The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – Book Review

Well, that was different. Refreshingly different in a lot of ways. One of our book club members chose SBCGSV (because this title is a mouthful, so I’ve made it sound like a 90’s boy band) for our January reading selection. I finished it just in time to know what I was talking about at our meeting last night. And what a fabulous book club book, because it’s literally about a book club! I doubt we ever get a chance to do any vampire slaying, and considering what these ladies went through, I certainly hope things stay as boring as usual. I’m good with the wine and snacks, y’all. This begins with an introduction in which Hendrix gives the reason he wrote this book. It’s in homage to his and all the other badass Southern mamas out there who manage to take care of literally everything while making it look a bit effortless. Why not add a little vampire slaying to the mix? They have already mastered everything else.

Synopsis

The book club that’s not a book club forms on a night when all the ladies realize they are sick and tired of reading boring stuff they are told they should be reading by the pretentious ladies of the official book club. In it, they mostly consume gritty true crime books and trashy novels. The focus of the novel is Patricia, housewife and mother of two whose psychologist husband occasionally comes home to assert his masculine authority as a way to feel falsely important but otherwise is usually out “working.” When a series of odd occurrences begin taking place in the safe little town of Mt. Pleasant, all signs lead back to one man, a handsome and charming newcomer named James Harris who has convinced nearly everyone he can do no wrong. Is he really as perfect as he seems? Or is he something much darker and more menacing, something with the power to bring an entire town to its knees?

Review

From the very start, this novel is wildly engaging. At first it’s simply funny. Laugh out loud, “My God, this is relatable,” kind of funny. The audiobook is narrated by a fabulously talented Bahni Turpin, and she effortlessly bounces back and forth between the separate voices, giving a unique quality to each and every character. I can’t say I liked each and every character throughout, but every one of them was touched by an incredible authenticity. Patricia’s initial naivety upon immediately trusting James Harris was quite believable considering her situation in life. I simultaneously liked her and wanted to shake her into snapping out of it. Just when I thought I was reading a rather light-hearted book about a super awesome book club, Hendrix did a complete 180 and put Patricia in an intensely terrifying situation. As the novel progressed, the plot was infused with thrilling an suspenseful moments that both exhilarated and terrified.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about the plot of this book. As a matter of fact, readers quickly learn the identity of the villain. It’s not a story about figuring out the who. It’s a story about women and about friendship. It’s a story about finding the courage to do what’s necessary when no one else will. It’s about badass Southern mamas.

As far as horror goes, this is superb and unique. It is the perfect amount of frightening in all the right places, and manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for a large portion of the narrative. Part of the horror is merely in the grotesque and the uncomfortable. Some of it’s just plain gross. If cockroaches, killer rats, and old ladies pulling raccoon guts out with their teeth is not in your wheelhouse of horrific things you can tolerate, you may want to skip this one. Since I was listening to this mostly on my commute, I have a feeling quite a few people saw me driving around like this:

The genius behind this book, however, wasn’t those direct elements of horror that stimulate our gag reflex or frighten us. Upon consideration, the most terrifying elements of this book were the real life horror stories of a much more subtle but much more realistic and harmful nature. The way Patricia is alienated and rejected upon first opening up about her theories regarding James Harris and his terrifying secret points to the inherent misogyny in our society, especially in the South during this time period. It didn’t matter how much evidence she had or that she’d seen things with her own eyes, she was just a silly housewife to most people. What did she know? As things continue to spiral and Patricia grows increasingly isolated, we watch as her resolve gives way along with her sanity. There’s not just one monster in this book. Some of the monsters are of the human variety. They are the monsters that employ the weapons of gaslighting and manipulation, slowly wearing away the soul of a person until there’s nothing left with which to fight. Honestly, our risk of being hurt by outside threats is nothing compared to our risk of being hurt by those who are supposed to love us. I actually grew very weary of this section of the book. It felt like it went on for two hours of the audio. I actually wondered if James Harris didn’t have some kind of super-human hypnotic ability, because I couldn’t believe the amount of evidence people were disregarding. Upon hindsight, this was an accentuation of the horror and the discomfort, so I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad quality. It wasn’t very enjoyable, however.

Another stark pressing theme in this book was that of racial inequity. James Harris initially preys on the children of the people of Six Mile, a predominantly black community in close proximity to Mt. Pleasant. If white children were to begin dying of suspicious circumstances, the whole world would watch. When it’s black children in a poor community, the world chocks it up to bad parenting and drugs. It’s infuriating and certainly accentuates the real life horror to be standing on the sidelines watching these events unfold, as powerless as Patricia to stop the spiral.

