Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! I am so close to being caught up on all my challenge books, and the number of ARCs I have to read for the next two months is far less, so I'm excited to hopefully get to some more books on my physical TBR next month! 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 this month: three physical books and four audiobooks. Let's go!
Red Rabbit - Alex Grecian
As someone who isn't big on westerns, I thought this was a very well executed horror-western-fantasy smörgåsbord . The writing was good, the characters were interesting and had compelling arcs and different dynamics with each other, and overall I really loved the atmosphere that was created. I enjoyed the feeling of dread I would get each time the group arrived to a new location because Grecian never failed to surprise and disgust me with where he was planning on going. Surprisingly, I found the ending to be touching and sweet and felt it was a great way to wrap up such a grim, dark novel.
I do wish this book was a little shorter and it did start to get formulaic/repetitive towards the end. I also felt like the overarching plot about Sadie Grace was a little anticlimactic and hastily resolved, but I didn't mind it too much; I understand what the author was going for and I know there has to be some inciting incident to get our gang together and on the road and the story is certainly more about the journey than the destination.
I think this is a wonderful addition to the horror genre this year and would recommend it to anyone who loves atmospheric horror. Definitely read the trigger warnings, but I wouldn't overlook this one!
content warnings: body horror, violence, animal death, cannibalism, child death, racism, suicide
Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future - Gloria Dickie
⬤⬤⬤⬤◐ | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I have tried hard to nurture my love for nonfiction this year and I think I have really succeeded at finding a niche that is perfect and interesting for me. I love microhistories at the center of science and nature, and Eight Bears fits that description so well. This is an incredibly well-written, well-researched book about the eight remaining bear species on Earth and their respective histories and futures. It is so informative and so devastating, and I think it's an important read for everyone.
The author did well to make the longest and most in-depth chapters of her book focus on the lesser-known bear species, like the sloth bear, spectacled bear, and sun and moon bears. I am so glad she did. I appreciated the mix between textbook-like factual information about the bears and their history juxtaposed by the author's visits to the bears' native habitats and primary accounts of the species. The chapter about the sun and moon bears was, in particular, gut wrenching. I was very close to tears and we all know by now that books don't make me cry.
I appreciated the pragmatic approach to talking about the futures of these bears, which was sad and blunt without hyperbole, or including false hope to make the reader feel better. Frankly, I wish this book was longer and included more information. I'm trying not to let it affect my rating too much, but I also didn't love the audiobook narrator for this. Her voice wasn't particularly grating, but it's a pet peeve of mine when narrators pronounce foreign names and places in a very butchered/Americanized way, and a large portion of this book involved foreign travel and experiencing other cultures. Just unfortunate.
Overall, I think this is a must-read for people to understand how delicate our planet is and the impact we can have on it. I will absolutely read anything else Gloria Dickie puts out. What a delightful debut.
content warnings: animal cruelty, animal death, gore, medical content
Bright Young Women - Jessica Knoll
⬤⬤⬤◕〇 | physical ARC | synopsis here
My Review: Thanks to Marysue Rucci Books and NetGalley for providing me a physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
I had a big true crime phase in college a few years ago, and while I'm mainly out of that now, this book did pique my interest. Living in Utah, I know a fair bit about Ted Bundy, and was curious about this book's plot, which is so clearly based off of his crimes without mentioning him or any of the real victims. And you know what? I thought it was pretty good.
I greatly enjoyed both timelines present in the book, even if I got them a little confused at times; both were equally captivating, which I find can be difficult to achieve. I liked the different relationships between the main characters, and the cohesive themes of resilience, strength, and sisterhood over the backdrop of feminine rage were well-articulated and compelling.
Sometimes I worry about the usage of true crime for exploitation and profit off of real peoples' traumas, and this book REALLY toed that line. It was hard to differentiate between fact and fiction here, for better or worse. It does feel a little strange to base a book so clearly off a real serial killer (just because you don't say Ted Bundy doesn't mean it isn't so clearly obvious), but then also fictionalize the names of the victims, whose names are lesser-known already, seems a little like erasure. I dunno. I liked this book a good amount and thought it was well-done, and I would recommend it to those who like the true crime genre, but be aware of the context.
