Dragon #15

Not one I found anywhere special — bought from a catalogue many years ago — but been with me for a good number of years. I use fake candles with it so as not to risk dripping wax on the figure. Larger than I expected when I got this fellow. Picture taken somewhere I used to live.

Update Dec 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Alas, my planned acupuncture got cancelled for various reasons, but I struggled through travelling in pain, so got to spend Christmas with relatives, then returned home for my birthday spending a few quiet days to try to get me and life back to ‘normal’ ready for the new year.

FILM/TV:

Watched a few Christmas films and has the age old debate of whether Die Hard constitutes a Christmas movie. I lean towards no. Just because a film is set at Christmas, it does not make a Christmas movie. However, what surprises me is everyone focuses on Die Hard but not Die Hard 2. Definitely a Christmas setting there. We watched both. One of my favourite Christmas films, is the original version of The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant and David Niven. One of those we watch almost yearly.

Watched the eagerly awaited season of The Witcher. I hope Netflix carries this through to the full conclusion covering all the books, and I know the books are a series I will reread one day. Alas, we learned Netflix won’t be making another series of Cowboy Bebop. Torn about that. I can understand why it failed, yet we would have watched.

Still watching Castle. Catching up with seasons 11 and 12 of the animated Archer. And we’re watching the US version of The Office. Whereas I usually dislike American adaptations of UK shows — the sense of humour doesn’t often carry well — I have to say The Office is an exception. We enjoyed the English version, and equally like the US show. It has quite a British film and I often forget I’m watching a US series.

READING:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E.Schwab

Lovely in hardback with a simple raised copper and blue design. Look under the dust jacket to see the attention put into every detail. The first quarter of this book felt a little overlong though I put that down to the tense not being one I favour, yet by the time I reached the end, the style seemed perfectly suited to tell this story. The more I read, the more I considered what life would be like without ties, without friends or family, and whether, at least sometimes, we truly need to be careful what we wish for. I believe I picked out at least one continuity error; however, despite any flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully painful dark fantasy with a romantic subtext. A book which crosses genres. Someone destined to be forgotten makes for an unforgettable character. I loved her rebelliousness most of all. I even felt some affection for the terrible ‘darkness’ which transforms her life, and wondering who would truly win the final ‘battle’. Heart wrenchingly emotive with an ending which may require tissues.

Invasive Chuck Wendig

If I graded this along with my favourite books, I might drop half a star, but basing this novel on its own merits and the genre, it’s a solid 4/5. One review on the cover claims it to be one for fans of Michael Crichton and I can understand why. Its fast pace and solid imagery makes for a book a reader can plough through. The threat feels real, as does the inevitable countdown to time running out. The march of endangerment is as inexhaustible as the unrelenting insectile invasion, though this is no B-Movie. There’s a disturbing note of truth on the evolutionary, environmental, and genetic interference scale that’s all too sadly believable. Of course, this is a stretch of the imagination, but in this type of story, that’s what the reader is looking for. An enjoyable read, though not for anyone suffering from Myrmecophobia (fear of ants).

A Simple Plan, Scott Smith

After reading The Ruins, I sought other work by this author, who appears to have written only one other fiction book. Most stories require the reader to root for the antagonist. Oddly, this book required no such investment for me. The characters are quite unpleasant, taking things that would shake many of us to the core in too casual a stride. It’s the excellent writing, and the swiftly escalating events that kept me riveted to this story. Having said that, it practically pushes those events to their limit. The reader needs to set disbelief on an extremely high shelf. With The Ruins, this was easier to do because of the supernatural circumstances, but this story is a thriller with a setting of reality making that harder. Still, I enjoyed the book to the last 100 pages where the repellant characters, particularly that of the lead, became far too irksome. I enjoyed the story, and appreciate what the writer did, but also found myself irritated even though I feel it was well worth reading. The closest person to an innocent (other than the baby and dog) is Jacob, owing to his childlike and easily led nature. Still… it’s something to create work that pulls the reader along when there isn’t a main character to cheer on. NOTE: It’s only one scene and over fast, but those who cannot abide animal cruelty possibly should avoid this; for me I struggle, though it ‘depends’ on the story. Here I felt the author made a terrible mistake, and it’s unnecessary. I get the function of the scene, but by then the reader doesn’t need to be reminded how low the character has sunk. I want to give this book 5/5, but because of a few quibbles, I must knock a star off.

