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review 2018-02-05 23:09
Nothing to fear but fear itself? Not for the people in these books.
Deep Dark Fears - Fran Krause
The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection - Fran Krause

I'm going to cover two books in this post. They're the first two books of a series and I read them a few weeks apart at the end of last year. (Yes, I'm still working on reviews from last year. Yes, I am annoyed with myself.)


The first book is Fran Krause's Deep Dark Fears which is an adult graphic novel. The majority of the content is gleaned from submissions received by the author on his website although a few are from his wife and himself. As the title suggests, this is a collection of fears harbored by people and then put into a comic format. (The illustrations are really great by the way.) And while these are legitimate fears that people have they're not all totally scary. Some of them are so out there that they're humorous...although to the person who submitted it I guess it's not funny at all. From the content, it seems that the majority of people developed these fears/phobias when they were still children from adult family members who told them horrifying things. Note to adults: Please think about what you're telling your kids because you never know what they'll hold onto and how they'll twist it in their minds.


An example of the 'fears' illustrated inside. [Source: Bored Panda]


The second in the series is called The Creeps and it continues the thread of bringing to life some of the most bizarre fears you can (or maybe can't) imagine. I have to say that one of them freaked me out so much that I had to put the book down for a while. (It was about AI.) I also learned that something I had thought was universally known is not in fact known to many people outside of the Southern United States. When you or someone you know has a sudden shiver have you ever explained it by saying, "Someone just walked over my grave."? Now imagine if you had never heard that and then someone said it to you in an offhand manner. Would that totally freak you out? A lot of the things that people are scared of seemed quite niche and silly while others were super dark and gory. It's a really great mixture.


See how creepy this is to the unfamiliar? [Source: Bookspoils]


Both books are really quick reads that can be devoured in a single afternoon (or train ride). I especially liked that they were presented in the form of a graphic novel instead of in short story format. Both books combined were a 10/10 if you're into creepy dark humor.


What's Up Next: Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: 20 Chilling Tales from the Wilderness by Hal Johnson


What I'm Currently (Re)Reading: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende


Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-11-03 22:28
Dark and twisted
Deep Into the Darkness: A Dark Romance - Lucy Wild

This dark and twisted tale comes with a warning in the blurb, and it is definitely necessary. In most cases, I would've preferred a longer story for development, but the author does an excellent job of conveying the horrors inflicted on Rock and Sophia and the emotional turmoil of the story. It is an extremely disturbing tale and I was riveted from the very first page. As the story progressed and got darker and more twisted, I absolutely had to know how it would all play out. As tragic as much of this one is, I found myself doubting any romance would come to fruition, but Lucy Wild does dark romance like few others, and pulled it off masterfully. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-07 19:35
Halloween Bingo - In the Dark, Dark Woods -- Satisfying
The Babes In The Wood - Ruth Rendell





As dark as the subject matter was, I enjoyed reading this book immensely.  The plot was complex, the main characters fully developed, the writing excellent.  What's not to like?


Disclosure:  I obtained a used copy of this book from my local Friends of the Library book sale.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author.


Though The Babes in the Wood is the ninth installment in the Chief Inspector Wexford series, it easily stands alone without the previous books.  I had no trouble grasping the basic background for any of the ongoing personal stories woven through the book.


The case involves three missing persons who are initially presumed dead: 32-year-old Joanna Troy and the two teenagers she was "babysitting" for a weekend while their parents were in Paris, 15-year-old Giles Dade and his 13-year-old sister Sophie.  Also missing is Joanna Troy's blue VW Golf.  The three people disappear on a weekend of torrential rain and flooding in late November.  No trace of them is found until Christmas Day, when the first body is discovered.


I had figured out a major part of the mystery almost from the beginning.


Giles and Sophie were missing but not dead; Giles had driven the VW to dispose of Joanna Troy's body.  Much was made of the fact that he turned 16 a few days after the disappearance, and that's an age when driving becomes a rite of passage.


That Joanna Troy is dead is evidenced by the lost tooth crown.  Had she been alive, she would have had to get it fixed; if she had been conscious when she left the house, she would have taken it with her.

