Update June 2022

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

A mostly wet June with little happening. I’ve been painting outside furniture in the garage to protect it from the rain and local cats making a mess of the paint until dry, and local cats from the wet paint, so they didn’t end up looking like felines from Wonderland. We once again had the problem of red mites, which we suffered last summer. Harmless but they like warm surfaces and are annoying as they restrict where you can sit out, mark everything if they get squashed (and they’re so fragile it’s not always avoidable), and make us have to think twice about opening a window.

FILM/TV:

City of Ember is a pleasant film, visually stunning, and I loved Bill Murray as the Mayor. Has many negative reviews, perhaps justified, perhaps not; I don’t know the source material. A film for the little ones and adults who know no better (I mean that comment in a good way). Dual starring Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul is a hard film to rate. Though slow in places, one could easily dismiss this, yet there was much I liked about it. There’s a lot going on here, though not everyone will see it. Hearing Karen deliver lines in such a rapid monotone becomes off-putting and disturbing — exactly what the film’s going for, I imagine. I rate this science-fiction, replacement clone story as black satirical comedy that’s thought-provoking with a disturbing reflection of life.

READING:

The Midnight Library, Matt Haig

Matt Haig has never disappointed me, and The Midnight Library is no exception. One could say that the author’s telling us nothing new in this story about a young woman giving up on life; nothing we don’t already know. But Haig makes us feel this universal truth and believe, or at least want to believe, that life, a new life, potentially begins just around the corner. That everything is one decision away from changing. And for all we know, it might be.

Fourbodings: A Quartet of Uneasy Tales, edited by Peter Crowther, featuring Simon Clark, Tims Lebbon, Mark Morris, Terry Lamsley

Like one of those old films that put together a quartet of spooky tales, this book promises a dip into the same chills and thrills territory, though I’m unsure whether it fully delivers. There’s poor old Gerry who finds an apartment best left unrented; Vic, who can’t leave his friend Paul, to rest, but questions the accident that killed him on a dangerous road; Mary, who’s lived in the wilderness too long, her story leading us to question what’s most poisonous — the belladonna that grows or the man she once knew; and Bridget and Colin, who may have moved to a house with a dark secret. All leave the reader a little disorientated, questioning what is and isn’t there, but the stories also feel somewhat disjointed and incomplete, even though I imagine that’s intentional.

Trust Me On This, Jennifer Crusie

A brief introduction from the author describes this as a screwball comedy. It is, although this led me to expect a more intricate plot with lots of mistaken identities. The book, therefore, proved much lighter than my expectations, but just as enjoyable for all that. This is light summer beach reading and there’s nothing wrong with that. Perfect for lifting the spirits and setting aside stress. My favourite line comes toward the end of the book when it turns out the dog is a deal breaker for the man as much as the man is to the dog. It’s almost a throwaway couple of lines, but I thought too right. Crusie does what she always does here: create great banter.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming (audio read by Dan Stevens)

I’ve never read a James Bond book. They’re always going to be hard to judge considering the dated attitudes. Though I don’t believe people, and certainly not literature, of the past should be judged by today’s standards, one can’t help a modern view creeping in. One has to disregard the sexism to get any enjoyment from Fleming’s most famous agent. Also, Bond’s meant to be a great secret agent and yet always appears to slip up, leaving the average person in the street shaking heads. Here he walks into a trap to save the woman, but I had to wonder to what use if caught and unwilling to talk under torture. There are good things here: the start of the Bond franchise; a glimpse of a deeper man hidden beneath the appearance of an impenetrable surface, but both Bond and Vesper also come across as emotionally weak. A physical relationship between them could easily be understood, but love? Considering what they had gone through, their relationship seems rather unhealthy. Of course, without giving away the ending, Vesper shows rather more backbone and courage, while Bond reverts to sexist weakness. Bond hurt is a man who buries any possibilities of owning his feelings and turns toward hate, emotionally erratic. Perhaps this was Fleming’s way of creating the cool, hard-shelled agent we know, but it feels cheap. It shows us a man who is not as self-assured as he believes; a man unwilling to be vulnerable, though one has to keep in mind that this story is set in a time of the British stiff-upper-lip. I could go on dissecting the work, but it simply is what it is. Dan Stevens does a superb job of reading and making the book come alive.

