August was such a nice reading month! I am pretty sure this is the most books I’ve read in a month–15 books!–and there were plenty in here that I loved. Having a little over a week of vacation certainly helped, but I hope to continue to make time for reading as I go from a busy summer into a busy-but-quite-as-insane fall. Since there were so many books, I’ve divided them up into two posts again, so here’s round one!
Well, I did it. I finally read (or rather, listened to) Winter by Marissa Meyer, thereby completing the Lunar Chronicles (with the exception of a collection of short stories I plan to pick soon). Winter was almost 900 pages and probably the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to everything at almost 24 hours long, but I loved every word. The Lunar Chronicles begins with Cinder (one of my favourite books of 2017), and tells the story of a cyborg mechanic, who by the time Winter rolls around has got quite a crew along with her for the journey.
I honestly can’t believe how much Meyer covered within the pages of Winter, it’s no surprise the book needed to be the longest one I’ve read so far this year! So many characters, yet they are all fleshed out and developed, and the plot is intricate but never overly complicated or confusing. It’s a giant book, but the pacing was never slow. There were some convenient/unlikely moments especially with how things wrapped up, but I was willing to go with it, and I just loved this series so much. I won’t share any plot details for Winter in case you haven’t picked up this series yet, but if you are planning to, I highly recommend the audiobooks which feature excellent narration by Rebecca Soler, easily one of my favourite audiobook narrators now.
I heard a lot of high praise for dark suspense thriller, The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn, which seemed to be the latest in the Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train type release. But it’s different because…Finn uses the word “woman” instead of “girl” in the title? So yes, this story of an agoraphobic psychiatrist who watches her neighbours only to become a spectator to a murder (or did she imagine it?) contains many familiar elements. The Woman in the Window is not an incredibly original read, it especially reminded me of The Girl on the Train, but it does all of those dark, mysterious things I love well, and it kept me hooked til the end, where there were some twists I did not expect. The Woman in the Window isn’t the most memorable book I’ve read this year, but if you can’t get enough of books in this genre, it is worth picking up.
I read the occasional non-fiction book but after picking up and absolutely adoring The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone, I’ve decided it’s a genre I’ll be reaching for way more often. When I’m not reading, I’m actually a plant biologist, but I think this biography of David Fairchild, a food explorer who traveled the world and introduced crops like avocados, mangoes and seedless grapes, to America, is an excellent read no matter your day job. Stone includes just the right level of detail to be informative but not dry, and the stories of Fairchild’s adventures would be unbelievable if they weren’t true.
Even having studied plants for years, I learned a lot reading The Food Explorer. I listened to half the book on audiobook before it expired and Stone does an excellent job with the narration. I actually purchased a copy of this book for a plant breeder I know the day after finishing it, so that’s how much I loved it. I rarely re-read books but The Food Explorer is definitely one I plan to revisit because there are such interesting anecdotes and history. This is such just a great, engaging, and informative book, I already know it’ll be making it onto my favourites list for 2018.
In A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay, English professor Paul Davis is attacked by a colleague of his when he finds him transporting two dead women, an act that gets his coworker in jail for murder and Paul struggling with PTSD. As Paul works to get his life back to normal, his wife, Charlotte, decides to cheer him up with a vintage typewriter, which happens to bear an uncanny similarity to one used in the murders a year ago.
I’ve enjoyed quite a few books by Barclay in recent years, especially the Promise Falls series, and A Noise Downstairs is another solid book by him. Barclay always does an excellent job bringing several, seemingly unconnected, plot lines together for one very dramatic finale, and A Noise Downstairs is no exception. There are a few points where the book meanders a little bit, mostly when it has to do with Paul’s therapist, and the start is a bit slower, but once the action picks up it’s a pretty intense read. I really love Barclay’s writing, he really brings his characters to life, and the audiobook narration is also excellent. Even though I predicted several of the twists, there was still plenty to surprise me, and those final twists were just so satisfying. Barclay continues to be an auto-read author for me.
