Update July 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Have battled the weather to get the front door and window sills painted. We still have two window sills to do, but we cannot believe the difference. I won’t share what I called the colour they had painted the sills originally, but it’s so nice to see it going, if not gone. Looks like a new house.
Still not ventured out yet, in part owing to the weather which has been mostly miserable recently, but also because the Southwest is pretty much sold out with beach carparks closing early mid morning because they are already full. We’re considering this year to be a washout and have no plans to go anywhere or to meet up with anyone, but we do need to get walking. With that in mind, I’m researching some lesser-known walks of the type most tourists avoid.

FILM/TV:
Watched a series I won’t name because of spoilers but when the secondary character dies at the end (or does she?) and you’re relieved because she’d become annoying, and you feel the lead should have got over her long ago, it’s not a good sign. Unfortunately, nothing particularly wonderful springs to mind, though if you like Will Ferrell humour (for me it’s hit and miss), Eurovision was a better film than I expected. There’s not a lot of new stuff coming on anywhere, no doubt because things are on hold, not getting made, and the networks fear of running out.

READING:
Glad to say I’m keeping to a greater number of books read this year.

The Godsend, Bernard Taylor
If you love evil-children tales, this is for you. Though there are maybe few surprises it’s the author’s style that draws in the reader. And it’s written in such a realistic way, it’s entirely plausible. In one sense, it’s quite a basic book and when I began I didn’t expect to like it all that much, but there’s something about the pacing that makes this insidious. Big blue beautiful eyes have never been so untrustworthy.

Amuse Bouche, Anthony Bidulka
A light amusing read with a likeable protagonist in the form of Russell Quant, private eye. There seem to be complaints that this isn’t a gay romance, but I never thought it was or should be, least not in the first book. Fast-paced entertainment. The ending for me, unfortunately, didn’t come as a surprise.

The Witcher, Blood of Elves, Andrzej Sapkowski
From reviews, it appears the Witcher books are a little like marmite. While I found some passages in this book duller than any of the previous titles, those parts were necessary to the overall narrative. I like that these books come together with never the same pattern. A kind of tapestry of short stories that makes the Witcher so different. In this book we learn more of Ciri and what happened to her where the Netflix series left off.

Something Nasty in the Woodshed, Kyril Bonfiglioli
Though the subject of rape is definitely not one for amusement, it’s the only sensible choice to make the plot of the third Mortdecai book work, though it tarnishes an all too easily worked out (for me at least) implausible plot filled with tangents. Still, I continue to love Mortdecai’s manservant/bodyguard, Jock, most of all, and if you’re one upset by politically incorrect classism and sexism, then none of these books are for you. Anyone who’s reached book three knows how antisocial and pretty much anti anything except booze, Mortdecai is. Take him as he is or don’t. There are some classic lines, as always. There are two other books (one finished by another writer when the author died and murmurs are only one is worth a read) but for the moment I’m unsure if this is where I will stop.

The Vampyre, Tom Holland
A well thought out, well-written fabulous blend of fact and fiction, but as one character tells the story to another, I felt distanced from the action. The strange circumstances which take Byron to visit the ancient castle are all too reminiscent of the most famous vampire, with, for several pages, Byron taking on a similar role to that of Jonathan Harker, and Vakhel Pasha, that of Dracula. There were parts I found absorbing, other areas where my attention wandered. The creatures that occupy the castle give the classic Igor competition. Still, overall it’s an excellent work with ideas both incredible and ludicrous, often hallucinatory. I came to love the book, though some of my feelings remain ambiguous.

Phantoms, Dean Koontz
Another reread for me as part of a possible book clearance. Dean Koontz often gets shelved in the Horror category, when his work is more one of supernatural thrillers, some with science fiction or horror sub-genres. This book covers all these in a well blended, often edge of the seat chiller. When death comes to a small town in several bizarre ways, it raises questions about life, various belief systems, and the nature of good and evil. I’m unsure if the sub-story featuring a murderer’s arrest worked for me or was necessary to the overall plot. And the ending also took a little longer to complete than was ideal, but this is a well-written book with an excellent story. One I dither over whether to keep.

The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
A classic which I first read as a teen, surprising my then English teacher when I chose it from the school library. Loved it then, adored it now. Perhaps surprisingly, it first appeared in Punch magazine in the late 1800s. Though simplistic — a middle-class gentleman seems to think his diary has as much chance to see publication as anyone else’s — it’s an exaggerated, humorous look at society and social observations, yet contains an underlying sadness. Part of the fun (and less cheery tone) comes from the things Mr Pooter finds so amusing and which plainly are not. The tale remains charming, and the illustrations delightful.

