Review of The Road

By Robert Drinkwater

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a bleak post-apocalyptic novel about a father and his son traversing through the world that has ended. It’s unclear of how exactly it ended, but the world they live in is dangerous and the surviving people are all struggling to survive. This duo struggle issues such as finding food, shelter, and dealing with “bad guys” as the kid calls them. In this book, many people have lost their humanity and have resorted to stealing and cannibalism to survive.

The true heart of this novel is the bond between the father and his son. The father will do anything to protect his son. His son, who seems to have lived in this apocalyptic world most of his life seems to have a good understanding of what is going on. He knows that the world is unsafe and that there are terrible people out there that he calls “The bad guys”. He also keeps asking his father if they’re going to due, to which his father usually responds honestly, saying “maybe”. He does show a lot of naivete as he is still young and doesn’t understand certain things. He wants to help everyone they meet along the way, but his father is hesitant because he worries for their safety.

This book has a unique writing style. It is not split up into chapters, instead it’s just paragraphs. No character in this novel has a name, instead the two main characters are just called “The Man” and “The Boy”. I found that to be strange at first, but I got used to it after awhile.One thing that did throw me off what the dialogue. There were no quotation marks and it didn’t let us know who said what. It got confusing at times because I was trying to follow which character was saying what.

This is a relatively short read, only about 280 pages. At times I found it to be too bleak and at other times a little bit boring. We don’t really know that much about these two characters, just that they’re trying to survive. I also wanted to know more about how the world ended up like that. A lot of those details were vague. I knew very little of The Man’s life before the apocalypse. He mentions having a wife, and there are a few flashbacks, but those were concise and they didn’t give away that much detail on either of those characters. I’m assuming that she died because she wasn’t around with the boy and his father.

I think that this novel does a good job at portraying the love these characters have for one another. The father will do anything for his son. I could really sense the heartbreak and desperation that was going on throughout this book. These characters also seemed drained. They have been living in this post-apocalyptic world for a long time and I could tell, as they both were used to the starvation and the dire state of the world where the only thing that mattered was survival.

Overall, I felt like this was a event novel. It was heart wrenching and poignant. The Covid-19 Pandemic may have you inn a mood to read some post apocalyptic novels. If that is the case then this book is for you. It might make you grateful that things are not as bad as they are in the world we live in when reading this book.

You can but The Road by Cormac McCarthy on Amazon for $10.50 .

Review of The Shakespeare Requirement

By Robert Drinkwater

Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement is a satirical novel that centers around Jason “Jay” Fitger the newly appointed head of the English department at Payne University. Jay faces several obstacles throughout this novel as he deals with colleagues that show disdain towards him, his ex-wife, whom he may still have feelings for that may or may not be in a relationship with the dean, a freshmen student whom he is the adviser to, and to top it all off the English department is sharing the building with the Economics department who is slowly pushing the English department out of the building.

I enjoyed the humor that was in this novel as Jay deals with a slew of issues that come with being the head of the English department. One of the main conflicts he faces arises when he tries to get one of the oldest English professors and school Shakespearean, Dennis Cassovan to retire which backfires as students think that he is being forced out. This results in a movement among the campus in showing support for Cassovan with pins that say “SOS” short for “Save Our Shakespeare”. Jay also has to take several initiatives that require the approval of the other faculty members in the department causing him to have to do several favors for them such as taking care of another professor in his home after he goes through surgery, taking care of a rescue dog, and removing a masturbating student from another faculty member’s class.

This novel was full of hilarious moments and intertwining plot lines. There were several point of view characters besides Jay. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Angela, the freshmen student. She had an interesting story with her having difficulty adjusting to the college life and becoming acquainted with her adviser Jay. I wish that she had more of a story. I felt like hers was rather short and ended abruptly, but then again Jay Fitger is the main character of this novel.

I also enjoyed the relationship dynamics in this novel. It was entertaining to see Jay have to jump through so many hoops in order to gain the approval of his fellow faculty members. I also liked the interactions between him and his ex-wife Janet. It was clear that they both still had feelings for one another and their conversations were full of witty and hilarious cynicism.

The main antagonist of this novel was the chair of the economics department, Roland Gladwell who whose main motivation seems to be to push the English department out of the building to make more room for Econ. I would have liked to see more of the story take place from his point of view because there were only a few pages of getting his perspective. I feel like his character would have been more fleshed out that way. His disdain for Jay and the English department was obvious, but I found him to be a bland antagonist otherwise.

