Plain Bad Mediocrity

Brookhants, a property housing a boarding school that was last peopled with students in the early 20th century, is haunted. Parents stopped feeling comfortable sending their girls there after the mysterious deaths of several of the students, as well as members of the faculty. The terrible deaths surrounding the property, as well as the unconventional lifestyles and love interests that people the property’s tragedy, made for a fascinating, bestselling read when literary talent Merritt Emmons had her non-fiction book featuring the mystery published as a precocious teen, and are now in the works to become a (hopefully) blockbuster, (at the least) expensive movie featuring the famous and beautiful Harper Harper and her B-list co-star Audrey Wells. … what could go wrong?

If I were to draft a book wishlist, a book description fairly similar to the synopsis of Plain Bad Heroines would be on it. As a fan of thrillers/horror since elementary school, as well as enough of a follower to read shit because Emma Roberts’ book cult suggested it, it’s almost like Emily M. Danforth’s novel was crafted specifically for me. Sprinkle in characters that challenge heternormativity, and an intelligent, rich mentor character who met Truman Capote, and I have got to fucking read this book.

Give me ALL the books!

Unfortunately, although the plot and characters are interesting, this book was not as enjoyable as I was hoping.

Plain Bad Heroines is an interesting conundrum of a novel, in that it has really forced me to evaluate what I desire from the books that I read. Objectively, I consider the plot to be interesting. It has two primary timelines – one occurring in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, the other occurring more recently, in the early twenty-first century – and both timelines include interesting plots and have an approximate equal weighting. Objectively, I consider the characters to be interesting. There were characters I liked more than others, but the majority of the characters are either fairly well fleshed out, or appropriately rely on stereotypes that allow the reader to quickly understand them. I will say, not all of the characters really grow or change, but given that this novel is in large part a thriller/horror novel, I think that is okay. When you think about a lot of famous horror movies, the main character struggling to survive is often a static character, who may become traumatized, but has not really changed at his or her core, and has instead shown how his or her character has allowed him or her to remain alive. So, given that I agree that the plot and characters in the novel are fairly well done, what, exactly, was my problem with the novel?

That is an excellent question.

I’m going to try. Also, way to call bullshit on my stalling tactics.

Right.

I think the missing element for me with this novel was writing style. There were moments, brief glimpses, where the prose style was enjoyable to me. However, for the most part, the writing of this novel felt a bit plain. It was not that the sentences were even necessarily poorly crafted, they just didn’t appeal to me. The information that should have been conveyed was conveyed, it was just done in a way that felt too simple, that drew too straight a line from point A to point C. In essence, I think that this novel shows craft and shows writing, but just does not do so in a way that is in accord with my artistic sensibilities. I would not be at all surprised to discover I am in the minority in my feelings while reading this novel. At the same time, my honest, true feelings are that the writing style takes an interesting idea peopled with interesting characters and fails to elevate the story, leaving the book instead one more mediocre novel populating store bookshelves starting October 20th.

Ugh – I wanted to like this so much more than I did!

Did you read it, or are you planning to do so? If so, what did you think or what is most interesting/intriguing/appealing to you?

Buy a Book, Support Physical Bookstores, Maybe win $250

My title pretty much says it all, so I will keep this post brief. Publishing house Sourcebooks is hosting a contest where if you order or preorder certain of their books at an actual, physical bookstore, you can turn in proof of purchase in their site (or send a postcard) and thereby be entered into a contest to win a $250 gift card to your favorite bookstore. Books include The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Last Flight, the first novel in the Phryne Fisher mystery series, and The Phantom of the Opera, amongst others.

Here is a link to the contest summary and list of books, with the summary including the link to submit your information to be entered into the contest.

I am personally eyeing Sulari Gentill’s After She Wrote Him, which sounds right up my alley, and has about 3.8 stars on Goodreads, so seems promising. If you do enter, please let me know which book you chose in the comments below, and good luck in the contest!

Although, really, there doesn’t seem much to lose in this contest, which will, at the least, result in supporting brick-and-mortar bookstores and a new book.

“Classic” Literature

I recently read this article about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, which both meshes with my personal feelings on an excursion to John Adam’s Montpelier plantation last summer, and made me go, “Great! Now I don’t have to feel bad about not particularly liking this novel and not having finished it.”

“Story of the Old South” – where only white people problems matter…

I know it is ridiculous, but I feel bad when I don’t like a work that is considered classic fiction. Even though this marker is probably thrust upon a book simply by being considered “good” or “meaningful” by a large number of people, and people have a variety of different backgrounds, and the fact that I am not white and don’t have a penis probably means I’m coming from a different place than those who decided this book was “classic.” Even though using the term “classic” probably began as a misuse of a word that denoted Rome and Greece during what is considered the Classical era, since Hellenistic culture has greatly influenced Western culture, and was considered the high quality standard against which other things should be judged for a long time.

“Classic”

It is in the reading of classics that I can be somewhat of a sheep. I am more than willing to give a “classic” novel the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I will exceed benefit of the doubt and stray into self-doubt. By this, I mean that I will sometimes try to convince myself that I actually do like them when I decidedly do not. After all, if I do not like this novel that is considered one of the greatest written (in English, by Western society), then am I, in fact, a stupid reader?

