Review: The Perfect Family

**5/5 Stars**

Let me start off by saying I am a BIG fan of Robyn Harding’s books. I’ve read them all, and it’s impossible for me not to be hooked by the end of page 1. Her books also make me never want to have teenagers EVER in my house, and make me want to ship my pre-teen children off to my parents once they turn 13. Harding’s stories involving teenagers and the many ways they can get their entire family in trouble are **that** terrifying.

Harding’s latest book, The Perfect Family, is another book that involves teenagers and parents making terrible decisions that put their entire family at risk. The entire family looks perfect from the outside save for their teenage daughter, who has trouble fitting in at high school. But then strange, disturbing incidents start happening at their house.

At first, these incidents seem like stupid teenage pranks. But then they escalate to the point everyone in the house fears for their lives. And everyone in the house has a reason to be concerned, because they are all leading secret lives.

There’s the teenage daughter who has an alter ego and X-rated side business once her parents are asleep. There’s the college drop-out son, who was once a star athlete enjoying a scholarship at a prestigious university. There’s the neurotic mother and wife who is an amateur pickpocket. And there’s the successful realtor and father and husband, who went on a bachelor party trip that went awry and is now haunting him.

Thanks to Harding, I will never look at a doorknob the same. I’ll leave the surprise for readers to discover because you need to read this book!

Thank you to Robyn Harding, Gallery Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Perfect Family!

Review: The Lost Village

**3.5/5 Stars**

Oh goodness. I REALLY wanted to like this book. It had such a fascinating premise. A young woman trying to make it in the film industry decides to return to a village in Sweden where the entire community went missing, with the exception of the filmmaker’s grandmother who survived whatever tragedy had befallen everyone else.

Suspense builds slowly in this book, aided by the creepy, chilling ambiance of the scene: an abandoned village. As soon as the crew arrives, it seems as though someone, or something, is in the village, tracking and following the crew’s every move. It doesn’t help that the crew appears to have come to the village completely unprepared for working in a remote place without internet or cell phone service.

As a field researcher who has worked in remote places, I was slowly losing it throughout the book. I kept yelling at the narrator why didn’t you bring this? Don’t cross that old, dilapidated bridge with a van! Don’t go on hikes by yourself! Go HOME!

Ultimately, I think that’s what did this book in for me. The narrator and her crew make so many terrible decisions, which culminates in yet another tragedy. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I also do not enjoy books where mental illness is part of a thriller.

Thank you to Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Camilla Sten for an advanced reader copy of this book.

Review: Project Hail Mary

**3/5 Stars**

3/5 Stars

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of Andy Weir’s books. I’m a social scientist who dabbles in the hard sciences, and I run a research lab. So this is where I’m coming from.

I read Artemis when it came out and I was glad that it featured a strong female lead with a diverse background, Butttt…I kept feeling like it was written by a man imagining what it would be like to be a strong female lead with a diverse background. I didn’t hate it – it just felt off to me.

I don’t say this to imply men cannot write great female characters – I just felt like Weir doesn’t get what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. My feelings were confirmed with this book (Project Hail Mary) as well.

If I wasn’t someone who researches for a living, maybe I’d feel differently. It’s sort of like asking me to read a fiction book about archaeology: it is hard not to see faults and problems in a storyline as someone who knows what it is like to work in an academic setting or be on an actual archaeological dig (spoiler alert: it isn’t as nearly dangerous or exciting as Indiana Jones 🙂 ).

My frustrations with Project Hail Mary are pretty much the same as those with The Martian: lone male scientist solves big, potentially world-ending problem on his own without the aid of anyone. In the case of Project Hail Mary, the lone scientist is stranded in space (remind you of The Martian at all??) with an alien creature and has to forge communications with it to save the entire universe.

It is this bootstraps narrative that grinds on me as a researcher and someone who understands how scientific knowledge is generated. Yes, there are lots of brilliant people out there who come up with theories and ideas on their own (here’s looking at you, Einstein), but most work is done collaboratively. Most work that’s replicated and respected is done in a lab with a team of researchers.

