Sunday, 19 November 2017

Strange Weather by Joe Hill.


Anyone who has known me for any length of time will know that one of the highlights of me reading life was meeting Joe Hill at a reading at the wonderful Foyles store in London, so to say I am a fan is a bit of an understatement, so my anticipation for this collection of short novels, (or really long short stories as it might be better to describe them) was high.

I was not disappointed, Joe Hill has an incredible skill with language, it is rich in it’s descriptors so a scene is vivid and sensual and yet also has an inate ability to make even coarse language flow so it remains authentic to the speaker so it does not jar.

Snapshot is the eerie tale of a Polaroid camera that takes away memories rather than creating them. The more photos it takes, the more it destroys and deletes. A possessed camera not withstanding and a violent psychopath wielding it  and the spookiness of the images captured are by no means the most troubling part of this story for me.  The portrayal of  the memory loss, worry and confusion that dementia brings about. The agonies loved ones endure, the flashes of cognition that cause more pain in their fleetingness.  I have seen other reviewers say this is the weakest of the four, but for me it was the most personally upsetting.  Good stories evoke an emotional reaction and this certainly affected me.

Loaded is a story of the moment. Densely packed with issues that affect every single person in America today, whatever side of the political, social or religious divides you sit, this story will evoke strong feelings. From the “accidental” death of a near squeaky clean black teen by a white cop with poor risk assessment skills, the story ratchets up the tension using every fear in American hearts, rights of every kind are offered up for scrutiny. Freedom of the press, Right to Arms, racism, sexism and even assisted suicide all become part of this harrowing and ultimately desolate story of guns and Gung Ho , machismo ridden man whose fall into madness is all the more frightening against the backdrop of the reality of the Gun problem in America.

Aloft is a good old fashioned science fiction story with a foundation in the idea of loneliness being a transferable emotion. Our hero feels disillusioned and insular in his group of closest friends but is then thrust into true solitude as a cloudlike alien entity breaks his fall out of a plane in a skydive  attempt to impress his unrequited love. What follows is a intriguing battle of wills and a marvellously weird reveal that reminded me of a couple of episodes of Dr Who - Always a bonus!

Rain  was a straight out environmental post apocalyptic disaster. Spunky heroine survives crystalline shards from the sky, created in the clouds. A terrorist weapon of Mass Destruction. Part Mad Max with crazed religious cults wallowing in the end of Days and in the closing paragraphs a wonderful twist and a searing judgement on the kind of escalation that can occur through misinformation a trigger finger just a little too itchy on those cursed red buttons... Mr Trump had best steer clear of this story just in case it gives him ideas!

A collection that has resonated in every part of my mind, clever storytelling and a inordinate amount of food for thought on the plight of humanity. Mr Hill you have done it again. A Triumph.

36 Question’s that changed my mind about you by Vicki Grant

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This YA book is deceptively simple in it’s structure. Two complete strangers are paired up by sexual orientation and then have to answer thirty six predetermined questions in a bid to orchestrate a relational connection.

 Enter somewhat annoyingly neurotic  Hildey and the more laid back, laconic and seemingly mercenary Paul. To maintain anonymity they are to address each other as Bob and Betty. They begin face to face, but after an emotional outburst continue via Messenger. Somehow freed by the structure of the questions they begin to examine ideas and notions that perhaps they had never consciously considered.

The inevitable oil and water mix of grammar policing high flyer with the “Just Scrapes by”  high school drop out is a great foundation for this story. A clinical chore becomes a mutual reliance from both participants . We gradually peel away the layers and reveal vulnerabilities and qualities that intrigue and entice. By sharing the pasts, presents and worrying futures they eventually both learn as much about themselves as they do about each other. 

The deep dark secrets they harbour are excised, and an attachment (based on understanding the minutiae  of each other’s lives rather than appearance or the posturing so common even by the most genuine people on social media) is formed.


