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.

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Howdy friends! This week I read Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia! As you know, I recently devoured Mexican Gothic and couldn’t wait to pick up her newest novel. Moreno-Garcia stands out to me as a unique writing voice that I absolutely fall into, but I didn’t love this novel *as much*. I’m hoping writing my review helps me collect my thoughts on why exactly that is!

This book begins to unfold following the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico City, 1971. A group of students protesting the authoritarian, anti-communist government are attacked by multiple government sanctioned groups designed to squash rebellion, and all evidence of the attackers is destroyed – except one roll of film.

Maite doesn’t pay much attention to the news. While she thinks it a little odd when her pretty young neighbor asks her to watch her cat for a few days, alarm bells don’t start going off until the girl disappears without a word days later.

Elvis is a member of the Hawks, a group of commie-killers sent on special operation to ruin the spirits of the liberal young students. Now the leader of his small group, he’s sent on a mission to recover lost film from the Corpus Christi Massacre, and locate the missing Leonora – Maite’s neighbor.

In contrast to the gothic horror genre of Mexican Gothic, Velvet Was the Night is a political drama. Each and every character has a role to play as the events unfold, and everything is connected. I actually thought the story to be wildly interesting. Similar to Mexican Gothic, you’re left constantly guessing, constantly in the dark, but you start to see your own theories unwind on the page. The story building and incredible prose of Moreno-Garcia is what will keep me coming back to her books again and again.

I think my biggest problem with this book is Maite! The perspectives alternate between Maite and Elvis, and I quite like Elvis. I like his perspective as an agent doing a job he doesn’t understand the consequences of, and his character growth as he moves through this mission. Maite, however, never, ever grows. Which is a darn shame, because she starts off really annoying, too. I really wanted to like her character, but she has a lot of self pity: she thinks she’s ugly, she thinks she’s old. She hates her job, she hates her family. She’s a liar, and a thief out of boredom. And honestly, valid. Like a lot of what she’s going through validates her feelings, but my issue with this is that she never grows from what she goes through in this book. And she goes through quite a bit! Her small role as a pet sitter kicks off a crazy series of events that she gets to be part of, almost entirely because she didn’t want to take care of her neighbor’s cat. But at the end, she’s the same Maite, she just had a new experience. I hope the open ending gives her a chance to be more than she was in the pages of this book. I want that for a fictional being, tbh.

There’s also a lot in this book that feels like it’s going to nowhere. Especially when we’re talking about Maite’s character, but some about Elvis or the politics as well. It felt like it should pan out to something, and it didn’t, and ended up wasting time. I don’t know what to do with that. Some of it added to the vibe, but most of it felt droning. If you read it, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from to that end.

All this said, I still can’t help but love this book. For real. If I’m heavily critiquing it, sure, there’s a lot to say. But if I think about the feeling it left me with? How much I enjoyed seeing the cast of characters interacting? I just loved it. And along the way I learned some things about Mexico! I highly encourage you to read the afterword; while this book is noir, it’s rooted in some real history I hadn’t even known about. The urge to know what happens next in this book is going to propel you right through it, and I encourage you to remember at the end that there’s truth buried beneath this work of fiction.

All in all, I’m recommending Velvet Was the Night. If you enjoyed Mexican Gothic, know that you’re getting into something completely different, but don’t skip over it! Go give it a read and then come back, so we can complain about Maite together. Have an awesome week, we’re so close to the holiday I can taste it!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book took me by surprise. Mexican Gothic drew a lot of attention when it first released, I believe, because it was a choice for Book of the Month. I grabbed a copy then, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf (my recent theme is kicking my TBR’s ass…oh, waiting on me to read you for several years, have you? *Cracks spine*) . My friend read it last year and didn’t care for it, but told me I would probably like it. She was correct: this is good stuff friends.

