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 ROUND UP // VOLUME 2 ISSUE 10

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

Deacon King Kong
Author: James McBride
Publication Date: March 2020
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

This just, wasn’t the book for me. I was struck by the cover last year and kept getting drawn into it. Opted for the audiobook which wasn’t a great option for me personally. It quickly became background noise. I went into it basically blind, I don’t think I had barely skimmed the synopsis once before hitting play. Their definitely were unique characters, shout out to Hot Sausage, and I was amused throughout, but I really couldn’t tell you anything about the actual plot other than Hettie hounding The Deacon about that damn Christmas money. In it for the time, an okay good time, but not for a long time.
Buzzword Readathon: June selection

Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publication Date: April 2017
Genre: historical fiction
Method: paperback

Heart breaking and heart warming. A beautifully woven story covering the lineages of two, interconnected families through eight generations. I had to take my time with this book. Each chapter felt special and important, it couldn’t be rushed through like a mystery or thriller. Reading the book cover to cover felt less like a singular, cohesive story and more like a collection of short stories, given the back and forth nature of Gyasi’s story telling. When I come back to this book in the future, I think I’ll read alternating chapters as to follow one half of the family tree more closely. I also think it would be really unique to read in reverse, to travel back in time through the generations.

The Guncle
Author: Steven Rowley
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: fiction, LGBT
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

If a warm and meaningful hug could be boxed up into a book, like you’re favorite classic 80s or 90s family sitcom. When I say I laughed out loud, know that I really mean it. If this isn’t adapted for tv, that’ll be a damn shame – Patrick’s one liners were iconic. I loved the references to day time TV, the Emmy’s, Golden Globes, but most importantly, Hollywood Squares, that definitely unlocked a memory for me from the late 90s. I do feel like the story overall was disjointed. It’s almost as if there were 5 sub plots loosely related to the main plot that never really circled back or concluded. The cuteness and wholesomeness gets a 4 star rating, the discombobulated plot keeps it from being a 5 star read.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: May 2018
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

This was my first Ruth Ware and wow was I impressed. I started the audiobook very much on a whim and was captivated from the first chapter. This book had a lot of elements I love in my thrillers: large cast of characters, various timelines, flashbacks via diary entries, atmospheric setting (Trespassen was the Gothic house of my dreams), familial drama and secrets, and a new favorite element, distribution of wealth and/or inheritance. I also loved the tarot cards and readings woven throughout the story. I thought the pacing was excellent and well executed. Chapter after chapter I had so many questions, some that didn’t get answered until the very end. And some that are left unanswered, which puzzle me. There was a point in the last 10% of the book that I feel genuinely unsettled and sick to my stomach. As the family drama was unfolding, I was getting more and more scared and anxious. I loved it so much. I’m obsessed. The Dutch House, but make it a mystery thriller. Perfect and articulate review by Abby of CBTB linked here.
Buzzword Readathon: June selection

The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: July 2016
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have started a Ruth Ware audiobook directly after finishing a Ruth Ware audiobook. But, in my defense, I was so enamored and impressed with The Death of Mrs. Westaway, that I just had to dive back in, but it wasn’t a runaway favorite like TDoMW.
There definitely was a mix of pros and cons, which landed by rating just about in the middle with a 3 of 5 star rating. I enjoyed the large cast of characters, the luxury ship setting, and the various story telling formats including email messages, breaking news alerts, forum discussions, and BBC online articles.
However, what I didn’t like, what I never like in thrillers, is an unreliable main character. It’s just so overdone in the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the unreliable, alcoholic main character in The Girl On The Train, but it was the first thriller I read with that specific trope, and every other story I read following just hasn’t been as impressive or Earth shattering.
I’ll likely read all of Ruth Ware’s backlist this year, much like tackling all of Riley Sager’s books in 2020. Up next, hopefully, is The Turn of the Key, which I have very high hopes for with a 5 star prediction.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP 2021 // SECOND QUARTER UPDATE

And in the blink of an eye, half of 2021 is gone. In this post I’ll be sharing all 49 books I’ve read this year, an update on the facts and figures from the past 6 months, and reflecting on my 2021 reading goals and intentions!

