The Favourite Sister, by Jessica Knoll

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I first heard about this book while completing (procrastinating on finishing) an assignment for my publishing program. I’m a sucker for any book that involves reality TV, but when you add in a good mystery, I was hooked!

The Favorite Sister  by New York-Times Best-Selling author Jessica Knoll, follows five successful women who star on a reality TV series called Goal Diggers. The show chronicles the lives and successes of Brett, Kelly, Stephanie, Lauren and Jen. It’s supposed to be about uplifting and supporting women in their successes, but nobody expects the season to end in murder…

A Fabulous Murder Mystery

The Favorite Sister snagged me right from the first page when I read Kelly’s admission that Brett, her sister and one of the characters that we come to know and love throughout the course of the narrative, will die at the end of the book. While sometimes I find that this convention can backfire, finding out that someone will die in the first paragraph of a story only served to pique my interest, maybe because Kelly, Brett’s sister, also admits that it is her fault. Is Kelly the killer? How does it happen? 

Wouldn’t you like to know?

An Excellent Narrative Framework

Fabulous hook aside, what kept me reading was the smart discussion around so many different feminist issues. Sure, it was fascinating to read about the tricks of the Reality TV trade, such as uncorking bottles of wine so that the actors can’t tell how much alcohol they are consuming… Or texting actors with prompts to make on-screen discussions more juicy… (Apparently all true!) …What I liked the most was the narrative framework that Knoll builds around her juicy reality-tv mystery.

Framing the mystery around the discussion of successful women and how they are often put in positions where they must be fiercely competitive and applauded for cattiness on and off television was a clever way to open up readers to an important discussion without getting too heavy-handed.

Real Women, Real Relationships

Despite the sometimes serious ideas that Knoll puts forth, I think that her narrative never gets weighed down because her characters feel like real women and their backstories, woven expertly into the high-powered plot are interesting to read about. Sure, Kelly has issues with Brett, who skyrocketed to fame and left her in the dust, but it is clear that despite their frequent fights, she loves her sister. Hearing from several female narrators, all with different life-perspectives made for excellent reading. Even better, as certain truths come out about the women on Goal Diggers and we discover more and more about their own histories, it feels in part like unraveling another dimension of the mystery.

Jessica Knoll writes about seduction in The Favorite Sister when she says:

“Isn’t that the secret sauce of seduction? First the snare of mystery, then the distinctly female instinct to rehabilitate.”

That is what The Favourite Sister does–it seduces the reader with a fantastic mystery, while subtly working to rehabilitate common ideas about feminism.

 

What are your favourite reality TV themed or girl-power books? Let me know in the comments below!

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Writerly Wednesday: A List of Short Story Contests in July & August

Writerly Wednesday

 

Summer is almost here, but that doesn’t mean that all things writerly slow down! If anything, summer is the best time to write like crazy and send more writing out into the world. In the spirit of keeping myself honest and accomplishing my goal of not being a shy writer who hides in her writerly cave, quietly editing her works forever, I’m compiling a list of contests to enter in the summer months.

Why not follow along with me and see how many you can enter too?

  1. Glimmer Train Press – Short Story Award for New Writers. 1,000 to 12,000 words for  a short story by an unpublished writer whose work has yet to appear in a magazine with a circulation over 5,000. Deadline: June 30th.
  2. Bellevue Literary Review – Fiction Prize.  If writing about health is your schtick, then this contest is for you! There’s a $1000 prize, which is good, since the entry fee is $20.  Deadline: July 1st.
  3. New American Press – 2018 Fiction Prize. There are no limits in this contest. Enter your short story, novel, novella, collection of stories or hybrid fiction! With a $1000 prize and 25 contributor copies, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Deadline: July 1st.
  4. Nimrod – Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers. Open only to writers with no more than two previous publication credits in their genre.  5,000 words maximum. Open internationally. All finalists will be published. $12 entry fee. Deadline: July 15.
  5. Haunted Waters Press –  Fiction, Poetry, & Flash Fiction. If you’re a writer of all things spooky or supernatural, this contest is for you. Deadline: July 31st. 
  6. Crazyhorse – Short-Short Fiction Competition. Submit 3 short-shorts of up to 500 words each. $15 entry fee includes a one-year subscription to Crazyhorse. Deadline: July 31st.
  7. The Capilano Review – 8th Annual Robin Blaser Writing Contest. $1000 CAD plus publication in an upcoming issue of The Capilano Review. Each submission includes a 1-year subscription to TCR, valued at $25. Length: Maximum 6 pages per entry. Fee: $30 for Canadian entries, $40 for US/international entries. July 31st.
  8. The Orison Anthology Awards. The Orison Anthology is an annual collection of the finest spiritually engaged writing. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: August 1.
  9. Gival Press – 15th Annual Short Story Award. Stories must be unpublished and between 5,000 to 15,000 words in length. There is a $25 reading fee. Deadline: August 8th.
  10. Aftermath – The End of Our World Short Story Contest. Open worldwide, this contest focuses on climate change and environmental disaster. Submit a piece of fiction between 1500 to 5000 words. $1000 prize. Entry is FREE.

