Tag Archives: review

This is not 50 FIRST DATES!

This is not 50 FIRST DATES!

Christine spends the first hours of each day reading in her journal and the rest of it recording what happens to her as it happens so she will remember it tomorrow. The victim of a hit and run almost twenty years ago, Christine cannot remember anything from one day to the next. She writes at her doctor’s suggestion, keeping both the journal and her doctor a secret from her husband, Ben. Over time, she learns she has had a book published, lost most of her possessions in a fire she inadvertently set, and lost her nineteen-year-old son in Afghanistan…or has she?

Told mostly through Christine Lucas’ journal entries, Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson is a compelling page-turner. As an amnesiac, Christine awakes every morning unsure of herself. She “remembers” who she and her husband are by the labelled pictures posted around the bathroom mirror. Every morning, after she adjusts to the years she’s lost and her husband goes to work, she takes a call on her cell phone from Dr. Nash, who reminds her of where she’s hidden her journal. She reads it, gets caught up with her life, and then moves forward, frantically recording everything so she can pick up where she left off tomorrow. At times peaceful, at times panicked, Christine’s journal kept me on the edge of my seat, unable to put it down.

In Before I Go To Sleep, everyone, from the main character on down, has secrets to keep. It is these secrets that kept me reading. As we read each new entry in Christine’s journal along with her, both the protagonist and the reader realize things don’t add up. Is Christine a reliable narrator? Is the journal a fabrication, the next fiction she imagines? Is Ben as loving as he seems? What, if anything, is he hiding? Was Christine having an affair or was Ben? Who is Claire and why did she abandon Christine all those years ago? Is Dr. Nash to be trusted? These are questions the reader struggles with as the novel progresses; they are the questions Christine struggles with every moment of every day. While Christine begins each new day with a blank slate, reading the same entries in the same journal, Watson makes a concerted effort to spare the reader from that monotony, often glossing over Christine’s reaction to her age, the accident, the temporary separation from her husband after the accident, and the death of her son, but the parts that are repetitive are forgiven because the rest of the story is so compelling. You will not expect what happens once Christine finally pieces together the puzzle that is her life.

The hardcover version of this novel is 359 pages long; I zoomed through it (in eBook format, mind) in three days. I almost didn’t read it at all. Having been burned too many times buying eBooks sight unseen, it was a huge turnoff that Kobo didn’t offer a preview beyond the table of contents. Luckily, Kindle did, and before the end of it I was hooked. I was also wary because the premise sounded a lot like 50 First Dates. While Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore played this concept for its comedic worth, Watson’s interpretation is an absolute thriller, one that is worthy of being placed in the genre. I only wish I could find more books as powerful and as wonderfully written as Before I Go To Sleep.

 Graphic from http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/8/9781443404068.jpg

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Orange is the New Black Critique – Memoir and Netflix Series 

Orange is the New Black is the memoir of Piper Kerman, a woman who, at 34, is jailed for a crime she committed ten years earlier. At that time, Piper was in a relationship with Nora, an older woman and drug dealer for an international cartel. Aware of this information, Piper nevertheless agrees to transport money for her girlfriend. When the story takes place, though Piper has a new life, a legitimate job and a fiancée, she must surrender herself to the department of corrections to carry out her sentence.

I found Orange is the New Black, the memoir a day or so after binge-watching Orange is the New Black the Netflix series. Though memoirs aren’t my reading thing, the online reviews were good and the preview was interesting and easy to read, and so I bought it. The memoir turned out to be a quick read, taking me less than a week to complete. Piper’s narrative voice keeps the story moving and the reader turning pages. While I don’t regret reading it, I do regret not reading it before seeing the series.

Memoirs sell for a reason – they help people experience aspects of life they wouldn’t ordinarily get to experience, sleeping with the rich and famous, for example, or living through a long past moment in history. They detail lives out of the ordinary, and are usually didactic or uplifting in nature.  Piper’s story is both. Throughout the story, she gets on her soapbox to tell the reader sad statistics about the number of women who are denied some sort of treatment for ailments while incarcerated, or the proportion of those requesting early release or furlough compared to those who actually get it. Her story is uplifting because she learns to accept the responsibility in her situation and makes peace with Nora and gets out and lives her life, able to put her experience behind her. In the memoir, Piper elevates herself above the rest of the prison population in her narrative, but she is easily able to make friends and fit in, unlike the Piper of the series.

