I love being able to peek inside different cultures, worlds, and across the globe through books. It reminds me how small my corner of the world is, how little I've experienced, and how much more is out there, if only I choose to look for it.
It can also be a lovely reminder that as different as people look from me, they are still people with families, loves, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Sometimes, especially in times of fear and confusion, it is easy to distance ourselves from others and create distrust where there really is no reason for there to be any.
This is one of those books that could bring people together.
It did take me a little bit to get used to the structure, as the book moves through time fluidly, not really pausing to let the reader know that the narrative is going to shift back ten years in the past or fast forward to several months later. So sometimes you are playing catch-up or having to reread a few sentences once you figure out what is going on.
I thought this style of writing, though definitely a bit difficult to keep up with, echoed the motif of memory that is played with throughout the book. Our brains don't categorize thoughts and memory chronologically. We flit around, one thing reminding us of this other thing from our childhood, which brings us back to that other moment, and so on. I thought the structure was an interesting representation of how we process thought and memory.
Dropping in on the lives of each member of an American-Muslim family as they wind around each other, this book weaves a tangled web of family, community, and society, each circle drawing different restrictions around them or conclusions about them.
I loved the story of the book and think it is one of those books that everyone could benefit from reading. I did find the sentence structure and general voice of the book to be a bit repetitive, which made the book difficult to read in long stretches. But as a debut novel, this really is a fantastic book.
This book reminded me a lot of another family drama I recently loved, The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas. If you loved this book, I highly, highly recommend you check out Cherise's beautiful writing and immaculately woven story.
My thanks to Crown Publishing, Hogarth, and SJP for sending me a free copy of this book to read and review.
I am a big fan of dystopian fiction. The distress of unimaginable near-future situations and contemplating how they might actually mirror our own society or how we could possibly evolve in that direction if we aren't careful is something that I find really fascinating.
What I become wary of is a type of book that is becoming trendy—a fad genre, you could say. The feminist dystopian narrative is becoming a bit of a fad, based on a lot of factors.
And this is a really good thing, for the most part. I love the revitalization of The Handmaid's Tale with the adaptation to television, the broadening of that horrific world into something far beyond what the original book envisioned but a broadening toward themes that are echoing loudly in our world today. And there are other recent books that I've enjoyed--Red Clocks will probably be in my top ten list of the year.
Perhaps "fad" is a bit too flippant of a term, because I really do think that literature reflects the times that we live in. Authors write—even fiction and perhaps especially fiction—about what is influencing their lives, what they feel strongly about, what they think others feel strongly about, how they see the world around them changing. And even if they aren't directly addressing these things in their writing, it still might come out. So it is more than a fad, really. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It is authors holding up a mirror to our society and saying, take a look.
Vox is meant to be more than just a subtle mirroring. It is very up front about its ideas: in the near-future, a fundamentalist Christian government has taken the reins and only allows women to speak one hundred words per day. In a world that replies so heavily on language for communication, this makes it hard for them to have a job or really handle anything, so they are relegated back to their houses with husbands in total control.
My main issue with this book is that it really isn't about what it purports to be about. This isn't a revolutionary and uplifting story about women's struggle to rise up against this oppression. It is instead the story of one woman, who is extremely selfish, self-centered, and lucky, and how everything lines up for her without her having to try very hard at all.
The main character, Jean, is a cognitive linguist who used to be searching for a cure to Wernicke's aphasia, where the ability to grasp the meaning of spoken words or sentences is impaired. And that ends up playing a huge (and I mean major) part of the plot. I'm not saying it isn't interesting, I'm just saying once you know what's going on, it is sort of a letdown. The story becomes very insular and all about Jean, rather than about the issues at large.
Jean doesn't seem to care about her family all that much. She has four children, but don't expect to hear about two of them at all. The older boy she has a strained relationship with (understandable) but she acts very childish and doesn't try to see things from his perspective or talk to him about what's going on (once she has a chance to do so). The last child is her daughter, who is really the only one she seems to have any affection for, but there are still moments where it seems like she would abandon her too.
