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 – Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Genre: Horror; Science Fiction

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

After a rough few months where I didn’t have the time or energy to read – this was my first “return to reading” experience. From the first page I was hooked and flew through the novel. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I prefer my Science Fiction “light” – quick to grasp and understand without having to flip back to refresh on too many things. Wilder Girls hit that mark. 

Note: For me, Science Fiction “light” means changing only a few elements of reality – it’s based in the real world but a key item is altered. Often, I find Science Fiction that builds a whole new reality to be a little difficult to keep up with and I have to flip back-and-forth to remind myself what certain things are. These novels can be wonderful, they just require a bit more effort to read.

While the genre is horror, at its heart, Wilder Girls by Rory Power is a badass story about love and friendship. Hetty, Byatt and Reese have been stuck at the Raxter School for Girls for 18 months as a deadly disease called “the Tox” changes everything around them and slowly claims the lives of the other students. 

Rory Powers paints a beautiful world on an island off the coast of the Northeast United States full of unknown monsters and even more terrifying disease. With the Tox manifesting in a variety of ways, each girl is her own unique horror story and from chapter one I was eating it up. 

My favorite element of the novel is the bond of kinship between the characters. They were willing to fight with each other but even more willing to fight for each other. A lot of post-apocalyptic stories show a lawless land where it’s every man (or woman) for themself. At the Raxter School there was plenty of anger and turmoil, but at the end of the day they were all in this together. 

It was all so perfect .. until it wasn’t. 

Like I mentioned, I devoured this novel. I loved it from the moment I started. The scenery – gorgeous, the plot – unforgettable, the ending – crap. 

Tangent time!

While studying for my undergraduate degree, I read a novel called A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. The story was immaculate and I loved every moment of it – until the end. That’s when I realized there is a key element in novels I value more than I ever realized – pacing. 

An author sets a cadence, a timing, a method or rhythm in which the story unfolds. As you read, you and the author get in step and are counting the music together, moving as one. It’s almost like a dance. 

I wish I could tell you that A State of Wonder will remain ingrained in my memory because of Ann Patchett’s flawless execution, but unfortunately it’s the opposite. She paced the story, she made me fall in love with the characters – and at the end it’s almost like she panic-wrote the last one third of the book and attempted to slap a beautiful flowery bow on every open plot line. 

It. Was. Terrible.

I felt so let down. 

In a sense, that’s what Rory Powers did to me with Wilder Girls. We were in step, we were dancing together. Then, it just ended. Like she wrote until her editor was like “AND .. TIME!” so she put her pen down and called it a novel. 

It’s unfinished. It needs more. And at this point I can only hope for a sequel, so I can have some sense of closure. 

So, should you read this book? Yes. Absolutely. 

Will you likely want to hunt Rory Powers down and demand answers? Also yes. 

Buy Wilder Girls by Rory Powers here at Thank You Books (Birmingham, AL) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read Wilder Girls? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

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!).