 

What are your favourite writing contests? Are there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Morality Contracts, the Hot New Publishing Trend

Writerly Wednesday

Today The Guardian released a juicy bit of publishing news . With the #MeToo movement in full swing, the hot new trend in publishing are morality contracts.

What the heck is that, you may ask?

In plain terms, a morality contract reserves the right to terminate a contract with your publisher if for some reason your conduct is not in line with the “public conventions and morals” of society.  Essentially, instead of judging the book by its literary merits, morality contracts serve to judge authors by their personal lives. This has me thinking: can we separate the lives of authors from their works?

Being Good, or Good Writing?

Censorship is a dirty word. Part of the nature of good writing is the ability to write from an honest place. But reputation matters too, even if you aren’t Sherman Alexie or Junot Diaz, both of which have been recently accused of some serious sexual harrassment charges. Some would say that the “outings” of certain men in Hollywood and in the literary world is a “witch hunt,” of sorts, and that morality contracts are censorship of art.

But here’s the thing: morality contracts aren’t that new. They’ve actually been around since 1921 when Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for rape and murder. In 1940, the House of Un-American Activities Committee used morality contracts to blacklist the “Hollywood 10.”

Would you still pick up a book by an author once you knew that they’d behaved in a “predatory” way? 

I want to believe that I could separate the art from the author, but truthfully, I don’t know if I can. Finding out that your favourite author is a creep is a lot like peeking behind the fence at a theme park and catching your favourite character with his big bobble head off, revealing a sad, tired, sweaty guy smoking a cigarette.

Is good writing enough? 

 The Death of the Author

Depending on who you ask, the Author is already “dead” once it is sent out into the world. As readers, we aren’t supposed read the Author in between the lines, because the Author isn’t there. The story is the story. It’s the rough equivalent of kids whose parents are murderers. The book is its own, separate entity.

So, sure. Everyone judges a book by its cover, but can you also judge a book by its author?

The line between the author and their work is always going to be muddied. You love the book, so you love the author too.

 

When it comes to art and morals, where do you draw the line?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Awake the Travel Bug

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It’s no secret that I love to travel. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know that I take every chance I get to explore the world. Alas, travel can be a bit expensive, so while I’m saving up for my next great adventure, reading books that take me to exotic locales is the next best thing. Here are a few of my favourites for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl:

  1. Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan – “Alamak!” All of the fantastic locales that Kwan describes… and the food alone makes me want to hop on a plane and set out for Singapore. The entire series is an awesome and hilarious adventure.
  2. Love and Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch – Again, with the food. I love Italy, and this book took me right back to visiting the Duomo and eating too much gelato.
  3. An Age of License, by Lucy Knisley – I’m a huge fan of Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs, but this one is especially fun, because readers get to follow her as she travels through Europe.
  4. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – Set in London, The Royal We features tons of cool locations in one of my favourite cities. Also, did I mention that there is a handsome, single prince in this book? Seriously, even if you hate London, the Prince is enough to keep things interesting.
  5. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon – Does time travel count? I mean, it’s still travel… Also, did I mention the super-hot scotsman in this one? No? Well… Why else does one travel?
  6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert – Yes, I was inspired by the travel. Also, this book just made me hungry.
  7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain – Perhaps not an exotic locale for me, but I liked Twain’s descriptions of the languid Mississippi river set as the backdrop for boyhood adventures. If you are a fan of Nick Offerman (because why wouldn’t you be?) there is an audiobook out where he narrates.
  8. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed – I think I liked reading this one so much because for a few hundred pages I could experience hiking the Pacific Crest trail without actually having to hike. I hate hiking, ya’ll. But, I loved this book.
  9. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien – Confession: I kind of gave up in book two, because what is with all of that “they walked through the forest” for like a million pages BS? Sorry, bookish internet. I promise to go back and read it again. The Lord of the Rings did inspire some of my travels in New Zealand, though.
  10. Paper Towns, by John Green – One night, Quentin’s crush Margo climbs in through his window and everything changes. An awesome mystery/road trip novel that always makes me want to return to Florida.

 

What books make you want to travel more?

Educated, by Tara Westover

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“This is not a story about being Mormon,” writes New York Times Bestselling author Tara Westover, at the start of Educated, a book that has been compared to narratives about cults. I’ll admit that I was intrigued initially, based on this description, but I was quickly won over by Westover’s candid and heartfelt account of her experience growing up in the mountains as part of a fundamentalist Mormon family. Readers who love a good, gritty memoir packed with excitement and a narrator that you can’t help but root for will love Educated.

