Book Review – Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

If you’re looking for a haunted house vibe, Gallant by V.E. Schwab is the perfect book. I wouldn’t call it Horror, but it has a sinister tension all throughout the novel that I found equal parts comforting and terrifying. 

Olivia Prior, our scrappy main character, has always seen whispers of ghouls and shadows lurking around Merilance School for Girls. After receiving an invitation to return home to a family she’s never known, Olivia ignores the warnings in her late mother’s journal and journeys to Gallant. 

The secrets of her family begin to unravel as she uncovers the truth of who she is. The decision to take her place with the Priors or follow in her father’s footsteps weighs on her as she explores Gallant.

“When people see tears, they stop listening to your hands or your words or anything else you have to say. And it doesn’t matter if the tears are angry or sad, frightened or frustrated. All they see is a girl crying.”

V.E. Schwab, Gallant

This novel is a campfire ghost story brought to life. As always, Schwab is a fantastic story-teller, weaving a tale that grips and pulls you through the end. There is a slow build, but it’s worth the wait. My compulsion to call haunted house stories cozy says a lot about me, but this story wrapped me up in a warm blanket. The only thing missing was hot chocolate and a fire. 

Gallant has a strong Rory Power (author of Wilder Girls and Burn Our Bodies Down) vibe, in that the descriptions drive the terror and the constant anxiety of the story climbs in a steady pace. It’s somehow horrifying without the gore and jump scares. 

“Safe does not mean happy, does not mean well, does not mean kind.”

V.E. Schwab, Gallant

I don’t know if I have to give you a criticism or explanation of why Gallant didn’t reach five stars for me, but here goes. Calm, cozy, warm – those are the words that come to mind for this. It was a simple and enjoyable story. And it was perfect for me when I read it, but it wasn’t hard to put down during reading sessions. My life wasn’t somehow altered by this story or the characters.
Every book won’t do that, and that’s okay. But if you’re looking for an easy read to lose yourself in – I highly recommend Gallant.

Book Review – Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Genre: Fiction; Thriller

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / 5

I had high hopes starting Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell. I read her novel And Then She Was Gone and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, this time around didn’t do it for me and left me wanting more from the story. It’s marked as a thriller, but mostly it’s just a story about a few people keeping mildly interesting secrets to themselves until “the big reveal”.

Invisible Girl is a weird and winding story about Owen Pick, a 30-year-old living in his aunt’s spare bedroom; Saffyre Maddox, a girl stalking her ex-therapist; and the Fours family. 

Everyone around Owen expects the worst and his life is beginning to fall apart. He’s pushed to his final breaking point after he’s identified as the last person to see Saffyre Maddox alive before she disappeared. Owen’s plot line is one of the more interesting parts of the novel, but for the first third of the book I hated it. In a time of frustration, Owen turns to the incel message boards. I was expecting that to take a different path, but it didn’t go as I predicted, which ultimately redeemed Owen as a character for me. 

Then there is Saffyre Maddox. Mysteriously disappeared, stalking her ex-psychologist, and holding a secret she’s afraid to tell anyone. Once she confides in an unexpected confidant, her story begins to unfold and ultimately leads to her disappearance. I think a lot of girls and women will be able to identify with Saffyre’s story. While I did like this character, I just found the reasons around her disappearance a little over-dramatic and a let down after the build up of the entire novel.

“It’s amazing how boring you can get away with being when you’re pretty. No one seems to notice. When you’re pretty everyone just assumes you must have a great life. People are so short-sighted, sometimes. People are so stupid.”

Lisa Jewell, Invisible Girl

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Fours Family. From the start of the novel I hated the father of the family – Roan. I typically assume the worst in men, and in his case I was right. Everyone in the family has secrets of their own and enough gaslighting to go around. 

And I can’t mention Roan without calling out his wife Cate. While I did like Cate, she’s your stereotypical nosey neighbor who can’t just leave people alone. She’s watching, listening, and ultimately drawing shit conclusions about people she doesn’t even know. If not for her drawing conclusions about her “weird neighbor” the story would have unfolded differently.  

This entire novel is about three or four plot lines all tangled together by a handful of events, mostly centered around the night Saffyre Maddox disappeared. While it works, it almost doesn’t. It feels like Lisa Jewell forced the weaving of these characters and it doesn’t feel natural to me. 

