Cover Image: A Touch of Jen

A Touch of Jen

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A very hilarious debut by Beth Morgan. Instagram stalking can lead to life envy. This book was so funny and engaging. I highly recommend this fun read.
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One of the wildest rides of a book I’ve read all year. Alicia and Remy are miserable people in a miserable relationship founded on a shared obsession: cyberstalking a beautiful girl on Instagram. As we follow the fruits of their obsession, we learn more about how abusive Remy is, how deranged Alicia is, and how their shared desire for Jen leads them both to disturbing ends. This book had me throughly hooked. Beautifully written, effectively bizarre, and littered with a cast of memorable, but equally insufferable characters. I think a lot of books try and fail to feel thoroughly Millennial, but Touch of Jen does this in spades. 

I loved Morgan’s decision to pull the curtain back on Jen and reveal to us what her characters refuse to acknowledge: that far from being the effortlessly perfectly Glossier Girl of Alicia and Remy’s wildest fantasies, Jen is vapid, flawed, cruel in her insecurity, and obsessed with feeding her own ego. Despite her perfectly unwashed hair and “deconstructed” luxury sweaters, Jen is nothing like the persona she broadcasts on social media. Her friends, who litter her IG posts and affirm her apparent popularity, are vultures, mindlessly regurgitating self help affirmations and pantomiming wokeness for the sake of putting on airs- all the while literally trying to destroy her and her enviable romantic relationship. Remy and Alicia may be absolutely pathetic, but the people who surround them aren’t any different - they just hide it better, largely because they’re living lavish off their parents’ money. 

The majority of this novel feels like a fine-tuned inspection of obsession, consumerism, social media and parasocial relationships… the last quarter of the book turns “A Touch of Jen” into something else entirely. You won't see the last quarter of this novel coming.
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This book is a complete mess. It starts off amazingly. We’re introduced to Remy and Alicia, a couple in their early thirties who share an obsession with Remy’s former coworker Jen. We never really understand why they’re so obsessed, Alicia especially, but that’s not the important part. The obsession itself is fascinating. After a chance encounter with Jen, they’re invited on a surfing trip with her, her boyfriend, and a group of friends. Had the book stayed on this trajectory, it would have been amazing. Alicia is such a fascinating character. But then (spoiler) Alicia is killed off and the book changes genres completely. And it just didn’t work for me. As the book is ending, I’m forcing myself to finish it. By this point, it’s so ridiculous and removed from where it began that I’m not enjoying it anymore. Then the book ends and I’m like… “ok? I guess…” There really doesn’t seem to be a point to it all, or maybe that’s the point? I don’t really know. If it hadn’t started out so engaging, I would have given it a lower rating. I guess this one just wasn’t for me.
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I've been loving influencer themed thrillers and books about surfing lately so A Touch of Jen seemed like it was tailor made for me. Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed. The writing was choppy and somehow equally slow and rushed. I felt nothing towards the main character Remy. I'm fine with an unlikeable main character if theyre interesting but he just wasnt! I'm rating it a 3 because I was entertained enough by it and think it had potential.
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A Touch of Jen is David Lynch meets Franz Kafka for the Instagram age.  Boy oh boy, I was NOT expecting this weird and crazy, horrifying, bizarre literarly thrill ride when I first started what seemed like an innocuous book about a couple's off-kilter obsession with an Instagram influencer they vaguely know.  The book starts out about this harmless (or so it seems) obsession with an Instagrammer  who seems just a little too perfect, and morphs into a wild, weird, disjointed and humorous (really!) romp of bizarre imagery and weird happenings.  I don't have the words to describe this book, as it is wholly unique.  There are several ways to look at this book.  Maybe it's a sci-fi story.  Maybe it's a supernatural story.  Maybe it's a story about a mentally ill, obsessed person.  Or maybe it's a story about someone who is literally living in another reality.  I have my interpretation, but it's open to many.  Whatever you decide to believe about the book, the characters are fascinating, and the story is like a train wreck in slow motion that you can start to see coming...but you would NEVER predict that the train, say, turns into a mythological creature.

Beth Morgan has a dark and gritty sense of humor and a warped imagination, both of which I fully enjoyed in this impossible-to-explain book.  If you like surrealist, dark, weird, humorous stuff, this is the book for you.  Just hang on and enjoy the ride.  With an imagination like this, Beth Morgan has quite a future in fiction and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.  One thing is for sure - it will surprise me.

Thanks to Little, Brown, NetGalley and the author for the ARC!
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A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan is intriguing in concept: a millennial couple living a mundane, unsatisfying life becomes hyper-obsessed with an influencer acquaintance to the point that they descend into madness and trigger events of supernatural proportions.

And boy was it… something…

A Touch of Jen was weird, but not a predictable kind of weird. It was the kind of weird that made you feel disoriented. Like you are beginning to go on a bad drug trip and you feel the sense of dread kicking in… but then again it wasn’t weird enough to make you feel like you were entering a completely different world. It just made you feel uneasy.

