Spoiler-Free Thoughts on The Books I’ve Read In 2019 (So Far)

I made a promise to myself that I would try to read more books in 2019  since I didn’t feel as though I read that much in 2018.  Fortunately (and surprisingly) I’ve managed to keep this vow even with my turbulent schedule and lack of desire to be productive.

So here are some thoughts on the books I have managed to read thus far.

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz 

Summary: After working with bestselling crime writer Alan Conway for years, editor Susan Ryeland is intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries in sleepy English villages. His traditional formula has proved hugely successful, so successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway’s latest tale involves a murder at Pye Hall, with dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects. But the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

As someone who grew up on PBS British detective shows, I absolutely loved this book.

I was reluctant to read it initially because I knew it was a story within a story, nevertheless, I found both tales –the one written by Conway and by Susan–both equally captivating and I was just as eager as Susan to discover the conclusion to Pünd’s story.

It’s easy to see Horowitz has worked on many on-screen productions as the pacing is quick and engaging, leaving little room for superfluous details or fluff, but still dedicates enough time to developing characters and setting the scene.

Apart from the plot itself, what makes the story interesting is how it inwardly reflects on the genre of mystery as a whole. It asks why people are so drawn to the subject and provides interesting theories all without being overly sentimental.

It’s a quintessential love letter to Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and many other mystery writers, all while keeping its own unique identity.

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The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

Summary: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems. 

I’m a fan of Hitchcock films and a self-proclaimed junkie for unreliable narrators so this book was a match made in Heaven for me. Apart from being a page-turning mystery, it’s also a well-crafted character piece.

Anna is more than just an unreliable narrator. She’s a completely sympathetic person that is as much the victim of her circumstances as she is the cause of them. She’s a three-dimensional character forced into a situation beyond her control and the unravelling of her past is as tragic as it is interesting.

When I learned the author of this book was a man, I was genuinely surprised. I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be writing for the opposite gender, but Finn does so with such skill and sincerity you completely forget the author is not a woman.

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with how it ends as it comes off as a bit too cartoonish, in my opinion. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Hitchcock-like stories you will enjoy this one.

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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 

Summary: For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: He will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Kristin did an excellent job of showing the brutal beauty of the Alaskan landscape as well as the complexity of human nature. At times I thought it was a little too bleak, rife with almost Jodi-Picolt-levels of drama where one implausibly awful thing is followed by another implausibly awful thing, but the constant conflict was genuinely gripping and kept me going in spite of it all.

This is just a personal hang-up that I have with the novel so take it for what you will, but I found Leni’s love interest to be a bit unconvincing as a character. It was difficult to believe that a boy that grew up in such a harsh, unforgiving climate and had so much of his life devoted to survival would give a crap about poetry. Nor does it seem that plausible that he would have that much devotion to a girl he met when he was a little kid. That could be my own cynicism talking, but I did grow up in a very small town and absolutely none of the males I encountered were anything like this.

I will say this in the novel’s favor, I genuinely didn’t know where it was going and yet I  trusted the writer to lead it to it’s rightful destination. Some suspicions I had early on were confirmed, but Hannah threw many unexpected curveballs that made it damn near impossible for me to put the book down.

I won’t say what happens as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that wants to read it, but it’s worth all the emotional torture the reader has to go through to reach the end. 

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The City of Z by David Grann

Summary: A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve “the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century”: What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z?

I’m typically not a fan of nonfiction, but I made an exception for this book since the subject was intriguing to me.

I picked up this book to learn about the City of Z, but I stayed for the man that tried to uncover its mysteries. Fawcett was a character straight out of myth, both seemingly impervious to hostile-climes and disease as well as endlessly tenacious in his willingness to see a journey through to its end. He was instrumental in increasing our understanding of the Amazon, sacrificing almost everything he had to find Z, even when many scoffed at the notion that such a place ever existed.

I admire Grann’s ability to weave such an interesting narrative all while unloading boatloads of information on the reader without making them feel as though they are trapped at a boring lecture.

