As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it, won’t shut up about it for the foreseeable future
- (★★★★): Really liked it, enjoyable experience
- (★★★): Liked it enough, no strong opinions
- (★★): Didn’t care for it, would actively discourage people reading it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Flynn
Genre: Thriller, mystery
GoodReads rating: 3.96 / 5 (618,000 ratings)
Medium used: Paperback (hand-me-down from my grandma)
PopSugar prompt: A book with a blurb from your favorite author on the cover.
Summary: Anna Fox used to be a successful child therapist, but since her husband and young daughter moved out, she spends her days drinking wine, watching classical movies and spying on the neighbors, jealous of their ability to venture outside of their homes. When she sees something she shouldn’t, “her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.”
Warning: This book contains mention of rape and domestic violence.
Thoughts: I’m so goddamn bored with these books, this is literally just a worse Girl On the Train if that’s possible. These books are all the same (the “crazy” woman whose life is in shambles, has pretentious interests and drinks too much wine) and nothing surprises me. I only picked this up because I wanted to make space on my bookshelf and it fit the prompt of “book with a blurb from your favorite author on the cover.” For this prompt, I already told myself since I don’t have a favorite author, I’d consider any author I gave a five-star to, which in this case was Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which in my opinion is the best domestic thriller of all time (Little Fires Everywhere and Big Little Lies come close). There is also a short blurb from Stephen King on the inside. I’m all for an unreliable narrator, but the book was too slow in the beginning and had a disappointing ending.
Other adaptations: Despite the star-studded cast, the 2021 movie didn’t fare too well.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Genre: Fiction, contemporary
GoodReads rating: 4.09 / 5 (48,800 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)
PopSugar prompt: A book whose title starts with the last letter of your previous read
Summary: Diana’s life was on track to be married to her loving partner, move up in her career and start a family when COVID-19 breaks. With her partner stuck working in the hospital, he insists she’d be safer taking their nonrefundable trip to the Galapagos Islands. Upon her arrival to Isla Isabel, the island goes into lockdown, stranding her in a place with no comforts of home and no knowledge of the language. Over a few months, she begins to integrate into local life and rethinks her life back home, wondering if she will return the same.
Warning: This book contains themes of COVID-19 and self-harm.
Thoughts: I can’t remember the last time I hated a book this strongly. This was so tone-deaf and an insult to any readers’ intelligence. First, let’s start out with premise. I’m not quite sure how I feel about media about a fictionalized world where COVID happens as it’s still killing thousands of people everyday, it could still be very sensitive to a lot of people. On the other hand, this has been and still is a major historic event that will be hard to avoid mentioning.
But the COVID setting is far from the worst crime this book commits. It tries to be “woke” by making obvious points in the book like “wear your mask” and virtue signaling with things like “the Hispanics who clean the hospital are most at risk”… then uses the magical Negro trope. The magical Negro is a black character who comes to the aid of the white character with special insight or literal magical abilities. Stephen King is extremely guilty of this, if you’d like to learn more check out this amazing video essay. In this book, the magical Negro is the sister of the main character’s Black best friend, so I think it’s safe to assume she is Black as well (she also turns a few phrases in AAVE). This Black woman just happens to be a psychic that reveals to the main character the possibilities of different realities, near-death experiences and parallel universes and helps her come to terms with a vivid experience she had.
Another few parts that I thought were completely tone-deaf was when the galapagueño locals quickly called the tourist main character “one of them” despite her traveling to the island in a pandemic then also trying to leave said island when a strict quarantine was in place. I just don’t understand what value she added to the community for them to accept her as quickly. I think there was a lot of projecting from the white author longing to be accepted into one of these romanticized villages. Also, the mother of the main character finally revealed why she was a crisis photographer: to “remind herself she’s not the only one” going through a hard time. Now, I’m not saying this fictional woman didn’t have it totally easy, but I think there’s a difference between being in the cross-fire of a civil war and having divorced parents. But that’s just me.
In addition to actually harmful things, this book is just plain cheesy. Filled with dumb platitudes like “if someone abandons you, it may be less about you and more about them” and “either [walls] are built to keep people you fear out or they are built to keep people you love in; either way you create a divide” found on the same page. At one point, the main character is taken by how much she loves her partner and, I shit you not, this is said: “It strikes me that Covid isn’t the only thing that can take your breath away.” There’s also an unironic “and everyone clapped” moment too. I just can’t.
I will give this book credit where it is due: Jodi researches very well for her books (great medical explanation for what goes on behind the scenes at a hospital) and makes a great atmosphere (I felt like I was on the island myself). She also did a good job of portraying the two different realities at the beginning of the pandemic: some of us who were putting their lives on hold to quarantine safely while others were hosting super-spreader events like weddings. It was definitely jarring to remember.
