Upcoming Books, Frustration and News

This year’s been a right beast, hasn’t it? Don’t you think so? In a way, I wish this span of time were a literal beast, that way I could just kill it. Put the horrible, mutated thing out of its misery. I’m more than ready for 2020, in other words.
This year has tortured me like clockwork, too. Say, if I promised you today that I’d begin, I don’t know, writing a novel tomorrow, and I was truly dead-set on writing it, something out of my control would be thrown in front of me to ensure I couldn’t possibly go through with what I promised to do. The whole year has been a constant torrent of that. After Halloween, I did want to start finishing my backlog of book reviews and ARC books, because it’s gotten quite hefty, but I can’t guarantee I will, at least not judging by the way it’s gone for the past several months.

I have an updated schedule for the books I’ll be publishing. You can find the ones I’ve got out on Amazon or Smashwords, but also several other eBook stores. Pick your favourite mainstream store, they’re likely there. Most of them are free, except for the two that are for the time being, exclusive to Amazon. I’m working on getting them international as well, but I might have to wait awhile because of the Kindle Unlimited policy. Anyway, here are the things that I can guarantee, for sure, are coming out in the next year or so.
Haunt Me to Sleep initially was supposed to come out on Halloween, but there were about five or six stories I ended up having to finish or rewrite, and I didn’t want to rush them out for the sake of a holiday I barely celebrate, so it’s back to it’s original planned date of December or possibly January.

Haunt Me to Sleep (Fantasy / Horror) – Winter 2019
Atlantis Drowning (Poetry) – Summer 2020
The Gutterpunk Blues (Poetry) – Summer 2020
One of three short novellas – 2020
Drift From Electric Green (Dark Poetry) – Spring 2020
Watercolour Hearts (Horror / Fantasy) – 2020-2021

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My Favourite Horror Collections

Teatro GrottescoNothing Is StrangeSmashed: Junji Ito Story Collection

I’ve always considered horror one of the best and worst genres for short stories. When short horror works, it can breed one of the most haunting, terrifying things you’ve ever experienced. However, making it work is no easy feat. For every disturbing, unsettling piece you’ll find, there will be ten out there that just won’t do it for you. There is nothing that will disturb every reader, though it’s possible to come close, and if you don’t succeed in scaring them, there are still ways to entertain them.

These are my top ten, for the time being, favourite collections of horror stories. I love variety, so there’s a bit of each kind of horror here – dark fantasy, visual horror, bizarro, classic horror – you name it, you’ll find it somewhere on this list. Some aren’t necessarily meant to be straight horror, but have a significant horror flavour to them that I felt qualified them enough to make the list. These are in no particular order. As there were quite a few books, I might include some honorable mentions in a later post.

Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
I would feel confident calling Teatro Grottesco the best compilation of horror shorts I’ve ever read. It remains, several years after I first read it, one of the few books of the genre to legitimately unnerve me. Ligotti’s prose is sinister and elaborate, like a spiderweb with the remains of cocoons dangling through it, yet this book reads very easily. I’d honestly recommend any Ligotti collection, but this one in particular is truly flawless.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
I covered this one in-depth not too long ago, so check out my review if you want. Smashed did not get as good reviews as his other recent collections, but I personally like the surreal, cosmic tone of these stories, especially the title story. Who knew a fruit tree could be so terrifying?

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Arguably, Pretty Monsters is the most somber book on this list. The overall tone of this book is depressive and gothic, as if it’s being told by a series of ghosts who find the whole thing darkly amusing. You really don’t see enough young adult horror anyway, but especially not of this caliber. This is a book that will bury itself in your skull.

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Nothing is Strange I don’t think was actually intended to be frightening, but well… strange. It’s in the title. I did a review on this and its sequel collection, Strange Secrets, but both reviews need an upgrade. Nothing is Strange can be breezed through in a day or two, but you won’t want it to end. Russell’s ideas are so original and inventive, and the imagery is so perfectly bizarre that it’s difficult to step away from the world he’s created.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
Genre: Horror
An old childhood favourite that I’m still fond of. The illustrations are what it’s known for, I mean, just look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Gammell’s drawings still have power and are unsettling to look at as an adult. The stories are fun, too, especially for the folklore aspect. Schwartz was a collector of traditional stories, folklore, and American myths, so his notes on the writing of the trilogy are also pretty fascinating.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Dark Comedy
I’ll probably do a full review on this one later in the month. It would be fitting for the season, yeah? Something I love about Ito is that he can take anything, no matter how small and innocuous, and turn it into something to fear. A phobia. A paranoia. Continue reading “My Favourite Horror Collections”

