BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

BOOK REVIEW: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Carrie Soto is Back

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 30 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Sports

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

My Review: Originally introduced to us in Malibu Rising (see my review of that book here) as the girlfriend of Nina Riva’s husband, Carrie Soto Is Back is the story of Carrie Soto, the best female tennis player in the world. The book spans the period of her life, from childhood to her late thirties. Carrie retired from tennis with the record of winning the most Grand Slam titles…a record that is about to be beat by another tennis player, Nicki Chan. The Goodread synopsis does a good job of summing up the story, so I won’t go too much into plot detail here.

Overall, I liked this book. Currently, it has a 4.26 rating on Goodreads (I am giving it 4 stars), so lots of other people feel the same way about it.

There is a lot of tennis in this book, a sport I don’t know too much about — my lack of knowledge didn’t take away from the story so if you’re like me, then you won’t be lost with all the tennis references. The author does a good job of making the actual tennis playing accessible to people who don’t know the rules of the game.

The Candid Cover states “As a reader, I was pulled right into the matches and the intense drama that unfolds. These aspects are really exciting, and I really loved the commentary on the politics of sport and some of its sexism, making for a thought-provoking read.”

I agree regarding the commentary! When you listen to the audiobook, it adds something special because there is typical “sports commentary” music and there are different narrators for the voices of the pundits.

Through the book we see Carrie “The Battle Axe” grow as a human being. Despite being 37 years old, Carrie still has a lot to learn about love and life. Tennis had been her entire life. She wanted to be the best, and she didn’t care who she hurt along the way — even her father, who she fired as her coach because he couldn’t get her to be where she needed to be professionally. At 37, she is alone, never having a serious boyfriend or love interest.

As she reconnects with her father (who is coaching her once again), and with a tennis player she slept with once years before, Carrie slowly begins to learn there is more to life than tennis.

Mrs. B’s Book Reviews says of the father / daughter relationship: ” The most touching part of Carrie Soto is the unconditional relationship that she holds with her father. Reid does a truly excellent job of portraying a realistic, respectful and loving father /daughter relationship.”

I’m not usually a fan of child / parent relationship stories, because often times they come off really sickly sweet, but I have to agree that Reid did a really good job of keeping it touching / sentimental without getting to barf level sap.

I have read a bunch of books by Taylor Jenkins Reid (click on the author tag at the end of the post to see the other reviews) and I am blown away each time. Reid’s books are always well researched, well written and well developed. She is a fantastic writer and weaver of tales and this book was no exception.

I would definitely recommend this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary’s Baby

Author: Ira Levin

Audiobook Length: 6 hours and 9 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Paranormal

Read Start Date: November 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 28, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Suppose you were an up-to-date young wife who moved into an old and elegant New York apartment house with a rather strange past.

Suppose that only after you became pregnant did you begin to suspect the building harbored a diabolically evil group of devil worshippers who had mastered the arts of black magic and witchcraft.

Suppose that this satanic conspiracy set out to claim not only your husband but your baby.

Well, that’s what happened to Rosemary… Or did it…?

My Review: I read this book 10 years ago and saw it for rent as an audiobook at the library and figured why not. This book is one of those classics that never seems to get old (except that some of the language used in the book, while it may have been normal in the 1960’s when it was written, did not age well.) Mia Farrow is the narrator of the audiobook which is a nice touch (she played Rosemary in the movie in 1968).

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse jump at the opportunity to move into a recently empty apartment at the Branford–an elegant apartment building. The apartment is just fantastic, and a perfect size for the eventual family the couple wants to have. A stay-at-home-wife, Rosemary slowly adjusts to life at the building, befriending a woman of a similar age in the laundry room. Terry, a now sober drug addict pulled off the streets by the Castevets (Rosemary’s neighbors), wears a strange bauble around her neck containing a foul smelling “tannis root”, given to her by the Castevets for “luck”.

