Reads of 2015

If I thought my reading list the last couple of years was pitiful, this year has been atrocious, but there are a few worth mentioning.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes is a must for any fan of The Princess Bride if only for the many reminiscences and stories behind the scenes of the cast. I finally read J.K.Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy with high hopes, yet I’m unsure how I feel about this book. I can appreciate the story, but the style was a little too much tell rather than show for me. I didn’t watch the television series because I have heard they insisted on a rather more upbeat ending. Not having the series to compare to the book, all I can say is I have no reservations about the end. It’s a consistently bleak book, but not all stories need to be promising.

I read all the Dexter volumes being a fan of the series and had no problem separating the stories from the show. As many things are similar as they are different. I’m making the rare choice here in preferring the show. The series did far more with the character.

I cannot recap on this year’s reads without mentioning The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen, the first of a series of Lethbridge-Stewart books ‘The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame’. A good opening setting for a well-loved character. I have reviewed the book and will repost that review sometime in the new year.

The Fault in Our Stars was a surprising read, far more poignant than I expected it to be while A New York Winter’s Tale left me wondering whether I’d read something incredible, audacious, or ultimately aimless and futile. I’ve such mixed feelings over the book that I really cannot decide and maybe in that the book served the writer’s intention. It’s neither a romance nor a steampunk fantasy though it put me in mind of one. The only recommendation I can make is to read the book and discard the movie that is a truly poor adaptation of a far-more-complex story.

I finally caught up on George R.R.Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ novels and like so many await more releases. Daughter of Ashes, by Esther Mitchell, is worth a mention for the world-building.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, L.Joseph Shosty’s book Old Wine & Black Hearts. The title and the cover had me already, appealing to the Dark Fiction themes I enjoy. The contents were an odd but pleasant surprise because there’s no way to anticipate these stories. The book is divided into two sections. Old Wine contains an eclectic mix of the bizarre and disturbing. I thought the first story in the collection the weakest, but it proved to be a more gentle introduction into an unorthodox selection of unpredictable tales. A couple of favourites are Strings, which has a deeper layer and could mean different things to different people while They Burned Old Ben has a thread of dark humour that’s unsettling.

A Sincere Warning About The Entity in Your Home, by Jason Arnopp, is a short release of a semi-predictable horror story but told in a way that captured my interest. I’d never heard of the writer before, but his resume and style will have me looking up more of his work.

So I end the year on Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn…another book that has left me with mixed feelings. I don’t like books told in the first person as much as third especially when more than one viewpoint is used and perhaps owing to this for the first third of the book it didn’t really work for me. The character presented in her early diary entries was so instantly unlikable I didn’t care what had happened to her, was merely curious. Perhaps the writer in me kept me reading because I had several theories. I don’t want to give away the story so it’s easier to keep to the impression I’m left with. This is a story about two complex but unlikable people who deserved each other, which doesn’t seem like the basis for a good novel; however, it’s clever and thought-provoking. Definitely, one that when read you want to discuss. Unfortunately, it also has one of the worst sentences I’ve come across in such an acclaimed book; had I written such a sentence and not edited it out, any one of my editors would have had me walking on hot coals. I keep thinking it has to be an error, but I have a sad feeling it’s not.

As always, hoping to do better with my reading this coming year.

All I Want for Christmas

Posting a day late this week because the house refurbishment hit a glitch that meant we worked until ten in the evening. On that note…all I want for Christmas is peace and quiet, and a much-needed rest.

Here’s a different version of the song. Chase Holfelder is known for re-working songs in a different key with amazing results. All I Want for Christmas is no exception. Maybe a little creepy, but definitely haunting.

Wishing everyone peace.

Book List 2014

The second of my December re-posts of books reads for the last couple of years. At the end of the year when I usually look back and reflect on some of the books I read during the last 12 months. 2014 I consider a poor year for reading, being only approximately 30 books in total, a drop from my reads of 2013, which numbered 45. I plan/sincerely hoped to do better in 2015 (you’ll see in my next post I did worse), although the reason for my low read count was owing to circumstances outside of my control. We’ve had a lot of disruptions, not least of which finally reaching the decision we’ve been toying with and deciding to move.

So, a handful of the books I read this year are:

Under the Dome, Stephen King (started in 2013)
Birmingham Noir, Joel Lane and Steven Bishop
A Feast for Crows, George R.R.Martin
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Doctor Who Companions, Andy Frankham Allen
Lover Revealed, J.R.Ward
Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, Mark Hodder
Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris
Shifting Hearts, Dominique Eastwood
Flesh and Blood, Jonathan Maberry
Fire and Ash, Jonathan Maberry
A Peach of a Murder, Livia J Washburn
Teacher, Teacher, Jack Sheffield
The Bride Wore Black Leather, Simon R Green
The Exotic Marigold Hotel, Deborah Moggach
Murder and Marinara, Rosie Genova
The Dance of Dragons, Part 1, George R.R.Martin
Thud, Terry Pratchett
Changes, Jim Butcher
Horns, Joe Hill
The Night Before Christmas, Scarlett Bailey

I also read and caught up with a number of books in the Space 1889 series, and if I were to list them all in order of preference they would be toward the top of best-reads of 2014. As you can see, many of the other titles were of lighter content this year–a sure sign of stress and a lack of concentration on my part.