The other members of the English faculty were interesting and they all provided a good amount of humor and wit. I enjoyed the parts where Jay had interactions with them, all of which had their own quirky attributes, such as Fran, the faculty member who wanted to help out every rescue animal she could and made Jay look after that dog. There was also Helena Stang, another professor who provided hilarious commentary on a wedding that she attends later on in the novel.

Overall, this book was full of humor and wit. Even though it seems like the main demographic is college professors, I still enjoyed the drama that unfolded with the faculty in this novel. I think that it is something that both college students and professors would enjoy if they want something lighthearted and fun to read.

You can buy The Shakespeare Requirement on Amazon for 17.21.

Book Review of Roughhouse Friday

By Robert Drinkwater

Roughhouse Friday by Jaed Coffin is a memoir about a man who travels to Alaska from Maine by kayaking and lives there as a teacher and boxer. Throughout this memoir we get several excerpts on his upbringing, his family, and his relationship with his parents that played a pivotal role. His race and identity play a significant role in this memoir as he writes about his mom being Thai and his dad being white. His parents split up when he was a child, but his mom still stayed in touch with his dad’s side of the family. Jaed and his dad have a rocky relationship. His ideas of masculinity stem from his upbringing and how he sees things. 

While part of the memoir is told through flashbacks, the majority of it takes place in Alaska when Jaed works at that high school and becomes a boxer. This work seems to be a sort of coming of age memoir about him learning more about himself and learning more about his heritage. At the beginning when he first decided to kayak to Alaska, it seemed like he didn’t really know what he was going to do with his life and this was the start of his journey to learn more about himself.

Coffin wrote this memoir in a way in which it grapples with a few main themes. One of which is his relationship with his parents, along with his mom’s heritage. This part of the book seems to focus on Coffin trying to find his identity as he struggles with that when we read through the flashbacks. It seems like he feels disconnected from his mom’s heritage because she chooses to stay close to his dad’s side of the family. There weren’t a whole lot of scenes where he was with his mom’s side of the family, in fact I don’t remember them being mentioned. His mom seemed more connected with his dad’s family which made Jaed seem all the more disconnected from his mom’s side. Identity comes into play when he is with his dad and his new wife and her kids. He seems like an outsider amongst them and disconnected from them in a way because they are not related to him. This theme of identity plays a large role in this book because he struggles with his relationship with his dad. They weren’t really on good terms until the very end when he won that fight in Vermont and his dad seemed proud of him. Identity is important to him when it comes to his job, assisting Native students, as well as his relationship with his parents. 

Jaed leaving Maine and traveling to Alaska by Kayak is another way in which he searches for his identity. In Maine people pronounced his name “Jed”, but in Alaska they pronounced it “Jade”. When he was in Alaska he started boxing, an activity that changed him as he made new friends, and did something that he enjoyed but also learned more about his own masculinity. By participating in this sport he created a reputation for himself that gave him a bit of fame and money along the way. This sport helped him connect with his students and other people in a way that he wasn’t able to when he lived in Maine. The time he spent in Alaska was a relatively short period, but it was one that had a major impact on his life as he makes new friends and discovers more about himself as well as his own family. 

Another important theme in this book is masculinity. Masculinity played a large role in this memoir because there were many instances in which Jaed was grappling with his father’s ideas of masculinity and fighting in barrooms is typically associated with masculine or “manly” activity. Boxing plays an important role in this theme because that was a way for Jaed to deal with his situation with his dad. In the end he becomes closer to his dad because of boxing, but it was also a way for him to express his feelings to him when they were at the diner. Throughout the book, his dad is telling him to read books about masculinity and about being a man. His dad was often described as showing little to no emotion. We never see his dad talking about his feelings with anyone in this memoir. This appears to frustrate Jaed because he doesn’t seem to know that much about his dad. 

Overall, this memoir tells a story about a young man who travels to Alaska and starts boxing. This book is split between the present, Jaed boxing and his relationships in Alaska, and the flashbacks that tell us more about his family and the role that both masculinity and his heritage played in his life. I felt like this memoir was deep and personal and it gave us as readers a close and intimate look into his life during a significant and life changing period.

You can buy Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir on Amazon for $15.79

Book Review of Ninth House

By Robert Drinkwater

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is an urban fantasy that takes place at Yale University. We follow Galaxy “Alex” Stern, someone with the ability to see ghosts or “grays” as the book refers to them. Alex has had a difficult life. When she was young she experienced a traumatic event that sent her life in a downwards spiral that involved drugs, crime, and death. Alex gets an offer when she’s in the hospital to go to Yale free of charge. As it turns out, Alex has to join one of the secret societies at Yale, where she helps solve crimes involving the dead and whatever’s beyond the veil.

