Tag Archives: Books

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside book cover. There is a fuzzy photo of an amphibious, bidedal creature on this cover. Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside

Author: James Pack

Publisher: VaudVil

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from James

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James Pack titled Morbid Museum. This Dollar Tale is called The Ghosts Inside and features the original and extended versions of the story. Go inside the mind of a man who believes he is saving children by ending their lives. Will he kill again or will someone stop him from taking young lives?

Review:

Content warning: child abuse and the murders of children. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

This e-book contains two versions of the same tale. I found the first draft too short for my preferences, so I’ll be reviewing the extended version.

Not every serial killer is an evil genius.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was the fact that the antagonist behaved like an ordinary person. (Well, other than the murders he committed, of course). He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, fastest, or most cunning person around. If not for his awful hobby, he would have struck me as a perfectly average man. That was refreshing.

I found it tricky to keep up with the multiple narrators. It would have worked really nicely in a novella or novel, but the roughly twenty-five pages that the extended version had to work with simply wasn’t enough space for everyone to show the audience who they were and what they were about. Focusing so intently on the killer in the first version was a smarter decision. As much as I enjoyed many of the other changes the author made to the storyline once it was expanded, I do wish this part of it had carried through.

There were so many hints about the killer’s personality that I was able to gently tease out of the things he said and did. It was interesting to figure out what made him tick. While he wasn’t someone I’d ever want to meet on a dark street or anywhere else, I did like the way the author tried to explain why someone would commit such unforgivable crimes. This only became more true as I realized what the killer’s biggest weakness was and why it appeared to be something that he himself wasn’t necessarily aware of. I’ll leave it up to other readers to put these pieces together for themselves, but they did make for a satisfying experience.

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside was much darker than what I typically read. I think it would be best suited for people who enjoy crime fiction or dark science fiction.

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1)

Author: Dixon Reuel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Dixon

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.

A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.

When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.

Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.

Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.

The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.

Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.

One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.

Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.

With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.

Calling All Bookish Folks to the Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop

Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop Banner

This event is so cool I decided to dedicate a full post to it today.

On October 31, blogger Patricia Lynne is going to be hosting a Trick-or-Treat blog hop for anyone who is looking for free, new e-books to read.

Authors, you have until October 31 to hop on over to her site and share a link to your free book or books.

Bloggers, readers, and reviewers, the full list of free e-books will be available on that site on October 31. Be sure to go check it out then if you need something new to read. The hashtag they’re using on Twitter is #trickortreatreads, so keep an eye out for that, too.

I’ve already added the link for my books. If I find any titles there that fit the theme of my blog, you may see reviews of them here in the future. A big part of the reason why I wrote this post is so that I can link back to it over the coming months to explain how I gained access to so many free books at once if this pans out as well as I hope it does.

Happy reading, everyone!

Life After The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review of The Testaments

Title: The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2)

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia

Length: 432 pages

Source: I bought it.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
 
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
 
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Review:

Content warning: sexual assault, child abuse, torture, pregnancy, childbirth, and murder. I will only make a few vague reference to these things in my review. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post.

Be sure to finish The Handmaid’s Tale before picking up The Testaments. I’d also recommend either watching the TV show based on this universe or doing a few hours of research on the characters, themes, and plot twists featured in the small screen version of it as well.

This is something best read by people who are intimately familiar with what has already happened in this tale, and I will be assuming that everyone who continues reading is already familiar with this universe.

I’ve included non-spoiler-y quotes from this book at key points in this review.

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

Now that those things have been addressed, let’s jump straight into my review. I’m writing this as a hardcore fan whose expectations were sky high and who had been hotly anticipating this book. The only thing I knew going into it was that it was set long after the final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and that it had three female narrators.

Aunt Lydia was originally introduced in the first book in this series. Her role in Gilead was to help keep the female sphere of that society running smoothly, especially when it came to training and disciplining the Handmaids. Witness 369A was a young girl who grew up in Gilead as the cherished only child of a wealthy commander and his wife. She was a true believer in her childhood faith. Finally, Daisy was a young woman who lived in Canada.

“You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.”

My descriptions of the narrators may sound incomplete. They were written that way to purposefully avoid sharing spoilers, so be careful about what you read elsewhere online if you google them.

Gilead was a violent, abusive society wrapped in the shroud of (mostly) false piety. The Testaments went into more detail about how women were treated in many different layers of society than the novel version of the first book in this series did. Having three narrators from such different backgrounds made it easy for Ms. Atwood to explore parts of this universe that Offred couldn’t have known a thing about when she originally shared her tale.

What I found most interesting about it was how different groups of women were pitted against each other and divided into small groups: fertile women, fertile women who gave birth to living, healthy children, wives of lower-ranking Commanders, wives of higher-ranking Commanders, adoptive mothers, Marthas, Econowives, Handmaids, Aunts, and more.

“It was also shameful: when a shameful thing is done to you, the shamefulness rubs off on you. You feel dirtied.”

Everyone was competing for the same vanishingly small piece of status despite the fact that there was no safe position to take. Danger lurked everywhere no matter who you were or what you did because Gilead blamed women for things they had no control over and never wanted in the first place.

