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.

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?

Fangirling Across State Lines

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?

Kismet.

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?

#nerd

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.

#ILikedIt

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.

… a toned-down version of how I was feeling

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).

Disappointed, like Anna Cuspinian

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.

But…

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?

[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.

Shit I Enjoyed Reading in 2018

With 2018 behind us, and resolutions shiny and new and still capable of being fulfilled before the next midnight party, I wanted to highlight the five-star books that I read in 2018. A common resolution is to read more, and in order to reach that goal, you need to set up a Goodreads account if you do not already have one (which has a function to set a reading goal for the year, and tracks the number of books read so long as you remember to input each one), and you need to have some good books to read. To assist with the latter, here are the books that I really liked that I read in 2018:

  1. Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.: Tales
    1. Author: Eve Babitz
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: Yes, I admit it. I tried Babitz because Belletrist picked her novel Sex and Rage as one of its’ monthly picks, and I have a bit of a girl-crush on Emma Roberts. Sex and Rage was perpetually checked out of the library, but Slow Days, Fast Company (“SDFC”) was on the shelf one day and I grabbed it. It was love at first read.
    4. Babitz herself is a fascinating personage. A ’60s and ’70s L.A. It-Girl who once took a photo playing chess with Marcel Duchamp in the buff, she became a recluse after being in a car accident in ’97 that resulted in severe burns over a large part of her body. In addition to leading an interesting life, the short stories in SDFC prove that she had the literary talent to make reading her work an exercise that continues to be worthwhile. SDFC takes you to ’70s L.A. It makes you feel the magic and the scumminess and the fun and the craziness that Babitz lived. It made me want to visit L.A., and although I cannot currently afford a ticket to CA, these stories take me there figuratively via glorious, escapist read.
  2. Anna and the French Kiss
    1. Author: Stephanie Perkins
    2. Genre: YA/Romance
    3. Deetz: Young love in Paris… doesn’t it sound wonderful? Well… Perkins writes a realistic novel about privileged, white teen Anna Oliphant, who is devastated to be uprooted from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, her senior year of high school to attend boarding school in Paris, France.
    4. Yes, going to Paris sounds like a dream for a lot of us – but Anna doesn’t speak any French, and was looking forward to one more year with the friends and family with whom she had grown up for one more year before the natural separations of college occurred, anyway. Anna is also a teenager upon whom this school was foisted by her father, a bestselling novelist who is super flaky and who has separated from her mother.
    5. If you are not dead-set against reading YA, and you have not read it yet, you should read this novel — the characters are realistic, the romance is both believable and swoon-worthy, and the setting is fantastic.
  3. The Diviners
    1. Author: Libba Bray
    2. Genre: YA/Mystery
    3. Deetz: The beginning of a series, The Diviners is told from the various viewpoints of young people around New York City with various divination abilities. This first novel primarily follows Evie O’Neill, an adorable aspiring flapper who is exiled to NYC after wreaking havoc at a party in her small hometown through use of her ability to know things about people that have not been verbally disclosed. Since she is supposed to remain on the down-low, she decides to investigate a series of murders the police have requested her uncle’s help on, because fuck safety and common sense, I guess.
    4. Evie’s a bit ridiculous, but she’s also plucky and fun. The serial killer is legitimately terrifying, in that shit-I-better-watch-some-Disney-princess-movies-or-leave-the-lights-on-when-I-sleep way. And in addition to being a good individual read, Bray is obviously setting up a series that could continue to be great (the other books in the series are on my TBR list, but I do plan to continue reading the series, which I rarely do anymore).
  4. Saint Anything
    1. Author: Sarah Dessen
    2. Genre: YA
