Final Girls by Riley Sager

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My entire synopsis in three words? Another great thriller.

And for any of you who know me and my reviews well, you know I love a great thriller. Even better, a great thriller including characters with whom I empathize; and a step up from that, a twisty ending. Final Girls included all of the above. Now, I’m not going to call this my perfect book, hence the four and a half stars instead of five, but it’s a short step away from being everything I wanted. Riley Sager just did so much right.

The main character, Quinn, is truly a well written individual. I understood her. I felt for her. And above all, I wanted to read her story. And without that itty bitty final element, a book tends to lose me really quickly. Sager was able to write Quinn as a potentially unreliable narrator while not irritating me with the fact that she might not be totally trustworthy at all times, and that is truly a talent.

As far as the side characters went, they were all over the place: big hit or big miss or completely blah. For me, the hit was the officer, Coop. I thought he was just offputting-yet-trustworthy enough to be of interest. I understood why Quinn felt the way she did about him; it would be hard to help after the situation she’d been in.

The miss was the friend whose name I won’t mention for spoiler purposes, though I ended up gaining a bit more appreciation for the character as the story went on. Finally, the blah was the boyfriend, Jeff. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great. Just there, which somehow worked for me.

Now, there is something about this story that I deeply appreciate but I don’t see often enough in the books I read. I think it’s only right to acknowledge it fully here. Two of the important side characters have very different but very controversial jobs: a police officer and a defense attorney. I love how the topics of their jobs are handled. There are moments where their controversial jobs are brought into question, and here’s what is so genius about the writing:

Sager is so completely true to the story and the character, I saw no flicker of the author’s out-of-the-blue opinions in those moments, just the characters’. In the brief times one was made out to be the bad guy, it was entirely due to believable reasons from the character’s standpoint and the story’s plot. For that, I commend you, Mr. Sager.

There is something so special about reading a story and never thinking “oh, there’s the author’s opinion awkwardly shoved in where it feels strange and wrong!” You know what I mean?

All in all, I can say I will likely pick up another of his books in the future. I am impressed by all aspects of this book and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a thriller to keep them guessing.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I contemplated back and forth for the past few days if I want to write a review for this for the simple reason that it is a controversial book, and this blog is for fun, not for debates and tension. But in the spirit of Brené Brown and the book itself, I am choosing to write a review. Let’s be honest: people get touchy over any and every book. It doesn’t matter if it’s actually controversial. Somebody will make it that way. (Take the Grisha series, for example… Yikes.) So let’s get into it!

I rarely read book recommendations unless they’re from my sister, but I was told about this book while having a discussion with a friend who has a totally different political ideology than me. That’s the first thing that makes Braving the Wilderness such a standout book. While it is certainly politically pertinent, it holds the kind of pertinence that can be agreed upon by two people across the aisle. Notice I didn’t say, all people on either side of the aisle. But two of us in the world definitely feel this way.

Also, as a quick note before we continue, I’m not particularly far one way or another on the political spectrum, but I am strong in my beliefs.

The overarching idea behind this book is that we have to find the strength, peace, confidence, and care in and for ourselves that we are able to be honest about our beliefs. It’s a beautiful sentiment, to be honest. If you would have said this to me five years ago, I probably would have laughed. But I’ve grown from the person I was at 13, at 15, at 17, (heck, even last year at 21) and I think a big part of growth for me has been working to understand why other people think the way they do. It doesn’t mean I think they’re smart or right. It means I am being my best respectful, empathetic self, and that feels good to me. (Brené mentions at one point in the text that there are boundaries though, so don’t take this as “treat people however, because they have to take it.” I, along with a whole lot of the world, will not in fact take it.)

The short one-or-two-page-long stories she included within many of the chapters really stood out to me. A person can preach to me as much as they want, but nothing speaks as loud as the retelling of an experience they’ve had. In the chapter discussing the importance of experiencing collective joy and pain, I remember her speaking about a Harry Potter opening night showing she attended. And yes, this is the point where this nonfiction book review turns into a Harry Potter experience.

