Posted in book review

While You Sleep: ARC Review

While You Sleep

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

Genres/Descriptors: thriller; mystery; horror; gothic; paranormal

Publication Date (US): March 5th, 2019

Pages: 400

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

On an small island off the coast of Scotland, the McBride house has been the center of rumors and strange occurrences for over a century, since a widow and her son died under mysterious circumstances.

Zoe Adams, an American woman, wants to get away from a bad marriage, and arranges to rent the house for a few week for some peace and time to herself. Her peace is short-lived, with disturbing incidents, strange singing coming from somewhere in the house, and the constant sense of being watches.

The locals blame everything on the house, but Zoe isn’t convinced. She doesn’t buy into the haunted house story, and thinks there must be a rational explanation for what she’s experiencing, and that the possible danger lurking is no phantom.

Review:

If you’re looking for something new, without the tired haunted house tropes, this isn’t it.

When I found this on Net Galley (I believe it came out last spring in the UK, but is now being released in the US), I had to request it. I’m a horror junkie, and a sucker for gothic, haunted house stories. I’m always hoping to find something that surprises me, or, if it doesn’t surprise me, at least entertains me for a while.

This one kind of managed to entertain me, but I was never surprised by anything. I had the entire story figured out from very early on, and I’m not happy about that. There are a few tropes I encounter somewhat frequently in horror (movies and books) that really irritate me, and this one had at least a couple of those. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about those things without giving away spoilers. I’ll just say that I kept hoping I was going to be wrong, that this book was not going to go where I thought it was, but then it did. (Actually, I am going to do spoilers, but they will be at the end, with a warning in bold so you can skip over them.)

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I will say that I enjoyed the writing. Stephanie Merritt is not a bad writer, and I will definitely be looking into her other books. I think she is certainly capable of writing a good story, this one just didn’t work for me personally.

The characters were okay, but not great. I only really liked Charles (known by locals as The Professor), but by the end I wasn’t even a huge fan of his character. (I didn’t dislike him, I was just not surprised by anything.)

Zoe just annoyed me. I wanted to like her, but I was pretty sure from the first few chapters that she was going to be a particular cliche, and I was right (and so angry about it).

The locals were what you would expect: superstitious, close-knit, and a tendency to not trust strangers. And, of course, there was the quintessential creepy perv, because we can’t have a story about a woman spending time alone without one of those, can we? (The more I think about this book, the more irritated I become.)

While I had somewhat high hopes at least for the atmosphere of this one, it fell short for me. It started off alright, and I got excited. Maybe this one would succeed in creeping me out! A restored (but still creepy) old house, strange sounds and happenings, the isolation… It seemed perfect, and I was so ready to feel claustrophobic and uneasy. That lasted about a minute, and then it never got creepy (in the paranormal way) again. If you’re easily scared, this might not be an issue for you, though.

**If you think of trigger warnings as spoilers, skip to the next paragraph.** This one definitely needs TWs, in my opinion, for: sexual content, sexual encounters that are non-consensual/have dubious consent (including adults with a minor), sexual assault/threat of assault, animal death and mutilation (that one is pretty brief and not too graphic, but I thought it was only there for shock value), mental illness as a plot device; death of children.

This book has graphic sexual scenes, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you should skip it. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it. I read erotica, so it didn’t shock me or anything, but I wasn’t expecting it.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and I’m not sure if it’s me (and my increasing exasperation with certain tropes in horror) or the book, but it didn’t really work for me. The plot was a lot of cliches, which isn’t necessarily bad, I was just hoping for something new, or a unique spin on tropes that took it in an unexpected direction.


Spoilers ahead!

Skip past this if you don’t want spoilers.

I knew, early on, that Zoe’s son was going to be dead, and that it was going to come out that she was dealing with some kind of mental illness or something. I hate that. I hate mental illness being used as a plot device, especially in horror and thrillers. Especially when you pair that up with something like paranormal events, in which women are often thought to be crazy or whatever anyway. (Think about haunted house stories. How often are the women, who are usually the ones experiencing the worst of things, believed by other people?) I’m so tired of it.

