Update July 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Not a lot to report, unfortunately. I finished my initial acupuncture sessions, though it’s hard to tell how much they helped. I’ve seen some intermittent improvement and will probably have the odd ‘nudge’ as my acupuncturist put it to see if it makes a difference. At some point, if it doesn’t, I’ll stop, but at least I will have given it a fair go. Alas, at the moment, he’s had to stop for a short while for personal health reasons, but at least I got the initial 8 sessions in. The best thing was the side excursion to the sweetie shop on my way home.

FILM/TV:

Finished re-watching The Good Place for the second time, and oddly I’d forgotten how much a box of tissues is necessary for the finale episode.

We’ve moved on to re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, just reached the end of the first season. I remember the show got better after the first series, so it will be interesting to see if I feel the same way this time.

Watched the third season of The Rookie and though I mostly began watching because it stars Nathan Fillion, it quickly became enjoyable. That finished, we started Prodigal Son, primarily because it stars Michael Sheen, but the first episode was captivating. Hope the standard continues.

Worked through the Fear Street trilogy which has had mixed reviews, but really for the genre and style of film, we found them highly watchable with blunt but less gratuitous in your face violence than some non-horror movies. I’d like to try at least a few of the books. Of course, these are by R.L. Stine, most famous for the Goosebumps children’s books.

But what we’ve enjoyed the most are the Rurouni Kinshin films. Originally a manga series, the live-action movies certainly live up to the ‘action’. Blink and you’ll miss something. Staring Takeru Satoh in the role of Hitokiri Battosai (aka Himura Kenshin), the series contains five films: Origins (2012), Kyoto Inferno (2014), The Legend Ends (2014), The Final (2021) and The Beginning (2021). Kinshin, originally a kill-sword, fights with a reverse-blade sword, having vowed never to kill again. The actor does his own stunts.

READING:

The Last Guardian (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

At last in this book, the sometimes wandering feel of the first novel comes together into the story Gemmell wanted to tell, making more sense of the timeframe. I’d say it’s definitely necessary to read the first two books of the trilogy as a single book to understand the whole, and while there is a book three, these first two read almost like companion books, complete in themselves. I found the second volume easier to read than the first, perhaps because Shannow comes more into his own. He’s the perfect quasi-essential anti-hero because of his imperfections and culpable past.

Bloodstone (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

This last book in the trilogy clarifies the timeframe used in this trilogy and expands upon it. As I liked the second book more than the first, I liked the third book more than the second. The arcs of many beloved characters tug at the heartstrings in this one, and leave the reader with a sense of the complexities of Gemmell’s plot. Most importantly, Shannow is an unforgettable character.

The Corset, 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.

Shadowfires, Dean Koontz

A re-read for me as part of a book clearance.

Perfectly plotted with an antagonist worthy of the Resident Evil franchise, the one flaw in this supernatural thriller of the kind Koontz is best known for is its length. I would call it well-written but also over-written. Although there’s nothing wrong with all the information, there’s too much of it. I can’t help feeling trimming a few passages of character background would make for faster pacing. It’s like Koontz including all the details an author needs to know but a reader doesn’t. This didn’t bother me too much as I’m used to reading epic fantasies, but I can imagine some readers finding it a bit of a slog. Plenty will love this, though, for it’s still a tense thriller with some wonderful characters.

The Elijah Tree, Cynthea Masson

There’s a poetic quality to this book that makes me want to love it, but I don’t. It’s too abstract, scenes flitting between the players in non-chronological order. The human stories at the depth of the book, the triangles within triangles of love and loss are as despairing as they are touching, yet the mystical beliefs of the various characters and which supposedly carry the plot didn’t gel for me. As much as I felt there’s something beautiful about the writing, the story is painfully abstract, so I found it a slog. I neither like it nor hate it.

Survivor Song, 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.

WRITING:

I returned the galley proof to Cosmic, and got the initial draft of something I’ll simply call ST for now ready to work on — I don’t reveal titles until books are contracted, and though I seldom change titles, with this one I have once already. I have edited Cosmic and added to it, especially to increase the emotional aspect, though the story remains essentially the same.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update June 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Took a break from the DIY this month, though there’s no going out and about for us. We don’t want to mingle, and at the moment I’m still not up to it. Faced with a reason to celebrate, alas we could do nothing more than enjoy a good home-cooked meal. I always cook with fresh ingredients but made more of an effort. It’s not like I can even enjoy a bottle of wine these days, as that irritates my condition. Good news on the exercise bike I mentioned last month. I love it, and am cycling 10 miles 4 times a week.

