The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 8. Involving the art world, 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings, 13. Includes a club, 15. A five syllable title, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 36. Recommended by a favorite author, 40. A book with photographs inside, 46. A job title in the title, 52. Published in 2022

My streak of meh books continues. I really think this is the improvement to Paul Tremblay’s work that I was looking for, but I still had to drag myself to the finish line on this one.

Art Barbara is not his real name, but this is his memoir. Beginning in the late 80s, after being told he needs more clubs and extracurriculars to get into college, Art starts The Pallbearers Club: a group that attends the funerals of the homeless, or older people with no one left. There, he meets Mercy, a girl of undistinguishable age, with a camera and a fascination for Art and his club.

Over the next twenty years, Mercy floats in and out of his life, but Art’s life revolves and progresses around the time he spent with Mercy. She left a permanent – and possibly harmful, supernatural – mark on his life that is nearly inescapable.

I don’t really know how to describe this book and I don’t think Tremblay did either. It’s a very, very weird book, but I think it’s kind of a good weird. It very much reminded me of Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick – my go-to recommendation for something oddly heavy. It feels like digesting a lot, which is why it took me longer than expected to finish these less than 300 pages.

The writing here is EXACTLY what I knew Tremblay was capable of when I read, and did not love, Survivor Song. It wasn’t his story, not in the sense that it wasn’t original but in that it was not his scene, not the setting for his storytelling skills. The Pallbearers Club is his story. This blend of 80s cult classic with 90s hopelessness and confusion is a perfect blend for his style and wordplay. This part of the book, at least, was top notch, and solely convinced me I would read another of his books if it sounded like the right one.

I think the characters and the story were also very distinct and interesting, and I liked all of it. They were extremely well-rounded; the relationships and exploration of them through dialogue and moments spent together were exactly what they should’ve been to relay their toxic friendship and increasing madness. It was an intriguing concept, but something about it feels like it could’ve been done better: I liked this book, but I couldn’t wait to be done with it, if that makes sense. It was dense in all the wrong ways. It felt clunky, yet the prose was so perfect. It’s hard to explain, but something about this was disjointed in a way that affected my enjoyment, but not so much my absorption of the point and the book itself.

I would still recommend this one. This is Tremblay in his element, I’m sure of it. There was a lot of good here to go along with the bad.

Have a great weekend!

Devil House by John Darnielle

Devil House by John Darnielle

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 1. A second-person narrative

Other Possible Prompts: 8. Involving the art world, 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!, 52. Published in 2022

My bad book streak continues! Someone end my misery. Welp, by the time you read this, hopefully I will have read something worth giving five stars to again.

So to be completely frank: I have no idea what this book is really about. There are parts of it that I just…completely lost. I truly thought this was going to be a dark and creepy ‘Salem’s Lot-esque novel, maybe some Amityville touches, but this book isn’t so much horror as it is critical fiction. Here’s what I definitely parced plot-wise:

Writer Gage Chandler crafts tales of true crime by getting up close and personal with his stories and their history, and many of his works have even become movies. When his editor stumbles upon a random article from the 1980s about a satanic killing in an old porn shop north of San Francisco, he implores Gage to buy the home, move into it, and tell the real story.

Interwoven with one of his other tales, The White Witch, Gage tells the story of Devil House and all that he can parce truly transpired there…but as he unearths more of the story, he is left thinking about the true meaning and impact of his work as a true crime novelist.

Self loathing mid-life crisis much? I just felt like there was…a lot of author in this book. It feels like a reflection essay disguised as a tale of “horror”. Which, by the way, it wasn’t, really.

I chuckled as I included “Don’t judge a book by its cover” as one of the possible prompts (only the second book I’ve put on that list this year), primarily because I absolutely adore this cover and the content is…not great. I usually look at book covers as “someone enjoyed the book so much that they took the time to make a truly beautiful cover that reflects the art inside”. I love the cover of Devil House and it’s 90% of the reason I bought the book, actually, but the principle of the artist loving it cannot possibly apply here. I get Amityville Horror vibes, or classic cult fiction from the cover – and none of that within its pages. Soooo disappointing.

