There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

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As I've mentioned too many times to count on this blog and in my everyday life, I am obsessed with slashers. Regardless of format (movie or book), I'm a sucker for the genre. Something about watching people make horribly dumb choices while running from a knife-wielding maniac is so entrancing. I love to shout clues at the characters, warn them of their inevitable demise, and make guesses as to who the killer is. Stephanie Perkins' There's Someone Inside Your House made me do all of those things.

Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she's still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii. 

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.

The opening chapter began in the perspective of a character who was not Makani (similar to how most slasher films open with a scene containing one or more characters whose only purpose in the entire story is to die in the opening scene), and I immediately knew this book was going to be a fun read. And I was right! I began reading it just before 10 PM and stayed up until 1 AM reading. Then, I woke up at 8 AM and read for two more hours until I finished. I was hooked. I needed to know who would live and die, and which character/s was deranged enough to commit these gruesome murders.

Now, this book being a fun, quick read I could not put down does not mean it didn't have its faults. For one, it felt like Perkins was writing two separate books. On one hand, you have a burgeoning romance between two characters with dark, mysterious pasts. On the other, you have a psychopathic serial killer murdering teenagers. A lot of horror movies/slashers have these two elements, but typically they mesh a little better than they did here. In this book, it constantly felt like either the romance was detracting from the slasher or the slasher was detracting from the romance. Rarely did the two story threads find a good balance. 

Second, Makani's two best friends were incredibly under utilized. I blame this mostly on the fact that when the story wasn't focused on the serial killer, it was entirely focused on Makani's romantic life, her friends being almost all but forgotten. Part of the fun in any slasher is to get to know the main character and their friends and watch as they all try to solve the case together, all while you are wondering which of them will die by the killer's hand. Perkins tried to do this at times, but it fell pretty flat. Because we didn't see much of the friends, the story lost a lot of it's heart. The characters being stalked and murdered were, for the most part, no-name side characters, and while that is great news for Makani and her friends, it was pretty bad news for the tension.

Now, my next critique is a bit spoilery. I won't say who the killer is or reveal any major details about the plot or anything like that, but if you want to read this book and be pulled all the way to the last page with a curious suspense, then read no further. I will simply leave you with this: I really enjoyed this read, despite it's issues, and I'd recommend it to anyone who digs YA and slashers/horror. Now, go to the comments and tell me your favorite slasher movie/book! I hope my review was helpful!

Okay, for everyone who wanted to read the only slightly spoilery bit, this next paragraph is just for you. *I repeat, the next paragraph contains slightly spoilery information.*

Any slasher fan knows that any slasher worth its weight in fake blood has a twist. The twist is so common in a slasher that the real twist would be not having a twist. So, in that regards, There's Someone Inside Your House threw me for one heck of a loop. About two-thirds of the way through the book, the killer is "revealed." I use quotes around that because I was certain there was going to be more to the reveal. It was going to have been a big misunderstanding or there would be multiple killers or something along those lines. Nope. That was it. The killer was revealed. So, I spent the last third of the book looking for clues as to who the real killer/killers would be, only to be left rather disappointed when I realized there was no twist. The killer Perkins revealed was it. No twist. I repeat, there was no twist. It was shocking. But, like, in a bad way. 

Like I said above, overall, I enjoyed this book. I had a really fun time reading it and it definitely kept me entertained. However, if you are looking for a slasher book that will blow your mind, redefine the genre, and blow every slasher before it out of the water, this book is most definitely not for you. My advice would be to pick up this book knowing that it will be an incredibly fast, fun read, but keep your expectations for the story a little low. 

What is your favorite slasher movie/book? Do you plan to read There's Someone Inside Your House? Or have you already read it? Let me know your thoughts!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DisClafani

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The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls was recommended to me several months ago, and then I was #blessed enough to find it at a library book sale for $1. So, it seemed this book and I were destined to cross paths, and who am I to tempt fate? Here is a short description from Goodreads:

It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

First things first, the pacing of this book was incredible. Honestly, I'm still not sure how DisClafani managed to draw out the mystery of why Thea Atwell was sent to Yonahlossee for so long without me growing frustrated. But, by great talent or witchcraft (still sorting out which), she did, and it was wonderful. The story moves back and forth between Thea's life before Yonahlossee and her life at Yonahlossee. The before story line is building up to the big reveal, which is what Thea did to get her sent away to Yonahlossee, so it is very tense, and I found myself constantly searching for hints and clues about what would be her undoing. However, the after story line--Thea's life at Yonahlossee--was where the story faltered slightly for me. 

The cast of characters grew significantly when Thea went away to school because she was surrounded by her classmates, and DisClafani didn't seem to have a firm grasp on all of their characters. There was definitely an attempt made to give each girl a distinct personality, but to be honest, they all meshed together in my head. Aside from Thea, there were four characters from the school that I was able to picture and imagine clearly, but otherwise, the rest of the girls were jumbled in the background, and each time one of their names were mentioned, I had a hard time remembering who was who. This was not a huge obstacle in my ability to enjoy reading the book, but it made me feel slightly unmoored as I moved through the story. 

Overall, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls was beautifully written, extraordinarily paced, and a very interesting look into the narrow, yet deep world of a young girl in the 1920s. The book delved into issues of passion and expectations, both social and familial, all set against the looming threat of the Great Depression. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Yonahlossee, and though there were a few hiccups, I will have no problem recommending it in the future.

Have you read anything by Anton DisClafani? What is your favorite historical romance novel? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

Where'd You Go, Bernadette By Maria Semple

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Hey all!

The last few weeks have been rather hectic in the land of Mallory. Not only are we in the single digit week countdown to Baby Burgey's arrival (7 weeks, 4 days!!), but I have been working like a mad woman. Freelance ghostwriting is amazing because I get to make my own schedule and work from home, however, that also comes with the serious downside that I have always been terrible about 1) taking on too many projects at once and 2) sticking to a schedule. I'm working on fixing both of those issues, however, the last couples weeks have been non-stop writing and crossing things off the baby to-do list. So, needless to say, my reading life suffered. I started September with the goal to read 25-pages per day of Anna Karenina, but that very quickly went out the window (though I am still making my way through AK, and very much plan to finish it before the year is out), and I was also reading a graphic novel called My Favorite Thing is Monsters and a memoir about dying called (you guessed it) Dying: a Memoir. Basically, the books on my nightstand were either very dense or very far from the cozy, fun read my brain needed. So, having just picked up a copy of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple from the Houston Public Library book sale for $1 (!!!) a few weekends ago, I decided to crack into it, and boy was that a great decision.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette has been on my list for a very long time now. However, for some reason or other, I never managed to pick it up. Despite the amazing reviews I kept hearing and the beautiful cover art, I just kept putting it off. Now, though, I have read it, and I have so many feelings. 

