June 2024 Reads

Not much read this month owing to a busy holiday and health issues, but here they are:

Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake
I confess the title made me pick this up, that and the cover, though I’d heard a little buzz about this book, and I was interested to see how YA horror would work. The book’s well-written and entertaining, but ultimately too short to give the reader the pay-off the idea deserves. To make that clearer, to develop the love-interest element and to keep Anna scary enough required more time than this length of books allows for. Saying that, I feel the author did well in the allotted space, and certain genres require authors to keep to certain word counts. Still, I can’t help feeling the story would be far better had the book been longer, providing more time for something other than love (or is it infatuation?) to develop more believably, and also hiking up the creepy factor and scares. Hence, the genre still confuses me a little.

The writing is of YA style, be it an elevated type, and the details graphic without being gory like an adult horror novel might be (though no story needs to be graphic to be scary). The story itself was fun with some prominent characters, but as someone who read Stephen King, and James Herbert, when I was barely a teen, I guess it’s confusing why this category exists. Also, the protagonist is 17, which is adult enough for me. Sure, in the UK and USA it’s generally 18 by law, but what you can and can’t do by age can be a little ridiculous. A 17-year-old can surely read adult horror, and many start reading and watching far younger (not debating whether they should here). Anyone of that age might find this book to be as mild as I did, but the story was an excellent idea and the novel entertaining.

The Taking, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me that made me instantly question how I ever could have forgotten this book. Or perhaps the subject didn’t connect with me as a younger reader. Koontz is often ‘accused’ of injecting his religious beliefs into his work. The same could be said here, though to good effect. This is an alien encounter like no other, blending horror and supernatural elements expertly, yet being in some ways thought-provoking. Those who enjoyed Phantoms might like this, and there’s no need to let personal faith or lack of spoil this. Highly imaginative, and the story has a satisfying conclusion.

Update June 2024

Hi Everyone!

Enjoyed a lovely break in one of our favourite places: Tintagel. One of our main reasons to stop for a few days was to put flowers on a friend’s grave in St. Materiana’s Churchyard on what would have been his birthday, and to spend an afternoon with his wife, including going to lunch. Although I struggled somewhat, I still completed a walk to Rocky Valley, which included some amazing views of Bossiney Beach. I’ve been to both before, of course, but had not seen them from this viewpoint along the coast. I’ve been joking I’m officially old as I’ve now got myself a pair of walking/hiking sticks, but everyone of all ages was using them and some steps on the coast path can be so steep, it’s worse than trying to step onto a chair. Once I had one leg high enough, there was nothing left to push with. I’ve since looked up how to use them correctly and recommendations say they enable people to walk farther, save fatigue, and strain on many areas of the body. The ones I bought aren’t wonderful, but if I get on well with them, I may invest in a better set. I could have used them at the beginning of the week rather than the end, but I’ve got them for next time.

I also finally spent my birthday money buying a few souvenirs. I was especially pleased to find two excellent panoramic prints, one of Tintagel and one of Boscastle, which weren’t too big, and make lovely keepsakes. Naturally, we enjoyed some lovely meals notably at Charlie’s, the Boscastle Farm Shop, and we at long last made it to Inkie’s Smokehouse at Golitha Falls. I probably shouldn’t mention it as it’s always been heaving (or closed) when we’ve tried to go, and the increased foot traffic, although bringing more visitors to the falls (free), has eroded the area. I also note that the toilets are still ‘under refurbishment’ but as that sign has been up for over a year, I have to question its authenticity. Only horrid Portaloos on site, I’m sorry to say.

At long last finished all 15 seasons of Supernatural, and I completely understand the fan base. It’s impressive that they kept the story flowing so long, increasing the trials and tribulations as one should do in a long running show. Although it leaves a viewer somewhat bereft when one stops after viewing for so long, I feel they stopped the story at the right point. No one can face a greater foe than… well, in case anyone hasn’t seen it, I won’t spoil anything; those who know will get my point.
Moved on to watching The Wheel of Time series, and think it’s a decent adaptation from the books. I read them so long ago, it’s hard for me to remember every detail, but the salient points are all there. It’s hard to please everyone with any book adaption and with something this epic, it’s impossible to include every point.

Also watched A Murder at the End of the World on Disney, which has kept me gripped even though I feel the protagonist is, at times, TSTL (too stupid to live). The ending was a surprise. Most of all, we’ve had a blast watching Fallout. I guess dystopian western sci-fi is the best way to describe it. Funny, entertaining, and yes, violent and a little gory in places, though that part maintains a somewhat cartoonish edge in that it’s fast and never quite believable. Mind, I don’t even find the violence in most horror films believable. People don’t continue to rise to their feet despite the odds, and would many times die of shock. I guess Fallout could also be called shocking for those who cannot believe what humanity is capable of. But the series isn’t what I expected, constantly moving, interconnecting the characters in surprising situations, with barely a pause. I also love the music they chose for the soundtrack.