During the showing, when (gigantic spoiler alert if the series has somehow evaded your grasp thus far) Dumbledore dies, the teachers and students at Hogwarts raise their wands to the sky. The viewers then proceeded to raise their hands (and some of them, wands) to the theater ceiling. Brené points out that this is not because the audience actually believes in Harry Potter. What they do believe in is the light. She then suggests we consider turning the film viewing into some sort of political arena. Those people would likely have turned on each other, split themselves up, and chosen sides. Instead, they felt together in that moment, in the collective experience of it all, in the fact that we are all bound together as humans.

She points out that collective events, experienced in person, are incredibly important to remind us we are together; we are one; and we are more connected than we like to think when we read through the angry drivel fed to us by social media.

All in all, I liked the book, and I liked most of the ideas in it. Of course, I’m not going to think it’s all good and dandy. That’s the thing about opinions; we’re not always going to have the same ones. In fact, we often are not, but that doesn’t mean we are doomed, and that doesn’t mean we have to become monsters to one another. This is basically a How To Stay Nice When We Wonder If It’s Possible Anymore guide. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

You Are Not Alone by Hendricks & Pekkanen

I listened to the You Are Not Alone audiobook, and wow, am I impressed. A couple months back, I happened to pick up a copy of The Wife Between Us, penned by the same two women, and absolutely adored it. Truthfully, this one is even better.

I am generally a big fan of the gigantic sector of thrillers surrounding thirty-something-year-old women getting caught up in creepy situations they have to dig their way out of. I used to read them a lot, but I took a break and now I’m back. Though it’s a huge segment of the genre, I tend to shy away from the books that follow the story of an eternally drunk MC. Barf. That might be one of the reasons why I like this story so much. Shay, our rather delightful MC, goes through this entirely crazy storyline without being bombed at all times.

Which leads me into something else I adored about our MC. She actually made me like her, right off the bat. I genuinely cared for Shay and her well being, and as you may know if you have read my reviews in the past, developing feelings for at least some of the characters in the story is vital to my enjoyment of a book. But nothing compares to having a well-written main character. That is almost an instant good rating from me, and this story is no exception.

I sympathized with Shay on so many levels: her quest to fill her life with trustworthy people; her happiness after meeting her new friends, the Moore sisters; her digging just a tiny bit too deep into a person’s story that interests her. But let’s be honest… We’ve all engaged in a bit of social media stalking at one point or another. Hopefully not to the level the You Are Not Alone characters did. Not scary level. Just a bit.

Then, there is the lack of romance in the plot, a massive win for me. Couples are cute and all, but every once in a while what I can really use is a convoluted stalker-murder mystery. Which brings me to my next point: everybody’s least favorite book boyfriend. Joe Goldberg.

Deep down, You Are Not Alone certainly has a bit of You vibe, what with all the over-the-top following, stalking, and intermittent deaths. If you want to see those aspects of You played out with a female-filled cast, then definitely go for this book. But please be advised, you’re not going to get any romantic side of the story like with You.

It’s every bit as creepy though, just in a different way. I had chills until the very end and then some. The resolution is truly something to behold. I never would have guessed it, yet it’s not an absolutely crazy leap in logic. It makes perfect sense, and it blew my mind. Happy Tuesday and happy reading!

Childhood FOMO Made Me Read Goosebumps

Everybody loves a good old FOMO sesh every once in a while, right? Just a gripping, sudden fear of missing out on anything and everything people have done and experienced that you haven’t yet?

Well, that’s exactly what led me to the Goosebumps series. Perpetually frightened child I was, horror books never particularly struck a chord with me when I was little. Even now, I tend to stray from them in favor of anything mysterious or thrillerish.

That being said, I have been catching up on some of the books I missed out on as a kid in the past few years. (The Chronicles of Narnia and A Series of Unfortunate Events are two of my particular favorites, but the amount of guilt I feel knowing I could have grown up with those books instead of reading them at the age of 20 or 21… Perpetual anger, I tell you.) Bottled up rage aside, or perhaps because of it, I gave the Goosebumps series a chance. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

For starters, it turns out R.L. Stine is a fantastic author. Goosebumps are kids’ stories, and that much is clear as soon as you start reading, but they’re written in such a way that they’re entirely readable, and not at all annoying, from the perspective of an adult. Though I tend to use the term adult very loosely when speaking of myself.