While the concept sounds great, the execution was just lacking. A large percentage of the book was incredibly slow and boring, yet mildly unsettling; like you knew something bad was going to happen but it was taking so long to build up that you tried to push it to the back of your mind.

However, when the bigger things did happen, the twists were incredibly random and unexpected. They almost didn’t make sense at all with what the reader’s assumed twists would be, which was confusing and disorienting but not really in a good way; more like a way that has you questioning what the hell you are reading.

A Touch of Jen had me sitting on my couch zoned out for a good 15 minutes after finishing, racking my brain (and the Internet) to see if there was some kind of metaphor or message I was just not clever enough to connect with or if this book was just.. super weird. From what I’ve seen, the answer is the latter. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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"You can attack me for being lucky and beautiful, or you can decide that maybe that's how I've allowed the love of the universe to express itself in my life."

Are you looking for something completely different? A Touch of Jen is a novel that's part satire and part terrifying horror. 

The story follows Remy and Alicia, two dating food service workers who basically are in love because they have the same interest; Jen.
They are both completely obsessed with Remy's old coworker who is now a Instagram influencer. They know her outfits and Instagram captions by heart and roleplay as her. 

One day they run into her IRL and she invites them to go to the Hamptons with her and some friends. Obviously they go and things will never be the same!

I loved this book! I cringed, I lol'd, I cringed some more and contemplated my existence. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

If you loved Bunny you will love A Touch of Jen!
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A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan
A Horror (?), Little Brown and Company 2021, 320 Pages

What I Didn’t Like:
-Boring. The entire start of the story bored me. There’s no big events. We’re following mundane lives of mundane people. I don’t mind contemporary if the voice is good or I can relate to the characters. I didn’t relate to them, the voice was very dry, and so I was bored. 
-What genre is this? Like I said, the book starts as a slow (boring) contemporary about two people who are obsessed with a social media personality. But then it becomes sort of a paranormal horror halfway through. The thing is, there’s no crossover. There’s no hint of the horror in the beginning and the contemporary boring part is gone from the end. It’s really weird.
-Dry writing. I usually like weird (you know that about me) but I think it was the dry writing that put me off this one the most. The sentences are all very similar and the book suffers from telling (rather than showing) a lot. That makes for dry writing that I just couldn’t get into. 

What I Did Like:
-I normally like genre crossing so I like the IDEA of a bring pink cover for a horror book. I like the idea of a seemingly contemporary story devolving into a horror novel. In theory, that should’ve worked for me. 
-I like the idea of a woman obsessing so much about a social media personality and taking on aspects of her personality being a horror novel. Again, that should’ve worked for me.

Who Should Read This One:
-Can’t say I’d recommend this one. Like I said everything about this that I should’ve liked fizzled out. 

My Rating: 1 star. This one didn’t work for me at the end of the day.
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I think I expected more out of this book? The writing was okay and the characters too, but it felt very... different than what I thought I was going to get. I loved the dialogue but couldn't get into the characters. Overall, I'm giving it a 3 stars!
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This book about bored me to death. Was it going anywhere with its story? Definitely DNF at 41%, as life is too short for boring books.
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Welllllllll, that was . . . . . weird.

I snatched this up instantly upon seeing the cover and the blurb indicating a literal monster would be unleashed. And I read the entire thing in one sitting. Mainly because until about the 90% mark I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Smarter readers are sure to comment that this is some sort of social commentary about society’s addiction to social media and haves vs. have nots and blah blah blah. I’m not that smart of a girl so I’m simply going to say this obviously had some page turnability, but it failed to live up to my own expectations regarding the payoff. Probably because of this . . . .

Don’t tease me with “horror” and “Jen” and think my brain will ever go anywhere aside from Megan Fox in Jennifer's Body.

ARC provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The deal: Remy and Alicia are obsessed with Remy’s old coworker-now-IG-influencer Jen. They weasel their way into her life, and then I don’t even know how to tease out the second half, but the book jacket mentions David Cronenberg and psychedelic horror, which I don’t disagree with. (PS - I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for this review.)

Is it worth it?: If only so I have other people to talk about it with. This is far and away the strangest book I’ve read this year. And that’s saying a lot when you remember other books I’ve read this year have included horny frozen yogurt situations, surveillance Furbys, cannibal factory farming, and a lady doing butt stuff with a merman. The bar was high and this baby less-than-gracefully bounded over it.

Pairs well with: the essay “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by Brendan Mackie in Real Life Mag, honestly just Real Life Mag in general

B-
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Close to good, close to real, too close to be likable. But I’m anti-influencer culture, so what do I know? This book has an audience. I expect it to do very well among many of my peers.
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I almost don’t want to give anything away about A Touch of Jen, the explosive debut novel from Beth Morgan. My advice to those who have not read it is to stop reading this review right now, avoid reading any plot descriptions, and just start reading the book.

