Blindness

Author: Jose Saramago
Publisher: Harcourt (1999)
ASIN: B002N6VCFG
My Rating:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

In an unnamed society with nameless characters, a man in a cab is suddenly struck blind but cast into a milky white fog instead of darkness. His predicament begins to spread to everyone he comes in contract with, including his eye doctor.

As more and more people are struck blind or exposed, they are quarantined to an abandoned mental institution and held there by armed guards and are delivered food.


When officers come to collect the eye doctor, his wife lies and says she’s been struck blind too. She figures it’s only a matter of time before she loses her sight too.

In the ward, those contaminated are separated from those struck blind, and the one seeing woman hides the fact that she can see from the others. They must fend for themselves and the doctor’s wife helps the best she can. The characters begin to bond in a way but the author shows them not caring for cleanliness and things get nasty fairly quickly.

As stench already fills the halls and everyone goes blind, everyone except the doctor’s wife, they are packed with more and more people, including a group of men in another ward who begin hording the food and demanding the females offer themselves up for it.

After one such frenzy, the people from the other ward decide to fight back. When the vicious men summon women from another ward, the doctor’s wife rescues them by killing their leader. The rest riot and set fire to the asylum.

But the food has stopped coming anyway and the guards are gone. Some of the captives escape unharmed, including the doctor, his wife and their friends. Even though they gain freedom, their hell is only beginning, as society is now in utter chaos, as everyone, save the doctor’s wife have been struck blind.

Blindness is told in a stream of consciousness manner, without quotation marks or many paragraph breaks and with commas where periods should be. This should lend some sort of confusion, but after a while, the reader gets used to the style and it loses the effect of disorientation the author was trying to capture.

As a writer, I’m always concerned about confusing the reader, but after reading this strange piece and being able to understand it, I’m now less rigid with my pen and give readers more credit.

The original translator died, so the last quarter of the book or so reads more philosophical and lacks the easier readability of the former. You can almost pinpoint the location, because the switch in tone and style is so jarring.

I felt the writer relied too much on being avant garde with his screw-the-rules-and-my-readers attitude and I wasn’t impressed, as the concept fell  short of his execution. Of course, some of this could be because of it being translated from Portugese to English, but at the end of the ream, it’s still the same book, and this one gives no rhyme or reason for far too many things.

For instance, the doctor’s wife could have been heroic before all the women were abused and raped, but she waits, which denotes to me an author going for shock value. She also stands by, watching her husband have sex with another woman and is totally okay with it. What?

Saramago tries so hard to disgust that it becomes obvious his twisted pen is at play rather than having various plot points organically birthed in the story.

It was okay but not a book I’d recommend or read again.


Needful Things

41KCZ3nN1eL._SL500_AA240_Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet Book; (April 6, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0451172817
ISBN-13: 978-0451172815
My Rating:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This is the last Castle Rock novel. Although it’s told with an expertly breezy omniscient narrative and holds a hooky premise, this long, long book, is packed with POV characters that you barely get to know.

The most fascinating character is the strange, new store owner, Leland Gaunt, who offers customers exactly what they need for just what they can afford…and a little bit extra. Readers are clued in right away that’s this peculiar dude is supernatural. His demonic charms toy and tease and offer false hope and fragile delight. We read on to learn more about him, thirsty to see secrets uncovered, but not much else is delivered in the end. He’s just as stock as the others. No motivation. No further revelations. He’s just a demon hellbent on causing chaos.

At first, to the townsfolk in Castle Rock, he seems like a dream come true, like a savior really. He has the perfect somethings for everyone. Everyone has gripes and Mr. Gaunt’s requests of pranks as part of the payment for the needful things turn the entire town upside down. Neighbors fight against neighbors, churches against churches, lovers against lovers.

The protagonists in this book are the Sheriff—can’t recall his name and I have photographic memory, so that’s how sketchy the characters are—and his love interest, Polly, who has arthritic hands and the death of her child haunting her. These two have a fully developed story arc in making peace with their own demons, but it drowns in a brew of other insignificant characters. Their scenes combined would amount to a novella.

As things go more and more haywire, and people off each other by the dozens, there seems no way out of the mess. It seems Mr. King couldn’t find one either. He actually uses Deux ex machina to end this long-winded, 700-and-something-page tale.

