October 2018 Reads Part Two

This post contains reviews of books that were provided to me, either in e-book or physical format, for my consideration. Specific books I received are indicated using [PR copy]. This post also contains affiliate links.

Oh hi looks some more book reviews! If you’re currently Christmas shopping, maybe you’ll find some inspiration for the book lover on your shopping list, even if that person is yourself…

I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan [Amazon USAmazon Canada]

I 100% picked up I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan because of a YouTuber recommendation, since I’d seen the authors books around for awhile but never made the leap. I listened to the audiobook, which was excellent because, similar to Sadie by Courtney Summers, this is a book about a podcast trying to solve a murder mystery and the audio has a full narrative cast. In this case, Cody decides to start the podcast twenty years after his two best friends were murdered, at the same time another body shows up at the same location. The perspectives of the novel include Cody’s podcast, Detective Fletcher who was the lead investigator on both cases, and one of the boy’s mother, Jessica. Macmillian does an excellent job balancing all the voices, and each one felt unique, authentic and engaging in its own way.

I really enjoyed listening to I Know You Know, so much so I devoured it over only a couple days and it would have been even faster if I’d been reading a paper copy. It was filled with mystery and red herrings and managed to surprise me more than once. This is a multilayered story with excellent writing. Often books with a lot of threads don’t manage to tie them all up in a satisfactory way, but although the ending was a bit rushed, overall I loved the book. I initially rated it 4 stars, but reflecting on it a few weeks later, when I often find more flaws with thrillers, I even bumped it up to 5. If you are looking for a dark, mysterious, and thrilling novel, I definitely recommend I Know You Know, and I’m eager to pick up another novel by Macmillan in the future.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil [Amazon USAmazon Canada]

I decided to pick up Ten by Gretchen McNeil one weekend because it’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years, and it seemed like there was no better time than October to finally do it. In Ten, a group of teenagers arrive on an isolated island for a party, only to find the host missing, a storm raging, and, inevitably, each of them being killed off. The writing is simplistic but the story is well-paced and made for a quick and enjoyable, albeit cheesy, read. That said, with this many characters it’s hard to make them fully-fleshed out, and in this case, they definitely were not, with most just serving as fodder for the killer with one notable element. I actually didn’t care about any of the characters in the book, but still found the story engrossing.

Ten had the same traditional mystery vibes as An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, which I recently read and loved, except done for a young adult audience and with a borrowed plot. That’s because Ten is a retelling of an Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None, which I have not read, so that likely let me enjoy the twists and thrills a little more. It definitely has some predicable elements, and would probably be more suitable for a younger audience than me, but I still enjoyed reading it and was occasionally surprised. Honestly, Ten was almost exactly what I thought it would be, it didn’t blow me away, but it was a fun mix of horror and mystery for the spookiest time of the year. I’d certainly pick up another book by McNeil in the future.

Tasting the Past by Kevin Begos [Amazon USAmazon Canada]

I try to read one non-fiction book a month, and although I definitely don’t always managed it, I find it is a good way to learn a little more about the world while enjoying one of my favourite hobbies. The books I read aren’t always directly relevant to my work, but Tasting the Past by Kevin Begos, about the science and history of wine, certainly was. Tasting the Past blends non-fiction and memoir as Begos describes his own experiences tasting wine and then goes into the history, science and mythology behind it.

Tasting the Past is a well-researched book but I just found it really hard for it to keep my attention. I bought the audiobook this summer and started listening to it during drives to vineyards, which felt appropriate, but it ended up boring everyone in the car too much. There are really long wine lists in there that definitely could have been skipped in the audio copy. I picked it up again later, just because I was intent on finishing it. Honestly, I think I would have liked it a lot more if it had been straight non-fiction and the memoir bits had been cut out, reading about somebody traveling the world and tasting wine is just not very interesting to me. That said, if you’re interested in learning a lot more about wine, I’d definitely pick up Tasting the Past, but I would skip the audiobook.

A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean [Amazon USAmazon Canada] [PR Copy]

It was a lot of fun to read a book that takes place in the province where I lived, and you can find out more about the story behind it and what I thought in my blog post which includes a full review here.

Home After Dark by David Small [Amazon USAmazon Canada] [PR Copy]

I love reading graphic novels, and not just because they are much quicker than traditional novels to read, but I am really picky about which ones I pick up. That said, I knew I had to read Home After Dark by David Small, which is the story of a thirteen year old boy, Russell, whose mother abandons him so he moves with his father, a war veteran, to California in the 1950s. Home After Dark is a very atmospheric novel, and even on pages where there were few, or no, words, Small sets a dark and foreboding tone. This is not an uplifting story, but it is an honest one.

