A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

A Slow Fire Burning
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publication Date: August 2021
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

I had really high expectations for this one after obsessing and loving Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train last year. However, this just wasn’t it and didn’t live up to the hype. The Girl on the Train was a finish-in-3-days-at-4:30-am-because-I-physically-cannot-put-this-book-down book for me. ASFB was just okay.
I liked the cast of characters and how they connected to one another in various ways but overall I just felt disappointed. I wanted jaw dropping reveals or heart racing suspense and this missed the mark. Also, I always internally cringe when a “potential” or “suspected” dementia/Alzheimer’s diagnosis is used as a device to make a character appear unreliable – feels cheap, over done, and disrespectful to me.
Even so, there were some surprising moments and I did like the small hints and clues that kept me semi-engaged throughout the story. But, 3 stars.
Buzzword Readathon: October selection

When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Publication Date: January 2016
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
Method: audiobook, ebook via TPL

Quick, emotional, impactful audiobook listen detailing a young neurosurgeon’s journey when faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Can confirm the epilogue had me wiping away tears. As always, guaranteed 1 star for the positive and accurate physical therapy representation. Definitely would re-read or would re-listen to the audiobook when needing perspective while working in healthcare.
Buzzword Readathon: October selection

The Turn of the Key
Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: August 2019
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook via TPL, hardcover BOTM

Happy to have another Ruth Ware favorite! Not as top tier as The Death of Mrs. Westaway but far better than The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood, all of which I’ve read this year!
This thriller had a lot of my favorite elements, some I expected but others that were a surprise. It was presented in a letter format which made the tone very conversational, something I really enjoy. The setting included an historic, haunted Victorian house with a creepy and ominous garden with a mysterious past including poisonous plants. I liked the juxtaposition between the Victorian “smart house” and the atmospheric, overgrown cursed garden.
I feel like Ware is notorious for writing unreliable main characters, usually due to substance or alcohol abuse or misuse, but this story’s main character Rowan was unreliable in a different way that I personally find more palatable and interesting. There was a big character reveal that I definitely did not see coming that was a jaw drop moment which I always love. Like other readers, I wasn’t a fan of the ending in terms of who is at fault for the death of the child (mentioned in the synopsis) but I did like the ambiguous ending.
Knowing that Abby from Crime by the Book loved this story and gave it 5 stars, I asked her for a book recommendation with a “spooky and sinister garden” as a follow up to this story. She personally recommended In the Vines by Shannon Kirk and said this about it, “It’s got major gothic vibes + an old mansion that’s got TONS of wild gardens all around it. The gardens aren’t quite as much of a focal point as they are in THE TURN OF THE KEY but I feel like it’s exactly the vibe you’re looking for!!!” Even more excitingly, Shannon Kirk herself responded in the thread on Instagram to mention that she has a book publishing in 2022 that is in the same genre as Vines with a definite creepy garden as a focal point.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Publication Date: February 2018
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: paperback

Surprisingly, I had to force myself to finish this book. So many people in my personal life, bookstagram, and booktok love this story, and I get it, but I could not get passed Turton’s writing style. I don’t know if it’s just too masculine for me or what. I ran into this exact problem trying to read his other novel, The Devil and the Dark Water, in September and October of this year and ended up DNF’ing it.
The first few chapters had clear fatphobic language that I just could not reconcile with or look past. Truly I was annoyed with his characters nearly from the first chapter – it was destined to be a poorly rated book from that point forward. I had trouble keeping the characters straight and couldn’t be bothered to try. But also, I wasn’t interested in trying to solve the mystery altogether.
All in all, I finished it but solely because I had purchased a copy and wanted to get my money’s worth. I might donate it to Goodwill, honestly.

