Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Part 3 of 3)

Note: This is the final installment of a three part series reviewing New York Times Bestselling Author Gillian Flynn’s current releases.

Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnTitle: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Adult Contemporary
How To Purchase: Kindle | Hardcover (Amazon) | Kobo

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.

Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

There’s little more I can say about Gone Girl that hasn’t already been said. I was engaged from the first page, and as the story unfolded, I was more and more awestruck with the tight weaving of the tale. I won’t spoiler anything in my review, but let me just say that I loved and hated both main characters multiple times as the novel progressed. Even now that I’m finished, I love and hate both of them.

Certain people are unhappy with the world. It’s like they’re born hating their very existence, perplexed why they’re here, and angry that they are being asked to live. This is who I think the book is about: Someone whose soul was tainted before they proceeded to this earth. That, quite frankly, is fascinating to me and always has been. And I will never get enough of books and movies and television shows about those kinds of people.

Before reading this, I had heard the term “unreliable narrator” applied to the book. That’s not precisely what we’re dealing with, at least not the Holden Caulfield definition. Instead, it’s unreliable storytelling, secrets within secrets, lies by omission and painting reality a certain way, all for a reason. And that reason is to make you feel about the characters. And that’s what makes me love it.

While I like speculative fiction, I like dark, thinking books more. This one definitely fills both those criteria. After I read this, I decided I was going to pick up Gillian Flynn’s other two books and devour them as quickly as this one, though I posted my reviews in the order she published them. That was my fabulous Christmas break 2013–and there’s no question in my mind as to why she’s a New York Times Bestselling Author.

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Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaTitle: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre(s): YA Paranormal Romantic Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon | Kobo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was not a bad book, but it didn’t live up to its hype. Some of the writing was atmospheric, but not enough to move me. The characters were memorable, but I neither loved nor hated them.

The story gets underway when our main character Violet meets River, a boy her age who wants to room in the guest house in her old, rundown mansion. River is mysterious and attractive, and she goes about falling in love with him as quickly as any teenaged girl can fall in love with a mysterious and attractive teenaged boy.

Soon it’s revealed that River has a mysterious power that he uses to manipulate those around him. Is her attraction to him real? Is he manipulating her own emotions for his gain? Does she actually care if it’s not genuine? Those are the questions that made me keep reading, that make me want to read the second book, though the questions aren’t posed in a particularly compelling manner.

The weather–sunbeams, thunderstorms, salty ocean air–is over-used to create atmosphere. Although the usage wasn’t terrible, I feel like it could have been more deftly woven to the story. Each mention seemed a jarring contrast to whatever was going on, an add-on that seemed like Ms. Tucholke chose “because it needs to be there,” rather than to enhance a scene.

The climax was a bit anti-climactic, even though it was well-written. Series(es) have a tendency to do that, I think; I felt the same disappointment at reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It’s as though the author says, “I have some choice morsels that I will save for the next book,” without thinking that perhaps I will not read the next book because this one doesn’t live up to its potential. Without giving anything away, a near deus ex machina forms the climax, which I think leads to the feeling of being cheated. The climax is not brought about my our main characters, but something that was lurking outside The Machine, something discovered too late in the story to be emotionally satisfying. Nothing is resolved between Violet and River, and we must read into the second book to find out what comes about.

In the description, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is described as “blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror.” Yes, maybe, OK, I see it if I squint. If you’re looking forward to reading this, I say go ahead and pick it up. I will likely buy the sequel, too… But I’m prepared to be disappointed a second time.

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Guest Review: Ciara Ballintyne on The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

Did you know that today is a very special day? It is!

Today marks my first guest review, written by the talented Ciara Ballintyne, author of Confronting the Demon. Stay tuned on Monday for my own review of her book, the reading of which prompted me to contact her to do this guest post. Meet Ciara:

JM0130BCiara has chosen to review a book that influenced her own writing, The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett. OK, OK, I’ve talked enough, let’s get to what Ciara has to say:
185px-The-last-heroTitle: The Last Hero, Book #27 of Discworld
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre(s): Adult Humorous Science Fiction

Cohen the Barbarian. He’s been a legend in his own lifetime.
He can remember the good old days of high adventure, when being a Hero meant one didn’t have to worry about aching backs and lawyers and civilization. But these days, he can’t always remember just where he put his teeth…So now, with his ancient (yet still trusty) sword and new walking stick in hand, Cohen gathers a group of his old — very old — friends to embark on one final quest. He’s going to climb the highest mountain of Discworld and meet the gods. It’s time the Last Hero in the world returns what the first hero stole. Trouble is, that’ll mean the end of the world, if no one stops him in time.