It took me one and a half episodes of Orange is the New Black to decide I wanted to see more. Part of the allure of the series is the way Piper is played as a fish-out-of-water. She wants to fit in, she desperately tries to fit in, but nearly always fails. Though she enters the system thinking she’s different from the other women there, she soon learns she is exactly the same, a point driven home by the last scene of episode 12 of the season. The series is equally horrifying and funny, albeit ironically so. Though Piper tries to mind her own business and quietly serve her sentence, she is dealt random acts of craziness in each episode that she’s forced to deal with, experiencing varying degrees of success. To add to the stress on the inside, she quickly becomes at odds with Larry, her fiancée, on the outside, which impacts the way she reacts to the randomness of events she experiences on a daily basis.

Her rekindling of the relationship she has with Nora on the inside is exaggerated in the series, and characters from the memoir are either similarly exaggerated or made composite for the series (Crazy Eyes, for example, is a composite of 2 or 3 characters alluded to in the memoir). The one thing that attracted me to the series is conspicuously absent from the memoir and that is the way the series gives the backstories of the other prisoners. I found I liked the inmates better when I understood their motivations inside and how, like Piper, they too are fighting to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their lives.

I understand that, while based on a memoir, much of the series is fiction and fictional characters are constructs (see my earlier post) and so the parts that I liked so much are made up to serve that exact purpose. Disregarding the fact that I don’t usually read memoirs, I much preferred the series to the memoir. While the memoir is a good, fast, interesting read, the series fills in the blanks of the story, blanks that, admittedly, Kerman could not know for fact.

Read the memoir first, then go to Netflix to see the fictionalized version. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by both. 

Graphic from http://blogs.metrotimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/orange-is-the-new-black-poster.jpg

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Dexter Meets Nancy Drew

Dexter Meets Nancy Drew

Harper Curtis squats in a house, the owner dead and rotting in the hallway. In his pocket he finds a key. When he uses the key in the front door, he is taken to whatever time he imagines. He returns later to bludgeon the owner, thus coming full circle in the timeline. Harper travels through time looking for his “shining girls”, girls that emit an aura-like light that he alone can see. He finds them as children, making contact with them when he does, promising to return again, sometime in the future. When he finds them as adults, he brutally slays them, leaving with them a souvenir from a previous kill. The book opens with Harper gifting Kirby a small, plastic horse, years before the date left behind by the mould on the bottom off the horse’s foot. He returns later to murder Kirby, but unbeknownst to Harper, she survives and devotes most of her adult life to bringing Harper to justice. Harper’s hubris in leaving behind these anachronistic souvenirs is what eventually helps Kirby orchestrate his undoing.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is part Dexter’s evil twin, part grown-up Nancy Drew in the perfect combination. It’s been a while since I’ve read a page-turner, and The Shining Girls is a mesmerizing one at that. Beukes’ prose is literary and compelling. Her tone is gritty and dark, whether from Harper, the murderer’s, Kirby, the victim’s, or Dan, the reporter’s points of view. Whether depression, disco, or near-twenty-first century, Buekes’ story makes the era come to life. I love time travel as a plot device, but it must be done right. I need to know about the technology that transports the characters from one time to the next. Beukes chooses to make the device a psychic key, of sorts. Beyond the question of how the original owner obtains it (which is told in the final chapter), the reader is too caught up in the lives of the characters to question it’s true origin (i.e., from where or whom it originated in all time and how it got its power), which is a credit to the author, as I thought this would hang me up and sour me on the novel altogether; it didn’t.

Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Shining Girls is one of those novels I can see myself returning to in the future (no pun intended) to read and re-read before I am able to grasp all of the subtle nuances of the manuscript. And I will do this with gusto.

Graphic from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16131077-the-shining-girls

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Beautiful Twilight

I have read a bit of young adult (YA) fiction in my life, more that I remember since I’ve been an adult than a young adult. Most of my exposure to YA is vicariously through my students. Every year, my grade 10 English students must pick a YA novel and write two reading journals (retell, reflect and relate), a newspaper article about a significant event in the novel and do a literary analysis presentation on it. I learn a lot about YA novels and themes from them. Since I’ve decided to try and write the next great North American YA novel, I’ve made a concerted effort to read more YA. I have to say, so far, my choices haven’t impressed me.

