HOME BEFORE DARK - Riley Sager
A haunted house, a family with too many secrets, a girl-turned-woman caught in the crossfire. Many years later, it's time for the woman to come home and deal with the remnants of her past.
Final, final ending: ★★★★
This DELIVERED. I was gripped for the entire read. I was surprised at points and not at others. I had a heck of a good time reading it in one sitting. But but but...?
Maggie Holt grew up in the shadow of The Book. The Book: a haunted "nonfiction" account of one family's few weeks of horrors in a haunted Victorian mansion. The Book was written by her journalist father when she was very small, and captured the weeks that their family lived in Baneberry Hall and experienced the most terrifying time of their lives.
Or so the world believes.
Maggie, now a grown woman, believes The Book was a clever piece of fiction that her father wrote for money. The fact that she remembers nothing of her time in Baneberry Hall—good or bad—speaks to that fact. (Well, except for her lingering night terrors, which hang with her to this day...)
So when her father dies and shocks Maggie with the deed to Baneberry Hall, Maggie knows that now, finally, it's her turn. It's her turn to find out the truth about her past and reclaim her childhood in the eyes of the public. And time to lay old ghosts to rest, permanently.
But Baneberry Hall isn't ready to give Maggie up yet, and something is determined to go bump in the night...
What if The Book wasn't a lie after all?
What I loved:
I say this every time I read a Riley Sager book: I loved the writing. There's something to be said for a story that doesn't skimp on facts and yet doesn't overuse its details. This was another Sager novel that I read in one sitting late one stormy night (if you can control your weather, I highly recommend that experience). It's moody, it's dark, it's spooky. It's also a story within a story, with spliced sections of Maggie's POV in the present and spliced chapters of The Book itself recounting the past. I loved that element too—talk about a tried and true method of creating suspense. And also, the elephant in the room, I'm a sucker for haunted houses so I was, at a minimum, going to enjoy this novel for that element alone. Which I did.
What I didn't love:
The only thing I didn't love is a small spoiler from the very end. It wasn't enough to tip me from 5 stars to 4, but it was just enough that I went, aw, really? Really? Because this novel would have been perfection if it had done one more thing. I don't want to include it here because some folks will read it and then the story won't work for them the same way, but for those who have read it I'll send you to my Goodreads review so you can read the spoiler: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
ORDINARY GIRLS - Jaquira Diaz
"For the girls they were, for the girl I was, for girls everywhere who are just like we used to be. For the black and brown girls. For the girls on the merry-go-round making the world spin. For the wild girls and the party girls, the loudmouths and troublemakers. For the girls who are angry and lost. For the girls who never saw themselves in books. For the girls who love other girls, sometimes in secret. For the girls who believe in monsters. For the girls on the edge who are ready to fly. For the ordinary girls. For all the girls who broke my heart. And their mothers. And their daughters. And if I could reach back through time and space to that girl I was, to all my girls, I would tell you to take care, to love each other, fight less, dance dance dance until you're breathless. And goddamn, girl. Love."
This is a searing memoir. I wasn't sure what to expect from the blurb or the critically acclaimed reviews. I knew it would be fantastically written, but I wasn't sure what kind of story it would be. Regardless, I was utterly, completely, heartstoppingly captivated by Jaquira Diaz' words.
Diaz writes about her life, and the multiple lifetimes it feels like she has lived as, in her words, an ordinary girl. Her experience is singular yet representative, poignantly alone and yet surrounded by other similar echoes of other girls' experiences. While the main story is Diaz's, the vibrating truth speaks for all the women intersecting with Diaz's voice and identity.
As a half-Black Puerto Rico child born to a Black father, poet and womanizer, and a white mother, hounded by schizophrenia and addiction, Diaz's life emerges into uncertainty and follows the fracture lines as her tale unfolds, spanning the family's early life in Puerto Rico and their move to Miami Beach, her parents' separation and Diaz's own struggles to cope with the constant cycle of change. And it's not just her tale that unfolds, but those of the girls and women who are facets of her life: her Abuela, her grandmother, her mother, her younger sister, her neighbors, her friends, her enemies, strangers on the street.
Through Diaz's words, all these women and herself and her community are connecting, spiraling, fracturing, unending. There are so many words I could use to describe the flow of the narrative but let's settle for hypnotic. That feels the most true.
What an important and showstopping debut. I look forward to whatever Diaz decides to write next—you best believe I'll have that on preorder.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Stellar. I went in with no expectations and was blown away with its brief perfection.
Now HERE'S what I'm talking about - this is why I read Tor.com novellas.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is, simply put, the perfect speculative/fantasy novella. This review will be extremely short and sweet, as to be honest I'd rather you read the novella than read my poor retelling of it here. Go read it!
This story is really two layered stories in one. On the surface layer is a traveling cleric named Chih, whose job it is to remember their nation's histories and to observe their present surroundings for the purpose of recording it for the histories. Clerics in this world are essentially history keepers, and they are aided in their quest by magical bird companions with observation and memory skills.
Chih and their magical bird companion, Almost Brilliant, come across an elderly woman in a dwelling on their way to a different location. The elder's name is Rabbit, and she has a story to tell.
The story within the story is Rabbit's tale, which includes the story of an empress and her secrets.
As history keepers, Chih and Almost Brilliant are immediately drawn to this woman and her tale. But all is not what it seems, and some histories are buried for a reason...
Keeping it brief: perfection.
A note on the best way to read: This novella is best read, not listened to, as the narrative transitions are made more explicit with the breaking of paragraphs on the page and are not noted within the text itself at all.
BINTI - Nnedi Okorafor
This is one of those examples where not reading the blurb is the right way to go - knocked my socks off!
World building: ★★★★★
This review is going to be SUPER short because to be honest, this novella is so brief that if I write a few paragraphs there will be nothing left for the story!
Binti is the first of her race to leave their planet. She's a mathematical genius from a family of Harmonizers, and she's received shocking news: her test results are in, and she has been accepted to a prestigious intergalactic university. She's the first of her people to be accepted.
Against her family's wishes, Binti goes.
Her family didn't want her to go because their people don't leave Earth. It's just not done—the world isn't as accepting of their culture, and it's a dangerous universe out there.
Best not to tell them then about the hostile takeover on Binti's ship en route to university.
Who said leaving home would be easy, again?
This novella is the first in a trilogy, and THANK GOD for that—after the first one, I need to know more of Binti's story. It was too brief! I need more! Can we get a full novel, please?
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.