BOOK REVIEW | The Other by Thomas Tryon


4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions.

My thoughts:
Niles, look at me…You have a secret. Tell it to me. Tell it to Ada.

This is the sort of book that makes you want to start reading it again as soon as you’ve finished the last page. I went into The Other expecting a quick read, and ended up getting more than I bargained for. This is the dark tale of twin brothers Niles and Holland; a story full of plot twists and chilling imagery. Reading keeps you wondering if things are things what we think they are, or if we are at the mercy of a disturbed mind? As with many works that centre around disturbed children, expect some animal violence as well.

As Dan Chon mentions in his Afterword in the NYBR edition, The Other calls to mind works by Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith – not bad company to be in for Tryon. While this was a bit slow in pace, I really enjoyed it and loved reading the final chapters on Halloween!

BOOK REVIEW | The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whithall | Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist


3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
What if someone you trusted was accused of the unthinkable?

George Woodbury, an affable teacher and beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults between denial and rage as the community she loved turns on her. Their daughter, Sadie, a popular over-achieving high school senior, becomes a social pariah. Their son, Andrew, assists in his father’s defense, while wrestling with his own unhappy memories of his teen years. A local author tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist attempts to get Sadie onside their cause. With George locked up, how do the members of his family pick up the pieces and keep living their lives? How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt?

With exquisite emotional precision, award-winning author Zoe Whittall explores issues of loyalty, truth, and the meaning of happiness through the lens of an all-American family on the brink of collapse.

My thoughts:
This is a difficult book to review, given its subject matter. I wish I could say that I loved it, but I found a few elements distracting. The topic covered is so important, and I don’t want this review to take away from that.

The Best Kind of People tells the story of the Woodbury’s, a well off and well respected family. Things change dramatically for the family, however, when patriarch George is accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour with some of the young girls at the school where he teaches. This is a look at how a family is impacted by a loved one’s crimes, and I absolutely loved this concept. We follow George’s wife, Joan, and children, Sadie and Andrew, as they walk through a very uncertain path. When something this tragic happens, how are the remaining family members affected?

Whithall is a Canadian writer, and there is something about this book that feels distinctly Canadian to me, even though it is not set here. Little things that make it feel like this happened close to home. In particular, the character Anna Lansing, a woman Joan met at a support group, and her husband Richard reflected upon a very famous and disturbing case that non-Canadian readers may not have known about. A couple of years ago Colonel Russell Williams was arrested for crimes almost exactly as described in this excerpt:

Two years ago, the high commander in the US Army has been tried and convicted for two murders and dozens more sexual assaults, as well as a string of break-ins and robberies of women’s garments.

Williams’ crimes went further and were incredibly disturbing. I won’t leave a link to the story, but a quick google search will fill in the blanks if you’re interested. I recall how people questioned what, if anything, his wife knew of his crimes. This is a huge element to Whithall’s narrative – is it really possible for a wife to be unaware of her husband’s crimes?

I found the first 1/3 of this book to be riveting; I was pulled in quickly and deeply invested in the story. Then, something waned – the writing started to feel sloppy, and I didn’t enjoy the facts and statistics that were thrown in as part of the dialogue. The message was getting crammed down my throat. We know that victims are often put through terrible scrutiny after coming forward, and this is so valuable to explore. I would love to read a well-drawn book that explores this injustice, please leave a recommendation below if you have one. This book touches on this topic, but it never really goes anywhere. Ultimately, the ending and the result of George’s trial does absolutely nothing to satisfy the reader – but I suppose that is the point? The ending was incredibly frustrating and rushed, but again, this could have been intentional.

I am really interested in Whithall as a writer, and will likely check out her next work. I think she has some awesome ideas and a skill set I’d like to see grow and develop. This is an important book that would have valued from some more aggressive editing.

BOOK REVIEW | Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty


5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:
She was suddenly filled with the passionate desire to share everything, to hold nothing back. Fuck dignity.

This quote from the final page pretty much sums up this book – I felt like screaming those final two words so many times throughout. I went into Big Little Lies knowing very little about the plot, just that this is a well-loved book, and I was looking for something to break up some of the dark content I have been reading lately.  This book, however, is a slap in the face.

The story revolves around many women, but the focus is on the interconnections between Madeline, Jane, and Celeste. Initially, this reads as a witty take on modern day motherhood, and the judgments that we place on others. We have the yoga mom, the hot-mess mom, the put together mom, and so on – stereotypes and facades that we assign to others with as a way to justify our own choices.  As we begin to learn more about Celeste and Jane the story opens in breadth, leaving the reader with boundless questions. Moriarty pulls you so eloquently into her world, that you become deeply invested before you’re aware of it.

