Tastes Like Fear (Marnie Rome #3) by Sarah Hilary

Last January I was one of the lucky bloggers to get a super early review copy of Tastes Like Fear, the third installment in the Marnie Rome series by Sarah Hilary. If you have not heard about the series, Marnie Rome or Sarah Hilary, I highly recommend you skip this review and check my review of Someone Else’s Skin (# 1) here or an interview with Sarah Hilary in which she discusses crime fiction, and the Marnie Rome series here, or check our talk about feminism and women writers here.

Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary (Marnie Rome #3)

If you have continued reading I can then start my enthusiastic review of Tastes Like Fear. Like No Other Darkness, Tastes Like Fear starts soon after the previous book finished, which is something that has become typical of the series, and which I really appreciate because it allows for a more complex character development. We meet Marnie and Noah barely six months after the previous novel, with Sol still living with Noah and Dan, and Marnie spending an important amount of time at Ed’s flat, and with Stephen Keele still trying to call Marnie’s attention. This time, Marnie’s team find themselves investigating the appearance of a nearly naked young girl in the streets of London, who caused a traffic accident in which a teenager died and a young mother has been left in a critical state. That girl could be May Beswick, the white, middle-class girl who has been missing for three months. But what is she doing at the Garrett, one of the poorest and most troublesome neighbourhoods of London? And why was she running away,  nearly naked and disoriented? And, most importantly, where did she go after causing the accident?

As she did in the previous novels, Hilary creates two parallel stories: Marnie’s team, and the victims’. This narrative strategy offers the reader a much more complex approach to the story because it allows us to experiment the tension between what is happening with the victims, and the developments in Marnie’s team to catch the criminal before he/she does more harm. In Tastes Like Fear Hilary has mastered her own craft and offers four of the victims’ points of view, each of them different, and with different interests in mind. Contrary to what happened in previous installments, we do not get access to the killer, although I think recent crime fiction is paying more and more attention to victims, since they are the raison d’être of the genre. With this diversity, Hilary is portraying different responses to situations in which we can feel in danger, or that cause us extreme anxiety. We think we would do if we were robbed, or kidnapped, or hold at gun point, but we have no idea how we would react, and Hilary explores the surprising ways in which victims can behave in a masterful, and detailed way.

Tastes Like Fear also includes a new character: the city of London. Space and place had been quite important in previous novels in the series, but in this one Hilary pays special attention to the ways in which we interact with a city. The urban space is race, gender, and sexuality constructed: there are places a ‘good’, middle-class, heterosexual girl like May should not go, and where she would call everyone’s attention. We are given an insider’s view thanks to DS Noah Jake, who grew up in a state similar to the Garrett and knows the allegiances and the prescriptive behavioural codes that come from social pressure. As a homosexual cop, born and raised in communal living, he finds himself in an inbetween: neither on Marnie’s part, nor on the people at the Garrett’s, allowing for an exploration of his identity, and the many ways in which we can construct and change ourselves.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a lot of diverse teenager voices. I have already commented on the necessity to portray teenage girls in fiction more frequently, like Abbott does, because, needless to say, they are part of society. Hilary pays attention to those teenagers who feel the need to escape their supposedly comfortable, middle-class homes searching for something more. She also describes how many of these teenagers use the urban space and the city to rebel against their parents, who would rather have them in gender and class appropriate spaces. Teenage years are quite difficult because we experiment a lot of changes in both our bodies and our minds, and sometimes it is hard to negotiate those changes with your environment. I had the greatest of times by Hilary’s portrayal of three teenagers – two boys and a girl – who are drinking beer, and eating expensive crisps in the subway, with their Doctor Marents boots and warm coats protecting them from the cold before they finally return to their homes. This is not what rough life as a homeless teenager feels like, and the book makes a point of highlighting the difference letting rebellious teenagers know they do not really know how hard it is while never overlooking pain. For this reason I would suggest Tastes Like Fear as a reading for young people who enjoy crime fiction participating in the #ReadWomen and #ReadDiverse projects.

And, more importantly, this book is important for women in crime fiction because the female victims are given a voice, even when they are dead, Hilary manages to make them feel important, to make the reader see that a female corpse, dumped in the garbage deserves respect, although it can be very difficult, even for people as experimented as DI Marnie Rome, to treat them:

Fran knelt at the dead girl’s side, studying her swollen face before touching gloved fingers tenderly to the bruises. Marine stayed back, not speaking, watching Fran work. Her presence made the scene feel less like an annihilation. She was taking the temperature of the crime, finding its pulse, feeling for its edges. Until now, Marnie had wanted to cover the dead girl, hide her from prying eyes. She’s seen the way Ron had looked at the body, embarrassed and angry. A teenage girl dumped like garbage, appallingly vulnerable. With Fran kneeling beside her, she looked safe.