I’ve read a few vampire novels, including the pinnacle piece of literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This one really stands out as an incredibly unique take on the lore. There’s always been an overtly sexual component to vampire stories. This book pulled a Tim Taylor on that component and super-charged the hell out of the sexual nature of vampire lore. Most of the time, the eroticism was just uncomfortable, because it was also not so subtly tinged with pedophilia. So, I do want to warn that there are some very serious themes in this book. Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault. As pleasant as this novel is in the beginning, it reaches desperately low places before the conclusion.

I think the most obvious takeaway from this book is that as women we’re so much stronger together. We’ll often rarely find allies in this world, and we need each other. It wasn’t lost on me that there wasn’t one man in this novel who wasn’t a useless piece of human trash. Is that realistic? No, of course there are some decent men in this world. Evidently none of them live in the town of Mt. Pleasant.

The final thing I’ll say about this is that the conclusion is rather shocking. It poses some questions and possibly leaves room for a sequel. That’s certainly an interesting debate for book club night. Overall, this is a wildly captivating read. Some readers on the squeamish side might approach it with a bit of trepidation, but I think few would regret picking it up. I give it 4 1/2 stars simply for middle section that gave me such frustration.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Posted in Horror, thriller | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

WWW Wednesday – January 20, 2021 #bookishmemes #wwwwednesday

Welcome to a new week of WWW Wednesday. This is a meme now hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. In it, we answer three questions and leave a link in the comments sharing our own posts for other bloggers to view.

The three Ws are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What have you just finished reading?
  • What will you pick up next?

What am I currently reading?

I’m currently reading two books. On audio, I’m reading The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. This is my book club’s current selection, and our meeting is on Friday. I’m about 75% of the way through this book. I started out enjoying it immensely, as the beginning was funny and engaging. I got bogged down about halfway through with a bit of frustration. I felt like some of it was repetitive and the middle section could have been shortened a bit, but it’s now picked back up and is driving quickly toward an exciting conclusion.

In hardback, I’m reading The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. This book has gathered much acclaim since its release in October of 2020. It’s a very inventive mix of alternate history, historical fiction, and fantasy. I’m still very much in the early stages of this novel, as I’ve admittedly done more blogging and listening in between work and family duties this week, but I really need to pick up the pace before I owe the library my life savings in late fees (at least it goes to a good cause, right?) So far, it has an eclectic and rich cast of characters and a good, solid premise. It’s a captivating novel and I’m looking forward to finishing this one and giving my final thoughts.

What did I just finish reading?

I just finished Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, review posted here. I enjoyed this one a lot, and it was actually a pretty different read for me, as I don’t pick up a lot of horror novels or suspense thrillers. I think it was a much needed change of pace from my usual heavier fare. I do love Gothic novels, especially those with unique old houses with a story to tell, and this definitely fits the mold. I’m not sure I quite did it justice in my review, as I’ve been consider some new thoughts in hindsight, especially that the house really feels like a character in itself in the book. I enjoy that when a writer is really able to pull it off, as there’s a new element to the horror to enjoy.

What will I Read Next?

Oh, here we are again. This is the part that always makes me feel like a bit of a failure. Why, you ask? Because these books are usually the same picks every single week due to my sheer fickleness as a reader. I never get around to actually picking them up thanks to a sudden influx of library holds. This time, however, it will be different. I’ve taken a break from library holds until I clear a few off my shelf at home. I’m going back to Mary Doria Russell again. I’ve read every single one of her books, and this is the last one I need to complete the collection. So, The Women of the Copper Country, we’re going to get it done this time. I mean it!

Thanks for checking in with me, and look for my reviews to come in the next few days. Happy reading, everyone!

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Home Before Dark – Book Review

If you just read my review for The Garden of Burning Sand this review is going to feel very different. Honestly, if I read books simultaneously, which is often do, I like for them to feel completely different so they don’t start to blend together in my head. So now let’s shift gears from a somber legal drama to supernatural horror.

Synopsis

Every house has a story. Ours is a ghost story. It’s also a lie. And now that yet another person has died within these walls, it’s finally time to tell the truth.” – Riley Sager

On the surface, this is a pretty standard ghost story. A young woman, Maggie Holt, inherits a proverbial house of horrors from her father upon his death. Years before when Maggie was five years old, something happened in that house. This something, though she has no memory of it, haunted her from the day of their departure from the house to the present due to the presence of a best-selling book penned by her father. The book recounts a horrifying encounter with supernatural evil that forced her family from the house with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Twenty-five years later she returns to the house under the pretense of preparing the house for sale. In fact, Maggie Holt is in search of answers. She knows the events from her father’s book are a lie, and she knows the house has the power of unearthing the truth her parents kept from her for a quarter of a century. Was it a lie? Or is there, in fact, an unspeakable evil lurking within the house waiting for Maggie to return home so it can claim what it failed to claim so many years before?

