Book Review: All But a Bloody Mouth

So I’ve been reading and reading all summer long, but not finding things that really satisfy.  It’s the downside of being voracious and pretty indiscriminate about your reading: you get jaded pretty quickly–been there, seen that, seen it done BETTER, and now you’re bored.  Every now and then, I just hit a run of meh books.

And every now and then, I stumble over something strange and wonderful.

In this case, the online novel All But a Bloody Mouth by Becca De La Rosa

The details:

All But a Bloody Mouth  published on tumblr in 2016 and later assembled into a free download—technically self-pubbed, but not available for sale in stores.  If you find it, it feels … serendipitous.
Written by: Becca De La Rosa
Genre: um…. I’m thinking of it as feminist noir horror? Which is a genre I didn’t know I wanted, but apparently was starving for.
Pages: 259 per pdf
Publisher: self-published, nicely formatted, not available in stores.

Why I chose it: During my podcast resolution over on Spec Chic, I listened to podcast Mabel (not reviewed yet–look for my review in Oct or Nov), and wandered over to the website and found the writer for Mabel had also written this novel. Since I was enjoying Mabel so much, and the premise of this book appealed to me, it seemed only natural to dive right in.

The Premise:
All But the Bloody Mouth. First published on Tumblr in 2016; a novel about murder, mystery cults, and apotheosis.

Eleven days ago Loan Santos came home to discover her boyfriend Jack violently attacking a young woman on the kitchen floor. Following the revelation, Jack admitted to committing the five murders attributed to the Red Deer Valley Slasher; he claimed he killed those five girls, however, for a very particular reason. Now, Loan must piece together the facts of the matter (a girl with a scar on her throat who knows more than she lets on, a monster in the wetlands) to find herself some kind of – meaning, or understanding, or transcendence.

​All But the Bloody Mouth is free to download, read, and share.

Spoilers ahead, but I’m going to try to keep them small, because watching this book unfold is a delight.

Discussion:

I read a lot of serial killer stories. It’s almost inevitable. I love fantasy, but as a child, I cut my teeth on mystery. Nancy Drew, Kay Tracey, Meg, Trixie freaking Belden. And oh, here’s a fantasy twist: The Girl with the Silver Eyes, which was a childhood form of an urban fantasy—young girl with a magical gift learns that there are others like her and enemies out there who want to control them, and she assembles a team to fight back…. Tell me that doesn’t sound urban fantasy-ish.

The point being, after a while, mystery divides itself into cozies and murders. (Not that no one dies in cozies, it’s just that no one seems to care much.) So yeah, serial killers. And I enjoy the genre but it is definitely a genre of dead tortured women, usually with graphic scenes, where the saving grace is that many, many of the serial killer stories are written by women, with women as their active protagonists.

That said, there is a certain sameness to the formula. So, I really enjoy the books that turn the story on its end—the killer caught on the first page!? The story about the recovery of the people affected—yeah, show me that!

And All But a Bloody Mouth begins with Jack, the Red Deer Valley killer caught and jailed before the first page. Because he’s not the focus here. It’s about the two women he left behind—the woman who nearly died, and the woman who loved him, unknowing. But it’s also about pulling back the veil on the lives that women lead.

I said feminist noir and I meant it. Mandy Jane Donovan, the would-be victim is the blonde femme fatale, swanning through the story and helping to open Loan’s eyes to the world she’s always moved through, but always repressed. That Loan surpasses Mandy’s understanding in the end is also noir—Mandy is ephemeral, her importance is to lead Loan in the direction of the truth. Mandy is a vector of sorts, a proselytizer. But unlike classic noir, Mandy has her own successful agenda. She doesn’t come to ruin. She starts there and grows past it.

These truths are about men and women, more than anything else. And they’re not necessarily pleasant truths. Here, each gender is pretty much posed always in opposition to each other.

I also said horror, and I meant it. The horror here is both occasionally gory—though elegantly presented—and social; there’s a scene with Loan and her lawyer that’s just fundamentally upsetting in oh so many ways. Loan starts off quiet and repressed, but it’s definitely the quiet of a banked fire.

There’s real fantasy here also. But it’s a fantasy that is more about mythology than casting spells or having magical abilities doled out. It’s about change. I thought the ending was both surprising and well-led up to, if a little short on the mechanics.