WRITING:
I drafted some and wrote a synopsis submission for a story I’ve been asked to write, though it will go through many changes. I confess I hate writing this way. Usually, for fiction, you write before you submit. Having a story accepted based on a synopsis means a real deadline once given the go-ahead. It’s why, despite being told I shouldn’t, I’ve penned a ‘few’ scenes — it’s the way my mind works. I’m a pantser mostly and have no clue what direction the story will go until I write. The more I’m bogged down by plot, the less inspired I feel. It’s the age old argument between plotters and pantsers, but really one figures it out beforehand knowing things may change, while the other figures it out as they go, fixing things in edits. For me, the second option is definitely more fun. Having said all that, I’ve also been figuring out a rough guide for the horror novel I’m writing and I’m about a quarter done. I don’t have a market for this in mind, but the story has nagged me long enough. I need it out of my head before I worry over its future.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Update May 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
As the weather turned nice, we reorganised part of the garden. We now have three seating areas, one on the terrace, one under the pergola. We also moved the roses (in pots) to a more secluded area where they seem to do better, and put a bench on the outside of the pergola (where the roses were) in case we want to sit in some late afternoon sun, by which time most of the sunshine has gone to the front. Not terribly exciting, but then life isn’t at the moment for those of us keeping safe and waiting out the second wave of this pandemic.

FILM/TV:
Finished watching everything we started last month and delved into the last season of Peaky Blinders, and the second season of Sex Education, which is worth watching for the views of the Welsh countryside alone. Watched the last season of Ash Vs The Evil Dead on DVD. None of my friends would understand my love of this B-movie style horror comedy films or series, but my love of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi’s work is enduring for which I make no apologies.

READING:
It’s been a good month reading wise.

The Tent, The Bucket and Me, Emma Kennedy
A sometimes funny, a sometimes cover your eyes and peep through your fingers cascade of family holiday disasters, this book is also a nostalgic ride for those who lived through the 70s especially if your parents ever dragged you camping. Fortunately, my memories aren’t as horrendous as Emma’s but none have ever made me wish to go sit in a field in a tent again. At times, I really felt for her and recollected that moment when parents become embarrassing.

The English Monster, Lloyd Shepherd
Written with more tell than show, and the omnipresent head-hopping and change of point of view meant the style didn’t quite work for me but this is the only negative. A shadowy murder thriller in dark shady alleyways of old London, at others a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas. Best described as a historical thriller, this is a detective story told over more than one century following two separate paths that join strangely, but I love a different way of storytelling and in this the author has excelled.

The House of Thunder, Dean Koontz
A strange story of a woman caught in the possible grip of madness, trapped in a real or personal Hell. A reread for me and I’d completely forgotten this story so didn’t know the outcome, although I partially guessed the direction in which it was heading. This is one to read for the buildup, especially if you love creepy tales, which, in this instance, Koontz weaves well. Though I found the horror a little cheesy in one spot, I sped through this book in two days. An easy, absorbing ‘fun’ read.

After You With the Pistol, Kyril Bonfiglioli
The second Mordecai novel is easier to read and funnier than the first, though I struggled to overlook a distasteful account of what should be a woman’s response to rape. I can attribute this to other times as I’m not one to judge people from the past by today’s standards, but it spoilt an otherwise entertaining read.

Tainaron, Leena Krohn
First, the copy I have is of a small hardback book that’s a delight to hold with an eye-catching slip cover, and drawings dotted throughout; a fast read at only 124 pages. The story from this Finnish prize-winning author is a fantasy told in a series of letters written by a foreign visitor and sent from an insect city. There’s no plot. We never know the recipient of these letters and only get to know the writer obliquely. I’ve heard the character writing the letters is female, but I never picked up on that and saw the letter writer as male, lost and adrift, having travelled to Tainaron seeking a promise that may never be fulfilled unless it’s found within. The most obvious nuance is one of change. There’s something visceral in the narrative, making this a book with an amorphous emotional impact. I’m sure many will find this nonsensical, bizarre, maybe pointless, yet there’s something memorable and almost poetic about the book. And, like a poem, will have significance for some, be meaningless to others.