A long time ago, the first hero stole the secret of fire from the gods. Now, the last hero, Cohen the Barbarian, together with his Silver Horde, is returning it. With a vengeance.

I said SILVER HORDE. Silver, you know? SILVER? Your hair! Oh, never mind…

It’s not silver for all the loot they stole, see?

Cohen is the disc’s answer to Conan – eighty years old in the shade, with dentures made from troll teeth (diamonds) and tough as old boot leather (possibly tougher, and certainly stringier). The Silver Horde may not always be able to hear what’s going on (one of them even uses an ear horn) but they can always beat it into submission (even from the seat of a wheelchair).

‘And they’re heroes,’ said Mr Betteridge of the Guild of Historians.

‘And that means, exactly?’ said the Patrician, sighing.

‘They’re good at doing what they want to do.’

‘But they are also, as I understand it, very old men.’

‘Very old heroes,’ the historian corrected him. ‘That just means they’ve had a lot of experience in doing what they want to do.’

Lord Vetinari sighed again. He did not like to live in a world of heroes. You had civilisation, such as it was, and you had heroes.

The problem is, this spells disastrous consequences for the entire disc… The end of the world, in fact. Again. Unless someone stops him.

So who is really the last hero?

Enter Rincewind, once again swindled into certain danger and almost certain death.

Of all the Discworld books, the ones with Rincewind are by far my favourites. I think they are the funniest, because how can you compete with a cowardly wizard who can’t do magic, who has no interest in saving the world, or the danger that goes with it, and yet somehow always manages to find himself at the centre of these things – and pulls it off? And surely no one had disappointed Death as many times as Rincewind.

In fact, The Last Hero features nearly all my favourite characters – Death, the Librarian, Vetinari, Captain Carrot, and Leonard of Quirm, who all come together in a desperate mission to save the disc. Which is to say, of course, that Lord Vetinari decrees it shall be done and has Leonard design an insane plan. Carrot volunteers because he’s like that, and Rincewind volunteers out of a belief in sheer inevitability – he knows he’s going to wind up on this mission whether he likes it or not, because that’s what always happens to him, so why fight it?  Death, naturally, is quite invested in the outcome.

‘What is that on your badge, Captain Carrot?’

‘Mission motto, sir,’ said Carrot cheerfully. ‘Morituri Nolumnus Mori. Rincewind suggested it.’

‘I imagine he did,’ said Lord Vetinari, observing the wizard coldly. ‘And would you care to give us a colloquial translation, Mr Rincewind?’

‘Er…’ Rincewind hesitated, but there was really no escape. ‘Er… roughly speaking, it means, “We who are about to die don’t want to,” sir.’

Like all Discworld books, The Last Hero is a rollicking good laugh, combining some of the best elements of the Discworld series in one volume. It comes in an illustrated format, with some fantastic pictures. Highly recommended!

The Last Hero has a particular place in my heart because a line from the book served as the inspiration for my novella, Confronting the Demon. It was the writing prompt for my writer’s group one month several years ago. The story went through many iterations before it settled into the form in which it now exists, but throughout all its incarnations, the concept that originally sprang from the prompt remained true. It came from this paragraph:

‘That meal,’ said Cohen, ‘was heroic. No other word for it.’

‘That’s right, Mrs. McGarry,’ said Evil Harry. ‘Even rat doesn’t taste this much like chicken.’

‘Yes, the tentacles hardly spoiled it at all!’ said Caleb enthusiastically.

[Samantha’s note: Aha! Tentacles …]

So do yourself a favour, and go buy The Last Hero. Paperback, not ebook, because some of the best jokes are in the footnotes and you miss out on them in ebook. If you have the option, get the illustrated version. Love the artwork. It won’t fit nicely on your shelf, but it’s worth it.

