Book Review: A Simple Favor

“Your mother is a monster.”

December is a time for companionship of all sorts. Family, friends, significant others, pets, it doesn’t matter. Of course this season can also be extremely trying. So it’s important to do simple, loving things for yourself. Simple favors you might say. I found the book A Simple Favor shortly after I saw the movie by the same name. I adored the movie and had to hunt down the book. The book did not disappoint.

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Synopsis:  Brought together by their young sons, Stephanie and Emily quickly become best friends. Their afternoons are spent bonding over motherhood, work, and love. They tell each other everything, and are more than happy to help each other. One day Emily calls Stephanie to ask for a simple favor: pick up her son from school and she’ll pick him up from Stephanie’s house after work. Midnight comes and goes, a day passes, then two. Suddenly Stephanie wonders how much she knew about Emily, and how much she can rely on Emily’s husband to help. Motherhood is lonely, but now it just became deadly.

Thoughts: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The movie does the book justice, but the book is a dark and beautiful beast of its own. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you won’t see the ending coming. If you haven’t seen the movie? Read this review, read the book, then hunt down the movie.

A Simple Favor hits on hard topics. That’s what makes the book so fun, yet so disturbing. Normal people are involved in abnormal things. Death, suicide, incest, affairs, abuse. Somehow, the cast is convinced they’re normal, and yet they’re convinced that they’re anything but due to their involvement in these issues. These are hard and ugly issues, yet I felt the book handled them well. After all, as difficult as they are, these issues are deeply real problems.  The dark realism is what makes this book work. But it did lead to a few slow parts at the start. Thankfully the book picked up speed rather quickly once Emily vanished.

At the end of the book I was left wondering who the real victims were. How do we measure the value of life when we can so easily warp it, twist it, and create excuses for the inexcusable, convincing ourselves we’re sane? It’s an odd question to be pondering at the end of a domestic thriller, but weeks after I closed the book, I’m still thinking about it.

There’s no question about it though, life is valuable. How valuable it is, well, maybe that’s up to us. Or in the case of this novel, our dear narrators.

I’ve always been a sucker for unreliable narrators, and this book is a glorious study of them. I loved the narrators. They seemed like horrible people, but at the same time they were deeply relatable. Some were insecure, some thirsted for power and love, and others weren’t quite sure of what they wanted. Bell does a fantastic job of crafting characters that we know are wrong, but we can’t help but root for. There’s just enough redeeming or relatable qualities to each character. As the lines between reality and right and wrong blur for our narrators, those lines blur for the reader as well.

If you’re turned off by the idea of domestic thrillers, thinking them tame, this book will no doubt help you think differently of the genre. This is Bell’s first book, and I surely hope it’s not her last. I’ve found a new author to add to my favorites. I’ll be treating myself with re-reads of this book for many years to come.

TL;DR: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The book will still hold plenty of surprises for you. The book is a masterful dark domestic thriller, with twists galore. The characters are perhaps unlovable, and yet, they are deeply relatable. The pacing is a little slow out the gate, but when it picks up, the pace is breakneck and brilliant. Get your fuzzy blankets, your favorite hot beverage and treat yourself to A Simple Favor. You can thank me (and yourself) later.

The Most Frenzied Time of the Year

Ah yes. November. Thoughts turn to Christmas shopping, and a good number of us Americans start thinking about Thanksgiving. Yet if you stand close to a writer there’s a fair chance you’ll see furrowed brows and a distracted look. Not to mention that undeniably distinctive smell of adrenaline and anxious longing. Clearly they aren’t thinking about presents and turkey. But you can’t blame us for that. After all, it’s November.

It’s time for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.

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But For those of you not familiar with it, the idea is to write 50,000 words in thirty days–the standard size of most novels. If you win, you’ll come out with a draft of a novel and serious bragging rights. By the time you read this, we’ll already be five days in. Ideally by the end of today, we writers will have at least 8,337 words under our belt. Some of us (like me) will be behind, some of us will be on target, and some of us will be miles ahead. But we’ll all be having fun doing what we love. Writing.

Some people swear by NaNoWriMo, and others decry it saying you can’t get anything beyond trash if you try to write a novel in a month. Of course, both sides claim the other is spouting rubbish.

Then there’s me, firmly in the middle.