There were small things that bugged me:

I wasn’t sure about Loan’s name. It’s unusual enough to strike the reader as continually odd. It felt more like a symbol than a name. Loan? Like lone? Or Loan, like her life had been on loan…. I don’t know. But it was distracting.*

I adored the ending, but thought it felt a little bit abrupt. A lot of the big moments in this book are a little rushed.

De La Rosa’s writing is full of literary goodness, but occasionally one of her metaphors falls a little flat.

In conclusion:

I’d actually recommend All But the Bloody Mouth to anyone who enjoys Gemma Files—the introspection, the dissection of relationships, the precision in language, and yes, the mythic horror. Elizabeth Hand as well. Try the first few pages; if you like those, you’ll probably enjoy the rest. If you don’t get a tiny little shiver at the end of the first scene, you might not.

 

*ETA and today, Kelly Marie Tran explains that her given name is Loan, and suddenly I have more context for the name.  So, less odd, then.  I have learned something!

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Book Review: All But a Bloody Mouth

Ant-Man and the Wasp! And the Wasp’s wardrobe* choices!

A rare movie post:

A friend was in town so we all went off to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, which I’d been wanting to see, but kept putting off.  I am constantly surprised at how much I enjoy the Ant-Man entries.  It’s not just Paul Rudd, though he is more charming than he has any right to be.  It’s not just that I’ve loved their casting; I adore his weirdo little daughter Cassie, and in this movie, I felt like we really got a glimmer of why Scott Lang and Maggie ever connected in the first place.  Last movie, she was shoe-horned into the humorless control freak ex-wife.  This movie she had a tiny spark that made me say hey, someone put a little character into this character this time around.  (The “what does the FBI stand for?  Forever Bothering Individuals? Followed by a little self-satisfied smirk… It was the smirk that made it.  That is exactly the kind of attitude that would have married Scott.)  They seem to have taken the character away from Cassie’s stepfather though.  Oh well. He was pretty one-note last movie too.

I liked Ghost.  I liked her anger.  I liked that it was justified!  The government was content to use her abilities, but didn’t care enough about her to try to cure them.

But what I really liked?  This is so shallow you’ll laugh.  But I loved Hope’s clothes.  When we saw her in the first movie, she’s Corporate Shark Barbie, hard-edged bob, suits cut like corsets, and lips as red as blood. Don’t get me wrong; she was dressed in a completely plausible way for her role.  And we did get to see her in training gear etc., but the primary impression of her was high-gloss perfection.

Wasp 1

Then came Ant-Man & the Wasp.  Two years later, her company gone, on the run with her father, trading for fancy electronic components on the black market.  They could have gone the Natasha Romanoff route, and made her into a glamorous sort of hero on the run.  But they went for honest to god reality.

Not for the easy sexy vigilante stuff.

No, Hope wears cropped leggings and flat heeled boots and a black tee with a coat thrown over for “business wear”.  It’s not sexy.  It’s not exciting.  (And the proof of that is no matter how I search for an image of her in her “civvies”, the internet doesn’t provide it.)  What is is, is very practical.  Easy to be unseen in–tons of women wear activewear in public as their day off clothing.  Easy to slip into a Wasp suit without effort.  And of course, it’s all wash and wear.

Ghost is similar.

As is

SPOILER….

Janet Van Dyne.  Two superheroes and one supervillain, and they all dress without Teh Sexy in mind.  You can make arguments about the effects of formfitting Wasp suits on a woman as beautiful as Evangeline Lilly, but in the end, her suit really reads on screen more like a tool than a display unit.

I loved the movie.  It was fun, beyond everything else.  But it was nice to have some variation in the go-to-guidebook of sexy female heroes.

*aka a tall dresser thingy, though not in this usage.

 

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp! And the Wasp’s wardrobe* choices!

5 am and miscellany

So the puppy needed to go run amok at 5am; a heavy work load currently means she’s been a bit neglected and the boredom has built up.  So out she went into the yard, a neon pink flashing circlet around her neck–have you ever tried to find a black dog in the dark??  Then the little old mini schnauzer wanted to go out as well.

Twenty minutes later, every one is inside, given a cookie, and taken back up to bed.  I lay down and the 5am questions began: how screwed up is my shoulder/neck tonight?  Should I take an advil or a muscle relaxant or will I be able to fall back asleep?  If I do take a pill, I will have to eat something, and while I’m contemplating the idea of wandering back downstairs to joylessly eat a few saltines, Jeffrey (the schnauzer) prompted an entirely new set of questions: Where does he GET the damned spiders and why has he put one on my face!!!