Throw in (quite literally, in fact) an expensive tropical fish, a gay best friend, parental traumas and a  romantic dash through a blizzard and you have a throughly entertaining story and I defy you not to start making a note of the questions to try out on your nearest and dearest.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Pets Of Primrose Cottage - A Place to Hide by Sheila Norton


It seems that the serialised novel is making a resurgence, the work that Dickens and later Stephen King did to make the art of waiting for the next bite size advance in the plot  so tantalising is being used now to introduce new works to an ever hungry audience.

This tale of disgraced media darling who returns from the glamour of New York to a less than enthusiastic family in Loughton. The invasion of privacy or her parents and twin sister galvanises a move to a small town on the edges of Dartmoor to escape scrutiny by the ravenous paparazzi.

Unfortunately in Crickleford, everyone has a nose in everyone else’s business, this coupled with a disturbing propensity to lie fluently to the kindly family who takes her in as a lodger and then an ever increasing circle of kindly locals makes for humorous reading. 

The tangled web she weaves leaves the near broke Emma with a new burgeoning career in pet sitting. Fearful German Shepherds, a local crime spree and physical fitness not withstanding,Emma starts to imagine her New Start might just work, that is until the handsome local Hack Matt Sorrentino  becomes intrigued by the newest crime fighter in town.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris


Midnight Crossroad by Charmaine Harris.

I seem to be one of a horde of readers who felt the last Sookie Sackhouse novels were a aberration. I therefore had  somehow missed the Midnight series when they were released. 

I watched the new TV series based on the book and it piqued my interest enough to risk disappointment again and honestly I have to say that Midnight Crossing was a mixed bag. It seems to meander a little too gently, there is not a lot of narrative  thrust at work here. The central crime is a little too self contained within the midst of what is really a introductory piece for the characters.

They are an interesting bunch,Manfred the Great is a great fellow explorer to meet the people of Midnight (which I always hear with a Texas twang in my head) his skills are barely ever realised in this first outing and I think that is a shame as the medium/ psychic is a characteristic  we do not see so often in this age of the Vampire.

Slightly dishevelled Witch Figi and Lemuel the life force leeching vampire are the only characters even remotely delved in regards their powers and personality. The creepiness Of Lem is a very welcome change from the God’s Gift to man and woman personas of Ms Harris’ previous vampiric characters.

 Figi is feisty but not as sassy as the witchy folk of Bon Temps. I did find it a little odd that she did not utilised her proven ability to freeze folk when she fell into peril, but that is minor

The talking Ginger Tom is genius. Mr Snuggles made the book for me.


The book was a great example of  how strangers can become a family and whilst it was low on thrills, it was a book I sank into and would definitely look to reading the second and third volumes to round off the stories of this disparate group of Texan outsiders.

The Secret Of Orchard Cottage By Alex Brown

The Secret Of Orchard Cottage
Cosy Fiction

This is a gentle story that I would normally peg in the Cosy Romance stable but I found myself really personally affected by the depiction of the dementia symptoms in Aunt Edie. The mixing of old and new memories in her mind, the emotional vulnerability that often resulted in tearfulness, these things all hit home hard when looking at my own ninety odd year young Grandmother. 

The tiny little acts of forgetfulness that add up to a larger problem really did resonate.This darker thread really does add another dimension to what was a truly wonderful book.

A glorious country setting, sickly horses, friendly locals, even a whimsical and Romantic Gypsy caravan. To really tickle my fancy there is lots of emphasis on handicrafts, particularly knitting and it made my simple heart sing.

The depiction of our bereaved heroine April was tastefully handled and truthfully rendered, putting on a brave face but still avoiding and wallowing in equal measure. Gradually as the orchard reawakens under her stewardship and care so does her zest for life and I warmed to her and her brood of step children immediately.

