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Let's Talk About Books

An out of practice reader discussing the books I get around to reading. 

Currently reading

Little Heaven: A Novel
Nick Cutter
Progress: 66/496 pages
Evil Under The Sun
Agatha Christie
Progress: 30/213 pages

Satan's Harvest

Satan's Harvest (Ed & Lorraine Warren Book 6) - Mark Merenda, Michael Lasalandra, Lorraine Warren, Ed Warren

I've been curious about this book since the first Conjuring movie. Satan's Harvest covers the possession of Maurice Theriault, a French-Canadian farmer. His possession is considered one of the most publicized and one of the few exorcisms actually recorded. 

 

Now, just to get this out of the way, I do believe Theriault was possessed due to the footage of the exorcism that I have seen. It's an interesting video and due to the time period I'm skeptical it was faked. Not impossible, just not convinced. That said, if I had to use this book to make that decision, I'd say both Theriault and the Warrens are major frauds. 

 

Despite claims of photographic and video evidence, there were very few photos taken in the book. Most were just of Ed and Lorraine, actually, which I felt contrasted very differently from the other books of theirs that I had read. I hate when paranormal books do that, saying they have evidence but never showing it. I'm reading this book to learn and be convinced. The author is the one making the claims so they better do all they can to convince me. 

 

The Warrens themselves, who I've always considered a decent enough couple, came across very differently in this book, especially Ed. He seemed arrogant, pretentious, and close minded. I was especially chuffed during the chapter on the psychiatrist's interview with Maurice. This is a man who went through incredible abuse throughout his life and I was genuinely interested in what those findings would be. But Ed basically shot down everything the man said if it contradicted the theory of possession. This portrayal of the Warrens is very in line with criticisms skeptics pose about them. If this book were my first exposure to them, I'd be fully convinced they were frauds as well.

 

The book also glossed over some pretty major factors of Maurice's life, namely his criminal charges. During the times where his possession was most blatant, Maurice was accused of arson and sexually assaulting a child. You would think the book might want to explore that a bit more, given that it's awfully convenient that he's possessed and therefore wasn't in control of his actions (/sarcasm). Additionally, his treatment of his first wife sounded rather awful and I didn't appreciate how sympathetic the book portrayed him. You can be possessed and still also just be an asshole. 

 

Like I said, I do believe something paranormal was happening with Maurice. I also think he is fully responsible for at least the sexual assault and probably the fires. The Warrens say so themselves, usually someone has to either invite the spirit in or be doing something incredibly amoral to open themselves to demonic possession. At the very least it's a Chicken or the Egg kind of question about his possession and I really wish the book had explored it more. 

 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars. A lot of fun spooky stuff to read but oddly narrow minded compared to the other books I've read by the Warrens. 

The Hot One

The Hot One: A Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder - Carolyn Murnick

First book of 2018! Woo! And what an interesting read it is. The Hot One is Carolyn Murnick's exploration of her own life and maturation framed by the murder of her childhood best friend, Ashely. We follow Murnick from childhood to early adulthood to navigating the legal system as a spectator of the trial. Throughout her journey she tries to answer the question of why her life turned out so differently from her friends. 

 

Overall I enjoyed this book. Murnick is really a spectacular writer, the kind where you have to go back and reread the lines because it's just so incredible. And the flow of one memory to another worked really well. From a purely technical perspective, this is an incredible book. 

 

The Hot One also presents a perspective I don't think we see a lot of in the true crime genre. Usually these stories are told by a completely separate third party or by someone who knew the killer. As far as I know, there are only a handful of true crime books that are from the perspective of the friends and family of the victims. I appreciated that perspective, particularly during the sections of the preliminary hearing. You don't think about how little details, like the wording of the defense attorney's questions or a photo presented by the prosecution, affect those sitting in the gallery. I really appreciate Murnick for being so vulnerable about her thoughts and reactions to these details in order to present this side. 

 

The biggest critique I have of this book is it really is more about Murnick than it is Ashley or the crime. I suppose that's more of a marketing problem and a personal issue, but I was expecting to learn more about a crime through the eyes of the victim's childhood friend, rather than learn about the friend through the crime, if that makes sense. And honestly, for the first third or half of the book, I didn't really care for Murnick. I found her whiny and pretentious, which only made me want to learn more about Ashely all the more. Overall, I came out of reading the book feeling as if I really didn't learn that much about Ashley, and in that way I feel Murnick failed in her mission - determining how she and her friend ended up on such different paths. I understood how Murnick got to where she was, but for someone who talked so much on the shame that people were judging her friend without really knowing her, she didn't really help us know Ashley much better. So I definitely had an issue with that and wish Murnick had taken more time to focus on what she implied she'd actually be focusing on. 