Beyond the writing, I have to say I really liked the story structure and the way it was written in such a way as to keep it lighthearted enough to not scare the daylights out of children, but spooky enough to actually give you a minor case of the creeps.

Don’t quote me on this because it was a while ago, but I remember watching an interview with R.L. Stine where he described how, as a child, he was afraid of literally everything. I think that comes across really well in this aspect of the books, where he is able to play to both the scary and fun aspect of a children’s horror series.

One part, in particular, I couldn’t get over was the excessive use of the word excellent by the children in the books. It’s absurdly funny to me to picture 10 year olds running around, yelling the word excellent to one another. But honestly, it just dates the series back to the 90s, which makes me love it even more.

I’ve only read a tiny portion of the series so far, but a few I would definitely recommend are: One Day at Horrorland, Stay Out of the Basement, and Night of the Living Dummy. And allow me to say, Mr. Wood is an absolute legend. The best and most offensive roaster of all time. 10/10 would walk out of a conversation with him with lowered self-esteem.

To sum it up, I don’t care about your age. Goosebumps is a must read. Need I say more?

P.S. Better Luck This Time is getting even closer! Ahh! Meet my sequel to The Half Theft on October 1st.

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let me start by saying this is easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and I’m beginning to think I may like the Shadow and Bone trilogy even more than the Six of Crows duology, which is really saying something. I think I could probably go on for a week or so telling you everything this book did right, but I shan’t waste your time. Here is a condensed version of my absolute adoration for this series and, above all, this book in particular.

First of all, I’d like to thank Alina for actually being likable. It is so very rare for me to find a main character I like and feel like I can relate to. They usually feel like too far a stretch from being regular people, especially in the case of YA and fantasy. But with Alina, I instantly liked her. She’s rather ordinary, but not so much that she’s boring. And her thoughts and feelings are always understandable. As much as I like to be confused by a character, it’s sometimes nice to feel like I just get someone.

Then, there’s Mal, another (extremely ordinary but in his own strange way not at all ordinary) gem, and really another thing that makes these books so worth reading. As often as I see complaining about poor writing with female characters in a variety of series (and believe me, I often agree with the critiques), I think there is also so much room for improvement in the writing of men. The Kaz Brekkers of the world provide just the right amount of spice, but the Mal Oretsevs help to ground their stories in reality, which I adore.

I know I have a whole lot to say about the characters today, but can we quick hit on the topic of the Darkling? Because quite frankly, he scares the hell of me. Really, how could I ask for a better villain? While he’s generally horrid in the first book, I like that his utter lunacy and murderous nature are ramped up even further in Siege and Storm. I always like the villains best when they seem truly unstoppable, which is exactly what he appears to be at this point. I can’t even guess where Alina’s headed next to actually take him down. (I mean, I do have a guess, but I’m not going to spoil it because that wouldn’t be very nice.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s Nikolai. Once I got a bit of the way into Siege and Storm, I suddenly couldn’t even remember what the books were like before he came along. What a boring story the first book must have been without him! (I’m only kidding. I love them both.)

I guess the moral of the story here is that Leigh Bardugo has unstoppable character-writing skills, and we all owe her an immense debt of gratitude for providing us with such an amazing series. I just started Ruin and Rising, so I’ll be sure to leave a review once I finish that one as well. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everybody who talked about these books so incessantly I couldn’t avoid hearing about them (mostly my sister because we’re in the same house). I owe you all big time.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Well, Patrick Ness has done it again. I can’t even begin to describe my feelings for this book without first saying that I am utterly in love. The characters. The story. The structure. The writing. The different POVs. It’s all one big chef’s kiss, and an utterly perfect end to a perfect trilogy.

