A Darkly Positive Review of ‘Daisy Darker’ by Alice Feeney

Halloween, 2004. It’s Nana’s eightieth birthday, and she’s arranged to celebrate in style, inviting the whole Darker family for a night of fun and shenanigans on her remote isolated home on the Cornish coast. Most of the family haven’t spoken in years, and they’re only really here for Nana’s reading of her Will. When Nana—who’s been fated by a palm reader to die when she turns eighty—is found dead when the clock strikes midnight, things start to take a darker turn. And when someone else turns up dead an hour later, the Darkers come to realise someone is killing them off one by one by one.

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney is a novel reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, released at the end of August, exactly a month ago. Set concurrently in the past and the present, and narrated by youngest Darker daughter, Daisy, Daisy Darker is a fast-paced, twisty thriller that was beautifully narrated in audiobook form by Stephanie Racine. While this was the third thriller/mystery I read this month, it definitely took the cake, because while Renee Knight’s The Secretary was decent, that one kinda felt like it tread a similar path to most unreliable-narrator-thrillers that I’ve read and reviewed over the past half-decade on this blog. I most definitely thought Daisy Darker was going to join their ranks, until the plot twist near the end. Holy fuck, the plot twist! I haven’t felt this way reading my current fave of character-based stories since the ending of The Heights by Louise Candlish that I reviewed this time last year. Maybe something is in the September air? Could be my ten year anniversary with WordPress, that passed me by two weeks ago completely unnoticed?

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You’ve Reached My Review of ‘You’ve Reached Sam’ by Dustin Thao

Julie Clarke is in her final year of school and has her future sorted. Move out of Ellensburg, move in with her boyfriend Sam Obayashi, attend her dream college Reed, write while he plays guitar, and spend a summer in Japan. Then Sam dies. Julie skips the funeral and struggles to work out how to pick up the pieces. She’s ready to chuck out all of Sam’s things and pretend he never existed. Then Julie decides to call Sam one last time. And Sam picks up the phone.

You’ve Reached Sam is a 2021 contemporary romance by Dustin Thao. I was lured by this novel because, despite almost never reading contemporary romances, it sounded very similar to a short story that haunted me as a kid—Shake by Paul Jennings. Who knew a short story collection I got in a cake mix would have such an effect? I’m glad I read You’ve Reached Sam—it’s not a genre I would typically read, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out of our comfort zone.

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Cannibalising My Review of the Timothy Blake Series by Jack Heath

Timothy Blake isn’t your typical FBI civilian consultant. He’s a cannibal who solves crimes for the FBI purely so he can be given death row inmates to consume. Behind closed doors, he’s constantly starving and poor as dirt, solving riddles online—originally as a method of stealing credit card numbers—but soon it’s part of his personality. He’s also a genius who catches the eye of Houston FBI Director Peter Luzhin. When a 14 year old boy vanishes on his way home from school, the FBI employs Blake to help them out. But has Blake finally met his match?

Hangman by Australian author Jack Heath is the start of a trilogy I devoured in just over a month, alongside its sequels Hunter and Hideout. I came across Hangman because I was lured by the prospect of a book that’s basically the midpoint between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. Having already read two of the Hannibal books this year, I thought, “Why not read more cannibal books this year?” Is there such a thing as reading too much cannibal fiction in one year? How did I accidentally get my reading mojo back with such a specific subgenre of crime novels? Without answering these questions, I can only say I raced through the Christopher Ragland-narrated Timothy Blake trilogy. Ragland’s Texan accent makes listening to the trilogy a complete delight. I got myself absolutely immersed into this series. “But, surely,” you start, wide-eyed and confused. “The series can’t possibly remain good over three books…can it? The Dexter series devolved into hot garbage far too quickly. Does this?”

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A Near-Midnight Review of ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig

Nora Seed’s life is going nowhere. Once an aspiring swimming star, rockstar and glaciologist, her relationship with her boyfriend Dan is over and her brother’s barely in contact, she’s just lost her part-time job, and her cat Voltaire is found dead on the side of the road. Thinking her potential is lost, and everything is over, Nora plans to end everything…until she wakes up in the Midnight Library. The Midnight Library’s is Nora’s consciousness’s way of dealing with quantum immortality and alternative universes, with its head her former school librarian and only real maternal figure, Mrs Elm. Now she has the chance to relive her lost lives, make her way through her book of regrets, what could have been. In the process, we wonder what could have been if we’d diverged a different path in life. What will Nora Seed learn?