FILM/TV:

Coming to the end of the last series of Parks and Recreation having enjoyed it, and two other series I recommend that I’ve revisited while cycling, is Schitt’s Creek, and The Good Place… a comical series that explores ethics in a way no show has done before or since. I advise sticking with both as they get better with time.

We’ve also gone through the original episodes of Star Trek, not having watched them for years, though, of course, they’ve revamped it a little, using better tech to make the planets and ship more ‘real’ touching none of the interior shots except for what the crew sees through the viewing screen. I’m sure there are some purists but I can see that this makes the Original Series more accessible for a new audience. As much as I love some of the Star Trek series, and the original will always remain my favourite, seeing it with an eye of living in a modern era is a strange exercise. Even worse, the writer in me can’t help but pick up on inconsistencies and questionable decisions. In some scripts, I couldn’t help feeling they had characters working against their own well-established personalities. Still, nothing plays as well as that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy trinity.

Thoroughly enjoyed The Nevers on NowTV, described as a science fiction drama, made better as they filmed it in London. Although the last episode of the first series seemed bizarre and completely out of sync with the Victorian steampunk feel of the episodes which had gone before, I kept watching, and I’m pleased to say it circled around until it made sense. I had no clue this was a Joss Whedon project when I started watching, though it has his mark all over it, serving as writer, director, and executive producer. It seems to have received mixed reviews but I hope this isn’t a series cut short before its time like Firefly was, even though it’s not as compelling.

READING:

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, James Lovegrove

Book two in 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.

The Walking Dead, The Fall of the Governor Part One

Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Whereas I felt the first two books in this series (The Rise of the Governor) added something to The Walking Dead universe, for most of this book I felt as though I didn’t need to be reading this. Having watched the series and read the graphic novels, this book offers yet a third version of the same world, that of Woodbury and the zombie fights that take place in the arena within Woodbury’s walls. In some ways, it’s bad enough when a beloved book series gets an adaptation to screen (or vice versa) and the fanbase must juggle two timelines in their minds when the stories differ. Why would I want a third? All I can say is this book as one of the most bloody revenge outcomes I’ve read in a long time. Definitely not a scene they would have got away with on the small screen or graphic novel.

The Walking Dead, The Fall of the Governor Part Two

Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Having come this far in reading the first three books, I had to learn what happened to the Governor. The buildup of this felt rather slow, though that’s in part because a story visited both in the graphic novels and on the show, makes this feel like traversing the same ground… though the outcome leads to a major battle sequence that’s worthwhile.

The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell

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.

Wolf in Shadow (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

The book which introduces us to Gemmell’s compelling protagonist, Jon Shannow. More western at the start than fantasy, the book blossoms in a bizarre conglomeration of fantasy, western, politics, and religion which doesn’t quite seem to blend. The idea of a world changed 300 years ago, yet reflecting a life of guns and horses, farmsteads, corrupt townsmen, and tribes with little evidence of a technological age mentioned by characters leaves one feeling as though the author was feeling his way as much as the reader does. Took me longer to read than it should have; still, this makes for a intriguing and entertaining story. I’ve two more to work through.

WRITING:

I have finished the draft of my Work in Progress and have lined it up for an edit in the weeks to come. And I’ve now received edits for Cosmic ready for its re-release. Although the edits were basic and few, me being me I re-read the entire book at every opportunity, so am currently going through it line by line, hoping to return it before the end of the week.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update May 2021

Hi Everyone!
AT HOME:
After finishing our bedroom on the first May Bank Holiday, we moved on to sorting out the hallway. Moved one unit, got another with drawers, changed storage in the ‘coat cupboard’ near the front door and everything looks so different and welcoming. After that we took a break on the decorating/DIY, though there’s more we need/would like to do indoors and out. I started some appointments which I hope will make me feel better and got myself an exercise bike! Delighted with it. Never seen a compact bike with so many design features that folds up so easily to stand as an upright column and with a fairly comfortable seat. Maybe I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

FILM/TV:
We’ve been watching the American comedy series Parks and Recreation for several weeks and are now in season five. It’s amazing they kept the momentum going for so long and though madcap it’s a fun series. Also pleased to watch The Librarians from the start. We saw season one some years ago, but at the time our Sky box melted (seriously, we returned home one day to the terrifying smell of melting plastic), and as they wouldn’t give us a deal on a new box, we cancelled our subscription. Have been watching to see if all the seasons would appear on one of our streaming services, and at last got our wish.

