Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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Wow. I was not expecting to love this so much. Honestly I’d not heard of this book before the film came out earlier this year. I really enjoyed the film, it’s the most unique and interesting Sci-Fi film in a long time. I had to read the book it was based on. I’m so glad I did. The film is good, but the book is so much better. 

I know that’s a cliche, the book is always better, but it couldn’t be truer in this instance. The book is written in the first person, from the viewpoint of a woman who only refers to herself as The Biologist. She is one member of a team sent into Area X to investigate the strange place. That’s all I’m going to say without spoiling it. 

The book is short, but it doesn’t feel rushed or incomplete. It actually works as the story is presented as if it’s been written in a journal that all the characters own and write in. That does mean you know from the beginning that the protagonist survives to the very end of the narrative, but at the same time you become aware very early on that death isn’t the worse thing that can happen to you in Area X. 

I honestly thought this book was going to give me nightmares when reading it late at night and I had to put it down because, I was either going to have nightmares and not sleep, or read the whole book and not sleep. It’s that good. There is one section, in the lighthouse, which is so tense I was almost holding my breath the entire time. It’s been a long time that I’ve put off doing other things and prioritised reading until I was finished. I honestly couldn’t put it down. 

Annihilation is tense, scary, interesting and honestly unputdownable. It’s book one of a trilogy and I straight away ordered book 2, Authority, and can’t wait to start it. 

Thanks for reading, 

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter Nine

I try to forget what happened after that. I don’t like to admit it, although not a day goes past where I don’t think about it, but it was my fault. As much as I like to think I was a child and it wasn’t, deep down I know I can’t deny my involvement. My dad exploded into anger. Lighting the room up with the red from his eyes. He grew even taller over me, or I shrank. The whole room seemed to twist and contort itself as he stepped back into the centre and screamed.

“I don’t want you hanging around with him anymore. I’ll find out if you are. Trust me, don’t cross me on this. I will find out. You won’t speak to him again.”

I didn’t ask why or tell him that at school they tell us not to treat people any different regardless of sexuality. I didn’t ask him to explain himself. I wish I did, but I was small. God, I don’t think I could even do it now, and I’m an adult. I think.

He slammed the door shut as he left the room and stomped to his own room, slamming that door as well. I lay, shivering with fear, for the rest of the night. I don’t think I slept at all. My eyes never shut, glued on the door. Hoping it wouldn’t open again. Maybe Dad would feel better in the morning. I doubted it.

The alarm went off, and I turned over to tap the button. I didn’t need to press snooze. There was no way I was falling asleep again that day.

Everything was off that day. Nothing felt right. The sun was stuck behind clouds, the wind picked up and ripped through the streets. I almost missed the bus and had to run most of the way. Tim was waiting for me, stretching his neck out with an anxious look on his face. A smile grew on his face when he caught my eye, but I didn’t return it. We got on the bus in silence and didn’t say a word until we got there.

“So, what’s up man?” He asked.

“Nothing, I’m good. Just tired.”

“Come on, it’s because of last night isn’t it. I knew you’d get weird. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry man. Let’s just forget about it.”

“No, it’s not that. Honestly.” I don’t think he believed me.

“Leave it. I don’t wanna talk about it. Let’s just get to class.”

He picked up the pace and left me behind. I breathed heavily and let the ocean of students carry me to class. I wished I could just talk to him. Tell him about Dad, but it wasn’t that easy.

The rest of the day was pretty much as awkward as the morning. Tim didn’t come outside at break time, I never saw him and then at lunch he said he was going to the library to finish some homework. It felt crap. Once the final bell rang, I walked to the bus stop knowing he had to be there, but expecting him to ignore me. Instead his mood had changed, we got on together and chatted on the way back. It was a little awkward at first, but soon enough things returned to normal. We didn’t mention the elephant, just let it linger in the background.

I thought that would be the end of it. No one would mention it again and it would just disappear. Most things worked like that. Most things. Mum didn’t, but this wasn’t like that. Tim was my best friend. I should have known better. I saw my dad before the bus stopped. His eyes were already full of fire, his mouth trembling. His hands rolled into tight fists and shaking. I think everything one the bus saw him. Silence took over. It seemed like the world grew darker and every other adult waiting for their child disappeared. All the other people on the bus faded and it was just me and dad looking at each other through the window.

