BOOK REVIEW: SURVIVE THE NIGHT BY RILEY SAGER

I have a lot to say, so much that I had to write an entire blogpost about this book

WARNING: spoilers ahead

Survive the Night was my most anticipated book of the year, and I’m so disappointed. I consider myself a bandwagon Riley Sager super fan. To this day, I credit Home Before Dark for reigniting my love of reading in June of 2020. It’s easily in my top 5 favorite books. I recommend and I think about it on a weekly basis, the unease, anxiety, and fear it brought me. I’ve been dying to re-read it, but am forcing myself to wait until closer to Halloween.

While I had incredibly high expectations going into STN, I also knew, based off the synopsis, this wasn’t likely going to be a 5 star read for me personally, and I was right. What I have loved so much about Sager in the past is his atmospheric settings, e.g. the Baneberry Hall of HBD and the Bartholomew of Lock Every Door. But half of this story is told in a car traveling from New Jersey to Ohio, can’t say I find anything atmospheric about the interior of a slate-gray Pontiac Grand Am. Also, Sager is quoted saying this is a “love letter to the movies” which just isn’t my vibe as I’m not much of a movie watcher. Unfortunately, a lot of the 90s film references went right over my head. If I was born in the earlier 80s and growing up in the early 90s, I reckon I would feel very differently.

Now to actually discuss STN. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like for any mega Riley Sager fans, the final twist will have been very predictable and underwhelming. Given HBD was marketed as a book within a book (not a spoiler), I went into this with the strong inkling there would be a movie script/screenplay tie in, and what would you know. As the story got more and more ridiculous, ahem, cinematic, it further reinforced my assumption. Also, with such a small cast of characters, the murder reveal was not shocking in the slightest. I didn’t exactly guess the motive of the murderer, but guessing their identity wasn’t difficult given the limited character list.

Regardless, I was still entertained and caught by some smaller plot twists. A very quick read I sped through in less than 16 hours. This is my lowest rated of Sager’s books at 4 stars, but definitely the most disappointing given how much I hyped it up in my head. I just can’t give it a 5 star rating having guessed the two biggest plot twists.

I will forever be a Riley Sager fan, catch me hyping up book #6.

Until tomorrow, Meryn


Other stand along book reviews:
BOOK REVIEW: EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG linked here
BOOK REVIEW: NORMAL PEOPLE BY SALLY ROONEY linked here
BOOK REVIEW: THE SILENCE OF THE WHITE CITY BY EVA GARCÍA SÀENZ linked here

BOOK REVIEW: THE SILENCE OF THE WHITE CITY BY EVA GARCÍA SÀENZ

The Silence of the White City

White City Trilogy, Book 1
by Eva García Sáenz, translated by Nick Caistor
Publication date: July 28, 2020

Goodreads synopsis:

A madman is holding Vitoria hostage, killing its citizens in brutal ways and staging the bodies. The city’s only hope is a brilliant detective struggling to battle his own demons.

Inspector Unai López de Ayala, known as “Kraken”, is charged with investigating a series of ritualistic murders. The killings are eerily similar to ones that terrorized the citizens of Vitoria twenty years earlier. But back then, police were sure they had discovered the killer, a prestigious archaeologist who is currently in jail. Now Kraken must race to determine whether the killer had an accomplice or if the wrong man has been incarcerated for two decades. This fast-paced, unrelenting thriller weaves in and out of the mythology and legends of the Basque country as it hurtles to its shocking conclusion.

Personal review:

Fantastic and fascinating. Intricate and immersive. I loved this book, without a doubt. This came highly recommended by Abby of Crime By The Book and it delivered. I really enjoyed and appreciated the Spanish and Basque culture, history, folklore, and mythology embedded throughout the story. I had fun defining and building a glossary of the unfamiliar Spanish and historical terms sprinkled throughout. I loved spending time researching and learning about the various days of celebrations that drive the plot of the story. It was fun to stop mid paragraph and look up a term and either hear the pronunciation or flip through a couple images e.g. before reading this book I definitely didn’t know what a dolmen was, and now I know.