Interested in more words by Ciara? Find her:

Or if you want to check out Confronting the Demon, you can find it here:

A big thank you to Ciara for her post today!

Discussion: Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Title: Glimpses of the Devil
Author: M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Genre(s): Paranormal Non-Fiction

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

[Truncated] The legendary bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, whose books have sold over 14 million copies, reveals the amazing true story of his work as an exorcist — kept secret for more than twenty-five years — in two profoundly human stories of satanic possession.

For the first time, Dr. Peck discusses his experience in conducting exorcisms, sharing the spellbinding details of his two major cases: one a moving testament to his healing abilities, and the other a perilous and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against darkness and evil. Twenty-seven-year-old Jersey was of average intelligence; a caring and devoted wife and mother to her husband and two young daughters, she had no history of mental illness. Beccah, in her mid-forties and with a superior intellect, had suffered from profound depression throughout her life, choosing to remain in an abusive relationship with her husband, one dominated by distrust and greed.

I’m deviating from my usual format for a book that is not speculative fiction and for a discussion of what is contained within rather than a review. Glimpses of the Devil is from my non-fiction exorcism research list for my paranormal/horror The Exorcist’s Assistant (working title).

Though some might feel that a book recounting exorcisms is written on shaky foundation, I believe in the supernatural and, more specifically, the existence of evil spirits we call “demons.” I am not, however, a Christian, so I bring my own opinions to the reading of these stories, which is the impetus for this blog entry. I believe that every spiritual explanation–from major religions to individual experiences–is like a blind man trying to describe an elephant. The observation touches on something true about the whole, but the interpretation misses the entire picture.

In Glimpses of the Devil, Dr. Peck, who is a psychiatrist and converted Christian, recounts two experiences where he acted as an exorcist. He holds these two cases up as proof of demonic possession. Enough evidence exists in what he presented that, if he has presented everything factually, I believe these are cases of true demon possession.

However, I disagree with his interpretation of events in two specific areas.

The first rule of exorcisms…

Glimpses of the Devil is described as a factual representation of events; however, it ends up as an autobiographical account of a man who decides, without religious or demonological training, to exorcise two patients. This becomes clear throughout the book as Dr. Peck wrestles with his decision. One of my chief concerns regarding all this is that he never asks, “Should I do further research into exorcisms beyond reading Malachi Martin‘s books?”

Mr. Martin is widely criticized in the exorcist community as writing sensational books full of half-truths and for decidedly un-Christian-like conduct, such as several affairs. Dr. Peck goes so far as to claim that no other handbook for exorcisms exists beyond Mr. Martin’s, which is patently untrue. (See again my reading list, which is far from a compendium on all exorcist non-fiction.) Dr. Peck’s ignorance of the best practices in dealing with demons is evident from the beginning.

The first case is Jersey, a girl who has been possessed since she was twelve. Dr. Peck and his team exorcise her, which goes well. He then spends three weeks with her in psychoanalytic therapy, preparing her for re-entering the world.

After the exorcism, Dr. Peck is in contact with her over the years. During one visit, she explains to him that the demons still talk to her, but she is able to ignore them. In one instance, she told them to “shut the fuck up,” and they did. However, out of curiosity, Dr. Peck asks to hypnotize her, as he did in the past, and to speak to the demons through her. She agrees and the resulting conversation is confusing. Nothing particularly demonic happens; instead, the entity speaking through Jersey identifies itself as a clerk living in Anaheim. He ends the hypnotic session and sees her rarely after that, though she, at press time, is happy, healthy, and no longer possessed.

I am appalled. Shame on you, Dr. Peck, for opening the door to allow a demon to speak through Jersey. I won’t be surprised if the ending to the story is that she ends up possessed again.

Look, I’m no expert, but I have read a few things and I have some common sense. One of the preeminent exorcists of our times, Father Gabriele Amorth, has given extensive precautionary information in An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. These two books are not pea-soup-spitting horrors but are thoughtfully written tradesman’s books–discussions of the nuts and bolts and challenges facing exorcists. They could be about plumbing or IT development but are instead about exorcisms. At the time that Dr. Peck conducted his exorcisms, the books had not yet been written; however, I would expect a non-fiction published in 2005 to at least acknowledge the existence of Father Amorth’s books.