Review

From page one, this book is wildly intriguing. It’s told in alternating chapters in two different easily discernible sections. The first is told from Maggie’s perspective in the present. The second section is comprised of chronological chapters from the novel, House of Horrors, that both made Maggie’s family rich and subsequently ruined her life. At first, it feels as if Maggie is a reliable narrator while the book chapters are the opposite. We believe Maggie’s surefire assertion that the events in the book never occurred. And we’re as desperate as Maggie to unearth what could have been so horrible as to cause the family to leave and never come back. Was it some real life horror that she and her parents witnessed and felt they could never again face? Was it merely a publicity stunt to boost sales of the book? If so, why did Maggie’s father beg her from his deathbed to never return to the house because it wasn’t a safe place for her?

As Maggie ventures through her story and unexplained things begin to happen that mirror experiences from the book, Maggie begins to doubt her own assertions. The lines between the past and the present become blurred, fantasy and reality fuse together in a confusing jumble, and readers start to question which narrative is most unreliable. I love this kind of book, the kind that keeps you guessing, formulating theory after theory and still not quite grasping the entire truth until it’s staring you in the face. Each character Maggie meets, as well, seethes with secrets they’ve kept buried from the rest of the world for 25 years. The result is a tangled web of mystery, deception, and confusion.

This novel is fast paced and easy to read, so it’s not a huge time investment. It’s also very enjoyable. And for a suspense/thriller, it did keep me guessing as to certain details, as there were quite a few surprises that came through by the end. I do have one minor quibble, but it’s sort of important. This book has the wrong title! I mean, if your house potentially wants to kill you and the bad things happen at night, why the hell would you want to be home before dark?

I struggle to find a reason, any reason, in which this title makes sense for the book. Perhaps a better title would be “Find a New Home Before Dark?” HA! Alas, at least the book was enjoyable despite the confusing title.

Overall, I enjoyed this very much and will look for more Riley Sager books in the future. What did you think of this? Did it keep you guessing? Do you have any theories for the strange title? Share your comments below.

For the #52books challenge, this one comes in at number 46, the book with a 3 word title.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Posted in Horror, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

2021 Reading Challenge: 52 Books in 52 Weeks

A New Year brings new ways for me to increase my productivity and reach my goals. I restarted my blog late in 2020 and didn’t do any reading challenges, so it’s time to change that for a new year. This can help me with my accountability and keep me focused on what to do next. I would like to keep my goals quite attainable this year. Since I had my children, I’ve noticed the main thing that’s suffered has been my reading. Since reviving my blog, I’ve really been trying to manage my time wisely and make time for the things I enjoy, reading to be at the top of that. As my typical Goodreads reading goal has been a book a week, this one seems to be the perfect challenge for me. I hope to exceed that by far this year, but this is a goal I consider pretty attainable, so why push it?

This reading challenge is hosted by Rachael at The Booklist Queen. It presents 52 separate categories to encourage readers to step outside their comfort zones and read new things, but these categories are pretty fluid and can be altered if you don’t feel one suits your tastes. Double others, switch them out, make it your own. Considering all that, this seems like a pretty great challenge to tackle. The categories are as follows:

1. A Productivity Book
2. Book Becoming Movie in 2021
3. Goodreads Winner in 2020
4. Biography
5. About a Pressing Social Issue
6. A Book About Books
7. Set in the 1920s
8. An Author Who Uses Initials
9. Poetry
10. A 2020 Bestseller
11. Recommended by a Colleague
12. With a Number in the Title
13. Bottom of Your To-Read List
14. Reread a Favorite Book
15. Own Voices Story
16. Published in the 1800s
17. Local Author
18. Longer Than 400 Pages
19. A Book Turned Into a TV Series 
20. A Book That Makes You Think
21. A WWII Story
22. A Highly Anticipated Book
23. Eye-Catching Cover
24. A Summer Read
25. Coming of Age Story
26. Bestselling Memoir
27. Book Club Favorite
28. A Book About Friendship
29. An Audiobook
30. Set in Australia
31. By a Nobel Prize winner
32. About an Immigrant
33. Time Travel Novel
34. An Author You Love
35. Childhood Favorite
36. Classic Read in High School
37. Borrowed from the Library
38. Nonfiction New York Times Bestseller
39. From an Indie Publisher
40. Fantasy
41. A Sequel
42. Recommended by a Librarian
43. Psychological Thriller
44. Oprah Winfrey Book Club Pick
45. A Book About Technology
46. Title with Three Words
47. Debut Novel of Famous Author
48. Genre You Don’t Usually Read
49. A Book Everyone Is Talking About
50. You Own But Haven’t Read
51. Borrowed from a Friend
52. A 2021 New Release

Some of the categories link to helpful lists by the Booklist Queen in case you need ideas for books in the category. And be sure to check out her page and sign up for the printable checklist that you can use to help you track your challenge progress. I’m excited to be able to check some of these off my list, and I’ll get to check one off very soon when I get my next review posted. Let me know what you think about these, and join in the challenge if you feel so inclined! I look forward to seeing what everyone is reading in 2021.

