Book Review – Home Before Dark – Riley Sager

Reviews

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Grief is tricky like that. It can lie low for hours, long enough for magical thinking to take hold. Then, when you’re good and vulnerable, it will leap out at you like a fun-house skeleton, and all the pain you thought was gone comes roaring back.

Riley Sager

Release Date: June 30, 2020

Genre(s): Thriller, Mystery

Publisher: Dutton Books

Goodreads Synopsis

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Review

There weren’t any authors I’d auto-buy from until I read this book. I’ve now read three out of four of Riley Sager’s books (I haven’t got to The Last Time I Lied yet), and I can confidently say that I will pick up anything he writes now. I can’t get enough spooky twists and turns. Sager truly surprises me every single time. I wanted to squeeze this book into the last two days of June, and at first, I wasn’t sure that would be possible, but once I started reading this book, I didn’t want to put it down. I had to know what scary thing was going to happen next.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. It alternates between the present Maggie returning to her childhood home and chapters of the book her father wrote about their short time there. I’m a sucker for unusual narrative structures, and this book certainly delivers on that. The chapters from her father’s book vary in how reliable they are as the present-day plot continues, and you’re never sure what’s real and what isn’t until the end. It’s a thriller that I could definitely reread in light of the ending.

In addition to the chapters from the past not being reliable, our narrator isn’t reliable either. Maggie doesn’t remember anything from the twenty days she lived at Baneberry Hall, and it truly feels like you are piecing everything together with her. You never feel like she knows more than you, and that added so much to the excitement. 

Home Before Dark scared me in a way books never do, and as I’m writing this review, I keep hearing noises in my house and looking over my shoulder. It’s so creepy! I almost always get scared by movies but never from books; this really did it for me. Music from nowhere, eerie shadows, thudding noises all create an atmosphere that I felt like I was a part of the entire time. Not to mention that one scene with the snakes! I definitely recommend this book to people who like to be a little scared but maybe don’t pick it up right before bed 😉

Book Review – Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

Reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.

Leigh Bardugo

Goodreads Synopsis

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Review

I wanted to write this review earlier in the week, but I had a hard time figuring out how I feel about Ninth House. Before I get into this, I don’t read fantasy that often, and I’ve never read anything by Leigh Bardugo. I went in with hardly any expectations and honestly knew very little about the plot outside of “dark academia.”

The structure of this book was interesting. Chapters jump back and forth in time, and it is definitely one of those books where you have to keep reading to not be confused. I’m not really a fan of that type of narrative structure, but I usually follow along enough to figure it out, but this book felt overly confusing. I felt like I was always missing something.

That being said, I was always interested in where the story was going. I knew that some people were bored by the beginning of the book, but I didn’t see that. A lot was going on all the time. Ghosts, and rituals, and murder, oh my! In addition to the spooky and exciting plot points, many scenes need trigger warnings (listed at the end of this post). Some of it really added to the story, but others felt like they were superfluous. 

Thematically, Ninth House explores the way people in positions of power or people who are generally privileged exploit others for their own gain. Bardugo could have pushed it a little further and may do so in future books in this series. The social commentary in this book reminded me of the social commentary in Lock Every Door. I talk about this in my review, which you can read here.

I initially gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, but I think I feel closer to 3.5 stars after reflecting on it more. If you’ve read this book, please come talk to me about it because my rating still doesn’t feel totally right. I’d like to hear what other people think, especially if they are Leigh Bardugo or fantasy fans.

TW for Ninth House: rape and sexual assault, murder, drug addiction, overdose, suicide, blackmail, self-harm

Book Review – Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann

Reviews

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Love was intangible. Universal. It was whatever someone wanted it to be and should be respected as such.

Claire Kann

Goodreads Synopsis

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Review

I’ve been having a hard time focusing on reading much of anything lately, so I gave myself the freedom to choose something that wasn’t on my TBR for this month. I wanted to read something fun and cute, and Let’s Talk About Love didn’t disappoint. I had such a fun time reading this rom-com and escaping from the world for a little bit.