The last YA novel I attempted (unsuccessfully as I didn’t finish) to read was Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The reasons I chose this book were because I remember seeing the trailers for the movie in the theatre and it looked interesting, and honestly, because it was free at the Kobo bookstore. The preview seemed interesting, and so I downloaded.

In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan Wate befriends new student Lena Duchannes at school. He finds himself attracted to her, primarily because she’s different from the other girls and he’s intrigued by the strange things that seem to happen around her. When a window breaks near her and without her touching it, Ethan goes to her home to check on her and winds up befriending her. Their friendship soon turns into a romance. Lena and Ethan find they have been dreaming about each other and they are able to communicate by thinking to each other. Ethan soon learns Lena is a caster. She is about to turn sixteen and her powers are beginning to manifest, though she cannot always control them. On her sixteenth birthday—many months into the future from the start of the book—she will be claimed, either by light or dark and her life will change. Her greatest fear is she will be claimed by the dark and turn into an evil caster like her cousin and her mother.

To its credit, Beautiful Creatures uses great allusions that many teens will recognize. Lena’s reclusive uncle is compared to Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird fame. He even owns a dog whose name is Boo Radley that follows the couple around throughout the book. There are also comparisons to Gone with the Wind that I understood, but might be over most teens’ heads, unless they grew up in the American south. There were sections of the book which made me second guess my giving up, but these always gave way to slower narrative and focus on Ethan and Lena’s connection which seemed forced at times. Also, romance just isn’t my bag; I felt the concentration on teen angst and romantic insecurity too soupy for my liking at times.

Once Ethan meets Lena, the book reminded me too much of Twilight. In Twilight, Bella lives in a small, boring town and meets Edward with whom she’s forced to work in class. When Edward saves Bella from certain death in a strange feat of strength, she feels a connection to him, thus beginning their relationship. In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan lives in a small, boring town and meets Lena with whom he chooses to work in class when no one else wants to. When Ethan witnesses Lena exert a feat of mental strength, he feels a connection to her, thus beginning their relationship. Also, I felt that the novel begins too much in advance of Lena’s transformation. The reader must slog through six months of Lena’s angst around being claimed, which is too much anticipation. Lastly, the parameters of Lena’s abilities are too wishy-washy. Other casters’ abilities are specific; they can do one thing. Lena seems to be able to do more than most casters, which makes it seem like the authors invented her abilities as they needed them to advance the plot. I found myself often frustrated as I tried to figure out the parameters of magic in the Beautiful Creatures world.

If you are a young girl looking for a supernatural romance, I think you might enjoy this novel, especially if you liked Twilight (which I didn’t). For an adult not interested in romance, but rather, in great literature with clear cut rules governing the science and magic of the fictional world in which to immerse yourself for a few hours, Beautiful Creatures is not for you.

Graphic from: http://books.google.ca/books/about/Beautiful_Creatures.html?id=hTE6xarZsk8C&redir_esc=y

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Review of Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor

I first heard about Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor on CBC Radio One. The reviewer said he couldn’t read the novel in public because he was embarrassed by the laugh-out-loud moments. I could use a good laugh, I thought to myself, and went home, downloaded and read the preview, and liked it enough to buy the ebook. The premise of Mount Pleasant is simple enough—a middle-aged man faces the realization that life is not what he’d expected.

When Harry Salter’s father dies leaving much less by way of inheritance than Harry thought, he hires a forensic accountant to find out what has happened to his father’s money. On the way he has an affair with his father’s younger second wife, learns his own wife had an affair decades earlier, comes to terms with his son’s new girlfriend, and his ailing mother. In his quest, Harry discovers his father was cheated out of his money by colleagues involved in a ponzi investment scheme. Now, in addition to the fact that he’s barely staying financially afloat, he must pay the forensic accountant for his services and convince his wife to sell the house in order to ease their financial burden. He must also come to grips with a sense of his own mortality after a colonoscopy yields a number of polyps.

