Monthly Archives: March 2014

Review: Darkness at the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

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I won’t beat around the bush: I hated this book. Everything you could think of to be wrong with a book was wrong with this book. To really hammer this point home, I will admit something of which I am ashamed. I wanted to stop reading this book rather early on (23% in, according to my Kindle) but I forced myself to read the whole thing for the sole purpose of writing a bad review of it. It became sort of a point of pride for me. I read this terrible book so that you never have to read it. You’re welcome.

The book starts out on the wrong foot. Our narrator is Robbie Higgins and he spends a few pages rambling senselessly before informing the reader that he is fortifying himself with whiskey in order to write. All right. After that he gets a bit closer to the point. He starts to talk about his town, pre-darkness. It’s your standard small town with the standard residents. He details his neighbors, all nice enough people. He talks about his girlfriend, Christy. She’s an over-emotional, drug dependent, drama queen. She got on my nerves almost immediately.

Mostly, he talks about the darkness. Now, this was my biggest problem with the book. The genre of the story is a horror-fantasy sort of mix. It’s a cross between Under the Dome by Stephen King (also a terrible book, in my opinion) and The Mist, also by Stephen King (a much better short story). Basically, the town is enclosed by a cover of darkness. The sky is completely shrouded and the ways out of town are blocked by walls of living darkness. The problem for me is that the author doesn’t seem too concerned about continuity in regards to the effects of the darkness. First, he says the temperature never fluctuates. Later, he says that it’s slowly getting colder. He flirts with scientific explanations but he never actually settles on any one constant. More or less his conclusion is this: magic can do whatever it wants. I cannot abide magic with no rules. Even the Harry Potter universe had rules and that was a story for children. Come on, man.

Since I brought up Harry Potter, let’s discuss something else that bugged me. For fully 2/3s of the book, the darkness is the bad guy. Towards the end, though, the author tries to put a name to the darkness. You might have already guessed it, since it’s related to Harry Potter in some way. He Who Must Not Be Named. Said with no irony, with no nudge and a wink, with nothing to suggest that this guy comprehends what he’s saying. This story is about magic, witches, and a dark force that can’t be named. The connection is so obvious that ignoring it has to be a conscious choice.

The last thing I want to complain about is the narrator himself. The story is told in first person, so, to a certain extent, I expect and accept a casual writing style. However, I think Brian Keene overdid it. Robbie Higgins is not an educated man and so the over-use of profanity in his writing makes sense. Particularly due to the truly messed up situation he’s in. But the extent to which Keene worked in swears instead made it look like he was the one who couldn’t think of a better way to emphasize his point. Through the magic of the search function on my Kindle I counted that Keene uses variations of the word “fuck” 210 times in a 306 page book. That’s damn near a fuck on every page. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I call that excessive.

Incredibly long review made short, the story was rambling and clumsy and wasn’t a pleasure at all to read. I suppose you can read it if you like being frustrated and annoyed. Otherwise, skip it.

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I Have a New Cat!

I was going to trace my desire to have another cat but I realized midway through that that was silly. I always want another cat. I love cats. I have long since been a crazy cat lady just waiting to happen. My husband is the only one who has kept me from collecting strays. And, OK, maybe a little common sense. I’m quite allergic to cats, you see, and filling my life with them would be less than wise. That did not stop me from trying my damnedest to adopt Skippy when he showed up at my friend Carrie Anne’s house. (You can read all of Skippy’s story here.) Unfortunately, I could not win over my in-laws/landlords and Skippy did not become mine.

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This past weekend, another stray fell into our lives. Quite literally, actually, since some jackass dropped it over a fence into the alley behind my sister-in-law’s house. At first, it was unclear to Kayti that the little guy had been abandoned. He seemed to just be lost. He was freshly bathed, had trimmed nails and was extremely friendly. She went around the neighborhood asking if anyone lost a kitten and learned what happened from her next door neighbor.

John and I were due to start pet-sitting the next day so she let us know we would be watching a kitten as well as a dog. Of course, we were super thrilled but pretended to be put out. We’re so cool. The dog in question is the reason the kitten would need to find another home. Buster is great with people but he has a serious cat problem.

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The moment I held this kitten, he was going to be mine. He immediately nuzzled my neck and started purring. I was way gone. Kitten love overload. Every time I put him down, however, his mouth started going. He would just wander around meowing as loudly as possible. For some people, that might be a deal breaker, but I have always loved noisy cats. They remind me of myself.

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Big selling point. Another one: after only two unfortunate accidents, he was completely box-trained. It’s serious enough that if he can’t get to his box, he will yowl until you let him get to it. I know a lot of dogs like that but I’ve never had a cat that wouldn’t just pee wherever if they couldn’t get to their box. He’s awesome, is what I’m getting at.

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I think the reason I got this kitten and not Skippy is, this time, John was on my side. He loves animals and he loved Skippy but he didn’t think we should have him. With this little orange fuzzball, John fell just as hard and fast as I did. I told him, this is our cat now. And he said, absolutely. We were on the same page about an animal for the first time since we adopted our bunny.