In his books, Father Amorth advises, quite sensibly, against engaging a demon in conversation. Assuming you believe demons are creatures of inherent evil and you aren’t interested in unleashing evil into the world, you can agree that you shouldn’t talk to them. Why? Because they lie. Even if they’re not lying about whatever you ask, how do you know that? You’re begging to be manipulated. What is there to learn, other than that they’re evil, which you already know?

It’s an exciting, gripping, fascinating world to step into. The lure of talking to something not human is immense. It’s no wonder the Catholic Church refuses to promote its work in the realm of exorcisms.

This deviation from “get the hell out of that woman” to “hey, guy, whatcha doin’ in there?” becomes prominent in the second patient’s exorcism. Dr. Peck is fascinated with the idea that Beccah is possessed by Satan, an evil creature millions of years old. He senses a giant, immoveable snake, as old as the world itself, coiled supernaturally around or inside of his patient. He wonders why it has possessed her. He asks it questions. He hypothesizes why it won’t leave her. He does everything except exorcise it.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know. Maybe it went differently, and his ruminations are for the book only. But the exorcism of Beccah took a subtle shift from the exorcism of Jersey. With Jersey, he very strongly orders the demons to leave for three days straight. With Beccah, he ends up falling to the floor weeping at one point and another team member must step in and complete the exorcism. Is it no wonder that it turned out the way it did?

The moment of possession

I’m also uncomfortable with the conclusions that Dr. Peck has drawn, aided by Malachi Martin, about the reasons behind demonic possession. Both men claim that every possessed person is complicit in their possession, that to become possessed, one must open the door for that possession, even if only a crack.

When the first patient Jersey was twelve, her father molested her. She allowed him to do it because he claimed to be a medical doctor and was “examining” her after her appendix was removed. He held a PhD and was a practicing psychologist but was not a medical doctor.

Dr. Peck claims that at twelve years old, Jersey knew the difference between a psychologist and a medical doctor. Though he doesn’t outright blame her, he explains that in not protesting what her father did to her, she created a kind of cognitive dissonance that allowed the demons to gain a foothold. She willfully believed a lie, and therefore, she opened the door to being possessed.

Are you kidding me, Dr. Peck?

I have no idea why that poor girl was possessed, but the only proof the author had that her demonic interference started at twelve was her word while she was possessed. It could have been one of the demons speaking through her to hide the real timing and cause of the possession. Her bad behavior only starts manifesting in her twenties. Why did the demons wait so long?

And I just don’t agree with the idea of Jersey bringing this on herself because she was molested. “Oh,” Dr. Peck says, “you didn’t bring the molestation on yourself; however, you did bring the possession on yourself.”

In healing psychological trauma, it’s important to identify and acknowledge all feelings. Thus in a rape, a victim might say, “I feel that I brought this on myself.” While this may be a turning point for the victim, the turning point is because he or she is releasing that negative thought. A follow-up might be an acknowledgement that she didn’t bring it on herself or perhaps that she could have taken a different route home but had no way of knowing what would happen. It is not suddenly a fact that the victim brought the horrific tragedy on herself just because she thinks she did. It’s psychologically freeing–which we see in the case of Jersey–but that doesn’t make it true.

This preoccupation becomes even more apparent in Beccah’s case, and Dr. Peck’s search for the moment of her possession may have distracted him from being useful to her. Beccah was found wandering six streets away from her home when she was eighteen months old. Though little is known of her mother beyond that she was seen by Beccah as evil, this is exceedingly atypical behavior by a child in that age range, as asserted by Dr. Peck himself. Non-traumatized children nine months to several years old are afraid of strangers and cling desperately to their mothers. That Beccah ran away from home before she could talk says that she was already maladjusted, due to her circumstances, well before she had a choice in the matter.

While it is important to note that everyone has a choice and that choice is important in defeating a demon, we are all victims of our circumstances. A woman may end up being narcissistic because she was genetically predisposed and her mother modeled that behavior; she may free herself from it by taking responsibility for her actions. Going in is not a choice, but coming out is.

