Home Before Dark by Riley Sager – A Book Review

I was very excited to read Riley Sager’s latest thriller, and this one did not disappoint. It was nearly impossible to put this book down. If it wasn’t for Lily’s insistence at getting fed exactly at 6am in the morning and 5pm at night, I would have completely ignored my daily routine to finish this novel.

Before I get into the full review, I would like to apologize for my absence. My university switched to online early in March, and with that switch came the loss of my job at the library. It’s been a struggle to deal with my depression during this time of isolation (especially when all of the cats in the house get very ill and need around the clock care), but I have finally gotten back on my feet and have been using this newfound free time to work even more on writing my first novel!

Warning: This review may contain spoilers…


Here is a little bit about the book:

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.


The main thing to note about this novel is the use of a book within a book, which is used to switch between Maggie Holt and her father. Maggie’s sections of the novel are spent trying to find out the truth of what happened the night her family fled the Baneberry Hall. Her father’s sections are told through a novel that he wrote about their time in the supposedly haunted house, titled House of Horrors. While her father’s tale is mostly fiction, there are sprinkles of truth that Maggie discovers when she returns to Baneberry Hall after the death of her father.

Ewan, Maggie’s father, narrates House of Horrors. Each spine-chilling event is then mirrored in some way in Maggie’s return to Baneberry Hall. I found this to be one of my favorite parts of the novel, because it showed how despite Maggie’s disdain for her father and the book he wrote, Maggie herself was much like her father. She too fell into the history of Baneberry Hall and found herself losing touch of reality.

I spent a lot of my childhood religiously reading all sorts of ghost stories, so I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter of House of Horrors. Maggie’s POV, on the other hand, took a more logical look at the so-called paranormal activity of Baneberry Hall. I myself do not believe in the supernatural, so I did enjoy everything being debunked. In order to not spoil major parts of the novel, I won’t be going into exact details of the mysteries being debunked.

While the ending was definitely a twist, I wasn’t very shocked by it like I was hoping. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve read so many thrillers now and with the english classes I have been taking, I notice that I pay a lot more attention to details in the narrative. It was because of this that I was able to form some theories as I read and it also helped that I took notes whenever I read what I thought could be a clue as to how the book would end.

This is definitely a book I would recommend if you’re looking for a thriller that incorporates supernatural elements. I wouldn’t go into this book expecting any actual paranormal activities to take place, and my advice is the same with every thriller: everyone is a suspect, even the most minor of characters.

Here is my rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you for reading this review! If you’ve read this novel too, feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments! I enjoy seeing other’s points of views on what I have read.

I’ve got plenty more review on the way, so feel free to follow my blog to be notified about any new posts!

Just a casual photo of Lily being cute to end this review…

Finding A Balance Between Reading and Schoolwork

Something I have had to learn the hard way is that there may be days where I can’t get any reading done at all. Between finishing an essay, studying for the next exam, and work; it can be hard to find time to simply read for pleasure.

As someone who feels that I need to read to survive, being able to fit a good reading session into my day becomes something essential to maintaining my sanity. I’ve decided to sacrifice some of my free time in order to bring out some of the tips that have helped me greatly.

Bring A Book With You Everywhere

This may be easier for me to do because I always have my backpack on me, but this is also a perfect opportunity to try out e-books as well. A coworker of mine has often used her phone as a reading device in order to keep up with the books she enjoys, and I myself have used my phone as a way to get my reading fix whenever I am out in public and can’t simply pull out a book from my purse to sit down and read.

The reason I do this is that you never know when you will have some a sudden moment to do some reading. Maybe class gets canceled and you suddenly have a block of time to yourself, or you managed to finish revising your essay earlier and have a few minutes to spare. Either way, having a book on you at all times can be helpful if have some time to kill and want to get some reading done.

Work Ahead on Assignments

I know, no one wants to do more work than they have to. But hear me out, what if you did some extra work earlier in the day, thus opening up some time later on to relax and read? Not only will it feel much more satisfying to have that work done earlier, but you’ll also feel much better when you aren’t rushing to get an assignment done last minute. That means fewer nights spent stress and more nights spent reading before bed with a hot cup of tea and my wonderful Lily.

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A beautiful snapshot of Lily with a stack of books in the background.

Basically, the sooner you get assignments done, the sooner you can sit down and read. I realize that a lot of the time there are too many assignments to get through at certain times, so I would like to briefly address the use of a planner in order to better manage your time.

Planners Are Your Best Friend

I find I get a lot fewer anxiety attacks when I use my planner to plan out the week ahead of me. Each Friday I look at the assignments that are going to be due, and I then spread the workload out evenly throughout the week (taking into account the due dates). This way I can actually get everything done on time and have plenty of time to do it in the process.

