Book Reviews

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

– James Baldwin
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  • Book Review — The Hawthorne School: A Novel by Sylvie Perry

    I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    • Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
    • Published by: Crooked Lane Books
    • Publish date: December 7th, 2021
    • Number of pages: 304 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.sylvieperryauthor.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    The Hawthorne School is a twisty psychological suspense about the lengths one mother will go for her child, inspired by present-day obsession with cults and true crime.

    Claudia Morgan is overwhelmed. She’s a single parent trying the best that she can, but her four-year-old son, Henry, is a handful–for her and for his preschool. When Claudia hears about a school with an atypical teaching style near her Chicagoland home, she has to visit. The Hawthorne School is beautiful and has everything she dreams of for Henry: time to play outside, music, and art. The head of the school, Zelma, will even let Claudia volunteer to cover the cost of tuition. 

    The school is good for Henry: his “behavioral problems” disappear, and he comes home subdued instead of rageful. But there’s something a bit off about the school, its cold halls, and its enigmatic headmistress. When Henry brings home stories of ceremonies in the woods and odd rules, Claudia’s instincts tell her that something isn’t quite right, and she begins to realize she’s caught in a web of manipulations and power. 

    via Goodreads

    Rating: 3.5/5

    A single mother desperate to provide the best education and discipline for her child. A school that seems to be perfect for both her and her child. An opportunity that is hard to refuse. The Hawthorne School manipulates people who are going through hardships by offering them an incredible, private school experience for their children.

    Inspired by Scandanavian Nature Schools, Claudia finds herself at her wits end in taking care of her child until she finds a school that seems to have a positive effect on her son, Henry. Dealing with grief of losing her only support system— her mother, Claudia is instantly comforted by the headmistress of the school and the teachers. This school emphasizes being in nature, music, and art, which Claudia loves and so does Henry.

    However, little red flags start to pop up. Do the benefits of the school outweigh these flags or is there something more sinister going on?

    What ensues is a cult of massive proportions. Is Claudia in too deep?

    This novel does a great job at exploring the inner thoughts of someone who joins a cult. Through a host of fascinating characters, the author navigates the complex feelings that cults provide—such as comfort, a sense of belonging, and dependency, how someone finds themselves stuck in one, and the struggle to get out of one. As a reader there are a a few moments where I had to suspend reality with how the school achieves this with how some of the characters influence Claudia and the major “influencer” (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers). But this is a fiction novel, so it’s easy to do this.

    Overall, I found the novel intriguing and I read it pretty quickly. Personally, cults can be difficult to read about despite how interesting they are because of the lives that are impacted so I liked reading it in this fictional setting.

  • Book Review — This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

    I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Bloomsbury YA. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    • Genre: YA Fiction
    • Published by: Bloomsbury YA
    • Publish date: June 29th, 2021
    • Number of pages: 384 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.kalynnbayron.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

    Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

    When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

    When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

    Rating: 4.5/5

    Black girl magic indeed!

    Briseis has always known she was a little different and as she’s gotten older she’s learned how to hide her powers. Unfortunately, in order to do this, she has had to make her self smaller and keep from being her full authentic self.

    Her moms are going through economic hardship when suddenly a women appears with a will from Bri’s birth mother bequeathing a beautiful estate full of wonders in a small town in upstate New York. There is more to meet the eye as Bri and her family move to this new home and begin to get familiar with the library of herbs, surrounding gardens, and town.

    Bri begins to learn more about her birth family and why she is the way she is. As she tests her limits and learns to grow more into her own, there are forces that are trying to take away something that has been protected by her family for decades.

    This is a lovely, magical, coming of age mixed with fantasy-YA novel. I loved the fairy tale elements throughout the book and really grew to love the characters. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for Bri.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

    • Genre: Fiction, thriller, suspense, horror
    • Published by: Berkley Books
    • Publish date: July 13, 2021
    • Number of pages: 352 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.gradyhendrix.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre. For more than a decade, she’s been meeting with five other final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, working to put their lives back together. Then one woman misses a meeting, and their worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to rip their lives apart again, piece by piece. But the thing about final girls is that no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up

    via Bookshop.org

    Rating: 4/5

    A fast-paced slasher is just as fun as you can expect from Grady Hendrix!