We’re into the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who and I have to say, although I’ve liked many of the Doctors, and as much as I have a huge soft spot for Jon Pertwee, in part because he was my first Doctor, in part because he was so good in the role, Tom Baker takes the award for best original Doctor. His was the perfect balance between eccentricity and seriousness. I’m also surprised that as a child I didn’t realise how ahead of the time the female companions were. They were always strong-willed, independent women. Strange that the Beeb allowed these characters, though I won’t go into why I think so. Let’s say I heard they didn’t exactly practice what they preached, especially all those years ago. Even more recently women have had to, and still, campaign for equal pay. Admittedly, often these companions rushed somewhat foolishly right into danger, but at least they didn’t sit still, waiting to be rescued.

Following on from what I said last month, I have been writing, postponed for a week when away, but in the days allotted for writing, I’m pleased with my progress.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

A Hurt Softened

Wrote nothing on the blog the last couple of weeks, first because we were away on holiday. Second, because I take a week to physically recover from trips these days. I never imagined my life being ruled by an ailment, but then most of us don’t fixate on what might happen. It’s true that you can worry so much, you forget to live. To get some living, we had a break at one of our favourite places: Tintagel in Cornwall, where we enjoyed some marvellous sunsets. Not a terrible view.

We met up with our friend’s other half for lunch, and got some walks in, including the coast path from Tintagel to Rocky Valley, which offers some wonderful views not only of Rocky Valley itself, but of Bossiney Beach. I thoroughly recommended the trek.

Visiting Tintagel is bittersweet now because a dear friend lies buried in St Materiana’s churchyard. As we all have to lie somewhere, eventually, there are worse places. Our friend was evacuated to Tintagel as a child during the war, to live a long happy life there, finally to die in a well-loved home surrounded by beloved family, never to leave even in death. I guess none of us can hope for more. For me, it feels strange to say that somewhere that has always brought me peace, now also brings a little pain, but many loving memories soften the hurt.

I confess…

I’m a writer who’s not been writing. That is to say, anything I’ve written in the last few months is for something that’s personal to me, not for publication, or maybe one day to show a few specific people.

Reasons I’ve not been writing are many, including having got out of the habit owing to the wrist break last year (good now but not perfect with some aches), but mostly because I’ve been more focused on exercise and health issues, which would be easier if I gave in and sat at home, but I refuse to be a shut-in at my age. I may avoid people at times (or certain people all the time), but I enjoy getting outdoors and going to new destinations. It’s taken a long time for my mindset to get around to ‘screw this’ even though I’m going to struggle. I see an acupuncturist as a last resort because the health service can’t do anything for me — the only available meds made me worse. I foolishly didn’t even realise I was dealing with a cronic pain issue, until my acupuncturist said, and then I felt like crying. But I choked it back and carried on, which is the way I’ve handled most things in life. Yes, sadly, life gets in the way sometimes, despite the best intentions.

As for the writing, I’ve got three projects in mind. Something for re-publication, a work in progress, and something new. I’ve started on the re-publication project to get used to writing again, and have proof-edited one chapter and come up with ideas to add to it. I’m not running a race but I’m now motivated to finish.

Reads May 2024

The Old Man, Thomas Perry
This is a thriller with believable, interesting characters, though I found the pacing uneven. Even in a thriller, not all the chapters should be at speed, but I found the flow here a little off pace; I’d get used to one momentum before being thrust into another and back again. Still, I found the story absorbing. Anyone who expects to find the television series in these pages may be put off. Maybe that’s why I found this a little jarring. Much more happens in the series than here, and the ending wraps up a little abruptly. It’s hard for me to choose which version I preferred.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (audio), M.C.Beaton, read by Penelope Keith
In this one, things go awry when Agatha ignores the possibility that her estranged husband could still be alive. I found this instalment entertaining, possibly because the more Agatha tries to solve one murder another ensues and she finds herself at the heart of the investigation.

Everfound (Book 3 of the Skinjacker Trilogy), Neal Shusterman
Perhaps the best of the three, which means the author did his job well, increasing the tension as the overall story progressed, making this a trilogy worth finishing. He’ll (eagerly?) throw characters into the worst scenarios, perhaps situations that mean the end of them, often just when you love them the most. This shouldn’t put anyone off, though, as it adds tension and drama. I also liked that the author showed that even unpleasant characters have layers and motivation for what they do, something sometimes not highly dealt with in books for younger audiences. I grieved for those I earlier thought deserved their bad ends, which takes some doing no matter the age of the reader. As for the age of that audience, I find it difficult to judge, being as I read books like Oliver Twist when I was 7 or 8 years old. A satisfying series.

