Sarah's October 2022 Wrap-Up

Sarah's October 2022 Wrap-Up

Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! This month went by so quickly, and I didn't realize I read as many books as I did until I looked back at my Goodreads history. 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 twelve (!) books this month: eight full length novels and four novellas. Let's go!

1. All of Us Villains - Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman - ⬤⬤⬤

Synopsis: The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death. The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world--one thought long depleted.

This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice - accept their fate or rewrite their story. But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

My Review:  I was all-in on the premise for this one and while I had a good time, I don't think I'm going to be picking up the sequel. Everything was okay or good, but not great. The characters were good, but a big cast almost always comes with a lack of depth, and I didn't feel like any of the characters embodied the villainy I felt I was promised. The magic system was unique and interesting, but I feel like it could have been described more. The worldbuilding was fine, but I would have loved for the authors to get into more of the politics and implications of the magical power system in place.

The end of this book happens in pretty much the middle of the plot, and yet I don't feel overly compelled to pick up the second book in the duology, so take that as you will. I think my expectations for books that get compared to The Hunger Games are just too high these days.

2. The Cousins - Karen McManus - ⬤⬤⬤

Synopsis: Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point--not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious--and dark--their family's past is.

My Review:  This book was just super average. For a YA mystery/thriller, I think it was totally fine - I'm learning I'm not the biggest fan of the genre because it tends to be a lot tamer than some of my favorite adult thrillers. The mystery here was interesting and I enjoyed the relationships developed between our three protagonists even if the characterization of the cousins themselves was a little lacking. The pacing was slow but picked up towards the end, which I didn't mind, but the reveal(s) were a little out there for me. I guess this could be considered a spoiler, but I didn't like how each twist  was pretty much exactly the same device/style of reveal. THREE TIMES.

Overall, it's kind of just another book in the YA mystery genre. Nothing egregious, but nothing to write home about either

3. The Dutch House - Ann Patchet - ⬤

Synopsis: At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

My Review: This book unabashedly gets an extra star because of Tom Hanks's wonderful narration. I would highly recommend listening to this one on audiobook. Otherwise, this is a very well-written slice of life about two siblings and their lives and relationship after the death of their father. I just know people are going to knock this one for being slow or boring, and while I totally understand that, I think it was a fantastic character study of love and hurt. I do think the ending seemed a little rushed and arbitrary compared to the buildup of the plot, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.

4. In the House in the Dark of the Woods - Laird Hunt - ⬤⬤〇〇

Synopsis: "Once upon a time there was and there wasn't a woman who went to the woods." In this horror story set in colonial New England, a law-abiding Puritan woman goes missing. Or perhaps she has fled or abandoned her family. Or perhaps she's been kidnapped, and set loose to wander in the dense woods of the north. Alone and possibly lost, she meets another woman in the forest. Then everything changes.

On a journey that will take her through dark woods full of almost-human wolves, through a deep well wet with the screams of men, and on a living ship made of human bones, our heroine may find that the evil she flees has been inside her all along.

My Review: This one was fine. It kind of gave off I'm Thinking of Ending Things vibes, which is one of my favorite horror books of all time, but instead of my mind being jelly I just felt confused. I think most of this one went over my head even though I consider myself to be a pretty attentive/clever reader. The prose was very pretty though and I did like the story, even if I'm not sure I could summarize it to anyone.

5. Hidden Pictures - Jason Rekulak - ⬤

Synopsis: Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job in the affluent suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves this new job. She lives in the Maxwell’s pool house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

As the days pass, Teddy’s artwork becomes more and more sinister, and his stick figures steadily evolve into more detailed, complex, and lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to suspect these are glimpses of an unsolved murder from long ago, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force lingering in the forest behind the Maxwell’s house.

My Review: The worst book I've read of the year so far. I picked this one up before it got loads of hype on TikTok, but I should have taken that as my first red flag. The premise for this one was very interesting, albeit a little gimmicky. It reminded me of The Turn of the Key which was a good thing, and I liked the atmosphere. Seriously, for 75-80% of the book this was a four star read. And then it went entirely off the rails. Never have I seen a book botch an ending so badly.

I felt like it was nonstop reveal after twist after reveal and character development was totally discarded for the sake of surprise. My husband laughed as I recounted the ending to him. I see reviews on here that praise it for having an ending that they didn't see coming; like, no shit? Nothing in the plot was leading up to this and everything came out of left field in the worst way possible.

The writing was juvenile and (pet peeve) I really hate when authors use exclamation points in their narration. Anyways, this book was ultimately a massive waste of time, but I read it in under 24 hours so I don't really care. If you pick this one up, just stop reading at 80% and use your imagination. Whatever you come up with will be better than what's actually written.

6. The Test - Sylvain Neuvel - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: Britain, the not-too-distant future. Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test. He wants his family to belong.

Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death. How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?

My Review: I listened to this in one go during the work day last week while I was waiting for an audiobook I had on hold and I'm glad that I did! I hadn't heard of it prior to scrolling through Libby, but this is quite the little novella. I see a lot of reviews comparing it to a Black Mirror episode, and I think that's absolutely accurate. I really enjoyed the questions that this book posed and I'm still thinking about it despite its short length.

Props to the author for knowing what this book was about and cutting to it. The length was perfect and there were no unnecessary inclusions. I feel like this easily could have been a full length novel but believe that its impact is much greater as a novella. The narrator for this one was great too. Would highly recommend for a quick day's read/listen.

7. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup - John Carreyrou - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company's value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors.

My Review: Girlies, 2022 has been the year of the nonficiton microhistory for me and I could not be happier. Right now, three of my seven top books of the year are nonfiction (also including The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography and Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty), but I don't know if any of the books I've read this year have made my blood boil (unintentional blood puns) quite like this one.

This book is so well-researched and so readable that I'm surprised it can do both at the same time so masterfully. I never felt lost in medical descriptions or explanations despite not knowing much about the field prior to reading. Due to the exceptionally high turnover at Theranos, this book has a large cast of characters, but Carreyrou does a great job at guiding you along so you never have to backtrack through the book to remind yourself of a name.

I love so many of the nonfiction books I've read this year, but if I have to recommend any, especially to people who don't typically enjoy nonfiction, it would be this one

8. The Yellow Wall-Paper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: A woman and her husband rent a summer house, but what should be a restful getaway turns into a suffocating psychological battle. This chilling account of postpartum depression and a husband's controlling behavior in the guise of treatment will leave you breathless.

My Review: I listened to this one while waiting in an especially long Chick-fil-A line, and I think it was pretty good. I'm always especially interested in realistic horror and I think this novella takes an important look into mental health and the very real terror of losing your mind. It's more depressing than it is scary. I don't know if this story is going to stick with me for as long as I anticipated, but I would be interested in rereading it to see if I catch anything more the second time around.

9. The Darkest Part of the Forest - Holly Black - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake. Until one day, he does...

As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be.

My Review: This is very quintessential 2010s YA fantasy vibes which just isn't really my thing anymore (if it ever really was in the first place). The characters felt pretty flat and the writing wasn't anything special. I felt like the plot didn't even really start until we were 2/3 of the way through the book. I did appreciate the good diversity and representation, but that's probably my biggest praise for what's going on here. I think there are definitely better faerie books out there.

10. Every Heart a Doorway - Seanan McGuire - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. No matter the cost.

My Review: This is such a fun little novella that I really enjoyed listening to on the way to work, and I'm looking forward to continuing with the series. I think the concept is so wonderful and can be taken and explored in so many ways and I can't wait to see where the author goes with the idea.

With that being said, this particular plot was not my favorite. I wasn't really invested in the mystery that took over the majority of the storyline as much as I was interested in learning about the different characters and the worlds they visited. I also thought that some of the writing, especially some of the dialogue, sounded unnatural and overly wordy.

Other than that, I thought this was a short, fun listen that I would definitely recommend.

11. Comfort Me With Apples - Catherynne M. Valente - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It's just that he's away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband's face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can't quite meet her gaze...

My Review: This book was really cool! I listened to this one on my commute one day and I had a great time. At first I thought this was going to be in the vein of Don't Worry Darling, and I am so happy that I was wrong! It took me a little while to catch on to what was going on, but I thought the story was wonderful. I almost wish that the 'twist' hadn't been so explicitly spelled out for the reader; I liked the subtlety and slow burn of coming to the realization on my own.

Other than that, the prose was wonderful, the narrator was great, and I was very entertained.

12. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid - ⬤⬤

Synopsis: Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Review: Dubbing 2022 the Year of My Discovery of TJR. I've had a number of her books on my shelf for a while now and, with the sheer number of titles on my TBR, have just never gotten around to picking any of them up. So when I pulled this one out of my TBR jar after having read Daisy Jones last month, I was so excited. And this book lived up to all the hype. The characters were real and flawed and wonderful, the prose was fantastic, the plot was engaging and this is the second time now that I've been in love with the way that TJR has framed/formatted her stories. I almost cried, which is a rarity.

I've read some low reviews on here that say that the relationships portrayed are unhealthy and toxic and not what love should be like and...that's the entire point. None of the characters (except Harry!) are super likeable, and that's the point. None of the relationships are perfect, far from it, and that's on purpose. I don't this this book was absolutely perfect, but I do think it has a strong message, great style, and an immersive atmosphere.

That's all my reads (so many!) for the month of October! Feel free to follow me on Goodreads to see my reviews as they appear during the month, or check back in at the end of November to see what I read!

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