It’s that time of year again!
For my first post of 2020, I’m going to stick with the tradition I’ve fallen into at Here’s the Fucking Twist over the last three years, and use my inaugural post of the new year to complain about all the books I read last year that were disappointing, rage-inducing or just straight-up garbage.
Speaking of inaugural though, let’s take a moment to collectively unclench our assholes because TRUMP IS OFFICIALLY FUCKING GONE TODAY.
I’m having a moment of existential crisis, because what am I going to do without that spray-tanned dumpster fire to entertain/scare/enrage me every day while I binge watch American news?! I’m hoping whatever mental energy I devoted to (read: had stolen by) Cheeto Mussolini and these last horrific four years, will now be freed up to focus on reading and running this blog. But hey, maybe it’s a smoother transition to just become fully obsessed with not dying in a global pandemic? We’ll see. So many choices for my life!
Honestly, 2020 was a hard reading year for me. I’m sure some of you can relate. So many outside forces were stressing me THE FUCK OUT and I couldn’t concentrate on anything that required significant brain power. March to September basically saw me unable to get out of my pajamas, watching reality TV and doom-scrolling on Twitter. But, after today, I have a good feeling about 2021!
Though the pandemic is seemingly worse then ever, and I am stuck in an endless time-loop of being in my house doing the same thing every fucking day, I do think we’re heading towards better times.
So, while I head into 2021 with optimism and hope, let’s take a look back on all the books I read last year that did nothing to distract me from the hellscape of real life and only added to the negativity.
I read this shit so you don’t have to, friends! Let’s gooooooooo!!
🔪The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring
Filed Under: DNF
Back of the Book: Simmering in Patagonian myth, The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist.
At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.
Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored.
One of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi’s existence. In order to survive she must solve a cosmic mystery—and then fight for her life.
My Fucking Thoughts: You know me – I generally don’t quit on books. I’m almost physically incapable of putting down a book if it means I will never know how the story unfolds. Even if I don’t necessarily like the story. But 2020 was my year for DNFing. And it turns out if the story is boring as all fucking hell, I have no issue putting it away and leaving it behind forever.
I am sorry, but this was possibly the most boring book I’ve ever read??? I’m struggling to think of something that has made my eyelids this goddamn heavy. Perhaps further into the book, the pacing of the plot might have picked up and become a more genuine horror story, but when I’ve made it to the 50% mark and shit is still moving at a snail’s pace, my inclination to stick it out evaporates. And considering this was 450 pages… yeah there was no way I could give up any more of my precious reading time.
By the time the sweet ghostie-kid showed up like fucking Casper, I was done.
Full review here.
🔪The Deep by Alma Katsu
Filed Under: DNF
Back of the Book: Someone, or something, is haunting the ship. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the Titanic from the moment they set sail. The Titanic‘s passengers expected to enjoy an experience befitting the much-heralded ship’s maiden voyage, but instead, amid mysterious disappearances and sudden deaths, find themselves in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone. While some of the guests and crew shrug off strange occurrences, several–including maid Annie Hebbley, guest Mark Fletcher, and millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim–are convinced there’s something more sinister going on. And then disaster strikes.
Years later, Annie, having survived that fateful night, has attempted to put her life back together by going to work as a nurse on the sixth sailing of the Britannic, newly refitted as a hospital ship to support British forces fighting World War I. When she happens across an unconscious Mark, now a soldier, she is at first thrilled and relieved to learn that he too survived the tragic night four years earlier. But soon his presence awakens deep-buried feelings and secrets, forcing her to reckon with the demons of her past–as they both discover that the terror may not yet be over.
Featuring an ensemble cast of characters and effortlessly combining the supernatural with the height of historical disaster, The Deep is an exploration of love and destiny, desire and innocence, and, above all, a quest to understand how our choices can lead us inexorably toward our doom.
My Fucking Thoughts: It really felt like nothing was happening that I gave a shit about, so I just couldn’t find a point in continuing to read this. It is packaged as a historical reimagined supernatural horror, but it actually reads more like historical romance wrapped up in a little bit of supernatural-ness.
