The Toll by Neal Shusterman | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 29th – March 12th

The Toll is the final book in the Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman, which has become one of my favorite series in the past few years.

This dystopian world takes place in a future where death has been conquered, and the population boomed to the point of overcrowding. As a solution to the problem, Scythes were created: a group of people with the power, and permission to permanently kill people to control the population. This final chapter has the culmination of a long series of events, complicated plot lines, separated characters, and foreshadowing. Since this is the third book in the series, this review will have some spoilers. I did do a review of the first two books a few years ago.

At the end of Thunderhead, everything has gone nuts. The Thunderhead has stopped speaking. Citra and Rowan are buried in a vault at the bottom of the ocean. The entire island of Endura has sunk, and Scythe Goddard has declared himself the High Blade of MidMerica. In typical middle book fashion, the pieces of this puzzle are thrown to all corners of the map at the end, and the wait for this third installment was painful.

For most of the book, I had no idea how things were going to come together. The novel is over 600 pages, and it felt like it wasn’t until page 500 that everything started to piece back together. A lot of the pieces felt like they were made up for this book specifically, and I felt like those pieces could have been laid clearer in the first two books. That being said, it’s been several years since I read the first two, and it’s entirely possible that there are details that I’ve forgotten.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped reading as much YA content. I’ve talked about this a few times, but I do really like YA series that I feel transcend their specific age-range, and can appeal to adults. Harry Potter is a great example of this, and I feel like the Arc of a Scythe series can be considered to do the same. Most of the characters in the final book are adults, and even the teenagers at the beginning have grown by the end. Series are some of my favorite YA to still consume, because of the growth that happens during the books.

I really enjoyed this series. This was the first series I’ve read by Neal Shusterman, though he has quite a few I’m interested in. I’m excited to see what he continues to write, and I hope that he goes more into the adult age-range in the future.

-Siobhan

Elevation by Stephen King | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 5th

Elevation is a pairing of two short stories released by Stephen King in 2018. The first story, Elevation follows Scott Carey, a man who is seemingly losing weight at a rate of a pound or two a day, however he doesn’t seem to be physically changing, still looking like an overweight man.

This story is about appearances on the outside not being like what they are on the inside. As Scott Carey’s mass reaches zero, he helps a local couple with their restaurant, changes the mind of his small town, and comes to terms with his situation. This story, though classified as horror, was heartwarming and I gave this individual story three stars. Many of the complaints I saw of this story were of the “white knight” main character helping lesbian characters, and while I can see where those were coming from, I think the overall message of changing perspectives was larger than just that aspect.

The second story in the book was also extremely heartwarming. Following the loss of his wife, Laurie tells the story of a man’s grief as he begins caring for a new puppy, as insisted on by his sister. This story was originally written and published on Stephen King’s website, and it appears that it was only read in the audiobook of Elevation, not the physical printing (though I could be wrong about this. I listened to the audiobook of this one.) I liked this story more than the first story, and thought it was cute and uplifting.

Both stories are quick and heartwarming. This book was absolutely mismarketed and misrepresented as horror. Nowhere in either story are horror, and I don’t think they should have been marketed that way.

I admittedly haven’t read much of Stephen King, but I’m really interested in checking out more of his short story collections, specifically the horror ones in the future.

-Siobhan

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 3rd – 4th

For some reason this was never required reading for me in school. Or if it was, I definitely don’t remember and didn’t read it. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Claire Danes. Her reading of it was great, and if you’re looking for an audiobook I highly recommend this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred, a Handmaid in a dystopian future dominated by religion. In this world, women’s rights have been stripped away and their primary function is to take care of the household, or to carry children. As with Good Omens, I knew nothing about this book going into it, and had only seen the trailer for the television series. In listening to the audiobook, I constantly felt a sense of dread and overwhelming doom.

There’s a lot to unpack in this book, and I feel like it’s one that’s been talked about to death. With the release of the television series, this book has been prominent in the media a lot recently, especially discussions about the feminist aspects of it, and how relevant they remain in modern time. This serves as a cautionary tale to never settle, but also to be aware of the path that small changes can lead down.

The interspersed chapters of modern times as well as going back to before everything changed were very well done, and was one of my favorite parts of the book. I think this book is considered a classic for a reason, and I thought it was fantastic and thought provoking.

Reading this has made me want to look into the sequel, but also made me much more likely to look into classics in the future. When I was younger and required to read them in school, I hated reading them. Now that I’m older, I’m curious to see if my opinions have changed as my reading tastes have.

-Siobhan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 1st – 3rd

This book is not at all what I was expecting. I had seen the ads and commercials for the TV adaptation on Amazon, and I knew nothing of the plot going in. My only frame of reference for this book came in my familiarity with Neil Gaiman, and even then I had only read one of his books before. American Gods, which I read in 2017 was not a favorite of mine, and I had been hesitant to pick up any other Gaiman books.

I happened to have access to the audiobook for this one, and was faced with a stretch of time doing work that I could listen to audiobooks in the background for. I picked it up on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it.