Also, here’s a tip: If an assignment requires reading of any sort of outside research, then DO IT ON THE WEEKEND! Then you have plenty of time to analyze the material and take notes, so when it comes to actually do the assignment, it is much easier to answer every question.

Of course, this is just what works for me. Feel free to test out different ways of managing time (sometimes people sort there schedule into different time blocks rather than a simple list of tasks like I do), so you can figure out what works best in terms of getting schoolwork done the fastest way possible. There is no wrong way to schedule things, just keep in mind how much work you can mentally take in a day and try not to procrastinate too much.

Try Replacing Certain Habits With Reading

I haven’t read nearly as many books as I have hoped for these past two months. This is really on me because I spent a lot of my free time watching Netflix or playing video games when I could have been actually reading those books that I had been so excited to get from the library.

So, you can call it a new years resolution if you’d like, but I have been making a conscious effort to stop whatever I’m watching on Netflix (because chances are I’m on my phone and not even paying attention) and pull out a book to read. Free time is limited when you have lots of classwork and a job to worry about, so there is only so much you can do in that hour gap between classes.

There’s always the weekend for Netflix and video games, so why not spend those little free periods reading instead of doing mindless things on the internet? I’m not trying to say that watching television and playing video games is inferior to reading, but I have found that I’ve been able to read more pages in a week if I spend those little free periods reading rather than wasting my laptop’s battery.

 

Those are just a few things that I have learned over the last semester and a half, so I’m sure there’s a lot more that I will learn as I continue this adventure in higher education! Overall my stress has been very high and I am finding less and less time to write, but I will forge ahead and keep doing everything that I can to continue pursuing my passions!

If you are interested in reading more blog posts like this then click the follow button on the side. That way you get notified every time I post something new, so you don’t miss it!

If you’re interested in checking out some of my original work, then head over to my Tumblr (link at the bottom of the page) where I post various poems and short stories!

 

My Top 5 Reads of 2019!

2019 is officially over and I manage to exceed my goal of reading 30 books this year! This year I embarked on a mission to read every Agatha Christie novel, and I also started my first year of college. I’m excited to share with you my favorite reads of 2019, which are in no particular order because I found it impossible to pick a favorite from these five.

Warning: Minor spoilers 

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

The Toll was an amazing finish to the trilogy that I had been following for years. It is beautifully written and each character is memorable despite having a large number of characters that are in the novel. I was crying tears of joy at the very end when Tyger was brought back and I found it impossible to put down this novel with every chapter bringing each character one step closer to being reunited.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Ever since my first taste of the thriller genre, I have found it impossible to stop reading mysteries and horror alike. It’s fun to try and predict what could possibly happen next, and my favorite thing is being able to pick up on the subtle hints from the author. This novel, in particular, made its way to the top five by perfectly incorporating each creepy hint in ways that I had never imagined. It’s one of those books that no matter the length, I can’t help but finish it in less than a week because I have to know just what happens next.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

The first thing that drew me in about this novel was the cover, which is extremely beautiful and already conveys just what this novel is about: Girls slowly falling apart from some strange disease. What I love most about this novel is how gay it is. It was refreshing to have the same eerie horror that I have grown to love, while also having a main character that I could really relate to. Even though this book was full of monstrous curiosities, it felt strangely comforting, and I believe that it was because I was finally reading a novel where the main character wasn’t straight.

With that said, this novel doesn’t focus much on the romantic relationships between characters. This novel is mostly about the horror of this strange disease that has turned the entire island that the Raxter School for Girls is on to an apocalyptic nightmare.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book was amazing. Of course, any book that is full of mystery and magic is automatically amazing to me, so that statement is just my opinion. I read this book earlier in the year, so I can’t recall every single detail, but when I was looking through the list of books that I had read this year, the cover of this particular novel stood out to me as one that had to be on this list. It’s an adorable love story like Romeo and Juliet, but with less death and more common sense.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

It is impossible to be as obsessed with books as I am and not take interest in this novel based on solely the title of this book. When I saw this all over my Instagram feed I thought Hey, I like books. This book should be pretty relatable and cute. Spoiler alert: I was right. This book was adorable and full of cheesy romance that I loved so much. It is one of those books that I can see myself rereading in the future when I need something comforting and familiar to lean on.

 

That’s about it for my thoughts on my top 5 books of 2019! This post is short and sweet because I’m writing this a little last minute, and I didn’t want to miss the deadline for posting this when New Year’s themed things are no longer relevant. What are your favorite reads from the past year? From the past decade? Were you able to reach your reading goals this year?

If you are interested in reading more blog posts like this then click the follow button on the side. That way you get notified every time I post something new, so you don’t miss it!

If you’re interested in checking out some of my original work, then head over to my Tumblr where I post various poems and short stories!

