You’ve probably heard of this one already. Woman takes the regional train to and from work every day and watches for a couple who live on a house backing the tracks. She likes to make up stories about what they’re doing every day. One day she sees the wife kissing a man who’s not her husband. Because her previous marriage ended due to infidelity, the main character goes to confront the wife, whom she does not know, but her alcoholism intervenes and she blacks out with no memory of what happened. The wife disappears. Mystery abounds. I read this way back in May so I hope you will forgive me if this summary is not very detailed.
This is probably just a case of reading a book way after its hype (in modern terms), but this wasn’t particularly interesting to me. Alcoholic, unreliable female narrators are so passé. The writing also wasn’t enough to make this book stand on its own for me. For comparison, I also read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn way after its publication and sensation, but that was enthralling enough that the rest of Flynn’s books are on my “to eventually read” list. Hawkins’s are not.
Piper, Margot, and Amy grew up playing in the Tower Motel, owned by Amy’s parents. In their childhood it was already in disrepair and only a memory of its rural Vermont-ian glory; now, as adults, it is practically nothing.
Margot calls her older sister Piper, who has moved away from their hometown, with horrifying news of a horrifying crime their friend Amy stands accused of. Margot is heavily pregnant and cannot investigate herself, but she has a feeling it’s related to a strange suitcase the three found in the motel as children. Piper must return and clear Amy’s name.
Jennifer McMahon is one of those authors I keep reading, hoping she’ll win me over. I read The Winter People a couple years ago and liked the setting, and the concept, and the general plot, but the characters were lackluster and the climax rushed. I feel similarly about The Night Sister — I genuinely did not see the twist coming, but the tone and the plot didn’t quite match. 4 stars because I liked it well enough and will probably check out a couple of McMahon’s more recent books, but from the library.
Mariana is a group therapist, trying to heal herself from the unexpected death of her husband. When her niece calls from Oxford, telling her a classmate and friend has been found dead, and asking her to come stay for a night, Mariana obliges. She met her husband at Oxford, courted while they attended classes, and she hopes that she can support her niece and face some bittersweet memories at the same time.
When she arrives, an enigmatic American professor of philosophy holds sway over the students and her niece isn’t telling her everything. Something is amiss, and Mariana feels called to investigate.
Oh, another that could have been so great. Love a dark academia, love a cult of personality, love a maze of twists and turns. I think Michaelides really backloaded them though, and left the first 75% a little bit of a slog. And the twists themselves weren’t very fun either. His earlier novel, The Silent Patient, is on my list to read, and I might pick up whatever he comes out with next, but this is not a home run for me.
Evelyn Caldwell knows she wasn’t the best wife. She spent too many late nights at her genetics lab, didn’t listen when her husband told her about her day, didn’t give him a baby. She didn’t even notice when he stole her research and created a clone of her to run off with.
Now the clone, Martine, needs her help. Their husband lies dead on the ground and if anyone finds out about Martine, they’ll both be in trouble. This will require some acceleration of Evelyn’s research.
This was a tasty one. Quick and to the point. Gruesome. Biting. A surprising number of twists along the way. I almost wish it was longer, but then again I don’t. Sarah Gailey has done it again.
It was just a joke. A prank. They found a mannequin in a dumpster, snuck it into a movie theater. Put some clothes on it, sat it in a seat with a great view. They were even smart enough to sit in different spots in the theater, so the ushers wouldn’t see them all together. But when the lights come up, and everyone else leaves, the mannequin – Manny – isn’t there anymore.
And one by one, he takes them out.
I love Stephen Graham Jones’s recent work. I know he’s prolific, but I haven’t gotten to his back catalog yet. But The Only Good Indian? This one? Chef’s kiss.
His horror work exists in this strange twilight where you aren’t ever sure what you’re seeing/reading is real. It keeps me on the edge of my seat, under my covers, flinching at every unexpected sound.
It was bad enough the first time. Kristen, hitting him over the head. Emily, shaking and scared, having just been assaulted. A long night carrying the body out to the edge of town, throwing it over the cliff, covering their tracks. Emily spent months after returning home to Milwaukee in a constant state of panic, unable to talk to anyone other than Kristen, at work in Australia, about their shared trauma.