First and foremost, the characters in this novel are fantastic. They are quirky and crazy, but in the most believable way, which is a very hard line to tread for many authors. The relationships between these characters was front and center thanks to the unusual format of the book (it was told through emails, handwritten letters, Psychiatrist notes, and FBI files). The reader is able to see how the characters talk to one another, and how the way they talk changes depending on the audience. It shined a light into the deepest corners of their minds, and never flinched. 

Second, the world Maria Semple built for her characters was phenomenal. The book takes place in Seattle (and partially in Antarctica), but these characters live in a bubble. The size of their world feels oppressive at times, but it only helps to strengthen the narrative and the characters. The Fox family lives in a 12,000 square-foot home that was once a home for wayward girls, and the crumbling structure is only held together by the blackberry roots that also threaten to overtake the structure (the basement is already lost to the roots and completely inaccessible to the family). The house symbolizes the entire world these characters inhabit. The things that bind them together, also threaten, at every turn, to rip them apart.

Honestly, I wish I had a criticism of this book. I am, unfortunately, the kind of person who leans heavily towards classics and literary fiction, believing somewhere in the back of my mind that "light, fluffy fiction" is barely worth my time. So, I picked this book up thinking it would be nothing more than mildly entertaining and a quick read. However, I put the book down knowing I would be recommending it over and over again to everyone I talked to. The highest compliment I can give this book is that it felt like a combination of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. In my mind's eye, everything was bathed in pastels and shot in perfect symmetry, but cast with characters so flawed that they were capable of burning everything around them to the ground on a whim.

Have you read Where'd You Go, Bernadette or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

 

Three Short Reviews

The point of this entire blog was to read and review books. However, occasionally I read a book (or a series of books), and don't feel like I have enough to say to justify a full review. So, I've decided to do a quick round-up of a few of those books. Below you will find reviews for three books/series I read this year, but didn't formally review.

1) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

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I picked this book up on Saturday at a library book sale for $1, and then promptly began reading it. The cover is so cute and I have a strong fondness for Mindy Kaling, so I couldn't really resist. I finished this book in only a few sittings over a 24-hour period. If you are looking for a quick, fun read, this book is definitely for you. Overall, it wasn't laugh out loud hilarious, and there were definitely some chapters that I skimmed through. However, it is such a quick read that none of that really matters, and I'd still highly recommend this book.

2) The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

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I read this entire trilogy in one week, so that sort of speaks for itself in terms of whether or not I liked it. In general, I like YA series because they are a nice way to break up my heavier reading. I'm typically not picking up a YA book because I'm in search of a profound experience. I'm usually just in search of a quick read. So, on that front, The Grisha Trilogy definitely delivered. However, I did notice that the series began to trial off as the books continued. I grew less attached to the characters and felt like the plot wavered a bit, especially in terms of the various romances going on. One of the male romantic leads was so unlikable for me that I couldn't understand why Alina liked him or, frankly, put up with him at all. Overall, though, the series was gripping, and I wanted to know how it would all end. 

3) Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

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Okay, so I did actually write a review for Shatter Me when I read it in early 2016 (find that review here), but I then waited another year before picking up the next book in the series. Which, for a YA series, is pretty unusual for me. I read YA books so quickly that I like to pick them up one after another and knock them out all at once. However, when I did finally pick up the second book in the series, Unravel Me, I finished it within two days and immediately reached for Ignite Me. So, make of that what you will. Overall, my main review for these books can be boiled down into two words: purple prose. 

Tahereh Mafi is a fan of flowery language. There were certain lines that on the surface seem pretty, but as soon as I thought about them for a second, were actually strange and melodramatic. However, she created an interesting dystopian world and delivered an angsty teen romance that I admittedly kind of loved.

 

Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading,
Mallory

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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I honestly can't say why I waited two years to pick this book up. I remember when it was first published, I thought, "That sounds really interesting. I should read that." And then when the entire internet exploded with love for this book, I said, "Yeah, I should definitely read that." Yet, somehow, it didn't happen for over two years, and now that I have finally read it, I have some feelings. 

First things first, here's a quick description:

"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another."

The first line of this book was eye catching, but immediately left me feeling wary. I've read a lot of books where a main character's death is announced in the first sentence, and honestly, it typically doesn't do it for me. I find that it can often take away a lot of tension from the story. However, Everything I Never Told You surprised me, and I think the main reason for this is that the story was never centered on Lydia's death. It wasn't a family mourning her loss and trying to move on without her, but rather a family trying to come to terms with her life. A life that, after her death, they realized they knew very little about. Also, the story changes time periods and perspectives, and gives you a deep, introspective look into each character's point of view and life. Often, there was so much going on in the story that I could almost forget Lydia had died at all, which, as strange as that sounds, is very high praise. 

Now, while I loved the beautiful writing and the fully fleshed out characters and familial relationships, there were still times when I wanted a little less narration and a bit more plot. A few areas dragged a bit for me. However, all in all, this was a great book and one I would highly recommend. 

Have you read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

*I received a copy of The Grip of It from FSG Originals in exchange for an honest review*

There are few things I love more than a good ghost story. The idea of an unseen, or at least untouchable, enemy is terrifying, but incredibly fun to read about. So, when I heard about Jac Jemc's The Grip of It, I was ALL IN. I wanted it. I needed it. And FSG Originals was kind enough to hear my desperate pleas over the internet and send me a copy. So for that, I thank them tremendously.

A quick synopsis: James' addiction to gambling sends he and his wife Julie running to the suburbs to start afresh. But their new house has other ideas. Almost immediately, strange things begin happening--stains move on the walls, rooms appear and disappear and change location, and both James and Julie deteriorate under the house's control over them. Whether the house is haunted or not, there is no question. Rather, the burning question is: will James and Julie be able to make it out?

Let's start with the good. Rarely have I read such a subtle, yet encompassing image of what marriage can look like. Jemc uses alternating perspectives to give the reader a deeper insight into both of these characters and the struggles of their marriage, and it works flawlessly. I bought this relationship from page one. A particular line I loved was:

We run out of things to tell each other. We share second- and even third-tier stories we’d never bother other people with. Those minutiae calcify into the bones of our intimacy.