The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett
A strange experience reading the last Discworld novel, though it’s not the last Discworld novel I have to read. I’m in the dubious position of knowing there are no more books than those I have on my shelves and I should finish them. But once I do, there are no more. While I will spend time before getting around to the last few, there are still Discworld books for me to look forward to. Terry Pratchett was without doubt my most beloved author and reading his last work would always be difficult, which is part of the reason I procrastinated. The four Tiffany Aching books aren’t my favourite, though I love the Feegles and own a Rob Anybody. This is a poignant end to the Discworld series and as a farewell from Terry.

Big Damn Hero (Firefly), James Lovegrove
I want to start by saying I found this a lovely paperback. The cover has an excellent design and texture with flaps like a dust jacket. There are even small touches such as an image of Serenity similar to a watermark on the pages at each chapter. Alas, there were half a dozen typos within which pull me out of the story somewhat, but it’s worth overlooking those slight errors to enjoy another episode of Firefly. And that’s how this book reads — like a missing episode, particularly as we get to know more about the characters, especially Shepherd Book. Maybe a hard one to recommend, and no, it will never be like watching the series, but as a die hard Firefly fan I’ll take the novel over nothing and will pick up more as they’re released.

WRITING:
I received edits and the cover for An Act of Generosity, which re-releases in June with JMS books. I’ve also been writing and plotting for another book in a series (not romance) that I’m unable to talk about yet. I’ve yet to run the idea by the publisher to see whether they’ll be interested.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Update April 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
This would usually start with ‘Out and About’ but as none of us who are sensible are doing much if any of that I’ve not much to share. Most of my ‘out’ was related to food shopping and a couple of local walks for fresh air, exercise, and to post a birthday card. Truly hate shopping at this time, not just because of the need to be careful but because we can’t shop the way we like: together and doing a large monthly shop with a small top-up. We’re having to shop more than we’d like and it’s costing a little extra because we can’t always go where we want, which makes it more annoying. Still, we’re doing our best to remain safe, especially as my other half is a key worker. We’re feeling lucky right now to have some small local suppliers, a front and back garden, and somewhere to walk; not the best — I’d really appreciate being more coastal right now, but there is a view well worth seeing when things get too much.

FILM/TV:
We’ve started watching The Rookie and so far so good. Not through the first season yet, but they’ve kept the stories going. Been watching, or I should say, re-watching an old British favourite: Only Fools and Horses. Some great lines with memorable characters and comments, references, and slang only a Brit might be likely to laugh over. I quite enjoyed October Faction but, seriously (and this is a note to all writers), when someone has a massive knife shoved into their gut or side unless you’re healing them by supernatural magical means don’t have them walking around within minutes or even hours. I’m so tired of programmes supernatural or otherwise where someone is stabbed or shot and they shake it off as though it’s nothing. You might — only ‘might’ mind you — keep going a short while in the heat of the moment in a life-threatening situation with the help of an adrenaline rush, but that won’t last long and the pain is liable to be crippling.

READING:
The Eyes of Darkness, Dean Koontz
A re-read, this book reminds me of why I’ve been a longtime reader of this author whose work is best described as supernatural thrillers. Though sludgy in places plot-wise with a few coincidences this is solid plotting. More than that, Koontz must be one of the first in this genre who regularly started producing drop-kick heroines. More recent reviews seem to connect this book as being precognitive considering the troubles of 2020, but this is simply coincidence, and a subject written about by many authors; would be a pity if this happenstance puts anyone off an excellent read, although this novel is one to read for the journey more than the outcome. My only negatives is a wish to have connected to the character of Danny more and the ending feels a little abrupt after the investment of a great build-up.

The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski
After watching the first season of The Witcher, I understandably wanted to read the books. Though the writing isn’t fancy the narrative works well for this story making for a warm, comfortable read that lends itself to the creation of a world that feels real from the outset. There are storylines that will be familiar for those who watched the series, and others that diverge from what they know but they all work. Like the non-linear story telling of the show, the book breaks up the various storylines making for especially interesting reading, and the first leaves on a perfect cliffhanger of note. I read a review calling the characters soulless and perhaps seeing the show makes me feel otherwise but I wouldn’t call reserved the same thing as soulless and find the details and inventiveness of The Witcher and the world he inhabits captivating enough to make up for anything the book lacks. While some depth may be lacking this still brings the world of The Witcher to life and I’ll read the rest in the series.