READING:
Brilliance of the Moon, Lian Hearn
Book 3 of the Otori
These books certainly walk the spectrum of love, hate, hope, grief, despair, subterfuge, cruelty, destiny, and prophecy in this sweeping action series set in a medieval Japan, though I had to remind myself of this when I tired of people over the course of the books being told to, or thinking of, killing themselves to regain their honour even though it’s fitting for the marvellous world Lian Hearn has created. This world feels real, as do the characters. Though the books don’t recount all the warfare, there’s enough action for the reader to visualise an immense battle and although I felt distanced from the brutality, this is understandable when considering this series is for the YA market. Still, there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy; indeed, some may prefer the simplistic storytelling, which still ignites the imagination.

Doc Hollywood, Neil Shulman M.D.
Originally titled, What? Dead Again? first, I should stress the only similarities between the book and the film are minimal — names, doctors, some plot basics, and a few quirky stories and eccentricities of the patient cases. The romance here is toned down to the point of almost non-existence, so if anyone is looking to read this for the same experience, they’ll at least feel surprised. Both versions have their own charm, and this rare book remains delightful because of the situation — a doctor out of his depth in a rural community. It’s a sweet read, not as funny as the film.

Mr Cables, Ronald Malfi
What can one say about Mr Cables? This story about a book which an author denies writing yet appears to scare everyone except said author starts off with a more sinister note than it ends, yet there is a chill factor here. In the beginning, it’s caused because the reader isn’t told why the book is scary. The answer is unexpected and, though bad, not as dreadful as the story initially promises. Still, something about this tale sticks in the mind. A well thought out ‘haunting’ plot.

Strangers, Dean Koontz
This book was my introduction to Dean Koontz, first read in my teens, and now, several years later, which makes it feel like a fresh experience. It’s easy to recall why this led me to be a long-term reader and how Koontz can be when writing at his finest. One warning — this a door-stop of a book, not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s true that this could edit down, as much of the story involves strange and slowly unfolding events through several characters’ viewpoints, leading to a languid revelation, I found none of it boring. After a time there are perhaps fewer surprises leading to a questioning resolution, despite being heartfelt and warming; sadly, the reality of such an outcome would lead to an overcrowded planet, even more so than it is now, so I find this tale of hope a little tainted. This is an epic book in both length, and optimism, but it may not be for those who prefer only a simple vocabulary, fewer descriptive details, and a sedate pace.

WRITING:
I’m just about at the end of a first draft for my current Work in Progress, which I shall call ‘ST’ for now, as I don’t reveal titles until I’ve contracted them. You could say I’ve been winging it, though I’m extremely pleased how it’s turned out. I’m sure I’ll add even more substance on the first edit round, but it’s reading like an almost complete book. Meanwhile, I hope to re-release Cosmic asap, and return to editing ST in a few weeks with a fresh eye. Someone has also contacted me with the possibility of writing a short story — more news on that as and when, though there are no determined dates at present.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Update April 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
I’m a little late with April’s news this time because of two reasons, the first being that for our May Bank Holiday we were extremely busy completely redecorating and moving furniture around in our bedroom. At least we’re delighted with the result, just waiting on a couple of finishing touches.

Most of April we spent refurbishing the garden, and this previous weekend we cleared out the garage and put up new racking. As we’re choosing not to mingle and I presently find travelling difficult (waiting on some appointments which I hope will improve the situation), and the weather is less than delightful, we decided these weeks were better put to good use getting various jobs completed.

FILM/TV:
We watched Your Honor starring Bryan Cranston; always a fabulous actor and a series with a intriguing plot — that of a judge’s son who knocks down and accidentally kills the son of a mobster so they try to cover it up. Recommended with reservations; be aware the pacing is quite slow.

Finished Black Mirror the series, which we thoroughly recommend, though found the ‘choose what happens’ film, they created a painful experience and boring. Was also a little annoyed that for some peculiar reason Netflix ran the seasons backwards and we didn’t realise until halfway through. The stories got better as they progressed, so watching in reverse we got the opposite experience. Not that any of the stories were especially weak, and all threw up disturbing questions regarding the advancement of technology.

