Update April 2022

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Got out to see some welcome signs of spring. Visited a couple of garden centres, including a new one, and got some much wanted plants. Now, to keep everything crossed the slugs won’t eat them. Also took a long trip to visit relatives and booked some breaks for later this year. I’ve been limping around on a sprained ankle because someone had put in a new drive by covering it with stones and grit and it was covering the road. Alas, rounded off the month with some sad news regarding the death of a dear friend.

FILM/TV:
Watching the last two seasons of Sleepy Hollow as we never saw them after our Sky box melted several years ago. I have mixed feelings about the show (especially the crossover episode with Bones — so peculiar to cross a supernatural programme with one so focused on science; it didn’t even feel as though the actors hearts were in it), but think it’s cast well.

Finally finished re-watching Star Trek The Next Gen, and now re-watching Deep Space 9, though quite a few of the early episodes seem to rely on the crew acting dumb to make the plots work. One series that surprised us was Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin and Martin Short. Very well written. I see there’s a second series and we’re definitely interested.

A quirky little film is From the Vine, starring Joe Pantoliano. An Italian/Canadian production it tells the story of a man who makes a surprising career decision because of an ethical dilemma and returns to his roots to find a better life. Nothing exactly new about the plot, but it’s engaging.

READING:
The Cabin in the Woods (The Official Visual Companion), Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Companion book to the film which features interviews, cast comments, the script, design work, and concludes with a creature feature which I feel could have been longer, but I’m guessing they wanted to leave some surprises for the film alone. Also, a warning — the print is tiny. For anyone who loves the movie, this is a kind of must have. There’s a lot here that made me want to watch the film frame by frame to catch all the detail I’m sure I’ve missed, namely the wealth of creatures. I warn anyone who hasn’t seen the film and wants to, not to look at the book first. There will be no shocks left.

Midnight, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me. Not having read this book for more years than I care to remember, I confess I’d forgotten the story. This is a tight science-fiction thriller with the meaning of life subtext. Think The Island of Doctor Moreau crossed with any well made FBI crime show. And as with classic books like Frankenstein, there’s the underlying question of just because humankind can do a thing, it has an ethical necessity to consider whether it should. Alas, I don’t think the villain’s backstory with the Native American holds up well in more modern times; it’s cliched even down to the sense of this person being the source of corruption. And I’m not even sure it’s all that important, but there’s much to like here. I like what Koontz has to say about thought vs feelings and vice versa in this, and how humans cannot live without emotion. As is often the case, the author also includes a perfect doggy hero.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
A well-known and international bestseller, this is a book set during the Holocaust and telling the story from the point of view of an innocent boy. On the one hand, this should be a classic for generations to come and required reading; indeed, many teachers in the UK use this for teaching already. However, Bruno would not have been so unaware; as a German child of the time, he would have been part of the Hitler Youth movement, taught (brainwashed from a young age) to swear oaths to support the Fatherland. The book suffers from other faults such as the unfortunately flat character of Shmuel, the boy Bruno makes friends with — a child who more likely would have been instantly murdered at Auschwitz, the obvious setting as Bruno calls the camp Out-With. Sadly, the book falls short by showing the atrocity though one point of view, and a blinkered one at that. I can’t help feeling this would have a greater impact on today’s youth were the reader to see through the eyes of both boys revealing the true horror in the camp. Still, simply told yet disturbing, this fictional work of a factual era is appropriately unsettling, and as a teaching tool is a fine stepping off point for the young. I felt irritated that even a 9-year-old could be so ignorant of the world but realised this reflects one facet of reality — that too many, aged 9 and older, remain or even choose such ignorance. Although I worked out the ending, there’s still something chilling about the conclusion and the closing sentence is one hard to forget.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding (audio book, read by Martin Jarvis)
Have to confess I’ve never read this, so I thought I’d listen to it as a compromise. Owing to its reputation, I expected a far more brutal story. No doubt much is lost owing to what once was shocking pales in significance as time progresses. Still, undoubtedly a classic and deserving of such status.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
I bought this when it first came out, but have dithered whether to read it. Still, as I paid for this, I at long last got around to reading J.K. Rowling’s offering of her first detective novel. Cormoran Strike is a vibrant character and, along with the pairing of his Temporary Solution assistant, makes for a hard to forget duo. I decided on two killers and one of them was correct, but it took a long time for me to come up with a deduction. This was a surprising and well plotted read.