When Terry suddenly plummets to her death, things at the Branford start to take a terrifying turn. From odd chanting and flute playing coming from the Castevets apartment, to the horrible dream Rosemary had of being raped by a demon with yellow eyes, things at the Branford aren’t looking rosy as they once had. Except Guy all of a sudden starts getting bigger and better acting roles, and Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant. Was her dream really just a dream?

The book is great if you remember that it is a period piece written and taking place in the 1960’s. There are lots of elements of the story which would not work today in 2022…and it is these elements which add the tension to the story. In 2022, Rosemary would be able to search the internet, she would likely have a job, have more access to friends with whom to speak about her constant abdominal pains while pregnant. Her OBGYN’s instructions “not to read books or talk to friends–because every pregnancy is different” would probably go over as well as a cockroach in a bowl of cherries.

Rosemary seemed very isolated in the story. Her one friend, Hutch, mysteriously fell into a coma after telling Rosemary of the sordid history of the Branford. I don’t think this isolation would have been the same had the story taken place in the present day.

But somehow that is part of the appeal and charm of Rosemary’s Baby, and other books from decades ago. You don’t need the big thrills or “gotcha” moments like today’s horror (okay, maybe this is mostly in movies). The horror in this book is subtle, it creeps up on you like lions hiding in the tall grass. It builds and builds, and finally climaxes in an ending that is expected, yet somehow not at the same time.

I’m glad I read this again and I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

BOOK REVIEW: American Mother by Gregg Olsen

Title: American Mother: The True Story of a Troubled Family, Motherhood, and the Cyanide Murders that Shook the World

Author: Gregg Olsen

Audiobook Length: 14 hours and 7 minutes. Book length: 496 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: November 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: At 5.02 pm on June 5, 1986, an emergency call came into the local sheriff’s office in the small town of Auburn, Washington State. A distressed housewife, Stella Nickell, said her husband Bruce was having a seizure. Officers rushed to the Nickell’s mobile home, to find Stella standing frozen at the door… Bruce was on the floor fighting for his life.  
 
As Stella became the beneficiary of over $175,000 in a life insurance pay-out, forensics discovered that Bruce had consumed painkillers laced with cyanide.
 
A week later, fifteen-year-old Hayley was getting ready for another school day. Her mom, Sue, called out ‘I love you’ before heading into the bathroom and moments later collapsed on the floor. Sue never regained consciousness, and the autopsy revealed she had been poisoned by cyanide tainted headache pills. Just like Bruce.
 
While a daughter grieved the sudden and devastating loss of her mother, a young woman, Cindy, was thinking about her own mom Stella. She thought about the years of neglect and abuse, the tangled web of secrets Stella had shared with her, and Cindy contemplated turning her mom into the FBI…
 
Gripping and heart-breaking, Gregg Olsen uncovers the shocking true story of a troubled family. He delves into a complex mother-daughter relationship rooted in mistrust and deception, and the journey of the sweet curly-haired little girl from Oregon whose fierce ambition to live the American Dream led her to make the ultimate betrayal.    
 
Originally published as Bitter Almonds. Revised and updated edition.

My Review: I received this book as an audiobook and ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. With respect to the different formats:

Audiobook: The audiobook was great. I also really liked the interview with the author that was included in the end.

Ebook: The ebook was also great. It was easy to read and it was organized well.

With respect to the story itself, American Mother is the true crime story of a woman, Stella Nickell, who murdered her husband Bruce by giving him Excedrin capsules filled with cyanide. The medical examiner initially stated that the cause of death was emphysema. Stella was free and clear of the murder — that is — until she became greedy. You see, if the death was accidental, then Stella would get a bigger payout from the life insurance.

Sickly inspired by the “tylenol murders”, which was a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982, Stella formulated a plan: she would contaminate Excedrin bottles with cyanide filled capsules and put them on the shelves at drug stores. Then, when someone else took them and died, it would be seen as another “drug tampering” case, and Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident. This plot is sick and twisted, and Stella almost got away with it. Who would think that someone would be so callous as to murder complete strangers to cover up the murder of her husband?

