Book review – The Arrangement by Robyn Harding

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The Arrangement

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!


CW: sex work, stalking, self-harm, alcohol abuse, and cheating

Ever since I read Her Pretty Face last year, I knew that this was an author to look out for. She completely captivated me with her story. And, honestly, this one was no different!

Natalie, or Nat, is a young woman at a NYC art school. She waits tables and lives in a flat with two other people who don’t like her very much. Of course, she also once had a stalker who still worries her. She can barely afford her share of the rent. After meeting a fellow student who, somehow, has money, she learns about being a sugar baby. Time in exchange for money. A lot of money, at that. And, Nat decides to dip into that sugar bowl.

Gabe is a high powered attorney. He’s (unhappily) married and has a kid he doesn’t understand. The marriage he’s in has turned into one of companionship, lacking the passion it once had. This isn’t his first time having a sugar baby. But, he chooses Natalie.

I know I’ve said it before on here, but I have a huge interest in sex work. Not like that. I mean, I find the work absolutely fascinating. What drives people to do it. The work behind the scenes. I’ve always found it absolutely fascinating. For a long time, I had a personal Twitter. I’ve deactivated it now, but I used to follow camgirls to see if I could catch that glimpse. I used to follow sex workers on Tumblr before the changes happened to the website to kind of keep up on what was going on.

And, I love that this book came from that place of interest. In her author’s note, she says that she was interested and actually talked to sugar babies to find out why they chose that profession. I love that! I love that she actually went into the community to research! I think, for me, that’s why it felt so realistic. The story showed the good and the bad. The nice holidays, the jewelry, the housing. And the creepy men who go there because they can scare and hurt a woman. I could go on my whole diatribe against the criminalization of sex work for people who genuinely want to work there, but I won’t get on that soapbox.

Still, I didn’t like some of the tropes presented in this.

Sex and sex work shaming did play a role in this. I know that it’s a huge reality for sex workers, but I would have liked to not see every single non-sex worker character shitting on Natalie for her financial choice.

It also goes with the whole unstable sex worker line. Natalie is very unstable, I won’t lie there. She goes into being a sugar baby (which is, in a way, sex work) not realizing and accepting that’s what it was. She doesn’t seem to understand that being a sugar baby isn’t like being a girlfriend. It’s a job, one you have to work at. It’s not real. It’s a fantasy. She also has PTSD from her stalker.

Still, I didn’t like that it showed bad endings for both of the sex worker characters in this. I feel like balancing it out with something more positive would have been better for me. But, that’s me.

I still loved this book. It was a page turner and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s one that I’ll want to own once it’s out and I was thrilled by it! The book felt so authentic and I loved the twists and turns it took, along with the characters revealing themselves who they really were. I couldn’t believe the ending and it was just so good!

Another fantastic book from Harding!

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Book review – If You See Her by Ania Ahlborn

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If You See Her


CW: suicide, unhealthy obsession, and alcoholism

Ania Ahlborn does it again! Yet again, she’s managed to impress me with her knowledge of how to write a story and how to keep me hooked. I don’t know if any other author could have made this such a taut, intense tale.

Really, this is a story of obsession. It was so interesting to read it and how it transferred. As usual, she toes the line of what is supernatural and what is psychosis. She does that in nearly all of her books and I just love how deftly she manages it. It never dips too much one way or the other. I never feel like she’s leading me somewhere but is guiding me to make my own decision at the end about what really happened.

The story follows Jesse. In high school, he and his friends, Casey and Reed, decided to go to an old, abandoned house after a night of drinking. Three friends go in, two, Jesse and Casey, come out. Reed commits suicide in the house with them there. Or, did he?

After that, Jesse becomes an alcoholic and, eventually, gets his life together again. He’s a teacher with a wife — his high school sweetheart — and one child. All until Casey comes around. Casey moved on with his life and became a YouTube star. But, now he wants to go back to the house for whatever reason.

And then the cycle starts up again.

Really, this is a story of obsession. It was so interesting to read it and how it transferred. As usual, she toes the line of what is supernatural and what is psychosis. She does that in nearly all of her books and I just love how deftly she manages it. It never dips too much one way or the other. I never feel like she’s leading me somewhere but is guiding me to make my own decision at the end about what really happened.

