Tuesday, April 2, 2024

What I Read in March

 Well, it wasn't a record breaking month for me as far as total books read but those I did read were pretty darn good! I got through a total of 9 in March, with one of those being for publicity purposes so I won't include it here. 

Take a look at all the books that just blew me away!!

My Work by Olga Ravn

I had read and loved The Employees so when I saw My Work while browsing the book shelves, you better believe I grabbed it without even really reading the jacket copy.

This one is about pregnancy and motherhood and postpartum depression and the fear that you are losing your shit and trying to journal your journey in case you DO actually lose your shit because getting it all down might be the key to remaining sane, only now you're not sure if you are the one who wrote the stuff you just found or if someone else or perhaps another version of you has written it... and we the reader aren't totally sure of this either.

There a numerous beginnings, middles, and ends. The entries and poems and narrations are not necessarily in any real sort of order. And there's this section of about 100 pages or so that just drags on kinda painfully and repetitively.

A little uneven, a little weird - even for me - and quite the trip down insanity lane the deeper into the book you go. I'm not quite sure what I read there at the end, honestly...

What Mother Won't Tell Me by Ivar Leon Menger

This was a complete impulse buy as I was browsing the bookshelves in the thriller section (a section of the bookstore I don't normally spend time in). The cover and the description screamed buy me, so I did!

I felt it was a little closer to isolation fiction than full on thriller. The tension ran slow and low, but the atmosphere was cranked way up. One of the blurbers described it best as a cross between Hansel and Gretel and Mommie Dearest.

Our narrator, a fifteen year old girl names Juno, lives on a remote island with her Mother, Father, and little brother Boy. For the most part, she's grown up doing all the things regular siblings would do - play games, read books, do their math, learn about nature and how to live off the land. But they also live in fear of the strangers - people from the mainland who wish to do them harm, and from whom they are hiding. Mother promises that as long as they follow the seven commandments she's established, they reduce the risk of being found. Break one of them, though, and both Juno and Boy will suffer the punishment.

That is, until Juno fails to make it back to the cabin in time to hide when the postman arrives. He spots her and she feels compelled to appeal to his kindness, begging him not to let her parents know he's seen her, afraid she'll get in trouble. This encounter kickstarts a chain of events that will leave Juno questioning everything she thought she knew about her home, her family, and herself. What is left for you to hang on to when your entire world begins to unravel right before your eyes?

What Mother Won't Tell Me is an exceptionally quick read. The only thing that was a bit off putting was how young the author made Juno sound though I suppose you could chalk that up to the fact that she grew up completely secluded on an island, with no contact to other kids her age. Overall, a unique look at dysfunctional family dynamics and childhood trauma.

These Things Linger by Dan Franklin

I love when I'm pitched a book I hadn't previously heard about and it ends up being right up my alley!

These Things Linger is ghost horror. But it's also grief horror. And supernatural horror. And small town horror. And oooh yaaassss... it's down-right unputdownable horror.

Alex was raised by his Uncle Matty. Some of his best memories were from time spent together fishing and shooting. One evening, after his uncle hits him in the face with a beer bottle, Alex breaks ties with man and moves away to carve out a life of his own. Years later, engaged with a baby on the way, his learns that Uncle Matty unexpectedly dies. Alex receives notice that he's inherited the trailer he grew up in and feels compelled to make peace. He drives out to the place, unhitches the beat up old boat and takes it out for one last trip to the middle of the lake. In a moment of pure grief, he summons his dead uncle and brings something much darker and a helluva lot more dangerous across with him.

At its core, These Things Linger is a story of love, loss, desperation, forgiveness, and survival. But it's also much more than that. It's a horror novel with heart and carries quite a few gut punches that will linger with you long after the book ends.

So glad this one ended up in my hands. A must read for horror fans!

Letters to the Purple Satin Killer by Joshua Chaplinsky

In Letters to the Purple Satin Killer, we get to know the sadistic serial killer Jonas Williker solely through the letters he received while he was locked away in prision, awaiting the outcome of his trial.

His mother, an old childhood friend, an ex-girlfriend and her daughter, a lonely woman looking for a penpal, the one who got away, fanatics and crazies, a wanna be author, one of the jurors, even a cop who ended up crossing paths with him out in the real world before putting two and two together - they all write him on the regular. And through them, and their letters, we begin to piece together who Jonas was back when, who he is now, or what he could be, to each of them. They love him, they hate him, they want him, they want to hurt him, they are hurt by him, they want to be loved by him...