One of my favorite parts about this novel was the location of it. Most of it took place in New Haven, Connecticut, in and around Yale. There was so much detail put into the secret societies, their history, and lore. Each society specialized in certain magical abilities. As it turns out these societies, Manuscript, Skull and Bones, Book and Snake are all real societies. Bardugo is an alumni from Yale which made it seem all the more accurate and it was interesting to see here put magic in these real things. This book kind of reminded me of the television show The Magicians because of it being in a college type setting and the magic that they were able to do as well as having characters in that show deal with with life issues and traumatic events. This novel combines real life modern college experiences with fantasy that adds to the overall story.

The main character Alex is a fantastic and realistic protagonist. I felt like she really developed throughout the novel. I also enjoyed the flashback parts. We see Alex grow up and endure all of that trauma that she’s been through. She is easy to sympathize with, but also strong as she struggles to find her place in the world. Alex is someone who has dealt with drug addiction, abuse, and the novel starts off with her as the sole survivor of a homicide.

Daniel Arlington, or Darlington as he os called is another main character in this novel. This book primarily takes place from Alex’s point of view, but there were a few chapters from Darlington’s perspective. Unlike Alex, Darlington has lived a fairly privileged life, living off of the wealth of his grandfather. However, over the course of the novel, as we see more backstory from his perspective, he becomes more sympathetic.

Despite this being a fantasy novel, the characters and situations in it felt real. This book tackled real life issues that people face today and mixed in a little bit of magic in it. This book is also filled with twists and turns with layers of unpredictability added in every chapter. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I was very satisfied and shocked. It had a twist that immediately made me want to reread this book.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys modern urban fantasy. It is full of realness with magic involved and characters that made this an unforgettable novel.

You can buy Ninth House on Amazon for 16.78

Book Review: The Priory Of The Orange Tree

By Robert Drinkwater

The Priory of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is an 800 page stand alone novel set in a fantasy world. I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw the large cast of characters, layers of intricate lore and history and of course dragons. There were no shortage of dragons in this novel.

In this book we follow four main characters: Ead, a sorceress from the south tasked to spy and protect the queen Sabran Berethnet the Ninth, Tané, a dragon rider from the east, Loth a diplomat sent on a mission to calm tensions in a major city in the kingdom, and Niclays Roos, a disgraced alchemist in exile who resides in the east at the beginning of this novel. Each of these characters were compelling in their own way. They were all morally flawed with ambitions of their own, but each of their stories connected to one another in some way. I found myself especially drawn to Ead’s story because I personally loved the political intrigue as well as the development of her and Sabran’s relationship throughout the book, and there was the mystery element as to who keeps sending assassins after Sabran.

This takes place in a world in deep political turmoil where the east and the west are on the brink of war. The West fears dragons and hunts down and kills any dragon they see. The east on the other hand worships dragons, not the fire breathers but the “water dragons”. To them, these dragons are gods and it is a great honor to become a dragon rider in which rider and dragon become kin.

The main antagonist of this novel is a dragon that goes by the name of The Nameless One, and it is said that this creature will awake again at the end of the Berethnet line and rule the world. Sabran is the last of her line and she is getting pressured to marry so that she can produce an heir in order to stop The Nameless one from returning.

I think that the biggest strengths of this novel was it’s rich history and lore. Everything felt so well thought out and I learned so much about this world. Each location that was featured in this novel was described beautifully with intricate detail and it all felt original. The characters were also intriguing. Shannon has a way of creating a diverse group of characters. Many of them made questionable choices, but the reasoning behind these choices made sense. This reminded me a of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin because of its enormous cast of characters, rich history and lore, multiple point of views, and large layout of locations.

Some of the flaws of this book were the fact that it was really slow paced at certain parts. I felt like I was learning more about the history of this world rather than focusing on the main plot. There were parts when characters story lines were boring and it was more focused on backstory. I also think that the main antagonist The Nameless One is a weakness because throughout this 800 paged novel we are constantly reminded that he is going to return, but he only comes at the the end of the book. We as readers don’t learn much about him other than the fact that he wants to take over the world and that he is evil.