 

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. A very fresh perspective for the true crime drama, though you'll have to get through a lot of teenage/young adult angst for the good stuff. 

Annihilation

Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

Yeah, this was a weird one. Don't even know how to sum it up. But I wanted to read it because I've seen it around the library quite a bit and am very excited for the movie coming out since it looks awesome. Just so y'all now, I think the movie is gonna be really different from the book.

 

I enjoyed this book, though it's definitely a slow burn and not what I expected. It was hard to get into in the beginning and it's definitely a dense book. There were quite a few points where I got lost in the text and not necessarily in a good way. But the more I read, the more into the story I became and in the end, I think I'd read it again if only because it's so deep. 

 

One thing I'll say of the book that I think is important, I wouldn't call it a horror novel. I've seen a few reviewers explain it as a "scifi horror" or "scifi thriller", but really it's just scifi. There are creepy parts in it, to be sure, but that creepy factor isn't present enough for me to consider it a member of the horror genre. The movie might be, but the book is not. 

 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars. It's basically a really intense and strange episode of Planet Earth. Imagine Morgan Freeman narrating it. 

Hunting Grounds

The Hunting Grounds (Hidden Sins) - Katee Robert

I actually finished this yesterday but didn't get around to reviewing. And since, ironically, the guy I've been dating gave me the "it's not you it's me" schtick tonight, this won't be a very long review. I shall keep it brief. 

 

I REALLY liked this one. I do think it made a better mystery than romance but the romantic element was still there and fairly well done. The premise and the nature of the killer were fascinating and really quite original. I haven't come across a mystery solved by an FBI agent/Park Ranger duo. And really, I can't stress enough how well executed the mystery was. Compared to File M for Murder, this book was comparable with Agatha Christie. The clues were scattered well, I had to keep guessing who the culprit was, and the pay off was well worth it. 

 

Honestly there are only two cons to this book. The first, and more serious, is the ending was far too abrupt. I liked the general direction it had but it was very much so "And we're done!" I wish she had developed the end just a little bit more.

 

The other con is just the romance factor was a little lacking, as I mentioned. If you're looking for a steamy romance, this isn't the one. There are steamy scenes and all, just not as prominent as I expected from a romance novel. Then again, I don't read the genre a lot so take what I say with a grain of salt. 

 

Final rating: 4.5 out of 5. Very good book, especially as a mystery. I'd read it again.

SPOILER ALERT!

File M for Murder

File M for Murder - Miranda James

Okay, let's get to it!

 

In File M for Murder, Charlie and his beloved cat Diesel are thrilled when Charlie's daughter, Laura, comes home to teach at the college for a semester. The only downside? Genius but asshole play write, Connor Lawton, is also teaching AND he happens to be Laura's ex boyfriend is also teaching at the school. When Connor ends up dead, Charlie works to solve the mystery before Laura becomes the prime suspect. 

 

So, a lot of the things that were good about this one are pretty similar to what I praised in Murder Past Due (which you can read here). We get to see more of Charlie's expertise as a librarian help him sleuth, which was cool. I like the idea of incorporating Connor's work in progress with the mystery itself and the motive behind his murder was definitely original. There was a lot of danger in this one two with higher stakes than I'm used to from cozies. I knew who the murder was almost from the beginning but I wasn't disappointed with the outcome. The way the puzzle pieces fit together at the end was really quite brilliant and I think, as I did with the first book, that James is pretty skilled at crafting mysteries. 

 

Unfortunately, unlike the first book, James did not craft this novel very well. Let's start with the mystery. It took FOREVER for any detective work to actually begin. I think at least one hundred pages. I could be wrong but I thought the MPD got to the mystery much quicker. Not much of FMfM was actually devoted to the mystery and Charlie's investigation but rather drama. If you dissect the book, more time is spent on Laura's relationship problems, Charlie's budding romance, and Charlie and Sean being overprotective than any sleuthing. When the who-done-it was finally revealed, it was crammed into the last ten pages and very anti-climactic. It made sense but it didn't feel earned which led me to feel disappointment. 

 

Another big issue with this book is the characters themselves, specifically the new ones. They all just felt so hollow and underdeveloped. Many of them were very stereotypical, like Connor as the chauvinist writer or Demitra Vane as the vapid LA actress. Vane in particular got on my nerves since, aside from being another suspect, she had almost nothing to do with the story and James never does explain how her earring was left at the scene of the crime or why she was murdered. There are a lot of problems with Vane but I'll talk more about that in a moment. Overall I couldn't really like the newer characters since there wasn't much presented to actually like. It's disappointing, again since I know James can write characters better.