There is a strong emphasis on purity by the ruling regime, though of course it is really only a problem if women are the ones who are messing around. But because everything about the government is bad, the decisions that Jean makes about her own romantic life are shown in a positive light, and are even justified in the end. It isn't that black and white, though and I found it a poor narrative tactic.
You could argue that she is mistrustful of those around her for good reason as men hold all the power and even her son seems to be buying into the new power structure, but I wasn't convinced.
There are also some fairly unbelievable coincidences with this Wernicke's aphasia. I found myself thinking, how common is this type of aphasia? And Jean must have taken some Felix Felicis because she makes some crazy intuitive leaps in the last third of the book and everything she guesses is correct and everywhere she goes is the right place to be. All these little gripes and grievances are mostly to say, I found the plot strung together and the main character unbearable.
I think what would have made this book more interesting would be to begin from the same premise, but give us different narrators from all walks of life. Give us someone like Jean's friend, who was a liberal feminist protester, fighting the whole thing tooth and nail. Give us a transgender narrator, maybe a young boy who identifies as female but knows he'll have no power that way, give us a deaf woman (I really wondered about deaf women—how do they get their hundred words?). Give us a true believer, one of the women who believe this is the way it should be. Jean is so white-bread boring. I would have liked to see beyond her privileged perspective.
The good news is, this isn't the end of the feminist dystopian narrative. If you are interested in these, I expect there will be more on the way.
My thanks to Berkley for sending me an advance copy of this book to review.
While I was definitely intrigued by the premise of Baby Teeth, this one unfortunately, was not for me.
The narration switches between Suzette and her seven-year-old daughter, Hanna. Hanna is very intelligent, but she has a dark side that seems to only come out when her mother is around. She has chosen to be nonverbal, has gotten herself kicked out of several schools, and generally makes life hell when she doesn't get her way. But for her dad, she is, of course, an angel.
I found the back and forth of the plot to be repetitive. Even though Hanna's misdeeds escalate throughout the book, it felt fairly unbelievable. Though she is described as intelligent, many of Hanna's thought processes—how she got from how she felt about something to what she wanted to do about it—felt much too sophisticated for such a young child.
Even if a reader could accept that, the level of language used in Hanna's sections was wildly varied and some of the descriptions that she used felt way off-base to me. I don't think a seven-year-old would ever describe a slinky evening gown as "an oil slick of a dress," and that's just one example.
I also found Suzette an extremely frustrating character—if I had a child who was exhibiting strange behavior only to me, the first thing I would do would be to try to catch that behavior on video. No one even suggests this! It drove me a little crazy.
The ending of the book was especially disappointing. Especially after being so honest and
If you are looking for a good story about mother's and their creepy children, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin or Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child. Both of those books are incredibly wrought portraits of family in crisis and truly held me in suspense that I felt deep in the pit of my stomach long after I put the book down.
My thanks to St. Martin's Press for sending me an advance copy of this book to read and review.
After being blown away by Eileen and less than impressed by the collection Homesick for Another World, I wasn't sure what to expect from this next novel by Moshfegh.
In mid-2000 in NYC, the twenty-four-year-old narrator of this book opts of of society. It doesn't seem political or even some form of social protest, she's just tired. Or maybe bored. So she decides to quit life and do the one thing she likes full time: sleep. With the aid of a veritable drugstore of pharmaceuticals from a suspect and truly irresponsible psychiatrist, she plans to sleep through as much of the next year of her life as possible.
I think there is a year in our recent past that we all could say we would have preferred to sleep through, so I see what Moshfegh is getting at.
Where she really excels as a writer is in the intense character study. Her characters are often shallow and self-centered, but I have a hard time holding that against them, because really, we all are (at the very least inside our own heads). She creates these flawed people who, sometimes brilliantly, see who they are fully, though sometimes they view the world around them with skewed perception or half-blindness.
