February Recap | 2019

Well, they can’t all be winners.

I had such good momentum in January, but I totally lost it going into February. Work picked up the pace, and I found myself using my recreational time for activities other than reading, (mainly cross stitch and video games…)

There’s a few books that I am looking forward to reading in March, now that things have calmed down a little bit. Here’s a potential TBR:

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Hopefully this coming month turns out much better than February did, but I’m still well ahead on my challenge!

-Siobhan

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple | Book Review

★★★★☆
January 27th – 28th

I won’t lie, I read this book for a few reasons, the first being that I saw the trailer for the movie. The second, because it contains a trip to Antarctica, which is my dream vacation, and thirdly, because it deals with anxiety and the pressure to create.

I’m incredibly glad that I read this. Bernadette Fox was an architect. In fact, she was a great architect. Her work was considered art, using locally sourced materials for her builds, and doing the whole thing with little to no plan. She was definitely eccentric. She has a daughter named Bee, a husband named Elgie, and they live in a dilapidated house in Seattle. 

The book is told through emails, letters, interviews, documents, and some narration from Bee. The whole thing is an account of why Bernadette left, and where she went, and the story is captivating. It seems like it wouldn’t be. The reasons for leaving on the surface can seem ordinary and somewhat mundane. When you combine that with the mental illness that Bernadette was struggling with, and the lack of support from her husband, I find that it makes for a story that builds pressure slowly until it explodes on the page.

The format helped this. Seeing things from different perspectives kept the whole book from feeling like it was from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl. The emails are from Bernadette to her assistant in India, Elgie to Soo-Lin, a parent at Bee’s school. Soo-Lin to Audrey, another parent, and various psychology professionals, gardeners and other people who were all very involved or tangentially involved in Bernadette’s disappearance.

I found some of the characters very interesting and relatable, mainly Bernadette and Bee, but I found others incredibly frustrating, mainly Soo-Lin and Elgie. Soo-Lin had some redemption towards the end of the story, but even at the very end I found that there were still too many questions left hanging. Without spoiling anything, I felt that there were a number of factors that didn’t have resolutions, or the resolutions were made to be important but ended up being inconsequential. 

I’m interested to see the movie, because I’m not sure how they’re going to take the format into account. My prediction is either that they are able to do it in some clever way, or they completely toss it out the window and make it a non-issue. The latter seems more likely, but the documents themselves are a bit of a plot point.

I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something really quick to read that still has a bit of heart in it. Probably a good beach read, even though it’s the middle of Winter.

-Siobhan

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink | Book Review

★★★★☆
January 25th – 27th

Every once in a while, you come across a book that feels vaguely familIar. It might be the fact that it’s written by an author you know and love, or the plot feels similar to something you’ve read before. These books shake you by the hand and greet you like an old friend. This is exactly how Alice Isn’t Dead made me feel. 

Almost ten years ago, I read a book called John Dies at the End by David Wong. I’ve mentioned this book before in a list of my favorites. I was 15, on a plane either to or from Seattle, and it was my first introduction into the realm of humor and horror together, a niche genre which I’ve come to love. That story wowed me with its dark humor and the way it took perspective for granted. It opened my mind to new possibilities. I had read contemporary. I had read horror. I had read fantasy. But I had never combined these things together with comedy thrown in. I was hooked.

I picked up Alice Isn’t Dead on a whim. The author created Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast I dabbled in when it was first beginning, but fell off rather quickly. I found myself hooked in this book, almost as eagerly as I was in John Dies at the End all those years ago.

Keisha is a truck driver. The book is a road trip. There are men made of disgusting yellow fat and oracles which keep their hoods far down over their faces. The whole story is a map of the United States, a comment on its sameness, and a counterpoint on its difference. Keisha is looking for Alice, her wife, who went missing years ago and is presumed dead. As Keisha is grieving this, she sees her wife in the background of a news story. And then another. And then another. This spurs an interest in Alice’s private life. Keisha digs through her things and finds continuous reference to a group called Thistle. Bay and Creek. Praxis. What these things are, Keisha has no idea. But she becomes a truck driver and starts to search.

If you take away the horror elements. This is a wonderful story about overcoming anxiety, facing your fears, and learning to live with the mental illness you have, harnessing it as a weapon to be used against your enemies. It’s about how hate manifests itself physically. If you add back the horror elements, you can cut through some of the heavier sides of those conversations with fight sequences and driving montages, and you turn the physical hatred into a literal monster who consumes humans.

This book felt like John Dies at the End grew up. I loved the creatures that were in this world. The sense of political conspiracy that was hiding under the surface the whole time. I felt myself utterly and totally hooked. I loved the oracles and everything they represented, and I loved Keisha as a character, and felt that I could really relate to her. I loved that this story was about her, and I loved watching her grow and change, and stumble and get back up.

I wish that the ending of this book hadn’t felt so rushed. I could have gone on for ages, but it leaves more room in this world for expansion, should the author ever decide to.

-Siobhan

Final Girls by Riley Sager | Book Review

★★★☆☆
January 18th – 19th, 2019

Final Girls was my first “meh” book of the year. It started off as a really promising thriller and premise. A woman, Quincy Carpenter was the victim of a horrible massacre that happened to her college friends when they were away at a cabin for a weekend. Quincy was the only one who survived the attack, marking her as a “Final Girl”, IE following the trope in movies where only one girl gets out. She’s one of three Final Girls who are followed throughout the book, the other two being Lisa and Samantha.

When Lisa is found dead, Samantha (Sam) shows up at Quincy’s house. Quincy, who can’t remember the details of the night her friends were killed, wants to put her story and her past behind her, but Sam wants details, and to unlock her memory.

Even reading over that synopsis of the premise, I’m intrigued by it all over again. This story had so much promise and so much potential, and instead we got a tremendous lack of depth and a “twist” ending that was neither shocking nor particularly interesting to me. Sager tried to drop hints and red herrings along the way, which was the only break from the monotony of baking and walks in Central Park.

I found this book incredibly frustrating to read, which was disappointing since I had heard such great things about it. Sager has another thriller which came out in 2018 which I may give a try, since that one is much higher rated than this one was.

I’m hoping that other thrillers I read this year are better, but this is currently my lowest rated book of the year at three stars.

-Siobhan