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mc atwood_the devils you know

Image Credit: Amazon

DISCLAIMER: I am a MA in Writing Student at Rowan University who has recently had the opportunity to study under Professor Atwood. The following review may be biased.

When I saw that I would be required to read MC Atwood’s debut young adult novel, The Devils You Know for my Seminar II class this semester as part of my MA in Writing program at Rowan University, I was very excited. Last fall I had a wonderful experience studying under Professor Atwood by taking her Writing Genre Fiction course. Atwood is hilarious and one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. She is also seriously talented as both a writer and an editor.

The Devils You Know was a real pleasure to read. I love that while the book is Atwood’s favorite genre – horror – it is also still young adult. While terrifying, it was also extremely relatable.  This novel is about more than a creepy haunted house with scary clowns and dolls (seriously…so many dolls…). It’s a story about friendship and finding yourself in the midst of the terror known as high school.

In the beginning of the novel, Paul, Violet, Dylan, Ashley, and Gretchen don’t know each other very well for the most part. Paul is seen as being the cool black guy that everyone loves. Violet is the quiet “nice” girl that no one knows very well, but Paul has a crush on, and she is beginning to develop feelings for as well. Dylan tries a little too hard to be a bad ass and I can really see him as being a bit of a punk rocker/skater kid. Ashley is the stuck up, rich, right-winged Republican princess that owns the school and absolutely HATES Gretchen (the feeling appears to be mutual), and Gretchen is Dylan’s partner whom is every bit as weird and tough as he is.

The quintent rarely ever crosses paths and most certainly wouldn’t call each other friends. However, when the opportunity to visit the legendary Boulder House on a class field trip presents itself, all five members of the group sign up and find themselves forced to not only share in the same space and experiences, but to also work together as a team and get to REALLY know the truth about each other. Sometimes the truth can be completely alarming and sometimes you think you know someone (as is the case of Dylan and Gretchen), but later realize you don’t know that person at all.

For instance – who would’ve guessed that Paul likes to wear tights and role play during medieval events? Nice girls finish last…and get taken advantage of as seen by the way Mr. Rhinehart takes advantage of Violet by having an affair with her the day she turns 18. Dylan is not actually Dylan at all…he’s John Michael…and despite his foul mouth and constant use of the word “yo”, he’s not as tough as he wants people to think he is. He’s actually a very conservative Christian who attends church every week with his rich parents. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley isn’t the conservative Christian she wants everyone to believe she is. In fact, she’s gay and she’s trying everything to hide her true identity from everyone, especially her Republican parents. After all, her father IS a well-known senator who HATES anyone that’s not straight. If he knew the truth about her it would destroy him and the rest of her family. What’s worst – she doesn’t hate Gretchen at all. In fact, she’s in love with her. As for Gretchen? She’s tough because she has to be, not because she wants to be. Her family is on food stamps and she makes her own clothes because she has no choice. Her mother is ill and the family constantly struggles with money.

In order to survive the house and everything in it – from demonic angels to creepy evil dolls to scary clowns to even whales and everything in between, the quintent must work together. However, when the quintent’s secrets are revealed to one another, they all feel such a strong sense of shame that they want to go through the house alone. However, they later learn that while they each have their own secrets, it doesn’t make them less and if anything, knowing the truth about who they are is what will not only bring them closer together, but also force them to want to stick together to support each other and to make it out of the house alive and beyond the house, to make it through high school alive, too.

Some of the novel’s strengths lie in the extreme attention to details, particularly with the imagery and descriptions of the house. It’s a very unique and clever book that while sticking to the main conventions of the horror genre, doesn’t fall into the trap of cliches. For example: there’s an entire room dedicated to whales and aquatic lives. I’ve never been afraid of whales and squids/octapuses, but I am now! I also really appreciated the way the novel took the very successful risk of having multiple narrators/points of views. Each chapter was told by a different character – Ashley, Gretchen, Dylan, Violet, and/or Paul. This allowed the reader to get up close and personal with all of the characters. Atwood did a great job of breaking them all down and creating an equal balance between each character’s voice so it never felt like you had too much of one character and not enough of another character. It also never got too confusing or overwhelming; five seemed like the perfect number.

So why four stars and not five? While I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down, it wasn’t perfect. There were still some things that bothered me with this book. One of the main things I didn’t like was Dylan’s character. He really annoyed me. I didn’t like his dialogue and I had trouble believing that’s how he would actually talk. I think there was an instance in the beginning where he said something along the lines of “I remembered to turn my swag on” which made me cringe. Do people even use the term “swag” anymore? I thought that died around 2008. “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” also sounded really awkward to me. I could believe him saying it once or twice, but constantly throughout the book? And no one ever comments on how weird it sounds? I had trouble buying it. Lastly, by the end of the book I was really annoyed by his constant use of the word “yo”. I think he said it but I feel like that would be something he’d say in the beginning of a sentence, not the end and reading it vs. hearing it – it reads kind of awkwardly and annoyed me as a reader. Lastly – his name is something completely different than what everyone calls him and no one knew this? I feel like the school would at least have his legal name down and probably call him by it on the first day of class. I just didn’t buy that as being his secret.

Also, reading this as a conservative Christian, I realize I’m a little biased but I did take some issues with the content of the novel. At times I felt like I was being attacked based on my views and like I was supposed to apologize or feel bad about being a conservative, Republican, Christian. I go to church every week the way Dylan/John Michael did – I don’t think that’s a “bad” thing in itself.