Krampus the Yule Lord, Brom

Not the tale of terror I expected, but there’s still much to like about this book, not least of all the drawings by Brom, artist and author. I didn’t find the pace terribly fast, and I questioned Jesse’s patience/impatience, which seemed erratic, even though Krampus doesn’t give him much choice. In short, I would have liked the book to be a little more emotional, both in the feelings portrayed and what it invokes, but for anyone who likes the darker side of Christmas tales, this is easily deserving to be identified as classic.

Naomi’s Room, Jonathan Aycliffe

Some passages in this book feel more tell than show, no doubt because it’s written in first person, making the recollections of the protagonist’s investigation into the background of the hauntings occasionally a little tedious, but the spooky happenings were more immediate, speeding by, and kept me riveted so that I finished this book in a single day. The supernatural occurrences are unsettling as they should be, though not frightening. Still, the picture of child murder and the lonely cry of the restless dead is well portrayed, making Naomi a painfully real character. Surely a must-read for those with a liking for ghost stories, though some elements spoilt the story for me. Alas, I’m unable to say more without spoilers, and when reading a horror novel (which this is undoubtedly is), it’s hard to be selective regarding scenes of torment. What disturbs one reader another person will shrug off. What seems ‘acceptable’ is a matter of semantics. I thought this would be an excellent film.

WRITING

I plan to do a final edit and then submit a Work in Progress which until contracted I’ll call ST for now. I’ve a preliminary date for publication for March 2022.

My last publication in 2021 for pre-order was my short story, The Gift, in the Lethbridge-Stewart anthology Operation Wildcat published by Candy Jar Books.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/unitoperationwildcat.html

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Best of Wishes for Christmas 2021

As I don’t intend to write anything over Christmas, I thought I’d share a couple of photos of our tree before I sign off until my next post, which will be an update either before or just after the new year.

We got the tree two years ago and we love it. Love the open, real tree, nordic feel to the design. This year we put on a set of new lights in both warm white and cool white. We can turn both on at once or have the functions morph from one to the other. Love these lights.

At present we’re just hoping we get to see relatives as planned. Whatever you have planned, whatever your beliefs, and whatever you choose to do this year, I hope things go well. Best of wishes to everyone.

Update November 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

There are a few craft markets around from now until the end of the year and we’re visiting the odd one. Our local market is going to be open for a late night once a week for the next three weeks. I’ve booked in some more acupuncture, though right now just hoping it calms things down and helps make me more comfortable, as I could only get 2 sessions until the new year.

FILM/TV:

Finished Squid Game, which had a bit of a shock ending that had me swearing (can’t reveal why without spoilers). Been re-watching Castle as we never saw the finish and it’s been a long time. And started Cowboy Bebop, which is Netflix’s attempt to take an Anime series and make it live action. It’s basically bounty hunter western in space. Does it succeed? I don’t know as I’ve not watched the source material. I think if not for John Cho playing Spike Spiegel, I might not be so taken with it, but it’s visually striking and ticking along nicely so far.

READING:

Listened to Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon. Not a bad dramatisation which fits into the Alien universe between the first Alien film and Aliens the second in the franchise (it doesn’t appear to at first, but it covers this towards the end). Wanted to listen as Rutger Hauer reads the part of Ash and the woman who reads the part of Ripley sounds remarkably like Sigourney Weaver, which adds to the experience. Not that the story is faultless. A lot reminds one remarkably of characters from the first film, and it’s clear Ripley survives or she wouldn’t have appeared in the second film, so ultimately this adds nothing to the Alien universe. Still, it’s nostalgic fun.

Nightflyers, George R.R. Martin

Shocked to receive such a slim book, but the story within is only a novella. It will be interested to watch the Nightflyers Netflix series after reading this to see how they’ve extended the material, for surely they have — there’s hardly enough here to make a long film. I found the story a little hard to get into, though once things go wrong, it got interesting. The concept behind this sci-fi jaunt is interesting, though hardly unique, and something about the overall story seems weak. I wish I’d seen this can also be bought with other stories rather than have paid for it as a separate book. I’m glad to have read it, but don’t feel I would have missed much if I hadn’t.