A short while after Stella put the bottles on the shelves, a woman named Sue took those cyanide pills and died. This time the medical examiner found the cyanide in her system. After Sue’s death hit the news, Stella started calling authorities stating her belief that her husband had also taken contaminated pills. It was found to be true.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Stella murdered Sue so that Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident and Stella could get more money. What a heartless piece of garbage!

Gregg Olsen tells the story of not only the murder and the victim, Sue, but also the background on the Nickell family. While I’m not a big fan of focusing on the killer (because the focus should be on the victim instead), it was important to see Stella’s family dynamics, as there was some speculation, although never proven, that Stella’s daughter was in on the plot as well.

I really like how Olsen told the story — it wasn’t dry like some true crime books, and it held my interest. There was some repetition of the facts when Olsen wrote about the trial (and honestly this was my least favorite part), but on the other hand it really drove home the point that Stella was a heartless monster who killed 2 people for the money.

If you like true crime, I would definitely recommend this book.

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Review: The book tells the story from 3 POVs:

Rachel is having a hard time of it. Spiraling downward, she has lost her husband, her job, and many times her dignity (she often gets blackout drunk and does things she regrets in the morning). Fooling her roommate into believing she still has a job, Rachel takes the train each morning into London, drink in hand. Every morning she passes by the house that used to be hers — the one that her husband now lives in with his new wife and baby girl. A few doors down lives another couple, whom Rachel watches through the train window, creating a perfect life for them in her mind.

One day, this perfect image is shattered when sees the wife cheating on the husband with another man. Shorty thereafter, the wife goes missing and is feared dead. What happened to her? Was it the man Rachel saw her with? Did the husband find out and kill her in a jealous rage? Rachel was there that night–the night that Megan went missing–but she was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing.

Rachel becomes obsessed with trying to solve the mystery, as she is convinced she knows more than she remembers.

Megan: The story of Megan is told in the past and leads up to the circumstances surrounding why she goes missing. Something horrific happens in her past (I won’t spoil it), but it left me bereft for days afterward.

Lastly, the story of Anne, Rachel’s ex’s new wife. Anne views Rachel much like everyone else — a drunk, a nuisance, crazy. Rachel is constantly leaving messages for Tom (the husband) and Anne is becoming fed up. I wasn’t too crazy about Anne’s POV and it didn’t add that much to the story until the ending when it all came together.

Down the Rabbit Hole sums it up best: “The characters in this book were all so frustratingly imperfect. Each time I wish they would make some good decisions, but they wouldn’t. I think all in all that speaks to the author’s prowess at creating these characters that you can’t help but root for, or at least wish the best, and then have that all crumbling down around you all the time. It truly made for a frustrating yet impressive experience of impending dread.”

I love Paula Hawkins’s writing. Both its imagery and the mystery aspect. The ending had a big twist that I did not see coming and it tied the whole story into a neat little bow. Although Rachel’s actions are cringe worthy sometimes, she is a sympathetic character. She has been done wrong — and by the end it is clear why she is (justifiably) a mess.

I would definitely recommend this book.

As a last point, I would like to share a couple of quotes that I took note of:

My heart breaks for Rachel here in this moment.

I liked my job, but I didn’t have a glittering career, and even if I had, let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things — their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.

The Girl on the Train page 85

The below quote as a really awesome element of foreshadowing in it, that you don’t pick up until much later in the book. It’s just really fantastic, actually, when I think about it.

Blackouts happen, and it isn’t just a matter of being a bit hazy about getting home from the club or forgetting what it was that was so funny when you were chatting in the pub. It’s different. Total black; hours lost, never to be retrieved.

Tom bought me a book about it. Not very romantic, but he was tired of listening to me tell him how sorry I was in the morning when I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. I think he wanted me to see the damage I was doing, the kind of things I might be capable of. It was written by a doctor, but I’ve no idea whether it was accurate: the author claimed that blacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened, but having no memories to forget in the first place. His theory was that you get into a state where your brain no longer makes short-term memories. And while you’re there, in deepest black, you don’t behave as you usually would, because you’re simply reacting to the very last thing that you think happened, because — since you aren’t making memories — you might not actually know what the last thing that happened really was.”