The narrator in My Year has followed a specific path in her life, seemingly set out for her by her birth to rich parents and her blond-haired pretty-girl good looks, and she's finding out that it doesn't bring her any joy. It feels empty because it is. And she isn't going anywhere new fast.
She (ahead of her time in 2000, as this felt very millennial to me) is fairly aimless, not knowing what she wants to do with her life. She is lackadaisical about the opportunities she's been given, spiteful about the people she spends time with, and oblivious to anything going on outside of her head and personal existence.
What will a year of hibernation do? For her, it doesn't seem to be a meditative experience, like monks seeking enlightenment. She describes how she is able to retreat from the world in relative comfort because of her fairly lucky financial situation—which has nothing to do with success on her own part. She isn't in there contemplating solving world hunger. Mostly, she is introspective, thinking about her past, her family and the experiences that brought her to where she is today.
But in the end, this is a very irreverent, driven, insightful, and darkly comedic story about one girl finding a new way to life. Yes, she is blindly believing that by ignoring all her problems she will somehow be reborn, able to handle existence again. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't. But I think it's more about the journey, making the choice to begin again.
My thanks to Penguin Press for sending me an advance copy of this book to read and review.
What a world we live in.
Just this year, there have already been over 20 school shootings in the United States. If that isn't enough to make you start seeing that there is something horribly wrong in our society these days, I don't know what will.
What if there were a place you could go, a place to live away from all the chaos, the news feeds, the violence, the technology? A quiet back-to-nature sort of society of like-minded individuals who just wanted to reboot and get back to what really matters, like spending time with family? Would you give up all the modern conveniences to know you'd be safe and far away from potential man-made disasters?
That's the idea behind the island community of Halcyon. But this book is so much more than that.
This is an intricate multi-perspective book that seems almost disparate in the beginning, jumping from one plot thread to another that is completely unrelated (but also totally captivating, I might add). But hold on. Because the more you learn, the more you (almost) wish that you could have stayed in the dark just a little bit longer, dreaming of that perfect place.
But everyone has their darkness, and everywhere has its flaws. Eden doesn't exist in Halcyon—at least not once you scratch the surface.
There is so much that I loved about this novel. I wouldn't call it a slow burn, because although it does take a while to get to the island itself, there is so much going on in the plot that I really stayed invested in the characters, their individual stories, and the mystery behind putting together the missing pieces.
And the pacing really does not let up. Though at some points I could definitely see where the story was headed, I was propelled through the pages by the writing and the characters. The only weak link of the characters to me was Shirley, the older sister, who felt underdeveloped at times and was used as a device to move the plot toward its inevitable conclusion rather than a person making decisions of her own.
As I have been thinking through why we read (and need) horror a lot recently, I think this book offers a great argument for exactly why horror is so important. It touches on real-world issues, fears, and frustrations about the state of our society and then imagines what if?
That "what if" spins a lot of different directions, but most memorably for me, in the mind of young Edith. Suffice to say that she reminded me a bit of some kids from King novels.
I went into this book not really knowing what to expect, and I was totally blown away. Youers has a great talent for story and I would love to read another of his books!
My thanks to St. Martins Press and the author for sending copies of this one to the Nightworms to read and review!
What makes a good story? I’m not talking horror, but just a good story. Characters who feel real, a unique and moving plot, some sort of social significance, just plain old good writing? Here’s the thing haters, horror stories have those things too.
As horror fans (and I know that’s who I’m mostly talking to), we’ve all had that moment (or those moments) when we profess our love for the genre and you get that reaction, eyes sort of creasing, mouth thinning into a line, their entire body shifting back from you. A literal visceral reaction to the word horror. And the immediate response of “I hate scary things,” “I can’t read those books,” or “why do you like that?”