Bob The Book, David Pratt
Bob is a gay book looking for the love of his life. It’s a fun concept, a quick read, and a good allegory for life, love, and relationships. The story shows we don’t always get what we want, or we find it in a way that’s unexpected. Equally, it says that what we want isn’t necessarily the best thing for us or even what we need. And I’ll never be able to look at a book with a broken spine the same way again.

The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry
I understand this is possibly one of three novels starring the McNulty family, so perhaps reading them all would be more fulfilling. In this volume, the story of Roseanne is unsurprising given the way women have been treated historically, yet disturbing and anger inducing to a modern-day female audience, and I hope a male one. Ultimately a sad tale, and atmospherically put together. Unfortunately, although I empathise with Roseanne’s plight, I didn’t connect with her as much as I would have liked, and about halfway through I lagged and struggled, meaning this took me far longer to finish than it should have. Still, it’s well plotted, with an end that will surprise some (though I guessed the outcome, thinking the author surely wouldn’t choose it); therefore, will satisfy some, annoy others. It’s a good book, but one I could take or leave.

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (audio)
I’m a Gaiman fan though I’ve not read this one. Not sure what I’d make of it in print, but I found the audio dramatisation thoroughly entertaining. This was an hour and a half of fun with a varied cast, including the author. The telling of Norse Mythology told as someone telling a story.

Alien: River of Pain (cast dramatisation), Christopher Golden (audio)
A rather unnecessary telling of what happened to the settlers at the start of the film Aliens, though entertaining enough to appeal to some Alien fans. This tells us what happened to Newt and her family, and the other colonists before Ripley & Co arrived to find out what happened to them.

The Very First Damned Thing, Jodi Taylor (audio)
A prequel to a series of books of the Chronicles of St Mary’s featuring a group of time-travelling historians, this one read by the author. It’s entertaining and an interesting idea, and perhaps adds to the series for invested readers, but I’ve not listened/read any of the other books and I’m not sure this made we want to start another series, particularly as it has mixed reviews. Still, I like the idea enough that if I had enough time, I’d try the first book, so I can’t truly recommend one way or the other.

Anyone But You, Jennifer Crusie
A sweet, fun, feel-good romance featuring two people who are too good at assuming what the other one wants based on their own insecurities. This is a great summer holiday read. And if you like dogs, you’ll love Fred.

WRITING
Working on re-leasing a previous book and of turning it into a trilogy, so I’ve been writing that. Still not sure it will happen, but I had an idea which has brought me closer to making it a reality. As soon as I’ve finished this, I’ll be working on my Dark Fiction novel again.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Dragon #17

With Easter coming up I won’t be blogging next week, and I thought I’d keep it short and sweet. Here’s another recent acquisition. This dragon is made from ground up quartz in a resin. I just loved the design and colour.

Wishing everyone a lovely break or an easy time if working.

Dragon #16

The sixteenth dragon I’m showcasing is my latest purchase. You may have seen some fidget creatures advertised on places like Facebook, and they’re available from many sellers including online stores like Amazon or Etsy. I couldn’t resist. I mean, look at that face.

The detail you can get from 3D printing is amazing. This may not be the last 3D printer dragon. They’re very tempting and extremely flexible.

Read for Ten Minutes

Way back in 2014 (yes, I remember as I’ve blogged this before), Breakfast Television annoyed me not because of the disastrous news that usually occurs daily. Oddly, I wouldn’t often watch television in the morning, or stop to take notice if someone else had a programme on. But when I heard a recommendation to read for just ten minutes a day, it caught my attention. The presenter was saying how difficult it is to find ten minutes a day to read. The guest speaker was trying to agree, but to stress how important it is.

Ten minutes? Hmm… I can’t help feeling, except for extreme circumstances, everyone should have ten peaceful minutes. If they don’t, they need to reorganise their lives for their own sake.

Note: I said, except for extreme circumstances, so please don’t jump in with a chorus of disapproval. I’ve known carers who, yes, would find ten minutes difficult without falling asleep, but they still deserve ten peaceful minutes. Ten minutes to be transported out of their daily lives to another universe, and that’s what books can do for everyone. We all deserve time for oneself. We need it for physical and mental wellbeing. Reading has helped me through some truly stressful times. It’s been a lifeline, support, a close friend. I wish everyone could experience the same solace from reading that I do, but I understand that for some, that’s not possible. Still, I’d encourage reading for other reasons.

