Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Mist (Stephen King)

The Mist by Stephen King
Ok, so let's hit up a horror legend this week, the indomitable Stephen King. I've read many of his books (and I'm very candid about having not loved all of them, re:It) and I've seen most of the movies/TV mini series. Most of his ideas are fantastic, it's usually his execution that I find lacking, especially in his newer works.

But The Mist is a novella, originally released in 1980 in a horror anthology (Skeleton Crew if you're wondering which one.) that was adapted into a movie in the 90's starring about half the original cast of The Walking Dead (I'm honestly not even exaggerating on that, watch it again.) and then again as a short lived TV series last year. (The movie was ok, and held pretty true to the book; the TV show was amazing but was only like the book in the basic premise.)

I finally got the chance to read The Mist which has always been a favorite idea of mine. What if this storm is the one that changes it all? Is it our fault, for testing with genetics and chemicals? Is it God's wrath, finally falling upon the Earth? Is it some extra terrestrial life finding its way here?


The tension in the book is incredible. If you've seen the movie, then you know the gist: a terrible storm rolls into a Maine town (of course it does) and the next day is followed by a bizarrely thick line of fog. The fog envelopes the town, trapping a man with his son at the local grocery store with other locals; then someone runs in off the street screaming that something in the mist ate his friend.

Something in the mist ate his friend. Because, of course it did.

(one day an alien race is going to read all of Stephen King's books and wonder why the fuck people didn't just move out of Maine for all the nutso shit that goes down in his world.)

The entire book takes place over the course of a few days, almost all of it in the grocery store with a mod podge of local color: a drunk, a school teacher, the strict grocery store manager, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Oh, and there's the local kook, known to think she's a witch and who's currently raving about God's wrath finally being brought upon us. YOU MUST REPENT!

The big question becomes: should they stay in the grocery store as long as they can, eating the supplies they are lucky enough to be stuck with? Or should they try to make a run for it and hope they don't get eaten by what can only be described as post-apocalyptic style animal monsters running around in the Mist outside? Can they outlast the Mist? Are they willing to gamble?

Honestly, this is a great example of King at his best: the concept is simple but utterly terrifying, the tension begins quickly and only gets higher as the book goes along, and unlike some of his massive tomes he's known for writing, this one doesn't get slowed down by excessive character development or weird side plots or intense descriptions of the scenery. (re:It)

If you know someone looking for a good intro to the world of Stephen King, may I suggest The Mist? It is so much more than I expected, and is a fairly quick read since it is a normal length and also interesting.

The final breakdown:
The Book
It's nothing special in the grand scheme of things, but I genuinely believe this is a stellar example if King's work.

The Writing
The novella style seems to really restrain my least favorite parts of King's writing style, which is refreshing with such unique content for when it came out.

Dude, just read it. It's a novella for Christ's sake. A fun study in the breakdown of a microsociety over the course of a few days under duress. I fucking love that.

Monday, July 23, 2018

His and Mine (Benet Stoen)

One of the awesome things about writing these reviews and sharing them through social media, is that independent authors who are trying to self publish are sometimes looking for someone to read their work and tell the public. That was how I found this week's book.

His and Mine by BenΓ©t Stoen
His and Mine by BenΓ©t Stoen is a story told in free verse. That's pretty different from what I've been reading and posting about lately, but years ago I lived in poetry. (Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, an asshole professor in college kind of ruined it for me, that's around the time I stopped seeking it out and enjoying it as much.)

That doesn't matter though, because I fell into this book like Alice into the rabbit hole, and I didn't find my way out until the end. Actually, I might not have found my way out at all yet...

It tells the story of two truly fucked up individuals, and as the story unfolds we learn what happened in their pasts to make them this way. Its beautiful, because we, for the most part, find out in their own time, experiencing it the same way they are. Neither one truly understands or has really ever felt love, and so they can't see that the chance for it is right in front of them. They are both broken by their pasts, and as each tries to help the other, they find that they are also being helped.
I don't want to give too much away because honestly every step of the story was mesmerising, and I don't want to ruin that feeling of discovery for anyone. I will warn you, I teared up several times, so if you're a cryer you might want to have your tissues ready.

 The Book
This is based purely on personal taste, and I need to refine my love for poetry more to truly appreciate the book as a whole.

The Writing
Stoen's writing is lyrical and draws you in, she captures what I have always thought free verse was best at: really expressing how erratic a person's internal monologue can be. Not to mention how erratic a young adult's mind can be, even at their most put together.
I read almost the entire book in one sitting because I was so captivated. And I was, honestly, surprised by that simply because of the tremulous relationship I've had with poetry over the past decade (thanks a lot, Professor Dick Face.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Simple Favor (Darcey Bell)

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
We all have it. That one thing.
You know.

The thing nobody knows about you. The thing you've left in your past and sworn to yourself you would never share with anyone. It's ok, we won't judge. After all, we have one too...

