Book Lust // Books by female authors to read this fall

female authors

When I was younger, maybe an early teenager, I realized that most of my favorite books, which consisted mostly of YA fantasy and bad historical fiction novels, were all books by female authors. I adored books like Ella Enchanted,  A Great and Terrible Beauty, and especially Harry Potter. My favorite authors were Jean Plaidy, JK Rowling, Libba Bray, Gail Carson Levine, and Margaret George.

Being a female writer comes packaged with tons of difficulties you’d think of being a woman in a male-dominated field. There are even some people who ignore books by female authors entirely, and won’t pick up anything written by a woman. JK Rowling styled herself that way because her publisher warned her that since she’s a woman, her books may not sell as well if she went by “Joanne Rowling.” How infuriating, and sad.

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'Dark Places,' my third Gillian Flynn

Following Sharp Objects, I immediately began to read Dark Places, which was probably not the best choice for either my sanity or my REM cycle, but hey. YOLO. After such an amazing masterpiece that was Sharp Objects, my expectations were high. Sadly, Dark Places fell short for me, miles short of either Gone Girl or Sharp Objects. Here’s why.

5886881The premise of the book is immediately engaging: Libby Day is a thirty-something woman who survived the slaughter of her mother and two sisters when she was only 7 years old. She famously testified that her brother was the murderer, and never looked back. Obviously, Libby is not a functioning, happy adult, and when her bank account runs dry, she discovers that there are groups of homicide-obsessed people who are willing to pay her for her memories and memorabilia. And the clincher is that they all believe—with good reason—that Libby was wrong, and that her brother, who has been in jail for twenty-odd years, is innocent. To get the money, Libby begins to question her own testimony and re-open the case. It turns into an emotional and terrifying journey for her to discover who actually did murder her entire family.

It sounds great on the back cover, but I think this book fell short because of several reasons. For one, every other chapter is a flashback to supposed-murderer Ben Day’s last 24 hours before the murder, and it’s in third-person limited. The rest of the chapters are present-day and in Libby’s first person. This makes the narrative less engaging because the reader knows so much about the events of that day, and it turns boring fast. The immediacy is removed, and the narrative becomes punctuated. It also confused me when the point of view changed so much. There’s a good way to do all this stuff, but unfortunately, Libby Day’s voice was not strong enough to make it obvious when the point of view changed. It all felt like Flynn’s voice, and that’s a problem.

Second, I guessed the ending and that frustrates me because I’m the absolute worst at guessing endings. I’m a naive and blind reader, and the fact that I guessed the ending just shows me that it was extraordinarily predictable. The murderer[s] aren’t scary, and the villain[s] are supposed to be complex but they end up being either caricatures or completely unbelievable. It didn’t feel real, and it didn’t scare me as the other two definitely did.

That said, I think if I had read this book by Gillian Flynn first, I’d have liked it better. Gone Girl and Sharp Objects just eclipse this one entirely.

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‘Sharp Objects,’ my second Gillian Flynn

My first Gillian Flynn was appropriately Gone Girl, and I’d heard a lot about her first two smashing novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, so I recently took a weekend and read these novels almost in one sitting each, which is fabulous and also I couldn’t sleep for like four days, because holy mother of pearl, this book was a nail-biter. It’s a classic whodunit with no small measure of psychological mind-effing thrown in just to make you second-guess both your sanity and your humanity.

66559Sharp Objects is elegantly plotted and succinct. Camille Preaker is a second-rate journalist at a failing Chicago newspaper sent down to her Missouri hometown to investigate what seems to be a serial killer. Two girls have been murdered within a year’s time. Both girls were feisty, mischievous middle-schoolers, and both were found with all their teeth pulled out.

That detail alone was enough to make me cringe. Gillian Flynn has a knack for making singular gory details vivid and endlessly disturbing. Camille is a troubled thirty-something whose rich mother never loved her. Going home to investigate the murders has made Camille face her own demons, the biggest of which is that she is a cutter. But instead of lines on her wrist, Camille cuts deep words all over her body. Her whole body is therefore covered in gleaming white scars that spell over a decade’s worth of self-harm and self-loathing.

Camille also has to bond with her beautiful and cruel younger sister, the thirteen-year-old Amma. Their family structure includes a neglectful, controlling mother, a wild and ferocious teenage girl, and Camille’s younger sister, who died at ten years old. Camille’s investigation becomes personal very quickly, forcing her to confront her own humanity.

“Camille?” Her voice quiet and girlish and unsure. “You know how people sometimes say they have to hurt because if they don’t, they’re so numb they won’t feel anything?”
“Mmm.”
“What if it’s the opposite?” Amma whispered. “What if you hurt because it feels so good? Like you have a tingling, like someone left a switch on in your body. And nothing can turn that switch off except hurting? What does that mean?”

