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Reads August 2023

Inkdeath, Cornelia Funke

By far the best in the trilogy. I throughly enjoyed this, likely owing to the level of anxiety caused by so many perils. Peril is the operative word here. Every chapter, every page, with enough breathing space not to exhaust the reader. The writer has created a universe that will stay in the mind long after it’s finished. The only negatives are a few flaws. I wasn’t able to connect with Dustfinger to the extent I did in the other books, but I still loved him enough to overlook this. And Meggie didn’t seem to have such a starring role. It’s also hard to see Mo change so much. Still, the tension carries this book and makes it my favourite of the three.

What Moves the Dead, T.Kingfisher

I can’t help finding this a tough book to review. On the one hand, it’s excellent. The author is definitely a storyteller and there’s nothing wrong with the writing. I might have also thought this original had I not read Mexican Gothic — a fact the author eludes to at the end by admitting to shelving this book for a good long while because of the other book’s publication. Sometimes timing is everything, but that’s no fault of the author. This book also isn’t as deep, in part because it’s short, but it’s unfair to compare the two as both are equally enjoyable and I suggest reading both. The problem is, I didn’t find it all that creepy, but I admit I don’t scare easily. This is a retelling of the Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, though I didn’t realise that when I bought it. Having read both, I didn’t feel the connection. Alex is an interesting main character, but I didn’t feel that who Alex is had much to do with the outcome of the story. A fun, quick read that left me feeling something was lacking. But I now want to read more by the author and that’s never a bad outcome.

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

A critically acclaimed glimpse into Australian life from 1944 to 64 featuring two families, the Lambs and the Pickles, brought together in one house. Emotionally, I flipped between love and hate every few turns of the pages. I detest books with no speech marks and even considering the author’s style, I don’t see why he didn’t use the correct punctuation. It wasn’t always immediately clear who was saying what, which I found to be an enormous distraction. Not often, but still annoying. It’s rather tell instead of show, but there’s a rhythm to the narrative that makes this work. As to the story… I loved it in places, loathed it in others. When I loved it, the book was wonderful. When I didn’t, I felt utterly bored. Some characters don’t serve the story, and neither do some of the supernatural elements. Sometimes the story is magical, but other times insufferable as we wander through these lives with no apparent direction or real purpose. I wish I found it as wonderful as others do, because when I loved it, that love was real, but I found it to be too much of a rollercoaster ride with too many dips way down low. Therefore, I’m not knocking anyone who adores this book — not that I would, anyway. Let people love what they love and there’s much to love here. There are some sumptuous sentences, but I think an abiding like of stepping into a life to visit without expectation of an efficacious outcome.

Swan Song (audio), Robert McCammon, read by Tom Stechschulte

The easiest way to describe this book is as an epic analogy against war, especially nuclear war. One can’t help think of Stephen King’s The Stand while reading this, and, I imagine, vice versa, once having read both, but each deserves their own place on anyone’s bookshelves. I can’t say everything I want to say without giving away the plot and outcome, but I’m not sure the anti-hero attempt quite works for me, maybe because it seems so sudden and brief. Sadly, the outcome speaks so eloquently, showing us with a painful foresight that some people may never change, even though hope runs throughout. There was a moment where I rolled my eyes when they get to their final destination and who they find there, but that soon dissipated when the author flipped the story defying my expectations. A head hopping but absorbing narrative worthy of recognition.

A Man Called Ove (audio), Fredrik Backman, read by Joan Walker

Having recently watched A Man Called Otto based on this book, I revisited this story by listening to the audio. I loved reading the novel and still have it on my shelves. The audio did nothing to disappoint. At first glance, one might wonder why they’d want to read the story of a grumpy old man, but Ove is not all he seems and his life is one to be celebrated. One thing the book does better than the film is give us his wife’s point of view. We get to learn of the qualities she saw in him, long before a new family moves into the neighbourhood. We also learn more about his background. If you liked the book, there’s no reason not to enjoy the story in other formats. If you’ve only seen the film, watch or listen to the book, and enjoy how Ove touches the lives of others.