A Simple Favor is your classic "you thought you knew them so well" thriller. Or, at least, it seemed that way for a little while and then it turned into "literally does anyone even know themselves what the fuck is going on around here". And it was a slippery slope from one to the other- I couldn't stop reading this fucking book.

I won't lie, I read it because the marketing for the upcoming movie (starring one of my spirit animals, Anna Kendrick, and my wifey goal, Blake Lively) made me want to see it, but we all know the rule- cannot see the movie until you've read the book. So I downloaded this one while I was sick one weekend, figuring it would keep me occupied.

It kept me up all goddamn night.
We start with the disappearance of Stephanie's best friend, Emily. We learn from Stephanie, that she and Emily have become the best of friends over time through the friendship of their sons. She finds that Emily is a caring shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, and a sounding board to help her through the difficult time of finding her place in this world after losing her husband. And Emily is everything Stephanie wishes she is; while happy as a stay at home mom living off of life insurance and blogging about being a stay at home mom, Stephanie still can't help but admire the ritzy jet-set life Emily and her husband Sean are living. As head of PR for a haute couture fashion house, Emily wears the nicest clothes. She has a fancy car. She has a beautiful house.
It seems like all Stephanie can think and talk about is her best friend. Who has gone missing. And, as the person who knows her better than anyone else in the world- even better than the husband, who she knows from Emily doesn't "connect" with her emotionally- Stephanie knows that there's no way the devoted mother would ever run away from her life and abandon her child.


We all have that thing.

Emily has that thing.

And Stephanie also has that thing. And, to be honest, I kinda still feel like Stephanie's thing is bigger.

This book is so full of twists and turns, I almost needed to take notes to keep track. But it won't give you a case of whiplash- the twists are exciting, and the turns are jaw dropping. As soon as I finished reading it, I couldn't wait for the movie to come out so I could see these amazing actresses tear up these characters.

It is intense, to say the least. The characters are far more three dimensional than you normally see in an "unreliable narrator" novel (of whom we get three in this one.)

The Final Breakdown:

The Book
It's a fun read, but it's still a very "of the moment" read. Unreliable narrators are pretty much everywhere you turn these days (and too many of them, in my opinion, are female, but that's a different article.) Not breaking any boundaries here, but still super entertaining. Highly recommend as a beach read.

The Writing
There were some twists I saw coming, but there were other twists I definitely didn't. Bell shows a great skill at carefully crafting a complex situational suspense.

Honestly, I would dare you to DNF this book. (Once you got past the part that's told through Stephanie's blog posts, I mean. That part grated my nerves to no fucking end.)

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Alienist (Caleb Carr)

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Have I ever told you guys that my degree is in forensic psychology? That's right, the psychology where your clients are either parents fighting for control custody of their children or the big scary guy who says he shot the patrolman because his neighbor was moving the "property line" during the night. (True story.) I was planning on going into the latter (the technical term would be "mitigation specialist" rather than "batshit loon", but I know which one you were thinking in your head.) I even worked with the Innocence Project and helped get a man wrongly convicted of murder off of death row after twenty years in prison. Honestly, I'm not sure how to top that with the rest of my life unless I come up with a way to actually cure criminalism.

That line of work didn't pan out, though. You see, you have to go on to graduate school to do any of that. A LOT of graduate school. And, since I graduated into a recession, there were exactly zero jobs to help pay off the debt I had already accrued, let alone to justify taking on hundreds of thousands more.

That's way more information about me than you probably ever wanted. I brought it up, though, because I think it gives some insight into why such a huge number of the books I choose are thrillers/horror/suspense/crime fiction. I didn't get to actually live that life, so I'll read about other people that do. (In college I dreamed of one day becoming Alex Cross. And if that meant being a tall, middle aged black man, then so damn be it.)

The Alienist is another one of those that I had never heard of until it was turned into a TV show.
People told me how good it was- so obviously, I had to wait to watch it until I had read the book. Except that, now that I've read the book, I am a little apprehensive to see if the show is as good.

Ignore the fact that he is a statue in a
museum of natural history. #loveislove
Another thing you might not know about me, but probably should, is that Theodore Roosevelt is my future husband. (My current husband knows about this, he's made peace with it.) So to read a book that combines A) my favorite subject (catching criminals by using what you can infer from their actions to figure out who they are), B) a feisty woman trying to make a name for herself in a man's world, and C) My future husband, was honestly the best thing I could have asked for all year.

