I’m a wuss. This isn’t news to anyone familiar with BLL. In 2019, I vowed to read more thrillers, but I only succeeded on some technicalities. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading thrillers or mysteries per se, but I have a feeling the nightmares they catalyze have something to do with the fact that I don’t gravitate toward the genres.
Ironically, I’ve read more thrillers and mysteries in the past six months than in the past few years combined. But bringing in “horror” elements takes it a bit too far. I notoriously refuse to watch any kind of horror flick because I know how I will react, and why would I intentionally scare myself? No no. I can read a thriller every now and then, but I stay far away from anything horrific.
That is unless you throw a critically and culturally acclaimed novel in my face.
Enter: Mexican Gothic, a book that is equal parts thriller and mystery with a whole lot of horror happening on top. If you know me, then you know this is not a typical read for Beth. However, I do like to challenge myself and try new things, and more importantly, I have to see for myself if a book lives up to the hype, and Mexican Gothic had a whole lot of hype. So I put on my big girl pants to read this terrifying book, which did indeed give me the heebie jeebies. You have been warned.
If you’ve never watched The Americans, I suggest you drop everything and go watch the first few episodes ASAP. When I tell you to stop reading my blog to go do something, you know it must be a pretty big deal. I started watching the show over a year ago after some friends recommended it — though it came with a warning that it can get pretty gruesome. (I can confirm: The warning was warranted.)
The show follows Cold War Russian spies living as normal U.S. citizens in the DC metro area. Now, I’ve never been a huge spy fan when it comes to books, movies, or TV. There are no hard feelings; the genre and themes just never did much for me. But The Americans. GAH it is so good. It has history, psychology, action, sociology, politics, family, fear, love, and so. much. more. It ranks at the top of TV for me. Yes, it even rises above One Tree Hill.
I told BLL fave, Dana, to watch it, and she and her husband agreed that the show kicks total ass. It even sparked some Russian fascination in us both. Seriously, our society teaches us only to fear and despise Russian with little context; I want to know why. Therefore, Dana recommended I read Red Sparrow, which also focuses on Russian spies. I provide all this context for a reason. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Our personal lives and where we are on any given day affect our experiences with books. I have an inkling that my obsession with The Americans and learning more about the Cold War may have influenced my opinion of Red Sparrow. Had I read the book before watching the show, I may have opined a bit differently.
When I first moved from Missouri to the northeast, I lived “right on the edge of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights” in Brooklyn, as I would tell people. If you look at a map, my first apartment lies not even a half a block from the imaginary line separating the two neighborhoods, so it makes sense that I would describe my apartment’s location that way, but if I’m honest, there was another reason why I felt the need to define my address.
I knew very little about Brooklyn when I moved here, so I didn’t know which neighborhoods were “bad” versus “good.” It didn’t take long, though, to figure out what those two adjectives actually meant. I also learned quickly that Crown Heights had a reputation for getting “worse” the further into the neighborhood you went — i.e., the further away from Prospect Heights, which was a very wealthy and a very white neighborhood. So even though geography was on my side, so was my racism when I told people I lived on the edge of those two neighborhoods. I’m ashamed to say it, and books like When No One is Watching reflect that attitude directly in my face.
This thriller written by a Black woman, who we do not see promoted enough in this genre, may seem like an extreme version of gentrification, but with the rate Black people get displaced in the cities white people originally fled, it’s not far off. Gentrification benefitted me by giving me a sense of safety — which was of course steeped in the racist lies others told me and that I told myself. So I did a lot of self-reflection while reading this one — as well as trying to calm my nerves, which were extremely frayed by the end.
No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!
OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.
It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.
When I found out my colleague Sabrina loved books as much as I do, I knew I’d found a new soul sister. Now we spend many minutes during our work day chatting and calling via Skype about the books we’re reading. This often carries over to text after we complete our work day.
Many of those chats, calls, and texts in the past two months revolved around one book in particular: The Shadow of the Wind.
Sabrina was a superb guest in a preceding episode of The Biblio Files when we chatted with her friend Meghann about our shared love of libraries. I knew I’d have to snag her for another episode to discuss this superb book. In the latest, we explore the themes of family, friendship, love, mysteries, loyalty, book culture, and Barcelona in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s masterpiece. We also go on a travel tangent about European churches. You certainly don’t want to miss that.
Click on this link or search for The Biblio Files on your favorite podcast platform to listen. And, as always, don’t forget to subscribe and check out Anchor to see how you can support your favorite bibliophile.
