growing “to read” category on my kindle (currently the home of 90+ books). Once it won, though, I bumped it to the top and am very glad I did.

The story is a fictionalized account of a home for boys in Florida where juveniles are sent to “rehabilitate.” The real school is the Dozier Home for Boys which operated for over 100 years. Once closed, authorities found the unmarked graves of over 50 boys and noted over 100 deaths. This story follows Elwood, who is sent there just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but is otherwise a good kid with a bright future.

Not only is this story captivating, but the writing is top-notch. Whitehead’s language is subtle and understated, but powerful and sticks with you. I can see why he won again. The two books I’ve read of his follow a similar concept: fictionalized accounts of real events/places, but not only do these accounts create meaning for the reader by putting the reader inside the environment, but Whitehead also creates emotions by letting the reader see the nasty side of it all. Some books, literally, whitewash events. Books like American Dirt, for example. It’s impossible to get inside the psyche of a person of a certain culture unless you are that culture. A white person’s perspective of the Underground Railroad would be just words, emptiness. And although Whitehead didn’t live through slavery, his experience is much different than a white person’s and should be afforded the respect and the benefit of the doubt that he (and any “own voices” author) can capture his culture best. That’s what I love about his books. I’m getting to see a side of people that is honest and real and raw and genuine, and I respect that.

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Final Girls

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I’ve heard a lot of buzz around Riley Sager’s books. You know I like a good thriller, but I’m pretty skeptical when I hear great things about a book or author because I’m usually disappointed. The Woman in the Window and The Woman in Cabin 10 and Pretty Girls come to mind. I heard they were SO GOOD, and I was so disappointed. They were full of overused tropes and red herrings and ridiculous plot twists that were obvious a mile away.

So, when I started Final Girls, I just wasn’t sure if it would live up to the hype. I’d say that it mostly did, though. The language was a bit cheesy in parts, but overall, I ended up giving it four stars because it kept me guessing, the red herrings were ridiculously stupid, and I didn’t see the plot twists coming. I know *something* was up, but Sager did a great job keeping me guessing.

The story focuses on Quincy who is the sole survivor of a massacre. She’s a “Final Girl” alive. She joins an unwanted club of two other girls, Lisa and Samantha, who are also sole survivors of their own massacres. But the mess comes when Lisa is found dead and Samantha turns up at Quincy’s house. The plot gets pretty crazy trying to figure out of Quincy truly has memory loss, or if she just refuses to speak about that night. Whether or not Samantha is being totally honest, whether Lisa’s death is as straightforward as the police think, and whether or not Quincy is going to handle Samantha’s questions.

I went through this book quickly and really enjoyed the twists and turns. I’m also looking forward to reading more of his work. Fingers crossed they are just as clever as this one was.

 

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If We Had Known

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As much as I want to say that I relate to characters in books, it’s only partly true. I can empathize and understand, but to say I see myself in them is pretty rare. I can see myself in small ways, like characters who like to read, sure, that’s something I can relate to. But for a character to really get into my soul is rare. Cath of Fangirl certainly did. Aza in  Turtles All the Way Down definitely hit close to home. But I can’t think of a book that has hit me more than this one.

I used to teach high school English. Every time students turned in a paper, I knew one of them would be difficult to read. Usually a girl, but not always. I’ve read about abortions, rapes, assaults, and abuse. Each time, I would take the paper to the counselor and report what I had found. In all cases but one, the counselor was already aware and my responsibility ended there. The one case, though, I had to report to the authorities.

So, when a college teacher hears one of her former students has entered a mall, killed people, then killed himself, she is immediately reminded of what an unusual person he was. Not rude, but straight-forward. Didn’t seem to relate to her other students. And his final paper was about guns. Not exactly threatening, so she didn’t do anything about it. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Combined with her daughter, who has anxiety, as I do, this book just seeped into my world.

So, who is at fault? After Parkland, we learned that people had reported the shooter many times to no avail. So, it seems crazy that one teacher who didn’t turn in a paper about guns and hunting would shoulder all the blame. But in today’s world, this is exactly what can happen. Because the shooter is dead and we have to make sense of the senselessness, people are blamed: the NRA, the mental health world, the gun sellers, video games, violent music, the people surrounding the shooter who were unable to stop him, etc. To single out one of these is irresponsible and narrow-minded and won’t solve the problem. So, I felt for this poor teacher and what she had to go through. Judgment calls are made every day. The kid’s mother didn’t report him. The kids in the class didn’t report him. His co-workers didn’t report him. Other teachers didn’t report him. But this one teacher got the brunt of the blame. To stop this mass shooting epidemic, we have to dig deeper, stop pointing fingers AFTER the fact, and be more proactive and realistic about the problem. I’m not sure if the author wrote this to incite this kind of discussion, but it seems like as good of a time as any to do so.

I was really impacted by this book. I’m not sure everyone will be as much, though. As a teacher, as a person with anxiety, this book really dug into me and made me feel a lot of things that most books don’t. There are plenty of issues about parental divorce and abandonment, verbally abusive situations, and eating disorders, so be warned. But I really recommend this one.

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The Road Out of Hell

I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts. I read a handful of books on the subject, as well, but sometimes they get too intense. I really enjoyed The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles MansonMidnight Assassin, and The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. There are a few others that I never reviewed, but not many are as intense as this one was. Although you know it’s non-fiction and the boy we read about escapes, the horrors he and others endured are beyond words.

Sanford Clark was sent to California to live with his uncle, Gordon Northcutt, on a chicken farm. Uncle Gordon was, to put it plainly, a monster. He kidnapped, raped, and killed little boys. Sanford lived there for two years and was forced to endure many horrifying things himself, including helping kill boys and dispose of bodies. As odd as it sounds, this book is also uplifting. Sanford’s survival was nothing short of heroic, as well as his sister, who never gave up on rescuing him. Sanford eventually marries and has kids (this is all in the beginning of the book, so I’m really not spoiling anything for you) and, although he struggled as an adult to let go of his past, he was constantly surrounded by love.

The details of what happened to Sanford and the other boys are terrible, but nowhere near as graphic as I  was expecting. The story really is about Sanford overcoming this terrible part of his life, how he survived, and how he turned his life into something meaningful. I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting.

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Baal

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For the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I had no desire to read a book by or about a world leader. I just couldn’t think of anyone who interested me much. I’m not a political person, so I struggled with the prompt. My husband suggested Baal, though, which was about a person who wanted to take over the world. Baal being the anti-Christ. This book was much more up my alley.

I’ve read a couple of books by Robert McCammon, Swan Song and Boy’s Life, and both were excellent. Swan Song is a masterpiece, really, and it’s a must-read for dystopian fans. So I knew McCammon had a good track record, but I wasn’t sure about his more creature/horror type books. He has some about supernatural creatures, which isn’t really my thing, but I was going to give this one a chance and have to say, I really enjoyed this book.

Baal is born to a human mother, but we know from the onset that he’s the anti-Christ. As a child, he torments people and wreaks havoc upon every place he goes. Then he grows up, and his powers strengthen. Of course, he gets followers because, well, that’s what the anti-Christ is supposed to do. However, a few see him for what he is and refuse to let him continue his ways. As dark as the subject is, this book is really good and I enjoyed it a lot. It dragged a bit getting to the end, but for his first publication, this is a McCammon book that I  would still recommend.