One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
30 June 2022 | 11:00 pm

  • one italian summer by rebecca serle
    published 01 march 2022 by atria books
    adult contemporary / magical realism

    synopsis: this book follows katy whose mother carol had just died. weeks prior, they planned a two-week mother-daughter trip to positano, the magical town carol spent the summer right before she met katy’s father—now katy is faced with embarking on the adventure alone. while katy spends her time under the amalfi coast sun, things take a turn when carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back.

    content warning: death of a loved one

one italian summer was a quintessential summer read. what i thought rebecca serle did best in this book was crafting the atmosphere of the amalfi coast, with her carefully curated and detailed descriptions of the setting, the food (!!!), and even what everyone was wearing. it almost felt like i was there with katy, spending the summer:

The drive out of Naples is picturesque—apartment buildings with women hanging clothes on the line, small terra-cotta houses, the wild tangle of greenery—but when we get to the coast, the real delight begins to set in. The Amalfi Coast is not so much splayed out before us as beckoning us closer. Hints of clear blue sea, houses built into the hillside.

i didn’t really care much for the romance. i understood it was part of katy’s character arc, but i wished there was less of that and more of the relationship between katy and carol, what i thought should have been the gravitational center holding everything else together. katy’s casual fling in italy also highlighted what i didn’t realize prior to it—that she had a tendency to be self-centered and insensitive to what other people (e.g., her husband) were feeling, which added that bit of sourness to an otherwise sweet story.

there were times where the book felt emotionally inconsistent, where i didn’t really feel like she was in mourning (granted, people grieve and cope in different ways), but i just wrote that off in my head as her reaction to seeing her mother there, alive and in the flesh. the book also offered nice twists that i didn’t see coming, but also felt very natural to the plot. they added more layers of intrigue that, at the time they happened, the book really needed.

the audiobook was narrated by my gilmore girls queen lauren graham and i highly recommend reading along with it! overall, one italian summer was a sensory treat, with touching magical realism elements to boot. if you’re looking for a literary summer escape, this is the book for you.

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posted by karl on 01 july 2022

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
23 June 2022 | 11:00 pm

  • small spaces (small spaces, #1) by katherine arden
    published 25 september 2018 by g.p. putnam's sons
    middle grade horror

    synopsis: after a tragic loss, 11-year-old ollie only finds comfort in books. one day she steals a book from a crazed woman trying to toss it into the water—and so begins a chilling adventure of newfound friendship, beeping wristwatches, sinister scarecrows, and a devilish smiling man out to get ollie and her friends if it’s the last thing he’ll do.

    content warning: death of a loved one

small spaces was a nice blend of cozy, scary, and exciting. i wasn’t the biggest reader growing up, but i could imagine this one being a book i would’ve devoured back then. 

i loved the fast-paced adventure. the friendship between ollie, coco, and brian became an integral part of the plot and i was a big fan of how naturally it developed. the plot was tightly wound in the beginning—although it unraveled towards the end, i didn’t see it being a problem for the book’s target audience.

this was my introduction to katherine arden’s books and i really enjoyed her writing. this book invoked such cozy, aesthetically pleasing imagery:

You don't waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow.

i also appreciated the emotional depth that this middle grade novel packed, especially with ollie and how she’d been dealing with her mother’s passing.

overall, i could see this book being a nice introduction to horror fiction for children. while it had genuinely scary moments, it never let go of its wholesome charm.

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posted by karl on 24 june 2022

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky
16 June 2022 | 11:00 pm

  • the mary shelley club by goldy moldavsky
    published 13 april 2021 by henry holt & company
    young adult horror thriller

    synopsis: this book follows new girl rachel chavez who’s looking to make a fresh start at manchester prep. she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, which surprisingly attracts the attention of the mary shelley club, a secret club of students with one objective: to orchestrate real fear. but as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own. when the tables are turned and the club is targeted, rachel must track down the monster in their midst… even if it means confronting the dark secrets from her past.

i only needed to hear “scream meets gossip girl” for me to drop everything and read this book. scream (1996) is my favorite movie of all time, and is one of the movies that got me into the horror genre (have y’all heard the news neve isn’t returning to scream 6? a tragedy). the mary shelley club was filled to the brim with nods to horror movies and i was a child giddy with excitement trying to pick the references out.

the club’s activities were a bit overblown, but that’s what i loved about it—it allowed for a story that was equally over the top and just as fun. part of me thought it would’ve been better if the cast had been aged up, giving the book space to dive deeper into its darker themes—more blood and less teenage romantic drama. but with a premise this good, i’ll take what i can get. i also found myself attached to all the primary characters, especially our little horror gay thayer turner.

goldy moldavsky’s writing was incredibly addictive. every decision she made with this book was so satisfying, from first page to last. the book also tackled themes of fear, things that make people tick, and why we’re drawn into the horror genre in the first place, which i found to be perfect discussions to make in a book so referential.

overall, the mary shelley club was the best YA i’ve come across in a long while. it read like a love letter to horror movies and i gulped it up like no one’s business. onto the favorites shelf it goes!

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posted by karl on 17 june 2022

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