You Are Totally Alone

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.

That’s some Anna Karenina shit

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.

A fitting tribute, or sign of a “weirdo?”

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?

Dance, puppet. Dance!

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.

… I guess

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.

Things have been a bit boring around here. I could use a slice of murder cake with this tea…

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.

Every thriller has a twist

What about you? Does my interpretation match your reading, or did you read this novel differently?

Writing Prompt: Perfect for Pulling

Do Not Pull!” the sign read. Marissa sighed, puffed her cheeks out, and crossed her arms over her chest. As a rule, Marissa was a rule-abiding citizen, primarily because she was one of those people who could never seem to get away with anything. At 8 years old, she ate a piece of Halloween candy before her parents checked it, pricked the inside of her mouth with the needle someone had inserted inside the chocolate bar, and spent the entire night at the hospital. At 14, she tried to sneak out the window after her parents thought she was in bed, and promptly made them aware of her failed attempt with a howling scream when she slipped, fell too abruptly to the ground, and broke her leg. At 17, she took her eyes off the road for a second, wanting to see if the ping she heard notified a response from the boy she liked, and consequently was a second too late in reaction to the car that veered into her lane going the wrong way, and had a head-on collision.

Marissa’s parents were tired of the hospital bills. Marissa was tired of being puffy eyed and bored in the hospital. She no longer tempted fate by purposefully ignoring clearly stated rules.

And yet… This lever was

Bright yellow in hue, it dangled temptingly in front of her. Why draw so much attention to it when you didn’t want anyone to use it? Would anyone blame a dog for ignoring a “No urination” sign on a bright red fire hydrant? Perhaps it was just a joke. Or a test to see who the rebels were.

Marissa wet her lips, and tentatively reached out with her right hand, but only got a foot or so into the air before it started shivering too much to be any use, and she quickly enveloped it back against her bosom. Rebel she was not.

“This is ridiculous!” she told herself. But her mind insisted on reminding her of the time she was at a frat party, had so much to drink she could not find her designated driver, and spent 4 hours walking home in the cold. Of course, it was mid-winter. At one point, she had stumbled and fallen to the ground, and when sober, she had realized with a chill that she could have easily died, even though she was only 19 years old.

“What could possibly happen?” she tried. “It’s flimsy plastic!” Only now her brain was admonishing that she had been hurt by plastic before. When she was 3, she had kissed her crush on the cheek in the sandbox, and his response had been to hit her over the head with his shovel. It is amazing, the amount of damage that can be inflicted by plastic when wielded with enough brute force. The trip to the hospital from this incident resulted in 6 stitches; her hand instinctively went up to the small, pale scar that remained on her forehead.

By this point, she was starting to feel that she needed to pull the lever, lest she lose all self-respect. The fact that the fingers of her dominant right hand were tingling in anticipation of pulling a childishly colored lever was approaching a level of phobia. This reaction, this panic, was not normal. The chance that this action could have dire consequences was extremely unlikely. It was just a piece of plastic, that moved – like an over sized McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. Not the best comparison, since Marissa had suffered another hospital stint from an unfortunate incident with a Happy Meal toy. But she had also had the opportunity to play with numerous Happy Meal toys without any negative consequences. At least 95% of her time with Happy Meal toys had been a positive, or at least, mediocre, experience.

She shifted the fingers of her right hand off of her left arm. She could do this.

Deep breath in. Hold. Deep breath out. Hold.

At the tortoise-like pace that she had been told will win the race, Marissa’s arm extended. She began shaking about halfway to the lever, and she focused on her breath, kept slowly moving.

The tips of her fingers just brushed the tip of the vivid handle. Relief was already blooming in her chest, as she realized that she was going to face this irrational fear. Relief that quickly turned to pain, everywhere, as a little boy zipped around her and pulled, in a single sure movement, without hesitation, thereby dooming them both.

Written in response to M’s Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s April Writing Prompts.

Beach Reads: Essential for the Inessential Downtime

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.

This bitch just read a poorly written beach read.

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.]

You know me – transparent as a ghost. Or a brick wall. One of those things. Oh, also – I definitely took a break for chocolate. #chocolate

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!

She’s a firefighter, not a fool!

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.

Thank you, Ms. Center! #lighthearted

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.

Seriously, impossible to feel empathy for this chick – Agnes will make your head hurt.

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?

This Puzzle is Freaking Me Out #WFH

Yesterday:

So I was hoping one of the neighbor’s kids was screwing with me, because I was intermittently hearing this weird meowing sound. And, like, we don’t have a cat.

But then I realized, it was likely one of the baby’s puzzles. You know those magnetic ones, where it makes animal noises if you line up the puzzle piece the right way? We have one of those with farm animals, including a cat.

So I got up from my computer to look for it. And he must have, like, shoved it under the entertainment center or somewhere weird, because I could not find it.

And of course, my husband and kids were out of the apartment on a walk. So I had to go back to my computer and just sit in front of it, trying to work, only somewhat succeeding, and hearing random meows. And then moos (which at least confirmed it was definitely the baby puzzle).

The weirdest part? The cat sound hasn’t been working, even when my son does line up the puzzle piece the right way. I thought it was broken.

