Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge: 16. A book you’ve seen someone reading in a public place

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 8. Involving the art world, 15. A five-syllable title, 37. Set in a rural area

In an effort to fulfill the ever-difficult prompt, a book you’ve seen someone reading in a public place, I finally cracked and read Where the Crawdads Sing. And I have to say: I did not get it. “It” being the seemingly mass appeal of this book, or what it is people seem to be getting out of it.

Abandoned by everyone in her life, one by one, Kya “Marsh Girl” Clark is on her own in the wild North Carolina landscape by the age of ten. She evades school, relies on the help of neighbors, and learns from nature. Dirty, unable to read, and completely illusive, she becomes a legend to the people of nearby Barkley Cove – and not a good one.

But in 1969, Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh – and the only clues they have point to Kya. This story explores prejudice, community, and the true meaning of humanity by telling Kya’s story and investigating the murder that could finally trap her.

I think one of the absolute biggest problems going for this book is the hype. This firmly lands in the “doesn’t live up to it” category for me. When you read the synopsis of this book they literally make it sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread, like it’s going to forever change your perspective on life and love. Let me be clear: it does not do that. And the most important part of my review will be this – it’s not a bad book, but everything you think you know about it is going to ruin it. I did not dislike this book, but it absolutely did not meet my expectations. If you got this far into 2022 without reading this, wait another five years before picking it up, if at all!

I also don’t believe this to be anything profound. I got whispers of To Kill a Mockingbird and even The Island of Blue Dolphins while reading Where the Crawdads Sing. If you ask me, it’s borrowing lines and vibes from stories that have already been written. And further, what bothered me *the absolute most* was feeling that sense that I’d heard this story before, and knowing that we were definitely talking about racism without ever talking about racism. Ugh. The prejudice that Kya experiences throughout the book, the fact that she was put on trial because she was “the outsider”, the judgment of being dirty, or uneducated – we were talking about racism the whole freaking time, but Owens made Kya white. Further reading on Owens’ actual life and the portrayal of black characters in this novel only further my point. Frankly, it’s cowardly on Owens part and I don’t like how her life experiences play into this story, at all.

This, and a thousand other things, really ruined this book for me. I vaguely remembered talking to coworkers about it years ago, so I did know how it ended. As I was getting down to the very last pages, I thought I was mistaken, but no. I don’t really care for that ending either in the grand scheme of the novel’s larger importance, but as a story element, it felt just and right to me. Very, very odd, but justified. That’s a minor spoiler so I hope I don’t ruin it for you.

And again: I’m going to try to reel back here to remind you that I did not dislike this book in a literal sense. That’s what’s irking me the most, quite frankly. If I had read this with absolutely no knowledge of the controversy, the hype, or anything else about the book, I may have enjoyed it more. I know with 100% certainty though that I still would’ve seen the hints of the novel being about racism, though, and that does bug me. I cannot read this and not hear To Kill a Mockingbird, honestly.

So that’ll do it – I had a lot of thoughts. Evidently, not all good. I hope you all have a great week.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 7. A non-fiction bestseller, 10. A book based on a real person, 13. Includes a club, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 24. Addresses a specific topic, 29. Over 500 pages long, 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 32. A book that intimidates you, 40. A book with photographs inside

Helter Skelter has been on my tbr longer than almost every other book in my possession, I kid you not – I brought this book on a vacation to NYC in January 2019 and remember distinctly getting stopped by TSA because they couldn’t see through the book on the scanner and oh my god it was a book about a serial killer.

What a day.

I finally just cracked and got the audiobook of Helter Skelter, as read by Vincent Bugliosi! I really enjoyed it in this format, perhaps more than I might have just reading the book, because I can hear it in his voice and it felt a bit more like a true crime podcast.