 

Now, as I've mentioned twice already, I noticed a lot of sexism in this book that was rather hypocritical considering how much James decried it in MPD and with his "bad guys" tending to be chauvinists. Laura, for example, really annoyed me as a character since she was (and I know people hate this term) a Mary Sue. There was no fault to her, everyone loved her, and even though she tampered with a crime scene/withheld evidence, nothing actually happened. The way Sean and Charlie fawned over her was obnoxious and when they went to the party the way Charlie described her was just down right creepy. I literally though, dude you're talking about your daughter. She was supposed to be someone we cared about but instead I found myself skimming past her scenes. She just wasn't interesting.

 

Demitra Van was more blatantly awful. I get why she was supposed to be there. A jealous ex makes for AMAZING suspect material. The problem is, she a) wasn't original and b) was really offensive, in my opinion. James copy and pasted the stereotype of the stupid Hollywood bimbo and expected us to buy it. Well I wasn't. She came across as a bimbo from a stereotypical porno but I really don't think there are people like that in real life. Not that people aren't stupid but how stupid he made her was just ridiculous. And it bothers me that he goes for "voluptuous girl is obviously the vapid snob" stereotype. As a rather voluptuous gal myself with a rather voluptuous sister, I'm tired of this stereotype and it's one of the few that really offends me. And as mentioned, the only reason she seemed to be in the story was to provide another suspect and then just die. For someone who looks down upon the way mystery novels treat women, he sure treated Demitra like trash. It's disappointing, it really is. 

 

Final rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. I dunno. Maybe it's because I can't help but compare it to MPD. But overall this one was just disappointing. I'd skip this one if you're interested in the series. 

 

Final note: You might not find the characters in this story particularly offensive. Normally I don't get too chuffed by portrayals of women, at most rolling my eyes. But as I said, he used a stereotype people have applied to me and women I know and it boiled me over. So just keep that in mind. 

File M for Murder - Miranda James

At work so I’ll do a full review when I get home. Here’s the short and simple: 

- hollow, stereotypical characters 

- sexism that made me uncomfortable

- too quick and undeveloped resolution

- Diesel is amazing

 

Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 294 pages.

File M for Murder - Miranda James

I’ll explain more in my final review but I wanted to get it written down before I forget. For a writer who critiques misogyny in mystery novels so much (it came up a lot in Murder Past Due), I’m finding this one to contain quite a few sexist tropes itself. Frustrating.

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 294 pages.

File M for Murder - Miranda James

I’m having a lot of feelings about this one, mainly not good. Gonna keep reading for Deisel but so far I’m disappointed in this one.

SPOILER ALERT!

One Was Lost

One Was Lost - Natalie D. Richards

Okay, time for a proper review. 

 

One Was Lost follows Sera as she and three others - Jude, Lucas, and Emma - are stranded in the woods on a school campout. When they wake up with cryptic words written on their arms and their supplies shredded, it's made clear someone is following them and wants them dead. What was supposed to be a simple backpacking trip soon turns into a fight for survival with a lot of teen angst. 

 

Overall it was a fun book. There was suspense and I enjoyed trying to unravel the mystery. There were a lot of parts where I didn't want to stop reading due to how intense parts of it were, such as with the bears. Sera was a good main character and I liked watching her react to things. In particular, she felt real in her reactions. Like, freaking out when she sees a finger? That's totally what a normal person would do and I like that Richards went for making her normal rather than trying to make her this steely badass like some other writers might. 

 

The biggest flaw to the book is it felt very drawn out. Like, when you actually look at the events, not much actually happens. Most of the book is either the teens arguing or Sera dealing with her sexual frustration over Lucas. By the time I finished the book, I realized just how hollow the story really was. 

 

Similarly, while the mystery wasn't horribly constructed, it wasn't developed as much as it should have been. The identity of the bad guy wasn't totally out of left field but the method they were employing didn't make as much sense. It reads like Richards knew who she wanted her antagonist to be and just thought we could put it all together. The problem with this is we didn't get to know the antagonist well enough to recognize the significance of all the events. They can be linked together, it's just by a very feeble thread. 

 

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. It's a cotton candy read and really more about Sera's relationship with Lucas than an actual mystery. But if you go in knowing that and your expectations are appropriately adjusted, I think you'll enjoy it. 

One Was Lost - Natalie D. Richards

At work so the full review will have to wait. It’s all right though. Not spectacular but all right.

The Whale Wins Again

It - Stephen King

Gonna have to put this one on hold again. The loaning library wants it back and a bunch of people are requesting it. I COULD abuse my powers to renew it but I just don't have the time right now. One day I will slay it. One day. 

Ghostland

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

I can't decide if I was mis-sold on this book or not. It was about what I expected to read, I suppose, but not in the way I expected to read it. I dunno. I feel a little cheated but can't quite put my finger on why.