How to Sabotage Your Own Writing

The most damaging punishments are the ones you place upon your own head. You know what you won’t be able to survive more than anyone. There are a lot of factors outside of our control that can hinder our writing. I’ve had to deal with those quite often this year – from mental health to just unlucky timing. Nonetheless, at least seven times out of ten, what stops us from succeeding, from finishing our work, it’s something we could have prevented ourselves.

I consider it something of a miracle that I’m able to write at all, and I thank the readers of my blog for having patience with me, and not posting as many book things as I used to. This year made the disaster that was 2016 look like a day at the park. What I have learned with the recent collection I’ve been working on is how to effectively destroy your own motivations, recognize that you’re doing it, and stop it before it can happen. This is, in a nutshell, how one sabotages their own writing.

1. Constantly compare yourself with other writers.
Do not do this. Comparison is poison for the creative, it really is. No, your book might not be like Stephen King’s books, or J.K. Rowling, or whoever you take your inspiration from. Be inspired by good authors and their successes, but understand that yours will be different than theirs. No less good, if you’ve worked hard on it and are passionate about it, but the voice will be unique to you, and that’s never a bad thing.

2. Get out of the habit, and purposely put it off when you have the urge and time to write.
This tends to happen with me whenever I get sick. I think, well I don’t feel like it, so I won’t write tonight. The problem is, this same mindset carries into the times when I feel fine, when I feel up to the task of writing. Take caution to be aware of when this happens with you, because procrastination will absolutely slaughter your book, or whatever you might be working on in general.

3. Put down your own ideas without getting any outside feedback.
This one’s self-explanatory. Don’t shoot yourself down too much. Some ideas are objectively bad ones, true, and thoroughly dissecting your own work with a fresh eye is helpful to improving it, but you should try to get somewhat unbiased feedback from a beta reader or friend as well, preferably several people if you can, if you’re not sure. You could end up destroying something wonderful. Continue reading “How to Sabotage Your Own Writing”

The Books of the Series (SH Special)

I mis-scheduled the Haunt Me to Sleep preview for a bad time. If you missed it, because I’m pretty sure almost everyone missed it, and want to read it, it’s here in Issue #17. I’ll put the original post back up on Sunday.

So, I’ve been talking about the Silent Hill series for a few days, though I suppose it’s been more like rambling on. I’d planned all this for Halloween, originally, but I already had a slightly better mini-series written out for then. As you probably know, the popular psychological horror series is largely based on books. I actually found one of my all-time favourite authors through Silent Hill, believe that or not. Well, technically it was through one of the creators’ commentaries on the making-of, but still.
Here are the best books I’ve found through this series’ recommendation, intentional or unintentional. They are in no particular order.

Carrie by Stephen King
Genre: Horror / Paranormal
This is considered a horror classic, but truthfully it wasn’t even on my radar until I found out the villains of the first Silent Hill were based off of Carrie and her abusive mother. I didn’t, at the time, really want to read about some poor, socially inept girl getting relentlessly abused and having pig’s blood dumped on her, even if she does take revenge. The idea just kind of made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t regret reading it when I did. It’s King’s first novel, so it has some rough edges, but overall it’s a pretty good book. What makes Carrie so ground-breaking is its sense of sympathy, and a well-written, not conventionally pretty, relatable protagonist at a time when women in horror novels were largely supermodel murder victims. Still an issue that pervades the genre to this day, despite horror arguably being one of the more progressive genres. Continue reading “The Books of the Series (SH Special)”

Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review

 

I have no strict review guidelines, at least not as far as my casual reviews. I used to think it was better to try to make them poetic… which, looking back at some of my older reviews, maybe it wasn’t… But there are some books, while I might have liked them, I don’t feel adequate in reviewing them. I love nonfiction and memoirs, but I slightly dread getting requests to review them, because I’m not often as knowledgeable about the subject as I feel I would have to be to do the book justice. These are some that I probably won’t ever review, at least not in-depth, though some hold a lot of interest for me and I like to discuss them.