The Chestnut Man
Author: Søren Sveistrup
Publication Date: September 2019
Genre: thriller, crime mystery
Method: audiobook via TPL

First and foremost, listening to this audiobook while running was WILD. Did a feel like I was running for my life while inside a Planet Fitness under hundreds of fluorescent lights? Yes, I did.
A moody atmosphere, brutal killer, and an intricate, complex plot make for a terrorizing and thrilling read. I’ll admit at times I had trouble keeping the characters straight but I could follow along well enough to get the gist of it. The themes threaded throughout the story involving the foster care system hits a little to close to home right now, but definitely added a unique dynamic to the story. And finally, automatic +1 star for correct use of the term physiotherapy.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


Excuse me while I pick up my jaw from the floor. Here we are, at the closure of the third quarter of 2021! In this post I’ll be sharing all 64 books I’ve read this year, an update on the facts and figures from the past 9 months, and reflecting on my 2021 reading goals and intentions!

Facts and Figures

Nonfiction: 16
Autobiographical: 5
Feminism: 1
Race: 5
Poetry: 1
Self-help: 2

Fiction: 48
Fantasy: 3
Fiction: 11
Historical fiction: 6
Mystery, suspense, thrillers: 17
Romance: 5
Science fiction: 6

Physical books: 32
Audiobooks: 27
Ebooks (Nook): 5

Library or borrowed books: 49
Personal collection: 8

Book of the Month purchase: 4
Buzzword Readathon challenge: 20
Buddy reads: 11

2021 TBR: 16

5 star reads: 17
4 star reads: 20
3 star reads: 25

Reading Goals + Intentions

1 | Backlist titles from 2020 favorite authors: Goal met

2 | 2021 releases from 2020 favorite authors: Ongoing, 75% complete
Only one book left to complete this goal which I plan to read in October as it’s my buzzword pick for that month
☒ Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens
☒ Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop
☒ Riley Sager’s Survive the Night
☐ Paula Hawkin’s A Slow Fire Burning

3 | New to me authors: Ongoing, 37.5% complete
No progress to report this update. I did start Stuart Turton’s novel The Devil and the Dark Water twice while on our road trip, but DNF’d it twice. I’m hoping to get actually read and enjoy The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by the end of the year! I also have Alice Feeney’s newest book Rock Paper Scissors on hold at the library, so that might happen before the year is up
☒ Fredrik Backman
☒ Leigh Bardugo
☐ Alice Feeney
☐ Lisa Jewel
☐ Lars Kepler
☐ Jo Nesbø
☐ Stuart Turton
☒ Ruth Ware

4 | Author diversity and inclusion: Ongoing, 50% complete
Of the 64 books I’ve read, 22 titles are by BIPOC authors and 3 identify as queer. I now own two books by S. A. Crosby, maybe I’ll get to one of them but I’m not too hopeful
☒ Oyinkan Braithwaite
☐ S.A. Cosby
☒ Eva García Sáenz
☐ David Heska Wanbli Weiden

5 | Genres and reading format: Ongoing
I did attempt to read a poetry collection this quarter but ultimately DNF’d it – sorry Mary Oliver. No progress picking up comedies or memoirs this year either. At the time I’m writing this, there are only 2 months left in the year, not sure I’ll really get to either at this point. Of the 64 books I’ve read so far this year, 27 have been audiobooks

6 | Buddy reads: Ongoing
Loosely buddy read Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary with my brother – we both gave it 5 stars! Honestly, I’m a little burnt out on science fiction, so I won’t likely pick another book to buddy read with him until 2022

Buddy reads with my BFF slowed down this quarter to basically nothing, which was to be expected since we were traveling for the months of August and September. A couple books we both plan to pick up and discuss before the year ends include A Man Called Ove, The Ex Hex, and Ghosts

7 | General goals: Goal met
☒ 64 books (goal 60 books)
☒ 20,409 pages (goal 20,000 pages)
☒ 5 books about race/racism (goal 5 books)

Until next time, Meryn

BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP 2021 // 42 BOOK UPDATE linked here

2021 TBR // THIRD QUARTER UPDATE linked here


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

Project Hail Mary
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: science fiction
Method: audiobook via Audible

