Listen, sometimes you graduate from college, panic about your future, land a job, and move to a new city and even though you’re reading a couple books a month you forget about the whole reviewing part. I’ve still got 6 more reviews to write from May-September reads, but here are a few from May and October. (I wrote half of the May ones in May so they might be a little outdated.
A group of housewives in a suburb of Charleston, SC in the 90s form a book club to read pulpy thrillers and true crime books. It’s all fun and games until an actual vampire moves in down the street and no one believes them.
One of my deepest fears, I suppose you could call it, is not being believed. Whether it’s my own lived experiences, like professors who made my life hell in college, or something I’m fairly knowledgeable about, like a project at work, I can feel a switch being flipped whenever I think someone isn’t taking me at face value. It makes me feel small and scared, and I usually lash out in anger to protect myself.
I think a lot of women experience this and feel the same way. It doesn’t stop us from disbelieving other women, of course, because that would be too easy.
I could feel my hackles rising during every scene in this book, from the gory vampire scenes to confrontations with the main character’s husband who thinks she’s just having a mental breakdown and maybe if she focused on the kids more, she wouldn’t be having such silly thoughts about their nice neighbor. It made the ending feel all the more vindicating.
[I was apprehensive about Grady Hendrix. I read Horrorstör last year and although I enjoyed the first 75% of it, I thought the ending fell flat. Having now read another of his novels and rating it 5 stars, I will pick up some of his earlier works as well.]
A woman awakes on a train. She does not know who she is, how she got here, or where the train is going. Surrounding her are corpses. Outside the windows is nothing but smoke and explosions. Along with a handful of other amnesiacs, she must find the train’s engineer and find out exactly what’s happening here.
I saw a review that claimed that Night Train couldn’t be horror, because “wake up with no memory on a train” isn’t something that can actually happen to someone and therefore doesn’t prey on the fear of “this could happen to you,” which I think is an interesting argument in the vein of “anything set in space can’t be horror.”
I can see the argument, and disagreed, but it’s been hard for me to figure out why. I’ve certainly fallen asleep on a train and forgotten where I was, but that never held any instinctive fear for me. Maybe for me the relatability and therefore fear comes from feeling powerless and alone. A world you do not understand setting out to destroy you. I certainly felt dread during portions of Night Train, but I could see an argument for calling it more of a suspense novel than a horror.
4 stars, because the ending felt a bit rushed, but it also worked within the narrative, but it also wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
An amateur-ish documentary crew travels to an abandoned silver mining town in northern Sweden. And when I say abandoned, I mean around 50 years ago every single living person seemingly vanished one day, leaving only a corpse on a pole in the town square and a crying newborn in the school. The documentary crew is determined to find something, anything to explain what happened. Too bad someone or something else is determined that they don’t.
I’m working backwards through like 10 reviews I need to write, so my thoughts are going to get more fleeting from here. Just a warning.
One thing this book taught me is that I love when characters are being hunted, especially when they don’t know it. I think it’s the quickest way to strike fear into my heart which is my goal when I’m reading horror or thrillers.
I listened to the audiobook for this and the narrator was very good. I don’t know if she’s Swedish, but her pronunciations were very believable. Maybe she’s just confident.
I liked the small cast of characters, I think the story and interpersonal relationships played out well, everything felt very spooky and I found myself trying to figure out the mystery at every turn. It did not, however, quite scratch the itch the blurb gave me, so it’s a 4.5 instead of a 5. I still recommend it heartily.
I picked up the audiobook of Watch Over Me alllllll the way back at the beginning of February. I got through the first hour or two and had to stop listening because I knew it would be an emotional read and I knew I wasn’t in the best place to be even more emotional than I already am, especially during school.
Well, I graduated, I kicked ass, and I borrowed the print copy from the library to finish this book. [Future Jenna’s note: I started writing this review in May.]
Mila, aged out of the foster system and unsure of where her life is heading, takes a strange internship teaching adopted kids on a farm in Northern California. The farm itself is beautiful, the kids incredible, and Mila thinks for the first time in a long time that she might deserve to belong somewhere, even after her past.
She kind of wishes she’d been told about the ghosts, though.
God, every minute of this book was a gut-punch for me.