When I first ventured into the depths of NaNoWriMo in 2009, I won. What I came out with was…rubbish. To be fair, I was young, I had little to no experience with novel writing, and yes, I was quite idealistic. That idealism worked wonders for me while writing, but I was under the impression that I could bang out a draft and it would be set to go to the presses. Like I said, I was young.

I put my novel aside when November was over and pulled it out a few months later.

I was mortified. Oh, the idea was good. But any reader will tell you plot alone won’t save a story. My characters and dialogue had me baffled in places. It was too hard to tell who was who if I didn’t constantly name them, simply because I didn’t flesh out the characters enough. To be so confused by one’s own writing is quite embarrassing.

And yet, I still have that draft. Off and on for the past nine years, I’ve been doing the world building, the character sheets, and creating a full on outline for the book and the series it will be a part of.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo nearly every year after that, although I’ve only ever won one other time. But I’ve never considered those times a loss. I’ve come to find that no matter how awful the writing is, you still come away with something. Each time I’ve learned more about writing, myself, and my local writing community.

But the goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to get to 50,000 words or to even come out with a workable draft at the end of it all. The goal is to enjoy writing. To take the time as often as you can to write. To push yourself and your story forward. There’s no shame in not “winning.” You tried. You decided to take a chance. And heaven knows, there’s no shame in saying that this year there’s no way you can hold on to your  mental and physical health and write that much. The goal is to have fun, to write, and to take care of yourself in the process.

I personally think that anyone interested in writing and those who want to make it part of their lives (whether publishing their writing or work in the publishing industry) should give it a go. After all, the greatest adventure is to take a chance on yourself.

 

 

Book Review: The Ribbajack and Other Curious Yarns

“Gentle reader, heed my plea, pray witness now this shocking tale…”

Apologies for the terribly belated book review. But have one last treat before the night ends. I’ve been a long time lover of Jacques, and it seems a disservice to his memory to not bring to light his little book of curious short stories. And while this Halloween night is creeping ever closer to its finish, there’s always time to pull out a delightfully unsettling story collection.

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Synopsis: From the mastermind behind the bestselling Redwall series, Brian Jacques invites us to explore a darker, creepier side of life with six short stories. Each story explores a different element of the human experience, each experience more bizarre than the last. Enhancing the mood is a short poem that preferences each story. Long time fans of Brian Jacques, and those who are new to his works will be able to see why Jacques is considered a master storyteller.

Thoughts: There is nothing like Jacques’ writing style. Despite the stories being dark, there is a warm, welcoming feeling to the stories. This is what made me devour the tales growing up. As an adult, I’m still in love with the collection.

While the horror aspect of the collection initially attracted me, it’s the twists and morals of the stories that have helped this set of stories dig its way into my heart. The welcoming writing style keeps you reading, and then something slightly unexpected happens then is built upon. Of course, it’s not Jacques if there’s only one twist. It’s the ultimate twist that leads to the moral. Yet this moral is hardly a slap on the wrist, and more of an invitation to think, to muse and mutter over what you just read, to walk a little more cautiously, or a little more bravely.

As for the stories themselves…”The Ribbajack” is by far my favorite. It’s the longest of the seven, and the darkest. Revenge tales are old hat at this point, but the revenge of the Ribbajack is unusual and fresh, despite the plot drawing from historical elements. The Ribbajack is a monster worthy of the Monster Hall of Fame.

I deeply appreciated “The Mystery of Huma D’Este”, and “The all Ireland Champion Versus the Nye Add”, although these stories didn’t seem quite as magical as they did to me when I was younger. Perhaps it’s because I re-read them so much as a kid that they’ve lost a bit of their appeal now that I’m older. After reading them so many times I’ve come to see how the twists are inevitable, not surprising.

“Rosie’s Pet” and “A Smile and a Wave” are oddly humorous. There’s something deeply childlike and relatable in each. The twists are predictable after reading them so many times, yet the enjoyment for me was enhanced, knowing what was coming. “Miggy Mags and the Malabar Sailor” must be mentioned with these two as well. The humanity and humor in this story is wonderful. Even though these stories are more lively than the others, there’s a seriousness and darkness to all three. When read together with the others in the collection, it makes sense how they would be included.