Tastes Like Fear is the best in the Marnie Rome series until now, and I can see how Sarah Hilary is mastering her own art. However, I am a bit worried about the future of the series. Noah Jake is slowly becoming a more interesting and more central character to the series, while Marnie is falling back into very dark times. It does not help that Hilary herself conducted a poll on Twitter asking readers who should die next in the series: Noah, Marnie, or Ed. Although I would be happy to spend more time with Noah, I can only hope Marnie does not die, since she is one of the strongest women detective in contemporary crime fiction (also, making her go through yet another tragic death is not fair, Sarah!).

Tastes Like Fear is out today. Be sure to grab a copy!

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda Books, and I have been Twitter friends for some time now. I even got to meet her at CrimeFest15 along with some of her authors. However, I had never read any of the books published by Orenda, despite all of them being amazing crime fiction. So, when I found out about In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings on Twitter, I knew I had to ask Karen for a review copy. She was super excited about my request, and she kindly sent me a lovely paperback edition, the perfect size to carry on my handbag, but not so small so as to make reading difficult. And this was just an advance of what was quality of the novel I had in my hands.

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings (Orenda Books)

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings (Orenda Books)

In Her Wake tells the story of Bella Campbell, 28, who has just lost her mother. Once she returns to The Old Vicarage – the comfortable but reclusive family home – she sees how her father is struggling to cope and is behaving in an odd way. After finding his corpse the next morning in his studio, she is handed down a letter that will change Bella’s life forever. I have to stop here, because although I had written a more detailed description of the book, I realised I knew no more than this when I picked up In Her Wake, and it was for the better. Amanda Jenning’s novel can be described as a blend of two of my favourite writers: Kate Atkinson and Kate Morton. So, think it would be better to left the important things unsaid, and let you discover what happened to Bella Campbell.

The novel deals with family-related issues, and Jennings pays special attention to the inner life of Bella. While Morton books focus on a mystery and try to solve it, Jennings devotes time to how the mystery affects the characters involved, allowing readers a much more close relationship with Bella and her struggles. The cover features quotes by Hannah Beckerman and Claire MacKintosh praising the moving descriptions of grief in the novel, and although I agree, I would also add that In Her Wake is a novel about accepting the gray areas of life. Contrary to fiction, life offers us relationships with people who are not completely good, neither completely bad, and it is necessary to accept such a complexity and learn to love people. without getting into much detail, I managed to negotiate a morally complex situation through Bella’s character, but came out with a different conclusion for myself, had I been in her shoes, which did not take anything away from the novel. I throughly enjoyed reading it, and I hope more women writers engage in these types of conversation about breaking away with social expectations of perfection, cleanliness, and defined areas in order to offer us more realistic family narratives featuring female characters.

One of the most prominent family-related issues portrayed in the novel is the consequences of living with fear, and how it affects our beloved ones. Fear may cause people to over-protect children, or make decisions for people seem not to be able to make those decisions for themselves. Fear may even destroy us, and take life away from us. Jennings highlights the importance of learning to live with fear, or rather accept that bad things may happen, there is no way you can prevent them, and you just have to live in the moment. In Her Wake‘s beautiful prose, and the stunning Cornish landscape play a key role in this re-education of the mind, made possible by the fear Bella feels. However,I would say this is a novel about the sea. I live a bit far from the sea myself, and I find a special happiness at visiting the sea-side, hearing the seagulls, and just being there. Jennings seems to share my love for the sea, and she features it prominently in the novel, making it a decisive main character in the creation of Bella’s identity. In Her Wake is perfect for anyone who is in love with the sea and the seaside and is looking for a complex novel about the gray areas in life, and how to live with them. While reading, I was soothed and inspired by Jennings’ descriptions of St. Ives, a real-life town in Cornwall that I can’t wait to visit now:

St. Ives (Cornwall)

St. Ives (Cornwall)

I loved In Her Wake, and I think it is one of the best novels that I will read this year, and I will definitely be following the amazing collaboration between Orenda Books and Amanda Jennings looking out for jewels like this novel.

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings is out today. Be sure to grab a copy!

Jessica Knoll, Author of Luckiest Girl Alive, Speaks Out About Sexual Abuse

Luckiest Girl Alive is Jessica Knoll’s debut novel. Published in Spring 2015, it was the book that I first reviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can check my review here.

Luckiest Girl Alive

Due to copyright issues, I cannot reproduce my review here in any form, but I can say that it offers readers one of the most brutal depictions of a gang rape I have ever read. And I am doing a PhD in crime fiction, so I am not the ultra-sensitive kind. Back when I was reading the book I did not give this scene more thought than I would have done in any other book. I was surprised at the brutality of it, yes, but since the book is such a good crime novel I thought Jessica Knoll is the next American crime fiction novelist. However, Knoll herself came out as a rape victim herself in a wonderful and moving letter at Lena Durhman’s Lenny Letter entitled ‘What I know’. Apparently, quite a bunch of women wanted to know more about Knoll’s cryptic dedication:

To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world,

I know. 

Again, when I was reading the book last Spring – the book that actually got me out of a post-break reading slump – I thought Knoll knew about the pressure to fit into a size 0. The pressure to marry well. The pressure to have that effortless fashion blogger look that I find impossible to emulate. The pressure to be a millennial woman, as my review for LARB shows. But Knoll’s message did not exactly refer to that.

Jessica-Knoll-Headshot

Author Jessica Knoll

I am writing this post because I want to share Jessica Knoll’s letter (link below), but also because I want to highlight the importance of inscribing and exploring these issues in contemporary crime fiction. Knoll herself decided to share the truth about her book and her life after being approached by many other women who, like TifAni,  knew. Many of us didn’t know. Lucky us. But we live in a rape culture in which walking back home alone late at night actually feels dangerous, and if something terrible were to happen to us, we will be blamed for it and that is not how things should be. And we can change that, one step at a time. One of those little, tiny steps, is to talk about our experiences, let other women know they are not alone, and let them know it is was never their fault. Never.

There are many ways in which we can change the discourse and books are crucial: as cultural tools for change, books can help us feel less alone in whatever we are going through, they can expand our views, they can explain our own feelings to us, and it can let us know that it is fine to feel terrible about it – like TifAni does – without shame or guilt. Rape culture needs to stop blaming women when they are actually victims, and I believe books can help us achieve this much-needed change. Apparently, so do Jessica Knoll, Lena Durham and the thousands of people who have read Knoll’s letter and have shown support to her and other sexual abuse victims.

You can read Jessica Knoll’s letter here.

You can read an interview with Jessica Knoll for Buzzfeed (after she published her letter) here.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, here are some links that could be useful:

USA: RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) offers victims a hotline, as well as other resources on how to find help.

UK: The Survivor Trust offers a hotline, and the National Health Service offers some guidelines on how to get help after rape and sexual abuse.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not-Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

I think I learned about Sarah Knight‘s The Life-Chaning Magic of Not Giving a Fuck almost at the same time as I learned about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Obviously, Knight’s is a parody of Kondo’s, and obviously I decided to completely forget about tidying up (major loss of time most of the times) and read about that magic of not giving a f*ck, at which someone had already told me I was quite a champion. But, before I continue, because I do give a f*ck about the lovely, amazing people who send me review copies even though I live in Spain, I would like to thank Sabrina Callahan, who very generously sent me a review copy from New York.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight

I promised I would post a picture of my pristine hard-cover review copy after I finished reading the book and here it is: no eyeliner, no coffee stains, no nothing. The book doesn’t give a f*ck about dirt.

You can check my first impression of The Life-Chaning Magic of Not Giving a Fuck here, and all I can say is that I was 100% right. The book is as good as it seems, and quite effective, I should say. Please beware that the person behind this review is a Millennial, one of those self-centred, selfish, entitled and careless people in the 20’s who are ruining the world, destroying traditional family values, and spending too much time on social media according to Baby-Boomers. If you are not familiar with these terms, I am sure a quick search on Google will solve all of your doubts. Now, why mention this when I am reviewing a book? Because Sarah Knight has written the decalogue to embody all those values that Milleanials are criticised for, but that I know make up for a happier life.

Knight’s motto is: Does this bring me joy? If the answer is no, ditch it. More or less. She creates four categories, going from easier to not give a f*ck about  ( i.e. What Penny from downstairs thinks about your new boots) to more difficult ones  (i.e Telling your sister-in-law you are not making it to her 30th birthday party across the country because there is no way you can afford it, and you don’t like parties anyway). She also helps you make lists about things that bring you joy, and does which do not, and how to not give a f*ck about the latter. This is not something simple, or easy, or free of pain, but God, does it feel good. Here’s why:

I was born a fuck-giver. Maybe you are too.

As a self-described overachieving perfectionist, I gave my fucks liberally […] to prove myself worthy of respect and admiration from my family, friends, and even casual acquaintances […] This was no way to live.