The Siren, Tiffany Reisz
This is a difficult book to review without spoilers. First, the writing and plotline is superb, yet, while I far from dislike this book the BDSM elements were unexpected from the simple blurb but it pleased me the erotic content is far from lascivious and often not even graphic. The story tears the reader apart in so many places, pulling in so many directions, it should win hands down. But it’s toward the last quarter of the book the story lost me. I couldn’t see what there was to love about Soren, though I see this is now part of an 8 book series and hear we learn more about him as the story progresses. And when I thought one or more character should be content with a chosen path, they surprised me. I’m unsure whether I was satisfied with any of the decisions and I ultimately found the character of Nora frustrating, even fickle, though some might view her way of loving more forgiving. Perhaps too forgiving. I felt this is really Nora’s story and I would have preferred she were the first introduced to make this more obvious. I’ve read the blurbs for the series and, though I doubt I’ll commit to reading more, this works as a standalone novel and was worth the time spent with it. I couldn’t fault the world this author weaves or her writing.

WRITING:
I signed a contract with JMS books to re-release my (personally re-edited) novella, An Act of Generosity. I still cannot believe how much my writing and editing has changed. I also completed a few minor edits on a short story that will appear in an upcoming edition of Night to Dawn. Meanwhile, I’m working on another project I’ve been asked to write for, but I’m unable to say more at this time.

Stay well and Happy Reading!

Sharon x

Update March 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Well, without the need of hindsight, we’d have preferred not to have gone away. Alas, rules stated that holiday companies have the right to insist you go so at the time of travelling we had little choice other than to lose a lot of long-saved money for a holiday we’ve been planning over several years and trying to take for the last three. The first year we couldn’t get a flight, the second I was too unwell, and, this time, though I’ve issues I now have to deal with the rest of my life, I struggled through and reached the Caribbean…only to have our holiday cancelled mid-trip. The good news is they brought us home on time and no one became ill. I still didn’t reach the islands I hoped to and now don’t know if I ever will.

On that note, and in this bleak time, I’ll leave you a view of what certainly looks like paradise.

FILM/TV:
As we’ve been away, we’ve not done much viewing but as we’re spending a great deal more time inside we quickly caught up with The Outside, Avenue 5, and Locke & Key. I enjoyed Locke & Key but had to cringe a little in episode 9 over several characters’ stupidity, and in episode 10 I guessed the outcome and all the ‘surprises’. Maybe it comes from being a writer, although I think I’ve always been a little like this.

READING:
Lanny, Max Porter
While it may not be for everyone, there’s no denying Max Porter has his own style. Written in an abstract, patchy way, Lanny reveals the story of a child gone missing, throwing an ugly light on the duplicities of human emotion and reaction. Though I found this style of storytelling a little too fragmentary, the book’s ultimately unsettling and effective in parts. Yet I can see how the style will frustrate many rather than seem artistic. Either creative or pretentious and difficult to choose which. Good for those who don’t mind the surreal, a departure from traditional narrative, though I would urge reading a sample before purchasing.

I’ve Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella
My first read by this author, though it may not be my last. I’ve seen some reviews about the implausibility of the plot, but with this style of book I’m happy to hang up any sense of disbelief at the door. It’s light, fun, well plotted with characters well developed enough for the story. I found the footnotes annoying at first, but soon got used to them. I’d happily pick up another book, though this isn’t the type of story I often read.

Don’t Point That Thing at Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli
The first of the Mortdecai novels, though fun, was a little slower in pace than I expected and with sidetracks and wanderings as without restraint as Mordecai himself. I’ve never read what someone ate or the copious amounts someone drank (made my liver wince) to such a degree in a novel. Still, this is undeniably classic and I couldn’t help warming to Charlie Mortdecai and loving his thug of a servant, Jock.

WRITING:
None to report though now I’m back I’m diving into several projects. And don’t forget my short story, Bead Trickling Laughter, is in April’s edition of Night to Dawn, available from Amazon (print), search Night to Dawn 37, or directly from the publisher (print or pdf) https://bloodredshadow.com/ . “Carol Ann never expected to return to Aunt Margaret’s old house on Church Hill, but when her adopted sister, Cheryl, dies upon the stairs outside, a greater mystery than death calls her home.”