This book is way funnier than I expected it to be. It has the same British wit that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does. On the surface, this book is about a book of prophecies, a set of swapped babies, a demon and an angel working together, and the New Spanish Inquisition. It’s also about global warming and climate change, hope in the face of destruction, unlikely allies, good friends, and dogs.

I really liked this book. It was a breath of fresh air between some heavier topics, and I’m glad I read it. I’d love to check out the TV show, and also look into other books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

-Siobhan

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 28th – March 2nd

This book is has a very dreamlike quality to it which I really enjoyed. The writing is lyrical and absolutely beautiful, but heartbreaking at times. I’ve really fallen in love recently with shorter fiction, mainly books which are around 200 pages. I have a lot of respect for authors who can show restraint and let the audience think for themselves, without spelling out every aspect of the story.

In this case, I think the medium really lent itself to the story that Onyebuchi was conveying. Here we follow Ella and Kev, a sister and brother both with extraordinary powers. They are measured and defined by the unfortunate systematic and structural racism that surrounds them, whether it’s in California or New York City. Kev is incarcerated at a young age, and Ella runs away from home. She is drawn to and molded by police brutality and events around the country, which only make her desire for change stronger as she fights to control her powers.

The way these characters, Ella especially, felt raw emotions was very prominent throughout the entire story. Her empathy was extremely strong, and Onybuchi’s writing did a great job conveying that same strength to the reader.

I think this book is the type to go into mostly blind. Reading too much about it will take away from some of its lyrical writing, and explain more than is necessary. I would highly recommend checking it out, especially with how short it is. I’ll be looking into more of Onybuchi’s work in the future. I love the way he crafts stories, and I’m excited to see what else he creates.

-Siobhan

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 25th – 26th

What a wild ride this book is.

At this point it’s really no secret that I’ve fallen in love with the horror genre, and that the author who reintroduced me to it is Grady Hendrix. I’ve loved all of the fiction that I’ve read from Hendrix, but he’s probably just as well known for this non-fiction retrospective about horror from the ’70s and ’80s.

This book is full of crazy covers, convoluted plots, and horrific monsters. Hendrix breaks the era down by type of book, talking about demons, animal-related books, gothic horror, and more. He then further breaks those categories down, giving clear examples and excerpts of plot from some of his favorites.

One of the best parts of this book is actually the legacy that it left. In partnership with Valancourt Books, there’s now a run of Paperbacks from Hell favorites, reprinted with forwards by Grady Hendrix and Will Erriickson (author of Too Much Horror Fiction).

This book is a really great manual for people who are interested in horror fiction, and touches on books which got the genre started, as well as weird, out there books about evil babies and giant bugs. Luckily for me, there was no section on spiders in this book.

I really enjoyed reading about all of these books, and I loved seeing Hendrix insert his humor into his descriptions of the plots. I found it a quick and fascinating read, and it’s definitely one I’ll go back to if I want to check out older horror fiction. As with anything Hendrix writes, I’ll check it out as soon as possible, including his newest fiction title The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which came out April 7th.

-Siobhan

March Recap | 2020

I had another good reading month! I was able to get through nine books this month, and I’m still very ahead for my reading challenge.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi – February 28th – March 2nd
★★★★☆

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – March 1st – 3rd
★★★★☆

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – March 3rd – 4th
★★★★☆

Elevation by Stephen King – March 5th
★★★★☆

The Toll by Neal Shusterman – February 29th – March 12th
★★★★☆

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen – March 12th – 14th
★★★☆☆

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – March 19th – 26th
★★★☆☆

10% Happier by Dan Harris – March 26th – 27th
★★★★☆

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – March 28th – 31st
★★★☆☆

One of the other things I did this month was clear out some books I’m no longer looking to keep, and then get together an inventory of all the books I own, and which ones I’ve read. It turns out I’ve only read about half of my owned books, which is much lower than I thought it would be! This totals about 90 books, which is absolutely banana to me. I’m going to focus on trying to get that number down over the next few months, so some of those will be on my April TBR next week!

-Siobhan

The Other People by C.J. Tudor | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 23rd – 24th

This was the February pick for the Literally Dead Book Club hosted by booksandlala on YouTube. I’m so glad that she picked this, because I’ve had my eye on trying a C.J. Tudor book for a while now. I wasn’t sure whether to start with The Chalk Man or The Hiding Place, so I was thrilled that this was the first pick for this horror/thriller book club.

The Other People feels like one of those books that starts with a bang and then keeps on going. It felt to me like the whole book flew by in an instant, and I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing for the book’s pacing.

We start with Gabe, a man on his way home to meet his wife and daughter, who’s stuck in traffic. The car in front of him is covered in terrible bumperstickers, and through the back window, Gabe thinks he sees his daughter Izzy’s face. Gabe attempts to chase the car, but loses it in the traffic. He tries to call his wife from a service station, but a detective answers the phone instead.

Fast forward about three years. Gabe now travels up and down the highway looking for the car which he believes stole his daughter. We also get chapters from Katie, a woman who works at a service station, Fran, a woman seemingly on the run with a young girl named Alice, and intermittent chapters about a girl in a hospital bed.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved Gabe’s character, and I especially loved Katie’s character and her devotion to her kids in this book. The story really played on the relationship between parents and younger children, and it was interesting to see three different types of these relationships.