READING:
End of Watch, Stephen King
The last of the Hodges’ trilogy takes a paranormal twist which for an average thriller might be one leap too great, but this is a King novel, so expect the supernatural. This begs the reader to accept a world of possibilities or impossibilities, depending on one’s point of view. The strongest parts are the fully fledged characters (especially if the reader comes to know them over the course of all three books), something King is renowned for. The weakest point for me was I’m still uncertain about the flow of tense changes. It’ll be hard to forget Hodges, or Holly, or even Jerome. Even Brady, an evil man you love to hate. All three books walk a sad, dark line, but the right tone of sadness becomes memorable.

If It Bleeds, Stephen King
Four decent offerings starting with Mr Harrigan’s Phone, a ghost story with a difference. Not exactly scary, yet there’s a little chill when that number rings… The Life of Chuck is a strange tale which may well garner split views. Still, I felt there was a fine sliver of fear at the end, touched with a sweet sentiment. If It Bleeds adds to the story begun in The Outsider. While not ‘necessary’, it’s always good to spend time with Holly Gibney, especially if one has read the Hodges’ trilogy. Like King, I love Holly. Rat concludes this quartet of stories, but will stick in my mind the most. Though not chilling, there are ‘moments of madness’ that, as a writer, likely creeped me out in a way for obvious reasons, the madness that is part of writing. I was expecting a darker ending, but perhaps subconsciously (either King’s, or mine, or both), there seems to be more than one subtext here reflecting the process of writing itself. There are not the most spooky of King’s tales, but made for an overall pleasant and well worth read.

How to be Human, Ruby Wax
Told with undisguised humour, Ruby still throws an ugly light on modern day living within the first chapter, moving on to why and how we can and should be less self-critical. On the subject of Shame (page 49), she reveals with a few choice words how ridiculous our reaction to modern life and social media is now. And I think there’s a lot to be said for the thought that happiness is something less aggressive than pain, so much so, we don’t notice it much of the time, leading to the belief we’re lacking in some way, leading to a state of discontent. I was glad to see a section on compassion and the differences between that an empathy. The section on relationships is simply hysterical. I love what she says about teachers and learning. The last passages in the book also give us an enlightening insight into the author’s background. As one endorsement says, a book that makes the reader think about thinking.

The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn
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 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.

Across the Nightingale Floor, Iian Hearn, Book 1 of the Otori
Listed as Young Adult Literary fiction, this certainly fits the bill. The Japanese world contains enough flavour to make it vivid without being too heavy for the intended age group. This is a good adventure tale with plenty of secrets. That the youngsters in love are so young fits a society where they are old enough to be passed over into marriage for political endeavours — such things have and still happen in the actual world. The romance again written for the intended readership is well done, though reading this as an adult I couldn’t help wincing at the ‘fall in love with a glance’. Fall into an intense attraction is the reality, an attraction that could become love in time. I also found it too easy to forget how young they’re meant to be, but by necessity put this down to their upbringing, and what life and training had thrown at them. Perhaps not perfect, but an enjoyable book for the intended age group and older.

Hello, Is this planet Earth?, Tim Peake
Although essentially a photo album, I include this in my reading list as a must-have book. This is the closest most will ever get to seeing Earth from space (aside from documentaries and news items), and it’s a fabulous keepsake and reminder of our place in the universe. I bought this book when it first came out, but aside from flicking through, hadn’t had the time to study seriously the photographs and share a glimpse of Tim Peake’s journey. It’s amazing that even from space, I could easily spot areas of the world I would love to explore and those I would prefer to avoid. At night, the dark areas drew me more to places with fewer inhabitants and less light pollution. The photographs reveal amazing patterns it’s hard to believe are spottable from such a distance. Breathtakingly beautiful and a precious revelation of our most priceless and abused commodity.

Grass for his Pillow, Lian Hearn, Book 2 of the Otori
Certainly interesting, and one can’t help but feel for the various plights of the characters. Although not sold on the romance between Takeo and Kaede in the first book, I still felt for them in this volume, especially Kaede, whose role in life is subordinate owing to the simple fact she is female. This is a good exploration of a different culture that rings alarms for all women on a visceral level that elevates this read. This sings of women who want to be more than the society and customs they are born into. Not that the battles and ruthlessness of the males take second place. The second in the series, this book picks up pace as it continues and is a wonderful blend of conflict, combat skills, and magical ability. If one likes Japanese films or even Manga, this series may be an interesting read.