Overall this is a lovely set of stories, perfect for reading aloud around bonfires, or for hiding under the covers and reading by flashlight. Dark surprises, wicked humor, and a warm writing style make this short story collection an excellent pick.

TL;DR: Those familiar with Jacques’ works will no doubt delight in this collection. While it’s a step away from the Redwall and Castaways series, there’s no denying the enjoyment these seven tales give. If you’re new to the author, The Ribbajack and Other Curious Yarns is a brilliant introduction to him. Told in a unique style, these stories are twists on classic ideas and questions we sometimes dare not ask ourselves. If you’re into the darker and more curious things in life, then this is a book well worth investing in.

 

Updates

Hello again dear reader, it’s been quite a while and I owe you some updates.

First things first, the absence: I have a wonderful job that inspires my writing. But due to the work load and yearly adjustment period, I had to drop most things to focus on work and readjusting to it. I also took this time to plan writerly things, including the blog/website. At any rate, I missed this month’s post. Next month, I’ll be starting up again, back on schedule (first Monday of the month).

Now on to the stuff I most want to talk about. I’m a writer through and through, but I’m also a reader. I’m passionate about dark fiction, both reading and writing it. Therefore, I’ve decided to add book reviews to the mix. Every other month (starting next month), I’ll do a book review. The months I don’t do book reviews will be the usual. Post talking about the writing life, my inspirations, and upcoming projects. I’m really looking forward to this, and hope y’all will enjoy it as much as I will.

One final thing: I had opened up a giveaway in July, but despite leaving it open longer than planned to allow more entries, there still weren’t enough entries to merit a giveaway. I love giveaways, so we’ll try again in the future.

Well there you go. Now we’re all on the same page, and hopefully that answered any questions y’all might have had. See you in October!

 

 

Ghostly Giveaway

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I’ve always been fond of the idea of giving something away to party go-ers as they come to celebrate your birthday. With my birthday occurring this month (this week in fact), I thought it would be fun to celebrate by giving away a book.

Earlier this month, I mentioned The Phantom Coach (edited by Michael Sims), a collection of brilliant Victorian Era ghost stories. Now, you have a chance to own it. If you win, you’ll get a brand new, hardback edition of the book, delivered right to your door!

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Giveaway Details:

When: July 16th, 9 am EST – August 16th, midnight EST 2018.

How to Enter: Make a post on this blog entry or Tweet me @aemoseley using the hashtag #1ghostlygiveaway. Tell me your favorite horror, ghost, or supernatural story and why. For two entries tell me your favorite character from my Secrets of the Lion series and why. Your whys can be as long or as short as you like. If you tell me your favorite story and your favorite character from the series, you’ll get three (3) entries!

How to Win: On August 17th, 2018 I will use a random number generator to select the winner. I’ll then make a blog post announcing the winner and announce the winner on Twitter as well. If you’re the winner, you’ll have 72 hours (aka 3 days) to respond so that I can send you your prize. If the winner doesn’t respond during that time, I’ll take their names out of the pool and draw again.

Conditions and Disclaimers:

+ This giveaway isn’t affiliated with Twitter, WordPress, Michael Sims, or Book Depository in any way.

+ No purchase necessary to enter.

+ A maximum of three (3) entries per person.

+ You must be 18 or older to enter.

+ You must be able to receive books from Book Depository. To see a list of what countries Book Depository serves, please click here.

+ You must comfortable giving me your mailing address so that I can mail you the book. I will not use the mailing address for any other purpose.

Summer Ghost Stories

Darkness is weird. It’s simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Comforting, because the blinding lights and thunderous sounds of the day are softened. Terrifying because do you want to stumble through the dark and step on that Lego you should have picked up earlier?

Exactly.

I tend to get these sorts of thoughts during the summer. While some people feel most alive in the summer sun, I feel most alive when darkness takes over. In the summer, the darkness is my friend. It’s filled with noisy crickets, pensive owls, and whimsical fireflies. But to make summer nights perfect, I need a good ghost story.

I’m always on the hunt for a good ghost collection, and I’m always willing to share them. My current favorite is The Phantom Coach, edited by Michael Sims. The title comes from the short story of the same name. Overall, this collection is brilliant. Many of the stories are in first person, and all are unsettling. They stand the test of time making them perfect to read aloud around the bonfire.