This is a recurring question, sadly.  I swept the spider off, turned the lights back on, and cleared my sheets of an annoyed wolf spider.  Then I took the dog back downstairs and removed the other spider clinging to his fur.  This is the second time Jeffrey has come in from the yard in the middle of the night wearing spiders that he generously shares with me.

I am going to have to institute a spider check at the door, to go along with the other procedures: no sticks? No rocks? Feet not too muddy? Did you roll in something I don’t want to smell in the house?  Are you wearing spiders???

I am very grateful to not be alarmed by spiders.

Still fighting the revision, though I’m hopeful that once I get through chapters 18-22, matters will get easier.  No snippet today though.

Listening to Meg Myers’ Take Me to the Disco.  So far, a lot of powerful songs. My favorites are probably Jealous Sea, Little Black Death, and Funeral.   Also listening to Kandle and really liking her as well. Discovered her via July Talk’s Peter Dreimanis doing backing vocals for When My Body Breaks.

 

 

5 am and miscellany

Time–where does it go?

Not a lot worth talking about at the moment, I think.  I’m nose down to the grindstone, trying to fight my way through a revision that’s fighting me back.  The only saving grace is that as much as I’m whining and complaining about the restructuring and rewriting that I’m doing, I can see/feel the book getting stronger and better.  It’s so hard though!  This year, I’ve really been working on the idea of letting go of perfectionism–because it takes me forever to get shit done if I’m trying to make it perfect.  And “it” could be anything: a comment on Facebook (better think about how to say something for ten minutes!), a blog post (is this really that interesting, what’s the point?), an outline (is this as clear as it could be if I showed it to someone else–not that I’m going to show it to anyone else), and of course, my fiction.

I’ve taken a big deep breath and said, “good enough is good enough”.  I used the wrong word on Facebook the other day and… I didn’t correct it!  I let it go! (I’m still thinking about it, but that’s another issue.)  I’ve written emails that I didn’t rewrite three times!  I’m trying to be more relaxed about whether a post is “interesting enough”.  Which is why you’re getting this ramble.

But the fiction?  There, I’m running into trouble because two parts of my mind are in total disagreement.  The part that says “You haven’t put out a book in a year, what is WRONG with you!” is attempting to rush things.  The perfectionist is saying, “No, you know what?  Good enough is NOT good enough for this book.  We ARE going to rearrange all the events from chapter 12-18 inclusive. And it will be better for it.”  I just might die of waiting.  Revising is SLOW.

So there’s been frustration baking, which is no good.  Because it encourages me to be inventive or aggravated or careless–you can not actually write and bake at the same time.  At least, I can’t.

So I have made failure bagels–so bad I threw them out after my poor roommate was brave enough to test them.  (A combination of screwing up the rise time, and the bath not being hot enough, I think.  Though the recipe seemed suspect.  She kept talking about a stiff, dry dough and mine was quite wet.)

There were NEAR FAILURE BISCUITS, ffs.  My mother’s from the south; we make biscuits in our sleep!  But these just didn’t get as fluffy as I like, or as golden.  At least the cast iron skillet ensured the bottoms were crusty and golden and buttery, yum!  So those got eaten with lashings of cinnamon honey butter.  (Local honey! So good!)

I almost screwed up Rice Krispie Treats.  C’mon, brain!  But no, my brain’s in book mode.  And the important things like marshmallow to krispie ratio get … skipped over.  (8 marshmallows, btw, per cup of rice cereal.)

I did manage to find time to see Ocean’s 8, which I had wanted to see very badly.  I… liked it?  But that was a movie in dire need of an antagonist and some conflict.  The most mellow heist movie ever!  Or, more likely, Leverage ruined me for heist shows.