Happy Reading!

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Book Beginnings on Friday – #bookishmemes #bookbeginnings

I’ve been slow to jump on the Bookish memes bandwagon having just revived my blog, but I find them to be so incredibly helpful as a way to connect with the blogging community. I love this community and the support I see from everyone for their fellow bloggers. I’ve decided to post Book Beginnings on Friday after seeing Margaret’s post on her BooksPlease blog. Margaret posts some fabulous bookish content with an eclectic assortment of reading recommendations, so she’s definitely one to follow. This meme is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader, another fabulous book blogger, and challenges each blogger to share the first sentence or sentences of the books they are reading.

I was most compelled to do this one, because the first two sentences of my current read were perfection:

“There’s no such thing as witches, but there used to be. It used to be the air was so thick with magic you could taste it on your tongue like ash.”

I mean, that’s the way you start a book, right? It’s concise but it’s utterly captivating! The book is one I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz about within the community, which was my inspiration for picking it up in the first place. If you’ve read it, you probably guessed immediately. It’s The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow.

Published: October 2020 by Hachette Book Group ISBN: 978-0-316-42204-9 (hardcover)

The novel is a historical fiction/fantasy hybrid that follows three sisters who join the suffragist movement in New Salem at the end of the 19th Century. I’ve only just started this one, so look for my review some time next week. Thanks for stopping by, and I would love to hear what you’re currently reading!

Posted in General fiction, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Garden of Burning Sand – Book Review

Life is a broken thing. It’s what we do with the pieces that defines us.

– Corban Addison

*Trigger warning: This novel and this review deal with serious issues that may be extremely distressing to some readers, so please be aware of this before continuing to read the review.

In 2012, I picked up a book from the library by an author whose name was new to me. The cover art was absolutely stunning and I instantly thought, “This looks like my kind of book.” I mean, look at that cover! There aren’t enough heart emojis to describe its loveliness. The novel, A Walk Across the Sun, was more than I ever hoped it would be, and I swore I would look for more work by the author, Corban Addison. If you’re interested in seeing my thoughts, you can read my goodreads review here. Just a warning, however, that around this time I didn’t put my time and effort into my reviews so it’s far from a good one. Fast forward to almost a decade later and I’ve finally followed through on my promise to read more of Addison’s work. Thankfully, my second foray into the brilliant mind of Corban Addison also did not disappoint.

Synopsis

Zoe Fleming is a young American human rights lawyer working in Lusaka, Zambia in 2011. Zoe works with a small team of lawyers who investigate serious sexual crimes against children. When Kuyeya, a young girl with Down Syndrome is found walking the streets of the city after having been raped, Zoe and her team, aided by veteran police officer Joseph Zabuta, begin the search for clues as to who could have perpetrated such a heinous crime. Their search for answers leads them down rabbit holes into the past of the young girl’s deceased mother, unraveling mysteries along the way that implicate powerful people in Zambian society while also setting important legal precedents that could help future victims of violent sexual crimes in Africa. But what will these powerful people do to stop their secrets from being unveiled, and how much will seekers of justice have to lose in order to see justice prevail?

The Inspiration

“With The Garden of Burning Sand, it was my hope to write a story that would capture the African continent in all its astonishing beauty and heart-wrenching brokenness, and that would compel people to think about ways that they can combat the pandemic of violence against women and children around the world.”

Quote by Corban Addison, “The Story Behind the Garden of Burning Sand.” http://www.corbanaddison.com

On Corban Addision’s website, he tells the heartbreaking truth that there is a real life inspiration for The Garden of Burning Sand. He was introduced to the plight of children with disabilities in Africa through some friends who had started Special Hope Network, an NGO working with Zambian children. Many children with intellectual disabilities die by the age of 5, often having been neglected or abandoned due to the unwarranted superstitions that their disabilities bring curses upon their families. Secondly, he had learned of the case of a young girl with Down Syndrome in Lusaka who had been raped and whose case had been valiantly fought by a team of non profit lawyers and social workers who fought desperately to see justice served on her behalf.

