Reading like a Writer | The Fever

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Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse. Spoilers, obvi.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

About this Book

I adore Megan Abbott. I enjoyed The End of Everything and loved Dare Me. When I read the synopsis for The Fever, I knew it would be a must-read:

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire,The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation” (Laura Lippman).

Here’s what I didn’t expect. The book is about an epidemic among teenagers at a local high school. The last books of hers were told from a young woman’s perspective. And while authors can, will, and should change up their use of voice, I wasn’t expecting the plot from all three of the Nash family members’ perspectives.

Reading like a Writer Lesson

Seeing events unfold from Tom’s, Eli’s, and Deenie’s viewpoints worked well because Abbott captured them as unique individuals. She presents a range of voices, each representing unique motivations and perspectives. For example, Tom is the literal and figurative father figure, allowing the reader to see events from an “adult” perspective. Eli, meanwhile, serves in a male gaze capacity, which gives him different access to the dynamics of the teenage girls – the very population mysteriously afflicted. Deenie is our “boots on the ground” character, in the thick of the action. Each character wants to find out what is happening, but their “why” is unique – and coupled with lenses and roles, every section allows the mystery to deepen more.

Disagree? Want to know more? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Reading like a Writer | The Accident

Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse! They didn’t deliver; read on to find out why! Spoilers, obvi.

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When I read about this book in Bloggers Recommend, I was excited to read something on the action/thriller side. I enjoy the genre, but I don’t read it as much anymore.

The Accident was entertaining and engaging, but I had a hard time buying into the manuscript reveal and the henchmen mobilization. Described as “explosive and controversial,” the manuscript never quite hits that mark for a couple of reasons.

The shattering secret – the actual accident – pales by comparison if you’re at all familiar with the Busch family legacy. Rather than a media mogul, a fictionalized August Busch IV would have had a more troubling, dark impact.

There are multiple allusions to problematic off-the-books military/secret ops international missions, but we never get more than hints. Come on. Is this Budapest?

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I get there was a personal connection to the accident, but the motive and back story never really coalesce and build to a believable crescendo. It seems like exploring some more of the revelations would have helped the book feel grounded and impactful outside of the main cast of characters.

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Reading like a writer lesson: when you raise your stakes, the consequences have to feel believable and real.

Disagree about any of these reviews? Want to know more? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Reading like a Writer | Landline

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Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse. Spoilers, obvi.

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I got Landline in the first Riot Reads Quarterly package.

First: this book is awesome. It’s unique but familiar, engaging without being over-the-top. I mean, there is a magical yellow phone that allows the protagonist to talk to her now-husband from the past. That could go sideways and crazy in the hands of a less skilled author, but Rowell knows when to ramp up and when to reign in.

There are many things I loved about this book, but the one I’ll talk about today is Rowell’s use of secondary characters.

A lot of the action centers around Georgie and Neal as they converse and dissect their relationship. What makes the conflict work (and frankly, keeps it light-hearted) is how other characters intersect its trajectory. Take Georgie’s family: her mother comes across as a dog-obsessed ditz and her sister is a boy-crazy teen. Those initial presentations and assessments get stripped away throughout the novel. With the reveal that the pizza guy Heather’s been dressing to impress is a pizza girl, we also learn that their mother is more observant than the sisters imagine. These are quietly beautiful, charming scenes in how they play out, and they add another layer to the book. I wanted to go back and reread all the family interactions to see just how much the mother grasped about her daughters’ relationships and analyze the conversations Heather and Georgie had about love and loyalty.

Reading like a writer lesson: Your characters are people. They have histories and motivations. While their main purpose may be to enact some plot device, they can do that in a way that layers another perspective for the characters or the piece itself. Secondary characters don’t have to be center stage, but they should engage the reader and the other elements of the manuscript.

Disagree? Want to know more? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Reading like a Writer | Enclave

Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse! They didn’t deliver; read on to find out why! Spoilers, obvi.

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I decided to read Enclave based on this post over at Book Riot. I thought I would be getting a solid female-driven YA series.

What I got was a big ole dose of disappointment.