The supernatural horror elements were basically non-existent, watered down to the point of irrelevancy. And the atmosphere of both ships, which were obviously leaning towards dark, eerie and isolated, just wasn’t executed well. Both of these things dramatically impacted my rating, because without the horror or the sinister vibe, this is really just historical fiction and I fucking hate historical fiction.
That’s not a personal indictment against those that love the genre, but for me and my brain, I just can’t even. Without any genuine thrills or sinister moments, this novel ended up reading at a turtle’s pace.
Full review here.
🔪You All Grow Up and Leave My by Piper Weiss
Filed Under: Rage Review
Back of the Book: A highly unsettling blend of true crime and coming-of-age memoir— The Stranger Beside Me meets Prep—that presents an intimate and thought-provoking portrait of girlhood within Manhattan’s exclusive prep-school scene in the early 1990s, and a thoughtful meditation on adolescent obsession and the vulnerability of youth.
Piper Weiss was fourteen years old when her middle-aged tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, one of New York City’s most prestigious private instructors, killed himself after a failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that this well-known figure among the Upper East Side tennis crowd was actually a frightening child predator who had built a secret torture chamber—a “Cabin of Horrors”—in his secluded rental in the Adirondacks.
Before the shocking scandal broke, Piper had been thrilled to be one of “Gary’s Girls.” “Grandpa Gary,” as he was known among his students, was different from other adults—he treated Piper like a grown-up, taking her to dinners, engaging in long intimate conversations with her, and sending her special valentines. As reporters swarmed her private community in the wake of Wilensky’s death, Piper learned that her mentor was a predator with a sordid history of child stalking and sexual fetish. But why did she still feel protective of Gary, and why was she disappointed that he hadn’t chosen her?
Now, twenty years later, Piper examines the event as both a teenage eyewitness and a dispassionate investigative reporter, hoping to understand and exorcise the childhood memories that haunt her to this day. Combining research, interviews, and personal records, You All Grow Up and Leave Me explores the psychological manipulation by child predators—their ability to charm their way into seemingly protected worlds—and the far-reaching effects their actions have on those who trust them most.
My Fucking Thoughts: There’s this aspect to Weiss’ thoughts which posit that being the subject of Wilensky’s sick obsession would have been validating for her, and without that validation, she’s spent 20+ years being mildly consumed with Wilensky and why he didn’t choose her to hold hostage in a rape cabin.
And that is… fucking stupid? Super fucking gross? Selfish? Insane? Like, honestly, WTF?
Weiss is not the victim and nothing about her life seems to really warrant a memoir. So by forcing herself into a traumatizing experience that was not hers, and then spending all her time wondering why she wasn’t good enough to be stalked and assaulted by a psychopath, this novel ends up feeling self-indulgent and tone-deaf, and frankly, kind of fucking nuts.
Full review here.
🔪The Chill by Scott Carson
Filed Under: Treatment for Insomnia
Back of the Book: Far upstate, in New York’s ancient forests, a drowned village lays beneath the dark, still waters of the Chilewaukee reservoir. Early in the 20th century, the town was destroyed for the greater good: bringing water to the millions living downstate. Or at least that’s what the politicians from Manhattan insisted at the time. The local families, settled there since America’s founding, were forced from their land, but they didn’t move far, and some didn’t move at all…
Now, a century later, the repercussions of human arrogance are finally making themselves known. An inspector assigned to oversee the dam, dangerously neglected for decades, witnesses something inexplicable. It turns out that more than the village was left behind in the waters of the Chill when it was abandoned. The townspeople didn’t evacuate without a fight. A dark prophecy remained, too, and the time has come for it to be fulfilled. Those who remember must ask themselves: who will be next? For sacrifices must be made. And as the dark waters begin to inexorably rise, the demand for a fresh sacrifice emerges from the deep…
My Fucking Thoughts: The set-up of the novel took for-fucking-ever to get through. Scott Carson goes hog-wild on sharing all the details he clearly researched about building dams, tunnels, water infrastructure and geography that, pardon the pun, I didn’t really give a damn. It was too much. The pacing of this novel is totally fucking submerged (the puns just keep coming) because of the abundance of details that were not necessary for a thriller. Maybe an engineering textbook? I am not here to learn about building a dam, I’m here for the fucking ghosts.