I didn’t want to leave the bus, but I didn’t have a choice. My whole body went to jelly and I had to fight not to flop to the floor.

“Come on, you got to leave,” Tim whispered to me.

“Dad’s there.”

“I know, he seems mad. Better to deal with it straight away. You know what he’s like.”

“Please stop talking.”

“Christopher get off that bus and get out here now,” Dad roared, echoing through the bus.

If the bus wasn’t silent before it was then. Crap. My whole body shook and I had to hold back tears. I’d never seen him like this before.

“Get away from that faggot and get out here.”

“What? Did you tell him?” Tim asked.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t think it would be a big thing.”

I did know, how couldn’t I have known. He may not have ever been outwardly homophobic, but the signs were there. He hated most people, this was no surprise.

The whole bus was staring at my Dad, holding back laughter. A couple of heads slowly turned towards Tim. My eyes darted between everyone.

“Hey, can you leave the language at home, please?” The driver asked, “There are kids on board.”

“I’m only here to get my kid, I’ll leave once he gets off the bus.”

“I can’t believe you told him,” Tim whispered.

I winced at the words, not wanting to admit that I’d done it. That I was stupid to believe that anything else would have come from this. That the excuse of being a child doesn’t always work. That other people wouldn’t find out, if not like this then some other way. I was stupid, and I knew better.

I stood up slowly, accepting my fate and walked towards the front of the bus, every step echoing throughout me. The heads of every student followed me along the narrow passage, their legs automatically shuffled into the seats, not to even touch me. The birds chirping outside joined my echoing steps.

“Come on, boy. We’re going home.”

Dad grabbed my wrist and led me away from the bus. A couple of other parents gave me sympathetic looks, but they didn’t say anything. Didn’t do anything and would never mention it again.

“I told you not to hang around him again.”

“It’s no big deal, we were sitting next to each other on the bus. I barely spoke to him all day.”

“No big deal, you stupid dumbass. It’s not natural being like that. He’ll have you thinking your queer before you know it.”

“That’s not how it works.”

“It is, don’t believe what they tell you in school. It is how it works.”

He dragged me all the way home, occasionally calling me something obscene under his breath or right to my face. I couldn’t tell if he thought I was answering back, it seemed like he was having an argument with me, making up my responses.

When we got back home he threw me through the front door and slammed it shut behind him. He then grabbed my shoulder and threw me at the stairs. I bounced off the steps and fell to the floor. I thought he was going to take his belt off and smack me like he used to. I could almost hear Mum telling him not to. Her dead screams echoed in my mind.

“That’s the last time you see him, you hear me? No son of mine will hang around with some freak like that.”

“He’s not a freak.”

“Don’t test me boy. His Dad can let him do whatever he wants, but I will not let my Son degrade himself like that.”

I didn’t answer him, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. That I didn’t want to get beaten. It wasn’t worth it. Through gritted teeth my Dad heavily breathed staring at me with unblinking eyes. His fists tensed and pulsated with anger. I was shaking, trying to curl up and hide. I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t let him see me.

Eventually he left and the sound of the fridge opening and closing, followed by the opening of a can.

“Go to bed, you little shit,” Dad said calmly from the other room.

I didn’t answer back, didn’t ask about dinner, just got up and walked upstairs and curled up in bed and cried until I eventually slept.

I tried to speak to Tim the next day at school, but he wouldn’t even look at me. A couple of people shouted names at him. Faggot and gay-lord. I could see the hurt in his face, his whole body looked broken. He didn’t lift his feet in the same way. He skipped football, said he wasn’t feeling well and went to the library instead. By that point the teachers knew what was going on and didn’t ask for a note.

Eventually things found a new normal. Tim didn’t speak to me, didn’t really seem to speak to anyone. There were rumours about him joining a new school. Rumours about him getting home schooled. He didn’t speak to me, but at least I didn’t see anger hidden in eyes with every secret glance. And then one day he came up to me, I should have known something was wrong.

“Hey, Chris. I know we aren’t friends any more. I just wanted you to know that I don’t blame you for what happened.”

I was speechless

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said

And with those final words he walked away. The next day he wasn’t in school. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Maybe he was ill or had actually moved to another school. Then the whispering started. Tim had slit his wrists with a broken mirror the night before in his bathroom.