Thank you, Sarah, for an accurate, yet partial description of myself. I also consider myself an overachiever, and I am usually overworked, sleep-deprived, and thinking about a million things at the same time. I had to give up yoga because I couldn’t refrain myself from listing all the things I still had to do that day while the instructor was kindly asking me to focus on the exercises. I had to stop running because I injured myself after running 10 km in my Beginner’s Week of training. And I am usually told by my liberal, amazing parents to please go out, party until the wee hours, and come home late. Why am I telling you this? Because I never did any of the fun things until a year ago, when a break-up made me realise I had lost too much time and, like Knight, was giving my fucks to a whole lot of things that did not (and will never) bring me joy. So, I decided to return to my childhood self – the 9-year old who, upon being asked by her Catholic Grandma to please be a dear and do that First Communion thing for the family to celebrate said ‘I just don’t care about what any of you think of me’– and start doing things that made me happy. Or, as I like to call it: Work hard, party harder. However, it is hard to keep that frame of mind during the academic year, and Knight’s book just reminded me how this thing called life is done.

The book goes from easy-peasy exercises, like listing things that make you happy, to more difficult ones, like making a priorities list for family events. It is also quite prescriptive regarding how to give a f*ck, when to do it, and how many to give. The idea that I found the most inspiring is the ‘F*ck Budget’, which means setting a limit to your daily worries, or, rather, try to find balance. Knight is an expert, and she describes real-life situations in which you could choose to care, or not taking into account the amount of time, energy, and money you have already spent on others. For example, she describes how she and her husband have set up an alernative-Christmas visiting time so that neither her family, nor her husband’s cause them any trouble when deciding who to visit on Christmas’ Eve/New Year. She also deals with office gossip, and how to wisely spend money and time on your friends without feeling drained, or doing things that you wish you were not doing.

The Life-Chaning Magic of Not Giving a Fuck is much more than the ‘practical parody’ description on its cover, it is a reminder of self-love and self-care in times when being a woman still means taking care of everyone and caring about anyone. I really appreciated the tips, and I seriously recommend the book to anyone who has ever felt forced to do something that made them miserable. I am not talking about major events or health-related procedures – I know everyone hates blood tests, but they have to be done! –, but those tiny, everyday things that make you get home tired, feeling anxious and miserable. If  The Life-Chaning Magic of Not-Giving a Fuck has helped me remember something is that I should spend more time, money, and energy in those things that bring me joy (which I have in huge amounts, after Knight forced me to write a list with all of them) and spend less time, money and energy in those tasks that I feel forced to do. F*ck gender roles. F*ck please/help/care about/join/be with everyone. This is a book that reminds you how awesome your life is because you probably were too busy living for others to notice. You’re welcome.

First Look: Dear Amy By Helen Callaghan

I was sent a review copy of Helen Callaghan’s upcoming release Dear Amy by the Ellie Hughes at Penguin-Random House. I expected a regular review copy, as usual, but this time, the lovely people at P-RH have outdone themselves. Here, take a look:

See? Told you. Pure bookish lush.  I was thoroughly impressed by the design of the review copy, but even more so by the help notes attached to the parcel. They look and they feel as if they were written in pencil, and they could pass for real-life notes.

Regarding the book, I haven’t fooled around much yet, because I don’t want to spoil anything. Dear Amy looks the like kind of page-turner that will make my Spring Break worth it (apart from the free time and a bit of travelling, of course). It is part of the Penguin-Random House Summer’16 catalogue and it is to be released on the 16th of June, 2016. As you can see, this post was a mere excuse to share the pictures and congratulate the publicty team behind the novel.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I was one of the lucky readers to get a very early review copy of Megan Abbott‘s next novel, You Will Know Me, to be published in the UK on the 30th of June, 2016. I hit a reading slump and I had no idea how to get out of there. Simon Savidge was in a similar situation, and when author Paula Hawkins spotted us talking on Twitter – knowing me quite well – she recommended I gave Abbott’s novel a try. It just what I needed.

Megan Abbott has had the infinite wisdom of spotting a silence in contemporary crime fiction and she has masterfully filled it: teenage girls. No wonder her Twitter avatar is a picture of Sally Drapper, John Drapper’s rebellious teenage girl in Mad Men. If in The Fever she played with the recent epidemic fear at a high school, mid-town level, in You Will Know Me she has focused all her efforts in the pressure young women in elite sports face. If you followed the 2012 Olympics and/or you are American, I am sure you have heard of artistic gymnast McKayla Maroney. Doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe this will:

Maroney's Not-Impressed Face

Maroney became an Internet sensation and meme after showing her non-impressed face at winning silver at vault. In 2016 she announced that she no longer will compete, although she is not retiring.