The intimate details, journal entries, the attention to socio-political climates at this time really made this story come to life.

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His Bloody Project  by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Summary: A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime?

This book is a novel disguised as a true-crime book, written by a supposed descendent of the murderer in question. It’s part “memoir” told from Roderick Macrae and part compilation of “historical documents” that describe the events leading up to and after the murders.

Roderick is an interesting character in that he’s surprisingly intelligent in spite of his limited education as well as a seemingly perplexing narrator. The story begins with him explaining his backstory, life and misfortunes and then slowly delves into the crime itself. From the tale Roderick weaves it would seem he was merely a victim of his circumstance, however, the reader will notice several inconsistencies with Roderick’s version of events and the accounts that are later brought to light at his trial. This forces readers to re-evaluate all they thought they knew.

Is Roderick a good person that was driven to murder by his hopeless situation as a tenant farmer? Is he criminally insane? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

There was a lot of research that went into the making of this book. The rural landscape and lifestyle of the average 19th century Scottish Highlander was very vividly depicted. I also appreciated the incorporation of the prevalent sociological theories that existed around that time period. Criminology was in its infancy in the 1800s and it was interesting to see how the school of thought in regards to criminals has evolved over the years.

If you’re a historical fiction lover like I am, you’ll really like this.

Adventures in Writerland: The Ugly Truth About Success in Publishing

Warning: The following contains butt-hurt and the overuse of commas. Viewer discretion is advised. 

I’m not afraid of putting my nose to the grindstone in the name of telling a good story.

I can close my door, cancel plans, wake up early, stay up late, suffer blood-letting editing session after blood-letting editing session.

I can be the Rocky Balboa of writing.

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Yet throughout this Herculean process, I’m taunted relentlessly by the possibility that all of this self-sacrifice could be in vain.

The cold reality is there are people that have been trying to publish for years and have nothing to show for it.

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When I was young and naive, I thought these people simply weren’t talented enough for their work to be in print.

They didn’t try hard enough or refused to take constructive criticism.

They were the faux-intellectuals like the ones in my creative writing classes; self-professed literary geniuses who thought they were deep because they dead-ass copied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing-style (poorly) and gave overlong descriptions about birds singing. Their inability to find an agent was a result of their own hubris and not indicative that the world of publishing is a heartless mistress.

However, I’ve learned a hard lesson watching people with actual talent trying to make it into the writing industry: Success in publishing isn’t necessarily predicated on skill.

There are just as many “bad” writers that receive attention as there are “good” ones.

50 Shades of Grey is the most sold book in history and it is literally a Twilight fanfic that was written on a Blackberry.

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Yep.

Most people know it is total garbage and have mocked it relentlessly since it first burst into popularity. But that doesn’t change the fact that E.L. James currently has more money than both you or I will make in our entire lives courtesy of this skid-mark of a novel.

So I guess she’s the one that got the last laugh.

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In a sense, this should be encouraging.

Surely that means if something as terrible as 50 Shades can find a major publisher willing to back it, your book can too.

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Then, I remember the detective novel JK Rowling wrote under the name Robert Gailbraith made paltry returns even though it was quite good, at least in my opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it became a best-seller until it was revealed who the true author was.

So what is a writer to do?

Sadly, I know the answer.

Basically, you just have to let go and accept that your magnum opus may not be that magnum to some people. That, in spite of your best efforts, it will likely disappear into the ether along with countless other works of fiction.

You may never become a millionaire and, realistically, you’ll be lucky to make a living at all…..

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Buuuuuuuut, who wants to admit that? I would much rather live in my fantasy world where I am a revered authoress who will appear onto the literary scene like an angel from on-high and spread enlightenment upon the masses.

Idealistic image of someone reading my stories:

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More realistic image of someone reading my stories:


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I suppose one can never know what lies in store for their career. They can only cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication, they will rise above the pits of mediocrity and learn to soar amongst the eagles.

