books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager


Quincy Carpenter survived a massacre at a cabin when she was in college. She was the only one of her friends to survive. It’s been ten years, and she’s managing pretty well. She has an almost fiancee, a successful baking blog, and a Xanax subscription that never ends. Dubbed by the media as one of the infamous Final Girls, she has tried to move on from the night she cannot remember. Then Lisa, one of the other Final Girls, turns up dead in what appears to be a suicide. Then Samantha Baker, the other Final Girl, shows up on Quincy’s doorstep, and forces her to confront her past.

It’s important to note that “debut” author Riley Sager is really established author Todd Ritter, and that the deliberate use of a female-sounding pseudonym to publish this thriller is a calculated marketing move that doesn’t sit quite right with me as a reader. While the book is fairly fast-paced and has a few genuine twists (however implausible they might be), it’s also not very good. The writing is mediocre at its best moments and laughably terrible at its worst. Still, it’s a thriller with a “fresh” perspective, it’s been blurbed by one of the greats, and it will find a reader base.

It’s a book that demands to be gobbled up quickly, and readers will oblige. But the truth of the matter is that the longer I’ve sat thinking about this book, the more uncomfortable I become with some of the book’s glaring issues: the internalized misogyny, the tired trope of the sexy bad girl, the reinforcement of the idea that women can never truly be friends with one another because they’re always secretly in competition for men, and on and on and on. There was never a moment while reading the book where felt as though any of the characters were at all authentic or even realistic, and that still nags at me. I know that this is basically a horror movie put to paper, but that doesn’t mean it has to suck this badly.

Also, there’s a scene where Quincy and Sam become vigilantes and search Central Park for people who need saving. They immediately come across a female in trouble, and her assailant is the only person of color in the entire book–and his skin color is mentioned. Not only does the scene itself fall apart under even the slightest scrutiny, but it feels like something an editor should have excised from the text prior to publication.

But it hardly matters, right? This book is what we are gifted in a post-Gillian Flynn world. We love our pretty white girls in peril, and this book perpetuates all those same sexist tropes. It’ll fly off shelves for a while, but there’s much better fare out there.

Final Girls by Riley Sager. Dutton: 2017. Library copy. 


books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach


Ava Antipova’s family is a mess. Her father abandoned them and their failing vineyard, her mother has all the symptoms of early dementia, and her identical twin sister, Zelda, betrays her with a boy she loves. So she runs away to Paris, and she starts a life there with a French boyfriend and develops a taste for (better) wine. But when news arrives that her sister has died, Ava must return to upstate New York to pick up the pieces of her fractured family. Only: is Zelda really dead? Because the emails start arriving, and Ava wonders if Zelda has played her best trick yet.

Dolan-Leach’s debut novel is a twisty, beautifully written novel that has hints of Agatha Christie while also providing a fresh perspective on the literary mystery genre. Her characters are starkly drawn and her prose is oftentimes darkly funny and smartly observant. The book’s central mystery will be compelling enough for some readers, but it’s Dolan-Leach’s careful crafting of her complicated characters that make the book a standout in its own right.

The book’s ending will surprise some readers while leaving others feeling weirdly let down. But it’s also clear that Dolan-Leach isn’t that concerned with the ending so much as the journey to get there. Ava is a fully realized character, full of self-deprecating observations about herself, and her thorny feelings about her family feel realistic and terrible all at the same time. There’s a lot of interesting ruminations on families and sisters and the pervasiveness of alcoholism here, and it’s a memorable book, if perhaps a bit overly long.

An author to watch.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach. Random House: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading

What I Read This Week

These are the books I finished this week.

32796253Final Girls by Riley Sager: Quincy Carpenter was in college when she was the only one who survived what the media dubbed the Pine Cottage Murders. One of the Final Girls, Quincy joins a few other very unlucky women who were the only survivors of similar massacres. It’s ten years later, and Quincy is doing okay, thanks in large part to her Xanax prescription. But then Lisa Millner, one of the other Final Girls, turns up dead. And Samantha Baker, the other Final Girl, shows up at Quincy’s apartment. Suddenly, Quincy’s unable to keep the past hidden away in her mind, and what she discovers about herself is surprising.