Oh how I love to be swept away by a book. I love to feel the emotions of the characters, and I love exclaiming exasperation by their actions that cause as much harm to me as to them. I yearn to wander down the same streets they do, especially when that’s in a foreign land, and feel as if I’m peeking around the same corners as they. And there’s nothing like texting a friend constantly with the WTFs and the OMGs while the book is sweeping me away.
All of these things occurred while I read The Shadow of the Wind. The emotions that were felt during these 487 pages were immense and numerous, and the number of “what the f*%$” texts increased significantly as I neared the end.
The recipient of those texts, my friend Sabrina, had recently read this novel and had recommended it. She sold me with the following message after she finished it herself:
“And Shadow of the Wind is AMAZING! Love, loss, friendship, trust, Barcelona.”
“Need I say more?”
Actually, no, no you do not because that sounds darn right fascinating. Fortunately for me, this book had been sitting on my bookshelf for three years since Kyle and I moved in together (he also approved). And with that, I was transported to Spain in the 1940s, and I gladly didn’t return to the present for a splendid — albeit anxiety-ridden — two weeks.
Let’s look at my specs for the year. In 2019, I:
- Read 10,904 pages across 31 books — thanks, Goodreads!
- Averaged 351 pages per book.
- Explored 10 different genres with contemporary fiction winning most popular.
- Only read one author more than once — Kristin Hannah.
- Read five two-flame books (more than the number of the previous year-and-a-half) and six three-flame books.
- But I also had the joy of experiencing 11 books with four flames, and nine garnered a whole five flames. I’d call that a success!
But how did I do with the resolutions I set for myself in January? Let’s see how I scored (and check out the books I said I’d read at the beginning of the year in the picture below and compare them to my fully ranked list of 2019).
There’s no sense in beating around the bush here: I am one big wuss. I don’t mean physically (though I did go to the emergency room so early on with appendicitis that the doctors had a tough time diagnosing it). I’m talking anything and everything related to the horror scaries.
I refuse to watch scary movies or TV shows. If it has an inkling of creep, just count me out. I made the mistake of watching Paranormal Activity in theaters (younger Beth was more easily influenced by men), and I had nightmares for days. When I made the mistake of watching the sequel one year later, I vowed to never allow myself to be exposed to such fear ever again.
Except maybe in books.
It’s true: I do enjoy some mystery when I read, which is why I vowed to read more thrillers this year. Maybe it’s easier to put up a wall between a book’s fiction and that of the silver screen. Because I have to imagine it in my mind, maybe I envision something less scary. Who knows with this brain, but I do know I was excited to pick up Ruth Ware’s new book, The Turn of the Key (shout out to Lauren Murphy for this borrow). With this book though, Ware made me so intensely scared while also forcing me to turn each page with shaky hands that it made me love and fear the genre all at the same time. Let’s just say this was a bit of a mind f***.
Have you ever wished you could talk to your pet? I mean, you spend so much time with the little fur balls, why wouldn’t you? They can sense when you’re sad, and they comfort you with their cuddles and love. They greet you when you come home and wag their tails to communicate their excitement. It seems entirely unfair that they can’t whisper they love you and that everything’s going to be OK and that we can’t reciprocate how much they mean to us too.
Speaking with our pets is the main conduit through which author Carolyn Parkhurst tells a heartbreaking story in The Dogs of Babel. In the beginning, you think it’s just about a man trying to communicate with his dog. It seems a little crazy, but is it really the worst idea? Soon a story about grief, loneliness, mental health, and internal struggle unfolds. Just like our pets, sometimes words evade us, and it’s impossible to convey how we really feel.
With special guests Lucky (left) and Snowy.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more thrillers, and I’m making good on that promise. In fact, three of the last four books, including my most recent, could fall into this category. I love a good thriller or mystery because of how they intensify your emotions and captivate you. My Husband’s Wife had all of those elements. I finished the book in a week — though I admit I started reading it a few months ago but put it on hold for another attention-grabber. Once I started again, I experienced more than one night when I would tell myself “one more chapter” about five times. It kept me on my toes with its twists and turns and heightened my senses.
You’re probably wondering why, if this was a book I couldn’t put down, I only assigned it three flames? I know, that sounds like four- or five-flame material. Although I mostly enjoyed reading this book, it had a few head-scratching qualities that brought down its overall rating. If you’re looking for a quick, mysterious read, this is a solid book. Sometimes that’s exactly what we want, especially during the summer. But if you’re looking for that plus some brilliant writing and stunning plots from start to finish, you might want to keep searching.