Here are my thoughts on the main characters:

Ead: Ead’s storyline was definitely my favorite. She is tasked to look after the queen and keep her from harms way. We this as she protects Sabran from assassins and uncovers a plot to dethrone her. I enjoyed seeing Ead struggle between choosing her life at The priory in the South and her life at court as her and Sabran become closer throughout the novel.

Loth: I didn’t find Loth as compelling as some of the other characters in this novel. He’s kindhearted and loyal, but his storyline wasn’t really interesting after he left Yscalin. It was nice seeing him grow more open minded of the outside world as he explores more of the different pats of that world.

Niclays: Niclays Roos was a character that I couldn’t stand at times, yet he was easiest to connect to because his flaws were more prevalent. He was selfish and cowardly, but I could understand where he was coming from. He’s been in exile for seven years after he failed to create Sabran the elixir of life that would grant her immortality. Ever since then he has held bitter resentment towards the queen and he has lived on an island in the east since he was exiled. His backstory was poignant and he has had a drinking problem ever since the love of his life died years ago. He makes questionable choices several times throughout this book such as blackmailing Tané and hurting her dragon in order to save his own life. I found myself rooting for him, but also disgusted by some of his decisions, yet I could see why he did what he did.

Tané: She had fantastic character development throughout this story. I feel like she struggled the most as she deals with being banishment, grief, and finding herself through her journey. She starts off as someone who is set in her ways and culture, who believes that her mistakes define her, but as she grows throughout this novel she learns that she doesn’t have to be defined by her mistakes.

Overall, this is a novel that those who enjoy fantasy with rich lore and magic will enjoy. It is a feminist fantasy with strong female characters and it contains a vast array of characters and plot lines. If you enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire or any work of high fantasy (with dragons) full of magic and plenty of history and lore then this is something that you will enjoy. In just one book, I felt like I knew the complete history of this world. Everything was intricately woven together. Past and present, characters in different parts of that world and events that all connected with one another making this a memorable fantasy novel.

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5

You can buy The Priory Of The Orange Tree on Amazon for $21.60

Book Review of We Were Liars

By Robert Drinkwater

We Were Liars is a young adult novel by E. Lockhart that follows an unreliable narrator as she returns to her family’s island two years after a horrific accident. We don’t know what happened to her, but she got a head injury from night, one that resulted in her not remembering most of what happened during that summer.

Cadence Sinclair comes from a wealthy family where they spend every summer on an island off of the coast of Cape Cod. She and her cousins call themselves The Liars. They are all around the same age and once they are on that island, they are inseparable. As a Cape Cod resident I was drawn to this book because of its location, but it was the mystery part that really made me want to read it. Throughout the novel we see Cady try to remember what happened on that island. This accident happened when she was fifteen and two years later she decides to go back to that island with her mom. She wants to remember what happened to her and she believes that going to back to the island will help her recollect her memories.

This book was a fairly quick read. The suspense is what kept me turning the pages. Towards the beginning of the book, I initially thought that the big mystery would be that someone tried to murder her, but it became apparent that there was much more to it. As the story progresses we get little tidbits of her memory, all of which connect to that night.

I thought that it was confusing at times because it would often jump between summer fifteen and seventeen. I do enjoy reading nonlinear timelines, but I would often mistake the past timeline with the present and certain plot points were mixed up. I also thought that the narrator was kind of boring. Every time Gat was mentioned, she would say My Gat, which was kind of irritating. The characters in this novel such as Gat, Mirren, and Johnny were interesting. There wasn’t a whole lot of time in this book to flesh out these characters more due to its short length. Even though they weren’t in it as much, the other characters in that family were interesting as well.

I thought that the author did a good job a portraying a dysfunctional family. The patriarch of the family, Granddad, constantly has his family members competing for his approval in hope of getting his inheritance. The moms of The Liars would try to get their kids to win granddad’s favor. However, I felt like many of the characters were underdeveloped and they lacked three dimensional personalities at times.

Overall, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars explores a complicated family dynamic and centers around a girl trying to recover her memory from a tragic accident. I thought that the stories pacing was good, and it had a good twist at the end. Something that makes sense if you reread certain parts of the story. Cady trying to put the recollect her fragmented memories of summer fifteen made this a compelling novel full of mystery and suspense with a poignant twist that you won’t forget.