After doing some research on Maroney – whom I knew previous to reading Abbott’s novel – and after much thinking, I wonder how much of You Will Know Me‘s main character, Devon Knox was inspired by Manorey herself. Although she was part of a team known as the ‘Fierce Five’, it was she who became a world-wide sensation. Both young women started competing a very young age, and both were on the Olympic path before they were 15. Take that pressure, put it on middle-class, well-intentioned parents who want nothing but success and happiness for their daughter, and Abbott will give you one of the darkest and more psychologically in-depth descriptions of self-sacrifice, success, and what it takes to be someone other people want you to be.

You Will Know Me tells Devon Know’s story, aged 16, from her mother’s point of view highlighting how these teenagers are elite professionals with all the added consequences. If adulting is already hard when you are in your thirties, imagine hitting those levels of stress and self-reliance when you are sixteen. Devon’s mother, Katie, spends up to forty hours a week at her daughter’s gym, with little Drew in tow, a wise and patient little boy who has known no other lifestyle since he was born. Katie is married to Eric, who seems to understand Devon better than she does making Katie question her own relationship with her daughter. But Katie and Eric are still in their early thirties, and when one of the young trainer’s boyfriend starts to regularly show up at the gym, trouble is ensured.

I loved every single page of You Will Know Me. Abbott has managed to combine psychological and corporeal issues in an adrenaline-filled environment and a family setting. I paid special attention to the way Abbott portrays Devon’s body: as if teenager years were not difficult enough, these elite gymnasts are fighting against biology and time, wishing for a childish body in which breasts will not appear and challenge their balance. The descriptions of Devon’s worry about growing up and developing a woman’s body, menstruation include made me cringe and understand the total need for control she had because, after all, she couldn’t control what mattered the most: her body. But not everything about Devon’s body was negativity. I took a great pleasure at the descriptions of her fit, strong body and how constant training shaped it.

US Gymnast McKayla Maroney

Close-up of American gymnast McKayla Maroney during an exercise.

You Will Know Me is Abbott’s does a great job at inscribing complex female teenager experiences in literature, quite a pending task at the feminist literary agenda, which has limited the inscription of women’s litearture to young or middle-aged women. Now, I think it is safe to admit that You Will Know Me is one of the best books I will read this year: There is a crime, there are in-depth psychological descriptions of women of all ages, and there is a dark tension lurking at a supposedly innocent and mundane American house. Abbott has mastered the art of spotting the darkness in everyday, middle-class life, and she has become an outstanding heir to the American domestic suspense tradition.

First Look: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

First Look posts will be out FRIDAY afternoons. Thank you for reading xx

I heard of Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (A Practical Parody) long before I learned of the original The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and the whole situation seems natural, as I’m not a great fan of tidying up but I learned about the happiness that comes from not giving a f*ck last year.

Sabrina Callahan, PR at Little Brown in the USA, sent me the book last week, and I proudly carried this little hardback copy around like it was gold. I was surprised to get a review copy sent from the US, both for copyright and shipping prices reasons, and I was also surprised by the edition. Although it is a hard-back copy, the book is quite small (13 cm x 19 cm) and perfect to carry on my handbag without causing me yet another shoulder injury. The white of the cover already promises to attract a lot of dirt – especially if I forget to put my black eyeliner into a different compartment – but its glossy quality may outlive the dangers of my handbag. I promise to post a picture of the book when I finish reading it to see the damages.

The inside promises to be nearly as good as the cover design: Knight started this book with ‘A F*cking Disclaimer’ followed by four different sections in which you will learn how to ‘stop spending time you don’t have, with people you don’t like, doing things that you don’t want’. Or what I think is the promise of a better life. She covers work, family, friends, and, at first sight, gender stereotypes with the chapter ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’. Because, let’s keep this talk real: women are brought up to give a f*ck about a million things more than men. We are trained from our childhood to take care of babies and our bodies and clothes and hair and families and work and the house… And life can become a never-ending list of things to do and worry and stress about. And it has consequences: Did you know that women actually suffer from more heart attacks than men? And did you know we tend to ignore the symptoms too?  Because this post is all about humour I want to share one of my favourite sketches with you, starring Elizabeth Banks as someone who does not look like the kind of person who has a heart attack (but actually does):

Now, back to books, and literature. I think you will hear from this book very soon. I have been longing for a non-fiction read for a while, and this sounds just perfect. Meanwhile, I would love to hear if you have read it already, and whether or not you gave a f*ck about it.