 

Ghostland is an exploration of American history through some of the countries most haunted locations. Houses, hotels, graveyards, and even whole cities are discussed because really, if you look hard enough, everyone has a ghost story to tell. Locations discussed include The Winchester Mystery Manor, Danvers Mental Hospital, Gettysburg, and the entire city of Detroit. It's definitely a different way to look at American history, especially if you're interested in the paranormal.

 

I think the biggest reason I feel cheated by this book is it did end up being more of a review and critique of American history than a book about haunted locations, which was what I expected and haunted. Some chapters, mainly in the beginning, were what I expected. For example, I found the chapter on the Winchester Mystery Manor fascinating due to it going quite in depth into ghost stories and the spiritualist movement while also discussing their historical significance. That to me was exactly what I wanted to read. An annoyingly large part of the book though was more like, "slavery is bad" and "ghost hunters are ridiculous." I'll talk more about that in a moment but it was not at all what I wanted to read. 

 

This book was really interesting. It explored a lot of aspects of American history I was unaware of and when it did connect to ghost stories it was incredible. For example, in one chapter we learn how ghost stories in part inspired the formation of the KKK in that early members pretended to be specters of fallen soldiers to scare the newly emancipated slaves. That's something I never learned in history class. 

 

There were some chapters that even if they weren't connected to ghost stories per say the history was presented in a new way that was fascinating. I particularly liked the chapter on haunted asylums since, even though the ghost stories were few and far between, Dickey a) didn't demonize psychology the way many people I know do when criticizing past practices and b) explored a completely fresh angle of the haunted asylums: why they were built they way they were. As a psych graduate I find the thought processes behind their architecture fascinating and I'm glad Dickey focused so much on that element, rather than just going "lobotomies are bad" and leaving it at that. 

 

Also worth noting is the fact that Dickey explores ghost/creepy stories that don't always make it into the mainstream. I was particularly pleased to see that he included the stories of Elisa Lam and the history of the Cecil Hotel as well as the Lalaurie Manor in his explorations. 

 

The biggest critique I have of this novel is that Dickey comes across as being incredibly full of himself throughout the entire thing. His writing style came across very much so like those "I, an Intellectual" memes and it was obnoxious. I think what got me the most is he came across as VERY disparaging of ghost hunters and tourists. His condescension towards those groups was unbearable. Judging only by the way he writes, he reminds me of the bullies from my English classes who never hesitated to inform you of how enlightened they were and how beneath them you were for not being as enlightened. That was definitely not what I signed up for and it made getting into the book very difficult. 

 

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars. The book has a lot of interesting information, but the author gets in his own way with his ego. Would recommend for those interested in haunted history but check it out, don't buy it. 

 

Final thought: You can disagree with something without being a dick about it, Colin. 

Bingo Update

If we're just going by called squares I'm close to having a Bingo. XD Petsitting this weekend and I have Saturday off so hopefully I can get myself to do a lot of reading then. 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

The Snowman - Jo Nesbø

Okay, home and cozy so time for a review!

 

The Snowman follows detective Harry Hole as he tries to figure out who is killing women and building snowmen. A weird connection but one that exists and becomes more and more sinister as the story goes on. Harry must decide who he can trust, figure out who is lying, and maintain his sobriety before the Snowman claims the one victim Harry cares about most. 

 

As a mystery, I liked this one quite a bit. I predicted who the Snowman was fairly easily and wouldn't say I was surprised by any of the big revelations, but the smaller details really impressed me. For example, the significance of the third beheaded chicken. Seeing how all the little details came together to form the big picture was really fun and the climax of the story was very satisfying. I had a hard time putting the book down and in fact only did so to pick up Sean Bean and make her cuddle. So from a mystery perspective it was awesome. 

 

As a book, though, I wasn't a big fan. I find Nesbo's style overstuffed. As we say in my family, you ask him the time and he tells you how to build a clock. There were so many parts of the book that were just so dull to me since they were just description or overstuffed story telling. There were also many parts that were like, why is this important? Which, to Nesbo's credit, almost everything in the book was used at some point later in the story and so it was important. It was just a pain in the ass to read, which is obviously not something I care for. There was also a lot going on and it became difficult to keep track of characters sometimes. 

 

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Nesbo can craft an awesome mystery, he just needs some work on the storytelling aspect. 

 

Final thought: Reading the book does make me very excited for the movie coming out next week. Michael Fassbender is a perfect choice for Harry and I think this is one of the cases where it will make a better movie than book. JK Simmons is an odd choice for Støp though. So we'll see. 

 

 

The Snowman - Jo Nesbø

I'll review this fully but I wasn't too thrilled with it. I'd say it's a great story but with less than fun execution. Does make me very excited for the movie though.

Attention!

 

This is Sean Bean. She is the runt of the litter of fosters my mom just got, four in all. I love her. 

 

That is all.