Review

This is a distressing but beautiful novel. Zoe is a very believable protagonist. She’s a fully formed human who is grappling with haunting memories from her past while simultaneously coping with the worries of the present, desperate to seek justice for those who can’t fight for themselves. Her strong and fiery passion for justice is juxtaposed nicely with the softness of her compassion, which we see in the scenes between her and Kuyeya, a girl often ostracized in a community where superstition places stigma on her very existence. As the narrative develops and the layers of Zoe’s past are peeled away, we begin to understand why finding justice for abused girls and women is something so dear to Zoe’s heart. Additionally, we begin to understand and share in Zoe’s deep love for Africa and its people.

Wide panorama image of Victoria Falls in Zambia at sunset
Wide panorama of Victoria Falls at sunset.The African landscape plays a large and important role in Addison’s novel, The Garden of Burning Sand.

Over the course of the novel, Zoe and her team are pitted against powerful people. Not just powerful people within Zambia’s sociopolitical world but also powerful people within US politics. Zoe finds herself at odds with her own father, a man quickly rising in the ranks to be the next Republican nominee for President of the United States. Side note: I don’t recall Addison ever expressly stating party, but he described the platform enough for readers to draw some conclusions. Their relationship is fraught with resentments and fractures that seethe and burn in the background of this novel, adding a whole new layer of intrigue. It’s very fascinating to be reading this book in today’s political climate. Addison published this book in 2013, prior to the era of Trump in which the friction between the two major US political parties would finally bubble to a full frantic boil. It’s easy to understand the subtle nuances that affect the relationship between Zoe and her father, balancing the love she still feels for him against the resentments of the past and her detestation of his political ideals. Further complicating their relationship is the loss of Zoe’s mother, whose past love and advocacy for the people of Africa Zoe carries with her into the future. In such a time of divisiveness, I imagine a lot of American citizens grapple with this very conundrum, trying to come to terms with how the person you thought you knew could become the person you see today.

If the thematic elements of this novel weren’t already loaded enough with child sexual abuse, this book also deals with the AIDS epidemic as it continues to ravage much of the African continent. In places like Zambia where prostitution is frequent, sexual crimes are rampant, and people lack an understanding of prevention and treatment, a horrible disease such as AIDS can spread at an alarming rate. Through its excellent and effective portrayal of the problem, this book is a fabulous call for the importance of investment in further research and assistance from Countries like the US with the means to make a difference. I know Addison did an intense amount of research for his novel, and I was horrified by some of the details. Especially some of the superstitions still pushed on the people by some (certainly not all) traditional African healers, or inyangas, which often show a blatant ignorance for how AIDS is spread and how it should be prevented. Such dangerous superstitions merely exacerbate the problem of AIDS within African populations and result in a drastic rise in the rates of sexual crimes committed against women and girls.

Garden of Burning Sand is inspired by the true stories of the children of Africa and the tireless volunteers who fight for justice on their behalf.

As a work of fiction, this book is superb. Strong, compelling characters with moving back stories are the driving force of the novel, but it’s infused with just enough mystery and intrigue to keep even the most vociferous thriller fan reading. The audiobook is narrated by a superbly talented Robin Miles, whose velvet voice lent an extremely authentic and reverent feel to the book. Despite it mostly being a legal drama, there were some truly suspenseful moments peppered throughout, as the lives of our courageous heroes were at constant threat by the powerful forces that sought to silence them. I’m even more endeared to this novel to know precisely how rooted in truth it is, as well as the fact that I believe Addison dealt with difficult issues in a way that was delicate and respectful. Not once in either of Addison’s books did I ever feel he was presenting anything simply for shock value or titillation, but solely to bring light to the plight of victims of gender based violence. Also, there is a very sweet love story for those who look for that kind of thing, though it’s understated enough to allow for Zoe and Kuyeya to take center stage in the narrative

This book will leave readers with an incredible moment of awakening about subjects to which they’ve probably given little thought, but it will also leave them with a bit of hope that it’s not too late to really make a difference. And, you’re right, Mr. Addison. This did make a very compelling book.

5 stars.

Posted in General fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

WWW Wednesday – January 13, 2021

What a crazy start to the new year. I have gotten back to posting and actually have two reviews to post in the next couple of days, and I’m as encouraged about my own pursuits as I seem to be discouraged about the events of the world. Focus on the positives, right? I’ve read some good material that has helped to keep me sane. To really kick things off, here’s a new edition of WWW Wednesday. This is a weekly blogging series hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. In this series, members of the blogging community take the opportunity to share our reading selections with other readers. Please feel free to comment here and let me know if you have read or want to read any of these selections. And thanks for stopping by!

This series asks three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What have you just finished reading?
  • What are you planning to read next?

So let’s get straight to it…

What am I currently reading?

