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 😉

June 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

I somehow read thirteen books in June. It’s surprising to me, too. I don’t want to write a long intro because I have a lot of books to talk about so before we get to the actual books, I’ll just give a few stats.

Rating:

3 five-star books

6 four-star books

2 three-star books

2 unrated books

Format:

6 physical books

5 eBooks

2 audiobooks

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I started Crazy Rich Asians at the end of May but didn’t finish it until June. I picked this up as an impulse buy at Harris Teeter and had a decent time reading it. I tell myself I don’t care about “rich people problems” but low-key I sometimes really do. I think Kevin Kwan did an excellent job mixing both superficial problems such as spending too much on outfits with more serious issues such as cheating and divorce. Speaking of Astrid, I really enjoyed her character, and I really wanted to see what would happen for her above pretty much any other character. I think the reason I didn’t completely love this book is because of the pacing. I feel like there were some really traumatic reveals at the end, and then the book was basically over. While the book is already pretty long, I still felt like there needed to be more. I realize this is a series, though, so it does set up for that really well.

I don’t really like rating non-fiction anymore, but I did generally enjoy this book. I listened to Gold Dust Woman on audiobook while playing Animal Crossing. This is another book that started in May and carried into June. This is a biography of Stevie Nicks, written by Stephen Davis. It goes through different stages of her career, including her time with Fleetwood Mac. As someone who hardly ever went to school and stayed home watching VH1 Classic documentaries all day, I enjoyed this book. I like learning about music and music history. I would definitely recommend the audio for this book, and others like it because the writing style can be a bit dry. It certainly made me more excited about Daisy Jones and the Six, which I will talk about later in this post.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Since I wrote a dedicated review for Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House here, I’ll try to keep this brief. I read this with a group of friends, and while I was reading it, I had a good time and initially gave it four stars. It was spooky, gripping, and well-written. As I continued to reflect on this book, though, I kept thinking about the significant number of trigger warnings and how some felt like they were added to push the “dark academia” aspect of the book. I also think Bardugo could have pushed the social commentary a little further since this book is intended for adults. It’s still a compelling read. I would recommend it if you want something a little creepy and dark but definitely check the trigger warnings because a lot is going on.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I think about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a lot. It masquerades as a simple children’s story, but I am convinced there’s more to it. The glasses at the Emerald City are part of it, but there’s definitely more. I just can’t put my finger on it. I read this as the first prompt for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, which was to read a book featuring an animal. I wanted something easy, and since I’ve been wanting to read the entire Oz series, I figured this was a good excuse to start. I always have fun rereading the first book because I keep thinking about Baum’s commentary on our society and the nagging question: Is the book better? There are scenes in the book that aren’t included in the film that I really enjoy, but there’s something so nostalgic about the songs in the movie. Anyway, my rating is blinded by nostalgia, but I really like visiting Dorothy and Oz every once in a while.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I also wrote a review of Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, which you can check out here. I will briefly say that I really enjoyed this book. This is a YA contemporary romance and definitely not something I’ve been known to read. Still, I think the cover is so gorgeous, and our main character, Alice, is asexual and Black, and that isn’t a perspective I’ve read from before. I also was incredibly stressed and sad, and I just wanted something fun and cute. This definitely gave me that, but it also gave me some discussions on serious topics. I also didn’t find the characters too immature, which is something that sometimes happens in YA for me. Kann gave me just what I needed, and I highly recommend picking this book up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My next audiobook for June was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I had such a fun time listening to this, and Gaiman does such a great job bringing his text to life. I read a ton of Greek mythology as a kid. Still, my only exposure to Norse mythology was through general pop culture references. Gaiman’s version was compelling and had an adequate infusion of comedy to keep me invested. I’d enjoy picking up the physical book because I’m sure I missed key points while folding laundry or playing videogames. But generally, I enjoyed this experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For the second prompt of the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, I read the manga adaptation of Ocarina of Time. This fulfilled the prompt to read a book with a foiled cover. This was also a nostalgic experience for me. Ocarina of Time was the first videogame I ever owned and had such much fun running around being bad at the game. I’ve played it a few more times as an adult, but revisiting it in this format was a first. I immediately picked up the DS remake of the game. If you know the game, it doesn’t add a ton, but it does have beautiful artwork. If you don’t know anything about the game, it’s a fun adventure story about Link trying to save a world he’s never really been to before. This made for a relaxing, fun afternoon.