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Reads of 2019 continued

NOS4R2, by Joe Hill reads like a children’s book for adults blended with a dark thriller. Though surreal, perhaps bizarre, the increasing conflict kept me enthralled. It’s been a while since I felt I couldn’t put a book down and while I maybe didn’t feel like that all the way through I did for most of the novel. This may be in part because Joe Hill has created a better heroine for me than many blockbusting movies. Victoria may be a mess but she’s a mess with reason, has stamina, purpose, tenacity, and a whole list of exceptional traits that many female leads lack. Perhaps some belief edged close to the line but in a world where Christmasland exists a thought or bike ride away I’m prepared to suspend my doubts for the sheer enjoyment of reading. I like the way he stretches the story over time told at different points in the characters’ lives. I may never enjoy Christmas in quite the same way but will happily live with that too for such a well-thought and excellently presented story which tugs on so many emotional strings.

V-Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry best known for his Young Adult zombies book also writes for adults and proves he’s capable of handling the vampire genre. I started this because the series in in production. The thing instantly to stand out for me was I’ve never seen a multi-authored book arranged in this manner with the stories broken up into parts and a sliding timeline. I can easily see why and how this was adapted for television.

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal: I have to admit the style distracted me at first but soon drew me into the world of Victorian London. The perfectly assembled cast delivers a tale of love, obsession, and atmospheric horror. The fair Iris who wishes to better her situation; her poor embittered sister, Rose; the exuberant Albie; the questionable love interest in Louis; and the infatuated Silas. I couldn’t help thinking of undertones of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ although if that in any way gave inspiration to this novel the author has enriched a basic idea and made it her own. Also, I think the comparison to various other titles is a pity as people like John Fowles are literary noteworthies (regardless of whether you like them) which promotes the book to a level difficult to attain. Some books are simply enjoyable. I’m uncertain whether to consider some parts of the story entirely historically accurate but the tone suffices to transport the reader into another era. The only real downside for me is that I was expecting something perhaps a little more gothic. Still, a fabulous debut.

Dracula, Bram Stoker: A re-read of a classic I’ve not touched for many years. A book of this type will always receive mixed reviews. A classic, by definition, is always a book of its time and will jar for a modern reader. Especially for a modern reader who has not read classic literature for most of their life. My childhood books included novels such as Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island so I have no problem with reading this. At such times when Dickens was popular, writers were paid by the word so if any such novels feel padded there’s a reason. This book does feel overlong, and if written/edited now would be much shorter. I’d particularly forgotten the peculiar way Van Helsing speaks which I read with a blend of irritation and amusing pleasure. In the 21st century the book has many faults, much of it reading like Victorian melodrama, and is far from horrifying, but in 1897 Dracula would have been petrifying. It’s almost impossible to review a book of this type so it’s important to understand how this novel was pivotal.

Though Stoker did not invent the vampire myth or write the first well-known story, he wrote the crucial novel, bringing us a vampire who would popularise the genre and creating a legend. Like the writing or not this book deserves its pedestal. Stoker touched on the darkest fears, not only of the time, but at the heart of terror, a creature capable of overtaking the human mind, of seducing, of changing shape and appearance, of ‘infiltrating’ the home, the heart, the marriage bond. Horror novels often reflect societal fears of the moment, and Dracula is no different though many of the same fears exist more than a century later. Stoker also puts into the mind unforgettable images — a wild country of superstition, Dracula’s towering castle, Harker’s slow realisation he’s a prisoner, Dracula’s vertical crawl, his intention to take over London, the crazed incredible Renfield, Dr Seward’s asylum. And, perhaps, for women today, the book represents the ultimate equality statement. Lucy and Mina’s story both begin with them represented as something beautiful and fragile, ‘creatures’ who can do nothing without their men and who require protection. The book ends with a gun in Mina’s hand. She has become a far different woman from the shy girl who did nothing more than look forward to a life of marriage. She wishes to protect Jonathan as much as he longs to protect her, perhaps placing Stoker as a realist and/or ahead of his time. Still, there are moments that sit uneasy with me, the worst of which is the historical error that anyone can provide a transfusion without blood-matching, a fact not discovered at the time but which cannot help making even this modern reader wince.

The Shining, Stephen King: I’m sure there’s few people who need telling the plot of The Shining. Alcoholic writer takes a job at the Overlook Hotel to be the caretaker over the winter taking with him his wife and son, only young Danny Torrence has a talent the like of which undocumented and to the ghosts of the Overlook he’s a shining beacon. As a side note for anyone who has only seen the film, the book is decidedly different with a depth the film lacks. This story is also far creepier than I recalled, maybe because you can feel a five-year-old’s panic.