In all seriousness, it boils down to whether or not you believe you have a story worth telling. If you do, then you have to tell it regardless if you will receive high-praise for it or not.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s about creating and sharing your passions with the world.

Or something like that, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading!

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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Why Books Are Better Than People

It could be my experience in customer service that has inspired me to write this post, however, this is something I’ve always believed to some degree:

Books are better than people.

Don’t believe me? You will soon.

Books are always available. If you are up in the middle of the night, you can just roll over and pick it up. A book won’t care that it’s late. Conversely, if you want to put the book down and come back to it later in a few weeks/months/years, the book won’t be offended. It will be more than happy to let you enjoy its wordy-goodness some other time.

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You don’t have to make small talk with a book. A book does all the talking for you. That’s literally it’s job. You just comb over the pages with your eyes and let the words transport you to another time and place. There is no horrifying pause as it waits for you to comment on something it’s said, or exchange vapid pleasantries. It’s so undemanding.

It’s portable. If you have a small bag, the sky is the limit. You can take them on your commute to work, to a party, to your grandparent’s house, to your backyard, on vacation. Taking a human everywhere you go is just impractical. And why would you want to? They make so much noise.

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If it annoys you, you can get rid of it. Unlike humans, if a book annoys you, you can simply dispose of it. You can force it on your enemies. You can write a strongly-worded blog post. You can leave it in a stranger’s mailbox. You can light it on fire and burry it in the woods. All without fear of receiving a lawsuit.

They smell better than people. Old or new, books have an amazing smell. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of walking into an old library, the beautiful vanilla fragrance of forgotten pages is enough to make you drunk with lust for the written word. I could honestly smell books all day, but, you know, I need to work a day job to buy food or whatever. People on the other hand…..well, anyone who has ridden public transport knows that humans don’t boast such a pleasing odor. I bet you’re wrinkling your nose just thinking about all those unwashed bodies you encounter on a daily basis.

Now stick your head in a book.

See? Isn’t that better?

Ssssssssh.

There are many wonderful books to read. There are so many imaginative, energizing, inspirational, magical, excellent, titillating, colorful books to read. Somewhere out there is a book about any subject you could possibly imagine.  You could spend hours– days even–exploring a library and reading and never want for anything besides food.

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People? Nah. I think there are, like, three wonderful people in the world and all of them are dogs.

Books are free (at the library). People demand more than long stretches of time sitting in silence. They require “fun” activities to ensure a working relationship. Want to go to the movies? Money. Want to catch up with a friend at the coffee shop? Money. Want to entertain yourself for hours by reading the latest best-seller? Library. Boom. Take that, other humans.

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Happy reading!

TL;DR: The Problem With Big Books

This may make me sound like a traitor to readers everywhere, but I am generally not a fan of big books, specifically ones that exceed 450 pages in length.

That’s not to say I don’t like any large books. One of my favorite books of all time, Gone With The Wind, is nearly 1,000 pages long. However, in recent years, it seems to me most of the thicker novels I’ve suffered through have been long purely for the sake of being long.

Unfortunately, I believe I know the reason for this.

Across the literary community, there is this presumption that if a book is large and takes ages to read then said book is deep and important and the reader should take it seriously. After all, so many classical works of literature boast a heavy word count.

“Why use one word when you can use twenty, my good man?” say the classic writers, smoking their pipes and not raising their ten plus children. “Why not add in a stock character and detail their entire lives even though they will ultimately have no baring on the plot whatsoever?”

I’m not saying I’m incapable of being patient and waiting it out, but you got to give me something book.

Don’t string me along for 300 plus pages just because I’ve become invested enough in the plot and characters to wait.

Don’t put in pages worth of padding just so you can disappoint me with a predictable twist and cardboard villains.

One of the most aggravating reads I’ve ever sat through was The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, a hefty 720 page monster that took me over a month to finish. I stayed with it for so long because it had an excellent premise which the author got to…eventually. But in the meantime the reader had to slog through hundreds of pages of extraneous material that had no impact on the story at all.