I’m currently reading two books. The first, in hardback, I have quite literally just started (page 5, people, so give me time). I first took notice of this one from seeing it scattered about various posts in the blogger community, and it was receiving rave reviews. So I picked up a copy of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. This also is extremely highly rated on Goodreads, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me. I have found myself immediately entranced by Harrow’s writing, and it’s certainly a fascinating premise. It’s a lovely blend of historical fiction and paranormal thriller. It tells the story of three sisters who find themselves resurrecting their magical roots in the face of a new battle against the forces that would keep them down. This time, however, they are battling on behalf of all women by joining with fellow suffragists to gain a different kind of power in society.

The second book I’m reading is one of the most thrilling, engaging, and downright fun books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. It’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. I’m about a quarter of the way through the audio, which is masterfully read by Bahni Turpin. I’ll gather with my own book club to discuss this delightful book next Friday evening, and I look forward to the lively discussion. This book has a lot of the elements I adore. It has an overarching southern Gothic style, it’s infused with excitement and intrigue, and it’s just plain laugh out loud funny. I find myself really relating to this book, especially some of the parts about navigating the everyday monotony of being a mom. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of battling vampires just yet, but I’m not ruling it out in the future. I can’t wait to do a full review of this one next week, as I think I’ll have a lot to say.

What did I just finish reading?

I have two exciting reviews to come in the next couple of days. Just yesterday I finished the hardback version of the paranormal thriller Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. This book is a lot of fun, and it certainly keeps you guessing the whole way through. There are a lot of twists and interesting devices in play with this book, and I hope to really unpack some of that in my review to come in the next couple of days.

The second selection is a completely different kind of novel. It’s a very real-world sociopolitical thriller by Corban Addison set in Zambia in 2011 called The Garden of Burning Sand. There’s also a second early 90’s timeline in play as our protagonists delve into the life of a deceased woman to catch the rapist of her disabled teenage daughter that occurred in the present. There’s a lot poured into this book. It’s heartbreaking and beautifully written, and I look forward to putting my thoughts about this one on the page, as well. Addison tackles some seriously deep subjects, but he does so with reverence and appropriateness as opposed to the glorified shock-driven approach of some other authors who write such material.

What Will I Read Next?

If you’ve been following my previous WWW posts, you’ve noticed that I’m an extremely fickle reader. I’ve mentioned this before, and now you have the proof. I don’t think I’ve actually finished even one of the books I SAID I was going to read next, and I’ve thrown in a couple of ones I hadn’t even mentioned. Blame that on the library and the fact that books from my hold shelf become available. That being said, I plan on getting back to Russell’s The Women of the Copper Country once I finish with Harrow’s book, as I currently don’t have any library books on hold. Since I’ve already written about this one, I’ll just link back to that post so I don’t have to rehash it all over again. I was previously in progress on this book, and it was extremely engaging. I very much look forward to getting back into it and giving it the attention it deserves.

Look for my review of the Addison book tomorrow, as I WILL get around to writing it when I say I will this time. I am committed! Until then, see you next time and happy reading!

Posted in Horror, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – Book Review

I feel like this is going to be a difficult review for me. On one hand, I’m not sure what to say about this book. On the other, I don’t think I can adequately review such a deeply personal subject without having truly experienced such a thing myself. As with any review, I struggle with whether or not my perception mirrors that of people infinitely smarter than me. I rarely read other reviews of books I’ve just finished before writing my own, because I want my words to be authentic. I don’t want to be swayed into impressions that aren’t really my own, but this also causes me to feel a bit of anxiety over whether or not I sound like I know what I’m talking about. I wonder if other reviewers have such self confidence issues regarding literary interpretation. I digress. I do know this book has received a wide amount of praise. It currently averages a 4.52 out of 5 stars from more than 30,000 ratings on Goodreads, and it’s easy to understand why. Machado has a way of telling a story that’s unlike any other. The way this book unfolds is perfect for a memoir, as it reminds me of the psychological nature of memory.

The book is an extremely intimate look at an abusive same-sex relationship with an unnamed woman. Machado uses a series of different narrative styles and introduces different literary tropes to tell her story, which contributes to a disjointed feel that I’ll circle back around to in a bit. She also routinely switches her point of view, sometimes talking directly to herself in the past by referencing a “you,” and sometimes referring to herself in the first person by referring to the much more seasoned “I.” This is a powerful tool in this present case (but something I would usually detest) only because it makes a remarkable point about what abusive relationships do to us. Can anyone navigate the hell of such a relationship and come out the other side as the same person? Probably not, and we’ll forever be caught in a conversational loop with this former version of ourselves, the one we see as naive and hopeless, as we try unsuccessfully to pull them from their delusions. This is similar to the way viewers watch the same sad movie over again and pray for a different result despite knowing there’s no hope of such a thing.