Kill Creek, Scott Thomas

Although the character of Sam McGarver is the protagonist of this novel, all four fictional authors (McGarver, Cole, Slaughter, and the unforgettable Moore), are in a sense all main characters of this trip into horror. And like the work they produce, they represent various facets of the genre, which makes this (in some small way) a book that questions the meaning of horror as much as it’s a part of the category itself. Undoubtedly a slow burn, this book will naturally invoke mixed reviews, but it instantly drew me in and I happily went along for the ride. The horror comes in snippets until it reaches an ultimate pay-off. I throughly enjoyed this, though it’s not for those who want an in your face terror fest, or those who don’t have longer than average attention spans. My only negative is I have to wonder if people could carry on moving while suffering such severe injuries even though they’d be running on adrenaline, but this is fiction, would make an excellent film, and we’ve seen people suffer through worse in the make-believe world of the cinema.

Fevre Dream, George R.R. Martin

Martin is a writer best known for the Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones), but if readers were to overlook his other work, that would be a pity. Fevre Dream is an easy reminder of what sets this author apart. A richly drawn tapestry of life aboard steamships ferrying goods and passengers up and down the Mississippi, blended with a gothic helping of vampire mythology. Most striking of all is how the author brings the steamboat captain, Abner Marsh, alive in full coarse realism. Never has a protagonist so ugly been so wonderfully memorable. The story at once romanticises its setting and characters, simultaneously making them powerfully gritty. It’s possible to feel the heat and damp and oppression of the steamboat work, the river, the weather, and of society itself. There’s something classic about this book (references to Mark Twain abound entwined with Bram Stoker, and that’s a fair definition). This is no lightweight vampire tale or novel. Good for those who like a richly portrayed backdrop to the action. Atmospheric, and beautifully layered storytelling.

WRITING

I finished the current Work in Progress and have now set it aside for a proper read before submission. I’m toying with adding a third book to another project, but it’s too soon to tell.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Dragon #14

Quite a cheap dragon this week. Not the sort I usually go for. So why did I pick up this one?

I bought this dragon many years ago in part to support a book and trinket shop in Tintagel, Cornwall; what was King Arthur’s Bookshop at the start of the path leading to the ruins. I often found interesting books in there, and I quite liked the shop. Sadly, it’s now a pasty shop, though the bookshop stayed open for a good many years after I found this dragon, and at least it’s not closed. On this occasion, there were no books I wanted, but not wishing to leave the shop without showing a local business some support, I opted for this chap. I mean, a dragon… sitting on a book. Had to be the logical choice.

Update Oct 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Went to a local market for the first time in… it’s got to be 20 months at least. Still keeping ourselves as safe as we can (too many seem to have forgotten you can still catch the virus whether you’re vaccinated), but trying to have something of a life. Sounds a simple thing, but it delighted us to buy pasties, sausage rolls (fabulous sausage, cheese, and red onion marmalade flavour!), fresh bread, and a lovely bunch of roses. Time out definitely makes you appreciate the simple things in life.

FILM/TV:
Watching Squid Game on Netflix along with what seems most of the population — a rather brutal live or die dark fiction drama, but Episode 6 was so sad and a real pull on the heartstrings. Episode 7 had to potential to give me vertigo. Only two episodes to go.

Catching up with BBC’s Ghosts, which I watch mostly because it’s so close to something I wrote as a child, it’s almost like seeing my idea come to fruition. Of course, I was too young to pull it off, but the basic idea was the same. Proves timing is everything, and that authors share ideas all the time.
We finally got around to watching No One Get Out Alive. Alas, as I expected, it’s nowhere near as good an experience as reading the book, in part because it’s rewritten and reset for an American audience. Still, the film version had some concepts I liked, but whatever one thinks of the film, I’d recommend the book.

READING:
I have now started listening to audiobooks, a thing I’ve done in the past, but gave up because I often found my concentration wandering. I would need to rewind too often. Fortunately, I’ve discovered I can listen when cycling, when drawing, and when preparing dinner, so I’ve added audiobooks to my ‘reading’ experience again. There are also a lot of dramatisations worth paying attention to. I’ll include and mark any books which I’ve enjoyed audibly.

Night Shift, Charlaine Harris
The last book in the Midnight series, this ties up the loose ends nicely, although I felt the big showdown falls back somewhat on a tired cliche. I felt Manfred was a little under-used, seeing as he’s been the main character from the start. Here, all the characters get their screen time, and it’s the characters that make the books entertaining. Now I’ve finished them, the series almost feels too short. Of course, Mr Snuggly (a talking cat) had to have the last word.