Honestly, I have no idea how it got past an editor’s red pen of doom. The main character doesn’t even show up until the novel is almost halfway over. How do you even get away with that?!

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Then there was The Magus by John Fowles which was the most dense, pretentious, and mind-numbingly dull book I’ve ever read. Getting past the annoyingly self-congratulating attitudes of the main characters, the readers is subjected to page upon page of backstory that can be summed up in a paragraph or two.

(Sidenote: If you’re having difficulty sleeping, listen to the audiobook for The Magus on Youtube. I haven’t slept this heavily in years.)

That’s not to say a story should never be long, but there has to be some criteria, wouldn’t you agree?

I’ll answer my own rhetorical question with a non-rhetorical yes.

Here are a handful of justifications for writing a large novel:

  1. It takes place over the course of many years/months.
  2. There are multiple characters whose prospectives help increase the depth and overall quality of the story.
  3.  The story requires time devoted to explaining the world and how it operates to further engross the reader and create a feeling of realness.
  4. Extra time is needed to tie up loose ends.
  5. It is creating an atmosphere that will help with the climax’s pay-off.

If none of the reasons above are applicable, then I have no interest in reading it. I’m sorry, but there are hundreds of books out there that I could be enjoying and I don’t want to waste my time with a story that just wants to meander on forever.

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My Emotionally Abusive Relationship with Daphne Du Maurier

I can say with unshakeable certainty that Rebecca is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t an action-packed gore-fest like many books of the same genre, but in my mind that’s what makes it one of the greats.

It’s a British novel positively dripping with atmosphere and dramatic tension with an excellent pay-off.

It’s for this reason that I’ve found many other of Du Maurier’s works to be…less than stellar.

After reading Rebecca, I thought I had discovered an unsung hero of classic literature. Why had I gone so many years without knowing who Daphne Du Maurier is? Why had I been deprived of knowing her name?

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I looked farther into her works and rejoiced to find My Cousin Rachel, a novel that promised more atmospheric English countrysides, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing storyline and a gut-punch ending…..

Well, three out of four isn’t bad….

You see, the more you read Daphne Du Maurier, the more it seems that you run into this problem. The woman can write. She is a wonder at creating haunting environments, interesting characters and working up mysteries.

The problem is, more often than not, her endings tend to be woefully underwhelming. And when they aren’t, they’re just frigging weird.

One such example is Don’t Look Now wherein a couple that has just lost their child decide to go on holiday to Italy. While there they meet a pair of elderly twins, one of which purports to be psychic and prophesies doom for John, the main character. Well, the story keeps you on the tips of your toes in true Du Maurier fashion. Red-herring after red-herring is thrown at you, Then…the climax and……!

He’s murdered by a serial-killing midget…..

A serial….killing…midget….

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Kay, that was f*cking weird, but the next ones gotta be….!

Okay, guy is randomly murdered and random weird greek symbolism that doesn’t…really relate to the climax…

Okay, this next one will….! Okay, massive homophobia-

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In spite of the many times she’s disappointed me, I just can’t give up on her.

She’s just good enough at what she does that she is able to draw me in again and again. But those endings…man, those endings kill me. And not in a good way.

I just don’t understand how someone could have such a strong character and personality, only to demure when it matters the most. She makes all of these promises and she never keeps them. She beguiles me with gorgeous imagery and diction, only to leave me crumpled on the floor like a used tissue.

Why? Does she feel too much pressure to perform? Am I more invested than she is? Has she just moved on to bigger and better things?

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Why, Daphne? Why didn’t Rachel just kill Philip when she had the chance? It doesn’t make sense, Daphne.

I’m currently working on Jamaica Inn and I’m fretful that I’ll drudge through it and experience the same kind of disappointment again. But I’m just so curious….I have to know what happens.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe she will have that jarring jump-out-of-your-pants ending I’ve been waiting for. I mean, it’s not like all her endings were that, bad right? Maybe I was being too hard on her. Perhaps I’m the one to blame for my high expectations.

I’ll give you another shot, Daphne.