WRITING:
I at last started a new project and in the first week I was delighted with my word count. Alas, in the second week I didn’t do so well, simply because tidying and sorting the house took priority, but I hope to be on schedule to finish a new first draft around the end of this month.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Update March 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Slowly gathering the supplies we need for the garden. Plants ordered. Have one more thing to track down and buy. Now we depend on the weather; however, as the world reopens after Easter, we’ll be staying home for the foreseeable future. If we go out for a walk, we’ll be playing things safe and certainly not even considering going abroad until 2023, being sadly realistic. Still, we’ve enough to do in and around the house… and I would love to get in the garden over Easter, but it looks as if winter will be back by then. Don’t mind it cold, but don’t relish working in the pouring rain.

FILM/TV:

We’re still watching The Black List and Resident Alien as episodes appear. Tuned into the few appearing episodes of The Walking Dead. Really, this series has carried on too long, but having stuck with it this long, with one season to go and one film, it seems a waste not to finish. I’ve read all the graphic novels.

Continuing with Black Mirror and it’s still not disappointing, and reaching the end of the comedy show, Community. I’d watched the first season of Virgin River, but not the second, so now we’re watching it all together. If I lived in a place with that kind of scenery, I think I’d cry, especially during a pandemic.

Irresistible, a film starring Steve Carell is an open look at politics which turned out to be far better than we expected. Highly recommend. We also sat through all of almost 4 hours of the Snyder cut of Justice League. Definitely better than the far more humorous theatrical cut, though to be fair they called Joss Whedon in the last minute to take Zack Snyder’s place; as much as I like Whedon’s work, and although the CGI still isn’t the best, it’s much more gratifying to see Snyder’s take.

READING:

The Duke and the Lady in Red, Lorraine Heath

Not the usual book I read, I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and found myself pleasantly surprised. I can see some readers might complain about certain aspects, but this is historical romance for a modern audience so political correctness or errors of the era (and I’m not attesting whether there are any) will be toyed with for entertainment, much as the protagonists Rosalind and Avendale toy with each other. Their misconceptions and mutual attractions are well-played, but it was the perhaps unlikely but heartwarming way in which the story treats Harry that provided the greatest emotional impact. Alas, there’s no way to explain why without spoilers.

Twilight Eye, Dean Koontz

A re-read as part of a book clearance. When I started this, I couldn’t even recall reading it the first time around. The author rarely writes in first person, and perhaps this is why. The idea of someone with a second sight which allows them to see the ‘goblins’ among us starts off well, and overall is a decent book. Alas, it feels as though it goes on too long within a few pages, possibly to the sometimes enjoyable, sometimes eye-glazing descriptions. There are a lot of subtexts to this story of resistance to the evil among us, a perfect analogy of the evil in humans. Too much, perhaps, another of its faults. There’s meaning here that’s ultimately lost in what feels like an overly long book to get the point across. The book works as an allegory to human behaviour, particularly in how we treat each other, but doesn’t especially tell us anything new. The book suffers from excess. Well worth reading once, but not to revisit.

Malorie, Josh Malerman

The end of Bird Box led me to believe this book would take an entirely different route, that the reader would learn about a different section of Malorie’s life than the one in this sequel’s pages. That the story is so unlike what I expected isn’t a bad thing, making this tale a complete surprise. We continue to follow Malorie and the children, now grown, and inescapable hope in the bleakest of times. Malerman hits an emotional tone in this book that feels deeper than the one in Bird Box, driving Malorie on to face danger at the moment in her existence when she has even more to lose. Like most great suspense stories, both these books are not about the monsters, but those who struggle to survive against the odds.

Lassie Come Home, Eric Knight

What can be said of this original classic? Some situations In this book may strike younger generations as strange if they don’t know their history. The way of life, the cruelty, women’s work being very much a part of the home, but the only real warning this book requires for animal and dog lovers, is a box of tissues required. A beautiful keepsake featuring one of the most famous dogs of all time.

Finders, Keepers, Stephen King

Although Hodges doesn’t feature so heavily in this second book of the trilogy, each containing separate, tenuously linked stories, I preferred this to the first. Perhaps because the subject is an obsessed reader. Not only a more than decent thriller, this entire story is a disquieting examination of obsession. Though fiction is a way to explore the actual world, this throws an uneasy light on the reader/writer relationship, questioning expectation vs dictatorship of the writer’s imagination.