More than the actual spirits in the book, it felt as though James and Julie were haunted by their own pasts and their doubts and insecurities in the relationship. Their somewhat tortured, yet loving marriage acted as another character in the book, and it was a good one.

Also, as I've just not so subtly hinted at above, I loved the writing in this book. Unlike a lot of horror books which can tend to rely purely on the thrill of the plot, The Grip of It is told in lyrical prose that is captivating and beautiful, while making your skin crawl. 

While there were many positives about this reading experience, there were also, unfortunately, some negatives. The first being that the tension rose very quickly in the story, and then it was just maintained. There didn't seem to be any exceedingly heart pounding or climactic moments, so it read a little one note. 

I also feel like the book never quite made good on it's promises. When reading a haunted house story, I want to: 1) know why the house is haunted, 2) know who is haunting the house, and 3) see the ghost. This book never allowed more than a passing hint at what was going on and we never saw the ghost or learned who the spirit was. And, although I loved the writing in this book, because the language was so lyrical and poetic, there were some moments that could have been terrifying, but instead felt as if you were seeing them through a big stained glass window. Your view of what was going on was pretty, but rather obscured. 

Overall, I really did enjoy reading this book. It wasn't unbelievably gripping and definitely not a book I could have read in one sitting, but the story pulled me along well enough that I finished it in a few days, and I absolutely don't regret reading it. 

Have you read this book or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Mallory

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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*I featured this book in my blog post, 10 Short Books to Read in a Day. Check it out and let me know which short book from the list I should read next!*

There is no denying that Shirley Jackson is one heck of a story writer. We Have Always Lived in the Castle didn't captivate me from page one, but after I adjusted to her writing style, I was hooked. I HAD to know how the story would end.

Merricat Blackwood, one of three Blackwood family members not killed by a fatal dose of arsenic in the sugar bowl at dinner one night, lives on the family estate with her big sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. The villagers hate them and Constance never leaves the house, so they spend their days happily alone. That is, until cousin Charles arrives. Merricat senses the danger in Charles' sudden appearance, and she knows she must act swiftly to protect her family from his plans. 

The thing about this book that truly captivated me were the characters. They are all unreliable in their own way. You never know who exactly you can trust and what their intentions are. This created an immense amount of tension in even the most mundane of scenes. For me, Merricat and Constance, especially, drove this story forward. Their relationship with one another and their individual characters were both endearing and problematic at times. Jackson writes characters who can't be simply labelled as "likable" or "unlikable," but instead exist in this dichotomous space where they simply just are. It's refreshing and, as I'm sure she intended, frustrating at times. Especially when you just want to know what is going on!!

I'm hesitant to say what I had trouble with in this book because I fear it may turn people away from picking it up, which I absolutely do not want! I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is well worth reading and I highly recommend it. However, I did feel that the ending was slightly anticlimactic. Like the rest of the story, the ending was ambiguous and open to interpretation, which was nice, but in such a slim book I wanted to be left with a real punch at the end. Also, the big reveal was kind of a let down because I saw it coming from very early on in the book.

Now, none of this is to say the ending was a total loss. It wasn't! There is a very clear climax and you are left with an ominous feeling after the final page. I just feel there could have been a little more. I don't know. Maybe I'm being thick and this ending was poetic and perfect and I'm just not getting it. If you've read the book and you think this is the case, please drop me a comment/email/carrier pigeon and let me know your thoughts!! 

Overall, I truly enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle and would recommend it to anyone who loves some gothic vibes. Also, if you've read this book already and loved it, may I recommend Kelly Link! Her short stories are amazing and you'd love them. Trust me. Check out her short story, "The Summer People," from her collection Get In Trouble. It's a masterpiece.

What is your favorite gothic story/novel/poem? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading,
Mallory

Final Girls by Riley Sager

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*I was gifted a copy of Final Girls from Netgalley and Dutton in exchange for an honest review.*

Quincy Carpenter went on a weekend trip with her college friends, and returned the sole survivor of a massacre. This tragedy swept her into an elite club of survivors: the final girls. Despite her past and the foggy memories she has of that horrible weekend, Quincy manages to form a life for herself. She has a fiance, a baking blog, and a quiet existence she keeps neatly separated from that bloody night she experienced ten years prior in Pine Cottage. However, when one of her fellow final girls turns up dead, and the other turns up on her door step, Quincy begins to come to terms with her past in ways she never expected. Memories long forgotten resurface and she is left to rethink everything she thought she knew about that night in the woods, and whether or not someone has come back to finish what they started.

It is no secret that slashers are my peanut butter and jelly. So, when I saw Final Girls floating around the internet ether, I had to snatch a copy. Upon receiving it, I devoured the entire book in less than 24-hours, my engrossed reading interrupted only by my annoying human habit of needing to use the restroom and fuel my body with food. Seriously, this book was so good. 

The thing about slashers is that I've read my fair share and seen even more. So, it's pretty hard to surprise me. Those who have had the extreme pleasure of watching a slasher movie with me can attest to my habit of shouting out what will happen next. Now, while I read Final Girls alone, I still made my fair share of predictions. In fact, from the very beginning I had a pretty good idea of where this story was headed. I even made a note in my journal that said "Great writing, cliche plot." And oh my, how young and foolish I was. Final Girls surprised me at every turn. I sat on my couch with my jaw in my lap on more than one occasion, soaking in the awesomeness that was this book. Every single one of my predictions was wrong. Flat wrong. And I've never been so thrilled to be proven wrong before. The book was a joy to read and I can't wait until they make it into a movie. BECAUSE IT HAS TO BECOME A MOVIE. IT WOULD BE SO GOOD AS A MOVIE.

Now, to be fair, if you aren't a fan of slashers, then: 1) thanks for reading this far into a review about a book you will probably never read. I dig your support. 2) you probably won't like this book. However, if, like me, you love yourself a scary story full of sharp knives and murderers who lurk in the shadows, this book will not disappoint. 

Final Girls by Riley Sager is out July 11, 2017. 