This book doesn’t touch at all on any supernatural horror, like I was kind of expecting from the cover art, but it does delve into a lot of true crime. Each moment is painstakingly laid out and can be somewhat gruesome. These parts, the actual horror parts, are admittedly written with care and precision that keeps it interesting – like a car accident you can’t tear your eyes from. Those scenes show skill.

When I rated the book on Goodreads and mentioned the full review would follow, I jokingly said “I wasn’t high enough to enjoy this”. But, um, there’s definitely some truth to that. This book feels a bit like a fever dream or a bad trip. Maybe if you were on the same wavelength as when Darnielle wrote it, it would make more sense, but as it was…big chunks of the book were not at all meaningful to me. I zoned out too easily and was jostled by the writing style.

The only reason this book is getting two stars and not one from me is because of *the point*. Large chunks of the book (that actually make sense) tell the tale of what happens when true crime gets written, to those who are left behind. This is why the tale of the “White Witch” is included – though it confounded me at first. It comes full circle when we talk about the story of Devil House. This book could be far more impactful and widespread if an editor had taken more pain to rein it it from the wild ride it currently is. The sad story behind every true crime is kind of an interesting take…and I liked this one part of it.

So, not recommending this, obviously. Don’t let that damn cool cover fool you, friends. You can skip this one. Have an excellent week.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 14. A character with superhuman ability

Other Possible Prompts: 41. Involves a second chance, 42. An indie read, 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre

This gem came up in my library holds a couple weeks ago but I’ve just been putting it off – everytime I got it, it seemed I was already in the midst of something. Finally I decided to just borrow it, and I literally could not put this one down.

Wallace was a powerful, cold and calculated attorney who was very good at his job, if nothing else – and then he died. At his funeral, he is collected up by his reaper, Mae, and brought to Charon Crossing: a peculiar teahouse run by a man named Hugo. Hugo, Mae tells him, is a “ferryman” who will help him cross over.

Unwilling to believe himself really dead, Wallace learns to navigate the world as a ghost with the help of Nelson, Hugo’s grandfather, and Apollo, Hugo’s dog – both also dead. Wallace isn’t quite ready to pass on, but he’s not sure why just yet. This odd clan is going to help him find out why.

I love the characters in this book. They absolutely make the story – they are warm and alive, much like in The House in the Cerulean Sea. Despite the wild fantasy the story tells, these characters are deep set in reality with beautiful personalities and stories to tell. Even Wallace becomes something greater than he was.

I didn’t think I was going to like the premise (pondering the afterlife) in this one as much as the other Klune I read, but I really did. Perhaps even more so, because it felt a bit more like magical realism than deep fantasy – I don’t prefer fantasy, but I think Klune has a knack for it. I can picture it, see it, follow it and actually enjoy it more than I can any other fantasy story I’ve read in the last five to ten years or so (God, I’m old).

The themes of this book, as we are forewarned, are very heavy. It deals with a lot of sad and sobering stuff, but it deals with it very well. Klune has the heart and mind to write about suicide, grief, and loss in a way that many authors can’t even touch. The empty feeling is captured and laid out on the page for you to grapple with. I cried multiple times reading this book and I’m not ashamed to say so. It is not an easy novel to read, especially if these themes have been in your own life.

My biggest complaint about Under the Whispering Door is the lack of bridge over the gap between how Wallace starts and what he becomes. For the most part, the character development is truly fantastic, but there’s a point, maybe around 35-40% of the way through, where I think Wallace made a very discernible shift without one particular catalyst. The rest of the transitions, including Wallace’s, are masterful.

I loved this book. Can’t recommend it enough. Please, please pick it up, but practice self care while you read it.

Have a great week. ❤

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Other Possible Prompts: 29. Over 500 pages long (some versions), 41. Involves a second chance

Okay so, I was very skeptical of this one at first, but I’m super glad I read it. And honestly, as the prompt implies, I probably would’ve been more likely to pick it up if it had the cover to the right and not the old, paperback version I had in my hands. This one looks more thriller-like, which is sort of how I would describe this novel, versus the more literary fiction style cover of my copy.