I can’t quit you.

Thoughts on “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK OUTLANDER AHEAD.

Strap in, folks, this is gonna be a long review. Then again this was a long book, so what do you expect?

What I liked: 

The great characters. I didn’t always like Claire, but she always felt like a person and not just a vassal through which the author could carry out the story. Everyone had an interesting backstory and their own distinct personality, which really helped me get into the spirit of the novel. The dialogue was very personalized as well and I was impressed at how each character was able to give lengthy exposition without it sounding too unnatural. I also found that, despite the Game of Thrones level number of characters, it was easy enough to remember who each one of them were because of how unique Gabaldon made them.

The immersive environment. It’s very easy for a reader to lose themselves in this book. The way Gabaldon is able to describe the lay of the land is impressive and I never had any difficulty wondering where exactly these people were or what the environment looked like. What I can appreciate is the environment isn’t just a backdrop, it’s engrained into the story itself.

Sexy times for all. While the romance between Jamie and Claire may have been a bit rushed, what with Claire still having a husband back home, I believe the chemistry between these two is strong. The fact that they’re both well-developed characters helps me care more about their relationship and I think Gabaldon writes sex pretty well. She doesn’t explain so little that you can’t tell what’s happening, but she also doesn’t explain so much that it comes across as mechanical and weird.

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The historical accuracy. It’s obvious that a lot of research went into this novel and as someone who has tried to write historical fiction with mixed results, I can really appreciate her efforts. The details she put into this really help the story come alive, especially when she writes about the environment and costumes people wear. She also doesn’t shy away from describing the abominable odors that persist in these types of places back in the 18th century. I was doubly impressed when she went into details about which herbs to use for healing and how to describe how someone would properly attend a wounded man back in those days.

What I didn’t like: 

The focus was all over the place. I don’t think I would be out of line for saying that this book is by and large plotless. While there are many obstacles that the lead characters run into, there is no centralized conflict. For the most part, the structure of the story is “this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened.” It didn’t ever seem to be leading up to anything. On the one hand it left me guessing as to what would be the final outcome of the story, but on the other hand it made me wonder just what the point of all of this was. This is a shame because there were so many points of interest such as Claire missing the modern world, Jamie’s outlaw status and, I think most importantly, the inevitable doom that is to befall the Highlanders.

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Claire’s unrealistic reactions to killing. The book makes it clear on several occasions that Claire is accustomed to seeing people dying because of her position as a nurse during the War. However, I’d like to point out that there is a huge difference between watching someone dying and actively participating in their murder. In my humble opinion, Claire’s reaction to having murdered someone is disturbingly understated. Granted the person she murdered was trying to sexually assault her, taking a life is an unnatural act and a psychologically stable person would be horrified at having to do so. Especially one who swore an oath to always preserve life in any way she can. I thought they would explore this more after she was forced to murder a 16 year-old in order to save Jamie, but even then she doesn’t seem to feel that guilty about it. What makes this even more difficult for me to swallow is that this boy really didn’t do anything wrong. He was just a young lad who was trying to do his job to the best of his ability. He just happened to be on the wrong side.

It went on for too long. I think much of this can be attributed to the fact that this book lacked a plot so the author just went along with the story until she felt like stopping. While I enjoyed this book, most of this story didn’t actually need to happen in the grand scheme of things and I’m actually shocked at what they left out. For instance, the final battle to collect Jamie from the infamous Scottish prison….happens off screen…….

We spent pages and pages talking about Claire fighting a wolf (a conflict that I don’t believe even needed to exist since it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot), but when it comes to the climax, the great escape, the novel’s main villain dying….it happens off screen…….

There was no reason to cut that part out. There were so many other pointless scenes that could have been scrapped. They did not need to cut the one part that needed to be in there.

I admit, I’ve gone into this fandom totally blind so perhaps Black Jack comes back with a cyborg eye and there will be a real show-down. I don’t know. I’m just judging this book by its own merits.