I’m also sick of this trope where women can’t seem to get through a horror or thriller without being sexually assaulted. In this one Zoe is repeatedly made very uncomfortable by the local pervert, because of his comments towards her, and that’s the tame stuff. At their first meeting, his touched her breast. Later, he assaults her, gropes her, and threatens to rape her.

There’s also the weird incubus thing with the house, which is supposed to explain people losing control and turning into sex-crazed beasts. I get that Zoe consented to sex with the teacher, but…if we accept that the house is exerting influence over the people inside, it’s dubious consent at best. And I am pissed about how that turned out, with her being pregnant with a new half-incubus fetus.

I don’t even have words for the thing with the teenage girl. I saw it coming, but I didn’t expect it to unfold quite the way it did. I was pretty sure she had a sexual relationship with the creepy perv, but gods. There is a kind of explicit scene in which she’s tied up in a sexual way (she seems to be consenting, but again, she’s underage and there’s the influence of the house going on), with not just him, but another middle-aged character. I am so beyond sick of situations like this being used in horror so frequently. We have enough of this in the real world, so it’s not exactly fun to read about it in so many books. (I don’t think I would complain about the sexual assault and such if it wasn’t so prevalent.)

End of spoilers


I’m giving it 2 out of 5 stars (actual rating more like 2.5, but I didn’t want to round up to 3 stars).

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for review.

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Posted in book review

Night Film, Reviewed

Night Film
Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Description from goodreads:

On a damp October night, 24-year-old Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror film director Stanislaus Cordova–a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. 

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. 

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Review:

*inhuman screeching*

This. BOOK! Oh my gosh you guys, this one is a ride. I read this one for Tome Topple last month, and even with NaNoWriMo happening, I read it in about two and a half days. It’s a 640 page book, and I devoured it.

First, let’s talk about the format of this book. It’s a little similar to Everything Must Go, the Illuminae Files books, and House of Leaves in that it has more than just text, or even illustrations. There are web pages, articles, photographs, etc., and it really adds something to the story. (I also listened to this one, but kept my physical copy handy for referencing those pages.) Also, my copy has a thing at the end of the book where you can access bonus content online!

If all mysteries kept me on the edge of my seat, not knowing what to expect next, not knowing who to suspect, and were just this damn trippy at times, I would probably read way more of them.

I really don’t know what to say about this book without spoilers, and I honestly think it’s better going into it not knowing much about it. I didn’t even re-read the synopsis before I started it, so I could read it with fresh eyes and no preconceived notions (I think I remembered something about a journalist, and some reclusive film dude, and that was all).

From the beginning, it’s so good! So good! I barely managed to remember to write while I was reading this because I didn’t want to put it down. There are so many twists, so many wheels within wheels. I loved it. I absolutely loved every “WTF?!” moment of it.

I didn’t get super attached to the characters, which is weird for me and a book I loved, but I’m fine with it. I feel weird about calling this a plot-driven novel, because characters are kind of the main focus, but I’m pretty sure that’s what this is. Kind of. I don’t know, oh my gosh. Ok, both are important and drive the story forward.

Anyway… I freaking loved this book and I can not wait to read more from Marisha Pessl ASAP, and I highly recommend this one if you like mysteries.


I rated this one 5 out of 5 stars, and it was probably my favorite autumn read.

Posted in books, reading challenges

Autumn Reading Challenges

Autumn is coming! Autumn is coming! I’m so excited 😀 Ok, so autumn isn’t my favorite season (allergies suck, ugh), winter is, buuuut… I still love autumn.

Maybe it’s because it’s the promise of winter arriving soon, or because of Halloween (!!!), or because my birthday is 2 weeks before Halloween, or any number of other things, but I love autumn. Not as much as winter, but a lot.

This year, I’ve been in a reading funk and I haven’t been in the mood for the genres I reach for the most. For the past few days, I’ve really been feeling darker books (horror, thrillers, mysteries, gothic lit, etc.), and I’ve been searching for reading events/challenges, read-a-thons, etc. that center around those genres. And I found some!