First, let’s get back to the subject of finding ten minutes. I’m referring to many people I know who come home from work to spend three hours watching television, so have no excuse finding time for ten minutes of reading. For those with children, please read to them for ten minutes at bedtime. Seriously, try it, even if they moan. There’s nothing better than books to stimulate their learning and the amount of pleasure gained in those quiet ten minutes may surprise the adults more than the children. An adult reading me to sleep is one of my favourite childhood memories, and I would feel all the poorer for not having that experience. An experience, I add, which has remained with me throughout my life. Even when life was at its most bleak, someone reading me a story was a constant treat to look forward to. Time spent together. Time spent well.

We talk about leading busy lives, but my grandparents’ generation worked far harder and still found the time. They had few chances simply to sit. Little time for fun. Little time when there wasn’t a chore that needed doing, and they had no home help such as washing machines (not even a launderette), but they still read to me, and I still read at bedtime as an adult, almost nightly. I’ve read at bus-stops, on trains, in cars, in a queue, during adverts, when ill, waiting for a phone call. If I read two pages or twenty, I read.

What made the argument even worse is the presenter said for adults who have reading problems that makes finding ten minutes even more difficult. That’s even more reason they need to be reading, which brings me to my other motives for encouragement.

I keep saying this—reading is the basis for all learning. If you can read, as long as you have access to the library, then you can teach yourself so many things. Good reading and writing skills will help throughout life. Reading helps to turn young people into more successful adults. It makes them more literate no matter what they do in life. I bet many who say they don’t have time to read still find the time to play with something else, such as a computer game, or browsing on their phone. I’ve read studies linking reading to better health, particularly with conditions like Alzheimer’s, but of course, in the news item I saw, no one mentioned that.

Can’t read for ten minutes? My brain flips and has to ask, “How can you not?” No time to read for ten minutes? How can anyone stand not to read for that or longer?

Update Jan 2022

Hi Everyone!

As always, I’ve set this out so you can read the sections you want to read. I have publishing news, so note the writing section.

AT HOME:

It’s been a fairly quiet time, though I’ve been busy writing. We’ve got out to walk locally, but nothing to impart on the home front this month.

FILM/TV:

Right now we’re still re-watching Castle (Disney) as we never got to the end originally (Sky box melted; not kidding — came home to the smell of melting plastic one day and we gave up as they refused to give us a deal on a new box).

We are now watching The Discovery of Witches on NOWTV (only ever read the 1st book, though I thoroughly enjoyed it, so may need to get around to the 2nd and 3rd).

We’re still re-watching Star Trek Next Gen on Netflix, and the US version of The Office, which, I said last month, has pleasantly surprised me. I liked the UK version and often when there’s a remake elsewhere, it’s never as good. This time it feels as good just different. The US version has a surprisingly British feel to it, no doubt because Ricky Gervais was involved.

And we watched Around the World in 80 Days on BBC iPlayer, which is surely one of the best things the ‘Beeb’ has made for some time. Have to admit we seldom watch anything from the BBC these days, and would happily see the back of the TV Licence because of it — sorry, but it’s time we stopped paying for things we don’t use, and one or two programmes isn’t enough to warrant the cost. Glad to hear there’ll be a second series and it would be wonderful if they keep to Jules Verne stories, but even that wouldn’t make me subscribe. As for another series, we’re keeping up with Death in Paradise.

READING:

Jan

Lightning, Dean Koontz

A re-read for me, though I’ve never forgotten the heart wrenching moment following the fire which I first read on a train journey when I had to put the book down. Times have changed. Knowing what was coming, I wasn’t so affected this time, and the story of publication success seems farfetched in these turbulent times of the industry, though in rare cases it happens. This is a tight supernatural science fiction thriller, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did so many years ago. What I realised during this reread is the sorrow in these pages is as important as all the other aspects to make the work enjoyable. Without conflict, there is no story, and this book has it in bucket loads.