Sleeping Beauties, Stephen King and Owen King

Definitely an epic, this doorstop of a book slowly sets the scene of a world without women as they succumb to a strange plague. Like all King novels, this is heavily character driven. Though I would struggle to choose parts to cut, the book feels overly long. I struggled to continue with it in many places, especially once we learn what happens to the women after they’re cocooned, which was when my interest wavered even though I’d survived a communicative fox and other strange creatures appearing, which I saw no reason for. By then I’d invested too much to give up, but this took me ages to finish and I sometimes felt I was turning each page through sheer will. What people get from this will depend on their experiences. Let’s just say I’ve excellent reasons to want to return home, so my viewpoint is no doubt influenced by that choice. The book’s expertly composed, well thought out, and immersive, but I spent much of it wondering if there was a point. Had women written this, I can imagine an outcry that it’s an attack on men… and in that exact sentence is perhaps the point of the book, but while it’s an interesting topic to explore, I found the innate message somewhat flawed. Yes, it examines much of what’s wrong with the world, but I struggle to believe a world ran by women would work better; the same ridiculous power struggles often rise to the fore, no matter who is in charge. This novel is entertaining in parts, not so much in others. It’s explorative. It’s needlessly overlong, not scary, and anyone expecting the usual Stephen King novel may find they are disappointed (or pleased) that it’s not. However, I now want to read something else by Owen King.

Update July 2023

Had a horrendous trip to the in-laws. Traffic jams, roadworks, diversions, reports of animals on the road and people throwing things from a bridge. Could anyone have thrown anything else into the mix? If I put all this into a story readers would say I’m being melodramatic or unrealistic, proving life is stranger than fiction. All this added a good couple of hours onto the journey, which did me no good at all.

Once back home, we continued with our ‘refresh’ of the house, repainting one wall in the guest bedroom, and touching up any marks. It’s never looked so good. I’ve now moved on to the room’s ensuite shower room, but discovered the wall needs a little attention once I pulled off the paper. I think it’s because we papered over bathroom paint, so we’ll put a different base coat on the wall we intend to re-paper once it’s repaired. Otherwise, there’s not much to do in there with snagging (small cracks in new builds) only over the shower.

We finished the Netflix limited series Midnight Mass, which turned out to be a questioning religious take on vampire mythology. The arguments presented and the thought-provoking dialogue were exceptional. About to finish watching the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, which have been a nostalgic joy. And we watched series 4 of Stranger Things (Netflix), which we enjoyed the most of all the seasons. The way Netflix enhanced the sound was excellent and I hope they make this a more regular feature.

I now know why I’ve not written much since breaking my wrist, having received my latest edits. Many were stupid mistakes because I was typing with one hand and using dictation. However, surely my brain was also scrambled, as I should have caught most, if not all, of them during the last read. I must have gone over it too many times by then, so my eyes filled in the blanks, which is why writers need an editor or at least a second set of eyes. Fortunately, I have a fab editor. Wildest Dreams this will re-release in the autumn.

I also received my copy of Night to Dawn magazine #44, also out this autumn, containing my short story Brain Dead. More on that nearer the time.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Reads of July 2023

Wounds, Nathan Ballingrud
When I started this book, I initially thought, WTH am I reading? I didn’t think this author’s work was for me, but as I went further and got used to his way of world building, which is to drop the reader straight into the darkest depths of hell, I became engrossed. For those of nervous dispositions they’d likely say they’re grossed out, but gory descriptions aside, it was the imaginative creativity of the writer’s style. Bizarre, surreal, warped… the stories presented here are all these things and more. From the borders of hell, indeed. Strangely, I enjoyed each subsequent story more, starting with my least favourite to the best — to my knowledge, The Butcher’s Table being a vision of piracy we’ve never seen before.

Ticktock, Dean Koontz
Mingle a devil doll, an unexplainable creature, a mad headlong dash to escape its deadly intent, a woman who seems more capable than any secret agent, and a dog with more abilities than your most intelligent canine and to some this book may seem ridiculous. The author explains his reason for writing this, but on this re-read, all I can say is it’s a lot of fun. Suspend belief and go along for the ride and the book reaches a satisfying if extraordinary conclusion. Some books are purely there to entertain.