Now, not everyone feels this way. The reviews are positive. Several of my Goodreads friends liked or even loved it.

I didn’t like the book’s inability to show, not tell. I felt there were missed opportunities to build up the characters and setting. For example, there’s a moment where a character loses her belongings. We have a line about how she’s sad to give up a necklace because it belonged to her mother.

…so, we couldn’t have had a moment in the previous hundred pages where she looks at it? If you introduce the loss and the emotion at the same time, it doesn’t have the same impact.

Oh, and then there’s the part where the protagonist maybe starts to fall for another character whose background involves hunting people and assaulting women.

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It’d be one thing if there was believable character development, but because of the whole “tell, not show” problem it felt weird.

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Like this, but less Taylor Swift and more Silence of the Lambs.

Reading like a writer lesson: take it back to basics. It’s hard to pull of a gimmicky genre twist if you can’t nail basic reader engagement.

Think Enclave is amazing? Tell me why in the comments!

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Reading like a Writer | Backseat Saints

Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse! They didn’t deliver; read on to find out why! Spoilers, obvi.

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For the most part, I’m a loyal, faithful reader: impress me, and I shall continue buying your books. I enjoy Joshilyn Jackson’s work, and I’ve read or listened to almost everything she’s written at this point. She narrates most of her books, so I get a nice dose of Southern every time I press play.

My latest foray into Jackson territory was Backseat Saints. It’s almost a parallel story to my first (and favorite) read, Gods in Alabama. The protagonist from each book intersects the other’s plot at pivotal moments, and it’s pretty cool – meaningful without feeling gimmicky.

My biggest issue with this book has very little to do with Jackson as a writer – you keep on keepin’ on, girl – and everything to do with publicity and marketing.

See, the book blurb is misleading.

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You know I’m upset when the Elf .gifs start coming, y’all.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads, minus the final paragraph (accolades for the author/book) :

Rose Mae Lolley is a fierce and dirty girl, long-suppressed under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats. As “Mrs. Ro Grandee” she’s trapped in a marriage that’s thick with love and sick with abuse. Her true self has been bound in the chains of marital bliss in rural Texas, letting “Ro” make eggs, iron shirts, and take her punches. She seems doomed to spend the rest of her life battered outside by her husband and inside by her former self, until fate throws her in the path of an airport gypsy—one who shares her past and knows her future. The tarot cards foretell that Rose’s beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.

Hot-blooded Rose Mae escapes from under Ro’s perky compliance and emerges with a gun and a plan to beat the hand she’s been dealt. Following messages that her long-missing mother has left hidden for her in graffiti and behind paintings, Rose and her dog Gretel set out from Amarillo, TX back to her hometown of Fruiton, AL, and then on to California, unearthing a host of family secrets as she goes. Running for her life, she realizes that she must face her past in order to overcome her fate—death by marriage—and become a girl who is strong enough to save herself from the one who loves her best.

Now, let me break this blurb down for you – just in case you would like to prevent expecting a different novel when you read the book.

Paragraph 1: Super immersive right off the bat – you know your character, her conflict, and the stakes. She’s fierce but faded, and her future is laid out: kill or be killed.

Paragraph 2: Spoiler alert, this is where the blurb falls apart.

Did you read this and expect a reflective, healing road trip interspersed with clues? Well, prepare to be disappointed. While Rose Mae does do some of these things, they’re not the bulk of the novel. This point hits about two-thirds in, with a little time spent in Alabama. But her trip from Alabama to California occupies about the same amount of space in the blurb and the novel.

The only reason this works? The novel proper works better. A reflective, retrospective road trip? It’s been done. And that’s not where this novel could have shined. Jackson immerses the reader in Ro vs. Rose Mae, and it’s far better to experience the character’s internal conflict and see that dichotomy. Rather than hope, the majority of the novel focuses on fear – which makes those tiny glimmers all the more powerful.

For my first “Reading like a Writer” feature, the lesson is this: if you’re giving the reader a better book/experience, it’s okay to not deliver what the reader expected.

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Think I’m off my rocker? Leave a comment and give me a piece of your mind!

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