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.

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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.

Middle-Sexy Quotes

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.

Here are my Middlesex-y quotes:

Have you read Middlesex? What were your thoughts?

The Girl Ordered a Robot to Get Her Mom off Her Back

As a mom, I object. As a reader, I really enjoyed this book.

At first glance, this book seems like a romance novel. I mean, the cover literally mentions a boyfriend, has a cutesy photo, etc. But what this novel is actually about is self-discovery and family.

Wanna-be novelist Crystal Hemmingway (incidentally, the author’s name, as well), is a little too close to her mom. They have the kind if relationship that causes boyfriends to cringe – or, in the case of Crystal’s fiance, break off the engagement to go hiking a la Wild. As she is re-evaluating whether or not her guy might have a point, Crystal is fired from her job, and agrees to the humiliation of moving in with the woman she is contemplating needing a break from to take the opportunity to write her first novel. When she realizes that her mom still expects her to do chores, Crystal quickly concocts a plot along the veins of an ‘80s John Hughes’ film, and decides that if her mother had a romantic interest, she wouldn’t be expected to be around as much. And so the drama beings, gets more intense, and resolves itself.

I was lured in by the cover. My brain was like – romance novel? Epistolary format? Bee – you’re not going to like this. But the cover was adorable, and the plot sounded fun, so I requested and received an ARC. When it arrived, the publisher included a handwritten note that showed the Galbradia Press had checked out my blog, and it was this personal touch that inclined me to place it at the top of my TBR list.

It just goes to show, sometimes (not often, as my older son will tell you) my brain is wrong. And I was delighted it was proven wrong in this case. This book is funny. The author uses the epistolary format well, which makes this novel a quick, but enjoyable read. This book includes real characters – they’re all a little bit annoying, they all have some decent points, and they’re all occasionally wrong.

I will say, the character whom I considered the protagonist (Crystal) and her sister both suffer from upper middle class white privilege. Like, “I can afford to live in California and pay my rent and buy expensive shoes” and “It’s so annoying that, like, my mom expects me to, like, talk to her and shit, when I’m on my own personal journey” yet “I still have the gall to complain about my problems.” It was realistic, but also annoying. As a young-ish mother who tried, and failed, to make it work in the Bay Area, I was worried that my family and I were going to be thrown out on the streets or not be able to eat, despite a decent job, it was difficult for me not to be annoyed sometimes by this casual expectation that the world should revolve around a couple of chicks who seem pretty selfish and kind of petty. Like, Crystal’s sister is hiding some fairly big news from both Crystal and their mother, which is completely glossed over and which is blatantly not okay.

Don’t hide shit from mom

Still, overall, this novel is a cute, fun read. And it is slated for release mid-July, which is perfect timing for a quick beach read.

4.5 Stars

Parrot Image: African_Grey_Parrot,_peeking_out_from_under_its_wing.jpg: Avenuederivative work: Avenue [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

[Untitled] – Because Titles Make Posts Fat

For a novel that provides stark detail on the realities of eating disorders, The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a rather lovely book. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC, which I forgot about, then had a pleasant surprise in February that that new book I wanted to read and kept seeing in communications and bookstores was literally on my bookshelf.

#lucky

At first glance of the cover and/or synopsis, the subject matter can seem a bit too easy. We all know that ballerinas and eating disorders go together like chocolate and peanut butter, which is ironic, since both of these edibles are items that a ballerina is likely never going to eat. Yet this novel really only involves one, particular, ballerina – protagonist Anna, who is a ballerina no longer. And ballet is not the only reason Anna has become obsessive about becoming thin. Like most women, there are a plethora of reasons that Anna has begun to believe the world as it shouted the message to her that thin is the new worthwhile.

#tooloud

To get the preliminaries out of the way – this novel is well done, and I recommend it if the cover, title, subject matter, fiction, etc., is at all interesting to you.

#necessitiesdone

To get to what I am really interested in, could not help noticing as I read, and have found my mind drawn to long after having finished the last page, let’s talk about this book’s broader subject matter. As a woman, I have found myself torn between my desire to consume delicious food and my desire to be thin, but overall, thought I had a pretty healthy relationship with food. This novel caused me to re-evaluate and really think through my motivations when making food choices.

Because Anna doesn’t just stop eating. She’s just not eating enough. But limiting herself primarily to fruit and popcorn? Definitely things I have done, when I want a snack, and tell myself I need to eat more healthy. And exercising without having eaten enough? Also something I have done, generally telling myself I can eat after I have exercised (except I do, because in addition to wanting to be thin, I really, really like food). So while I am not in pain due to extreme fragility if I take a simple ride on a roller coaster, I found myself questioning the reasons why I wanted to eat more/less, what I wanted to eat, and realizing that, often, the motivations behind my eating are not ideal.

I am a compulsive eater, I love food, and I am a former dancer who has difficulty ascertaining of what a healthy weight consists for me and aspiring to be thinner than I currently am. I have to work to try to have and maintain a healthy relationship with food every day, and quite frankly, I don’t know that I have found it. While dancing, wearing a formfitting leotard in a room with a wall comprised of mirrors around other girls who due to genetics, not having hit puberty yet, or eating disorders, did not have any curves, certainly did not help me with my self-image, I would not say it caused my issues, either. If I had not danced, I would still be inundated with images clearly identifying thin as pretty, I would still notice the girls at school who were blessed with genetics or whose struggles were not apparent and who visually appeared to fit society’s mould of “pretty and thin,” and I would have still likely felt “not enough.” Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not confident enough to just rock what I was born with, and always comparing myself to those who are what I aspire to be, even when it is completely unrealistic.

One of the tricky things about eating disorders is that those who suffer from them cannot just quit their problem. If you have a drinking problem, and you survive withdrawal, you can subsequently abstain from drinking. It is not easy, but it is a clear and rational response to the problem. With anorexia and bulemia, abstaining from food is the problem. The thing that sufferers struggle with, that the sight of causes them to break out in sweat, is a thing that they also physically need in order to survive. This problem is a point that The Girls at 17 Swann Street drives home very well. And another point? Similar to those who suffer from addiction or mental illness, a person does not simply get better. Anna makes clear progress in the novel, but she could backslide into her old habits at any time.

I don’t think that I have an eating disorder. I think I am a pretty normal woman. Which brings me to the stark and unsettling conclusion that that means that I also think that every woman struggles with eating and body image.

What about you, dear reader? Do you agree? Disagree? I would love to read your thoughts. & although I am human and love agreement/validation, I would also love to be wrong about this conclusion I have drawn.