Book Review: Recursion

By Robert Drinkwater

One of the latest bestsellers of 2019, I felt myself immediately drawn to Recursion by Blake Crouch. A novel about memory and time travel that is sure to grip you from the start. This story has two point of views, Barry a detective who is investigating this new disease going around called False Memory Syndrome, or FMS. A condition in which people have false memories of a completely different life. One woman for instance has vivid memories of the last ten years being married to a man and living in a completely different location. After realizing that thee ,memorizes are false, she has a mental breakdown and commits suicide. The other point of view Helena, is a scientist who has worked nearly her entire life to build a memory chair. A device in which you can go back in time to any vivid memory you have and relive your life from that point.

This was a compelling story from start to finish. Both Helena and Barry were likable characters with realistic goals and motivations. Eventually these two characters stories connect with each other and there is a bit f a doomsday vibe to it. It is up to them to save the the world from destroying itself. This novel involves time travel and a lot of times I feel like this idea gets stale, but in this case, it was intriguing and it made for a compelling plot.

While FMS is a focal point in this novel, it is not the main plot. I thought the source of this disease would be the main mystery throughout the novel. However, FMS does play an important role as it is seen as this new disease that hits people at random (or so it seems). We see this with Barry towards the beginning as he becomes paranoid of what is real and what isn’t. He begins to question the things happening around him. This happens to more people later on in the sory as we soon find out what is causing FMS.

One of the main themes of this novel was the dangers of technological advancement. While Helena’s motivations were to help people like her mother who were suffering from dementia, there were others who wanted to use the chair for their own personal gain. At times, this reminded me of something that would be on Black Mirror, portraying technology in a bleaker viewpoint with thought provoking ideas. We explore concepts such as ‘what if we could go back in time and save a family member or do something in you life differently’. In this case going back in time has drastic consequences.

Overall, I felt like this novel had a unique approach to time travel. Without going into too much spoilers, I’ll just say that multiple timelines were involved, a concept that was both fascinating and confusing at times. I also felt like there was decent development with the two main characters and their relationship. This is a book that I would recommend for anyone who is into science-fiction, speculative fiction, or just a fan of Netflix’s Black Mirror. Recursion is a fast paced novel that deals with time travel and it is sure to make you wonder what would happen if advanced technology such as the memory chair got into the wrong hands.

You can buy Recursion on Amazon for 13.99: https://www.amazon.com/Recursion-Novel-Blake-Crouch/dp/1524759783

Where The Crawdads Sing Book Review

By Robert Drinkwater

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was a poignant coming of age novel that centers around Kya, a young girl who lives in the swamps of North Carolina. This story follows her as she grows up in the swamps, isolated from the community and known as the Swamp Girl. At the beginning, we know that a young man, Chase Andrews has been killed, and a lot of the townsfolk think that Kya had something to do with it. As the story progresses we see Kya grow up and learn more about the world around her.

Going into this book, I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I knew that it was popular. This is a coming of age story because, the main character Kya grows up and changes. One of the most striking features of this novel is the fact that the description of the nature is so vivid. It feels like we’re in the swamp with her as she is observing the wildlife around her. This book was written by someone who was a biologist and it really shows as we see the deep descriptions of the animals and wildlife in this novel. It is beautiful and at times I felt like I was in that swamp catching fireflies at dusk.

The poignancy comes into play when we see Kya grow up as one by one each of her family members leaves. She does have a few friends, such as Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, and Tate whom was a friend of her older brother and she forms a close bond with him as the story progresses. The majority of the story is told in two different timelines; the one where we see Kya grow up and the the one in which the sheriff is investigating the death of Chase Andrews. Many of the town residents believe that it was Kya who killed Chase. This story is set in a small town in North Carolina, and Owens does a fantastic job at portraying that. I saw that with both the dialogue and colorful description of the town. Everyone knows one another. Everyone seems to have some sort of reputation, and everyone thinks that Kya “The Swamp Girl” had something to do with Chases death.

Owens does a fantastic job at portraying a story of isolation and discrimination as we see Kya grow up as an outsider in this community. I empathized with this character who closed herself off from the rest of the world due to the treatment that she receives. We see Kya grow into her own as she experiences love, loss, and pain. She overcomes obstacles that make her more resilient as a result. Kya just wants to love in her swamp and study the nature that she lives in, but she gets thrown in situations causing more hardships along the way.

Overall, this is a character driven novel that follows a girl who is an outcast in her community, who finds solace in the environment that she lives in, as she grows up and becomes tangled up in the murder of Chase Andrews. We see through her eyes, her experiences and why she thinks the way she does, living a reclusive life and trusting only a handful of people. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens portrays a poignant tale of love, loss, abuse, isolation, friendship, and overcoming challenging obstacles.

