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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , megan abbott, , , , ,   

    Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked 

    Megan Abbott is having a Moment. With the publication of her ninth novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes the realization that this brilliant author has flown under the radar for too long, and it’s time we all caught up. Abbott hasn’t really written a bad book yet, but we have our own ideas about where you should start. Below, we rank the novels, leaving the best for last. Disagree? Tell us in the comments..

    The Fever
    Abbott’s assured 2014 novel tells the tale of a sleepy town whose teenage girls suddenly start suffering a mysterious illness. As thrillers go, it’s low key but tense: on one hand, Abbott easily crafts a creepy, sexually-charged atmosphere and populates it with true-to-life characters struggling with teen sexuality from every pained perspective—and then ramps up the paranoia and horror by stages. On the other hand, if you’re looking for action, or an explosive conclusion that burns off all the high-pressure unease the novel generates, well, that’s not what the author is going for here.

    You Will Know Me
    This story of a young gymnast with Olympic aspirations and a dread of her growing bosom, the obsessively supportive parents who have given up everything to push their daughter forward, and the isolated, suffocating world of gymnasts, is great. The unlikeable characters are reliably fascinating and well-rendered, and the setting and sense of dread is palpable. While the book is offered up as a mystery, however, Abbott is absolutely disinterested in that aspect of the story. Said mystery, involving the death of teen boy, isn’t much of one, and readers paying the slightest attention will know exactly what happened shortly after the body’s discovered. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t fantastic—but it does mean those looking for shocking twists should start elsewhere.

    Die a Little
    Abbott’s first published novel follows a schoolteacher in postwar L.A. who begins to suspect her policeman brother’s new wife is on the sketchy side, and it’s about as great a debut novel as you can hope for. If Die a Little isn’t as polished, tight, or spellbinding as Abbott’s later work, its subversion of traditional noir gender roles and other tropes is delightful fun, if a bit on-the-nose—something else Abbott got better at as time went on. It’s still a definite must-read, if only to see how a very good writer slowly evolves into a tremendous one.

    Bury Me Deep
    Based on a true story, Abbott’s 2009 novel (nominated for an Anthony Award) is an immersive, slow burn telling the story of Marion Seeley, whose husband, a doctor, leaves her in Phoenix so he can go to Mexico for work and to kick his drug habit. Marion falls in with a group of other women and meets Joe Lanigan, who seduces her—and then, things go really, really badly for everyone involved. Abbott takes her time with the pacing of this one; the first 80 percent of the book, finds her wallowing in her own gorgeous writing and the increasingly unbearable tension of the story. The final act is therefore an exhilarating explosion that feels oh so good, even as it highlights how slow the buildup was.

    The End of Everything
    This story of a 13-year old girl, Lizzie, whose best friend suddenly disappears, is so much more than a mystery—the revelation of what happened comes fairly early in the story, and isn’t too surprising. It is more a deep-dive into the girl’s unreliable, confused psyche. Abbott infuses Lizzie with vigilance, confusion, and dark secrets, then layers on a serious lack of reliability—Lizzie doesn’t always seem to be totally in control of her own narrative. Lizzie’s voice is what makes this book so incredible. Spending time with her is almost overwhelming—she’s a brilliant character, and a narrative device that you’ll really love. But you’ll be happy, too, to see the back of her at its end.

    Give Me Your Hand
    Abbott’s newest book, about two brilliant girls who pushed each other to achieve back in high school and fell out over a terrible confession, only to be forced together professionally years later, loads all the author’s weapons into one powerful vehicle, which then proceeds to run you over. There’s the exploration of dark, twisted teen girl relationships. There’s the slow boil of inarticulate rage that results in horrific violence. The careful study of small, claustrophobic groups. The entertaining rendering of characters who are, at best, unlikeable. At this point, the top four Abbott novels approach a kind of singularity of excellence, so feel free to consider this on equal footing with the three that follow.