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The in-laws/landlords turned out to be not our biggest hurdle in integrating the little Koshek (named after a cat on a radio drama I listen to). That designation goes to our resident old lady and my favorite cat, Roma. She had always ignored the aggression from the other cat of the household and I was certain that she would at worst be apathetic about having a new roommate. No such luck. She is unbelievably angry about the kitten situation. She hisses and growls and chases him away when he comes near her. I can’t believe that my gentle, shy kitty has become such a beast.

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For Koshek’s part, he keeps coming back for more. Last night, he came up behind her while she was angrily twitching her tail, and he jumped on it. Fortunately he was smart enough to run away because she turned around ready to strike. I’ve never dealt with this situation before so I’m kind of splitting my time between Googling the problem and winging it. We’ll see how it goes.

We mustn’t skip over the important thing here, though. I have a kitten! A kitten! There’s a new cat in my life! Woo-hoo!

 

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Navel-Gazing Post for a Rainy Day

I have a style of writing that is not correct in many technical ways. I know all the rules and I break them flagrantly. During my all-too-brief stint in college, my poetry class professor told me that people only learn the rules of writing so that they can break them with finesse. Generally, that’s what I try to do. I never drop a comma or break up a sentence into choppy fragments accidentally. That would just be silly.

Some people don’t like my sort of style. It reads in a staccato manner and their own personal voices rail against it. Unfortunately for me, my husband is one of those people. I’ve sat him down to read my latest chapter–biting my nails and staring determinedly away from him while he’s at it–and he will insist on pointing out grammatical “flaws”. I will, again, patiently remind him that I was looking for a critique on the content. It’s just my style, I will say, for probably the 100th time. This is an argument that will never, ever be finished. We simply don’t agree.

I would change in a heartbeat if my stylistic choices made it difficult to understand what I was trying to say. Any bits he points out that have clarity issues, I do alter. I’m not the sort of person who assumes that every word I pen is art and therefore must be taken as is. I’m prone to error like everyone else is. Since I’m still learning at this writing thing, I’m prone to much, much more than some.

But I won’t hear any other reason to change the way I write. A writer’s style is like a finger print. There are similarities from person to person but no one is exactly the same as anyone else. I’ve been reading Stephen King since before I should have been, and I recognize his style as easily as I recognize my best friend’s voice. I enjoy it nearly as much, too.

I don’t want to change my style because I hope that, someday, someone will treasure my style the way I do Stephen King’s. Or J.K. Rowling’s. Or Margaret Atwood’s.

And, dammit, I am a special snowflake.

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Review: Knife Music by David Carnoy

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It’s a strange coincidence that I happened to finish this particular book right after I explained to John why I have trouble reviewing books. See, I tend to group books into two categories: books I couldn’t even be bothered to finish and books I like. I can’t review a book I haven’t finished and it’s near pointless to review a book if you only think of positive things to say about all of them. I have trouble listing a book’s flaws, even if I’m well aware of them, because, if it entertained me, I think it did its job. Writing is a form of art and the first job of art is to bring pleasure. Beyond that, everything else is extra.

Knife Music, though, let me down to an extent that it overshadowed the enjoyment I got out of the first half of the book. It started with such a promise: a solid cast of characters, complex and carefully defined, as well as a clear and interesting plot. For the first dozen chapters or so I was extremely engaged. The problem, however, is that the first dozen chapters are mostly back story. Once the story gets going, in the present, it went all wrong.

The book is billed as a mystery. The plot is pretty straight-forward: a 16 year old girl, Kristen, gets into a car accident and ends up in the OR of trauma surgeon Dr. Ted Cogan. Ted and Kristen exchange words a few times but their relationship seems pretty on the level. Nothing serious or intimate. Jump to five months later and Kristen has killed herself. Entries in her diary suggest that she had a sexual relationship with Dr. Cogan and killed herself because he snubbed her. At least that’s the case that the local Homicide detectives are building.

In my opinion, this is the first place the book goes wrong. The main detective on the case is Hank Madden, a man who has a hatred and phobia of doctors. When he was a child he was raped by his doctor while being treated for polio. This fact is well known, it was even written about in the local newspapers when he made detective. His superiors know about his obvious bias and yet they put him on a case where he cannot possibly be objective. This is the part in the story when I had to say, out loud, “Oh, please.”

It gets worse from there when Ted Cogan, the suspect, starts doing better police work than the actual police. In effort to clear his name, Cogan is investigating the case in secret. He discovers the possibility that there may be more to the story than what was written in Kristen’s diary. Something that the police should have been looking into from the beginning. Something they didn’t even consider, though, because they’re painfully incompetent as well as heavily biased.

Then, just when I thought I couldn’t get more annoyed with the way the story was going, there’s a twist at the end. A twist so mind-bogglingly unnecessary that it made me angry. I’m still angry about it right now, in fact. The author ties everything up all neat and then feels the need to throw another curve ball into the mix. As a rookie, I know a rookie mistake when I see one.

Ultimately, I can only recommend this book to a certain sort of person. If you are good at suspending your disbelief, it is very possible that you could enjoy this book. I have an inability to let myself enjoy something if I find a flaw with it. But that’s my problem, it doesn’t have to be yours.

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