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What the hell is up with Chapter 39? So the scene where Claire tries to save Jamie’s life after his torture at the hands of Randall while they’re at the monastery….Can anyone tell me what happened in that scene? I think she was trying to rekindle his will to live but…that should not have worked. Mind you, I only have a passing knowledge of psychology when it comes to PTSD related events, but I’m pretty sure forcing a patient to relive a traumatic event literally days after it happened in an uncontrolled environment would not result in a sudden miraculous turn-around in their mental behavior. Particularly when they are at death’s door to begin with. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that should have made him keel over.

Jamie’s torture. I’m gonna be honest, I thought it was overkill. The extent of his injuries and psychological torture should have left him a completely unresponsive husk of a man or dead. At least if this had stayed as true to life as it had been before. One of the most interesting aspects of his torture was left, for the most part, unexplored. While recounting the horror he faced while against Randall, he lets slip that the sight of Claire makes him ill because Randall basically conditioned him so every time he thought about Claire he would either be beaten or worse. In one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the whole book, he tearfully explains that he doesn’t want to see her again because just her being there reawakens all of these awful memories.

Me:

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Wow. That is dark. More than dark, that’s completely and utterly heart-wrenching.

Aaaaaaand after Claire’s Most Awful Idea Ever, he’s totally fixed and ready for some bairn-making.

Ummm……

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There’s no reason why this should have worked. You can’t just undo classical conditioning.

Mrs. Gabaldon, you seem like a smart lady and all, but I don’t think you understand how psychology works. Sadly, once a mind is screwed up that badly, the damage is usually permanent. If not, it takes a looooong time for an individual to overcome it.

I think that Jamie’s aversion to Claire would have made an excellent jumping off point for the next novel and would justify a book of equal length, especially if she found out during this debacle that she was pregnant with his child. Not only would Claire have to deal with the impending slaughter of the Highlanders and the Dragoons looking for Jamie, she would also have to confront the possibility of raising a child in a foreign country in the past alone. That’s more than enough conflict for a book, in my opinion. But instead we get a miraculous recovery from Jamie and they all live happily ever after. At least for now.

Overall opinion: 

I enjoyed reading this novel and I’m more than a little interested in reading the next installment. However, I also believe this book could have been so much better if some things were cut and if the story had been given more focus. It was interesting just watching them go about their daily lives, but I think actually giving it a plot would have raised the stakes a considerable amount.

Editing is the Worst Thing Ever

Is there anything quite as beautiful as writing the first draft of a story?

Every moment is primed with intrigue, wonder, and mystery.

You just paint everything on the metaphorical canvass as you see it in your mind’s eye. Ideas pour forth from you like a soda fountain filled with Mentos

You pat yourself on the back for every clever line, every twist and turn, every unique character.

Then, once the dust has settled, you must look back on your writing….

And realize that literally everything is horrible.

There are plot-holes everywhere, nobody’s motivation makes sense, the action is either too slow or too fast, the plot is too predictable or disjointed. The list goes on and on.

The worst part is realizing you’re actually going to have to fix this crap.

All it takes for your hard work to be torn asunder is the word “why.”

Why didn’t they just do this? Why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t he ask her this? Why didn’t she stay at home instead?

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You will have to answer these questions and many, many more 😀

Not only that, but you may have to remove some of your favorite sequences in order for the new continuity to make sense. That means hacking away at that razor sharp dialogue and those gorgeous descriptions, leading you to meander down a road rife with uncertainty.

Well…you could ask someone to be your beta reader and get their opinion, but then they may question your literary genius.

You can’t have that.

But really there’s nothing for it.

It’s just another stumbling block on the road to success, or, as is often the case with writing, another mine in a minefield of never-ending despair and disappointment.

Perhaps in between drafts you should take a break. Let it sit for a while and then come back to it when it’s had time to cool. Then you can turn your keen eye to the festering pile of dung that is your first draft with a clear perspective and can dispose of it accordingly.

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Regardless, I think this may be one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides… everything else.

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Thoughts on “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL.