The Vaster Wilds - Lauren Groff
⬤⬤◕〇〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: Guys I can't believe I'm in the minority for this one. I'm out here seeing rave reviews left and right and I'm so not there I'm feeling like I read the wrong book. On paper, The Vaster Wilds seems like it would be right up my alley. Survival historical fiction, beautiful prose, grim, bleak. That's my shit. But it has been a while since I've felt this disconnected from a book.
The best thing this book has going for it is its prose. I saw another reviewer describe Groff's writing as "cinematic" and I think that's the perfect descriptor. The writing is, without a doubt, wonderful in its descriptions. You can feel the atmosphere and the chill and the hardship leaking from the page. All 2.75 stars are devoted to the great writing.
Any further than that, though, and I simply could not bring myself to care. I felt the book moved along at a snail's pace, without any plot to feel like we were moving towards. And while the cinematic purple prose was wonderful for setting scenery and describing events, I felt it removed us from understanding and connecting to our protagonist. Third person limited is one of my favorite POVs, but when there are no other supporting characters to help development through dialogue, it's hard to feel a connection, even more so when our protagonist spends the whole book on the brink of death and starvation and hypothermia, so there aren't a whole lot of actions and charisma that can be used to develop her personality either.
I found myself tuning out pretty hard during this audiobook, despite concerted efforts to focus and rewind and understand. And frankly at some point, that stops being my fault. I really wished I had liked this book, but apart from some pretty writing, it didn't do much for me.
Knock Knock, Open Wide - Neil Sharpson
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | e-ARC | synopsis here
My Review: Thanks to Tor Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me a physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
When I finished reading this book, I remember my resounding thoughts being "damn, that was really good". And I'm devastated to say that now, a week and a half later, I've totally lost the plot. This book slipped out of my memory so fast. So I'm docking a few fractions of a star for staying power, but I did really enjoy this while reading, so I'll do my best to recap.
This book has a hell of a plot. So many seemingly unrelated points come together at the end to form a cohesive timeline and structure, which I was very impressed with. I really did have no idea where Sharpson was taking us half the time, and I always enjoy that in a good horror. Some of the imagery, especially the children's TV show, the night on the farm, and what happens during the climax, were especially unsettling and vivid and well-written. Slow burn folklore horror is perhaps one of my favorite horror subgenres, and I loved the Celtic/Irish influence here.
If I'm remembering correctly, there are a couple of questions that I had that were left unanswered in a rather unsatisfying manner (specifically about what happened to Etain that night), but I don't have many complaints. Definitely a good addition to any horror-lover's TBR.
content warnings: child death, sexual content, alcoholism, homophobia
The Daydreams - Laura Hankin
⬤⬤⬤◔〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: Sometimes, you need a Break Book. You've been reading a lot of grimdark horror and sad nonfiction and you just need a nice, fast-paced romp to have a good time and clear your head. I deem this a wonderful Break Book. I'm going to try and keep this review short.
I liked: the fast pace, the primary sources at the end of some chapters to break up the plot, the narrators of the audiobook I got off Libby, the gooey happy ending, and that sweet, sweet, messy drama.
I didn't like: the catty girl-on-girl hate, some of the characters, a big seemingly out-of-character moment at the climax, plot contrivances that made the inciting incident possible.
This book is no stunning work of literature, nor would it come up on a list of books I'd actively recommend to people when there are so many better titles out there. But I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it! I, in fact, had a great time.
content warnings: drug abuse, drug use, addiction, body shaming, death of parent
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy - Cathy O'Neil
My Review: It's simultaneously interesting and difficult to read a book about technology that could potentially be considered "out-of-date". This book was published in 2016, which is recent in normal-people-years but ages ago in terms of technology, especially as a pre-pandemic publication. Nevertheless, I found this book interesting and applicable to today.
I loved the framing of this book as a walk through everyday life and how malicious models and dangerous algorithms can affect the average (or primarily disadvantaged) person. Even as someone who is familiar with most of these unfair models and how they hurt people, this was an informative read that helped explain some lesser-known history and impacts.
The pacing of this book was a little slow for me, and I found myself thinking that the writing was pretty dry, even for nonfiction. I don't think this book provided me with enough new information where I would recommend it to colleagues, but I do think it would be a good read for a person who isn't familiar with data science and its potentially discriminatory effects.
content warnings: racism, ableism
What was your favorite book you read this month? Let me know!