Posted in Book Reviews (updating), psychology, writing

Never Fear Chalk, Only Playground Bullies and Staircases.

I’ve talked on here before about my own manuscript: there’s stalking, there’s jealousy, there’s pain, pleasure, basically every ingredient you need to create a believable but obviously fictional life. There’s also crime, a smidgeon of it (not including the stalking), and so I’ve taken to reading a lot of crime novels lately. I’m halfway through two books in particular and much like Hollow Kingdom, I plan on reviewing them as I read them. So let’s get started with that today.

The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

Not going to lie, I found this book in Goodwill for $2.99. It was published in 2018, so it’s considered contemporary fiction and the inside jacket revealed there’s a dismembered body of a teenage girl, so there was definitely crime; the book met my two requirements of myself at the moment.

We jump between 2016 and 1986, so far, from a time where our protagonist, Eddie, is a middle-aged adult and back to the time when he was a budding teenager. All of his friends have nicknames and thank God they’re nothing like the ones in Hollow Kingdom. Although they are a bit gimmicky, they’re believable for children: Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, Hoppo and Eddie is called Eddie Munster because his surname is Adams, such as in The Addams Family. Apparently “Eddie Munster was out of The Munsters, but it made sense at the time . . .”

Nicky is another one of their friends, a girl who loves hanging with the boys, and her father is the local Vicar. This only becomes a problem at Fat Gav’s birthday party because Eddie’s mother works at an abortion clinic; at some point an argument erupts and Eddie’s father punches Nicky’s father. A few days later, Eddie’s family receives a pig fetus in the mail; I’m hoping this is set up for some further plot development.

Right off the bat, we get a terrifying incident: a girl is severely injured by a rogue piece of fair equipment and Eddie is right in the thick of it, inches from being impaled. He sees the jacked up face of the girl victim but is urged to help her by a strange man, Mr. Halloran. The two, so far, have a decent relationship, although things did get a little weird when Mr. Halloran saved Eddie from some serious sexual assault from some bullies who seem more like budding rapists. He brought Eddie back to his house and Mr. Halloran has a bunch of paintings of some girls from the town, including the jacked up face girl. I think he’s being set up to be the crazed murderer of the town: he’s a teacher, he’s quiet, he’s got a bunch of paintings of girls, and he’s forming a close connection with a student. Yep. Checks all the boxes for fictional murderers.

In 2016, as a middle-aged adult, Eddie lives with a much younger roommate, a young woman he fancies but will never tell her really because he’s “too old.” Fat Gav owns a pub, and he and Hoppo are angry that Eddie didn’t tell them Metal Mickey was back in town. Metal Mickey, we learn, has returned because he wants to write a book on “the incident” and I’m assuming that means the dismembered girl, although I haven’t gotten that far yet. He says he knows who the real murderer is. Spooky.

What I find annoying so far with Tudor’s writing is the constant cliff hangers at the end of each chapter. I get that it’s meant to keep you reading and is a staple of crime fiction, it just turns me off. I want the story to flow some places and hang other places, kind of like how life does. There’s also nothing special about the writing style; Tudor’s voice is average: not quite bland but not quite unique. I’m interested in the plot line, but that’s the only reason I’m continuing to read it.

Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner

Having a degree in psychology and living with schizophrenia and going back to school for cognitive science means I know a thing or two about disorders, including the personalities along the Dark Triad, and despite what people think, psychopathy itself is not a mental disorder. It’s a personality TRAIT, alongside Narcissism (which is different from narcissistic personality disorder) and Machiavellianism. So, when I started reading this book and realized it was about serial killers, I was waiting for the diagnosis Antisocial Personality Disorder, and sure enough, as cliche as aways, it came.

D.D. Warren is a detective called to a crime scene of a woman having been skinned (in some places) and killed, a bottle of champagne and a rose left on her nightstand. The detective went back to the crime scene, encountered what I’ve learned so far was the murderer, and got shoved down the stairs, enduring an injury that’s left her shoulder and arm completely useless during its healing process.

Doctor Adeline Day (although she goes by a different last name) is the daughter of infamous serial killer Harry Day and sister of infamous serial killer (and youngest to be tried for murderer in their area) Shana Day. Adeline is a psychiatrist and cannot feel pain due to a rare genetic disorder, but she does understand her sister’s troupe of “blood means love”, something their father taught her. Shana cut people to show them how much she loves them and is diagnosed, by her sister, with antisocial personality disorder.

I would like to point out that while the book mentions it’s quite unconventional for a family member to diagnose another family member, it’s something that wouldn’t happen. I’d also like to point out the majority of people diagnosed with and living with antisocial personality disorder are not serial killers. In fact, they live relatively normal lives. They simply don’t care for your feelings and will manipulate the hell out of you to get what they want. They are driven by their own desire and could care less what you think about that. That being said, aggression and violence come easy for them. It just doesn’t mean they’ll use it to harm people; it’s more like they could and would feel nothing if they did.