The best part of the book to me was the unexplained magical element which kept me reading from very early on. There were elements to this book which I was baffled by early on, and was unsure if it was meant to be magical or if there was going to be a real-world explanation. I tend to really like unexplained magic in books, but I mostly like it when it’s perceived as normal to the characters around it. The magic in this book is tied to Alice’s character, and because we don’t see from her perspective, I felt that the magic element in the book didn’t come across as intended. That being said, I enjoyed the type of magic and the additions it made to the story.

Without getting into spoilers, I found the explanation of The Other People as an entity to be interesting (and sometimes unintentionally funny). I liked the way this was presented, but I found it to sometimes be a bit farfetched.

I’m really excited to go back and read C.J. Tudor’s previous two novels, as well as their next book coming out in 2021.

-Siobhan

Sadie by Courtney Summers | Book Review

★★★★★
February 19th – 22nd

I really like crime stories and podcasts. Like a lot of people my age, I listened to the spin-off podcast by This American Life called Serial when it originally came out in 2014, bringing the murder of Hae Min Lee to the spotlight and questioning the conviction of her then-boyfriend Adnan Syed.

In Sadie, we have a very similar situation. After the murder of her sister, Sadie disappears without a trace. Her grandmother is desperate for answers and asks a radio station for help in tracking down Sadie. The podcast, titled The Girls follows Sadie’s path as she attempts to track down a man she’s calling her father, and follows the host’s (West’s) attempt to find her before she meets the same fate as her sister.

At the same time, we see Sadie’s side of the story. Sadie, who practically raised her younger sister Mattie was devastated by her murder and was never the same. She’s seeking revenge from a man who she believes did it, and she’ll stop at nothing to try and find him and make him pay.

Sadie’s chapters are full of anger for the loss of her sister, frustration at a stutter that makes it difficult for her to speak, and dedication to enact revenge on the man she knows is responsible. West’s chapters are told in the form of the podcast script, revealing information that goes in conjunction with Sadie’s journey and helping to uncover horrific things in Sadie’s past and help find her.

I both read this book physically and listened to the audiobook of it, but this is one audiobook that I highly recommend. It’s read by a full cast, all of whom are extremely talented. The podcast chapters are edited and mixed as an actual podcast, and the voice for Sadie is gripping and as angry as she’s written. I’ll get into some mild spoilers in a moment, but if you’re someone who needs content warnings for media, I would definitely look into the type of content that’s in this. That being said, I do believe that the best way to go into mysteries/thrillers is to go in as blind as possible, so I’d also recommend that.

Now for the spoilers.

This book tackles a lot of heavy topics: the murder and sudden death of a family member, dealing with an parent with addiction, the parentification of Sadie raising her younger sister and making excuses for her mother, as well as the strong prominence of child abuse and pedophilia which is unfortunately present in Sadie’s life. I think this book handles each of these topics in very sensitive ways, not shying away from the horror, but not making light of any of the situations.

The ending of the book I think is extremely strong, though I did see that this is the most divisive part of the book. I’m not someone who needs every answer to a mystery. It’s nice when it happens, but I find that it’s much more realistic for things to be left more open-ended. As with the podcast Serial there are so many possibilities, and we’re able to explore one of them.

This was the fist novel that I read by Courtney Summers. Though I’m not sure the plot of any of her older books appeal to me, I’ll definitely keep my eye on what she comes out with in the future.

-Siobhan

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 8th – 12th

This book was the third attempt of mine in a row to find some really intense horror. This had good reviews, and had the word ghost in the title, so I figured it was what I was looking for.

I was wrong about part of my thought process. This isn’t really horror, at least how I define it. It has a few horror elements, but it’s very reminiscent of Stephen Spielberg movies, 80’s childhood nostalgia, riding bicycles around a suburban town, and exploring mysterious places.

The story is told as our narrator in his adulthood revisiting his childhood memories, as he chooses to remember them. That includes the idea that his uncle, Calvin, was vague and mysterious and a bit supernatural. He believed, and relished in the idea of conspiracies, hidden societies, ghosts, and demons. And Jake, 12 at the time, loves living in his world. Calvin owns an occult themed shop, selling potions and trinkets, mostly to tourists of their small town near Niagara Falls.

This book is about memory, family, the brain, and everything in between. It’s about how sometimes it’s better to remember people as they want to be remembered, and sometimes you don’t get to remember anyone at all. I think that the best way to go into this book is blind.

The ghosts that follow Calvin are far more than spirits, but I don’t want to get into spoilers here. There are very slight horror elements, but it’s more horror reminiscent than full on horror. This book deals well with mental illnesses, the physical attributes of the brain and how illness manifest themselves, and how families deal with these things.

I really enjoyed what this book did with family dynamics, and I loved how clear the author’s love for Canada is. Craig Davidson has written several other novels, under several pen names. I’ll be checking out more of his work in the future.

-Siobhan