Glossary:

acolyte noun // a person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession

akimbo adverb // with hands on the hips and elbows turned outward

anthophila noun // scientific term for bee

apoplectic adjective // overcome with anger; extremely indignant

avarice noun // extreme greed for wealth or material gain

brachycephalic adjective // having a relatively broad, short skull (usually with the breadth at least 80 percent of the length)

conciliatory adjective // intended or likely to placate or pacify

corbel noun // a projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it

corbel verb // support (a structure) on corbels

cuadrilla noun // gang; a matador’s team of assistants, including picadors and banderilleros

dolmen noun // a megalithic tomb with a large flat stone laid on upright ones, found chiefly in Britain and France

esplanade noun // a long, open, level area, typically beside the sea, along which people may walk for pleasure

esoteric adjective // intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest

eguzkilore noun // flower of the sun in Basque (eguzki = sun and lore = flower)

garrote verb // kill (someone) by strangulation, typically with an iron collar or a length of wire or cord

gravid adjective // pregnant; carrying eggs or young; full of meaning or a specified quality

hermetic adjective // (of a seal or closure) complete and airtight; relating to an ancient occult tradition encompassing alchemy, astrology, and theosophy

Isotta Fraschini proper noun //  Italian luxury car manufacturer, also producing trucks, as well as engines for marine and aviation use; founded in Milan, Italy, in 1900

scabrous adjective // rough and covered with, or as if with, scabs; indecent; salacious

torpor noun // a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy

Days of Celebration in Basque and Spanish Culture:

Celedón – a man wearing a floppy beret who represents the Álavan people, descends from the tower of San Miguel Archangel Church on his umbrella and crosses the sky via a system of pulleys. This event is followed by the lighting of the chupinazo rocket signals the start of las Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca

La Fiesta de la Virgen Blanca – beginning in 1884 and held on August 5th, but the celebrations begin the day before on August 4th and end on August 9th, honoring the patron saint of the city, and features a program of special events, activities and free open-air concerts. The actual festivity starts at six in the afternoon with the chupinazo and Celedón’s descent. Once Celedón reaches the balcony of the Church of San Miquel, Celedón greets the crowds below and wishes everyone a happy celebration
Rove.me article linked here

El Dia de la Blusa – festival held on July 25th, also known as “garlic day”. The morning festivities begin with the long-held tradition of buying a string of garlic, which people wear around their necks on the way home. Garlic day is a kind of prelude to the festivals of the Patron Saint of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the festival of the Virgen Blanca (White Virgin), held on August 4th through 9th
Basque Country Tourism article linked here

El Dia de Santiago – annual Feast of Saint James takes place in Santiago de Compostela on July 25th and is a public holiday in Galicia. The celebration begins the evening before with the Fuegos del Apóstol (“Apostle’s Fire”) at midnight, a special fireworks show that takes place near the St. James Cathedral. On Día de Santiago, many devoted Christians and admirers of the patron saint walk the St. James hiking trail in Spain. This trail is called the Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”), and this is considered a lugar de peregrinación (“place of pilgrimage”), leading to Santiago de Compostela.
Spanishpod101 article linked here
Spanish Fiestas article linked here

The Water Rituals

White City Trilogy, Book 2
by Eva García Sáenz
Publication date: March 30, 2021

Goodreads synopsis:

How do you unmask a killer who’s spent years preparing to hunt you down?

A pregnant woman has been murdered in a brutal, ritualistic way: burned, hung, and then placed upside down in a Bronze Age cauldron. When Unai “Kraken” Lopez de Ayala discovers the victim is his first love, Ana Belén Liaño, memories of their time together come flooding back, and with them reminders of a dark secret long buried. Then the killer strikes again, enacting the same ritual against a second expectant parent. Kraken knows he must confront his past in order to unmask this fiend. And there’s no time to waste, because Deputy Superintendent Díaz de Salvatierra has just found out she’s carrying a child. And the father could very well be Kraken himself…

Additional Resources:
1 | Behind The Basques: The Most Misunderstood Culture in Europe
Orge Castellano article linked here

2 | AUTHOR Q&A: EVA GARCÍA SÁENZ, AUTHOR OF THE SILENCE OF THE WHITE CITY
Crime by the Book article linked here

3 | BOOK REVIEW: THE SILENCE OF THE WHITE CITY BY EVA GARCÍA SÁENZ
Crime by the Book article linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW: EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG

A stand alone book review, because this one hit me in my feels.