White Rage is a non-fiction book by historian Dr. Carol Anderson. Anderson clearly shows that slavery didn’t truly end in the US, and it merely evolved. She writes in a way that is accessible to people who aren’t familiar with the subject, and while the subject matter is tough, it is relatively easy to follow what she’s saying. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that taught some of these topics, but I still learned so much. I wish anyone who’s ever said “get over it slavery was 400 years ago” had to read this book. Even if you are familiar with the topics she covers, it is helpful to see in one text a timeline of how these systematic acts against African-Americans work to keep them from being successful. Required reading.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve had Daisy Jones and the Six on hold through Libby since April, and I thought it would be another couple of weeks before I get it, but it surprised me and became available early. I immediately started reading it and flew through it in two days. I LOVE this book. As someone who loves music documentaries of any kind, biographies about musicians, and Fleetwood Mac, this book really did it for me. I think the interview format was unusual and really added to the experience. I love the drama and the heartbreak and the rock ‘n’ roll of it all. Both Daisy and Billy had so much growth throughout the story. Camila and Simone added such great perspectives to the story as well. By including everyone involved with the band in the interviews, Taylor Jenkins Reid allows readers to see the story from all sides, and it’s always funny when characters contradict each other. It makes it feel so realistic. This book definitely didn’t disappoint.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I put The Hate U Give on hold through Libby way back in April. As June started, I still had a six-month + wait, so I went ahead and bought it during an impromptu trip to the bookstore. I’m so happy I finally got the chance to read it, and I’m even happier that so many people were requesting this book even before the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder. This book looks at the impacts of police brutality and racial profiling on a community and individual level. Given that this book is YA, its ability to send this message to teens is incredibly essential. The characters feel real and will be relatable to a lot of teens, but they are also mature enough that it’s enjoyable for adults to read. I also think this book gives insight into many different challenges Black communities face and does these topics justice. It would be easy to gloss over a lot of things, but Thomas is sure to spend time exploring everything she brings up. I am glad this book exists. I read this and the next two books as part of a self-imposed 48-hour readathon, so if you want to see what that was like, you can read about it here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I grew up watching the LOTR films constantly. They’re still some of my favorites today. I read The Hobbit in middle school (and I don’t want to talk about those movies) but didn’t read the trilogy for the first time until high school. I haven’t read them since because I was scared I wouldn’t enjoy them as much this time around. I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring this month for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon for the prompt to read a book featuring a magical battle. I can definitely say I still enjoy the experience of reading Tolkien. I did use an audiobook to read along with sometimes because I can have trouble focusing just in general, and that was really pleasant. I love reading about Frodo’s epic adventure, and his friendship with Sam is so wholesome. There were times when I would zone out some, and that could have just been me and where I’m at this year but overall, a great read.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling was my last book for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, and it fulfilled the prompt – read a book with occult themes. This book follows an elemental witch, Hannah, who has recently broken up with her girlfriend, Veronica. When they suspect a Blood Witch is in town, they have to work together to stop them. This book is equal parts witchy and dramatic, and I had a pretty okay time. I enjoyed the plot of this book and wanted to know what would happen next. I wanted to know what happened next. I think where this book lost me was with the characters. I didn’t feel super connected to them and didn’t even feel like I really got to know them (though Gemma was a delight). I was not a fan of the dynamic between Hannah and Veronica. Veronica is incredibly manipulative, and it was frustrating to read. I might pick up the sequel, but I’m not totally committed to it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m planning to write a more in-depth review of Home Before Dark by Riley Sager because I have so many feelings, but I’ll just say a little bit for now. This book follows Maggie, who has returned to her childhood home to prepare it for sale. Her father wrote a book about their time in the house, but she doesn’t remember any of it. When creepy things start happening again, Maggie must figure out the truth. I wanted to squeeze this into my month with two days left, and I did it! This book switches back and forth between present-day Maggie and chapters of her father’s book, which takes place twenty-five years earlier. I am a sucker for unusual narrative structures, and this was so fun to read. It was also terrifying; I kept thinking about snakes and ghosts and listening for sounds while I was reading. I don’t usually get scared from books (movies are whole other things entirely), but Home Before Dark really got me.

