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Courtney Summers’ Sadie raises vital questions

Following the murder of her 13-year-old sister Mattie, Sadie Hunter, 19, vanishes from their Colorado trailer park. Although radio star West McCray questions whether there’s a story in yet another runaway, he’s persuaded to follow the missing girl’s trail by her surrogate grandmother, May Beth.

But as West investigates, he realizes that he must find Sadie – before it’s too late.

The chapters switch from transcripts of West’s True Crime-style podcasts, to Sadie’s own narration. With their mother consumed by drug addiction, it fell to her to care for Mattie. In her younger sister, she found a place to pour her love; Mattie’s death drives her to take a lonely, dangerous path to revenge.

Courtney Summers has a knack for writing complex, ‘unlikeable’ (British spelling!) female protagonists. On one hand her heroine is easy to root for; on the other, she’s reckless, stubborn and doesn’t make ‘likeable’ choices, rushing headfirst into confrontations with male adversaries.

May Beth urged her to see her mother’s addiction as an illness, but this only triggers feelings of guilt for resenting the mother who neglected her.

The book questions how we respond to girls on the fringes of society; people demand niceness, politeness, even as they struggle profoundly. It’s not enough that Sadie suffers from a profound stutter, is an abuse victim, or is merely a “secondary player” in her own life – she should remember her manners!

It’s also a commentary on our tendency to see violence against girls as entertainment, akin to soaps or reality TV. Although it owes much to the true crime genre, it asks readers to question this fascination.

The identity of the killer is never a mystery. It’s not merely a hunch for Sadie – she just knows. It almost feels like we’re being set up for a revelation, or twist, that doesn’t come.

Summers has written a hard-hitting young adult novel with heavy themes. If readers can stomach that, they may yet feel cheated by the ending. Whether or not it’s designed to reflect the lack of closure of too many missing person cases, it worsens the punch to the gut that the book delivers.

Please drop a comment below with your recommendations for this genre.

When to abandon a book?! Top Ten Tuesday

Whaddya mean it’s Wednesday?!

I rarely give up on a book, so it’s been a challenge to come up with a post for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I’ve included books I ducked out of before committing, plus those I should have ditched!

Just in case you don’t already know, TTT was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010, then moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018.

Books I simply DNF’d

The President is Missing James Patterson and Bill Clinton wrote this together. Like White House Down as a book…but worse.

First Man  I love Damian Chazelle’s First Man upon repeat watch, but I can’t slog through James R. Hansen’s Neil Armstrong biography. I’d rather read the instruction manual for Apollo 11. Maybe then I’d have shot at getting off this rock.

Books I set aside for another day…(yeah right!)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is convincing and immersive. I think that’s the problem. Although 2020 may be a bitch, it’s still better than the 16th century. I’ve got the audio book, so I’ll pick it up again. One day.

A Tale of Two Cities It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I refer you all to a Goodreads review that went something along the lines of “Christ on a bike!! I’d forgotten how difficult Dickens is!”

Books I removed from my TBR

Daisy Jones and the Six  I picked Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel up off the shelf at the supermarket, but my companion’s snide remark about wasting money on books made me feel bad about it. 😦 It’s out in paperback now, so I’ll just return it to the TBR…

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. I know from experience that the genre of Holocaust romance, or Holocaust chick lit, sits uneasily with me.

The Goldfinch I dallied with the idea of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch when it was a forthcoming book to film adaptation, poised to become a critical darling. After the near-universal negative reviews, I lost my enthusiasm.

Becoming I saw the new behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s tour for this, her bestselling memoir. Pfff, I’m lazy, and apparently it’s pretty long.

Books I should have DNF’d

Swing Time by Zadie Smith was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. A gruelling read, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disconnected from a novel.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was not for me. It’s one of the books, along with Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife, that made me decide to swerve The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and its ilk.

Halloween book & movie mash!

At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre, but something has changed lately, after I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching!

Now that I’m living my best, devil-may-care life, here are the scariest books and films I’ve…encountered recently.

ELI (Netflix)

Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this…

Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.

Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!

A SIMPLE FAVOUR – novel by Darcey Bell

When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.

We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and popular mommy blogger Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.)

Implausible twists aside, A Simple Favor is a dark, tongue-in-cheek thriller and cool satire. (Although I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I’m not sure what we ever did.)

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018 movie)

Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids‘ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel struggles with the tricky balance of black comedy and thriller.

The performances are fun – Lively is perfect as Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, evolving from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver. Emily’s unhinged fashionista boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo. 

Unfortunately Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is way too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.

THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

Noah, 4, is basically Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and…Harry Potter, he’s scared of water, and wants his ‘other mommy’. When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson. 

There are many ‘encouraging smiles’, and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Janie is too stupid to be an architect (it’s as if Guskin picked it because she wanted her heroine to have a professional career). She’s rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research.

Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who was a loose inspiration for the character. I felt greater investment in Jerry as he ponders his life, while solving the mystery of Noah. The Forgetting Time develops into an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.

SERENITY (2019 movie)

Notorious for its very strange twist, it’s one of the biggest box office duds of 2019. But the marketing department hawked it as neo-noir, and I still swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.

Set on a fictional tropical island, Matthew McConaughey’s washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.

Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway. She wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke – who blames Serenity’s failure on a culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. I’d say this movie should have been canned.

LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.

I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity. The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had a full grasp of her villain.

Childhood favourites – Top Ten Tuesday

Hello all, and a belated happy new month!

It’s Top Ten Tuesday again – it happens every week! Today, it’s Childhood Favourites. Here are mine:

Tim and the Hidden People

by Sheila K McCullagh. Tim finds a magic key which enables him to see the Hidden People. I came across this ancient class reader series in some dusty attic. So began my love of dark fantasy.

The Secret Island

by Enid Blyton. With my first book token I picked this – The Secret Stories – which were a forerunner to the more famous Famous Five series. Three siblings escape cruel relatives to live on a secret island, which is the start of their adventures with Prince Paul (!) of Baronia. I would go on to read a lot of Blyton, but this stayed with me the most.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

by Robert C. O’Brien. Talking animals didn’t interest me. I never liked Beatrix Potter or Wind in the Willows. OK, I liked The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, but the mystery of the secretive colony of rats at the centre of O’Brien’s Newbury medal-winner captivated me.

Moondial

by Helen Cresswell. When you think of stately homes, what comes to mind? TIME TRAVEL, that’s what. I’d mention A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce here too.

Five Children and It

by E. Nesbit. The first in a trilogy. Five kids staying at their uncle’s mansion discover a grumpy sand fairy who can grant wishes. Wishes go wrong! I also loved Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers, featuring the adventurous Bastable children.

The Chrestomanci Series ‘Witch Week’

by Diana Wynne Jones – author of Howl’s Moving Castle. Part of the Chrestomanci series, Witch Week is set in a parallel world, similar to ours, where magic is common! Off the top of my head, Jones’ Archer’s Goon, A Tale of Time City, and The Dalemark Quartet brightened my childhood.

The Chronicles of Narnia

by C.S Lewis. I don’t recall loving Lewis’ writing. Despite that, and my ‘talking animals’ prejudice, there’s no denying the pull that Narnia had on me.

Midnight is a Place

by Joan Aiken. This historical melodrama lays it on a bit thick: wronged orphans, awful guardians, old mansions…I loved it, and also Aiken’s alternate history The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

The Children of the New Forest

by Frederick Marryat. This was my maternal grandfather’s favourite, which he gave to me as a present. Set in Civil War England, the Beverley orphans hide in the forest to escape Cromwell and the Roundheads. Other classics I loved included Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, The Prince and the Pauper by Twain, and the slightly later The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

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The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

by Judith Kerr. WWII historical fiction dominated heavily in my reading. Pink Rabbit was probably my favourite, but I also loved Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, and I am David by Anne Holm, which was set a little later.

Soon I moved on to paranormal romance, but also Brontë, George Elliot, and Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.

So that’s my 10…OK I cheated a bit! xLx

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Book reviews Sally Rooney – NORMAL PEOPLE are overrated

You’re in so much pain you pass out. Before you collapse, you’re pondering your unearned cultural privilege and reductive iteration of gender theory. Meet Frances: communist, poet, and narrator of Sally Rooney’s coming-of-age debut set in post-crash Dublin.

Frances and BFF Bobbi study at the elite Trinity College. They encounter 30-something photojournalist Melissa, who introduces them to her actor husband Nick and their arty social set.

While Bobbi gets cliquey with Melissa, Frances has a desultory affair with the handsome yet passive Nick, who suffered a breakdown.

Before college, the girls attended high school together, where Bobbi scrawled “fuck the patriarchy” on a wall near an image of a crucifix. (She’s a rich anarchist who browbeats her fellow students with her “remorseless intelligence”.)

When not joining Bobbi in putting the world to rights on everything from gender roles to capitalism and police brutality, Frances self-harms, and mops up after her violent alcoholic dad. Bobbi ‘compliments’ her by saying she doesn’t have a “real personality”.

Frances has insecurities about her looks and working-class background, but consoles herself she’s smarter than other people. “I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me…” she daydreams, leafing through A Critique of Postcolonial Reason.

It would be OK if Friends were a biting Millennial satire. But it’s as earnest as its characters, and like being battered round the head with that copy of Postcolonial Reason.

I can see why it would appeal to young female readers who identify with Frances’ self-esteem woes. It’s much, much darker though – in terms of mental health – and full of doctorate level gobbledygook. Hardly the witty, sparkling delight people have been cooing over.

Normal People

Normal People’s third person narrative is shared between Marianne and Connell.