And that was that.

 

TO BE C

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The Perfectionists

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I want to start this by saying that I’ve never read anything by Sara Shepard, or seen the TV show Pretty Little Liars. I’ve heard good things about the TV show and have been recommended it a few times, but have never seen it. I mention that because there is an adaption of The Perfectionists in the works that will act as a sequel TV show to Pretty Little Liars, but this series is completely stand alone in book form.

I went into this book with very little expectation. I knew nothing of the plot, and chose to read it simply because it was part of Kindle Unlimited and I’ve heard of Sara Shepard. As I read through the first few chapters my hopes didn’t get much higher. It felt very by the numbers, nothing special at all. Five young women, all in their final year at high school find themselves at the centre of a murder mystery. They play a prank on Nolan, the notorious bully, but on the same night he’s murdered. What makes it worse is someone seems to be framing them, putting them in the cross-hairs of the local police.

There were too many characters for me to clearly remember who was who. The book’s short chapters are each focused on one of the main five women at the centre of this murder mystery, and move from one to the other very quickly. That continues throughout the whole book, there are points where I wanted to know what happened next to a certain character, such as Parker at the psychologist’s office, only for a new chapter to start and then having to wait three or four more chapters to find out. It’s not a long book, so it isn’t the biggest issue, but I don’t like the suspense it creates. Especially when there are other sections that are really tense, such as Granger’s house, where the suspense builds and I couldn’t put the book down. One more chapter, turns into five very easy.

For the first half of the book I wasn’t sure. I know I’m not the intended audience. However just after the halfway point when everything clicks together and the pace really picks up, I was hooked. I couldn’t put the book down and when I finished it I immediately downloaded the sequel to find out what happens next. The book feels like a whole by itself, but there are more than enough little mysteries as well as the big one to bring me back for the second book.

I find that stories that make me care about the main characters and their aims outside of the main plot, their school-life in this scenario, are usually the most engaging. The Perfectionists passes this test with flying colours. As the final chapters were approaching I wanted to know what happened next with the characters, regardless of the plot. It may take a while to really get going, but when it does the build up was completely worth it. Not only will I read the sequel I will also go out and read Pretty Little Liars.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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It’s Been a While

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last wrote on this blog. I kept on meaning to and then it didn’t happen for whatever reason. I didn’t realise how much time had past. As always, that’s my main aim, to get better at this and not leave such massive gaps. I am writing at least, Time Heals… is coming along nicely. Even if I still don’t like the title and will think of a better one at some point. I’m a little over half way through the novel. I will upload the next chapter in the next couple of days. It’s an important chapter and I want to make sure it’s edited properly and ready to be read.

Other than writing, and work, I’ve nearly finished reading These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas. I was recommended this by someone who read a review I wrote earlier in the year and while it’s taken me a long time to get through it I am enjoying the book. It’s well written and keeps me guessing at what’s coming next. It’s part of a trilogy and I will be reading the following books soon after finishing this one.

This week I went to see A Star Is Born. I was expecting good things, but not that good. It’s definitely one of the best films of the year. I don’t know how it compares to earlier versions, but they’ve been added to my ever growing, to watch list. I’m hoping to go and see Bad Times at the El Royale and First Man soon, both look really good.

I also really enjoyed the new Doctor Who last week. I’ve been a big fan since the 2005 reboot and have gone back and watched a fair bit of the original series. I had little doubt about Jodie Whittaker, but was still surprised at how good she was. I’d forgotten about Peter Capaldi by the end of the episode and wanted to start the next one straight away, which hasn’t happened since David Tennant’s debut.

Venom was also surprisingly good. I wasn’t expecting much at all, and then even less once the reviews came out. It was fun and more enjoyable than most of the DC films. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable and I look forward to the sequel.

The next chapter of Time Heals… will be uploaded as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter Eight

I was twelve or thirteen when Timothy let me in on his secret, probably thirteen. I’d been friends with him since nursery. Three years old and were inseparable. The best of friends. I’d met Vanessa first, but that was through each of our Mum’s. As much as I got on with Nessa, it wasn’t quite the same as Tim. I chose to be friends with him. We were in the same class as school.