I’m tired of mental disorders being the reason for crime. Why can’t Shana just be a serial killer? Why does she need a label? Why does blood need to equal love? That’s more delusional than antisocial.

Adeline has a secret of her own, though. She goes on dates, sleeps with her dates, and cuts little strips of their skin and puts them in jars as keepsakes. I’m on page 209 right now so I don’t yet know the significance, but it better be something good. I swear to God.

So far the book has been mostly dialogue and I mean this. We get a paragraph or two of set up and story and then we get pages of dialogue, which is fine because most of the time it’s written well, but there are instances where I think the character of Adeline is much too “Hollywood psychiatrist” and a lot less “average psychiatrist,” meaning she talks like she was written for low budget movie. She has great explanations for everything and constantly knows what people are thinking without them saying more than a few words. She also talks kind of like a type-writer: old-fashioned and stiff.

That being said, I want to know who the murderer is and if he is conspiring with Shana Day, as some detectives are starting to think. I want to know if Adeline will get caught with her creepy skin obsession and lose her license (hopefully) and I want to know whether detective D.D. Warren’s shoulder will ever get better. I mean, that’s the real plot line here.

Would you guys read either of these books? What’s your chosen genre these days?

Until Next Time

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Posted in Book Reviews (updating), writing

Surfing in Forever Land

I’m back with a new book.

Where did I go, you ask?

Into the Ocean at the End of the Lane. And I Fear(ed) Nothing. I did come across The Chalk Man, though, and he was an interesting fellow. He asked me a lot of questions, including the ever daunting What Is Life.

If you haven’t guessed already, those are all books I’ve been reading and finishing while I took a little break from writing. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman has been by far the easiest and quickest to finish, so today we’ll be reviewing (with spoilers) that book in its entirety. Next time we’ll be talking a little bit about the crime novel Fear Nothing that I picked up from Thriftbooks.com.

If you still buy your books at full price, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but cheap books ain’t one.

Okay, enough jokes. Let’s get into it.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane.

Firstly, Neil Gaiman is not an indie author. He is a seasoned, accomplished one, with quite the knack for what we call Magical Realism over here in America. His imagination is impeccable. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things I wish were different in his book.

We start off meeting a man attending a funeral. He decides to re-visit the farm at the end of the lane of his childhood house where he met a girl aptly named Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year-old mystery. We flash back to his childhood when he first met Lettie, after a man had stolen his father’s Mini Cooper and ended his life in it. The scene too gruesome for a seven year old, our protagonist is granted the opportunity to spend some time with Lettie, Lettie’s mother (Mrs. Hempstock) and Lettie’s grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock).

To right a wrong, Lettie takes our protagonist to this Forever land where the sky is orange. She tells him “do not let go of my hand” no matter what happens, or what he sees. They come across this thing made of canvas with “deep holes in the fabric” and Lettie demanded she name herself. Of course this doesn’t happen and through the course of the terrifying conversation, our protagonist lets go of Lettie’s hand.

Oh how the young doom themselves.

When he returns home, there is something burrowed in his foot. With tweezers and warm water, he pulls half of the worm out (only half because it broke off inside of him) and the next thing we know, a new babysitter arrives named Ursula Monkton.

Ursula, as you may have guessed, is not an Ursula at all, in fact, she’s not even human. She’s the worm.

Before I lose you, I promise this book flows way better than I’m making it sound.

Our protagonist knows this is no ordinary babysitter, but she seems to have everyone wrapped around in little finger. His sister loves Ursula, their mother, who took a new job (hence the need for the babysitter) loves Ursula, and their father really, really loves Ursula, and gets caught having some passionate relations with her in his study. Don’t ask me how that works if she’s a worm.

This forces our protagonist to tell Lettie he let go of her hand in the forest. This creates some problems, but nothing the three Hempstocks can’t fix. They have spells and magic and creative thought to get rid of Ursula Monkton.

But Ursula has some magic of her own. She knows how to manipulate, and gets the father to choke and nearly drown his son in the bathtub. Our protagonist runs to Lettie Hempstock’s farm where magic is used to erase that event from reality; when his parents come looking for him, they believe he is just staying the night and brought his toothbrush for him–since he forgot it and all.

The next day, Lettie and our protagonist set off with “dolls’ eyes and heads and hands, [toy] cars with no wheels, and chipped cat’s eye glass marbles” to get rid of Ursula Monkton. We don’t necessarily learn what these toys are for, but it’s implied they are needed for the magic to work. They confront Monkton, who is now unashamed of her form, and highly overconfident; she’s managed to take over our protagonists’ house and turn everyone against him. Monkton levitates throughout their conversation, and she is the canvas monster for sure, but Lettie threatens her with “the varmints.”

They’re “mean, and they’re hard to get rid of. And they’re always hungry.”

Ursula runs.