Carson is technically – in every sense of the word – a really good writer, but this was boring, over-detailed and missed the mark on what a horror-thriller is supposed to be.
Full review here.
🔪American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Dawson Winkler
Filed Under: What a Letdown
Back of the Book: Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.
Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious–some would say fatal–flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.
Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon–as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.
My Fucking Thoughts: You might think that you’re getting a novel about “murder, forensics and the birth of American CSI,” when you pick up this book. That’s exactly what I thought. And also exactly what they put in the fucking title. But why should titles ever tell you what you’re going to be reading, I guess?
What you’re actually getting here is a choppy, mishmash of relatively boring cases and life stories about Oscar Heinrich, the “American Sherlock.” If I had known this was going to be about one man’s life and not a historical rundown of the evolution of forensic sciences centred around different murder cases, I probably wouldn’t have read it.
Full review here.
🔪You’re Next by Kylie Schachte
Filed Under: Literary Pet Peeve
Back of the Book: Flora Calhoun has a reputation for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. After stumbling upon a classmate’s body years ago, the trauma of that discovery and the police’s failure to find the killer has haunted her ever since. One night, she gets a midnight text from Ava McQueen, the beautiful girl who had ignited Flora’s heart last summer, then never spoke to her again.
Just in time to witness Ava’s death from a gunshot wound, Flora is set on a path of rage and vengeance for all the dead girls whose killer is never found. Her tunnel-visioned sleuthing leads to valuable clues about a shocking conspiracy involving her school and beyond, but also earns her sinister threats from the murderer. She has a choice—to give up the hunt for answers, or keep digging and risk her loved ones’ lives. Either way, Flora will regret the consequences. Who’s next on the killer’s list?
My Fucking Thoughts: First of all, way too fucking long. WHY WAS THIS SO LONG? It’s a YA thriller, and I think I’m fucking done with that genre after this book. I just can’t seem to find one that doesn’t make me roll my eyes so hard that I actually hurt myself.
The main character is incredibly unlikeable. WHY WOULD YOU WRITE SUCH AN UNLIKEABLE MC?
Because of the length and how much I did not like the main character, I found this to be underwhelming and kind of annoying. Not to mention, the sheer volume of moving parts and the ridiculous tone of the mystery that I’m supposed to be believe a teenager is involved in? Please. I’m in the minority with my opinion though…
Full review here.
🔪Campfire by Shawn Sarles
Filed Under: Literary Pet Peeve
Back of the Book: While camping in a remote location, Maddie Davenport gathers around the fire with her friends and family to tell scary stories. Caleb, the handsome young guide, shares the local legend of the ferocious Mountain Men who hunt unsuspecting campers and leave their mark by carving grisly antlers into their victims’ foreheads.
The next day, the story comes true.
Now Maddie and her family are lost in the deep woods–with no way out–being stalked by their worst nightmares. Because there were other, more horrifying stories told that night–and Maddie’s about to find out just how they end…
My Fucking Thoughts: It’s not scary, the teen drama is ridiculous, the writing is mediocre, the dialogue was full-on cringe, and every last character was so annoying I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. There is a serious lack of scene building throughout, making everything feel silly, cookie-cutter and one-dimensional. It also came across as if the author has no idea how drugs and alcohol affect a person, and instead wrote scenes based off a Just Say No pamphlet from the Reagan years.
If this was written as an absurd satire, in the vein of a campy ’80s B-horror movie, maybe I would have liked it better. But it’s clearly trying to be taken seriously as a horror novel and for that, it just doesn’t work.
Campfire is not scary, it’s not gory, the characters are done an injustice and the plotline is both cliché and ridiculous.
Full review here.
You know, for all the books I read last year, only reading seven shit ones isn’t really that bad in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s to more DNFing in 2021 and a better year of reading!
Stay safe. Be Kind. But, take no shit.
Later, Booknerds ✌️🔪