I am 100 percent for everyone doing their own thing, liking what they like (and who they like for that matter!) but I do wish people would give horror more of a chance. Horror is so much more than that first impression, and while it is making a waves recently due to crazy amazing hits on screens big and small like Stranger Things, It, Get Out, and real-life happenings like our current (and seemingly always escalating and never-ending) political situation, the craze for true crime, and so on, there is still a lot of ground to cover.
So why horror fiction?
Well, I guess that brings me around to the point. Why horror fiction? Writers like Paul Tremblay is why.
On the face of it, The Cabin at the End of the World has a simple set up. A little girl and her two dads taking a vacation at a secluded cabin by a lake. Four strangers converge on the family and they want something—and it’s not good.
But it’s also not what you expect. This isn’t The Strangers. This is bigger than that. Or is it?
This book is a white-knuckle one-sitting type of read. Though told in third person, it switches perspectives between the characters, giving the reader brief insights into each of their psyches and feelings. I really liked this technique; it felt cinematic to me, but in a three-dimensional kind of way because it was like I was really seeing the story through each of their eyes in turn, feeling the emotional pulses of the story, rather than just being an outside observer.
This is my third Tremblay book (I’ve read A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock too) and I’m noticing a trend of his. He loves the fantastic, that suspension of the story between reality and the supernatural. He’s always holding the reader on a string throughout his books making us wonder what exactly is going on. Is there a rational explanation—can we keep our feet firmly on the ground? Or, is something supernatural at play and we’ve left the known world behind, we’re untethered, an astronaut floating through the dark stillness of space alone with only his own breath—and the monsters. Tremblay pulls us back and forth along the string of the fantastic, leaving us to wallow in that moment of hesitation, that catch of breath between the known and unknown.
And what a delicious place to live.
Cabin is also taking on underpinning themes of the current state of the world and our society today. Though perhaps not in your face, I think these themes of environmental and also social downfall are definitely an important part of this book. And it brings me back to my original point about why horror.
Horror shows us a way through the darkness.
It shows us characters in situations that we (hopefully) never have to deal with, but reading about how others struggle—whether they win, lose, live, die, become a zombie, stake a serial killer, or just deal with the darkness within—helps us negotiate our own struggles and process our traumas in our daily life and those in the world at large too. Horror is cathartic and all the many different strands of it are worth investigating.
I am hesitant to say this is Tremblay’s best because I know there’s more coming. And we’re ready to read it when it gets here.
My thanks to Mindi (Instagram: @gowsy33 Goodreads: Mindi Snyder), who is a horror reader and reviewer extraordinaire for sending me her extra copy of this book!
What's the one thing that humans seem to consistently strive for? We want to look fitter, thinner, more beautiful, but it really all culminates in our society's constant obsession with youth. If you look younger, you are younger—in a way, you're cheating death. And that's the ultimate goal, isn't it. To vanquish that ultimate foe and live forever.
Well, be careful what you wish for.
In this futuristic novel, the idea of extended life takes on a dystopian edge. Some people have the genes to live many years longer than we ever thought imaginable, and maybe someday, even beat that dark, inevitable end. In this world, it might be coming, if only you are first gifted the right genes, and second, you treat them right, following a strict regimen of eating, working out, and doctor's appointments. People are also becoming a bit bionic, enhanced by technological parts that work better than the human body and extend life.
But what if you don't want to follow their rules? What if you don't want to live forever? To some, life is meaningless if you can't really live it how you want to, and death is a choice they are willing to to not only take over some sanitized, robotized version of living but use as a political statement.
I really loved this book. It has a loud message and a quiet strength. The narrators of the book are two strong women (which I already love), each on their own journey toward understanding what life means, how they want to live it, and who they want to spend it with.
This book is asking us to take a hard look in the mirror and think about what it is that is important to us. What do we want our children to revere? The suspension of youthful looks and the denial of our impending future as dust? It isn't mean to sound morbid; it is just the truth. What do we want to leave behind as our legacy? What do we want to learn? What can we change about our world? And how deeply can we love?