Still, I usually choose my read of the year…only this year that’s extremely difficult. I enjoyed Under the Dome, and was exceedingly disappointed in the television adaptation. My advice would be stick with the book.

I continue to like the works of George R.R.Martin because I’ve always had a soft spot for fantasy and one thing Game of Thrones does is present a realistic world completely with fallible characters and the messiness of war. It doesn’t just present high fantasy, swords & sorcery, and doesn’t shy away from the realities of subjects like torture.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness was a pleasant find, but I didn’t realise it wasn’t entirely a standalone read and I’m not sure I can commit to another series just now so may not pick up the next book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is typical Neil Gaiman and I may like his work to various degrees, but I’ve never come across a story of his I didn’t like.

Doctor Who Companions by Andy Frankham Allen was another surprising read. I’m not what one could call a ‘dedicated’ fan of Who in the sense I would want to know all there is to know, but this book is written with a warm, comfortable tone that made the information interesting, and I discovered many things I didn’t know or had forgotten. It belongs in every Whovians home.

Charlaine Harris’s last books in the Sookie Stackhouse universe came under some controversy, and I have to admit I had learned who Sookie finished up with before I read the last book. I stand by the author’s right to decide the outcome for her characters, and at one point in the series, I had seen this might be on the cards; however, I didn’t ‘feel’ it at the end. There was a time when I did earlier in the series, and therefore I had already made the possible link in my head and heart, but when it came down to it I personally found it to be a letdown because the emotions weren’t there for me. Still, it’s been a good series, with some unforgettable characters, and no author deserves the kind of abuse that Ms Harris faced over the outcome of these books. I’m at least happy the series reached a conclusion.

I’ve read Jonathan’s Maberry’s adult and YA books, and not only do they entertain, but it’s interesting for me as a writer to see how another author handles the degrees of violence and horror for different age groups. If you like zombies, check out his work.

Horns was a surprising read. I was intrigued when I saw a trailer for the film, and not having tried Joe Hill’s work before thought I’d take a look. I had read some disparaging remarks quoting the book as not being very good, but I enjoyed the overlapping layers contained in the story, the way the facts were revealed, and while the subject of the book–a man who grows horns–may strike many as bizarre and fantastical, it served the purpose of the story well. I did feel the writing could have been tweaked in a number of places, but that’s the thing with books–it’s all personal opinion.

One book that could undeniably do with an edit was unfortunately the one I ended the year on. I don’t usually read what many would describe as chick-lit, but while Scarlett Bailey’s characters aren’t the most likeable in The Night Before Christmas, it does make them somewhat real. Alas, the book has so many typos and missing words it made the task of connecting with them even more difficult. I picked it up as a light read as we were on the move all Christmas and new year week, but feel this is one book that will end up going to the charity shop.

So from my least favourite book of the year to my favourite overall…the trouble is this year I don’t have one. Under the Dome, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, The Exotic Marigold Hotel, Thud, Changes, Horns…these are all worth a look. If absolutely pushed…I guess I’d have to choose Thud. Nothing beats the genius of Terry Pratchett.

Reads of 2013

At the end of the year I usually look over the books I’ve read. Life has got in the way of my writing and reading recently, but I’ve read as much as possible. For someone who used to read a book a week, the count is pitiful, but I’ve tried. On the countdown to Christmas I thought I’d post my reads of the last couple of years.

Forty-five books read in 2013, some of which were novellas, and half of one carried over into 2014. Not the ‘improvement’ in the amount I’m reading I had hoped for, but probably better than the year before. I won’t list them all, just mention a few.

I got into the YA zombie books of Jonathan Maberry, and they are surprisingly addictive. In January I must have been in a strange mood because I read nothing but zombie books.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst was a bit of a frustrating read for me. One of those books I realised was good once I’d finished it. A glimpse into someone’s life during a set time in that life — I guess that applies to most stories unless following a character from birth unto death, but it felt as if it lacked enough resolution.

One of my favourite books of the year has to be Warm Bodies by Isacc Marion. If you’ve seen the film, or even if you haven’t, read the book. The film is better than I was expecting owing to trailers that led me to think of a YA ‘popcorn’ movie; I feared they had turned the book into a hokey joke. That’s not the case, but it’s a difficult book to put across on the screen because it’s multi-layered. There’s a jokey element to the book, but you quickly start to find little threads of something darker, disturbing, upsetting, and even enlightening. This is not a gory zombie horror book, nor is it a teen rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages is a celebration of life in all its messiness. Left me smiling and with an immediate desire to read it again. Wish I’d written it. Most unexpected read of the year.