Let’s start with the characters, because that’s one of the places where these books really shine. In Monsters of Men, I somehow developed even more conflicted feelings regarding the mayor. I mean, I like him, but I’m also scared of him, but I’m also intrigued by him, but I also hate him, but I still want to trust him for some reason. He’s easily one of the best written characters I’ve ever read in any book. He’s utterly fascinating.

Next up: the story. My favorite part of Chaos Walking’s story is its originality. Usually when I read a book or a series, I can connect certain aspects, sometimes even many, back to one or more previously written stories (which makes sense, since all ideas have to come from somewhere). However, I really don’t see Patrick Ness’ story ideas elsewhere. The universe, the dynamic between the general populations of men and women, the individual characters and their key traits and their journeys—it’s so unlike anything I’ve read before.

This leads to the writing, which is another place where these books really stand out from all others in their genre. English teachers, beware. There are a whole lot of incomplete sentences in this book, even ones that use…periods at the end. And enough em dashes to sink a ship. All of which only lead to a more dynamic story. The action scenes in Monsters of Men are unlike any other, drawing me in completely until I feel like I’m inside the scene, experiencing the story.

Now, many of the things I’ve previously listed can be applied to all three of the Chaos Walking books, but the POVs in the final installation are completely their own. The Knife of Never Letting Go has one POV. The Ask and the Answer features two. Monsters of Men ups the game even more, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect strategy. It is clear the author knows exactly whose viewpoints his readers want to hear throughout the story.

The one teeny, tiny part of this book I have to admit isn’t my favorite is the romantic aspect. Todd and Viola, individually, are fantastic characters I have been rooting for (almost) since the moment I met them—Todd was kind of a jerk at first, so I took a minute to warm up to him. But I did, in time! My problem is that I don’t really care about their relationship in a romantic way at all. I loved them as friends, and I enjoyed the first book in particular because that’s what they were. Friends. As the books progressed, however, they became more and more romance based, and Todd and Viola began acting like they’d known each other forever, not for the short while they actually had.

But I digress. Monsters of Men was simply another beautiful installation in the fantastic series that is Chaos Walking. If you ask me, it is the perfect end to a perfect trilogy.

I Wrote Another Book!

As any of you who have followed my blog for a bit know, it is only on a very rare occasion that I make a post exclusively about my own writing. My main goal with this blog is to write my thoughts on others’ books and find readers who share my interests (or who have totally different thoughts and recommendations of their own, as they’re even more fun to hear from sometimes). That being said, this is one of those rare occasions where I have something to say about my own work.

Last November, I published The Half Theft, my debut YA novel, featuring a missing best friend, an almost stolen clock, and mysterious family of criminals, who might not all be completely evil to their very cores—unless I’m lying and they are…

Today, I am beyond happy to announce that I am well on my way to completing its sequel, the final installation in the duology! As it stands, I have one more draft to go until my currently untitled work is ready for publishing, and I couldn’t be more excited.

When I released my debut, I, quite frankly, had almost no information on the publishing process, and I ended up not really talking about the book at all until it was out. While I’m still certainly no expert on indie publishing, I have a whole community of amazing, supportive people to share my work with this time around—which is, for lack of a better description, super cool, and makes me even more grateful to have this novel nearly complete.

Now, onto the juicy stuff… I’ve been dying to spill my guts on this so here goes:

What I liked most about the writing process for The Half Theft‘s sequel was the fact that I allowed myself to experiment with a wider range of character interactions as well as characters’ emotions and responses to their surroundings. In The Half Theft, I certainly played around with (and truly kind of messed with) the traditional ideas of “good” and “bad” people and actions, as well as the ugly truths that can lie beneath the surface. This time around, I’m going a step further and turning my attention toward everybody’s favorite:

Morally gray characters.

Okay, so maybe they’re not everybody’s favorite, but they’re certainly mine, and I can’t wait for you to see what I have in store for you this time around.

I’ve also structured this book a bit differently, in terms of POVs, which adds something of a whole new layer of mystery and emotion. While the first installation focused on Charlie, with a bit of Maeve, the sequel will focus mainly on she and Elle. And believe me, Elle Vikander’s thoughts are something to behold.