Facts and Figures

Nonfiction: 14
Autobiographical: 5
Feminism: 1
Race: 3
Self-help: 2

Fiction: 35
Fantasy: 2
Fiction: 10
Historical fiction: 5
Mystery, suspense, thrillers: 12
Romance: 2
Science fiction: 4

Physical books: 28
Audiobooks: 21

Library or borrowed books: 43
Personal collection: 6

Book of the Month purchase: 3
Buzzword Readathon challenge: 14
Buddy reads: 11

2021 TBR: 10

5 star reads: 15
4 star reads: 14
3 star reads: 20

Reading Goals + Intentions

1 | Backlist titles from 2020 favorite authors: Goal met
In this goal I specifically called out The Ghost Bride and Everything I Never Told You, both of which I read this first quarter of the year

2 | 2021 releases from 2020 favorite authors: Ongoing, 25% complete
Finally made progress with this goal! I happened upon an ARC copy of The Maidens, sadly I didn’t love it. As I type this, I have a copy of One Last Stop in my possession from the library and I have 2 copies of Survive the Night on the way to me
☒ Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens
☐ Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop
☐ Riley Sager’s Survive the Night
☐ Paula Hawkin’s A Slow Fire Burning, to release August 31st

3 | New to me authors: Ongoing, 37.5% complete
Couple more knocked of this list, Leigh Bardugo and Ruth Ware. Fingers crossed I get to at least one of Turton’s books in the next 3 months to scratch his name off this list!
☒ 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 49 books I’ve read, 21 are titles by BIPOC authors and 2 identify as queer. I selected S. A. Crosby’s new release for my July BOTM pick, so hopefully by Q3, I’ll be knocking his name off this list
☒ Oyinkan Braithwaite
☐ S.A. Cosby
☒ Eva García Sáenz
☐ David Heska Wanbli Weiden

5 | Genres and reading format: Ongoing
Still haven’t tackled any comedy, poetry, or memoir selections this year, but definitely have knocked out non-fiction, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Of the 49 books I’ve read so far this year, 21 have been audiobooks. I can’t believe I waited until 2021 to start listening to audiobooks

6 | Buddy reads: Ongoing
Currently failing my brother, I made him get a digital copy of Let My People Go Surfing and then got a copy for myself from the library but they had to return it because I couldn’t renew it any more times… Still hope to get to Atomic Habits this year, but I don’t really see that as a buddy ready with him anymore. I think sticking to science fiction, fantasy, or thrillers would be best

The buddy reads I’ve done this year with my BFF have been very informal. Basically one of use reads a book, loves it, then forces the other to read it, then we discuss. This has happened a couple times, for example: The Dutch House, The Lost Apothecary, Pachinko, Beach Read, and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. And yes, I did finish Homegoing, we just haven’t gotten around to discussing it yet!

7 | General goals: Ongoing
☐ 49 books (goal 60 books)
☐ 15,410 pages (goal 20,000 pages)
☐ 4 book about race/racism (goal 5 books)

Until next time, Meryn


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

BUZZWORD READATHON READING CHALLENGE 2021 – SECOND QUARTER UPDATE linked here
2021 TBR // SECOND QUARTER UPDATE linked here

MID YEAR FREAK OUT BOOK TAG // 2021

I’ve been seeing this tag pop up over on Booktube and wanted to throw my two cents into the mix! The original tag asks for only 1 book per prompt, but I took it upon myself to give 3-5 answers, because why not

1. Best book(s) you’ve read so far in 2021

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021 → none – I haven’t read any sequels yet this year!

3. New release(s) you haven’t read yet, but want to

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
How Lucky by Will Leitch
The Hunting Wives by May Cobb
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalilia Harris

4. Most anticipated release(s) for the second half of the year

Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda
Survive the Night by Riley Sager
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

5. Biggest disappointment(s)

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

6. Biggest surprise(s)

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

7. Favorite new author(s), debut or new to you

Fredrik Backman, Mikki Kendall, Ann Patchett

8. Newest fictional crush(es)

Augustus Everett of Beach Read by Emily Henry
Jason Dessen of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

9. Newest favorite character(s)

Zara of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Rosie and Penn of This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Iris of Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
James Lee of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Baby of Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

10. Book that made you cry → none, nothing is jumping out at me having made me cry, I mean maybe a tear or a light mist but nothing has made me truly cry

11. Book(s) that made you happy

Grace Hopper: Computer Scientist by Jill C. Wheeler
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Circe by Madeline Miller
Survive the Night by Riley Sager
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Vicious by V. E. Schwab
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 2 ISSUE 9