Mount Pleasant—named after the cemetery in which Harry’s father is buried—is beautifully written. It is funny in a way, but the tone is more dark and ironic than laugh-out-loud funny.  The novel paints a detailed picture of Harry and his disenfranchisement from both his family and society. Though he teaches and still has contact with youth, there is the sense that the world has passed Harry by, and Harry doesn’t quite know what to make of it. While reading the novel, White Noise by Don DeLillo came to mind as both Gillmor and DeLillo write about coming to terms with a changing, postmodern society. In White Noise, fear of the future comes in the form of airborne toxins and invisible technological miasma. In Mount Pleasant, it is in the form of growing old alone (both literally and figuratively), and finding oneself unable to maintain accustomed lifestyles in a rapidly approaching retirement.

Mount Pleasant is worth the read. Gillmor’s prose is literary, his descriptions—whether on point or on tangent—superb. Gillmor’s storytelling is even paced, though anti-climactic. Mount Pleasant is a slice-of-life parable with which many aging baby boomers will identify.

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic from: http://www.dongillmor.ca/

Critique of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

Critique of Star Trek: Into Darkness

Warning: Spoilers follow.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember, so devout a fan, in fact, that the first time I heard of the JJ Abrams re-boot, I thought it was sacrilege. And then I watched it. In light of the cancellation of Deep Space Nine and the failure of Enterprise, 2009’s Star Trek brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise.

After the vacuum in which there was no new Trek after the original series ended, I looked forward to the first Trek movie with anticipation. After watching it, I didn’t know what to make of it. Any new Trek is good Trek, I argued, but I loathed calling the new Trek good Trek. Then the second movie premiered and I went, in spite of the first, and was blown away. The Wrath of Khan was the best epic epi of Star Trek ever. I think I must’ve seen it a dozen times or more in the emptiness between it and The Search for Spock, only to be disappointed once more. The third movie in the franchise was too short and too proscribed. A mistake had been made in killing Spock and the purpose of The Search for Spock was an ends to a means—to put the canon right.

By contrast, The Voyage Home shined because it was a return to the two things Trek does best—the buddy relationship between Kirk and Spock (made better by Spock’s newfound struggle with humanity/vulcanry) and time travel. After movie number four, the original flavour of Trek would not return until movie seven, Final Contact. This movie, capitalizing on the popularity of The Next Generation series, was a winner as it was as good as TNG’s best television episodes. The movies that followed never, in my opinion, recaptured the camaraderie and adventure that made the series such a hit.

On the heels of TNG movies came a slew of television series linked to the Trek franchise. Deep Space Nine played out in mediocrity alongside a bland Final Contact and lacklustre Andromeda, followed by a struggling Enterprise, and it seemed like the franchise—and Gene Roddenbery’s future ideal—had petered out.

Then came the 2009 re-boot, followed by 2013’s Into Darkness. I went to see it because, like all other Trek movies, it was Star Trek. The reviews were mixed, everything from amazing and that it was a must see to nothing special, and that it recycled several episodes of the original Trek. While the movie does recycle many original Trek ideas, such as the characters of Khan, and Carol Marcus, as well as a conveniently placed zombie tribble, Into Darkness is amazingly fun. In it, the crew is sent to kill the character we later learn is Khan Noonian Singh in a deserted area on Kronos, the Klingon home world, without starting a war. Talked out of the hit by Spock, Kirk and crew are targeted by Marcus’ father as a part of a cover-up to hide the fact that Khan had been working with The Federation to develop a type of photon torpedo. It turns out the torpedoes disguise stasis pods for Khan’s eugenically engineered mates, and Kirk and his gang emerge victorious, thwarting the evil Marcus senior, and securing Khan and group back in their stasis pods, ready to be set afloat on the SS Botany Bay where they will be found by Kirk et al in the original Trek timeline.

I enjoyed the re-invention of the Khan character, seeing the start of Kirk’s relationship with Carol Marcus, and the cameos by both the tribble and Leonard Nimoy as the elder Spock. It is interesting how the roles of Kirk and Spock are switched for the retake of Wrath’s critical warp core scene. This time it is Kirk who asks about the status of the ship and Spock who answers “Out of danger,” as well as shouting “Khan!” with more emotion than you’d think a Vulcan could ever muster. I know Kirk is supposed to be the star of the series, but the Spock character, pioneered by Leonard Nimoy and wonderfully interpreted by Zachary Quinto, in my mind, has become my favourite and most important Trek character by far. I love the chemistry between Spock and Uhura as well. Though Kirk still has a lot of growing up to do, this movie helps the character travel down that road by miles from where he was at the end of the first movie.