Celeste Ng knows how to write about complex, family drama. Last year I read and loved Little Fires Everywhere, and this story, her debut, definitely did not disappoint. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family dynamics and relationships of the Lee family, an Asian American family living in small town Ohio in the 1970s.

This story explores missed opportunities and the characters attempts to project their life’s desires and goals on their children, in an effort to live through them, but also to prevent the mistakes of their pasts. We see this in the relationship between Marilyn and her mother, Doris. While preparing to leave for college, Doris encourages her daughter to seek out a Harvard man to marry, casting aside and minimizing Marilyn’s dreams of becoming a doctor. Doris was left to manage a home and raise her daughter on her own when Marilyn was only 3, it’s understandable that Doris would want her daughter to have the stability of a husband, a security Doris would never have. Some 30 years later, we see Marilyn projecting, if not forcing, her dream of being a doctor on her daughter, Lydia.

As if the pressure from her mother wasn’t enough, Lydia also faces different, social expectations from her father, James, who had a difficult time making friends and fitting in as a child. We learn James was treated as an outcast as the only Asian student in his class – years later his children will also face similar battles. My mouth literally dropped when James presented Lydia with her Christmas gift, a book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, 6 Ways in Making People Like You.” I can’t imagine the embarrassment Lydia must have felt in that moment. My heart also hurts for James, who feels he is responsible for the isolation and loneliness of his children, due to their mixed race and the lack of diversity in their small Ohio town, where is a college professor teaching a course on American history.

“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

What feels special to me about this book is the ability to relate to every character at different stages of their lives. While I am not yet a parent, I can sense that Doris, Marilyn, and James had good intentions with their expectations and desires for their children. I was not long ago a hard working student myself, every homework assignment and essay under review by my mother with the expectation for near perfection. And who can forget the heartache of isolation in high school, both in social friendships and romantic relationships.

The storytelling was beautiful and poignant, in a subtle and quiet way. The symbolism was light but impactful. A book about parental expectations, societal norms, prejudice, young love, heartache, identity, freedom, and self discovery. Wonderful character development and depth that had me on a roller coaster of emotion, at times hating these characters for their actions, but later empathizing and forgiving them by the conclusion.

Additional Resources
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winners recommendation list on Goodreads linked here
Review by Felice Laverne on Goodreads linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOKS I’VE LOVED BY BLACK AUTHORS + TBR LIST

In celebration and honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Kamala Harris’s historic inauguration as the first Black, South Asian, woman Vice President of the United States happening on Wednesday this week, I wanted to share my favorite 2020 reads from black authors!

Fiction: contemporary, historical fiction, thriller

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Nonfiction: feminism, racism, memoir, poetry

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Where to Begin by Cleo Wade


One of my reading goals of 2021 is to ensure I am reading from diverse authors and voices in a variety of genres. Most importantly, I want to continue to read about racism, feminism, and classism from BIPOC and queer authors. Additionally, I’d like to diversity my readings in my favorite set of genres – mystery, thriller, suspense – as this tends to be a genre I read mostly from white writers. Authors and books I hope to read this year can be found below.