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

Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Publication Date: May 2020
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

I feel like there’s a lot of hype surrounding this book and 100%, can confirm. For me, an easy 5 star audiobook. I’m a sucker when it comes to feeling connected to characters, especially geographically. Obviously love a main character from Ohio who studies at University of Michigan (go blue) then spends her summer in a small, picturesque, lakeside town along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Gus’s dry humor and one liners had me laughing out loud. Loved the witty banter and chemistry between the two main characters, January and Gus. I could have done without the side story about January’s BFF and her romantic interests, but that’s here nor there. Hoping to get to Emily Henry’s newest release People We Meet on Vacation before the end of summer!

Red at the Bone
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publication Date: September 2019
Genre: fiction
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

I picked this book up on a whim from the library and what an unexpected joy it brought me. I had no idea the emotional connections I would make between the covers of this book. I didn’t know I’d be transported to Oberlin, Ohio, a place held very near and dear to my heart and a place of calm and peace for the past 7 years. I didn’t know I’d be rooting for a mother to (more or less) abandon her child to carve her own path and follow her own dreams. It’s been weeks I’ve sat with this story and I still haven’t made up my mind on how I feel about Iris and her decision to leave New York for Ohio, and that feels okay to me.
A poignant, beautiful story about race, class, identity, motherhood, parenting, and self worth. This is why I make a point to read from various genres and prioritize learning and reading from a wide variety of authors. This book may not have been about joy, but it brought me so much comfort.
Books I’d recommend with similar themes include An American Marriage, Everything I Never Told You, and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

Notes on Grief
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: nonfiction, autobiographical, memoir
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

This is fine. I expected to connect more to it given the grief I endured during the 2020 pandemic and the heart breaking patient losses I experienced. While there is discussion regarding COVID19 and the pandemic, the primary focus is on author’s navigation of grief following the unexpected loss of her father due to kidney failure, during a pandemic. I could see this being very impactful for those who have experienced the loss of a parent. Thankfully, I cannot relate in that way, at this time. Fine book, wrong time for me.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Author: Deesha Philyaw
Publication Date: September 2020
Genre: short story collection, fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

My first short story collection but won’t be my last – the audiobook was a true delight. In summary, stunning, beautiful, smart, crafty, cunning. We love the queer, black, sex positive work, none of which I am but loved all the same. Incredibly smart how the stories are linked to one another, but not in such an obvious, easy way. My stand out favorite story was How to Make Love to a Physicist. I never could have guessed this collection, and this story specifically, would have me reminiscing on reading Hawking’s A Brief History of Time from earlier this year, but here we are. My other top 2 favorite stories were Peach Cobbler and Instructions for Married Christian Husbands.
My only critique is that while there were moments of joy, the over arching themes felt negative to me and further perpetuate the common stereotypes in the black community and culture i.e. drug abuse, “broken” families, children born out of wedlock, siblings with different mothers/fathers, reliance on food stamps, government aid, etc. There’s a push in the book community to read stories about black joy, so I’d like to pick up these titles, which are also short story collections that are slotted to focus on black joy: Love in Color and Who’s Loving You.

While Justice Sleeps
Author: Stacey Abrams
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: political suspense, thriller
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

What an incredible, strong start on this one. Very complex, intricate, and sophisticated from the prologue which I found very concerning and captivating. Loved the format following along day by day and hopping between story lines and character points of view. The integration of the chess game was smart, albeit over my head of course. I had such high hopes the first 100 pages but then it just took a legal turn I couldn’t follow, too much dense legal jargon for my pea sized brain. I think if I had a law degree I could have followed the plot better, but I don’t so, yeah. This was my first true, legal thriller or legal suspense novel and I’m glad I gave it a go, but I don’t have plans to jump back into this genre anytime soon.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP 2021 // 42 BOOK UPDATE

Let’s be honest, I read books so I can make aesthetically pleasing, rainbow inspired collages

Facts and Figures

Nonfiction: 13
Autobiographical: 5
Feminism: 1
Race: 2
Self-help: 2

Fiction: 29
Fantasy: 2
Fiction: 8
Historical fiction: 3
Mystery, suspense, thrillers: 10
Romance: 2
Science fiction: 4

