Friday, December 04, 2015

Book Review: FLYPAPER

Title: Flypaper
Author: CK Vile
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 202










I found this book intriguing ever since I laid eyes on the disgustingly real image of the housefly. At close quarters, it tends to evoke a sense of disgust in me, as I’m sure it does in everyone. As Ogden Nash said, "God in his wisdom made the fly, and then forgot to tell us why.” Unless you are a spider, in which case you would naturally be pretty fond of the fly, what with it being your meal of choice.

The title was equally interesting. A flypaper is a sticky paper that proves to be the death of the fly when it lands upon its adhesive surface. You’d get the connection even more when you read the book. I don’t want to give it away here. It’s one of the most horrific themes in the book.

Nick Dawkins, a famous writer of horror books, is used to his fair share of crazed and demented fans. It is the reason why he escaped to his isolated cabin in the woods in a small town called Forest Down. 

Following a harrowing childhood, in which his mother, suffering from a condition known as Munchhausen Syndrome, repeatedly sought to poison him, Nick has serious trust issues. He only manages to live a normal life, because he has found the ability to put his horrors and nightmares into the stories he writes. Stories that command a crazy fan following and have made him a bestselling author.

After a long period of isolation and shunning social contact, Nick allows himself to be drawn on to a date with Danielle, a young artist, who is also an outsider in Forest Down. Like him, she too has had a bad childhood, and is scarred by her past. Like him, she too enjoys horror literature and the same interests in films, books etc.

The contact thrills him and Nick finds his writer’s block lifted. Suddenly it is as if the story is practically writing itself.
He likes Danielle and the feeling is mutual, or so Danielle tells him.

A day after their first date, Danielle initiates a second one. Nick invites her over to his place, and that is when things get nightmarish, as Danielle begins to show her true self. He becomes aware of the extent of her obsession and derangement. Warning signs burst in his head.

Not just Nick, even we as readers begin to feel an increasing snse of horror and disgust as we come to understand the depths of Danielle’s obsession and insanity.

I liked the author’s style of writing. It was quite unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. Real yet fast paced, guaranteed to send your thoughts into a tailspin, your pulse racing. While being unmistakably sympathetic to Nick, it still sometimes set itself at odds with him, as if it were inviting us to inspect the exhibit that was Nick.

One of the things that I liked was that this book was about a writer, and touched extensively upon the life of a writer, the process of writing, the life of isolation it often imposes, the feeling of lethargic inertia that comes upon a writer when inspiration fails, the demons that attack when the words on the page don’t do justice to those in the head, and the sweet sense of fulfillment when everything falls into place. The sponging off on life, the writing off real life experiences, all these are evident here. Some of the most incisive insights were reserved for the writing life. Inspiration was like that sometimes, a pouty toddler stamping its feet.


I loved the characterization. The isolation of the people of Forest Down, the old worldly charm of Bonnie and Chuck Littleberry, who run the local grocery store, are just as memorable in their own way as Nick and Danielle. I also like CorpseFlower, the web admin of Nick’s site. Even as she dabbles with the macabre, CorpseFlower still retains her sense of justice, which we see in the manner in which she dishes out retribution to those who break the line between right and wrong and deliberately err.


Vile also knowingly or unknowingly raises questions on the nature versus nurture debate. Both Nick and Danielle are a product of their upbringing and their parentage. Yet both react to their past in radically different ways. 

I was so impressed with this book, that at first I wanted to read the second in the series, Flypaper Opus, particularly because the blurb promised to outdo this one in every respect. 

Then I saw that that book has two flies on its cover (Incidentally, Books 3, 4 and 5 in the series show 3, 4 and 5 flies on the cover.), and I believed them. And so I changed my mind. 

There's only so much I can take.  

But do read this one if you can. Good stuff this!

















Thursday, December 03, 2015

Book Review: CHECKOUT GIRL

Title: Checkout Girl
Author: Aimee Alexander
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 17









At 17 pages, Checkout Girl is more of a short story than a book, but as long as GoodReads classifies it as a book, a book it is for me as well. After all, I signed up on their site to read 50 books in 2015, and now that we are in Week One of December, I am beginning to feel more than a little desperate.

I found the cover page of the book, with its soft twinkling lights, and the hint of a Christmas tree rather appealing.

The story is about an 83-year-old woman who dies suddenly, just outside a mall where she has gone shopping. She expects to have her whole life flash before her eyes, as is commonly believed, and is surprised to find herself given the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a single mother, the checkout girl who had shown her a kindness just moments before her death. The checkout girl who has now been fired from her job for her pains.

A snippet of a review on the cover promised me that the book would tug at my heartstrings. 
It didn't.
Maybe my heartstrings are too taut.

All the same, I found the book cute. Perhaps if it had been fleshed out a little bit more. Maybe if I had known a little more about the life of the sweet, old woman who died just as the story began, or even about Debbie, the checkout girl, it might have made a difference. 

At one time, the author compared Debbie to another girl who is a part-timer and who enjoys this job. The author writes, She and Debbie are the same age: nineteen. Yet they live as though a generation apart. Having a child can make the world a much more serious and grown-up place.