(spoiler show)


The how and the why and the identity of the killer remained the mystery, and that was sufficiently intriguing to keep me reading into the small hours of the night.


I save my five-star ratings for those books I think are truly exceptional, and while The Babes in the Wood was very good, it had a couple of elements that almost took it down to a 3.5-star rating.


The first was that there were almost no likeable characters other than Wexford himself, his family members, and some of his fellow detectives.  Roger and Katrina Dade, parents of the missing children, were revolting.  Even when Roger was cleared of a particularly nasty suspicion, he remained revolting, with no redeeming qualities.  Katrina was similarly unsympathetic.  Katrina's mother, Mrs. Bruce, was almost normal, but too minor a character to make up for all the others.  Joanna Troy's father and stepmother weren't terrible people, but neither were they sympathetic.  The Buxtons, the Wrights, Rick Mitchell, none of them had any redeeming qualities that made me hope they weren't the killer; any of them would do.


The second was that Rendell withholds certain information from the reader until the very end.  If I remember correctly from my high school days of reading Ellery Queen mysteries, all the clues were subtly given throughout the story, so the diligent reader could piece everything together.  It's not until the last few pages that Wexford reveals to his partner Mike Burden what he has learned after the case has been solved, details the reader has no way of even guessing from the text.


The third was the uneasiness I felt throughout the reading that a subtle but pervasive misogyny underlay the treatment of the female characters.  Almost all of them are weak, venal, deceptive, manipulative, even predatory.  Wexford's wife, Dora, is the only one with any substance, and even she seems slightly oblivious to what's going on with their daughter Sylvia.  To be honest, most of the male characters are just as bad, but at least some of them are given small traits or moments of humanity that are almost completely denied the female characters.


Sylvia and the other women who suffer abuse are subtly blamed for what happens to them.  Joanna Troy is painted as a monster who deserved her fate.  Sharonne is the grasping, greedy beauty without a soul.  Peter Buxton, for all his weaknesses, does eventually do the right thing about his discovery.  Rick Mitchell likewise insists that a crime must be reported to the authorities.  Even Giles knows that what Joanna is doing is wrong and she must be stopped but not to the point of murder; Sophie, though she is much younger, has no such scruples, and perhaps that's because she's female?

(spoiler show)


There is one moment when Detective Karen Malahyde attempts to challenge the overt misogyny of a male character being interviewed in connection with the case, but Wexford silences her.  The issue isn't brought up again to be resolved and it left me feeling uncomfortable.


Likewise, Sylvia's situation -- the contradiction of her being a social worker dealing with abused women and being abused herself -- seemed to get short shrift.


But these may be issues that are only tangential to a single book in the series and get better treatment in the series as a whole.


Overall, however, the book was a satisfying read and I would be willing to read more should bargains come my way! 

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text 2017-09-06 19:25
Reading progress update: I've read 124 out of 325 pages.
The Babes In The Wood - Ruth Rendell

I am thoroughly enjoying this.

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review 2017-09-04 22:07
Halloween Bingo -- Supernatural Square -- bizarre beyond (willing suspension of dis)belief
The Haunting of Ashburn House - Darcy Coates







I have spent the entire afternoon on this, both reading (finishing) the book and then this review.  I've delayed supper, and BF is not really happy about that, but he knows better than to complain.  Now, however, I feel better for having both this book and the review out of the way.


This is another of those freebies** I sampled last week in preparation for the start of Bingo.  I had it marked for any of several squares including Ghost, Haunted House, Gothic.  Over the week-end I picked it up several times and read a little bit more, but I just couldn't really get into it, so I didn't put it up as a "currently reading" title.  I wasn't sure it would ever grab my interest enough to fit into the game. (**See update at end.)


And the usual disclosure:  I obtained the book when it was offered free on Kindle.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author.


I had reached about the 15% mark when I decided to give up on it and switch to something else.  Ashburn House had too many anomalies already that I didn't want to deal with.  Unfortunately, I chose instead Terror in Tower Grove, which turned out to be a complete disaster.


There was a temptation, after Terror, to just post a DNF on Ashburn House, but I didn't want to do that unless and until I was certain I wouldn't go back to it.  Though it had problems, it wasn't overly terrible, and I had one strong suspicion as to why I wasn't enjoying it more.  So I left it on the back burner, just in case I changed my mind and gave it another try.