Lastly, demonic/fallen angels? The angels which are typically symbols for good, were made into symbols for evil. I wasn’t really okay with that imagery. I felt like the idea of Christianity throughout the novel was being shown in a negative light. Some of the jabs against Christianity/Republicans (such as the subtle George Bush reference…) felt a little over-done/cheap. I also thought of the impact/influence they may have on the novel’s target teenage audience which made me a little uncomfortable.

But overall I did really like this novel. It was very well researched, well written, and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

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Image Credits: Amazon

I recently enrolled in Professor Julia Chang’s Writing the Memoir class at Rowan University. One of the first books she assigned for us to read is Nick Flynn’s now out of print memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. My first impression of this book was 1. There must be a reason why this out of print followed by 2. I trust my professor’s judgement, despite this book being out of print, it must be good.

However, I found this memoir to be pretty “meh” overall.

The main overarching theme in this memoir is the art of telling stories or searching for stories throughout life. I love that the book works towards this theme and that the theme is supposed to be the glue that holds the book together, however, I didn’t really realize this was the book’s theme until the very end. We get hints at this theme, but it’s not made quite as clear as I would have liked it to have been.

Nick Flynn is a twenty-something year old man living in Boston. Growing up, he never had the opportunity to really know his father. Everything that Nick knows about his father is through stories – those told by others like his mother and those from the occasional letters that he receives from his father.

Individuals like Nick’s mother paint a pretty depressing picture of what Nick’s father is really like. Nick learns that his father is an alcoholic, that he’s a conman with a number of scams and schemes over the years including robbing banks, and that the police are constantly looking for him due to his failure to pay child support.

Nick also learns through letters that his father writes to him while in prison that his father is a writer. Nick’s father often writes him to tell him that his novel is going well and is on its way to being the next great American novel — earning the same ranks and acclaim as classics like The Catcher in the Rye. However, Nick never actually gets to see the story and has no way of knowing whether or not this story actually exists or if it’s merely another one of his father’s famous stories.

Nick’s own story is very similar to that of his father’s. He too, becomes an alcoholic and gets himself involved in drugs, namely cocaine. Nick also becomes involved in a life of crime while working on the boat smuggling drugs in and out. Is he destined to become his father?

It isn’t until Nick starts working for a homeless shelter, Pine Street, one of the largest homeless shelters in the country, that he meets his father. His homeless father becomes one of the residents. However, Nick shows no sympathy to his father. There are often times places when he doesn’t even seem to want to be around his father. It’s as if he’d rather hear about his father through the grapevine. Nick wants to know who his father really is, but he seems to be afraid to do so because he is so afraid of becoming his father, something that he seems to be on track to do.

At the very end of the book, Nick finally does interview his father along with other father-like figures who were involved with his mother before her suicide. He finds that his father’s book does in fact exist, but it’s actually a musical, much of which seems to focus on his alcoholism and how it lead him to prison. While Nick admits that about thirty pages of it are pretty good, he admits that it’s definitely not the masterpiece that his father made it out to be. He reflects on what this means by saying:

What would I do if it was a masterpiece, an overlooked classic? What then? Would our blood be redeemed? Would time be made whole? Would I still have such ambivalence about calling myself a poet? Would I have more? Would I have some idea of what it means to be a father, would I still be terrified of becoming one? He cannot die, he tells me, until his work is complete. Perhaps I am digging his grave, perhaps the book you have in your hands is the coin for his eyes. Perhaps the story of his masterpiece is his life raft, what he’s invented to keep himself afloat.

This is really the highlight of the book and where all of the little stories weaved throughout begin to make sense. However, After trudging through over 300 pages to get to this point, I was a little exhausted as a reader. The book felt as though it dragged on a bit and could have easily been told in only 200 or so pages. Once the book got to the point and began to make sense, it was over.

Still, as a whole it is obvious that Nick Flynn had an interesting story to tell and it made for an interesting read, even if it was a bit cluttered, confusing, and long-winded at times.


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Image Credits: John Green Books

Hey guys! It’s been awhile but I’m finally back with another book review. Now that school is out for winter break I have a few weeks of freedom to read whatever I want. Needless to say, I couldn’t read John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down fast enough.

For those of you who don’t know, John Green is one of my all-time favorite writers and quite possibly my favorite author who is not yet dead (I have a BA in English…I like a lot of classic literature written by dead guys…sorry.). However, that doesn’t mean I love EVERYTHING Green writes. I absolutely adored The Fault In Our Stars, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, but I hated An Abundance of Katherines and was only lukewarm to Let it Snow  and Will Grayson, Will Grayson

However, with all of that being said, I absolutely loved Turtles All the Way Down. Here are the five things I liked the most about this novel.