What stood out most to me in this book was the characters. I thought Alice was code-orange cute! I was constantly rooting for her and her relationships with Takumi, her best friends, and her family. I was incredibly invested and HAD to know that everything was going to be okay for her. I also really liked Takumi. He is incredibly caring and thoughtful throughout the book.

I am neither black nor asexual, so I cannot speak for the accuracy of the representation, but it was refreshing to read a book that isn’t just your cookie-cutter white hetero romance. It is also important that Kann focuses on Alice’s friendships and her family dynamic as well. So many YA romances fall into the plot where the protagonist is all-consumed by their romantic relationships, and I don’t think it’s healthy for teens (or anyone really) to read or see that narrative over and over again. There are other things that are important in life contrary to what a ton of popular media primarily targeted to women would have you believe. This book can be important to pick up at any age, but I think it especially has a lot to offer for teens or young adults.

This book is not exclusively fluff and does bring up more serious topics. Not only is Alice discovering more about what being asexual and biromantic looks like for her, but she also mentions past microaggressions related to race. Seeing the intersectionality of being black and LGBTQIA+ is something else I think this book does well.

I bought this book on sale, and this Twitter thread will link you not only to places to purchase the book but also to a form to fill out when you do buy it so that Claire Kann can donate all royalties to National Bail Out. This is happening all month, so please check it out if you can!

Book Review – A Good Marriage – Kimberly McCreight

Reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was always so willing to accept anything that might get us back to that perfect place where we’d begun.

A Good Marriage is a thriller which follows Lizzie after she gets a call from an old friend from law school who’s being held in Rikers because he assaulted a police officer. Oh, and his wife, Amanda, is dead. He wants Lizzie to help him clear his name but between Lizzie’s own personal troubles and the myriad of dramas unfolding in her investigation, it’s not going to be easy.

I was a little nervous going into this book because I knew there was definitely a legal thriller element to it and that’s not always my thing. McCreight certainly balances that out with tons of domestic drama. I had a really good time reading this book. I flew through it in just a few days because I wasn’t sure how all the threads were going to tie together and I simply needed to see where McCreight was going. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

This story takes place primarily in Park Slope, a wealthy neighborhood in Brooklyn which is described well enough that you can imagine what it’s like even if you don’t know anything about it. It’s a cast of rich parents worried about their kids and their privacy but also like to have a bit of fun.

We switch between Lizzie’s and Amanda’s point of view and I enjoyed reading both. The other characters were also interesting to read about as well. I did have some trouble figuring out why some of them were married to their partners in the first place, though.

It’s difficult to talk much about specifics of the plot of this book without spoiling things; such is the nature of thrillers! I do think the only thing apart from the relationships that brought my rating down was that there were certain plot points that didn’t feel developed enough for me. At least one big reveal seemed to be sprung on the reader only to not really be discussed again and I wasn’t really sure what to do with that information after the initial shock. At 400 pages, I know it’s already a longer book but I just needed a little more to make that reveal feel connected to the overall story.

Even though I had some issues with parts of the book, I can’t deny the fact that I flew through it and had a good time trying to figure out how this story would end. I definitely recommend if you want a thriller that will keep you hooked!

Book Review: Lock Every Door – Riley Sager

Reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Because here’s the thing about being poor—most people don’t understand it unless they’ve been there themselves. They don’t know what a fragile balancing act it is to stay afloat and that if, God forbid, you momentarily slip underwater, how hard it is to resurface.”

Lock Every Door is about a young woman named Jules, who is asked to apartment sit at Manhattan’s most luxurious and mysterious apartment buildings – The Bartholomew. She’s offered an incredibly tempting sum of money to just to follow a few simple rules – don’t talk to the residents, spend every night in the apartment, and no guests. When another apartment sitter goes missing, Jules must solve the mystery of the Bartholomew.

