Owing to unforeseen circumstances, namely having broken my wrist, I won’t be blogging much, and my publishing plans will change a little this year. For now I’ll leave you with my 2022 reading round-up. I set myself a goal of 75 books and, including audio, I managed 80. Noting some of my favourite books, here goes:
Cunning Folk, Adam L.G. Nevill
Having experienced bad neighbours, this book contained some personal horror for me, so much so, I found it hard to switch off after reading one section. Yes, this is supernatural horror, but the twin joys of moving in a money pit of a house next door to the worse neighbours one can imagine makes for a memorable folk horror. I must admit, the ‘folk next door’ presented a greater horror than what might be out in the woods for me. Maybe disturbing more than scary, but, though horror is a favourite genre for me, I’ve yet to find a truly scary book. I found a few of the descriptive sentences a little too much, perhaps excessively flowery, needing to read them twice, but I find Nevill’s style of work compelling, so even an occasional awkward sentence would never deter me. Opinions are just that, anyway, with no true right or wrong. I’m a reader who appreciates an author who takes me on an unexpected journey, and I also appreciate Nevill has an extensive vocabulary. The descent into madness (neighbours driving a person crazy), is spot-on and disturbingly delightful.
Thud, Terry Pratchett
A less humorous book than many other Discworld novels, but so intelligent. There’s a lot of subtexts here covering government, racism, human nature, among others, with all the stupidity that comes along with these failings. An education in erudition with Sam Vimes, the teacher of the decade. And most of all, a book where every reader will root for Sam to get home on time to read ‘Where’s my Cow?’
Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
This book may well be unique in terms of a haunting. The setting is not a haunted house but an entire village, and the ‘ghost’ is that of a witch which has corporal form yet the ability to wander at will. Something of a slow burn in places it’s received a few mixed reviews, though fans who love not to be rushed and like Stephen King, might get on well with this. I hated every moment I had to put it down. Written in mostly omnipresent head-hopping viewpoints, the novel suffers from an overuse of cliches, but the story blows these minor issues aside. There’s so much subtext here, dealing with all we know about violence and fear, and of how humans don’t need true evil to misbehave. The revelation of evil is inspired, and the ending is a simply perfect conclusion, pulling all threads together. I’ve seen reviews from those who feel otherwise, but it comes down to what the reader wants from a horror story. I’ve yet to find such a book that truly scares me. Some have come close to disturbing me, but for me, that’s not quite the same thing. Hex does neither, but I loved this book, found it insidiously fascinating. This story will always be with me, as will my copy, and that’s what the best books have — an unforgettable quality. Would make an excellent film if done well.
Operation Wildcat and Other Stores, Edited by Tim Gambrell
Not sure I should review this as it contains one of my stories, so let me just say my favourite idea in the book is Honourable Discharge by Chris Lynch, though I also liked Old Fowlkes’ Home by Martin Parker as it’s an Anne Travers story.
The Mangle Street Murders, M.R.C.Kasasian
Best described as a black comedy, the novel deals with a series of grisly murders and a seemingly unsolvable crime, but the most criminal thing about the story is the unrepentant and awful personality of Grice — a detective far more cutting than Sherlock and darkly comic because of it. The type of blunt and terrible temperament, one cannot help but laugh at and cringe while doing so. I loved to loathe him, though loathe is too strong a word. The tale’s told through the viewpoint of his ward, March Middleton, and it is as much about her having to put up with Grice as her strength and determination that makes this book amusing. And like any good detective story, there’s a meandering puzzle that only the warped mind of Grice could easily work out. I’ll be reading more of these.
Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie
Loved this immediately. Quinn’s fury over the dog is priceless, and understandable to pet owners everywhere. The author well worked the overlapping relationships in this story. Women everywhere will get the issue the women have, and men reading this might become enlightened. Nick and Quinn are excellent characters for a romance. One word of warning: this book could contain triggering issues for abuse victims, though dealt with well toward the end. A few viewpoints may also seem outdated, but then all books are of their time.
Who Censored Roger Rabbit, Gary Wolf
When a book makes you laugh in the first few sentences, it’s a good sign, but I know not everyone feels this way. I suppose it depends how attached to the Disney film you are. The book’s different, written in a more serious tone. I have to say I liked both versions. I found the noir detective feel and ‘heard’ an occasional sentence as spoken by Bob Hoskins. This book isn’t the film. Anyone expecting that is bound to feel disappointed. Roger’s in no way as zany, but I liked the character’s development and grew extremely attached to him, though in a completely different way from the film. I can’t say more without giving away the ending, but it even plucked at the old heartstrings. I own the other three books and will read them.
The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman
A short story of a re-imagined fairy tale from one of my favourite writers brought to life with the meticulously illustrated works of Chris Riddell. I know it’s aimed at children but had to have it as part of my Gaiman collection, and it’s a beautiful book to look at and handle. I would have loved this as a child and still do as an adult.
Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie
This fast-paced, hysterical romance has to be one of Crusie’s best books. I’ve always loved her banter, but here almost every line is perfect and funny. A story about a commitment phobe, a woman who has viewed herself through her mother’s eyes for too many years, and a shabby cat that loves Elvis Presley’s music. This might be classed as a big beautiful woman book, though truly Min is a perfectly normal woman. After reading this, many women will want their own ‘donut pusher’. This doesn’t beat my favourite book of hers, but it’s close, winning on the laughs alone.
