You’re a “Knives Out” Fan
Want a new detective story or have a lot of thoughts about “West Elm Caleb”
I know T.S. Eliot says April is the cruelest month, but I’ve always thought February and March are pretty rough. It’s still cold, the holidays are over and spring can feel like ages away.
A few years ago, my friends and I moved our Secret Santa gift exchange from December to mid-February to lighten our pre-Christmas to-do lists and take advantage of post-holiday sales. We discovered that having something to look forward to — a present in the mail — in February was a huge mood booster.
With that in mind, I’m launching the inaugural What To Read If Paperback Swap for newsletter subscribers. How it will work:
- Sign up here to send and receive a book by February 4th.
- Receive info on your giftee the week of February 7th.
- Choose a beloved book from your shelf you’re ready to part with, grab one from a free lending library or purchase a book. Then, send it to your giftee during February (don’t forget to use the media mail rate!).
- Receive a book in the mail from your gifter.
To be fully transparent, I’m not sure how this will work, but I think it could be a lot of fun and am going to give it a go. Let me know if you have questions, suggestions or concerns.
And now, what to read if…
You’re Ready for “Knives Out 2”
Variety broke the news Friday that Netflix plans to release “Knives Out 2,” with Daniel Craig once again starring as Private Detective Benoit Blanc, this fall. I was very happy to read the news. I’m hoping Benoit Blanc becomes something of a modern-day Hercules Poirot. Just keep dropping him into new exotic locales to solve murders committed by some of the world’s best actors.
If you’ve re-watched the first “Knives Out” a few dozen times or have knitted the fisherman’s sweater Chris Evans wears throughout the film, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games is the book for you. The YA novel follows Avery Grambs, who goes from sleeping in a car to avoid her sister’s abusive boyfriend to living in a mansion with a famous, absurdly wealthy family after notorious billionaire Tobias Hawthorne names her his heir. Avery has no idea why Hawthorne chose her or even who he is. And, his money comes with strings: She must move into the family’s estate with the same relatives Hawthorne disinherited.
The Inheritance Games is the first book in a trilogy (the second book came out last year — I devoured it — and the third will be published in August). They feature mysteries within mysteries within mysteries, as Tobias and his descendants are obsessed with puzzles and riddles. The ultimate mystery, which I expect to be resolved in the final book, is why Tobias chose Avery to begin with. A cross between my beloved Westing Game and, yes, “Knives Out,” mystery fans young and old will enjoy this one.
You’re Looking for Some “Sunshine Noir”
I had never heard of “Sunshine Noir” until reading The Missing American and trying to find more books like it. If the term is new to you too, Reader’s Digest explains, “It’s heat and humidity that brings out the worst in people. As the temperature rises and sweat runs down the body, they get grumpy and intolerant. Their minds become addled. Tempers flare, and people are killed, often in the most gruesome ways. That is true Noir. And justice itself is affected because it is too hot to do anything in the enervating heat. This is Sunshine Noir! After all, the darkest shadows are where the sun is brightest.”
That’s the vibe of The Missing American by Kwei Quartey, a novel about 26-year-old Emma Djan. She’s a new private investigator in Accra, Ghana, attempting to find Gordon Tilson, an American widower, who disappears after traveling to Ghana to visit a woman he’s been corresponding with online. Emma’s investigation takes her deep into the world of “sakawa boys,” internet fraudsters who combine scam activities with traditional spiritual rituals, as she unravels a conspiracy that reaches all the way up to the country’s elite.
In The Missing American, Quartey combines the best elements of a political thriller with the tropes of a noir detective story to create a propulsive, fascinating read. The novel has a strong sense of place — I felt transported as I read it — but it was the character of Emma who kept me reading. She’s smart, unfailingly polite and uses others’ tendency to underestimate her to her advantage. I’m looking forward to reading more stories focusing on this young PI in the coming years.
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The “West Elm Caleb” Saga Makes You Feel Gross
TikTok turned its pitchforks on “West Elm Caleb,” a 25-year-old furniture designer, after multiple women posted to the social media platform about his poor dating habits (ghosting, scheduling multiple dates with different women in a single day, etc.) Caleb doesn’t sound like a catch, but I don’t think he deserved to be publicly eviscerated in front of 15 million people. For more on the saga, check out this from Buzzfeed or this from GQ.
The story reminded me of the premise of Farrah Rochon’s The Boyfriend Project. In it, Samiah discovers the man she’s seeing is also dating two other women via a viral Twitter thread. Instead of setting out to shame him, the trio, who become fast friends, set out to improve their own lives. They make a pact to spend the next six months focused on themselves — no dating. As always seems to happen in books and Hallmark movies, Samiah promptly falls for her new coworker Daniel, who seems to return her interest.
The Boyfriend Project is as fun and enjoyable as the margaritas Samiah and her two new friends drink regularly throughout the book. I love the care and attention Rochon gives to the romance at the center of the book, Samiah’s job and her friendships, as well as her exploration of what it means to go viral.
Reminder Rec: I am once again suggesting you read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, which a friend called “prescient” this weekend. In it, Ronson argues social media pile-ons “destroy souls, brutalizing everyone, the onlookers included.”
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to sign up for the book exchange here. I’ll be back in your inboxes on Thursday with a Q&A featuring Elle Cosimano, author of Finlay Donovan is Killing It, one of my favorite books of 2021.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
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