I did wish that the book had delved more deeply into some of the topics that it uncovered, including the bionic people and all the ramifications around their parts that keep working even when they stop (the part with Anja's mother is some of the strongest writing in the book). Though the suicides are obviously inflammatory (pun not intended) and riveting to read, I wished the characters engaged with them more. What were they thinking, feeling? The Club itself felt underrepresented for being the titular element. I would have also liked a little more world-building too, to see the contrast between the Lifers and the other people more, to get into their lives rather than just the monochrome perspective of our character's privileged viewpoint. I felt a little bit at a remove, as though I couldn't quite craft a whole picture of the world.
These are things that could have been expanded on or improved, but they don't detract from the overall beauty of the book. Suicide Club is a thoughtful and unique debut novel with a lot of heart. I can't wait to see what Heng does next.
My thanks to Henry Holt for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.
"Medicine is an approximate science. Loneliness is a specific monster."
This is my first Kepnes book, so I can't say how it compares to her others, though this one feels different. There is a strength, a quiet depth to the prose, following three characters from each of their viewpoints across a span of years as they search for each other (though for very different reasons), for answers to questions only they seem to be interested in, and to find a balance between their necessary loneliness and their intense longing.
This book defies categorization, which makes me like it even more. It is just a great story with a little of everything: a mystery, a hunt for the truth, death, lies, Lovecraft, a detective on the case, star-crossed lovers, and a paranormal twist. What's not to like?
It is a book that held me above the story rather than really pulling me down to the surface, on the level where the characters were interacting with each other. I stayed up in my head, if that makes sense. It isn't that I wasn't emotionally involved, it is just that the book is more of a slow-paced thoughtful type, letting you chew on the concepts and ideas throughout from a bird's eye view.
Throughout the book, Kepnes is contemplating the idea of a monster—what makes a monster? What defines monstrous behavior? What sort of facade can you hide behind, what sort of actions make you normal and what makes you feared and reviled? Can you be both? Can the monster be saved or changed?
Along with being a monster comes loneliness. This reminded me a lot of Frankenstein, where Frankenstein's monster doesn't know what he is until he is taught that by the reactions of others. And it makes him lonely, craving the company of others.
Why do we want to be around other people? People might hurt us or not understand us. It is because of the potential for love, the potential to share our life, our successes, and even our failures with someone else. To be comforted, cared for in times of need. An emotional and physical connection.
Providence is about all these things. It is a very human story about the people we are, the things we hide, and the lives we lead, just with a little twist of the unknown thrown in. And who knows what's possible anyway—the universe is bigger than we could ever imagine.
My thanks to Random House for my copy of this book to read and review.
Reading this book reminded me why I love Instagram and the book community that exists there there. Without those amazing readers and people, I don't think I ever would have known about this book, and what a shame that would have been.
This book has been quietly making the rounds on social media since its Halloween release last year, growing little by little by word of mouth, but it isn't a huge title from some publishing titan. It doesn't have some big backing, but it does have its own merit and the people who have read it, telling you, "you need to pick up this book."
A perfect premise: four renowned horror authors spending Halloween in a supposedly haunted house with a rich media mogul who wants them to share their literary knowledge with the world.
But what begins as a heavy-handed publicity stunt follows each of them home in a different way, forcing dark fingers into the crevices of each of their lives. What exactly is it about the house on Kill Creek? What's living there? Dead or alive? And what does it want with the writers?
Thomas has a raw talent and this book pulses with true life. I leaned in to this book as I haven't with a newer book for quite some time, really getting invested in the story, the characters, and the house.
I love a haunted house story; it is probably my favorite type of horror tale. Kill Creek is not only an interesting, involved, scary, and unique story, it completely reinvents the concept.
From the start, it is apparent that the author knows his stuff about horror. I felt safe in the hands of someone who had his main character rattling off about The Mysteries of Udolpho, Freddy Krueger, and Polanski's The Tenant within the first few pages of the book.