Since it’ll still be a little while before I publish, I don’t want to let you in on too much just yet. But I can say I’m even prouder of the way this story turned out than the last, and I’m way too attached to my own fictional characters. As in, I would do anything for Maeve Roman, even though she only exists within the confines of my own mind. Does anyone else do that, or just me? (Hopefully someone.)

All I can say is, buckle up and prepare thineself for the chaos ahead.

1984 by George Orwell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I am utterly horrified and in love with this book. What an incredibly creative and unique work of fiction with some crazy parallels to modern life. Let me begin by saying I’m not the biggest George Orwell fan in the world. One of my high school literature classes assigned Animal Farm, and it was, admittedly, not an experience I look back on with fondness. I quite literally hated that story. I still get chills in my very core thinking about it. (Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic, bit I didn’t like it, okay?) Perhaps one day I’ll grow out of my Orwell-induced fear of pigs and communism, but that day is not today.

That being said, I have to say that 1984 surpassed all of my expectations by being enjoyable at all, and went beyond that by actually making fall in love with some of the characters and have some really in-depth thoughts on the world—both the fictional world in the story, and the real world in which I live.

I love a lot of books, but very few make me think about the world around me in such a profoundly new way. That is probably the main reason this book hit four-and-a-half stars for me. One element I found particularly disturbing was the way everyone was recorded, watched, and analyzed at any and every moment. For this reason, the main character, Winston, spends quite a bit of time doing his best to hide from cameras. When he is around them, he spends his time perfecting his expressions as to reveal nothing the government might find suspicious. Beyond the fact that it sounds like a generally horrifying situation, I realized that I would be completely doomed if someone were looking at my face 24/7, waiting for me to do something out of the ordinary.

I make strange faces all the time. I would be as good as dead in that world. In that respect, Winston is an incredibly impressive fellow, for sure.

As for the parallels I notice within modern society, the main one I pull from the story is the idea that society tells us certain thoughts are right and certain thoughts are wrong. Whether your ideas concern something serious or the fact that you do or don’t like a fictional relationship, people seem to find joy in collectivizing themselves against a common “enemy” that they deem as incorrect and, therefore, harmful—even if all that person did was, for example, say they like something that isn’t generally deemed popular. That was a mouthful, but hopefully you get my drift. I’m basically just saying that mob thought is definitely a thing in almost every facet of life, and that people love to hate others for the things they think.

Which is a super weird thought considering all of us have an unpopular opinion or two.

I digress.

Another part of the story I loved was the fact that I truly cared for the characters, even the main female character, who I was at first sure I would hate, and whose role won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t read 1984 yet. But you know when you read a book, and you can just feel that the author put no thought into a certain character and added them as an afterthought? Or when all the characters feel like they are there only to advance the plot, not to play their own unique role? I never felt that with these main characters. I can tell a lot of thought was put into them, shaping them into unique individuals I haven’t seem the likes of in anything else.

The reason I was so surprised with this was that I merely didn’t expect it, considering the publishing year. I often find that older books do use characters only to advance the plot, because that’s just how a lot of stories were written (and there’s nothing wrong with that, in the right story). That being said, 1984 was only stronger for it’s use of characters that matter to the reader, as well as its compelling plot.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a thought-provoking piece of fiction, or anyone looking for a change of pace from literally any modern books they’ve been reading. I cannot stress how incredible this story is.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My most recent reading escapade wound up being a far different experience than I anticipated. After hearing how much my sister liked the Six of Crows duology, we decided to read them for our podcast. Me for the first time, Laura for the second. I ended up loving them, though I must admit I found Crooked Kingdom to be a step up from its predecessor. After that, I decided, since I liked those so much, I might as well read the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Because I loved Six of Crows, I wanted so badly to like Shadow and Bone, but Laura had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the series for me, mainly due to the prevalent theme of romance throughout, particularly the much loved and much loathed Darklina. *collective gasp of love or hatred*

It turns out Laura was wrong on one count but quite right on another. I actually did enjoy (at least the first book, since that’s all I’ve finished so far) much more than I thought I would. Alina is an interesting enough character, thrown into strange enough circumstances, that I kept wanting to know what happened next. I always love to find a main character I like. Even if they’re not the best character in the book, it’s still fun to be rooting for the MC rather than rolling my eyes at them for hundreds of pages (though I sometimes like to go that route, it sort of depends on the story). Shadow and Bone was definitely the type of book where the MC needs more than a few brain cells with which to operate. Thank you, Alina Starkov, for stepping up to the challenge.

