Super weird, definitely meant to disturb, and not afraid of killing any expectations you had about faeries. Welcome to You Let Me In.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Writing style: ★★★★
Content warnings: Yes, a lot of them, please see end of review.
You Let Me In comes out on April 21.
First off, I'd like to make a disclaimer that I'm about to praise this novel, but it in no way means that I am praising the subject matter. There are dark themes in this, and if you are concerned about warnings please see the end of this review.
You Let Me In follows the story (or stories?) of Cassandra Tipp's life. Tipp was a reclusive writer with a troubled upbringing and a tragic life, and it's time for her to tell her story. She's ready to share her truth...but you might not be able to believe it.
It's literally so hard to decide what to share and what not to share about this novel. I went in with very little—just what's in the description. I think in order to enjoy this for what it is, you should go in with little information.
One of the main themes at play in You Let Me In is the concept of memory and trauma. Did these events happen as Cassandra said they did? Is it possible for two conflicting stories to both exist? What is the "real" story? Is there a "real" story?
Now, you might be wondering, this was published by TOR...the fantasy publisher. Memory and trauma don't sound fantastical. What's up with that?
According to Cassandra, the "Pepper Man" is her closest companion. A "faerie," the Pepper Man lives next to Cassandra, lives off of Cassandra, and ultimately entwines her life with his and takes her on adventures under the mound. Faeries in this are not handsome, not romantic, and NOT something mysterious in the woods. These faeries are the undead/unmade. I don't know if I agree with the designation of "faerie" in this, but it IS very otherworldly. (In a way, I think readers who enjoyed Never Contented Things will like this too. Similar executions on unsettling faeries meant to horrify.)
My favorite aspect of this novel was its extremely masterful pacing and sense of truth. Novels often claim that they "leave the truth up to the reader." In my experience, they rarely deliver. There's always a more fleshed out "truth" to believe. In You Let Me In, this debut actually delivers on a double-edged sword of truth. What really happened? It's up to you. I know what belief I took out of this, but you and I might disagree. It speaks to the author's skill that we can have such opposing takeaways.
One of the main sticking points (as I see it, anyway) for You Let Me In revolves around its placement in the discussion of speculative fiction at this point in time. It's getting harder and harder for speculative dark fiction to deliver on an engaging, well-crafted, and memorable narratives. On the one hand, it seems like we're just getting more twisted and triggering narratives to deliver on this promise. On the other, some of the recent entries into the genre are dark and yet amazing (see Follow Me to Ground, which I also loved.) While this one's themes are dark and its content very upsetting to people with different expectations, I found it extremely singular and one-of-a-kind. Does it fall on the side of "too much" because of that? I don't know. I struggled with my opinions. I definitely loved what it was doing in realm of writing and story development, but I really struggled to enjoy the content due to its extremely dark themes.
Bottom line: read this if you like the genre, but definitely go in with eyes wide open regarding warnings and expectations.
Thank you to TOR for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Content warnings: Potential rape (depending on the versions of the story), potential familial abuse (same as previous), consent issues throughout, bad family treatment of main character's mental health, childhood trauma, abortion discussed, death of a child (discussed, version of truth issue again), murder, mind games, problematic mental health professional, etc.
The Black Jewels is my favorite world, favorite series. This new entry was all that it promised to be and more.
Good installment?: ★★★★★
Readability (for new readers): ★★★★
Enjoyment: my heart hurts in the best way. perfect.
The Queen's Bargain is being touted as a great entry point for new readers to join the Black Jewels universe without reading all of the backlist titles. I feel like I'm too close to the subject matter to reflect on that without some bias, but honestly, I think I agree. The author has done a fantastic job at conveying the key points of the world for a new audience, and yet continuing on with some of the old faces and old places for those of us who are up to speed.
If you're a newbie reader to this series, don't hesitate—give this a try!