And a snippet of what I’ve been working on:

Silla asked, “What drove him mad?” Her curiosity sounded perfunctory, but Ferrus felt all the remembered pain and horror of Robere’s death crashing back over him. Rhi rested a hand in his hair, stroked her fingers down his neck, soothing. Her touch unlocked the catch in his throat and he finished the tale he hadn’t meant to begin.
“The spell work. Robere said, before he went mad, that spell casting is like looking into the inner working of the world, a vivisection of sinew and blood and bone and that it fights back—”
“It’s like living light,” Silla said absently, her pale eyes nearly glowing. “Like hot fingers rummaging through your mind, changing the way you perceive, turning your gift in new directions.…”
“You have a spell book?” Ferrus said, attention sharpening.
“No,” Silla said. “It must have been Lanbourne that damped my gifts.” She tipped the water pot over in a fit of temper and Rhi remonstrated.
“We might have had tea,” she said.

 

Time–where does it go?

Hard Work Cookies

So every so often, usually coinciding with intensive revision, I start telling myself terrible lies.  Things like… you don’t need that much sleep; five hours is totally enough.  You can do the laundry tomorrow.  You can absolutely live on grilled cheese sandwiches for at least a week….

And that Wakefield Cookies are a valid breakfast food.

This is a recipe I got from my grandmother who got it from the popular cookie maker Ruth Wakefield. I don’t believe my grandmother ever met her; it was just a recipe published with her name attached.  It’s one of the three recipes I have that calls for shortening instead of butter, where I actually leave it shortening.  (The other two are torticas de moron, and the Pennsylvania dutch strawberry shortcake biscuit recipe.)  Wakefield cookies are tasty!  They’re crisp and tend to dissolve in your mouth and they’re full of giant oat flakes.  Yum!

But… I get bored.  I have started adding peanut butter, sometimes chunky PB, and mini semi-sweet chips.  Sometimes actual peanuts.  And you know, once you add peanut butter, it’s obviously a health food, right?  We’ll ignore the chocolate.

So whenever I get into the crazy stage of writing–drafting or revising–I tend to make a batch of adulterated Wakefield cookies, because hey!  This saves time for breakfast!  I can eat two cookies and get right to work!  Oatmeal is breakfast food!  Everyone knows that!  And peanut butter is good for you (unless you’re allergic, I’m sorry).

They sure don’t look like much, but they are tasty!  And whether it’s the peanut butter oatmeal combo, or just the ramped up on sugar combo, I do seem to get a lot of work done when they’re around.

Currently reading: nothing too much.  Too much fighting with my own revision!  But books I sampled this week are Over Raging Tides by Jennifer Ellision (fun! will probably buy it later), The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (put on hold at the library), Cusp of Night by Mae Clair (a maybe.)  I did read (and enjoy enough to recommend) Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine.

 

Hard Work Cookies

Happiness cookies

Smitten Kitchen’s Confetti Cookies are happiness cookies.  That is all I have to say about that.  Other than to add you should definitely go make them.  But only if you’re going to buy fresh jimmies and not use some old jar you’ve had sitting around forever since you bought them to throw a spoonful on some ice cream sundae.  FRESH JIMMIES or don’t even bother.  If you taste them and they taste like nothing but stiff old wax?  THROW THEM OUT and go buy new ones.  If you can’t remember when or why you bought them? THROW THEM OUT and go buy new ones.  Besides, this recipe uses a lot of them.  You probably need more anyway.  Buy the bigger jar.

Also, be prepared for sticky rainbow fingers.

I made a couple small adjustments to the recipe.  I only had salted butter, so I used that, and decreased the amount of added salt.  I added a little extra flour (about a quarter cup) because the dough was just too sticky–my kitchen was very warm–and the texture is still amazing.

I used the stand mixer method and I included the optional almond extract and my house smelled so damn good while they were baking!

 

Other happy things this week?

Catie Rhodes‘ book Forever Road: fun start to an urban fantasy story, and hey the first taste is free!  She has a really strong narrative voice.

The Bridge podcast, which will hopefully be putting out a new episode sometime soon.  And which I will be talking about sometime also soon for Speculative Chic.

Happiness cookies

Cookies, More Cookies, and a Ghost

This past weekend, some writerly friends and I had a nice little writing retreat.  Or an extended slumber party, depending on how you judge such things. (We had two course cookie dinners….)

There were excellent chewy, salty, immensely chocolatey chocolate chip cookies provided by Barbara Webb, which barely made it to baked stage.  I estimate maybe 80 percent of the dough disappeared while in cookie ball form.

I made shortbread, two types!  One, a bizarre little nutmeg-flavored one that I snagged from the book Small Batch Baking.  They’re sweet and oddly savory and the first one you eat makes you go, huh, that’s strange.  The second one you eat makes you think, hey, I could eat more of these.  They’re definitely more-ish.

