Reads of 2017 and Happy New 2018

Welcome to 2018! I usually end the year with a list of a few titles so, although I lost much of the start of the year’s reading time with a move (more on that below), I’ll begin with a selection of the books I managed to pore over mostly through a combination of my sheer stubborn will and desperation when viewing my to-be-read mountain.

I’m never certain how I feel about Patrick Gale’s work simply from a personal preference. His works read, to me, as though I’ve dipped into someone’s life and been forced to step out again. This is not a fault by any means — many such works have received critical acclaim, and the plotting of this has to be admired. In Notes from an Exhibition, I loved the non-linear sequence of the storytelling but found myself irritated with many of the characters. Again, this is not a negative — fully-fledged characters can be as frustrating as people may be in reality. The story is ultimately one that’s a painful glance into mental illness. Another book that made it more apparent to me why I’m never sure whether I love or simply appreciate Gale’s work was A Perfectly Good Man. It’s style vs content. There’s too much telling rather than showing but I love the way the author can jump back and forth with the timeline without losing the reader, and I enjoyed the overall plot of this one.

I don’t usually speak of a book and a film in the same paragraph but for The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R.Carey I advise reading the book, forget the film. If you’ve seen the film, read the book. This is your zombie survival story with a backdrop of intelligent science and equally intelligent twists. The film lacks the depth of character development and interaction of the book, coming across as a made-for-TV movie, paring the story down to stripped bones. The writing, though aimed more at a young adult audience, is worth consideration for any zombie fan.

His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet, is the fictional ‘factual’ telling of the ‘bloody’ deals of one Roderick Macrae. In a sense, there’s little plot to this book. There’s a crime, the perpetrator’s account, a court case, and a verdict. What makes this book stand out is the readability and even enjoyment of the story’s working. The research and tone make one feel as though the reader has taken a step back in time, paying witness to the events on which a young man’s life ‘hangs’ (forgive the pun). The book is persuasive and although leaves some uncertain it’s noteworthy to mention that the author managed to make this reader at least feel more sorry for the criminal than the victims.

The Box, by Jack Ketchum, is a short story that appears to engender a love or loathe response. I would have made it more visceral but I still liked it, being the type of thing I would write. Either you’re someone for whom the story cannot be complete without the revelation of what is in the box or you’re someone whose imagination can take flights of fancy.

If you’re looking for an extraordinary suspenseful passionate adventure, consider Project Prometheus 1: In Her Name, by Esther Mitchell. It’s a shame some readers of suspense may shy from the romantic elements, and some readers of romance may hesitate to delve into a world so richly layered as this, but what action-packed blockbuster doesn’t contain components of both? The romance is far from saccharine and the action far from puerile. The reading experience was much like watching a feature film play out, and I equate the ‘experience’ of reading this in that format — like watching a television series. Though not the type of material I would routinely read, the writer’s command of world building, story-layering, knowledge, and use of myth and fact, means I’ll be reading the rest of this series, though the first can be read as a standalone book.

The Man Who Disappeared, by Clare Morrall was a book I found difficult to rate. My feelings fluctuated so much. Oddly it’s written in a tense seldom used but I had no problem with that or the writing itself. I did have some issues with the characters and their choices, but more than that, at times I had issues with what the characters took offence at and what they did not. The problem is we all have our own experiences and beliefs, and only through research can a writer put over an opinion that may not be theirs. In other words, I was judging the character’s reactions by how I would react, and how I would feel, so I don’t wish to mark the book down. I’m not a reader who believes a writer is necessarily wrong just because I think some points of the story should have gone a different way. I found this a decent read but not a keeper.

Off Season, by Jack Ketchum, I rate middle of the road because it’s an excellent read of its type but I generally prefer my horror books a little deeper and not completely action-based. I found this more like watching a gory horror film than being immersed in a book. If it’s the type of action-based brutal horror story someone likes it’ll be excellent for them so it’s one for individual judgement. Most interesting was the author’s notes at the end of how this book was first received and severely cut by the publisher even to the point where the author didn’t get to keep the end he wanted. On that note, I applaud the republication of the author’s original intention…and much prefer the author’s conclusion. Once upon a time, the graphic nature of the book would have been seen as too extreme but to some will seem mild now. I can’t say it’s a book I enjoyed because of the content. Neither did I dislike it, nor was it instantly forgettable, but it’s not a book I’ll be keeping. This is the first time I’ve read Jack Ketchum though I’m aware his work has a wonderful reputation. I can’t say from this one book whether he’s an author for me.

