The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean Telt by Hisself by David Almond

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean Telt by Hisself by David Almond

billydeanA strange story about a boy who grows up in a room by himself. Through his extreme isolation, he discovers he has powers beyond that of a normal boy. There is a mystery surrounding his parentage and also about the world outside the only room he has ever known. The boy’s name is Billy Dean and this is his tale.

This pseudo-memoir is written mostly phonetically and with intentional misspellings, which was incredibly annoying at first, but you find yourself getting used to it. “This tale is told by 1 that died at birth by 1 that came into the world in the days of endles war & at a moment of disaster. He grew in isolayshon wile the enjins of destruchshon flew & smoke rose over the sitys & wile wilderness & waste crept all acros the world.” pg 1, ebook.

David Almond was attempting to capture Billy Dean’s innocent but uneducated voice through the misshaping of the words. I get what he was going for, but felt it did a disservice to the story.

Which wasn’t that good. It could have been though and that was disappointing.

Take this intense moment when Billy Dean’s father tells him that he should have killed his son the moment he was born: “Wilfred O bliddy Wilfred shud hav killd the monster in the woom. …. He grabbd me by the throte. Shudnt he? he yelld at me. Anser me you cretin! Tel me I shud have ended it befor it had bluddy begun. Tel me yes you shud hav Daddy!” pg 32, ebook.

It just doesn’t have the impact it could have, does it.

Or this moment, when Billy Dean is comforting his mother: “Im so sory” she wispers. “It was all supposed to be so different.” … “Its lovely Mam” he grones at her. “Its byutiful.” And all this nite he wil not slepe for the aykin of his mussels & the stingin of his bones & the thumpin of his hart & the byuty & the wunder of this world. pg 87

Beyond my issues with how the author chose to present his story, I felt that the magical part of the story was misshandled, especially when it comes to the child Billy Dean.

It made the timing of events feel strange. Nothing would happen, this this huge unexplained thing would roll out and the reader would be expected to accept that as the new normal and go on.

Perhaps Almond was trying to express the inexplicable nature of existence?

This book left me with a lot of unanswered questions, but not in a good way. I can’t recommend it.

Thanks for reading.

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The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

handmaid and carpenterA re-telling of the birth of Jesus from the viewpoints of Mary and Joseph.

I picked up this audiobook thinking, ‘Oh, this’ll get me in the Christmas spirit.’ But, I was dismayed to discover I turned into the Grinch instead.

I did not connect with this at all.

I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t like the dialogue.

I found myself rolling my eyes when Joseph was talking about traditional gender roles. I realize Elizabeth Berg was beating us over the head with it because she was depicting Joseph was uber-traditional, but I had zero patience for it.

The moment the angel comes to Mary could have been something spectacular and it sounded almost exactly like the King James version of the Bible. I wanted this re-telling to bring a new dimension to the story and it didn’t.

The interactions between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, were stilted and strange.

Berg tried to bring a sacred feminine vibe into the mix by making Mary knowledgeable about herbs. It just fell flat.

I can’t recommend this one.

I’m off to steal the presents from Cindy Lou Who. The Grinch, signing off!

Thanks for reading.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

murdersofmollyThe Murders of Molly Southbourne is a short story about a girl who is born with a horrifying condition. Whenever she bleeds, the blood changes into a homicidal version of herself that won’t stop until it, or Molly, is dead.

“The rules are simple. If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight. Don’t bleed. If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach. If you find a hole, find your parents. Molly recites the lines to herself many times.” pg 24.

I’m not sure I understood what the author was going for with this short story.

Yes, what happens to Molly is horrific. I guess I didn’t make the connection between what was happening to her and the broader meaning the story was reaching towards.

Because it was certainly reaching: “She cannot stand children. They remind her of the mollys, with their innocence and their half-formed personalities, and she expects them to burst into violence any minute. They never do, but they might.” pgs 63-64

Or, beyond the death-through-your-children angle, I could use this story to consider the futility of life itself. “How is it that humans bleed so much? Or maybe Molly herself bleeds more than the average human. The rule are useless, an attenuation at best. Lifeblood escapes all the time, minor hemorrhages, a little a day. Maybe that is how we age. Maybe that is how we die.” pg 91

It is creepy and could fit the bill if you’re looking for one more short and spooky pre-Halloween read. I just didn’t connect with it.

Thanks for reading!

Grendel by John Gardner

Grendel by John Gardner

grendelGrendel is the ill-fated monster from the ancient story, Beowulf. This is his tale.

There are very few details shared about Grendel in Beowulf. I thought that this story would be an opportunity for the reader to get to know him.

Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Grendel’s mind, circling endlessly around the ideas of time, brutality, nature and the meaninglessness of existence.

I wanted to know more about Grendel’s mother, but there was very little about her.