This novel is hard to explain without ruining it! I’m going to keep it as general as possible, but just trust me when I say the intrigue and the twists are what will keep you reading! I think even the Amazon description of the book goes too far.

When CeeCee Wilkes was sixteen, she met a boy: Timothy Gleason, who captivated her and convinced her to do something that would haunt her forever. Now, thirty years later, Tim is being charged with the murder of Genevieve Russell, the woman he kidnapped, and her unborn child. But what CeeCee knows has the power to exonerate him, because no one killed Genevieve…and no one killed her daugther.

My boss and I frequently discuss books because we’re both readers, and we’re regularly trading novels. She said I absolutely had to read this one…and normally, these aren’t my style. I just had a feeling I wasn’t going to like Diane Chamberlain’s writing. And while I’m not sure I’d read another of hers, I am glad I read this one. It wasn’t what I expected from her and I didn’t find it preachy or even bad, and I definitely jibed with it – so it wasn’t that bad. This novel falls into more of a thriller crossed with a family drama, as opposed to the purely family drama I was expecting from Chamberlain.

My boss also told me not to read the description of the book, and not to read the first chapter until you finish the book. This is kind of why I’m hesitant to tell you much about the novel in the description, and I’d have to agree with her advice after having done it this way. She said it unfolds more like a winding mystery if you don’t. While it bothered my OCD a tad, I did give this a try (sort of). I just didn’t pay as much attention in the first chapter, so it didn’t actually make a big difference. I was more shocked and awed by the twists and turns of this book for having done this!

This one was just unexpectedly enjoyable for me. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be; while I thought it would be a family drama, the thriller aspect was a surprise. Even the family drama, which I would never pick up on my own, was captivating and interesting as it was told across many years, and you got to see each and every character grow up throughout the story.

And I actually loved all the characters. Except for the obviously awful ones, like Ken, most of them had redeeming qualities but were extremely human, so while they erred or did things I disapproved of, I couldn’t help but love them and want the best for them by the conclusion of the story. They’re by no means perfect, but they’re all likeable. They’re all people, written really, really well.

I think part of what makes that so interesting and important to note is that many of them have done horrible things. A lot of them have motives that make them do bad things, or they did bad things but they’re trying to move forward…the story forces you to grapple with the idea of what makes a person “a good person”, and just how much you’re willing to allow or forgive when they’re trying to move forward. I really liked this element and I think it’s the heart of what makes the story so captivating. What earns forgiveness?

So yeah, I definitely liked this more than expected. I never pick this stuff up so I was surprised I devoured it so quickly (I think this took me less than twenty four hours in total, even working a full day). I would definitely recommend it for a good mystery, but with some depth.

Have a wonderful week friends! 🙂

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 22. An unlikely detective

I actually can’t come up with any other possible prompts for this one…this book has won awards, but it’s not from my country (but maybe it’s from yours?). It wasn’t part of my original plan to complete this one so I had a tough time fitting it in. That being said, let’s jump in!

After his neighbor’s dog is killed in the middle of the night, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone sets out to figure out who killed Wellington the poodle. As he endeavours to solve the mystery and write this book, he ends up unraveling unexpected lies that affect him and his family, completely by mistake. Christopher, in trying to find Wellington’s murderer, ends up discovering all that he is truly capable of.

I know this synopsis sounds pretty cryptic, but honestly, you’re not going to get much more by reading the back of the book! The Curious Incident is written from Christopher’s perspective, and while it’s never explicitly stated, it becomes known to the reader that Christopher lies somewhere on the autism spectrum. He’s an absolute genius who can solve complicated math problems in his head, but he also can’t look people in the face when he talks to them and firmly believes that four yellow cars in a row means he’s going to have a bad day. So when things start going south for Christopher, he doesn’t notice or interpret it the same way that the other characters, or you or I might. The things that take precedence in his head are not the same things in yours, which makes this book not only enlightening but a very interesting perspective to read this family drama from.

