Daring Dexter

I was a latecomer to the Dexter series and, curiosity piqued, I read what I thought was a series of seven books. Turns out to be eight, and I needed to wait a short while for the publication of the last. Annoying to a reader who read seven consecutively all the way through, but an interesting exercise in comparing the books to the show. At the same time, I continued to watch the series and kudos has to go to the writer, the producers, and Michael C.Hall for creating what should be a despicable character and making him likeable. Michael’s portrayal is outstanding as a great deal of feeling for Dexter Morgan comes from his performance. Not that I’m forgetting the supporting characters cast equally well.

There are differences between the books and series—and I had no reason to worry about reading and watching simultaneously as aside from the first title the books approach a different tangent. There are as many similarities as there are differences, and someone can enjoy both without interfering with the other.

Having said all that, I will add something I rarely say. I prefer the series. This is not to belittle the books or the writer. Usually, I’d chose a book over a filmed adaptation or like them equally, but the series lasted for so long it explored Dexter’s personality to a greater depth and questioned many more issues. The books are lighter, although the series portrays a serial killer who delivers a quicker and cleaner death. The books aren’t explicit but delivers a far different scenario—the Dexter of the books likes to play a little. What I disliked most from the books was the paranormal aspects added to one story and the suggested evolution of the ‘Dark Passenger’. This appeared to provide an excuse and a pardon for every killer’s behaviour. I also disliked Dexter the most in book seven and in a way I’ve never disliked the character on screen. Television Dexter developed, became far more multi-layered than the book version. What’s not to prefer? Still, as always there would be no series without the books, without the writer. It’s too easy to watch television forgetting without the writer there is nothing.

My current dilemma is, owning both the series and the novels, and attempting to be more ruthless with what I keep…do I abandon the books to the charity pile? I guess maybe…though perhaps not yet. Should I want to write an anti-hero sometime, Dexter is a character worth more examination.

The Ritual and The Silence

Comparing books with other books, and films with other films I find dubious. But what of a film adapted from a written work? Here I’m not comparing the books or the films but adaptations of two novels.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill is the story of a reunion trip gone wrong when one of the party of friends becomes injured and they choose the shortcut everyone knows is heading for trouble. More than they can prepare for when they find themselves hunted and the family of ‘crazies’ living in the woods turns out to be the least of their problems.

The book is two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might be a better conclusion, the end felt abrupt. What I love in this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type fail to and making the author one whose works I want to read more. I imagine several readers may say they’d prefer to know the characters a little more, which occurred to me on some level, but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

The film has sequences not present in the book and though well worked in confused me initially. Likewise, as is often the case with a novel to film adaptations, the ending is not quite the same. All the story is present on the screen and the film has a good cast, yet none of the actors presented, for me, the characters as I perceived them, although a good point of the film is that they come across as average people leaving viewers with the sense anyone could fall into the same predicament. The film lacks the creepiness of the novel and feels rushed.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon. When explorers discover a new breed of a flying bat type creature, existance for every living animal on Earth comes under threat. An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because two main protagonists of father and daugther tell the story. As a side note the film based on the book does not do the novel justice.

When I  saw this was another Netflix adaption, I was…not excited but interested. Netflix make excellent series and films. This was a letdown of the highest order, mediocre. I felt no connection to the characters, not caring whether they lived. The only one I cared for was the dog. The reverend comes across as a cliche in a way he didn’t in the book. And while such a threat of a unknown species might kill thousands before humanity got to grips with a solution, in part owing to the slow reaction and internal politics of various authorities, these creatures were not impossible to overcome. Mentions of this being A Quiet Place wannabe or clone are unfounded as the book came out prior. However, in both cases the one thing that makes humans vulnerable to them — sound — would likely be their downfall. Create noise and draw them to a place where an ambush can take place (though one might claim the same for any zombie threat). The addition of the wood chipper in the film of The Silence, was ludicrous. Many films work better with additions, subtractions, or scenes shuffled, but not when doing so creates a fundamental flaw.

In both cases I read the books before watching the films so wondered if my reaction was biased. My husband read The Ritual before seeing the film, but read the book of The Silence after watching the adaptation. In both cases he felt the same as I. The film of The Ritual would have enticed me to check out the book but the film of The Silence would not and so damages the book. Whilst both films lack the depth of the books, the Ritual does a better job of presenting the story.

Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to 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 is 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 now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of 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. The simple writing 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. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

So many books, so few stars

We’ve all seen it. A book we’ve loved that may have good reviews, but the reviewer hasn’t awarded many stars, which to the writer is confusing. Perhaps this is a question of personal semantics. I have my marking system for books. Five stars is for an outstanding read. It’s one of those I wish I had written myself. Four stars is for a book I’ve found exceptional. It could have been something about a character or the plot, but something in the book has made me remember it. I usually say it’s haunting. Then, where most people would think three stars is a mediocre title, I apply it to all the other good books I’ve read; the books I’ve truly loved and that will stay in my house, and I think worth anybody’s time of day. A three star review can feel like a letdown but truly it’s a decent rating. Two stars is for something I may keep but probably never read again. It’s one of those ‘if you’ve nothing better to do’ categories. One star I seldom apply because if a book is that unsatisfying I’ll likely never mention it.

Some sites, like Goodreads, have a recommended meaning for their ratings (there three stars is a perfectly decent score), and that can help, but I believe we all mark books based on personal expectations. This means the ‘score’ may not accurately reflect content.

I seldom give bad reviews for two reasons. One, I know how I would feel if it were me and two, I’m always aware that what I dislike someone else may well love. It’s all opinion. As a writer, I think sometimes it’s best to be careful what you say, but we all know there are some deplorable books out. Many on bestseller lists. I’m sorry to say publishing (especially in digital form) has opened doors for many good writers who may not otherwise have a chance, but many unscrupulous individuals have also seized the opportunity to set up as publishers and will take any standard of work to market.

This isn’t always the fault of the inexperienced author. Whether a person has the ability to write or not, without the right guidance they may never realise the difference between genuine talent and a gift that needs nurturing, though the truth is all writers need cultivating. An unscrupulous publisher will heap praise on the unsuspecting where it’s not warranted, and how is the writer to know? Please, as a reader or writer, one bad experience must not discourage, deter, or dishearten. There are reputable publishers out there, and there are excellent authors. Many of these books are as good as anything in print, maybe better. The format doesn’t change the quality of the work. Only the publisher does. When I give a review, I seldom award stars unless it’s where I must. I say what I think of a book and why.

November Update 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:

Been to a few shops, garden centres, and craft fairs this month. Watched a Christmas light switch-on and a surprisingly decent firework display put on by a small town.

TELEVISION:

Finished watching Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, a series that only ran for two seasons. Admittedly, this story of an autistic boy who sees patterns in numbers connecting people and events, supposedly being one of 36 special and important individuals took time to get started but they cancelled it after it got interesting. I think it could have run for a third season. It’s intellectual and may be too intelligent to make it a commercial property. Viewers needed to stick with this awhile and the viewing numbers dropped off drastically after the first episode or two. A pity because it did have much going for it. The more action based plot developed likely as an effort to save it.

Following this we jumped back in to continue watching Ray Donovan, a series we’ve not seen since the end of season 2. Violent owing to the story, I’m unsure whether the series has got better or the ability to stream it and binge watch without adverts has made the difference, but we’re enjoying this more than we did previously. It is definitely a show made for Liev Schreiber.

READING:

I eased away from horror for this month, although The Chalk Man, by C.J.Tudor is termed as such.  A book I thought might be more paranormal horror but is fitting in the thriller market, but has a good touch of creepiness. I enjoyed this book in the main for the way it’s plotted out, it’s never-ending cliffhangers and slow reveal.