Physical books: 25
Audiobooks: 17

Library or borrowed books: 37
Personal collection: 5

Book of the Month purchase: 3
Buzzword Readathon challenge: 12
Buddy reads: 7

2021 TBR: 8

5 star reads: 13
4 star reads: 12
3 star reads: 17

Currently accepting recommendations for books with green covers (no, but really)

Until tomorrow, Meryn


Original blogpost READING GOALS + TBR LIST // 2021 linked here
Recent BUZZWORD READATHON READING CHALLENGE 2021 – FIRST QUARTER UPDATE linked here
Recent BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // FIRST QUARTER UPDATE linked here

BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 2 ISSUE 8

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

The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Publication Date: March 2021
Genre: historical fiction
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

I was so hoping to love this book – my expectations were very high. As the daughter of not one, but two pharmacists, I was intrigued by the ideal of a feminist, murdering apothecary/pharmacist. If this story was only about Nella and her apothecary and expanded on that plotline alone, *chef’s kiss*, a perfect book. But unfortunately, the present day story line really didn’t do anything for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women empowerment and Caroline finding herself in her loveless marriage. But, murdering apothecary. Need I say more. Other than, I needed more.

Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publication Date: February 2017
Genre: historical fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

What a joy it was to be engrossed in this multigenerational story centered around a Korean family uprooted to Japan in a time of war and civil unrest. I loved the search for understanding of identity seen in every generation and character of this story, whether that be as “able-bodied”, husband, wife, mother, and arguably most devastating, what it means to be a “good Korean.” I felt so much for these characters, often times heart broken, but hopeful. Personally, I could have done without the sexually explicit content, but given the historical nature of the novel, I can assume, and hope, it’s relevance to the time period. My only regret was listening to the audiobook. While I enjoyed the story, I think taking the time to physically read the book would have helped me understand and differentiate the characters more easily. I found myself replaying entire chapters when my mind would wander.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month selection

Catherine House
Author: Elisabeth Thomas
Publication Date: May 2020
Genre: fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

I mean, how could I give this anything less than a 5 star rating? I knew going in, it was going to be weird, and yeah, it was weird. But in a intriguing, captivating, can’t stop listening, finished it in two days, kinda way. The characters? Weird. The house? Atmospheric. The normalized same sex relationships? Here for it. The premise hooked me from the start. I found myself anxious for what was going to happen, even though nothing was happening. I literally can’t name a single thing I didn’t like. Some say, plotless. I say, so what? For me, the book did nothing wrong. When I see the book cover, I’m just filled with longing, admiration, and confusion. So it’s a 5 star read, I don’t make the rules. But I do.
Buzzword Readathon: May selection

Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publication Date: October 2019
Genre: fantasy
Subgenre: dark academia
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

This one hurts. I wanted and expected to love this book because there definitely is hype surrounding this, which is understandable. Reviewers, youtubers, and book-tokers rave about Bardugo’s writing, her magic systems and world building. The premise is strong, definitely into the dark academia vibes. Yale and it’s mysterious, elite secret societies as a back drop for this story was incredible, smart, and captivating. Shout out to the map in the beginning of the book – which I referenced often. I may have squealed in excitement having seen Grace Hopper college, we stan. But was never once referenced, a shame. The 3 star rating comes from a place of disappointment, for feeling let down. Let’s call it like a 3.75, nearly a 4 but couldn’t bring myself to it. I just felt lost at times. Not necessarily in the plot progression, but trying to keep the various houses separated and distinguished from one another.
Maybe I’ll re-read it one day and have a change of heart. Bardugo is said to be working on the follow up novel set to release in 2022. I’m definitely intrigued enough to keep up with the series.
NPR Author Interview linked here
Buzzword Readathon: May selection

White Fragility
Author: Robin DiAngelo
Publication Date: June 2018
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

I am white, and therefore, deemed superior by a society of people who look like me. I have advantages and entitlement bestowed upon me because of the color of my skin. I don’t feel at peace with this privledge, but I acknowledge it. I can appreciate author DiAngelo’s stories, experiences, and point of view as a white woman working professionally in racial injustice and education. The book was fine, educational, eye opening, but the next texts I pick up about racism will be from the perspective of black authors and activists.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 2 ISSUE 7

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

84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publication Date: January 1970
Genre: nonfiction, autobiographical
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

I definitely wanted to love this short, charming set of letters exchanged between New York City writer Helene and London based bookseller, Frank. But alas, I just didn’t have the diverse and extensive knowledge of English and British literature for this to have had a lasting impression. Present to me the same story with works of fiction and poetry 1980s to present day? Then we’d have something for me to love on. Nevertheless, I blew through this in about 45 minutes, no harm, no foul.