I felt like the characters and their motivations were very real and believable. I loved watching the descent into madness and the struggle to resurface from it. It was really wonderful to read.

The book was very slow. It felt like it could have made a good short story but it was expanded into something larger. At times, it dragged. I think the backstory of the ghosts and the flashbacks didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to, but it was still interesting to read as it was all central to what Jesse goes through.

As usual, Ahlborn crafted a very interesting and compelling story. It was just a joy to read. I nearly devoured it all in one sitting, so that says a lot!

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Book review – Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

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Necessary People


CW: drug use, alcohol use, and toxic friendships

Ah, friendships. They can be good. They can be bad. And they can be ugly. I’ve definitely had my fair share of all those over the years, as has most everyone. This book is about one of those ugly ones.

Violet and Stella have been best friends for years. They met in college and quickly bonded despite coming from different backgrounds. Violet is from a family that wanted to look rich and be rich while Stella was from a family that actually was rich. After college, they decide to live together in a house paid for by Stella’s family. Stella decides to go travel around the world while Violet starts her career in cable news.

And Violet thrives. That makes Stella jealous because Stella is the one who’s supposed to succeed while Violet builds that image up.

This book is far from perfect, I will be honest. I know that if I had read this book at home, I probably would have given it 3.5 because it took so long to get to the whole point of the book. Like, over half of the book was setting the stage.

However, I read this on a plane ride. A plane ride where I was in first class (because my dad had points to score me first class tickets to Portland while I’ll be in economy going home) so I got free wine the whole time. I think the combination of wine and having only this book to read really helped it. This is a book I’d suggest you read in one sitting. Two tops. But, ideally, one sitting with wine if you drink/can drink.

Why? Because it’s a slow build. It takes its time. And, when you get there, it’s very satisfying. I was satisfied reading it and mulling over it on the plane. It’s truly a book about the devolution of a friendship. One succeeds and the other gets jealous over that success. Then, that break and Stella wanting to be better than Violet — as she has up until that point — and then Violet becoming more like Stella than she ever intended.

It’s just one of those books I know people will either love or hate. It doesn’t have a lot of action to it. For the subject matter, it’s very quiet and insidious rather than loud and bold. Personally, that really worked for me but I know it won’t for everyone. Either way, I’d read another “thriller” from this author. It impressed me and has put her on my radar for future reads.

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Book review – If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

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If We Were Villains


CW: murder, drug use, alcohol use, overdose, and cheating

For most of the book, I hovered around 3-3.5 stars. I really swore that it was going to be another The Secret History for me. Maybe not as pretentious, but still a group of people reeling from a murder that I didn’t care about.

However, Rio changed that. I actually liked the characters in this, even if I still got annoyed with them at times. The plot is pretty basic, as it was with The Secret History: Group of arty friends are doing a Shakespeare play. They all have their typecast roles. One starts going a little mad. Someone murders him. Except, who did it?

And then we have to pick up the pieces as they reform their group and have to go without this certain one.

I never got all of the names down of the characters. Even though I was very close to the end of the book, I still had to look up to make sure I was right. There’s Richard (the tyrant), Alexander (the villain), James (the hero), Meredith (the temptress), Wren (whatever the hell stereotype she was supposed to be), Filippa (gets small parts), and Oliver (the MC and the other one who gets small parts). Even while I was typing that up, I had to Google it and pull up the wiki for this book because I knew I was going to forget people. And I did! I got to four characters and blanked.

So, the characters, while they had depth, were just too many for me to juggle around. I kept mixing them up and it felt like too large a cast of characters for the story.

And, the story. All of the characters are fourth-year students who only do Shakespeare as actors. They’re doing Julius Caesar as their fall/winter play. And then things go terribly wrong for them. One night, someone in the group kills another.

The book starts off with Oliver being released from jail for a crime that’s not specified. He’s finally talking to the detective who worked on the murder to tell him what really happened that night and the rest of the story.

Personally, I thought it was a bit dull, but I was still pulled to read it. I loved the way it was told. Parts of it was like it was a play, like just having a list of the characters saying their lines rather than making it prose the whole time. It worked for the story, along with constantly quoting Shakespeare. Sure, it was a bit pretentious, but I love Shakespeare.