Home After Dark deals with topics like bullying, toxic home life, and abandonment. I really just wanted somebody to be on Russell’s side. It’s definitely not an easy book to read, but the drawings are beautifully done. I do wish the book was less open-ended, but I guess that is part of what makes it so reflective of real life. Not everyone gets the happy ending we hope for. If you are looking for a quiet graphic novel and are in an okay mood to read something sad and dark, definitely pick up Home After Dark. I haven’t read Small’s previous autobiographical graphic novel, Stitches, but I definitely plan to pick that up in the near future.

The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One by Amanda Lovelace [Amazon USAmazon Canada]

The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One by Amanda Lovelace is the follow up poetry collection to The Princess Saves Herself in this One, which I read last year and enjoyed. A lot of my feelings about Lovelace’s writing are the same as they were then, it can veer towards line-breaks in sentences rather than poetry, and be a little simple, but definitely find some growth in this collection. This may also be because the first collection was self-published and the latest has gone through editing at a publisher. I definitely felt like Lovelace’s voice was stronger in this collection and the witch theme was well-done, with a good mix of history, politics and empowerment. That said, I wish that the collection was a little more personal. Lovelace isn’t one of my favourite poets ever, but I still really enjoy her work, and I appreciate how accessible it is. I’ll certainly continue to pick up her writing in the future.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White [Amazon USAmazon Canada] [PR Copy]

Something about The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, a young adult Frankenstein retelling, just really intrigued me, so I’m really glad I had the chance to pick it up. It’s been a long time since I read the original book, but this story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth, the adopted sister of Victor Frankenstein, and it’s a dark twist on the original, which is already pretty dark. Elizabeth is not the naive, good heroine, she is calculating and cold and dark (although sadly she does become less that way as the book progresses), ie: basically Gillian Flynn narrator in a YA historical novel, and it was a great voice to read.

The first half of the book is pretty slow and character-driven, but I enjoyed White’s writing and the action definitely picks up as the book progresses. The beginning really lays the groundwork for the second half fo the book, and I thought White did an excellent job capturing some of the struggles and considerations of a girl in 18th century. I just really loved Elizabeth’s voice. Overall, I thought The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein was an excellent retelling or even just a good book on its own merits, while it may be worth reading the original first, I definitely recommend White’s novel, especially if you are looking for a spooky read next October.

Toil & Trouble edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe [Amazon USAmazon Canada] [PR Copy]

I’ve been motivated by a 2018 reading list I’m trying to follow to pick up more short story collections this year, and it’s been a mixed bag so far. Most recently I read Toil & Trouble, a short story collection about women and witchcraft edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe. There are 15 stories in this collection, including plenty by authors I hadn’t read from before, and unfortunately there were quite a few I found not very memorable or original. I also didn’t always connect with the main character, which is always a risk when you have so few pages, even when I enjoyed the writing. That said, there were definitely some strange and unusual elements and stories, which I appreciated, and really only one (Afterbirth) which came across as a more classic witch story, although I still really enjoyed that one a lot more than I expected.

Out of the collection, the most memorable stories for me included The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert, whose essay in Our Voices, Our Stories I also really enjoyed; I’m definitely encouraged to pick up a full length novel by Colbert in the future. I also adored The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma, I actually even liked it more than her novel, A Room Away From the Wolves, which I read recently. I also adored Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing in Love Spell, and I really need to pick up a novel by her ASAP. Lastly, Toil & Trouble ended with Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May, who I had never heard of but whose writing was just the perfect mix of emotion, magic and real world commentary to create an incredibly moving story. Overall, even though I was disappointed by some of the stories in Toil & Trouble there were a few standouts I adored and it’s worth at the very least picking up the collection to read those.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone [Amazon USAmazon Canada

The Hatching Trilogy, about human-eating spiders taking over the world, definitely surprised me, but I enjoyed The Hatching (reviewed here) and Skitter (reviewed here) so I was definitely looking forward to finishing out the series with Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone. These are intense, page-turning stories told from many perspectives (although increasingly few as the trilogy progresses and people, you know, get eaten by spiders).

The action I felt was slightly lacking in Skitter definitely picks up in Zero Day and although I was doubtful of how Boone would wrap the worldwide story up in only about three hundred pages, he does an excellent job tying up the loose ends. I don’t think this trilogy is the most groundbreaking thing ever written, but it’s definitely well-written with good pacing and it made for the perfect Halloween week read. Despite the many points-of-view it didn’t confuse me or lose my attention, and Zero Day in particular tackles a lot of difficult questions, especially for the President of the United States, about what the best thing to do in the current scenario is. Overall, Zero Day is a satisfying end to the trilogy, and I also enjoyed the audiobook for this one, if you are considering picking that up. I’ll definitely hope for a movie or mini-series based on these novels, but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to Boone’s next horror novel, The Mansion, which releases in December.

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And that’s it for a very productive reading month in October! What have you been reading recently?