The Read & Chill-A-Thon is hosted by Rebecca @ Bookishly Rebecca. This readathon consists of four prompts and runs throughout the month of November. The goal is to take it easy and read as much or as little as you want.
PROMPT THREE: Read a new-to-you author.
Since Mandy and I both decided to tackle this super fun read-a-thon, we decided to combo our reviews (while still reading different books) to avoid spamming our followers with posts. In this one, find out our thoughts on a book someone else recommended to us!
I’ll go with One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus which technically is also a recommendation (from Mandy herself). It’s been sitting idle on my Kindle for too long. (from November TBR list).
Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen M. McManus
Released: May 30 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 (of 79,638 ratings)
Review: The hype did not live up for this YA mystery. I’m sorry! In One of Us is Lying, five teens end up in detention under suspicious circumstances. When one of them dies, the surviving four become prime suspects as well as targets as their greatest secrets are revealed. McManus used alternating, first person PoV to tell Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper’s stories and I kept flipping back to the chapter heading to remind myself who was talking. Their voices were just so similar. In the summary, each character is defined as either “the brain” or “the athlete” etc. and as much as McManus works to show they are more than the stereotype, a lot of their characterization boiled down to their label.
In a way, I was relieved, because there were so many characters. Realistic, for high school, but after a while it was hard to keep track of who’s who. Everyone had sisters and brothers and parents and exes and friends. Yet no one was super well-defined — I mean, there are only 360 pages, and McManus threw in a good handful of heavy topics. I found myself nodding like, “Oh, okay” when very dire issues came up on the page. I couldn’t connect to what was happening, it was too rushed and occurring to people I didn’t really feel for. Sometimes, the end results didn’t feel realistic or wrapped up too quickly.
Without spoiling too much (though this book is over a year old, and I feel most spoilers have reached your ears by now) the way those big issues were handled was none-too agreeable for me. There is slut-shaming that is not truly addressed. There are aggressive thoughts towards peers that are portrayed as “I guess I did bring that on myself.” And the LGBTQ plot thread just … doesn’t sit easy with me. For sake of spoilers, I won’t say anything more.
One of Us is Lying was easy to read, despite my lack of emotional investment. I finished it in a day. I liked Addy’s self-acceptance process, and the way her arc ended was really well-done. The many characters were tough to follow, but at the same time, it was nice reading characters with extended social groups. 3 crowns.
The Agony House by Cherie Priest. I’m still in the spooky books mood (I mean, when am I ever actually out of it??), and this one was one that instantly caught my eye at the library. It’s a mix of art and novelization, so I’m excited to try it out.
Title: The Agony House
Author: Cherie Priest
Released: September 25, 2018
Genre: Horror/Graphic Novel
Goodreads Rating: 3.83 (of 186ratings)
Review: This book was a mess, and I’m so sad my love of spooky got me here. I was ready for all the spooks and the ghosties, but instead I got a super boring book that had parts that made me uncomfortable.
The premise of the novel is Denise, a girl from Texas, moves back to New Orleans after years of being away. She first left after Hurricane Katrina, which took away her dad and grandmother, and now she is back with her mother and stepfather to start over new. They move into a dilapidated house that is more than the average fixer and upper to create a bed and breakfast. Besides it being a mess, they soon realize they might not be along after mysterious voices, accidents, and more happen…especially after Denise uncovers a mysterious comic creator died in the house and Denise has found one of his old comics.
👻 The first part of the novel that was meh for me was the storyline. It was super boring. I mean, I wanted to start skimming very early on. It was just a lot of lemme tell you everything I’m doing in this day to day happenings and be super meh about it. I was bored and just ready for the ghosties.
When the ghosties did come, they really weren’t very exciting. There were no chills to be had and there was no excitement. I didn’t even fully get they were ghosties. The first occurrence of paranormal happenings was I think in the second chapter? Literally, Denise is exploring the attic, sees the door start to move, hears a scratch, and is like GHOSTS. ALL THE GHOSTS. GHOSTS GHOSTS GHOSTS AND MORE GHOSTS. Okay, this girl is all about the ghosties and probably those people on Ghost Hunters would have the same reaction but it was wildly jumped/reached and I was lost.
👻 The art. I thought there would certainly be far more graphic content. That was one of the main reasons I picked it up. I love mixed media novels, and the art looked pretty good. The art that was in the novel was mostly in the chapter headers (that were all the same) and the comic. I mean, the art was good, but I just wanted more of it. The art was honestly the most enjoyable part of the novel.
The art parts really that captivating either. I wanted to like the comic a lot, but it wasn’t that great. It was just meh.