Into Darkness is a fine addition to the popular Trek canon. I look forward to seeing it again when it comes out on DVD as well as where JJ Abrams will “boldly go” with the franchise in the next movie.

Graphic from http://collider.com/star-trek-into-darkness-app-image/

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

A Farewell to “Cult”

Cult intertitle.png

What’s this I hear? Cult has been cancelled and the remaining episodes will not be aired? And I was just beginning to have an inkling as to where this series may be going.

Cult is, in many ways, superior to the other cult-oriented show, The Following, in that there seems to be an overall design motivating the characters. Jeff Sefton is a reporter searching for his brother who disappeared shortly after solving a puzzle whose clues are hidden in a television show called “Cult”. He is assisted by show researcher, Skye Yarrow, who is investigating the disappearance of her father who has ties to the show’s mysterious, never-seen-in-public writer. Last week’s episode saw Skye nearly die after being slipped a drug, similar to the one the members of the cult on the show take as a part of their religious ritual. In a prolonged dream/near-death-experience, Skye sees Roger Reeves (played with extreme creepiness by Robert Knepper) who begs her to stay with him—which would equate to her giving up her death-bed fight. To persuade her, he allows her to see her father which only serves as an indication to Skye that what she sees is not real. Meanwhile, in reality, Jeff searches for a sample of the drug that felled Skye so doctors can synthesize an antidote. He breaks into Detective Sakelik’s house and takes the tabs from her freezer. At the end of the episode, Skye is cured and Jeff is punished for his hubris when his colleague turns up dead for his role in helping steal Sakelik’s hidden stash.

Though an interesting premise, Cult tries to take on too much. Events on the television show unfold out of sequence (Kelly Collins is an ex-cult member turned cop who wants to take Reeves down in one episode, and marries him in the past (I think) in the next). On top of this there is a real-life cult devoted to interpreting and exposing the sub-text of the television show. Sakelik lurks in the background waiting to pounce on Jeff and Skye whenever they get close to figuring out the cult’s secret, though her connection to the cult is ambiguous. While I like the duality of the actors having both television and real-life personas, and the notion of a secret society based on the sub-text of a television show, the characters seeking out the truth behind the disappeared uber-fans find things out too slowly, which  may have contributed to the show’s downfall.

The other cult-based show, The Following, is so quick-paced it is, at times, dizzying. James Purefoy plays Dr. Joe Carroll with smarmy sophistication. An English professor and author, he is obsessed with the horrific  elements present in the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, the former FBI agent responsible for putting Carroll behind bars and subsequently having an affair with his wife. The story shadows Carroll’s followers as they murder to show their devotion, goaded to action by clues in Poe’s writing. The main storyline centres on Carroll’s desire to write the next best-seller and reconstruct his fractured family, and Hardy’s quest to keep Carroll behind bars and then to return him to prison after he escapes. Each week showcases gross brutality and gratuitous murder aplenty, with little ulterior motive. The Following makes me squirm because I don’t understand what about Carroll could turn everyday people into remorseless killers.

As with the fictional “Cult”, the real-life Cult relies on its viewers’ ability to read between the lines to find meaning in the story; The Following lays it all out for its viewers, who are left wondering if there is method to Carroll’s madness. I am disappointed Cult was cancelled, even more so after hearing the final episodes will not be aired. In addition to lamenting the cancellation of the show, I mourn popular culture’s favouritism of the simple and graphic over the subtle and cerebral.

About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_(TV_series)

Being Human Send-off

image

I hate this bittersweet time of year, the time when all my favourite television shows come to a climax and leave me hanging. This week I watched this season’s culminating episode of Being Human, a show about a vampire, a pair of werewolves and a ghost trying to subvert their supernatural sides and…well…be human. This season saw a vampire virus, Aiden siring a son, Sally’s transformation from shredded, limbo-confined ghost to flesh-eating zombie and back to ghost, and Josh’s journey from were to human and back to were. There was a lot of murder and mayhem and sex and a marriage, but no matter the excitement level of each episode (which was stuck in high gear for the duration), it never reached the high of the season finale.