So, that’s all the books I read this month. I think I had a good reading month and enjoyed everything I read at least to some degree. Have you read any of these? What did you think? What did you pick up in June?

WWW Wednesday – July 1, 2020

WWW Wednesday

In an attempt to try and be more consistent with my blogging, I thought I’d try doing the WWW Wednesday tag hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Since I don’t have any semblance of a posting schedule and don’t review every book I read, I figured this might be a way for me to give some quick thoughts about what I’m reading. 

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Black Enough which is an anthology of short stories edited by Ibi Zoboi. I bought this along with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas for the #BlackPublishingPower challenge. Black Enough contains stories by a multitude of black authors that speak to the experience of being black in America. I haven’t read much yet but I am excited to read from a perspective outside of my own and hopefully discover some new-to-me black authors.

I’ve finished a couple of books since last Wednesday. First was These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling. This YA book about elemental witches got a high three stars from me and and finished it in just a couple of days. I really enjoyed the plot since it had an element of mystery and suspense. I think where it lost me was the characters. I didn’t really feel connected to any of them besides Gemma. Keep a lookout for my June wrap-up for more of my thoughts on this book.

Since last Wednesday, I also read Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark. I had two days left of the month and really wanted to squeeze in one more books. This one was SCARY, like I ran down my hallway the other night because I was so creeped out. Sager has a way of making you think one thing is going to happen and then throwing you for a loop but the ending of this particular book REALLY had me shocked. I am planning to write a dedicated review because it was definitely my favorite book this month.

Next up for me is probably The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan. This is the second book in the Percy Jackson series and since I really enjoyed the first book in May, I’m really excited to continue the series. I don’t know anything about the plot and really want to go in blind so I’m just going to have faith that Riordan can create magic and enjoyment a second time. I didn’t get to read this in June even though it was in my initial plans but from here out, I want to try and read one book from the series each month and finish in October. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I’m mad I didn’t read this series earlier.

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading? If you participate in WWW Wednesday, link me your posts!

I participated in a self-imposed 48-hour readathon and here’s what happened

Reading Check-ins

I’ve been reading a lot this month but most of it was not on my initial June TBR. I am participating in the #MakeYourMythTaker Readathon but I also found so many other books I wanted to read that didn’t fit any of the prompts so I sprinkled them between my readathon books. That being said, on the 25th I wasn’t sure that I’d actually even finish the readathon at all. I had one and a half books left to read plus I was in the middle of another book I wanted to finish. So I set myself a challenge.

Thursday at 11:00 AM, I decided I would start a 48-hour challenge to see how much I could read. I needed to read half of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, half of The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, and get a good start on These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling. 

I started the readathon by reading The Hate U Give. I was on page 200 and had about 240 pages to go. My goal was to finish the second half in one sitting. The plot was escalating and I was really invested in Starr and her journey. I completely forgot about lunch (which, to be fair, is VERY common for me) but around 2:30, I had to eat something. I took a fifteen-minute break to eat and then finished the book by 3:00. I really enjoyed this book and it was easy to sit and focus on. That’s a big issue for me; I’m not that great at focusing on one thing especially when my hands are still but this book really kept my attention particularly in the second half.

