Friday, June 3, 2016

The Spirit Chaser by Kat Mayor (or KM Montemayor!)

Rating: WARTY!

No! I'm sorry, but no. I had read about one third the way into this novel when I encountered this paragraph (below) and immediately quit it on principle. Note that this scene follows right behind one where Casey, the woman depicted here, has quit her job because she's been betrayed by Austin. She storms off to her office, pissed as all hell, and starts packing to leave. The guy follows her and manhandles her as described below.

He strode over to her, grabbed her by her shoulders, and spun her around. Her bag fell to the floor as he pushed her against the wall and planted his lips firmly on hers. Her eyes widened in surprise. Da-amn. He has strong lips. So strong, she could feel her toes curling. Casey was too stunned to protest. He took that as a green light and weaved his fingers through her hair without releasing any pressure from her lips. Not once did he try to stick his tongue down her throat, but that didn't stop it from being one of the most powerful kisses Casey had ever experienced.

You don't get to describe a guy in process of raping a woman and have the woman fall in love with him because of it, and then expect me to rate your fiction as anything other than trash. No, you don't. And this from a female author? Her toes curled? Seriously? I half-way expect this kind of garbage in the young adult world, but not in a mature novel for adult readers which is otherwise written reasonably well.

Austin has manhandled her before, and the appropriate response from Casey here would be to knee him in the groin, or punch his face, or at the very least wrench away from him or start yelling for help. This is a guy who has already proven himself to be a complete jerk and a dick, to have had no qualms about abusing her mentally, and for whom she has no love at all. Yet suddenly when he becomes brutal with her, she melts and succumbs to his "charms"? No! The bottom line here is that I don't care how well you write, you put this abusive trash in your story and you get an automatic fail from me. This kind of writing is a disgrace. It's worse than pornography in how it inexcusably disrespects women.

I'd already had several issues with this novel before this point, and this is the second of this author's novels I've read and been thoroughly unimpressed. It will be the last. Despite the problems though, I was still plugging away at it hoping for something better while fearing that Casey was too stupid to be worth reading about and that she and Austin, despite his appalling behavior, were sadly going to be paired off. I'd overlooked a couple of grammatical errors, such as "You're going to want you're fantastic job back" (where the second one should have been 'your', of course), because this was an advance review copy. While I appreciate the chance to review it, I don't appreciate this kind of abusive writing, which essentially instructs us that all any woman needs is some rough-handling and she'll fall for the guy who is abusing her. No!

The basic story sounded good. I'm not a believer in spirits or ghosts or demons, but I love a good story about that kind of thing, and there are not that many honestly good stories out there on these topics. This one is the first I've elected to read in a long time because of this, and it seemed like it might be a worthwhile read. The story is that Casey is hired as the resident psychic on a successful TV show, Spirit Chaser Investigations, wherein a team of people visits and films haunted houses.

After she does a walk-through of a purportedly haunted house and declares it a non-starter - there's nothing there - a dissatisfied Austin, the show runner with a deadline to meet, brings in another psychic for a second opinion, and shuffles Casey off for the day so she doesn't even know he's done this. He doesn't tell her until the last minute, right before the team watches the rough-cut of the episode they plan on airing, and Casey gets to see this other woman making up stories about bad events in the house, and going on about a civil war soldier, pretty much feeding Austin a total bunch of rot.

This is what happens when you let your dick think for you and bring in your old girlfriend to piss all over your current psychic. Casey naturally feels betrayed and storms off, leading to the sickening paragraph above. Evidently, she doesn't feel betrayed enough, because all Austin has to do is slam her up against a wall, force a kiss on her, and she's his BFF forever. I'll let you figure out what that middle 'F' means.

The issues I'd had with the novel before this were annoying but not automatic cancellations. There was too much trope, for one thing - purloined ideas from movies, such as that one of the haunted houses was built over a 'Native American' (that would be American Indian) sacred site, and the rocking chair which started moving by itself, and the house which has a façade that looks like an evil face: "The shadows cast a grinning humanoid visage against the façade, and the two upstairs bedroom windows looked like sinister eyes." I like my stories to be a bit more original than that, but I was willing to put up with it for a while at least.

I was even putting up with author foibles such as when Casey describes someone as her "New BBF" How can you have a new best friend forever?! It's a minor thing, but a lot of minor things add up over the length of a novel, such as the author's obsession with "granite countertops in the kitchen." Some parts were well written. I particularly liked this bit: "she spotted his most shameful secret. It was in the corner of his mind wrapped in the brown paper of guilt and tied with strings of self-loathing," taken from when Casey reads someone's mind (at their invitation). But there was nowhere near enough of that to overcome the deficits.