I tore through this one, but I have really complicated feelings about it. It’s certainly an interesting thriller, and it’s a book version of a horror movie in many ways. The writing is competent enough, but none of the characters ever felt real for me, and I couldn’t ever quite shake that



Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed: It’s been years since the country burned and a brave group of men moved their families to the island. They colonized the space and built a society based on ancestor worship and child-rearing. The only people who are allowed to leave are the Wanderers, men who explore the wastelands for salvageable goods. The women on the island serve the purpose of being brides and child-bearers. When they are no longer useful, they take a final draft and die. But when wone of the girls sees something that breaks with everything she knows to be true, the daughters put in motion a revolt that will forever alter the island.


This gorgeously written debut is a hell of a read. I absolutely devoured it and found myself thinking about it even when I wasn’t reading it. It’s part Handmaid’s Tale, part Never Let Me Go, and yet it’s wholly original and harrowing and wonderful. I can’t wait to see what Melamed does next.

What did you read this week?

pop culture

Internet Things I’m Reading and Thinking About

These are the articles that got me thinking this week:

The Heartbreaking First Black Bachelorette (Slate)

I’m a trash monster who loves watching The Bachelorette and judging people. This season has provoked a lot of think pieces, and this one about how the season wrapped up is worth a look, if only because it provides a more unique perspective:

Over the course of the season, it became clearer and clearer that the decision to cast a black bachelorette was merely evidence of the network’s interest in pushing faux-colorblind love stories as fairy-tale fantasies; the show failed to account for the ways that race would complicate the existing narrative, including the real challenges that interracial couples experience—especially black women who date nonblack men. I was confounded by the ways the men (both black and white) talked about Rachel as an anomaly. The subtext of their praise seemed to imply that it is unusual for black women to be smart, beautiful, or successful, let alone at the same damn time.

We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction Gifs (Teen Vogue)

This has been making the rounds this week, and it’s an important piece about how we (white people) use GIFs without thinking about how we might be contributing to damaging images of black people as a result. It’s a fascinating piece, and it’s thought-provoking and worth your time:

Now, I’m not suggesting that white and nonblack people refrain from ever circulating a black person’s image for amusement or otherwise (except maybe lynching photos, Emmett Till’s casket, and videos of cops killing us, y’all can stop cycling those, thanks). There’s no prescriptive or proscriptive step-by-step rulebook to follow, nobody’s coming to take GIFs away. But no digital behavior exists in a deracialized vacuum. We all need to be cognizant of what we share, how we share, and to what extent that sharing dramatizes preexisting racial formulas inherited from “real life.” The Internet isn’t a fantasy — it’s real life.

Toxic Drama on YA Twitter (Vulture)

I’m active on Twitter, and I consider myself firmly on the pulse of what’s going on in the book community, but I grew tired of the infighting and petty dramas a long time ago, so I stopped following most YA authors and most book bloggers and started focusing on other things.  This piece by Kat Rosenfeld investigates how toxic YA Twitter has remained, and it’s fascinating, no matter how you feel about Rosenfeld (who is no stranger to Twitter controversy).

She focuses largely on the response to one book, but it’s also about a larger issue within the Twitter bubble and callout culture:

It’s also a process in which tough questions lie ahead — including how callout culture intersects with ordinary criticism, if it does at all. Some feel that condemning a book as “dangerous” is no different from any other review, while others consider it closer to a call for censorship than a literary critique.

I read the entire thing with this weird pit in my stomach. It’s worth a read.

What articles did you read this week that got you thinking?

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Such a Good Girl by Amanda K. Morgan


Riley Stone is practically perfect, and everyone knows it. She’s popular, gets perfect grades, excels at everything she does, and is all-around a model teenager, active in charities and bound for an Ivy league college. When it becomes clear that her super hot French teacher maybe returns her feelings, Riley abandons her no-dating rules in order to pursue what she knows is a forbidden relationship. In order to distract her friends from her new love interest, she starts joining them at parties and other social gatherings she’d previously eschewed in order to study. But while Riley thinks she’s calling the shots, so does Mr. Belrose, and the results are surprising.

Hailed as Pretty Little Liars meets Luckiest Girl Alive (this is debatable), this taut, twisty novel from Amanda K. Morgan will grip readers from the start and won’t let them go until the very end. There’s a lot of good, compelling stuff here, including Morgan’s meticulous characterization of Riley up until the very end. Interspersed between Riley’s first-person narration are short lists of things that people should know about Riley Stone. At first, these seem like a Mean Girls-esque way of talking up Riley’s popularity, but it isn’t long before savvy readers are going to start to connect the dots and realize there’s a larger puzzle in play. The last bit of the book provides closure that some might see coming, though how Morgan chooses to get there is still somewhat of a surprise.

Also interestingly portrayed is the burgeoning relationship between Riley and Mr. Belrose, who used to be a friend of her brother’s and who pursues Riley as hard as she pursues him. While it’s still a predatory relationship without question, Riley’s ability to manipulate those around her makes for a complicated dynamic between the two. There are moments where it feels like they’re almost perfect for one another in that they’re both kind of sociopaths.

The problem comes near the book’s climax, where everything goes off the rails. What was a compelling, believable narrative gets turned completely around in an unbelievable way, making the novel’s shocking reveal fall completely flat. Some readers will love the shocking ending, while seasoned readers are likely to be left scratching their heads. Unreliable narrators work best when the author doesn’t go for the cheapest ending possible.

Still, this was an enjoyable read, and it holds immense teen appeal.


Such a Good Girl by Amanda K. Morgan. Simon Pulse: 2017. Library copy.

pop culture

Movie Trailers

I’m falling very far short of my goal of watching 100 movies that are new to me in 2017, but these are some trailers for upcoming movies I’m super interested in.

It (2017)

Look, I get that this one isn’t for everyone. A killer clown stalking children? It combines so many fears for so many people. I think it looks absolutely terrifying, but it made me want to pick up the novel again–I haven’t read it in at least 15 years. I’m going to have a hell of a time finding anyone to watch this with me, but I’m determined to see it.

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

I loved this book as a kid, and I can’t wait to see this take on the book, featuring a stellar, diverse cast. I think it looks good, and early buzz isn’t bad, either.

Step (2017)

Upon watching (and crying) this trailer, I immediately emailed my mom and told her we needed to see this. It’s completely in our wheelhouse, and I can’t wait to watch this documentary about girls who dance in Baltimore. It looks so lovely and beautiful and heartbreaking.

What movies are you really looking forward to?

books and reading

What I Read This Week

These are the books I read this week.

5161066Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris: Because the reveal of vampires went fairly well, shifters decide to come out to the world. But things don’t go as smoothly for the magical community, and when Sookie’s brother’s estranged wife Crystal is found dead, it’s clear that something evil is brewing. Once again, Sookie finds herself at the center of the turmoil.

These are starting to really drag, guys. I’m determined to finish the series but these are not as charming nor as compelling as the first titles in the series.


Recovery Road by Blake Nelson: Called Mad Dog Maddie at school, sixteen-year-old 8712290Maddie Graham has ended up in rehab for alcohol and anger issues. It’s there that she meets a boy named Stewart, and even though it’s forbidden, the two begin a relationship. But what happens when one person really wants to get better, and the other one doesn’t?

I loved the woefully short-lived series based on Nelson’s book about addiction and recovery, and I wanted to love this as much. But I didn’t, not because it isn’t an interesting novel–it is–but because it tries to condense too much time into a relatively slim book. The result is a story and characters that fall way short of potential.

30900136Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach: Ava and Zelda are identical twins, born into a dysfunctional family of alcoholics. Ava escaped to France, leaving her wilder sister to care for their ailing mother. But Ava has to return to upstate New York when news arrives that her twin is dead, having perished in a barn fire. But is she really dead? Ava finds notes from her sister, leading her on a scavenger hunt to uncover the truth.

A patron recommended this book to me, and after waiting on the list at the library forever, I wanted to love it. And there’s a lot to like–Dolan-Leach is an author with promise–but the book felt overly-long, bogged down with characters I never quite connected to. The ending isn’t as shocking as it thinks it is, either. But it’s definitely an interesting debut, and there’s plenty of suspense to go around.

Who was Michael Jackson? by Megan Stine: A biography geared at the elementary-25310624middle school set, this short, accessible non-fiction title takes a look at the life and struggles of Michael Jackson, world-renowned pop star. It spans the star’s entire life, from his childhood in the Jackson 5 to his later years as a reclusive celebrity and father.

I tore through this as part of prepping for a “Who Was…” book club we’re doing at the library this summer, and I was surprised by how accessible and interesting the book was. I really appreciated the fact that the book didn’t shy away from the darker and more controversial aspects of Jackson’s life, while also not dwelling on them.

What did you read this week?