It was around this time two people in the hallway outside my apartment decided they were going to talk about politics and COVID for actual hours (“You watch. This virus will disappear as soon as the election is over”) so it was a perfect time to put on my headphones and read along with The Fellowship of the Ring audiobook. I like to read along with audiobooks especially when the text is a little dense or when I am generally having a hard time focusing on one thing and this method really helped me with The Fellowship this time around. I got through about 80 pages before I really needed to charge my phone so I took a little snack break and watched The Golden Girls

My partner asked if I wanted to ride to the store with him and we picked up dinner on the way home. By then it was 8:30. I only had about fifty pages of The Fellowship left so I listened to those. I love the ending of this book because it really gets you excited for what’s next. I hope I can get to the rest of the trilogy before too long!

I then immediately started These Witches Don’t Burn but I only read about 30 pages before I started falling asleep. I decided to put it down and fell asleep around midnight. I was certain that I could finish this book before the end of the 48 hours I’d allowed myself. I was feeling ambitious but confident. I was wrong.

The next morning, I read about 50 pages before I got in a mood. During the pandemic, I have been more prone to times where I will just zone out with the TV on and do absolutely nothing for hours. I did this yesterday. I was very aware that I was wasting time and accomplishing absolutely nothing. I felt bad about it but not bad enough to actually read, or write, or take an Instagram photo. I just sat there. Early in the evening, I did get a good chunk of reading done before having dinner. Afterwards, I read quite a bit more before feeling drained and I just sat around until I went to bed.

I had a few hours to read this morning and I took full advantage of them. I’m currently 73% through These Witches Don’t Burn and am very happy about that. I’ll definitely finish it before the end of the month and I *might* have time to start Home Before Dark by Riley Sager too.

So here’s what I learned. If I stay off social media, I can actually read a lot. Who would have known?!? I am really good at keeping up reading stamina for 24 hours but the second day is probably going to get me. I might start trying to dedicate 24 hour chunks to reading more often. When I go back to work in August, that will definitely not be possible as often but I do want to try as much as I can. 

PS – If you read all of this, you’re a saint and I appreciate you.

WWW Wednesday – June 24, 2020

WWW Wednesday

In an attempt to try and be more consistent with my blogging, I thought I’d try doing the WWW Wednesday tag hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Since I don’t have any semblance of a posting schedule and don’t review every book I read, I figured this might be a way for me to give some quick thoughts about what I’m reading. 

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading both The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. 

I put The Hate U Give on hold through Libby back in April and June came along and I still had over a six-month wait. I’ve been trying to buy fewer physical books but when the #BlackPublishingPower challenge was happening, I thought it would be a good time to buy this book. (I also bought Black Enough which is an anthology put together by Ibi Zoboi). I am only about 140 pages in but already it is very impactful especially considering the target audience is YA. Getting these messages to people when they are younger is vital to change in future generations.

I am also reading The Fellowship of the Ring right now. This is for the #MakeYourMythTaker readathon prompt to read a book featuring a magical battle. This is a reread for me; I haven’t read this since high school. Since I don’t typically read fantasy, it is a bit dense but I’m listening to the audiobook while I read along and it’s been a good time. I’m a little over halfway through (just past the council of Elrond). I still have one book after this for the readathon but I’m not sure I’m going to finish on time. Oh well.

I recently finished reading Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Libby said I had another three weeks to wait on this book but just as I was about to go to bed, I got an email saying it was ready. Needless to say, I stayed up quite a while reading. I will talk about this more in my monthly wrap-up but I loved the experience of reading this book and devoured it in less than two days. Amazing.

Next up for me is These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling. This will fulfill the last prompt for the readathon I’m participating in this month – read a book with occult themes. I am excited to read this book though I know there are some mixed reviews floating around. I might not finish it in June but I will still carry it into July because I’d really like to get to it soon. After that, I am going to try to read Black Enough and Home Before Dark by Riley Sager since I got both of them this month. We shall see!

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading? If you participate in WWW Wednesday, link me your posts!