I’ve been reading a ton lately, but for some reason I haven’t been motivated to write reviews. So, since I’ve gotten so far behind lately, I thought I would do a round of mini reviews of all the books I’ve read recently that I neglected to write a full review for.
At Risk // Alice Hoffman
Summary: The Farrells are a middle-class family living in a small New England town. Ivan Farrell is an astronomer, wife Polly a photographer, eight-year-old Charlie a budding biologist and 11-year-old Amanda a talented gymnast. And then one day, unimaginable tragedy strikes.
Review: Amanda gets AIDS right at the cusp of the crisis. She got a blood transfusion in an unrelated doctor visit and the blood she received was contaminated. The doctors didn’t catch the mistake because they were not yet screening blood for evidence of AIDS, as it was a new, relatively unheard of disease at the time. At Risk is a lesser-known Hoffman work, and although it has some of her classic elements of witchy vibes, the book is really meant as a tribute to the people like Amanda who were affected by the AIDS pandemic. It’s a relatively short book that is worth the read.
PUBLICATION DEETS: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, January 1, 1988, 219 pages
CATEGORIES: general fiction, literary fiction
The Final Girl Support Group // Grady Hendrix
Summary: In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Review: A nice twist on the horror movie trope of the “final girl,” The Final Girl Support Group is based on one question: What happens to the final girl after the movie is over? Hendrix creatively explores the definition of “final girl” and the potential dark lore behind the trope, all while kicking up a new mystery in which someone may be targeting final girls. As a novel, it’s an entertaining read. You do need to be relatively informed about classic horror movie traditions and tropes in order to enjoy the book, but there wasn’t anything I disliked about this book and it wasn’t purely an entertainment read. I was worried that the book would be a cliché, but Hendrix approached the novel with a lot of research and care. There was quite a bit of discussion around the real trauma of surviving an attack, which I appreciated.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Berkley Books, July 13, 2021, 352 pages
CATEGORIES: horror, thriller, contemporary fiction
Emergency Contact // Mary H. K. Choi
Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.
Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
Review: I noticed this book when it first came out, but I dismissed it because of the texting elements. I saw the way they looked on the page and assumed the book was for young readers (8-13). Boy, though, was I mistaken! I recently found this book on sale and decided to try it out. Needless to say, I enjoyed it and proceeded to buy and read every other book written by Choi. Of her novels, this one is my least favorite, only because it’s clear in retrospect that this was her first book, and it’s reflected in the writing. However, her novels just keep getting better and better, so if you’re a fan of her newest book Yolk, then I recommend looking this one up as well.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Simon & Schuster, March 27, 2018, 394 pages
CATEGORIES: YA, romance, contemporary
Emma in the Night // Wendy Walker
Summary: One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.
Review: Honestly, I expected more from this novel. The premise was interesting, and the first 20-30 pages held my attention, but then the structure of the novel became clear and some character tropes emerged and things just sort of fell apart. Walker’s overall idea made sense, but the execution of the novel just fell so short. The use of a very distant, disengaged POV rubbed me the wrong way. Plus, I’ve never seen so many overused exclamation marks in my life. They drove me mad!
PUBLICATION DEETS: St. Martin’s Press, August 8, 2017, 308 pages
CATEGORIES: thriller, mystery, psychological suspense
Yolk // Mary H. K. Choi
Synopsis: Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.
Review: This is one of my favorites of the year out of the books I’ve read in 2021. This book has heart, character, depth. It’s emotional and brutally honest. I’ve never read a book with so much authenticity in it, and Choi deserves all the points for the bravery it must have taken to not only write this novel but send it out into the world. Yolk deals with cancer, eating disorders, depression, family relationships, toxic relationship, and more. It’s not an easy book to read, but I promise it’s worth the emotional commitment.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Simon & Schuster, March 2, 2021, 400 pages
CATEGORIES: YA, fiction, contemporary
The Sacrifice Box // Martin Stewart
Summary: Sep, Arkle, Mack, Lamb and Hadley: five friends thrown together one hot, sultry summer. When they discover an ancient stone box hidden in the forest, they decide to each make a sacrifice: something special to them, committed to the box for ever. And they make a pact: they will never return to the box at night; they’ll never visit it alone; and they’ll never take back their offerings.