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If you’d like something a bit more modern, try out Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle. It’s a stand alone novel about a young woman reflecting on the time she moved to England and into a very haunted house. While not horror, it has unsettling moments making it a brilliant read. Again a first person story, so it’s great to read aloud. Just keep the tissues handy for the ending.

Of course you can go full on modern with the Asylum series by Madeline Roux. It’s genuine horror in third person. Ghosts come back with a vengeance in this one, and it’s beautifully done. If you decide to check out the Asylum series, note that due to accurate portrayals of what happened in mental institutions and violence, this series can be quite triggering.

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I could go on, leaving ruined shelves in my wake as I give you more recommendations, but I’ll leave it at that.  After all, there’s only so much one can do in a summer night.

Speaking of scary stories, if you’re into horror you should check out Nightmare News. I’m a contributor to the site, and it’s a joy writing articles for them. Nightmare News covers everything from books, to music, to movies. If it’s horror, it’s probably on the site. If you want to take a look at my articles specifically, you can check them out here. But I recommend taking a look around at other articles too. Nightmare News is filled with hidden gems.

While there will no doubt be an overlap in topics (I am a dark fiction author after all), what you see here is exclusive to this site. What’s on Nightmare News will be exclusive to that site. This will keep things fresh for both sites and hopefully allow y’all to get the most variety.

 

On Birds and Writer Blocks

The weather where I am is nice. When I’m not nearly drowning in all the rain that is. Yesterday was a lovely day though. Sunny, humid, but with a wind at just the right moments. It was a good day.

Namely because I got to hold a bird. Now I live in a house with many windows, in the middle of the woods. Birds tend to see their reflection in the windows, think it’s a bird invading their territory then charge, slamming into the window and sometimes stunning themselves. In this case a female goldfinch landed on her back, too stunned to right herself. I went outside and righted her, a towel and container for her to rest in at the ready.

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Female juvenile goldfinch; allaboutbirds.org

Usually if a bird is stunned, I set them right, make sure nothing bothers them, but leave them alone to let them recover.

This time around nature changed my plans. I picked her up, and tried to place her in the blanket so she could rest, but she would not let go of my fingers. I never realized that birds could hold on to something that tightly with such small and spindly legs. I sat with the bird for ten or so minutes, studying her. Letting her poop on my hand, look around, and recuperate. I didn’t think it was possible to bond with an animal in such a short time. But by the time the little one flew off I had a sense of peace that’s stuck with me ever since.

In a way, I felt the bird’s accident was a nice parallel to how I feel when I’m hit with writer’s block. I’m startled, not quite sure if my head is on right. I can see where I want to go, but can’t actually get there. My usual bout of writer’s block is not a lack of ideas, but too many ideas mushed together with the uncomfortable need to write something I don’t have an idea for.

Writer’s block is probably the most dangerous part of being a writer. It can be terrifying. The want and need to create is deeply ingrained. And then to feel as if we can’t access that part of ourselves? Sometimes writer blocks (or other creative blocks) can last for years. But it’s not the end. I’ve seen people stop writing for years, then start it up again, stronger and better at it than ever.

Writing is a solitary thing, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Isolation can only help one so much. Self care, friends who take part in creative activities, and taking time to explore (however you feel you explore best), can lead to getting back on your feet.

And of course, sometimes, you just gotta let the crap out before you take off. Rant, rave, throw a hissy fit at a wall, whatever it takes. But get the bad stuff out, then start slowly moving forward.

It’s something I’ve noticed when I’ve helped a bird after they’ve run into a window. Once they’re ready to fly they leave a parting gift (thanks, but ew), and fly off. Just a little ways. But within a couple of minutes of their first flight, they’re flying like nothing happened. It happens every time. It’s a good philosophy.

Being stuck is always a struggle. It can last for a brief time, or for years. My most recent bout was for a couple of months, although I went through a block for a period of years. I’ve seen it happen with my other writer friends too.

I guess all of us need to be a little bit of a goldfinch. Get the crap out and fly off to the next adventure.

Short Hiatus

I know things get spooky when it gets quiet (you never know when the monsters are going to pounce), but I swear I’m quite alive and not a ghost or some sort of monstrous beast.