We learn that Monkton has buried herself within our protagonists’ heart, and his life keeps her alive. She’s using him for energy, I assume, and we get this kind of awkward explanation of: “It is inside him. it is not a tunnel. Not any longer. It does not end. I fastened the path inside him too well when I made it and the last of it is still inside him. No matter. All I need to do to get away from here is to reach into his chest and pul out his beating heart and finish the path and open the door.”

I say awkward because when I read it, I don’t really feel threatened like it’s intended to be. It feels like a little kid explaining what Ursula Monkton wants, instead of Ursula explaining herself. In the midst of all that, there is a flapping, and then a whooshing, and then came The Hunger Birds, quite honestly my favorite characters in this whole book. They are the varmints, The Ones Who Eat (throwback to Hollow Kingdom). They devour the creature that is Ursula Monkton. But then they turn to our protagonist who still carries part of her inside of him.

Lettie creates a boundary, a fairy ring, and makes our protagonist sit in it. Nothing can come in the circle, and he should not leave the circle. She leaves.

The Hunger Birds play all sorts of games with our protagonist, impersonating his sister, his parents, anyone to try and get him out of the circle, but he does not budge because of his loyalty to Lettie and his understanding that he will be ripped apart if he does. In the end, Lettie sacrifices her life to save our protagonist.

There are a lot of good things about this book. The dialogue flows, we get a character we can feel scared for and two characters we get to root for. I only wish it was a little longer. I appreciate the mystery that the Hempstock’s unknown background provides, but the story itself almost feels rushed. I really wanted description and explanation of the world with the orange sky that lived in the back of the Hempstock’s farm, and the little pond that was really an ocean. I wanted to get a sense of these magical people, and that depth just isn’t there.

The book is enjoyable though, and a quick read. It’s something that kept my turning pages fiercely.

Next post we’ll talk about Fear Nothing, a crime novel with a very cliche Antisocial Personality.

Posted in Community, Emotions, Late Night Thoughts, Questions for you, writing

Books and Things and Things and Books!

How incredibly lucky we all are. This sentence has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I’ve just been reflecting on things, and figured maybe it will spark others into reflection as well.

I picked up a book called Modern Ethics in 77 arguments and have sworn myself to at least an argument essay a day. This last one I read was actually about human nature, evolution, and our inner conflict: what makes us altruistic or callous? Are some people born good and some born bad or are we born neither one of them and simply learn traits? The author of that essay is a biological mathematician and from his studies he says we are all a mix of everything really, and I think that’s always the answer in real science. People think just because we study something that we’re going to get concrete answers and that’s rarely ever the case. Life is complicated, biology and chemistry much more so.

The other book I’m reading is called Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. It was laying dormant on a table surrounded by cheesy romance/friendship novels in the middle of Barnes and Noble. It’s bright green with a picture of a wide-eyed crow above the city of Seattle, Washington. Of course I fucking grabbed it.

The synopsis of the story is that this crow visits this human everyday, at least he has been, and this time he visits, his human’s eye falls out. Then his human is wandering around, banging his head against the wall and bleeding from his fingers. Obviously the world has been zombified and this crow is our witness from the beginning. The idea is fun and strange, but sometimes her writing comes off as amateur. Amateur in the sense that there are a lot of unnecessary descriptors, things that you’re told not to do, or things you’re told to watch out for, when you’re in a creative writing workshop/class. This is her debut novel, so I’m giving her some slack. I’ll come back with more information once I finish the book. Both of the books.

You see, the picture above was going to be what the cover looks like, but then I made it dark. That thing was supposed to be a crow, but because I am not a drawer gifted by the gods, it came out looking like it’d been mangled by a car. So I turned it into Crowthulu. Sue me.

What do you all enjoy most about reading? What kind of books do you enjoy? I like anything that deviates from the norm, or if it’s within the parameters of the norm, it must be creative in other ways, like poetic syntax or narrative voice. Something that for me I consider in the “norm” would be books that express ultra-realistic relationships and experiences in the world, books that don’t embrace magical realism, paranormal things or super-human qualities. A book that follows a woman after a messy divorce, to me, is within the norm, and I’m willing to read it if there’s something about it that stands out.

I’m very cautious about that now. I read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and almost emailed her to get my two days worth of reading back. Her book follows a troubled girl who meets a fantastical (but very real and normal) woman.

I mean, that’s literally the plot.

She meets the woman, spends the remainder of the book describing every little feeling she experiences, every little bit of hatred she has for her alcoholic father, whines, and then this BIG THING that is constantly foreshadowed in the book happens within a few pages and it’s the end.

As a writer, I’m not here to tear other writers down, but when something just ISN’T IT, I’m going to say it, and I’d hope fellow writers would have the same mentality toward my work.

Comment some of your favorite books or short stories or poetry or some of your worst of all of the above! Let’s all give each other something to read.

I personally love to read books that I don’t find that good. It’s more of a learning tool than anything.

What do you think?

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