The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: September 2012
Genre: science fiction
Method: paperback borrowed from a friend

This was a fun one, a quick read I breezed through in only 3 days. I really couldn’t put it down, I was hooked. Mark Watney is in the running for my favorite character of the year – he’s got it all: humor, determination, intellect, and charm. I loved the journal entry format from Watney’s POV juxtaposed to what was happening down on Earth during the catastrophe that is this Mars mission. I switched back and forth between the physical book and the audiobook which was also excellent, narrated by Wil Wheaton. What is it with me and science fiction this year? I’m not mad about it. Now how long do I wait to dive into Weir’s newest release, Project Hail Mary?
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

The Dutch House
Author: Ann Patchett
Publication Date: September 2019
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

First, round of applause for narrator, Tom Hanks. I’m sure I would have loved this story either way but the audiobook was excellent. Please tell me I’m not the only one who loved even the simple things, like the tone and inflection of how Hanks stated the chapter header, giving an indication for the mood of the chapter ahead.
The Dutch House is an intimate story about siblings Maeve and Danny and their lives over the course of 5 decades who lean on one another as their parents and protectors fail them, one after the other. The relationship between Maeve and Danny has a lasting impression on me, one I keep coming back to, and one I don’t expect to soon forget. There is so much to decipher and unpack throughout this story. How you can despise, even hate, your parents and their decisions during ones childhood and adolescence, but in the end, you become just like them, despite your best efforts to be the exact opposite. Maeve puts the needs of others ahead of her own, including her brother and her boss, Mr. Otterson, not unlike her distant mother. Danny, despite his medical degree, leans into the world of real estates such as his father before him, even repeating the fatal flaw of purchasing a home for his wife, without the approval of his wife.
This story checks so many of my boxes for what I love in fiction (in this case, historical fiction), there’s no way it wasn’t going to be a 5 star read: 1) a dynamic, intimate, multi-generational family drama spanning multiple decades, 2) a character enduring medical school/practicing medicine, 3) themes of inheritance, 4) a house/setting as a driving force of the plot, 5) a character I loved to hate (cough* Andrea). In what lifetime, I don’t know, but I hope to also read these titles from Patchett: Commonwealth and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Buzzword Readathon: May selection


The Maidens
Author: Alex Michaelides
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: paperback ARC

I truly don’t think I’ve ever felt more conflicted about a reading experience. I wanted and expected love this book but, ugh, it just fell flat for me overall. I loved Michaelides debut The Silent Patient (TSP) so incredibly much, I finished it in less than 24 hours and endlessly sing its praises. While there are similar themes, psychotherapy and Greek mythology, and even character cross over, don’t go into this story expecting a similar reading experience to TSP, you’ll be let down.
Of course there are elements I liked: atmospheric, Cambridge setting, the few character ties, references, and overlap between this story and TSP, short chapters, and I will admit I was easily misdirected overall and the twist came to (somewhat) of a surprise.
However, the cons just overtake the pros on this one – let’s dive in deep. Firstly, for being the namesake of this story, The Maidens get so little recognition when considering the entirety of the story. The secretive, all female group isn’t even introduced until some 100 pages in. I would have loved to learn more about the group: the selection process to join, the weekly meetings, even about each individual girl. What I wanted was a third person perspective on the daily/weekly meetings because I have to imagine the girls and their overseer, Professor Edward Fosca, were trying to solve the mystery and identify the murderer just as much as any other character in the book. For me, this was the huge missed opportunity.
Similarly, the actual depictions of the deaths were rather underwhelming. There are multiple murders that take place throughout this story and in all cases, the reader finds out about them as the main character does, which is fine, but again, what a missed opportunity to include more suspenseful moments. I wish Michaelides would have actually taken us through each murder, the preparation, planning, and how the murderer lured their victims, because I for one, can’t rationalize how any of these smart, intelligent woman got whacked off.
Overall, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. It seems obvious to me this book was rushed given the extreme success of TSP following its release in 2019. I wish it was 200 pages longer. For now, I guess Ill just use my imagine to fill in the gaps. Shout out to Celadon and their partnership with US bookstagrammers and Free Little Library, I had fun finding an ARC copy in Ann Arbor which I’ll cherish forever.