This week’s episode saw Aidan form an unholy alliance with Blake to compel Kat to forget seeing Sally’s rotting corpse in her room; Sally’s return to ghostdom while linked to Donna the Souleater’s spirit; and Josh’s seeming inability to return to (for lack of a better phrase) being human after turning, following being bit by a full-blooded were. To make matters worse, a woman has shown up that looks eerily like Aidan’s long dead wife, there’s a mutated baby vamp on the loose that Aidan suggested to Josh he’d killed, and Werejosh is about to pounce on Humannora.

On the up side, I’m satisfied. This ending promised no fewer cliffhangers than any other episode this season. On the downside, I have to wait the better part of a year before I am able to ride the Being Human roller coaster again. Being Human is one of the better sci-fi shows featuring supes out there today. It lacks the soap of Vampire Diaries, and True Blood’s gratuitous sex and violence. The characters develop every season, and the relationships are believable, which can be attributed to the chemistry of the cast and the skill of the writing. Knowing the British production has been cancelled makes me all the more grateful that this was only the season—and not the series—finale.

To my dear friends Aidan, Josh, Sally and Nora: have a great summer, and try not to eat too many actual humans while on hiatus.

About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic from:http://www.bigdamngeeks.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/being-human-1.jpg

THE VIRGIN CURE – Review

As an archaeologist, I have extensive knowledge of objects used by European cultures in the nineteenth century in The New World. After reading Amy McKay’s The Virgin Cure, I realize I know very little about life in the nineteenth century, particularly amongst the lower classes. In The Virgin Cure, preteen Moth is sold into servitude by her alcoholic, promiscuous mother. She goes willingly and is beaten on a whim by her mistress, Mrs. Wentworth, treated poorly by the rest of the servants and escapes to the streets. She is taken in by Miss Everett, a woman who offers homes to girls with intact virginities, trains them in the art of how to please a man, and then sells their virtue off. She strikes a friendship with Miss Everett’s doctor who offers to take her in herself, but Moth refuses. The title refers to the belief that men with sexually transmitted diseases may be cured of their illness after having sex with a virgin. Young girls like Moth live under the ever-present danger that they may fall prey to this practice. Though Moth remains safe throughout, one of her friends is raped by a syphilitic man in an alleyway and succumbs to the disease. In the end, Moth survives the experience and grows to leave Miss Everett, only to follow in her footsteps, eventually opening a similar house for wayward girls of her own.

McKay’s narrative style, in the first person present tense from Moth’s point of view is extremely compelling. Moth is precocious and streetwise, though naïve when it comes to male-female relations. She looks fondly upon her life in the tenements, yet has no desire to return. Intermittent throughout the narrative are “author’s notes” in the persona of Dr. Sadie. Though intended to enlighten the reader with respect to nineteenth century customs and practices, they interrupt the flow of the narrative instead, adding little to it as the information is eventually imparted elsewhere in Moth’s story. Newspaper articles documenting events in the plot are unnecessary as they add little to what the reader has already experienced. The same can be said for Dr. Sadie’s notes and letters.

In McKay’s afterword, she explains that this novel is based on a picture of her great-great-grandmother (the inspiration for Dr. Sadie) and her daughter and research she undertook in an effort to learn more about her great-great-grandmother, a pioneer with respect to elevating the role of women in society. This may explain why, aside from a few beatings and following through with selling her virginity, little happens to Moth in the book. Most of the intrigue is in what Moth hears or witnesses, first at her employer’s erratic behaviour, then from the girls at Miss Everett’s and in her role as a “Circassian Beauty” – slash – fortune-teller in Mr. Dink’s museum.

Given the build-up, I expected a more vivid description of Moth’s first time and was disappointed. I also expected her to find redemption in the favour of the upper-class she so fantasizes about and was disappointed there as well. Rather than join Dr. Sadie on a crusade to save girls from falling prey to the same fate as herself, Moth opens her own brothel, offering up girls as naïve and pure as she once was to dirty old men. The Virgin Cure is a slice-of-life novel, offering the reader a glimpse into the plight of women, especially the destitute in late nineteenth century North America, and is well worth the read, in spite of the lack-lustre climax.

