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The Night Swim

Megan Goldin brings a modern twist to the murder mystery novel with her 2020 novel The Night Swim. After uncovering the truth and setting an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is feeling an immense amount of pressure to perform in her true crime podcast’s new season. Rachel finds herself in a small coastal town reporting on a rape trail that has divided its population. After arriving, she finds herself receiving cryptic notes from one of the town’s previous residents begging her to investigate their sister’s death 25 years prior. After a little investigation, Rachel finds that not everyone in town wants this mystery solved.

Goldin’s addition of a True Crime podcaster adds and interesting twist to the traditional mystery novel. As podcasts and true crime become more popular, it seems obvious to adapt the genre to fit this growing trend. Goldin does this perfectly in Night Swim. Her alternation of perspectives and her addition of podcast transcripts create a addicting narrative that no reader will be able to put down.

Fiction can be used as a tool to shine a light on real world problems. The crimes committed against K and Jenny are interesting in their own way. Why is it that K had been seen as more of a legitimate victim, whereas Jenny was ridiculed and demonized in her own murder? Goldin’s novel, she does raises a tragic but important question: Who deserves justice?

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A complicated choice : making space for grief and healing in the pro-choice movement

The decision to end a pregnancy is difficult for many women. Religion or spirituality should provide a place compassion and guidance to anyone facing this choice. Katey Zeh (a Baptist minister) brings compassion and understanding to the pro-choice movement with her 2022 work A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement. Zeh guides the reader through numerous first hand accounts of women: coming to the decision to have an abortion; their experience having and recovering from their abortion; and how their lives were affected by their choice.

I greatly admire how Zeh approached her misunderstanding and personal prejudices with in the prochoice movement. She discusses her time volunteering with a woman’s health clinic where she helped provided emotional support for women receiving care in the clinic. She addressed her preconceived notion about why a woman would seek an abortion and who that woman was. How can we provide support, compassion, and empathy to someone in crisis if we judge their choice on a misguided stereotype?

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, we all need to change our understanding of reproductive health (especially birth control and abortion). We must listen to women and to medical professionals. This book is the perfect first step for those who never think about abortion or think they don’t know anyone who has ever had one. You may find that the women who chose to share their stories in Zeh’s recent book may have very similar experiences to the women in your life today.

Even though I am not a religious person, I can not speak more highly of this book. It’s refreshing to see a religious official speak so compassionately about such a controversial topic. Zeh’s work is the perfect marriage of compassion and spiritual connection. This could be the perfect book for a religious individual struggling with any difficult choice in their reproductive health.

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Hidden Pictures

Jason Rekulak terrifies readers with his 2022 horror book Hidden Pictures. The story of a young woman (Mallory) fresh on her journey of addiction recovery when she becomes a full time nanny for a 5 year old boy (Teddy) in an affluent neighborhood. Things are looking up for Mallory until she starts to notice’s that Teddy’s drawings and behavior are beginning to become more sinister and terrifying by the day. With the fear that something supernatural may be influencing the young boy, Mallory turns to her new neighbor and landscaper to discover what is really happening in Teddy’s drawings.

While reading the book’s summary, I was very interested in seeing how it would turn out. After reading, I found it more and more difficult to sympathize with the characters or their choices. The main character Mallory as well as the two parents; Ted and Caroline; were almost caricatures in their behaviors (especially in the creation of their house rules for Mallory). Rekulak’s depictions of these three characters created a dichotomy between the hyper religious Mallory and the overly strict atheist parents.

Overall, Hidden Pictures was unremarkably similar to almost every “creepy kid” horror book or movie. I wish Hidden Pictures had a little extra to set it apart from other books in the horror/thriller genre.

What did you think of Hidden Pictures? What did you think about the twist ending? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Legends of the North Cascades

After becoming widowed veteran (Dave) and his 7 year old daughter (Bella) abandon their former life in Jonathan Evison’s 2021 novel Legends of the North Cascades. After bushwhacking though the North Cascades, the duo attempts to settle down in a mountain side cave. Eventually both succumb to the isolation of the mountain and begin to lose their grasp of reality and must decide to either remain in the cave or return to their former lives and family.