I don't know what to say about this one, folks...read the blurb? It gives a lot of information. And then just jump in. It's perfect, Anne Bishop's writing is a treasure, and the characters are the literal best.
After being so worried to read this—the last installment marked a pretty decisive end to certain things—I'm happy to report that this one stays true to the series while exploring new themes with grace. It's so, so good. I laughed, I cried, I sighed, and I totally lost my mind when I got to the end and ran out of words to read.
Also, don't worry, there won't be a hiatus before the next one--The Queen's Weapons is already slated to be published in 2021. (YES!)
Thank you to ACE and Berkley Publishing Group for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
So I was enjoying this—but not loving it—for a good portion. But then they managed to knock me out from the side with something that I wasn’t expecting. Nice.
You Are Not Alone was my first Greer Hendricks/Sarah Pekkanen book, and I can now say that I understand why so many people devour them.
Shay is a lonely woman living in New York City. Her roommate, Shawn, just got a serious girlfriend and that girlfriend is slowly edging Shay out of her own apartment. Her job security isn't great, as Shay has been primarily temping for different data firms. Her social life is empty. Her love life is empty.
Then one day, Shay witnesses a woman leap to her death in front of a subway train.
A life, gone like that. A woman who could have been Shay, gone like that.
Shay finds herself lost in a sea of post-trauma feelings and goes to the dead woman's memorial service, where she meets Cassandra and Jane.
Cassandra and Jane are glamorous, put together, and effortlessly perfect. They're sisters, business partners, and fierce friends. When Shay emerges onto the scene, the sisters go on high alert. Something is afoot.
As Shay and Cassandra and Jane entwine, it's important to realize that you are not alone.
So I don't like domestic thrillers, as they're often about husbands and wives and "other women" and suburban neighborhoods. I'm not this author duo's usual reading audience. BUT, I think this book is meant for those of us who aren't in their normal reading audience, because its themes are meant for a different group of people—and more importantly, a wider one. If you're a woman, I think the odds are good that you would at a minimum relate to this. This is a fierce tale of sisterhood, female friend groups, women vs. other, and self-acceptance.
Now I haven't lost my rocker, I know this is a thriller and it's obviously dark in themes. But I stand by what I just said. I was shocked to find some of the plot points in here and low-key understood some of the motivations. It's clear that this author pair is touching on an aspect of our female culture that was/is a hot button topic. It was really cool to read in a thriller setting.
No spoilers here! Give this a read.
Also, side note, I found the print formatting of the text to be super weird to read (lots of short, spaced out paragraphs). Not sure if this is typical for this author duo or not, but because of that I really enjoyed the audiobook much more than the print copy. The narrators are fantastic.
Thank you to Macmillan and Libro.fm for my copies of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Jennifer Weiner's latest is full of surprises and a deep dive into the world of influencers, body image, and acceptance.
Body Image Discussions: ★★★
Daphne is a plus-size influencer in our modern world of Instagram, hashtags, and body acceptance. But she's still at the "accepting" part when it comes to her own body—and the life she leads on Instagram is a constant push and pull with her internal monologue.
Drue Cavanaugh used to be Daphne's best friend, but when she burned Daphne and made their last epic fight about Daphne's weight, Daphne escaped and never looked back. Drue was rich, thin, blonde, and perfect—it's time for Daphne to cut her losses and be the average girl she was meant to be.
Years later, out of the blue, Drue contacts Daphne and asks her to be in her wedding. She even offers to pay her. Turns out Drue's mean girl self hasn't done her any favors, and her influencer lifestyle needs to look perfect. Daphne knows she's been coerced and bribed, but she says yes anyway. She's never been able to say no to Drue for very long.
Big Summer is mostly about Daphne's experience at the Cape with Drue's wedding, but it's also series of past memories of Daphne's childhood. And, more specifically, a journey through Daphne's mind as she glitches on every single moment with thoughts on her body and body size.