Maybe I’d be less annoyed at these narratives he keeps pushing if I knew he wasn’t aware of how higher ed works, but he knows better as someone with a science background and someone who has parents who were scientists. I appreciate the fact he includes lots of details about the science of the shuttle or the mechanics of whatever is happening, but I need a bit more of the human element to really get into the story. I am just not that enamored with men flying in space (e.g. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk come to mind here!). It is a tired narrative. I know Weir can do better because he isn’t a bad writer.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

Review: The Echo Wife

**5/5 Stars**

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife was a surprise of a read. A far-fetched, unusual premise (I’ll get to it in a minute), but yet engaging story about two women who forge a bond amid despair.

Evelyn is a pioneer in the world of biotechnology and genomics. The scientific world has recognized her brilliance with accolades and honors, but the true depth of her intelligence cannot be shared with anyone. It is a dark secret shared between Evelyn, her now ex-husband, Nathan, and her lab assistant.

That dark secret is Evelyn’s discovery that she can replicate and clone people. Evelyn has been conducting research in her lab that violates a number of ethical codes, including creating humans and then disposing of them when they are “defective” in some way, or die in the process of her risky cloning experiments. If the scientific world knew what Evelyn was doing behind closed doors in her lab, she would lose all credibility and likely her career would be in ruins.

One day Evelyn receives a frantic call from a voice that sounds oddly like herself. Her husband has been killed by none other than a clone he made of Evelyn using Evelyn’s data. The clone, named Martine, killed Nathan in defense.

Evelyn, as a scientist, is curious about Evelyn, so she agrees to help her dispose of Nathan’s body. Both women are angry with Nathan for different reasons, but nonetheless decide to clone him to cover up their crime.

What I liked about this book was that it explores the nature vs. nurture debate. Evelyn, who decided against having children to pursue her career, witnesses what it would have been like if she had taken a different route in life through Martine, who is pregnant by Nathan. The women forge an unexpected bond despite obvious tensions underneath the surface of their relationship – namely that Nathan picked Martine so he could “raise” her to be the wife and mother Evelyn was not.

There are a lot of themes in this book that go beyond the sci-fi story of the ethical and moral implications of cloning. The long-term impacts of abuse. The patriarchy and misogyny in the world of academia and science. The loneliness that comes with being a female scientist in a world pitted against you.

Thank you to the author, Sarah Gailey, the publisher, Tor Books, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy of The Echo Wife.

Review: The End of Men

**4.5/5 Stars**

If you are looking for a fast-paced terrifying thriller about a plague, look no further. This is definitely your book!

If you cannot bear the idea of reading about a virus killing over half of the world’s population right now, then this is definitely NOT your book.

I’m someone who has always enjoyed reading about viruses and diseases (in fact, I’m taking microbiology for fun this fall!), and was completely engrossed in books about Ebola in the 1900s.

Despite my interests, some of this book was just a bit too discomforting to read because of its parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic plaguing our world right now. As I read the book, I kept thinking “man, I guess COVID could get worse,” which isn’t something I want to imagine given COVID-19’s already devastating impact.

As for the book and storyline itself, I really enjoyed it. I am sure this will be made into a movie at some point. It reads more like a script or screenplay than a book, which isn’t a bad thing at all. You really don’t want to put it down because of the way it is structured.

The book has numerous female leads sharing what it is like to experience a plague that wipes out men, including infants and children, indiscriminately. As an archaeologist and historian myself, I really liked the perspective of the woman who was a historian documenting what was taking place. There’s another character who is working for the government in intelligence, making decisions about how to protect her country while those in security forces are dropping left and right (because soldiers are predominantly men). And there’s a female scientist working hard to devise a vaccination against the plague before the entire world’s population is unable to replicate itself.

The author did a good job of imagining how a plague that only affects men might change and reconfigure society, as frightening as that may sound. This is one of those books you could easily read in a day because it is so well written and engaging.

Thank you to the author, Christina Sweeney-Baird, NetGalley, and the publisher, Doubleday Canada, for an advanced reader copy of The End of Men.

Review: The Therapist

**3.5/5 Stars**

I enjoy B.A. Paris’ thrillers and mysteries, but this one was just too tedious and obvious for my taste. It is for sure a slow build, but it was the main character that really just did the book in for me. There are always going to be characters I don’t like, and it isn’t the job of the author to write characters who are 100% relatable. However, my frustration was that the narrator was just too darn dense and trusting, which they narrator repeatedly admitted throughout the book.