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THE PURCHASE and Point of View

Whether consciously aware of it or not, the point of view from which a story is told can make or break the story. The most popular points of view are first person—in which the reader sees the events unfold through the eyes of a single character, including their thoughts and feelings—and third person. There are typically three types of third person narrative. The first is limited, essentially another take on the first person narrative. In third person limited, the reader can only know, see and feel what the point of view character knows, sees and feels. In third person omniscient, the reader experiences the narrative from a variety of people’s points of view. In third person objective, the narrator tells the plot as if the reader were viewing a movie, taking in all of the characters’ expressions and actions, but with none of the characters’ thoughts and feelings expressed in the narrative, other than those responses which can reasonably be observed.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding is about Daniel Dickinson, a Quaker living at the turn of the nineteenth century, who is excommunicated after his wife dies and he marries Ruth, the fifteen year old Methodist orphan living with his family as a servant. Disillusioned with his former life and feeling as if he has no future, Daniel moves his five children across the country to settle in Virginia. At an auction to purchase farm equipment, Daniel inadvertently bids on a slave and is bullied into giving up his favourite horse as collateral for the purchase and taking the eight year old boy, Simus, home with him. Thus begins (if I may borrow a phrase) a series of unfortunate events for Daniel as his family grows and he tries to build first a house and then a mill on his land.

The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, following each character’s thoughts, feelings and actions as the scene unfolds. This allows the reader to glean information that the main character(s) may not have. The following passage demonstrates Spalding’s expert use of this narrative technique:

“If we take my children to Virginia, thee could travel as a wife.” It was possible, [Daniel] supposed now, looking back at her unwashed face, that she had never had a book of her own. “Thee may borrow my Aeneid,” he called back to her, “with due care to its binding.” He turned to smile, but she had lowered her head and did not see.

But I am reading it just now, Mary wanted to say. That book was the one thing she shared now with her father. It was theirs. She stayed silent.

If this were written from Daniel’s point of view, we would not know that Mary wants to say something to her father but chooses to remain silent. Spalding also uses this technique to hide from Mary that her husband was involved in Simus’ murder. The reader knows it was reluctantly so and that he tried to stop it and gave up and left before the actual murder took place, information Mary never finds out.

The Purchase is written in third person omniscient, but it is more a cross between this and third person objective, as many character thoughts and motivations are hidden. Ruth is the best example of this. Though she is present throughout and the reader knows she struggles with her position in the family, little is shown with respect to her emotions. Next to Daniel, the well-meaning but aloof patriarch, the most detailed, well-rounded character is Simus. Though he is around for perhaps only half of the novel, his life and death act as catalysts for most of what occurs in the plot. Mary, the eldest daughter, and Bett, a slave girl with whom Mary lives, befriends, and helps escape, aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Though Mary gains local notoriety as a healer while secretly using Bett’s salves and potions, Bett only expresses fear at being caught, for it is against the law for blacks to medically treat whites. I would have liked to have known more about Bett’s feeling with respect to what happens in the story, as I felt the real story lay in the relationship between Simus, Bett, Bry (Bett’s son, the result of her being raped by her owner) and Mary, who form the closest thing to a family portrayed in the book.

Spalding’s choice to use this point of view allows her to expand her story, giving the reader snapshots into the lives of characters beyond Daniel and what he knows about his family’s goings-on. In this fashion, the author expertly layers the story, drawing the reader’s curiosity, rendering The Purchase a page-turner; the pace is quick, the chapters are short and the narration is easy to follow. The novel explores the themes of perseverance in the face of adversity, alienation, religious faith, and the make-up of family. Spalding draws thought-provoking parallels between the slavery of blacks and the servitude of women. Daniel remains cold to Ruth throughout. They do not have relations until they are several years into their marriage. Even then, he is aloof with her and quick to lay judgement. In many ways, He treats Ruth as more of a slave than either Simus, Bett or Bry, figuratively lashing out at her when she disobeys him or tries to assume ownership of the new homestead, he does not forge a relationship with her and goes to her only when he wants to have relations. This parallels Bett’s plight. Her owner (the Fox family) literally lashes her when she disobeys them, they forge no attachment with her and the owner uses his female slaves whenever he wants to have relations.

The Purchase intricately weaves the stories of the members of the extended Dickinson family into the harsh realities of pioneer life using a great deal of irony in the telling. The story itself is told darkly, but the end message is uplifting and emotionally and spiritually satisfying.

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