  1. How well researched it was.
    Most people don’t spend hours upon hours googling microbiome bacteria, “Clostridium difficile” or “C-diff”, but Green did. He knows all about these conditions, how people get them, how many people get them, and where they get them. He knows when old cells die and new cells are born. He probably understands biology better than most biology teachers do. Green most certainly did his homework in order to create a character who is able to obsessively research these conditions and talk about them in a way that is accurate and makes sense. Furthermore, he is able to present them in a way that is interesting and makes me want to know more about these conditions. I find myself understanding and sympathizing with Aza’s character. Maybe we aren’t ever who we actually are after all. She has a point…how do we really know that we are well, real? Are we real at all?
  2. The way it didn’t turn anxiety into a cliche.
    People with anxiety worry a lot. Everyone knows that and it’s become the same tired and true cliched mental illness. But it doesn’t have to be. We all as outsiders think we know all about anxiety. But the truth is we have no freaking idea. We are completely clueless.  And Green does an excellent job reminding us of that.Everyone worries all the time, therefore everyone has anxiety, right? Wrong. Have you ever created a callus on your hand because you couldn’t stop picking at it as a way to ensure you’re real? Does that callus on your hand never heal because you can’t stop picking at it? Do you have to change the band-aid several times a day because you’re so worried that you have an infection and you’re going to get C-diff and die? Do you drink bottles of pure alcohol hand sanitizer because you’re convinced it’s the only way you can cleanse the inside of your body, killing bacteria, and ensuring you don’t get C-diff? This is Aza’s life with anxiety. It goes far beyond simply being worried.
  3. Davis Pickett.
    If fictional characters could win boyfriend of the year awards, Davis Pickett would be the one to beat. Can we just stop and talk for a minute about how much of a gem he truly is? He realizes that he going to be made famous due to his wealth and all of the crazy stuff going on with his dad, but he doesn’t want any of that. He wants real, true, genuine friends like Aza. And he also got stuck essentially raising his 13-year old brother. He never asked to be a father, but when he had to step up to the plate and become one to his brother, he did. He didn’t want anyone to turn in his dad or submit any tips initially because he wanted to protect his brother. He even pays Aza and Daisy thousands of dollars in reward money to keep them quiet. But then at the end he himself tips off the police so they can find his dad and him and his brother can live in peace and find a small trace of normalcy. Everything he does is in the best interest of his brother, not him. He’s definitely not selfish.Thinking of his selflessness (is that even a word?), just look at his relationship with Aza. As Green so carefully points out, dating someone with anxiety is HARD. Aza’s anxiety is so severe that she can’t even kiss Davis because she fears he will infect her with his microbiome bacteria and cause her to develop C-diff. Sometimes, she can’t even bear to see Davis and instead has to resort to just texting him. But none of that matters to Davis. For Davis, Aza being Aza, anxiety and all, is enough. He loves and support her despite her mental illness. He couldn’t care less about the fact that she can’t kiss him. How many other guys would be so accepting of something like that?
  4. The theme of loyalty.
    I would definitely say that loyalty is one of the key themes in this novel. We first see the loyalty between Aza, Daisy, and Davis when they accept the award from Davis and agree not to tip off the police or share any of the information they have. They value the friendship more than anything else.As previously mentioned, we also see loyalty between Davis and Aza. Aza tries really hard. I really do believe that. However, she’s not exactly the greatest girlfriend in the world to Davis. But Davis understands and he loves her anyway. He is loyal to her, even when she doesn’t have it within her to text him for days on end especially after she is hospitalized following her car accident and anxiety episode. He makes it clear that he will always be there for her, through thick and thin.

    I would also say that there’s a strong sense of loyalty between Aza and Daisy. Sure, they don’t always get along and I don’t think Daisy always understands Aza’s anxiety, but even when they fight they are still loyal to each other. Their fighting doesn’t last for long and they always work things out. I also love how at the end Daisy really seems genuinely interested in learning more about Aza and her anxiety and how she can help and be more understanding and a better friend. Aza also seems to want to work on herself to improve and be a better friend to Daisy. Their friendship is one that requires a lot of work and effort, but it’s their loyalty to each other that makes this friendship so strong.

  5. The Star Wars fan-fiction.
    As much as I hate to admit it, I actually did really like the Star Wars fan-fiction that Daisy wrote. It was so well crafted and it felt real. As a reader I could see how invested in it Daisy was and I like how even though it wasn’t really Aza’s thing, she was a good sport about it and read it in the end. I liked how it also caused tension in their relationship and how even though Daisy was good at it, she still had some major issues with it like the question of whether or not it was promoting bestiality by having Chewbacca fall in love with a human. Even though I don’t like Star Wars and don’t follow it, I could understand everything that was discussed in the novel relating to Daisy’s fan fiction. It was very well done.

 

John Green’sjTurtles All the Way Down was a very unique, well-written, and well researched novel that I highly recommend especially to those who are interested in learning more about anxiety. 5 out of 5 stories. Now the only question is, when can we expect another masterpiece from Green? 🙂


Coraline

Image Credits: Wikipedia

Wow, long time, no post. Am I right? I apologize for being so quiet on here lately. My initial plan was to dedicate much of my summer to get back into blogging and updating my marketing and deaf awareness social accounts, but then I ended up going all over Pennsylvania and spending a lot of time in Chicago and investing more time into studying and before I knew it summer was over and none of those goals got accomplished. But hey, I’m here now and that’s something, right?

Anyways, guys – we need to talk about Coraline.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Coraline it is a really creepy and really really really freaking weird children’s novel written by Neil Gaiman. This book was published in 2002 and became a movie a few years later (I’m not sure when exactly but I want to say the movie came out around 2007…does that sound about right?)