What's your opinion on slasher books? Have any great recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

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*I received a copy of The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro from Netgalley and St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review.*

 There's too much going on in this novel to provide a thorough description within the confines of this book review, so enjoy this teeny tiny snippet: A gypsy moth infestation is raining down on Avalon Island, but the bugs are the least of the islander's worries. Fierro flutters between several different perspectives, managing to weave together stories of young love, an evil corporation, gangs of outsiders, familial abuse, and an aging matriarch eager to cling to her lifestyle while her husband succumbs to delusions.

We'll start with the good. And, to be clear, there was a lot of good. Fierro created strong characters that I wanted to spend time with. In a lot of books with alternating perspectives, I find myself bored with certain characters. However, that was not the case with The Gypsy Moth Summer. I enjoyed every single character's unique voice and viewpoint and I hung on every word. Also, the setting of Avalon island felt vivid and real. Fierro's descriptions of the gypsy moth infestation had me grossed out yet riveted, and the tension between different social classes and races was gripping and terrifying at times. Basically, Fierro is a great writer.

Now, for the not as good. I won't say 'bad,' because I honestly don't believe there was anything bad about this book. There were simply things that weren't as good, in my opinion. First, going back to my opener, there was too much going on in this novel. For a large part of the book I didn't mind, but the many different story threads grew a little tangled by the end. After 400 pages, you expect there to be a rather satisfying conclusion; however, I didn't get that. I was left wanting, for sure, and not necessarily in a good way. If I had to diagnose the problem, I'd say this book had a VERY large middle and a teeny tiny ending. More time could have been spent tying up loose ends. Even still, I think Fierro provided enough information to offer a satisfactory ending, if only just barely. Second, (and this could simply be me being a prude, so feel free to ignore this) there were portions of the book that got a little too graphic for my taste. More than once I felt like I'd accidentally stumbled into an erotic novel. Now, I'm fine with a tasteful sex scene or two, but I don't want to have to close my book because I'm afraid the woman next to me in the doctor's office waiting room will catch a glimpse of the page and think I'm a pervert (yes, this actually happened).

Overall, I think The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro is well worth a read and perfect for your summer TBR. However, be prepared to finish the book with a few burning questions about the ending. 

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro is out now.

Happy Reading,
Mallory

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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I was given a copy of The Refugees by Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.

Presently in our country, the word “refugee” doesn’t register as human lives thrown into chaos, but rather as a political issue. A talking point. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees rectifies this.

Many want to think of refugees as people eager to storm into America and claim it for themselves, but Nguyen tells the story of people torn asunder, cast into the unknowable place between where they want to be and where they are. These eight stories explore the emotional and physical toll forced migration can have, in this case the forced migration from Saigon during the Vietnam War. From a ghostwriter reliving the horrors of a Trans-Pacific boat ride, the trauma of which has left her emotionally and literally hiding in the shadows, to a professor with dementia who begins to call his wife of forty years by the name of a former lover. Each of Nguyen’s characters experience the world differently. They remember Vietnam in different ways, desire different things in America, and struggle with different issues within their families. It’s a slim 224 pages, but each story is powerful and unique, making for an overall great read.

There was no stand out story for me really, but the story I go back to over and over again in my mind is “I’d Love You to Want Me.” It falls in the middle of the collection and follows a couple, married for forty years, as the husband is falling ill with dementia. He keeps a list of his mistakes in a little notebook—names forgotten, tasks left undone—to help him remember, but the one mistake he continuously makes is calling his wife by the wrong name. The name of a former lover, to be exact. The story is heartbreaking enough, but pair that with the couples long-awaited return trip to Vietnam where they find the street they once lived on renamed by the Communists. Even Saigon itself has been renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The wife, long ago tossed from her homeland, is now being rewritten and erased from her husband’s mind. The symbolism is shattering and effective.

Overall, I loved The Refugees. I wish I had a criticism to offer—because, let’s be honest, I love being the cynic—but I honestly don’t. I can’t recommend this book enough. In a time where everything feels political, The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen sounds like a book you'd want to avoid, wanting to keep reading time safe from the craziness of the "real world." However, this collection rises above the political smog to offer up eight stories that don't push an agenda, but simply offer a glimpse into other lives. Lives that feel whole and important. Lives that, had things been different, could have been our own. Lives that, as much as some want to avoid it, remind us of our own.

The Refugees was published on February 7, 2017 and is now available for purchase. Buy it here.

Happy Reading,
Mallory

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

“Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realizes they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.”

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund transcended so many genres it is hard to pin down exactly what it is. Part contemporary coming-of-age novel, part suspense novel, part enigma. This story had so many moving parts that, honestly, a significant reason I kept reading the book was simply to figure out what Fridlund was trying to do with them. Linda, as an adult, narrates the story of her fourteenth year spent babysitting the four-year-old son of her new neighbors. (Note: this story is broken up with several smaller story lines that served, for me, as little more than a distraction from the main event. I’ll talk about those later.)

One consistently strong aspect of History of Wolves is the sheer dreariness imbued into every word, description, and situation. The language Fridlund uses to describe the weather and the landscape of her northern Minnesota home is enough to send permanent chills down my spine. Every moment, even the seemingly happy ones, feel as if they are shrouded in despair. This makes sense considering an adult Linda is relaying the story back to us with full understanding of how each and every event of that year played into the heartbreaking conclusion.

Linda, as a character, also worked very well for me. What a protagonist! She has moments of real insight followed by moments of childlike naivete, and her ability to be both kind and cruel is maddening, particularly when you feel she is being kind to all the wrong people. Again, though, these frustrating attributes work to the character’s benefit. Linda felt like a real teenage girl, wrapped up in selfishness, self-doubt, and a deep desire for acceptance.

However, on a sour note, I wanted more from this debut novel. There are threads woven through this story that seem unfinished. Small (and occasionally large) details from the narrative that feel as if they are meant to hold more meaning for the reader than they do. As I said earlier, this story had a lot of moving parts, and, unfortunately, I’m not certain I closed this book with a complete understanding of how all those parts fit together.

Overall, Emily Fridlund’s debut novel, History of Wolves, entranced me with its powerful language and beautifully complicated protagonist, but the story itself took a few wrong turns. I even had the thought at one point during my reading that I wish this book had been split into two separate stories rather than ground down into one watered down version of both. However, I wouldn’t want these criticisms to act as a deterrent from reading this book. Emily Fridlund is an author I intend to follow, and I can’t wait to read what she writes next. 

Buy a copy of Fridlund's debut novel, published in January 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press. 