The Salt Path, Raynor Winn

Beautifully written with an underlying longing for hope, this book offers a journey that will drag the reader through mires of sadness, love, and optimism. If I have any criticism, it’s that a few dialog tags in places would have helped me more easily work out when it was Ray and when it was Moth talking, but that is a minor point. It also throws a light on what it is to be homeless in a way that makes the reader question the easy statistics governments throw at us. In a world where it’s now even easier for the hardworking to find themselves in a similar predicament, one should feel for Raynor and Moth and ask themselves what they would have done in a similar situation, for both of them turn out to be extremely hardworking people who slept where they slept because they had nowhere else to go. I almost let a few negative reviews put me off reading this. Judging those comments now, I can feel some don’t get the situation this couple were thrust in. They were not killing time, but trying to find a new direction, working out how to cope with devastating news, and learning and relearning so much about themselves. True, there was one small incidence of shoplifting — for food when they were desperate. Those so easy to condemn need to walk in less fortunate shoes. For those who have a love for the southwest and who have walked any stretch of the path, this will speak to them. Their diet was far from ideal, but there aren’t exactly massive supermarkets along the route, and there’s not much such person can cook on a tiny gas stove. Anyone who questions or criticises the way they ‘survived’ on the South-West Coast path, I can only imagine they’ve walked no stretch of it. It’s not something I would want to do without B&B arranged along the way, and plenty of funds to pay for food. Apparently, the couple now live in Cornwall, do charity work for the homeless, and Moth got his degree.

The Bad Place, Dean Koontz

A re-read for me, which I almost put down a time or two. I can’t claim to like this book because the bad guy is almost comically grotesque in mind, manner, and his origins and ultimately this is a terribly sad story. Also, I found the passages focusing on him and his sisters simply didn’t hold my attention, but the mystery behind Frank, the detectives he hires, and the surrounding characters kept me reading. Of course, as this was a re-read — be it after many years — I knew the outcome, but had forgotten some details. Perfectly plotted, if there’s one big negative in the book is that it feels a little overwritten and could do with tightening to make a more punchy impact. And the somewhat excessively dangerous man and his kin is questionable.

WRITING:

Much the same as last month, only I outlined a brief plot for a story I’ve been wanting to write for sometime. Though I’m a way off starting it, that takes me a step closer.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update May 2022

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Late with May’s news as we’ve away on holiday, but more on that next time with maybe a photo or two.

FILM/TV:

Still re-watching Deep Space 9, and the last season of The Rookie. Film wise, we were spoilt for choice, though not had a lot of time to watch any. Here Today starring Billy Crystal turned out better than expected and not at all what we expected going in. Highly recommend this story of an unusual friendship. Ghostbusters Afterlife is wonderfully nostalgic for fans of the original movies, and a delightful tribute to Harold Ramis.

READING:

Ghostbusters (The Original Movie Novelisations Omnibus) Richard Mueller, Ed Naha, narrated by Johnny Heller (audio)

Well read, with a hint at some voices of the characters in the films. Fleshes out the character’s thoughts, though not hugely. Unnecessary if one has seen the films, but I still found them enjoyable as I could easily picture the scenes in my mind.

Big Trouble, Dave Barry

In some ways ludicrous (if airport security was ever this lax, we’re all in trouble), but it’s meant to be. I’ve seen some comments mentioning a lack of character depth, but it’s not that kind of story. I wouldn’t call it as funny as it’s marketed to be, but it made me smile and I might even read this again some day or check out more of this author’s work.

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.

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 Cinderella Deal, Jennifer Crusie

I started this immediately, thinking this was far from the author’s best. Still, I wanted to love this book, though I dithered between liking it and loving it… until I finished. On the one hand, the story’s contrived, but stranger things have happened in life. And there’s something endearing about these opposites attract tale, where people aren’t all they seem despite their bluster. Think of it as an outrageous rom-com and sit back and enjoy getting the most from this story of a marriage of convenience that’s anything but. I eventually came thoroughly to enjoy this story of falling in love… after the marriage. No big surprises there; this is a romance, after all. What surprises the most are the characters of the protagonists and the way they help each other change in rewarding ways.

Cemetery Drive, J.T.Wilson

This book turned out to be an interesting look at life and death in a style reminiscent of Douglas Adams or a favourite stand-up comic. Amusing more than laugh out loud, but entertaining and well-written. A good choice for anyone who likes to see the character of Death personified.

A Spring Affair, Milly Johnson (audio read by Colleen Penderghast)

Not usually my sort of read; however, I really like the narrator, so gave Milly Johnson’s work a go. The author’s done exceptionally well, creating the ultimate in manipulative people, and people who too often allow themselves to be manipulated. The story begins with the main character giving her home a spring clean, bravely chucking out all the detritus in her life when the reader knows she has one major piece of rubbish she most definitely needs to get rid of.

WRITING

Alas, I grew tired of the story I’ve been working on. Instead of continuing to torture myself, I shelved it. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up again and be delighted and maybe I won’t and be disappointed. Right now, I want to work on my Dark Fiction novel, and maybe stretch my short story skills, which I’ve not done for some time.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

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

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 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

Reads of 2021

Taking a look back at my favourite reads of 2021. I’ve tried to choose one a month, but for some there really wasn’t an choice, and towards the end of the year, I had more than one impossible option to choose between.