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R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge

This challenge that runs from September 1st through October 31st is one I think I’ve heard of, and possibly participated in a long time ago. It’s now being hosted by My Capricious Life and Estella’s Revenge, and it sounds like a really relaxed, fun thing, with several “Perils” (levels) to choose from. I’m going with Peril the First, which is to read four books for the challenge.

Some of my possible reading choices for this challenge:

I’m also thinking about reading some Agatha Christie and/or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for this one.

If anyone wants to buddy-read any of these, please let me know because I’d love to partner up to talk about them!


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#FrightFall Readathon

This one is hosted by Seasons of Reading and runs from October 1st-31st, and (as far as I can tell), the only requirement is to read at least one scary book. I’ve been itching for good horror books for ages, so I’m really excited for this one, and I hope I find something that actually scares me.

If you guys have any suggestions for truly terrifying reads, let me know in the comments!


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Gothic September– Edgar Allan Poe read along

For this month, I’m joining this read along hosted by Castle Macabre and it’s So! Exciting! ❤ I love Edgar Allan Poe, and I’m definitely going to try to keep up with the schedule.

 


Bookish Bingo: Fall 2017

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I came across this one, hosted by Pretty Deadly Reviews, by accident, and it looks like fun! This seasonal bingo runs from through the autumn season. I’m not sure how well I’ll do, but I love bookish bingo, so I’m going to play. (I wonder if you can count a graphic novel for “Illustrations…” If so, I’ve got one square already.)

I’ve already thought of some picks for about 6 of these, so yay!

 

 

 

 


And, there’s also a Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon coming around on October 21st! I’ve missed the last, like, 4 of these, so I’m hoping to remember this time and actually participate.


 

Whew! That’s a ton of things to (hopefully) inspire me to read a bit more, and more broadly, for the next 2-3 months. I’m super excited about all of these, and I can’t wait to post wrap-ups and see how many things I managed to complete.

 


Are you participating in any reading events this fall? Let me know about them in the comments!

 

Posted in book tags/memes

First Lines Fridays: July 14th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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cover; links to goodreads

What it’s about:

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


I was on the fence about this for a while, but I kept seeing it around and finally just grabbed a copy when I found it on sale. Now that I’ve actually read the description, and heard good things about it, I’m kind of wondering why I didn’t seek it out sooner because it sounds like something I could love.


If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? If you haven’t read it, is it on your TBR, too?

 

Posted in book recommendations, book tags/memes

Must Read Mondays: July 3rd

must-read-mondays

Must Read Monday is a weekly thing I do here to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed. I might sometimes throw in something I gave 3 stars to, but for the most part they’re books I gave a 4-5 star rating to. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily amazing literature, but it does mean I liked them enough to recommend them to other people.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (book 1 in the Millennium trilogy) by Stieg Larsson

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cover; links to goodreads

When I read it: January 2012

Genres: contemporary; Scandinavian lit; mystery; thriller; crime

Recommended for: This is a tough one to recommend because I know so many people with different tastes in books who all loved it. So, I’d say just give it a shot and see if it’s for you, but it might take a while to get into it.

Trigger warning for: rape, sexual assault, violence (I think…it’s been a while since I read this so I’m not 100% sure when things happen in the series. Please let me know if I missed something.)

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into a complex and atmospheric novel.

Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of iniquity and corruption.


I read this over 5 years ago, so it’s really fuzzy in my memory, but I do remember that it took me for-ev-er to become invested, and I loved it by the end. My mom (who isn’t much of a reader) was the one who kept pushing me to keep going, insisting it would get better, and she was right. I think it took something like 40-60% and about a week of reading for me, but after that I flew through the rest of the book in like a day.

This isn’t a light book. It isn’t fluffy. It isn’t easy to read at many points. But, it was a very good book (and series as a whole), and I do recommend it quite often when someone asks me about it or for mystery/thriller recommendations.


Did you read it? What did you think of it?