And, of course, you know if you’ve read any of my other reviews – I can’t stand a thriller where everything works out perfectly in the end. The characters get the resolution they want/should expect with all of the loss being in the court of our “bad guys”. Maybe I’m terrible for wanting the characters, even the good ones, to suffer a little, but here we are. 

If you want to read a thriller by Lisa Jewell, I will recommend And Then She Was Gone a million times over Invisible Girl. This one didn’t hit the mark for me, and I don’t think it will for many others.

Book Review – Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm

Genre: Fiction; Thriller; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I first received a copy of Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm I wasn’t sure what to expect. Knowing the author is a junior in high school, I knew this novel was either going to be painful or brilliant. Thankfully it was the latter, and I enjoyed every moment I spent reading Academy for the Gifted.

The main character Bexley Windsor arrives at the Grant Academy for the Gifted her senior year and quickly realizes that everything she ran from is following right behind her. During her first party, she finds another student’s dead body sprawled on the bed, and she’s the only one close enough to the situation to blame. 

Shortly after the body is discovered, Bexley agrees to help her roommate and friend investigate the murder and find the person responsible. Driven by the desire to clear her name and find the truth, Bexley learns that beneath the beautiful school around her lies a cutthroat elite system that pushes students to their limits. 

This story is Gossip Girl meets Vampire Diaries and I loved every moment of it. Hudson Warm does a fantastic job of pulling you back to those younger years walking the halls of high school, navigating the drama, and trying to keep your social, academic, and love life afloat throughout it all. 

The characters are diverse in background and personality, which gives the story a richness that will have you wanting to learn more about each character. 

But by far, my favorite part of this novel is the playlist at the beginning. There is something so special about having a soundtrack to accompany the story you are submerged in. It was a unique and nice touch. You can listen to the playlist here on Spotify.

Without including spoilers I will say I was disappointed by the ending. I felt like someone was unfairly punished, but that’s not to say it didn’t work with the plot line. But it’s hard when you like a character and have to watch everything not work out the way you want. 

You can buy Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm here on Amazon.

Book Review – Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Genre: Fiction; Thriller

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / 5

For all the hype, Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins really missed the mark for me.

Maybe this is a spoiler, but not quite – there is no cannibalism in this book and that alone took almost an entire point off the rating for me. Despite the hundreds (maybe a little exaggeration there) of references to creepies and crawlies, this was just your standard revenge story. It could have been so much more.

Our story begins in Hawaii where Lux and her boyfriend Nico meet two girls – Brittany and Amma – who want to charter a boat and set out for Meroe Island. The island is steeped with mysterious and terrifying stories of its past involving shipwrecks, cannibalism, and murder.

But does the island drive people to violence or does it only bring their true nature to the surface?

“A sort of madness sets in when one is away from society for too long, when one looks out to the horizon and sees only sea and sky.”

Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls

Once the group arrives on the island they meet another couple and quickly fall into a rhythm of lying on the beach, drinking, and exploring the island. It’s blissful and seems like they have all stumbled upon paradise. Until a seventh person shows up and begins to cause riffs within the group, couples become unfaithful, and friendships are strained. 

One person disappears, another shows up dead, and everyone left behind is set on edge as they try to figure out what happened and get off of the island. 

So, why does the synopsis read to be so intriguing and the story still didn’t sit right for me? 

First, all of the drama and reveals happen in the last 80-100 pages. For 200 pages nothing happens. We are just hanging out with a group of friends having a good time on a deserted island. I was waiting and hoping for something and was left disappointed. Pacing is important in a novel, and Reckless Girls completely misses that mark.

My second reason I can only explain in vague terms, otherwise it could be a spoiler, but the big reveal/resolution seems shallow and ridiculous to me. Maybe that’s just because of the kind of person I am and how I handle situations, but this is a book about petty women out to get back at those who have wronged them. So, should you read Reckless Girls, yes. It’s not a terrible novel. It just doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding it and didn’t do it for me.

Book Review – Verity by Colleen Hoover

Genre: Fiction; Thriller

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

There are no “good guys” in this novel.