Happy Reading,
Mallory

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce

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Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce was the first book I chose to receive as part of my Book of the Month subscription. (Honestly, if you love books and aren’t subscribed to Book of the Month…you are seriously missing out. It’s like bookish Christmas every month. But I digress.) Immediately, the book description had me aching to read the story of Chizuru/Rio.

“Kelly Luce's Pull Me Under tells the story of Rio Silvestri, who, when she was twelve years old, fatally stabbed a school bully. Rio, born Chizuru Akitani, is the Japanese American daughter of the revered violinist Hiro Akitani--a Living National Treasure in Japan and a man Rio hasn't spoken to since she left her home country for the United States (and a new identity) after her violent crime. Her father's death, along with a mysterious package that arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, spurs her to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years. There she is forced to confront her past in ways she never imagined, pushing herself, her relationships with her husband and daughter, and her own sense of who she is to the brink.”

Kelly Luce writes beautifully and the beginning of Rio’s life is so haunting that it wasn’t difficult to get sucked in. The Prologue, simply titled “Before,” is written in the past tense, and there is a real sense of separation between the narrator Rio and child Rio. It feels like the narrator is telling the story of someone else, a stranger locked away for murder. The narrator also keeps the reader at a distance, sharing her story, but never enough to fully allow the reader to put the pieces of her life together. You get the feeling that the adult narrator has not accepted the traumatic parts of her past, and, in the beginning, this distance feels purposeful. Then, just like that, we are whisked into Chapter 1 and into the present tense. The mundane life she is leading with her husband and daughter is sharply juxtaposed against the news she receives of her father’s death, a symbolic representation of the pain of her past and a reminder that she hasn’t fully dealt with it yet. Yet again, even though the story is told in first person, there is a distance.

You may be noticing a pattern—I’m mentioning “distance” a lot. This is because the distance between Rio Silvestri as an adult and her as a child and, separately, the distance between Rio Silvestri and the reader is so vital to how this story is told. However, in this review, this distance is also one of the few problems I had with the book. We, as the reader, are meant to go with Rio on her journey back to Japan for her father’s funeral, but I never felt like I could fully connect with Rio. Even up until the last pages of the book, this distance is palpable between the reader and Rio. Long past when Rio should have been accepting the crime she committed as a child and growing closer to her family, it felt instead like she was holding everyone at arm’s length, including the reader. I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention, or if Kelly Luce simply didn’t manage the tension the way she should have. Either way, it made the book, particularly the last third, drag a bit. I wanted to shake Rio at times and beg her to just come clean. REVEAL YOUR SECRETS! Rio is a woman who, as a child, murdered someone. That must carry a lot of weight, and I felt like she never gave it more than a few passing thoughts of regret. Frankly, I wanted more. I wanted more emotion, more connection, and more of a change.

Issues aside, I really enjoyed this reading experience. Every character felt vivid and unique, even if they only played a minor role in the plot, and the slow reveal of Rio’s past and the life of her father since she’d last seen him helped to keep the tension building. Overall, I would recommend Pull Me Under, but I’d caution any would-be readers to keep their expectations relatively low and try to savor Kelly Luce’s beautiful writing. 

Happy Reading,
Mallory

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

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“The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson’s exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world’s top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he’s sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.”

Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test piqued my interest the moment I heard about it. The idea of monsters and ghosts can be creepy, but nothing is more disturbing than the idea of a human being becoming the ultimate villain. Ronson makes it clear that not all psychopaths are villains, but he also makes it clear that a psychopath’s lack of emotions and self-control make them significantly more likely to be villains. So, with my predilection for all things true crime, I dove head first into this book.

The book opens with a rather long mystery Jon Ronson was asked to solve that has nothing to do with psychopaths, but helps to explain how he found himself tangled up in the world of psychopaths. This section, while well-written (because everything Jon Ronson writes is well-written) felt superfluous. If you decide to read this book, please hang in there through the first chapter. It gets better, I promise.

Surprisingly, my favorite parts of the book weren’t Ronson’s meetings with Tony in the asylum or with the death-squad leader in prison, but rather the research he did on the history of psychopathy. Ronson describes the different methods used to try and treat psychopaths over the years, one of which included naked, LSD-fueled meditation sessions. (Psychopathy is now believed to be incurable, which is no wonder considering the treatment was naked, LSD-fueled meditation sessions, amirite?) And he explains in extensive detail how mental disorders came to be categorized and diagnosed. Hint: it’s not as scientific as you’d hope.

To be honest, though, I’m genuinely surprised this book held my interest the way it did. While Ronson did talk a lot about psychopaths, the book was more a collection of stories than an overarching study into psychopathy. He spent a lot of time talking to presumed or potential psychopaths, but that’s where his investigation kind of stopped. Avoiding any hard-drawn conclusions, Ronson aimed instead for letting the reader decide whether the subjects he interviewed were psychopathic. This tactic played well with the second half of his book, which pointed the finger back at psychiatry, postulating that perhaps everyone is a mix of crazy and sane, including psychopaths. However, I can’t say for sure whether the tactic played well with me.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. Ronson has an undeniably funny writing style that is disarming and makes you want to continue reading. I’m not in the habit of rating books on any sort of scale, but if I were, this book would get a solid 3.8/5.

Happy Reading,

Mallory

Gilmore Girls Revival and Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

 

I am a huge Gilmore Girls junkie. I've seen all seven seasons of the original series at least four times. The crazy antics of the Stars Hollow residents never gets old. So, when I heard Lauren Graham would be releasing a memoir of sorts to coincide with the revival series, I knew I had to buy it.

First things first, I must address the elephant in the room. Yes, I watched the revival episodes. Yes, I enjoyed them. And no, I didn't much care for them. To keep things short (because this is a book review not a Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life review), I think the show creators lost sight of who Rory and Lorelai are. Both women have histories of being slightly self-centered and immature, but never as a rule. They would slip up, do something narcissistic and self-serving, and then see the error of their ways. In these episodes, though, narcissism reigned supreme. Rory kept forgetting about her long time boyfriend (OF TWO YEARS!) and cheated on him several times just to kick him while he's down, I guess. She also kept whining about how no one would offer her a really great writing job after she'd written one well-received article for a magazine. Entitled, much? And Lorelai…ugh…even after being together for ten years, Lorelai still treated Luke as if he should fit into her life rather than building one together. She never questioned what he wanted or how he felt, and even their ending showed Luke being willing to bend over backwards, disregard his own dreams, and change himself in any way possible to please Lorelai. The writers basically took the gruff, no-nonsense Luke we'd all grown to love and neutered him on screen for the world to see. Don't even get me started on Lane…Lane deserved better, gosh darn it. Paris was okay as a personality, but I have some deep and probing questions for the writers about Paris's life choices. The only character who received a suitable ending was Emily Gilmore. She ended the episode looking empowered and emboldened, ready to take on life as a widow, and she had the truest portrayal throughout the series.