I wasn't sure how I was going to like it but it didn't take long to realize I was already hooked. Full transparency, for a hot minute I actually wondered if Joshua was writing a fictional account of an actual serial killer. I no-shame googled the name, the states and type of murders, just to make sure I wasn't missing something, it was that good.

And since we're in a no-shame kind of mood, I also don't mind telling you that the last letter... it might have made my eyes a little wet. Damn you Chaplinsky!

It's a really cool addition to the serial killer fiction that's out there and a book that shouldn't fly under anyone's radar. If you're reading this review, you gotta go read this book!

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Oh gosh this book. The prose is chimeral and sorrowful and fragmented. It's familiar, like a sister to Helen Phillips or Laura van den Berg. It's sparse and experimental and it's stabbing me right in the feels, even still, a full day away from having finished it. It's a brainworm. It's very digestible, like a delicious dessert, but it's deceiving because it takes up so much space. It's lovely but it makes my heart ache.

From the Belly by Emmett Nahil

Aquatic horror for the win! And that cover.. I just knew I had to have it!

A whaling ship gets more than they bargain for when a barely-alive man spills out of the belly of their first kill. Under the captain's orders, the unconscious stranger is locked in the brig and crewmate Isiah is tasked with splitting his rations with the man until they can decide what to do with him.

Once the rescued man awakens, strange things begin to happen on board The Merciful and the crew starts to slowly descend into madness as they begin to show signs of mysterious and frightening illnesses. Though he cannot immediately prove it, Isiah knows this is not just a string of bad luck and believes the enigmatic man they locked away below deck is somehow behind it all, and if his dreams are anything to go by, he's terrified they won't survive long enough to make it back to port.

From the Belly is atmospheric and claustrophobic and at times downright brutal. This is not your run of the mill Geppetto story. This is a "what the hell did we bring onboard" story. And a "you can't outrun the horrors that await you" story. And it's sooo good you guys.

The Collector by Laura Kat Young

#bookstagram made me buy it! It might not have made it onto my radar otherwise, so I'm glad I caught it while scrolling my feed. A little weird once you get to "Part Two" but still, sooo good.

Imagine a dystopian world where the government prides itself on ensuring everyone is happy. All of the time. Just smiling and loving life and being happy. And imagine your job is to visit people who have been reported for being a little sad or showing signs of grief so you can record their most cherished memory for The Catalog before their brains are reset. Because the government can't allow anyone to show signs of sadness, or to feel depressed, or to grieve. And imagine how all that collecting of all those memories might start to weigh on you, and so you start to break a few rules. Just little transgressions. Nothing too crazy. Like coming home every day after dropping off those recordings and writing down those memories in a notebook that you keep hidden in the wall. And then during one of your collections, you make a poor decision, a decision of the heart. And then imagine having someone knock on your door to ask you a few questions because YOU've been reported for not seeming like your normal happy self...

It felt a bit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-ish, only not voluntary. It's soft and gentle and subversive, and just absolutely nuts. If you liked Jesse Ball's A Cure For Suicide, you want to get your hands on this one!

Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker

This is another #bookstagrammademedoit book. #FOMO much?!

Full disclosure: I went in expecting it to be something quite different than what it is. That's not to say I didn't like it, because I did. But where I anticipated speculative fiction and magicial realism and the exploration of gateways to different worlds (aka Jeff Vandermeer style), I instead found myself engrossed in grief fiction following a character who is quickly becoming separated from reality.

What you need to know is that David, as a child, was very close to his grandfather. His grandfather believed there was more to this world than we knew, and he was determined to crack the multiverse code. Then, suddenly, amidst a worldwide crisis in which people begin to go missing and unidentifable bodies started popping up in strange places, David's grandfather also disappears. His parents tell him he died, but there were no hospital visits (like there were when his grandmother got sick), and no funeral. David is convinced that his parents are lying to him, and that his grandfather successfully crossed over to a different world, and he becomes determined to find him.

Mothtown is broken up into two alternating parts, Before and After. But where the actual split has occured appears to be left to the reader to decide - before and after when David learns of the death/disappearance of his grandfather at the age of 10? Before and after the discovery of his grandfather's book of instructions in the thrift store as an adult? Before and after his first meeting with Michael, the man with the maps and the knowledge of where the doors are located? Maybe, possibly, yes, to all of it.

I think Nils Shukla's blurb explains it best, "a tale about discovering how to belong". It's a book about feeling unstuck and uncomfortable in your own skin. It's tender and twisted. It's desperate and dripping with dread, but its pages are also imbued with a desire to find the space where your body fits best.

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