CONSTANT READER REVIEW – The Stand by Stephen King

“When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “One word at a time,” and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time. But I’ve read you can see that motherfucker from space without a telescope.”*

You know what else you can probably see from space? The Stand. Coming in at a whopping 1,153 pages, this is one hulking brick of a book. But it’s SO good. And there are very few things I would remove. Pretty much everything here is purposeful and builds on the story. *So maybe this quote isn’t from the actual book. But it’s from the preface and I loved it so much I went back and read it a few times.

The Stand is split into three books. The general consensus is that Book I is by far the best, and I would have to agree. The most chilling and horrifying parts of the story are packed into the first third(ish).

“He felt his fear twisting and turning inside him beneath his poker face. Sometimes it was big and panicky, trampling everything: the elephant. Sometimes it was small and gnawing, ripping with sharp teeth: the rat. It was always with him.”

The most powerful parts in this book (at least for me) were the chapters in Book I that gave snippets of what was happening across the country during the Captain Trips outbreak. Some of King’s shortest writing is some of his best (stop laughing. Yes, I know this book is more than 1,000 pages. Yes, I know how this probably sounds). He’s able to pack a lot of horror into just a few words. King’s ability to observe and describe some of the most mundane aspects of life and turn them into nightmare fuel will always amaze me. Now, Books II and III definitely fall more on the fantasy/epic side rather than the horror side. There are some scary bits throughout, but if you can handle the horror in Book I, you can for sure make it through the rest of the book.

There are a LOT of characters in this book. Some of them get what they deserve (good or bad). Some don’t (…good or bad). You’ll likely love some and loathe others, but each one is memorable on their own. We meet most of them in Book I and get pretty fleshed out stories from each throughout Books II and III.

Unsurprisingly, Randall Flagg gets some of the best character descriptions i’ve read in King’s writing. Flagg is almost vampiric in his description. He moves at night, he rests during the day. He’s “a tall man of no age” with “no soul but a sense of humor.” I won’t spoil anything beyond that, but Flagg is…interesting. And Constant Readers will know he’s featured in some of King’s other works.

“Love didn’t grow very well in a place where there was only fear, just as plants didn’t grow very well in a place where it was always dark.”

Maybe reading arguably the most well-known book about a global pandemic during an actual global pandemic wasn’t a good idea. But there are a lot of things here that someone pre-2020 could not have appreciated. For better or worse, my experiences this year made The Stand seem that much more real and that much more relatable. I understand there’s been a surge in sales for this title, and that makes total sense. We strive to understand what scares us. And honestly, we’ve been home for six months now, snuggled up safe and sound with our Internet and electricity fully operational. Reading The Stand might make you realize that you really don’t have it so bad, after all.

And lastly, KOJAK IS A GOOD BOY.

REVIEW – Beach Read by Emily Henry

“When the world felt dark and scary, love could whisk you off to go dancing; laughter could take some of the pain away; beauty could punch holes in your fear.”

Beach Read is a much heavier rom-com than you’re probably expecting. After the death of her father reveals some uncomfortable secrets, January heads to the shores of Lake Michigan to stay at her father’s second home and work on writing her latest novel. When she encounters her “rival” Augustus Everett, their feud quickly blooms into friendship (and more).

There’s so much to love about Beach Read. The interactions between January and Gus feel realistic. Their relationship progresses at a steady pace – not so fast that it feels insta-lovey, but quick enough to keep the plot moving. There’s a lot of sadness in this book, and it’s dealt with in an authentic way.

There are also some delightfully funny bits! I loved Pete and her book club. I loved the early donut “non-date.” Ultimately, Beach Read is cute but not TOO cute, you know?

Content warning: breast cancer, death of a parent, infidelity, brief mentions of abuse.

REVIEW – The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

“I don’t approve in happy endings in crime stories. Death should be shown as a tragedy, never anything else.”

The Eighth Detective is a unique murder mystery in which we are given seven “fictional” murder mysteries laced throughout a “real life” narrative. Editor Julia Hart is working with Grant McAllister, writer and mathematician, on republishing his book. You see, Grant wrote a series of murder mysteries using mathematical principles.

As Julia reads the stories, she starts to pick up on inconsistencies. And those inconsistencies slowly turn into clues that point to something far more sinister.

The murder mysteries are mostly interesting, if a bit too long at times. There was one in particular that I really enjoyed, but I thought the conclusion Julia comes to seemed like she was missing a main point of that particular story.

The writing can be a bit clunky at times throughout this book, and the overarching story is difficult to figure out before all of Grant and Julia’s secrets are revealed. But what it lacks in execution, it makes up in premise and it’s a relatively quick read.

REVIEW – Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything was such a lovely surprise. We follow two sisters – Jo and Bethie – throughout the span of their lives. This book covers decades – from the 1950s to present day. We are there to witness Jo and Bethie grow up, go to college, navigate friendships and romantic relationships, and ultimately figure out who they want to be.

The sisters take opposite paths – Jo, the rebel, becomes a wife and mother. Bethie, the “good girl,” ends up on a meandering journey through life, complete with heavy drug use and a lost sense of self.

In the background, we get snippets of how Sarah, Jo and Bethie’s mother, navigated her own path. Sarah clings to tradition, and becomes something of an introvert after the passing of her husband. Her relationship with her daughters is complex and sad.