We would have been thirteen and on the way home from school. Normally we split at the bus stop and went straight home, booted up a game and chatted until dinner. This time though, he didn’t want to split straight away. He said he had something he wanted to tell me. He waited for everyone else to get off the bus and say their goodbyes. Once the roar of children became a dying hum he asked if we could go to the park. I said sure, thinking he wanted to play football or something. Maybe his parents were getting divorced. They wouldn’t be the first couple in the town to do so.

“What’s up?” I asked once we got to the quietest part.

It was late afternoon, about half four. The sun was clocking out for the day, waving goodbye to us and leaving an orange glow in the autumn evening. I remember being slightly cold, not that I would ever say anything, that would be admitting that Mum was right and I needed a coat. There were some children playing on the swings and climbing frame in the distance. Tim climbed up a tree and I followed. Our legs dangling and swinging freely as we sat on one of the branches, looking out onto the horizon. From up there we could see past the children, past the outskirts of the park and onto the road. Cars flowing in both directions but the sound didn’t reach us.

“I wanted to tell you something.”

“Okay, shoot.”

We sat in silence for a while. He wasn’t looking at me, his eyes going between the ground beneath our feet and the enduring sun light.

“I need to tell someone. That’s what I’ve read on the internet. It’ll help me if I tell someone.”

He went quiet and shut his eyes. The world around us moved on. I could see him concentrating on slowly breathing. In and out.

“I’m gay.”

“What?” I said, with a small laugh.

“Yeah. At least I think I am.”

“Dude, no joke. That ain’t funny.”

“I’m not laughing.”

“You serious. Wow. How do you know?”

“How do you know you’re straight?”

“Fair.”

We sat in silence for a while. I was feeling uncomfortable. He’d just told me this massive secret and my first reaction was to just laugh. I didn’t mean to laugh. It wasn’t funny. And I didn’t have a problem with him being Gay. Back then I would call things, like games and films, gay. But that’s just what we said. It wasn’t a bad thing. I know it doesn’t sound like that now, but the world has changed a lot since then.

It seemed like the whole world had shut down, the children playing seemed to be further away. Their screams fading into the distance. The only sounds were the birds sitting in nearby trees, tweeting at one another. The wind rustled along, moving between us. Slowly the sun started to lower behind the buildings leaving an orange tint over the world. The dying rays spread over us.

“Dude,” I said. “I need to start heading home. My dad’s going to kill me.”

“I know, go on. I’m fine, I just want to sit here for a while.”

“Are you sure your okay? I don’t think any less of you or anything. Your still my mate. I mean that. I know some people would think you’re weird, or something. But I don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“Thanks, mate. Go. Your dad will kill us both.”

I half smiled, jumped from the tree and landed with a thud on the floor. Getting up I ran all the way home. Dad was going to be mad, he would be even madder if the sky went black before I got home. He didn’t like me out on school nights. Especially when it got dark so early. I don’t know what he was worried about. Sure, Westmeadow was a rough place, but it wasn’t like that. As long as you kept to yourself everything would be fine. The older kids always left me alone. I didn’t do anything to them. I got enough beatings at home.

“Where the hell have you been?” He roared as I stepped into the living room.

“I was just with Tim. We were at the park.”

“At the park? You know your supposed to come straight back home. Especially when it gets dark. Your dinner’s cold. You’re still going to eat it. I have to go out tonight so we’ll talk about this later. You come home late again and I’ll give you something to cry about.”

That was his favourite saying. I’ll give you something to cry about. He used to say it whenever I cried as a child, and then didn’t stop as I grew up. It always made me wince, knowing what was coming next. I could tell he was already drunk, his words slurring as he spoke.

He pushed past me, grabbed his coat and left me in the house alone. My whole body shaking, knowing that he was going to come home drunker and angry than when he left.

The food was sitting on the side in the kitchen, chicken and oven chips. Yay. That was pretty much the usual. Chicken that supposed to be crispy, and yet uncooked and floppy. Chips, that tasted like death itself. On top of that it had been sitting there for a while, so it’ll have to go in the microwave which doesn’t really add greatness to the flavour. Dad wouldn’t let me make my own dinner, I don’t know why. If I asked for him to leave it in a little longer he would tell me that burnt food was bad for me. I didn’t want it burnt I just wanted it fully cooked.