The local legend of “Cave Dave,” added an interesting dynamic to the plot . Seeing the local perspective of Dave and Bella’s mental and physical decline allowed the reader to better grasp the dangerous situation the main characters found themselves in. However, the story in its entirety was a little ridiculous. Many of the characters were unbelievable and unsympathetic. In addition, the ice age visions that Bella has throughout the story were bizarre and added nothing to the plot of the book. In my opinion, the novel would have been a more cohesive read if it was scrapped all together.

The importance of a supportive community is the most impactful theme of Evison’s novel. At first, I found the parallel stories of Dave with Bella and the Ice Age Mother and Son to be a little odd but by the end of the story the message was clear; with out community we will lose our sense of humanity.

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Little Girls (A Ghost Story)

The ghosts of a woman’s childhood come back to haunt her in Ronald Malfi’s 2015 novel Little Girls. After the death of her father, Laurie Genarro along with her husband (Ted) and daughter (Susan) travel to his home out of state to prepare clean it out and prepare it to be sold. After arriving, Laurie finds that her father’s dilapidated home isn’t the only ghost from her past waiting for her. She soon finds that her daughter’s new friend bares a striking resemblance to a young girl who tragically passed away and quickly finds that all her childhood woes have followed her home.

Malfi’s development of Laurie and Ted’s relationship was hands down my favorite part of the book. Malfi’s depictions of their personal insecurities with in their larger marital issues added conflict and tension to the story. This conflict also helped highlight Laurie’s deteriorating mental state and helped to elaborated the ghosts haunting her conscious. The book wouldn’t have been the same without it. Without the failing relationship between Laurie and Ted, the story would have fallen apart.

My biggest complaint of the book was that there wasn’t a clear villain. In the last 75% of the book, Malfi constructed so many improbable plot twists in his storyline that it was very difficult to anticipate what could happen next. Each initial plot point was turned on it’s head and a new monster emerged.

I typically enjoy a slow and suspenseful build in my horror novels but Malfi’s work fell flat. An exceptional amount of detail was crafted in each flash back and with in character dialog, as a reader you could very easily create a mental image for every moment of the story. However, all this description took away from the plot of the story and ultimately there wasn’t a clear conclusion and left more questions than answers.

I’d love to hear what you thought. Did you read Little Girls? What did you think of the ending? Tell me about it in the comment section below.

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Anxious People

Fredrick Backman sets up a punch line for the longest joke in history in his 2020 book Anxious People. One wouldn’t typically imagine yourself being held hostage when viewing an apartment, but that exactly where eight anxiety ridden idiots find themselves on New Years Eve. (It probably would be accurate to describe all the characters in this interesting saga as idiots.) After a bank robbery goes wrong (in the most unexpected way), two police officers must find the identity of a masked bank robber and figure out exactly how they were able to escape capture.

Backman has created a very likeable cast of characters in Anxious People. The characters were all very well developed and had an endearing dynamic between them. Their hilarious conversations, worries and fears, and rich back stories made them all the more relatable and loveable. As a reader, I often times found myself both sympathizing with the struggles of each character while also finding myself laughing out loud at their antics. Any reader will see themselves in at least one of these loveable idiots. If you are looking for a hilarious and heartwarming read, Anxious People is just the book for you.

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How High We Go In the Dark

Sequoia Nagamatsu brings our current reality to fiction with his new novel, How High We Go in the Dark. Life on Earth is changed forever after a group of archaeologists in the artic circle re-discover an ancient virus in the mummified remains of a young girl. Nagamatsu’s ensemble of characters find themselves struggling to re-stabilize a crumbing society in the midst of a pandemic of astronomical proportions. Nagamatsu’s work holds a mirror to our current experiences as the characters face no only an deadly virus but global warming, corporate greed, and the degradation of community and interpersonal relationships.

I found How High We Go in the Dark to be almost too close to reality. I don’t typically enjoy novels that parallel this closely with current events, but How High We Go In the Dark is definitely an exception to that rule. Nagamatsu’s reference to crypto currency, global warming, infidelity, addiction , and virtual reality were an interesting addition to his novel. These additions allowed for more tension in the storyline than the virus alone, in addition to making the characters more relatable and multifaceted. These conflicts challenged relationships, pulled characters away from their reality, and allowed for creative and community oriented solutions.