Which of course, is exactly what happened.  I took a break with The City of Falling Angels, which I have no pressure to read quickly for any deadline Bingo square.  Then I read some more of Ashburn House.  It still didn't completely pull me in, so I swung away again for a while to read The Ghost of Castle Ravenswych.  With my palate cleansed, so to speak, I returned to Ashburn House.


And I started taking notes.


The background to the story is simple:  Adrienne (I'm not sure of her last name) inherits Ashburn House from a great-aunt-once-removed or something like that, Edith Ashburn.  Ashburn House sits on the top of a hill outside the small town of Ipson.  The hill is covered with dark, creepy woods, and is connected to a mountain. 


Adrienne arrives, via taxi, with her cat Wolfgang, two suitcases/bags, her laptop, and a $20 bill in her purse.  (I'm not sure how she pays for the taxi; I'm not going to look it up.)  She is 21 years old and makes her living, such as it is, as a freelance writer.  She had a job at one time but had to give it up to take care of her dying mother.


So here I was with all these questions already:


WHERE is Ashburn House?  If Adrienne has a $20 bill, she's not in the UK.  But she received the notice of her inheritance from a solicitor, and the woods are some metres from the house, so she's not in the US either.  Canada?  Australia?   Don't know.  Atmosphere has a lot to do with location, and I just could never place myself in this story.  That was one of the main issues I had  that kept me from sliding into it.


Time frame is much clearer, since Adrienne has her laptop with its built-in WiFi.  She doesn't have a cell phone, however.  So, how did the solicitor get in touch with her?  Solely by mail?  Were there no phone conversations regarding the transfer of ownership?  Even if all done by email, this still seemed odd that she didn't have a phone.  I'm not entirely sure how Edith Ashburn was able to give the solicitors contact information for Adrienne either.


Later, when another character shows up who does have a cell phone, reception is almost nil around Ashburn House.  Yet the village of Ipson is only a 15-minute walk away, via a path down the hill and through the woods.  If there is cell phone service in town, how can there not be any just a mile or less away?


As Adrienne settles into Ashburn House, she is welcomed to the area by four young women from Ipson: Jayne, Beth, Marion, and Sarah.  They become friends, and the four begin helping Adrienne with various services around town and so on.  And they bring her food.


It was at that point that I realized the second major issue I had with the book:  It felt awkward being told in third-person, and even more so when POV slipped into other characters.


Edith Ashburn has been dead for three weeks, so when Adrienne arrives on the scene, there is virtually no food in the house.  She finds rotting food in the fridge, some staples in the pantry, and a couple cans of sardines.  But she has brought food for the cat!  And when she finally gets some cash, she spends most of it on cat food!  And I'm wondering, didn't the "solicitors" do anything about this?  Didn't they make sure the taxes were paid?  And if so, how was Edith paying them?  Did she have investments that provided her with income?  Where is that money, and why isn't Adrienne using it to . . . do anything?  Did she even clean out the fridge so she could use it?


The utilities are on because one of the four young women works for the city/county/utilities commission and left them on for Adrienne.  This reminded me of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  Authors need to understand how the real world works when it comes to inheriting property.  Barbara Michaels knew better.  Even Josephine Tey knew better -- there were issues of death duties in Brat Farrar.   If the characters don't know any better, the readers just might, and the lawyers/solicitors damn well should.  Taxes don't just go unpaid because.  Utilities don't get turned on just because.  Often there are issues with inhabitability -- is it safe to transfer this deed and allow someone to move into this dwelling if it's not actually habitable?


I did a little bit of quick and very unscientific research on my own collection of gothic novels, and I came away with a theory that may or may not stand up to further scrutiny.


In historical gothics, the heroines are generally poor orphans who end up going to live in someone else's house because they have nowhere else to go.  The house is haunted, or at least sinister, but the heroine is trapped.


In contemporary gothics, the heroines are generally poor, but they are or become the owners of the haunted, sinister, menacing mansions.  Barbara Michaels offered some variations on this theme, but even in books like Houses of Stone and Be Buried in the Rain, the issue of actual ownership is openly dealt with in a practical, realistic way.