The story involves a woman who discovers her boyfriend has purchased a home in a trendy neighborhood seemingly out of reach for him financially. She later discovers that her boyfriend has purchased the home in which a murder has occurred, one that seems to have left a number of neighbors wondering what truly happened despite the police assuming it was a murder-suicide.

The woman, first angry at her boyfriend for withholding this information from her about the house, becomes obsessed with the women who was murdered. She begins to have doubts about her boyfriend, wondering if he was somehow connected to the woman and/or her husband who lived in their home.

The main character begins to doubt everyone around her, including her new neighbors. Everyone is a suspect, and the narrator’s job is to suss out who is the real killer among the people she does and does not know. As she digs deeper into the case, she befriends a man who claims to be a private investigator hired by the family of the husband and wife who were killed/committed suicide. There are red flags about him, but she looks away and falls in love with him in the process.

I will definitely still read future Paris books – this one just wasn’t for me.

Thank you to Macmillian Audio, Netgalley, and BA Paris for an advanced audiobook of The Therapist.

Review: All Things Cease to Appear

**5/5 Stars**

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that made me feel so many mixed emotions. By the time I got to the last few pages, I really didn’t want it to end. I wouldn’t have guessed that’s how I would feel at all, even when I hit the 40% mark of Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear.

What kept me reading? The author is an incredibly gifted writer. She paints such deep, intense, and fascinating characters and scenes that feel almost ethereal. If you like character-driven books, then you may enjoy this, as heavy as it is. 

The plot is meandering, but it grows on you if you are captivated by the characters. The plot is like an onion: lots of layers to peel back. A ghost story. A story of terribly unhappy, violent marriages. And a story of children left behind due to domestic violence. 

Her plot moves slowly, mainly so that the reader can understand how women end up in abusive relationships, how they end up justifying and tolerating violence against themselves and others. It doesn’t happen overnight – it happens incrementally over a long period of time.

By the time women finally realize that they are in a dangerous relationship, they feel trapped, stuck in an eternal cycle of abuse that seems inescapable. I think a really important part of this story is that it isn’t the individual woman who is at fault for the violence inflicted upon them. Rather, it is society, families, friends – everyone who looks away, turns a blind eye, doesn’t ask questions or offer help….or even worse, who encourage women to stay in a relationship because leaving is “just too hard.” Society is at fault for teaching women to doubt their instincts and intellect. The women in this novel have learned to internalize misogyny and violence, to ignore their inner voice that says “this isn’t right” or “I shouldn’t be treated this way” not because they themselves have issues but because society as a whole is patriarchal and violent.

This book reminded me a lot of some of Margaret Atwood’s older books that I read when I was in college. I’ve read most of her catalog, and her earlier books deal with themes of second wave feminism. This book is based in 1978/1979, which is when second wave feminism took root. The main character even begins to read this scholarship, feeling inspired to leave her husband until she is dissuaded by her family from walking away. This has tragic consequences for her and her child.

The everyday violence of unhappy marriages and the dually oppressive and liberating experience of motherhood are juxtaposed with two horrific murders. I think the author is asking readers to consider which is worse: allowing your sense of self worth to be chipped away daily by a condescending, misogynistic, emotionally and physically abusive husband, or losing your life in one fell swoop to a sociopathic partner? Both are obviously terrible fates. I think the author is also trying to suggest that misogyny is a form of sociopathy that we tolerate as a society.

At the beginning of the book, I really wanted to put it down and be done with it. Did I really want to read another story of women being abused and tormented by their husbands?

But the more I read it, the more I realized that it wasn’t just about abuse. It was about the things we allow into our world because society tells us who we should be. It’s about the hopes and longings women have that go unfulfilled because of society and the company we keep (which is a product of society, of course). But the book is also about hope for a better world, and the ability for generational and societal change in the face of immense tragedy. As dark as it is, the book ends on a hopeful note.

If you watched the Netflix version of this book, it’s nothing like it. The movie is terrible and really doesn’t capture the emotions or even overall sentiment of this book. It watered everything down because the movie did not have the time or space to capture all the characters in the novel.

Review: The Survivors

** 4/5 Stars**

This was my first Jane Harper book ever and also the second audiobook I’ve read in my life. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, and have been eager to read a Harper book because I’ve heard so many great things about her writing.