TBR List: fiction and nonfiction

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Heart Talk by Cleo Wade
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Memorial by Bryan Washington
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
The Skin We’ve In by Desmond Cole
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson 

Resources:
1 | 25 Amazing Books by African-American Writers You Need to Read
Mental Floss article linked here

2 | 32 New Novels by Black Authors to Read Now
Goodreads article linked here

3 | 44 of the Best Books by Black Authors You Should Read in Your Lifetime
The Oprah Magazine article linked here

4 | 62 great books by Black authors, recommended by TED speakers
TED article linked here

5 | 66 of the Year’s Most Anticipated Fiction by Black Authors
Goodreads article linked here

6 | 96 Books Sharing the Joy, Love, and Adventures of Black Lives
Goodreads article linked here

7 | An Anti-Racist Reading List: 20 Highly Rated Nonfiction Books by Black Authors
Goodreads article linked here

8 | Contemporary African American Authors You Should Be Reading
Goodreads article linked here

9 | Mysteries by Black Women to Add to Your Reading List
Goodreads article linked here

Note: if I have misidentified an author as Black whom does not identify as such, I do offer my sincerest apology

Until tomorrow, Meryn


READING GOALS + TBR LIST // 2021

Reading Goals + Intentions

1 | Backlist titles from 2020 favorite authors
Yangsze Choo stole my heart with her 2019 release The Night Tiger and I’m excited to get to her first book, The Ghost Bride this year. Similarly, I want to prioritize reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, whose 2020 release Little Fires Everywhere took the reading world by storm at release, then again with the Hulu TV series. In both of these cases, I’ve read these authors second novels, but am excited to get to their debuts in 2021!

2 | 2021 releases from 2020 favorite authors
Without a doubt my most anticipated book of 2021 is Riley Sager’s Survive the Night, set to release July 6th. Sager was easily my favorite author of 2020 – I read his entire backlist and they were all 5 star reads. His previous 4 thrillers were Book of the Month picks, so I’m expecting to have this as an early release, my hope is in June. My next most anticipated read is Paula Hawkin’s A Slow Fire Burning, to release August 31st. Followed by The Maidens by Alex Michaelides and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, both to release on June 1st.

3 | New to me authors
These are authors I’ve heard such great things about this past year and I’m excited to dive into their works this year:
☐ Fredrik Backman – Anxious People and A Man Called Ove
☐ Leigh Bardugo – Ninth House
☐ Alice Feeney – His & Hers and Sometimes I Lie
☐ Lisa Jewel – Watching You
☐ Lars Kepler – The Sandman
☐ Jo Nesbø  – Blood on Snow
☐ Stuart Turton – The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Devil and the Dark Water
☐ Ruth Ware – The Turn of the Key and The Woman in Cabin 10

4 | Author diversity and inclusion
I think I did a great job of reading from a wide variety of authors in 2020. The plan here is to continue being intentional and mindful of what voices I’m learning from and supporting in the new year.

I’ve clearly found a love of mysteries and thrillers in 2020 but have noticed the majority of books I read were by white authors. My hope is to read from more BIPOC and queer authors in this genre in the coming year. A few authors I have in mind include Oyinkan Braithwaite, S.A. Cosby, Eva García Sáenz, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden.
(further recommendations linked here)

5 | Genres and reading format
In general, I’d like to read more from the following genres: comedy, poetry, memoirs, non-fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi. No specific goal here, just a general intention. Along the same lines, I’m hoping to consume more audiobooks. I spend so much time in the car commuting from my various job sites and it’s probably time I slow down on Taylor Swift’s Evermore (but can you blame me?)

This is quite the unpopular opinion but I didn’t love reading Daisy Jones and The Six. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the audiobook, so that’s one I’m considering!

6 | Buddy reads
Hoping to buddy read and discuss non-fiction and sci-fi reads with my brother as he too spent a lot of time reading in 2020. Some possible titles include Atomic Habits, Let My People Go Surfing, and Recursion.

Also planning on buddy reads with my BFF, ideally with coffee shop discussions, as COVID allows. Two books we for sure will buddy read are Homegoing and My Sister, the Serial Killer. Other books I’d like to get to this year are Gods of Jade and Shadow (since we both loved Mexican Gothic) and The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh.

7 | General goals
☐ 60 books
☐ 20,000 pages
☐ 5 books about race/racism

Interested in my favorites books of 2020? Blogpost linked here
Or curious of everything I read in last year? Go here!

To Be Read List

A mix of 2021 releases, favorite authors backlist titles, and some books I have in my personal collection that can’t be ignored any longer! Full list of 2021 TBR list can be found on Goodreads, linked here.

Until tomorrow, Meryn