Apparently, it was just biding its’ time…

Plague-Induced Publishing Controversy

I saw that the Authors’ Guild and Association of American Publishers are pretty pissed about the “National Emergency Library” recently released by Internet Archives, and had to click that bait. I mean, the Authors’ Guild and AAP are presumably not angry that people might be reading, right? So from whence does this anger arise? Turns out, they just want authors to, like, be compensated fairly and be able to eat and shit.

So what is the Internet Archive, and what’s the big deal? The Internet Archive is a project whereby media, including books, are scanned into this large database that is made freely available to the public. Since IA defines itself as a “library,” it stresses books the most. And that sounds great, right? Making literature and other stuff widely available to everyone with access to the internet? The problem is that a lot of the books available in this library are not yet public domain, and the IA obtains it’s digital copies via upload from literally anyone. So instead of a regular library, which still supports authors and publishers by ordering physical books, audiobooks, and digital rights, the IA is just sharing whatever anyone has uploaded without appropriately paying the creators and companies that helped these books to exist in the world.

This is from the IA “About” page.

I did a lazy, cursory search, and found I can borrow a Harry Potter book by simply signing up for a free account. I know Rowling does not need the money, but what about the average author? I was curious – I mean, maybe the Authors’ Guild and AAP are just being drama queens, right? (Don’t give me that look; we all do it.) So I did some research, and the average author makes $4,500 on a traditionally published book:

This infograph I whipped together assumes that the book is hardcover (royalty percentages are lower, on average, for paperback sales), and that the author was not paid an advance (since publishers need to fully recoup the advance amount before the author will see a dime of royalties post-publication). So, on average, an author makes the equivalent of about 4 months of minimum wage for 1 book. Considering the time that is poured into creating, editing, selling, and polishing a novel, that author has probably invested more than 16 weeks into the novel.

Now, most authors are not planning to get rich off of their novels. Only the very lucky get to just write novels for a living. (I guess this applies to non-fiction authors, as well; I don’t know, I rarely read non-fiction, because why wallow in reality more than you fucking have to…) So most authors are supplementing, not living entirely off of the royalty income from their books. But most authors are also already making less than minimum wage – is it really fair to rip a hole in their pockets, and follow behind to pick up the change that falls therefrom?

Schmorona-virus

Hello, and welcome to my random blog about coronavirus, which roughly translates to “crown poison” (story prompt, anyone…?). If you’re not reading this from the comfort of home, you’re an asshole, and if you’re sick of your home, that sucks, because you’re stuck there for awhile.

I, myself, have been navigating the tricky waters of working from home while trying to prevent my older son’s brain from rotting. His school has provided resources on-line, including something called Lexia Core5, which is designed to help the kids learn to read and gain literacy skills. But secretly, Lexia appears to just be another roadblock on the road of learning, and, like, not allowing large companies to obtain and retain monopolies. For those who, like me, purchased Galaxy tablets for their kid to use instead of an overpriced tablet named after a fruit, you are out of luck if your kid is supposed to use Lexia Core 5, since the Company has released an updated version of the app in 2019 that is only available for iPads. So nice of this educational cog to try to force schools and parents to keep Apple in business even though the company has a history of purposefully slowing down its speed to try to get people to buy the latest version, as well as current lawsuits about artificially keeping the resale market high. Lexia, as a company, I now strongly disapprove of you and hope you, your developers, and especially your CEO eat a big bag of sweaty ol’ balls, because you suck so hard if you had a single penis or related paraphernalia in your mouth, you would pull it off of the unfortunate man trying to be pleasured.

In between worksheets, tablet-learning, and very chaotic, shout-laden, dubiously productive classroom meetings held via Zoom, my kid has been playing video games, and watching movies. Grandma got us a subscription to Disney+, which convinces me that Disney will win the streaming race, because who doesn’t love Disney? It has the classic Disney princess movies, some Kurt Russell as Dexter the college kid movies, and all of those slightly awful original movies, including the weird ones that you completely forgot about that now begs you to turn it into a drinking game. Speaking of Disney – if you haven’t heard about Vanessa Hudgens, she didn’t check-in with her agent before posting an Instagram live where she basically laughs because people are going to die of coronavirus, unlike her, since she’s, you know, young and rich and shit. This weirdly inappropriate session was likely inspired as a reaction to the possibility that quarantine could last through July or August and cancel Coachella, and was followed up by a bullshit apology (I love when people claim their words got “taken out of context,” which is almost never true), presumably so people can feel okay about liking High School Musical or something.

But not everyone is a terrible person (just most people), as has been proven by Mo Willems’ delightful lunch doodle sessions, and “Frozen” actor Josh Gad, who is reading stories on Twitter every night to help soothe those bundles of unused energy to sleep.

What about you guys – any fun/crazy stories to share? Or resources to help us through our isolation?

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!

… And This is Why I Will Never Write for TV

Is anyone else still tired of the commercials for the Biggest Loser that bombarded us in January? This is where my mind went:

Pitch: The Biggest Loser, but, like, with thin people. The person who loses the most weight wins free treatment for his or her eating disorder… and possibly becomes the biggest loser of all, in a heartrending special episode that ends in a funeral.

#thinspiration

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?