I am slowly wading my way through R. Eric Thomas’s essay Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, which is fucking amazing and which I highly recommend for both its’ comedic talent and poignant moments. Reading his essays is finding someone I want to buy a drink, so I can have a smart, funny conversation and become friends and have someone help me ponder the craziness that is currently American politics.
Also, I’m pretty sure R. Eric Thomas is pyschic, because his essay “Flames, at the Side of My Face” (which you should read, if you haven’t, because did I tell you he was fucking amazing yet? the ending to this one is ridiculous and funny and adorable) says in one succinct sentence what I think a lot of us are currently feeling:
… see what I mean about the poignant moments?
What have you been reading that is helping you get through quarantine?
A lot of you have probably already read Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel You Are Not Alone, but I just recently got around to it. I have actually had the privilege of receiving all 3 of this duo’s novels as AREs, and can attest that in general, all are easy-to-read thrillers. This latest, though, is the one that has left me thinking about it afterward. And since I think most people have already it, by this point, I would like to discuss how I read this book, not necessarily how the authors’ intended for their work to be interpreted. In other words, there will be spoilers. Possibly a lot of them. So if you have not read the book yet, and do not like spoilers, consider yourself forewarned.
You Are Not Alone tells the story of Shay Miller, a lonely woman in her early thirties whose downward spiral (lost job, roommate she’s in love with has a different romantic partner) continues its’ descent when she gets icky vibes from some dude while waiting for the subway, and inches closer to a strange woman whom she is just thinking she would like to become friends with, when the woman suddenly careens in front of the train and commits suicide.
Shay is, understandably, traumatized by this event. She learns the woman’s name, goes past her old apartment and leaves a flower, finds out there is a memorial service and attends. She knows it’s kind of weird, but she can’t help herself. And actually, I don’t find any of this weird at all. What’s weird is how much she thinks about how she is weird.
The way that I interpret this novel is that we are receiving insight into the mind of sociopath. Shay collects data about the things she does not understand, which helps her interpret the world around her, and more specifically, what the people in her life are likely to do, based on statistics and close observation. She is romantically interested in her roommate, Sean, and assumes that he will feel the same way because he does stuff with her like watch TV and drink beer, and statistically, many romances form from friendships. Yet it is not clear if she drinks the beer he likes because she also likes it, or because Sean likes it. In fact, I rather assumed the latter. When she sees Amanda commit suicide right in front of her, she begins collecting data on suicide. It is a very rational way to deal with something that likely stemmed from an emotional impetus.
When the gorgeous, wealthy, powerful sisters befriend her, she is grateful, and always trying to figure out what will impress them when doing anything – picking out her outfit, figuring out what drink to order – while in their vicinity. She willingly turns herself into a puppet. Are we supposed to feel bad that she ensnared herself in a web of deceit that will result in her being framed for murder?
Well, I suppose so. And I guess I did, finally, feel a little bad for her. Like, she may be a bit odd, and she may act kind of pathetic, but since she did not, in fact, murder anyone, as far as we know, it is a bit much for her to go to jail for it.
Although Shay’s perspective is told in first person, whereas viewpoints of others, when told, are third-person omniscient, I did not sympathize with Shay. Except for the shit with her stepdad, which sucked, and resulted in isolation from her mother. So even though you know the sisters are setting Shay up, the secrecy and backhanded ways they are using to get what they want feel like a mirror of the lies and backhanded manipulations Shay uses to try to get them to like her. The idea that, because Shay wasn’t straight with them, she deserves to die is a bit dramatic – but this is not outside of the sphere of the Victorian “kiss-outside-of-your-marriage-vows-and-you-will-get-sick-and-die-bitch” aesthetic. In the end, Shay wins, because she is able to surprise her enemy with the police. But Shay commits her own devious act, at the end, in a manner that was obviously willful and unnecessary. To someone who meant to cause her harm, but did not quite achieve it. So Shay has actually become her enemy, except that her murder is much less easy to detect.
Thus, I interpret this novel as a case of a socially awkward sociopath paired against a socially adept psychopath in a life-and-death battle, with the latter only revealed near the end, because every thriller needs a twist.
What about you? Does my interpretation match your reading, or did you read this novel differently?
So, I don’t know about your specific situation, but here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I have been trapped in the apartment as an inessential person (still able to work from home, just only able to hold virtual meetings with people other than my husband and two sons). And for me, nothing feels more essential at this time than a beach read.
A well-done beach read is like a warm cup of soup. It provides an easy escape into a world where things can actually work out, leaving you with a smile on your face and warm, fuzzy good feelings that seeps into your bones. A poorly done beach read is infuriating.
Recently, I had the experience of reading a great beach read, and a not-so-great beach read. And yes, the latter did infuriate me. These novels were, respectively, Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center and Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie. [Full disclosure: I received both of these novels as Advanced Reader Copies. Fuller disclosure: I am a blunt bitch, and while I may not have paid for these novels, that in no way effects my opinion of them. Fullest disclosure: I’m not currently hungry, but am still craving sugar, and may take a break in writing this blog post for chocolate. I realize this last note is in no way related to the content of this blog post, but am just trying to be completely honest and transparent.]
Let’s talk about the good first:
Protagonist Cassie Hanwell is a great firefighter. She kind of fell into a great job with the Austin Fire Department, and the novel opens as she eats dinner with her co-workers before receiving a prestigious award. Cassie keeps to herself, a lot, but she is self-sufficient and doesn’t need other people. Until she accidentally gives this terrible guy some comeuppance, and finds herself driving to the East Coast to live with the mother who she’s barely spoken to in years, en route to a transfer to a new fire station that is markedly less modern than the Austin FD, trying to cobble a new life together for herself while also helping her mother (who is suffering vision loss) while making sure not to become ensnared, because she doesn’t want to be fooled twice!
This plot is full of dramatic tension and literal life-and-death stakes. Yet, instead of being overwrought or ridiculous, this novel remains interesting and difficult to put down. Writing a novel – any novel – is an accomplishment, but Center takes this accomplishment a step further. Her work has wrought that rare book that breathes life into characters, making words into people that you care about, because they are realistic. And not only does it include realistic characters (which you know I’m a sucker for), but it also does so in a way that is heartwarming, that leaves you closing the book with a lighter heart. In this political climate, where I have been stuck in the apartment with my family for an entire month (I love them, but it is not a very big apartment, and it is a lot), to read a book that makes me feel hope is nigh on amazing. Yet this book managed to do so, and I am immensely grateful to Katherine Center for penning it.
Ok, on to the “beach read” that’s more of a “don’t read:”
This novel is supposed to be a juicy behind-the-scenes look at crazy Hollywood, except that there is nothing surprising in it. We know that producers in Hollywood are full of shit; the only one who seems surprised by it is the protagonist of this novel, Agnes Nash. So, like, bitch isn’t going to give you a very good behind-the-scenes look. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for Agnes – but it’s totally obvious that her marriage is a sham, and even if her husband doesn’t want to drop her like two hot rocks, he’s absolutely awful, so it’s hard to feel bad for her when the only conceivable reason she’s still with the man is money. Like, just get a divorce, and make sure he pays you alimony. Or at least child support.
In fact, Agnes judges those around her all the time. We’re supposed to think she’s so witty and fun; she really just comes across as oblivious and awful. The only people she shows respect or allows might not be, like, totally clueless, are rich, presumably white, men. I had absolutely no interest in seeing things go right for Agnes. Bitch is white, obviously fairly good-looking, and only values the opinions of rich men while somehow convincing herself she’s principled and superior to those around her. She also, in her quest for hypocrisy, proves to be either excessively idiotic or naive to an unimaginable degree. Snitches get stitches, and the naive can leave, Agnes. Except she doesn’t need to leave. Because she’s white, heterosexual, and stupid/naive, you know Agnes will somehow end up on top. So I guess read this one if you want to be reminded that life isn’t fair, and if your life isn’t going great, it’s probably because you’re just not pretty enough? That’s usually the opposite of how I want to feel when I read a beach read, but, you know – to each his/her own.
What about you – any beach reads to recommend? Or any that absolutely infuriated you that you would like to rant about?
I recently read the first book of The Raven Cycle. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading The Raven Boys forever.
It’s a more-than decent read, and I’ll be continuing to read the series. But I’m annoyed that this first book in the series, while well written and interesting, feels so incomplete on its’ own.
This technically-reaching-the-end-of-the-book-only-to-derive-little-to-no-closure-as-a-tease-to-continue-the-series is not isolated to Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. It is a fairly common book ending in YA. And it is pissing me off.
I get that sometimes, the story is too big to be told in one book, unless that book is 1,500 pages or something. But it increasingly seems as though nearly every YA book, regardless of genre or content, is part of a series in which every book needs to be read to obtain closure. It feels inauthentic. It feels like a ploy to get more money from a group of sometimes avid readers who often have part-time jobs and don’t yet have to pay rent or grocery bills.
To be fair, this could be due to my age. When I was a kid, a lot of shit was a series, also, but that series was often a group of thinly connected stories that felt kind of random. Like, L.J. Smith’s Nightworld, which was ultimately leading up to an apocalypse novel because everyone decided to get scared that the new millennium ushered in the end of the world but was never written, so if you want to read Strange Fate you are simply out of luck. All contained a novel that was complete in and of itself. Technically a series, because all of the books dealt with humans discovering this hidden world of supernatural creatures (vampires, witches, etc.) that was hidden from the normal, everyday world I was living and breathing and hating school in.
Or Goosebumps, which is connected by the fact that it gave young me goosebumps, because I was a ridiculous scaredy-pants.
When I did get sucked into a series, I usually got bored a few books in, and bailed.
It is difficult to write a series in which the characters change sufficiently that you remain interested, while still maintaining the core of what interested the reader enough to continue. Most people do not do it well, unless the series is short and also well planned out. I didn’t even enjoy the Harry Potter series the entire way through. I made myself read it, but honestly, became a bit disinterested a few books in.
So while I enjoyed The Raven Boys, and will continue the series, I will not be surprised if, at some point, I am disappointed and disillusioned with Stievater’s writing. In other words, quit scammin’ me and all the other folks who read YA, publishers.
Have you read The Raven Cycle? What did you think – was it good the entire way through? Do you enjoy series, and think I’m just being ridiculous? Share your strong opinions in the comments below!
I was recently, generously, provided with an ARC by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers of the cult classic graphic novel the Plain Janes. I’m going to be honest, I have no idea of what their cult following consists, if it even exists, but am assuming it is a thing, because, like, the title is all artistic and witty, and also, if it did not have a cult following or was not presumed to have one going forward, why would publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers have bothered to publish it?
Okay, so I felt kind of bad that I just started writing this post without actually looking into the graphic novel much, so did the most lackadaisical Google search, and found this post from NPR. Audie Cornish calls it “a cult favorite graphic novel from a decade ago.” And so while you may not be swayed by my very refutable logic, you can at least believe in Audie Cornish. I mean, it’s NPR. They’ve got to research their shit.
Anyway, to make a long story short…
I received this ARC of what I think is considered, at the least, an above-average graphic novel. I was excited, and I read it in less than a day. But at the end of the day, while I thought The Plain Janes is fairly good, I found myself disappointed.
The artwork is okay. It’s not something I find myself dying to look at again and again.
The story is fine. I actually really liked a lot of the concepts. For example, in the picture above, where Jane’s crush seems like he feels bad, and doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but at the end of the day, he’s just not interested in her romantically.
This re-printing (which has already occurred, and is available at the bookstore now) includes 3 stories: The Plain Janes, Janes in Love, and Janes Attack Back. My ARC included the first two, which were published previously in 2007. The third story is a brand-new installment. So to be fair, I only read the first two. The Plain Janes was, I thought, infinitely better than Janes in Love, and deals with subject matter that anyone considering art as a career will find interesting. I also thought it was interesting that The Plain Janes showed that, regardless of your interest, there is a creative way to use your interest and skillset, and everyone can consider him/her/themself an artist.
Yet I would prefer to have these ideas imparted via a string of beautiful words, in which the truth shines through unmistakeably, and I feel compelled to underline, or take a picture with my phone, so I can see it again later when I need it. So while The Plain Janes is an interesting project, I think I’m just not really a big graphic novel fan.
Have you read The Plain Janes? If so, what were your thoughts?
Diane Peterfreund’s YA novel In the Hall with a Knife is the Clue Update you didn’t know you wanted. Yes, Clue – that game created by Anthony E. Pratt in 1943, and later turned into a cult-classic of a movie starring the likes of Doc from Back-to-the-Future, Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, and Tim Curry. This book is a YA re-telling, including the classic characters you know and love, as well as Dr. Orchid from the 2016 version of the game recently released, as suspicious and mistrustful adolescents attending an elite boarding school in rural Maine. When a handful of students, faculty, and staff at this school are isolated there due to a terrible snowstorm, people get fussy, someone gets murdered, and most people play detective, because, like, what else are you going to do when there’s no internet or television?
Similar to the movie, this novel gives all of the characters a back story. These backgrounds are generally ridiculous, campy fun, including a poor-little-rich girl former child movie star, a boy with an evil, identical twin, and a dude who got kicked out of military school and continues to want daddy’s approval.
If you are looking for a good mystery novel, don’t read this. It’s fairly obvious who the killer is long before you get to the end, and you will be disappointed.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a thriller, this novel should provide what you seek. This book has drama, tension, nostalgic references, bad weather, hot cocoa, hints at romance, reasons to suspect everyone even though you kind of already know who the killer is, and is also well written. So… like… what are you waiting for? Make a cup of hot chocolate, and tuck in with this book, which was released in October, because it’s the holiday season, and nothing counteracts the saccharine commercials, television movies, and inescapable carols like a thriller.
Hallowe’en is right around the corner, and in honor of this upcoming night of mischief, costumes, and sugar, I am going to recap three ARCs that I read this year that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, which you may be considering purchasing.
The Furies by Katie Lowe
Release Date: 10/8/2019
This tale is told by Violet, as an older woman, about a time as a girl when she lost her father, enrolled into an elite school, and was befriended by a group of girls who were mistreated and demanded vengeance. Starting with an odd, terrible death that confused the community and remains unsolved, the narrator tells her version of events leading up to and including the mysterious event.
Most of this novel is gritty and real. You can feel for these girls who are confused and not always treated well, retreating into the idea that they can take care of themselves because they have innate supernatural abilities, but then again, not entirely believing that they have innate supernatural abilities. You will be horrified by many of the acts perpetuated in this book. And you will have to figure out for yourself what you think really happened that night, when a beautiful young girl died.
Overall, I liked this book. It is not light and fluffy. Bad shit happens. And it drags slightly in the third fourth of the book. Overall, though, it is spooky and interesting, and I do recommend reading it.
Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs
Release Date: 10/1/19
Augusten Burroughs is a witch.
Or, at the very least, he thinks he is one.
Is this belief based on the questionable words of his mother, who went insane and terribly neglected him, as detailed in Running with Scissors? Well, yes.
Does he provide clear and undeniable proof that he is a witch, with better understanding of, and ability to manipulate, the world around him? Well, no.
Is this book entertaining, regardless of whether or not you believe him? Hell, yes.
Burroughs’ writing style is simple and clear. I’m not sure that I buy that he’s a witch, but I did enjoy every second of this book, which I read in just a couple days (quite fast for me, with two kids frequently hanging on or being held by me). Recommend!
The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams
Release Date: 9/17/19
This books is being marketed as The Babysitter’s Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you, similar to me, are thinking “Huh, that sounds interesting. Also, what does that look like, given that TBC is a middle-grade read and Buffy is high-school age age and above?” let me help you. It looks underwhelming.
The storyline has many similarities to both of these identified predecessors; however, this book, intended to be the first of a series, is comprised of exposition that is not even exceedingly interesting to read. Although the protagonist is 17, she reads as pretty young.
So the tagline would probably be more accurate if it read: “What if the babysitters from The Babysitter’s Club were really mundane witches who had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Or maybe “Buffy the Vampire Slayer… without the biting wit, with all of the supernatural shit watered down.”
If you’re in the mood for a middle-grade read, it might be fine. Personally, I was hoping for more than what this book is, and did not like it.