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This novella and its schoolgirl narrator pack a punch. Our narrator recounts her boarding school days and her obsession with her best friend. The text takes us through time, skips forwards and backwards, giving the reader a look at the narrator’s time at boarding school, her relationships with others, and her internal thoughts as well. The setup of the novella in this way works in extreme advantage to the subject material. The narrator’s obsession with her best friend is unsettling and reaches a level where it is definitely creepy and mad.

And if she realized that some girl or other was worried she would take her by the arm. No one’s died, dear. But there was bitterness in her eyes now.

pg. 69

This small text is complexly unsettling, while also capturing a portrait of a boarding schoolgirl and her struggle with her sexuality as well as boundaries and her own obsession – that most of the time, she knows is manipulative and unhealthy. While something is not right with the narrator, her best friend Frederique is off too. The narrator describes her: “When Frederique drew me into that kind of conversation, which in any event I admired, there was an atmosphere of punishment, an absence of lightness, she was not frivolous. Her face was as though honed, the flesh covering the bones became sharp. I thought of her as of a sickle moon in an oriental sky. While the people sleep she cuts off their heads. She was eloquent” (39). The narrator is extremely obsessed with this other girl, but not because she is beautiful or fun, but because she is harsh and brooding. Frederique is not angelic, but rather she is intense and unsettling.

Fleur Jaeggy

These two characters pair together in the novel to create a narrative titled into unknowing. The reader can never fully trust our narrator, and the characters as a pair are toxic towards each other. Just a page after the narrator is describing her admiration for Frederique, she threatens a life and describes how Frederique and herself are violent: “Frederique was violent. I was only violent – I can think of no other way to put it – carnally. Even though I was already grown up, I wouldn’t have minded a physical fight. I could have wrung my German room-mate’s neck. Her languid neck offered itself, but I had been brought up a lady. Just for fun, grab hold of her to test the strength of my hands” (40).

The novella has so many of these moments that make the reader question who Frederique and the narrator are and how mad either of them are. The brilliance in which Jaeggy veils the true nature of the characters is stunning. The narrator, on many occasions, expresses her obsession with Frederique: “It seems pointless repeating that I took no interest in any of the other girls” (41). This level of obsessive madness that we come to, even before the halfway mark of the text, is riveting. The reader is a voyeur into the relationship as well as to the narrator’s seemingly internal struggle with suppressed homosexuality. I could go on, but this text is just truly stunning. So much under the surface with so few words above it.

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms. You can find her on Instagram @wellreadredhead18.

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Book Reviews

What Have We Done: Alex Finlay Produces Another Hit

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  • Jenna: A stay at home mom with a secret assassin past
  • Donnie: An alcoholic rock star
  • Nico: An executive producer of a reality television show

They all have a past, but who is out to get them?

The Plot

Jenna, Donnie, and Nico share a troubled past. They were all orphans who lived at Savior House — which is much less savior, much more terror. When their friend Benny, a famous judge, is murdered and the FBI comes looking, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico must race against the clock to figure out who is targeting them.

The Verdict

From the author of The Night Shift, which I reviewed here, I would expect nothing less than what Finlay has delivered. Finlay notoriously creates stories with palpable thrill and spine-tingling revelations.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Jenna. She is a reformed assassin living a normal life as a new stepmom. When she is called in to make a hit and her family is threatened, she goes badass mom on ’em. While I still thought Donnie and Nico as characters were engaging, it was nothing for what I felt for Jenna.

Also, major props to Finlay for creating a character that kills with a very unique weapon. Read it to find out more!

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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