That went on longer than I planned, but I have a lot of feelings.

Now, to get to why I’m writing this. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham is a book of short essays covering, as the title suggests, "From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and everything in between)." We learn a bit about her early life, her college years, and how she ended up in acting. She shares funny stories about being single in Hollywood and all the no-name, stereotypical roles she took before catching her big break as Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls. Lauren Graham's humor shines through on every page, making it a light, easy read that anyone who has watched Gilmore Girls will enjoy.

However (and yes, sorry, there is a negative side to this review) the information she shared about Gilmore Girls could have been written by any schlub who'd seen the show. Basically, Lauren never watched her own show, so for this book, she went back and rewatched all of the episodes to jog her memory. Rather than talking about relationships between cast mates behind the scenes, which scenes were the most grueling to shoot, or even which of her on-screen boyfriends she most wanted to date, she talks about Lorelai's hair and clothing. She rewatched the episodes and then gave us information along the lines of, "Phew, look at that early 2000's fashion!" I mean…really? That's it? There was a bit of meat to the section about her first run on Gilmore Girls, but it was nothing like what I was expecting. And, to be honest, the section about the revival of Gilmore Girls wasn't much better. It had a few bits of cool information, but most readers are coming to this book as Gilmore Girls fanatics and they are being served up lukewarm information they'd more than likely already gathered from the cast interviews.

Overall, I enjoyed Talking as Fast as I Can. Lauren Graham is funny and insightful, and she has had the privilege of being on two very beloved television shows, so she talks a lot about landing those roles and what it was like playing the TV sister to her real-life boyfriend. However, if you buy this book hoping for shocking and scandalous secrets, then I'll warn you now that it simply won't deliver. 

Happy Reading,

Mallory 

2016 in Review: My 8 Favorite Reads and the Reading Slump to End All Reading Slumps

2016 was a tough reading year for me. A couple things happened, both personally and professionally, that left me unable to focus on what I was reading. I would start a book, get halfway through, and then grow bored with it. I kept picking up books thinking, “surely this will be the one to end my slump,” but it never really happened. I finished 2016 dead center in the middle of a slump. So, rather than wallow in self-pity, ashamed of the fact that I can’t write a Best 16 Books of 2016 list (for the pure reason that it would basically end up being a list of the books I read this last year—I only finished 22 books…), I’m going to share with you 8 books that I loved, and 8 books that I started in 2016 and look forward to finishing in 2017.

My reading goal for 2017 is 30 books, but I very much hope to exceed that goal. I have also created a rule whereby I can only read a new book once I have read 3 books currently on my shelf. My book buying reached new heights this last year despite the fact my reading had taken a SERIOUS hit. Here’s to hoping the reading slump ended with 2016!

8 Favorite Books From 2016 (Click links to read my review)

1)      Illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
2)      Illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
3)      A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
4)      Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5)      Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
6)      Mermaids by Patty Dann
7)      The Girls by Emma Cline
8)      Tenth of December by George Saunders (I never got around to reviewing this short story collection, but it was amazing.)

 

8 Books I Look Forward to Finishing in 2017

1)      Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2)      War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
3)      A Monster Calls by Patrick Nes
4)      Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
5)      Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
6)      Life of Pi by Yann Martel
7)      Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates
8)      In Cold Blood by Truman Capot

Let me know what you read last year and what you plan to read this next year!

Happy Reading,
Mallory

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Illustrated) by JK Rowling and Jim Kay

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I waited a few months to buy the illustrated Sorcerer's Stone after it was published in October 2015 (here's my review), but I wasted no time with the Chamber of Secrets. I pre-ordered it and had it shipped to my door step on publication day. Similar to the first book, I resisted temptation and didn't leaf through the pages to look at the illustrations before I started reading. I wanted to experience the illustrations in time with the story the way Jim Kay intended. This has proven both times to be a wonderful strategy because it adds a whole new layer of wonder to the reading experience. Not only am I reading a fantastic story with Kay's beautiful illustrations, but I have no idea when the next image will appear or what it will be. Towards the beginning of the book I turned the page and was surprised to find two ginormous eyes peering out at me from behind the text. After a moment of shock I remembered they were Dobby's eyes, and Kay was revealing them to the reader the way Harry would have seen them peeking from behind a bush. The whole book unfolded this way, one wonder after the other.

Here is a size comparison of the illustrated version and the paperback.

Here is a size comparison of the illustrated version and the paperback.

Now, for your convenience, I'm going to simply list out my favorite bits and bobs from the book, as well as a few critiques. 

-Just like Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets devoted four pages to the streets of Diagon Alley, and they were gorgeous. I spent a long time reading all of the shop signs and looking in the windows. It honestly felt like I was exploring Diagon Alley.

-The use of full black pages with white text to represent darkness throughout the book was extremely effective in drawing the reader into the physical space of the scenes. For instance, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione go to Nearly Headless Nick's Death Day party, the pages go dark allowing the ghosts to glow and luminesce on the page. The technique was also employed for the Forbidden Forest scenes and when Harry goes into the Chamber of Secrets.

-The first book provided portraits of the characters as a way of introducing them to us, so it was fun this time around to see the character's in action. We were able to see two different illustrations of Mrs. Weasley helping Ron go over his school list and bringing in the floo powder for their trip to Diagon Alley. Also, I loved the pencil sketch of Hermione with a determined look on her face and a stack of books heading off to study. Kay was able to dive more into the character's personalities this time around, and it showed.

-One image I loved was the portrait of Draco Malfoy on page 169. We got an illustration of Draco in the first book wearing his Slytherin robes and looking positively diabolical. However, the portrait in COS showed another side of him. Draco looked almost miserable in the image, and his pale blue eyes were piercing. I still hated Draco in this book, but that image was haunting. 

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-One of my favorite full spread illustrations was of Harry falling into Tom Riddle's diary on pages 182 and 183. The vibrant colors exploded off the page. Basically, I would kill for a print of that image to hang on my wall. 