This book feels so special to me, and likely always will, as it’s the first book Kyle and I have ever read together AND because it’s a book we listened to in the car during our 3 month road trip. I was hesitant to start this because I was concerned it was going to be too similar to The Martian, but wow was I wrong. I really loved Ryland Grace as a main character and was so happy with the voice actor selection, Ray Porter. It’s rare that I feel attached or actually care about a character, but I genuinely needed Ryland to have his happy ending.
I loved how the story was told in flashback moments and how unexpected they were, at least in the audiobook. Present day Ryland would be mid sentence or mid thought then BAAM, flashback! I will admit I was slightly confused the first time or two while listening to the audiobook, but we quickly caught on.
I’d never read a book before which included a component of language creation and found that to be really fascinating and satisfying. Another element I unexpectedly loved was the journey Ryland takes to learn everything about Rocky, from his origin, to his language, to his physical properties and chemical makeup. Overall, PHM was smart, witty, and IMO, ended perfectly. Like honestly, I cried at the end. Kyle can confirm.

The Summer of Broken Rules
Author: K. L. Walther
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: romance, contemporary
Method: ebook read on Nook

This was cute and adorable, a perfect summer romance read! Was it predictable? Yes, of course, but still so enjoyable and a quick read. Lots of characters to keep track of and families to keep straight, including alliances. The summer game ‘Assassins’ weaved throughout the story was entertaining and heart felt. Overall, cute! Would recommend to friends, but likely won’t reread.

The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: February 2014
Genre: science fiction
Method: audiobook via Audible

This was a reread for me, but the first time listening to the entirety of the audiobook, which we started just days after finishing Weir’s newest book, Project Hail Mary. Kyle was hesitant at first – he wasn’t sold on Wil Wheaton as the narrator, but Mark Watney’s charm and humor quickly won him over.
I didn’t think it was possible to like the story more the second time around, but I found myself laughing out loud. Some jokes definitely land better on audio, e.g. the Fonz moment with NASA.
Even more than the story, I really enjoyed the discussions we had after finishing both The Martian and Project Hail Mary, getting to compare and contrast main characters and overall storylines.
The only criticism I have is that I hated the epilogue that concluded the audiobook. I did some digging and it seems the epilogue was added later and wasn’t printed at original publication, but somehow made it’s way to the Audible audiobook. Not a fan, would not recommend the epilogue, TBH.

In a Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: April 2016
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Ugh. I keep coming back to Ruth Ware hoping to rediscover the magic that was The Death of Mrs. Westaway. But, this wasn’t it. Couldn’t really stand the main character, Leonora. Personally, I’m so sick of an unreliable main character or narrator, it just feels so overdone to me. Granted, I didn’t know when I snagged this audiobook that would be the case. Even so, unimpressed. I still have the literal highest hopes for The Turn of the Key, which I expect to read by the end of the year.
Buzzword Readathon: September selection

The Break-Up Book Club
Author: Wendy Wax
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: fiction, women’s fiction, chick lit
Method: ebook read on Nook

I will unashamedly admit I picked up this book solely based on the cover. And I’m not mad about it! The Break-Up Book Club follows the lives of four different women and their experiences regarding love and romance, all tied together through one common interest – weekly book club. I loved the age range, ethnic diversity, and LGBT+ inclusivity in the main and supporting characters. The story itself hit a little to close to home at times e.g. familial drama regarding marital deception and cheating. But in the same way, it felt comforting.
This book solidified my love for stories told in multiple perspectives by a group of women and has me excited to revisit The Joy Luck Club (hopefully sooner rather than later). Also, I’m not usually one for like an enemies to lovers romance, but when it comes out of nowhere??? Yes, please. Overall, loved the multiple female perspectives, diversity and inclusivity in characters, and the exploration and discussions surrounding grief, loss, new beginnings, self discovery, and the importance of friendship.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


At the time I’m writing this, I just hit 65 books for the year. Reading was slower this quarter than I would have expected at the start of 2021, but life took us on an exciting adventure traveling the US for the months of August, September, and half of October

I definitely over estimated how much time I would spend reading on our road trip. Nonetheless, I knocked another 6 titles off this TBR which brings my completion to 53%, up from 33% at the end of Q2

I don’t expect to actually read all 30 books by the end of 2021, but I think I’ll finish out the year somewhere around 75% complete. Who knows, I may roll over some titles into 2022. I’ve already started brain storming selections for next year!

