Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized, writing

I’m Reading Along Came A Spider So You Never Have To (With Bad Drawings)

Much like we did with Hollow Kingdom, I’ve decided that since I’m only a quarter of the way through James Patternson’s Along Came A Spider, I would share my reading journey with you all. It seemed to work well last time, and I enjoy everyone following along and reading the book with me, essentially. If you haven’t read some of my Hollow Kingdom reviews, please go ahead and give them a look here and here. Warning: there ARE spoilers!

Before we get into this, let’s remember who James Patternson is. I’m sure you’ve seen commercials with this jolly dudes face on it:

Courtesy of Business Insider

He sells more books, according to that linked business insider article, than J.K Rowling or Stephan King. I don’t know how true that holds today, and I’m not going to waste my time reading that article, but if any of you are interested, please come back and let me know what his secret is.

Because his writing infuriates me.

Let’s get started.

Characters

In Along Came A Spider, we’re introduced to Sampson and Alex Cross, the latter being the deputy chief of detectives and also the narrating protagonist. The book opens with them on a case in “the hood.”

Do you see where this is going.

Now, being an African American woman, I have no issue with a white man writing a black character. I have issue with that character having stereotypical actions as part of their repertoire, or around them (like Alex’s daughter calling him “Big Daddy”) or using mannerisms that you wouldn’t normally see in the black community. The real problem with Alex is that he has absolutely no personality. He’s a flat character. There’s no depth. There’s no dimension. He’s just narrating the story. He’s telling what happened. And this is how this book is written.

We get shoddy descriptions of him like “Sampson and I are both physical. We work out at the gym attached to St. Anthony’s–St A’s. Together, we weigh about five hundred pounds. We can intimidate, if we want to. Sometimes it’s necessary in our line of work.”

Flat.

“I couldn’t help grieving as I looked down at the little boy, his sad, lifeless eyes staring up at me. Everything was very noisy inside my head.”

My head and the noise

Flatter.

Considering this book is written with Alex Cross in first person, you’d think we get a little more of a glimpse of what “noisy” means for him. What does “grieving” mean for him? We get a better description of the dead boy than we do of Alex’s reaction; at least we know his eyes are sad and lifeless.

Then we get this weird description of Sampson: “We walked along, goofing on the situation and on each other. Sampson rapped lyrics from pop songs, something he does a lot.”

Really? Really Patternson? Does he do it a lot? Because we’re 161 pages in at that line and we haven’t heard Sampson rap one fucking line. So does he do it a lot or just when you have nothing better to say?

Then, we’re introduced to Jezzie Flanagan and we just know she’s a bad ass because her name is spelled uniquely and she rides a motorcycle or something.

We don’t get much of personality for her either. She’s kind of just there. She gets great descriptive sentences like “it was a neat little scene to watch.”

Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg are two uppity children of political officials and famous persons and go to a fancy private school in some part of Washington D.C. What I like about the children characters is that they fit Patternson’s writing style much better. They don’t need tons of descriptors or beautiful prose or fancy words–because they’re children and most likely don’t know them. He writes through their eyes and that works for the most part.

Then we meet Mr Gary. Mr. Gary is at first a teacher at the private school Maggie and Michael attend, and then he’s their kidnapper and murderer. He comes off sort of childish too, in the way he explains his obsession with the Lindberg kidnapping and his own dirty deeds. Perhaps that’s Patternson’s point: this is a shattered, sick little man who doesn’t have the development of a stable adult. But we’ll never know.

So, what we’ve got are a couple of children, a flat detective, a badass who hasn’t yet gotten to show how badass she is, and a murderer obsessed with fame.

Plot

Sampson and Cross are pulled from their initial murder case (the little black boy with the sad, lifeless eyes) and put on the case of the kidnapped rich, white children, which is brought up as an issue in the book, as it should be. The setting is placed in Washington D.C. in 1992, so although not a heavily racist era, still an era where race played a major role and people weren’t as “woke” as they are now. People didn’t have cell phones to record racist cops or racist shooters and there certainly wasn’t social media around to narrate racist experiences to the world. So, the little black boy with the sad little eyes had to go without so the little white children could be saved.

Spoiler Alert: they don’t save the white children either.

Mr. Gary kidnaps Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg with the intention of becoming one of the most famous criminals. He’s killed multiple people, assumed multiple identities, and Patternson totally stole this idea from me (insert laugh here) and I’m outraged. Gary drugs the children and brings them to a shack where he tosses them in the shed. Michael dies because he has a heart condition and too much of the medicine was administered, but Maggie wakes up and starts screaming. I haven’t yet learned how she died.

Then we get a nice little scene around page 141, Chapter 29, of Gary home with his wife Missy and daughter Roni. Apparently he has both of those things. He is constantly fantasizing about killing them all, including his wife’s brother, in front of each other. We get a nice description of “he imagined beating Marty to death with his snow shovel, actually murdering Kasajian [Marty] in front of Missy and Roni. Show them who the man of the house really was.”

Marty’s Unique Death, P.G Version

What we learn about Gary through the transposition of the plot is that he’s quite the cliche murderer. He wants to kill everyone in sight, never get caught until he wants to get caught, and be one of the most famous bastards in history. Because that’ll show them who the man of the world really is.

It’s boring. We get tons of murderers like that in every crime novel. Can’t we come up with something more creative than the need for fame and the lust over murder?

Mr. Gary also wanted a ransom for the children. The families agreed to a hand off, and Alex Cross was taken handcuffed on a plane with a suitcase full of money by some contact of Gary’s. The contact got away and Alex was left handcuffed to the seat of the private jet. I don’t know man, it sounds like it should be exciting, but it really wasn’t. I glazed over it.

Now that the children are both dead, the media and families are blaming Alex Cross for having ruined the pick up and letting the killer get away. Alex and Sampson get put back on the case of the little black boy with the sad eyes only to discover one of Maggie Rose’s shoes at the crime scene of another murder in the hood.

The connection there, of course, is that Gary is killing everybody. That’s what he does. He’s showin’ them who’s boss, ain’t he?

Conclusion

162 pages in and I’m having trouble getting through the other 273. That’s my conclusion. I have nothing else to say.

Do you like James Patternson? How does he compare to Stephen King, another author who can vomit three or four books in a month? Have you read a book by Patternson that you think I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) rip apart?

I can say I would prefer to re-read Hollow Kingdom than read Along Came A Spider. At least in Hollow Kingdom I was entertained.

Until next time

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain.

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 Uncategorized, writing

Two Books and a Bad Drawing

Keeping to my promise from days ago, I read some more of both Hollow Kingdom and Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments. Here’s where I stand:

Dear God, someone burn Hollow Kingdom.

Dear God, someone give me more of 77 Arguments.

Let me explain.

Hollow Kingdom

I’ve started editing this book as I read, crossing out extraneous sentences and verbose explanation, things the readers can infer while we read the book. That is the area which most infuriates me about reading this. Because, the thing is, were that taken care of by the editor, this book would have been close to groundbreaking. There aren’t really any books advertised that describe the apocalypse from the animal’s point of view, and I haven’t read any, so this could have been a very new, very intriguing topic.

For example, instead of saying “he blinks” or “his blinking” or “he blinked”, she says “his nictitating membrane licking his eye.”

Now, I understand the need for varied vocabulary, but not when it takes away from readability and believability. Some advice: just because the ‘dictionary word of the day’ is relevant to your writing, doesn’t mean you should use it.

S.T also calls the crows he doesn’t like “ass trumpets” and I’m just over these silly little names. I would have laughed at ass trumpet when I was 14. I won’t at 25. This isn’t advertised as a kids’ novel or a YA novel either.

I did get a tickle our of the bear cubs being called fuzzy potatoes. If she’s stopped there for that whole chapter and not said ass trumpets or any other silly names, I would have been okay. Fuzzy potatoes passes.

So far I’m only on chapter 8. S.T and Dennis the Dog are embarking on their own travels to seek the wise Onida and find the reason why the MoFo’s (humans, remember?) are acting so strangely. S.T wants to find the cure for his beloved Big Jim. Dennis went after a bear that came out of the library and got side-swiped by a huge claw. Other crows and birds came to their rescue, and S.T has a bit of an attitude with them; we learn that S.T’s wings are clipped and he’s been more of a human pet than a wild crow. The other birds refer to humans a The Hollow Ones, and S.T doesn’t like that either. There’s a whole conversation about S.T going to find Onida and then he rides off on Dennis’ back like fucking Clint Eastwood or something.

I don’t know what Chapter 8 will bring, but if it’s any more silly names, I’m flipping a table.

Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments

I read two essays, but the one that sucked me in was How Should We Respond to “Evil” by Steven Paulikas. The line ” . . . the notion that evil can be ‘destroyed’ is an ethical version of a fool’s errand.” is what caught my attention.

The subject of this essay, although written in 2016, is the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. This goes for both sides when I repeat, “how can we be sure something is evil and not simply opposed to our interests?” For example, the tragic 3,000 death in the 11th attacks were countered with 460,000 deaths in Iraq, and that includes more American soldier deaths than civilian deaths at the WTC. We are tying to “make order out of chaos”, as Paulikas puts it. What did we solve in meeting murder with murder? What did we prove? Paulikas asks, “can evil ever fully be destroyed . . .?”

He describes Paul Ricoeur, another philosopher who suggests the solution isn’t to identify evil, but to “respond to it appropriately”, that the real pain of evil isn’t the act, but “the experience of the victim.”

I would agree.