Also, there was a huge twist about halfway through Big Summer that I was NOT expecting. I'm so glad the description didn't allude to it. I thought it made this novel so much better, and really enjoyed where it took Daphne.
If I had to pick a negative to highlight, I'd say that this novel is the most "fat-focused" of any Jennifer Weiner that I've read so far. That feels weird to say as a negative, but hear me out--as someone who is plus-sized herself, I found it really disheartening that literally every single moment, every single thought, and every single plot point focused or mentioned something explicitly related to Daphne's weight. At the beginning, I was like "Yes! Someone gets it!" but towards the first half...and the middle...and the end...I felt myself wishing, desperately, for more balance in the main character. In a way, by focusing on this aspect of Daphne so much, we went past highlighting her "acceptance" to reducing her to that one characteristic...which I feel was a problem, as we're trying to make plus-size women feel seen and normalized. Not reduced to their weight, or distilled down to one trait of self body-hate.
However, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and am thrilled to see where Jennifer Weiner takes us next--don't miss this one this summer!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This alternative historical fiction novel centered on a "sin eater" in a version of Elizabethan England was dark, lyrical, and unforgettable.
Sense of place:
Sin Eater comes out on April 7, 2020!
May Owens is caught stealing a piece of bread in the streets of an alternative version of London. It's the time of the Virgin Queen. Taken to be sentenced, May is shocked to receive a one-of-a-kind punishment: she's been declared a sin eater.
A sin eater is always a woman. She's branded by a collar displaying an "S," and branded with a black ink "S" on her tongue. She's not allowed to speak, she's not allowed to be touched, she's not allowed to be looked at, and her entire life is plagued by the limitations of her new position—she "eats" the sins of the dying.
As you can tell, the job isn't great.
May's life as a sin eater in this alternative London was fascinating, heartbreaking, and poignantly human. This is a lingering read. I really disagree with the comparisons claiming this tale is like The Handmaid's Tale and Alice in Wonderland—neither of those comparisons resonated with me and they really miss the connections to historical England and the lyricism of this novel. This is about the grimy underbelly of London, the seedy witchcraft of a prescience era, and the life of a pariah among and separate from the people.
Also, there are no fantastical elements to this novel whatsoever, so fantasy fans take note. I still loved it, but would not call it a fantasy even in the loosest sense.
Thank you so much to Atria Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Intensely character driven and held in an arrestingly deadly setting, this is a lingering read.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
Full disclosure: I've been a long-time fan of Nalini Singh. She writes some of the most well-written, beautifully plotted paranormal romances in the game. As in, they're worthy of SFF labels but are tragically only published as mass market paperbacks (I'm a hardcover girl, but I bend my rule for this queen).
So when I heard she was writing a mystery/thriller, I was SHOOK. As in, had to get a copy, was willing to beg, barter, and more to get this gem. And it DID NOT disappoint. In fact, it's elevated my opinion so much that I hope this is just the beginning—there better be more!
A Madness of Sunshine unfolds like a tightly clenched fist in achingly slow fits and starts. A young girl full of vitality, Miriama, goes out for a run one evening along the coast of Golden Cove, New Zealand. She doesn't come back.
Will is a cop hiding from his former life as a hotshot detective in Golden Cove. Not much happens in a small town where everyone knows everyone...but several female hikers have disappeared over the decades, and when Miriama goes missing, the old wounds resurface and the town of "pleasant" neighbors erupts. Can Will solve this current missing persons case amidst the echoes of the past?
Anahera left Golden Cove one year and never looked back. The past only holds pain and secrets, and she's never wanted to relive it—until her London husband dies suddenly and the hidden mistress comes knocking at her door. Shocked at the shattering of her "perfect" life, she returns to Golden Cove with fresh eyes and old wounds.
Will and Anahera come together over the disappearance of Miriama, and it's truly a character study of these two flawed characters finding solace in solving the problems of the past. But, as with other Nalini Singh novels, each and every side character jumps off the page with personality and depth. No one is two dimensional, and no one is overlooked. This felt real.