My family kind of jokes that all the women in our family have mental breakdowns the second we cross the border into California. It’s probably more that we tend to go visit distant family there in times of personal crisis, but the sentiment holds. I associate California with deep introspection and even though I’ve never actually been to Northern California, I can only assume that that is where I will have my great mid-life crisis.
All of this to say, reading this felt like going to California. I don’t think I can expand on it any further which I know is unhelpful for a review, but it’s 5 stars. Read it. Cry.
Honestly, I don’t even know how to describe the plot of The Starless Sea. I’ll try…
Zachary Ezra Rollins is a grad student at a small college in Vermont. His major is video games. I mean, that’s not what it says on his transcripts, but you know. He studies media, and specifically, video games.
It’s winter break, and although there are small workshops on campus, Zachary is not part of them. He is spending his days checking out stacks of entirely non-academic, purely enjoyable books from the library and holing up in his room or a quiet corner on campus reading all day and trying desperately not to think about what he’s going to do when he has to graduate.
One day he picks up a strange old volume called Sweet Sorrows that, according to the library database, does not exist. There is no record of it online. There is no author, or publication information. He of course checks it out.
It tells a series of strange short stories, most focusing on something called The Harbor on the Starless Sea, which seems to be a combination library-museum-reading-room-hotel-strange-place. Strangest of all, though, is the story told from the perspective of a fortune-teller’s son who does not open a strange door that appears near his home. Zachary Ezra Rollins, the son of a fortune-teller and who did not open a strange door that appeared near his home and who was certainly born decades and decades after this book was written, is surprised. And scared. And curious.
The rest is kind of a whirlwind.
Have I mentioned on here that I’m not a fan of long books? There’s something so psychologically intimidating about them. Whenever I’m picking out something to read at the library or at a bookstore, I go for under 300 pages. Unless I know and love the author already.
Which is of course the case with Erin Morgenstern. I read The Night Circus in high school — wrote an English essay analyzing her use of epigraphs, actually — and fell deeply in love. As many other reviewers more eloquent that me have stated, she knows exactly how to craft a dreamlike atmosphere and play with a cast of characters.
I know plenty of people didn’t like The Starless Sea nearly as much as The Night Circus, not liking the multiple framing devices or the winding plot. I will concede that the last 25% of the plot itself felt a little thrown together. However! I do not read Morgenstern for the plot! I read Morgenstern to feel like I’m in a trance, for the tasteful horniness, and the beautiful prose. And therefore, this is a nearly-perfect 4.99999, rounded up to 5.
(Side note: my mom read my copy before she returned it to the library for me. She agrees with me wholeheartedly.)
Eliza is perfectly content in her life at home with her husband and two children. She walks them to school, volunteers, visits her parents. She excels at it, in fact. Maybe she could have done something else in life, but she finds joy in her daily routines. And then one day, a letter from the man who kidnapped her all those years ago arrives in the mail.
This is only the second Lippmann I’ve read, but for some reason, I trust her judgement implicitly. Maybe it’s because we’re both from Maryland. In any case, whenever I see a blurb from her on someone else’s book I pick it up.
I’d Know You Anywhere is slow and thoughtful and neither a cozy mystery or a thriller. It’s also not a cop story, which is important to me. I struggle to characterize it because it focuses on the long-range aftermath of a crime and a victim who is obviously struggling with her memories but is dealing with it relatively well.
I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to, but I enjoyed it enough to give it 5 stars.
Alice Lu seems to be constantly be flying under the radar, through no fault of her own. She works for Tangerine, one of the largest tech companies in the world, and can’t find a foothold in any particular division of the company. She’s moved around from department to department when she runs a routine server check that uncovers something strange about the company’s COO, Julia Lerner. And Julia notices. Alice is sure as hell on the radar now.
I enjoyed this! I’m always wary of books about Silicon Valley, since I work in engineering and hear way too much about it in my daily life. I also know plenty of books about Silicon Valley that just. suck.
But Imposter Syndrome was fun and a completely different take on the concept of a spy novel or a tech novel. I liked the plot and Alice and Julia.
I do wish Wang went a little more in depth about some of the issues she glanced over — the experience of being a “Woman in STEM” and the inherently unstable nature of most tech companies. But I also think there are plenty of other books that do that, and it’s okay that this one was just a good fun spy-tech novel.