The Loose Ends Became Knots: An Illness Narrative – Austin M. Hopkins

I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. I feel weird judging someone’s experiences so I won’t be doing that. Instead my rating and review will be based on the way the book made me feel. I’ve read a lot of books, including memoirs, with the experience of and recovery from sexual assault as an overriding theme but unfortunately this book wasn’t a good fit for me.

Bouncing between journal entries, poetry, stories told in third person where the author refers to himself as ‘he’ or ‘the boy’, letters from teachers and comments about the author from his friends, the reading experience felt disjointed to me. I had this strange sense of feeling guilty for reading the journal entries. The scattered input from teachers and friends had the feel of testimonials or letters of recommendation and seemed to come out of nowhere.

The graphic descriptions of sexual assaults and Grindr hookups were prevalent for a lot of the first half of the book. The Grindr hookups were ultimately explained as part of trauma induced sex addiction and while I understand trauma impacts I couldn’t stop myself from internally screaming for the author to please don’t go into the home of the stranger he just met. I’m not victim blaming here; I just wanted the author to know at the time that they deserved better.

I applaud the author’s transparency and expect his story will be helpful for men in the LGBTQIA community, particularly those who have been sexually assaulted by men. However, because so much of this book is highly triggering and the first half in particular feels like one traumatic experience after another without any respite or hope (that comes later), I worry that the people who would potentially benefit the most from this book may not make it past the flashbacks and descriptions of traumatic events.

Personally I felt so drained and depressed by the trauma of the first half (maybe even as much as the first 60% or so) that my brain wasn’t as receptive to the message of healing. Had there been some sort of integration of the traumatic and recovery sections this may have helped. I think ultimately the style of writing didn’t make me want to keep reading and the trauma content felt so constant that I struggled to finish it.

So far all of the reviews on Amazon have been 5 stars but the majority appear (I could be wrong) to be friends of the author and have mostly only reviewed one or two books. One reviewer in particular had the same first name as one of the friends quoted in the book which raised my suspicions, although I admit I could be wrong about that too.

I don’t want to turn you off reading this book but if you have experienced sexual assault, please hear me when I tell you that there’s a high likelihood this book will trigger you. Please be safe while reading it.

Content warnings include sexual assault, an eating disorder, mental illness, self-harm and suicide.

Thank you to NetGalley and BookBuzz.net for the opportunity to read this book. I’m sorry but after high hopes, this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In his debut book, Austin tells his story of emerging into young adulthood while surviving sexual violence and living with mental illness. His story is narrated through journal entries, poetry, and short stories.

Eternal Victim – Dexter Morgenstern

Game Name: Eternal Victim

Creator: Dexter Morgenstern

Player 1: The Witness

Instruction Manual: Missing. Please work it out as you go along.

Level Bosses:

  • Level 1 – The Whistler
  • Level 2 – The Constrictor
  • Level 3 – The Director
  • Level 4 – The Father

PRESS START

The most important thing you need to know going into this novella is that you only know what the Witness knows, which in the beginning is very little indeed. This made for a serious amount of confusion on my part and significant helpings of “What the hell did I sign up for?!”

If this story is of interest to you please don’t give up when you get the feeling you’re hallucinating; when every time you think you know where you are the scene changes on you and you don’t know how you got there. Your patience and attempt to retain your sanity will be rewarded if you stick with it. Know that things will fall into place. I graduated from confusion to intrigue and then to fascination and compulsion. I had to know what was coming next and how it would all come together in the end.

Dexter Morgenstern writes at the start of the novella that he wants to write stories for games and as I read I could see this story translating into the gaming world quite easily. I viewed the story much like a game as I progressed and ultimately came to see the story as having four main levels, each with a level boss to face at the end. While there was a cyclical nature to what the player needs to accomplish within the level, each level takes place in a different time period and with different characters.

During each level the Witness gains information, mostly fairly cryptic at the time, which they hope will eventually help them make sense of who they are and what their connection is to the characters they encounter within the game. The characters that remain consistent throughout the levels (besides the Witness) are the girl in the mirror and the Preta, which is translated from Sanskrit as ‘hungry ghost’.

Because characters come and go you get to know their stories but I didn’t find I had the time to connect emotionally with them. Having said that, there’s so much action and running around that it’s not as though any of the characters have time to sit down and have a chat over a cuppa with you anyway. If it helps you to put all of this into context, Dexter describes it himself as a “chaotic trifecta of Buddhism, history, and ghost-zombies”. Intriguing, huh?!

Because I seem to be fairly immune to feeling fear while reading, I wasn’t scared reading Eternal Victim. I was unsettled by it though and for me, feeling unsettled over a period of time is more uncomfortable to sit with than scary moments that come and go. I haven’t been this unsettled by a book in a long time so I was suitably impressed by that.