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King: This novel returns to events which happened in the Overlook Hotel of ‘The Shining’, with Danny Torrence now grown. A well written and enjoyable paranormal thriller but don’t go into this expecting the same type of scare.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams: Having recently watched the series, I wanted to read the books and I’m glad I did because they vary greatly. Dick is only somewhat similar to the energetic performance in the show. The interconnectedness concept makes these a fun read. Though they’re not as good as Adams’ other works they have an inherent cleverness, and it would have been nice to see how the series may have developed had Adams written more than two and a third incomplete. This is my favourite of the Dirk Gently novels.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams: Though I preferred the plot and concept of the first Dirk Gently book this one perhaps has the stronger ending. I advise to read them in order — connect them as Dirk would do. Well worth a read and to be forever haunted by an ominous fridge.

The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams: A collection of essays and a well put-together but incomplete last Dirk Gently novel, I can see how this will always garner mixed reviews. Overall, I enjoyed this book as there’s something poignant about reading Adams’ words one last time that makes this a fond farewell, but the lack of an end to the Dirk Gently book left me disappointed and wistful, but the story was shaping up so well I’m glad to know as little as I now do. Maybe one for true aficionados but a touching book to add to a collection.

The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Trembley: My first read by this author but not my last. I wasn’t sure about the style at first but that made it different and I was so quickly drawn in and almost instantly riveted. A cabin in the woods, end of the world, hostage situational horror story with a twist and real uncertainty that digs into surprisingly emotional depths, and an end I found satisfying. If this is indicative of this author’s work, I’m in for a treat with his other titles.

The Reddening, Adam L.G. Nevill: The Reddening paints a highly descriptive portrait of the South Devon coastline unlike any I’ve read before, bringing the setting to life and creating a realistic landscape in which anything, even the horrors of the book, seem possible. Nevill has a way of writing horror through not only what is said, but also what’s not said, and left to the imagination, is perhaps worse than the words on the page. Several scenes had me so engrossed I even jumped once when I lost track of time disturbed by someone coming home and opening the front door. Nevill writes intellectual horror enhanced with a rich vocabulary.

The Bishop’s Wife, Robert Nathan: As a fan of the original black & white film, I was curious to read the story. Only able to find this as a 99p download, I took the opportunity. Though the basis of the plot are present in both, they are very different expressing both similar and yet varying philosophies. I have to accept I prefer the film which injects humour and perhaps a greater depth to the story.

Reads of 2019

I usually look back at a year of reading at the start of another so here are my most notable reads of 2019. There’s quite a few so I’m splitting these into two blogs.

Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Sheffield is not normally my kind of book but throughout the year I read the series. Told perhaps with a little artistic license (it’s not possible for the narrator to know what others are thinking) this makes for a novel that feels part storytelling and part memoir. As sad at times as it is humorous in others. I want to say this series makes for a pleasant read though I don’t think it does the book justice. For those who like books a little biographical in nature, perhaps, this has a much warmer tone of fiction. Charming and nostalgic.

Wolf Winter, Cecilia Ekback: A Swedish mystery set in 1717, this was a surprising read, skilfully accomplished. This is a book more suited to adults, although the protagonist seems to be Frederika, a young girl which is surprising as the general rule for fiction is the age of the main character determines the reading age. I loved the historical atmosphere, the remoteness and added complications of the environment. There were enough twists and possibilities to keep the reader guessing, with the setting as much a character as any of the people.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: Hard to believe I’ve never read this classic before. The book opens to make the reader question what he or she is reading. It has a crazed, abstract poetry to it. Gradually, it dawns the story is about much more than is seemingly on the page, questioning the meaning of books, the attention span of society, of works  shortened, condensed into snippets, even of politics, censorship and, ultimately, war. The book feels timeless yet never more timely than now, speaking of people turning from books to technology. This story is visionary. Clarisse McClellan: ‘She didn’t want to know how a thing was done but why.’ Fantastic line. Even better ones: ‘If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.’ This on a page well worth reading alone. A subliminal work perhaps, certainly supreme. Some say works of fiction aren’t real but no fictional work can get more real than this.