The Bible
Genre: Religion
I’ve read the majority of the Bible, and even took a class on theology. It’s a fascinating subject to me, but understandably, I would never feel right “reviewing” a religious text, period, even though it would be more of a general overview than a typical review. How could I possibly? The Bible means so much to some people, and to others bringing it up infuriates them. It’s not fair to either party, and I would need to gather loads of historical information and context to even begin. Not to mention that the only version I’ve read likely is missing crucial pieces. You can also count other religious texts as literature I will never review.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Genre: Magic Realism / Science Fiction
Infinite Jest tested my patience. I don’t believe I finished it. I admire Wallace as a journalist, his nonfiction is amongst my favourite, but I don’t personally enjoy his fiction. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s a strange science fiction novel about the size of an orca, with about ten squillion characters, each with their own unique narrative styles. I don’t not recommend it, but to me, it wasn’t pleasant at all to attempt. It would be ideal for a specific type of reader, that is not me, but I would definitely download a preview before you buy a copy. Continue reading “Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review”

Book Review – The Coma by Alex Garland

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror / Suspense
Publication Date: July 7th, 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber

“When we wake, we die.”

Give The Coma a second chance, if at first it seems unclear or confusing. This novel is one of the moody, enigmatic types that likes to be shy with its details on your initial read-through, which gain an eerier significance on a revisit. It’s like an abstract painting in every sense, building up its steady storm of colours with intentions both sinister and serene.

Told through the deterioration of a man, Carl’s, psyche, after he is beaten to the point of unconsciousness on the subway, it’s less a linear story than it is a dreamlike exploration. In the aftermath of supposedly waking up, the pieces of reality that were once there don’t fit cleanly together anymore.

Maybe I’ve made it sound pretentious (a bad habit of mine when it comes to poetic books) but surprisingly, it’s not. Not even remotely. It’s just difficult to put into words. I read this a few years ago and wasn’t quite sure if I enjoyed it or not. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, and remember thinking it was ambitious, but perplexing. I didn’t get it, but it haunted me. Now I think it’s actually a brilliant psychological novella. A philosophy of dream to aspire to, that leaves you with a ravenous need to know, while allowing the reader freedom to come to their own conclusions about what happens.

The Coma kind of hooks you in without your say-so, Garland’s abstract writing always skirting the bare edge of creepiness, like there’s some cosmic, horrifying realization budding under the surface that you know you’re going to have to face.

“I do all this alone. Everything I achieve, I achieve alone, because it’s my head I’m locked into, and I share this space with nobody but myself.”

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Psychological Novels You Should Read

Psychological thriller and its fraternal twin, psychological horror, are hands-down, my favourite genres. It’s the genre I strive to carve my name in, and it’s the one I get the most excited about when seeking new books and movies.
While few and far-between, compared to other genres, the spectrum of dark psychological fiction consistently churns out works of pretty high quality. There are exceptions, of course, but of all the psychological media I’ve watched, read and played, I can’t name ten that were any worse than “mediocre”.

That being said, I believe that the key reason for this, unfortunately, is that the genre is somewhat alienating. You have to be passionate about it to make it, and creating a good psychological work involves an exploration of dark places in the human psyche. Not exactly a fun weekend trip, that. Discovering new works in the genre can be difficult. So, I thought I’d share a handful of diamonds in the rough that I’ve discovered, and loved, in my eternal quest to scour everything the psychological duo have to offer.

The Coma by Alex Garland
Genre: Psychological Suspense
The Coma is like a softer, more sinister Inception, taking place in the mind of a man after he is assaulted on a subway, and wakes in the hospital to find he can no longer hold a grasp on what is real and what isn’t. Everything that was once normal in his life seems out-of-place and has a surreal, stilted tone to it.
I finished this novel over a weekend, and at first wasn’t sure what to make of it, or even if I enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I think it’s excellent. Garland conveys a transfinite reality that can be broken and morphed at will by one person’s subconscious.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Genre: Psychological Horror
Though its place on the roster shifts now and then, Perfect Blue is one of my favourite novels of all time and will likely remain one forever. It is, as you might have guessed, the basis for the cult horror anime Perfect Blue, but despite that and sharing a title, the film and the book aren’t incredibly similar other than the basic premise, and the creators’ shared disgust with the pop idol industry in Japan, and how those idols are (mis)treated by media and fans alike.
The master of creeps, the unnamed “Darling Rose”, who stalks and attempts to murder the pop singer heroine throughout the novel, is one of my favourite book villains. He is borderline inhuman, yet with an uncanny basis in reality, mirroring the crimes and motives of many real-life celebrity stalkers. Perfect Blue is not for everyone – some may be turned off by the blunt violence and abstract style, but I personally think it’s phenomenal both as a social satire and as a piece of horror. Continue reading “Psychological Novels You Should Read”

Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)

I recently pieced together a rough selection of books that, for the time being, are the most likely to make it onto my “Best Books of 2019” list at the end of the year, so figured I may as well tackle the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’m at it. These are the current contenders for the most disappointing books I’ve read in 2019. If you want to keep up with my books, feel free to follow or friend me on Goodreads, too. Goodreads feels dead as a cemetery lately, so I wouldn’t mind more interaction.

Keep in mind for this list that a novel being disappointing does not necessarily make it “bad”, so if one of these happens to be your favourite, that’s totally fine. Varying opinions are what make people interesting. If they made it on this list, it simply means I didn’t enjoy them, expected much more from them, or expected something different than what I got.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Books about bullying and how it differs between say, a lower-income public school and a prestigious prep school, carry a lot of psychological baggage for their writer to convey. Or, they should, if they want to remain in good taste. Gossip Girl was too self-indulgent and easy to take unironically for me to even find it a guilty pleasure, like I do the similar series, The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Neither I feel are especially good influences, not for their intended audience.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
What I expected to be one of the best books, since I loved the film so much, turned out to be one of the worst. Starts strongly enough, but is ultimately made pointless by its ending and comes off as shockingly racist. I usually like to begin reviews with a quote and couldn’t find a suitable one in the actual meat of the text, so ended up having to use an unrelated quote that the novel used as a chapter header. That should tell you something. Skip the book and just watch the movie adaptation, you will have a much more fulfilling experience that way. Continue reading “Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Series: Blue Ant
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Pattern Recognition is a capsule from which paranoia gradually blossoms. Earth is a microcosm, really, in the great span of things, but the rapid onset of technology and connection have had the ironic downside of making it feel as small as it is, tightly webbed yet somehow immensely lonely.

Predictable as it might be for me to say it, this novel feels eerily prescient and knowing in a way that goes beyond the author’s imagination. It seems to have anticipated that strange lonely closeness creeping in through our screens. There exists a paradox of clarity and riddle, or perhaps reality and falsehood, in its pages that makes it feel like something you’ve actually just watched unfold.

Gibson’s phenomenal writing does outclass the actual plot, I suppose, but it’s a pretty lofty height the story would have to reach in order to match the way it’s told. The writing in itself is a network of intricacy, the edges of deep, impenetrable mystery just visible as it develops the variables of its equation. Gibson uses the raw delicacy of poetry and yet keeps it secretive, an outstretched hand seeming to offer everything upfront but hiding a labyrinth of tiny microbes you’ll never see working against you.
There are stretches, especially in the beginning, that could easy have been boring if it’d been written by anybody else, but instead feel rather like a brief reprise before the catastrophe sets in. Continue reading “Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson”

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

On this day, more of this year is now dead than alive. Normally I cling to time like a miser clings to pocket change, but I will be happy when this year’s over. Not merely happy, but elated. 2019 has worked its way into the official hall of shame in my memories, slightly higher than middle school but slightly lower than the entirety of 2016. And there’s still five long months to suffer through!

One of the few upsides, however, is that I’ve discovered some truly wonderful books. Most of my reading this year has been average, as usual, with only a handful of ones I would call “bad” reads, and a surprising amount that really stood out. So far, these are the best contenders, in no particular order, for the final countdown I’ll be doing around the end of the year. Be sure to check them out if you can. These are books and authors definitely worth their salt!

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Every now and then, the stars align and produce the exact book you desire at the exact moment you want to read it. This is one of those rare occurrences. The Mad and the Bad is an older, and comparatively obscure piece of noir fiction that is at the same time, far different from any noir fiction I’ve ever read – quirky and outlandish yet with an insanely dark sense of humor and irony. I plan on doing a review of this one eventually, so won’t spoil too much. You should just go out and read it, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to finish it.