Each chapter in Nagamatsu’s work was from a different character’s perspective. I thought that this was a fantastic choice, but I wish there was a stronger connection between chapters. As a reader I really had to think about how the characters were connected, which took me away from the story. Even so, How High We Go in the Dark, is a fantastic twist on the pandemic novel and is a great read for anyone who is a dystopian fan.

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Dear Edward

Ann Napolitano tells the tale of tragedy, growth, and healing in her most recent novel Dear Edward. Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash, killing his mother, father and brother leaving him orphaned and in the custody of his aunt and uncle in new jersey. Napolitano takes us on a journey of grief and self-discovery where a young boy named Edward learns to cope with the trauma he endured in the crash, the grief of losing his family, and the guilt he experiences being the sole survivor of a terrible tragedy.

The story line of the book is very dynamic. Napolitano alternated chapters of Edwards day to day life after the crash with a hour by hour countdown to the plane crash that kick started Edward’s new life. This choice gave a face to all the characters that perished in the crash and created a more interesting story arch.

One aspect of the book that I cherished the most was all the supporting characters. All characters present in Edwards life post plane crash are committed and supportive of his recovery. His aunt and uncle are patient and understanding of his process and even act as legal liaison when it comes time to talk to settle with lawyers and the airline. His teachers and principal are fair and provide all the accommodations he needs to be successful in school. He makes a new friend with ease, a neighbor, who feels like just as much an outcast as he does. Without each of these relationships, Edwards recovery and development as a character wouldn’t have been possible.

However, Edward isn’t the only character to embark on a journey of healing and self discovery. Each of the supporting characters also have their own enriching character arch in parallel to our protagonist. In his own healing journey, he also helps foster the healing of others.

Have you read Dear Edward? Did you love it or hate it? I’d love to hear about it in comment section below!

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The Road of Bones

Christopher Golden will leave you shivering with fear in his new book Road of Bones. Two reality documentary produces travel to Russian to catch the horrific history of the Kolyma Highway (Road of bones) on film for the word to see for the first time. Starting their journey with a less than friendly working relationship ship, our main character Felix Teigland, his camera man and their guide prepare for a long and frightening journey. It’s not long before they stop in small village and discover an unimaginable mystery and a cationic young girl who has been separated from her family. Quickly they find themselves as prey, running from an almost supernatural pack of wolves whose only desire is to devour the filmmakers alive.

I personally loved the characters that Golden created in this story. Their fears and emotions were almost palpable I progressed through the story and found them to be delightfully morally gray. Golden created a few instances where they either chose to save themselves at the expense of others or death of other characters in the story. Apart from the two original filmmakers, none of the characters had very strong relationships. Their strong willingness to thrown their traveling companions to the wolves made the story like a more unpredictable and exciting.

While the characters were fantastic and the plot like was fear inducing, I wanted a little bite more. For one, I wish that the book was just a little bit longer. By the end of the book, I as the reader had a significant number of questions that were still left unanswered. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away but Golden doesn’t leave you with a clear understanding of who was the monster of the story or what even triggered the horrific tragedy centered in our story. However, even with my complaints about the story, Road of Bones is a spine chilling read that will make your heart skip a beat the next time you look out into the forest at night.

Have you read Golden’s new book? Tell me about it in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you thought about it!

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Revelator

Deep in the mountains of Tennessee a mysterious deity slumbers. In Daryl Greggory’s work Revelator, we meet a long like of women, all (supposedly) born out of wedlock, with striking physical characteristics, and a long line of secrets to protect. Stella should have been next in line to serve as the next revelator, until a tragic accident causes her to run from the only real home and family she has ever known, vowing never to return again. After the death of her “grandmother” she returns to find a young girl (Sunny), with an odd appearance, and very peculiar behavior.

The character arch of Stella is a fantastic literary journey that would entrap the interest of any reader. Stella’s return to the cove is an enticing page turner. Her determination to protect and shelter Sunny from the oppressive nature of her family’s religion makes her an incredibly interesting character. Her journey from young religious prophet to a morally gray bootlegger is a fantastic view into the life of a woman struggling for control of her own life.