Making Money, Terry Pratchett
No doubt baffling, but I have a handful of Terry Pratchett books left to read, well aware that when I’ve read them, there are no more (although I can and may well read them again). Therefore, though it’s been out for many years, this is my first reading of Making Money. What Terry and Moist von Lipwig did for the post office, he does here for the banks. What more can I say? Fine comic writing. Wonderful satire. Outstanding as always with a cast of unforgettable characters, including a dog with a newfound and beloved toy.

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
Thought-provoking tale with not-so-subtle themes on the meaning of life and death, immortality, and even freedom. I’d include this on any recommended reading list for children and teens. Although listed as a children’s book, this is one many adults enjoy. Still, I found this cautionary tale to be too short and would have preferred more emotional writing, even when I was of the intended age. Of course, if everyone lived indefinitely it would spell disaster, but it’s easier to see how it would be worse for the people in the book, then perhaps for someone with greater aspirations in a more modern world. A bittersweet read that doesn’t pack such a punch when we’ve moved so far away from a time when horses are the only means of transport. I couldn’t help thinking of vampire stories where they’ve had to invest their money, return as a distant relative to claim their own fortunes. In another scenario, eternal life might not be a curse for some, especially if it was possible to end it at a time of one’s choosing. Therefore, the warning here holds true, but not entirely, though it leaves the question of what you would do when Winnie is confronted with the offer at the end of the book.

Sole Survivor, Dean Koontz
A well plotted supernatural thriller, this book is going to mean different things to different people primarily depending on their religious beliefs. At first, I was a little irritated by its message, which I saw as potentially flawed. Without giving away the revelation, it’s hard to explain why, except to say there’s no way to know the truth behind what someone shows people. I think the main character of Joe Carpenter explores a husband’s and father’s grief well, but the book feels overlong. There’s an almost comfortable ride, even through moments of tension and a lot left toward the end to be revealed. Not as boring as an info dump, still it’s a lot to take in. It’s like 90% of the book builds question after question and then the remaining chunk provides the answer and it left me feeling a little bombarded as I finished the novel. Having said that, I’d have to take time to consider how anyone would present this story in another format and it’s an imaginative plot. We know Koontz for incorporating his religious beliefs and there’s a high percentage of that here, but, as I’ve said, everything here is open to interpretation. It’s gripping enough to be well worth reading once, though this was a re-read for me after many years.

The Writer as Typesetter

Typesetter used to be an actual job. While I’m sure professionals typically handle book layout at major publishing houses, writers at mid-size and smaller publishers must now do it themselves. The days of huge mechanical machines are gone. Machines where someone had to lie out each word for printing, a job which must have been horrendous. So much of publishing is now electronic and I’m not referring solely to e-books. Writers handle the writing process, manuscript submission, edits, and layout.

At heart many object to this. I understand this is more cost-effective for the publisher. With new companies, a tiny publisher, and those offering a larger percentage split, it’s even crucial. Still, it leaves a lot to chance and sometimes can be a complicated process. The writer often has to work a day job, raise a family, have a life, AND write, AND promote. To lie out a work for publication can feel like the last insult. One reason this bites is a writer can go to all the hassle of formatting work to submit to a specific publisher, only to have it rejected. They then have to re-format the work to submit elsewhere. That’s why I firmly believe in the old Standard Manuscript Format. I certainly believe no publisher should require a writer to format a work any other way prior to acceptance, and not, necessarily, even then. Since when has a writer had to be a typesetter?

Likewise, most publishers have a house-style using a particular punctuation system and spelling rules. It’s impossible for writers to keep up with these ever-changing and differing systems. For any writer working with more than one publisher, it can be a nightmare, especially if the house-style updates. I’m a UK writer who often writes for a US market, so whether my books appear in English or American, spellings vary. Usually, I have no option but to at least accept a different punctuation system. I’ve had to come clean with these publishers, to tell them I only know one punctuation system: the one I grew up with. The more I tried to learn another, the worse my punctuation became. Some of these things are too much to ask of the average writer on an average day. It’s something any would-be writers out there need to be aware of. Typesetter is also commonly now part of the job.