At the three-quarter mark more of the same occurs again and again and the heinousness of the pranks and their repercussions lose their sting. He could have trimmed out some of the cross stories and made a much more profound, shorter book. He’s such a skilled writer, so it’s shocking that he’d use an unfair hat trick, tacking on impossibilities that were never built in earlier.

I never truly cared about the characters and just wanted to see how the story ended, how Gaunt would reach an end, so I labored through it for three and a half weeks. I read the unabridged version of  The Stand, which I loved, in two days, so, I don’t mind a huge cast.

I did like the heavy theme, that sometimes the things people want and grudges they hold can become more important than maintaining and restoring relationships.

If you like his other Castle Rock books, then you’ll have to read this as his final book in the quaint town. There’s lots of mutilation and blood if you’re into hardcore horror.


Wicked Lovely

51a3LkrqxlL._SS500_Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: Harper Collins (April 9, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061214671
ISBN-13: 978-0061214677
My
Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

High school senior Aislinn tries to go through life as normally as possible, but her life is anything but normal. She can see and hear the dreadful fey that live invisibly alongside oblivious mortals. Aislinn lives in constant fear of being exposed to the fey. Her sighted Gram has instilled rules to never stare at faeries or speak to them and avoid them at all costs because they’ve been known to blind mortals they learn are sighted. Aislinn knows them to be fierce and brutal, so she has no problem following these rules.

Encased in a city of steel she feels somewhat safe since faeries are allergic to hard metals, but something has changed. Various fey have been following her, loitering outside, whispering about her being “the one”. Two of the stalkers especially rattle her. They seem near-impervious to steel, which means they’re likely royalty. One looks like a golden god whose hair resembles strands of sharp copper, and the other, a near-frozen faerie looks so close to death, and is accompanied by a wolf.

Keenan, the Summer King, has spent centuries looking for his Summer Queen to release the bond his mother Beira, the Winter Queen, has placed on his powers. He has seduced mortal after mortal, some choosing to be his immortal Summer Girls, who gain their sustenance from him alone, and others choosing to risk it all for his love, to be declared the Summer Queen. If a girl fails Beira’s test, she becomes her chilled slave, with the sole aim to warn mortals of Keenan’s duplicity. And the frigid Winter Girl of the hour, Donia, still loves Keenan, in spite of the fact the he duped her.

Keenan believes Aislinn is his Summer Queen, that she will finally be the one to pass the test. He just has to convince her of that, but when he’s in his human glamour, she wants nothing to do with him. She loves this mortal, Seth, for one thing, and she won’t stop walking away from him. What will Aislinn choose once he’s able to woo her? He’s certain he can convince her to submit to the test, but the skittish girl he meets finds strength in herself and comes up with her own plan.

The lyrical style was overall nice and easy to read but the characters in Wicked Lovely could have been more fully developed. Aislinn needs more fullness aside from her sight, her relationship with Gram and her crush on Seth. Aislinn is not as flat as other reviewers on Amazon have pegged her. She transforms in the book, going from weak to strong, and that’s the best you can ask of a character.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the various types of fey, but the relationships all around only scratched the surface of real love. If this were a stand alone book, I’d feel robbed because the work falls somewhat short of its concept. I know there’s more to be discovered in the series, so I can cut Melissa Marr some slack. I’ve already read Ink Exchange, which I liked better. It delves into more of the faerie court stuff and very little in the real world.

It’s an interesting work anyway. Check it out.

Scream

Author: Mike Dellosso
Publisher: Realms (March 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599794691
ISBN-13: 978-1599794693

My
Rating: ♦ ♦

SCREAM kicks off with nightmarish screams that carry during a phone conversation between Mark Stone and his friend Jeff. Moments later, Jeff dies in a fiery crash. When it happens again and again, and it’s apparent the screams are not freak occurrences, Mark is hell bent on trying to save people from dying. Even his father falls victim to the screams. Mark is able to spend a few last hours with him, but his father is terrified of the hell that awaits for having lived in the façade of righteousness but he still dies lost.