The Vessel, Adam L.G.Nevill
All the way through this book, I kept thinking this book should be a film, which makes perfect sense once I got to the end and read the author’s notes. The old woman struck me as the harbinger of evil, and there didn’t have to be anything supernatural about her to make me shudder. But this is horror, so nothing is straightforward. Present tense omnipresent isn’t really a style I love, but for this book, it’s perfect. We see the action from a wide camera lens, which does a good job rocketing up tension. I wasn’t terrified, but found this satisfying creepy with a conclusion I adored. A short but entertaining read that’s a perfect example of dark fiction, which I feel has a broader connotation than horror.
A Short Stay in Hell, Steven L.Peck
How does one even describe this novella of only 100 pages? At first I found it somewhat tedious, but that only seems right considering the events in the story. Slowly, I found I couldn’t put it down. As a lover of books, I thought eternity in a library doesn’t sound like such a bad thing… until I learned the truth of those books. Then the truth of love found and lost, which seemed even greater punishment. A truer horror was the inevitability of some human natures. Though a simple idea, here, the author proves hell doesn’t have to contain hellfire to be torturous. A horror novel? No. And certainly not horrific. But insidiously horrifying.
A House at the Bottom of a Lake, Josh Malerman
Some books defy definition and this is one. Some will love this; others loathe it. I honestly don’t know what I just read. I know I enjoyed it, but was it good, or was it bad? There are some creepy moments, in part (I feel) owing to the strange setting. The underlying sense of threat in being able to drown down in the dark is present like a character all its own, but drown in what? In water? In horror? In the hope and hopelessness of love? The book reads like an allegory of love. There is menace here, but those expecting a true horror novel may be disappointed. Those approaching the story with an open mind may be better rewarded.
Last Days, Adam Nevill
Asked to film a documentary about a defunct cult is a job Kyle will come to regret. A bold idea exceedingly well-written. My only negative isn’t that it’s a long book but that it also felt a little overlong. Would take an experienced editor to know what to cut, though, as there’s a lot to take in, but I feel the length diminished the deliciously creepy suspense some. Not enough to affect my enjoyment, but for me the book loses a star because of it… which isn’t drastic criticism by any means. Had I not read the book, I would have missed a wild ride and much scary imagery. Extremely imaginative and well worth spending time with.
Piranesi, Susanna Clarke.
A strange book that made me question what in the world I was reading. It’s certainly memorable. Like it or not, this story may well stay with the reader for a long time, if not forever. All the number of day in the month of the albatross in the number of hall got rather monotonous, which made me feel uncertain at first, but the more I read the more engrossed I became. The best thing about this book is the way the author reveals the mystery, and the way she builds Piranesi’s world in the mind. To my mind, this is no Strange and Norrell epic (the first book for which the author’s so well-known), but it’s still impressive, mostly in its construction. On a minor note, though a small volume, the hardback is a lovely-looking book to have on the shelves.
Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?, Gary K.Wolf
At the start of this book, I felt I would not enjoy it as much as the first, but as soon as a short relative of Jessica’s was introduced, I laughed all the way to the end. Gary has the witty patter down p-p-p-perfectly. I have such fond memories of the film, but feel as though the rabbit written here is worth loving all over again. I’m also left feeling a mite sorry for him, which only adds to the charm of these stories. Another surprise to enjoy was a whole new take of how Gone With the Wind was cast.
Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro & Cornelia Funke
If you’ve watched the film, there’s no real reason to read the book, though I wanted to, and the lovely illustrations, and the stories within the story, which aren’t told on screen enhance the experience. The book’s a charming keepsake and complements the film somewhat as it’s always nice to get internalisations which almost no film provides. Also, the book is English, whereas the film is Spanish with English subtitles (not that I find subtitles a problem). Neither the book nor the film is a fairy tale for young children owing to the violence and imagery, but is a wonderful fantasy for some teens and adults alike.
Ending with my outstanding reads of the year I have to go back to a classic and to an audio dramatisation:
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
I thought I’d read this when young, but I remembered little of it. It’s more likely someone told me the story, because had I read this, there’s no way I would have forgotten the writing. I can’t help thinking had I ever turned in a story written in such a style, my teachers would have thrown fits, siting grammar rules until I grew dizzy. But this is the indomitable Bradbury and not only does he know how to break the rules, he does it so well. Some of my teachers would have cited that many sentences don’t make grammatical sense, and they don’t in a purist way, but what they do is conjure up sensations and emotions. Take the title alone, which at least one teacher would have told me should read Something Wicked Comes This Way… but it would never have been so memorable; would never be so visceral. Plus, there’s the multi-layers of subtext: a book about good and evil, being young, growing old, accepting these things, not harping on them, not worrying about them and not fearing them so much one forgets to live, to enjoy and feel blessed every day. It also speaks of friendship and family, of love, and of laughing in the face of despair as a way of pushing back the darkness — the sorrows of life and the eventual darkness. I’m sure others will find their own interpretations, but for me, this book covers the gamut of life and death in all its joys and woes. Chilling, full of dread, atmospheric, mesmerising, thrilling, captivating, and masterfully executed.
The Sandman (Volume One), Neil Gaiman and cast (audio dramatisation)
Thoroughly loved this. Maybe you need to be a fan of the source material, but this is an enjoyable and faithful representation of the graphic novels. Some purists may not agree, but I feel this added to my appreciation of the books and Gaiman’s work. With a great cast, including Michael Sheen, Andy Serkis, and Bebe Neuwith, James McAvoy is the perfect choice for Morpheus. It’s a lovely thought that this production also brings the story to the blind.