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-From the first chapter to the last, Dobby was illustrated perfectly. He had a grotesqueness to him that was hard to ignore, but his giant ears and bulging eyes were endearing. The final image of him clutching Harry's dirty sock to his chest broke my heart in the best possible way. (Here's a link to a short video of Jim Kay working on the illustrations for the first two books. In it, you'll see a clay model Kay made of Dobby to help with his illustrations. It's adorable.)

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Now, my critiques of this book are less about what was on the page and more about what was missing. There were several images I was really looking forward to seeing that apparently didn't make the cut. This could be because of the time allowance Jim Kay had for this book. In the video I linked above he mentions that he spent two and a half years illustrating the first book and only eight months illustrating the second. With the books growing longer and longer as the series progresses, I'm hoping we don't begin to see less illustrations. 

-First and foremost, it seemed like this book had less illustrations than the first. I didn't tally the number between the two books, but there were several times in COS where I flipped ahead while reading wondering when the next illustration would appear, and I don't remember ever doing that with the first book. For instance, Chapter 11 goes ten pages without a single illustrations and Chapter 17 is fifteen pages long, yet there is only one illustration (aside from the illustration that accompanies every chapter heading) and it is a full layout image of Harry fighting the Basilisk. It's a wonderful image, but it felt a little lonely in the chapter that is meant to be the climax of the story.

-Speaking of the climax, there wasn't a single image of the inside of the Chamber of Secrets, which was really disappointing. I had been looking forward to seeing Jim Kay's take on that space. The book is, after all, called Harry Potter and the CHAMBER OF SECRETS. 

-Also Jim Kay didn't do an illustration of Tom Riddle or of Ginny in the chamber or of Harry stabbing the diary. All of these things are HUGE plot points in the book, yet they weren't represented in the illustrations. It just felt like a missed opportunity to me. We've been able to see Kay's version of all of the main characters, but somehow Tom Riddle didn't make the cut? I mean, spoiler alert, but Tom Riddle is the reason this story is even happening. He set the entire plot into motion. It would be like if Jim Kay hadn't provided an illustration of Professor Quirrell in the first book. It wouldn't have made any sense, and the decision to leave Riddle out made zero sense to me.

-Now, on a smaller scale, I was disappointed that there wasn't an image of any of the petrified students, particularly Hermione. One of the main characters was attacked by the basilisk and it didn't make it into the illustrations? What? It would have been heartbreaking to see Harry and Ron visiting her in the hospital wing, and again, it seemed like a missed opportunity.

-Finally, one of my favorite locations in all of the books has always been The Burrow. I grew up loving the idea of the Weasley's lopsided living quarters, and I adored every second we were able to spend in their space, so it was a tad underwhelming to be given two images of The Burrow that I didn't feel provided any detail. The first being on the cover of the book where The Burrow is seen in the distance in an aerial shot; the second being an illustration of The Burrow at dusk, so the majority of the house is hidden in shadow. The Weasley's house is described so richly in the books, and it would have been really fun to see Kay's spin on the beloved landmark. Fingers crossed it makes it into one of the later books.

Overall, the book was amazing. Re-reading these books with full color illustrations has been a wonderful way to reconnect with a beloved part of my childhood, and I know I'm going to be eagerly anticipating a new illustrated release every October until the last one is published. Though I did have some criticisms, I highly recommend these books to every Harry Potter lover. They are a magical spin on our favorite magical world, and they shouldn't be missed. 

Happy Reading,
Mallory

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

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“Death. It doesn't have to be boring.” 

This line comes from Mary Roach's non-fiction marvel, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and boy is she right. Working as practice subjects for plastic surgery procedures, crash test dummies, and, in instances I hope happened a very long time ago and are never to be repeated, as bite sized honey-steeped confectionery medicine, cadavers are anything but boring. Although, it should be noted that upwards of 80% of all cadavers are used in anatomy labs, being cut open in the name of helping the next generation of doctor's not irreversibly screw up on a living person is still a pretty interesting story to tell around Heaven's water cooler. 

As you can see from the title, Stiff is an exploration of the many different ways human cadavers can be used, almost always to the benefit of the still living. The book was published in 2003, though, so some of the information is out of date. For instance, there are now six body farms operating in the United States (you'll learn what a body farm is when you read the book. Hint: it's not a place to take the children.) However, that is no reason to not read the book because, in addition to Roach's adventures in the current use of cadavers (current in 2003, may I remind you), she also delved into the use of human cadavers throughout history. Which, if I may be blunt, was insane. The only parts of the book that ever made me squeamish happened in the past…because someone had to be the first to try a full head transplant, and it happened during a time when immunosuppressant drugs didn't exist. Yikes.

Speaking of squeamish, this could be a book you don't want to read over breakfast, which I did every single day. Breakfast is my reading time. I can relax with a hot cup of tea and some banana nut oatmeal…which began to resemble decomposing organs and brain tissue by the end of the book. Also, if you think human bodies--even human bodies recently separated from a soul--should always be treated with the utmost respect and care, then this book may not be for you. Cadavers are always people who, while alive, willingly signed over their bodies to science, but the process can seem a little crass when they are hit with a sledgehammer to see how much force a shoulder can stand before it breaks. So, stay away if that idea bothers you.

While this book wasn't the hilarious laugh-fest almost every single person who recommended it to me promised, it was incredibly interesting. Don't get me wrong, Mary Roach made me laugh, but the litany of ways a body can spend it's post-living days isn't exactly the stuff comedy routines are made of. It's a tough subject, and Roach made it just about as funny as it could be, which is to be commended. 

Overall, this book is going to make me a riot at the next funeral I attend. Er--maybe not. Either way, I learned things I never knew I wanted to learn about the history of cadavers, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who watches as many crime shows as I do (A LOT). 

Also, become an organ donor. It's one check of a box at the DMV and you can save someone's life. Plus, what do you really need your kidney's for when you're laying in a coffin or chilling in an urn or being used as compost to nourish a plant? (That was another topic in the book. It's really very interesting. You should read it.)

Happy Reading,
Mallory

All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell

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 I was given a copy of All the Time in the World by Holt Paperbacks in exchange for an honest review.

A jilted composer in New York City, Charlotte takes a temporary position as a nanny to two little boys. However, as her love for the family grows, her temporary position begins to feel permanent. Then, when a death in the family changes the family dynamic forever, Charlotte is forced to choose between her still-promising career as a composer and the well-being of the family she has come to love.