And the men in this book? Most are pretty awful, but a few are good.

It’s actually incredible how much Jennifer Weiner was able to cram into this book. Maybe it’s a little exaggerated, but the story is good, the characters are memorable, and there’s a lot of emotion tucked into every page.

Content warning: sexual abuse/assault, rape, homophobia, disordered eating, drug use, death of a parent, abortion, cancer.

REVIEW – Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese

Okay, maybe i’m convinced. Contemporary romance might just be for me – and i’m officially on the Chloe Liese/Bergman Brothers bandwagon. Willa and Ryder’s story is fun and compelling. Willa is a spitfire – and can honestly be kind of a jerk most of the time. Ryder is just a fluffy marshmallow. He’s a bit closed off, but he’s also been dealing with hearing loss after a severe illness a few years prior.

Ryder’s family is THE BEST. I want to hang out with them. I want to live with them. I want to celebrate holidays with them. They’re fun and sweet and hilarious. Also, Willa’s mom is badass and such lovely character.

Yes, there’s a decent amount of steam in this book (as a newer/more casual romance reader, I don’t have much to compare it to). And yes, Liese has PERFECTED the slow, agonizing build, but the payoff is more than worth the wait and the “JUST KISS ALREADY” moments.

Something I think is really worth noting because it impressed the hell out of me: the interactions in this book feel so real and authentic. Liese has perfected the use of dialogue in a contemporary setting without making it feel forced or stilted. It’s funny and emotional and well-rounded.

Romance fans or romance skeptics – I urge you to give this one a shot!

Content warning: cancer, death of a parent.

REVIEW – Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King is a heavy book for a debut, and Catherine Adel West pulls it off seamlessly. When Ruby King’s mother is shot and killed, we follow Ruby, her best friend Layla, and both of their (very different) fathers.

Through flashbacks and present day, we learn a number of long-buried secrets that have plagued both families (some for decades). What stood out most to me throughout the story was how the cycle of abuse impacts multiple generations of one family, how the abused can become abusers themselves, and how that can ripple throughout an entire community.

Content warning: domestic abuse, self-harm, brief mention of sexual abuse.

REVIEW – Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is a compelling read from the first page right until the very end. Kendall has put together a very reader-friendly book about feminism, anti-racism and the issues that millions of women and children face each day. Instead of focusing so much on that highest glass ceiling, feminists need to work on larger issues – hunger, housing, education – that hold so many women back from succeeding.

This book makes you really check your privilege. And beyond that, it makes you want to ACT. This book isn’t so much about teaching and learning, it’s about taking actions to make meaningful change in your community. This isn’t a book that you read and put on your shelf only to be forgotten about in a few weeks or months. This is a book that should move you – to donate, to volunteer, to speak up, to vote. To use your voice, your privilege, to advocate for others.

REVIEW – The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The First to Lie is a twisty thrill-ride of a book! We’re introduced to two primary characters, Nora and Ellie. One is a glamorous pharmacy rep with a hidden past, and the other is a reporter for a new news station in Boston who seems to be alone in the world. They both have their secrets and things quickly unfold through each chapter. Throw in a pushy, nosy neighbor turned coworker, quick and impactful flashback chapters and a corporate coverup that has an unending ripple effect, and you have a recipe for a thriller that’s sure to delight readers and keep them guessing.

There are twists here that I called early on, and some that I never saw coming. Ryan’s writing is easy and smooth, and her short, punchy chapters kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime!

Content warning: infertility/fertility treatments, forced miscarriage/abortion

Thank you Forge Reads and Get Red PR for sending me an advanced copy of The First to Lie!

REVIEW – Black Fatigue by Mary-Frances Winters

{Available September 15, 2020} Black Fatigue is anti-racism 101 in the absolute best way. It’s the perfect guide for those who are just starting to pick up anti-racism resources, and a great refresher for those who have already done some reading. Mary-Frances Winters outlines the physiological and psychological effects that racism has on Black people, and the struggles that come with dealing with racist attitudes and policies every day.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is how Winters explains how different intersectional identities have varying impacts on the fatigue people face. For instance, a straight Black woman has different privileges than an LGBTQ+ Black woman.

Winters also focuses on her own personal experiences and how things throughout her life have contributed to her Black fatigue. Her first experience with racism/Black fatigue was in Kindergarten (something that rings true for many).

I loved that Winters offered up other books to read and resources to check out throughout the book – she provides a lot of solutions and action items for readers. She also defines a lot of key terms that are relevant to anti-racism education. Black Fatigue would be a great book to reference over and over throughout the span of one’s anti-racism journey.

Thank you Get Red PR for providing me with a digital copy of Black Fatigue.

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Murder in an Irish Pub by Carlene O’Connor

Murder in an Irish Pub is an absolutely delightful cozy with a locked room murder mystery. Siobhan is a hilarious main character with an amazing family, Macdara sounds super dreamy and the other characters in this novel are interesting and fun.

I had so much fun trying to figure out how the heck the killer was able to lock a storage room from the inside, with no obvious way out. And my favorite part of the entire book? Butler’s Undertaker, Pub and Lounge. That’s my kind of humor – and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in this series!

Thank you Kensington Books for sending me a copy of Murder in an Irish Pub!