Connell’s mother cleans for Marianne’s rich family. At school, he’s a popular soccer player, while Marianne is an outcast. Terrified of what other people think, he ignores her, setting up a tortured on/off romance.

They leave small-town Ireland for Trinity College, where (like Frances and Bobbi) they’re the two smartest people enrolled. Aspiring writer Connell is further alienated by his working-class background, and suffers a breakdown.

Marianne revels in her isolated perch, with the scholarship exams a matter of needing her “superior intellect to be affirmed in public.” In another Friends retread, she’s beaten at home, this time by a brother.

During an on-again phase (and in an echo of Frances and Nick) Marianne (who feels herself “degenerating, moving further and further from wholesomeness, becoming something unrecognisably debased”) asks an uncomfortable Connell to hurt her during sex.

Described as a ‘modern love story’, it puts you through the wringer: depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, abusive boyfriends, death, predatory schoolteachers, BDSM. If this is a modern love story, do count me out.

Rooney again nails Millennial hangups, and doesn’t challenge them. She’s a young voice emerging ahead of the pack, pale and interesting in interviews, so smart you can barely understand her.

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Adapt this! Page to screen – Top Ten Tuesday

This is my first ever Top Ten Tuesday, a book blog meme created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010, moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018.

“Page to Screen” is this week’s topic. This is a list of books I’ve read, off the top of my head, that I’d like to see adapted/re-adapted, or are being adapted, etc…

Circe by Madeline Miller This current bestseller about Circe, daughter of Helios, Greek god of the sun, has already been optioned for a TV series. May the gods descend from the heavens if they stuff it up!

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson This is one of my favourite novels, with its historical family saga meets Sliding Doors-style alternate timelines. I’d love to experience this atmospheric novel up on screen.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber They did an Amazon pilot on this, starring Rob Stark from Game of Thrones. It’s the most melancholy book I’ve read (FYI Faber’s Under the Skin became a cult classic starring Scarlett Johansson).

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman would make a fine movie if they get the tone right. It’s already been snapped up by Reese Witherspoon…sure. I don’t know why, but I got a slight Mike Leigh/Happy-Go-Lucky vibe.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan This is a YA Star Wars canon novel by Claudia Gray. I think Solo was doomed because fans just didn’t want a movie centered on Han. A series or a movie about a young Leia? A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.

After Mrs Rochester This is actually a play Polly Teale wrote after adapting Jane Eyre for stage. It’s based on the troubled life of Jean Rhys, writer of Wide Sargasso Sea. We’ve had Colette, so why not Rhys?

Gates of Fire Rights to Steven Pressfield’s historical epic about the Battle of Thermopylae were acquired by George Clooney’s production company years ago, before vanishing into antiquity. Here’s a good article about why Gates of Fire never made it to the big screen.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews I did a post about the Jennifer Lawrence movie and the book it was based on. The film..and even the book (first in a trilogy) have a certain ick factor, but there’s still potential for a TV series about spy/ballet dancer Dominika.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. Only recently done, but attempt #1 was dull, and they could redo in ten years! I know they have to alter things for screen – my only unfulfilled expectation was not to be bored out of my ever-loving skull.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is Kirsten Dunst’s proposed directorial debut. While I’ve great faith in Dunst (who has co-written the script) as an actress, this is a huge challenge!

**Lx**

Tell Me a Secret by Jane Fallon – book review

Jane Fallon describes her work as chick noir. I’ve never read any of the non-noir variety, but this is my third Fallon, and I looked forward to another fab read with a happily-ever-after.

I don’t expect a psychological thriller exploring the dark side of human relationships and our own worst fears,  but a self-effacing heroine turning the tables on a cheating fella with the help of a bubbly best friend. There’s revenge, but it doesn’t involve death, cannibalism and crime.

Well, maybe a little bit of crime, but only ever for a good cause, and nobody gets really hurt.

In Tell Me a Secret, Holly is a fortysomething professional, and this time it’s a job, not a man, that she ends up fighting dirty over. She works as script editor for a TV show. She’s just won a promotion, when her office pal Roz starts running a campaign to make her look bad in front of the boss.

Roz is an unholy terror, and Holly a bit of a meek and gullible sidekick, sharing in her gossiping and Mean Girl-ing. It’s a mystery how she got the promotion in the first place, and you despair for her when her idea of retaliation is to hide Roz’s scripts.

There are cliffhangers, dramatic twists, and over-the-top antics, but also suspense and a real edge: How are you supposed to react when you’re targeted by a workplace bully? The Rozs of the world excel at playing the victim, and funnily I’ve always found authority figures tend to fall for it!

But this is escapist revenge chick lit. Before becoming a bestselling author with the likes of My Sweet Revenge, Fallon was a TV producer on shows including Eastenders and This Life, so it’s a backstage world she knows well.

With its supporting cast of badly-behaved z-listers and raging egos, I can imagine Tell Me a Secret on the small screen as a bright comedy-drama .

It was a fun read for a difficult time.

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