I’m going to break this review up into two parts. First, I’ll focus on the audiobook. Second, I’ll focus on the plot and characters.

The audiobook was a very enjoyable listen. The narrator has an engaging and soothing voice. He was able to bring the characters to life in a way I don’t think they would come through on the pages. I really got a sense of the emotions and feelings of the characters thanks to his narration and ability to emote. It was a keen listen and I am glad I chose to “read” this book via audio.

The story and characters were a mixed bag. At times, I had a hard time keeping track of all of the men involved in this story. I was definitely paying attention to the audiobook (I listen on my walks where I have no distractions), so I don’t think that was the issue. The characters’ names seemed similar to me for some reason, and the women in the book, with the exception of Verity, really didn’t seem to stand out from one another. Perhaps it was due to the shifting timeline, as the book concerns two interrelated tragedies involving women/girls.

I think if I had read this as a book, I would have rated it three stars. However, since the narrator was fantastic, I gave it 4. The main reason I would have given this three stars is because the plot didn’t have a lot of twists and turns. For me, this would make for a slow read.

Criticism aside, Harper is an incredible writer. She really has a gift for writing dialogue (not an easy thing to do) and for making the setting feel real. I loved that this book was set in a beach town, which felt very real in my head thanks to Harper’s knack for describing her characters’ environments. Because of this, I will definitely be reading more of Harper’s books.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan (the publisher), Netgalley, and the author (Jane Harper) for an advanced review copy (audiobook) of The Survivors.

Review: Hummingbird Salamander

**4/5 Stars**

Jeff VanderMeer’s Hummingbird Salamander is a dark eco-thriller that leaves you feeling unsettled and angry at the world in which we inhabit.

The book starts off with a bang. The main character, who is known as Jane, follows a trail of breadcrumbs left by a mysterious heiress who goes by the name of Silvana. The trail starts in the form of a taxidermied hummingbird, later to be discovered as extinct due to environmental degradation and climate change. Jane is haunted by Silvana – driven to find out more about her, to understand why she left her fortunes and became a possible bioterrorist. Jane is also running from her past and from her mundane life as a not so happy wife and a mediocre mother.

This is my fourth VanderMeer novel. His books may not tell linear stories, but they do leave you filled with emotion. Sadness. Despair. Regret. Hope. Unease. His Southern Reach trilogy was a life changing set of novels for me, and if you haven’t read them, you should do that right now. This book also reminded me of some of Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk’s earlier books where people feel out of place in a world that privileges the destruction of people and the environment in favor of rampant consumption.

So where does this novel sit in comparison to the Southern Reach trilogy? I found parts of this book to be slow, but VanderMeer’s talent for writing haunting prose kept me reading. I liked that VanderMeer crafted a character who defied societal stereotypes. Jane is strong, literally, as a female body-builder. She isn’t anchored to her domestic life. She abandons it, with minimal guilt, for a bigger cause: saving the world from possible bioterrorism, or maybe from something else.

If you are looking for a book that will spell everything out for you, this isn’t it. It’s one where you will need to suspend disbelief despite many of the themes – ecological devastation, violence and warfare, capitalism and commodification, a global pandemic – being rooted in the real world. The reader will experience the confusion and terror Jane experiences throughout the novel – she questions who she is, what parts of the world are worth saving, and why Silvana might have chosen her to carry on her legacy. This book is about the human condition in the middle of a chaotic world where people seem to care less and less about each other and the environment.

Thank you to Jeff VanderMeer, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Hummingbird Salamander.

Review: The Wife Upstairs

**4/5 Stars**

I absolutely devoured Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs, which the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, graciously let me read via NetGalley. This was my first audiobook ever, and it did not disappoint!

The book revolves around two characters – Jane and Bea – whose lives become intertwined thanks to a shared love interest: Eddie. Bea supposedly passed away in a tragic but highly suspicious boating accident, leaving Eddie a grieving widow. Bea was a successful businesswoman, starting her own line of highly sought-after decorative goods for Southern women.

Jane comes into Eddie’s life after a bit of time has passed since Bea’s death. Jane has lead a down and out life, one that is shrouded in mystery. She has relocated to build a new life, taking on a job as a dog walker in Eddie’s wealthy subdivision.

