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


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