Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! Please ignore that we are into December, my review for November will be out soon! I know that some of these books may be listed for sale on the website, but I want to keep my reviews honest. We may not have the same taste in books and I encourage you to check them out regardless!
I read seven books in October: two physical books and five audiobooks. Let's go!
Nestlings - Nat Cassidy
This is the first horror book in a good long time that genuinely scared me. Very wary of reading this one too late at night, and that's such a good thing. The atmosphere and slow-burn mystery was so well executed that my mind went wild trying to guess the endings and twists. I was right on a couple, but that is rarely something that "ruins" a book for me.
I really enjoyed the relationship dynamics between all the characters and watching how our protagonists evolved. The characters and their motivations were all realistic and it made some of the choices they made easy to empathize with even if I hated the character themself. The inciting incidents leading up to the climax were some of the most haunting things I've read recently, and I found myself gasping and talking out loud while reading, which doesn't happen often.
I will say that once everything was revealed and the climax was occurring I found myself getting a little more bored and confused, but it didn't do a lot to mar my overall enjoyment of the book. Nestlings is being marketed as Rosemary's Baby meets Salem's Lot and while I haven't consumed either piece of media, I can totally see where they're pulling from and I think it's brilliant.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to my fellow horror lovers and I can easily see Cassidy becoming one of my favorite authors in the horror space today.
Take My Hand - Dolen Perkins-Valdez
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I'm so glad I finally got around to listening to this book, and I'm happy I chose to listen to the audiobook because I cannot recommend the narrator highly enough. Her voice was so emotive and melodic and a joy to listen to.
I found this book's premise to be so compelling, even before i knew just how true its content was. While the plot drew me in, the real star of the show is the relationship between our protagonist, Civil, and the girls she is assign to care for, India and Erica. Watching her bond strengthen with the girls throughout the book was a delight, as were the many other relationships between various characters. The first two-thirds of this book had me in a chokehold.
I will say that the dual timeline in Take My Hand doesn't really do it for me. The plot points in the past are far more interesting and heart-wrenching than anything that occurs in the present, which is such an unfortunate flaw to have in a book. Luckily the storyline heavily favors the past, so that wasn't much of an issue for most of the plotline. However, the final third of the book leans more heavily into a trial and the ramifications of certain plot events, and we're pulled away from the foundational relationships of the book slightly. While this was still an interesting aspect of the plot, I can't say I cared for it nearly as much.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend this book, especially the audiobook, even if just for the educational aspect. These very real, horrific circumstances don't get a lot of acknowledgement these days, and it's important to remember that they did happen and affect real people. Will be on the lookout from more from Perkins-Valdez.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It - Chris Voss
⬤⬤⬤◐〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: Let's get things straight: I am NOT a business book girlie. I think lots, if not most, business/leadership/communications books are farces written by privileged, white, middle-aged men to get you to buy a book full of information you could have found online for free, and that's how they make their money.
On the other hand, this is kinda good.
The key to this book is that it's part FBI storytelling, part negotiation advice. Learning about the hostage negotiation tactics Voss used and different scenarios in which he applied them was fascinating. By far my favorite aspect of the book. I also wish it was the only part.
This book is also, literally, Manipulation Tactics 101. That's cool if you're a hostage negotiator and sharing your stories about life-or-death situations, but it becomes more uncomfortable when you start thinking about applying these tactics to literally anyone else. I'm also a confrontation-avoidant introvert that doesn't get off on haggling with a used car salesperson for hours, so maybe this book wasn't written for me. Serves me right for picking up a business book when I guess what I wanted was a memoir.
Maybe I'll try some of the more tame tactics here with people I'll never see again and don't care about, but most seem too overly asshole-ish to implement in public. Also I'm a woman, and no matter how assertive I am, there are men who never take me seriously anyway. I want to like this book so bad, but it doesn't have enough of the juicy stuff in it.
Untethered Sky - Fonda Lee
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: To be transparent, I checked out this audiobook from the library because it was available ASAP, it was short, and it finished off a StoryGraph challenge I was trying to wrap up. And it just stole my little heart! This was such an interesting and well-written story. I was hooked immediately. The folklore/mythical beasts were wonderful, the character relationships were well done, and I really enjoyed the ending even if it wasn't what I expected.
The biggest complaint, of course, is that this is an idea that could have (and in my opinion, should have) been a full sized novel. There is so much lore and worldbuilding and political intrigue and character dynamics that are just begging to be explored, and while I thought it was well written for a novella, overall I was disappointed with the lack of depth that always seems to come with a work of this length. Give me 400 pages of BIRD.
Would absolutely still recommend though, especially if you're short on time. Gonna have to check out Jade City now!
The Hacienda - Isabel Cañas
My Review: I feel like this book has a gorgeous cover and a neat premise and is just painfully average on the inside. Tell me why it took me two weeks to read this book. Huh? The Hacienda had all the markings of a hit for me: atmosphere, slow burn, enjoyable writing, and yet I felt it fizzled on any sort of compelling execution. I like Gothic horror and this felt like a great read to kick off the spooky season, but the plot points felt so repetitive that I feel I could have easily knocked 50 pages off and not realized.
I felt once the plot started rolling that our protagonist, Beatriz, would have responded differently to the same tricks once she realized what was happening. Sure felt like she kept doing the same things and having the same reactions and then being surprised when nothing changed. I can understand some of it, but over the course of 350 pages it became a little too much.
However, classic haunted house stories have such a wonderful aura around them and this story exuded culture and history and care as well as horror. I also really enjoyed the ending and felt it was good and realistic and the right decision for the characters and the direction of the story. I don't know if many authors would have made the right choice there. I think this is a sure winner for Gothic lovers, those who aren't too into horror but want a spooky fall atmosphere, or those just getting into the genre.
Bonus point: hot priest.
content warnings: murder, blood, rape, death of parent
Alice - Christina Henry
My Review: Noooo. NOOOOOO. Tell my why both Christina Henry books I've read so far have been flops. I own three more of her books. What does this mean?
I am so sad. There is so much room here for horror and oddities. Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland shows that even with a family-friendly premise, the story can be weird and off-putting. This seriously just shouldn't have been a retelling at all. The connections to the original fairytale exist almost in name only, with some of the most iconic and charismatic characters (or elements of characters) being left out.
So much of the horror of this book felt included for shock value, which is disappointing. This is a very adult book (see trigger warnings and take them seriously, please), but that doesn't always mean horror has to equate to needless violence or trauma. With the exception of one character introduction with the Caterpillar, which I found to be very effective and horrifying, I thought most of the horror elements thrown at the wall didn't stick for me.
In rapid-fire bullet points, here are some of my other gripes, since I can't be bothered to spend any more energy on this book:
- totally unbelievable and unnecessary romance between our protagonists
- a seeming hesitancy to really lean into the fantasy/magical elements of the book
- a very linear "go meet this scary character, now go meet this scary character" plotline
- the STUPIDEST goddamn ending with both major antagonists being dealt with in less than two pages each
This could have been promising, but any positives I have are vastly outweighed by poor execution and unnecessarily tying in an IP that in no way enhanced the content of the story. Don't waste your time.
content warnings: rape, sexual assault, body horror, murder, trafficking, forced institutionalization, sexual violence, cannibalism, animal cruelty
The Fall of the House of Usher - Edgar Allan Poe
My Review: I listened to an audio dramatization of this novella so I missed most of the original prose, but I did enjoy it. Not going to rate it because that doesn't seem fair, but did a quick listen as background before I read What Moves the Dead.
What was your favorite book you read this month? Let me know!