In January, I read Incubus, the first book I’ve read by Joe Donnelly. Though distasteful things happen to women in this book, without them the story wouldn’t work. One might call this the ultimate in evil child tales, but it passes beyond into true monster territory. For some, the book may feel too long, but the strength comes from the inexorable build. The power comes from the writing, the sustained sense of menace, which creeps under the skin and into the mind. A brilliant idea for the horror genre, expertly executed.

Next, I have to jump to April with my first book by Ania Ahlborn. Although lower down on my lists of favourites, I felt I had to list The Bird Eater by a woman of horror. The book truly takes off from Chapter Two because in Chapter One I felt the opening pages threw too many names and too much background at the reader, but once I got close to the end of what read like a prologue, I fell into the story. Once I got to the end, I realised how well plotted the overall story was, all the threads interwoven. The odd grammatical redundancy jarred me out of the story but it’s otherwise superbly written with a proper sense of a descent into madness as someone’s psyche unravels, tormented by evil spirits perhaps of the supernatural world and of one’s own making. My first book by this author, but it won’t be my last.

In June I enjoyed another Firefly novels, The Magnificent Nine, by James Lovegrove. Book two of the Firefly novels. Not as enjoyable as the first, but primarily featuring Jayne Cobb it’s still fitting, like watching an episode. Not as rewarding, but the next best thing and the closest fans are likely to get to their beloved Serenity and its crew these days. I wasn’t sure I believed one of the plot points, but am inclined to be forgiving to the books of my favourite series. I also love how they present these paperbacks and hope the quality in both writing and presentation continues.

Also in June, The Silent Companions, by Laura Purcell surprised me. This gothic chiller takes off slowly but picks up once the ‘companions’ make an appearance. I love the idea of them in this well-plotted gothic mystery. Alas, it’s impossible to tell why without giving away the creepiest part of the book. I’m pleased to have stumbled across this book. The only (small) negative is the sound the author describes as a ‘hiss’ does not appear to relate to the cause of the noise. I would liken it more to a rasp, and the narrative does indeed call it a rasping hiss at one point, which made no sense to me, and didn’t seem to relate to what the protagonist experiences. That slight discrepancy aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

I enjoyed the above book so much in July, I picked up The Corset, also by Laura Purcell. Written differently to Purcell’s first book (The Silent Companions) in first person so with a different ‘voice’, still, this drew me in immediately. How best to describe Purcell’s work? Victorian gothic thrillers with supernatural slants, perhaps. Some books only reveal how well the plot works at the conclusion, and this murder mystery connecting two women from opposite sides of society is one such novel. This tale didn’t disappoint and pulls at the heartstrings. Despite not wishing to take on new authors adding to my To Be Read Mountain, I’m sorely tempted to continue reading more work by this author.

Another book picked up in July was Survivor Song, by Paul Tremblay. If looking for your average apocalyptic disaster infection outbreak story, this isn’t it. Instead, I stumbled into what the first-rate stories of this genre do best — focus on the survivors, this being the tale of two women connected by the shakable bonds of genuine friendship. While I wouldn’t call this book scary, it’s more effecting than that, containing true horror of a possible reality, not your average fairy-tale monster, reflecting light on the madness of humanity and the horror we watch and read in the safety of our darkened living rooms versus true adversity. Well-paced with ingenious ‘breaks’ in the narrative (gaps on the pages) that work on the emotions. The story of ’Nats and Rams’ is unforgettable. Painfully, tearfully, sorrowful.

The best book I read in August has to be The Elementals, by Michael McDowell. I’m so pleased to have read this. I loved the setting and the characters, which create a unique atmosphere for this haunted house story. The heat portrayed makes you want to lie around doing nothing but melting and reading this book. There are some truly spooky scenes, though I found the buildup more sinister than the ending. Towards the end, the book feels a little rushed because of the languid though absorbing journey to get there. Indeed, I found the slower parts of the book carry the more eerie aspects, so that when the story speeds up, as a climax should, it almost diminishes the scare, leaving me feeling the novel was over too fast. Still, the curious happenings and daunting disturbances are worth spending time with.

September gave me my favourite read of the year, but before we get to that, Quite Ugly One Morning, by Christopher Brookmyre deserves a mention. 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.

No One Gets Out Alive, by Adam Nevill immediately presented itself as my read of the year. 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 we waited to read the book before we watched the film…which was good in a different way, but nowhere near as enjoyable as the reading experience.

October gave No One Gets Out Alive, a contender for first place: The Ruins, by 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.

Another high contender came in November: Kill Creek, by 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.

Another book which deserves a mention in November was Fevre Dream, by 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.

I thought no more truly excellent books were to come my way in the final month of year when I stumbled on in December, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by 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.

With so many good books, I still feel No One Gets Out Alive is top of my list, with a few running an extremely close second.

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

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