I usually try to post at least once per week, but am currently working through some life changes, and so have been a bit MIA/remiss. I shall strive to do my best to behave again – if you don’t see a post from me next Tuesday, you have my permission to shake your head at me in gentle admonition, and perhaps be slightly cross or reproving.
In other news, I decided to create a Twitter, primarily to amuse myself because other people are fucking great at using their 140 or less characters to make me laugh. But I legit squealed a bit in delight when Mona Awad (yes, that Mona Awad, writing goddess, and if you haven’t read Bunny yet, you need to, like, why are you even reading this – go to the bookstore now) responded to one of my tweets:
Had to share – I look up to this woman so much (and recently got the opportunity to read an ARC of her upcoming release All’s Well, which I will be posting about soon (spoiler alert: also amazing)). Unfortunately, the rest of this week has not been going so well. BUT tomorrow’s Friday, so this week is almost over. & next week is bound to be better.
How are y’all doing? Please share in the comments below! I would love to hear about your highs/lows and in-betweens (or feel free to leave your Twitter handle, so I can laugh at your funny 140 character or less postings).
I’m bone tired. Not 100% sure why, to be honest. Possibly because I’m trying to plan a novel on top of working full time and wrangling two energetic kids and my husband and keep the house clean. So today, I thought I would briefly go through the ARCs that I have read since starting this blog, but not created a blog post for –
One Day by David Nicholls – had this one for approximately a decade before I read it, which is a shame, because it is an amazing book:
2. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
3. So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith
4. The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel
5. The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson
6. Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life by Ashly Perez
I write a mini-review for almost every book I read on Goodreads, and give a star rating approximately 95% of the time (sometimes, I need time away from the book to sift through my feelings, and promptly forget that I have never rated, so it’s just not going to happen). If you found this blog post entertaining, you would probably enjoy following me on Goodreads. If you didn’t fine this blog post entertaining, I promise, they’re not all this half-assed. I really just have no energy at the moment. But wouldn’t you like to follow me, and see if I’m telling the truth? #winkwink
Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.
Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?
There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.
The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.
This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:
The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.
The wit is sharp and smart:
My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…
I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.
As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:
This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.
The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.
However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.
I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).
I was a lucky recipient of Sarah Goodman’s forthcoming debut novel Eventide. I’m not quite sure why I picked up this book, dark green in hue, with an ephemeral woman in a white dress immediately after reading Sue Miller’s Monogamy (post forthcoming). Monogamy was so realistic, filled with such beautiful writing, I think I just grabbed another book because it was time to read another book, and with the assumption that regardless of what I chose, it would be a letdown. Like the book nerd equivalent of waking up when you know it’s too early and you really want to go back to bed, but you just can’t, for some reason, and so you’re like: “Fine,” but then you’re noticeably cranky all day.
So there I was, already cranky with Eventide, prepared to be disappointed. But try as I might (I’m pretty stubborn, so I did try to hold on to my grumpiness, like a child), Eventide was not disappointing.
To begin with, the author, a former journalist, uses many off-the-cuff remarks in the beginning of the book that gave me pause, due to the early-twentieth century setting. But when I did my cursory Google-search fact-checking, bitch had done her homework. All of the remarks made in Chapter 1, such as the petri dish, and potential employment in a typing pool, are reasonable. The narrator’s temperament, while feeling somewhat modern, also seems appropriate for someone young and from a city for that time period. So Goodman did good on not writing something implausible or historically inaccurate in her historical fiction (one of my personal pet peeves).
I will say, I did not much like the protagonist, and while the lack of diversity in this novel was noticeable to me, it is period appropriate. Despite not particularly liking Verity Pruitt, she was well-written. She was annoying in the way that cocky young people can be, but she was also smart and brave and someone who will do anything for the people she loves. So annoying, but also someone you can’t help but root for at least a little bit.
Yet what really makes this book stand out and kept me reading is the story. The first few chapters are necessary, well written, but ultimately, not that engaging, exposition. There are also short chapter breaks interspersed amongst the main story that provide back story and are completely unnecessary. Like, do they help tell the story? Yes. But could the story be told just as well without them? Also yes. Do they add to the atmosphere? I guess. But again, in a way that I found annoying, much like the protagonist. I think, actually, that this entire book might be a set-up for a YA series. It works as a standalone novel, but it feels as though it is written with the idea of adding to it if it gains enough of a fangirl base. About mid-way through the novel, the story picks up within the main storyline, and that is when your eyes will be glued to the page, and you’ll be flipping pages faster than you can blink.
The story is melodramatic and crazy and frightening, a roller coaster of a latter half of the novel. It has twists and mental illness and faerie folklore and family and love and magick. And I didn’t much like the protagonist, although I didn’t want her to lose, but did love the villain, whose unveiling is like a mix between a car wreck that you can’t help looking at and the glamour of [insert name of beautiful, famous person you can’t help but online stalk here], with a hint of malice. Like, I don’t want to meet the villain in real life, but I loved reading her.
Verdict: You should read this.
Fine print – Slated for release in October. If intrigued and if you can afford it, please consider pre-ordering from an indie bookstore. #shoplocal #oratleastnotamazon
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.
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.
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.
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?
I recently had the privilege of receiving and devouring an ARC of David Foenkino’s The Mystery of Henri Pick. Translated by Sam Taylor, this novel was charming and literary, which was exactly the sort of novel I was in the mood to read when I pulled this e-book up on my cell phone. I won’t bother to summarize the plot, since this novel is primarily a mystery in titular name, only, and you should only read this novel if you are okay with meandering plots including high-level characterizations, akin to a fairy tale about literature peopled with the various people involved in creating and being affected by literature – the struggling authors, the editors and publisher, the general public, the critics.
There is a literal mystery – how did Henri Pick write a novel when no one was aware he had any literary predilection, at all? But the focus of the novel is not really this question that is consuming the minds of the fictional characters that populate it, but whether, how the public’s access to people and information results in the general populace feeling entitled to personal and private information of all persons associated, even tangentially. How this entitlement can result in people who were completely unaffiliated with the creative endeavor being hurt. How this entitlement can be manipulated.
Because at the end of the day, does it matter how the novel was written, if it is, in fact, a good novel? Sure a novel with an interesting backstory may make people more inclined to pick it up (or, more likely, order it from Amazon), but at the end of the day, a novel’s merit should be based on the words contained within its’ pages. In fact, does it really matter who even wrote the novel? Except for potentially resulting in the reader realizing this author’s writing hits his/her/their fancy, and searching for other works, if they exist, or becoming an author whose works the reader keeps an eye for in the new releases, the author’s words are all that will matter in 100 years, when any scandal, beauty, or personal attributes will cease to matter (likely; I guess some authors live to be quite old, so maybe I should update that to 200 years).
Now, having said all of those words above, I have to admit that I am 100% guilty of becoming a bit obsessed with authors who have penned works I have enjoyed and admired. As a teenager, I used to pen letters to my favorite YA author, Christopher Pike, in that fangirl way that probably means there’s a restraining order for me somewhere that has never had to be exercised, because, like, Kevin McFadden lived in California, and I lived in Michigan. I was so obsessed, I spent a ridiculous amount of money to obtain Getting Even, the second in a series that also includes a book written by Caroline B. Cooney, and that is decidedly different from the horror/New Age shit Pike (or his ghostwriters, since with the release of a book per month, there were probably a lot of ghostwriters) usually wrote that I adored. It was my dream, as a teenager, to become the next Christopher Pike, or L.J. Smith (… still waiting on Strange Fate, although at this point, I doubt the book could end the Night World series in a way that gave me closure). As an adult, I can safely say, this dream was not, and will not, be attained. Although I did successfully complete a short story recently, my income is not dependent on my creative ability – which is good, because as even the most cursory glance at this blog will tell you, I’m not great at keeping my creative ability on a schedule. I still like taking my books to author signings (even out-of-state). Authors whose works I enjoy amaze me. As an avid reader, I love those books that touch my heart, and I will seek out other works by the author, follow the author on Goodreads, and marvel at that author’s ability. A book that is fresh every time you read it is an amazing feat. A book that makes me melt, like the romantic works penned by Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, is a book penned by an author that I admire. And as someone who would like to write something admirable herself, I will see if the authors who have managed to write things I think are amazing have given interviews where they talk about their process, etc., to see if they have the magic key that will unlock my own potential. (I know, this will never work, since the largest factor key to writing something decent is to sit your butt down and write, but part of me can’t help hoping there’s something else, like Sarah Dessen’s two pieces of chocolate, that will make it easier for me.)