The Girl on the Train page 74

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn

Book Length: 427 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Crime

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Review: Anna Fox, a child psychologist, is bound to her home after a traumatic event left her with agoraphobia. We don’t find out what this traumatic event is until nearly the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it here. To fill her days, Anna drinks, mixing the alcohol with prescription medication, and watches her neighbors. For the first 115 pages of the book we learn about Anna — her (bad) habits, mostly. How she likes to watch old movies, play on-line chess, and dispense advice to other agoraphobes in an online chatroom. She has a cat, named Punch, and is separated from her husband and daughter. Anna speaks to them on the phone a few times, but hasn’t seen either of them for what seems like a long time.

Although I never felt like this was overkill per se, I feel basically nothing happened in these 115 pages and it probably could have been shortened. We get a lot of conversations between her and the online people, a lot of quotes from her black and white movies. Unnecessary fillers perhaps?

Anyway, at some point the neighbor, Ethan Russel, and then shortly thereafter, Jane Russel (Ethan’s mother), comes over and they have a night of fun. Drinking wine, playing chess, just chatting. Anna is concerned because Alistair Russel can be violent sometimes, and controlling — or so says Jane. Anna has never met him before, so all she has is Jane’s word for it. Other than this unexpected visit, everything seems a bit mundane, I guess maybe that is how it feels for Anna too.

Finally, on page 115, the thrills begin. Anna hears a scream coming from the Russel’s house. Anna immediately calls Ethan, who tearfully tells Anna that “he just lost his temper.” Anna is convinced that Alistair hurt Jane.

The next evening, Anna is drinking and watching TV as usual, when she turns her attention to the Russel house. While Anna is listening to the TV in the background (the quotes from the movie are interspersed with the narrative, which honestly was distracting), Anna sees Jane shouting at someone, and then:

Once more Jane enters the frame–but walking slowly, strangely. Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse; even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach. Her hands scrabble at her chest. Something slender and silver has lodged there, like a hilt.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, page 144

Anna phones the police and the gaslighting begins. Anna was so drunk when she made the police call, she was slurring her words. Almost unintelligibly. No one believes that she saw someone get murdered, mainly because the woman she thought was Jane Russell, was in fact, not. She was someone using Jane’s name. Who was this woman? Does she even exist? Or could mixing the pills and alcohol have given her a hallucination?

Overall, I liked the story. I found it intense at times and I did not see the ending coming. I found myself getting annoyed that no one believed Anna — I found her to be a very sympathetic character and though I couldn’t relate to her completely (as I’m not in her circumstances), I could relate to the gaslighting, the not being taken seriously. I think most women can.

It was easy to read and I got through the 400+ pages in about a week (around 50 pages per day). I only gave it four stars, however, because at times it dragged on. I felt there were too many movies quotes, too many days that were the same; there was a lot of repetition. Despite that, if you haven’t read it already (it’s been out since 2018) I would recommend it.

SIDE NOTE: I was wondering why this book wasn’t listed as “women’s fiction”, but then I just read on Goodreads that the author is actually a man! That answers that! I had just assumed that the author was a women. I’m not sure why I thought that honestly…I guess because the main character is a woman? It doesn’t change my opinion of the book at all, I just found it interesting and though I’d share.

BOOK REVIEW: Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

Title: Ghostwritten

Author: Ronald Malfi

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 56 minutes and Book Length: 400 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Short Stories, Novella, Paranormal, Suspense

Read Start Date: October 11, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Four brand-new horror novellas from “a modern-day Algernon Blackwood” all about books, stories, manuscripts – the written word has never had sharper teeth…

From the bestselling author of Come with Me, four standalone horror novellas set in a shared universe!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel drives people to their deaths.

A delivery job turns deadly in The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride.

In This Book Belongs to Olo, a lonely child has dangerous control over an usual pop-up book.