Without spoiling anything, I must say that Celeste was the character I felt most deeply invested in. Her “little lies”, were ultimately the biggest, and I wanted nothing more for her to find her voice early on – I wanted to send strength to her through the pages.

Marriage was about compromise. “Honey, if you really like that girlie, antique look, I’ll get you the real thing…That is just a cheap, tacky rip-off.”  When he said things like that, she heard “You’re cheap and tacky”. She would take her time setting up this place with cheap, tacky thing that she liked.

Jane often broke my heart, her self-loathing ran so deep:

Intellectually, I know I’m not ugly, I’m perfectly acceptable. But I feel ugly, because one man said it was so, and that made it so.

I highlighted a ton of quotes and moments while reading this book, and I would love to share more but they would reveal too much. This book was a total surprise to me – I went into it thinking I would enjoy it, but not at all expecting to love it as much as I did. Moriarty wraps this story up so perfectly, I couldn’t have asked for more. I am looking forward to digging into another of Moriarty’s books soon!

BOOK REVIEW | The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena


2.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

My thoughts:
The Couple Next Door is a fast-paced read that’s purpose is simply to entertain. That said, as a mother, this story infuriated me.

This is one of those plot lines in which a single crazy revelation leads to many, many more. Let me just say this – there is no way a mother, especially a first time mother, would leave their baby alone in another house to go to a dinner party. There is just no way! Right off of the bat this was just too much for me. I hated Anne and Marco, and there is never much in the terms of character development that changes this throughout.

I did feel some sympathy for Anne; post-partum depression and mental illness are not to be taken lightly, and I appreciate the light that Lapena shed on this. I have not experienced post-partum depression but am no stranger to regular depression, and I can certainly empathize with many of Anne’s feelings – the exhaustion and pressure created by modern day motherhood, with a side of feeling frumpy. There are moments when being a parent is overwhelming, and this came through as a significant element to the story.

If you love thrillers and are looking for something quick that requires little investment, give this a shot. If you prefer a little more depth to your mysteries, take a pass.

BOOK REVIEW| Revival by Stephen King


5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.

My thoughts:
This book is the definition of a page turner! I blasted through it and loved every second.

We follow Jamie from age 6 into his early 60’s, enduring his highs and incredibly dark lows along side him. All the while Pastor Jacobs, a constant in Jamie’s life, his fifth business, decends deeper and deeper into his obsessions.

King is notorious for taking a bold stance on controversial topics, and this book is a poignant statement on organized relgion and how it can be used to exploit hopeful believers.

Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-burn insurance scam, where you pay your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so – pardon the pun – so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.

King is an absolute master of suspense – the final chapters were so intense as we wait to discover Pastor Jacobs has planned. I could feel my heart beating in my chest as I raced through pages into the startling conclusion.

There was a little missing for me in regards to character development. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t fully connect with Jamie. I really enjoyed following him through his life, but somehow I wasn’t completely wrapped up in his story.

Revival was pure, creepy fun – I look forward to re-reading this one again!

BOOK REVIEW | ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King


4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in ‘Salem’s Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to ‘Salem’s Lot hoping to cast out his own devils… and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of ‘Salem’s Lot.

My thoughts:
I have loved vampire stories for as long as I can remember (please tell me someone remembers the Are You Afraid of the Dark? vampire episode), but somehow I had yet to read ‘Salem’s Lot.

I absolutely loved reading one of King’s early works – this book is so distinctly his. His style is already in place early on, and it’s no wonder that he has become one of the greatest writers (not just a horror writer!) of our time. Simple moments like this are classic Stephen King to me:

<i>He was sitting on the rocker next to her, and without stopping it’s slow movement forth and back, he leaned over and pressed his mouth on hers…She began to rock also, and the movement made the kiss into something new. It waxed and waned, light and firm.</i>

King brings classic horror to the table with awesome tension building and just enough gore to satisfy fans of the macabre. I highly recommend Stephen King’s introduction on the audiobook – it’s an awesome listen and does not spoil the book!

BOOK REVIEW | The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund


4/5 stars

From the publisher:
It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.

Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.

This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.

This is the world of the Crow Girl.

My thoughts:
When I finished The Crow Girl last night, I was on a high and put it down as 5 stars on Goodreads. After thinking about it for a while, I feel like 4 starts makes more sense. This book took me an extremely long time to read, about 2 months, which is very rare for me as I usually read a book in  matter of a few days.I have a few thoughts on to why that was the case, and I will get to them soon. This book is very complex, so I hope my thoughts are coherent!