The Castrato and His Wife, Helen Berry

A fascinating factual account of Tenducci and his bride, Dorothea Maunsell, this is not only a great insight to the life of a castrato and those responsible for the mutilation of young boys (unsurprisingly, in part the church), but a peek into the influence of opera on London and the lives of women back in the 1700s. Perhaps most amazing is the rebellious and staunch Dorothea during a time when a modern audience might expect a woman of that age to cower in fear. History may look at her two ways, either conniving or resourceful, the lengths women needed to go to in order to have any control of their lives, being the property of a man, either that of their fathers or husbands. It also throws a light on society of the time, revealing an inclination to live above one’s means even with the threat of debtor’s prison. Well, written and engaging, there are many reasons to read this book.

Slade House, David Mitchell

A house that only appears every 9 years with two of the strangest ‘ghosts’ ever sounds like the recipe for a true scare, but I never found this book frightening. The story’s told in 9 year breaks by each consecutive visitor, and like the one who believes she’s on a drug-induced trip, that’s how much of this book came across. Perhaps a little too surreal for me with too many obscure references in parts, though nothing that stops you from understanding the basis of what’s happening. Still, there’s something persuasive about the story and the writing which acts like glue. I’ve heard it’s a companion piece to The Bone Clocks, and as I’ve not read that, perhaps it’s why this fell short for me; alas, this didn’t entice me to pick it up the other novel (maybe one day but not immediately). Much of Mitchell’s writing has a dreamlike quality that pulls me in both directions, offering both something fascinating and yet inexplicable, leaving me uncertain as to my level of like/dislike. I guess the best word I have for this is intriguing.

WRITING:

I finished re-editing and adding to an older book and would have subbed it already had I not run into a word processing issue, namely that Mac’s current edition of Pages has a problem changing straight quotes to curly quotes after the writing. In Word (or Scrivener), you can do a simple search and replace, and the programme alters both forward and backward quotes in the right way. In Pages it makes them all face the same way so that half of them are wrong. So, I need to transfer the file to the Window’s computer and deal with this issue first. Then I’m going to work on a new idea.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update January 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

As it’s still lockdown and you’re not meant to go further than your immediate town, we’ve got exercise from walking round what are some rather bleak roads this time of year, and for far too short walks up on our meagre bit of common. We realised the other day there is one garden we can reach and use our RHS membership to only pay for one of us, but it’s not our favourite and particularly not this time of year. This weekend just gone was miserable with icy rain. We’ve decided to make the best of this continued lockdown by giving our dining room a slight makeover, which only comprises painting two walls, and moving some furniture around. Maybe I’ll tell you the exciting details next month. Yes, that’s sarcasm. We may appreciate the necessity of staying in, but it wears thin on those of us even obeying the rules with the best intentions.

I’ve also had a few days struggling with pain. One of those days when acupuncture needles start looking good, even though I’m not going right now because of the Covid situation, and because it seems a bit of a waste trying when I don’t need to go out as have no one to visit and no travelling allowed. I’ve felt like a bouncing ball these days, which when you have to live with pain is understandable. I’m thinking there are few life lessons greater than living with pain. Focuses you on what’s important. So far, doing a little better as we roll into February. Missing a couple of friends as I could so do with a good vent, and I know they could, too.

FILM/TV:

We got through season one of Fortitude, a British horror psychological thriller television series the first season of which first aired in January 2015. Set in a fictional Arctic Norwegian settlement of Fortitude, I found the first series often beautiful in terms of scenery, very watchable, well-plotted, an eco warning in the sub-plot, with my only criticism being too many characters seem to suffer from the terminable illness of TSTL (Too Stupid Too Live). On to season two next.

Been watching a lot of old films at the weekends, like westerns or thrillers. Just watched Once Upon a Time in the West. You can see where Tarantino picked up ideas from. I’m fairly sure he’s mentioned work like this in the past, but even if he hadn’t, it’s definitely the same vibe. Also, made me think of my aunt who loved a) Doug McClure (got a signed photo from him and an invitation to drop by his place if she was ever nearby; alas, she never had the chance), b) Charlton Heston, and c) Charles Bronson (who is in this film).