    This story follows Lynette, a survivor of a mass murderer. As the sole survivor she is dubbed what is called in slasher films, a final girl. Understandably, there is trauma to unpack and Lynette is part of a support group with other final girls.

    Throughout the novel, there are clippings and call backs to the horror that these women have endured, including newspaper clippings of the massacres, book and film reviews of media created post-massacre, and therapist notes. Surprisingly, this book also makes social commentary on how this genre of slasher films have been influenced by actual serial killers and survivors. It makes us question what happens to people who survive the imaginable and what makes these films so timeless.

    Similar to the b-horror plot advancement, gimmicky one-liners, and humor mixed with horror that are essential to these films, this book encapsulates this vibe. Fans of Hendrix’s other books and fans of slasher films from the 80s will enjoy this. A perfect read for spooky season!

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

    I received a digital review copy of this book from Netgalley and Macmillan Audio. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    • Genre: Romance, Fiction
    • Published by: St. Martin’s Griffin / Macmillian Audio (audiobook)
    • Publish date: June 01, 2021
    • Number of pages: 432 pages
    • Author’s website: 
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

    But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

    Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

    Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

    via Goodreads

    Rating: 3/5

    So many mutuals loved this book, but it just was not my favorite read.

    The novel starts out promising and I honestly loved the first quarter of the book. The main character is August, a young woman who has just moved to NYC. Right off the bat, she moves into an apartment with quirky roommates and we are introduced to a diverse set of characters. I think McQuiston really captures NYC living for the young, hopeful, and lost… for white women.

    August is becoming more comfortable with her new home when she has a meet-cute on the Q train. What you would think would only be a once in a lifetime encounter in a town of 8.4 million, happens again when August continues to take the Q train in order to meet this person again. So who is this person?

    Enter Jane, a Chinese American babe. What follows is an adventure of love transcending time– literally.

    There were several things that I thought McQuiston did well!

    • We end up getting a small window of lqbtqia history in the 70s from Jane. I found the subplot of her experiences protesting, learning about the various women she dated across the country, and her roommate in NYC was really unique and fit well into progressing the plot.
    • The roommates. They were a riot and I am always just smitten with found families.
    • Jane as a love interest. I would have loved this novel as a teen/young adult. She’s so assured of herself and I think she brings August out of her shell in the best way. The bisexual and lesbian relationship cannot be understated– it really was amazing to read this representation.
    • This story drags. I was surprised that it doesn’t wrap up after the climax, but instead continues on for longer than I personally think it needed to. At the same time, I understood that we needed to get to see August and Jane be a couple outside the Q train.
    • I enjoyed almost all the sex scenes, but like some other reviewers, the public transit sex was a little cringe– mainly through a post-pandemic lens. (Note: I say post-pandemic from an American perspective, but understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and I am fortunate to be vaccinated).
    • Micro-aggressions regarding Jane’s race rubbed me the wrong especially with the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes in the US.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — Dead Dead Girls By Nekesa Afia
    • Genre: Fiction, Murder Mystery, Women Sleuths
    • Published by: Berkley Books
    • Publish date: June 01, 2021
    • Number of pages: 336 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.nekesaafia.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Harlem, 1926. Young Black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.

    Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends might say she’s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don’t tell her that.

    When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she’s been trying to ignore–several local Black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.

    Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She’ll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

    Synopsis from https://www.nekesaafia.com/

    Rating: 4/5

    I love the Harlem Renaissance and reading anything about it– both fiction and non-fiction! In line with the time period, this mystery reads like a classic detective noir with a little Gatsby. The characters aren’t perfect and there’s a lot of shady things going on. You have a little bit of anti-hero-ness going on with several characters as well. Additionally, you have a main character who is independent and queer.

    The book opens with a young Louise, escaping from being abducted and saving the other girls abducted with her. This gives her the label of “Harlem’s Hero”– a past she has tried to shed and this label. However, her life of partying in speakeasies and dancing the night away is disrupted when young Black girls begin showing up dead near the place she works and she is recruited to help solve the cases to avoid jail time.

    It’s a puzzling mystery to solve that has her recalling her past, working with enemies, and putting those she loves at risk. It gets slow at parts and wasn’t too excited or surprised by the ending, but I am definitely interested in seeing how this series continues. A final note, that this cover is gorgeous!

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

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