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

Caidyn's review (1)

If We Were Villains

4/5

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!

4/5

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

4/5

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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