Other parts, for example, made no sense: "Her third eye showed her the dark mist overlying the upper floor." This was on a photograph she was looking at. I found myself taken out of suspension of disbelief to wonder how this worked exactly! She's not looking directly at the house, she's looking at an image of it, yet she still sees this misty aura around it? Is the photograph haunted?! Or is it that idea from the Doctor Who episode where the image of a weeping angel becomes an angel itself?

Given that there was a total lack of world-building here, the reader is offered no additional information at all about how any of this was supposed to work. Casey was evidently far too stupid to figure it out or even be curious about it, so we got zilch from her. After reading a few items like this, it felt to me like the author was simply randomly pulling trope ideas from the history of horror fiction, without doing anything to weld it into a coherent whole. She had some eastern mystic guy on the team, a Catholic priest, and an American Indian shaman (we never did learn what tribal affiliation he had, not in the portion I read). The whole thing was a pot-pourri of random elements, and the predictable result was that it stunk.

Some parts were just plain dumb and made the main character, Casey, seem tragically stupid - such as where Austin once again forces himself on her and overrides her own wish for lunch with his own plan. I was really starting to dislike him at this point. He whisks her off in his fancy car and she's having the wilts and the vapors over his driving! "For some reason, she'd always found it strangely powerful and sexy to watch a man drive a stick shift." I know the reason: she's simply that shallow! Maybe she does have these bizarre fantasies, but right after that came, "Austin downshifted as he approached a red light. Casey studied his movements. They were automatic. He didn't have to think about it. His right hand just knew what to do." Like this is some magical super power? No! Everyone who drives stick shift drives like this! That's what competent driving is all about.

I detest stick shift, but even I drive like this when I'm forced to drive such a vehicle, so this observation just made Casey look like a juvenile moron - or at best, someone who had led an extraordinarily sheltered life (which she had not). Another example of her lack of smarts is when she observes of Austin, "you should be the biggest skeptic in the world." Yet this is said to the guy who is running a show wherein he repeatedly reports on inexplicable supernatural phenomena! Just how stupid is Casey? Too stupid for me to want to read any more about her, rest assured.

I've never understood why it is that we have to literally get on our knees and beg for aid from a god which is supposed to be infinitely loving. Check this out: "Would you allow me to say a prayer of protection with you and give you a blessing?" This is not a problem with the writing per se because people really believe this stuff, but it gets worse. At one point the priest says, "The more people we have praying the better." Why is that? Does this god only pay attention if more than one person begs? Does he need a crowd begging on their knees before he will act? We learn, "If God had not restrained the enemy, you would still be trapped." but we don't learn why he let these people suffer before he so kindly stepped in and helped out. If he cares that much why isn't he smiting the demons instead of letting them punish people? Is this god a sadist? It was just one more example of how poorly the story hung together.

I quickly tired of the appalling abuse of vegetarians and vegans in this novel, too. Here's just one example of how they were repeatedly dissed: "Liv can make vegan cuisine and a few other Austin-approved dishes that don't taste like baked dog turds." Examples of such thoughtless writing were not uncommon, such as this one, on a different topic: "...he thought about placing the cool, metallic barrel against his tongue. He shoved it down his throat and pulled the trigger." I've never heard of anyone considering committing suicide by pushing a barrel down their throat. Aiming it up at the roof of the mouth, yes, but down the throat? Not so much! But maybe this tied in with Austin's perverse attitude towards sexuality. Who Knows. Maybe this novel should have been titled Fifty Shades of Spirit.

Out of curiosity (about this mixture of Eastern religion, Catholicism, and American Indian tradition, I looked up what kind of monsters and demons the American Indians have, and they're so pathetic as to be laughable. One of them, Aniwye was an Ojibwe legend of a large man-eating skunk monster which kills people by breaking wind at them, causing them to become sick and die! The 'demon' names are pathetic by themselves: Basket Woman? Perverted Merman? How about the 'Cannibal Dwarves'? Not much fodder there for your standard Catholic-based possession story which is, I assume, why we saw no such demons in the part of the story I read. Graham Masterton had the right idea in his 1977 novel, The Manitou, but ideas seemed very limited here.

So no, this novel is not worth reading, and I actively dis-recommend it. I do recommend sensitivity training for the author so we don't get any more novels of women being abused and the reader being expected to believe this is how romances really ought to be.