Because the book delves into eternal consequences for not committing to the Lord, it can’t shake a somewhat preachy tone. But this is mostly overshadowed with a sympathetic kidnapper who’s thrown into the mix. The kidnapper longs to make four women pay for the death of his first love. It doesn’t matter that they’re not THE four. Someone has to pay. And Mark’s estranged wife falls into his clutches. If Mark weren’t tortured enough by his wife’s refusal to come back home and forgive him for breaking their vows, he’s further alarmed when she calls and says she’s been kidnapped. When he hears the dreaded screams, he races to try and save her against both an unknown assailant and an eternity of torment. The climax is excellent and gripping, a battle in which not everyone survives. The only big drawback for me was the presence of the screams without a specific reason. I don’t mind supernatural elements, but the book never delves into why Mark suddenly began hearing screams and why they suddenly stopped. They were just there and then not. Overall though, this was a good read.

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract

Author: Blythe Camenson & Marshall J. Cook
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 1st edition (August 1999)
ISBN-10: 0898798752
ISBN-13: 978-0898798753
My Rating:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract : The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses and Proposals for Agents and Editors is well-written and easy to understand. It explains the publishing process and points out what makes a good query letter and synopsis. It also shows the different ways to begin a query letter which is nice. However, the query style in this book is out-of-fashion. Many agents now want no more than one or two paragraphs to summarize your novel, and all the examples in this book have summaries that are one or more pages in length. It’s a good read, but check out current query examples elsewhere online like Nathan Bransford’s blog.

Field of Blood

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Author: Eric Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 2008 )
ISBN-10: 1595544585
ISBN-13: 978-1595544582
My
Rating: ♦ ♦

In FIELD OF BLOOD, an excavation crew accidentally gouges a hole in the Akeldama–the Potter’s Field, the Field of Blood Judas Iscariot purchased and committed suicide on after betraying Jesus.

From the disturbed burial ground, a resurrected, two-family, cluster of Collectors emerges–eighteen beings in all, with one unaccounted for from the nineteen empty coffins. These bloodsucking creatures that thrive on human blood and souls are somewhat disoriented with the changes that have transpired in society during the 2000+ years they’ve been Separated. After feasting, they are drawn from Israel to Romania in a quest to find an immortal girl, Gina, marked with a Tav on her forehead, because she could potentially give birth to one of the Nistarim. The thirty-six original Nistarim, those marked to escape judgment during the day of Elijah and resurrected when Jesus died on the cross, work to defend the earth and kill Collectors when they get the chance. In the event one of the Nistarim perishes for good, others are born to take its place. [I’m still not sure how this works.] If Collectors can kill one of the Nistarim, they believe they will usher in their own paradise on earth. This power struggle between supernatural teams goes on with humanity unaware.

Collectors can temporarily leave their human shell and travel in other living hosts but cannot control will beyond prodding. Inhabiting this way is a risk, as it leaves them limited and vulnerable and they must find their way back to their main body, but sometimes it’s one worth taking if the situation calls. This ability as well as one to siphon memories from blood helps them in tracking Gina. They also develop a new way to feed on humans without killing, to continually tap the same sources with a thorny vine, taking advantage of human temptations, negative emotions and weaknesses. This symbolically represents how sin can take root in our lives and suck us dry, and the only way to kill it is by drinking the Blood of the Nazarene.

FIELD OF BLOOD is divided into four parts. Each part begins with a journal entry from an unknown person/being, who has received a map with four drops of blood. As he curiously sticks his tongue to the first drop, the memories of others begin to string together in his mind, which compels him to write the story we’re reading. We still don’t know who this is by the end of the book since it is a trilogy, but I have a theory. 😉

The novel is well-written, weaving humor, history, Truth, family drama, vampiric lore, chess and suspense, and the characters are all interesting and complex. The language is sophisticated, descriptions vivid, and the reservoir of research from which Wilson draws inspiration runs deep. Some of the villains are actually kinda likable and there are laughable moments in their traversing, and Gina, having spent a lifetime of literally being cut by her mother for her sins, is a little bristly in the middle, which is fine for me, as it makes them all the more intriguing and gives Gina has room to grow. I hate when POV characters run on one note, but Wilson’s creations ebb and flow, pique curiosity, and refuse to be cardboard. You may, but I did not find the multiple POVs or the timeline and locale jumps too jarring, but I did have to slow down to read because of this.

