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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.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts

I love Octavia Butler. Her books are just brilliant sci-fi. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are her best. The second is prophetic. She speaks of a president who wants to make America great again. Seriously. Kindred tells the story of a black woman who mysteriously time travels back to the days of slavery. And the Xenogenesis series is her most sci-fi book in which humans meet aliens. All this said, when I see a book blurb that compares the novel to one by Butler, I’m in.

At some point, this book came on my radar for the above mentioned comparison. While doing my research for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I discovered that Rivers Solomon is non-binary, which was one of the categories I needed to fill. I was curious of their non-binary status would impact their writing. And I was right. This book isn’t just a great sci-fi book, it also places non-binary characters into a world where their status is simply the norm.

The story follows Aster who lives on a ship in space. The ship has been traveling from decimated Earth for over 300 years. The lower parts of the ship are for the Black people who do the manual labor. The white people are essentially aristocrats who live on the upper decks of the ship. Aster is the Surgeon’s assistant, so she commands a tiny bit of respect, but she’s also outspoken and angers Guards a lot. She doesn’t fit in well anywhere. She’s methodical, logical, unemotional, and just says things point-blank. She’s endearing, though, and you cheer for her from the beginning.

As Aster uncovers more secrets about the ship and her dead mother, the story unfolds, and the story takes you down a path of revolution. Aster knows the system has to change, how unfair her life and the lives of her friends is, and she knows she must overthrow the regime. Aster is a fantastic character, and I loved this powerful novel.

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A Good Marriage

It’s rare to find a thriller that’s from a lawyer’s perspective, or at least rare by what books I’ve read. So, when I selected this one for my most recent Book of the Month club pick, I was looking forward to it simply for that reason. I appreciate books that are told from a bit of an unusual perspective. Murder mysteries are usually told from a victim’s family or a police detective, so a defense attorney at least provides a different viewpoint.

Zach and Lizzie are old friends, so when Zach is arrested after the murder of his wife Amanda, he reaches out to Lizzie to defend him. She has to retrace Amanda’s footsteps and dig into her secrets, as well as deal with some secrets of her own. The story is told in past/present alternating chapters. Present is from Lizzie’s perspective and past is about Amanda’s life leading up to her murder.

There is a wide cast of friends in Amanda’s life, who you really don’t know whether or not to trust. Any one of them could have been the murderer, including Zach himself. The story is tightly woven and some good twists, turns, and reveals, and I found myself really enjoying this and not knowing where the plot would end up. Definitely recommend this one!

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Broken Harbor

Tana French writes excellent books. Her Dublin Murder Squad is some of the best of the murder mystery genre. And what’s great about these books is that even though they are connected, the link is thin and not critical to understand. Each book focuses on a murder and the detectives who work it. The next book features a character from the previous book, so one person is familiar, but the rest of the characters and the story itself are new. And you really don’t have to know much about the character to figure out the story. I am reading them in order, but you really just don’t have to.

Broken Harbor kept me guessing. I really had no idea how this case was going to be solved. The detectives in charge are trying to solve the murders of a family who seem to have it all. Three members have died, one is in intensive care, and there are absolutely no leads. And halfway through the book, when a big reveal is made (no spoilers), I had no idea where the book was headed after that.

These books are so well-written. Not just the plot, but she has some fantastic prose within them. They avoid the annoying tropes that a lot of mystery books use, and they all, so far, have lead me down a path that I never saw coming. I appreciate the slow-burn level her books provide. I’m hooked in pretty quickly, and instead of being jerked around by red herrings and meandering plots, the plot moves forward at every step. When people want a good place to start when venturing into the genre, these are the ones I recommend.

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My Dark Vanessa

I first heard of this book because it had been rejected from Oprah’s book club for being too intense. Which is surprising to me, because a lot of her book choices involve heavy stuff. She’s Come Undone (which is so old now, I can’t even believe it) was groundbreaking for me when I was younger at how detailed a book could be. But we live in a different world than in 1992, when Wally Lamb wrote his book, and Oprah is probably being more aware of her audience.

I read Tampa by Alissa Nutting a few years ago. Wow. The level of shock was one I wasn’t expecting. This story followed a female teacher who was sexually attracted to middle school age boys. And, of course, she was a teacher. This pedophile (not to mince words) was really hard to sympathize with. And the graphic descriptions of the sex were, well, detailed. It was a great book, but very tough. My Dark Vanessa tells the same story, but from the victim’s perspective. Both Nutting and Kate Elizabeth Russell tell their stories exquisitely and accurately. The obsession, the grooming, the blaming, etc that we’ve all heard from people who have been in positions of power over men and women who struggle every day with the trauma they have endured.

