Such a Pretty Smile

Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester is an enthusiastic middle finger to the patriarchy.

Synopsis

It opens with a grisly description of a young girl found mutilated and murdered days after her disappearance. As more girls turn up brutally murdered, it begins to look like the work of the Cur, a serial killer that slays girls who refuse to be tamed.

Told in dual timelines, the reader follows Lila, a thirteen-year-old girl, and her mother, Caroline, an artist known for crafting creepy statues.

Lila has been a good girl her whole life, until one day, she suddenly feels overcome with fever dreams, anger and a snarling voice in her head.

This is a story about a girl who refuses to be controlled and will, most definitely, not “calm down.”

Review of Such a Pretty Smile

This horror novel explores dark themes of sexism, feminism, and societal expectations on gender norms. It looks at the Chads and Brocks of the world and how they get away with so much because they are good boys who can’t afford to have their life derailed, no matter their offence and whose lives they have ruined.

Some parts of this book have a persistent sense of uneasiness that escalates as the book progresses, while others are explicitly nightmarish. I may or may not have read this with all the lights turned on in broad daylight.

I recommend this to those who love horror with a heavy dose of feminism and social commentary. I will definitely pick up future books by the author. This makes a great addition to the horror genre.

My review: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 18 January 2022

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for inviting me to read this via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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For past reviews, click here.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

Books x books = a happy reader. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk is a cozy read with a dash of mystery.

Synopsis

Liesl Weiss has worked as a librarian at a university for decades. When her boss suffers a stroke, she fills his position for the interim. It’s not long before she discovers that an extremely rare and recent acquisition of a religious text has gone missing. At first, Liesl believes the text must be misplaced, but soon she suspects someone stole it. When Liesl decides to notify the police about the disappearance, she cannot wrap her head around why many are against reporting it as a theft.

Do they merely want to save the university’s reputation, or could they be hiding something?

To make matters worse, a fellow librarian also goes missing. Liesl begins to question if the two incidents are related.

Review of The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

This story is told in dual timelines with multiple perspectives, although Liesl’s POV is the main one. It’s hard to say exactly when the book is set, but certain technology mentioned suggests that it is around the nineties. There are lots of references to discmans.

There are discussions on being a woman/woman of colour/gay while working in a field that is mainly dominated by white cisgender men.

It took a little while for me to warm up to this book, but the mystery soon drew me in.

This story will make you want to get all cozy and maybe enjoy a bowl of spicy noodles like Liesl frequently did with her family.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 25 January 2022

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Presss for an arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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For past reviews, click here.

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang

Joan Is Okay is a short novel where not a lot happens, but a lot is brewing beneath the surface.

Synopsis

Joan is in her mid-thirties and an ICU attending doctor at a New York City hospital. Work is her happy place. She enjoys being a cog in the machine. Her parents are from China, while she was born in America. When Joan turned eighteen and was about to start university, her parents moved back to China, allowing their daughter to begin the next stage of her life independently. Now, years later, Joan’s father has just passed away, and her mother returns to the States to reconnect with her children.

Usually, Joan uses work as an excuse to dodge family or friend gatherings. However, now that she has some time off work, she can no longer find a plausible reason to avoid them. She watches as news of COVID first surfaces in Wuhan, China and as it quickly spreads across the globe.

As an Asian American, Joan has experienced the feeling that she belongs neither to America nor her Chinese heritage.

Review of Joan Is Okay

While this book deals with serious topics, it is also balanced with deadpan humour. It touches on racism, microaggressions, sexism, belonging, familial responsibilities, and more. The majority deals with Joan’s life and the last quarter discusses the emergence of COVID and how it affects her and the world. I’ve read a few fictional books that discuss COVID, but this one is probably the one that handles it the best without being overly triggering. Joan’s voice is mostly matter-of-fact, which makes it easier to read about this period.

I believe Joan is a character that will stay with me for some time to come. She is a quiet woman, but one firm in her beliefs.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 18 January 2022

Thank you to Random House for the arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

The Latinist by Mark Prins

The Latinist by Mark Prins requires patience, and possibly, a love for Antiquity. I have an abundance of the latter, but not always the former. So, after a slow start, this novel eventually captured my full attention.

Synopsis

Tessa Templeton is in the final leg of completing her DPhil at Oxford University under the mentorship of the head of the Classics Department, Christopher Eccles. While studying, Tessa has hit some major milestones that should have easily secured her future as an academic. But after receiving countless rejection letters and only one job offer from her university, Tessa is beyond disappointed and worried about her future.