Verity by Colleen Hoover captures your interest and doesn’t let go. Even long after I’ve completed the novel, I find myself going back to the final twists and reveals just replaying everything in my mind.  

The CoHo fever is strong on #bookstagram, so there was no shortage of pressure to pick up one of her novels. Because I typically enjoy thrillers more than romances, it made the selection of my first CoHo experience fairly simple.

The main character, Lowen Ashleigh, accepts a job offer to complete the remaining books in a successful series written by popular author Verity Crawford. When Lowen arrives at the home of Verity she learns that the author was severely injured in an accident, which led her husband, Jeremy, to hire an outside writer.

Lowen begins to sort through Verity’s notes and read the already-published novels in the series when she finds Verity’s unfinished autobiography in her office. The manuscript lays out bone-chilling events surrounding the death of her two daughters and her relationship with her husband. 

At first, Lowen keeps the contents of the autobiography to herself, but as she begins to develop feelings for Jeremy she starts to realize how much she could gain if Jeremy left his wife in his past. 

The twists in this novel have even more twists, and while some are completely unexpected they all fit into the story perfectly. The story feels natural and terrifying in such a subtle and beautiful way. Throw in the juxtaposition of me reading this novel with my newborn baby in my arms and it makes this a downright horror story. 

“What you read will taste so bad at times, you’ll want to spit it out, but you’ll swallow these words and they will become part of you, part of your gut, and you will hurt because of them.”

Colleen Hoover, Verity

There is definitely violence in this novel, but the gore often present in thriller novels is absent. So if that is something typically holding you back from a highly rated thriller, Verity won’t pose any issues. However, there are some trigger warnings, specifically related to child abuse and death of a child. If that’s something you may be uncomfortable with, I recommend doing a little more research before diving in. 

That being said – Colleen Hoover wrote one hell of a thriller here, and I could not recommend it more. And like I said at the beginning, I absolutely love that there is no savior or hero of this story. It showcases true humanity and the lengths we are willing to go in order to get what and who we want.

Book Review – Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Genre: Fiction with a side of Science Fiction; Horror

Rating: 4 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Before diving into the overview and review I want to note that I read this entire book in less than 24 hours. I know this isn’t a milestone for some people, but this is a feat for me. When you have a toddler running around – your free time just isn’t the same. 

The being said, I have some mixed feelings and thoughts on this one, so let’s dive in. 

In Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, 17-year-old Margot is searching for answers about her family. For her entire life, it’s been her and her mother with no other family to speak of. While searching through her mother’s things, she finds a clue that leads her to her grandmother and a family she’s never known.

This novel is a sprinkle of my favorite things (just missing vampires) – mother-daughter drama, family secrets, a touch of SciFi, and one hell of a PLOT TWIST. I had a theory, I refined my theory and WOW was I off the mark. I was not prepared for the ending of this book. 

Important to note here any surprise ending that catches me off guard immediately moves a book up in my mental rating scale. It’s one of the top elements I look for when reading any kind of horror or thriller novel. 

I haven’t read Rory Power’s debut novel Wilder Girls but she definitely has talent. She drew me in, painted a picture, and created characters I wanted to know. But there were still some characters and elements I wanted more from and felt like I couldn’t quite connect with. 

Scrolling through Goodreads, I noticed Burn Our Bodies Down received quite a mix of reviews. From 5 star reviews praising everything about the novel to 1 star reviews, so I think my mixed feelings aren’t far from the majority opinion.

Let’s talk about small towns, especially how they are presented in this book. Both towns we explore are deserted with the exception of a few key characters interacting with Margot. This seems a bit off to me and I often found myself thinking about why there were only like two people out and about in each town. I KNOW there has to be a group of busy-bodies somewhere just waiting to gossip about the new girl in town. 

This story was short and sweet, and I understand why there may not have been a large amount of narrative around characters or description not directly involved in the plot, but it did seem off to me. I wanted a picture of the town and all I got was a deserted shopping center vibe with a small group of teenagers hanging out. 

Let’s take a quick break for a small PSA – in this novel Margot hitchhikes with a man she doesn’t know. Never, under any circumstances, should you ever do that. I was screaming at Margot the whole time. For my murderinos – stay sexy. 

