[Review] Incubus written by Ann Arensberg

Title: Incubus
Author: Ann Arensberg
Publisher: Open Road Media
Date of Publication: 8 July 2014
Number of Pages: 323

Rating: 2 stars (barely)

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: National Book Award winner Ann Arensberg brings readers a modern horror story about evil descending on an insular Maine town.

It begins with the theft of six candles from the church altar, a few herbs found strewn in the local graveyard. In the summer of 1974, the prosperous farming community of Dry Falls, Maine, is hit by a brutal heat wave. Crops fail. Drought blights once-verdant lawns. Men inexplicably lose all interest in sex, while women complain of erotic nocturnal visitations. Farm animals give birth to monstrosities. An unholy, unimaginable force is disrupting the natural order—and it seems to be specifically targeting Dry Falls.

Narrated by the careful and practical Cora Whitman, wife of the town pastor, this tale of creeping strangeness quickly turns sinister. Incubus subtly builds to its shattering climax with Cora at its epicenter. Expertly interweaving themes of faith, religion, and marriage with that of the supernatural, this modern horror classic will enthrall fans of Ann Arensberg and attract a legion of new readers. Goodreads

Review: I have a rule; no books with less than a 3 star average on Goodreads go on my “to read” list. My backlog is always over 100 and this is my small way of attempting to have some sort of order.

In reading Incubus I have broken my rule. Incubus has a Goodreads rating of 2.73 and I have a feeling this rating has dropped in the time I’ve been reading. I should have obeyed my rule.

Incubus: def: a male demon who appears to women for the purpose of sex.

Imagine where a writer could take you with this as a primary theme. Imagine the book Dean Koontz or Stephen King would create. Unfortunately, they haven’t written this book and Incubus is soporific and tedious and a great idea poorly executed.

There are long passages, sometimes pages of text leading no where and explaining nothing. There is also a weakness in Arensberg’s connecting sentences and idea – one idea leaps into another idea and it is not always coherent. At location 2830 there are three paragraphs, for three separate ideas that do not, in the end, link together or progress the story. It is hard work being forced to loop back to an idea, sometimes many chapters back, just because the author is being clever and taking multiple, pointless tangents.

I found myself growing bored with the monotony of the mundane which the author manages to maintain into the climax. I don’t believe in Cora as a reliable, or more importantly, interesting lead character and I don’t believe, she or the other dull characters of this book, provide a solid base for an entire work of fiction. Combine this with a number of non-essential characters, discussion of the heat, plants and gardens and Incubus becomes further unwieldy.

Henry, local parish priest, seems disconnected and I think this is because he is under developed as a lead character. The reader learns he had a vision from God during his time serving in the army in WWII and that this lead him to taking vows. During the rest of the story, it seems as though he is more atheistic than religious; a man going through the motions. While this is a realistic idea it seemed strange for the setting. I can’t make comment on the other characters as they had little development and blended into a single voice.

If we take a moment now to consider the writing in terms of dialogue, another issue is discovered. The language within many of the conversations is stilted and does not reflect real dialogue. At location 1514 Cora tells her mother “I can give you three hours a week. Would that be a help right now?” when discussing her garden. It seems odd that a daughter, with such a seemingly happy relationship with her mother, would say this.

The other stylistic element I’m noticing in more novels than Incubus, is the tendency for the dominant character voice to call their parent by Christian name. I would like to discover why this is happening. Is it because the author wants, simply, to make this change or is it because the author doesn’t think we will remember who “mum” is? In the case if this novel, we only hear Cora’s voice so this element is unnecessary.

Then there are the grammatical problems. The author writes “…reminded them of their ancestral home in the Indian Ocean” (location 1961) referring to roses which would have their ancestral home near the ocean, rather than in it. I realise this is pedantic but this is a constant error that an editor should have queried.

Incubus reads as a ‘cheap thrills’ kind of story – a half hearted attempt at erotica, thinly veiled as mystery. Incubus also makes me think of Joyce Carol Oates’ book The Accursed. There is a similar feel to the two books, though Oates’ book came out after this and, it has to be said, is far superior in all aspects.

I had been looking forward to reading this novel. The blurb caught my attention, as a blurb should but Incubus does not deliver on its promise. Next time, I will stick to my rule.

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Reading with Depression By Amanda Diehl

I read a lot of books. Not as many as I would like nor as many as some of my friends. I don’t leave the house with a book in hard copy or on the iPad, it just doesn’t happen. You never know when you’re going to be held up or bored or just in need of something to read.