The Midnight Library is a 2020 novel by Matt Haig, part-fantasy and part-philosophical manifesto. During the lockdown, everyone and their cat was talking about this novel, and I was lured by the prospect of another book about a bookstore/library where magical things happen. Just see my previous reviews for Pages and Co by Anna James and The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but when I do, apparently there’s a lot of magical bookstores and magical libraries. Need more? I’m also intrigued by The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu and The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston. But…back to The Midnight Library. Everyone and their cute cats (named after literary references a la Leo in Elegance of the Hedgehog) were fascinated by The Midnight Library. I was late to the train until early this year, when I chanced upon the Carey Mulligan-narrated audiobook on Borrowbox. Ooh, I thought. I liked her in Never Let Me Go. And Promising Young Woman was okay, but it got me obsessed with Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning, so it has that going for it. So I started listening. But was it worth it?

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The Winter Reading List

Oh, the dreaded ‘reading slump‘!

Is it really a thing, a cause attributed to something else entirely, or just a figment of our writerly imaginations?

The answer tends to lie somewhere in the middle. We’re living in a post-COVID society, and there’s a lot of shit happening in the world, not to mention our very crazy personal lives. Sprinkle in everything online that is trying to distract us from even having one solo ad-free thought, and BAM! we’ve forgotten to enjoy old pleasures and partake in formerly enjoyable hobbies.

I have a WordPress draft that I update when I finish a book, and at the end of the year, it transforms into my Year Wrap-Up, of which there are EIGHT so far. Eight years of wrap-ups. So I went to check this year’s process, and my Actually-Read Count for this year is dismally low. A paltry effort.

Three books.

Three books in five months. And two of them are from the same series—the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris, to be precise. The third is a kids’ book: Matilda by Roald Dahl.

The last time I read Matilda by Roald Dahl, I was an avid reader in primary school who 1. Had no internet at home to distract me, and, 2. Had definitely read way more than three books by the end of the fifth month of the year, and utilised challenges like the MS Readathon as excuses to read more books.

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Fiction Writing and Mental Health Stigmatisation

You’re crazy. Delusional. Mad. Insane. Nuts. Psychotic. Loony. Off your meds. Around the twist. Freak. Psycho. Weirdo. Schizo. Mental.

Other.

We like to think we’ve progressed as a society. In centuries past, humanity liked to just lock away anyone who deviated from the norm, preferring to pretend they didn’t exist. Insane asylums and travelling circuses were where you’d find the humans too “delusional” for regular society. The Nazis aimed to eradicate who they perceived as deplorable and below the rest of humanity, with Josef Mengele, among many in his rank, attempting to normalise eugenics and wipe out what they perceived as defective human beings.

Creative spheres are typically full of progressive people, and literary awards are chock-full of stories about struggle in the human condition, about overcoming adversity and beating the odds. BookTube, BookTok and all the other literature-focused parts of the internet, are always sharing books and entertainment that attempt to fix some of the frankly shocking portrayals of mental illness. In the last few decades, a wealth of literature has come out trying to help with the dismal public awareness of both physical and mental health. Far from the days of WWI vets hiding their PTSD in a locked box and suppressing their emotions, newer generations (millennials and Gen Z) are supposedly more open with mental health and mental illness, proudly proclaiming their diagnoses in their Twitter bios and claiming to be all about empathy and compassion.

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How To Be The Bestest of All the Writingers

Are you an aspiring writer who has never picked up a book since you pretended to read the pictures in There’s a Hippopotamus on my Roof Eating Cake way back in first grade?

Back then, you decided you would write a classic epic about a hungry grey creature with a dessert problem, and once the Big Five publishers—yes, all of them—contacted you en masse for a trillion dollar book deal, you would savour the taste of all the cakes while lounging in your money pool, and promise to never look at another book again. But the pandemic hit you hard. Now you need to *gasp* write again. As an aspiring writer who runs to the grocery store wearing your trench coat and vaping, clasping your MacBook in one hand and vape pen in the other, you need more ideas. You need a story. You need to remove the ‘aspiring’ out of your authoryness once and for all. You need to be the bestest of all the writingers and authorydoos.