I’m far from the first to read and enjoy Haddon’s novel – this book has been a well-loved book club pick for almost twenty years. I’m just finally getting around to it now…being, you know, in my early 20s. And I get why: I think for many people who don’t have friends and family on the autism spectrum, this can be eye opening. I don’t think the majority of the general public understands all the intricacies of it all, and so this book, presented as a narrative rather than a list of facts, can give them a lens through which to view this experience. And it’s beautifully done, 100%. I think the only reason this book didn’t blow me out of the water was that I had this prior experience and knowledge to read it with. I grew up around a family of teachers and special education teachers. I have family on the autism spectrum. Friends, too. Once you start to “get it”, you pick up on it in different situations, and the behaviors and thought processes are less shocking to you than it was to say, the strangers in this book. Instead, you just laugh or nod your head and move on.

Even without that incredible revelation to accompany my reading experience, this is a very good book. The perspective adds that depth, but the story that Haddon unravels is a wonderful coming of age tale and yes, a good mystery. About halfway through he really had me because I was gasping as I read along. “Nooooo, he didn’t!!” ~Me at like 5pm Wednesday night. I have to hand it to him, the yarn isn’t lacking here, and the imperfect resolution to this tale is raw and honest.

While this is a short novel, I certainly think the content is worth the read. I’ll definitely be recommending it to my teacher friends if they haven’t already read it. I laughed, I commiserated, and I even teared up a bit. This is a good one.

Have an awesome week, friends.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Hello, friends. May I present to you: your very first Friday bonus review. As I found myself finishing up 2021 with all my reviews scheduled out, but not able to start The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge just yet, I sought to find a place for these *extras*, and thus, you get bonus books for your weekends! I have a lot of bubbling anger about this one so just, strap in, I suppose.

After he hits her car on the way to their mutual friend’s wedding, exes Addie and Dylan end up sharing a Mini – along with Addie’s sister Deb, Dylan’s best friend Marcus, and a tag-along by the name of Rodney. The time spent together unearths some unsettling truths left unsaid, and slowly unveils the true end to Addie and Dylan’s past relationship.

I picked up The Road Trip a few months ago at Gibson’s. I’ve been wanting to try a Beth O’Leary; I know The Flatshare is super popular but I had never gotten around to it, and sometimes I prefer to just pick up their newest and jump in there (since, if they have multiple books, shouldn’t they improve with each one? Apparently not). I tend to dislike British fiction; I find the voices very pretentious and hard to like. But I thought since The Flatshare was widely loved here, maybe that was not the case…again, not so. This is quite possible one of the most pretentious books I’ve ever read – and I’ve read Shakespeare, so.

Never have I disliked so many characters in one book. Dylan, our love interest, is a pathetic wimp. He has no excuse for being so unlikable. A rich poet (I literally could not hate this fact more) cast out by Daddy and thrown around by his “best friend”, I took no pity on him and feel nothing of saying he didn’t deserve Addie. Marcus, I felt much the same. He’s an utter boob. I cannot find it within him to like him or even understand him, even if he did have problems of his own. He’s a gross misogynist and he didn’t deserve a single damn one of these women. Beside Deb and Addie, everyone else in this book is also not my jam. Many of them are rich trust fund kids making nothing of themselves, and not caring an ounce about it…so I can’t find within me an ounce of like for them, either.

I’m not big on second chance stories to begin with, but oh my God, never have I wanted two people not to be together more than I did Addie and Dylan. And apparently I’m not alone: some people loved this book, but many of those who didn’t picked up on the same garbled mess that I did. Oddly enough, some people wanted her to end up with Marcus, but please see my above comments on re: the rich boob with Daddy issues. NEITHER of them deserved her. Only Deb. The “Then” part of their story (The Road Trip not only has both perspectives, but alternates between their previous relationship, and their current predicament – Then and Now) was so cringey, I wouldn’t want a second chance for either of them. I cannot stress enough that I was not rooting for them until the last maybe, fifteen pages? And that’s only because she wrote in these sweet moments between them at the end. You fall into a bit when they’re all gushing over one another – but I still don’t like them together, and wish for them yet another split after these unresolved feelings are, in fact, resolved.

Every time I had to read from Dylan’s perspective, I instantly saw things differently, too. I just genuinely disliked him, and his view of things always tainted my own. With Addie, she was sometimes wistful and whimsical, but in the end I always wanted better for her. She was an actually likable character, like Deb, and even when she did things I didn’t agree with, I 100% saw her side, and felt she had nothing to apologize for in this novel. Dylan was the true boob here (oh, and Marcus too).

Okay, and speaking of Dylan and Marcus?? Every time it was just the two of them, I was picking up some serious A Separate Peace vibes. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly voiced my feelings about A Separate Peace on this blog before, but it is truly one of the most horrible works of fiction my mind has ever had the disprivilege of absorbing. And Dylan and Marcus are pulled straight from Phineas and Gene. There’s even the subtle vibes that they might be in love with each other, which O’Leary brings up through the other characters as well. Given the circumstances of this story, it’s wildly uncomfortable and extremely toxic…just like in A Separate Peace.

But my least favorite part of this novel, far and away, was the sexism, and despicable treatment of women as objects throughout this entire book. From start to finish, women are not respected or treated like actual human beings with feelings and experiences, and those who have them seem to be treated as a novelty (ie. Deb?? who is the best character in this whole damn book?? They act as if knowing what she wants and being unapologetically honest is some unique character trait, making her more masculine). Marcus is the worst culprit of all the sexism, but I think acknowledging that books like The Road Trip set feminism back like ten years is pretty damn important. Please, for the love of God, tell me they don’t actually treat women like this in the UK?! I really should have said my piece on this right from the beginning, because if you read the kind of books I do, this is what will truly be the instant turn off.

I just can’t even. I almost always have more to say when I’ve truly disliked a book than when I’ve loved one, but this just leaves me speechless. This was so profoundly stupid as a love story. If your own relationship looks anything like Dylan and Addie’s, then or now, please just strike it out on your own.

Skip this one! Totally hate it! 2.5 stars for Deb and Addie only! Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 28. Award-winning book from your country (Alex Award Winner)

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A Character with Superhuman Ability, 22. An Unlikely Detective, 37. Set in a rural area, 42. An indie read, 43. An author who’s published in more than one genre.

WOW. I’m disappointed in myself for putting this book off as long as I did. I am absolutely astounded and flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed House in the Cerulean Sea, especially given that it is yet ANOTHER fantasy novel! Not only my second five star read of the year, starting off strong, but it’s the second fantasy book I’ve tried and loved so far in 2022.

Quiet and analytical Linus Baker has been given a classified assignment as a case worker for his employer, The Department In Charge of Magical Youth: he is to investigate an orphanage on remote Marsyas island. Six unusual charges with incredible magical abilities are led by Arthur Parnassus, and their strange circumstances and lack of communication has Extremely Upper Management taking a special interest in Marsyas Island Orphanage.

Upon his arrival, nothing is as Linus expects. Though he tries to remain analytical, the children and even Arthur surprise him at every turn. The more time he spends on the island, the harder it becomes for him to keep his distance from these children, labeled as threats, this island, bringing color to his world, and Arthur, sweet and surprising – all but capturing his heart. And Linus hasn’t the slightest clue what to do with it all.

To me, House in the Cerulean Sea is best described as a cross between 1984, the X-Men, and your favorite slow-burn romance. I can’t even pinpoint for you all the exact vibes and marks this book seems to hit upon; all I know is that their convergence is an absolute delight. I haven’t read something with so much warmth, so much wit, and so much familial lightness in such a long time. This book is truly a marvel and lifts a weight off the heart when you read it.

There is so much subtext in this book. I’m sure most people will know that going into it, but Klune does a great job highlighting it for those who may not have gotten it initially. Themes of family, of hate and fear of the unknown, of separation – they are all reflected in this book, and while our characters may be represented as magical beings, they represent a broader group of marginalized people. Which brings us, unfortunately, to the controversy.

Now, I’ve read many different accounts and recounts of where this draws from, and Klune doesn’t seem to be afraid to repeat it. House in the Cerulean Sea was a story born from the Sixties Scoop, which refers to Canada removing indigenous children from their own families and placing them into white families, which went on for about twenty years and is still having an effect today. Reparations were paid by the Canadian government for this action in 2017. Klune claims that when he heard about this, having not previously known it, he had a lot of feelings about it that birthed House. A lot of people feel this to be wrong, given he is not indigenous, he is in fact white, and that he turned this story of misery into a fantasy tale that (spoiler alert) has a happy ending. There wasn’t a lot of happy endings when it comes to the real story that inspired this one.