This article by Amanda Diehl is important. The article is important because what do we do when we want to read but can’t. What do we do if something steals our ability to enjoy one of our treasured activities? Be it depression, stroke, dementia, the list could be far more detailed, how does a book worm cope?

Thankfully, I have never had to experience any of this.

You can read Amanda’s post here

Five Five Stars

I thought, today, I might share five covers from five books I either love or have, in the past, rated five stars when reviewing them. They appear here in no particular order. I also want to admit, I am one of those people who judges a book by its cover. I can’t help it. Even knowing the writing quality is not reflected by the cover art, part of me wants the outside to be as exciting and reflective of the inside. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

OneThe Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien.

At one point in my life, I read some small portion of this trilogy every year. Lately, this has been reduced to sometimes seeing the films or looking at stills on Pinterest. Neither of these fill the void. I really should re-read this in 2015.

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TwoThe Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt

It took me a long time to get through this book but oh, how I loved every minute of every page. This was also the first book I purchased when I moved to the UK.

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ThreeBattleaxe (The Wayfarer Redemption #1)  Sara Douglass

An uncle handed me this book when I was in my early 20s. I have a memory of discussion fantasy novels with him (as he has what feels like hundreds) and I had never read any. He handed Battleaxe to me and said the equivalent, of “you’ll like this” and after reading the first few pages in the back of the car, in the dark, with assistance from the odd street light, I was hooked. Sadly, Sara passed away from cancer in 2011 leaving behind an amazing body of work that influenced my reading and my writing style. My heart is heavy reflecting on her life at this moment.

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FourThe Circle Dave Eggers

This seems to be a book that has split readers squarely down the middle. A love hate relationship is clearly obvious in the reviews. The cleverness of The Circle was just how engaged Eggers is with the technology and how blisteringly accurate his portrayal of said technology is. What Eggers highlighted most, is the insidious nature of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, writing reviews etc into every day life. The elements making up the composition of The Circle made me far more concious of my interactions than I had ever been previously. I found The Circle to be a scarily apt portrayal of society.

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FiveThe Woman in White Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins is an author I had always heard about and never read. I must admit, part of this was fear extended from being forced to read Victorian literature as a teenager without the cultural and historical context needed to fully engage with the subjects within the text. Now, years on and armed with a history degree, life experience and a desire to know more about the era, the work of Collins was no longer the threat it initially seemed. Marian Halcombe, one of the lead characters in The Woman in White is one of the most amazing female characters I have ever met and she seems sorely under considered.

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[Review] Calling written by Joe Samuel Starnes

calling

Title: Calling
Author: Joe Samuel Starnes
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media (2005) – Reissued by MysteriousPress.com
Date of Publication: 8 July 2014
Number of Pages: 281

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary:

On a bus outside Vegas, a washed-up gambler meets a strange preacher.

As the bus rolls away from the Las Vegas strip, Timber Goodman screws his eyes shut and tries to keep his stomach from lurching. He came to Vegas in hopes of jump-starting his fading broadcasting career, but he leaves hung over and dead broke. Beside him sits a preacher in cowboy boots, whose only luggage is a Bible, a bottle of bourbon, and a razor-sharp bowie knife. This is Ezekiel Blizzard Jr., a disgraced man of God who’s got a tale to tell—and doesn’t care if Timber’s listening. As Zeke’s story winds on, Timber finds himself enraptured. (1)

Review:

God appears in many ways and for each person this is different. I feel I was meant to read this book now, rather than when I was first approved by the publishers on NetGalley, as any sooner and I would have missed the subtlety that was working through the text. Like Zeke, I will tell you my story.

I began reading Calling in Madrid, amidst visits to culturally significant sites and heady, sometimes excessive, Catholic symbolism. Everywhere I looked signs of faith were abundant.  And I’m old enough to know that even if you ain’t a believer and are lost from God’s word, you-we-are all following God’s road map – whether you know it or not…You ain’t got no choice in the matter, (location 745).

In the beginning, I could identify with Timber. He’d had a bad day, he was on public transport, he wanted to read his book, he wanted to be left alone and not forced into conversation with the people around him. Then he spots the one person he knows, without fail, will sit near him and talk. It seems to happen when you least want it, often when you least need it but sometimes there’s a point to the irritation.

Throughout the duration of this book, there are a two themes that recur.