There’s a lot of simmering and slow unfolding in the book, especially in the beginning, so if you want a fast-paced nail biter, this isn’t it. But the story was no less interesting for me and I see the pace as being parallel to how sin imprisons a person, not necessarily seizing a person at once, but slowly hunting, tempting, invading then embedding and stealing your soul. I am still very confused as to what the Collectors are, and this niggling question still carries. Wilson doesn’t seem to choose between vampire, zombie, fallen angel, or a being that is entirely new and different, perfectly fine if that’s the case, but the fact that they are referred to as any/all of them doesn’t give me clarity. Satan is considered the Master Collector, so perhaps they’re demonic vampires. It could be that the characters are unreliable because they don’t know, but I felt the author chose not to pigeonhole, leaving it up to readers to draw their own conclusions. These particular Collectors were active during the time of Jesus, and Wilson threads ties to that time period, like by having them as the legion that were cast into swine. Cool angle!

And I didn’t totally care for the ending. The climax was excellent, since Wilson didn’t hold back any punches or shrink from grit, but the very end, although designed to be hooky, didn’t give completion to the story’s arc. I know this is a trilogy but I still like more definition as a reader. It’s a very Lord of the Rings moment.

That said, I highly recommend the book. It was imaginative in successfully blending Christian truth and history with bloodsucking, undead creatures. I especially enjoyed the humor and the symbolism with chess, especially with Regina being the Queen [that’s what her name means] and she’s fascinated with the Immortal game. Ironic right? Intentional irony, true, but I love when author’s weave in deeper nuances and symbolism for readers to find.

Good read for me!

[Wow. That was hard to write because of the story’s complexity. Good thing Wilson is established; writing an agent-tickling synopsis for that would be a nightmare. 🙂 ]

The Lovely Bones

Author: Alice Sebold
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 1, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0316166685
ISBN-13: 978-0316166683
My Rating:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

*A bit spoilery…I did like that Alice Sebold used an Observing First Person point of view, since I don’t come across it very often and the language and descriptions were excellent. The opening of The Lovely Bones was gripping, perhaps too gripping, with the detail of the rape and murder of a child, but the rest of the book failed to deliver its promise.

We’re all observers of the world that’s been ripped away from fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon, as it picks up ten years after her death. We’re told about her heaven, don’t experience it. We’re given peepholes and voyeur passes to witness the unraveled mess her family has become. We see the killer, still uncaught. Her mother having an affair with the lead detective. Her sister finding love and having sex, living the life that was stolen from her. Her old friends, first kiss. Her father still grieving and trying to ensnare the man he knows killed his daughter.

Susie’s lighthearted tone creates vastness and keeps readers from experiencing much beyond the first couple chapters. Because of this distance, readers are left with a cruddy middle, an irritating ending and an emptiness for things left unresolved. We’re never allowed to connect with any of the characters because Susie doesn’t.

For most of this book, Susie gets us to hope that someone would find proof of her murder or her bones. Yet when Susie gets the chance to go back to earth briefly, instead of giving anyone a head’s up, she possesses the body of a childhood lesbian friend, basically raping her by seducing the only boy Susie kissed in life without her friend’s consent or knowledge. One rape is portrayed as horrible, and the other was sold as the feel-good climax, no pun intended, but it was icky, wrong and strange for so many reasons. And what about the aftermath now of poor Ruth, whom she inhabited and used? No one seems to care about her. Seeing true vindication and closure for Susie’s murder is the main reason why I continued reading through 2/3rd’s-worth of pretty sludge.

I wanted to like this book, but I didn’t find much originality here. The characters are archetypal. We never really get a good grasp on them or Susie. There’s no more depth beyond what’s already on the back of the book. The sparsity and observing device is akin to Our Town, the creepy possessed sex scene is right out of Ghost, but more gross and disturbing since it’s a fourteen-year-old with a man, and this kind of trap-door ending was used in The Bad Seed. The author adeptly cast a whimsical haze over gritty material, which is to be lauded, but it should have delved deeper, so we could weep for the life that was stolen, the family shattered, the mystery unsolved. As is, I feel cheated.