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.
Full disclosure: I read this book in May and am only now getting around to writing about it. I have been procrastinating, because I did not much like it.
The problem with a series written by an already popular author under a pseudonym is you expect something amazing. If you bothered to take the time to write this, and get it published under a different name even though people will readily purchase anything that has your already known name on it, then it should be fucking amazing. Or maybe a total disaster that your publishers forced you to write, at gunpoint, barely legible, because the sweat was rolling into your eyes as you typed on the keyboard, and the fear froze your mind so you barely knew what was pouring forth from your fingers.
This book is neither. It’s a mediocre story, with a lot of unrealized potential – the largest affront an established author could put forth into the world.
Amanda Quick, for those who don’t know, is Jayne Ann Krentz. And The Girl Who Knew Too Much is the first of the “Burning Cove” series, a fictional town near Hollywood that offers escape to those burdened stars who never get any privacy and have to cry into their 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton covered pillows, wiping the snot away with their millions of dollars. This book was supposed to be glamorous and fun and interesting – instead, it was boring and predictable. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. And I’m a reader who is somehow surprised, every time, when I read an Agatha Christie novel (unless I’ve read it before, because… I’m not brain-dead. Just bad at solving mysteries).
The author knows how to put together her nouns and verbs to form sentences appropriately – it’s just that those sentences aren’t worth reading.
I’m sure it’s a shocker, but I am not recommending this book to anyone. If you must read it, I recommend seeing if you can get it cheap on your e-reader (not from Amazon, though, ’cause, like, the tech giant sucks) or from the library.
The Winters claims to have been “inspired” by Daphne du Maurier’s haunting, lovely Rebecca, but at first, my impression was that it’s pretty much a modern re-telling. And initially, my instinct from reading this novel was that it was a pretty good read that pales in comparison to du Maurier’s gothic novel. And then, I re-read Rebecca. And realized maybe the book is not as lovely as I had thought. And maybe I hadn’t been reading the novel critically enough to understand what was going on.
To provide some context, I read Rebecca for the first time in high school. I was a very dramatic teenager, with a love for reading, and Rebecca was an instant favorite. As an adult, however, although I still have a penchant for drama, I also realize in a way I did not when younger, how unreliable and ridiculous the unnamed narrator is.
In the start, she seems fine. She jumps into being “in love” with Maxim de Winter and agreeing to spend the rest of her life with him awfully fast. But, she’s also living a drab life, with her job consisting of working for a woman she doesn’t much like, and Maxim de Winter, as an older man who seems to enjoy her for her legitimate company, offers a safe respite from this life by offering security due to his money. She says that she’s in love with him, and she probably really thinks that she is. I was immediately skeptical, however, (on this re-read, not when I was a high-school aged idiot), given that she’s very young, and he’s much older.
Yet as the book progresses, it is clear to the reader that she doesn’t really care to be around him. She likes her alone time. She doesn’t really want to socialize – claims she’s worried she’s going to mess something up, but really, she’s a young woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Maxim’s older friends making boring conversation. Totally fair. Oh, and she doesn’t really mind if her husband’s around, either. Although she’s young and they just got married. …yep, sounds like a young person who’s truly smitten to me.
It is difficult to tell, as the book progresses, if you can believe anything she says. She sounds reasonable and logical, until she doesn’t. She’s so timid around Mrs. Danvers, for instance, that you can understand why the older woman can’t help but long for her previous female employer. Not because Rebecca was beautiful and charming, because she was decisive. Rebecca could make a fucking decision. Mrs. Danvers asks this narrator what her preference is, and she’s so worried about making the wrong decision that she does, every time, by saying – “Oh, whatever you prefer.” Or “Whatever Rebecca would have done.” And attempting to ameliorate her waffle-ness by adding “I’m not picky.” It’s literally your job to keep the house, now. And you have money now. Either start reading books to learn the etiquette, or decide you don’t give a fuck, and you do you, bitch. Be like: “I’m tired of pickles” and don’t order them for 3 weeks. Drink red wine with fish. The way to make a wrong decision is to care too much about what others think of your choices.
So our potentially agoraphobic narrator with hermitic tendencies is married to a rich, older guy she tries to convince herself she loves, and abstaining from housekeeping, supposedly because she’s terrified of the housekeeper, but really because she’s paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong choice. And she has convinced herself that she is correct in being terrified of the housekeeper, although the latter seems to be acting in a totally reasonable matter. I don’t buy that Danvers is a bitch, actually. I kind of like her. More than the narrator, if we’re being honest.
This is starkly in contrast to my read of the book when younger. When younger, I took everything the narrator said at face value. Now, I’m 100% convinced this younger reading was incorrect.
So, initially, The Winters was a 4-star read for me, because “Mm, it’s okay. But Rebecca is better. Just re-read Rebecca.” [Editor’s Note1: This is not a direct quote.]
[Editor’s Note 2: Yes, I edit my blog myself.]
[Editor’s Note 3: So I am, in fact, the editor. Leaving editor’s notes on my own writing.]
And then I re-read Rebecca. And I realized that Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters bears many similarities to Rebecca. Was obviously written with the same-ish characters in mind. But it deviates in important ways to tell a story that shows, at the least, a critical reading of Rebecca that is worth considering.
I still think it’s a 4-star read for me, because although I really enjoy its’ analysis of its’ famous inspiration, I do not want to own it. The writing is fine, if a bit simple. Worth a read, but maybe get if from the library, if interested.
Have you read The Winters? What did you think? Do you want me to leave editor’s notes on your blog? I’m good at them, and can make up content as needed. I’m fairly good at it – not, like, John Hodgman good, but we can’t all be John Hodgman, so… you know… what was I saying? [Editor’s Note: It is not recommended to lose your train of thought mid-sentence. Consider re-wording.]
In case you don’t follow bookselling news (in which case, consider subscribing to Shelf Awareness, a publishing newsletter that has brief updates that are interesting and informative), the ever-increasing monster monopoly Amazon gives 0 fucks about the publishing industry or independent booksellers.
Claiming it was due to a “technical error” on which the Company was vague and which is about as convincing as the dog eating your homework, Amazon sent an unknown (presumably because Amazon chose not to disclose, since, as a tech company, it presumably has the information) amount of customers the much-anticipated Margaret Atwood book The Testaments early.
I know, it seems kind of cool that you can potentially receive a book you have been fervently awaiting earlier than the official publishing date, but the thing is, publishing houses require brick and mortar stores to sign an affidavit saying the store will not sell until the official publishing date, and penalty for breaking is severe. It is unclear whether Amazon had to sign such an affidavit (although, would anyone be surprised that the tech giant decided to throw it’s weight around and refuse?), but if so, it has broken the embargo, which is unacceptable. And if not, it’s being a big ol’ dick, which is also unacceptable.
Publishing houses of the world, I propose a simple and elegant solution to this conundrum: Stop selling your books on Amazon. Just don’t give Amazon access to your hardcover, paperback, mass market, or e-retail.
Since this will never happen, however, because America is nothing if not a country unwilling to hold anyone accountable for their actions if that organization is headed by a white man, let me conclude with this:
Amazon, you suck.
(FYI, while I was previously including Amazon affiliate links in some of my blog posts, I will no longer be doing so, and will also try to remove my foot from my mouth by removing those older links within the next couple of days.)
P.S. Here are links to the Shelf Awareness articles, which are both longer and more eloquent about Amazon’s initial dirty deed, as well as it’s half-assed apology.
Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:
Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.
When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.
This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.
I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.
So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.
If you have, I’m sorry. If you haven’t – don’t bother. & if you have a problem with spoilers, stop reading. Because I’m going to be giving away plot details left & right, so, you know – fair warning.
The narrator in this particular novel feels like she’s suffering the dystopian equivalent of white privilege. I mean, yeah, she was kidnapped. Which, don’t get me wrong, is awful. But in the context of dystopia – also, could have been worse. In fact, even in the context of this dystopia, it could have been much worse. If she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous (which she obviously is, because everyone else comments on it, but she’s got that annoying – “I’m not vain, I don’t look in mirrors” bullshit going on – bitch, babies like admiring themselves in mirrors; it’s human nature, just be straight with me, and admit that you look amazing), she probably would have been shot in the head shortly after being ripped out of her home (if she had been ripped out of her home, because it sounds like the girl-hunters went out of their way a bit for her, which you have to assume they may not have done if she had been less attractive. Or maybe they would have, because it’s dystopia, so why the fuck not?). If she hadn’t been kidnapped, she may have been forced to resort to prostitution – her parents are dead, and it’s unclear how she and her brother are surviving, but even though money does, kind of, grow on trees, because money is made out of paper that comes from trees, you can’t pick it off like an apple or a peach. So she’s been kidnapped, which sucks. And she’s effectively been sold as a bride to this guy. But the guy’s not a total asshole, which he could be. And he doesn’t force himself on her, which he could do. He basically clothes her very well, feeds her very well, and lets her live in his nice house which has a pool and his own orange grove. In other words, this bitch is living in more comfort and luxury than, like, 95% of us, and probably than, like, 120% of the people reading this blog. And she’s complaining that she doesn’t have her freedom – which, like, yeah, except that if you weren’t in the situation you’re in, again, you would probably be resorting to gross, dirty things like prostitution. You would probably be eating less food of a lower quality. You would not be wearing your luxury, designer clothes. And you would still be unhappy, if you even lived very long. So, like, shut the fuck up Rhine.
She also makes these grandiose claims like – “I’d rather die!” when she’s constantly trying to physically escape, so… obviously, she wouldn’t. Because if you would truly rather die than live in the lap of luxury where, again, you’re not raped, you don’t have to work, and the people generally don’t seem that bad, then you would have done it. There are primary source documents regarding the gladiators in the Roman empire – and you know that it sucked, because these gladiators would do crazy things to try to get away. And when they couldn’t get away, do you know what they did, Rhine? Let me tell you, it wasn’t fret while collapsing on a tizzy couch about how terrible their life was. There’s a source document about a gladiator who killed himself in the Roman-empire equivalent of a restroom by shoving the sponge they used because this was before toilet paper down his throat. Are you willing to shove an implement covered in shit down your throat so that you choke yourself and die to escape where you’re at, Rhine? I don’t think so. So, like, shut the fuck up.
Also, there’s the fact that she’s not supposed to live very long, anyway. Which I also have little sympathy for. Humans like beautiful, young people. If you die at 20, you die while you’re young and pretty. You’re still going to outlive your dog, your cat, and several fish. It’s not great, but is it better to live until you’re 100? Given that you know what your lifespan is, you need to take that into account, and make sure that you live as much as you can. Like, what are you losing? The chance to sit at a desk for the majority of your 20s – 60s, desperately striving to attain a work-life “balance” that doesn’t exist? Stop bitching, and start living. It sounds like you pretty much live in Disney World – enjoy it. Eat all the cake your stomach can handle, go swimming, sit in the orange grove, read all of the books you can get your hands on. Play pranks on your sister wives. Or you can be miserable and strive and struggle over relatively insignificant problems, because you’ve got 4 years left, and who wants to make the most of it? Not you, Rhine. Not you.