Still Here by Amy Stuart 

⭐️⭐️/5 

The Blurb: 

Malcolm is gone. Disappeared. And no one knows where or why.

His colleague and fellow private investigator, Clare, is certain she can find him, as she holds the key to his past. 
She arrives in the oceanside city where he last lived and starts digging around. Not only is Malcolm gone without a trace, 
so is his wife, Zoe. Everyone who knew the perfect couple sees Malcolm as the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. 
Everyone except Clare. She’s certain there’s more at play that has nothing to do with Malcolm, a dark connection to Zoe’s family 
business and the murder of her father years ago.

As Clare pulls back the layers, she discovers secrets the entire community is trying desperately to leave in the past. As for Malcolm, 
his past is far more complex—and far more sinister—than Clare could ever have imagined. He may not be innocent at all. As she searches for 
the man who helped her build her career as a private eye, Clare discovers that many women are in grave danger. And she is among them.

The Review:

Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for the opportunity to review the arc!
 
I was really excited to read this based on the blurb and the first page was a strong start.  However, within the first chapter 
there were so many plot points that seemed too preposterous to believe. The details of the premise and then the “twists” are so silly 
that I couldn’t suspend belief throughout the story. 

Additionally, characters the readers are supposed to root for act so senselessly and recklessly (particularly with guns—way too much 
life-threatening gun pointing with absolutely no provocation), that I lost all interest in them. 

There also seemed to be a lot of interesting build-up to big plot twist with no real payoff and too many loose ends in the conclusion. 

That being said, I enjoyed the writing style and I really wanted to like Clare, but overall this was disappointing. There was a lot of 
potential for a great story here, it just didn’t pan out in a satisfying way for me.
Unspeakable Acts by Sarah Weinman 
⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 

Happy Publication Day Unspeakable Acts!
As a true crime enthusiast, I was particularly excited to receive this e-arc! The collection of articles in Weinman's book is fascinating and mostly engaging. Although many of them are over crimes I'm familiar with and were widely reported, many of the articles shed new light on these crimes and the victims and/or perpetrators. I think this book may be an especially attractive read for someone just starting to get into the true crime genre. 
 

The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 

Thank you to Netgalley and PushkinPress for the e-arc! 

This book drew me in from the very first sentence.  The Mystery of Henri Pick takes its readers on a whimsical, literary journey to uncover the mystery at the heart of the story. The quirky narrative will reignite a love for reading in all. Bibliophiles all around will enjoy this read!  This novel has the mark of a modern classic and I can’t wait to read more by this author.

#bookstagram #netgalley #themysteryofhenripick #readersofinstagram #bookreview #summerreads #pushkinpress #davidfoenkinos  

 

What Your Quarantine Read Says About You

 

The world has been plunged into a new and scary situation over the past few months (I think.  What day is it?).  All of us are (or should be) self-isolating apart from “essential” work tasks in the interest of minimizing the spread of a deadly virus sweeping across the globe.  

 

During this strange time, many people are turning more to books, movies, and TV for an escape.  As someone who frequently enjoys darker stories in any form of media, I’ve often asked myself and been asked by others a simple question: “why do you like to be scared?”  

 

Particularly now this seems like an interesting time to explore this question and possible answers.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic has me on edge just like everyone else, I’m turning to darker stories for an escape even though this seems counter-intuitive.  At the same time, I’ve heard several literary agents and other readers state their preference for lighter reads during this time.  

 

Non-Fiction 

For the purposes of this list, I’m mostly referring to self-help or autobiographies rather than true crime.  

 

A lot of people might be drawn to this genre right now when we’ve all been forced to slow down and take account of our daily routines and life priorities.  Typically, these books not only provide insights into how we can change our lives, but they are also pretty uplifting.  If you’re rereading You Are a Badass or DIY MFA (no? That’s just me, I guess), you’re probably trying to be overly productive during lockdown.  This might mean you’re trying to juggle your remote work, learn a new language, and baking up a ton of sourdough.    

 

Horror / Thrillers 

 

As mentioned above, I am one of those people who enjoys a good scary story or movie.  Personally, I enjoy reading about characters going through and surviving a terrifying situation because it’s distracting.  In scary stories, the stakes are usually higher and provide a welcome and engrossing diversion from any boring, real-life problems I’m facing.  Another reason I enjoy these stories is that I feel relieved and confident at the end because, to a lesser extent, my mind believes it survived the same craziness as the character did.  