    3. Deetz: Sydney has always felt invisible, in comparison to her older brother, the charismatic bundle of trouble who goes a little too far one night and irrevocably alters his life and the lives of those who are close to him. Peyton’s incarceration does not lessen this trait; if anything, it enhances it, to the point that Sydney feels unsafe but cannot find a way to express her feelings in a way that will be heard.
    4. Also, there’s pizza and romance sprinkled in.
    5. Dessen has a way of writing realistic teenagers that is thoroughly enjoyable, and this novel is one of her best (or at least one of my favorites).
  5. Misery
    1. Author: Stephen King
    2. Genre: Horror
    3. Deetz: Stephen King gets a lot of shit, and a lot of people seem to think liking his work is akin to eating toenails — but I think those people are wrong. Whether you like his work or not, King knows how to write. His plots are sometimes absolutely fucking crazy (a car that comes to life?!), but surprisingly, the stories manage to work. His characters are so real, you have to double check that the chill running down your spine isn’t because they have sprung out of the book and are breathing down the back of your neck. But the best part are the small details that are embedded in his writing, that really drive home the setting. For example, I realized that the 21-year-old drinking age was relatively new from reading The Dead Zone. I generally like King’s work, and Misery is one of my favorites.
    4. Bestselling author Paul Sheldon has just completed his best novel yet, and is returning from his self-imposed isolation in Colorado in a snow-storm while drinking champagne straight from the bottle. When this ill-advised celebratory behavior results in a horrific car accident, Mr. Sheldon finds himself waking in the bed of his #1 fan, who has saved his life. For now, at least…
    5. If you have not read this novel yet, I think you should.
  6. My Lovely Wife
    1. Author: Samantha Downing
    2. Genre: Thriller
    3. Deetz: A marriage begins with young love and the belief, or at least, the hope, that this love is strong enough to keep the two birds together for the long haul. However, time passes, and routines emerge, along with the possibility that those beautiful feelings will begin to fade and potentially even disappear.
    4. How do you keep the spark alive?
    5. For this couple, the answer is murder. Told from the point of view of the husband, this novel is full of some fairly predictable twists and turns (although there was one twist I expected that never materialized…), but still manages to be a helluva ride. Who cares if the ending is predictable when it’s so much fun getting there?
  7. The Circle
    1. Author: Dave Eggers
    2. Genre: Horror/Satire
    3. Deetz: Imagine you got your dream job… only to realize that your dream job may be stripping everyone, including you, of your fundamental rights? This novel grapples with ye olde internet, and the transparency that social media allows, and sometimes enforces. I really enjoyed this novel, which is one of the crrepier ones I read this year.
    4. *cough cough* Also, don’t judge it by the atrocity of a movie they adapted from it featuring Emma Watson. *cough cough*
  8. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
    1. Author: Nancy Kress
    2. Genre: Non-fiction/Writing
    3. Deetz: This book is not for everyone. But if you are a writer, and ever get stuck while writing or editing a story, this book is a great reference. Broken out into three sections, this book delves into what makes a good beginning, middle, and end. It also, perhaps more importantly, suggests concrete approaches to take to make these sections work better. I read this book cover-to-cover, as more of an educational exercise, but the sections are broken out in an easy format that would allow a writer to double check a specific section or attack a specific issue with ease.
  9. Breakfast of Champions
    1. Author: Kurt Vonnegut
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: My first Vonnegut, this book cleverly satirizes American culture. I devoured this novel, like a tasty piece of pizza after a particularly fun bout of drinking. The writing is clever, yet simple. Vonnegut even includes illustrations. The book seems designed to appear easy – it is easy to read, and appears that it must have flown from Vonnegut’s pen effortlessly. The reality is that it takes a lot of talent and finesse to create something that appears to effortless. But regardless of whether or not you want to take the time to appreciate Vonnegut’s talent, it is a great read that you will enjoy either way.

Do you have a great read that is not listed above that can be kept in mind for those of us looking for what to read next?

(Most of the hyperlinks are to Amazon links from which I earn from qualifying purchases; please consider using these links if you are already planning to purchase the identified items via Amazon, anyway.)