Let me start by saying that I loved this book, but, it took me a while to realize I did. It starts with a bang, the discovery of a  dead boy, and does not let down it’s pace for the entirety of it’s nearly 800 pages. This is a massive feat for a book of this length – it never lags, is exciting the whole way through, and compels the reader forward. Somewhere in the middle the plot waned, but I must say that the conclusion brought it all home for me.

There are times when this book feel a little…disjointed. This may be because it is authored by 2 people, or it may be due to the fact that the 3 original volumes were crammed together to make 1 large volume for it’s North American and UK releases. I have heard that some sections were cut out to make a single volume, and I wonder if this is why some moments felt a little out of place.

As a side note – how cool is the pen name Erik Axl Sund?! Authors Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist combined the first parts of each of their last names to created the pseudonym.

Part of what I LOVED about The Crow Girl was the focus on creating short, easily consumable chapters. I’m often reading with my two young boys around, and it’s great to know when the next break is. I loved that I could say “just 1 more page!”, rather than “just 10 more pages!”. That said, this was a blessing and a curse – I feel that this was a huge part of why the book took me so long to read! I never had to read more than a few pages at a time; sometimes I would devour 50 pages, and other times I would read 3 pages and then put it down for the day. Another reason for the long reading time for me was intense and graphic nature of this book. I never shy away from the dark and disturbing, but when kids are involved I find it much more difficult to take. Small bites worked best for me while digesting this complex piece of work.

This novel is extremely triggering – please know this before going into it. Expect:

  • Sexual violence against children
  • Children hurting other children
  • Child murder
  • Self-harm
  • Extreme phychological disassociation and complex looks at sexuality

This is one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, and I was initially concerned that all of this intensity was without merit – purely for shock value. As the story unravels in the 3rd section, everything becomes clear, and I understand the story that the authors wanted to tell . If you love crime fiction, Nordic Noir, Scandinavian novels, or psychological thrillers – you MUST read The Crow Girl!

If you’ve read this book, please comment below – I would love to discuss this book!

BOOK REVIEW | The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum


4/5 stars

From the publisher:
A teenage girl is held captive and brutally tortured by neighborhood children. Based on a true story, this shocking novel reveals the depravity of which we are all capable.

This novel contains graphic content and is recommended for regular readers of horror novels

My thoughts:
It seems to me…likely that it was precisely because she was beautiful and strong, and we were not, that Ruth and the rest of us had done this to her. To make a sort of judgement on they beauty, on what it meant and didn’t mean to us.

This book was incredibly difficult to read, and at times I wondered why I was. In fact, Jack Ketchum said his “aim was to make you feel guilty about turning the goddamn page” – as a reader, you feel complicit in the torture of Meg and Susan. As horrific as this book is, the true story of Sylvia Likens is much, much worse. If you take this on, please know that is is extremely violent, explicit, and involves kids.

BOOK REVIEW | We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

My thoughts:
I can’t help it when people are frightened; I always want to frighten them more. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my second Shirley Jackson read, the first being The Haunting of Hill House, and I am completely sold. Jackson is an absolute master of atmosphere – her books are creepy, and I mean that as a huge compliment. I felt incredibly uneasy while reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle; I love the slow burning tension and the look into Merricat’s thoughts. Reading this book has made me that much more interested in Jackson herself – she writes about women who are descending into madness, and I have to wonder where that inspiration came from. I may pick up Ruth Franklin’s new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life to learn more about the woman behind the books.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric and unsettling read for October do not hesitate to pick this up!

BOOK REVIEW | The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury


3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A fast-moving, eerie…tale set on Halloween night. Eight costumed boys running to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house outside town encounter instead the huge and cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud. As Pipkin scrambles to join them, he is swept away by a dark Something, and Moundshroud leads the boys on the tail of a kite through time and space to search the past for their friend and the meaning of Halloween. After witnessing a funeral procession in ancient Egypt, cavemen discovering fire, Druid rites, the persecution of witches in the Dark Ages, and the gargoyles of Notre Dame, they catch up with the elusive Pipkin in the catacombs of Mexico, where each boy gives one year from the end of his life to save Pipkin’s.

My thoughts:
A fun and quick Halloween read! I enjoyed this little book and really enjoy Bradbury’s style. I can see so much of Neil Gaiman in this book – magical realism with a lot of heart. It’s always awesome to read the books that influenced current writers, and I look forward to continuing through Bradbury’s work.