One day while on the job, Jane gets distracted and lingers in the road while looking longingly at one of the towering mansions. Eddie nearly barrels into her, causing damage to his fancy SUV. Instead of worrying about his car, however, he immediately jumps out of the car and asks if Jane is okay. Jane ends up following Eddie into his house, eventually befriending and working for him.

Jane falls for Eddie overnight, eventually getting engaged to him. She is so consumed with hiding her dark past that she misses red flags about Eddie. But slowly Eddie’s secrets surface, leading Jane to question everything she thought she knew about her fiance.

What I loved about this book was the first person narrators. Both Bea and Jane have strong, well-defined voices in this book. The audiobook was definitely worth listening to, as the actresses did a fantastic job portraying and voicing the characters. Their personalities really came through thanks to the actresses. This book is a well-crafted, character-driven thriller that was hard to put down. Highly recommend!

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to listen to an advanced audiobook of The Wife Upstairs.

Review: The Future is Yours

**5/5 Stars**

I’ll admit that I was going to put this down after the first few pages felt like it was yet another book about tech bros gone bad (or are they just all bad to begin with?!). But then I stuck with it for about 15 pages, and I was into it. And yes, I ended up giving this book a 5/5 stars rating despite my first few pages impression. Never judge a book by the first five pages!

What kept me reading Dan Frey’s The Future is Yours?

There are several things that kept me absolutely hooked to the point I read this in under 48 hours (and I have a busy schedule). For one, the structure of the book is just plain cool. I loved that most of the story is told via an archival, historical approach. The bulk of the book’s contents are texts, emails, newspaper articles, blogs, and a variety of other media. You would think the narrative would be hard to follow because of this piecemeal approach, but it isn’t. It’s actually insanely addicting.

Second, the premise of the book is interesting. I love how the genre of multiverses and time-travel is just exploding in recent years. It makes me feel like maybe we all just want to escape this world with all its problems and very real anxieties. This book is about two guys who meet at Stanford University (my alma mater, and yes, I loved the scenes involving campus and the dish for you insiders). Both characters are very flawed but motivated people. One character has a dream to engineer a machine that sees into the future. The other wants to market this concept and sell it to everyone to level the playing field when it comes to money and equality (or so he says).

If you love the story of Theranos (I loved the documentaries about the company and the book Bad Blood!), this book might be of great interest to you despite the fact it is fiction. Technology and innovation is moving at the speed of light in today’s world, but this book and the many sad stories of Silicon Valley’s start-up failures are really about the ethical and moral failures that arise due to technology. Just because you can invent a new technology doesn’t mean society is ready for it or even needs it at all. We need people in the humanities and social sciences thinking deeply about how new technologies will be used and implemented before they are rolled out. If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend reading Jaron Lanier’s books on social media and AI.

Thank you to the author, Dan Frey, the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for the advance reviewer copy of The Future is Yours!

Review: The Chalet

**4/5 Stars**

As the leaves change (well, at least it does here in the Midwestern United States) and the weather gets colder, there’s nothing better than reading a mystery novel with a cup of hot cocoa by your side. Catherine Cooper’s debut novel The Chalet is the perfect fall read. Set in a posh ski resort in the French alps, this book will make you feel ready for winter even if you hate snow.

The book flips back and forth between two timelines. The first timeline is set in 1998, where college friends go on a skiing trip in the middle of a blizzard (yes, always a bad idea). This trip ends in disaster (shocking!), with one college student going missing up on the mountain, never to be found again.

Was foul play involved, or just really bad luck on the part of not so experienced skiers and irresponsible, selfish ski guides?

The second timeline is set 20 years after this fateful ski trip. The second timeline involves several couples stuck in a ski resort amid another bad winter storm. The contemporary timeline involves people who are somehow connected to the 1998 incident.

How they are connected is a mystery that readers must untangle.

Most of the characters in this book are not the most likable. There are unethical businessmen, cheating partners, and deceitful friends. This means everyone is a suspected of something, although what that something is does not become clear until the latter half of the novel.

This book was a strong first novel for Cooper. The setting really sold the book for me, perhaps because I am tired of being stuck at home amid COVID! A blizzard in the French alps somehow sounds appealing after 7 months of being at home. I will definitely read another book from Cooper if it is a mystery!

Thank you to the author, Catherine Cooper, the publisher, HarperCollins, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Chalet.