Noemí Taboada is a strong willed socialite. After her cousin Catalina sends a confusing and concerning letter to her father, Noemí is forced to leave behind her life of parties in Mexico City for High Place, to check on Catalina. There, she finds an intriguing cast of characters in her in-laws, the Doyles, a long forgotten wealthy family of mine owners, and their home surrounded in silver and rot.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going awry. Catalina’s behavior is far more concerning in person. The Doyles have many rules, and won’t seek the proper medical attention for Noemí’s cousin. And Noemi has begun to sleep walk again…something is wrong at High Place, and Noemí would die to find out what it is.

I had a lot of expectations for this book just based on what people had *told* me it was about, but it blew them out of the water. My biggest expectation was that it would be along the lines of a Shirley Jackson novel. Anyone that regularly reads my blog sees me compare things to Shirley Jackson, or preach my love for her, on a fairly regular basis. She’s a genius and a visionary, not appreciated in her own time. While Moreno-Garcia’s writing did have a similar tone and darkness to it, I think what was most missing from my expectation was the ambiguousness. Jackson tends to leave a lot up to the imagination. Moreno-Garcia, in contrast, wrote with rich and colorful detail, so much so that I could practically see High Place in my mind. I could picture the characters, their quirks, everything in striking color. Which is good, because it seriously adds to this book to have all that.

The story within this novel is wild and fanciful. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting; it kept me guessing right up to those very last chapters. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it was so delightfully creepy and horrifying, and all the characters so perfectly malicious. This is the exact kind of horror I love to read, that requires that extra level of depth and thought.

I discovered, upon gathering my photo for this post, that THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A HULU SHOW!!! If done well, it’s going to be truly incredible to watch on screen. I think of it akin to The Haunting of Hill House show… if a good troupe of actors plays these incredible characters, it should be an absolute delight. They truly made the story, and I think any good visual representation of it will require some damn good acting.

Since it took me so long to pick this one up, I’m dying to know…have you read Mexican Gothic? What were your thoughts? Did you love the story, or get bogged down in the details? My friend felt personally that the writing style was too similar to Jackson, and because she didn’t care much for Jackson, she had to drag her way through it.

Overall, if your tastes are anything like mine, I highly recommend Mexican Gothic. Grab a copy. Seriously!

I hope you all have an amazing week as we head into fall!

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m back, y’all! Sorry for my hiatus last week, but sometimes you just have to let life win. I was nearly finished with Room when I had to make the call to put out my “Send help, and coffee” post, but just couldn’t get that far.

Years ago I watched the movie Room on Netflix and thought it simply amazing. The story had me crying all the way through, and when the credits rolled, my face was soaked. I had no intention on also reading the story, but when I won the Goodreads Choice sweepstakes a few years back, this was one of the books I received – and I decided to give it a shot. It’s literally been three years, but I get there eventually, okay?

Room is told from the perspective of Jack, a five year old boy in captivity. At age nineteen, “Ma” was kidnapped and held captive in a gardening shed by her abuser. Years later, Jack was born, and Room, with it’s 11’x11′ footprint and four walls, is all Jack has ever known.

After their kidnapper turns off the electric in the dead of winter for several days, Ma decides it’s time to escape. Together they craft a plan to get out, into the world, into the outside Jack can only imagine.

This story is truly beautiful in it’s relationships. It’s so inherently human, and that is most certainly its strength. The relationship between Ma and Jack is quintessential mother and son, the strongest love built on five years of no separation. Their life in the outside world, the angst, the anger, the depression, the curiosity…it’s so real and so well done.

Jack’s perspective can get…tiring. I think it’s extremely novel, very accurate, and the best perspective with which to tell this story. However, reading an entire book from the perspective of a five year old is much like spending your day in and day out with a five year old. Particularly, one who knows nothing at all of the world and has a lot of questions.

Jack’s vocabulary also brings up some questionable choices in the writing of this book. It just creates some plot loopholes: one moment, he won’t know what something is, then the next he’s using huge vocabulary words to describe the very same thing. It just occasionally had me saying, “Five year olds don’t know that word…even bright five year olds”. It took me out of the story, however briefly, and I just couldn’t fall all the way into it.