My predictions for what I’ll have finished by end of Q4 include:

1 | A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (OCT)

2 | The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (NOV)

3 | Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (NOV)

4 | The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (DEC)

5 | Vicious by VE Schwab (DEC)

FYI, I’m definitely not going to finish The Devil and the Dark Water considering I’ve DNF’d it twice. I set it aside in September because I just couldn’t get into it, then tried revisiting it in October when I got the audiobook from the library and it dragged even more. I give up. It’s not happening this year. Though I still fully expect to enjoy The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by the same author, given the absolute mega hype it has.

Until tomorrow, Meryn

Original blogpost READING GOALS + TBR LIST // 2021 linked here
Goodreads 2021 Bookshelf linked here


Surprised myself this quarter with reading 6 books considering we moved out of our apartment in July and were road tripping across the US during August and September. I tried so hard to get into The Devil and the Dark Water in September but found it so slow going, so I gave up with the hope to revisit it in October.

July – “last”

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

August – time of day

Survive the Night by Riley Sager
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Endless Night by Agatha Christie

September – “dark”

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

What I’m planning to read in the next 3 months:

October – elements

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
A Slow Burning Fire by Paula Hawkins (2021 release)

November – “lost”

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

December – day/month/season

Tuesday with Morrie by Mitch Albom
November 9 by Colleen Hoover

BooksandLala blogpost linked here
Goodreads group linked here
INTRODUCTION linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


Photo dump up to day 65 of our national park road trip where we hit Great Basin in Nevada and the Mighty Five in Utah bringing our park count to 20!

Great Basin National Park – Nevada

Zion National Park – Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – Utah

Capitol Reef National Park – Utah

Canyonlands National Park – Utah

Arches National Park – Utah

Next update will be the conclusion of our trip covering 3 national parks in Colorado, 1 in Indiana, and a bonus park.

Until next time, Meryn


Photo dump up to day 55 of our national park road trip highlighting California cities including the capitol and a relaxing 4 day stay with friends in San Diego, along with 6 national parks!

Redwood National Park – California

Santa Rosa, California

Sacramento, California

Yosemite National Park – California

Sequoia National Park – California

Kings Canyon National Park – California

Pasadena, California

San Diego, California

Joshua Tree National Park – California

Death Valley National Park – California

Next update should include Great Basin National Park in Nevada and the Mighty Five in Utah!

Until next time, Meryn


Photo dump through day 33 of our National Park road trip highlighting 2 US capitol cities and 4 National Parks!

Spokane, Washington

North Cascades National Park – Washington

Seattle, Washington

Olympic National Park – Washington

Olympia, Washington

Mt. Rainier National Park – Washington

Salem, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park – Oregon

Be on the look out for our next update to include Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley National Parks

Until next time, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems
Author: Mary Oliver
Publication Date: November 1994
Genre: poetry
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

Sadly and surprisingly, this was a DNF for me. I found it so boring. Do I even know how to read poetry? I don’t think I jumped into this at the right time, tried to force it on myself. I’m not swearing off poetry, but this wasn’t it. Will circle back at some point, TBD.

One Last Stop
Author: Casey McQuiston
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: romance, LGBT
Method: ebook read on Nook

I had relatively high hopes for this one. I really enjoyed McQuiston’s debut Red, White, and Royal Blue but I just found this to be such a different vibe. I get why people love this, that’s fine, wasn’t for me. I liked the mixed media, almost 2000s chat forum vibes with the inclusion of various news clippings, craigslist postings, etc. However, I can’t get over the crass, crude, and childish undertones and dialogue. Also, I now know WLW romance is not for me, I basically glazed over every sex scene. It’s a no for me.
Buzzword Readathon: July selection

The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publication Date: September 2020
Genre: fiction, fantasy, contemporary
Method: ebook read on Nook

Another hugely, hugely hyped book that didn’t deliver for me. I enjoyed the short chapters and the musical references. But other than that, it was just fine. I thought it was going to be so much more, like I fully expected to sob and connect to the main character, and that just didn’t happen. I can definitely see why people love this, it just didn’t go far enough for me.
Buzzword Readathon: August selection