First, There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

This is a verse I often find myself considering. When not reading, which I love, I, like everyone else, have to work to pay bills and travel and support myself. Sometimes, all of this is so hard I really wonder at the point of it all. Weighed against the global horrors of the last few weeks [Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the appalling and virtually ignored Boko Haram attack on 2000 people in Baga to mention only two], I question how strong God thinks I am. I am only one person, insignificant and overlooked by so many, what am I supposed to do?

Calling goes some way to answering this with its other main theme.

Moses in the bulrushes; the love of his parents and their desire to protect him from the Pharaoh that wanted him, and other Hebrew children, dead. This theme is loosely apparent in the relationship between Timber and his Mama. While she wanted what was best for him and tried to protect him, Timber challenged her and went on to live a life she would not have understood nor approved of.

Reflecting on this book I find more sympathy for Timber than Zeke and this is where my own cultural, social and spiritual baggage becomes apparent. Let me unpack this.

Calling is a very American novel and this makes the experiences and the story quite obfuscated. In my life, I have limited experience with preachers who shout, pant, sigh, encourage speaking in tongues and extort people to give of themselves to Jesus. This type of preacher is almost a caricature – a person who exists but you almost can’t believe it.

Understand me. I do not say this is wrong. I do not mean anything to be negatively attached to this comment. It is merely an observation. You’ve got to have faith, he said, that whatever is happening is happening for the best. Jesus is always taking care of us (location 5524).

Zeke, however, is the type of preacher/priest/pastor I would not willing choose to approach. I desire the more sedate conversations that can be had about the love of Jesus and God.

What Calling sets up, almost deliberately though, are these two extremes. The almost atheist, Timber and the the preacher, Zeke – a dichotomy that can be found in individuals as well as groups.

Perhaps I have over thought the meanings I found in Calling. Perhaps I am so far off track with what the author meant to portray I need to reread the book again. Ultimately, any book that makes me meditate on myself, on my world, on my relationships, is one that must be praised as well written and deserving of success.

I only want to make one more comment. This is for anyone reading this review, who is considering adding it to their reading list. Calling is not for the faint-hearted nor for someone who cannot reconcile the gentle, sometimes unsubtle mocking of the topic. If you can forget, or quiet your inner voice and submerse yourself in the words, you will have an experience you’re not expecting. I want you to believe me when I say you will walk away from Calling having had an experience very different to what you might have thought. Good or bad, Calling is worth the time.

Forgotten Bookmarks [via brain pickings]

The joy of Pinterest means when looking for one thing, you frequently stumble across something else far more interesting. This is one of those lucky moments, though it does, some what, burst my bubble when it comes to ideas of being unique.

I love buying second hand books. The condition is one thing I consider but most of the time, I don’t worry too much if the spine is broken or if the cover is falling off. What this equates to, for me, is love rather than carelessness. I like to think the book was so important to someone they took it everywhere. If you could see my Lord of the Rings trilogy, you would know what I mean.

Often times, these books are just as they are. They have passed through many hands and been picked over by many keen eyes and nimble fingers for any ephemera to remain, though not always. It was exciting for me to discover in this post that there are collectors of forgotten bookmarks. Unsurprisingly, Michael Popek, shares this love and has written / curated a book of the items he has found.

You can read the brain pickings article here.

[Review] What the Apothecary Ordered: Questionable Cures Through the Ages compiled by Caroline Rance

quack

Title: What the Apothecary Ordered: Questionable Cures Through the Ages
Author: Caroline Rance
Publisher: Old House
Date of Publication: 17 February 2015
Number of Pages: 144

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by Goodreads (Old House & the author) in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: A quirky little book filled with the strange, absurd, curious and downright disgusting cures found throughout human history.

Review: I read this book on my Tube journey home, much to the shared amusement of my seatmate, who couldn’t seem to help sneaking looks at the many illustrations, advertisements and medieval art works. Had he not departed the train a few stops before I finished, I would have paid it forward and let him take it with him.

It is difficult to praise or find fault with this eclectically collated work. The work stands for itself and needs, essentially, to be taken at face value. Anyone interested in the history of medicine (chronologically, anthropologically, from a specific period [Roman, Greek, Georgian, Victorian, 20th century]) will find something to interest them. As “The Editor” notes, however, No remedy contained herein should be seen as the standard treatment used by the ‘Victorians’ or the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ or anybody else. At various periods of history, people facing illness and injury have been active participants in their search for recovery, often holding the power in the their relationships with practitioners and trying many treatments until time (or death) brought relief” (4-5).

My personal favourites include;

To make oyl of puppy, which is good for any strain or bruise [1656] (51) – where the unfortunate puppy meets a sad fate.