I'm so happy to see Singh branching out into the mystery/thriller genre. The mystery was tightly plotted, the villain(s) (no spoilers here!) were deeply motivated, and the unfolding of the plot was extremely satisfying. Don't miss this one!
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it’d be, but honestly that was on me and not on this book.
Quick take: Two women are trying to make their mark on the film industry of the 1950s during the Communist scare and the Hollywood blacklists that ensued as a result of the Red Menace.
Phoebe Adler is in New York, scratching out a living as a screenwriter for a mid-level detective TV show. Her shows have her name on the credits, but it's hard being a self-made woman after WWII, when the men have returned from the war and want their jobs back. Phoebe doesn't mind much, except for getting her name out there and making sure she's making enough money for her sister, Mona, who depends on her. When the Red Menace comes knocking and Phoebe's world turns on its head, London may just be her saving grace.
Hannah Wolfson is an expatriate living in London. She's managed to create a production company and successfully be an executive producer in a male-dominated world—and her husband and kids support her. But when blacklisted writers and talent arrive in the UK and Hannah decides to risk it all and hire them, odds are something just might fall through the new cracks.
This was such an immersive reading experience. Red Letter Days made me feel like I was in the 1950s, down to the prevalent mannerisms and details. It was harder for me to read the sexism—also a necessary element—because that's something I dislike in my escapist fiction, but I thought the author did a fantastic job of conveying female agency amid those issues.
However, in general I struggled with the density of the descriptions and lack of driving pacing. Due to the fact that this novel is much more exploratory and reliant on slice-of-life, this was definitely a "me" problem. The author did a fantastic job of portraying the real life struggles of these women in real time. I think I just wanted more pizzazz, more intrigue—coming from a predominantly fantasy and mystery/thriller reader, hopefully that further explains my lackluster rating.
If you are a fan of historical fiction and/or old-school Hollywood a la The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, give this a go! The atmosphere is fantastic.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
My sister begged me to nab an early copy of Nalini Singh's latest romance featuring her cast of rugby stars in New Zeeland, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this family sports romance.
Love Hard comes out on March 10, 2020!
Now, I know I just said my sister begged me to request this and read it on her behalf, but I was also a bit intrigued myself. Nalini Singh is the author of one of my favorite paranormal romance series, Guild Hunter, as well as her first mystery/thriller, A Madness of Sunshine (which I also read and reviewed! You can check out that review here.). So I knew I was a fan of her romances, and of her writing in general.
But, let's be honest, this series was less intriguing to me—because it's about sports. And I don't really do sports. At all.
So say "I told you so," sister of mine, because I really enjoyed Love Hard.
Jake has no time for fun or acting his age. He's an all-star rugby player in a family of all-star players, and his commitment to his family and to his young daughter, Esme, is the sole focus of his life. After losing his childhood sweetheart, Callie, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Jake has grown up cautious and overprotective.
Juliet's never had a proper family upbringing. Peddled around from family member to family member as a kid left her with scars, and the only saving grace was her best friend, Callie. When Callie passed away, Juliet forgot about Callie's jock boyfriend, Jake, and started making her way in the world—with a few notable bumps in the road, including a nasty ex-husband.
When these two former acquaintances meet at a wedding, what will they do with these brand new sparks?
I thought Love Hard was cute, to the point, and filled with warm fuzzy feelings (and some other, well, feelings too). Jake and Juliet's banter and chemistry was front and center for the entire story. I really enjoyed listening to their banter, and in particular I thought their semi "enemies to lovers" mixed with second chance vibes worked extremely well in this context. I loved how they were both respectful and honest, and miscommunication was NOT used as a plot device.