I think the criticism is one-hundred percent fair, and I agree that, even if it was his inspiration, this is not something Klune should’ve shared. House in the Cerulean Sea is a real sugar coating of things, if I’ve ever seen one. But what I take issue with is the complete canceling of this story. I’m not at all anti-cancel culture: I think it’s society’s brilliant invention for deciding what we will no longer tolerate, and if the masses say it goes, it sure as hell should go. However, I want to remind everyone that this book was absolutely beloved and revered prior to this news breaking. It still does tell the story of a marginalized group of people, particularly children, who overcome through love and changing the minds of those around them. It tells a story of perseverance. And it spoke to so, so many people. Even now, after many readers “canceled it” with one-star ratings, it currently has a 4.47 star rating on Goodreads. I think the substance of this book is quality, and even if it’s not an accurate representation of the Sixties Scoop in any way shape or form, it’s a damn good book. It was born out of the feelings Klune felt when he heard about this horrific event. It’s not an accurate depiction; it was an inspiration for a tale we all hope could be, of the ending we needed. And above all, Klune himself is of a marginalized group, understands a marginalized group, and advocates for marginalized groups to write more about their own experiences. So yes, his inspiration and his sharing it was problematic. Is problematic. But I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. This is a brilliant piece of fiction, and we’d be wrong to deny it that much.

I have to know: have you read The House in the Cerulean Sea? What were your thoughts?? I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t absolutely adore it upon the first read, though I know a few who changed their tune when they learned the information above. I really hope to read Under the Whispering Door this year; I have a few areas I could fit it into my challenge, and this was such an unexpected five stars from me. I picked it up when it first became popular, then when I read the description I didn’t know if I’d actually enjoy it, then the whole controversy came about…so I didn’t know what to expect. But I certainly couldn’t have guessed I would love it THIS much!

I hope you have a fabulous week friends, and that you’ll check out this gem if you haven’t already!

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 45. A Book with Illustrated People on the Cover

Other Possible Prompts: 15. A Five-Syllable Title, 23. Author with An X, Y, or Z in Their Name

FRIENDS!! Happy 2022!!! I had no idea the relief I would feel at the new year would be so palpable. I’m so grateful to be here and to be sharing with you my first read of the new year: Maggie Knox’s The Holiday Swap.

Truthfully, I actually didn’t love this one. And I kind of didn’t expect to? I thought I would like it, and it would get me in the Christmas spirit, but I really am not a huge Christmas book person. Tessa Bailey’s Window Shopping is the closest I’ve come to loving one. That being said, The Holiday Swap was super cute and a great book to pick up periodically throughout the season.

Cass and Charlie are twin sisters, born and raised in the small town of Starlight Peak, but leading very different lives as bakers. Cass remained in Starlight Peak to run the family bakery, while Charlie went off to LA to be a baker on a television show, Sweet & Salty. After a head injury leaves Charlie unable to smell or taste (a rather important skill for a baker!), and a bad breakup leaves Cass wanting out of her small town, the twins swap lives, like they did as children, to get through the holiday season unscathed.

They soon find out it’s not as easy to last a week as an adult as it was to swap for hours as kids. And only complicating matters are two men…who are falling for a different twin than they think they are.

This book took me way too long to finish, especially considering it was a read I grabbed for Christmas, not the new year. I think this book, under the right circumstances, would be a breeze to get through: I read half of it in just two hours this evening to finish it up. However, the plot is somewhat slow, didn’t grab or hold my attention, and I frequently found myself putting it down after just a few pages. And that’s my main reason for only giving three stars, as the rest of the book is rather charming.

Starlight Peak is a town you can really see in your mind. I thought that setting was beautifully crafted and well constructed. Charlie, then Cass’ side of things in LA, however, was far harder to get into, and felt a little colder. I think you come to expect that of a book that takes place primarily in a city, but when you go from this charming small town setting, with its little bakeries and sweet neighbors where everyone knows your name, to the city of LA where everyone treats the twins like garbage…it’s not as enjoyable, to go back and forth. But I think that gets melded into the story well, and into its conclusion…without giving away too much!