Reads of June 2023

The Other People, C.J.Tudor
First, let me say I like C.J.Tudor’s work and I found the opening of this book gripping. Can’t say I would call it horror unless I count human nature as being horrific. I’ve seen this referenced to Stephen King’s work, but it made me think of Dean Koontz. This is a suspense novel. A thriller. And I found it immensely enjoyable. The whole concept of a father seeing his daughter in the back of a strange car, which he tries to follow and loses track of, is a solid opening. It’s a fabulous book if one overlooks a likely plot hole; namely the incompetency of the police and the simple matter of DNA evidence. This book may have worked if set in another era where forensics weren’t so advanced, and there are also a few supernatural elements that aren’t fully explained… at least not to my satisfaction. In short, a superb book let down by a plot implausibility, which I struggle to believe no one — writer, editor, publisher — spotted. Saying all that, I still enjoyed it enough to suspend disbelief, mainly because of the suspense and will read more by this author.

No One Gets Out Alive (audio), Adam Nevill, read by Colleen Prenderghast
I picked this up for two reasons: It’s one of my favourite horror novels (yes, I’ve already read this), and I’ve enjoyed audio books read by this reader. It’s best to think of it as a book of two halves, though both have their share of scares. Many may feel this book goes on too long, and this especially comes across in narration (and in the second half), but I still enjoyed this story immensely. Some skilled editing could shorten this by making some sentences more concise, but I’d struggle to find much, if anything, worthy of deletion. This tale works as a horror on so many levels. As a ghost story, societal commentary, the isolation and fear of a woman alone, and the helplessness anyone would feel trying to make others accept an unbelievable truth. Suspenseful.

Neil Gaiman at the End of the Universe (audio), Arvind Ethan David, read by Neil Gaiman and Jewel Staite
This is a short audio story only running for approximately 30 minutes. The premise is cute and funny and it’s something I could imagine Neil Gaiman writing. Neil wakes up to discover he’s the one-man crew of a deep space mission and fun ensues. Enjoyable narration and a fun half hour.

Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
Must admit I enjoyed this one more than the first in the series, though for most of the book I felt it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t read more. The plot feels less frantic this time, and there are some excellent chases (especially by ambulance) where I didn’t want to put the book down. Plus a nasty ‘fun’ surprise in a fortune-telling machine. The book still seemed to suffer from a protagonist who seems less interesting that the surrounding characters — as though he’s simply a device to hang everything on. The depth of his character feels a little flat, though maybe this is something that improves with subsequent books. I’ve the third book, so may reserve judgement until I’ve read that. I like this series, but finding it hard to pinpoint exactly why it’s not holding my attention as much as I want it to.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
I knew the story though this is my first reading of this book, but I doubt it will be my last. Technically classed as a book for children, it’s one all of us need to read. Almost all of us will be in young Conor’s position at some point — losing someone we love from an illness. We’ll experience emotions we hate ourselves for, and perhaps, don’t even understand. This book deals with all that and more. It also teaches forgiveness, especially for oneself, and that emotions don’t always surface in the best or most obvious ways. Children may lose some of the nuance depending on age but, if they don’t take to it, I’d recommend trying again as they grow older. Indeed, the older one is, the more this might tear the reader apart. It may well devastate adults more, as we understand the pain in these pages too well. I’d have to place this among the best books ever written, and it’ll break your heart.

Back From the Dead, Chris Petit
I enjoy the occasional thriller, and the idea of letters from a girl long dead intrigued me enough to pick up this (inherited) novel, but I can’t claim to have liked this. The style is wandering with characters I find difficult to bring into focus. There’s no one here to root for, which is usually a requirement for a memorable protagonist. This book seems to comprise despicable, chameleon people who act pleasant, savage, angry, happy, miserable… a different way with each other each turn of the page. Undoubtedly deliberate, this makes the story feel surreal. Yet the author is well-acclaimed and has written a slew of novels. This, an earlier work, is perhaps the art of honing one’s craft. I liked the parts where the story tied in with actual events, something the author appears known for, and the total package certainly sets discordant threads thrumming in the reader’s mind. Not for those with a dislike of the need to pay close attention, and ultimately it’s a grim experience with the lead as obsessive as the wretched people who hire him. My feelings are ambiguous as this will stick in my mind a while where I would prefer it not to.

Intensity, Dean Koontz
When Chyna Shepherd crosses paths with a killer, she has to fight for more than her own life. A re-read for me I’m pleased to say I would still rate among the author’s best books. While I might not have thought this was as perfect as I did on my first read many years ago, much of this book remains intense. Yes, the antagonist possibly feels excessive, but not as caricatured as some famous criminals real or invented. Whatever writers can dream up, reality often trumps. But I recall the protagonist being among the first truly strong female characters despite her making one or two stupid mistakes. Being human and ‘not thinking’ makes for a more realistic person. She’s not superhuman. There are spiritual elements, which is often the case in Koontz books, but there’s no reason to buy into these if the reader doesn’t want to. The same elements could be coincidence yet give Chyna strength and determination. Only her belief in them is important. There is some animal injury and death, so that may be a trigger warning for some; I could deal because ultimately what happened is still the killer’s fault, but realistic in context, and not gratuitous.

The Midnight Club, Christopher Pike
If you’ve watched the Netflix series, don’t expect the same story in the book, though many of the book’s elements are present on screen. Also, the book’s publicised as a horror, and it most definitely isn’t that. It’s about teens coming to terms with their terminal illness. It’s profound, touching, and bittersweet, and a significant accomplishment — creating a book about death for teens that’s thought provoking. However, sometimes I felt drawn in and at others as though I was standing very much outside. I couldn’t help feeling that, if written today, it could have been so much more, and that some slight issues are terribly dated because of bigotry, which the author was clearly, and rightly, addressing. Taking these issues into consideration, the book would have been more outstanding when published than it is now, but still worth reading.

Update June 2023

Glad to say we had a lovely holiday in June and it was the best we’ve had in a long while. I managed to ‘cope’ despite health issues. Also, the week away allowed us to visit a friend’s grave at long last, and to meet up with his wife. We spent a fabulous day together including a wonderful lunch concluded with a cheesecake that was surely death on a plate but truly gorgeous. We also got in plenty of coastal walking, the longest walk of three hours being on the South West coast path.

At long last finished watching Bones having missed the last three seasons on its first televised run. Supernatural (another missed series on its original run) and Dark Shadows is ongoing. Catching up now on Netflix shows, we began the limited series Midnight Mass which, though slow in parts seems to have some memorable moments including excellent dialogue. It’s promisingly spooky, though we’ve only watched 2 of 8 episodes so far.

Have had little time for films. Watched Don’t Worry Darling, which is a modern twist on The Stepford Wives. Good, but nothing exactly new. We also came across 12 of the 14 old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, which have been remastered and watched one of those. So short as to be hardly called films today, but we watched one and may watch more. Guess I’m showing my age, but I still like Rathbone’s version of Sherlock and they’re great nostalgia.

I know I’ve been quiet — I feel like I’m forever apologising for breaking my wrist — but I’ve managed a little self-editing and have spoken to my publisher about releasing another older, previously published title, so I will be submitted Wildest Dreams this week.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Reads of May 2023

Roger Rabbit, Xerious Business, Gary K.Wolf
The fourth novel of the series and perhaps the best. This shows the human side of Jessica before she became a toon. I thoroughly enjoyed this, the first and fourth book possibly being my favourites. Don’t expect these books to follow on, one after the other. They each have their own stories and don’t pick up where the other left off. Take them for they are, as the author has written them, and they’re fun, though not as zany as the film. Don’t expect Disney here.