But how? you ask.

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{SimName} gained some Writing skill! Using ‘The Sims’ as a Framework for Fiction Writing

The Sims is the perfect video game for writers.

As someone who first got into the franchise over twenty years ago with The Sims (no numbers) on Windows 98, each new incarnation of The Sims has been more inclusive of telling stories while also escaping from the real world by making your Sim a corrupt detective with six lovers and seventeen kids and a secret side-business drowning work rivals in his underground basement pool…or alternatively, a dedicated single mother who’s just doing her best while changing the world building rockets and rocketing off into space in her spare time.

It was a lot harder back in 2001 to keep the storytelling alive—mostly I was trying to keep my Sims alive with their thrice-daily showers and constant bad moods. However, over time, the sequels have made it easier to keep your Sims, well, alive, contrary to Will Wright’s original goal of making Budget Simulator 2000, it’s become an immersive storytelling tool. I’m not about to wax poetic about how amazing the later games are. Sims 3 no longer has the appeal it did back in 2009—it’s a laggy, bloated mess with empty lots and a map screen filled with Steve Jablonsky’s ‘Expansive Vistas‘ that will give even the cheeriest of folks a traumatising case of crippling existential dread at 5am they never even asked for. Don’t even get me started on the current brouhaha over the latest Sims 4 game pack. We’re here to talk about The Sims from a writer’s perspective. That’s what this blog tends to be about. Writing. Writing accessories. I hope you weren’t expecting a list of songs from Sims 3 designed to give you maximum existential dread. Or a list of reticulating splines. Not today, reader. Not today.

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Silencing the Lambs by Reading ‘Silence of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris

The name Clarice Starling is iconic thanks to Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the whip-smart young FBI Academy student, pitted against charismatic serial killer Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, in the Academy Award winning film from 1991. But her roots begin, as always, in the original book. Starling is a trainee at the FBI Academy, one of the brightest students in her class, and that’s how she draws the attention of the one and only Jack Crawford. Crawford knows imprisoned cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter knows more than he’s telling the Feds about the string of murders happening around the U.S. by a killer the press have dubbed Buffalo Bill. Since he lost his previous protégé, Will Graham, after the events of Red Dragon, he turns his sights on pretty, intelligent, female student Starling as his last resort.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is a 1988 psychological horror novel, and the sequel to Red Dragon. I both listened to the audiobook narrated by Frank Muller and read the physical book borrowed from the library. I had this book in my possession for a few many months, and it was only when it reached overdue status at the library that I finally pulled it out and read it in a couple of sittings. It’s been over a decade since I watched the Jodie Foster film, and basically nothing stuck except the basics, which made the book an exciting, fresh reading experience. Back then, I didn’t appreciate the film and was basically, like, “Oh, it’s just a lot of talking”. Over a decade on, I definitely appreciate the psychological element more.

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2020: Part II (2021) Is Over, Now’s The Time to Celebrate Part III (2022)!

2021 is finally over, and I know there’s more than a few of you thrilled to see the back of 2020: Part II. 2020’s sequel. Not like we were ever going to escape from that dreaded year.

It’s been a year. COVID-19 continued its dreaded wave of destruction. I commemorated getting out of two lockdowns by getting tattooed each time. Anne Rice died and, as a not-so-secret lover of vampire media (my hot take: Dangerous Girls by R.L Stine is the best vampire novel), it was definitely not the news we needed to hear. I watched a really good Netflix TV series, Perfume, this week, and Dexter: New Blood‘s surpassed all my expectations so far. I was surprised that I enjoyed the Chris Rock Saw movie. I stopped consuming news for the most part, and my mental health has improved considerably. Probably a good thing, since Australian Prime Minister Scott “Scummo” Morrison’s trying his damndest to censor the internet under the guise of “protecting children” from “internet trolls”, which is code for “only allowing his pre-approved legacy media hacks to bleat his propaganda without any criticism whatsoever”. But enough of that.

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