Monday, August 9, 2021

REVIEW: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

 


BLURB

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won't find the killer. After all, the year before her father's body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can't just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.

~ Amazon


REVIEW

Witches are real, as Lauren soon learns. And so are curses. Little does she know that her favorite tree is called the Ghost Tree for good reason.

Up front: the first half of the novel is a delectable horror story; the second half is YA paranormal mystery/thriller.

PROS

The Ghost Tree starts out chilling, disturbing, nauseating. It ends as a captivating, dark adventure. The novel is a fast read. That’s saying something. I’m a slow reader. I can dwell inside a novel for a month or two before I manage to finish it. This book took me about a week and a half. Speed readers could have it read in a day or two. This is because it’s an easy book, neither deep nor complicated. 

Fast pacing and clear, to-the-point writing keep you rolling along. As does the story itself. The story grabs hold and doesn’t let go. That sounds trite, but it’s true. In fact, I began to feel rather addicted. Though I had lots of responsibilities to see to, I kept sneaking into my cushy reading chair to devour another chapter or two. 

I loved our main character from the beginning. Lauren is adorable. Not in a “cute adorable” way, but in the “I adore you because I have so been there” way. Her innocence, awkwardness, and strength pulled at my heartstrings, and suddenly I remembered what it was like to be 14, which earned her my enduring pity.

The relationship interactions between Lauren and her mother, Lauren and her best friend, Lauren and Jake were one of the triumphs of the novel. Henry hit the teenage struggle right on the dot.

CONS

As much as I enjoyed the novel, there were several things that drove me nuts.

To-the-point writing. Wait, how is this a pro and a con, and why would to-the-point writing be a con anyway? This boils down to personal taste, but it affected me so hugely that I can’t not mention it. The narration was written in such a to-the-point way that it lacked poetry, artistry, complexity. Not once did I run across a line that caused me to stop dead in my tracks and gasp in glorious ecstasy, which is one of the reasons I read in the first place. Gorgeous word-craft, no matter the genre.

For all that, the writing voice seemed extremely appropriate for the main character (a 14-year-old girl) and readers of the same age. Except for the level of gore in the early chapters and once near the end, and the amount of promiscuous sexual activity by a 15-yr-old (none of which is shown or discussed in any level of detail), I would easily chalk this novel up as a YA.

I kept running across one of my pet peeves as well: felt/feel/feeling. When a writer studies writing, one of the tips we encounter is, “Don’t tell the reader how a character feels. Show them.” The word “feel” is used so often throughout the book that the word began to flash like neon. I started circling each use of the word. There are a couple sections where every other sentence has the word “feel” in it. See where I’m going with this?

could be wrong, but I would say that this novel was written extremely quickly and handed over to an editor who knew the author’s work would sell because of past success.

Nor did the twist work for me. Almost as soon as “He” is mentioned, I figured out who “He” was. “He” is clearly our perpetrator. So obvious was the answer to this mystery that I began to wonder if Henry meant it to be a mystery at all. When “His” identity is revealed during the endgame, it wasn’t a twist in the slightest. Was this intentional? *shrug* I can’t say.

Lastly, I can’t say I was satisfied with the resolution either. I expected the last few pages to deal with the fallout of this tragic curse, [spoiler] for the town to outwardly, loudly mourn the deaths of their daughters and hell to rain down on a few heads. But the only result we see is the delusion lifting and being replaced by a kind of brain-fog or shock. All in all, I’d say the ending was rushed, the consequences whitewashed in order to bring the novel to a sudden conclusion.

TREASURES

Timely themes top the list. Among them: racism, police brutality, difficult teenage relationships. Henry handles these topics in a sensitive, believable manner. Their place in the story will resonate with contemporary readers.

CONCLUSION

I haven’t read a great deal of horror, but the horror novels I have read usually leaving me feeling dissatisfied. I am waiting for that horror novel that has me scared and/or disturbed from cover to cover.

The Exorcist has been the only one, to date, that has managed to accomplish this and provide glowing satisfaction by the time I read the last page. Granted, that’s a big shadow to follow. Is it fair to hold that classic up as the standard? Why not.

That said, I have invested in another of Henry’s novels. I shall embark upon Alice soon. I have been hoping and waiting for just such a take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Crossing fingers it’s everything I’ve hope it is.