I was assigned to read this book for my Seminar I course this semester. When I found out it was going to be my required reading I went and watched the movie on Netflix right away. I have heard a lot about the movie and have been meaning to watch it for some time. On the surface, Coraline reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, two movies I always really loved. Now that I know that Coraline had many of the same producers and masterminds that those other movies had, it makes a lot of sense.

I thought the movie was interested. I liked it and couldn’t stop watching it, but I also thought it was one of the weirdest, creepiest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I love horror movies but the only ones that ever really did a good job of scaring me are the Saw movies. I found most other horror movies to be completely comical.

Coraline  was scarier to me than any of the Saw movies were.

…And the book was better than the movie but still somehow even more horrifying to me. I don’t know if I loved it or hated it. I thought it was super freaking weird, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t have to have the book read for class until September 20th. Last night was probably the worst time I could’ve read it since I was running on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep total (isn’t grad school fun?) but I started reading it during my commute to work earlier in the day and I couldn’t put it down. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep not knowing what was going to happen to Coraline next. It’s been awhile since a book captivated me as much as this one did, so there’s no denying that despite my concerns about the book’s weirdness, it was extremely well written.

But, Mr. Gaiman, I have a few questions for you now, none of which were included in your little Q&A session for the book’s 10 year anniversary edition. Here are my questions:

1. Why in the world is this book considered a children’s book?

I have friends that have young kids who have seen the movie version of Coraline and love it. If you’re three or even five years old and can handle Coraline, more power to you because despite your young age, you are stronger than I am apparently. I would never tell my friends or anyone not to let their kids read or watch this movie. It’s so well crafted that I don’t think you should deny a child the right to watch the movie or read the book if they want to.

But, at the same time when I have kids of my own I don’t think this is ever going to exactly be one of my reading recommendations for them. I might even be the kind of mom who keeps her copy of it under lock and key and tries to shelter their kids from discovering it.

My reasoning has nothing at all to do with the book’s craft, but everything to do with the creepiness of this book. I was afraid this book would give me nightmares last night and I’m 27 years old. The book literally talks about an “other mother” and an “other father” and the mother is really evil and literally plucks kids’ eyeballs out and replaces them with buttons. Is it me or is this not horrifying? How many kids saw this movie or read the book and were suddenly petrified of their dolls afterwards? I mean I’m always kind of petrified of dolls – they are creepy to begin with, but after seeing Coraline I think I’d kill anyone who handed me a doll…

2. What kind of a relationship does Neil Gaiman have with his own parents?

I’m not trying to sound like Sigmund Freud or anything, but Neil Gaiman must have some serious mommy issues to write a book that is this messed up.

But while I think the other mother is much more evil and disturbing, I wouldn’t say the father is off the hook exactly.

What was Gaiman’s inspiration for making his characters like this and is it a positive or a negative portrayal? In the book’s reading guide it seems as though Gaiman wants his readers to connect with the idea of their parents not having time to play with them as kids. I think that is a common theme in children’s books, but Gaiman is going much deeper than that with his portrayal of Coraline’s parents here.

The other mother is completely evil and creepy. Did Gaiman have a rough childhood with his mother? Would his mother or has his mother ever caused harm to him perhaps in a way that she believed would be to his benefit (like how the other mother wants to love Coraline and give her a happy life, but at the expense of her eyeballs?).

Were Gaiman’s parents divorced? Did his mother steal him away from his father as a child (kind of like the idea of kidnapping presented throughout the text?) Did it break his spirit (kind of like the idea of how the other mother stole the children’s souls)? Was Gaiman’s mother evil and manipulative and abusive not only towards Gaiman, but towards his father as well? Was his father simply “whipped” and living in a “whatever your mother says goes” kind of world when Gaiman was a child? Coraline’s other father just seems way too absent and nonchalant and a stark contrast of the other mother in this novel. Even Coraline’s real parents seem to have some issues and tension between them where the mother seems to play a dominating role and her real father is just kind of there.

Or – did Gaiman have a great family life with very loving, perfect parents and perhaps he used that as the inspiration to show children that even though their parents might be busy they still love them and their real parents are better than any kind of substitute they could ever dream of, no matter how mice or similar other people may seem?

Either way, it definitely seems as though Gaiman’s own experiences with his parents could have influenced this book.

3. What is with all of the mice?

Just when you think Coraline couldn’t get any weirder – there is a freaking mouse circus. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. What kind of drugs was Gaiman on when he wrote this book? No, seriously.

It’s really weird, but at the same time this could potentially be brilliant.

Circuses have been in the news a lot over the past decade or so – the time of Coraline’s peak. One of the main reasons why people are so angry about circuses is due to the treatment of animals used. We all care about animals like elephants and tigers and seals and horses and lions which are often used in these circus shows – but what about mice and rats? Do they even count as being animals?

We slaughter these animals in mass quantities because we don’t think they matter. We seem them as being dirty, disgusting, diseased, evil, and not worthy of life. We perform clinical trials on them. We do all kinds of tests on them. If the rat or mouse dies in the process we don’t even grieve for them, we just simply take out the trash and go on with our lives.

This is where Gaiman is doing something really unique. Gaiman does what he does best and brings in the really freaking weird character of Mr. Bobo – most frequently referred to as “the man upstairs”. The man upstairs is training his mice and he seems them as being talented and kind of brilliant for their ability to perform music and hundreds or thousands of tricks. I don’t think anyone would argue that Mr. Bobo takes great care of his mice; he even talks about buying them new cheese to help them out a bit. How many other people would do this for mice or rats? I don’t know of anyone who would go through all of that for a rat. I know me personally if I see a mouse or a rat first off I’m grabbing my cat, Picasso, and making him kill the little menace, and that’s only if I feel like being nice that day.