So much of this book plays on your own sense of humanity. It seems to suggest that there is something bestial, demonic and evil within all of us, and that our basest instincts may always be lurking just below the surface. It’s deeply unhealthy because it almost feels true, this idea that maybe we are all capable of horrible acts of violence, that it’s normal for humans to maim, abuse, control, and kill.

It’s deeply unsettling, but it’s almost a triumphant piece of fiction because it is so powerful and disturbing. As gross and nasty as this book is, it also achieves elegance and beauty, and that truly frightens me.

4.5/5.

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Gone Girl, a Women vs. Men Murder Thriller

For three days I sat with my right hand permanently glued to my Kindle, watching the screen flash with each crazy page I read. This is Gone Girl, and it was a lot more than I’d expected.

8442457I read the book because of the hype. I love being a part of things when they’re happening and I wanted to see the movie when it was released so I took the time—Halloween time—to read this book and man, was I in for a ride. If you don’t know already, here’s the premise: Nick Dunne is a Missouri boy with a New York wife, Amy. They have to move back to Nick’s hometown after they both lose their jobs. After two years back home, Nick comes home to find Amy gone and a crime scene in his living room. He is the prime suspect. Because the narrative switches between Amy and Nick, readers learn about their five-year marriage from two differing perspectives. With such polar-opposite stories and no other suspects for murder, who is ultimately telling the truth?

So yeah, it’s a helluva ride, and definitely a whodunit with a huge psychological—and psychotic—element, but the thing that struck me most about this novel was its portrayal of how men and women perceive and treat each other in society. Without giving anything away, a truly despicable character says some pretty astute things about dating and how women are liable to tailor their personalities to suit men’s tastes:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl…I waited patiently—years—for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy.”

Of course, the “Cool Girl” phenomenon isn’t new. Every five years or so a new feminine “ideal” comes along to replace the one before it, but placing the argument against the “Cool Girl” in the mouth of a truly abhorrent character is an interesting move. It challenges you to align yourself philosophically with a murderer. It tests your sympathy. And it also forces you into the perspective of the undisputed villain of the story. What she says is undoubtedly truth, even though you can be disgusted by everything else she says and does. You should hate her, and rightfully so, but she’s (disturbingly) kind of wise.

Meanwhile, the “good guy” is innocent in the eyes of the law, but his actions throughout the novel also call attention to the terrible things men do to women (and absolutely vice versa). He cheats, he lies, he tries to cover his own tracks, he attempts murder, he exonerates himself, he’s sometimes absolutely pathetic. But do his actions warrant such a violent response? Whose fault is it that neither member of this marriage is happy?

I read a review that this book is filled with two despicable protagonists—one obviously so, the other subtly so. This quote from one of them sums up their sham marriage:

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves—surprise!—we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.” 

Because they tried so hard to be people they were not to suit the other, when the couple do get married, they don’t know each other at all. Of course the marriage is going to crumble and fall. Or, in this case, go up in flames.

Reading Goodreads reviews, it truly annoys me how many people hate this book just for the sake of hating it. It’s an arrogant thing to do to decide to hate something that a lot of people like. And it also strikes me how so many people judge a book by its “unputdownable” qualities. A book can be droll and circuitous and take forever to read, but often that means the book is worth the time and effort.

But anyway, back to the review. Above all, I think this book is built on a foundation of “he versus she.” All of the actions of the two main characters are driven by this exaggerated gender-wars attitude. This is a societal critique wrapped up in a murder thriller, and yes, it’s “unputdownable.” And the ending had me reeling…

Reads and Recs: A Bookish Halloween

Trying to get into the holiday spirit? If you’ve carved pumpkins and made your costume, gone apple picking and are glued to 13 Days of Halloween, reading a Halloweenie book is another great way to spook yourself into the holiday spirit. So I’ll be checking out these books this month!

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Gone Girl

Isn’t everyone reading this book nowadays? I’ve had this book on my Kindle for over a year and have yet to read it. The opportune release of the movie right near Halloween is the perfect time to finally get to it!

The Diviners

This book…is the scariest thing I have ever read. There’s this horrible murderer on the loose in 1920s New York who whistles before he kills you…and then he eats your body parts. I CAN’T EVEN. But still—I love this book because it was written by one of my favorite YA authors whom I’ve been reading since I was 12 years old, Libba Bray. Bonus photo of her signing my circa-2004 copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty at this year’s BookCon:

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The Shining

I’ve never read this book, but I always remember that episode of Friends when Joey stuck the book in the freezer when he got too afraid. I am anticipating a similar recourse from my terror.

What are you guys reading this Halloween?