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: Wraith by Mark Wheaton

Title: Wraith

Author: Mark Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller, Gothic, Mystery

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 3, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book opens with the death of Cecily’s mother under strange circumstances. Although everyone has always tried to tell Cecily that her mother drowned in the severely bad hurricane, Cecily cannot escape the memory of the ghostly figure a.k.a the wraith, whom Cecily believes was responsible.

When we next see Cecily, she is an adult and works as a botanist (?) in Charleston, South Carolina. A man from France (Rene) approaches her and informs her that the great-grandmother Cecily had never known about, wants to see her urgently. By the time they reach France, however, she is already dead, and seemingly she has taken the information she wanted to tell Cecily with her to her grave.

Cecily stays on in France for a little while longer, learning about the alleged LeClercq curse i.e., that when the wraith comes for you, you have 2 options: kill yourself or the wraith will take the lives of those around you instead. Now that Cecily has seen the wraith, can she unravel the curse before the wraith takes vengeance on Cecily and those she cares about?

While I generally liked the story, I found it to be a little slow going at times, leading to a conclusion that was somewhat unsatisfactory. Even though billed as “horror”, I didn’t find it scary. I didn’t really feel any edge of my seat tension either, to be honest. I thought it was more of a mystery / thriller with a ticking clock (i.e., Cecily only had a certain amount of time to solve the mystery before the wraith got her).

That being said, the story line is interesting and the book was well written. Coming in at a rating of 3.57 on Goodreads at the time of this review seems about right. Some people are more enthusiastic than others and it seems to be split down the middle in terms of those who liked it and those who didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book we find out that a LeClercq hundreds of years ago was a giant monster who basically stole land and killed a bunch of people. The wraith is the tormented spirit of one of those murdered people. Since the LeClercqs have benefited from this theft and murder, the wraith comes to ruin the lives of the descendants and/or kill them. Cecily ends up solving the mystery and puts everything to rights — but at the end of the book, the wraith is still following her around.

Why was the spirit not satisfied? This was just annoying to say the least. I think that I would have given the book 4 stars had it not been for the ending. Because honestly, if the curse wasn’t lifted by solving the mystery and putting things right — then what was the point of the 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: Snow by Ronald Malfi

Title: Snow

Author: Ronald Malfi

Book Length: 311 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-fi, Folklore-Monsters, Paranormal

Read Start Date: October 23, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 29, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

My Review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed so that I could read it again, and that rarely happens.

Todd Curry is traveling to Des Moines to see his young son. HIs connecting flight in Chicago is cancelled due to a bad snow storm, but he is anxious to get home. He promised his son that he’d be there by morning. Todd and his son’s mother are separated, and he rarely sees the boy, so it’s important to keep his promise. Todd has the idea to rent a car and drive to Des Moines. Storm be damned.

The woman in front of him at the rental car counter gets the last SUV. Kate Jansen, a woman Todd had met at the airport bar while waiting to hear the fate of his flight, offers to give Todd a lift. He accepts gladly. Fred and Nan Wilkinson, a “silver-haired couple in their late sixties”, are also stranded at the airport. They decide to join Todd and Kate and together all 4 set off to Des Moines, with Todd at the wheel.

They have barely left the city, when they encounter a strange man in the middle of the highway, alone in the snow storm. “Suddenly, the figure was in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them as if he had materialized out of thin air.” Todd crashes into a snow bank and wrecks the SUV. They climb out of the car, to find a lone man standing in the road. The man’s name is Eddie Clement and his daughter, aged eight, is lost somewhere in the storm.

Something isn’t right about Eddie, or his story. “Kate put a hand on Eddie’s broad flannel back and led him to the Cherokee. Todd noticed two rips in the fabric of Eddie Clement’s flannel coat, one at each shoulder blade, each one perhaps five inches long. The fabric around each slit looked frayed.”

They four-some in the vehicle are skeptical. A man out in the bitter cold, alone, looking for his daughter for who knows how long…how isn’t he a popsicle? Why would his daughter run off in this weather? Nothing seems to make sense. As a reader, you get the feeling that something is terribly off with Eddie and it adds a layer of tension to the story. At this point, we are only 39 pages in, and the tension only increases with each page.

Seeking shelter, they walk to the nearest town. What they find there would change their lives forever, if they manage to survive that is.

By page 69, we learn that the town is virtually deserted. Where did everyone go? And then they encounter someone:

“A man was standing directly behind Nan, no more than five feet away. His clothes hung off him in tattered ribbons and were splattered with blood. The man’s eyes were dead in their sockets, his face as expressionless as an Egyptian mummy.” …

“The sound of the rifle fire was almost deafening.

In the street, the man’s head evaporated into a red mist. The body sagged forward, then dropped straight to the ground, its legs folded neatly beneath it.

Nan screamed and Fred cursed. Kate clawed at the back of Todd’s neck, gripping a fistful of hair.

Then something else happened. The headless body in the street bucked once, twice, three times. Hot blood spurted from the abbreviated neck and coursed like an oil slick across the ice. There was the impression of levitation, although the dead man never actually left the ground; rather, something from within the man’s body was rising up, up. For one insane moment, Todd actually believed he was witnessing the dead man’s soul vacating the body.