👻 The characters. I didn’t like any of them. If the character wasn’t likeable, they were literally just there. I mean, there was nothing special about any of them. I felt no connection. I was severely not a fan of Denise, and the rest of them? So meh. The parents, Norman, Dominique, and…that one neighbor kid whose name I barely remember. Terry? I’mma call him Terry. I thought perhaps he would be entertaining because he just barged right into the house and was like gimme all your ghosts! But he was still boring and way too aggressive in this respect to be funny.
👻 I wasn’t a super fan of the writing either. It was in third person, so I think the disconnect with even stronger than it was had it been from Denise’s POV.
👻 Now, onto the parts that made me uncomfortable. There was a first part immediately made me uncomfortable but then I continued on and it got even worst. I read a lot of reviews for this book and a lot of people praised Priest’s incorporation of gentrification and these instances, but honestly, I really didn’t get it. I just felt turned off and uncomfortable with how it started and for me, I felt like this instance took away any good it did. All of the things I’m about to mention just happened in a few pages.
So, Denise runs into this potential love interest Norman when he is delivering a pizza to her house. He mentions to her, hey, you’re new and my age – a good place to hang out is this po’boy restaurant that is a good place to hang AND they have free wifi. The next day, Denise, is like yes! I’m going to go here.
So she wanders in, realizes she has to pay to use wifi, so she gets some food. The author describes this entire process and than, at the very last sentence of the paragraph, this sentence is added in:
When she got her food, she picked a seat and tried not to feel weird about being the only white person who wasn’t working behind the counter.
What does that even mean? I intensely blinked at the book for a good long time, feeling incredibly uncomfortable but still I decided to move ahead because I was hoping to figure out what that meant.
A few paragraphs later, Denise is just minding her business, on the computer, and some girls her age walk up to her and immediately start interrogating her. They want to know if she is the person that moved into the new house and the reasons behind it. They believe she is a gentrifier and has only moved into the area to fix up the house and upsell it so the neighborhood will have issues. They talk about how clear it is.
This immediately makes Denise upset and she has to continuously how poor she is. I mean, there is literally a huge paragraph about her describing how poor she is and how they can’t afford anything and doesn’t this girl see her beat up laptop??? When that isn’t enough, she has to talk about how she is actually from New Orleans and her daddy died in this city. [Following scene is loosely paraphrased.]
Dominique, the ring leader, is like, “and i’m supposed to feel sorry for you?”
So Denise is like, “Y’all don’t want me here, and I don’t want to be here, so there’s something we agree on. Leave me alone, or keep giving me grief, I don’t care. I’ve got headphones.”
And then randomly Dominique is like, “Why aren’t you eating? You should be eating. Give me a dime so I get this girl some fries.”
And Denise is like, well, “So Dominique wasn’t always awful to everybody, mostly just gentrifiers.”
??????? This entire scene clearly makes Denise out to be the victim and Dominique and her group out to be the villain. I mean, Dominique is clearly harshly investigating her and Denise is having to defend herself/mention she is a victim in this situation. Plus, instead of dealing with this and asking Dominique why she feels this way, Denise instead just completely dismisses her. And I still don’t even get the french fries thing???? Again, it was incredibly uncomfortable period, but especially after the above statement that put it all into context.
When talking with Sha about this, she found it quite apt that this was entitled Agony House.
The worst part was this exchange, in my opinion. [Following scene is loosely paraphrased.]
Denise’s stepdad comes to pick her up and Denise pops into the car. They exchange a few words and then this appears:
Denise: “You want me to ride a bike in this heat? Through this neighborhood?”
Stepdad: “The heat, I’ll give you. But don’t crap on the neighborhood. Don’t be one of those white kids who’s weird about being around black kids.”
Denise: “I’m not. I’m trying not to, and…that’s not what I meant. I’ve…I’ve got black friends in Houston. Kim’s black.” She knew it sounded dumb even before it left her mouth, but there it was. “But that’s not the problem, I don’t think. Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s part of it. The point is, I don’t have any new friends.”
I don’t even know where to begin to unpack all of things uncomfortable and wrong in this statement. I don’t even remember a Kim being mentioned before this moment, and just because you know/have black friends doesn’t not equal you to have racial issues. And you don’t think that the problem?? Maybe it’s part of it??? I can’t even.
Maybe there was a full arc for this (idk, I did major skimming for the rest of the book but there were parts that I was 200% done after this point that I did end up giving up a little past halfway through even in my skimming so I’m not entirely sure) that would topic important issues in race and gentrification, but I believe this beginning part isn’t the way to do it at all.
This was just a messy read for me, and this review is long enough. Don’t recommend at all. 1 crown and a Merida rating.
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Have you read either of these books? Do you agree/disagree with our thoughts? What is your favourite bookish trope? Let’s discuss!