There was so much in that last line that could have benefited from elucidation. But the details didn't come.

Debbie's little daughter, Jessie, and her profanity spouting mother, Janice, could have been given more space to breathe so we could understand their presence in Debbie's life. On the other hand, the old woman, whose first person account this is, doesn't share much about her life either. We don't learn the details about why her son is in jail. We don't even know her name.

Eventually, the dead old woman does something nice for Debbie, and earns her wings. She is grateful for the opportunity to play an angel and help Debbie.


This story should have been thickened with some more detail and stretched to a mini-novella. The author has a pleasing style of writing, and I would certainly have liked to read more.




Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Book Review: HARRY HIPPO AND THE WISHING POOL

Title: Harry Hippo and the Wishing Pool
Author: Tara Star
Publisher: Princess Star Tara Publications
Pages: 25









The only reason why I picked this book was because the main character was a hippo. A hippo was among the few animals that my kids, La Niña and El Niño, learned to identify when they first started learning the names of animals. For the same reason, Gloria in the Madagascar films series was also one of their favourite characters.

So when I saw that this book was about a hippo, I knew they were bound to like it.

Harry Hippo is a hippo with huge self-esteem issues. He thinks he is too ugly and admires other animals for their physical attributes. A toucan offers to help him become as pretty as the other animals, and directs him to a magical watering hole which offers a swimmer one wish. Harry Hippo wishes to be pretty and his wish is granted. 

But it isn't always nice to have one's wishes come true, and Harry Hippo discovers that soon enough. How he comes to realise the importance of accepting and loving oneself is the crux of this story.

The book is peppered with photographs and cute illustrations of animals. The illustrations are a mix of simple line drawings and artistic renditions of what a lush, tropical forest in the Serengeti, in Tanzania, thickly populated with animals, might look like. 

The font and the point size alter on different pages of the book. I thought that some standardisation would have helped, not only in the use of the font and the point size but also in the pictures. Either photos, or simple drawings or artistic illustrations would have served much better, rather than a mix of all three.

Also, there is a factual error that I discovered when I looked up the meaning of toucan. Apparently it is a brightly coloured tropical American bird. This book transplants it into Africa.

Of course, this kind of nit-picking is what we adults do. My kids loved the story, from start to finish, and gushed over each of the images, imagining themselves in the centre of some of the most beautiful illustrations.

La Niña particularly took the lesson to heart. So well did she make it her own that when, some days later, she wanted to click a picture with me, I, notorious hater of my own photographs, refused, saying that I wasn't photogenic enough, and that my hair always looked bad etc.

That's when she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Mamma, haven't you learned anything from Harry Hippo?"

Some lessons we all stand in need of.

Thank you, Harry Hippo. I hope La Niña and El Niño never forget what you taught them.






Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Book Review: THE SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS

Title: The Sound of Footsteps
Author: Diane Patterson
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Pages: 120










Described on the cover as a prequel to the Drusilla Thorne mysteries, this ghost story, not a paranormal tale by any means, reminded me of how twisted humans could get.


There isn’t much back story about Drusilla here. All we know is that she and her half sister, Stevie, are running away from something, forced to change identities and appearances and turn their backs on their old lives each time they are confronted by another life threatening situation.

They have done this very often before, but with this identity, that of Drusilla Thorne, whose first person account this is, the story suggests that it is the first of a series.

The sisters rent a small apartment in San Antonio, Texas. The rent is cheap because there is a ghost haunting the premises. The truth of the ghost is actually far more serious and scary and Drusilla gets to the bottom of it.  The mystery is resolved but the drama continues.

It is a short and quick read, but you don’t really get to know ether Drusilla or Stevie as characters, because Drusilla is so cagey. There is a hint of an interesting back story related to Stevie, but the whiff passes and the focus shifts again to the ghost.

The owner of the apartment is a woman, Hannah Burton, who lives with her 17-year-old daughter, Cissy, and 12-year-old son Dominic. Hannah is in the process of finalizing her divorce with Pete, a former army vet, a man with anger issues and a vicious temper who is not prepared to let go of his family.

Brandon Smith is the previous owner of the property who continues to visit the property by virtue of being the handyman and gardener. Brandon’s daughter, Patricia, had hanged herself in the very apartment which Drusilla and Stevie have rented, and it is her ghost that is supposed to be making noises and walking around.

Once the denouement starts, events get quickly out of hand, and before long, Drusilla and Stevie need to be on the run again, afraid of something, running away from the harm of the law, even when they have done nothing wrong.

I liked the character of Drusilla. She was frank and forthright and she drove the action onward. Unfortunately, you don’t get a good opportunity to get to know her. She gives us tantalizing hints of an exciting back story but the details don’t come out. All you know about her is that her actual name is Trudy and that Stevie is Svetlana but that is a detail that is mentioned in passing and never referred to again. We also learn that Drusilla is very protective of Stevie and that they’ve been on the run for ten years.

What does come out in this book is the Burton family dynamic, Pete’s insane jealousy, Hannah’s feelings of helplessness and Dominic’s insecurity.


I can’t say I was disappointed, but I wish this one had more going for it.



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