 

From my research, it turns out these are the most common reasons weirdos like me turn to and enjoy darker subjects.  Allegra Ringo discusses these reasons in more depth in her article for The Atlantic: “First, the natural high from the fight or flight response can feel great. There is strong evidence that this isn’t just about personal choice, but our brain chemistry.”  She goes on to analyze how new research has discovered that while this change in chemistry occurs in everyone exposed to a stressful situation, the actual response varies widely.  In response to getting scared, everyone receives a spike of dopamine, but the levels are different from person to person.

 

Another article by Rachel Ross written for LiveScience.com discusses how horror geeks probably share a few key traits, such as susceptibility to boredom and a desire to be spontaneous and exposed to new things.  Ross goes on to state that these individuals are more likely to enjoy simulated scary situations rather than experiencing stress.  

 

For people who have the opposite (and arguably more normal) reaction to scary things, it can be due to brain chemistry or past traumas.  If you have experienced something terrifying in real life, your body is more likely to trigger the same stressed response to a simulated similar trauma down the road.  

 

Romance 

For those less inclined to enjoy horror, you might be reaching for a romance novel in-between sourdough baking sessions.  The romance genre is known for its lighter and quicker reads.  For this reason, the sale of romance books is likely soaring right now.  I was surprised to learn that there are already several new books that have come out in the “COVID-19 quarantine romance” subgenre (check out Caleb Joseph’s hilarious video analyzing one of these books if you need a good laugh).  

 

If romance is your genre, you’re probably having a rough time in quarantine due to the lack of meaningful human inaction.  Let’s face it, Zoom is fine (I guess), but even without the hackers, it’s not the same as going on a real date.  

 

Science Fiction / Fantasy 

If you are a Sci-Fi / Fantasy book lover, you might be faring slightly better than the rest of us right now.  As a natural daydreamer, you might not struggle with missing the outside world as much since you have all manner of different universes to explore within your books, both old and new.  When it comes to friends, you can just chill out with Bilbo or Harry while holed up in your house.   

 


Cocktails & Classics: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Do you like speakeasies?  Dark comedy?  Morally ambiguous protagonists?  Then this is the book for you! 

In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I decided to review one of the books I recently purchased from my favorite indie bookstore in the area (Recycled Books Denton).  

When I first received my "mystery book bag", I scanned through all the book jackets and Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West caught my eye.  The premise seemed promising and the positive comparisons to the works of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner’s work convinced me that this was the first book of my new haul that I had to read.  

The cocktail I paired with this read is the "Highball," which is featured approximately 5 times throughout the story.  Here's the recipe so you can whip up your own Highball cocktail:

Highball Recipe

Ingredients: 
1 oz. Whiskey 
5 oz. of chilled tonic water 
Twist of lemon peel 
Ice 

1. In a glass, add ice. 
2. Pour the chilled tonic water along the side of the glass so as not to melt the ice too quickly, then add the 1 oz. of whiskey. 
3. Cut a slice of lemon, separate the peel from the pulp, and shape into a twist for garnish. 
***I squeezed some of the lemon juice into the glass as well for added flavor 

                                                      

Background

After reading the clever writing, I wondered how I’d never heard of the author, Nathanael West.  
Since his short novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, was published in 1933, I immediately thought about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Turns out that West shared a bizarre connection with his contemporary, Fitzgerald.  

West was 8 years younger than Fitzgerald and they died only one day after one another.  
Sadly, West died relatively unknown and without making it big in Hollywood as he had hoped.  It was only after his death, that Miss Lonelyhearts and “Day of the Locust” were praised for their brilliance.  
The story follows our protagonist, who is the writer responsible for the newspaper column titled “Miss Lonelyhearts.”  

Summary & Analysis 

West summarizes the story perfectly in the context of the novel itself: "A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff considers it a joke… but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are the inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator."

Our protagonist, only known throughout the story as Miss Lonelyhearts, views this assignment as a joke, but as time goes on he feels for the women writing and seeking his guidance about their tragic and unjust circumstances.  Miss Lonelyhearts spends the entire story at direct conflict with the masculine characters and their language and treatment about women.  One line in particular perfectly sums up the main character and his struggle between his sympathy for women and what is apparently his nature: “Like a dead man, only friction could make him warm or violence make him mobile.”  Miss Lonelyhearts spends the story either reading the desperate letters from women seeking advice or instigating violence against other characters (both male and female).   

It’s a quick read at only 57 pages and the material is at-once comical, dark, and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend this story and based on this read I'm definitely planning to explore more of Mr. West's books.   

In honor of Indie Bookstore Day, check out ways to support your local shops during this difficult time: http://www.indiebookstoreday.com/

If you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, here are some shops I can recommend: 

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