As an avid fan of du Maurier’s Rebecca, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed with My Cousin Rachel.

It started off very strong with little Philip coming face to face with the corpse of a man who had been hanged for murdering his wife, a scene which instantly hooked me into the story as it seemed to indicate that shit was going to go down.

Unfortunately nothing that happens in the novel thereafter really has as much of a punch as the beginning would seem to indicate.

What I did like: 

Du Maurier does a fantastic job of setting up atmosphere and generating feelings of unease as well as mystery. I think she also does a magnificent job of creating characters and relationships. None of them came across as flat or one-dimensional, even the side characters who didn’t do all that much.

I award du Maurier bonus points for writing a male for the lead. As someone who often struggles writing for members of the opposite sex, I thought du Maurier did an excellent job of capturing the mindset of a 19th century Englishman. If I had no indication as to who the author was, I would have thought this book had been written by a man.

The pacing is excellent too, never focusing on any one scene for too long.

What I didn’t like: 

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of build-up for not a lot of pay-off. It became clear as soon as Philip recovered from his “illness” that du Maurier was not going to go balls-to-the-wall as I was hoping she would do.

What puzzles me is why Rachel allowed him to get better. Did she have second thoughts? Was it because the writer needed him to? I’m so confused.

Also I’m disappointed there was no final confrontation between the two of them where Rachel dropped all pretense and showed Phillip her true colors. Perhaps that would have been a little too soup opera, but it would have been more satisfying for me to see the real Rachel for a moment, instead of just the repercussions of her actions.

It  would have been so interesting to see how she interacted with someone who has her confidant, a.k.a the doctor. You could make the argument that it’s creepier because we don’t know but I disagree. I think more would actually be better in the case of this story.

Overall opinion: 

This was by no means a bad book, I’m just disappointed because I know it could have been better. If it had been just a little bit more I would probably rank it up there along with Rebecca which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time.

I’m curious to see if the movie does a better job on delivering on scares. Based on Hollywood’s track record, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Your Characters are NOT Your Friends: A Public Service Announcement for Writers

I’ve seen several Instagram posts that say things like “is it sad that my characters are my best friends?” or “I have more conversations with my characters than I do with real people. Is that bad?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Not because you’re a wallflower with friends that exist only in your mind. That’s perfectly normal*.

It’s sad because this means one of two possibilities: One, you are a horrible friend, or two, you are way, way, way too nice to your characters.

It’s natural to form an attachment to people that you’ve created. People have been doing this for centuries. The problem is when you care too much about someone, you want to nurture them, perhaps even protect them from impending doom.

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You cannot do this with your characters.

If you want a good story, you must put your characters through hell. Kill their families, have their lovers break-up with them, have owls eat their dogs. Nothing is allowed to go their way, or at least not for very long.

Loving your character too much might encourage you to go easy on them, to pull punches. Don’t do this. The best characters are forged in fire.

Another problem you can run into is making your characters too perfect. You want the audience to love your characters as much as you do, so you will have them always put their best foot forward. Problem is no one actually wants to read about perfect characters. Real people aren’t perfect so reading about someone who is takes the reader out of the story, constantly reminding them that what they are seeing is an illusion. And not even an entertaining one at that.

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Lastly– and I hate to break this to you– if your characters were magically able to obtain a physical form and interact with you they would probably hate you.

I’m not saying you’re a bad person it’s just that….

Let’s face it, you are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Every illness, every death, every catastrophe that has every entered their lives is on you. You could literally make all their problems go away with the scratch of a pen. And yet, you sit there, drinking your coffee like a psycho.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your characters at all, if you don’t care then the audience probably won’t be persuaded to either. Just keep in mind that in order for them to reach their full potential, you must keep an emotional barrier between yourself and your creations.

A mother hawk may love her babies, but she’ll still push them out of the nest so they can fly.

Some of them may die, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.

*I have been informed that this actually isn’t normal and that most people have friends that exist in the real world. I was so shocked I couldn’t even find a gif that appropriately conveys my emotions.