But this isn’t to take away from the strong main character, Margot. The rebellious teenager trope is one we can all relate with on some level. Parents keep secrets and we go out of our way to uncover the mystery. Usually it’s some boring family drama, but Margot’s family was anything but. 

I enjoyed uncovering the mystery while Margot did. We didn’t learn anything she didn’t already know, and I liked that about the story. It built more suspense and ultimately made the ending stand out a bit more. 

If you haven’t read Burn Our Bodies Down I do recommend it if you are a fan of lite-SciFi. It’s a fun and quick read. It won’t change your life, but you will enjoy reading this one. 

Have you read Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power? Let me know in the comments here or on Instagram. 

Buy Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power here from Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Book Review – You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

Genre: Fiction; Thriller; Paranormal

Rating: 4 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Before we get into this review – go ahead and add You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce to your TBR list. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I read the entire novel in about two days. A quick and easy read, but honestly I didn’t want to put it down. 

My husband is likely tired of hearing me say this, (he listens to me talk out my reviews before I write them) but for me this was the novel-version of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, without the finality at the end. It’s been about four days since I turned the last page, and I still find myself going back to think about the ending. 

Cassandra Tipp, the main character of the novel, is assumed to be “crazy” and imagining things based on unknown trauma she faced as a young child. Camilla Bruce does an excellent job of dancing around fact and fiction. I’m still trying to decide what my final decision would be. It’s been an Inception kind of moment for me. I’ve been at war with myself over whether I believe the narrator. She tells such a compelling, but still unbelievable story. 

Yes, vague, I know – but I promised no spoilers. You’ll just have to read to find out. 

Alas, I don’t believe it matters. Even if someone is delusional, what they are experiencing is their reality and impacts them as such. As a child, you have a nightmare and wake up scared. It doesn’t matter if it never actually happened, it still changes you in that moment. 

I think regardless of where you land at the end of the novel, it’s a beautiful story about trauma and how people, especially children, react to that trauma. It doesn’t matter if you can visibly see someone else’s “shit,” it’s still very real to them. 

Another fun element of the novel was the narration style. When you make the poor (jk!) decision to major in English (just ask my mom) you enroll in a number of creative writing classes that specifically warn you against writing in the second person. I guess more of a caution than an all out rule. But in You Let Me In all of those professors were proven wrong. Not only does it work – I’m not sure this novel would have been the same without it. 

We all have at least one weird family member who is so interesting to talk to, even if you have no idea what they are talking about a majority of the time. The concept of a crazy, estranged aunt rambling and ranting at her niece and nephew is fun for me. 

The story will keep you guessing, thinking, and then second guessing yourself. You are taken back to your time as a young kid when you had imaginary friends, but the author brings it to an unexpected level of realism. 

I highly recommend this book. Like I said at the beginning, add it to your TBR now. You won’t regret it. 

Buy You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce here at Old Town Books, or at your local bookstore.  

Have you read You Let Me In? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment or send me a message letting me know what you thought of the novel.

Book Review – The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Genre: Fiction, Horror

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed. 

The stars aligned with this book when Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) hosted a readathon on the same weekend where my schedule was free and clear. It’s easily been over a decade since I devoured a novel in a single day, but Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching pulled me in and refused to let me go. My main takeaway from the novel – I have GOT to stop reading good books when the sequel is not out yet. I NEED to see where Immanuelle’s story takes her.

The Year of the Witching mixes magic, intense religious constructs, grief and loss, and vive la résistance all in one wonderful and creative story. I enjoyed this book from cover to cover, and was consistently surprised along the way. 

Immanuelle, the main character, is raised in poverty without her mother and father, both physically and in memory. As she begins to learn more about herself, her parents, and the darkwood, she is shaped into the reluctant leader of the reckoning that is at the church’s front door. We see the power of literature, self discovery, and friendship as Immanuelle continues to learn and grow. 

Right away in this novel, you know Immanuelle is going to become the person standing against the church, but, regardless, her journey there is surprising and exciting. The most unexpected element being her love and kindheartedness toward a community that has always treated her as “other.” While standing against the religious leaders of Bethel (where this novel is taking place), she embodies the characteristics of selflessness, similar to that of Christ himself. She sacrifices herself for the greater good. This dynamic is interesting to watch unfold. 