The murder took forever and it took years to get through it, but I found the ending good and poignant. I also enjoyed who the murderer was. So, in the end, it was a wash for me. I thought it was very good, but I don’t know if I loved it. I think that this is going to be one of those books I’ll appreciate more on a reread.

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Book review – The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

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The Escape Room

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!


CW: sexual assault, toxic work environments, and corporate greed

This book was crazy! I mean, I was on the edge of my seat trying to find out what happened right away, then it kept developing.

Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie got an email from HR about a dumb teambuilding exercise that they had to do. Escape from a locked elevator and that’s it. They think that even if they fail, they’ll get let out in an hour and that’ll be that. Except that the clues to let them out are oddly specific. And about Sara Hall, a dead girl.

Sara Hall studied business and thought she would be set for life. Her father is ill all the time and her mother struggles with bills. Sara figured that she would get a business job and, well, help them out. Along with get herself out of debt and pay off her student loans.

Yet, she’s not getting hired. And the longer she goes without being hired, the less marketable she’ll be and the less likely she’ll actually get hired. After a failed interview, she meets a man in an elevator who says he’ll get her a job. And he does. Then things go wrong.

What stands out most about this book is the combination of a toxic work environment and corporate greed. It was so painful to read it. It killed me reading it because it’s totally not what I want in a job, even if I would make hella money. Drugs, makeup, injections, sex, exercise. It’s insanity and anyone who goes into it is someone I’d like to steer clear of. It deludes people with privilege.

The book was very twisty and I didn’t see things coming, although it became more apparent as the time went on. And when it came to the final bit, I knew what to expect and it was just… chilling. All of it was so coldblooded. I loved the journey to get to the actual reveals and the real story. Everything else was just setting the stage, even though I was constantly interested by the chapters switching from Sara’s perspective in the past to the people in the elevator.

Definitely a thriller author that I’ll come back to again!

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Book review – Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

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Miracle Creek


CW: child abuse, sexual assault, Asian fetishization, disfigurement, infertility, and death

What a book.

Throughout the whole thing, I kept reflecting on how this felt like Jodie Picoult back before she got stale. It was a tightly woven courtroom thriller that kept me guessing until the end. Hell, even when it was revealed what happened, I was shocked and still don’t quite believe it.

The Yoo family (Pak, Young, and Mary) moved to America from Korea and decided to start up a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in a small, rather insular town. They treat a number of people with various “problems”. I use quotes because some of them aren’t problems and there’s definitely an underlying discussion of the medical vs. social construction views on disability that I really enjoyed.

One night, during a “dive,” something goes wrong. With people inside of the pressurized chambers, a fire breaks out. It kills some of the people in it and leaves others disfigured. In the end, the police find evidence that Elizabeth — Henry’s mother, a child who died in the fire — set it to kill her son because she’s been abusing him.

But is that really what happened that night?

I really loved that this book dealt with a lot of topics. Child abuse and what makes things child abuse. Do you have to leave a large, physical mark to call it abuse?

What about the medical model of disability? Are we wrong when we say that someone is disabled? I’ve read a lot about this — most notably Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare — and I definitely lean more towards the social construction view of disability. But, I loved seeing how characters grappled with this issue.

Then, we have sexual assault and whether it was really a sexual assault. I know I struggled with it when I was labeling my content warnings. I kept switching it up, changing it from sexual assault to dubious consent then back to sexual assault; or wanting to add a caveat to it. In the end, I labeled it as sexual assault because that’s what it was, although it’ll be interesting to see what other people think.

Plus, throughout the novel, it grappled with the Korean culture and how different it is from the American one, the immigrant experience in different generations, the fetishization of Asian people.

I think the thing that I had the hardest time with was that there was so much going on in the book. It had so many hard topics buried in it that came up throughout the book, then there were so many characters that I could never keep them straight, then actually trying to figure out what really happened that night.

It was a lot. And I think that the author did well with juggling it all, but it was way too much for me. A lot of it could have been cut out without changing things. I loved the commentary on these things, but there was too much going on for it to be fully explored.

What my review comes down to, really, is that I’ll definitely be reading whatever Kim publishes next. She impressed me so much with this debut!

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