I began The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, a huge book I’ve had awhile and it will take me ages to get through this owing to the way I intend to read it. Very much a book I intend to dip in and out of over several months so I’ve only completed the first 100 pages, the section of poetry. Many hidden gems here though I have to say the reason his most loved and best-known poem is The Raven shines out. The cadence and emotional response it invokes never ceases to impress. Hoping there’ll be many gems and new tales to discover in the story section of the book.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry is a well-written book, with well-plotted layers and subtext. Alas, it’s not cohesive enough, maybe owing to the omnipresent head-hopping style. On occasion, I forgot I was reading a book set in 1893. It’s worse fault, though, is the likely error of the marketing department. The blurb promises one thing, the book another. Readers expect a developing romance wrapped around a mystery. The ‘Serpent’ of the title is a creature not so much myth as misunderstood. It is often figurative, a metaphor, subtext…which might be fine if readers were not led to believe otherwise. As for the romance, I had patience for that until around 60 pages from the end when my emotions turned to exasperation and disgust. I so wanted to say I loved this book but have to settle for liking it. The true heroine of the book reads, to me, as Stella and that’s a stretch. The writer may tell the story he or she wants, of course, and it’s true that humans are imperfect. Again, I sense that the marketing of this novel leads one to expect something it’s not and so does the author and novel no favours. This is not a mystery, and not a romance. It’s a set of characters and a slice of their shared histories.

WRITING:

Not much to tell you this month. I’ve been working on an as yet unofficial commissioned title and it’s one case of the nearer I get to The End the further away it feels.

Such Rich Prose

With the gift-giving season fast approaching, I couldn’t help but think back on some of my childhood reads, which was my favourite type of gift to receive. I’ve never had a child in my life I haven’t given books to.

A few years ago I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner owing to a recommendation. I cannot say I found the writing charming and yet it has a haunting, surreal quality that makes for a memorable read. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I can’t think of a reason apart from the adage in the publishing world that if the main character is a child, then it is a book for children. Publishers seem to think if the lead is a child, it will hold no interest for adults. The worldwide phenomenon of a certain wizard has turned this concept on the head. Whether you love or loathe the particular boy lead in question, I think this is a good thing. There are many books out there that cross the barrier between child and adult readers and I for one am not too proud to admit reading the occasional children’s book. I cannot imagine the inability to enjoy a pleasant afternoon revisiting some of my old favourite characters in their adventures. I have a quote on my website by C.S.Lewis: No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

When I young, my reading material was Pooh and then Enid Blyton’s Mr Meddles Muddles, Mr Pinkwhistle or Mr Twiddle. I was also fond of her Wishing Chair series and to this day I own a copy of Mr Galliano’s Circus (although I used to call him Mr Galeeno as I couldn’t get my tongue around the pronunciation). I wanted to be young Jimmy Brown and run away to the circus. In a more enlightened time and as an adult I couldn’t imagine anything worse (I am not a supporter of animal circuses) but I understand it was the running away on an ‘adventure’ part I loved so well. In the Moomins books, I wanted to be Snuffkin and share his love of travelling. From there I went on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory although I always preferred The Great Glass Elevator. Yes, there is a second book! I adored the Vermicious Knids far more than the Oompa-Loompas.

There was no stopping me. I loved The Water Babies because it touched my sense of fair play. Every child should hear of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby or Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. One Hundred and One Dalmatians a Disney film? I read the book by Dodie Smith and progressed to the sequel. Yes, once again there is a follow-up people seldom hear of called The Starlight Barking. Likewise, I read Bambi the book by Felix Salten and you’ll never see that story the same way again. As a child I lent it to an aunt and insisted she read it. After much nagging she (begrudgingly) sat down one day and only stopped when she realised it had grown too dark to see. She was that lost in the story.

Then it was Ballet Shoes and What Katy Did. My most unusual children’s book has got to be Snowflake by Paul Gallico. Mine is tatty, gone orange and lost its cover, though I can remember the cover to this day: pale blue and white with a white snowflake with a child’s face in the centre. Snowflake is ‘born’, falls in love with ‘Raindrop’, goes on a journey and at last returns to her creator. It’s the first book that made my heart ache.

Later came Oscar Wilde. His Happy Prince story made me sob. Once I was old enough, we started on the classics. It’s amazing in this day that classic literature is often termed as stuffy. Maybe it’s the classic moniker that has done the harm. They weren’t classics when I was young; they were just books. I started with Heidi but was soon on to Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These were my world. They were my friends. They never failed me, and took me adventuring with them. It’s a sad world where children don’t read these books today.