The men folk were fun but forgettable. This book is improperly categorized as a romance, truthfully. I felt this story to be more about coming of age, sisters, and the theme of family – which is equally fitting to the Christmas season. That is to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I liked it better than what I would have expected. Had The Holiday Swap lacked love or connection between Cass and Charlie, it would’ve been a much more dull book. The romance isn’t there, but familial connection? They’re all over it.

Would I recommend this book? Probably not. I can’t think of an instance where I would instantly gravitate toward telling someone to read this. I didn’t hate it, but I really didn’t love it. I don’t think I’ll be picking up anything else by Maggie Knox (which is apparently a pen name for a writing duo).

Happiest of new years to you all, friends! Let this first review of the year be an exciting start to this reading challenge, a full year of 52 books. Happy reading!

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

With this, my last review of the year, I was really feeling some Stephen King vibes. I have a love/hate relationship with King’s writing that almost entirely centers on him being a genius, but one who must not have met a real woman in his whole life. Every time I read his books I am struck with just how badly he writes women – but Sleeping Beauties is the anomaly. With the addition of Owen King as a writer, I was absolutely struck by the brilliance and beauty of this work as a horror fantasy novel.

Sleeping Beauties follows the town of Dooling, a small town containing a women’s prison, and the lives of the people within it as a virus named Aurora spreads through the nation. Aurora afflicts only women, spinning them into cocoons they can’t wake up from as soon as they fall asleep. Dooling struggles to stay awake and deal with the aftermath of losing an entire town (and an entire world) of women in just a few days…but meanwhile, the men’s search for the solution grows dangerous.

This is easily one of my favorite King novels now. It’s right up there with The Mist, which for sure hits different in the middle of a pandemic (for real, read it and tell me that wasn’t the entire United States locked in that grocery store). But Sleeping Beauties taps into a different fear, I think of both men and women, of losing the other sex. I was fascinated by the responses of each, of the drama that unfolds, and the sacrifices they make. Because this story is so focused on women, I think it absolutely could have flopped with King. When I read things like Carrie, I’m disturbed by how poorly he understands girls and women, what motivates them, and how they act in real life. Carrie almost certainly would have been a very different story if it was written by a woman, if you think about it. I had the same fear for Sleeping Beauties – but it is truly evolved from his original works, and I tend to wonder if that’s Owen’s magic.

As incredible as the action and drama of this book is, what really had me invested by the end was these personal relationships and bonds formed between characters. When it comes down to the climax, the turning point, and the ultimate choice for our characters, I was bawling. You come to respect the positions and reactions of each character to this cataclysmic event, even if you don’t like them all that much. Even characters I disliked (and there are so, so many…but incredibly, by the time your halfway through or so, you know them all like the back of your hand) felt redeemed to me in their search for justice, or their search for the women lost in their lives.

I think the premise of this book, and the lesson it teaches through the horror it’s driving at, is extremely important – and it was especially important when this book came out, in 2017. I’ve had it on my shelves since that time, but I wish I had read it then (even though, reading it now, I have much more perspective on this). These women were abused, ignored, continuously beat down physically or emotionally by men, or were in their current situations (like a women’s prison) because of men. The heart of this story is that many of these women felt a relief from Aurora – and that’s a terrifying prospect, to wish to sleep permanently over continuing down your current path. If you think back to 2017 or even 2016 when this book was coming to fruition, I think you can see where this fear of losing the backbone of our society really stemmed from. And just like Carrie, I think this story would look very different if it was written – or even just finished – by a woman. And that, my friends, is why I was really crying at the end of this book.

Overall, this is what I have always craved from a Stephen King work: complex women. They’re the crucial missing piece for me when people claim King is a master of the craft. I don’t disagree, and I never have. His words on the page are absolutely art… but art can still be problematic. Our favorite artists, too, can still be problematic. But Sleeping Beauties is a redemption. Sleeping Beauties has shown me that the master understands his shortcomings and is prepared to grapple with them. And for that reason, I’m highly recommending Sleeping Beauties to anyone who will listen these days.