Now for what Laura predicted correctly: I really don’t care for the Darkling and Alina’s weird sort-of relationship. Please keep in mind that I’ve only read one of three books, and I know very well this is a touchy subject (as it always seems to be with fictional couples). Nevertheless, I find the whole idea of an ancient fellow of indeterminate age seducing a seventeen year old girl to be…offputting. Plus, Mal is just dependable and kind and has always cared deeply about Alina, so I guess I just understand her feelings toward him a bit more than the lust she felt toward the Darkling. That being said, I’ve heard about people who like Darklina receiving quite nasty messages online, which is a particularly ridiculous thing to hear considering:

The books and characters are fictional.

And I should note that the Darkling is actually a fantastic character, if you ask me. He’s thoroughly creepy and untrustworthy, and I just might put my life into the hands of a volcra before him, but I completely understand (part of) Alina being drawn to him at first. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to know more if I met such a peculiar individual. I guess I just wouldn’t let the guy feel me up in a dark room.

I digress.

Let’s talk about Genya though. What a great character! I know she doesn’t have a huge role, but I love her friendship and dynamic with Alina. I always love to see a well-written female/female friendship that doesn’t seem forced. Their conversations feel genuine, despite the unrealistic setting and circumstances. I think that’s the sign of a good (or at least enjoyable, for me) fantasy book, when I can see real people inside the characters of the story. Genya is sassy but that isn’t her only personality trait, something I see too often in the books I read. I hope to read a lot more of Genya in future books. I love to see a character with a bit of sass and also a bit of class.

All in all, I did like Shadow and Bone quite a lot more than I expected, and I totally understand the heated debates I’ve seen online (though I have absolutely no interest in joining in). I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike, and I encourage you to do the same!

Did you read Shadow and Bone? Did you like it? Will you watch the spinoff series on Netflix?

Note: This article contains affiliate links from which I make a small profit at no additional cost to you.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh, The Ask and the Answer. How I love thee.

Words can hardly express how much I adore this series, most of all its second installment. I only regret not knowing these books existed before last year. Still, I can’t complain. Better late than never. I’m happy to say I’m finding that, even at twenty-one years old, young adult books are still so enjoyable for me. When I was younger, I never quite understood the appeal, but I totally get it now. It’s not really an explainable thing. They just have a different sort of vibe to them than the rest of literature, something that makes them enjoyable no matter your age.

After reading the first Chaos Walking book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, back in January, I wanted to read the next one instantly, but as any good reader should, I had an excessively long TBR list and thought I should wait a bit and go to some of my other choices first. Even after a few months’ wait though, this book made me feel like I could pick up right where I left off and not miss a beat, one quality I love most about it. Ness managed to include enough reminders of the events from its predecessor that I was never confused, while being sure not to retell the whole thing.

I must say that something about the way the returning characters were written in The Ask and the Answer made me love, hate, or even pity them far more than I did in the first book, even though that one was also spectacular as well. This book just evoked a whole new level of emotion in me, even for characters I previously didn’t have any strong feelings toward.

Another aspect of this book that made reading it ten times more enjoyable was the constant movement. Yes, I know that may sound funny, since TKONLG actually included nonstop physical movement, but this one is different. While it is physically, location-wise, more concentrated in one area, the action truly never stops. Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence pulled me in and made me want to know more.

This leads to the magic question: who would I recommend this book and this series to? And the answer is pretty simple. Almost anyone. If you like action, a character and story driven plot, and a main character who deserves that title, then Chaos Walking is the series for you. But of course, I’m going to say that, after reading one of the best books of all time.

What are you currently reading, and do you like it? Let me know in the comments.