In other words, Foenkino has many decent points, but although it is not fair to expect answers from or about the author, if you read something you really admire, doesn’t it also make sense that you are going to be curious about the source of the creation of that thing? Or am I just unhinged, and should treat the author more like a parent of the book I love, smiling awkwardly when I meet them, and absconding away with the book as soon as I can, like teenage me did with my boyfriend?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
What about you? Does my interpretation match your reading, or did you read this novel differently?
So, I don’t know about your specific situation, but here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I have been trapped in the apartment as an inessential person (still able to work from home, just only able to hold virtual meetings with people other than my husband and two sons). And for me, nothing feels more essential at this time than a beach read.
A well-done beach read is like a warm cup of soup. It provides an easy escape into a world where things can actually work out, leaving you with a smile on your face and warm, fuzzy good feelings that seeps into your bones. A poorly done beach read is infuriating.
Recently, I had the experience of reading a great beach read, and a not-so-great beach read. And yes, the latter did infuriate me. These novels were, respectively, Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center and Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie. [Full disclosure: I received both of these novels as Advanced Reader Copies. Fuller disclosure: I am a blunt bitch, and while I may not have paid for these novels, that in no way effects my opinion of them. Fullest disclosure: I’m not currently hungry, but am still craving sugar, and may take a break in writing this blog post for chocolate. I realize this last note is in no way related to the content of this blog post, but am just trying to be completely honest and transparent.]
Let’s talk about the good first:
Protagonist Cassie Hanwell is a great firefighter. She kind of fell into a great job with the Austin Fire Department, and the novel opens as she eats dinner with her co-workers before receiving a prestigious award. Cassie keeps to herself, a lot, but she is self-sufficient and doesn’t need other people. Until she accidentally gives this terrible guy some comeuppance, and finds herself driving to the East Coast to live with the mother who she’s barely spoken to in years, en route to a transfer to a new fire station that is markedly less modern than the Austin FD, trying to cobble a new life together for herself while also helping her mother (who is suffering vision loss) while making sure not to become ensnared, because she doesn’t want to be fooled twice!
This plot is full of dramatic tension and literal life-and-death stakes. Yet, instead of being overwrought or ridiculous, this novel remains interesting and difficult to put down. Writing a novel – any novel – is an accomplishment, but Center takes this accomplishment a step further. Her work has wrought that rare book that breathes life into characters, making words into people that you care about, because they are realistic. And not only does it include realistic characters (which you know I’m a sucker for), but it also does so in a way that is heartwarming, that leaves you closing the book with a lighter heart. In this political climate, where I have been stuck in the apartment with my family for an entire month (I love them, but it is not a very big apartment, and it is a lot), to read a book that makes me feel hope is nigh on amazing. Yet this book managed to do so, and I am immensely grateful to Katherine Center for penning it.
Ok, on to the “beach read” that’s more of a “don’t read:”
This novel is supposed to be a juicy behind-the-scenes look at crazy Hollywood, except that there is nothing surprising in it. We know that producers in Hollywood are full of shit; the only one who seems surprised by it is the protagonist of this novel, Agnes Nash. So, like, bitch isn’t going to give you a very good behind-the-scenes look. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for Agnes – but it’s totally obvious that her marriage is a sham, and even if her husband doesn’t want to drop her like two hot rocks, he’s absolutely awful, so it’s hard to feel bad for her when the only conceivable reason she’s still with the man is money. Like, just get a divorce, and make sure he pays you alimony. Or at least child support.
In fact, Agnes judges those around her all the time. We’re supposed to think she’s so witty and fun; she really just comes across as oblivious and awful. The only people she shows respect or allows might not be, like, totally clueless, are rich, presumably white, men. I had absolutely no interest in seeing things go right for Agnes. Bitch is white, obviously fairly good-looking, and only values the opinions of rich men while somehow convincing herself she’s principled and superior to those around her. She also, in her quest for hypocrisy, proves to be either excessively idiotic or naive to an unimaginable degree. Snitches get stitches, and the naive can leave, Agnes. Except she doesn’t need to leave. Because she’s white, heterosexual, and stupid/naive, you know Agnes will somehow end up on top. So I guess read this one if you want to be reminded that life isn’t fair, and if your life isn’t going great, it’s probably because you’re just not pretty enough? That’s usually the opposite of how I want to feel when I read a beach read, but, you know – to each his/her own.
What about you – any beach reads to recommend? Or any that absolutely infuriated you that you would like to rant about?