Review – The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll

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The Favorite Sister
by Jessica Knoll

Genre: Mystery / Suspense

Length: 375 pages

Published: May 15th, 2018

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Blurb via GoodReads: 

When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

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The Favorite Sister hinges on the scandal and secrecy of reality TV stars, but also, weirdly, on feminism. Specifically, it hinges on shallow, cheapened, commercialized feminism, used as a fish lure to draw in viewers under the guise of “supporting women.” I thought Knoll’s exploration of the exploitation of feminism was, in a lot of ways, more interesting than the actual story.

The show’s producer is the most obvious example of this; she has promoted her show revolving around successful women as something positive and uplifting. Meanwhile, she’s peddling the exact same reality TV show cat fights that virtually every female-centric reality show provides. I won’t go into details, as I’d like to keep this review spoiler-free, but the producer is far from the only character using social justice issues for shameless self promotion.

I’m showing young girls that you don’t have to be beautiful to matter. The thinking that women of all shapes and sizes can be beautiful is still hugely problematic, because it is predicated on the idea that the most important thing a woman has to offer the world is her appearance.

The tone matches the theme of the novel; the chapters are like confessionals of some of the show participants, and give the overall impression of a girlfriend dishing gossip directly to the reader over a glass of wine. In audio book format, which is how I read this book, this worked fairly well. In a print book, I can imagine it might be grating.

The story itself was nothing earth-shattering. It was entertaining, as I believe was intended, in the same way reality TV is entertaining. You’re meant to soak up the drama as these women tear each other apart, reveling in the scandal… and feeling just a bit ashamed about enjoying it.

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Jessica Knoll is also the author of Luckiest Girl Alive, released May 12, 2015.

Ani, has good looks, a glamorous New York City job, and a wealthy fiance, everything she could possibly need. However, her perfectly put together life is thinly concealing Ani’s unresolved trauma from her teenage years, which is brought bubbling to the surface by her participation in a documentary about the event. Can Ani maintain her carefully constructed facade?

Read my review here.

 

 

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Luckiest Girl Alive – Review

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Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, released May of 2015

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Ani is the Girl Who Has It All. She has a prestigious New York City job at the Women’s Magazine, a rich, handsome fiancé… and a deep, dark secret. Is all of her hard work and ambition simply masking her wounds from her teenage trauma? Can she find security and happiness with a man she’ll never allow to truly know her?

This book was trying to do a lot. It dealt with a lot of serious topics, such as eating disorders, sexual assault, and PTSD. However, none of these topics ever felt like they were treated with the gravity they deserved; instead, they took a backseat to establishing a “catty bitch” persona for Ani, the protagonist. She spends an eye-roll inducing amount of time scrutinizing other women’s wardrobes, careers, and overall worthiness to be graced with her presence. I get what Knoll was going for here; at her core Ani is painfully insecure, and all of this cattiness is a smokescreen to mask it. All of this may have been effective if Knoll had ever moved past this device and had Ani try to deal with that in a meaningful way. Instead, the book is wrapped up hastily and without any satisfying resolution on that front.

I’ve read and enjoyed many books with unlikable protagonists; I don’t need to want to be best friends with the main character to love the story, but in this case, Ani’s lack of amiability was like fingernails on a chalkboard: impossible to ignore. It doesn’t help that, despite Ani’s glaring flaws, she’s still a far better person than the majority of the other characters. Who am I meant to be rooting for in this book?

The Luckiest Girl Alive has been compared to Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn should be deeply insulted. I get where it comes from; Ani is clearly Jessica Knoll’s attempt at a knockoff Amy Dunne. The difference is that, while Amy Dunne is clearly not a good person, it’s still genuinely fun to get inside her head. She feels totally justified, and hey, what woman didn’t feel a little tingle of righteous indignation after her “Cool Girl” monologue? Who didn’t derive just a little enjoyment out of watching Nick Dunne squirm? Amy is charming and frightening in equal parts. Ani is simply… irritating.

The twists and turns were also agonizingly predictable. Knoll slowly works towards revealing two major traumas that Ani suffered as a teen, neither of which comes as a shock. They are both a bit cliche and so strongly foreshadowed that Knoll may as well have included them in the blurb. Ani’s engagement is also clearly doomed from the start; her barely concealed contempt for her fiancé makes one wonder how she ever convinced herself for a moment that this man could be the source of her salvation. She seems to spend the majority of the book putting Herculean effort into maintaining a relationship with a man she loathes, purely for the status and security of it all. Because being miserable as an adult is totally worth it to shove it in the face of the teenagers who cast you out? No, Ani. It isn’t.

This book was frustrating and lacked suspense. It threw one hot-button issue after another at us as if in the hopes that one of that might stick, while doing precisely nothing to explore those topics. Worst, though, it was simply not emotionally engaging. Ani is a mess and Knoll never succeeds in making the reader care enough about her to want her to become anything more than a mess.