I’m wondering if Gaiman chose to perhaps include the mice/rats in his book in this way to make a political statement on how we view animals and animals rights.

Or – is this something larger. Is it a political statement on how prejudice we are? How we view good and evil?

The latter statement seems like it may be a bit more accurate.

Because think of this. Most of us will look at a rat or a mouse as being evil, whether it does or does not actually bother us. Sure, a rat in the subway is probably filled with disease and if it bites us we’re probably going to get infected and die and that’s evil. But then there are still domesticated rats and mice that people actually keep as nice little house pets. Are those still evil?

And why is our first human instinct always to kill the rats and mice we found walking the streets? Why don’t we ever think to stop and pick up the animal or call animal control and to get them help and see if we can cure them of their diseases? We would do that for a dog or a chicken or any other animal. Why are rats and mice different?

And to further drag this point along. Let’s compare the mice to the other parents.

The mice – whom on normal non-Gaiman terms would be considered evil, filthy things, seem to represent something good, perhaps one of the only things that are good in this novel.

The other parents start off in the book as being good. We normally think of our mother and father as being loving, kind, and supportive of us. They are meant to protect us from all harm. Originally the other parents were supposed to be better versions of Coraline’s own real parents, but we soon found out that they actually weren’t as kind and loving and supportive as they seemed to be. They wouldn’t have protected Coraline or kept her safe. In fact, these two individuals we automatically assume are going to be a positive force in Coraline’s life are actually EVIL  and a source of harm to Coraline and all whom they come into contact with.

That’s kind of an interesting little juxtaposition there, isn’t it?

4. Is Neil Gaiman wiccan or a witch or something?

Of all of the parts of the book, these were the elements that bothered me the most as a Christian. Gaiman seems to want to chalk it up as being just magic based on the reading guide and his answers to the questions in the Q&A for the 10th anniversary edition of Coraline but this is more than just Hansel and Gretel era-magic. I mean – tea leaves? Really? Miss Spink and Miss Forcible seem like true witches.

But are they evil? I think it’s debatable honestly. I don’t usually see them as being evil or bad the way you’d normally view a witch. This kind of goes back to the idea with the mice – something often seen as being evil is actually good.

But what is going on with those dogs? The images didn’t seem as strong in the book as they were in the movie, but they were equally as disturbing. They literally have a collection of dead dogs in their home. When their dogs get sick they don’t seem to really jump on helping them. I mean I know they take the dog to the vet and everything but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they kind of WANTED the dogs to die so they could stuff them and grow their collection.

And doesn’t this kind of fit in with the theme of the dolls? Stuffed animals are like dolls right? It’s better to kill real, living things, to substitute them for stuffed items that can be whatever you want them to be or something along those lines? Creeeeeeeeeeeeepy, but it is what it is, right?

Also, who can forget that weird little song Coraline sings about be a “twitchy, witchy girl?”

Is Coraline the witch? Hmm…it’s possible.

5. Does Gaiman believe in God? How does Gaiman view God?

The whole magic and witchcraft stuff is only a small part of a larger whole in Coraline. He seems to be really commenting on bigger issues connecting back to religion and his views on God. I don’t think it’s any wonder that my Baptist friends aren’t all a big fan of this novel because these parts made me a little uncomfortable and these are some reasons why I may hesitate in recommending this book or movie to my future children one day.

First off, let’s talk about the other mother again. Who is she really? She is very evil almost like Satan, but I guess not that evil. Is she playing God? The novel does talk quite a bit about how the other mother created a world for the children and she’d create a world for Coraline if she’ll only agree to live with her. It explains how she could create something new every day so that Coraline would never be bored, but there is no outside because she hasn’t created that yet.

Christians believe that God created all things. We can have paradise in heaven if we only follow Christ and accept him in our heart. Coraline can have all things if she only allows her mother to sew buttons in her eyes and stay there forever. It’s different, but similiar, no?

Also let’s talk about those souls that the other mother is collecting from the children. This seems really really satanic to me. You always here of those sayings of “I sold my soul to the devil”, isn’t that exactly what these kids here have done? Are they in hell? It sure as heck doesn’t seem like they’re in heaven, that’s for sure.

I also want to mention that this doesn’t seem to be the first instance where Gaiman has commented about religion and God, for better or for worst. He has another novel for adults called American Gods. Now, I haven’t read it at all and have no idea what it’s about so I can’t really say anything other than this: it makes you wonder.

These are just five main questions I had after reading Coraline. Now that I’ve written them all out and analyzed this book in over 2600 words I can’t say that I am anywhere closer to knowing the answer to my questions. In fact, I’d argue that I have even MORE questions and I don’t even know if I liked the book or detested it.

To describe this book in just one word, only one word is needed to sum it all up:

WEIRD.


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Image Credits: Amazon

I know I shouldn’t have expected much from this book and honestly being someone who is completely obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher and the Rye I shouldn’t have picked up this piece of trash (it does not deserve to be called a book) in the first place, but curiosity got the best of me. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The thing is I just really love Holden Caulfield and I’ve missed him and was excited about the possibility of seeing him brought back to life again, even if it was 60 years later, with a new story. However, this isn’t the aged version of Holden Caulfield that I thought it would be.