The Hapless Child, Edward Gorey

I can’t really claim to have ‘read’ this book, as there’s not much to read. Each page contains a simple statement and one of Gorey’s quirky drawings, which is really what makes the book. Warning: if you don’t already know the story and don’t want to know the details, then don’t read the book flap because it gives the facts away. Fortunately, I had some inkling. When finished, which I did in under five minutes, even taking time to study the pictures, the bleakness left part of me harrowed, and part of me wanted to laugh. That could be partly a dark, twisted sense of humour, or a coping mechanism. I’m sure it’s both. One of the dreariest tales, this is perfect to dig out when anyone moans about their lot in life because you can remind them of poor little Charlotte Sophia. The type of book Jack Skellington would mistakenly give out to children for Christmas. This makes me think of the original fairy tales, which are darker than many people who haven’t read them believe. There’s something oddly interesting about this little book.

Tender is the Flesh, Agustina Bazterrrica

The subject of humans being used as meat is not a new one, and I could mention another book which I feel has approached it better. I wanted to feel for the main character in this novel, but I couldn’t connect with the story mostly because of the way it’s written. Many authors seem to adopt the present tense recently, but it took several confusing pages for me to realise ‘he’ almost always means the main character. For example: “El Gringo steps away from Egmont and approaches him, just as he’s thinking there must be more than 200 in the barn.” Read as is, this sentence is very confusing. How can someone both step away AND approach? And who is doing the thinking? When you realise the ‘him’ and the ‘he’s thinking’ are both Marcos (the MC), the sentence becomes clearer, but I’m surprised any decent editor allowed the book to go to publication like this, and would take it as a self-published book. The entire basis of the story — the almost non-existent animal population because of a virus — would present a far great ecological disaster than humans being unable to find meat for their dinner plate. Then there’s the scene of animal cruelty which adds nothing to the story. I dislike animal cruelty in books, though will tolerate it if I feel it is important, but here it struck me as entirely unnecessary. I hate sounding negative. The author tells a decent story, and aside from the lack of a personal pronoun for the main character can clearly write. However, the book is neither frightening as a horror story, nor does it work as a great allegory, except, perhaps, to show human nature at its most bleak and appalling.

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.

The Butterfly Garden, Dot Hutchinson

I started reading this book against my better judgement upon recommendation. Written in both first person sections and others in present tense, I was immediately uncertain, but it works to tell this story. The educated way the main protagonist speaks also threw me, a rather sophisticated way for such a young woman. This is a horrible rape thriller (though there are no portrayed rape scenes), and (horrible) is what it should be. Maybe it tries to play psychoanalyst to both victim and criminal, but it doesn’t quite succeed. Some readers find this book disturbing. Others hate it and blame the victims for not fighting back, and, to a point, I agree with both observations. I have to wonder when faced with an impossible prison, and a worse ‘caretaker’ if one killed one’s keeper, what might many people do, even if eventual death is unavoidable? Still, I find it unrealistic — there’s not enough covered in the book for those who fell apart; they’re almost a footnote, pure observation. We’re not shown those who perhaps sought a way out, even if they paid the ultimate price. We don’t hear their screaming and crying, only weeping… and there would be more variations of reactions, emotions, and personalities, loud and quiet; subdued and violent. Disturbing? Though I shed a tear during a couple of moments, I read most of the story as an unaffected observer and when trying to work out what’s wrong with this book, I feel there I have my answer. There’s a lack of emotional investment. I felt sorry for the plight of the women, felt a natural disgust for the perpetrator, but aside from wanting them to escape purely sympathetically, as any decent person would, I wasn’t rooting for anyone. I think I understand the author’s intent — to keep the main character telling her story dispassionately, because it’s the character’s upbringing and way of coping, but it also leaves the reader in a rather dispassionate place. You can’t sink to the depths of depravity without making the reader feel the anguish. I also couldn’t help reading this without thinking of The Collector, by John Fowles, as this seems to be the same story taken to a more extreme level.

The Ghost Machine, James Lovegrove

When I started this book, I immediately felt this was going to be my least favourite of the first 3 Firefly novels, and in some ways, it is. I think this is because at first the threat didn’t feel genuine enough, but as the conflict ramps up, there’s reason to root for the crew’s survival. In that way it feels like a book of two halves, but it still finds its place in the Firefly universe, although I cannot imagine some of these scenes would ever have made it into an episode. This is in some ways possibly the most brutal story to date.

I’ve started Thud, by Terry Pratchett, so more on that next time.

WRITING

I at last subbed the book I talked about last month. Pleased to announce JMS Books has contracted Sweet Temptations. Release still planned for March. I’ll share the blurb next month.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

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 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 rarely carries 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