Black Buck
Author: Mateo Askaripour
Publication Date: January 2021
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Every review I read on Goodreads or bookstagram keeps reminding this is satire. This story is told in satire. And still, I’m so uncomfortable. But that’s the point right? As a cis gendered white woman, this story about race, poverty, and exploitation of young black professionals in corporate American was written to make me uncomfortable. And yes it did.
The audiobook was incredible and definitely elevated this reading experience, I don’t think it would have been as impactful. Narrator Zeno Robinson gave this his all, and impeccable performance. There were moments when I was truly frightened as the dialogue turned from conversation to full out shouting and screaming matches, and damn, Zeno did not hold back. His rage, the character’s rage, was palpable.
Black Buck was shocking, eye opening, and cringe worthy (my God, ever time the r word was dropped I winced). Very difficult to listen to at times, honestly considered DNF’ing at 21%, but I’m glad to have finished. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the story, but I don’t get the sense Askaripour set out to write an enjoyable, feel-good story.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 2 ISSUE 6

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

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Publication Date: February 2010
Genre: nonfiction, science, biography
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: I just can’t even. How do I have a bachelor’s of science and doctorate level degree and I’ve never heard of HeLa cells??? I’ve taken probably over a dozen biology, physiology, and pathophysiology course in my academic career and never once have I learned about Henrietta Lacks. And I’m pissed! What a disservice to Henrietta and her contribution to science, cell biology, and the pharmaceuticals industry.
At times this book was scary relatable. In chapter 13 the author recounts the polio epidemic in the 1951, “Schools closed, parents panicked, and the public grew desperate for a vaccine.” If that doesn’t directly parallel the COVID19 pandemic and last year of our lives, then I don’t know what does. Also, at times, this book was just scary. Like how if cells and tissues are removed from your body, they no longer belong to you! In the afterword, Skloot writes “And at this point no case law has fully clarified whether you own or have the right to control your tissues. When they’re part of your body, they’re clearly yours. Once they’re excised, your rights get murky.” EXCUSE ME WHAT. The audiobook was excellent. Not sure if I’ll prioritize watching the movie adaptation with Oprah Winfrey, I’ve heard mix reviews.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It
Author: Elle Cosimano
Publication Date: February 2021
Genre: mystery
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: The set up and premise of this book was great. Stressed out single-mom who lands a book deal which is certain to change the trajectory of her life? But also she’s mistaken as a hit-man and tasked with murdering someone’s horrific husband? Sign me up, I’m in! I liked the female friendship and the commentary on Panera, but I found the big reveal way too improbable. Similar to films and tv, I just really really don’t care for any story that involves real or fictional mob/mafia themes, so when that component was revealed, all hope for a 5 star rating was lost. I did love that cliff hanger ending. I’ll pick up the next book in the series in 2022 when it comes out, fingers crossed no Russian mobs in that one.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
Author: Emmanuel Acho
Publication Date: November 2020
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: Quick, informative, conversational text about author Emmanuel Acho’s personal history with racism in the United States throughout his life. A great companion read to Hood Feminism as Acho’s accounts and stories about his life as a Black man. Many topics covered but some of I found most interesting and informative were about the N word, voter suppression, cultural appropriation, and social determinants of health. This book left me feeling like I’m on the right path of allyship, but the work is never done as a cis white woman. Acho gave a great list of essays and books to read for further reading, the ones I plan to pick up include:
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Native Son by Richard Wright
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why by Jabari Asim

Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publication Date: July 2016
Genre: science fiction
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: Earlier this year I read Recursion by Blake Crouch which I enjoyed, but found it to be very science fiction focused – which makes sense, it’s sci-fi book first and foremost. But what I love about this book, Dark Matter, is the very real, human connections seen between husband and wife, mother and father, that drives the plot and the intentions of the main character, Jason. With the more books and stories I read, the more I’ve come to realize that I love a story opening with a well established family (in this case, dad Jason, mom Daniela, and son Charlie), then getting flashbacks revealing the origin story of the parents, first as lovers, then a dating couple, to newly weds, and parents. Diving into a science fiction title with this element is chef’s kiss near perfection. While, yes, this is science fiction at it’s core, it reads as so much more. An exploration about happiness and what that means on an individual level. Crouch mentions having written this story at “a low point in my life” and “looking back at all the roads not taken and feeling envious of my younger self.” As a work of science fiction, I loved it for the human, emotional elements. But that says more about me, and less about the book, now doesn’t it?
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Publication Date: January 2017
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: What can I say, there’s just a lot to love about these characters and this story, no matter how ambiguous the ending – but life is ambiguous, is it not? While this story centers around Claude and their transition to Poppy over a 10 year period, this story isn’t only about Claude or Poppy. But rather the impact both Claude and Poppy have had on every member of the Walsh-Adams family. My favorite being doctor, wife, and mother, Rosie, if anything, this is her story. Rosie has an analytical, methodical, and medical driven mind, in contrast to her husband’s literary, fantastical, and romantic mind. I loved the flashbacks diving into the history of Rosie and Penn – first as lovers, then as partners, and finally parents to 5 children.
Can’t write a review without gushing about K, physical therapist, social worker, mechanic, medic, midwife, extraordinaire. In the words of Rosie, “K was also her physical therapist and her social worker and her security detail… But K had never even been to physical-therapy school or social-work school. K had never even taken a martial-arts class. What K knew, and it was a stunning, encyclopedic amount, she had learned from the doctors who’d come before Rosie, from 0the doctors who came and stayed for weeks or months or years, from watching, from experience, and from necessity.” Honestly, I needed more K in this story. I needed 75 more pages with Rosie, Poppy, and K. Certainly, I’m biased, always love a well developed physical therapist in any novel but especially this one. K is so special. At long last, I leave with a quote from K about change that I keep returning to: “All life. You are never finish, never done. Never become, always becoming. You know? Life is change so is always okay you are not there yet. It like this for you and Poppy and everyone. The people who do not understand are change. The people who afraid are change. There is no before and no after because change is what if life. You live in change, in in between.”
This book explored so much: gender stereotypes, identity, expression, fluidity, gender dysphoria, societal norms. It opened the door for such important conversations about parenting and parenthood with my parent. I’ll think back to this story often, of that I am certain.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


GENRE REVIEW: MYSTERY, SUSPENSE, THRILLER

Since my reading journey began about a year ago, I’ve read nearly 30 books that can be classified into the genres of mystery, suspense, and/or thrillers. I have started to notice trends in terms of my likes and dislikes when it comes to the structure and plot of stories in this genre. To be a stand out, 5 star read for me personally, quite a few boxes need to be checked. In this post, I want to explore those requirements and highlight the books I’ve read that have that specific component in the plot or the structure of the book.

If I’ve rated a book in this genre 5 stars, it’s likely have 3 or more of the following features, listed in no particular order:

1 | a diverse and interesting cast of characters

I want 5+ characters, multiple likely suspects, unique and well developed characters, unreliable witnesses

2 | various timelines

I want to be transported between the past and the present, but I don’t want to be too confused by it

3 | unique story structure and elements

I want a story told in reverse, a book within a book, podcast transcriptions, hand written letters, phone conversations, chat room exchanges, photocopies of classified evidence

4 | multiple unanswered questions

I want to be following bread crumbs, I want to get frustrated and confused trying to keep track in my head the clues laid out by the author, I want the bait n’ switch

5 | my visceral, physical response

I want a literal jaw dropping moment, I want genuine fear, heart pounding anxiety, I want to gasp out loud, I want to be afraid trying to fall asleep that night

6 | health, wellness, medical

I want chronic illness and disease, I want medical representation, medical terminology, I want mental health rep, psychosocial disorders, psych wards that remind me of my own place of employment

7 | atmospheric setting

I want descriptive language and imagery, I want creepy houses, islands, forests, and backdrops for crime and murder

Can we see why Home Before Dark is literally my perfect and favorite thriller of all time? It checks 6 of the 7 boxes, it’s basically perfection. I don’t know that there is a book or story out there that will tick all 7 boxes, but you bet I’m going to spend the rest of my life searching for one (recommendations welcome).

What you’ll notice is missing from the titles above are domestic thrillers. Ehh, they just aren’t my jam. In my experience with the books I’ve read in the past year, often times domestic thrillers involve emotional, physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and I just don’t love reading about vulnerable women being harmed by people they know, love, and/or trust.

Here’s a few of my most anticipated books in this genre I hope to get to this year!

Until next time, Meryn