The very definition of a demon is a creature that preys on human victims. Have we forgotten what victims are? They’re victims. And it’s not a far stretch to believe that supernatural creatures intent on anguish and destruction choose innocents. It’s comforting to tell ourselves that we won’t ever be targets because we don’t do anything to invite evil into our lives, but that smacks of untruth.

I admire Dr. Peck’s open discussions, including failings that he freely admits. The books was fascinating, but I’m cautious about naming the elephant. Whenever we delve too far into specifics when it comes to religion, we become distracted and unable to see the entire picture. Though it’s obvious that “invoking “he name of Jesus Christ” holds sway over demons, that doesn’t prove that every piece of Christian dogma is correct. Exorcisms have been performed successfully for thousands of years across all cultures and religions, despite what the Catholic church might want people to believe.

I’m convinced that there’s evil in the world. And sometimes, we can do nothing to stop being swept away by it. Educating ourselves on all aspects of evil and opening ourselves to understanding beyond our own narrow worldview will aid in defeating it in our own lives and as collective humanity.

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A Sort-Of Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Magic & Mayhem Book Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardTitle: Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, Book #1)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre(s): Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon) | Kobo

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

I’m not going to review this book. You’d have to be living under a rock right now if you don’t know about it. The movie version released at the beginning of the month, and social media has been simmering for months with the “Will I or Won’t I See It?” debate. No, I’m not going to review it. Instead, I’m going to talk about why you’re merely catering to convenience if you decide not to see it because of Orson Scott Card’s homophobic remarks.

From the Huffington Post’s article Orson Scott Card Calls Backlash To Anti-Gay Views ‘Savage, Lying Deceptive Personal Attacks’:

Card’s anti-gay views date back to 1990, when he said that sodomy laws should be upheld in states to punish “unruly” gays, Salon noted. Since then, he has been outspoken against same-sex marriage, which he has said “marks the end of democracy in America.” To him, homosexuality is a “tragic genetic mixup.”

Yeah, that’s some pretty awful stuff right there, Mr. Card. I can definitely see why people, including myself, aren’t impressed with you. On the other hand, here’s the problem with the backlash, from the mouth of the big man himself: “[People are] certainly not [understanding]… Ender’s Game.”

Two reasons why I can’t stomach this debate.

First, Ender’s Game explores the assumptions we make and the prejudices we carry, even the ones we don’t realize we have. Haven’t read it? Haven’t seen it? Yep, it’s true. The story is about a war with some aliens we don’t understand. We pit our children against them–forcing these children to forego childhood for our own selfish reasons. In the end, we find out we misunderstood the way the aliens communicated with us because it was too different for us to fathom.

This message is sandwiched between some cool fight scenes within an epic alien-human war. It’s more cerebral than Transformers or Iron Man but still appeals to the same audience. It would seem to me that people who are the most offended by Mr. Card’s homophobic comments are the ones who would enjoy the story’s moral implications the most. And yes, I believe Mr. Card would benefit from re-reading and digesting his book before he opens his mouth again.

Second, and here’s what gets my panties in a twist: Why Orson Scott Card?

Can anyone tell me what J.K. Rowling believes about gays or abortion? How about E.L. James; what’s her stance on Obamacare? What does Stephanie Meyers think about immigration?

Maybe they’re all awesome, loving, inclusive people and that’s why they didn’t make the news. On the other hand, maybe they kept their mouths shut because they have a better publicist or they knew that their true opinions would hurt their pocketbook. That’s not precisely moral high ground.

And why stop with just authors? Can anyone tell me what the CEO of Sears feels about same sex marriage? What about the designer of that shirt you’re wearing? How about the CFO of Burger King or the guy that welded the handle to your Toyota or the woman who designed the seats in the train you rode in this morning?

Why Orson Scott Card?

I’ll tell you why: Because he made the news. Nobody wrote a piece that went viral on the inflammatory remarks that the CFO of Starbucks (theoretically) makes to his secretary every morning, so you’re not interested in that. Plus, if you started researching, maybe you’d find out that the McDonald’s CEO is a worthless cretin and you’d have to rethink that delicious, devoid-of-nutrition Egg McMuffin you indulge in once a week. And really, who cares what the designer of those jeans, sewn in a sweatshop somewhere in the third-world, thinks about social issues?