You can buy Where The Crawdads Sing on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Where-Crawdads-Sing-Delia-Owens/dp/0735219095

I’m Thinking of Ending Things Book Review

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a book by Iain Reid. It’s suspenseful, often toying with the reader to make them wonder what is reality, and what is illusion. I’m actually lucky I even read this book, because it wasn’t my first choice. I had a slew of other books I was considering, but my sister pointed this one out to me. I wasn’t initially intrigued, because I figured I couldn’t get the same effect I would in a book that I would from a movie-format psychological thriller. I also thought the cover was trying too hard to be edgy. However, I was incorrect in my hypothesis about the suspense and horror.

We start the novel off with an ominous phrases. Could be taken as many things. “I’m thinking of ending things” occurs so often in the book, and it’s generally thought that our narrator is considering ending her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Our narrator, nameless, is going to go on a long trip with him to visit his parents. That’s where a lot of her thoughts about terminating things culminate. We get a lot of her inside thoughts, and things turn a little ominous. We hear about another character, The Caller.

The Caller is a secret that she’s keeping from Jake. This person calls late at night, leaving eerie voicemails. Whenever the call is picked up, there’s either breathing or an instant hang up. Her thoughts seem to flow back to Jake, and she thinks about how they met at a trivia night at a pub near their college campus. Jake is some kind of scientist, working in a lab. It’s not exactly said what kind of scientist, or what kind of lab. He uses big words and has an expansive vocabulary; his intelligence is referenced all the time.

At the end of the second chapter, we get a page of what seems to be a conversation between two nameless individuals. Not the narrator nor Jake, and it’s separate from the story the narrator is telling. It alludes to some kind of man that did something horrific. It’s not specific in who they people are talking about, or what exactly he did.

We then hear a memory that the narrator has that is particularly unsettling. Late at night, she woke up and looked out the window. There was an extremely tall man outside, she could only see his torso. He was evidently quite tall, and simply stood there. He did weird things with his hands, like rub them together every so often. But he just stood and seemed to be watching, even though he was taller than the window. Music was playing outdoors in addition to him standing there. And then he waves. That’s what makes it so weird, is that it’s not even a malicious gesture. Just a wave.

As they get to the parents’ house, things are even stranger. They live way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from much civilization. There isn’t really any introduction, no exchanging of names or anything that would be expected from a son bringing home his girlfriend from college. Actually, over dinner, the mother talks a lot about how she hears voices and her hearing is going. Then the mother wants to play a game, about impersonating someone. Jake has been quiet through most of the dinner. The mother insists our narrator impersonate Jake. It seems to irritate him, and then Jake imitates the narrator. She explains it as horrifyingly accurate, as if he were a real impersonation of her. After dinner, she goes to the bathroom, and ends up exploring the dark house.

She stumbles across the basement door, covered in scratches. Obviously, since this is a thriller story, she’s going to explore a place she knows she shouldn’t. She comes across weird paintings, girls with claw-like fingernails. She overhears the parents upstairs talking about how they were upset that someone had lost their job at a lab, hadn’t had a job in a long time. The narrator can’t hear them clearly, since they’re upstairs, but thinks they’re talking about Jake. She knocks over a few cans of paint and runs upstairs.

Deciding it was time to leave, the narrator says her goodbyes to the parents. The dad ends up not being around, and the mom seems like she’s almost pleading for her to stay. A little weirded out, she ends up deciding she has to go home. She has a really bad headache and just wants to get home, plus Jake was supposed to have work in the morning. Jake talks about how he had a brother with mental issues, he would follow people and make weird hand gestures, generally stalking people.

They stop at a Dairy Queen, and the girls inside seem like they’re less than pleased to be there so late at night, working. One girl mumbles how she’s scared for the narrator, that she doesn’t have to go anywhere if she doesn’t want to. The narrator doesn’t really understand.

As if the whole story wasn’t weird, they end up stopping at a school, still in the middle of nowhere, to throw out the cups. Jake gets out the car, it’s pitch black and snowing. He comes back and the narrator and him start to make out. Jake freaks and says there’s someone staring at them from inside the school, the janitor working over winter break. Jake gets angry and runs inside to confront the creepy watcher. The watcher also waved. After a while, the narrator gets scared and tries to go in to find Jake. She hears something like rubber boots, and finds an eerie message, the same message she’d been getting on her phone from The Caller. She runs throughout the school. But then the “I” narration switches to “We”. The narrator isn’t a girl. The narrator is Jake. The Caller is Jake. Jake’s parents aren’t still alive, they’d been dead for some time. “What are you waiting for?” in response to the voicemail message is repeated for four pages. The narrator comes to terms that they are Jake, they are unstable, and decides they want to end things. They use a coat hanger and jam it into their neck several times and bunch up in the closet.