Another novel that I don’t particularly like is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think it’s really cool that this woman made a name for herself and is one of the founders of modern horror fiction. I know that Frankenstein is the name of the Doctor, and not the “monster” himself. I get the whole “society made him act monstrous, who is the REAL monster?” concept. But at the end of the day, I am not a fan. I think I may just not really be a fan of horror, in general. I also don’t care for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the extent that I actually prefer Francis Ford Coppola’s movie to the novel. (Yes, I have been told this movie is not a very good movie. Do I still enjoy it? Yes. Yes, I do.)

Does anyone else feel this love-embarrassment relationship with classic novels? What is a “classic” novel that you hated? Or conversely, what is a “classic” novel that you loved?

R. Eric Thomas Gets It

I am slowly wading my way through R. Eric Thomas’s essay Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, which is fucking amazing and which I highly recommend for both its’ comedic talent and poignant moments. Reading his essays is finding someone I want to buy a drink, so I can have a smart, funny conversation and become friends and have someone help me ponder the craziness that is currently American politics.

Also, I’m pretty sure R. Eric Thomas is pyschic, because his essay “Flames, at the Side of My Face” (which you should read, if you haven’t, because did I tell you he was fucking amazing yet? the ending to this one is ridiculous and funny and adorable) says in one succinct sentence what I think a lot of us are currently feeling:

… see what I mean about the poignant moments?

What have you been reading that is helping you get through quarantine?

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?

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?

The Pragmatic Girl Meets the Death Bird Boys

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

Ok, not really… but, awhile.

It’s a more-than decent read, and I’ll be continuing to read the series. But I’m annoyed that this first book in the series, while well written and interesting, feels so incomplete on its’ own.

This technically-reaching-the-end-of-the-book-only-to-derive-little-to-no-closure-as-a-tease-to-continue-the-series is not isolated to Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. It is a fairly common book ending in YA. And it is pissing me off.

I get that sometimes, the story is too big to be told in one book, unless that book is 1,500 pages or something. But it increasingly seems as though nearly every YA book, regardless of genre or content, is part of a series in which every book needs to be read to obtain closure. It feels inauthentic. It feels like a ploy to get more money from a group of sometimes avid readers who often have part-time jobs and don’t yet have to pay rent or grocery bills.

To be fair, this could be due to my age. When I was a kid, a lot of shit was a series, also, but that series was often a group of thinly connected stories that felt kind of random. Like, L.J. Smith’s Nightworld, which was ultimately leading up to an apocalypse novel because everyone decided to get scared that the new millennium ushered in the end of the world but was never written, so if you want to read Strange Fate you are simply out of luck. All contained a novel that was complete in and of itself. Technically a series, because all of the books dealt with humans discovering this hidden world of supernatural creatures (vampires, witches, etc.) that was hidden from the normal, everyday world I was living and breathing and hating school in.

Or Goosebumps, which is connected by the fact that it gave young me goosebumps, because I was a ridiculous scaredy-pants.

#scaredypants

When I did get sucked into a series, I usually got bored a few books in, and bailed.

It is difficult to write a series in which the characters change sufficiently that you remain interested, while still maintaining the core of what interested the reader enough to continue. Most people do not do it well, unless the series is short and also well planned out. I didn’t even enjoy the Harry Potter series the entire way through. I made myself read it, but honestly, became a bit disinterested a few books in.

So while I enjoyed The Raven Boys, and will continue the series, I will not be surprised if, at some point, I am disappointed and disillusioned with Stievater’s writing. In other words, quit scammin’ me and all the other folks who read YA, publishers.

Have you read The Raven Cycle? What did you think – was it good the entire way through? Do you enjoy series, and think I’m just being ridiculous? Share your strong opinions in the comments below!

Turns Out, I Like Words

I was recently, generously, provided with an ARC by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers of the cult classic graphic novel the Plain Janes. I’m going to be honest, I have no idea of what their cult following consists, if it even exists, but am assuming it is a thing, because, like, the title is all artistic and witty, and also, if it did not have a cult following or was not presumed to have one going forward, why would publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers have bothered to publish it?

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

Okay, so I felt kind of bad that I just started writing this post without actually looking into the graphic novel much, so did the most lackadaisical Google search, and found this post from NPR. Audie Cornish calls it “a cult favorite graphic novel from a decade ago.” And so while you may not be swayed by my very refutable logic, you can at least believe in Audie Cornish. I mean, it’s NPR. They’ve got to research their shit.

… Right?

Anyway, to make a long story short…

… too late

I received this ARC of what I think is considered, at the least, an above-average graphic novel. I was excited, and I read it in less than a day. But at the end of the day, while I thought The Plain Janes is fairly good, I found myself disappointed.

The artwork is okay. It’s not something I find myself dying to look at again and again.

The story is fine. I actually really liked a lot of the concepts. For example, in the picture above, where Jane’s crush seems like he feels bad, and doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but at the end of the day, he’s just not interested in her romantically.