Stain by A.G. Howard
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Young adult fiction needs more writers like A.G. Howard. Her writing style is unabashed and intelligent, and wickedly contorts the over-used tropes of fairytales into something brilliant. While I thought Howard’s more famous series, Splintered, was phenomenal, Stain shows a stronger sense of mischievous, calculating cunning and maturity in its development that ultimately made for a deeper story.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Short Stories
I am a hardcore Junji Ito fanatic, so pretty much any new work of his, even if it’s a stylish reprint of older stories, will automatically make the Top 10 for that year. Smashed got mixed reviews for being, I suppose, more haphazard in tone than his last two horror omnibuses, but as far as enjoyment of the stories goes, I actually liked this one more than both Shiver and Frankenstein. Continue reading “The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy

My book blogging unrelated to my own work is going on a soft hiatus throughout the summer. Reviews won’t halt, just slow to a crawl because this project will and is starting to eat up my already scarce reading time. Due to recent unforeseen upheavals in my life and this heptalogy, I won’t have as much opportunity to curtail the reviews, and would rather not update than risk posting something that was notably low-quality. Not a huge deal, this is just so you won’t be surprised when there’s more list reviews and re-reviews than previously unexplored books.

Anyway, what the seven sins heptalogy is, is not exactly a “series”. It is seven books that are tenuously related at best – I think some might be set in the same universe but with little-to-no overlap in settings and characters – but are labelled by their general theme. Project Envy, Project Gluttony, etcetera.

I have a lot of difficulty focusing on specific projects to finish, so decided to pull ten major ones that I cared about most from my list and complete them all before I allow myself to start anything new. I figure that if I can finish these works of fiction, I will be able to consider myself a true success as a writer, even if they don’t come out immediately after they’re done. Future works will flow out with far less distress. Continue reading “Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy”

Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

★ 1.5 Stars

Genre: Romance / Erotica
Publication Date: May 25th, 2011
Publisher: Vintage

Volunteering to read Fifty Shades of Grey is like volunteering to be waterboarded, except with poor writing in lieu of water. Just when you think the torture might be over, another faceful of metaphor slurry and childish dialogue floods into your lungs. You knew what you were in for, and you knew exactly how fun it would be, and yet some irrational seed nudged you into doing it anyway.
In a way, Fifty Shades does succeed at being the ultimate act of sadomasochism. It actively hurts to continue and yet you remain compelled to. This is not so much out of intrigue, as trying to figure out what value anyone could possibly see in the experience. Why was there such a mysticism and phenomena surrounding this chunk of fanfiction? That’s all it is, really, and reading the entire series I imagine would be something akin to spiritual suicide.

At the height of Fifty Shades of Infamy, I saw what I’m pretty sure were middle-schoolers toting copies of this stupid book. Which, by the way, the physical design shocks me. The cover is as aggressively uninteresting as its innards, and looks like an early vanity press churn-out. It has that same plastic, filmy feel and cheap JPEG texture to the design. I couldn’t believe Vintage published this! Their books are typically beautiful. It’s like they were subtly trying to inspire you to avoid it, but were stuck promoting it at the same time.

Fifty Shades of Grey, as you likely already know, revolves around a closet serial killer, Patrick Bate– I mean, Christian Grey, who, in his spare time between being a pompous entrepreneur and being a Criminal Minds villain, seduces a blushing idiot named Anastasia. They get into a relationship that borders on abusive and a series of embarrassing euphemisms ensues. What is supposed to be steamy deflates quickly as it begins to come off as creepy.
The more mundane scenes aren’t much better, full of nonsensical pseudo-economics and a general dull lack of realism I shan’t bother going into, because you might fall asleep on your keyboard. On the other hand, you might accidentally type out a better book than this if you do, so maybe I will…

I am a survivor of Victorian in-joke Irene Iddlesleigh, so in fairness, Fifty Shades is hardly the worst book I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s tedious and insulting, and romance readers deserve better, but it is at least a functional book that humans can read easily using their eyestalks. But that’s a bare essential, not a compliment.
Everything about this novel is boring. “Boring” is the deadliest of the seven book sins. Rarely, the amateurish writing has the good grace to be amusing, especially with the “sex scenes”, which are almost the exact antithesis of sexy, coming off as peculiar, awkward and strangely prudish, despite trying their maximum try-hard level of hardest to be edgy. But mostly, Fifty Shades of Grey is more like Fifty Shades of Brown, because it’s about like watching molasses drip. It’s not even fun to parody, as you’ll notice if you look through the plethora of equally boring parodies that were churned out in its wake. Continue reading “Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James”

Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: September 16th, 2004
Publisher: Milkweed Editions

You are never alone in anything, no matter how it feels. Everyone must face their own tragedy, and deal with their own disorder. Some are just better at seeming composed.