Inkspell, Cornelia Funke
I became more involved with Inkspell than I did Inkheart, possibly because in this one we enter Inkworld. Incidentally, from the German translation, the title actually reads Inkblood, which is directly linked to events in the trilogy and the books’ titles (Heart, Blood, Death). The wealth of characters may be perhaps the most absorbing thing about this book. There are many wonderful moments of tension, and I have to say also sadness, and all the characters get a goodly amount of ‘screen time’. I would say this book is better than Inkheart. This also feels much more like a fantasy intended for younger and older readers alike, but that’s where it’s imperfect. It’s a hefty read and I find it hard to pinpoint a right age to read this. It’s going to depend on the individual, their reading skill and love of books, so labelling it YA is only a rough guide. This book would feel overly long for some adults, so teens might well struggle with this. And although Meggie often acts childish (even thoughtless), she sometimes seems older than her 13 age. Perhaps older would have been better as the author somewhat unsuccessfully suggests a romance blossoming here between her and Farid, a relationship I’m not sure I believed. Indeed, the author excels most when tugging at the reader’s heartstrings dealing with the tragic. I love believed love elements through the bonds of father and daughter, husband and wife. Believed, but didn’t always feel — these books are action based — whereas Meggie and Farid seem more linked by a shared adventurous spirit rather than actual love; perhaps fitting, considering they’re so young.

Dark Halls, Jeff Menapace (ebook)
I expected a different antagonist and outcome, but the book has all the plot points needed to tell this story. The ghosts and spooky children are an excellent concept and made me want a bigger payout. The writing was a little too basic for me and the story would have benefitted by being more atmospheric.

Live and Let Die (James Bond), Ian Fleming (audio, read by Rory Kinnear)
I fully believe books are of their time and should remain as originally written, but have to admit even I blinked a time or two at the racist and sexist remarks. But then these books will never translate well to modern day, but such is the Bond universe, too. As a sign of the times, they have to be regarded as such, and no longer taken seriously. I also rolled my eyes when Bond faints from having a pinky finger broken. Fine, anyone might faint from pain, but Bond’s a secret agent and should have trained to withstand a certain amount of torture; later on in the book he undergoes worse with stolidness. This being only the second Bond instalment I’ve listened to, it amazes me how bad Bond is at blending in (also apparent in the films). It seems a running flaw of Fleming’s work that his undercover agent seldom truly works undercover. The reading was good to excellent in parts, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book either through the reading or story.

Dark Rivers of the Heart, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me, but one I quickly scanned through when I remembered I found it rather draining the first time. I quickly recollected much of the story which says something not having read it for many years, though not necessarily for the right reasons. With some interesting characters and a wonderful dog, this novel lacks the supernatural elements of so many of this author’s books. One for those into secret government agencies, but the reason the protagonist wants to track down an unknown woman is tenuous. The biggest fault of the book is over padding. I’m sure it could have lost 200 pages and been better for it. So many sequences seem never-ending. It’s a hard one to review, as many like it. Maybe one to read once, but not a keeper for me. The best thing about it for me was the dog, Rocky.

Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie
It’s marvellous to love a book as much on a re-read years later as much as when first read. This is one of those. I still rank this as Crusie’s best book. A steamy small town romance and mystery perfectly blended. This is a rare book where not one sentence seems out of place. With a perfect balance of characters (especially Sophie and Phin), and an ending that still made me laugh and smile, this book brings a bright meaning to carrying on family traditions. Top marks.

Faking It, Jennifer Crusie
This is a companion book to Welcome to Temptation, which I’d never read, so I read both books one after the other. Faking It is Davy’s story (brother to Sophie) from the first novel. While the plot may be as perfectly told and wild, it didn’t quite match my love of the first book, although it came close. One of the best things about Crusie’s books, are her wonderfully off the wall characters and there is a wealth of them here, even down to Steve, the dog. Yes, everyone here is deceitful in their way, but worth loving for the hysterical ending where everyone seems to have a thing for hiding out in the closet. A cute, fun story. I’m glad to have spent time with this.