Overall, this story is fantastic. I think it’s a great one to absorb, no matter how you absorb it: be it through the movie or the book. Honestly, though, this is one of the few cases where I think I preferred the movie. It had more of an emotional effect on me to watch it rather than read and listen to it. I think the book brings up some intricacies that aren’t present in the movie, and are very important, but it just didn’t have the same impact for me. Like I said, I originally fell in love with the story as I cried my way through Brie Larson’s performance…but I didn’t cry once while reading the very same narrative.

I think this is a really touching story, and I recommend it in any capacity. Room is a beautiful story of a mother’s love, told through tragedy. I’m glad I finally took the time to knock it off my TBR…and if it’s been on yours for a while too, take this as your sign to pick it up!

I hope you all have a wonderful week, peeps!

The Shadows by Alex North

The Shadows by Alex North

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Good lord, why did I put this one off?!? I have had this book sitting in my to-read pile for easily, a whole year, maybe longer! And YET! I think I completely forgot just how much I had loved The Whisper Man, how much it sucked me in and gave me the creeps, and The Shadows did the very same. The Shadows is a disturbing and eerie read that’ll have you shocked at the twists and turns, as well as checking over your shoulder every few minutes with the feeling of being watched.

Paul Adams experienced tragedy as a teen. Wrapped up in a toxic friendship with other boys, he remembers a year of lucid dreaming, manipulation, dark woods, and a murder he was very nearly implicated in. He returns now to the village he grew up in to care for his mother as she lays dying, and gets wrapped up in a very similar mystery happening miles away in another small town: Detective Amanda Beck is looking into the story that started it all in attempt to solve the murder that’s just rocked Featherbank.

But something is still lingering in this town. Someone is lurking in the woods, delivering memories of a time Paul would rather put behind him. And something needs to be done about Charlie Crabtree…

This is one of those books I just know I’m going to do a horrible job describing, because there are so, so many pieces to put together and you also don’t want to spoil anything for the reader. I encourage you to read the full description of the novel, which does a far better job explaining than I can.

This book is complicated in the very best way. I love how intricate the details of this story are. There’s so much substance to it, which I guess made me realize there hasn’t been tons of substance to what I’ve been reading lately. I picture North writing this book with a huge wall in front of him, connecting characters and plots by strings and pushpins. If you’re in the mood to go “Whaaaat…” and “Oh my god noooo”, boy do I have the book for you. Around three-quarters of the way through the book, I was laying in bed listening to the story trying to figure out where the hell the curveball I’d just been thrown had even COME from (loudly), and my boyfriend leaned over and asked, “Crazy book stuff?”. Yeah, crazy book stuff.

The characters make this book. They are so well rounded – so very real to the reader, which makes it even crazier the farther you read (gosh, I am really walking the line of spoilers today, aren’t I??). There’s so many of them but they all play a really important role in this story. It’s an incredible small town tale, and everything is important: don’t write off any little detail.

My only complaint, and it’s not even really a complaint, was that some of the language is very repetitive. I think North does it on purpose to draw attention to the importance of certain statements and their bearing on the story, but after a while I felt like saying “Yeah, man, you just said that”. Other than that: the language is beautiful. Incredible. Sophisticated, even, for a horror novel, in a way that brings it up a notch in my book.

Soooo, I actually received a copy of The Shadows in exchange for an honest review by the publisher through NetGalley…approximately a year ago. Whoops. I finally got to it! At least I have great things to say! Naturally, The Shadows is already available for purchase…and I highly recommend reading it. Grab a copy if you’re looking for something to blow your mind. 🙂

Have a great week friends!

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book hits right in the heart! I’ve been not-so-patiently awaiting The Heart Principle for literally years…and finally got my hands on it. It was well done and written with love.

Anna is a violinist stuck in a loop. After a viral video made her music famous, she can’t seem to make it through a full song without thoughts of what others think just crowding in. After her boyfriend asks for an open relationship, she decides it’s time to make some changes, and seeks a new relationship and some revelations of her own.

Quan survived a diagnosis that left him feeling less than whole, and it’s ruined his carefree lifestyle and relationship style – until now. Looking for one night to get him back on the horse, he finds Anna, and falls head over heels for this woman.