But this was no one’s soul. What rose up was a hurricane swirl of snow, funneled and compacted so that it was nearly tangible. It held the vague form of a human being, though as it continued to withdraw itself from the man’s body, Todd could see its arms–or whatever served as arms–were nearly twice the length of a normal person’s. It had no definable characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of humanity. And as it peeled away from the corpse–from out of the corpse–it hovered briefly above the body, nearly solid and comprehensible, before it dispersed into a scattering of snowflakes and was gone.

The silence that followed was thundering.”

Snow by Ronald Malfi, pages 68-69

I got chills reading that again — soooo good! At this point in the story, I was already hooked, but this entrenched me in the story further.

This book is probably one of the best horror stories I’ve read this year. I would give it 10 out of 5 stars (if that were possible). The writing is fantastic. I love the way Malfi paints the picture. The monsters were super cool, the storyline creepy as hell. I had a hard time putting this book down. A must read.

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.

Shelf Control Wednesdays November 9, 2022

Shelf Control is hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

Title: The Family

Author: Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones

Published: 2016

Length: 264 pages

Synopsis via Goodreads: The apocalyptic group The Family and their guru, Anne Hamilton-Byrne — one of very few female cult leaders in history — captured international headlines throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Hamilton-Byrne, who some followers believed was Jesus Christ, was glamorous and charismatic — and, many allege, very dangerous. From her base in a quiet suburb, she recruited wealthy professionals to join her cult, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, architects, and scientists. She acquired children and raised them as her own, bleaching their hair blonde to make them look like siblings, and her group became surrounded by rumours of LSD use, child abuse, and strange spiritual rituals.

In 1987, police swooped on The Family’s lakeside compound and rescued children who claimed they were part of Anne’s future master race. The children recounted terrible stories of near starvation, emotional manipulation, and physical abuse. But Anne could not be found, sparking an international police hunt that involved Scotland Yard, Interpol, and the FBI. Could they bring Anne to justice?

Today, the elderly Anne has an estate estimated to be worth millions, with only one minor criminal conviction to her name. Her few remaining followers attend her nursing-home bedside.

How did such a notorious group come to flourish? How did Anne maintain a hold over her followers? And why was she never fully brought to justice?

Drawing on revelatory new research, including interviews with survivors, The Family tells for the first time in full the strange and shocking story of one of the most bizarre cults in modern history.

How I got it: I bought it online from Amazon.

When I got it: 2022

Why I want to read it: I am really into learning about cults at the moment. I don’t know why, but the subject is fascinating. I somehow see the psychology of cults in today’s politics and it is helpful to learn about how certain things can occur in the US right now. This particular cult, The Family (not to be confused with David Berg’s Children of God cult) is one of the few that was run by a female leader, so I wanted to find out more about it.

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: This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Title: This Time Tomorrow

Author: Emma Straub

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 31 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Contemporary, Magical Realism

Read Start Date: October 1, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 4, 2022 

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: With her celebrated humor, insight, and heart, beloved New York Times bestseller Emma Straub offers her own twist on traditional time travel tropes, and a different kind of love story.

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

My Review: I liked this book, but I wouldn’t say I loved it. After a few too many drinks on the eve of Alice’s 40th birthday, she finds herself passing out in the guardhouse of her childhood home. The next morning she wakes up on her sixteenth birthday, in her sixteen year old body, but with her forty year old mind. She has the chance to do it all over again — the infamous night when she didn’t hook up with the “one that got away.” What strikes Alice about her sixteen year old self, is her forty year old father, who is, in the present day, dying. He seems so young, so full of life, and she finds herself just wanting to be close to him. To spend time with him.

Nevertheless, Alice goes to the party, sleeps with the one that got away, and wakes up on her 40th birthday to find that she is now married (to the one who (previously) got away) with children. What I didn’t like about this reiteration of Alice is that she almost despises her children. She has no memory of the past 24 years of her “new” life, which I find strange — wouldn’t she have remembered both time lines? Since she has no memories of her children, she feels no connection with them. She doesn’t feel like their mother, and so, she doesn’t want to be their mother. She doesn’t want the life with the husband she must love, right? Did Alice at 39 and 364 days love her family and then when she wakes up at 40 she is a different person (because she doesn’t remember her new past)? This just doesn’t square with me.

Anyway, Alice goes back in time again and does it all over again and again trying on new lives like new jackets. Each time she doesn’t remember how she got there — she is perpetually the original Alice in a new life she doesn’t remember living. Then she compares her old life with the aspects of the new life and makes a determination about which life is better — I don’t think this is a fair comparison. She has no memories, no emotions, etc. of her new timeline. How can she really judge which is best?

While it was nice that she got to spend time with her father again and again in the past, I was ultimately dissatisfied with the ending. I won’t go into too much detail, but it felt like the book was about a futile journey. Since the father didn’t remember each timeline, the only one developing a longer, lasting relationship was Alice. And what happened from the age of 16 to 40 in the timeline she chose last? All of the new memories she would have had with her father, anything she started to build on the do-over night of her 16th birthday, was just nonexistent in her mind.

As of the writing of this post, This Time Tomorrow has a 3.83 rating on Goodreads, which seems to mean that it has mixed reviews. So I guess on this one, I’m not that far off the mark with my assessment. Nevertheless, I think that if you like time traveling stories with themes of father-daughter relationships, then this book is for you.