The phrase “poetic memoir” immediately sold me on Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot, the story of a Native American woman growing up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, and what it is like to overcome a difficult upbringing only to face your own struggles with mental illness and motherhood. Heart Berries is told in a series of essays, and although I listened to the audiobook I highly recommend that you stick to the paper copy instead, since I had a hard time following that way. Mailhot’s storytelling is stream of conciseness and filled with beautiful phrases and emotional impact. Heart Berries is a story of survival filled with honesty, metaphor, from an important and emerging voice. I certainly hope to read more from Mailhot in the future.
In An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena a group of strangers all staying at an Inn in the middle of woods are enjoying their winter getaway, until the bodies start to pile up. I’ve read two other books by Lapena over the past two years, The Couple Next Door (reviewed here) and A Stranger in The House (reviewed here), and An Unwanted Guest is easily my favourite of the three. It’s also quite different from the two previous domestic thrillers. This is a very classic, Agatha Christie style mystery, and I can’t remember the time I read a book like this, but I loved it.
An Unwanted Guest has a dozen different characters that all have a similar level of contribution to the book, and yet somehow I was never confused about who was who. Lapena gives just enough detail and perspective from each character, so I was able to form a connection to them, but also be kept guessing. The setting in upstate New York is also great, Lapena really brought it to life and this would be a great book to read cozied up on a cold winter’s night. With the light on. Sometimes the story was a tiny bit repetitive, and some reveals were underwhelming, but overall it was a fast-paced read and I did love the ending. While An Unwanted Guest is definitely a change for Lapena, I really enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be picking up whatever she publishes next.
I really wanted to love Blood Will Out by Jo Treggiari, like I want to love every book I pick up, but especially once I got to the end and read the author bio only to learn that Treggiari actually lives in Nova Scotia (ie: not that far from me). Sadly, I had a lot of issues with this dark YA thriller about a girl, Ari, who wakes up at the bottom of well and reflects back on the days leading up to in an attempt to determine who put her there and when they are coming back…
While there were some moments of intensity in Blood Will Out, overall the book really dragged. For a thriller, it felt like nothing was happening, it was just Ari in the well and a bunch of boring flashbacks. Ari herself was also pretty boring and hard to root for, though I did like the strong female friendship in the book. In addition to Ari’s perspective, there were passages written from the perspective of her abductor, which were incredibly graphic with a lot of animal violence. The killer felt like such a stereotypical serial killer it was really annoying. I mean, Ari even looks up a list of characteristics and it matches pretty perfectly. There is one main twist at the end, but it was just frustrating and out of nowhere in the context of the book. Unfortunately, overall, Blood Will Out was a disappointing read for me.
As a twin myself (fraternal, not identical) I have a soft spot for twin stories, and I have an even softer (?) spot for dark mysteries, which are the exact two elements that combine to give The Good Twin by Marti Green. This is the story of a waitress/artist, Mallory, who discovers that she has an identical twin sister, Charly, who was given up for adoption and is incredibly wealthy, while Mallory was raised by their poor, single mother. It turns out that Mallory can have everything that Charly has, if only she goes along with the sinister plan proposed by Charly’s husband…
While The Good Twin requires a heavy suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the over-the-top plot, once you get any expectation of the story being realistic out of the way, it’s a lot of fun to read. The book is basically the literary equivalent of a soap opera, jam-packed with drama and emotion and twists. Green’s writing is compulsively readable, I finished The Good Twin in a single day while on vacation, and I definitely enjoyed it. As outlandish as the story was, I wish that the ending had reined things in a little bit more. Overall, The Good Twin was the perfect light but dark mystery read for the beach, and if the plot enticed me again, I’d consider picking up another book by Green in the future.
* * *
And that’s it for round 1, jam-packed with dark mysteries, the odd fantasy, and two non-fiction reads I highly recommend. What have you been reading lately? I’ll be back with another 7 books as soon as I can stop procrastinating on the reviews…