READING:

How to Stop Time, Matt Haig

Sometimes you come across books with emotional meaning and theme tightly woven into the narrative, and this is one of them. Time is the enemy. Time is our friend. Maybe we don’t need to be told that (I see some reviews that seem to find this preachy), but I can’t help thinking we do (need reminding) in this modern world where we waste so much of it, and Matt Haig reminds us of what’s important superbly. The historical parts are vivid and highlight the stupidity of what we deem to be so important now. And I felt there was so much more to Tom’s life and experiences that we can alas only glimpse for the purpose of the story. The only flaw for me is I would have liked to have seen more page time spent between Tom and his modern day love interest. The book lacked the depth of love needed to make Tom want to live; his love for his daughter felt more real and a greater motivation, so if you’re looking for a hidden love story, it’s only vaguely there. Still, this is a superb book.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

I really wish I could love this ‘Groundhog Day’ reflections of a life. Alas, it took me close to 300 pages to care about Ursula in any deep way, possibly because this is the page mark where the reader has the privilege of the longest (so far in the book at this point) chapter of her life without a restart. This happened at least three times — moments where I became engrossed only to get jerked away. Admittedly, there are joys and delight amongst the pages, and I cannot fault the writing or research, although the style is rather distinct in a way that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. Neither do I fault the author’s reasons for writing this novel, as detailed in the author’s footnotes at the end of the book. This may be for anyone who wants to ‘experience’ a historical reflection of English country life and wartime, of which this gives a real flavour. But sadly for me I felt this was time lost, reading a story that seems rather pointless other than several ‘what if’ snippets of life with no conclusions. Odd, how a book can be both excellent yet unsatisfactory, but that’s the only way I can refer to this. I have another book by this author featuring a character from this book, but though I’ve tried, I’m not sure I will read it.

Last of the Wilds, Book Two Age of the Five, Trudi Canavan

The second book in a trilogy, which I prefer over the first. This book is tough to review without giving major plot points away. Where the first book appeared to deal with a direct story of good vs evil, the second book has more layers, complicating the plot in excellent ways, making the reader ask the same questions as many characters come to debate. I often reserve 5 out of 5 scores only for books I adore and cannot stand to part with, but this book escalates the tale in book 1 to a new and more satisfying level. Whereas when I finished Book 1, I mostly delved into the second book out of curiosity, I now need to read the last of the trilogy to learn the outcome. With one or two perfect twists, I’ve enjoyed this much more than I expected to. An excellent blend of religion, and politics, and the dangerous quality of blind faith.

Incubus, Joe Donnelly

The first book I’ve read by Joe Donnelly, but it won’t be my last. 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.

The Door to December, Dean Koontz

Re-read as part of a hoped-for book clearance, though often listed as a horror writer, Koontz is really a supernatural thriller author. I’ve heard some complain about many of his recent books (of which I’m behind on), but it’s too easy to forget some of his old works are superb. Whether you like his work, many are well-plotted, well-written, create tension with simple sentences, and get in more than enough character development. Those who know about story structure can see in which books it shines out. Alas, the surprise twist is terribly simple to work out, and the ending, after a long but absorbing journey, seems to happen too fast. Still worth reading.

WRITING:

Well, I just finished the edit/partial rewrite of what I wanted to complete in January and in time for the last weekend. I’ll shelve it a little while now, but I think it’s okay to republish. I know it’s a lot of work but I’ve learned so much and changed my writing so much it does me a disservice not to improve things where I can. I know that’s not much news for now, but I am picking things up.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update Dec 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Though it would usually be our year at home, anyway, considering everything happening we stayed in. If nothing else, we expected the long trip we would have to take becoming gridlock, and I did not cherish the thought of stopping in motorway services for a break. The shops heaving have been bad enough. Then, of course, the rules changed and we couldn’t have made such a long trip to relatives in a day. Have spent a long, relaxed, peaceful time at home together, the only downside has been the almost constant rain, gusting winds from storm Bella, and waking up to a smattering of snow, quickly melting.

FILM/TV:

I thoroughly recommend Netflix’s Night on Earth series. I have relatives no longer here who would have cried to view such outstanding photography. Also, the more you learn about the planet and the creatures we share this world with, the little you realise you know. For writers everywhere, strange and wonderful creatures don’t have to be alien. They are right here.

We started the Christmas watching rundown with Netflix’s Jingle Jangle, a fine example of the quality viewing the service provides and why it’s giving other filmmakers migraines. We followed this with both films in The Christmas Chronicles. And watched all our seasonal favourites, of course.