In the meantime, I give The Ghost Tree 3 out of 5 magic wands:


Find The Ghost Tree at your local library or these retailers:


OTHER COVERS



Thursday, July 8, 2021

Whiskers, Paws, and Double Trouble

 A few weeks ago, I wrote about my new kitten Jet. He's turned out to be a near-purrfect companion: quiet, confident, brave, cuddly, playful, likes traveling, doesn't mind a harness and leash. The only problem is his tendency to chew on his toy of choice: me.

The issue became so extreme that unless this kitten was asleep, I couldn't reach out to touch him without his eyes going all pupil and his little body springing to attack my hand. When I'd pick him up to carry him, he would even bite my face. Stern and consistent discipline didn't deter this hunter's-instinct-gone-haywire. 

This is no way to live with a cat for the long haul. I was heartbroken. My options were to ignore him for the next 15 to 20 years, take him to a shelter, or get him a friend. The latter option was not really on the table because my husband and I had spent the last several years juggling multiple pets, and we didn't want to repeat the hassle. Plus, it would be easier to travel with one cat instead of two.

But the first two options were too dreadful to contemplate.

Then last Friday, I was running errands, one of which was going into the pet store for a new carrier. Our old one is literally being held together with duct tape. As soon as I walked in the door, I said to myself, "Just peek at the kitty cages, and see if there are any kittens near Jet's age and size."

Mind you, my husband had no idea what I was up to. I had made no conscious plan to get a second cat. But perhaps my subconscious had planned it all along? Maybe the search for a new carrier was all a ruse?

All counted, the store had SEVEN kittens that were Jet's age and size. I had never adopted a kitten from such a place, never had to (all our cats just showed up on the doorstep), had heard bad things about doing so. But I was desperate, and all these babies needed a loving home. So I asked the cat lady, "Are there any boys?" 

She started handing me kittens.

After looking them over, I brought home this guy:


I walked into the house and set the carrier box down at my husband's feet. I said, "Meet Echo." What could he say at that point? Luckily my niece had come home with me, so he kept his mouth shut until his brain had adjusted to the idea of a second pet.

My intention was to keep the two critters apart for a few days until Echo had had the chance to adjust to his new surroundings. But by accident and oversight of a door left open, they met almost immediately. Ever since, Echo and Jet have been inseparable. Bosom buddies. 

The chewing on Mom stopped. The house is a happy place again. And my husband is kinda in love with them both. All's well that ends well.

Now to see if Echo likes the car...


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Jet and the Bumblebee

 My kitten Jet discovered bumblebees today. I was walking him in the garden this morning, for some leash training, and the bumblebees were buzzing happily among the Lamb's Ears, which are currently in full bloom. What kitten isn't fascinated with toys that move on their own and bob within easy reach?

"You'd look pretty funny if you got stung, buddy," I tell him.

I tug him in a different direction, then pause to investigate a plant growing where I may not want it. While I'm debating on whether to pull it as a weed or leave it and see what it becomes, Jet gives a yipe and darts to the full extension of his leash. He's a little guy, but he bolted with such force that he pulled me after him.

Sure enough, a bumblebee is rising off the ground and continuing on its merry way. Jet is shaking his paw and licking it madly. It starts to swell almost immediately.

It's not often you can see degrees of emotion in the contemptuous face of a cat, but Jet was clearly angry. He curled up on my lap and glared at nothing. His tail twitched a bit, and when I tried to offer a comforting caress, he snapped a warning bite at me. Fair enough. "Not now, Mom!"

So now we're in recovery. And I can't help but wonder if he'll leave bumblebees alone in future, or if he's plotting revenge.


forensic evidence of assault by bumblebee


Monday, June 28, 2021

"Down Phoenix Alley" Published

Exciting New Developments, Part 3

I love announcing publication successes. My short story "Down Phoenix Alley" is available online now through All Worlds Wayfarer

The story was a response to a contest prompt at my critique community at www.legendfire.com. After 3 years of being offline, LegendFire returned. And much of the old faithful crew returned with it. Enduring several months in pandemic lockdown caused even this introvert to feel the need for community, so the forum rebooted on September 30, 2020. In December, after we hit 50 members, we hosted our first contest. The prompt was "Rising From Ruin," which seemed fitting for many obvious reasons.

So "Down Phoenix Alley" is about a crusty soldier in a post-apocalyptic setting who finds a new cause for hope. Read the whole story HERE for free. 