First Semester of College Wrap-Up

2019 is coming to an end, and I have had quite the year. This year has been full of stressful moments and mental growth, and I’m very ready for this decade to be over. While there have been many impactful moments this year, I would like to narrow things down to one thing in particular — my first semester of college!

I had taken a year off in order to work and save up money, so I started college a little later than most. While I was a little embarrassed to have started so late, I was still excited to start this new chapter of my life. Over the last three months, I have learned quite a few life hacks and general tips that I would like to share with all of you!

Coffee Is Your Best Friend (And Your Worst Enemy)

Don’t get me wrong, that bitter bean juice is my favorite part of the day, but after consuming it so often I had learned that there were more disadvantages than advantages to increasing your caffeine intake.

  1. There is the potential to worsen anxiety. I noticed a significant increase in panic attacks during these last three months than I have experienced in the last two years. If you’re a nervous wreck like me, then do yourself a favor and try to limit how much you drink each day.
  2. I had constant face twitches that were a terrible distraction. They were never very extreme, but definitely a general nuisance.
  3. My sleep schedule became a disaster. I could never fall asleep when I needed to, and I often found myself close to passing out in the middle of the day due to restless sleep. After just a week of drinking less coffee (because I could never give it up entirely), my sleep was already starting to improve.

I have to take extra good care of my health thanks to my heart condition, but that doesn’t mean someone in perfect health should be abusing caffeine either. Make sure to be aware of how much coffee or energy drinks you are consuming when you need that extra kick in order to get things done. If anything, take a quick power nap if you are able and then start back up afterward.

Learn To Manage Time

Now if you can’t drink copious amounts of caffeine in order to stay up and finish that paper that’s due soon, then how will you keep up? It’s fairly simple (after a bit of trial and error), but learning to manage your time can help get you a solid eight hours of sleep each night and also ensure there is a suitable amount of time to unwind with your latest read or newest video game.

My go-to method is to create time blocks and to-do lists for what I need to get done each day. It’s incredibly flexible and easy to move around if you need to. Each week I write out when an assignment or paper is due, and then I space things out evenly so I am never overwhelmed with too much work to do.

It’s mainly thanks to this practice of time management that I was able to spend the majority of my finals week in my room playing video games and manage to get all A’s. Instead of writing an entire paper in one go, I would start with an outline, and then draft it, and with the extra time, I would be able to read over and revise many times until I felt that it was perfect. Here’s a general list of my time management process:

  1. Write a to-do list of what needs to be done in a day. This helps me realize that what I need to get done isn’t as lengthy as I had anticipated. It takes a bit of the anxiety away when you realize that there isn’t actually that much that needs to get done.
  2. Set aside time that day to get the tasks done. Setting a time limit seems to take away my desire to procrastinate and I tend to get more work done overall.
  3. Cross of the tasks on the list as you go. This may just be me, but I enjoy watching the list quickly become completely crossed out. It becomes a bit of a game to me and I feel more motivated than if I had simply kept a general note of what needed to be done in my head.

I should mention that I am a workaholic that spends most of my time working anyway, so keep in mind that this method would probably only work out for people who just as crazy about working as I am.

Budgeting Is Very Important

As a full-time student, I only have the time to work part-time. With that in mind, I don’t make a lot of money and financial aid is only a temporary solution to a large amount of money needed to pay tuition and textbook fees.

So, in order to alleviate some of my monetary stress, I create budgets. It helps me see that while I don’t make a lot of money, there is still money that I can set aside for little treats for myself. I have used this monthly allowance to get things like bath bombs, tasty snacks, and new books. These budgets have given me the ability to still use a little retail therapy now and then to raise my spirits, and it also has kept me from spending my money recklessly.

Find An Outlet for Stress

I like to think that with the years of practice I’ve had that I have a solid ability to fight my stress and keep myself from burning out. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I’ve still found myself pushing past my limits to the point where I feel completely drained. It takes longer to recover from that intense burnout, and it is incredibly frustrating when I can’t be as productive as I want to be.

So, in order to combat the neverending stress that comes with living an adult life of any kind, I have a nice little activity that I can do. You can feel free to grab a paper and pencil so you can play along too!

First, write down a list of some things that make you happy. My list would be (in no particular order):

  • Studio Ghibli movies
  • Soundtracks from my favorite video games
  • Any Harry Potter book/movie
  • Cats
  • Cleaning

Then look through the list, and see what on that list makes you feel the happiest at that moment. I would have to go with the soundtracks option because when I’m burnt out I have no desire to actually do anything. This way I can be carried away by the music and eventually get back into the flow of being productive again.

The overall takeaway is to just do what you love. While the lows can get rather intense for me, it is important to remember that these lows are just temporary things. There’s going to be another good day in the future, so do your best to trudge through the hard parts so you can get to that good day a bit quicker.

