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.
Have you guys heard of this Dessen controversy? It’s kind of crazy! And also, the degree of contention expressed over who was “right” and who was “totally out of line” is vastly out of proportion to something that, frankly, boils down to something you’ve probably been hearing since you were a little kid: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.
For those who have been blissfully unaware of what’s going on, some pretentious alum from Northern State University dissed Dessen’s book Saint Anything, dismissing it as a work for “teens,” not real people. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.) Because, you know, officially graduating from college and beginning to chip away at crippling student debt while working a soul-sucking job makes you more of a person than you were as a carefree high school student who still had the luxury of being excited and caring about shit.
And then, Dessen complained on Twitter, because the casually cruel words of some chick vainly posturing in an attempt to seem smart hurt her feelings. And Dessen’s girlfriends let her know that yes, she was a person who had put herself out there by allowing her precious, fragile book into the world, and the casually cruel chick definitely didn’t need to be such a dick about it if she didn’t like her writing.
I mean, calling her a “fucking bitch” in the public eye is a bit much, but I get it. Give me a few margaritas and I’ll be giving you a side hug and calling anyone who has deigned to look at you funny a fucking bitch, too. And no, I don’t really need margaritas to do that, at all, but I like tequila, and most people aren’t as honest as me.
What I love is that the girl who got called out for saying something shitty, is all like, “But I study online bullying! And while I think that trash is below the standard, because we all know I went to school with people far less intellectually superior than I am, #smartpeopleprobs, I recommended the winner, and vouched for other books that include diversity. So basically, you can’t call me a bad person, and you have to love me. And love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.)
If you stand by what you said, cool. But you’re still dissing the author who spent time and energy creating this book that you deem “not good enough” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said). And you’re also dissing the people who read that book, and to whom it spoke, and who thought the meaning and beauty that they derived was not isolated to just them. When you say: “She’s fine for teen girls… But definitely not up to the level of Common Read,” (that one actually is a direct quote) you are stating your opinion in a fairly mean way. And frankly, I think less of your intelligence, because you seem to be pushing so hard to flaunt that you’re not one of “those girls” who read Dessen. And to follow up with – “My quote was taken out of context; I also argued for three books [that] are beautifully written and push readers to stand against the racial inequality that the judicial system perpetuates, to consider the heritability and influence of tradition and trauma, and to contemplate what brings meaning to one’s life,” your argument doesn’t hold water. Because you didn’t explain how your quote was taken out of context. You just explained how you’re super awesome because you’re well-read and wanted to make sure everyone in your alma mater read a book that you liked, after denigrating a book that other people thought everyone should maybe read. So stop underestimating other people’s intelligence, and if you feel that strongly that Sarah Dessen is a shitty writer, then stick by it when her legion of followers decide to harass you on Twitter. Or maybe just, like, stop using Twitter or something. Don’t you have more books to read to make sure that college students everywhere aren’t reading shit you don’t deem good enough?
But Nelson isn’t the only one who messed up. Dessen’s reaction to reading Nelson’s words (however she found out about it; this is the age of the Internet, so not quite sure why the Washington Post finds this so weird) is completely understandable. And wanting to vent to her friends, and then get sympathy from her friends – also completely understandable.
Except that Dessen’s “friends” on social media consist of quite a large population of people. Like, if you wanted to audit the number of people following Dessen on Twitter are real people, you would be looking at quite a large sample size. So Sarah Dessen should have thought a little bit more about whether or not she really wanted to post. Having personally followed Dessen (#bias), I kind of feel like she’s honestly just a super sweet person who posts unfiltered content on her Twitter, Instagram, what-have-you. So this word vomit simply poured forth from her fingers, akin to everything else she posted. That is just a guess, however; I have met the author (twice) in person, but I don’t really know her. Maybe her feelings got hurt and she intentionally and maliciously posted a fairly innocuous post about how she had worked hard on her novel and the comment’s venomous slant had hit her hard knowing that fans would see it and instantly swarm to her defense. Maybe she wanted this person to really understand the power that words hold. Perhaps her post, which doesn’t even sound that bad to me, was carefully crafted to appeal to the unwise, sociopathic, and/or bitchy members of her fan base.
Or maybe she posted something without really thinking through the potential consequences, and then when she realized how the other person was being unfairly attacked, took her post down and issued a public apology. I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.
I do know that both parties did something wrong, and both should apologize (one already has). But given that these women are no longer under the sway of a kindergarten teacher, if they haven’t already done so, it’s doubtful they will do so, now.
What are your thoughts on this current event? Do you take a side? Not care? Are you a mind reader, and do you actually know the intentions behind what either of the involved persons did?
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.
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.
I had this kind of awful co-worker once. To be Frank, it was a shitty job with a shady employer, and no one worked there longer than they had to. Still, she managed to make the job at least slightly worse, including, I’m fairly certain, stealing my new winter hat. It was a warm, furry aviator, mid-Michigan winter – the action should have been illegal. And for some reason, it was this co-worker who shaped my expectations for Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel Middlesex.
She raved about it. She had an English degree from some college on the East Coast, and so I tended to take notice of the books she raved about. And she told me Middlesex is this amazing book that really analyzes marriage. So I was a bit surprised, to say the least, to read the book’s opening line:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
Middlesex is a good book. And it does include marriage. And analysis of family, immigration, the assembly line, race politics, all included in the accurate setting of East Detroit. But Middlesex is primarily the narration of Cal, who is a hermaphrodite. And honestly, the book felt the most alive and interesting to me when Cal was not only narrating, but present. (Much of the book is a saga of Cal’s lineage, beginning with grandparents, since her/his family history and genetics are what ultimately lead to her/his unusual physicality.)
I preferred The Virgin Suicides to Middlesex; however, I may have just been in the mood to read TVS and not 100% in the mood to read Middlesex when I was reading these books. And both books display Eugenides’ writing skill, thorough knowledge of the Metro-Detroit area (I personally love that he always mentions the fish flies, aka, scourge of my existence growing up), and are great reads. As I was reading Middlesex, there were various phrases/paragraphs/etc. that stood out to me, and I wanted to retain/share them here to wrap up this post.