Family Values

There were many elements of Tara Westover’s life that shocked and surprised me, to the point that I couldn’t set down the book, because I just had to know what would happen. The many visceral descriptions of abuse and other frightening moments in Westover’s life were fascinating to read about, but what stuck out as the most dynamic parts of the story were not her “escape” into more “mainstream” culture, but the relationships that she had with her family.

Even though Westover lives through some truly terrible moments at the hands of her older brother Shawn and her bipolar father, the view that she creates of her family feels balanced. No one is ever quite a villain in this piece, which makes them all the more endearing to read about. I think it is because she includes such tender, honest moments between these characters that they are made human in the readers’ eyes. Because I felt that Westover loved her family despite their flaws, I found myself loving them too.

A College Narrative with a Twist

Maybe it is because I went on to post-secondary education that I was attracted to the descriptions of Tara at College, but I liked reading about her experiences there. This section of the book had some particularly excellent tension, as I was constantly wondering how she would pass courses that required knowledge Tara did not have based on her lack of a high school education, or how she would pay for another semester when she was too broke to eat.

Even more fascinating was Tara’s point of view as a strict Mormon living for the first time with “gentiles.” It was a unique perspective to view and I found that while the earlier scenes featuring her family (and the many times that Tara was put in dangerous situations), this section had its own revelations that kept me turning the pages. I loved reading about her gentile roommates, who had to remind her to wash her hands, or the moment in a lecture where she didn’t know who Hitler was. Reading this section gave me a clearer sense of Westover’s struggle.

Read This Book

Deeply moving, raw and wild like the mountain that she hails from, Tara Westover’s Educated is a narrative that you won’t want to miss. I may have come for the sensational story about escape from a survivalist family, but I found that I never wanted to leave.

Have you read Educated yet? Feel free to share in the comments what you liked about it!

 

 

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing this Advanced Readers Copy!

Writerly Wednesday

 

Writerly Wednesday

 

When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about writing. I was in the throes of editing the first novel I’d ever written and it felt important to document it. Since then, I’ve written five more novels, among other things.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to write alone, in secret after that first novel. I didn’t want to talk about my writing. I wanted to write for myself. But over the years, I’ve discovered that while writing for myself has helped me in many ways, some of the best and most surprising learning experiences have been from talking to other writers.

So I’m starting Writerly Wednesday as a (somewhat) regular feature here at Murmurs in the Margins in the hopes that other writers might find me in my little corner of the internet. Come for a chat, check out prompts and updated submissions lists.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Decided to DNF Too Quickly

 

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I don’t always participate in Top Ten Tuesday, which is a blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, but this one caught my attention. I’m not the kind of reader who doggedly slogs through a book that I’m not enjoying. If I don’t like a book, or if it just doesn’t grab me in the first fifty or maybe one-hundred pages, I set it aside. Most of the time, it’s with the promise that I will return to the book when my narrative taste buds hunger for something else, but sometimes, I just don’t go back. I’ve even been known to (only once!) throw a book in the garbage (gasp!) because I really, really didn’t like it. (Book lovers, I promise that it was only once and I –probably — won’t do it again).

So here’s a list of books that I (sort of, maybe) promise to return to. You know, one of these days…

  1. Jane Steele, by Lindsay Faye – Reader, I’m sure this is a great book, but I didn’t make it past the first few pages.
  2. Origin, by Dan Brown – Will God survive science? I have no idea… I got about half-way through and just… I don’t know.  I figured that he’d save the world, I just wasn’t sure that I cared how he did it this time. Sorry, Professor Langdon. Maybe I’ll join you on your next adventure.
  3. The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins – Bizarre alien-like angel things! A mysterious library! A murder mystery! And yet… I set it down after the first two chapters. This is one that I might actually pick up again. #lies
  4. Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum – Hausfrau might have been described as “Madame Bovary meets Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I never quite made it past the Bovary parts.
  5. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling – I found the lack of Harry Potter disturbing.
  6. The Death Cure, by James Dashner – It was better when they were being chased by weird, creepy aliens in a maze.
  7. Catch 22, by Joseph Heller – This one is a mystery. My husband reads it once a year and laughs hysterically.
  8. Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo – I started this one on the plane ride home from Norway, but…maybe I was just too tired to finish it.
  9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant might be  completely fine, but I found the plot just a bit too slow at first.
  10. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – I started this one three times, each time only reaching the very start of the story that Kvothe tells. Then, one day I got stuck on a long car ride through the fog and suddenly, I was hooked. When I finished it, I was glad that I did. Maybe this one doesn’t count officially as a DNF, but it makes me think that there is still hope for the other books on this list…

 

Sorry books that I DNF! I might just come back to you later…

What books have you left on a shelf in favour of something else? What makes you set down a book for good?