Greggory’s work felt like is an interesting take on familial relationships and the potential destructive nature of blind faith. The long line of revelators are used as pawns for the spread of the family’s religion and the profit of their family’s pastors. Every page leaves the reader rooting for Stella and Sunny to escape their family’s grasp and leave to find a better life. The Revelator is a spine-chilling journey no reader will be able to put down.

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All These Bodies

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake begins with a killing spree across the midwest that stops in the small town of Black Deer Falls, Minnesota. This is where we learn that a small family of four was attacked, leaving three killed and only one surviving infant. In the midst of all this carnage a young teen girl (Marie) is found covered in the blood of the diseased. Is she the victim or the perpetrator? How did she come to be in the middle of this carnage? The sherif’s son (Michael) , is the only one who she will tell her story too. After a rollercoaster of an investigation, the reader is left with more questions than answers.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the unidentifiable monster in the closet. There was a string of murders so there was clearly a killer but the killer themselves were never the most prominent part of the story. While I was reading Blake’s work, it appeared that the biggest villain in our story, was fear and the want for speedy, but neglectful, justice. The town of Black Deer Falls was terrified of whoever or whatever brutally murdered one of their own. They wanted to justice, not to wait around for a fair and speedy trail (even if it meant harassing and abusing Michael’s family and friends to get it).


While the idea of the story is very interesting and had a lot of potential, the book itself could have had a little more substance to it. I found the characters to be one dimensional, unsympathetic, unreliable, and at times a little infuriating. For example: Marie our main suspect, seemed to be hostile and uncooperative for no real reason and seems to act only as an antithesis the prosecuting attorney (Benjamin Pilson). Whereas, Michael’s (the story’s protagonist) squeaky clean image wasn’t relatable and we don’t really know much about him apart for his future aspiration to become a journalist. His character fell flat, I wasn’t sure why he was given the authority he had throughout the novel, it was simply unbelievable. All three of these characters mash up into a very unsatisfying story. After I read Blake’s work I was left with more questions than answers. Was the killer a vampire? Was Marie a vampire? Was Marie innocent or was she lying the whole time? Who can really be trusted?

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Bruised

A story of self discovery and healing is told through Bruised by Tanya Boteju. We begin the story with Daya, who recently lost her parents in a car accident. After meeting a few new friends at the skate park, Daya tries out for a roller derby team to help distract her from her grief. After realizing that roller derby is much more than getting knocked around and bruised, Daya finds herself on a journey of healing and self discovery.

The cast of characters presented in Bruised are nothing but diverse and supportive. Boteju’s characters are relatable to readers of all ages. Daya; the main character; is a teen girl who just wanted her parents to be proud of her ( a feeling all of us have experienced at one point in our lives). One of the most refreshing aspects of the book is that it normalizes characters of different sexual orientations and gender expressions. Bruised, shows young teens and young adults that having a supportive community can help one though the most difficult of circumstances.

Bruised provides a brilliant depiction of a good community support system. Daya’s extended family and friends support her during a time of self discovery and devastating grief. In addition, they support her passions and outlets while holding her accountable for her detrimental habits. Boteju shows readers of all ages the support we should be giving our loved ones and the support we all deserve in times of hardship.

What is a dog

How much do dogs really affect our lives? Chloe Shaw takes us on a heart breaking journey of healing and self discovery in her recent book, What is a dog? After the death of her family’s dog Booker, she recounts the influence every dog in her life since childhood up until the moment of their beloved Bookers death. Shaw describes her journey from birth to adulthood with a canine joining her for each season of life. 

What is a dog? is relatable story for any dog lover. Shaw’s work will cause you to think back on lovingly on the life of every dog you have ever owned and shed a tear for their absence. Shaw calls us to reflect on our four legged friends and release the grief of their passing out into the world. 

I write this review as my dog zooms and runs around my appartment, causing mischief and mayhem. Much like me, this book may cause you to hug your pups a little tighter.  I can only recommend this book if one of your hobbies includes crying over a book from your local library.