Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: 314 by A.R. Wise



     Something happened in the town of Widowsfield in 1996. The whole town seemingly disappeared, except for Alma Harper and her father. Alma has no recollection of it and has spent years trying to forget it altogether. However, when two reporters looking to make a ghost hunting show start asking questions, she decides it’s time to go back. But the Skeleton Man is still there, and is waiting for her.

     This was a genuinely creepy (and occasionally gross) book. The story divides itself between the horrors that occurred in Widowsfield in 1996 and Alma dealing with the fall out in the present. Wise writes creepy well, and only reveals what is happening very slowly. The horror and tension continue to build as the story goes on, and the worst part is that you don’t really have any answers at the end, only more questions. I love that.

     The reason it only got three stars from me on Goodreads is that the parts with Alma and her new friends don’t really ring true. I mean, some of it does, especially when we realize what Alma went through after she returned from Widowsfield in dealing with her drug addict father and increasingly insane mother. However, her interactions with the two reporters and her boyfriend don’t seem quite real. The two reporters (they are forgettable enough that I can’t even remember their names) spend the book throwing money away, trying to manipulate everyone, and sniping at one another, because they are terrible people. Alma and her boyfriend spend the book declaring their lustful obsession with one another to be TRUE LOVE. If it felt like they really loved one another it would make the ending a bit more satisfying, but Paul blatantly lies to Alma about something that bothers her after placing the burden of restarting their relationship entirely on her, and Alma appears to be attached to him only because she has self-esteem issues.

     Wise also has an unfortunate tendency to overuse the word “slut” and depict all women as being catty and jealous. (Seriously, we have some grade-A YA novel hypocritical slut shaming going on. Alma wants to have sex and makes herself look sexy-this is good. Another woman does the same thing. WHAT A SLUT HOW DARE SHE.) This amount of stupidity was a severe distraction and really detracted from the atmosphere of the book. It’s one thing to have real characters with real neuroses. It’s another thing entirely to have stereotypes. (LIKE THE SUPER INCREDIBLY GAY HAIRDRESSER. Who, by the way, also uses the word “slut” profusely. Seriously, this isn’t high school.)

     Overall, I'm torn on whether or not I want to read the rest of the series. The mystery itself intrigues me, but dealing with a bunch of annoying characters might be more than I feel like dealing with.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke



   Annie Fuller was widowed after her husband lost her fortune in the economic depression of the middle 1800s and committed suicide. After some struggles, she established a comfortable life for herself in San Francisco, running a small boarding house. But on the side, she is Madam Sibyl, a popular psychic who dispenses practical advice in the form of mysticism. All is going well until one of her clients appears to commit suicide. As she knew his finances were not dreadful and he had particular grand plans, she suspects there is more to the situation than the police are seeing. With the reluctant help of the family’s lawyer, Nate Dawson, she begins investigating the family as a new housemaid to discover what really happened to Matthew Voss.

     Honestly, this sounds much better than it was. A woman working as a psychic on the side, and then disguising herself as a housemaid? It has all the marks of some good, wacky hijinks. Unfortunately, the story falls flat. Annie starts out as a strong character. She is quiet but able to stand up for herself and others, and shows plenty of insight. But her character degenerates as the story goes on. She begins to rely more and more on Nate Dawson, who is a somewhat dull character in general. She makes increasingly stupid decisions in the name of “investigating”.

     The plot itself also began unraveling. It is highly unlikely the police would be sending the family’s lawyer to investigate certain elements of the case by himself. The villain was unfortunately obvious from the beginning, and then Locke had to be ridiculous and make him utterly depraved. It’s okay to have villains that are otherwise decent people that do terrible things occasionally. But this villain couldn’t just be the murderer; he had to be a rapist, a drunk, and a gambler. Even though he was obvious, I thought he was an interesting villain because he was otherwise very kind. But that’s too much like a well-rounded character, I suppose.


