Greetings, readers!

Before we get started on this month’s book reviews (soooo many!) I have an exciting announcement:

I am proud to share the news that I am a brand-spankin’ new Affiliate of IndieBound.

IndieBound connects communities to their independent local bookstores. Since I don’t link to Amazon for book purchases and I encourage everyone to support their local bookstore, I had initially planned to explore IndieBound and see if they’d be a helpful resource for anyone reading these reviews.

I stumbled upon the application for their affiliate program and was thrilled when they accepted me.

What does this mean?

If you buy a book through these links, it doesn’t add any additional cost to your purchase, I just get a thank you. I love reading books and writing reviews, but it’s a lot of hard work.

Of utmost importance: I still pick every book that I read and I will always be honest about whether or not I liked a book. And I’m still going to drop the word “fuck” into my reviews whenever I damn well please.

If you like the sound of a book and decide to buy it, please feel free to use the links included in my reviews to make your purchase– it’s a great way to help me and your local bookstores.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Onward! These books ain’t gettin’ any younger.

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Psycho by Robert Bloch

Even though Psycho has one of the most famously well-known plot twists in the last hundred years, I tried to read this and pretend I didn’t know the ending, which was (who knew?) surprisingly difficult.

If you pretend you don’t know the ending, there are enough little clues to make it possible to guess, if you’re a close reader.

But whether you know Norman’s secret or not, Psycho is a great read. It’s a short, fast-paced book, perfect for an afternoon at the park or a trip to the beach.

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Psycho is pulpy, without a doubt, but it’s really great pulp. Not Raymond Chandler, more like Jim Thompson.

There are a few clunkers (“The knife cut off her scream. And her head.” Yeesh.), but what’s horror without a bit of hack?

And the truly spine-chilling moments still got me.

There are a few changes to characterization to look out for– and many chapters from Norman’s perspective, which I loved. If you’re at all a fan of the film, pick up this gem.

Since it’s pretty impossible to extricate this book from the movie, I have no qualms about sharing the incredible score by Bernard Hermann– enjoyable while reading, or doing anything else… except taking a shower.

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Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa

I absolutely did not tear up in public as I was reading this.

I did not.

No, you did. Your mom did.

Yeah, I totally did.

This essay collection was wonderful. I love Sara Benincasa’s online work (her Instagram is a heaven-sent gift) and as someone who creates and has a day job, this title jumped out at me. Hi, this book is for you!

Benincasa even addresses this book-kinship in this book, like some kind of bookception. In one of the essays, Benincasa discusses From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (one of my childhood favorites):

“It was the first time I can recall feeling that sense of recognition that sometimes seizes a person when she experiences art: I see me.”

In Real Artists Have Day Jobs, I saw me.

There are essays about mental illness, intersectional feminism, creating art, creating magic (not woo), making the world better, and how to get better at things (there is an entire chapter called “When You Don’t Know What to Do, Ask a Successful Woman”)

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

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Whether or not you believe in ghosts, you’ll enjoy Colin Dickey’s U.S. tour of all things macabre. Dickey probes the cultural reasons for designating places (homes, hotels, even a Toys ‘R’ Us) as “haunted.” Most of these reasons derive from our shared cultural anxieties (guilt, uneasiness, fear of the unknown). These manifest themselves not as literal ghosts, but places of unease that we term haunted. These places are marked by “a buried, latent anxiety Americans have about the land they ‘own.’ If you’re willing to see this conflict over land as the basis for many of our ghost stories, then it won’t be surprising that so much of America is haunted.”

He writes of the labyrinthine Winchester House in California:

“The legend of Sarah Winchester depends on a cultural uneasiness to which we don’t always like to admit. An uneasiness about women living alone, withdrawn from society, for one. An uneasiness about wealth and the way the superrich live among us. And, perhaps largest of all, an uneasiness about the gun that won the West and the violence white Americans carried out in the name of civilization.”

In The Woods by Tana French

In-the-Woods1Drug use mentioned in this review, more TWs at end of post.

I marathon-read most of this book. While the premise could have been tired (Rob/Adam Ryan, a survivor of abduction, grows up to become a police officer who investigates a killing that touches on his own past) the execution of that premise was nearly perfect. I was able to anticipate one major twist, but it didn’t deter me from wanting to know how it ended. And I absolutely adored the protagonist’s partner (and true hero of the book, IMO), Cassie Maddox. She was wonderfully written; clever, driven, and competent.

Head’s up, there is a spoilery comment at the very end of this post.

Though the prose occasionally veered into self-indulgence (which matched Ryan’s own self-indulgence), the rest of the writing was so vivid and lush and beautiful that I’m more than willing to overlook it.

One of the most powerful aspects of the In The Woods, for me, was how Rob Ryan finds himself. After surviving a terrible ordeal as a child, he suffers from memory loss and remakes himself as a survivor. When something bad happens to you, there is always a split in your soul: the you before, the you after. In Ryan’s case, this split is damn near literal.

The comfort that he finds in the Murder Squad helps anchor him in reality and recovery.

“Out of absolutely nowhere I felt a sudden sweet shot of joy, piercing and distilled as the jolt I imagine heroin users get when the fix hits the vein. It was my partner bracing herself on her hands as she slid fluidly off the desk, it was the neat, practiced movement of flipping my notebook shut one-handed, it was my superintendent wriggling into his suit jacket and covertly checking his shoulders for dandruff, it was the garishly lit office with a stack of marker-labeled case files sagging in the corner and evening rubbing up against the window. It was the realization, all over again, that this was real, and this was my life.”

I’m definitely reading the next book in the series, Dublin Murder Squad #2, The Likeness, told from Cassie Maddox’s point of view (HELL YES).

TWs for Psycho: violence, incest, some ignorant remarks about mental illness, transphobia, queerphobia

TWs for In the Woods: murder, rape, pedophilia, disordered eating, abduction, some problematic statements about mental illness and neuroatypicality.

TWs for Real Artists Have Day Jobs: mental illness (agoraphobia, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts), body shaming, physical and verbal domestic abuse

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Spoilery rant comment on In The Woods:

I really really really wished that the partnership could have stayed a platonic partnership and not have devolved into Ryan being a shitty little asshole to Maddox after they do the deed, a la When Harry Met Sally. I think the story would have been stronger and more unexpected, with a parallel anchor to his earlier trio of friends.

And I’m truly bored with this whole idea that there’s always a sexual undercurrent to heterosexual friendships. This is a nonsense myth perpetuated by men who think that underneath everything women only exist for fucking. I’m not implying that this is something French believes, in fact she makes it pretty clear that Ryan is a total fuckup about the entire end of things — I just would have liked the book to have been free from that entire discussion and just had it be about a strong partnership. With that said I still enjoyed this book.

I don’t know, I’m still extra salty and reeling from the “Mike Pence doesn’t dine alone with women” thing (presumably because his shitty presence would render food inedible).

One thought on “52 Books Project: April Reviews

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