However, I did struggle quite a bit with the general pacing. Love Hard didn't take place over multiple months or a long time span, but it felt like it anyway given the copious time spent on paragraphs of explanation of the past, backstory, and internal monologue. In fact, at a few points in the story I forgot that I was still in the same scene as dozens of pages later, we were still there! This might not necessarily be a negative for some readers—the descriptions and backstory added quite a bit of character depth—but for my taste in romance, I prefer dialogue-driven scenes with lots of movement in plot.
Overall, another winner from Nalini Singh—and a steamy one too. (Wink wink!)
Thank you to Independent Publishers Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those twisty, adrenaline-filled thrillers that once you start you literally can't stop. What an impressive debut.
Main character: ★★★★★
If you witnessed a violent moment between a man and woman at the side of the road while in your car, what would you do? Would you get out? Would you call the police?
Cassie Larkin gets out of her car. She's coming home late from her shift at the vet office when she sees a battered woman being chased by a man with a knife on the side of a deserted highway. After a tense confrontation, the attacker tells Cassie something strange.
"Your life is a mess. You just don't know it yet. Let her die, and I'll let you live."
Then he flees the scene in Cassie's van—which contains her wallet, ID, and personal information. Cassie doesn't abandon the victim, and the woman survives. But now the clock is ticking, and Cassie knows that a potential killer knows her address. Knows about her husband. Knows about her kids.
The very next day, her husband is taken.
What follows is one of the most intense, pacing-driven thrillers that I have read in a long time. Cassie's propulsive drive to find her husband and solve the mystery of the killer's interest in her and her family was so entertaining, so nerve-wracking, and filled with all of the hard decisions that make you stop and check yourself: would I do that? would I make that jump? would I make that call? would I trust in the police, or would I do it myself?
Cassie was the main reason that I loved this story. She is a woman full of flaws and filled with a sense of unworthiness when it comes to her husband and her kids. With that cocktail blend of past guilt and fierce maternal love, her focus on the trail of the murderer goes from 0 to 100 real fast. (I was so here for it). In addition to her drive to find the truth, the reveals as to why Cassie, and why her family, become increasingly clear. In case you're wondering whether this falls closer to A-B-C thriller or twisted mystery, I'll say that the reveals and mystery were definitely a main portion of the story, and boy was I shocked by that ending. It's crazy, but it fits the story. Loved it.
Can't wait for Heather Chavez's next thriller.
Thank you so much to William Morrow for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was NOT expecting this slim novel to be so awesome, so horror-based, and so suspenseful. Loved it. It would have been an automatic 5 stars, but some things didn't jive.
The Return comes out on March 24, 2020!
Elise is told her best friend, Julie, went missing on a solo hiking trip. Two years go by, and Elise refuses to believe or accept that Julie's dead. She's sure Julie will turn up again, good as new.
Two years to the day that Julie disappears, she returns. She doesn't remember anything about her time missing, and things are...different. But Elise is ecstatic anyway—Julie came back.
To celebrate Julie's return, Elise and Julie's two other friends organize a girl's weekend at a lodge in the New England woods. The lodge is crazy wacky—think individually-themed rooms, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, and The Shining all in one—and the girls are immediately set up for a weird time.
But the lodge isn't the weird part. Julie is.
Something's wrong with Julie, and it might not be what Elise is expecting...
Wow. What a cool, unique, horrific debut. This clocks in at just under 200 pages, and I devoured it in one sitting. The suspense was killer—at any given moment, I was on pins and needles waiting for the next creepy thing, the next reveal. The girls' friendship dynamics were painfully raw, honest, and full of recognizable traits that I identified with from my own friends. The reveal, while easier to guess than others, was still well done and I loved the final climax.
The only thing that kept The Return from being an automatic 5 stars for me was the overall pacing. You can tell that this story had a killer hook and good suspense, but due to the lack of a side-plot or believable red herrings its pacing suffered. Lots of dialogue-based scenes and not enough significant action. However, as the suspense was done SO well, this was relatively easy to ignore. It would have been a much bigger problem if this novel had been longer.
Thank you to Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.