A choose-your-own adventure game spirals into an uncanny reality in The Story.

Full of creepy, page-turning suspense, these collected novellas are perfect for fans of Paul Tremblay, Stephen King and Joe Hill.

My Review: I received this first as a book from Netgalley, but by the time I was ready to read it, there was also an audiobook version available, so I received that from Negalley also. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ronald Malfi is fast becoming one of my all time favorite horror authors. Ghost Written is the second book by Malfi I have read (the first being Blackmouth (you can find my review here)). I really liked the book in both mediums (book and audiobook format).

I’m a voracious reader (I have read about 85 books so far this year, which is pretty typical for me), so the theme of cursed books was intriguing to me. I was not disappointed!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel will stop at nothing to remain unedited and unchanged, even kill! I really liked this one alot — it was actually probably my favorite of the bunch. The book in this story took on a monster quality and seemed to have a mind of its own. I really liked the ending (but I won’t spoil it).

In The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride, two guys have to deliver a package, a book — should be easy right? The problem: the delivery comes with certain instructions, ones that the brothers decide not to follow. This novella has elements of alternate realities / dimensions and I really liked it!

In This Book Belongs to Olo, Olo is the child of rich parents — his only problem is that he has no friends. With his magical pop-up book at his side, he decides to get friends any way he can, even if that means trapping them forever. This was not my favorite story. I would have liked to know how Olo came to have this book and/or how he came to have the power to make this book magical.

Lastly, in The Story, a journalist is investigating the apparent suicide of his ex-girlfriend. What he finds is a strange dark web choose-your-own-adventure story. Could this be the reason for her death? Reading this story via audiobook was a little confusing because sometimes the POV would switch to the characters in the adventure story. I think this one might be better read than listened to.

I love this author, so I can’t recommend his books enough!

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Audiobook Length: 13 hours and 52 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 6, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 11, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

My Review: I had no idea what to expect when I checked this audiobook out from the library, as to often happens to me with audiobooks. It was filed in the “popular global” category, and I thought, why not. I’m glad I did.

Sam and Sadie met as children at the hospital following an accident which left Sam disabled. Sadie’s sister had cancer and so was at the hospital often. Initially bonding over video games, their friendship ended when Sadie hurt Sam’s feelings deeply. They didn’t reconnect until college, when Sam saw Sadie coincidentally on a train platform. They created a video game, which launched their careers, and the events which flow from this success will shape their lives.

This book is largely character driven and despite having taken place over a time period of 30 years, nothing much happens from a plot perspective. The characters make a video game, then another, and another. Sadie falls in and out of a negative / abusive relationship. Sam and Sadie are friends, then they are not. They seem to always either be “on” or “off”, often fluctuating with whether they are making a game together or not. This book has no thrills (except maybe one scene toward the end), and is one of those books that is meant to be more beautiful than action packed.

In other words, with books like these, that focus on character rather than plot, the characters have to be well developed and the writing great. I had no complaints about the writing while listening and found the story to be engaging even though it could be at some points mundane.

The characters were at times not great people. I’ve Read This states: “The characters of Sam and Sadie aren’t all that likeable – both are selfish and self-absorbed the majority of the time.” I can’t say that I had feelings toward the characters one way or the other, but for some reason that didn’t seem to detract from the overall story for me. I think that the characters were meant to be flawed, and this made them more real somehow, more relatable.

I really love BOOKSHELF FANTASIES‘s take on this book: “Over the course of the years covered by Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, we learn about their backstories, their families, their traumas, and of course, their brilliance. There’s so much to absorb here about culture, wellness and disability, reality and virtual worlds, intelligence and academia, and more. Sadie, Sam, and Marx are unforgettable characters, beautifully described and developed. We know these people and what makes them tick; we understand their joys and their pain, and when bad things happen, it hurts deeply.

The writing is beautiful, often funny, often pensive, filled with oddball characters in a world that many of us (anyone not involved in gaming and coding) may find alien. We’re given entrance into this world through these characters’ experiences, and it’s fascinating.”