And not only that, but the prologue to the book is an obvious homage to Shirley Jackson's most perfect haunted house book, The Haunting of Hill House. Almost beat for beat, he reconstructs his house on Kill Creek the same way she brought together Hill House, how it seemed to create itself "flying together into its own powerful pattern."
And that's the way this book felt—formed so tightly that it nearly flew together of its own volition—a story that had to be told.
As far as the plot goes, I loved the four writers and how they echoed real writers (or at least bits of them). Daniel Slaughter with his Christian-leaning Goosebumps-type series, Sebastian Cole with his Stephen King–like influence, T. C. Moore with her Jack Ketchum–level grossness and Clive Barker weirdness, and Sam McGarver (the main character), who seemed to be more of an amalgam or middle man, perhaps influenced by the Southern gothic William Gay, but more mainstream. (Any ideas?)
In any case, I loved seeing them interact, come together, and even just hearing about their books. I'd read one of each, especially that Cole book A Thinly Cast Shadow that everyone seems so keen on. Perhaps Thomas has something up his sleeve in this direction (oh, please!!), as he obviously has lots of great horror plot ideas. I definitely don't expect this to be his last foray into the genre.
If a story can get you invested in the stories that it isn't telling, you know that's a good book. And I'm telling you, that's only the beginning.
Where this book goes is not what I expected. I figured it would be a fairly straightforward creepy haunted house, bump-in-the-night type of read. Not true at all. This plot has much more to offer, ideas that will expand how you think about hauntings, old places, and maybe even your own home.
I can only tell you to go out and get this book. Have your local bookstore order a few extra copies. If you like it, pass on the love to someone else. This one deserves to be read.
If there was ever a book to make you crave food, this is it.
I wanted good, delicious Chinese food every time I cracked this book open. You can basically smell it while you read—the hot, sizzling spices, fried rice, heaping plates of beef and eggplant with garlic sauce (my favorite), and bowls brimming with wonton soup—SO GOOD.
I didn’t quite know what to expect diving into this (besides hunger pangs) but I was pleasantly surprised by an inventive and humanistic tale similar in style to Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere or Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. the World.
I loved each of the characters and their struggles. Each chapter continues the story from a different characters’ perspective, so the reader gets a bird’s-eye view of the whole story—the good, the bad, the incendiary, and the ugly. From the brothers who co-own the Beijing Duck House that was their father’s dream and masterpiece and the less-than-ideal business decisions one of them has been making, to the servers who have been working at the restaurant for just about ever, to the newer generation and their own struggles.
I loved the entanglements of all the characters, how the book reminisced about the past and how where we come from influences who we are, whether we decide to fight it or let it be a part of our story. Li has a true talent for the craft of characters, from dialogue to being able to switch back and forth between all their perspectives and making them feel like distinct people.
There are many different types of relationships handled very deftly here: brothers, sons and mothers, unlikely lovers, young lovers, business partners, coworkers, spouses, teens and their parents—the list goes on. This web is tangled even further as many characters play multiple roles. The book uses the setting of the restaurant and the hierarchy within the restaurant as a metaphor for the rest of the world—who you are when you are at work is not necessarily who you are when your shift ends. But what happens when all of that comes crumbling down?
Identity is a tricky thing. It is tied to our perception of ourselves but also how other people see us. Where we come from, what we do, who we spend time with—all these things shape who we are. But it is not always easy to craft or change this, even if we desperately want something else. This book is a lot about identity, the finding and shifting of it, through food, the past, and those around us.
This is a book with heart—a true feast for the heart. It has moments of comedy and absurdity, but then vulnerability, loss, and heartache where the reader sees what it means to be part of a community that is so tight it is more like a family. And as it is with families—they know nothing about each other’s inner lives and constantly get on each other’s nerves. I ate this book up—Li is a huge talent and I can’t wait to see what comes from her next.
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.