    Dare Me
    Dare Me is probably the book that woke most people up to Abbott, and for good reason. Set in the world of teenage cheerleading, it explores the “Mean Girls” dynamic with a story packed with the sort of ruthless twists and subversions that are Abbott’s hallmark—asking the simple question, what happens when the Regina George of your group gets demoted? If you’ve read any of Abbott’s books, you know the answer involves murderous rage, and the way former Queen Bee Beth reacts when her loyal sidekick Addy becomes enamored with the cool new cheerleading coach is a compelling study of sociopathic teen girl angst. At the same time, Abbott smartly positions the cheerleading team as being disdained by the rest of the school—they’re not the popular girls, because cheerleading, despite its demanding athletic standard, is seen as silly. Dare Me is an drum-tight book that captures the true terror of being a teenage girl.

    The Song is You
    If you’re only familiar with Abbott’s more recent novels set in contemporary times, get thee to her classic noir The Song is You, which seems so old-fashioned at first blush, it’s easy to miss its electrifying subversions. Set in Golden Age Hollywood, it’s got all the boozy, jazzy earmarks of a period piece, aping the bleak mood and dark style of the time. At first glance, the gender roles he characters fall into seem traditional as well—the protagonist is a man, a “fixer” for the film studios when scandals arise, and he’s haunted by his involvement in covering up the disappearance of a young starlet. Dig deeper, and you find Abbott knows exactly what she’s doing, and what tropes she’s playing with. The end result is an Ellroy-esque twister that revels in the debauchery of old Hollywood, but does so with razor-sharp purpose.

    Queenpin
    Abbott’s third novel is nearly perfect (it won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original). It’s another red meat dive into noir, telling the story of a girl who’s adopted by the titular Queenpin of the criminal underground, Gloria Denton, who teaches her everything she knows about the rackets—and then falls for precisely the wrong man. As the unnamed narrator and her mentor slowly circle each as their respective roles change, the violence and tension of the story ratchets up as if a supercomputer was tasked with crafting the perfect thriller plotline, even as Abbott explores and interrogates gender roles and classic tropes with a modern, gimlet eye. Even if you think you don’t enjoy hardboiled-style stories, check out Queenpin—there’s so much more going on aside from the whiskey, cigarettes, and gunplay.

    What Abbott novel left you breathless?

    The post Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , megan abbott, , , , ,   

    Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked 

    Megan Abbott is having a Moment. With the publication of her ninth novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes the realization that this brilliant author has flown under the radar for too long, and it’s time we all caught up. Abbott hasn’t really written a bad book yet, but we have our own ideas about where you should start. Below, we rank the novels, leaving the best for last. Disagree? Tell us in the comments..

    The Fever
    Abbott’s assured 2014 novel tells the tale of a sleepy town whose teenage girls suddenly start suffering a mysterious illness. As thrillers go, it’s low key but tense: on one hand, Abbott easily crafts a creepy, sexually-charged atmosphere and populates it with true-to-life characters struggling with teen sexuality from every pained perspective—and then ramps up the paranoia and horror by stages. On the other hand, if you’re looking for action, or an explosive conclusion that burns off all the high-pressure unease the novel generates, well, that’s not what the author is going for here.

    You Will Know Me
    This story of a young gymnast with Olympic aspirations and a dread of her growing bosom, the obsessively supportive parents who have given up everything to push their daughter forward, and the isolated, suffocating world of gymnasts, is great. The unlikeable characters are reliably fascinating and well-rendered, and the setting and sense of dread is palpable. While the book is offered up as a mystery, however, Abbott is absolutely disinterested in that aspect of the story. Said mystery, involving the death of teen boy, isn’t much of one, and readers paying the slightest attention will know exactly what happened shortly after the body’s discovered. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t fantastic—but it does mean those looking for shocking twists should start elsewhere.

    Die a Little
    Abbott’s first published novel follows a schoolteacher in postwar L.A. who begins to suspect her policeman brother’s new wife is on the sketchy side, and it’s about as great a debut novel as you can hope for. If Die a Little isn’t as polished, tight, or spellbinding as Abbott’s later work, its subversion of traditional noir gender roles and other tropes is delightful fun, if a bit on-the-nose—something else Abbott got better at as time went on. It’s still a definite must-read, if only to see how a very good writer slowly evolves into a tremendous one.

    Bury Me Deep
    Based on a true story, Abbott’s 2009 novel (nominated for an Anthony Award) is an immersive, slow burn telling the story of Marion Seeley, whose husband, a doctor, leaves her in Phoenix so he can go to Mexico for work and to kick his drug habit. Marion falls in with a group of other women and meets Joe Lanigan, who seduces her—and then, things go really, really badly for everyone involved. Abbott takes her time with the pacing of this one; the first 80 percent of the book, finds her wallowing in her own gorgeous writing and the increasingly unbearable tension of the story. The final act is therefore an exhilarating explosion that feels oh so good, even as it highlights how slow the buildup was.

    The End of Everything
    This story of a 13-year old girl, Lizzie, whose best friend suddenly disappears, is so much more than a mystery—the revelation of what happened comes fairly early in the story, and isn’t too surprising. It is more a deep-dive into the girl’s unreliable, confused psyche. Abbott infuses Lizzie with vigilance, confusion, and dark secrets, then layers on a serious lack of reliability—Lizzie doesn’t always seem to be totally in control of her own narrative. Lizzie’s voice is what makes this book so incredible. Spending time with her is almost overwhelming—she’s a brilliant character, and a narrative device that you’ll really love. But you’ll be happy, too, to see the back of her at its end.

    Give Me Your Hand
    Abbott’s newest book, about two brilliant girls who pushed each other to achieve back in high school and fell out over a terrible confession, only to be forced together professionally years later, loads all the author’s weapons into one powerful vehicle, which then proceeds to run you over. There’s the exploration of dark, twisted teen girl relationships. There’s the slow boil of inarticulate rage that results in horrific violence. The careful study of small, claustrophobic groups. The entertaining rendering of characters who are, at best, unlikeable. At this point, the top four Abbott novels approach a kind of singularity of excellence, so feel free to consider this on equal footing with the three that follow.

    Dare Me
    Dare Me is probably the book that woke most people up to Abbott, and for good reason. Set in the world of teenage cheerleading, it explores the “Mean Girls” dynamic with a story packed with the sort of ruthless twists and subversions that are Abbott’s hallmark—asking the simple question, what happens when the Regina George of your group gets demoted? If you’ve read any of Abbott’s books, you know the answer involves murderous rage, and the way former Queen Bee Beth reacts when her loyal sidekick Addy becomes enamored with the cool new cheerleading coach is a compelling study of sociopathic teen girl angst. At the same time, Abbott smartly positions the cheerleading team as being disdained by the rest of the school—they’re not the popular girls, because cheerleading, despite its demanding athletic standard, is seen as silly. Dare Me is an drum-tight book that captures the true terror of being a teenage girl.

    The Song is You
    If you’re only familiar with Abbott’s more recent novels set in contemporary times, get thee to her classic noir The Song is You, which seems so old-fashioned at first blush, it’s easy to miss its electrifying subversions. Set in Golden Age Hollywood, it’s got all the boozy, jazzy earmarks of a period piece, aping the bleak mood and dark style of the time. At first glance, the gender roles he characters fall into seem traditional as well—the protagonist is a man, a “fixer” for the film studios when scandals arise, and he’s haunted by his involvement in covering up the disappearance of a young starlet. Dig deeper, and you find Abbott knows exactly what she’s doing, and what tropes she’s playing with. The end result is an Ellroy-esque twister that revels in the debauchery of old Hollywood, but does so with razor-sharp purpose.

    Queenpin
    Abbott’s third novel is nearly perfect (it won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original). It’s another red meat dive into noir, telling the story of a girl who’s adopted by the titular Queenpin of the criminal underground, Gloria Denton, who teaches her everything she knows about the rackets—and then falls for precisely the wrong man. As the unnamed narrator and her mentor slowly circle each as their respective roles change, the violence and tension of the story ratchets up as if a supercomputer was tasked with crafting the perfect thriller plotline, even as Abbott explores and interrogates gender roles and classic tropes with a modern, gimlet eye. Even if you think you don’t enjoy hardboiled-style stories, check out Queenpin—there’s so much more going on aside from the whiskey, cigarettes, and gunplay.

    What Abbott novel left you breathless?

    The post Every Megan Abbott Book, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Melissa Albert 1:00 pm on 2016/08/29 Permalink
    Tags: b&n readouts, , , , megan abbott, ,   

    5 Great Books to Sample on Your NOOK Right Now 

    To celebrate the launch of our new Samsung Galaxy Tab A NOOK device, and $99.99 offer for upgraders, we’re celebrating some of our favorite things to read on the NOOK. If you haven’t yet discovered B&N Readouts, welcome to your new favorite way to sample great reads—with the Tab A, it’s the closest you’ll get to strolling through Barnes & Noble’s aisles outside of, you know, the nearest Barnes & Noble. Every day we post excerpts from fascinating new books, from thrillers to nonfiction to romance, accessible on your desktop and through the NOOK app. Here’s just a taste of the books we’re sharing this month.

    American Heiress, by Jeffrey Toobin
    Toobin unpacks the fascinating history of Patty Hearst, infamous socialite turned kidnapping victim turned revolutionary (or victim of Stockholm Syndrome, depending who you ask). Everyone remembers the iconic photo of the girl with the beret and the gun, but Toobin’s book reveals the true and complicated story of Hearst’s abduction and its major players—one that verges on a comedy of errors—while giving an illuminating overview of the mid-1970’s media and cultural landscapes. Even without Hearst’s cooperation, Toobin creates a compelling portrait of a woman and an era.
    Start reading on B&N Readouts now.

    Seinfeldia, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
    Armstrong’s highly entertaining, surprisingly insightful work explores the history of everybody’s favorite TV show about nothing, and the cultural moment it helped define. Seinfeld started out as a four-episode summer filler and grew into a media juggernaut, while maintaining its neurotic, oddball heart. Armstrong fills her book with gossipy details and behind the scenes insights that will send you running to Hulu to binge your favorite episodes.
    Start reading on B&N Readouts now.

    Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
    Acclaimed author Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) returns to writing for adults with the elegiac story, told in poetic vignettes, of August, a former Brooklynite returning to her old neighborhood for her father’s funeral. The visit stirs up memories of her often difficult past—the glaring absence of her mother, the burgeoning Black Power movement of the 1970s, and the tight group of girlfriends who defined her days. In her spare, liquid prose, Woodson carries August from present to past and back again.
    Start reading on B&N Readouts now.

    You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott
    Abbott’s novels tend toward the darkhearted and propulsive, and her latest might be her most page-turning yet. It centers on the family of a gymnastics wunderkind, whose enormous talent is propelling her toward the Olympics, and her family into a double-edged position of local renown. Then a beloved member of their athletic community is killed in a hit and run, with implications that threaten to undermine both the trajectory of the Olympics-bound gymnast and the sanity of her protective mother, who’s about to learn how little she really understands about her daughter.
    Start reading on B&N Readouts now.

    The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    Recently chosen for Oprah’s Book Club, Whitehead’s unmissable novel offers up historical fiction with a speculative twist: slave Cora escapes her plantation with new arrival Caesar, and the two make their way toward the Underground Railroad—only, in this telling, the metaphorical railroad has been transformed into a literal one. With a demonically driven slave catcher on their trail, Cora encounters horrors and wonders on the road, including a reimagined South Carolina that hides dark secrets and a dystopian Tennessee. Add this one to your required reading list.
    Start reading on B&N Readouts now.