And so to bust down the doors on evil’s house, to ransack his place, to steal his jewelry and kill his dog isn’t honoring the experience of the victim, it’s creating more victims; It is, in itself, evil, to respond violently to evil.

We consider these types of responses as justified. When someone murders three people and we put them to death, we consider that justice for the victims when in reality we’ve only created more; the family of the murderer who may not have known that side of him/her, mourn their loss as well. We’ve circulated loss. Congratulations.

That’s not to say punishment isn’t needed. But that’s exactly Ricoeur’s point: we need to respond appropriately. We must focus on the victims. Help them, support them, lift them up, and let the one who perpetrated the evil live within his perpetrated evil. If that means life in prison or banishment or whatever, then fine, but let’s not put the focus on the evil committed. Let’s put the focus on the victims who suffer. And if the punishment is indeed death as in many places, let’s put the focus then on the victims we’ve created, the family, and know that we can mourn loss with them without feeling sorry for the murderer.

I think this is a touchy, uncomfortable subject for some people because we’re raised behind the mythological versions of good and evil: angels vs demons, good gods vs destructive gods, and we think these things are black and white even when, time and time again, the world shows us the blurred lines. And so friends, I implore you, look beyond what you’ve been taught. People are not simply good or evil, they are an amalgamation of sinful, prideful, grateful, decent, destructive, beautiful–and much more.

I also implore you to read this book. Some of the essays are a little wack, but most of them are quite enlightening.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or twitter @ThePhilopsychotic. I appreciate you.

Posted in Community, Questions for you, writing

To All The Crass bunches of “Douche McGoos” out there

A lot of book reviews are reviewed when the reader has finished the book and established a (mostly) secure opinion of the content. I’m not one to do things in an orderly fashion. I’ll be reviewing this book as I read it because there are some truly awful mannerisms of the characters that I’m too lazy to annotate or remember, and there are some truly wonderful descriptions and plot ideas. I figured this would also ensure I keep up with reading.

This site won’t always be book reviews, but when it is, I’m sippin’ Captain Morgan.

Fun fact: I HATE rum. And we’re talking about the book Hollow Kingdom again. Their crow is much better than that shitty one I drew yesterday.

I read some more last night and identified the mannerisms of the characters I can’t stand Let’s start with that.

*SPOILERSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS*

Do you all remember the novel Watership Down? They made a godawful (in my opinion) Netflix adaptation. The book itself is about societal politics, but from the point of view of a commune of rabbits. Hollow Kingdom is quite the opposite, being set in a newly apocalyptic world, with the story told from the point of view of multiple animals, the main character being a crow named “shit turd,” obviously called so by the human he used to hang around.

I should have known. That name was a bright red flag.

Shit Turd calls humans “Mofos,” which I honestly found cute in the beginning in the sense that he picked it up from Jim, his human, and I thought that was the last cheesy fucking name I’d hear. It seems it’s only the beginning.

A cat calls his humans Mediocre Servants (which again, kind of cute, not terrible) but also proceeds to identify them as “dildo nosed potatoes.”

Geese are referred to as a “crass bunch of douche McGoos.”

I . . .

Look ya’ll. If it was ONE character in the book with these mannerisms, if this was a character trait–or, rather, FLAW–then maybe I could tolerate it. But it seems every character so far (Shit Turd, otherwise known as S.T; Genghis cat, and Winnie The Poodle) has the same narrative voice. The only name I’m mildly entertained by is Spark Pug. That’s . . . that’s beautiful.

And while these pervasive, amateur, cheesy phrases are spread through this book with reckless abandon, there are some savior scenes which I’ve enjoyed so far. When S.T. realizes Walgreens carries over the counter medication that could save Jim, he figures he should fly up in there and get some. He encounters four zombies punching buttons on a blood pressure machine and after yelling at them unsuccessfully, S.T. gathers Monistat, Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs, Lasix, Prilosec OTC, E-Mycin, Keflex, and Summer’s Eve, all of which “sounded effective” and would cure Big Jim. Low and behold, Summer’s Eve, that traitor bitch, fell out of the bag and knocked against the check-out stand, startling the four blood pressure zombies and some pharmacy zombies who were hiding. They all rushed for S.T. and he dropped more items while being swiped at. Eventually he gathered all the items to drop off to Jim.

So far if I were to give this book a rating, I’m sitting at about a solid 3/5. That’s being generous, only for the sake of the savior scenes like the one I described above. If she wouldn’t have written those well, I would have gave this book away to someone who enjoys reading without getting immersed in diction, syntax, plot, story, narrative voice and figurative language.

What do you guys think? Should I keep putting out an opinion on this book or have you had enough? Do you really not care at all? Let me know what you think. Give me a thumbs up emoji, even, or a thumbs down emoji or even that emoji that’s supposed to be ice cream but looks like a pile of shit. I’m happy with all of it.

Until next time.

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