House of Leaves, Mark Z.Danielewski
This is a tough book to review without breaking it into parts. Johnny Truant tells us his story of reading the Navidson report as written by an old man called Zampano. I found Truant’s sections irritating, constantly going off on tangents and telling a story seemingly unrelated to the notebook he’s reading, especially his gratuitous sexual encounters; although at one point I wondered if these were as imaginary as some of his hallucinations of personal peril. However, Navidson’s story as ‘written’ by the character of Zampano grabbed my attention but alas, made me want to read those sections without the interference of the rest.

Then there are the annotations, again many of which seem to tell the reader nothing. At best, they lend a kind of authenticity to Zampano’s note taking, but are almost entirely unnecessary. The experimental style of the book is mildly interesting, but all this extraneous information is taxing and makes the book drag. Early in the ‘report’, Zampano includes almost two pages of names, which turn out to be (according to a footnote) names of photographers. I didn’t bother reading through an entire list of names, which were there for no apparent reason I could see. The references to echoes and labyrinths seem somehow to refer to the novel itself. As does the sentence ‘All solutions are necessarily personal’ (page 115) appearing to suggest the outcome of the story (good or bad) will be unique to the individual.

In another, the author notes a real or fictional article (I don’t know which) remarking ‘In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage…’ referring to the inability eventually to distinguish between genuine images and those manipulated. But in this, and references to other technology, once again the writer seems to manipulate the reader, telling us we can trust nothing.

And what is the point of the boxes of text or blank pages, other than to suggest the maze of corridors and wide open spaces within the supernatural realms of the ‘house’ investigated in the Navidson report? Likewise later, lines the reader needs to read in the opposite direction, or from a corner, etc., appear to be representations of Navidson’s exploration.

Whilst reading I couldn’t help thinking that so many reviewers told others not to bother, and yet, the book remains acclaimed. On the one hand, the author has written something incredible when one considers the work of putting all the content together — that of Zampano’s notebook and Truant’s experiences while reading said book — with all the annotations. It must have been a pain to organise, and to print, especially when first published. But has the author, in actuality, written something ultimately pretentious with little substance, leaving readers floundering around trying to find personal meaning in a literary labyrinth? In that regard, the book almost reads like a joke played on everyone who gets lost in its pages.

Or does the book attempt to work like the maze Navidson explores? Psychological references try to explain the true meaning of Navidson’s claims, treating these details as the maze of Navidson’s mind. I enjoyed reading the Navidson house storyline, and there was a touch of creepiness in the odd place, but anyone looking for a horror story may be hard-pressed to find it here. Truant’s descent into madness seems insubstantial, although the conclusion of the book, when we learn more about his mother from her own written word, left me questioning if he was always so inclined to a breakdown. Ultimately, I understand the love/loathe reactions. This book will mean different things to different people — lots to some, nothing to others. This has to be one of the most peculiar books I’ve read.

Fabulous Fowey

I’m pleased to share that we recently returned from a much-enjoyed weekend break in Fowey. Having had a thoroughly good time, I thought I’d share some photos along with a few details.

This harbour town nestles in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Cornwall on the west side of a deep estuary facing Polruan, with the Fowey River flowing out to the sea and Bodinnick further upstream. Fowey is perhaps most famous for being home to author Daphne du Maurier, who lived at the blue and white house known as Ferryside, near the Bodinnick Ferry. However, the town offers much more than quaint streets, modern and ancient houses, and boats bobbing on the blue estuary waters. A stay here isn’t complete without taking to the water at least once, whether for a short boat trip or a longer one.

The roads in Fowey can be narrow and steep, with limited parking. We opted for an Airbnb with parking provided for convenience. For those wanting to stay right on the estuary, there are a few options with parking, or you’ll need to leave your vehicle in a long-term public car park.

We enjoyed wandering around this delightful harbour town on our first evening, which allowed me to capture photos without many people around. The next day, we explored more, indulging in excellent food and walking to St. Catherine’s Castle and Readymoney Cove. Unfortunately, our visit to the small beach at the cove was marred by a strong stench, possibly because of nearby fertilising or a worse cause. However, I wouldn’t let this deter anyone from visiting, as there are plenty of other attractions, especially for walking enthusiasts.