But now, it’s Kristen who’s been assaulted by a fellow traveler, and Emily who has to keep it together to get them out of Chile safely. And she does, and they do, but something is off, aside from the obvious. Kristen is impossibly calm, even as she flies back to Milwaukee instead of returning to work in Australia. It was an accident, right?
I read Bartz’s The Herd last year and found it…. good enough, if a little shallow and missing opportunities to go in deeper. I think We Were Never Here is similar. Nothing gripped me. It was all just a little… flat. I wasn’t invested in any of the characters and the ending was neither expected nor exciting. If Bartz comes out with another novel with a similarly interesting premise, I might pick it up, but if the synopsis doesn’t grip me, I don’t think I will.
Vanessa has no idea what she’s doing. Her drug addict sister dropped a newborn in her arms and left. Her primary income is her YouTube channel, which is supposed to be travel vlogs and not vignettes of her apocalyptic one-bedroom apartment. And every time she sees the hot lawyer next door, there’s baby throw up in her hair and bags under her eyes.
And yet, somehow, that does it for him.
The third in a series, apparently. I just scrolled through the “available in romance!” list on Libby. Reading of the first two was not required, although there’s one scene that in hindsight was clearly supposed to be more significant. [It’s kind of like watching a recent Marvel movie in theaters, and some character shows up, and everyone cheers because they’re from another movie, but you have no idea who they are.]
It was cute enough! The ending weirded me out a little, but that’s just because I’m paranoid. Also, standard “for the love of god just communicate properly” trope in romance. I didn’t vibe with Jimenez’s writing style though, so her works are probably not in my future.
I want to start with a preface.
I’ve been thinking about the way I review books, particularly those I don’t like. My review of Ararat by Christopher Golden was not particularly nice, one might even say mean. And obviously that’s a loaded word when it comes to someone like me, a woman, reviewing something. Bog-standard critiques by women often get picked apart for their wording, their intent, everything that could possibly hurt someone else’s feelings. And obviously that’s bad and annoying.
I also think people, in general, should be kind to one another. Not nice, but kind. And so often when I’m thinking about how to review a book I have to examine each of my ‘mean’ thoughts and decide whether I’m just having fun being mean or if it’s a constructive train of thought.
Mostly though, while reading Ten Dead Comedians, I was just bewildered.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie but with comedians and, surprisingly, a fair amount of gore. That’s it. That’s all you need to know.
I love And Then There Were None, of course. And I enjoy comedy, although I don’t watch that much stand-up. I do like learning about comedians, though, as a species and as individuals. I’m familiar with all the archetypes and tropes Van Lente makes use of here, from the hacky late night host to the prop comic. I feel like I’m probably the target reader.
And yet, the whole thing fell flat.
I was surprised this was published in 2020, because it really feels like something from 2007 or, at best, 2011. I don’t know, it all felt very one-dimensional. In the main cast of 9, you’ve got One of Each(tm): a Black guy from Brooklyn, a gay man, an Asian lesbian, an older woman, a Black woman who is also British, a Puerto Rican, and a pretty young Jewish woman. The other two are white, presumably straight guys. Each of those characters don’t really have much else to them, aside from their specific brand of comedy.
Which, for a hot second, let’s talk about.
I don’t know any other way to say this, but I don’t believe Fred Van Lente has ever, like, met a woman. Or more specifically a feminist.
The Asian lesbian I mentioned, Ruby Ng, is a hardcore feminist comic and every other line of her dialogue is about increasing representation in the comedy scene. Fair! That’s pretty much every other sentence I say too, especially when I’m in a male-dominated professional environment.
But Van Lente also gives us excerpts from each comedian’s act [not in any particular order it seems] and one of the first jokes Ruby makes is a rape joke, comparing the question “Can we talk” to a “mini-rape”? And it’s very clearly not an attempt to examine the ways even self-proclaimed feminists say awful things, it comes off more as Van Lente thinking “Hmmm, she doesn’t like the phrase Can We Talk. What else does she not like? She’s a feminist, so… rape?” I feel like the very first tenet of modern feminism is “Don’t make rape jokes.” Like if you had looked at any 15-year-old girl’s Instagram stories you’d find a link to an infographic telling you to stop making rape jokes.
That’s a really explicit example, but every time we switch to one of the three women’s perspectives it all feels so stilted, like he hadn’t even bothered to watch like, Amy Schumer’s or Iliza Schlesinger’s or Sarah Silverman’s or Mae Martin’s or Ayo Edebiri’s or any other female comic’s standup. Or, again, talked to any woman ever.
It was mostly just bizarre. And the plot twists were fun, but I got the sense that Van Lente wanted me to dislike all the characters, but all he succeeded in was making me dislike him.
Silvie’s father is obsessed with the ancient Britons. He’s a bus driver by day, but all of his spare time is dedicated to researching and re-enacting their lives. He drags Silvie and her mom into it, too, when he tags along with an archeology professor and his students on a trip to live as the Britons did. They wear itchy sacks (although her mother has negotiated for modern underwear and bras) and hunt and forage for food, although it’s only ever Silvie, her mum, and the lone female student who seem to cook or do anything around the camp.
Silvie for the first time is around university students, close enough to her age, and away from her father’s watchful, vengeful gaze. Maybe she doesn’t need to do everything he says. Maybe he isn’t always right. But as the professor and her father get more and more into the mindset of the superstitious, ritualistic Britons, she may need to make a decision sooner than she thought.
Interestingly, I related to the student more than Silvie. Seeing a girl younger than yourself who is so clearly in trouble but cannot see her own way out is terrifying in its own way. I wanted to wrap them both in a tight hug and get them out of the woods where the men around them wish them harm or, at the very least, do not see their pain.
Tommy and Tuppence are so terribly bored. Their children are off serving their country in the Second World War, and Tommy and Tuppence would love to be doing the same, but apparently they’ve grown too old for the kind of top-secret intelligence missions they used to be recruited for.
Maybe not, though. There is an operative in a sleepy town in England, working for Hitler, organizing the agents within the UK. The only clue is Sans Souci, a boardinghouse with a strange cast of characters. Tommy and Tuppence must go undercover for Queen and Country!
What can I say? A classic Agatha Christie. Somehow I didn’t realize this was set during WWII [I prefer Christie’s earlier works with the mere spectre of war hanging over the characters’ heads] when I picked it up but it was still delightful. Makes me want to pull a David Suchet and bring her entire collected works to an isolated cabin and work my way through them.
*Note*: I forgot to include this one when I first made this post. I don’t feel strongly enough about this book to make it its own 250 word review. I hope you will forgive me.
A couple wins a vacation to a secluded house in the north of England. It’s winter, and hopefully this cozy stay will fix their marriage. It’d be better for both of them if it did.
He has face-blindness, and can’t tell his wife’s face from the stranger next to him in the checkout line. He couldn’t even identify the person who killed his mother as a child. He doesn’t know his wife’s face — how can he be sure he knows her at all?
Eh! It was fine. I was surprised by the twists, but it didn’t feel compelling. It wasn’t tasty, in my vernacular. One of those books where if it’s your first foray into thrillers it’s probably a banger, but if you’re familiar with the genre it might not be enough.
Jane Sheringfield must find a husband. Her parents were taken by the war, and her guardians are moving to the capital, which holds too many bad memories for her to follow. Dr. Augustine Lawrence seems an appropriate candidate. He is unmarried, kind enough, and she could earn her keep as his accountant/secretary/occasional nurse. And because he is still unmarried at his age, she presumes that he is similarly uninterested in the romantic or sexual nature of most marriages.
To her slight surprise, he agrees, with one condition: she must never come to his family manor, Lindridge Hall, where he spends every night.
They marry, and all is well, except on their literal wedding night the fates conspire such that she is stranded at Lindridge Hall, where contrary to the composed, competent surgeon she knows, Augustine becomes fearful and suspicious. What lurks in the Hall? What secrets do the servants whisper about? What has she gotten herself into?
Another tasty one! We got magic, we got alternate reality, we got crumbling manors, we got tasteful horniness, we got mysterious Russian women whose loyalties are unclear and who deliver strange warnings. Very Gothic, very my speed.
I’ve seen criticism that the plot doesn’t make sense or is confusing. To which I reply: you gotta vibe with it. You gotta just know that it will make sense. I have no advice for you.