When tragedy strikes Anna’s family, and she comes face to face with a diagnosis of her own, things become too much, and it threatens the one good thing Anna and Quan always have: each other.

I’ve got to say right off, I didn’t love this book as much as I’ve loved Hoang’s other novels, and I actually feel bad about it. The Heart Principle feels kind of like a cross between a romance and a contemporary/literary fiction novel. There’s a lot of focus on the story, the character development, and relationships outside of the romantic relationship, that are more present in literary fiction. However, this book also follows the arc of a romance novel. I’m not dissatisfied, certainly, but if you’re reading this review and seeing four stars like it’s a four star romance, I don’t mean it in that way. It’s a four star book overall.

This book focuses heavily on mental health and caregiving. I don’t want to spoil any big details, but it’s split up into three parts revolving around a major health event, and then the caregiving that comes after. These parts felt the most meaningful to me: as much as I love any Hoang romance, the author’s interaction with the story during these parts definitely had a deeper quality to it, and for good reason. After reading the book, I was met with the author’s note, which explains that Hoang wrote the story over the three years she was acting as a caregiver for her mother. These parts of the story are raw and real because they’re based in reality for her, and I definitely felt that as the reader.

The romance portion is where my star is lost. I think it’s really nicely done, and I think Anna and Quan’s support for one another even in the hardest of times is emotionally heartwarming and sweet. However, it doesn’t live up to the standards of her previous books in this sense. Don’t read it expecting it to be the main event…but certainly read it. I still very much recommend this book, but be aware that it is far heavier than any of her others, and take care of yourself while reading.

A copy of The Heart Principle was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It will be available August 31, 2021.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hey all! I’m going to preface this review by saying…this book is wicked sad. I cried several times. It was reminiscent of reading In Five Years, but I was very taken with Lydia’s story and the beautiful cast of characters that make up her life.

Lydia Bird’s fiancé has died in a car crash. In the months after Freddie’s death, Lydia is struggling hard to move on with her life in her emotional turmoil. And then, miraculously, some sleeping pills she never intended to take connect her to a world where Freddie is still alive, and their world keeps spinning. She falls quickly down a spiral of sleeping just for the chance to see her love, and live her life as it should have been.

But as she falls deeper and deeper into this fantasy, the real world is slipping away from her. It can’t compare to the hours she spends in another universe, even when it shows that this world, too, has its faults. As Lydia is forced to confront her grief with this added curveball, it becomes clear she cannot exist in two lives, as two Lydia’s.

The plot of this novel is absolutely artful. It’s truly a masterpiece. I want to follow Josie Silver around and just clap for her for like a straight 24 hours. I’m in awe of her ability to not only portray grief and loss, but for her ability to navigate the question “what would I do with one more chance?” with creativity and heart. It. Is. Beautiful.

Another thing I’m absolutely loving about Lydia Bird is the messiness of it. The plot can feel a bit scattered at times, but when you step back and process those pages, it becomes obvious that Silver has simply crafted real-life. Which is messy, and sad, and you don’t always make the right decisions – but you eventually get where you need to be. The cast of characters Silver has created, from Lydia’s mother and sister, to her lifelong friend Jonah who was Freddie’s best friend, and with him at the time of his death, to her coworkers, and Kris and Vita, who provide friendship exactly when Lydia needs it. Looking back, I’m shocked by just how many characters actually do play a pivotal role in this story…which only reinforces the idea that grief, loss, and life are messy, and it takes a village to get through it.

Lydia is lucky. The people around her are here for her, 100%, and they lighten the load of the real-world as she slowly adjusts from these shell-shocking events. The familial love laced in every page makes this book warm to the heart, despite the cold and sad loneliness that haunts it. I cannot stress enough that this is a work of art! Amazing.

I’m warning you now, this book is dense. It took me days to get through primarily because of its emotional weight. Take time to process, and take time to take care of yourself. Lydia’s feelings feel so real, which is a positive thing, but feels heavy for the reader.

I am just absolutely enthralled by Lydia Bird. I highly recommend! Special thanks to Willow for letting me borrow her copy ❤ ! The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was released on March 3, 2020 and is available now. Enjoy! 🙂