One highlight of our trip was the well-known 4-mile Hall Walk, which involves two ferry rides. We started with the large transport ferry to Bodinnick, walked around to Pont Pill (small but pretty), and continued to Polruan. From there, we took the smaller passenger ferry boat back to Fowey, where we ravenously devoured delicious fish and chips at Havener’s restaurant. The walk, which offers some fine spots for photo opportunities, took us a leisurely 2.5 hours, although it can be completed in 2 hours or less depending on fitness and weather. Given the up-and-down nature of the paths and steps, wellingtons or sturdy boots are recommended.

For food, as well as Havener’s, I can also recommend Bufala pizza, Organicafe (lunch and cake), Game of Cones (ice cream), and cakes and pasties from the Quay Bakery.

For those looking to explore further, nearby places of interest include Lanhydrock, The Eden Project, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. However, there’s plenty to do for a fulfilling weekend in Fowey alone.

Reads April 2024

Everwild (Book 2 of the Skinjacker Trilogy), Neal Shusterman
This carries on where Everlost left off, being the middle book in a trilogy. The intended audience is a teen readership, but I still feel older and younger can read this depending on the person, even though the themes are much darker here. I’d heard some surprises were disturbing and although I wouldn’t go that far, I hadn’t thought I could feel at all uneasy or surprised. This story certainly evokes the question of just because a person (or in this case, afterlight) has an ability, does this mean they should use it? For the greater good, probably not. I found this book better than the first, and, therefore, intend to finish all three books, when after the first, I felt I might not bother with books 2 and 3.

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (audio), M.C.Beaton, Read by Penelope Keith
This outing flows along like most of the Agatha Raisin books, although this time Agatha and her neighbour (and possibly love-interest) James Lacey team up and move temporarily to a village to solve a murder pretending to be a married couple. Romance is in the air in more ways than one, and the end of this book sets up an interest question for the next book to come.

All the Fiends of Hell, Adam L.G. Nevill
Nevill has been among my favourite authors from my first read of his books. My favourite out of those I’ve read so far remains No One Gets Out Alive. This newest novel may well be a close second, although trying to choose the best of this author’s work is difficult. In this (possible) alien invasion, supernatural horror, there’s so much to appreciate. The author well uses every sentence, creates a solid plot, and introduces a protagonist who is an average man thrown into exceptional circumstances. One of the book’s strengths is this character’s reactions. Even when he’s frozen in indecision, making me scream, the reaction is appropriate, genuine, and realistic. Real people aren’t superheroes. When hurt, people writhe in pain, unable to always miraculously drag themselves to their feet. The bad guy reminded me of several people I’ve stumbled across and was an excellent love-to-hate antagonist. The world-building also performs well, creating a steady creeping atmosphere and breakdown of our world. Although the horrors unfolding take place on Earth, they feel terribly genuine. The question of what’s bleeding through into our existence, extraterrestrial, inter-dimensional, denizens of hell… you’ll be wondering about and believing in them all, gazing at the sky and hoping it never turns red.

Moonraker (audio), Ian Fleming, Read by Bill Nighy
I found this surprising. The best thing about this book is the female romantic interest. She’s quite different from what we expect from the Bond universe. Her indifference to Bond was refreshing and nothing about her was quite what we imagine of the average Bond ‘girl’. I thought no one could make a game of cards sound interesting, but Fleming conveys the tension of the players. Negatives are few and in part a sign of past times and writing styles. This exemplifies why a writer shouldn’t solely focus on one human movement, such as the shrugging of shoulders (and what other movements could shrug?), and sprinkle it throughout a book. And the focus on what people wear grew tiring. But these points are minor. Overall, this highlighted the contrast between the films vs reading the books. Of course, Bill Nighy expertly reads the audio, as one would expect.

Crusade in Jeans, Thea Beckman
I knew nothing about this book other than it was award-winning, and never having come across a historical children’s book before, I couldn’t resist having a look. I’ve seen some say the book suffers because of the translation, and I can easily believe this is true, as some stories don’t translate terribly well. Still, this based on fact fiction — an event in history I had only a vague concept of — is extremely readable and adventurous enough to entertain many children and some adults alike. It’s certainly memorable, and it’s an interesting concept — a fifteen-year-old stuck in the wrong time viewing the events with a modern mindset. In reality, early on, people would likely have killed such a visitor, but Dolf’s persistence in trying to save almost ten thousand children will capture the imagination of many. Having read this, I was ready to give up my copy, but I see it’s rare and selling for exorbitant sums.

Snowblind, Don Roff
This started out well, though I was less absorbed by the end. The author uses any cliched horror moments well by making them funny. A relatively light, fast read, that’s entertaining. I can imagine this could make a decent film if done well, and it’s apparently currently in production.