I found this book very unsettling. I loved every minute of it, though. I sat down and read it in a few hours, at nighttime. Night is the best time to read or watch something scary, it enhances the whole experience. I think this book could be suited for maybe high schoolers and college students alike, maybe older. Not middle school, there are some dark themes in it that might be kind of a lot. I think that the twist of the narrator not existing and the parents being dead was executed just right, better than I’m describing it. It’s not tacky, and it doesn’t leave the reader feeling like they were cheated. I’d really recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky book to read!

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Iain Reid

210 pages. Published by Scout Press. $14.99

Like a Cranky Old Fascist (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

With the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, and what many suspect is his imminent declaration of immortal god-hood— the One who will unite and lead humanity to the stars where, ultimately, they will confront the Chaos Gods in the Galaxy of Terro—sorry, wrong franchise; *clears throat*, at any rate, I thought an appropriate way to commiserate Trump’s electoral ‘March on Rome’ would be to delve back into the proto-fascist fiction of Nick Webb—resident punching block for my reviews here.

Independence, book one of the Legacy Ship trilogy, opens with an appropriate enough setting: university. Here we see Admiral Proctor, now retired, teaching full time to pay the bills; teaching doesn’t seem to be her vocation, though, since she spends most of her time being an Ageist cliché; her students look younger and ‘stupider’ every year, and their habit of wearing arcane dressings, becoming ‘micro-aggressed,’ and, in general, disrespecting her Pro-genocide stance, makes her one irate former militarist.

(And before I move onto said genocide, I also want to mention that early in the book there is a spectacular moment of Transphobia; a character is describing the benefits of the newly developed ‘T-Jump’ for interstellar travel, and one character refers to it as a ‘Tranny-Jump’. Though there is a mild level of encoding happening concerning the character who utters the comment, thus setting him up as a sort of immature hot-head, the very fact that Webb actually had the audacity to include it in the first place, merely as a point winner for his Neocon audience, is shameful.)

Let us slow down for a bit—genocide? Yeah, that got me confused as well.

At the end of the previous book in Webb’s sequence, Victory, we see the Swarm despoiled ((de)spoiler alert?). Their meta-space signal—something which they used to control the alien races which our human protagonists thought were the Swarm-proper, has been severed; those species which had been hijacked went on to lead a fulfilling life. Not being controlled by communistic space… signals, will do that to you. And yet, in none of that do I remember genocide; one cannot commit genocide by blocking an interdimensional signal, not unless you have an unconventional definition of the word ‘life’ (which considering Webb’s Pro-Life views, I initially strongly suspected). Regardless, it turns out that Proctor, after the events of book three, was ordered to hunt down the remnants of the first alien race which the Swarm-signal contacted and eradicate them, just to be safe. Nothing wakes you up like genocide in your cup!

Insipid references to old coffee commercials aside, though, this was a mildly confusing opening to a moderately confusing book. In hindsight, it represented in microcosm everything which was wrong with the book as a whole. But we will get there. First, Proctor’s fascism.

If you thought that Proctor’s actions post-Victory were trite and something only added to force  what is generously called character development, then hooray, you and I are on the same level. It is extremely artificial and shows a juvenile understanding of morality, chiefly due to how it forces an immature understanding of how people act in desperate situations. In turn, I have no qualms about using an equally forced analogy—Nazism.

Webb wants Proctor’s decision to hunt down the remaining Swarm ships to sound like a lose-lose situation, something that she did not take pleasure in doing but did anyway because she temporarily lost focus of her moral compass and subsequently lacked conscious. This fails—horribly.

If you are like myself and a skilled abstract thinker, then you can disassociate yourself enough to where it did almost seemed like Proctor had a tough decision on her hands; reinforced early in the book when she validates that uppity college student (the one that became ‘micro-aggressed’), it seems like Webb is taking a talking point from A Patriot’s History of the United States: give some credence to the opposing opinion while building an elaborate strawman based on historical revisionism. The end-product almost sounds fair and balanced, but it is not. Once you take a few steps back, Webb’s take on Proctor becomes less noble. In fact, it becomes revolting.