Obviously, this book is the story of the Manson Family Murders, most famously the Tate and LaBianca homicides in California. If you’re unfamiliar with the murders or the case, they are notable for having ended the 60s as people know it: free love, peace not war, drugs and all that…because the Manson “Family”, led by Charles Manson, collectively killed seven people in senseless murders under the direction of Manson and his cult rule. His tribe of vagabonds was intending to ignite “Helter Skelter”, or a race war, that (according to Manson) would eventually lead to African Americans coming to him for direction and rule. His followers literally believed him to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

I like true crime, but I don’t think I’ve ever read true crime in its actual format. I really enjoyed The Phantom Prince, but I felt that to be more memoir-style. Helter Skelter as its lead prosecutor tells it is analytical and riddled with the law and facts. I actually liked it, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. This reminded me more of The People Vs. OJ Simpson than of the Bear Brook podcasts (quite literally the only podcast I’ve ever listened to, and well worth it). Lucky for me, I *love* The People Vs. OJ Simpson. My near obsession with that show in high school made my mom convinced I needed to be a lawyer. I just found everything about it so damn fascinating.

This is much the same, but with less mystery and more…creepy stuff. The parts of this book that focus on the family are truly disturbing. Manson is such a bizarre enigma of a man that even Bugliosi plays into it…his watch stops, and Manson smiles right at him…stuff like that. He’s a weirdo, to put it nicely, and a murderer to put it frankly. But what was even more captivating is all of the girls under his spell, and even some of the men: he must have had some charisma, some way about him that sucked in people with no direction – and never let them go. Bugliosi does a wonderful job diving into all of that.

I love hearing about how these cases affect history and the world around them, too. That’s something I think Bugliosi does well. I like to be told what makes all of this so important, because otherwise we are simply rehashing a horrible murder. Manson, however, was a product of the time, a product of the 60s – and of some really fascinating influences from the system, our system, that should cause you to think more critically about them.

This was such a bizarre case. Despite the long length of the book, I never lost interest. It was a lot, a lot of content, but everything was pertinent and interesting. There was so much that I didn’t know about the case, from the fact that Manson still had very dedicated fans even ten years ago, to the fact that the LAPD seriously bungled the evidence and everything about this case, to the very critical role the Beatles played in Manson’s ideology. Very cool stuff. I mean, not murder, but the law and the psychology of it all.

I would recommend this book, but I would specifically recommend listening to it. I believe it is only available from Audible, but it’s worth it. Bugliosi does a great job narrating his work, and it makes it feel more like a true crime podcast. I really liked it!

Have an awesome week, friends!

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!

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Riley Sager writes the perfect summer read: chilling, thrilling, and twisty as hell. Survive the Night was no different. I was still guessing and gasping until the last fifty pages or so.

Charlie lost her best friend to the Campus Killer. Maddy, a bright, eclectic character was the third victim of a serial killer that haunts Charlie’s campus, and it was just one too many losses for her already chaotic mind. She decides to cut her losses and share a ride home with a stranger, despite her boyfriend’s protests.

But things are not as simple as they seem. Despite Charlie’s efforts to be careful, she may just be driving home with a murderer…and it’s all she can do to just survive the night.

Like I said, the twists? Incredible. About halfway through I had my first “Oh my God!”, about three quarters of the way I was saying “Whaaaa-“, and within those last fifty pages I was saying “NOOOOO!!”. So it’s been a ride.

My only complaint – and it’s my usual complaint with Sager – is that some things just never add up. At first glance it’s a great story, but then you’re driving to work over thinking it and wondering why x happened when y eventually came to be. It happened with the last book I read of his, and the one before that. I actually spent an hour reading reviews and questions from Home Before Dark on Goodreads, lamenting with other readers the utter confusion but fascination with the book.

But, if you’re only here for a good time, I can’t recommend Sager enough. Clearly he’s good enough that I’ve picked up book after book of his, and they have that perfect summer vibe.

Charlie is an awesome character. I have a few issues with her, primarily derived from the fact that she was written by a male and her storyline is male centered and revolving around violence perpetrated on women. However, she’s still a badass. I think her emotions and what she feels in regards to her safety, her friend’s death, and her survival, are very raw and real, and make the story more enjoyable.

All in all, I highly recommend Survive the Night. It’s a great act to follow Home Before Dark, and I think Sager just keeps getting better. I’ll be watching for his next release.

Have a great week, fellow readers!