I picked up a cheap copy of How Green Was My Valley on Blu-ray and cannot recommend it enough in a cleaned-up version. It’s like never having seen it before and a story I cannot help but love. Have also been watching an old British television series, Life on Mars, about a man hit by car catapulted in reality or his imagination back to the 70s. The series is full of nostalgia, both good and bad, especially a reminder of how sexist society was back then.

READING:

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

I began The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe back in May 2019, an enormous book I’ve had awhile and, as I thought, it took me ages to get through. Very much a book I intended to dip in and out of over several months. 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. In the story section, the first touch of the true Poe I know came with his story Berenice. The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether has to be one of the oddest tales in the book, aided by a modern day imagination. Once again, the reason his best-known works stand out becomes clear, for they are the most compelling. Yet if you think you know all there is to know about Poe in things macabre, think again. Some of his stories are light, even possibly satirical and intended to be humorous. It feels sacrilegious to give Poe less than 5 stars, but I have to be honest. Some work I adored, some I liked, and some I hated. As someone who has always been a great admirer of classics, even I struggled when the content failed to hold my attention. But there are many gems here, and one has to recognise Poe’s talent and influence, so I’m glad to have read through to pay homage to an amazing body of memorable work.

Dan Leno & The Limehouse Golem, Peter Ackroyd

I like how each chapter within the book jumps from one perspective to another, told in various styles. Alas, the parts that were far more tell than show made portions of the book less interesting, in particular because some information made me feel as though I was undergoing a lesson. I also feel having previously seen the film somewhat diminished my experience. Still, this is a wonderfully woven Victorian melodrama, perfectly historically blended. Both an excellent book and film, but not one needs to revisit.

The Other, Thomas Tryon

I’ve only read one other book by Thomas Tryon, many years ago, loved it, and still own. So I thought it way past the time I read another. I’d heard good things about The Other, and overall this is excellent. The trouble stems perhaps from the dated feeling of both the writing, setting, and how distanced a modern audience often is from subconscious scares. I wouldn’t categorise this as horror, though for those who like evil child stories, this undoubtedly deserves to be a classic. The construction that will meet with dislike from some was ingenious at the time it was written and remains good today. Most profoundly, a subtle unease exists within the pages that creeps into the mind. Unfortunately, the surprises didn’t feel all that big; again, perhaps because a modern audience is harder to shock.

Black Mad Wheel, Josh Malerman

While reading this I didn’t feel I was reading horror, more a dark thriller, yet as I neared the end I realised how insidious the horror is. This is a story of what happens to a man thrown in at the deep end, morally abandoned, and used. The novel reads as a multilayered allegory; much of Malerman’s work seems to. For me, this one perhaps tries to illuminate the futility of war. I couldn’t help a rather bleak thought at one point, that the only way to stop war was to kill everyone. Readers who like crystal clear details and simple endings may find this writer’s work is not for them, but like poetry or a song, it leaves some details for self-interpretation. Still, the second part feels like no ‘part’ at all, and over too fast considering the tremendous buildup. Despite this, and some question left hanging, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

One book that defies description. Though it has dark elements, it’s not listed as horror but as fantasy, but I cannot help feeling it’s all these things with a blend of an intellectual type of bizarro fiction. This is one book that acts as a lesson to writers everywhere, not to worry about reining in their imagination. Disbelief needs shelving. I couldn’t help feeling the opening section is almost designed to throw the reader off balance, though whether this was the author’s intention, it’s impossible to tell. The rest of the book is an easier if peculiar read, giving just enough away to hook the reader from beginning to end. For every revelation, there are bigger questions hanging over the story. Towards the end I felt the book (for me) was essentially about the pain of sacrifice (there’s a lot of pain throughout), though, like poetry is open to individual interpretation. I found it compelling and haunting despite being fantastical and confusing. This has to be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, yet that’s why it’s amazing and completely unforgettable.

WRITING:

I came across a wonderful comment praising the Lethbridge-Stewart series of novels, and mentioning that my book, The Shadowman, evoked very strong emotions in one reader. Stunned me, frankly. A multi-authored series is hard work but lovely as ever to hear some readers find the effort worthwhile.

I’ve been doing some relaxed editing with a view to releasing an older work, editing that’s turned mostly into rewriting. Sometimes it’s a shock to realise how much you’ve improved.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x