Flagging breasts [1579] (82) – a method for making your “Dugges or Pappes” perky and firm again.

A bottle of Hungary water [1857] (100) – the unfortunate tale of treatment gone wrong but rectified by the small hand of an eight or nine year old boy being inserted into the anus; and

For recovering persons apparently drowned [1776] (117) which provides instruction on how to resuscitate a drowning and is the originating point of the phrase, blowing smoke up your bottom. Read More.

Caroline is on Twitter
The Quack Doctor blog can be found here.

[Review] The Boathouse written by R.J. Harries

boathouse

Title: The Boathouse
Author: R.J. Harries
Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd, Matador
Date of Publication: 28/06/2014
Number of Pages: 266

Rating: 1.5 stars [interesting tidbit, the author gives himself a 5 star rank on Goodreads]

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary:  Sean Archer is a self-taught criminologist and profiler who has been obsessed with crime since his parents were found dead when he was fourteen. A computer savant who has developed digital profiling tools that the police have come to depend on, Sean has acquired a reputation for being able to solve crimes that no one else can. But when his own girlfriend, Alex, is brutally murdered while researching an off-grid torture facility called The Boathouse, his brilliant inventions are of no use. Alex has left little for Sean to go on – only a list of names. Then Peter Sinclair, a property billionaire, contacts Sean for help. His wife, Becky, has been kidnapped and will be killed if he goes to the police or doesn’t follow instructions. Sean agrees to help. Not because he wants the case, but because Peter Sinclair was on Alex’s list. When Sean tracks Becky down, she leads him right where he wants to go. Or so he thinks. As he climbs over the wall of the Boathouse, he’s sure he’s just one step from finding Alex’s killers. But Sean is utterly unprepared for this crime and this place. Goodreads

Review: You have now read the entirety of this novel.

There are a few murders, some half hearted swearing, a lot of grammatical mistakes, many instances of repetition, very sloppy editing (where I have to wonder if, in fact, there was an editor) and an increasing level of boredom.

Allow me to share a few examples;

He pushed himself up with his arms and legs… (location 128)

I found this astonishing! Surely his nose and ears would have been as useful.

…hammering the street like a drummer keeping perfect time.” (location 133)

There are so many similes in the opening section it was almost unbearable.

“Compartmentalising was a skill that enabled him to function whenever his brain was overloaded with vivid memories from all five senses.” (location 137)

What?

The use of the word “scar” for an injury less than 24 hours old is used numerous times. “Wound” would have been more appropriate.

His iPhone rang out with a bell-like ring tone… (location 223) – it either is a bell tone or it isn’t.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Professor Miles Davenport, OBE…(location 224) – an excessive description doesn’t make the character anymore interesting or relevant to the story.

“Sinclair folded his arms and stared harshly into Archer’s eyes. After a minute of silence, Sinclair’s men started to shuffle uncomfortably in their seats until Sinclair smiled again and unfolded his arms” (location 317) – This doesn’t make any sense within the context of the rest of the paragraph.

I could go on and believe me when I say, I have the notes to do so. I don’t really want to but I feel that readers need to know what is coming if they decide to read this novel.

“…exact locations of their reflex actions…” (location 651) – this sentence / idea, needs to be developed further. There is no way, after one instance, Archer would have learnt all of this.

As I read through my notes I see multiple references to the lack of commas, sentences with two ideas and no cohesive link, incomplete sentences, passive sentences, and other problems that a good editor should have picked up. For example;

“Cyclists in suits with their computers in rucksacks. Joggers who left their suits in the office. People in office outfits wearing trainers to walk easier and faster, some even overtaking slower people out exercising.” (location 693).

There are also multiple references to the female body, which are insulting and assumptive/ Often, there is no reason for the description to even be included as the character does not appear more than once.

Overall, I find it difficult to reconcile the novel I read, with the novel that a majority of other reviewers read. Where they see brilliance and comparisons to Dan Brown and Lee Child, I see a rather rough draft that would have benefited from a few more aggressive red lines. Where others see a daring and intriguing novel, I see a draft that doesn’t engage with the ideas wanting to be presented. Towards the end of the book the pace and style does seem to improve but I think this is because you’ve become brow beaten and glad it’s nearly finished. I see a draft that doesn’t understand human psychology or physiology. I see a draft that ends in such a convenient and half hearted way, I have to wonder if perhaps the author too, was glad to be done.

I do not want this review to seem brutal and cruel though I know what I have written is harsh. Sean Archer is not a character I care to encounter again.

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