Discovered China Mieville and Perdido Street Station. I’d only read a couple of his short stories before, but am definitely now a reader of his work. I’ve always loved Mervyn Peake’s work and can see why people mention Mieville’s work in the same breath — if you like the richness of Gormenghast then this is the only style I’ve come across that comes close.

I read a few short romance stories in the markets I write for, including m/m. I won’t list them all, but The Blue Moon Cafe by Rick Reed is a good blend of m/m romance, werewolf horror, and homicide suspense.

Caught up on a couple of titles in J.R.Ward series ‘The Brotherhood’. Likewise, still progressing through John Connolly’s work with The White Road, and The Black Angel. Other noteworthy titles were Camp David, by David Walliams, and The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Another discovery was Lois McMaster Bujold with her science fiction book The Warrior’s Apprentice. I immediately set about gathering the rest of her titles and now have them sitting in my TBR mountain. Miles Vorkosigan’s mother was exposed to a poisonous gas during pregnancy. As a result, Miles is short, has brittle bones, and a twisted spine. Despite this, his biggest hurdle is probably a tendency to fling himself head long into crazy situations. I’ve found the first book to be far lighter than I anticipated and yet filled with characters and situations I immediately loved and felt drawn to. From the writing I didn’t immediately know a woman had written these. There’s also something of ‘nostalgic’ sci-fi about them, the sort of space opera that even puts me to mind of Blake’s 7, although with a far more humourous edge.

In July, I began reading Iain Banks. I was shocked to hear of his death, and a couple of his books had been sitting on my shelves for at least two years. I wasn’t sure what I thought of The Wasp Factory, but I’ve since picked up more of his books and will keep reading. The story is about Frank, a 16 year old living in a remove Scottish village. He has a strange family, and the most peculiar tendencies towards violence, which he manages to justify in his own warped way of thinking. I found the whole book ‘peculiar’ and would love to know how the author came up with such a strange and wonderfully twisted idea. Nothing like I imagined it would be. He’s a writer I admire because (he has said) he wasn’t getting far with what he wanted to write so he reinvented himself; judging by his works, he as good as created his own genre.

The Last Kind Words, by Tom Piccirilli was an absorbing read by a writer who has shown as much courageousness in his own life recently as he has in his writing. (Note: Since I wrote this, alas Tom lost his fight with brain cancer and is another great loss to the writing world.) I came across him many years ago when I was a fledgling writer and his small book ‘Welcome to Hell’ warned me what I was in for.

Another writer we sadly lost recently was James Herbert, and so I read the last of his works: Ash. I was reading James when I was teen, and he’s been something of a comfortable and familiar British institution.

Pradee by fellow Musa author Clarissa Johal wasn’t what I expected. Her tale of ‘critters’ accused of poisoning one of the Elders in their village sets them in search of an artifact that allows one to see the past and change the future…but should they use it? I can see why the write up for the book refers to the tradition of The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. I felt it could do with a slight tidy, but was otherwise delightful and has great potential. Should be in the hands of a large children’s publisher.

One of my favourite authors is Christopher Moore, and I added another of his titles to my ‘read’ pile with Fluke — an amusing and surprising tale/tail that takes the reader beneath the sea. His work is zany in an intelligent way. All his books have his familiar style yet in another sense they could be called multi-genre as one may be about god, whales, zombies, or some voodoo queen on a mysterious isle. You kind of have to appreciate touches of Douglas Adams to like C.Moore. Fluke is about marine behavioural biologist, Nate Quinn, and begins on the day he sees a whale lift its tail to reveal the words ‘Bite Me’ on its flukes. It completely had me going and guessing and even when I thought I had it figured out, the truth was even more bizarre. Great fun.

I’ve loved The Dark Tower series by Stephen King; however, while The Wind Through the Keyhole was a pleasant read, but I cannot say it adds to the series in any particular way. One for the fans of Roland’s quest.

I picked up a signed copy of The Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse and was really looking forward to it. I admire the weaving of this tale from the research, but it felt too short, and from the blurb I expected something with more emotional attachment and just ‘bigger’ somehow. Don’t think I’m giving much away to say pleasant, somewhat historically interesting, but lightweight ghost story. A case of the blurb outshining the contents more than a little, making for higher expectations.

I finished the year and began the next with Under The Dome, by Stephen King It’s the sort of book he does so well and the perfect example of why I don’t think of him as a horror writer. His books are very character driven and apart from the paranormal aspect of this book (the dome itself) it’s very mainstream. The internal politics of the town, the way some characters hold it together in the face of adversity or turn on each other, even commit murder was very well done. It’s a lovely piece of writing. I was impressed with the research and then laughed when King admits in the back that he asked someone to help him with that. Anyone who likes crime or mysteries might also like this book. I was a little disappointed in the ’cause of the dome’ but I couldn’t see any other possible explanation he could have used. King tends to say some stories are about the journey rather than the destination, and I agree. This is all about the people in the town. Having since seen the first two episodes of the series, my advice is read the book.