Is it not catering (Definition: “to provide or supply what amuses, is desired, or gives pleasure”) to convenience to refuse to see something because of an arms-reach knowledge of its creator’s sociopolitical opinion? If you feel that strongly, I’d suggest digging into the background of every creator of everything you read, watch, eat, or use.

Yet if we compare what you would be consuming if you went to see Ender’s Game–a story about challenging stereotypes and, dare I say it, bigotry–versus what you consumed when you read Fifty Shades of Grey–a thinly-veiled Stockholm Syndrome memoir–the obvious winner is Mr. Card’s creation.

Should we not be more interested, as a society, in the merit of what we’re ingesting rather than its creator?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of famous people’s beliefs and proclivities. I’m just saying that we should weigh the merit of their work, not their bigoted opinions.

And stop eating fast food. It’s not good for you.

(Note: None of the CEO’s, CFO’s, or other aforementioned persons have any morally bankrupt proclivities as far as I’m aware.)

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Review: The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Anne Rice
Genre(s): Adult Paranormal Historical
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking. And the witching hour begins…

Demonstrating once again her gift for spellbinding storytelling and the creation of legend, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of witches – a family given to poetry and incest, to murder and philosophy, a family that over the ages is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being.

A hypnotic novel of witchcraft and the occult across four centuries, by the spellbinding, bestselling author of The Vampire Chronicles.

Oh, my God, Anne Rice. What were you thinking?

At times this book strays into one star territory and at times it strays into the five star category. It took me months to finish it, and by the time I was done, I felt like I’d run a marathon. “Anne, this is a great story,” Anne’s editor must have said upon first reading the weighty tome placed on his desk, “however, you have to cut the back story and extraneous detail. When we’re done, this thing will be one third the size.”

“I will not!” Anne said. “I’m Anne Rice! I write what I want!”

So that is how we ended up with an intriguing plot line, an engrossing story, and a fascinating concept, splayed across several hundred pages too many. I was confused, I skimmed, and I backtracked, all because the story couldn’t stay focused.

This is the story of a supernatural creature named Lasher–is it a demon? a ghost? an alien? something else?–that harasses generation after generation of Mayfair family members. Each time the newest daughter is born, it latches onto the child and protects her above all else. People die unexpectedly and gruesomely while it bides it time, waiting for the moment to hatch its plot.

Now, the most powerful witch in history has been born. Her family has sent her away to protect her, and she knows nothing about her heritage. But it’s time that she found out.

Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Too bad it’s not.

In the middle of the book is hundreds of pages of back story. One of the characters has gotten his hands on a file that’s been kept by a secret society watching the Mayfair family for thirteen generations. Ms. Rice decided to reveal the entire excruciating contents of that goddamned file to us. Who’s sleeping with whom? Whose baby is whose? Who is Auntie So-in-so in generation 8? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

The Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy taught me a valuable lesson: Even if you’re only spending your Kobo gift card money, buy one book of a series at a time. Unfortunately, I purchased all three of these books without having cracked open a one of them. Fortunately, the story gets better. Lasher is the second book, and its plot, while exceedingly weird and disjointed, is told better and is more engrossing. I haven’t yet moved on to the third book Taltos, but I don’t dread it. Someday I’ll get around to reading it.

If you like this kind of thing (generations of subtlety and twisted family trees), you’ll like The Witching Hour. If you’re like me and you can’t keep any more than four characters straight at a time, you’ll want to give this a pass. The ending I give 4.5 stars. The middle I give 0 stars. And the beginning… Eh. Probably 2. It confused me as well.

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Review: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Title: The Gods Themselves
Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre(s): Adult Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands: an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by the aliens. But even free energy has a price. The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of Earth’s Sun—and of Earth itself.

Only a few know the terrifying truth—an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun. They know the truth—but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy—but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to Earth’s survival

Isaac Asimov was a prolific sci-fi writing genius. I can’t comprehend writing the number of books that he wrote, and The Gods Themselves is, by far, my favorite. I reread it every few years and fall in love with it all over.