Review: I picked this book up partly because it was on sale and partly because of its intriguing cover. It was a disappointment though. The book itself was like a Stephen King plot written in an R. L. Stine style. It was disjointed because the voice felt young yet a lot of what was happening was graphic and at a level for a mature audience. So, I was confused. The book also didn’t seem to have much of a plot. It felt a lot like Stewart was just moving the characters back and forth on the island for no clear reason, so it got a little repetitive and the tension pretty much vanished.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Viking Books, August 28, 2018, 368 pages
CATEGORIES: YA fiction, horror, fantasy
Big Little Lies // Liane Moriarty
Synopsis: A murder. . . . A tragic accident. . . . Or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but she is paying a price for the illusion of perfection. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. These three women are at different crossroads, but they will all wind up in the same shocking place.
Review: I’ve had this book on my shelves for years. I knew it was adapted into a TV show, and I wanted to read the book before I watched the series, but for some reason I continued to pass over this book. I think I was hesitant because Moriarty has a lot of novels, and I didn’t want to get sucked into a reading binge where I devoured all of her books, as I only own two or three of them. I did finally pick the book up, and I watched the TV show as well. I can see why Moriarty is so popular. Her writing is the definition of cozy mystery and women’s book club fiction. It’s fast-paced, intelligent, and as Roxane Gay notes, very white. So, my overall verdict is that it’s a good book, and Moriarty is definitely a writer whose work I will pick up if I find myself in a reading slump. In the meantime, however, I’ve got other books on my TBR pile to get to before I look into any more of her work.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Berkley Books, February 9, 2017, 460 pages
CATEGORIES: mystery, contemporary fiction
The Uncoupling // Meg Wolitzer
Summary: When the elliptical new drama teacher at Stellar Plains High School chooses for the school play “Lysistrata”-the comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war-a strange spell seems to be cast over the school. Or, at least, over the women. One by one throughout the high school community, perfectly healthy, normal women and teenage girls turn away from their husbands and boyfriends in the bedroom, for reasons they don’t really understand. As the women worry over their loss of passion, and the men become by turns unhappy, offended, and above all, confused, both sides are forced to look at their shared history, and at their sexual selves in a new light.
Review: A creative retelling of Lysistrata, The Uncoupling covers a town faced with the sudden loss of sexual desire in every female, from the oldest woman to the youngest teenage. The book is rather satirical at times, but I found it to be dull in places as well. The conclusion featured neither a bang nor a whimper but a small fizzling out of a tiny flame. It wasn’t a horribly dull novel but it also wasn’t a horribly interesting novel. I would only recommend this book to long-time fans of Wolitzer who want something to read while they wait for her newest book to arrive.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Riverhead Books, April 5, 2011, 271 pages
CATEGORIES: literary fiction, contemporary fiction
The Girl from the Sea // Molly Knox Ostertag
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.
Review: Okay, this graphic novel was adorable in every sense of the word. The characters, the storyline, the names (I mean, Keltie!), the outfits, the illustration work in general. It’s all gorgeous and heartfelt and adorable. And the sapphic love of course. All I can say about this book is, What are you waiting for? Go read it right now!
PUBLICATION DEETS: Graphix, June 1, 2021, 256 pages
CATEGORIES: graphic novel, YA, romance
My Heart is a Chainsaw // Stephen Graham Jones
Synopsis: Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Review: Jones notes in the acknowledgments that this book took him 10 years to get right, and I fully believe him. While the novel is a little slow at times, it’s overall a masterwork of craft and story. It’s clear that Jones knows his stuff when it comes to horror trivia. Jade is a likable antihero, and the town of Proofrock is a morbid little place to set the stage for an unlikely thriller. There are plenty of twists to this novel, and you get the opportunity to play detective along with Jade about who may be responsible for the bodies that start piling up.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Gallery / Saga Press, August 31, 2021, 400 pages
There are a few more books I’ve read recently, but hopefully I’ll get back into my regular reviewing and post full reviews for those books. Stay tuned!