     Overall, the story made little impact on me. The only part that I enjoyed was Annie learning the amount of work that goes into being a maid, and resolving to budget for more help for her own maids. It’s little things like these that make me sad that the book wasn’t better. I feel like Locke had a lot of good ideas but the story itself needed editing and tightening up. This is an unfortunate problem I’ve noticed with a lot of self-published authors. Word to the wise: even though you don’t go with a traditional publishing house, please set aside money to hire an editor to ensure the book is of good quality or at least find an English teacher friend to help you edit. I know from personal experience that a good idea does not a good book make. (Who am I kidding? You’ve read the stories I post on here. I need an editor to smack me over the head with a large red pen.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Quick Lit: August 2015: The Last Hurrah?

I'm reading four books right now. And I've got classes starting on Monday. Woo! Unfortunately three of those books are library books, which means I can't really take my time on them. Time to do lots of reading before next week, then.

1.


     A new laird comes to a Scottish island and begins changing the traditional ways of the people. While some meekly accept what's happening, Mac McDonnell is determined to push back. In actuality, the book is less about Mac and more about his sister, Moira as she deals with forces outside her control and confronts inevitable change.
     I'm sort of torn about this book so far. On the one hand, Camp is amazing at creating vivid, sympathetic characters and describing her setting so well. You aren't just reading about a Scottish island; you are on the Scottish island. It feels very real, which is probably partly why the characters themselves feel so real as well. On the other hand, the flow of the story is a bit clunky. Tiny scenes come and go, and it feels like it could have been pared down without harming the story. For example, an entire summer of Moira being a migrant harvester is a single chapter. It was supposed to be a life-changing experience for her, but we only get the bare bones of what she does, and are told afterward how it changed her. The story dragged a bit because of this. The plot doesn't so much flow as hop along like this in short jumps. I feel like it could have been tightened up.
     I'm only halfway through, so we'll see how it all pans out before I decided whether or not to continue with the series.


2. 


     So far this has been a good overview of the Roman Empire. It's not perfect; the author is summarizing a huge chunk of history in one book, so details are left out. I do like how he discussed the different factors that led to the eventual formation of the empire, and the gradual changes that took place before Octavius became Augustus. However, I was expecting a more chronological view rather than jumping around to different subjects. Still, it's not a bad read if you're interested in how society and government gradually evolves.


3. 


     This is part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge: a book you should have read in high school. I should have read it in high school because there were lots of questions about it in MACC and BETA club, and I probably could have answered them more accurately if I had actually read the book in the first place. I wish I did, too. I used to have a strong distaste for literary fiction, but I find I'm actually enjoying this. Sure, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, with the possible exception of Daisy, but I suspect Fitzgerald did that on purpose.



4. 


     I'm still steadily working on the Big Pendergast Re-Read. This one is notable in that it introduces several interesting characters. We formally meet Constance (and by formal, I mean she curtsies), the strange girl living in the old Leng mansion who may be much, much older than she looks; the delightfully cruel Count Fosco, who apparently survived Wilkie Collins' attempt to kill him and tries to force Pendergast to like opera; and an intriguing glimpse at the ever-popular Diogenes, Pendergast's crazier brother. We also get a very creepy storyline: a group of men with some mysterious connection are being burned from the inside out, with hints that perhaps the Devil himself is involved. Laura Hayward returns as a by-the-rules foil to Pendergast's trolling ways. Also Douglas Preston uses this book as a way to get rid of some lingering resentment at the Italian police for trying to implicate him and a friend in murders that happens years and years ago because they disagreed with them. (NO I AM BEING COMPLETELY SERIOUS)

So there you have it. Scotsmen, Romans, Italians, and Old Sports.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

AND AWAY WE GO

Look, I spazzed a bit at all the secret videos on the Marble Hornets blog BUT YOU GUYS THE NEW SERIES HAS ACTUALLY TOTALLY BEGUN IT'S ON THE CHANNEL RIGHT NOW I CAN'T


I'm okay. I'm going to be okay. I'll just take a breather and calm dow--WOOOO DEADPOOL TRAILER! Which ironically is also 44 seconds long. New theory Deadpool is the Operator. Discuss.