Saturday, June 12, 2021

Whiskers, Paws, and Attitude

 Next up in the "Exciting New Developments" series is this guy: 


We named him Jet, because he thinks he's very, very fast. Though "Maverick" might've been even more appropriate, given the flybys and chaos he leaves in his wake.

Still, he's a welcome relief.

Last September, in the middle of pandemic unknowns, battles with depression and panic attacks, and all that ugly mess, we lost all three of our fur babies. All three. In the space of one month. It was one bitter blow after another.

Some predator must've moved through our neighborhood, because several pets vanished at once. First our six year old cat Leo disappeared, then two weeks later, we had to put down our Great Pyrenees. Her hips had given out at last and she could no longer get up by herself. 

On the same morning we delivered our dog to vet for the last time was the last time we saw our 15-year-old cat Gabriel.

We simply didn't know what to do with ourselves. Reading in my cozy chair under my cozy blanket just didn't feel the same without a kitty on my lap. Evening walks with the dog stopped. We had supplies of food and toys, medicines and litter with no critters to use them.

In one horrible rage, I filled a trash bag with every pet thing I could find and tossed it all in the trash and bawled my eyes out.

Slowly we adjusted to being pet-free. No more surprise messes to clean up, like gopher guts on my welcome rug or regurgitated food devoured too fast or wads of white dog wool rolling across the floor. We no longer had to seek out pet-sitters when we went on road trips. Our lint roller fell into disuse, and I got to wear pretty clothes for no reason than I could wear them without fear of cat hair or dog drool spoiling them.

It was nice.

And lonely.

You know it's past time to remedy the situation when all you and your partner text to one another are gifs of adorable kittens. But we waited. We've never had to seek out pets. They've always come to us. So I kept an eye out for kittens who'd gotten lost or dumped. No luck. Seemed, with the pandemic, everyone was keeping their critters close. 

Then on Mother's Day, my husband and I went to have dinner with his family. After dining, his brother said, "Hey, would y'all be interested in a kitten?"

My husband and I looked at each other. He started giving all these excuses about why we didn't want a kitten. We have trips planned, for one (that's in an upcoming post).

Then he said the fatal words, "If there's one that looks like Leo."

His brother showed me a picture. The kitten might've come from the same litter as our lost Leonidas.

I said, "Is it a boy?" (I cannot abide female cats. They're so ... catty.)

The answer the people sent back was "b" for boy. 

"He's mine!" I shouted, as if we were at the world's first-ever kitten auction. We left immediately for the store to replace the supplies I'd thrown away in my grief, then picked up the kitten.

The babies, it seemed, had been moved into the back of an old car, which was about to undergo a restoration project. The mother had either gone hunting or abandoned them and was nowhere to be found.

Now my lap is full. All the time. Even when I'm trying to eat. And type. And I've learned to think of myself as a jungle-gym. And a bathtub. And a chew toy. My happiness is complete.

Jet plays hide-and-seek, afraid I'll steal his favorite toy.

Chilling in the driver's seat, because we all know cats are in charge.





Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Year Later: Exciting New Developments

 A year is a long time to let a blog sit idle and languish in a state of neglect. The smallest, simplest tasks, those like blogging, lose all draw and seem like impossible millstones to carry around when depression enters the picture.

Last year, as we all know, was terrible. Pile lingering issues on top of pandemic woes and you get a recipe for major breakdowns. It happened to me. Took me out completely. To the point that I finally realized I couldn't "fix" it on my own. I got help. And that brings me to the first exciting development. 

Dopamine blockers are amazing! Everyone needs this stuff. My counselor advised meds thirty minutes into our first session together. So my doc put me on Lexapro. This time last year I never would've admitted that in a public space. But I have zero shame about it. In fact, I'm proud of myself for taking the step. It was more necessary than I realized. 

Both the counselor and doctor said I wouldn't really notice the pill taking effect for a couple of weeks.

Seriously? Greeeeeeat, I thought. Two weeks of hell while this builds in my system, and I can't even drink liquor to dampen the horribleness.

BUT! Thank God, that's not what happened. I took my first dose right before bed -- and woke up in the night feeling like I was floating. The effects were immediate! My poor brain, scored raw by torturous thought processes, felt as if it was swaddled in a cozy silk cocoon. Goodbye depression, goodbye anxiety.

So, it's three months later, and I feel recovered a enough to give a damn about blogging. Hurray!

To spread out the positive and keep things brief, I'll shout out about the other exciting new developments in later posts.