Diane Peterfreund’s YA novel In the Hall with a Knife is the Clue Update you didn’t know you wanted. Yes, Clue – that game created by Anthony E. Pratt in 1943, and later turned into a cult-classic of a movie starring the likes of Doc from Back-to-the-Future, Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, and Tim Curry. This book is a YA re-telling, including the classic characters you know and love, as well as Dr. Orchid from the 2016 version of the game recently released, as suspicious and mistrustful adolescents attending an elite boarding school in rural Maine. When a handful of students, faculty, and staff at this school are isolated there due to a terrible snowstorm, people get fussy, someone gets murdered, and most people play detective, because, like, what else are you going to do when there’s no internet or television?
Similar to the movie, this novel gives all of the characters a back story. These backgrounds are generally ridiculous, campy fun, including a poor-little-rich girl former child movie star, a boy with an evil, identical twin, and a dude who got kicked out of military school and continues to want daddy’s approval.
If you are looking for a good mystery novel, don’t read this. It’s fairly obvious who the killer is long before you get to the end, and you will be disappointed.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a thriller, this novel should provide what you seek. This book has drama, tension, nostalgic references, bad weather, hot cocoa, hints at romance, reasons to suspect everyone even though you kind of already know who the killer is, and is also well written. So… like… what are you waiting for? Make a cup of hot chocolate, and tuck in with this book, which was released in October, because it’s the holiday season, and nothing counteracts the saccharine commercials, television movies, and inescapable carols like a thriller.
Hallowe’en is right around the corner, and in honor of this upcoming night of mischief, costumes, and sugar, I am going to recap three ARCs that I read this year that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, which you may be considering purchasing.
The Furies by Katie Lowe
Release Date: 10/8/2019
This tale is told by Violet, as an older woman, about a time as a girl when she lost her father, enrolled into an elite school, and was befriended by a group of girls who were mistreated and demanded vengeance. Starting with an odd, terrible death that confused the community and remains unsolved, the narrator tells her version of events leading up to and including the mysterious event.
Most of this novel is gritty and real. You can feel for these girls who are confused and not always treated well, retreating into the idea that they can take care of themselves because they have innate supernatural abilities, but then again, not entirely believing that they have innate supernatural abilities. You will be horrified by many of the acts perpetuated in this book. And you will have to figure out for yourself what you think really happened that night, when a beautiful young girl died.
Overall, I liked this book. It is not light and fluffy. Bad shit happens. And it drags slightly in the third fourth of the book. Overall, though, it is spooky and interesting, and I do recommend reading it.
Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs
Release Date: 10/1/19
Augusten Burroughs is a witch.
Or, at the very least, he thinks he is one.
Is this belief based on the questionable words of his mother, who went insane and terribly neglected him, as detailed in Running with Scissors? Well, yes.
Does he provide clear and undeniable proof that he is a witch, with better understanding of, and ability to manipulate, the world around him? Well, no.
Is this book entertaining, regardless of whether or not you believe him? Hell, yes.
Burroughs’ writing style is simple and clear. I’m not sure that I buy that he’s a witch, but I did enjoy every second of this book, which I read in just a couple days (quite fast for me, with two kids frequently hanging on or being held by me). Recommend!
The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams
Release Date: 9/17/19
This books is being marketed as The Babysitter’s Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you, similar to me, are thinking “Huh, that sounds interesting. Also, what does that look like, given that TBC is a middle-grade read and Buffy is high-school age age and above?” let me help you. It looks underwhelming.
The storyline has many similarities to both of these identified predecessors; however, this book, intended to be the first of a series, is comprised of exposition that is not even exceedingly interesting to read. Although the protagonist is 17, she reads as pretty young.
So the tagline would probably be more accurate if it read: “What if the babysitters from The Babysitter’s Club were really mundane witches who had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Or maybe “Buffy the Vampire Slayer… without the biting wit, with all of the supernatural shit watered down.”
If you’re in the mood for a middle-grade read, it might be fine. Personally, I was hoping for more than what this book is, and did not like it.
Full disclosure: I read this book in May and am only now getting around to writing about it. I have been procrastinating, because I did not much like it.
The problem with a series written by an already popular author under a pseudonym is you expect something amazing. If you bothered to take the time to write this, and get it published under a different name even though people will readily purchase anything that has your already known name on it, then it should be fucking amazing. Or maybe a total disaster that your publishers forced you to write, at gunpoint, barely legible, because the sweat was rolling into your eyes as you typed on the keyboard, and the fear froze your mind so you barely knew what was pouring forth from your fingers.