When we grapple with memory, we don’t remember the totality of the experience. We see snippets of only those things that jumped out at us the most. As a result, over time we often cease to remember correctly those events, but we connect the dots around that one fragment and develop a new shell until there’s something uniquely ours floating around our heads. It’s something only we will experience, because it will only exist within the sphere of our internal consciousness. These memories have a fleeting and ethereal nature to them. Machado even refers to this directly when she speaks of the sadness infused in nostalgia, which she refers to as the “unsettling sensation that you are never able to fully access the past; that once you are departed from an event, some essential quality of it is lost forever.” Essentially, every gain will forever be infused with loss due to the ceaseless march of time and the unreliability of our brains.

Just as our memories drift along in snippets, so do the vignettes in Machado’s memoir. They are brief but poignant reflections of specific points in time, highlighting only the most important aspects of each memory. Often in traumatic situations, our brains become very in tune to the sensual elements infusing experience, so Machado deftly intertwines these intimate details into her book. We see, feel, hear, taste and smell everything along with her, because she’s simply that good at what she does. These stories jump around in time, much the way our brains jump around in time when sorting through and categorizing our memories into something that makes cohesive sense, and this doesn’t always result in a chronological interpretation. Honestly, I feel there’s sheer brilliance to crafting a memoir this way. Add to that the fact that Machado’s entire memoir reads like an epic poem, lyrical prose connecting each and every disparate memory in an effortless and intensely beautiful piece of literature, and it’s something unforgettable.

A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to.

-Machado, In the Dream House

The work is peppered with passages like this that are mind-blowingly beautiful without actually crossing into the realm of overt pretension. That’s impressive, because there are a lot of authors out there who can’t help but cross that line. Knowing big words is nice, but it doesn’t make you a master of words. A master weaves together something incredible and unique using the arsenal of words they already possess. Throw away the thesaurus and give me something meaningful or don’t write it at all.

As fabulous as the writing was, at times I was disturbed by the disjointed nature of the book. Early on I wondered what, exactly, I was reading. I couldn’t sense the characters. I couldn’t feel the story. I was intrigued, but I was being kept at arms length and that made me intensely uncomfortable. I kept putting the book down and coming back to it later. There was something pulling me back, but I didn’t quite understand what it was until it was too late, and then I had no choice but to see it through. I was hooked, an addict looking for the fix that would fully give me the feeling I was desperately wanting from this book.

That’s when I realized the genius of what Machado had done. She had shown me the nature of a toxic relationship by letting me experience it for myself. The discomfort, the anxiety, and the unease were all things she’d experienced by giving herself over to this relationship that would be her introduction to a kind of toxic love no one should ever experience. And she wanted to bring them to me in a way that is so authentic as to be distressing. Further, giving me these snapshots through a collection of disjointed memories allowed me to see those exactly as she lives them today, far away but still present and haunting. She takes this a step further, however, when she lays all her cards on the table by explaining why she crafted the work the way she did. “I broke the stories down because I was breaking down and didn’t know what else to do.” There was a sadness I felt, however, at the notion that she felt the need to justify her method. After enduring such abuse at the hands of a lover, she’s still apologizing to us, the reader, as if she owes us remorse at having offended our sensibilities. This is another tragic memento of her powerlessness in her relationship, the desperate need to please at her own expense.

Well, I’ve come to the end of my regurgitation of thoughts about this book, and that’s precisely what they were. I didn’t come into this review with a plan of any sort. It appears I did have a lot to say about it, and I’m sure I could pull more from the depths of my brain if I tried, but eventually that would begin to siphon power from the book. It’s something a reader must experience personally to understand the magnitude, and I hope I’ve done it justice. Upon reading, I had contemplated rating this book at a 4, but it’s one that seeps through upon reflection and I feel it deserves higher marks than that for the brilliant craftsmanship and the fiercely personal honesty if offers the reader.

5 stars.

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WWW Wednesday – December 2, 2020

My apologies for my more than brief hiatus. This has been such a weird year fraught with unexpected hurdles. Henry and I are quarantined at home now after he got exposed at his preschool to Covid, and even before that there were many challenges that affected my reading productivity. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things, but I fear that 2020 is probably a lost cause on my reading goal. That goal was already pathetically low and I’m still not on pace to meet it. Regardless of the circumstances, I am back with a new version of WWW Wednesday to help get me back on track. This is a weekly series hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Be sure to visit her entry and leave a comment with a link to your own so other bloggers can visit. And let me know here what you’ve been enjoying this week as well. Without further ado…

https://samannelizabeth.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/img_1384-0.jpg

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

As usual, I’m currently reading two selections. One on audio and one in hardback. On audio, I’m about 1/4 way through The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison. I think I had previously said I was planning to read The Tears of Dark Water first, but I shifted gears. One thing is for sure, however, that Addison writes deeply engaging and powerful novels. This one is fabulous on audio, and it’s narrated by an extremely gifted Robin Miles. Miles has won two Audie awards for Best audiobook narration, and it’s easy to see why. I highly recommend this book, though Addison’s books are very difficult in subject. This particular book is a visceral look at rape, including child rape, and the AIDS epidemic as it’s raged through the African continent. Despite the difficult subject matter, his novels contain a superb balance of character driven suspense and lyrical prose. And the cover art on each of his books is immensely compelling and beautiful. Honestly, this novel probably has the least compelling cover art of his others, but I still feel entranced when I look at it.