The only thing missing from this novel was just MORE of the story. At about 450 pages, it went by so quickly. I wanted to know more about Immanuelle, her family, friends, and the community. I suppose that’s a good sign. I hope (I pray) that a second novel is coming. I will be anxiously waiting. 

I highly recommend you pick this book up the next time you visit your local bookstore. Buy The Year of the Witching here online from Old Town Books, where I purchased the book. 

Have you read The Year of the Witching? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment or send me a message letting me know what you thought of the novel.

Book Review – The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk

Genre: Fiction; Horror

Rating: 3.5 / 5

I have complicated feelings about Chuck Palahniuk’s The Invention of Sound, so I’m going to do this review in two parts – the good and the frustrating. My younger self would be appalled that this review isn’t a glowing adoration of Palahniuk’s talent and skill. Until this week, I have never read a book of his I was not obsessed with. 

All that to say, it was still a Palahniuk book and, as such, had the benefit of cutting dark humor and a devastatingly wicked plot to put this book high above others. Ultimately it just left me wanting a little more. I need my thrillers to, well, thrill me. I want to be surprised and confused at the ending, blown away that the author somehow surprised me. It’s also worth noting, once I read the ending, I likely missed a lot of details from my quick read from the beginning of the novel (I couldn’t put it down). With a second read through, my opinion may change in a positive direction. And perhaps that is the magic. I was so sure I knew where we were going that I missed important clues along the way. 

As an overly optimistic person (most times), let’s start with the good. 

The Good

Palahniuk’s characters seduced me within the first few pages. The regular shift between character voice and point of view gives unique insight, much like Palahniuk’s novel Rant, which almost forces the reader to invest in different perspectives. They are each engaging with insane back stories. I found myself in a state of shocked rambling after reading each night. Shout-out to my ever-patient husband who lost sleep being my bouncing board. 

Another positive, at least for me, is just the right amount of violence description to elicit emotion without provoking gore induced nausea (or nightmares). Sometimes when I read novels and the author is too good at describing the scene, or at least too descriptive, I force myself to finish the book but experience a period of resistance when it comes to reading. It’s almost like the gore and horror are haunting me and I can’t shake the feeling. (Yes, I know American Psycho is one of my favorite novels. Contradiction, yay!) The allure of just enough violence description is the effect of the mind compensating for that missing piece. It really lends to the story and character development of one of the main characters, Mitzi, in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Palahniuk also gets credit for uniqueness. This is not your standard plot line or story. I’ve never read anything like it, and I don’t think I will again. Also, benefit for the busibodies like me, this novel can probably be read in one sitting (if you don’t have a toddler running around).

The Frustrating

And now to the frustrating pieces of the novel. 

All things come to an end and I get that. I just… I needed more! I was so excited in the beginning. Constantly talking about the book, rattling off my theories, anxious to see how it all ended. Then… it did. I remember closing the book and just sitting there for a moment, confused but mostly annoyed. Like Palahniuk almost got me there .. almost .. then just stopped. 

There is so much build up and tension throughout the novel. You see these two main characters, Foster and Mitzi, and you think you know how they are connected. You will likely be right, in a sense, but then they finally cross paths and it falls short. I can’t get into details, but when you read this one and get to the end, please reach out. I need closure and I desperately need to talk to someone about this. 

Maybe I’ve been spoiled with Gillian Flynn and other masters of thriller. I’ve even been spoiled by Palahniuk! His novel Rant is the most insane story I think I’ve ever read. I could never have predicted the ending. It was a wild ride from start to finish. I guess this review is a result of Palahniuk being too good at the start. I have a standard and expectation, based on his previous novels, and this one just didn’t live up. 

The Invention of Sound is still a novel worth reading, but if you haven’t read Palahniuk’s other books, start there. Rant and Choke are my top recommendations in that regard. 

On a separate note, a friend/yoga instructor or mine has gotten into my head, so I will no longer be including Amazon links for buying books. I will pick a local bookstore, likely one near me in Northern Virginia (or let me know if you have a recommendation). I hope this encourages you to buy local and support your local businesses. In the age of Amazon, I know they need all the help they can get.

Buy The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk here at Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia (or at your local bookstore!).