The Ruins, Scott Smith
A book with a slightly misleading title, in that it led me to expect adventurers finding something terrible buried beneath the earth or in some old tomb. If I say it’s about a strange vine, no doubt many will want to move on, but this book’s saving grace and what lifts it above B-Movie status is it’s so well written. There’s no letup, and no doubt left in the reader’s mind. The narrative draws you into the characters’ plight, makes you root for them regardless of their personalities. Makes the reader plead for a rescue. The narrative, sadness, predicament, and dread are simply relentless. This completes for a read of the year.

Imaginary Friend, Stephen Chbosky
This is a tough book to rate. The writing is too basic for many adults, yet age appropriate for the protagonist who is a child. Note: The golden rule used to be if the main character was a child, then it was a book for children because publishers believed adults wouldn’t be interested in what happened to children. We’re somewhat past this now, following on from the success of the Harry Potter books which gained an adult audience. However, there’s not enough to differentiate between the characters in… well, character, or age. And I imagined the children as far older than purported to be. What drives this book — the purpose of the book, if you like — is subtext. I didn’t find the horror in the book all that horrific because of the child-like narrative. The author uses far too many fragmented sentences for every paragraph to be enjoyable. Though I don’t know what I’d cut, this is a HUGE book. Far too long. The subtext covers many things… seems sometimes to talk about how we treat each other, how people operate in society and behave towards their neighbours, our family and friends, as much as it includes religion — a criticism I’ve seen, though I’m left uncertain whether the author is for or against. It touches on the personal note and a bigger picture. The story has stayed with me, but I’m uncertain if I care about that the book offered, and though there was no way I was going to stop reading and I’m an avid and determined reader, the book was too long even for me because it became repetitive in the last quarter. The book has something to say, but the question is whether you’ll want to hear any of it. There are several deliciously creepy parts. There are characters you want to know more about and become invested in, but I’m not sure that for such a long book there was a big enough pay off for the characters I cared about. For every plus, I found a negative. I’m honestly torn. Though the scope is impressive, it left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I neither like nor dislike the book.

Get a F*cking Grip, Matthew Kimberley (audio book)
A five and a half hour giggle with the only self-help book anyone truly needs. May also be the only proverbial kick anyone needs. We all know these things — the book tells us nothing new — but it states more than a few home truths many people won’t enjoy hearing and won’t let themselves pay attention to. Yes, there’s some silliness too, but the author puts all the advice you ever knew and didn’t want to listen to together entertainingly, and has the perfect voice to present it.

Ask an Astronaut, Tim Peake
I’ve taken several weeks to read this book, dipping in an out, but having loved, ‘Hello, is this planet Earth?’, Tim’s pictorial look at travelling to space reading this was a simple decision. Tim has put together a fascinating and informative book that answers every question most of us would ever want to ask and answers them in a way most anyone can understand. From training, to launch, to working in space, what a spacewalk is like, and how it feels to return to Earth, as well as what’s coming in the future. A fun narrative and must-read book for anyone who has ever looked up at the stars and wondered what’s out there.

Pine, Francine Toon
I found this story interesting, and the book is an easy read. It’s certainly atmospheric, even mystical, but I found small sections felt choppy. Some conversations likewise, perhaps to lead the reader astray. At first, I thought I was reading a ghost story. Ultimately, as much as some of the book is lovely, other parts feel flat, and the reveal happens too fast. The supernatural elements never reach a satisfactory pay off. As a debut novel, it’s good, but I have to wonder what the editorial staff were thinking; they’re there to work with authors to make sure the book meets its potential, and this book leaves too many threads blowing in the wind. Even down to Lauren’s apparent bullying at school, and her questionable ability to weave some kind of spell to put a stop to it — is this real? Or the desperation of a tormented child? I can only think the author intended to leave such questions unanswered, which would be fine if there weren’t so many of them. Despite this, I enjoyed the read, though the book is going into the charity pile.

WRITING
I’ve sorted out my work in progress and hope to have a finished book by the end of the month. Publication wise, next February might be good timing owing to the subject… providing I’m happy with the finished result. Anything I’m dissatisfied with gets trunked these days. One thing I would like to do is to write some more short stories.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Update September 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Been out and about for the first time in almost 2 years. At long last visited relatives, and shortly after we spent a week in the Tamar Valley, Cornwall. We mostly walked around gardens and did our best to stay away from people. Morning and evening we enjoyed the view. Because of needing to book and limited entry numbers, health issues, and the weather, we weren’t able to do all we might usually have done, but it was a much appreciated break. Maybe more on that another time.