In hardback, I’m reading something completely different. It’s a paranormal horror novel called Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. A friend recommended this one to me and I’ve only just started it, so I’ll hold off on any judgments except to say it’s delightfully engaging from square one. I greatly enjoy books that challenge me to question whether I’m really reading paranormal horror or something much more psychological in nature. When done well, this type of fiction is immensely satisfying and effective.

What did you recently finish reading?

I recently finished In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, and I am planning to post my review tomorrow. It’s a deeply intimate and lyrical memoir and I think I’ll have a lot to say about its style.

What Will you Read Next?

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about a literary subject I’ve been mulling over writing about, and it’s really fanned the flame of my passion for learning more. A few months ago for my birthday, I told my husband I wanted to order some books about Mary Shelley, as I find her life and work fascinating beyond belief. I’m most excited to read Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. So, there you have it, a return to research!

Thanks so much for stopping by to catch up with me. Have you read any of these titles or do you find them intriguing? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to, so feel free to drop me a comment. Until tomorrow, happy reading!

Posted in General fiction, Horror, Memoir, mystery, Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

WWW Wednesday – November 4, 2020

While I’ve done a horrible job this past week of accomplishing much reading, I do need to update my readers of my progress. Maybe that will inspire me to stop gluing myself to the stressful, all consuming election coverage and get me to focus. This is my third installment of the weekly WWW series hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. In each post, answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to enjoy. This way we can all experience what our peers are enjoying in the wonderful world of books. Let’s dive in!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:

I’m still reading The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell. This book falls into the “books I own so I’m constantly putting them down to read my library holds” category. I’m enjoying it greatly, however, and plan on buckling back down with it when I finish the super short next read I picked up from the library. Honestly, this is a really great read to experience during the current stressful political climate, because it hails back to an era in history in which American citizens used political power to fight for their rights as American workers. There’s a very rich and vital narrative to the labor movement in the United States.

As previously mentioned, many reads come available at the library to distract me, and that place this week goes to In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. This is a super short but profound memoir that’s told in a very unique style. It consists of a series of very short vignettes outlining a toxic relationship. My initial impression is that this is a very effective technique. Each vignette intimately shows a specific experience from the author’s life, some which led her to her partner and some that she experienced with her. It’s an excellent mimicry of the way relationships actually develop. Every experience with a person brings us closer to understanding them, like peeling away layers of them until they become fully formed. Sometimes these layers are positive, but we often find ourselves uncovering less than ideal parts of them.

On audio, I’m doing my second book by author Corban Addison. The first I read was A Walk Across the Sun. It’s been 8 years since I read this title, but I never forgot how immensely beautiful it is. It gave me an urge to read more by Addison, but it’s also difficult to pick one up, because he writes about extremely heavy topics. So reader beware, Addison is an author to follow, but while he enriches and enlightens your mind he will leave you with a heavy heart. However, I feel the problem I see in the world is too many people are closing themselves off to the suffering of others, which leaves humans as empty soulless shells devoid of empathy. We need the hard stuff. I’ve now picked up The Tears of Dark Water. I won’t speak much about it yet, because I just started the book, but so far it has the expert prose I’d expect from Addison and it’s immediately engaging.

Recently Finished:

I recently finished Cold Storage by David Koepp. A bit gross but wildly engaging, and the audio is an entertaining narration by Rupert Friend. You can find my review of this title here.

What Will I Read Next?

You might get a bit of deja vu with this one, but I still have yet to start the title I cited in my last WWW post two weeks ago (yes, I failed to get one done last week). So I’ll reiterate that I still plan on picking up Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story. But, you will eventually realize it’s a very bad idea for me to plan ahead with my reads, because it’s quite common for me to change my mind at the last minute.

So, there you have it! Those are my plans for the next week’s reading. What will you be reading? Feel free to share your post here or tell me your selections in the comments. Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear your input. Look for my review of In the Dream House to pop up possibly tomorrow. Until then, Happy Reading!

Posted in General fiction, Historical Fiction, Memoir, thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments