The Pragmatic Girl Meets the Death Bird Boys

I recently read the first book of The Raven Cycle. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading The Raven Boys forever.

Ok, not really… but, awhile.

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.

#scaredypants

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!

Turns Out, I Like Words

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?

My logic is just like Sherlock’s – fewer holes than Swiss cheese… probably.

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.

… Right?

Anyway, to make a long story short…

… too late

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?

In the [Place] with a [Murder Weapon]

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.

Attribution: GRPH3B18 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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.

‘Tis the Season
To be Readin’

Furies & Furieser

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.

TBR Treasure Hunt: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

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.

TBR Treasure Hunt: Winter is Here

… or rather, The Winters.

I know! It’s not even topical anymore. Yet I couldn’t resist.

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 Note 1: 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.

… like I did!

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.]

Fuck You, Amazon (the, um, corporation, not, like, the rainforest. I like the rainforest)

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.