Icebound, Dean Koontz: Another re-read for me that proved to be fun. This is the only real attempt Koontz says he made at a traditional thriller and he did a wonderful job. The factual details are enough to be engaging without boring and there’s a real sense of a ticking bomb. While there may be better thrillers on the market at the time Koontz wrote this he did a job good enough to translate to film although the ability to put this on screen likely didn’t exist to do the story justice. One particular mention, I love it when I’m reading and come across a sentence that expresses a perfect sentiment and in Icebound there is one: Politics was an illusion of service that cloaked the corruption of power.

The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell: First in a trilogy, this book has more of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager—unusual in a horror story though this may read more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with touches of sadness — the older generations do not fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this creates the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell: In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration, carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but moving several years ahead when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom cannot shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell: First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon: An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. Simple writing which does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. As a side note the film based on the book does not do the novel justice.

The Terror, Dan Simmons: I wish I could say I love this book. The amount of work and research that’s gone into this tome deserves well-received recognition. Unfortunately, I can only claim to like it. This has much to do with the book’s branding. If looking for a supernatural horror in the wilderness, this isn’t it. The reviews on the book refer to details such as a ‘massive combination of history and supernatural horror’ and a ‘tour de force’. Both are right but it underwrites the supernatural element while it overdoes the history part.

The most irritating plot point for me was the obvious device of having someone walk into a clear trap. I can’t say more without a spoiler but this frustrating point comes late in the book. I found some of the most interesting things in the book to be what the Esquimaux woman, Lady Silence, does. The woman who understands how to survive on the ice makes the efforts of the ships’ crews appear naïve and inept.

The book IS a masterpiece and yet suffers from overwriting more often than not. I really didn’t need to know so many names, or reminding of them, or a full list of men who died on the way no matter how much they took up the Captain’s thoughts. Fair editing could likely trim a good couple of hundred pages. If looking to read an epic tale of man’s survival in an Arctic wilderness, then this book is excellent. If seeking a shiver of supernatural terror, this may not be the book, for the reveal, though wonderfully strange, lacked some vital element to make it scary or compelling. The most horrifying aspect for me was the scurvy. I’d be interested in watching the series, though.

The Sorrow King, Andersen Prunty: Essentially, the supernatural cause of several teenage suicides, which is obvious from the outset, this story could have been better written and likely more exciting if told with more show rather than tell. However, there’s something persuasive about the narrative and the concept is interesting. I purchased the e-book because print wasn’t available.

The Living, Isaac Marion: The last in the Warm Bodies trilogy, a far superior Zombie novel that I would have loved to purchase in print to add to the two titles I already own. Alas, postage to the UK and import duties prohibited this.

My favourite in the series is and shall always remain the first book, a title which perhaps says enough, but this takes the exploration further, giving us a beautiful, painful, and sad view of the world. These books are about so much more than a horde of walking dead — it’s about life, love, relationships, politics, society, racism, religion to name the most obvious, though I’m certain that to each the books will have something different to say. With each title the books grew darker in context. At times the writing felt poetic, at others surreal, but always undoubtedly philosophical, which perhaps explains why the author has had to self-publish the third title. This is the most literary use of the zombie genre I’ve stumbled across, one that would be hard to exceed, and therefore publishers may have feared its lack of potentially purely commercial value.

I won’t deny moments where the story lost its grip on me, perhaps because each of the books has a decidedly different feel and the tone of the third was different to what I expected, but the way the author writes, the world he’s created, the intellectual significance behind the books are too eloquent to ignore. Though I enjoyed the last book the least, and it perhaps has some flaws, it completes an exceptional story arc, strong enough to be keepers for me.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion: When I started this my first thought was OMG (the protagonist) is Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) but while it’s difficult for fans of the show not to see the inevitable similarities, it didn’t (as some people have pointed out) put me off reading but added another layer of amusement to the read. There’s a love story here with a difference. Intelligent, witty, at times throwing a light on human interaction in a way standard romances might not, this book is often joyful to read. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would though the ending seemed a little rushed, perhaps explained because the book has sequels. I kind of prefer this as a standalone read but, if not for my to-be-read mountain, I might consider perusing the other titles.

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: A reread of a classic (while awaiting the DVD release so I can see Amazon’s adaptation starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen) by two outstanding authors who are also my favourite writers. This story displays both their talents, creating a meld of the sublime and ridiculous in all the right ways. Any fan of Douglas Adams would do well to pick up this story. The world would be a poorer place without this collaboration. Pure magic.