And so marks my very last book review of 2021! This was an awesome note to end on. It takes me awhile to work up to committing to a King novel, but I’m never disappointed when I do. He captures a vibe that not other author on my radar ever can.

I can’t wait to share with you my 2022 reads and work through The 52 Book Club challenge with you!! Enjoy the new year, and stay safe friends!

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: 5 out of 5.

HOLY *&%$@)%&!!! I just finished the audiobook version of Daisy Jones & The Six and then I cried, at the office. THIS is what a five star read looks like. I have so many thoughts, and they’re literally all good. Prepare yourselves.

Daisy Jones & The Six tells the story of a rock band in the 70s: what brought them together, what tore them apart, and everything in between. It’s told in a series of interviews, pieced together to create a whole picture of what happened here between Daisy Jones, Billy Dunne, and the five other bandmates who spent the late seventies making incredibly angry, romantic, heartfelt, and heartbreaking music.

You all know how much I hate band books. I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice when the trope comes up in romance novels. It feels over dramatic, repetitive, I could go on…but this? This. It’s just such good stuff! This book is so much more than glorifying the “band life”. It’s a poignant drama about seven talented artists whose lives are so entangled it becomes beautiful and messy. About love. About life. About anger. About addiction. About reality, not the dramatization of a life on the road singing songs. I adored this book. And I only picked it up because a friend told me it wasn’t something you can pass over.

Of course, this book is loosely based on Fleetwood Mac. Because of course it is. I love Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nicks. I could see their charm all over this book, and see some of the parallels Reid was drawing. Maybe that was part of the draw for me – but I know for sure, whatever did it, I cannot recommend this book enough.

I think part of what makes this novel so amazing is these characters. Listening to it, I thought it might be a struggle to keep track of SO many people, but they are so unique and with such unique struggles, I caught on pretty quickly. The Dunne brothers were cast with similar voices, but their personalities couldn’t have been more different, and I could pick up fairly easily who was who when they began talking.

But truly, these are some of the best written characters I have read, maybe ever. Yeah, ever. Inside of these pages, I felt I had known this band my entire life. And despite not liking the choices of many, I loved them all. I was rooting for every single one. They were all so likeable in their own way. Even Daisy, who when I first heard her description, her biography, I thought I would hate. I thought this would be a book about a normal band, torn apart by this spoiled brat Daisy Jones…but you know what? They were right when they said she was magnetic. Iridescent. Reid wrote her that way, then made it happen. You can’t not like Daisy Jones, or at least root for her. She is incredible, and this book is pulled directly into her orbit, no matter how messy that gravitational pull may be.

And Billy Dunne? You’ll think through Debut that you hate him. He makes poor choices. He’s not terribly likeable. And even as he continues to dominate conversations and spaces throughout the book, I couldn’t help but love him, too. He changes and evolves, but he is who he is. Never in my life have I rooted harder for characters than the cast of this book. Karen was admittedly my favorite; the keyboardist is voiced by Judy Greer, so she already had that going for her, but her character is just straightforward awesome. Everything she does, the way she lives her life, and her connections to the others.

Now I’m certainly not going to ruin it, but I have to say – I wasn’t expecting a twist. Any twist at all, no matter how small. But it was that very twist, that unexpected shift in thinking, that got me choked up at the office as I organized some files. I can’t wait to talk about this very thing with SOMEONE. I just thought it tied everything up so beautifully.

So I texted my friend to tell her that I had FINALLY finished this book, months after she told me to read it – and she thought I meant the show. Upon which I’m like, OH MY GOD IT’S GOING TO BE A SHOW??? And what an awesome show it’s going to be. Reese Witherspoon is producing it, so you know that someone who read it and loved it is going to be involved with it.

Now that I’ve rambled – if you haven’t read this book, it’s time to pick it up, friends. This novel is a true masterpiece. I cannot recommend this enough. Daisy Jones & The Six is not only one of the best books I read this year, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I don’t hand out that praise lightly.

Please, please grab yourself a copy. Right now. Like run.