To end on a much deserved sour note, this book committed the worst possible sin and trope I cannot stand, but you will have to read the book for yourself to decide if it’s as unforgiveable as I make it out to be.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Genre: Historical fiction, mythology
GoodReads rating: 3.92 / 5 (58,000 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “Briseis… was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks.”
Warning: This book contains themes of pedophilia, rape, gratuitous violence, slavery, cannibalism, animal abuse, human/animal sacrifice, self harm and suicide
Thoughts: While I really appreciate the women’s point of view, I preferred the same story in The Song of Achilles, it was just more gripping. Growing up on Percy Jackson, I’m always eager to try a Greek mythology book and ready for it to be my new favorite, but I’m constantly let down. The narration was a bit cold and boring at times and didn’t allow me to feel for the characters. Not much happened outside of the camp walls and just a lot of walking between tents and talking. As you can tell by my myriad of trigger warnings, I did, however, appreciate that this book was very raw and displayed the true horrors of war and slavery. Although this book sets up well for the sequel, I don’t think I’ll be getting to it any time soon.
Cultish by Amanda Montell
Genre: Non-fiction, psychology
GoodReads rating: 4.09 / 5 (16,000 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook and hardback (borrowed from library/gifted)
Summary: “[T]he key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day. Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.”
Warning: This book contains mention of suicide.
Thoughts: I liked this book a lot! Because the definition of a “cult” or “brainwashing” isn’t largely agreed upon in the academic world, it has become what each individual sees it as. While it’s inappropriate to put Jonestown and a make-up multi-level marketing scheme on the same level, the strategies in the language they use to lure people in and keep them from leaving are much of the same. We are interested in these cults in the same way we might rubberneck a car crash: asking how could someone fall for this and wondering is this an immediate danger to me?
I have been deep into the anti-MLM world for a number of years now and know more than is useful or necessary. However, despite the days of YouTube watch time from users like Kiki Chanel and Savannah Marie under my belt, there was still a lot to take from this book on the topic. My favorite point was comparing the thought-terminating cliché of “my business isn’t a pyramid scheme, those are illegal!” to a bank robber saying, “I couldn’t possibly have done that, it’s illegal!”. Simply stating the illegality of something doesn’t mean you’re not involved.
I got this book for Christmas and since then, I’ve actually been employed by a business some people might see of as a bit cult-y: Orange Theory Fitness. It does get a mention, but only when listing the different range of workout options. Unlike a lot of other “developed” nations that have universal healthcare and government assistance programs, the US has no social safety nets and citizens must take their health into their own hands, leading to just about every workout you can think of available for sale. After all, these classes are cheaper than hospital bills, right? As an employee and customer (I work out for free), I can tell you it’s not a cult by any definition. The biggest things I took from this book that define a cult are an altered vocabulary, the principles bleeding into your everyday life in an unhealthy way and difficulty leaving. The language used in workouts are widely known in the exercise world and even demonstrated on-screen and modifications are explained for a workout that suits everyone. Coaches don’t act insane or give you too much hell, but encourage the class as a whole to push themselves for a brief period of time when appropriate. Outside of the physical building, Orange Theory has zero role in my life and takes up no mental space. Finally as a worker, I’ve been specifically instructed not to fight people when they want to quit, just say “Sorry to see you go” and tell them when they’re last billing date is. I think the stigma around quitting these workout classes is worse than the reality.
Now, the tea: although I appreciate a non-fiction author with a voice, Montell came across a bit “not like other girls” at times, saying she has a “low cringe threshold” (Shanspeare made a great video on “cringe culture”) and mindlessly shitting on LuLuLemon and those who wear them. Although LuLuLemon can be a bit pricey, with the rise of athleisure wear and the better materials, the cost per wear can be significantly lower than similar, cheaper products that don’t last as long. In a similar vane, she also felt “not like other white people,” not really going into depth when making observations of compositions of certain groups. Sure, it may be true, but without a even a short explanation why, it holds no weight. I also think this is a tad overwritten, I kid you not, calling crying a “liquidy reflex” (doesn’t this sound like Joey from Friends using the thesaurus?) and other similar phrases Montell herself would call “cringe”. I was also wondering why there was zero mention of the famous BITE model to appropriately identify a cult: behavior, information, thought an emotional control.
That was just a really long way of says I got a lot out of this book, the voice wasn’t perfect but absolutely forgivable for all the great information that was given.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.