As of the writing of this review Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow has a 4.35 rating on Goodreads. Seems about in line with the 4 stars I am giving it. I would recommend this book for people who like character driven novels, especially those who are interested in video games and 90s nostalgia.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Title: My Sister, The Serial Killer

Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book Length: 223 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 19, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 22, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

My Review: As of writing this review, this book has a 3.7 rating on Goodreads, which I find to be a little unfair. I really liked this book for several reasons. First, I found it to be an interesting premise. Korede and Ayoola are sisters who grew up with an abusive father, that is, until he died. I never figured out whether the father just up and had a heart attack, or if the sisters had something to do with it. I would have liked to see more clarity about this topic.

Secondly, I liked that this book was easy to read. I finished it in only 3 days.

The book starts with a murder — Ayoola’s third murder to be precise. The man she killed had been her boyfriend, and she claims he attacked her. But then, why was the knife (their father’s knife) protruding from his back? Why has Ayoola done this before? Could it really be that ALL the times she has killed was always done in self defense, or could she be, as Korede thinks, a serial killer?

In darkly comedic fashion, we are with the sisters as they clean the scene, wrap the body, and carry him down in the elevator to Korede’s car. They dump him unceremoniously into the river and go on with their daily lives. Ayoola is immediately ready to get back to normal, and Korede has to reel in Ayoola’s Instagram posts which might seem in poor taste to some, and to others suspicious. Neither sister seems emotionally stable, some might even call them sociopaths.

This book is as much about Ayoola being a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationship between the sisters. Korede is extremely jealous of Ayoola because of her beauty and success with men, due to a sense of familial obligation instilled in her by their mother, continues to cover up Ayoola’s crimes. Korede, though the elder sibling, has always lived in Ayoola’s shadow. “I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Ayoola was beautiful and I was…not. But what I do know is that I was aware of my own inadequacies long before.” Korede is self-deprecating and very hard on herself — which I don’t feel is warranted. She is smart and a hard worker, having been recent promoted to head nurse at the hospital where she works. Yes, she might not be as alluringly seductive as her sister, but well, her sister clearly has some fatal flaws.

When Ayoola catches the attention of Tade, a doctor whom Korede is in love with, it is unclear for most of the book what Korede will do. Will she tell on Ayoola? Will she allow things to progress and see what happens? What will come first, family or what is morally right? I won’t spoil the ending, but I think that it is true to Korede and I wasn’t surprised.

BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: The Golden Couple

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 3 minutes

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: September 5, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Wealthy Washington suburbanites Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem to have it all—until Marissa is unfaithful. Beneath their veneer of perfection is a relationship riven by work and a lack of intimacy. She wants to repair things for the sake of their eight-year-old son and because she loves her husband. Enter Avery Chambers.

Avery is a therapist who lost her professional license. Still, it doesn’t stop her from counseling those in crisis, though they have to adhere to her unorthodox methods. And the Bishops are desperate.

When they glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.

My Review: The Goodreads synopsis is pretty good so I won’t elaborate on the plot much here, except to say that the book alternates between the perspectives of Marissa and Avery. There are threats lurking behind every corner. Marissa owns a boutique store and starts to get mysterious and at times threatening messages. Is it the guy she slept with? Is Matthew also having an affair with an old girlfriend.

Avery lost her professional license because she went one to step over the line: she broke a patient’s confidentiality when she took information she had learned during a session and leaked it to the news media, essentially becoming a whistle blower. Like Marissa, she is also being threatened, but by the pharmaceutical company who wants to know the name of the informant. Avery adopts a love bug of a Pitbull, but not for protection oddly. I have to say I was a little worried that the dog would get hurt protecting Avery at some point in the book, but happily NOPE! Finally! An author who knows to leave the dog alone 😀.

The authors do a good job of building the tension through out the book and although it started somewhat slow, by the end I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store at the story’s climax. The twist at the end was very unexpected, but I liked it!

This book was great as an audiobook, and it was possible to read while multitasking.