FILM/TV:
Watched Hausen, a strange dystopian German drama that I would say fits dark fiction rather than horror. The building is as much a character as any of the people, maybe the lead of this slightly surreal reflection of tenement life. The dark gloop that infests the outrageously tall block of flats seems to be a manifestation of the bleakness in some lives. It’s overlong and a little slow, but worth a watch if you like this type of genre… but ‘only’ if it’s your type of programme.

Sticking to the dark/horror themes, we’re watching Brand New Cherry Flavor, a Netflix original that’s as bizarre as it is interesting.

We want to watch No One Get Out Alive asap — more on that below in Reading.

READING:
This month I read a couple of ebooks that were so odd and somewhat distasteful, I’m not giving them air time. The subjects were peculiar and both could have done with editing. Lesson learned I shouldn’t always listen to group recommendations.

Watchers, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me, and I must start by saying that it’s possible but surprising the author was not aware back in 1987 that human chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but I would hope any reprints of this book would have the scenes where Travis feeds the dog such treats removed. There’s also a flippant remark about washing the dog almost ‘too much’. Dogs should not be washed more than once or twice a year because it upsets the balance of oils in their coats. Short lesson aside, maybe it’s a sign of changing times, but although I remember enjoying this book the first time around, a protagonist who indulges in shooting any living thing for ‘fun’, even if it is a snake, seems a strange choice, although Travis becomes a good lead, with Nora perhaps more so. Of course, the star of this book is the retriever. Again, one has to wonder if some parts of this book work today — putting out a cover story about a medical research dog having gone astray now might have as many people looking for the dog to hide it as to hand it in. The book also has the ultimate antagonist (more than one), which is to be as pitied as feared. Though a great thriller, this speaks to anyone who has loved a dog, has had to show the greatest loyalty in return by being there in times of heartbreak. This remains one of Koontz’s more famous novels with a following of dog lovers everywhere. Touched me as much now as it did when first read.

Quite Ugly One Morning, Christopher Brookmyre
I have to admit some of the Scottish colloquiums escaped me, though I got the gist. This humorous thriller set in the shady world of the NHS is so perfectly plausible and entertaining, it’s almost a must-read. I loved the character of Parablaine and would definitely read more work by Brookmyre if not for my to-be-read mountain. Highly recommend.

Day Shift, Charlaine Harris
We learn more about the strange community living in Midnight in this book, with Manfred especially facing threats from outside which endangers them all, including the peculiar reopening of an old hotel. This is a fun fantasy, and while I enjoyed much of Harris’s work, I think I like this series most of all. Although it’s not the fastest pace, this makes for comfortable reading with characters interesting enough to capture attention. They all have strengths (some supernatural), and yet very human weaknesses. We particularly learn more about Olivia’s past, the Rev’s nature, and Joe and Chuy in this one. There’s one more book, which is a relief considering my to-be-read mountain. Yet another part of me is sorry there’s only one more to go. Not every plot point is perfect, but the characters carry this through.

The Great Mordecai Moustache Mystery, Kyril Bonfiglioli
Although I dithered whether to read this one, it’s the novel which features the disagreement over Mordecai’s moustache, so I went ahead. A little disappointed Jock didn’t have more time on the pages, and though this book finished well (completed after Bonfiglioli’s death) I could tell the difference; something about parts of this feels like an easier read than previous books. Either the reader gets the Mordecai dry humour and appreciates it, or doesn’t. I can see it’s not for everyone. Reminiscent of many a classic and a blend of many. Incidentally, the film took a little from all the books to create a mash-up.

No One Gets Out Alive, Adam Nevill
I would plough through Adam Nevill’s work if not for my to-be-read mountain and the fact that would leave me waiting for him to write more books to devour. In anticipation of the upcoming Netflix adaptation, I wanted to read the novel first. This is a horror story of two worlds, urban despair and cruelty wrapped up with supernatural dread and distress, and it’s difficult to know which contains the most terror. The story also takes a necessary tangent towards the end that piles on more anxiety, questioning the main character’s sanity. Much of the story is relentless, and now I’m waiting for the husband to finish the book before we watch the film… which I’m sure will be nowhere near as good as the reading experience. So far this is my read of the year.

WRITING:
I’m halfway through the first round of edits on a work in progress, which I confess I should have finished long before now. I feel catching Covid a few weeks ago sucked away not only my imagination but motivation.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x