I’ve said this before, but I’m a huge fan of how female authors are writing seemingly innocent, predictable novels, which get more and more bonkers as the plot progresses. Two recent examples of this are Silvia Moreno Garcia’s wildly popular Mexican Gothic, and You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce. I love being surprised by a wildly fantastical final act.

On the surface, A Touch of Jen is a fairly uncomplicated premise; a young couple, Remy and Alicia, lead relatively dull lives, and form an odd bond by cyberstalking one of Remy’s ex co-workers, the titular Jen. Remy seems to spend all his mental energy dissecting Jen’s every post. Surprisingly, Alicia is okay with this, even embracing it as part of their sex life. 

An unexpected encounter with Jen leads to Remy and Alicia accompanying Jen, her boyfriend, and her close circle of friends on a surfing vacation. There, Alicia begins to embrace Jen’s mindset of “living in the now”, inspired by a popular self-help book called The Apple Bush. Alicia begins a slow transformation into Jen, with weird consequences. 

Throughout this whole book, there is a strong feeling of unease. Uncanny encounters with a parrot, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and strange knocking sounds, give the whole novel a sense that things are “not quite right”. And guess what? They’re not! In the last chapter of the book, things go completely nuts. If you think you can predict how things go, believe me, you cannot. Or, if you do, you either need to urgently seek professional help, or come and have a drink with me and be my new best friend. 

A Touch of Jen is an audacious book. Beth Morgan absolutely nails the obsessive, voyeuristic nature of social media, and the cadence of speech of a certain sect of millennials. One character’s outrage at receiving a telephone call, rather than a text, made me laugh out loud. 

But it was the last chapter of the book that really blew me away. I had absolutely no idea where things were going, I just knew that I was in the author’s capable hands. Even after finishing the book, I still don’t think I fully comprehend what went down. On the surface, it seems like a complete 180 switch, but things that happen in the final chapter are seeded extremely carefully throughout the entire novel. Morgan is an evil genius, with a deft and delirious hand. 

More bonkers books, please! I’m excited to see what Beth Morgan does next.
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A Touch of Jen went quite a bit further than the description of the book would lead one to believe. It's a solid recommendation for anyone wanting something different, but dark. They also must be able to put up with an unlikeable MC who is the definition of a mediocre white male failing upwards.
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Great writing and very interesting premise. It took a direction I wasn't expecting, but it was ultimately a disappointing one for me. In the end it didn't quite feel like horror or a fun genre combo, though there was an unsettling tone throughout which was primarily delivered via the intentionally awful and depressing main characters, not the supernatural/horror-esque elements (a blend of social media commentary, raging misogyny, self help cultishness and government secrecy that felt a bit messy all together). I didn't get the dark comedy that would have paired well with this, it was just dark in a mundane way that made parts of it a sad meandering read.

The final chunk of the book had an escalation that was meant to be a scary and wild culmination of the strange happenings and technically, it was. It just didn't land as scary or satisfyingly eerie because I think there was too much trying to be done to make it feel like horror or at least a close approximation of it. The early chapters of the book set up what could have been a more simplified and exciting story. It went from social to psychological to maybe body horror to monster gore, and I think I would have preferred to stay in the psychological/body realm. I love weird and bizarre stories that don't quite fit, and it's even better when they're scary. Perhaps that's what this was going for, but even if I look at it through that lens, it didn't quite do it for me.
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I love weird but obnoxious is a very close cousin and totally takes over here. These caricatures of people behave badly and then they get worse. Once the body count started rising, it got a little more interesting (which is where the horror comes in) but not enough to make it worth reading. Give this a pass.
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I’m judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

“He’s talked to Alicia many times about these adult braces. They’ve discussed the spectacular, loopy temerity of a beautiful person like Jen taking such a  risk with her appearance. She could have done Invisalign. But no. Now she looks like a  hot shark.” Funny.
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A toxic Instagram crush creates one heck of a monster in this wild ride! Is this a romance? Is this fantasy? How about science fiction? Is it comical? I don't know how, but it's all of the above and Beth did a great job at that! This book is so unique and makes it a must-read! There truly is no other story like it. It’s addicting!
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Get used to the idea of spending a few hours questioning why you decided to read about these boring petty people. For more than half the book, millennials Remy and Alicia obsess over Jen, a beautiful girl with an uber-rich and pretentious boyfriend named Horus. They visit Horus’ house in the Hamptons. They learn to surf. Yada, yada, yada... A Touch of Jen makes the perfect sedative for a good night’s sleep for over half of its pages.

Then, POW!!! Weird stuff starts to happen. Really great weird stuff (that I don’t want to spoil for you). So, here’s is my advice. Skim the first half but don’t quit reading no matter how many times you may drowse off. It’s worth reading this book once you get to the wild ending. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars!

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
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