     
  • Kat Rosenfield 8:00 pm on 2016/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , megan abbott, ,   

    Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me Is an Unsettling Teen Girl Noir 

    On the eve of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, few events will inspire as much slack-jawed amazement—or furious debate—as the women’s gymnastics competition. Inside every spangled leotard, under every perfectly made-up face, is a fierce athlete who has pushed herself to unthinkable limits for a chance at Olympic gold. Working through devastating injuries, racing against the clocks of their own biology, elite gymnasts give up their girlhoods to training in the hopes of achieving greatness in the narrow window of time between peak skill level and the onset of puberty—knowing the development of womanly hips or breasts will effectively end their careers.

    For these reasons, women’s gymnastics has long been side-eyed as a breeding ground for eating disorders and body image issues. But in Megan Abbott’s ninth novel, You Will Know Me, it’s a place for much darker things to grow—in the hearts of the gymnasts themselves, in the tangled web of glad-handing and fundraising that fuels Olympic hopes, and in the cracks that form in a marriage and a family where one person’s dreams are so big there’s no room for anyone else to have dreams of their own.

    Katie and Eric Knox are not the type of helicoptering, high-achieving couple who pinned expectations on their kid before she even left the womb. In fact, they’re not the kind of couple who had much in the way of expectations at all—not even of making their relationship work after marrying young and hastily in the wake of an unplanned pregnancy. But Devon, their daughter, turns out to be gifted not just beyond her parents’ expectations, but beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. By the time she’s a teenager, her promise as a gymnast is not only the driving force of her life, but the glue holding her family together. Katie and Eric, and their younger son, Drew, are nothing but accessory planets orbiting the bright star of Devon’s athletic hopes.

    For Eric, being Devon’s biggest supporter is a role he was born for; he’s a big shot by association thanks to his gift for fundraising on behalf of the BelStars gym where Devon trains, and a serious feather in the cap of the booster club made up of fretful (and kinda thirsty) gymnastics moms who hope some of Devon’s lustre will rub off on their own girls. Katie, by contrast, still occasionally finds some distance and perspective—feeling in turns awestruck by her kid, amused at the way gymnastics has overtaken her family’s life, and concerned by the sense that she understands Devon less and less as Devon’s achievements get greater and greater. And when tragedy strikes, and a beloved member of the gym community is killed in a hit-and-run accident just weeks before a major qualifying tournament, Katie is the closest thing to a voice of reason amid a chorus of parents whose primary concern is that the funeral will put a real crimp in the girls’ training schedules. But even she can’t fathom the truth that’s about to emerge, or the lengths to which members of this insular, cutthroat community will go to protect one of their own—or their own interests.

    Abbott excels at delving into the dark underbelly of teen girl–world and unearthing the worst of what’s buried there, and You Will Know Me is no exception. Foreboding hangs in the air from the first, and there are no lulls once the tension begins to build. The expertly woven mystery unravels from Katie’s point of view, which for readers creates the alluring but ultimately mistaken sense of knowing exactly what’s going on; we can see Katie’s blind spots, but what lurks behind them isn’t always what we think.

    Ultimately, it’s that sense of misdirection even more than the mystery’s ultimate conclusion that makes this such a compelling read, and an unsettling one. Through her mother’s eyes, we see Devon not as a person but as a series of inscrutable metaphors. As Katie sits in the bleachers, separated from her daughter by barriers both physical and ephemeral, Devon is a bouncing ponytail; a distant goddess; a well-oiled machine; a body of knotted muscle with a girl stuffed somewhere down inside it. She is made of stone, of sinew, of meat. Her baby brother insists she once climbed out the window and took flight, a raptor with beady eyes and claws for feet—and though everyone laughs and says he was only dreaming, there are parts of that vision that feel like the truth. Do the Knoxes truly know their daughter? Do they truly know each other?

    The whodunit resolution in Abbott’s story is satisfying, but it’s not the point. Rather, it’s the questions that linger on after you’ve closed the book that opened with a promise: You Will Know Me. But do you? And are you sure you want to?

    You Will Know Me is on sale now.

     
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