 

What was your favorite part of 2019? Mine would have to be my first day working at the library. Being able to lose myself in the stacks is my favorite part of the job, and I enjoy being able to help out other students with their research. I would love to hear more about your favorite memories of 2019 below!

If you are interested in reading more blog posts like this then click the follow button on the side. That way you get notified every time I post something new, so you don’t miss it!

If you’re interested in checking out some of my original work, then head over to my Tumblr where I post various poems and short stories! There are links to all of my social media accounts at the very bottom.

 

A Very Late NaNo Pep Talk (And Tips)

I’ll be completely honest with you, I have only written 5,000 words of my novel so far. Between studying for endless exams and keeping up with work, I’ve found very little time to actually get some writing done. When I do get some spare time, I feel completely unmotivated and only really get about 100-200 words on a page before I completely pass out.

Nevertheless, I consider the progress that I have made a huge success! Why? Because despite how dead I feel at the end of the day, and despite the complete lack of inspiration, I still put something down on the blank page. It’s something that I can come back to in the future and expand on. You can’t do that with a blank document!

In my personal opinion, that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about. It’s about getting some sort of foundation for a novel finished so you can spend the next few months (or years — everyone works at there own pace) workshopping it into a fully formed novel that is ready to be published. Already I can see the novel that I have started as a project that I want to see through to the end, and even though I am currently procrastinating by writing this instead of another part of my first draft, I am still brainstorming various scenes and plot points that I want to incorporate into my novel.

Now with that little motivational pep talk out of the way, I would like to present to you the tips that have helped me stay slightly motivated so far!

Skipping Through Time

Already during the first week, I was stuck on where my story was going. I knew where I wanted the plot to end up, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. So, instead of staring at Scrivener, waiting for it to reveal exactly what I should type next, I just started writing a random scene that I thought would be good to have.

Will I use this scene in future drafts? Maybe. It doesn’t matter whether it will end up in the finished novel, all that matters right now is to get the ideas flowing. Once I started that random scene, I started to think of different things that will help move the story along and get it to the ending that I had in mind. I could see more of the puzzle pieces begin to fit into place.

It’s Okay to “Lose”

When I got through the first week and realized that I was very behind, I was devasted. I had this amazing outline in mind, and so many plans to write during a set amount of time each day. So when that had already fallen through, I felt disappointed in myself for not trying harder.

That’s when I mentally scolded myself for putting myself down long before the month was even over, and instead began to look at the positive sides.

  • The only way you “lose” NaNoWriMo, is if you write nothing at all. Sure, it’s much more exciting to reach the last day of November with a whole 50,000 words written in some Word Document, but sometimes it just isn’t worth the stress.
  • Lot’s of people who participate have fulltime careers, have children to look after, and may even be balancing a writing schedule along with a busy school schedule. It’s totally possible to forget to write one day, and chances are, you aren’t the only one.
  • The most important thing to look at is this: You are making some sort of effort to write a novel. That itself is an amazing thing; to decide to write a novel and actually work to make it happen. Just putting in that effort is enough to make you a winner.

Take Breaks

Read a book, finish that paper, maybe even watch a movie. It’s important to pay attention to your mental health during this difficult time because it’s easy to ignore how you feel in order to power through. Trust me, the mental toll it may take is not worth it.

I have successfully managed to stress myself out so much that I am now very sick. Whether it’s just a coincidence, I’ll never know. Nor do I really care. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing entirely simply because “I don’t feel like doing it right now”, but rather knowing when you need to stop before you push yourself too far.

What I have been doing is reading books that are in the same genre of the novel I am working on, so I can call it research. Not only does this make me feel less guilty about taking a break, but I can still get some work done while I am relaxing.

Sleep

I know it’s tempting to pour an extra cup of coffee in order to stay up just a little bit longer to get to that word count goal, but there are times where it is more important to get some sleep instead. This one is especially important for the students out there that have to be awake at an extremely early time.

Yeah, focusing on your future career as a novelist is pretty important, but so is school. It’s alright to pull a few all-nighters now and then (I am 100% guilty of unintentionally doing that many times for the sake of reading/writing), but overdoing it can be pretty bad for your health. 

I’m not a huge fan of sleep; if it wasn’t for the need for sleep I would be able to get so much more done. But you need a working brain to continue working on your novel, so make sure to get your eight hours of sleep as much as possible!

 

That’s it for my (hopefully) helpful advice to help you get through the rest of this month! I’m sure that everyone currently participating in NaNoWriMo is creating some great first drafts as I type this post, and I will now go work on my novel. No matter where you are with your goal right now, don’t give up! As long as you keep trying then there is no way you can lose.