Then it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — the name of the creature’s creator, not the ‘monster’ when the whole point of the book is the true monsters are the man who created him, and the society who hounds him. This so-called horror story isn’t only that. It’s a morality lesson. At once I fell into the richness of the language, some of which may seem superfluous in this modern age but even in Mary Shelley’s introduction doesn’t “Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest” much more engrossing than “We talked well into the night before we went to bed”?

One of my favourite works is the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake, for the involved story, the characters, and, most of all, owing to its rich language. I’ve enticed people to watch the BBC series but even though they often love the story, it disinclines them toward the book. I feel it’s a pity that children are often no longer raised on such rich prose. Not only are they missing out on such imaginative stories, one can’t help speculating whether it would do wonders for their verbal skills and their ability to communicate.

News August 2018

Hi Everyone!
Yes, I know it’s September. I should have posted this last week, but I’m slightly late as we were away visiting family.

READING:

The Bullet Trick, Louise Walsh
I’ve read one of Louise Walsh’s books before (though the title escapes me) upon recommendation. I recall not being taken with it. This book I enjoyed more. The writing is slick and I like the way the story jumps back and forth between settings and time. The big reveal, not so big, but an enjoyable, cosy thriller. One I liked for the writing and presentation more than the plot.

In the Place of Fallen Leaves, Tim Pears
Felt myself falling into this story almost right away, certainly by the start of the second chapter. The writing is lyrical, creating images and imparting information in an intricate weave. It’s a book without a plot, though, more a memoir in tone than a story, an exposition of events over a long, hot summer in Devon, at times grave, others times sad and humorous. Not one to speed through.

The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
This book is hard to review objectively. On the one hand, it borders the type of horror termed as torture porn. On the other, and in a part precisely for that reason, I’m sure it does what it intends to do. It provokes emotion and, I hope, for most people, in the right way, making the reader uneasy and restless. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to forgive anyone, not even the protagonist. There’s something voyeuristic in the reading, speaking to the part that wants to put the book down. Yet, like watching a train wreck, another part of the human soul/nature wants to discover the outcome. Wants justice. Retribution. Wants to be able to ‘do something’, to act, particularly as this is based on a true story—the book’s real saving grace as it highlights the plight of all abused children, spiking the guilty nerve of anyone who doesn’t want to get involved. The book is confrontational and unsettling in so many ways that it questions the causes behind my very dislike. The book is terrible, and in that possibly achieves its purpose, making of the book a conundrum both excellent and dreadful. It’s a repulsive grim read that’s hard to turn away from or dismiss, though I’m positive not everyone who reads this will have the same experience as I did. I do not like this book, but that’s okay—I shouldn’t—but I do appreciate it as a job well done: vile but emotive because of that.

FILMS:

If you’ve ever seen Tarantino’s work you know you’ve got to have a stomach for violence but one of his less violent and surprising films was The Hateful Eight. There are a few graphic shootings but most of the film comprises long drawn-out conversations. We found it interesting, surprised how fast an almost 3 hour film passed, but I can see where it will send many to sleep.

Been catching up on Doc Martin, a series I’ve always liked, but I don’t get what the creators are trying to do with the character in season 7 with the dog story.

SPOILER: Even if it would be a part of the character’s mental condition, this is fiction and even if they turn it around, it can never be forgotten or forgiven. When he was merely irritated with the dog, it was mildly funny. When he dumped the animal at the side of the road, it became more questionable. When he tried to kill it, game over. Way to go making me hate the character. If I were his wife, Louisa, it would be instant divorce. I’ll stick with the series but this story line has made me dislike the MC and even the inhabitants of the village as no one seems to want this poor homeless dog. Saying that, end of Season 8 (9 will be out next year and is the last), has the best line possible.

WRITING:

I’ve already mention in another blog post that I made the difficult decision to remove some of my titles from circulation.

I also returned the galley proof of A Not So Hollow Heart and received the cover. Amazingly, there were no errors though there is one issue where house-style has determined the use of US punctuation in an otherwise UK setting, UK characters, UK spelling and punctuation book.

And lastly…I have something I want to tell you but can’t…yet. It may not happen and if it doesn’t, I’ll no doubt just let you know ‘no joy’. I’m terrified to even mention it.

Until the end of the month…Happy Reading!
Sharon x