Not so in The Haunting of Ashburn House. That lack of verisimilitude further distanced me from the story.  I felt more and more as though I were reading a manuscript and less and less as though I were experiencing what Adrienne was.


Adrienne had to sell virtually all her possessions to pay for her mother's final expenses, but she kept the cat.  Her meager luggage contains three changes of clothes, one book, bed sheets, cat food and dishes.  She has some toiletries, but when she acquires some more funds, she forgoes shampoo and other necessities, buys instant noodles for herself, and expensive cat food for Wolfgang.


I'm not sure what she does with her time all day long.  Much like Connie Goodwin in Deliverance Dane, she seems to waste a lot of time doing nothing.  She could clean or write -- she's trying to be a freelance writer, after all -- or do something other than sit around and wait in dread for the fall of night.


No season is given, no month, so it's impossible to tell if the nights are long or short.  There are references to cold weather, but there is no snow or frost or anything.


Edith has left cryptic messages literally carved into the walls and furniture.  She has also left lots of antiques that could provide some income for Adrienne.  She never seems to think of this.


Then the creepy things start happening.  What Adrienne first takes to be a ghost is in fact something different, and now it's time for the spoiler.



Edith, who was apparently around 100 years old when she died, was in fact a twin.  When she and her sister Eleanor were eight years old, Eleanor savagely murdered four adult members of their family.  According to a letter Edith had left behind for Adrienne, Eleanor had dabbled in some dark arts (at age eight!) and gained supernatural power.  For everyone she killed, the remaining years of their lives were added to hers.  Somehow or other, however, eight-year-old Edith without extra power was able to kill her evil twin Eleanor, at least for the time being.


No explanation is given for how she was able to do this.  Eleanor had overpowered and literally torn apart four adults, but another eight-year-old did her in?


Edith, as the sole survivor of this gruesome mass murder, was sent off to be raised by grandparents.  Ten years later, she returned to Ashburn House as its owner and learned the truth about Eleanor -- that she was a zombie/ghoul/undead/whatever.  But Edith was able to keep her under control (and under ground) for eighty-odd years, and now she was passing the secret along to Adrienne.


Well, fine, but did that mean Adrienne was going to have to live there and continue to burn a candle every Friday to keep Eleanor in her "grave" until Eleanor ran out of the extra lives she'd gained by killing her family?  Don't know.


And if not, if Eleanor came back, would she come back as a rotting 100-year-old corpse (which is what she was when she stalked Adrienne until Adrienne "killed" her again) or as something else?  Don't know.


Adrienne had managed to defeat zombie/undead Eleanor by burning her, as if she knew that was the only way to do it, but there's nothing that states how Adrienne figured this out either.


(spoiler show)


The more I read and the more notes I took, the more distant I became from the story.  I felt like a teacher grading a paper.  And the less believable Adrienne became.  Page by page, she became more TSTL.  (There are crates and crates and crates of candles in the attic, but she never thinks of using any of them for light.  Never mind that in almost any temperate climate, they would have melted into shapeless blobs during summer heat.)


I realized, too, that I was starting to skim rather than read.  But when I went back to really read what I had previously skimmed, there wasn't anything there.  I hadn't missed anything other than more repetition of how dark the woods were or how close to sundown it was.  So what???


What it all came down to, ultimately, was that I not only didn't, but I couldn't believe Adrienne would act like this.  The haunting might be supernatural, but the main character had to behave like a normal, rational human being.  She didn't.  Nothing she did made sense.  From arriving at this house without proper supplies and resources, to ignoring the various warnings, to failing to research, to . . . to everything.  Nothing about Adrienne was normal.


Nor her friends.  And I think that was the kicker for me -- Five young women, all in their early 20s, and not one of them had a boyfriend or even expressed any interest in the opposite sex.  Not one.  Totally unbelievable.



UPDATE:  I did some research, not only on the author's background but on my own history with this book.


I did NOT, as I originally thought, obtain this for free.  I paid 99 cents for it last April.  This happened to be the week author Coates dropped the price, and that was also the week The Haunting of Ashburn House landed on a USA Today bestseller list, placing 99th out of 150 "most bought" titles for that week.


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