This re-printing (which has already occurred, and is available at the bookstore now) includes 3 stories: The Plain Janes, Janes in Love, and Janes Attack Back. My ARC included the first two, which were published previously in 2007. The third story is a brand-new installment. So to be fair, I only read the first two. The Plain Janes was, I thought, infinitely better than Janes in Love, and deals with subject matter that anyone considering art as a career will find interesting. I also thought it was interesting that The Plain Janes showed that, regardless of your interest, there is a creative way to use your interest and skillset, and everyone can consider him/her/themself an artist.

Yet I would prefer to have these ideas imparted via a string of beautiful words, in which the truth shines through unmistakeably, and I feel compelled to underline, or take a picture with my phone, so I can see it again later when I need it. So while The Plain Janes is an interesting project, I think I’m just not really a big graphic novel fan.

Have you read The Plain Janes? If so, what were your thoughts?

In the [Place] with a [Murder Weapon]

Diane Peterfreund’s YA novel In the Hall with a Knife is the Clue Update you didn’t know you wanted. Yes, Clue – that game created by Anthony E. Pratt in 1943, and later turned into a cult-classic of a movie starring the likes of Doc from Back-to-the-Future, Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, and Tim Curry. This book is a YA re-telling, including the classic characters you know and love, as well as Dr. Orchid from the 2016 version of the game recently released, as suspicious and mistrustful adolescents attending an elite boarding school in rural Maine. When a handful of students, faculty, and staff at this school are isolated there due to a terrible snowstorm, people get fussy, someone gets murdered, and most people play detective, because, like, what else are you going to do when there’s no internet or television?

Similar to the movie, this novel gives all of the characters a back story. These backgrounds are generally ridiculous, campy fun, including a poor-little-rich girl former child movie star, a boy with an evil, identical twin, and a dude who got kicked out of military school and continues to want daddy’s approval.

If you are looking for a good mystery novel, don’t read this. It’s fairly obvious who the killer is long before you get to the end, and you will be disappointed.

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

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a thriller, this novel should provide what you seek. This book has drama, tension, nostalgic references, bad weather, hot cocoa, hints at romance, reasons to suspect everyone even though you kind of already know who the killer is, and is also well written. So… like… what are you waiting for? Make a cup of hot chocolate, and tuck in with this book, which was released in October, because it’s the holiday season, and nothing counteracts the saccharine commercials, television movies, and inescapable carols like a thriller.

‘Tis the Season
To be Readin’

Furies & Furieser

Hallowe’en is right around the corner, and in honor of this upcoming night of mischief, costumes, and sugar, I am going to recap three ARCs that I read this year that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, which you may be considering purchasing.

The Furies by Katie Lowe

Release Date: 10/8/2019

This tale is told by Violet, as an older woman, about a time as a girl when she lost her father, enrolled into an elite school, and was befriended by a group of girls who were mistreated and demanded vengeance. Starting with an odd, terrible death that confused the community and remains unsolved, the narrator tells her version of events leading up to and including the mysterious event.

Most of this novel is gritty and real. You can feel for these girls who are confused and not always treated well, retreating into the idea that they can take care of themselves because they have innate supernatural abilities, but then again, not entirely believing that they have innate supernatural abilities. You will be horrified by many of the acts perpetuated in this book. And you will have to figure out for yourself what you think really happened that night, when a beautiful young girl died.

Overall, I liked this book. It is not light and fluffy. Bad shit happens. And it drags slightly in the third fourth of the book. Overall, though, it is spooky and interesting, and I do recommend reading it.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs

Release Date: 10/1/19

Augusten Burroughs is a witch.

Or, at the very least, he thinks he is one.

Is this belief based on the questionable words of his mother, who went insane and terribly neglected him, as detailed in Running with Scissors? Well, yes.

Does he provide clear and undeniable proof that he is a witch, with better understanding of, and ability to manipulate, the world around him? Well, no.

Is this book entertaining, regardless of whether or not you believe him? Hell, yes.

Burroughs’ writing style is simple and clear. I’m not sure that I buy that he’s a witch, but I did enjoy every second of this book, which I read in just a couple days (quite fast for me, with two kids frequently hanging on or being held by me). Recommend!

The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams

Release Date: 9/17/19

This books is being marketed as The Babysitter’s Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you, similar to me, are thinking “Huh, that sounds interesting. Also, what does that look like, given that TBC is a middle-grade read and Buffy is high-school age age and above?” let me help you. It looks underwhelming.

The storyline has many similarities to both of these identified predecessors; however, this book, intended to be the first of a series, is comprised of exposition that is not even exceedingly interesting to read. Although the protagonist is 17, she reads as pretty young.

So the tagline would probably be more accurate if it read: “What if the babysitters from The Babysitter’s Club were really mundane witches who had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Or maybe “Buffy the Vampire Slayer… without the biting wit, with all of the supernatural shit watered down.”

If you’re in the mood for a middle-grade read, it might be fine. Personally, I was hoping for more than what this book is, and did not like it.