This piece of trash starts off with Holden Caulfield in a retirement home. He seems to be surprised by the fact that he’s old and I’m left wondering if he has dementia or Alzheimer’s or another degenerative disease. He is really confused which seems out of character for Holden. However, I tried to put that past me and give the book a chance. But the thing is California makes it hard to give this piece of trash a chance because the more you read, the worst it gets.

This piece of trash didn’t really have a plot or a point or a purpose or any kind of organized structure. I guess that explains why the book was self-published (I mean absolutely no offense to those who are actual credible writers that self-publish…I just mean for this guy clearly there were no other options – who would want to publish this garbage under than him?). Most of this piece of trash is just about Holden wandering around aimlessly. He escapes his retirement home and then just goes to New York and Boston and randomly comes across people from his childhood like Stradlater. Phoebe’s there too and Holden’s obsession with her is downright creepy and leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable. I can understand how Holden would still see his sister 60 years later, but Stradlater? Really? And I mean it’s 60 years later – there’s a chance he could’ve even been dead to be honest. The chances of Holden staying in touch are slim to none and the book even seems to acknowledge that in a way; Holden seems surprised to find Stradlater. It doesn’t make much sense; it just feels like the author’s lame attempt to re-write The Catcher in the Rye and you don’t mess with a classic.

There’s some new characters in this piece of trash, too and they come off as well, trashy. Charlie is one of the main characters and I’m totally confused on who she is and why she’s in this sad excuse of a book. I think she was one of Holden’s students? But when was he ever a teacher? Did he ever even go to or finish college? California never addresses those questions – he just randomly places her in the book and the next thing you know she’s having a threesome with her boyfriend and the elderly Holden Caulfield. It’s sick and there’s no reason why it needs to be in the story at all.

Another noteworthy character in this piece of trash is J.D. Salinger himself. Yes, because it’s totally normal to write a spinoff of a book and to throw the original author in their randomly. Sure. Salinger has no purpose in being in this book, but then again neither does anyone else. I have no idea what was even going on in this part of the book. I know Holden found a notebook and he went to return it to his son but his son was J.D. Salinger? Or did I misread it? Does California even know which is which? Sometimes I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing. It made no sense. If Salinger was his son then everything would be backwards. Salinger is older than Holden? I don’t even know…

But I haven’t even gotten to the best part of this trash. Have I told you about Holden’s bladder yet? Now I know it might sound weird for me to talk about Holden’s bladder and you might think it’s something you really don’t need to know about, but trust me when I say that John David California wants you to know about Holden Caulfield’s bladder. In fact, California went so far as to make sure he wrote about Holden’s bladder no less than every 2-3 pages throughout the entire novel. I don’t think this piece of trash has a point at all, but if it did I bet it would probably have something to do with Holden’s bladder.

What do I mean by “Holden’s bladder?” I mean just that. I know every single time Holden has a full bladder, when he think he might have a full bladder, when his bladder is so full it causes him pain, and when he doesn’t realize he has a full bladder until it’s too late. I already mentioned that most of the novel involves Holden aimlessly wandering around. I lied. He’s not “just” aimlessly walking around – he’s also urinating on everything in sight because his bladder is always overflowing and there’s never a bathroom around but if there is one Holden would rather not use it. Why does the reader need to know this? We really don’t, trust me, California. The only reason I can think of as to why the sad excuse of an author decided this was important was because it was a sad attempt to show that Holden is 60 years older and obviously developed urinary incontinence.

California’s portrayal of an elderly Holden is disgraceful at best. He seems to play on the stereotype that all elderly men live in retirement homes, can’t control their bladders, and are confused. This isn’t just stereotyping, it feels like blatant ageism. Holden deserves better than this.

After reading 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye I’m left feeling disgusted and ashamed to even admit I’ve read this. It also makes me want to go rushing back to the original classic The Catcher in the Rye. I bet I’ll love it and appreciate it now more than ever.

I’m also left with two words to say:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry to Mr. Salinger who never wanted this book released and who went so far as to have it banned from the US (I had to order it online specially to obtain a copy). I’m sorry for not respecting his wishes. I’m sorry that the book was ever written. I’m sorry the book was published. I’m sorry the book is banned from all parts of the world and that more people are still reading this piece of trash.

Holden deserved better and so did Salinger.


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Image Credits: Amazon

Evan Bailyn’s Outsmarting Google is one of those books that have been on my “To Be Read” list for forever (which isn’t at all surprising if you look at that mile long list…). I actually got this book from a former co-worker when I worked for a digital marketing agency 2 or 3 years ago. After accepting an offer to work as an SEO Marketing Strategist for Becker’s School Supplies, I knew it was time to pick up the book and take it out of the “To Be Read” pile and move it along to the “Currently reading” pile.

I expected that much of this book would be things I already knew, and I was right. I worked for a digital marketing agency for nearly 3 years. I started as an inbound marketer working my way up to a social media marketer, assistant project manager, and later a digital marketing manager with an emphasis in social media. Since my main focus has always been social media, I’ve always just had working knowledge rather than expert level seo knowledge, but have always kept informed by reading blogs, news, and in the case of Outsmarting Google, books. I’d say I do have a lot of experience with SEO, but not as much as I do with writing or social media and I’m not sure I’d refer to myself as a “expert”, which is why I need more help from books like Bailyn’s.