Why it was possible for me to concretize an understanding of Proctor’s fascistic tendencies without wholly despising her character was because of how the idea of mass-slaughter was being juxtaposed against a non-human species; Proctor’s actions are described in but only a few places throughout the entirety of the book and in a lukewarm condemnatory manner. She berates herself some and whines about not having a moral compass. This, while the reader understands that her actions came after a civilization shattering war for humanity’s survival. This situation hardly seemed similar to anything which came before it in human history.

Except, that is not true: Proctor’s situation is, in fact, depressingly common.

Once you bring genocide back down to the human roots—and really consider morality in more than a black and white perspective, then Proctor’s actions are nothing less than despicable. Indeed, perhaps the only thing more horrid is Webb’s pathetic attempt to legitimate such blasé existential outlook.

Consider: if we were to replace Proctor with a German officer in Hitler’s army, and to replace the Swarm remnants with Jews or homosexuals (or any number of the persecuted groups which Hitler terrorized), then would we be able to abstract ourselves from Proctor’s offenses? Would we be able to give her some benefit of the doubt in regards to the morality of her actions? No, we would not; why not is simple—because genocide is not excused because some stressed out protagonist had a momentary ‘lapse’ in judgement; mass slaughter of innocent lives is not excused because this same protagonist lost her moral compass. Genocide happens because institutional racism and conspiracy theory combine with desperate economic conditions to legitimate mass-extermination as a means to scapegoat the Other; it is the bourgeoisie’s last desperate attempt to sweep class contradictions underneath the rug. It does not happen because some great (wo)man was too paranoid to think clearly. The entire situation is odious in the extreme (especially if we want to get into the text’s gender essentialism). Moreover, it shows just how extreme Webb is willing to go in order to try and win some points for nationalistic-jingoism.

Independence is like a Neo-Conservative building block play-set. You have pieces which you can arrange in any order; each piece, of course, is a reactionary belief: anti-academicism, pseudo-science, racism sublimated as an anti-alien speciesism, and more all directed underneath a thin layer of White Man’s burden (in this installment, for example, I found myself continuously considering the non-human aliens as non-White imprints since they not only do jack-crap for the entire book, but appear to exist solely on the sidelines to become ravaged by the antagonist, all while humanity takes the bold defensive leap to their defense). Coupled with a decrepit morality system, a convoluted techno-thriller pseudo-Space Opera plot, and shallow characterization, Independence shows Webb’s increasing inability to write compelling fiction. Indeed, though this is, I believe, the shortest of the four books set in the ‘Swarm Universe’, it took me far longer to read this installment than any previous entry.

Why it took me longer to read this entry goes beyond theory and philosophy; it comes down to style. Webb is clearly setting up Big Things for future entries, but it all feels forced. The great antagonist is a hyper-advanced alien ship which came out of no-where and started decimating whole worlds; Proctor, aged thirty-years, is a lionized war hero; all the while, throughout Human Space there is a Galactic People’s Congress, who turns out, in fact, to be somewhat cult-like, itching for freedom from increasingly tyrannical human states. In short, there is a lot to work with, but it just doesn’t lead to any satisfying conclusion.

The finale is predictable, the double-agents hardly shocking, and even the twists and turns simply un-compelling. The plot, as I said, is basically a techno-thriller mixed with hefty amounts of politicking and some space combat. The hyper-advanced alien ship, outside of a last-ditch narrative push, does literally nothing for the whole book; Proctor remains a bad-ass, take-no-prisoners leader and… that’s about it. One understands that Webb wanted to write about frustration with the world as one ages, hence Proctor’s angst. What he ended up, however, was just a series of shallow vignettes which hardly serve a purpose outside making Proctor sound like a cartoon character.

Independence could have been a deep exploration of what it means to be on the edge of no longer being socially-useful yet not be able to understand how to make the transition to respected elder; it could have been about how capitalism-imperialism continues to haunt humanity, even after great devastation; it could have been about the machinations of society and what it means to serve—that the upcoming generations perspective is one only obtained from the sacrifice of uncountable people before their time and how the dialectical tug-and-pull between total war and total peace. Unfortunately, Independence is none of these things. Instead it settles for predictable plots, vapid characters, and an unamusing reactionary core. Pity. Not unexpected, though.

Independence: Book One of the Legacy Ship trilogy.

Nick Webb

283 pages. Published by Nick Webb. $16.99 (Paperback), $4.99 (Kindle), $1.99 (Audible audiobook). 2016.