Eventually, Tessa learns the reason why she has been receiving rejection letters. An anonymous email warns her that Chris is deliberately sabotaging her career with his lacklustre letter of recommendation. Initially, Tessa brushes it off but soon realizes that it is probably true (this all happens in the first few pages). Amidst all this uncertainty, Tessa ends up piecing together information about a second-century Latin poet. This discovery is information that is sure to shake up the scholarly Classical World and put her budding career back on track.

Meanwhile, Chris believes himself to be in love with Tessa and will do what he can to keep her near. Yeah, he’s a boundary-crossing creeper.

Review of The Latinist by Mark Prins

The Latinist is a slow-moving book that alternates perspectives between Tessa and Chris. There are themes of obsession, ambition, and control.

The author drew inspiration from Ancient Rome with many primary sources and invented some to fit with the story. The Apollo and Daphne myth plays a large role in this tale.

I recommend this book to those interested in Ancient Rome, the Latin Language, archaeology, and anthropology with some modern-day drama mixed in. I love Rome, so I had a lot of fun reading this.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Expected Publication: 4 January 2022

Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company for an arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

The Maid by Nita Prose

Need a tissue for your issue? Molly, the maid, has your back. If you loved Eleanor Oliphant, it’s fair to say you’d love The Maid by Nita Prose.

Synopsis

Molly Gray loves her job as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. She thrives by turning each room she cleans back into a state of perfection. She also appreciates that her training has taught her exactly what to say in any given situation. Molly is a bit socially awkward and has a difficult time reading people. She can’t always tell if people are laughing with her or at her. And she doesn’t always say the right thing, even if she meant to compliment rather than offend.

Molly’s gran recently passed, so she’s been working harder than ever to get the bills paid. It is on one of her shifts that her life will change forever.

She begins cleaning one of her regular rooms when she realizes the body lying on the bed is not sleeping but is undoubtedly dead. The body belongs to one Mr. Charles Black, a wealthy and frequent guest of the hotel. Due to Molly not displaying “normal” reactions to Mr. Black’s death, she soon becomes the lead suspect in the investigation. This charming and heartwarming story unfolds from there as Molly tries to understand and navigate these new circumstances.

Review of The Maid by Nita Prose

There are themes of not conforming to society’s standards, feeling invisible, and lasting friendships.

The Maid is a cozy mystery, but I’d still read it just to be in Molly’s head. The mystery itself is well-plotted, and while I didn’t correctly guess who did it, I wasn’t trying to – I simply enjoyed the ride.

This book is not even out yet, and there is so much hype surrounding it. In this case, the hype is totally warranted. Once I picked it up, I could not put it back down. And I believe it is being adapted into a film starring Florence Pugh. I cannot wait.

It is a very touching book and will be sure to steal your heart.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 4 January 2022

Thank you to Viking / Penguin Random House Canada for the arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins delivers on all the beachy and remote island vibes.

Synopsis

Six months ago, Lux decided she wanted to travel the world with her boyfriend, Nico. They agree to begin their grand travel plans in Hawaii.

Fast forward to now, and the couple have been working in Hawaii for several months and have made no further plans to travel. On top of that, Lux has just been fired from her job.

Nico sees an opportunity to earn some quick cash when two adventure seekers offer him a hefty sum to take them to Meroe Island. The remote island is known for its beautiful beaches but also its gruesome history. Lux feels some hesitation, but ultimately agrees to join them.

And so, the adventure begins. Bring on the booze, oppressive heat, and sky high tension.

What could go wrong on a deserted island occupied by entitled, young, beautiful, and mostly wealthy travellers?

Review of Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

This fun book pulled me out of a reading slump and presented some wicked twists that I would never have guessed.

Rachel Hawkins has crafted an atmosphere that bristles with tension, oppressive heat and feels simultaneously claustrophobic and completely isolated.

Reckless Girls is told mainly from Lux’s perspective, with a few others thrown in as well. The beginning was a bit slow, but once the island shenanigans started, I could not put this down. The ending won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was perfect.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 4 January 2022

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

The Girl Upstairs by Georgina Lees

The Girl Upstairs pleasantly surprised me with its page-turning mystery and emotionally complex main character.

Synopsis

Suzie Arlington lives alone on the first floor of an apartment flat in London. Due to poor insulation, Suzie can hear every movement of her upstairs neighbour Emily. She knows when Emily is cooking, speaking, blaring loud music, and stomping around in high heels.

One day, Suzie goes up to deliver a package for Emily and notices Emily’s door is open. Upon closer inspection, Suzie observes that the apartment is eerily quiet and in disarray.

Soon, the police begin an investigation and declare Emily as a missing person. For personal reasons, Suzie puts all of her energy into uncovering what happened to her noisy neighbour.