In contrast, Meat, by Joseph D’Lacey, is a questioning form of horror. I won’t linger on the small fact that I felt the writing could have done with a slight tidy, or that the formatting on the copy I read was less than perfect. That and the plot reservations I was ultimately left with means I couldn’t give the book a perfect rating. However, I can’t see how the author could have written a different outcome. This is, without doubt, a dark dystopia, one that’s as gruesome as it is possible to imagine. No real surprises but richly developed into a solid conceptual future designed by accident or intent to make the reader question their ethics. I’d be happy to read more by this author.

The Wolves of London, Obsidian Heart 1, by Mark Morris, isn’t what I would strictly call a horror novel. It’s one of those instances where genres blend to mesmerising effect including touches of urban fantasy and even steampunk and, yes, horror, because, some of the strange world the protagonist, Alex Locke, stumbles into is as horrific as it is fantastical and magical. This book won’t please every reader, but it will entertain many who appreciate the use of a wild imagination, being slowly drawn into a stranger than average universe, who are prepared to suspend disbelief and give credence to any and all possibilities. I personally like the unhurried progress, the twists and turns, and quirks of the story. The peculiar surprises. Granted, towards the end, the book starts to feel a little disconnected and jerky but that’s owing to plot points being established for the arc of the series. This book will leave the reader with more questions at the end than at the start. Who are the Wolves of London? What is the Obsidian Heart and what powers does it hold? Why has Alex been chosen, and why does it seem as if he’s part of some design constructed by unknown antagonists, possibly his growing list of enemies? Whether it’s a perfect set-up I won’t be able to say until I read the whole trilogy. Neither can I say whether I will love the story as a whole once I finish, but I do know, having read this, I have to discover how the story concludes.

I finished the year in November by reading 11.22.63, Stephen King. Firstly, for a UK audience, the title likely made a few people blink if they are unaware that the US writes dates differently to the UK. Here, we write the date chronologically: day, month, year. This being a pivotal date in US history, I’m not criticising this, but I could understand if, to some readers, it didn’t automatically click that the numbered title is a date. Did I enjoy the book? Yes. Did it have as much to do with Kennedy’s death as I thought it would? No. This is one of King’s well-known ‘journeys’ (he has stated that some books are to be enjoyed for the journey rather than the destination), and those who are familiar with his congenial tone will understand that this is a book that doesn’t have as much to do with the basic idea as the circumstances that stem from one man’s decision-making. At best, it makes for a readable story and pleasant experience. But if you’re looking for an in-depth story on conspiracy theories, don’t look here.

My book of my 2017 reads, is The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I don’t tend to rehash the plot as that can be worked out from the blurb so I will simply say I loved this book. Real sentences, real words, first person which I don’t usually like as well as third, but the prose flowed too smoothly for me to notice, the writing entirely pleasant. Though I was able to predict a couple of the plot points, the greatest strength of this novel is it’s a mystery woven like a tapestry. Overall the book has the feel of a classic that will stand the test of time. I was smitten. This one reminded me of why I love books.

On a personal note, 2017…the year that began with an on-going upheaval which resulted in our moving, not to our favourite place, but to a good compromise, a move that happened far sooner than we ever expected. Not saying that move was without problems — what move ever is? — but we got through it. It’s the year in which my other half not only started a new job, he found a position he’s enjoying, is respected, and I’ve noticed he is a far happier person. It’s the year we gained a larger house, which we’ll enjoy until we decide to downsize. It’s a year we settled in the countryside, after a traumatic 4 years that seemed to be pushing us here. We decorated the interior and landscaped the garden.

It’s the year I intended to return to writing for one of my publishers only to sadly learn they were closing, but it’s also the year in which I wrote my first Lethbridge-Stewart novel, due out shortly. It’s a year in which I met most of the few goals I set (being realistic with the move etc), and a year I’m finishing ready to face the list of things I hope to do in 2018. It’s the year we finished by going on a cruise and visiting some Christmas markets and then enjoying our new home and seeing our best friends. It’s a year we’re ending in peace and with a good deal of gratitude.

Happy New Year to all. Thanks to everyone who are true friends, and those who’ve supported me even if it’s from the sidelines. Wishing you happiness and peace…and Happy Reading!