Friday, January 27, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: And Then There Were None

Welcome to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse hosted by the Armchair Squid. The purpose of the Coffeehouse is to share the best book you read in the past month.

This month is sort of a cheat. I read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It wasn't the best book I read, but it was the only book I read this month, so I'm reviewing it for you.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/agatha-christie-cms-production/hcus-paperback/And-Then-There-Were-None-HarperCollins-US.png Ten strangers are invited to a secluded island, under the pretense of employment, meeting old friends or simply a week long vacation. Once there, however, their mysterious and absent host accuses each of them of causing the deaths of others. Most of the guests refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths, and those that do show no remorse for them. In short order, the guests begin to die in various mysterious, and not so mysterious, circumstances.

And Then There Were None is often considered to be Agatha Christie's best work, and according to the Author's Note in the version I read - which was taken from her own autobiography - it was the most difficult for her to write. She writes:

"Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious."

I don't know if in modern times you can get away with murdering ten people, one right after the other, without becoming ridiculous. The bodies pile up so quickly it's almost like a bad horror movie. That all of the victims are guilty of the crimes they're accused of is a given, so the only real mystery is who among the ten visitors is the murderer? I'll admit I didn't figure it out, although once the ending rolled around and the killer was revealed, it was as plain as day in hindsight.

This is only the second Agatha Christie novel I've read, and I'm not sure if I like her style so much. I can see why she's popular, but perhaps it's that And Then There Were None was originally published in serial format, and that forced her to rush the plot. While the idea intrigued me, the execution didn't work for me.

That's it for me. I hope to have a more delightful review for you next month. In the meantime, stop by the other participants in the Cephalopod Coffeehouse:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cephalopod Coffee House: An Unnecessary Woman

Welcome to the Cephalopod Coffee House hosted by the Armchair Squid. The purpose of the Coffehouse is to share the best book you read in the past month.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51wZ6gTSIbL.jpgThis month I read An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. This National Book Award Finalist tells the story of Aaliyah Saleh - or rather, she tells her own story - an elderly Lebanese woman who secretly translates novels as a way of coping with her life.

An Unnecessary Woman is a rather formless novel. There isn't much of a plot to speak of, and most of the narrative is given over to vignettes of Aaliyah's childhood, her early marriage and divorce, the civil wars of the seventies and eighties, and her thoughts on literature, music and philosophy. The book is more a novel of themes exploring loneliness and isolation

For most of the novel, Aaliyah seems to take pride in herself as a woman living apart with no familial or societal responsibilities. She relishes in the idea of being different, and of being unsentimental. Her favorite authors are people she feels are like her: alone, socially awkward, living outside their respective communities. However, as the novel goes on, cracks begin to show in her facade and it becomes obvious that Aaliyah is a woman who is nearly drowning in her isolation.

I'm usually not one for plotless literature. It generally irritates me, when characters mope around for three hundred pages, but Aaliyah is not that sort of character. What the novel lacks in forward momentum, it makes up for with the complex character of Aaliyah Saleh. She's keenly observant of her surroundings, brilliant, wryly humorous and sad all at once. Each memory she relates, every anecdote, every literary reference reveals an aspect aspect of her personality, her way of thinking, and her world outlook. I would recommend An Unnecessary Woman just for the character of Aaliyah Saleh alone.

Thanks for stopping by for my review. Now visit some other reviews at the links below:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hello From The Outside: a Blog Manifesto


I've been busy. There's no other way to explain where I've been for the last 7 or so months. I have been psyching myself up to get back into the blogging game for a while, but I had to first decide what I really wanted this blog to be. So sit back and relax, prepare your bag of sighs and eye rolls as I unveil yet another Blog Manifesto from yours truly.

I originally started A Creative Exercise to have a place to write, to improve my writing and to meet other writers. I started off strong - well strong for me - but I soon found that this little online space I had made for myself had little focus, and I just don't have the attention span to keep up a rigorous posting schedule. So I had to ask myself, "Self, if you're going to keep this up, what do you really want A Creative Exercise to be? What do you expect to get out of it? What can you do to meet those expectations?"