I could read this book about a thousand times and find scarce to dislike. I believe this is one of the absolute best young adult books, especially for girls. Friend, I’ve noticed, takes care to challenge the conventional concept of perfection, and if it’s even necessary. Which it isn’t, spoiler alert. Coming from a staunch perfectionist who’s struggled with abandoning society’s expectations, you know I’m serious about that. At the end of the day, if the goal you’ve reached is the desire of someone who isn’t you, and came at the cost of important facets of your personality, it wasn’t worth it, and will be replaced with a new one to covet tomorrow.

Perfect is about the cycle of unhappiness that spawns eating disorders, though there are a lot of small and traumatic events that usually factor into it. Friend writes in a way that’s easy to approach and never preachy or contrived, letting you come to your own conclusion about Isabelle’s path.
The death of her father led into a depression, and the only influence outside of that is a girl she befriends at school, who despite all appearances as “the perfect girl”, has an extremely damaged self-image and forces herself to throw up so often that she starts bleeding from the mouth. Isabelle sees in her a mirror of her own bulimia, and their relationship becomes a paradox of enabling each other’s disorder and offering a genuine bond based around it. Continue reading “Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend”

The Book Genres I Don’t Like

At the risk of coming across as one with that title, I am not exactly a literature snob. I don’t care what it is, who wrote it, whether it came out as a mainstream title, indie, or had to be etched on a tome of warlock flesh. I do not care as long as it’s decently written and has visible effort put into it, even if marginal amounts. Transgressive or clean, unorthodox or classic, I like certain things about most types of books.

That being said, there are genres I won’t read and don’t like. There are a handful of exceptions in these genres that I’ve picked up, and I don’t think that they are “worthless” genres. Somebody loves them, or they wouldn’t be written and continuing to sell copies. I just have not acquired the taste for them. There are my opinions, I don’t fault anyone for finding something they love in these genres that I don’t see in them. To each his own.

Splatterpunk
This one pains me on a heartstring level. I adore horror. All of its subgenres, too… except splatterpunk. Splatterpunk is the black sheep (or bloodstained sheep?) of horror to me, I cannot force myself to like it no matter what. If anyone can point me to a quality splatterpunk book, please do! I want to like this subgenre so badly.

I’ve concluded that what I don’t enjoy about it is not the relentless violence, although that is admittedly pretty boring after so much exposure, but the ones I’ve stumbled upon have not been well-written. They read like edgy high-school essays sprinkled copiously with the thesaurus choices for “viscera” and “blood”. One exception is Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, which are decidedly more dark fantasy but have a distinct splatterpunk element and are a good read. In fact, Barker is cited as one of the fathers of the splatterpunk movement, but I suspect this is more for his Hellraiser works. (I liked the first movie, never read the novels.) I think splatterpunk can work when moderated with something else. Like, just describing gore is not going to evoke fear automatically, even in the very sensitive.

Body horror I find unsettling because it creates an “uncanny” effect – it seems human or animal, but it’s neither and your eyes and mind register that. Gore on the other hand is not fundamentally scary, not even in real life. In real life, it’s only scary because you want to get the person whose guts are hanging out to a freaking hospital. What could make that situation horror is if the hospital was an American one and turned them away, intestines in hand, because they didn’t bring their wallet.

Contemporary Romance and Harlequins
I know, I know. True lit snobs always bear an avid hatred for the romance genre. I don’t dislike romance, though. As is the case with splatterpunk, I feel like diluting the genre with some other genre or factor makes it better. As a pure chemical, it ain’t digestible. Like sodium and chloride. Individually, they are dangerous, together they are delicious table salt. Continue reading “The Book Genres I Don’t Like”

Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail

From personal experience and discussing this with other readers, it used to kind of bemuse me how much people hate detailed physical descriptions of characters. I’ve not been able to pinpoint why, but upon taking this into consideration, I’ve noticed many (but not all) of the best novels I’ve read don’t rely heavily on what a character looks like. It’s usually kept to simple descriptions or notable features, say for instance if they have piercing blue eyes or are unusually thin, but their every freckle and hair won’t be described in detail. It’s just enough to fuel an image for the reader, who will make what they will of what the author’s given them. Not all readers, but many readers, will feel a bit stripped of the chance to stretch their imagination if you describe literally everything about a characters and leave nothing to be visualized on their own. Continue reading “Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail”

Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: March 7th, 2005
Publisher: Vintage Books

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of the mind.” -Dhammapada

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those rare cases in which the movie is far, far better than the book. Originally titled These Foolish Things when it was first published, then renamed to coincide with the film adaptation, in the end, I found myself unable to remember much about it, at least that was positive. Promised to me was a fluffy, heart-warming read, not whatever it was I got, this chunky mix of decent bits and excruciating, offensive bits.
There is a pretty notable amount of differences between the two, even the essential plot changes – from two cousins beginning a retirement scheme for English expats in India in the novel to a son trying to rebuild his father’s hotel in the film.

It makes sense to me now why they would rename the book to match the film. The film stands out so well because, besides the amazing sets and soundtrack, it’s written much more sensitively, so that you’ll care about the characters despite their sometimes aggravating quirks. Most of the cast, save for Jean Ainslie, grow as people and shed any hesitations they might’ve had about living in India. The novel begins engagingly, then throws out its character growth as soon as it shows signs of blossom. At first I’d given it three stars, but the more I thought about this, the less I can say I enjoyed it. Continue reading “Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach”

Writing Process – Comparisons

One of my much-abused quotes, because of how appropriate it is for about anything, is the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not only does it describe the culture of social media with the accuracy of a five-inch syringe, it also describes the nature of writing with an equal lack of mercy.

I mostly write these for those just getting on their legs, as I’ve been. Anyone who’s authored for awhile will know, too, that to actively compare yourself with the work of others while you’re in the midst of a project is the worst idea you can get. It often can’t be helped if you’re a reader, but you must try to, even if that entails taking a hiatus from books. This kind of comparison is responsible for things like the time one writes and re-writes the same paragraph multiple times, while not getting any more of the book done at all, besides that one piece.

Technical comparisons, on the other hand, can be an excellent tool and a way to better habituate writing every day. What do I mean by that?
Well, breaking up your writing into fragments and measuring them is one example. Quantity over quality, despite what you’ll hear, is best for a first draft. This is not the case with revisions, but if you give yourself plenty of material to work with, you can gradually prune away the garbage and poor metaphors for a tighter, polished draft. Best not to worry about that bridge until you get there, though. For the beginning, just concentrate on the journey and getting it all down on paper. Continue reading “Writing Process – Comparisons”

Book Review – The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Louise Rick
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

I’d never heard of this series or author before, and what really coerced me into reading The Forgotten Girls was its setting – the eerie, ethereal rural woodlands of Denmark. How a story can be so enticing when the subject grows so horrifying is a mystery in itself. Blaedel’s writing is meticulous but unsparing in realism. The style is fittingly stark, like a tree stripped of bark to reveal bloodstains.

The plot revolves around a detective, Louise Rick, and her partner investigating the death of a mentally disabled woman thought to have died over a decade ago, and her link to a series of violent assaults in the area. The Forgotten Girls pulses by so fast, I feel like going into more detail about the plot would unintentionally spoil something. It becomes a subtle but hard commentary on a topic that’s often buried, in how the woman and her sister were treated by the asylum they used to live in. It’s especially cruel in the ways which these “mishaps” were covered up, the underbelly of a system that continues to fail people in need.

I appreciate that Blaedel chose not to exploit the abuse and violence in this novel for shock value, considering what it’s about, but also didn’t pull any punches about the reality of it. That’s a hard medium to hit. I didn’t know when I began that The Forgotten Girls was in the middle of an ongoing series, but I never found myself getting confused. The plot about Camilla, I didn’t care about that much. It was sort of ordinary and dragged down the flow, up until when Camilla tries to “infiltrate” the asylum as one of the staff’s relatives. It gets a little more interesting then.