If you’re squeamish and/or the content warnings apply to you then you may want to skip this book or at least approach it with caution. If you can handle graphic details of tortuous murders committed by deranged serial killer types you should be okay, but you’d be forgiven if you cringe at certain points as your already overactive imagination works overtime. If you can eat while watching a Saw movie you should be fine too.

This novella is certainly not going to be for everyone as it truly is one of the strangest books I’ve read, but it happily transformed for me from being close to ditching it for the first 10% to being glad I persevered fairly soon after. I’d like to reread Eternal Victim to see how the reading experience changes now that I know how it all fits together. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include murder, sexual assault and torture.

Beware the fog!

GAME OVER

Credits: Thank you so much to NetGalley, Dexter Morgenstern and BookBuzz.net for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Follow the Witness as she travels through a perpetual series of nightmares, haunted by a mixture of pernicious serial killers and their imprisoned, undead victims, known as preta. As she wanders through time and memories shared by the killers and their victims, she fights to solve the puzzle of their connection to each other and to herself. Her only hope of salvation lies in connecting key victims to the souls who can rescue them, thus waking her from the nightmare, but one killer follows the next, bringing forth a new set of victims, a new score of preta, and immediately landing her in a new terror.

Sketched – E.M. Townsend

I loved the concept of Sketched. You’ve got a police sketch artist who has an ooky spooky second sight connection that allows her to go into trancelike states where she’s able to draw photograph quality portraits of people who (with the exception of her mother) she’s never seen before – while she’s blacked out.

After a face and location are revealed to her via her supernatural connection, Piper winds up face to face with Dixon’s very own serial killer, the Dixon Demon, and survives (barely). She then goes into hiding eight hours away from her hometown.

Fast forward five years and Piper’s ability is stronger than ever. The Dixon Demon is back in the business of making townsfolk disappear and Piper is drawn back to her hometown to face her own demons as well as the elusive Demon.

I found the story intriguing and entertaining. I really enjoyed the atmosphere the author created. There’s a dark, creepy foreboding that follows you through the book. I wanted to continue reading to learn more about the killer’s motivation and how the various threads were going to be tied together. However, I had some problems with the characters in this book, mostly due to my lack of connection to any of them.

When someone dies during the book, my response was, ‘oh, okay’ and that wasn’t okay with me. Usually I’d be outraged or ecstatic or would at least have some sort of feeling about it, especially when they were an important person in another character’s life, but I didn’t.

The serial killer was unusual in that their victimology changed during the course of the book. While their motivation remains fairly consistent their crime scenes reflected a mix of organised and disorganised elements. I enjoyed learning their backstory and connecting the dots to discover how this person became so freaking messed up.

They are a huge fan of the baddie monologue and take mother issues to a whole new level. Take my word for it: this mother could probably teach Norma Bates a thing or two. I really liked that there were three characters with various mother issues in this book, all responding with their own versions of lashing out and engaging in self-destructive behaviour.

I never really understood the role of Piper’s psychiatrist. While he’s still advising Piper (mostly to actually eat a meal and not drown herself), his role appears to be more Boy Friday than anything else. He’s the chef, the executive assistant, the friend, the babysitter.

I wondered why one alcoholic got the DT’s at a certain point when the alcoholic that was with them at the time didn’t. It’s also noted that a body is too decomposed to be identified using dental records. My forensic knowledge is amateur at best but I thought teeth were one of the best identifiers when a body is decomposed.

I found some of the sentence structure awkward. One portion of a sentence, as an example, read, “their flashlights the only light source of light.” (76%) Although to be fair I read an advanced copy so it’s likely that sentences like this were remedied prior to the book’s release.

Favourite sentence:

“What if she finally surfaced only to find herself still submerged?”

Had I connected to the characters this book would have been a solid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. I’m interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings: Several eating disorder varieties and alcoholism are integral to the storyline and if you’re squeamish, beware, there will be vomit. I found the eating disorder origin story of one character in particular very interesting and enjoyed seeing it weave its way throughout the story.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, S. Prescott Thrillers and BookBuzz.net for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Fledgling police sketch artist Piper Cooke has always been different. 

Gifted with second sight, but cursed with a life of tragedy, she has survived the feral streets of Dixon and has triumphed over her troubled upbringing. Piper faces her biggest challenge yet, however, when her visions compel her to disobey police orders and send her right into the wicked grasp of a madman. 

Her life should’ve ended back in the blood soaked suburban basement, but it didn’t. Instead, the brutal trauma that should’ve been the end of her only makes her unique abilities stronger. 

Years after her escape, a series of hideous visions force Piper out of hiding and back into the city that almost destroyed her years ago. Plagued by premonitions of doom, she finds herself compelled to track down Dixon’s most twisted serial killer yet. 

Follow Piper through a horrifically unsettling labyrinth of family secrets, corruption and the sickening workings of humanity’s darkest minds.