Typically, stories about grief don't interest me. I find there is very little new territory down the avenue of death and dying, so when a story is solely about a death in a family and how the people left behind react, I tend to shy away. All the Time in the World, however, caught my attention. (I think it was the beautiful cover, and I'm not at all ashamed to admit that. Who actually listens to the old saying and doesn't judge a book by it's cover?)

If I'm being honest, All the Time in the World wasn't the most riveting plot I've ever encountered. The death was announced on the first page, so most of Part 1 was spent waiting for the other shoe to drop--for the character to actually die. Then, the rest of the story was devoted to the aftermath of the death. The timeline jumped around--which I do think added an interesting element to the story--but even it was labelled in terms of before and after the death.

This plot, in the hands of a less skilled writer, could have easily been summed up by, "someone dies, the family mourns, and then they try to carry on." In which case, it would have been entirely forgettable. However, Caroline Angell's enchanting characters and witty narration kept me turning the page. Though there weren't too many surprises throughout the story, I still cared deeply about these characters. I wanted Georgie to find his stuffed animal and for Matt to begin to deal with his grief. I wanted Scotty to be a good father and for Patrick to let go of his playboy ways. Most of all, I wanted Charlotte to take care of herself for once. I felt a connection to these characters that kept me wondering, long after I finished the book, "what are they doing now?"

Overall, All the Time in the World was incredibly readable and deeply heartfelt. Caroline Angell's debut novel has labelled her as an author to watch out for, and that's exactly what I intend to do.

All the Time in the World was published on July 12th. Go to www.CarolineAngell.com to read more about Caroline Angell and buy a copy of the book.

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Girls by Emma Cline

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Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

When I first heard about Emma Cline's The Girls, I was skeptical. I read Helter Skelter last year, so I didn't quite see the appeal of a fictional story about a Manson-like cult. From what I could tell, the book would be a cheap knock-off, a shadow of the real thing. Why bother? I tried to forget about The Girls, but the amount of people who recommended it to me skyrocketed, the sheer volume of reviews I saw online was insane, and ignoring it became impossible. So, I requested a review copy and was graciously given one by the publisher.

Upon reading the first page, I realized my mistake. Helter Skelter had been a biography. A third party depiction of what went on at Spahn Ranch with Manson and his girls. Emma Cline, however, offered up Evie Boyd. A girl who didn't look like much, but whose insecurity and loneliness would propel her into the arms of murderers. As the reader, I saw Evie's slow, but steady shift into chaos. I watched her life change from one of adolescent displeasure to outright rebellion. Even more, I saw the appeal the cult held for her.

One key difference from the stories told about Manson's cult and the fictional cult of Russell was that Evie wasn't lured in by the raw power and sexuality of the cult leader, but rather of one of the girls, Suzanne. Evie saw everything she wanted to be--desired, powerful, carefree, confident--wrapped up in a shabby bohemian dress and ratty hair. Her desire to be liked, to belong is not unusual in itself. It could easily be transplanted to a high school YA novel with Evie trying to get in with the popular kids. However, in this case, the popular kids are in a murderous cult.

The thing I found most surprising about The Girls was how much I related to Evie. Her almost crippling need to be liked, her desire to be extraordinary. Emma Cline told the truth of being an adolescent with brutal, disarming honesty. Evie really does represent the average 14-year-old girl, which makes the truth of this story so much more powerful. It's so comforting to believe you'd never be capable of murder, that you would have despised Manson/Russell and his band of merry followers. However, Evie shows how easy it is to become wrapped up in something so much more powerful than yourself. How easy it is to lose yourself in someone else.

You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?

Some readers complained about the small handful of pages that dealt with the murders. So, if your interest in The Girls begins and ends with the Manson-like murders they'll commit, this book is not for you. However, if you've ever asked yourself, "how could anyone have found themselves wrapped up with Charles Manson?" then this book is definitely for you. Emma Cline tells Evie's story so truthfully it's easy to forget she's a fictional character, rather than an ex-member of the real life cult.

We learn right away in the book that Evie didn't take part in the murders, but we see the way her involvement with the group haunts her well into adulthood. The way people view her as someone vastly different from themselves, capable of horrors. We also see the way Evie views herself. Still with a sharp eye for her own imperfections and faults, Evie must live her life wondering if she would have participated in the murders given the chance. Would she have stopped them or would her desire to belong have carried her into an act she could never take back?

The hatred that vibrated beneath the surface of my girl’s face—I think Suzanne recognized it. Of course my hand would anticipate the weight of a knife. The particular give of a human body. There was so much to destroy.

Happy Reading, 

Mallory

Mermaids by Patty Dann

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Despite what you may be thinking, Mermaids by Patty Dann is not about mermaids. It is the tale (get it, TALE...tail? Man, I'm funny) of Charlotte Flax, her mother--whom she calls Mrs. Flax, and her younger sister, Kate. Mrs. Flax dates around and, when the relationship sours, moves around. Charlotte and Kate are forced to relocate time and time again at the behest of their mother, when all Charlotte wants is to be a Saint and have her baby teeth be worshipped as Holy Relics. This information is presented in the first few pages and the books only gets more hilarious and quirky as it goes.

To be perfectly transparent, I knew the story of Charlotte Flax long before reading this book. You may or, as is more common, may not be aware that Mermaids was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Cher, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, and Bob Hoskins. I watched it at some point in my youth and absolutely fell in love. However, it wasn't until recently that I learned the novel even existed! So I bought the novel as soon as I could and devoured it (it's only 147 pages, so that didn't take long).

Now, having enjoyed the film and read the book, I can say without a doubt that the stories are identical. Very little was changed or left out in the adaptation from book to film, and I think that's because nothing needed to be changed. Patty Dann does a great job of conveying to the reader exactly who her characters are in one sentence. For instance, the novel opens with the line, "Mrs. Flax was happiest when she was leaving a place, but I wanted to stay put long enough to fall down crazy and hear the Word of God." It is rare to come across a first line that perfectly encapsulates the tone of a novel and its characters.

As lovely and fun as the book was, there were times where I felt the author could have gone into more detail. Patty Dann's direct style of narration provided enough detail to set the scene, but she rarely lingered and it caused the book to feel a little hectic at times. However, the characters that people this book and the setting Dann placed them in are vivid enough to overlook this issue. Mermaids may not have any actual mermaids, but it is a magical read all the same.

Happy Reading,

Mallory