This book did not disappoint. It shows you what psychological profiling would have looked like in its infancy, and I think does a fantastic job of painting the social scene and how it would be received at that time. Lazlo Kreizler is a behavioral psychologist who is well known in many circles, having studied under William James in the country's premiere psychology department (jealous!) and founded an institute where he tries to help children with social and mental disorders (which was, like, anything back then.) He has a theory:  by considering the evidence of serial crimes, noting the similarities and differences between each case attributed to a single person, you can, over time, create a decent idea of who might be the culprit; and on the other side of that coin, you can create a "negative image", an idea of who mightn't be the culprit. Both very useful things to know, who might and who mightn't've. (In case you were wondering, spellcheck approves of the word "mightn't've". I wasn't sure, and honestly I was testing my boundaries, but I am really happy with this knowledge. Made my fucking night)

I will admit that while the book, as a whole, was incredibly interesting for me, I can also see that other people might get frustrated with the amount of details given on the forensic sciences being used throughout, and the basis of some of the theories. For me, these are a fascinating topic; others may find the facts of how fingerprint analysis was discovered and slowly became accepted to be a boring, tedious topic. Especially smack in the middle of a murder spree.

Here's the short and sweet of it: this is Criminal Minds if it were set in turn of the century New York City. And Teddy Roosevelt is guest starring as the local police commissioner trying to simultaneously fight crime AND corruption of cops in his city. And, spoiler alert, he's kicking ass at it.

The Final Breakdown:

The Book
As a whole, the book is good, but the slower areas of the story really do make it tough to keep going sometimes.

The Writing
For me, the writing is fantastic because I LOVE when authors go above and beyond with historical information and accuracy.

As much as I am absolutely obsessed with this book, I can realize that it isn't for everyone. Also, there's this weird touch of romance sprinkled in random places that more confused and annoyed me than anything else.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Terror (Dan Simmons)

I don't know if you've noticed (because I'm pretty good at hiding this fact) but I've been on an immense horror binge the past year or so.
The Terror by Dan Simmons

I used to be HUGE into historical fiction, especially the Tudor period. I read the Henry VIII series' by Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy, and Phillipa Gregory. I also read the Cousin's War series by Gregory. After all of that (probably fifty books in all) I was a TAD tapped out on historical fiction of any kind. My brain couldn't learn about new times or cultures anymore without going "UGH". No indoor plumbing? Strange names? The SAME name? Gag me.

So, I kicked around in New Releases and Popular Fiction for a while before falling into this Horror hole.

But, "The Terror" by Dan Simmons was an excellent way to segue myself back towards historical fiction, while keeping that thriller atmosphere.

Basic premise: Fictionalized account of the Franklin Expedition of 1845, based on diary entries and what little evidence was preserved on the arctic tundra. We already learned in school that they were stuck in the ice for years and eventually froze/starved to death.

Or. Did. They?

Simmons answers that question for you. He also teaches you a lot about arctic expeditions, and all of the shit that goes into making that happen. Here's a spoiler for you: there is not enough money in the world to get me on one of those tiny ass ships with 60 other people, sleeping in a hammock, unable to feel my toes for several years.

I'll be honest, when I first opened the book and saw a quote from Moby Dick (a quote from one of my least favorite chapters, no less), I was afraid. I absolutely cannot stand Moby Dick with a passion. Such a large passion, in fact, my teacher and I spent so much of the class time arguing that probably a third of my AP Lit/Comp class didn't even have to read the goddamn tome.

But, I'm a fair reader; Dan Simmons, after all, is not Hermen Melville, so maybe this would turn out alright. Lucky for Mr. Simmons, that was correct. Unlucky for everyone in my life, now I cannot stop talking about this fucking book. I was captured not only by the terror (get it?) of The Thing on the Ice, but also by the care with which Simmons teaches the history of the event. Unlike Moby Dick, which felt like Melville desperately longing to write a book about how to whale, the facts of arctic ship life were interwoven naturally into the flow of the story. He waited until it was appropriate for me to understand how a double walled ship's bow would be reinforced to plow through ice and withstand the pressure of ice forming around it, in the context of the story. (Sorry to tell you, Herman, no one needs a whole chapter on different ropes. That's why I joined the Scouts.)

This book isn't exactly a light read. The copy I got was 766 pages of straight up story (not including the acknowledgements). It took a full week, because I didn't want to rush through the thing and miss any of the suspense.

Bottom line: read this effing book. My sister also says the show is incredible, but I haven't started that (had to read the book first, duh). It is an incredible tale of courage, bravery, cowardice, hubris, compassion, humanity, survival, and failure.

The breakdown:

The Book
Solid five enchanted roses here. I recommend this book to LITERALLY anyone who will listen.

The Writing
Deducted one Lumiere simply because the subject matter is tough and you can find yourself bogged down in the specificities of ship life.

If I could give a half of a Cogsworth I would (but that would be cruel), but because of the areas where the writing bogs up, I couldn't give a full five here.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Just an update :

I haven't forgotten you guys! Life has been ridiculously crazy--including a whirlwind trip to Florida! But I have several book reviews that will be hitting the site soon, I'll be posting them more frequently since I'm so far behind on #WhatBelleThinksWednesday.

Follow us on Instagram to see more frequent updates, and I hope everyone is having a great summer with lots of books!