I half-choked, half-ate the food and then went to my room to play a game. Hoping that dad would just go straight to bed when he got home. Maybe he wouldn’t even make it upstairs. I could just sneak into bed and let tomorrow begin a new beginning. As time drew on my mind left my Dad and went to Tim. I wondered how he was doing. I didn’t know any openly gay people and while I’m sure there were some in the town it was still not common. He must be scared, I would be. I don’t think I would have been able to tell even him.

But he told me. And I ran away. That’s why he told me then though, I couldn’t get weird with him if I had to bolt straight away. I texted him asking if he was okay. I got a generic response, probably testing the waters. I told him I was here if he wanted to speak. That everything was good between us and all that stuff. I didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was having a hard time, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I was just going to act normal when we got back to school and not mention it again. Show him that things won’t change.

I couldn’t sleep and Dad hadn’t come home. The head of my bed was close to the window, I could look up and see under the curtain and watch the stars. A lot of things went through my head that night, as the still stars shined on.

I spent what seemed like two days, tossing and turning, listening out for the front door and watching the moonlit sky. There was no noise coming in through the window and I couldn’t even turn the TV on for company. Dad would have gone mental, wasting electricity. Especially if I fell asleep with it on.

Eventually Dad came back home, he stumbled in through the front door and shook the house when he slammed it shut. I winced at the sound and retreated further under the quilt. He didn’t come into my room straight away, so maybe he’d forgotten about me being late home. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I shut my eyes and pretended to sleep, hoping he wouldn’t want to wake me if he came in.

My heart stopped as I heard his feet thud up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. I curled up and turned towards the wall, eyes shut. Each thud louder than the last. It was probably in my mind but I could smell the booze as he got closer to my room. I didn’t know what to do. My whole body was shaking. He was reaching my room. If only I could curl up and hide under the bed. I knew he was going to come in. I could feel it. His drunk breath screaming at me. Tears flowing.

But he didn’t. He walked past the room, slowly thudding down the corridor. The next thing I hear is the sound of him going to the toilet. I sigh in relief and stretch my legs out. It’s over. He won’t mention it again tomorrow, he won’t even be awake when I get up for school. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep now. I turn onto my back and lower the quilt a little. Sticking one leg out the side I smile, and start to relax.

I hear the chain flush and the door to the bathroom opens quickly. He didn’t wash his hands. Nice. The thuds are a bit quicker now, and lighter. I’m not paying that much attention. Shuffling a little I try to enter the land of nod.

My whole body jumps as my bedroom door swings open. I can see a silhouette against the landing light. Slowly Dad stumbles over to the bed and looms over me.

“Don’t think I’d forgotten about you boy.” He slurred.

I didn’t say anything. It took all of my energy just to keep eye contact. I was shaking under the quilt. Dad leant over me, holding himself against the wall.

“Well, why were you late?”

“I was hanging out with Tim. I didn’t see the time.”

“You know better than to lie to me boy. You know the rules. You come straight home after school. It takes you long enough to get home, I don’t need you running about the place. You could get hurt. You know better than to do that. So what was it? You not scared of your old man any more? Don’t think I would teach you to follow the rules? I’m not your mother boy. I’m not soft. I will teach you to listen.”

“It was Tim,” I said, trying to hide under the welcoming duvet. “I said I needed to come home.”

“So you’re a girl then? Scared to stand up for yourself and just do as your told. Pathetic.”

There was no slurring in his voice now. Just anger. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. Looking back I know it’s no excuse but I wasn’t thinking at the time. I just wanted that moment to be over. I didn’t like my Dad shouting at me. He was scary. I just wanted to go to sleep and pretend that it never happened. I just wanted my legs to stop shaking, having their own earthquake.

“He’s gay. He told me and I was trying to be a good friend.”

I think I knew how Dad was going to react. It wasn’t going to be good. I knew he was a little homophobic. Shouting stuff at the TV whenever an openly gay celebrity made an appearance. For the next couple of years I tried to convince myself that I told him thinking he would understand and even think I did the right thing. It never worked. There were so many sleepless nights because of that one moment.

“He’s gay?”

There was a moment when I thought everything was going to be okay. He stood back up and seemed shocked. Taken back by my statement. A stillness took over the room and everything calmed. The anger that had been swirling around stopped and then left.

“You let that low life into this house? You brought him in here?”

And then everything got worse.

 

To be continued…

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