The interesting thing about this book is that of its three parts, I’m not that keen on the first and the last. The middle part is where the books shines, yet I read it fully every time, finding new insights I didn’t see before.

The book begins on earth, where an incompetent fool accidentally discovers a new source of energy–one that seems limitless and free. I love this setup because *dons cynicism hat* that’s how things happen in the real world *removes cynicism hat*.

The second part of the book–the part that makes it shine–takes us to the parallel universe that feeds Earth the free energy. The thrust of the overarching story is why TANSTAAFL, but the brilliance of the story comes from the interplay of a family of aliens who discover the implications of their species’ interaction with the humans.

The family group consists of three different genders of this race, each of whom plays an important role in supporting the family and birthing the next generation. Mr. Asimov’s character development and exploration of this little family’s heart-wrenching journey is brilliant. It brings tears to my eyes. It makes me want to throw the book across the room because we get so few pages of Dua, Odeen, and Tritt.

The last third of the book wraps up the overarching storyline but always leaves me a tad cold. I miss my little triad, and want to to put them all in my pocket and let them live there forever.

If you’d like to see how an amazing science fiction novel is written, I recommend this book. I give it six stars for how amazing it is but have to subtract one for the ending. The middle story is the epitome of a five star read.

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Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel ShriverTitle: We Need To Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary
How To Purchase: Kindle |

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

OK, OK, this is the second popular book I’ve reviewed that isn’t speculative fiction, but its bizarre premise made me have to read it. I’m so glad I did.

This is the story of the aftermath of a school shooting as told by the shooter’s mother. If that doesn’t make you want to read the book, nothing I’m going to say will change your mind. But I’m still going to tell you this is a must-read. It will make you think, it will make you question your assumptions, and it will make you cry. Before reading one word, the story promises to be difficult because it’s about one of the least remembered victims of a horrific tragedy.

We Need To Talk About Kevin takes us through Eva Khatchadourian’s journey to make sense of what happened. She starts before Kevin is born, agonizing over her and her husband’s decision to have children. She describes Kevin’s childhood years in detail and through the lens of the horrific thing he did. She ascribes a certain adult intelligence to him even as a toddler, calling into question her reliability as a narrator while simultaneously forcing us to see that evil glint in his eye.

Ms. Shriver does an amazing job shining a light into the nooks and crannies of Eva’s life, both past and present. This morally ambiguous picture forces the reader to confront whether Eva is the victim of her son or Kevin is the victim of his mother. Eva describes their lives and her own worries and fears, but leaves much unsaid, much for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about. I both loved and hated Eva throughout the book, sometimes at the same time.

And I’m not kidding when I say I bawled at the ending.

Although this is not my usual fare, this book so moved me that it goes into my “top books of all time” category. It’s touching and difficult, ugly and beautiful. It makes me question motherhood–what I assumed and things I never thought about. It’s something I recommend everyone should read.

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Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Author: E.L. James
Genre(s): Adult Erotic Romance
How To Purchase: Paperback (Amazon) | Kindle (Amazon) |

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

Guys, I’m not going to lie. I hated Fifty Shades of Grey. Hated it so much that I’m reviewing it even though it’s not speculative fiction. It took me over six months to slog through this error-ridden, barely believable farce of a novel, and the only reason I finished was because I don’t like giving up on things. Even the novel’s cover makes the blood in the base of my spine simmer.

I started the book during the swirl of hype, and I’m glad, in a way, that I read it. I’m glad, in the same way that I’m glad that I saw the first half hour of the remake of Evil Dead, which is to say that I’m content it’s over, I never have to experience it again, and I don’t have to finish the rest of it.

Where do I begin?

The writer in me is annoyed at the grammatical errors (which I’m sure were fixed in recent editions by someone the author threw money at with her now untold piles of cash), repetitive use of words, and poorly constructed plot, which ended in a wholly unnecessary and mundane cliffhanger. Am I jealous of E.L. James’ success? If you mean, “Do you have a wee bit of trouble understanding why pop culture embraced this book instead of more substantial work, such as your own?” the answer is yes. Do I want to be jealous? No. But I’m not going to sit here and rip this book to shreds while pretending I’m not irked at its popularity.