John Gardner wrote her as some kind of void-filled slug monster: “Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.” pg 10, ebook.

Not like Grendel does, endlessly.

“I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.” pg 17, ebook.

I think that was the biggest reason I didn’t enjoy this read. I believe every moment in life is, or can be, filled with purpose, meaning and happiness. Grendel falls on the exact opposite end of the scale.

In that way, Grendel is one of the biggest downers you could ever read. He believes that life means nothing. He acts and kills from this empty center.

Out of this morass, the one part I kind of enjoyed was Grendel’s conversation with a dragon in its hoard.

The dragon lives for millennia and sees the world from a view so wide that it is almost outside of time. Again, there’s a nihilist bent to his view, but the dragon brought a weird bit of humor to an otherwise bleak story.

“Don’t look so bored,” he (the dragon) said. He scowled, black as midnight. “Think how I must feel,” he said.” pg 43, ebook.

Yeah, think how I must feel. All I wanted was the story of Beowulf from a unique perspective and what I received was a vague feeling of depression about the meaninglessness of it all.

Thanks for reading.

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

demonAn edgy, simply-drawn comic about a man who tries to commit suicide, but keeps waking up alive. There’s an unexpected twist and lots of blood.

In the author’s own words: “From the suicide depicted on the first page of the story to the climactic bloodbath three volumes later, Demon is my gleeful homage to the lurid and pulpy entertainment rags that make up the detritus of our childhoods.” From the foreword.

I see what he was trying to do. It just wasn’t for me.

For Jason Shiga, this was a very personal work: “Ultimately, Jimmy is me. When he leaps in front of a semi-trailer, it’s really me who secretly wants to do that. When he acts in a deliberately amoral and antisocial manner, that’s me, too.” From the foreword.

Shiga warns readers from the start that Demon is crass and graphically violent. And, it is.

Oh well. Next book!

Thanks for reading.

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

theartofaskingAmanda Palmer is an extremely talented artist who has done it all- from performing in a punk rock band to posing as a statue on the streets.

I can see why readers are passionate about this book and the author. She just didn’t strike a spark for me.

Memoirs can drag on and become self-indulgent and ridiculous. I feel like that was a problem with The Art of Asking.

The tipping point for me was when she formed The Dresden Dolls with her friend and said (I’m quoting from memory here since I was listening to the audiobook): “I finally had the strongly emoting band I’d always dreamed of” or something like that.

I realized, I was strongly emoting on this book, but not in a good way.

I understand her internal struggles in forming a relationship with Neil Gaiman must have been difficult for her, but her “should I date him, he’s older and richer and more famous than me” just came off as silly and very first-world problems.

I get that she loves her fans, her art, her lifestyle- but it just come together to make a read that I enjoyed.

My apologies to her fans. If it helps, my favorite parts of the audiobook were the songs she put between some of the tracks. Those were actually pretty awesome.

And the over-arching theme of The Art of Asking was good too.

Society isn’t comfortable with asking. We don’t know how to do it, don’t feel comfortable with it and it prevents people from making the art that they were born to make.

You can get that part of this book by watching Palmer’s TED talk. Maybe you should do that instead of reading this.

Here ’tis: https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking

Thanks for reading.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

princeofthorns**Warning: minor spoiler in the last paragraph of this review. Read with caution.**

Prince of Thorns is about a boy who becomes a monster on his way to becoming a man. There’s some fantasy twists in it, but that’s the main story.

I wanted to love this book. But, sadly, the title character is simply unlikeable. And, the role of women in the book is either sex object or nothing.

“Two hundred dead farmers lying with their scythes and axes. You know, I warned them that we do this for a living. … I gave them that chance, I always do. But no. They wanted blood and slaughter. And they got it.” pg 1, ebook. That’s the very first page, folks.

And all of this cynicism and blood thirst is from a 14 year old. Sure…“There’ s a reason I’m going to win this war. Everyone alive has been fighting a battle that grew old before they were born. I cut my teeth on the wooden soldiers in my father’s war room. There’s a reason I’m going to win where they failed. It’s because I understand the game. pg 19, ebook.

Mark Lawrence tries to use a magical reason to explain this adult reasoning from a child, but it didn’t work for me.

“We wrap up our violent and mysterious world in a pretense of understanding. We paper over the voids in our comprehension with science or religion, and make believe that order has been imposed. And, for the most of it, the fiction works. We skim across surfaces, heedless of the depths below. … Until that moment when something from the cold unknown reaches up to take us.” pg 205, ebook.

If you want dark fantasy about a band of thieves, may I recommendThe Lies of Locke LamoraIf you’re looking for an epic fantasy about humankind being the pawns for something greater than ourselves, try Gardens of the Moon As for Prince of Thorns, if you must read it, borrow it from the library. Because then, like me, you can give it back, only have lost the time it took to read it.

Thanks for reading!