A mystery where the culprit and plot are difficult to guess tend to be the best kind. The unspoken coldness and bitterness between the suspects and victims, which turns out to have more of an overlap than Louise originally thought, lends to a constant doubt. The Forgotten Girls is steeped in a tense chill and haunting melancholy, with an unforgettable ending.

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7 Hardest Types of Books to Review

I like to read pretty much anything that looks remotely interesting, I don’t care what genre, who wrote it, or the hows and whys of them pulling it out of their brain onto paper. As long as it’s decently-written and valuable in some way, that’s all that matters. That being said, when it comes down to reviewing it, that’s another matter entirely. Some reviews I absolutely hate writing, but still feel compelled to just because I took the time to read it. Comprehensive reviews even written for fun aren’t always easy. These are the categories that I still have difficulty reviewing after three years of practice. Have one of your own? Feel free to leave a comment below!

7. Poetry and Art

I adore reviewing poetry, as you’ll know. I’m actually a little proud of the fact that my most frequented review genre is one that’s considered among the most complicated to review. ARC reviewers often won’t accept poetry because it’s just that hard to articulate. Especially if it’s good or middling. Poetry isn’t visual exactly, but it’s an abstract, psychological feeling than a novel can’t provide in the same way.
Art and graphic novels are also difficult because they are more visual than writing. The review ends up being a lot of descriptive words, and reviewing several at one time makes it clear how same-y it can be. I don’t typically review every volume of a graphic novel or manga series for this reason, when it can be summed up in a few of its entries.

6. Indie Books, Especially Bad Ones

If you ever review indie books, the author will read it eventually. I find this kind of nerve-wracking, even though I value indie books and am lenient on their faults, if they have any. It’s awkward even to have an author “like” your gushing, positive review of their work, and I try to evade being trapped into writing negative ones if at all possible.
I enjoy neither dishonesty nor ripping on someone’s personal work, and those who do enjoy tearing apart indie ARCs ought to re-examine their relationship with books. You have to consider it’s one person doing a team’s job. If the book is genuinely bad and you’re still stuck with reviewing it, it’s better to be critical in a helpful way than critical for laughs. Continue reading “7 Hardest Types of Books to Review”

Book Review – A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Poetry
Publication Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Speak

“I’m a lone palm tree towering over grassy fronds of rice in a paddy field, yearning to touch the sky although I get lonelier the higher I go.”

A Time to Dance has a simple but absolute beauty. It is a captivating portrait of the rise, fall and spiritual rebirth of a young dancer, Veda, who loses her leg to an accident, yet is more determined than ever to dance. Veda’s dance is so valuable to her, so demanding of her body and spirit, that any pride that held her back before is no longer worth losing it.

I pretty much devoured this book in a night. I love the way this story is captured in loose but flowing prose that blossoms as naturally as flowers. The relationship with Veda and her grandmother was especially beautiful, always an offset to the strained feelings Veda seems to grow with everyone else.

The character development is well-executed, showing whose heart is shallow and whose is true when they treat her differently after her accident. Veda feels as if she is re-enacting in her own life, a smaller and more human version of the epic poetry she portrays on stage. The intertwining parallels between the narrative and Hindu mythology are creative, I have to say, and I also appreciate that the romance was not written at the forefront of Veda’s achievements.

“The strangers’ presence feels warm as a blanket, but not warm enough to thaw the sea of unshed tears frozen inside me.”

I don’t like to compare this novel with one of my most loathed, because I enjoyed A Time to Dance quite a lot, but it reminds me of a more sensitive, good version of Izzy Willy Nilly. They’re both about a promising athlete losing her leg and having to prove herself capable. I realize what I hated so much about Izzy Willy Nilly is that the protagonist never does overcome her struggle. That book was uncomfortably focused on blaming her for her misfortune. So much victim-blaming. There was nothing meaningful but reliving someone’s pain, with no hope nor retribution towards the one actually responsible for the accident.

Venkatraman’s poem avoids all of that to tell a personal saga, and is so much better for it. The characters are well-rounded, realistic, and importantly, it accepts that sometimes misfortune can just happen. That it’s something we all have to triumph at some point in one way or another, and it tells so beautifully. You definitely should read this, if it interests you in any way. It’s very difficult to find much to dislike about, and is one of the better free verse novels I’ve picked up.

“Mukam karothi vachalam; pangum langayathe girim. – God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”

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