I went into this book a little nervous. I’ve read Sager’s Final Girls and enjoyed it, but I knew people were divided on Lock Every Door’s ending. It didn’t take me long to become intrigued by the characters and the Bartholomew. Jules’ habits that surfaced and were attributed to her growing up and not having much money really felt realistic and resonated with me. Additionally, Sager creates an atmosphere where things feel almost normal. Still, there’s definitely a buzzing of danger that remains in your ear the entire time you’re reading. There’s a dumbwaiter in Jules’ apartment that made me uneasy from the beginning.

There were a couple of things that kept this from being a five-star read for me. I think the relationship between Jules and Ingrid could have had a little more time to develop. I would have liked to see them interact another time or two before the major drama takes off. I also think there were some major red flags about the job given very early on. The fact that Jules didn’t even think twice about some of the interview questions either right away or as things started to unfold was a little strange to me.

As far as the ending goes, I thought it was brilliant. I really want to talk about my thoughts, but of course, I can’t do that without spoiling anything, so from here on, a spoiler alert is in place.

Spoilers ahead!

When Jules was doing research at the library and thought everything going on in the Bartholomew was related to a cult, I was incredibly turned off. I like reading about cults, but I don’t think there was enough in the previous chapters to set that up adequately. Thankfully the truth was revealed shortly after (did we really need the cult suggestion in the first place?). I mentioned Jules’ habits before, but I remember thinking early on when she was talking about buying groceries and her relationship with money that I was so glad Sager went there. It was really relatable, and sometimes people write characters that come from poor backgrounds, and it feels so out of touch. I read part of that early passage to my partner because I was glad to see a character that thought like me.

I thought that would be the end of the class commentary, but oh boy, was I wrong. Everyone in the Bartholomew felt so self-important and entitled that they just preyed on working-class people and harvested their organs. A thriller that tackles the rich exploiting the working class to maintain their livelihoods? Sign me up. I was reminded of Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth” in that both texts have an underlying “money makes me better than you” tone. 
Overall, Lock Every Door provided the social commentary I desire and am thinking about so much during this pandemic (and always, if I’m being honest). Not to mention, it played on one of my previous huge fears – getting my organs harvested. 😅

Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Reviews

Hey guys! Welcome to my first official review!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve been talking about this book over on my Instagram and with anyone else who has read it (or is thinking about reading it) and it’s Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. This is the first book I read this month and I had such a great time with it. I got so caught up in the mystery and wanting to know what would ultimately happen. Let’s just say, I was not prepared nor did I expect what happens. 

To start, this book takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland. It’s not exactly a fun island getaway type of place – more like bogs and rain and creepy vibes all around. Jules and Will are set to have this incredibly fancy, perfect wedding but the weather is not cooperating and neither are the guests. Whether they might have lingering feelings for someone they’re not married to, boarding school secrets, or have too much on their plate to care about something as frivolous as a wedding, things aren’t running smoothly. As secrets and lies are revealed, someone turns up dead by the end of the night but who is it? And who did it? And why?

I love books that are told from multiple points of view. I think it is a great way for an author to reveal a lot of information and it makes the story go much quicker. I didn’t want to put it down! Another aspect of this book that adds to the intrigue is the way Foley plants little hints in every short chapter. You will know a little more every few pages. Sometimes mysteries or thrillers have a tendency to drag through the middle and you’ll go ages without learning much but The Guest List continues to drop crumbs until it needs to give us whole loaves of bread – and exciting loaves they were!

Foley is also great at giving the reader strong characters. Every single character added value to the story and that can sometimes be difficult when working with such a large ensemble. I have seen some reviews of people not enjoying this book because so many of the characters are unlikable. I agree. Will and his school friends are particularly gross but I think this works in Foley’s favor. You aren’t sure who to suspect and there are weird vibes all around because so many of the characters are unlikable. There are so many people you could imagine having a hand in the murder. In fact, thinking about possible scenarios is almost half the fun! You don’t even know who’s been killed until the end. Overall, this book is such a wild time.

I’ve just recently been getting back into the mystery/thriller genre (and reading for fun in general if I’m being honest) and this was a fantastic start to my mission to make time for a hobby I love. I am excited to be back ❤

CW: self-harm, mention of suicide