Yes, this could also be interpreted as a criticism of the way women are treated in modern society. Just like The Handmaid’s Tale, the sequel is firmly inspired by and a critique of real-world events. Dystopian novels work best for me when they draw parallels between what is happening in them and what the author wants his or her readers to understand about the real world. This is something Ms. Atwood has always excelled at, and I nodded in agreement when I read the sentences that gave hints about her opinions of the current political climate in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. They were brief and never interfered with the plot itself, but they made her position on the rights of women, LGBT+ people, and minorities unmistakeable.

The one thing I wish had been a little better explained in this story has to do with Aunt Lydia’s character development. She’s an easy character to loathe in the book and television versions of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was fascinated by the descriptions of her life before and during the rise of Gilead. There were times when I sympathized with her despite all of the horrible things she did later on in life.

“As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Finally, what surprised me the most about this book were the conclusions it made about what to do if you find yourself locked into a world that seems impossible to escape.

The Handmaid’s Tale took a fairly passive approach to this dilemma. Any shred of hope that took root there would quickly be covered up before it was trampled.

The Testaments waters that hope, fertilizes the soil, and encourages the sun to shine just enough so that hope pushes its roots into the centre of the earth and flourishes.

Yes, history sometimes rhymes. No, that doesn’t mean that we’re powerless to change how the next sentence ends.

If for no other reason, this breath of fresh air is reason enough to read it.

Autumn Worlds I’d Like to Visit

I’ve written about the winterspring, and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the autumn worlds I’d spend some time exploring if I could.

Some of these settings weren’t necessarily the safest places to visit, but I’m going to use my authority as the author of this post to decide I’d somehow be protected while I was there.  Let’s say I had a protection spell on me to ward off anyone or anything that had bad intentions.

Hill House

Anyone who has read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson or seen the Netflix series based on it knows why I needed that protection spell. This property was filled with malevolent spirits!

The architecture of the house would be what I’d like to see, though. I’ve loved old, stately homes for as long as I can remember, especially the ones that were built during or close to the nineteenth century.

Unlike the clean, sleek styles of most modern architecture, large homes from this era are filled with small details that are easy to miss. There might be carvings around a door frame or a gothic-like spire reaching for the heavens.

Yes, meeting the friendly ghosts would be cool, too, but discovering all of the hidden details of this mansion would be even more interesting.

St. Cloud’s Orphanage

This orphanage was where the main character of The Cider House Rules by John Irving was born and raised in the first half of the twentieth century. Life was hard for many folks then, but it was especially rough for children who didn’t have parents.

There was never enough money, time, or attention to go around…and yet the doctor who ran this orphanage did an excellent job of looking after the children in his care given the standards of his time.

He was passionate about finding homes for his charges as soon as he possibly could. When a home couldn’t be found for a child, he made their lives as comfortable as he could. I’d love to take a tour of this orphanage and see how things were run in that fictional universe a century ago.

Hundreds Hall

If you haven’t already noticed the pattern in this post, that is about to change. Hundreds Hall was the crumbling mansion that the main character in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters visited in order to provide medical care for the people who lived there. Click here to read my review of the film based on it.

The cool thing about Hundreds Hall was that people were still living there. Yes, it was in need of a lot of repair work, but anyone who visited there would have heat, water, and even some basic food if they went into the kitchen and asked nicely for a snack.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have access to those things while on a ghost hunt than go somewhere that doesn’t have them. My goal while visiting this estate would not only involve admiring the architecture but hopefully catching a glimpse of the ghost that may have lived there, too.

Somehow seeing one ghost who may or may not even exist is a million more times exciting than seeing dozens of them hanging around everywhere like one would at Hill House.

Plumfield

There’s something about this boys school in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott that appeals to me quite a bit. Despite being set in a time and place when women and LGBT+ people had far fewer rights than we tend to have today, it would also probably be the safest place on this list for me to visit.

My fingers would be crossed that Jo would be an accepting host. I’d like to think we could bond over our shared love of writing and literature.

It would be amazing to see what life was really like in her home. Her school was not always the most structured learning environment, but her students did have a great deal of fun between – and sometimes right dab in the middle of – their chores and lessons.

So many of my favourite memories of this book happened during the autumn, so I can’t help but to think of it as an autumn story.

If there were a way to tell her about the future without disrupting the natural unfolding of historical events, I’d also love to give Jo a glimpse of what life was like nearly 200 years after her time.

What autumn worlds would you like to visit?

Spring Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! I’m beyond relieved to see it finally arrive as far as the calendar goes. Here’s hoping Ontario will soon see lots of warm weather and the first little green shoots popping out of the soil as well. In the last couple of years, I’ve written about the… Read More

Top Ten Tuesday: Standalone Books That Need a Sequel

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl Last year, I wrote a (non-Top-Ten-Tuesday) post about books that need prequels. Today, I’ll be talking about some standalone books that need sequels. This list is shorter than usual because of how many authors and publishers are eager to publish sequels to stories that do well. There simply aren’t… Read More