Since I spend a lot of time reading, I often come across books that I would like to talk about in this column, but for whatever reason the opportunity just doesn't present itself. With that being said, the following are ten mini reviews for ten completely random books. There are some hits, and some misses, and hopefully one or two will pique your interest.
You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes, the third installment of the You series (turned popular Netflix show), creepy/amusing narrator Joe Goldeberg is back and an as menacing as ever. He's recently moved to a small island off the coast of Washington State, living a quiet life, and trying to behave himself. That is until he meets a new "perfect" woman to psycho-stalk. I didn't think You Love Me lived up to the first book by any means, but like the second installment (Hidden Bodies) most chapters end with jaw dropping cliff hangers that force the reader to keep turning the pages. It's more of the same, and that's enough for me. You Love Me will be released in April.
Another prerelease I've recently enjoyed is The Babysitter by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan, which is one of the most anticipated true crime books being published in 2021. It's something of a memoir-crime hybrid that tells of the author's childhood growing up in a dysfunctional household in 1960s Cape Cod and how she came to befriend Tony Costa, who would later become known as a serial killer. The strength of this book, in my opinion, was the setting. It did a great job of capturing Provincetown during the height of hippie culture, including all of the breezy drug use and other risky behaviours that made it the perfect hunting ground for Costa. It will be released in March.
My colleagues, Julie and Kate, suggested Dead Mom Walking by Rachel Matlow to me a while back. They promised it was at once funny, frustrating, and heartbreaking. They weren't wrong – it's definitely a "traumedy"! This memoir follows the author's battle to convince her mother (Elaine) to take the medically necessary steps to cure her cancer. As the reader, all you can do is stand by and watch the disaster unfold, because you know that Elaine isn't going to budge. The story interspersed with memories from Matlow's childhood as well as some of the other stressors she had been enduring around the same time as her mother's decline, including working for Jian Ghomeshi during the height of CBC's Q. This memoir is especially great in audiobook format, which include clips of recorded conversations between mother and daughter.
What to Say Next by Sarah Nannery and Larry Nannery has a unique premise that I think would be useful to many people regardless of where they land on the Autism spectrum. Sarah, a professional woman with Asperger's, discusses how she has overcome a number of social challenges in order to succeed in a world that isn't necessarily set up for her. Meanwhile, her neurotypical husband Larry offers his two cents at the end of each chapter. What I liked about this book is that it is quite technical; it offers approaches and solutions to a number of real scenarios, plus plenty of examples. For casual readers, it provides an interesting glimpse into the mind of a neurodivergent individual. It will be released in May.
What Red Was by Rosie Price is a quiet, leisurely-paced book with dark subject matter. Set in England, it follows a college-age woman named Kate, who comes from a working class background. She forms a close friendship with Max, a good-natured upper class kid who invites Kate into the fold of his affluent yet troubled family. One night, during a party at Max's family's estate, Kate is assaulted by a fellow guest. What follows is a journey into the trauma of such an experience. Clearly, this novel touches on a number of important topics, but there just wasn't enough plot, or enough focus, to hold my interest.
Another one that didn't do it for me (but there's no telling it won’t do it for you) was The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. The premise was great: it follows four young Blackfoot men who find themselves fighting for their lives against an entity (an elk of all things!) seeking revenge. It successfully balances social commentary, Indigenous lore, and gross-out horror, but there was just something about the writing that didn't suck me in. Plus, there were way too many dead animals present for my liking, so much that I almost quit reading a few times.
Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay has been presented as a literary thriller, but I'd say that 90% of the book is more of a tense character study than fast-paced thrill ride. It follows Jane and Marnie, BFFs since childhood. Now that they are adults, and Marnie has fallen in love and married, Jane has reassured her that she is happy for her and that likes her spouse. This is just lie number one...and there are six more to go! As each lie is revealed though Jane's creepy, confessional-style POV, the tension steadily builds.
I will read (or watch) anything relating to Marie Kondo. Joy at Work, her latest book, is admittedly not her strongest, but I still think there is a time and a place for it. Its basic premise is that mess, disorganization, and a cluttered office environment can ruin your joy for your job. One of my biggest take-aways related to digital clutter and strategies for cleaning up one's digital working environment. No more icon-packed desktop screen!
The Farm by Joanne Ramos is a smart, character-driven exploration of class and reproductive rights in contemporary America. The titular farm is a place where women (primarily poor immigrants) go to serve as surrogates for wealthy families while living in spa-like surroundings. The catch is that their every movement is controlled. This book is marketed as a Handmaid's Tale read-alike, but I think it is too realistic to qualify as dystopian fiction. A bit of a slow read, but it's definitely thought provoking.
If you've watched Netflix's popular American Murder: The Family Next Door, you might be interested in reading more about the chilling case of Chris and Shanann Watts. In The Perfect Father, prolific true crime writer John Glatt thoroughly dissects the how and the why behind the tragedy. What could drive a seemingly perfect father to kill his family? This unsettling read is written with the author's trademark matter-of-fact tone. This approach ensures the story isn't told in a salacious manner, but it also doesn't add a ton of depth or emotion. Hard core true crime fans will enjoy this, but others should steer clear.
All of these titles can be reserved online here.
This article was originally published in The Napanee Beaver.