This book is neither. It’s a mediocre story, with a lot of unrealized potential – the largest affront an established author could put forth into the world.
Amanda Quick, for those who don’t know, is Jayne Ann Krentz. And The Girl Who Knew Too Much is the first of the “Burning Cove” series, a fictional town near Hollywood that offers escape to those burdened stars who never get any privacy and have to cry into their 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton covered pillows, wiping the snot away with their millions of dollars. This book was supposed to be glamorous and fun and interesting – instead, it was boring and predictable. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. And I’m a reader who is somehow surprised, every time, when I read an Agatha Christie novel (unless I’ve read it before, because… I’m not brain-dead. Just bad at solving mysteries).
The author knows how to put together her nouns and verbs to form sentences appropriately – it’s just that those sentences aren’t worth reading.
I’m sure it’s a shocker, but I am not recommending this book to anyone. If you must read it, I recommend seeing if you can get it cheap on your e-reader (not from Amazon, though, ’cause, like, the tech giant sucks) or from the library.
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.
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.
We all have at least one book that we turn to, when we’re having a really bad time. The one that always makes the crinkles around our eyes show up in a genuine smile, that despite being infinitely familiar, is still a genuine pleasure to read no matter how many times we re-read it. For me, when I am in a reading slump, or having a personal bad time, there are two authors I turn to, again and again: Jane Austen and Sarah Dessen.
These authors are very different, but I think that draws me to them, again and again, are the realistic portrait each author wrote of her world and time period, as well as the sparks of wit and humanity that illuminate their books. Austen is a bit more cheeky, Dessen is a bit more romantic, but both authors remind me of the good that makes life worthwhile. Of course, Mrs. Dessen has an advantage over Austen, which is that she is still living, and her novels are still being written and published. Austen’s novels will forever be capped at 6 (7, if you include Lady Susan), whereas Dessen’s oeuvre is currently at 14, and, I believe, will likely continue.
Readers who are not Dessen fangirls or YA reading fiends may not be aware that on June 4, 2019, her latest novel The Rest of the Story was released. Of course, I added it to my TBR list as soon as I became aware of it, and looked up her book tour, which surprisingly included Ann Arbor (now that Borders is gone, the tours almost never include Ann Arbor).
It was fate, right?
I was obviously fated to see the author, to get my copy of her latest novel signed.
I pre-ordered her novel on Amazon (which is kind of evil, I know, but I had a gift card, and am not rich, so this was a cost-effective way for me to obtain the novel while still allowing my family to, you know, eat).
Is there any feeling quite as nice as seeing a package on your doorstep that you know contains a book?
Possibly opening that package, smelling the paper and possibility of a new novel. And then reading it, if the novel lives up to its’ possibility. Which, in my opinion, The Rest of the Story did.
I arranged to leave work early, and to pick my very imaginative older son up so that he could hear from someone who makes a living doing creative work. And I allowed myself to get excited.
And then, day of, it was a particularly horrible day at work, and I got caught up just a few extra minutes. There was more traffic than usual on the freeway, including some catastrophe that caused the Ann Arbor-Saline exit to close entirely and severely slowed down I-94, in general. What would ordinarily be minor inconveniences aggregated to the degree that by the time I picked my son up, drove to the library, and snuck into one of the very few spaces still left in the underground parking lot adjacent to that building, it was shortly after 7, when the event was supposed to start.
I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but pressed on, to discover, much to my disappointment (but not surprise) that the room in which the author was speaking was full (according to arbitrary fire-code regulation).
It was the cherry on top of a particularly bad time period.
And then, I realized that my family’s vacation in the last week of June to Virginia would put us fairly close to North Carolina… and Dessen was going to be speaking at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on the 26th.
I did not allow myself to get excited. I allowed myself a glimmer of hope, stuck my book in with my things as I packed, and brought it up when we got onto the freeway.
My husband may have rolled his eyes; I wouldn’t know, since I was driving, and had to keep my eyes on the road.
Yes, dear reader, I both met Sarah Dessen (for the second time, actually, although I doubt she recognized me) and she signed my book. Which may make me slightly (or very) ridiculous, but also made me very, very happy.
What have you done over your summer and/or vacation?
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.
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.
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.
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.