My Dark Vanessa is an important book, though. It gives voice to a victim and provides strength to anyone who has gone through this to see themselves in the same position. Representation matters. It also provides those of us who have not experienced this trauma to see what life is like for those who have. If you read this book and don’t empathize with Vanessa, then you definitely will need to check yourself. It is impossible to read it with a closed mind and a cold heart. This story is clearly told for all the Vanessas out there (as says the dedication), and we need to be listening.

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Topics About Which I Know Nothing

Patrick Ness is one of my favorite authors. As I’ve said before, you really just never know what you’re going to get with him. I’ve also reviewed a lot of his works like And The Ocean Was Our Sky, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Release, More Than This, and Chaos Walking. I think there’s only one book of his that I haven’t read. And even though his books are really diverse and none are like the others, his writing is top-notch and creative. I’ve enjoyed them all.

This book was actually a short story collection, which I’m usually not a fan of. I really like a good long plot and development. And these stories were good, but only one was exceptional- “Gifted.” My fondness for it might have been because I used to teach middle school gifted kids, like the class in the story, and we did problem-based learning, also like the story. There were definitely the over-achiever, teacher-pleaser kids, and the cynical, distant kid. Ness got these stereotypes totally correct. The story was fun and dark and took my by surprise.

The rest of the stories were fine. I’m sure they appeal to short story fans, but it’s just not my thing. Overall, a nice collection to Ness’s works. I will continue to read anything by him.

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If It Bleeds

My love of Stephen King books is well-documented. Oddly enough, I only read his novels. I’m not one for short stories. However, I’m trying to get through his entire collection, so I’ll read them all at some point. This one is a collection of four novellas, which strike me a bit better than short stories. I like a good development in the plot. And one of them is almost 200 pages, so it might as well be a novel; some books I read are near that anyway.

The four stories aren’t really all that gross or horrifying. Nothing that will keep you up at night. They are definitely mysterious and a bit creepy, but they are tame considering their author. My favorite was If It Bleeds because we get to revisit a character that I especially love. It was the longest story, also. But overall, these are great stories for anyone who enjoys a good, creepy read. And I recommend them as a good way to enter the world of Stephen King.

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Leaving Atlanta

Back when I was a part of https://therumpus.net/bookclub/, I read Silver Sparrow by an unknown author named Tayari Jones. It was a great book, but I filed it in my “read” books and didn’t think much more about it until An American Marriage came out. That triggered my memory of reading her already, and because two of her books were great, I made a point to read more.

A friend recommended this one, and I bought it when it was on sale. I know a fair amount of the Atlanta Child Murders from various books and podcasts, and although this story is fictional, it’s still very powerful. The story follows three different children in Atlanta during the very horrifying time. They are all upper elementary age, fully aware of what’s happening in their town, but also trying to find some independence and happiness. Their parents are rightfully trying to keep them locked down, but the kids just really want to be kids.

In all her novels that I’ve read, Jones uses multiple perspectives to tell the story. Not all authors do this successfully, but she definitely does. You really get to know each side of the story in a way that other narration styles don’t offer. And although this story is tough and will break your heart at times, it’s important to read, especially given the world right now. Reading books by black authors is critical. Their voices need to be heard and acknowledged. I’m listening.

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As Far As You Can Go


I’m really not sure how this little known book came on my radar. It only has 300 or so reviews on Goodreads. My guess it that someone called it a good thriller, then I added it to my “to read” list, but that’s as far as I can speculate. That said, it is a good thriller, but a very slow-burning one.

If you are looking for something intense or fast-paced, this isn’t the book for you. But I felt like the Australian outback, the sparse landscape, the heat, the isolation, perfectly matches the pace of the book. Clearly, things are amiss. An Australian man hires a British couple to go to the middle of nowhere Australia to be caretakers of the farm and of his mentally ill wife. The man is a painter, and he’s expected to teach the wife the art. The woman cooks, tends to the garden, etc. Things aren’t what they seem, though. This book isn’t creepy, but you know things aren’t right. Trying to figure out just what *is* going on was a lot of fun. This book isn’t spectacular, but it is well-written and I enjoyed it.