I already knew that Title Tags and Meta Tags were important along with linkbuilding, so some of these chapter simply repeated what I already knew. There are some parts of the book I questioned and wasn’t sure how much of it I agreed with though. I felt like Bailyn’s really discredited the importance of having strong content on your website. He seems to operate more on the idea that on-site content doesn’t really matter at all for SEO. He does emphasize the importance of having a well-designed website which I agree with — but I don’t think that’s enough. If your website is beautiful but has little to no content or poorly written or outdated content, why would anyone want to go to it? Maybe you’ll see obtain website traffic and great rankings in Google, but your conversions may suffer and your bounce rate may be high, neither of which will do your website or business any justice.

In contrast, I feel like Bailyn over-emphasizes the importance of linkbuilding. Yes, it is important. I know that this is one of the most important ranking factors for Google. However, I question Bailyn’s methods. I wonder how strong his linkbuilding is and whether or not much of it is just spam. I also really don’t agree with the way he thinks and advises readers to simply ask webmasters, bloggers, etc. for a link. He makes it sound like the easiest thing in the world to do. Go ahead and try it, I guarantee you’ll receive one of these responses:

  1. Who are you and why should I link to you?
  2. That will be (insert price here, often more than $100)
  3. Google considers that spam and will issue my website a penalty if I do that, so no.
  4. No.

Or simply no response at all. Approaching bloggers and other quality website owners/media members for a link is definitely a much more difficult and more thought out process than simply shooting a completely transparent email asking for it. I learned that the hard way from my agency days, trust me.

Also, some of the links just didn’t seem that good. Bailyn seems to think if a website is anywhere somewhat (but not really) close to being in your industry, a link on that site is good enough. He also recommends linking all of your websites together. So, say you have a website about pizza, a website about leather, and a third website about pets. Bailyn thinks you could link them all together. I suppose it could work. Maybe you want to write on your pizza website an article on leather pizza fashions or a pizza shirt or a piece of pizza your pet is wearing/eating. It’s hard, but not impossible. But I don’t think this is always going to work and I’m not sure I would push for it as much as Bailyn seems to.

Another thing that bothers me with this book is the way the author, Evan Bailyn is constantly bragging about his success and referencing his business, First Page Sage, and yet when you try to look it up and even Google it, there’s nothing too spectacular about it. For example, on page 28 of this book, Bailyn uses First Page Sage as an example to show how his website is ranking #1 on Google for the term “expert Google optimization”. I just typed that in to Google and he’s not on page 1. He’s actually all the way on page 5…the very bottom of page 5, almost page 6.

first page sage page 5

 

Looking at Bailyn’s website, it’s not hard to see why he isn’t ranking better. Some pages such as the homepage and the “About Us” page are great. But other pages, well it’s obvious Bailyn is putting into practice his belief that on-site content isn’t important. The pages for “Our Culture”, “Careers”, “Blog” and “Contact” pages are all without meta descriptions. The blog also isn’t updated as much as you’d expect. On average, it only gets updated around once a month. Maybe this is what’s hurting his rankings?

Of course, it might not have anything to do with Bailyn’s on site content. This book was published in 2011, maybe he just changed his keywords, or even his whole focus of his business, which seems to be exactly what he did. I did some keyword research and analzyzed his website and it looks like “thought leadership” and “thought leadership marketing” is more of what he’s focusing on now, so I googled that as well. He’s number 8 for “thought leadership”:

thought leadership #8

And he’s #2 for “thought leadership marketing”:

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I’m not sure how I feel about this information. “Thought leadership” is a whole different concept and completely different keyword to target. Why the sudden change? Is it because he failed at SEO marketing so he decided to become a thought leader instead? #2 for thought leadership marketing is more reassuring, but it’s still not #1 and it’s for a whole new concept. I’m just not sure how much I trust his word as an “SEO expert”.

Bailyn’s social media presence was also disappointing to me. He has over 100,000 followers on Facebook, but he hasn’t updated his page since January — that I know is not good practice. He only has 243 followers on LinkedIn and I believe no posts. His Twitter also hasn’t been updated in over 2 months. It just make it hard to trust this guy and any of the advice he gives on digital marketing…

There are still some points that Bailyn made that I liked and learned from though. I especially enjoyed the sections on PPC and Google Adwords. I don’t have much hands-on experience with PPC advertising at all, so I’m always trying to learn more about it. I like how he explained what makes it different from SEO and the advantages/disadvantages of both. The information on display URL, negative match, and negative  keywords were all things I didn’t know about previously. Having this knowledge now I think will be very beneficial for me if I work with PPC advertising in the future.

The highlight of Bailyn’s book for me was the last part where he wrote about his predictions for Google in the future. This book was published back in 2011…5 years ago, but he was on the right track for most of these predictions. I thought it was interesting how much of a threat he thought Facebook was to Google. I have to say I do agree with this ideology. He’s right in saying that Facebook is much more of a threat than say Bing or Yahoo. The social search was an interesting concept because of how unexpected that prediction was for me. I don’t think it will ever actually happen though because I think that would make it like Facebook 2.0. It seems pointless. Facebook and Google may want to compete, but they should still exist as separate properties with their own unique features, not mere copies of each other.