It's taken me a couple of months to figure it out, but I think I finally have. I need to go back to my original goal of writing and improving my writing. I want to especially focus on non-fiction and personal expression, two aspects of writing I'm actually quite terrible at. I feel that working on this type of writing will help me improve my fiction writing. I would also like to post some bits and pieces of fiction as well, but as far as the blog hops, Insecure Writers Support Group and frantic networking go (all networking is frantic when done by me), those are going to take a backseat to my main goals. I'm going to rejoin the Cephalopod Coffee House, because to be honest they were the only regular posting I actually enjoyed doing. I'm going to try to be at least a regular monthly poster, but fair warning: starting in January the next six months are going to be a beast for me, personally.

Most importantly, I want A Creative Exercise to be a place to proclaim my successes, not chronicle my failures as it has been so often in the past.

I know I've promised to "refocus" multiple times in the last 4 years. I know I've lost focus a lot in that time frame, but in the end I think it went bad because I was trying to make this blog into something that I'm not: a person who knows what the hell they're doing. I haven't a clue of what I'm doing most of the time, in any setting. Online, IRL, none of it.

In conclusion, (a phrase that I use at the end of every paper and essay to indicate that you, dear reader, and I are finally nearing the end of a long slog), I plan to bring my expectations of this blog back to earth and to ease up on expectations of myself. In the end, I hope that my ability focus my thoughts into written expression will improve, thus improving other areas of writing. I also, plan for this blog to be a place for personal expression and something I enjoy doing, instead of dreading it as I have in the past.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Release: Dark Railroad

Hello there.


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51kHiibhDjL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI wanted to stop by and say hi, and to let you know that I have published a new collection of short stories titled Dark Railroad: and Other Tales. This collection was actually published several months ago, but I never got around to officially announcing it. Not surprisingly, I have had exactly zero (0) sales since then. Why I even published it at the time I did, when I had absolutely no time to really pay attention to it, confounds me. Probably because I was going to keep picking at the stories in it until I really mucked them all up.

Anyway, Dark Railroad is a collection of eight short stories, most of which may be familiar to some long time visitors, as almost all of them appeared in some form or another on this blog at one point. Most are fairly short, with a couple of longer tales mixed in. I made a stab at going a bit literary in one of them. I really enjoyed writing these stories, and figuring out where they went after the original flash of inspiration that spawned them. I hope that readers can find the same pleasure in reading them.

Dark Railroad: and Other Tales is available at Amazon for .99.  What else can you buy for .99? Maybe a small cup of coffee at the gas station? You know what's more satisfying than a small cup of burned gas station coffee? Reading some spooky and weird tales by your favorite writer, moi.




Friday, April 29, 2016

Cephalopod Coffee House

It's another edition of the Cephalod Coffee House. The purpose of this meetup is to write about the best book you read in the past month. We meet the last Friday of the month and it's hosted by the Armchair Squid.

http://kristindearborn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/woman_in_white-2.jpg
I've been MIA for several months now, due to school and life, but I have managed to read a few books in the last two months. I've returned to reading for fun as a stress reliever to a very stressful situation I've gotten myself into. Today, I'm going to tell you about the most recent one.

During one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, the men of Rocky Rhodes, Maine are disappearing. The only thing left of them are splashes of blood across the newly fallen snow. As the storm of the century bears down on the town the residents must work together to uncover the mystery of the woman in white.



The Woman In White is a horror story, but it's also a story about relationships: romantic relationships, friendships, families and the community as a whole. The horror of the titular being pushes the ugliness of some of those relationships to the surface, while also bringing hope to some who feel trapped by their relationships.

It's a quick story, more like a novella than a novel, but the author uses her words to full effect. You can feel the cold and smell the snow. You can see the dense forests of northern Maine and sense the desperation of the characters, and I personally was truly upset at the thought that some of them wouldn't make it out alive. That's who you know it's a good book.

You can find The Woman In White on Amazon.

I'm not the only one writing about my book of the month. You can visit the other people on the list below: