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.
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.
In college, I took a class on Ronald Reagan. I loved history, and because I was simultaneously taking my dreadfully exhausting capstone, I was trying to limit the amount of time I actual went to and from and sat in physical classes. So I signed up for online classes, as well as one dedicated to the former president that met every Wednesday evening for three hours. (We closed the magazine issue on Wednesday mornings, so yes, yes I slept through most of this class. Still managed to get that A though!)
My professor promised on day one that we would never be able to guess his political leanings, and he was right. Major props to him even if I slept through his lectures. I actually did learn a lot in that class and enjoyed the reading and studying for the exams (you can’t actually be surprised by that statement). He taught me one thing in particular that I’ll never forget and that I’m continuously reminded of in 2020 and with the most recent book I read, American Spy: The main difference between Republicans and Democrats is that the former believes America is the Beacon on the Hill, and the latter does not. Talk about a watershed moment for yours truly.
This moment has replayed itself many times for me in 2020, including when I recently watched an AJ+ video about American exceptionalism (thanks for the rec, Rachel Cargle). And then the next week, I started American Spy, which zeroes in on this exact topic. This is basically a longwinded way of me saying that unfortunately American exceptionalism is stronger than ever, and it’s been on my mind constantly. I’ve witnessed way too much backlash proclaiming this country doesn’t need to change and that it is the best place on Earth.
I’m sure I will lose some readers when I say that it is in fact not the best place on Earth and that there is room to improve.
That’s not to say you can’t love America while simultaneously wishing for change. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read American Spy. The main character is the perfect character study in having doubts about your country but being an active participant to catalyze change. Thankfully, there are a plethora of authors who have chosen to use their incredible stories as teaching moments for this topic. I can only hope that one day America’s ego will somewhat deflate.
Sometimes I struggle to watch TV and movies with my partner, Kyle. He’s a skeptic and negative Nancy, especially when I watch mindless television. He likes to mock characters and make comments about how unrealistic things are. This generally leads to glares and eye-rolling on my part. Just let me enjoy it (even if you are right 90% of the time)!
Recently, I’ve noticed a shift. I’m the one calling out anachronisms or impossibilities and making fun of characters’ dialogue and thought processes. It’s like his craving for logic and reason has rubbed off on me — something he declared a few weeks ago with slight horror on his face.
It’s even filtered into books. In the most recent novel I read, The Dancing Girls, I found myself judging the detective skills of the main character and questioning if certain actions were even possible. If you’re wondering how a book that provokes those thoughts can still obtain three flames, I understand your confusion. Fortunately, for me, M.M. Chouinard kept me intrigued enough to not let my critical and skeptical inclinations completely influence my opinion.
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 theKey (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***.
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.
I’m a little behind on New Year’s resolutions, but I needed time to really think about what I wanted of 2019 and of myself. I still don’t really have that answer, but I do know one thing that I want to define the year: books. To read a plethora of books and to share my thoughts about them with all of you.
Oh and travel. A lot of traveling. So that’s two things I want from this year.
You could say those have become annual resolutions for me. In 2019, though, I yearn to do more. I want to expand my literary presence and stray a bit from my normal genres. I want to tap into the titles that make my family and friends come alive. I want to know authors whose passions and backgrounds might differ from my own.
Here, I present to you my 2019 reading resolutions.