Bailyn also predicted that Google would launch a social network and that it wouldn’t be well received. Spot on. Google tried with Google+, but it definitely isn’t a huge threat to Facebook by any means and many have predicted over the years that Google will kill it off. Bailyn’s book was published in March of 2011. Google+ was launched in June.

I think that he’s also right with how much he stressed how important localized search will become. Google has been releasing more and more options and features for local  businesses to help them with their SEO especially lately. There’s never been a better time to be a local business interested in SEO marketing. I think he’s also right on Google trying to encourage people to use their phone’s more and releasing features that lets people know where they are or when they visit a certain place. It sounds slightly creepy to read about it in Bailyn’s book, but we’re already pretty much there with apps like FourSquare and the ability to check in places on Facebook and Instagram. Will this really be any different from that? I can see that being a success. However, the reviews probably won’t be as big of a deal as Bailyn thinks. Let’s face it: people are lazy. Most people don’t want to take the time to leave a review unless their service is really bad and they need to vent. Overall,  think that Google reviews will pretty much stay the same over the next few years.

Evan Bailyn’s Outsmarting Google wasn’t a terrible book; I still learned a few things from it. However, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be; it was just okay. It’s worth just 3 our of 5 stars from me.


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Image Credits: Amazon

I just finished reading In Search of the Proverbs 31 Man by Michelle McKinney Hammond. This book caught my attention as soon as I spotted on the Used Books bookshelf at the Amazing Grace christian bookstore a week ago. I was really intrigued by the title, In Search of the Proverbs 21 MAN. Proverbs 31 has always been one of my all-time favorite bible passages. It told me everything I ever wanted to know about what kind of woman I should strive to be — a Proverbs 31 woman. But I completely forgot about the fact that behind that great woman, there was a great Proverbs 31 man, too. Also, being single, I am still in search of my Proverbs 31 man, so I decided to purchase the book and see what it said.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars because I do wish it could’ve went a little more in depth. A couple points were repetitive, redundant, and at times a little generic, but giving it only 3 stars seemed way too harsh because it was a good book that I did learn from. Here are 4 of the main points I learned after reading this book.

1.  The connection between men and women. I honestly never really considered this point before. I love how the author, Michelle McKinney Hammond breaks down the connection of men and women. She explains that man is made from God (which I already knew) and that woman is made from the rib of man (which I also already knew). Then she goes a step further and explains that when woman was created, there was a piece taken out of man. That piece is missing. He still needs that piece to survive, which is why he needs woman. This just totally blew my mind. It makes perfect sense and it’s that complicated of an idea, but it was one I never thought of before. The need for a man and a woman to coexist alongside each other isn’t done on a spiritual or emotional level, but it is a physical need and one that goes far beyond just sex.

2. The orders of men and women and why women must submit to their husbands. I never realized there was an order before, I just heard repetitively that woman must submit to their husbands. Now I’ll be honest and say that this is a concept I often struggle with. I am by no means a feminist and I don’t typically support the feminist movement, but I do want general equality between men and women and I don’t want to feel like I’m just letting a man control me and push me around. But that’s not what submission is at all. See, as Hammond explains in her book, women must submit to men because of their order. The order goes like this God – > man -> woman. God always comes first. Because God created man, man must dedicate his life to serving God and striving to be as Christ-like as possible. Woman was created from man. Therefore, it is her order to submit to her husband. This is her priority. It is still her priority to worship and serve God, but the man rules over the woman. The man is closer to God than the woman is because the man is a direct creation from God whereas woman is a direct creation from man. This goes back to point one.

3. What to look for in terms of a future husband. If you’re single like me you should still be thinking in terms of what you should be looking for in a husband. I felt better reading what Hammond has to say about this because I think that’s what I was doing a lot in my last relationship which ultimately helped me to decide to leave my relationship because I didn’t see the future I wanted. If you’re single you should be looking for a Proverbs 31 man to be your husband. It should be a strong man that has a deep love, appreciation, and understanding of God. He should love and cherish you very deeply and passionately and not be afraid to show his love for you. He should offer you security through his job and financial wealth and have the ability to truly support you and care for you. That is his responsibility not just as a man, but as the head of the household which is precisely what a Proverbs 31 man should be according to the order of God.

4. How to prepare myself to become a Proverbs 31 woman. If you’re single like I am, then you shouldn’t just be focusing on searching for a Proverbs 31 man to be your husband, but you should also consider all of the ways you are a Proverbs 31 woman and what areas need more help. For me I could probably bear to be more patient, communicative with my partner (well in this case, future partner) especially during times of trouble, and above all else, I need to learn to submit more to men. I need to learn to let men approach me rather than be the one to approach them. That is not the right order. Men were built like hunters who hunt for their lovers. It is natural for a man to approach a woman. Woman should be waiting for men to approach them and then they should be willing to submit. That is the proper, biblical order. It is also something I tend to be pretty bad at — I tend to wear my feelings on the sleeve and jump at the chance to display love and affection even when it is not returned. I need to work on this and strive to be less like well, me, and more like the godly Proverbs 31 woman.

 

I really did enjoy reading Michelle McKinney Hammond’s novel, In Search of the Proverbs 31 Man. I think this book will definitely be helpful for me in understanding my responsibilities as a single woman and also what my future role as a wife and a Proverbs 31 woman will be.



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