Thoughts on The Girl Upstairs

If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, you won’t find that here. This novel is a character study that examines why Suzie is so invested in finding Emily; and what’s caused her to be in a deep depression and isolate herself.

The majority of the story is from Suzie’s perspective. The chapters are fairly short, making this a fast read, and one that I stayed up late to finish.

The general vibe of the book is quite sad, especially as more answers come out about Suzie’s past. In some ways, Suzie reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, except slightly less charming. I still liked Suzie and felt for her, but she has a similar awkwardness about her.

My one complaint is that the big reveal didn’t make much sense. I shan’t say more than that.

I recommend this to those who enjoy psychological character-driven books that are slower-paced.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Now Available.

Thank you to One More Chapter for the arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale is one of my favourite books of the year. When I read it several months ago, it immediately captured my attention.

Synopsis

Delphine returns to the Paris Opera Ballet after having been away for fourteen years. She goes back to choreograph a new dance in the hopes of finally making a name for herself. She also hopes to reconnect with her long-time ballet best friends, Margaux and Lindsay. At the same time, Delphine is grappling with the traumatic memories that drove her to leave Paris and flee to Russia. The three friends are now in their mid-thirties, none of them are happy with the success they have achieved thus far, nor the prospect of their impending retirement from dance. However, things are not the same between the friends, and secrets soon threaten to surface.

Thoughts on The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

The Ballerinas is a character-driven novel told from Delphine’s perspective with dual timelines.

I don’t think the Black Swan comparison is entirely accurate. The majority of this book is not exactly a thriller. It has thriller elements towards the end, but this is more of a deep dive into what it’s like to be a woman in ballet and society’s expectations for women.

This novel explores the trios complex friendship and their darkly competitive nature. These are dynamic characters that I will remember for some time to come.

I will definitely be picking up future books by Rachel Kapelke-Dale.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Now Available.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for an ARC provided via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinions.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, check out the blog page.

Hello, Transcriber by Hannah Morrissey

Hello, Transcriber by Hannah Morrissey is a compelling mystery/suspense novel about a police transcriber who becomes enmeshed in a drug case that has been plaguing the town for years.

Hello, Transcriber Synopsis

Hazel Greenlee, an aspiring writer, begins her new job as Transcriber at the local Black Harbor Police Department. Her night shifts are going well, the police are happy with her work, and she’s getting along with her coworkers. That all changes one night when Hazel looks out the window and sees her neighbour outside writing a terrifying message on the glass. This message reignites the hunt for the Candy Man, a drug dealer who has been selling to kids for years.

Soon after, Hazel becomes entangled in the case. She also becomes extremely infatuated with Investigator Nikolai Kole, the man leading the search for this notorious drug dealer.

Thoughts

I would have liked this novel more if Hazel and Kole had kept things professional. Her crush on Kole was very eye-roll-inducing. Although, it’s not hard to understand why Hazel would turn to Kole with the state of her marriage.

I found the writing style to be whimsical, maybe even slightly overwritten at times. Hazel wants to be a writer, so it makes sense, I suppose. There were some twists that I did not see coming. However, in my opinion, the cringe romance overshadowed the case.

But, overall, this book was very atmospheric. I could feel the cold, lonely nights and days through the (ebook) pages. I also think the author did a great job depicting depression and how hard it can be to break the cycle of abuse.

There are many early rave reviews of this book, so I’d encourage you to read those as well.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Now Available.

Thank you to Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press for the arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, see my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, check out the blog page.

Love in the Big City

Translated from Korean to English, Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park follows Young, a millennial, as he navigates life’s ups and downs.

What it’s about

Comprised of four sections, each one narrates a different period in Young’s life. The first section focuses on the boozy fun that Young and his best friend Jaehee get up to while at university. The duo party, go to class, meetup with men they matched with on dating sites. That is until Jaehee announces she is getting married. Now, Young must adjust to life without his best friend constantly by his side.

In the other sections, Young comes to terms with his sexuality, a medical diagnosis, his mother, and past trauma.

Love in the Big City is a coming-of-age, character-driven story.

Thoughts on Love in the Big City

The sections that focused on Young’s life in his early thirties were the most interesting to me. Some parts were laugh-out-loud funny, while others were somewhat depressing.

The author and translator perfectly capture what it’s like for millennials in their twenties and thirties, from hard-partying ways to job uncertainty to trying to settle down.

If any more of Sang Young Park’s books get translated into English, I will definitely give them a read.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Expected Publication: 16 November 2021

Thank you to Grove Press for the arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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For book reviews on newly released books, check out the blog page.