The intelligent person in me is scratching her head at the annoying use of not one, but two imaginary voices in the main character’s head, her “oh, wow, I’ve never seen a penis or a whip before!” naivete, and her obsession with a guy she only just met. I’m not a teenager any more, but even when I was, I had heard of BDSM. Good Lord, Anastasia, do you not go on the interwebs beyond checking your email for Mr. Grey’s love notes?

Finally, the feminist in me is appalled at the popularity of this novel. Is this what women really want? A good-looking billionaire who can buy them crap, take them on helicopter rides, order them around, and lift them out of their ho-hum lives? The premise itself sickens me. I’m completely over romances where an obvious, built-in disparity of status exists: where the woman is at a disadvantage because of her social situation and the man is at an advantage because, well, women authors are still writing that we all need to be “saved.” At least Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice had no other choice in life but to marry into money.

The one thing I applaud is that this novel’s success has brought erotica into the limelight. I’m bored with Western culture’s Victorian-era morals regarding sex, especially the disparity between women who have sex and men who have sex. The erotic scenes were well-written, which begs the question: Why were the rest of the novel’s plot and actions scenes so thin?

I wish Ms. James success in her future writing endeavors and hope that she uses her time to craft something that is worthy of her fame. I see potential. I just don’t see why everyone else loves this novel so freakin’ much.

Tell me what you thought of Fifty Shades of Grey. Am I being too harsh?

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Update 10/19: If you’d love to hate FSOG some more, here are links to a couple more in-depth analyses:

Give me more! I love them.


Review: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams

Title: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
Author: Douglas Adams
Genre(s): Adult Science Fiction Humor
How To Purchase: Kindle (Amazon)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At last in paperback in one complete volume, here are the five classic novels from Douglas Adams’s beloved Hitchiker series.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Facing annihilation at the hands of warmongers is a curious time to crave tea. It could only happen to the cosmically displaced Arthur Dent and his comrades as they hurtle across the galaxy in a desperate search for a place to eat.

Life, the Universe and Everything
The unhappy inhabitants of planet Krikkit are sick of looking at the night sky– so they plan to destroy it. The universe, that is. Now only five individuals can avert Armageddon: mild-mannered Arthur Dent and his stalwart crew.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Back on Earth, Arthur Dent is ready to believe that the past eight years were all just a figment of his stressed-out imagination. But a gift-wrapped fishbowl with a cryptic inscription conspires to thrust him back to reality. So to speak.

Mostly Harmless
Just when Arthur Dent makes the terrible mistake of starting to enjoy life, all hell breaks loose. Can he save the Earth from total obliteration? Can he save the Guide from a hostile alien takeover? Can he save his daughter from herself?

If I were stranded on a deserted island, and I had the choice of only one book, the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be it. Never mind that it consists of five books. It comes in one binding, and therefore it’s a book! (Also, I don’t know what sort of sadistic cretin would require me to be stranded on a desert island with only one book, but these things rarely make sense.)

My introduction to HHGTTG was at a library book sale in my hometown in junior high or high school. Something about that goofy-looking green smiley face with its tongue sticking out called to me. It actually didn’t seem like my kind of book–I liked more serious fare–but hey, it was cheap. I’m so glad I picked it up (and I’m still a little peeved that my library got rid of it).

My favorite, by far, is the second book, Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The absurdity of a cow bred to beg the diners to choose which part of its body to eat for dinner is both macabre and hilarious. Lest you be offended, as our hero Arthur Dent was, don’t have the salad: The cow knows a number of lettuce heads that would be upset with your choice. It’s asking you to eat it! Eat the cow!

Though the plot meanders and sometimes outright makes no sense, Douglas Adams wove a brilliantly created world throughout his ridiculousness. His writing is snappy, his character dialog is quick-witted, and his ideas are fabulous. After all, I’m still trying to learn to fly by throwing myself at the ground and missing.

C’mon, you guys–what’s your favorite part of HHGTTG? Is it Marvin? I love a depressed robot. Is it the sentient pot of petunias? That kills me. Is it how Zaphod Beeblebrox is so hip, he has trouble seeing over his pelvis? I laughed hysterically when I read that part.

Douglas Adams was a genius. May he rest in peace.

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