I won’t get terribly detailed, but in short transferring to my dream job (one that allows me plenty of time to write and peruse my creative passions), has eaten up my time. And so has my six month old puppy. She likes to eat a lot of things including me.

Posts will resume in June on the normal schedule (first Monday).

The Hellsing Effect

Nazis, vampires, religious struggles, and near endless blood. This is the story that I fell in love with as a young teenager. The Hellsing manga (by Kohta Hirano) is a dark and bizarre tale of two Christian organizations (one Catholic and the other the Protestant organization, Hellsing) discovering that Nazis are not a thing of the past. In fact, the Nazis are behind the rising death count and the creation of numerous artificial vampires. Hellsing is a delightful blend of historical fiction and futuristic themes, while tackling philosophical topics.

When I first discovered Hellsing I was too young to be reading it, so I snuck in readings at the bookstore. Knowing that the next volume might be on the shelves filled me with excitement.  These readings became formative for me. Over the top? Absolutely. But the villains are true villains, unapologetic for their crimes and in love with their own depravity while our heroes are faced with near impossible odds and show steady growth. Not to mention, the psychology that is found throughout the series is brilliant. I devoured it.

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Hellsing taught me in both pictures and words that extreme violence can be tempered with in-depth explorations of the human psyche. It was the first example I had where everyone was clearly a hero in their own story, yet not actually a hero; a concept that’s talked about frequently but hard to pull off with grace. Perhaps the most important concept that Hellsing explores is one that has wormed its way into my subconscious: embracing one’s darkness doesn’t mean that one has to give up their humanity; perhaps one can only be truly human after exploring it. And explore it I did.

I’ve been a morbid soul since I was young. Reading Hellsing allowed me to give myself permission to explore my own darkness and the stories within. While my first short story is a light, heartwarming romance (according to reviewers), there was a tinge of darkness in it. This darkness was greatly expanded upon in my short story, “Of Secrets Letters and Lions.” In the sequel, Of Secrets and Sound, I felt like I was truly delving into that darkness I so love. Whatever comes next will follow that path.

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When I first discovered Hellsing I wasn’t interested in writing. Looking back I can see how the series has impacted me as a storyteller. Hellsing showed me that the most intriguing stories can be found in dark places. Because it’s over the top, people often miss the subtle nuances of the story. I’ll probably never write something as gory as Hellsing, but I hope my stories can be flavored with hidden themes and subtly similar to what I found in the series. After all, good horror is suspenseful because there’s more at stake then just losing an arm. But perhaps the most important thing I learned from Hellsing is that no matter how dark, people will gravitate towards a well told story and life-like characters.

A Quiet Start

If Scrooge and the Grinch are icons of Christmas displeasure then I would be an icon of New Years Eve displeasure. Then again, this year, health issues might have something to do with that. Obviously, I have to do things a little differently.

The upcoming year will be a quiet one for me.  I swore to myself after releasing Of Secrets and Sound that I would take a break from the Victorian era. Ah, but some things I can’t let go of. Not long after the novella release I got an idea for a short story set in the same time period. So I’ll be writing that story and submitting it to an anthology. While I’m working on anthology submissions (as always fingers crossed, there’s never any guarantee), I’ll be outlining numerous stories. Many of these are fantasy, but all of them hold a dark edge to them. Some of them have a Victorian slant. I’ll also be doing more in depth research for the final installment of the Secrets of the Lion series. Of course it is one of the things I’ll be outlining this coming year. As I said, it will be a quiet year for me writing wise, but it will set me up for some really lovely stories in the future. If you consider dark and deadly things lovely that is.

I suppose I should give some credit to the past year before I end this post. I learned a lot in many areas (and I think that writers are always trying to grow so they can keep writing) and I unleashed the second installment in the Secrets of the Lion series, Of Secrets and Sound. If you need to read the prequel, you can do so for free from your preferred e-book distributor (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords). It is on Amazon but Amazon has yet to price match the story. Obviously as soon as that happens, I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

No matter if you’re a Scrooge of the New Year like me, or overjoyed with the possibilities before you, I hope that you have many adventures (if you’re into that kind of thing) and find numerous books you love this year.

P.S. If you need a pick-me-up, an excuse to procrastinate, are a dog lover, or just want to pass the time, you might want to explore my Instagram. It’s quickly becoming filled with my new partner in crime, Emma the Labradoodle.