The other shortbread I made is a cobbled-together monster that I keep experimenting with in an attempt to get a truly chocolatey shortbread.  This involves melting semi-sweet chocolate into a fairly standard shortbread recipe, then grating in dark chocolate until it’s nearly dusty with chocolate.  Then I taste it*, and it… tastes like butter and flour, so I usually start chopping some more dark chocolate into jagged little bits to wedge into the dough also.  It’s kind of a mess.  Then I roll the dough out, cut it into diamonds or stars or rounds (the basic cookie cutters that are always accessible in my kitchen, unlike the fancy holiday ones which involve standing on a step stool), and cross my fingers.

The problem with chocolate cookies is that I always find it hard to tell when they’re done.  Easy to burn them.  And with these, I don’t even know how strong the chocolate flavor will turn out until they’ve had time to cool.  The despair of shortbread cookies: they’re one of the few that do not taste good warm.

These came out all right, but I think next time I’m going to plan ahead and actually buy some cocoa nibs.  And maybe trade out some of the flour for cocoa….

Anyway, full of sugar and with two chapters of the novel revised and rewritten, I headed for home.

I stopped in Sedalia, MO for a salad, and apparently picked up a ghost who wanted to go to KS.  A very strange moment.

I got into my car, hit the ignition, and all my electrical panels ran amok for long enough to make me think, I do not want to have my car break down in Sedalia!  Then it all stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I started off, and… the airbag sensor in the passenger seat triggered itself and said, oh, you have a passenger.  Airbag on.  Then the passenger seatbelt light came on and persistently stayed on, blinking and complaining that I was endangering my passenger by not ensuring they were belted in.

The passenger seat, of course, was empty.  Or looked that way.

Finally, to make the car happy, and remove the blinking red light from my peripheral vision, I pulled over at a gas station.  I belted in my invisible passenger.  The car was happy.

I drove home, and at a stoplight in Lawrence, suddenly the airbag sensor shut off.  I unbelted the passenger seat–still empty or empty again!–and this time the passenger seatbelt light stayed off.  So, I guess the ghost got out at that point.

Either way, it was a polite passenger, and didn’t object to me playing the radio very loudly. or cussing at traffic that refused to behave.

It makes sense, I suppose.  We hear all about the ghostly hitchhikers that end their rides with terror or death–the women in white who steer drivers into accidents, or send them to deserted ruins of homes way off the main path, leaving their chauffeur shaken.  But that can’t be all of the ghostly passengers.  Just the percentage we hear about.  The scary percentage we whisper about.  Maybe there are just some travelers who want to keep touristing around post death.  Inspecting our license plates and peering through windows at our splayed open maps for hints of our destinations and hopping a ride.  Silent companions who are just going the same way we are.

I’m still going to take my car into the mechanics to make sure the system isn’t gummed up.  I might or might not believe in ghosts, but I definitely believe in car repair.

Have a story snippet!  Still drafty, but kind of fun.

Despite her best attempts, Silene failed to convince either of her siblings of the need to flee. Delphine obsessed on the risk—that Harrow would catch them and make their lives worse—and Calyx preached, wait, wait at least until Aceline returned from the Ride. There was no point in seeking sanctuary if she weren’t there to grant it. And Calyx dismissed the young prince as if he’d never been healed, as if he were still the political non-entity he’d been since summersick struck him down.

So instead of arguing further, Silene retreated to her quarters—the small chambers near the gardens—and avoided everyone, only sneaking out to find food. She kept her dree ability tightly leashed, afraid of touching that raging presence again.

The air in the palace tasted sour and brittle to her now, like wet metal, and she couldn’t forget that there was this horrible… thing somewhere impossibly far and near at the same time. Like a mass of rats, united in hunger, slowly scratching through the walls, while the denizens of the palace walked about unaware.

Silene didn’t want to be a rat’s sweetmeat.

*I know, raw flour!  The danger!  I just can’t break myself of the habit of testing the cookie batter.  Even if the last bag of flour I bought came with a boxed warning on the paper–FLOUR IS RAW!!!!  YOU’RE GONNA DIIIIIIIE IF YOU EAT ME!!!  (I paraphrase.)

Cookies, More Cookies, and a Ghost