A gently unfurling romance and the befriending of  a troubled teen all add nuance to this simple tale of a woman finding a place for herself again after her bereavement. She is reinvigorated when trying to find out the Wartime secret that left two sisters apart for most of their  lives, with Edie experiencing a gaping hole in her life where her sister had been. Left behind; living in the shadow of local gossip painting her beloved sister as a scarlet woman, a seducer of married men and an unmarried Mother,Edie cogitates on her sister as her infirmity increases.

When revealed, the reason for this void in Edie’s life leaves the reader with a warm glow and I am not too proud to say I teared up when Edie gets her resolution after so many years. 


Do not be surprised at a hankering for apples, pears and maybe even a sneaky snowball or two after the final page is read

Monday, 6 November 2017

Blog Tour - The Good Samaritan by John Marrs



Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: December 1, 2017

Do you ever get the feeling that the people with the nicest, kindly looking faces have the darkest most twisted minds? You would be forgiven for thinking this very same thing when you see any author publicity by John Marrs. Mr Marrs, writer of immensely popular “The One “ looks like a fun person you would share a cuppa or a pint with. His mind however has some very deep recesses methinks!

I am thus pleased as punch to be  joining  http://www.alwaysreading.net   On  the Blog Tour for The Good Samaritan, another book with a plethora of taut thrills, from this intensely talented writer .

The Good Samaritan had me hooked and left me reeling at it’s close. It also left me pondering and cogitating on the power that counsellors or therapists actually wield if they use their intimacy with society’s most vulnerable for anything other than healing and expression. It makes one shudder.

From the chilling opening prologue,we are drawn almost reluctantly into the mind of a woman who has a singular drive and commitment for her particular passion.  She has a knack  and propensity for bringing people at their lowest ebb to the ultimate action of self destruction.  She is the primary voice in this multiple point of view tale that centres on the catastrophic effect that depression and suicidal thoughts can have on family and friends.

Manipulations and retaliations ricochet around likes squash balls here, making for a very uneasy read.




Her initial machinations create a ripple effect that radiates outwards, infecting and tainting the lives of an ever increasing circle of people. Taken at face value  she is a monstrous creature , she erodes the confidence of her victims and gradually takes away every avenue for turning back from the precipice. She is the more chilling because her outward persona is that of a generous and giving maternal figure.


Delve below this seeming heartlessness and this story becomes an examination of nature versus nurture.  Do the  horrific and traumatising events she experienced as a child ,excuse her actions as an adult? She is an expertly crafted character for whom we feel pity whilst still abhorring her actions and connivances, never trusting, but always willing to follow her into deeper and deeper acts, miring herslf evermore in darkness.

The tension is ratcheted up gradually and painfully with twists and false dawns in the narrative that always leave the reader feeling a little unsure of where things might go next. I think (as with his previous book The One ) John Marr  exhibits a particular skill at showcasing those thorny social issues and making you ponder the minutiae of the matter, here the issues of depressive illness and the morality of assisting suicide or perhaps catalysing is a better term, coercing and manipulating those at the height of fragility.


In this case the act might even be termed assisted Homicide, not a death  in a clinic under medical supervision, but in a darker more visceral way where she and later others are voyeur and observer. Here he presents us with people of warped morality and says "Make of them what you will" without actually telling you how to respond to that seed of darkness.

This was a thoroughly engaging, if very disturbing ride. It does not leave you quickly after you read the last page. I would highly recommend it for anyone who likes their stories tauter than cling film and morally challenging!

Message:

The events of The Good Samaritan are an exceptionally well crafted fiction, but feelings of isolation and helplessness are all too real for some people, many putting on a brave face, living an artifice to be socially acceptable in a world that stills sees mental health and emotional vulnerability as taboo and embarrassing  so I am using this final few words of the  post to champion some of the great folk who aim to help those in turmoil.






Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King


I am a Stephen King fan. Let me just get that out of the way. I also enjoy Owen King’s writing too, it is (at least based on the small sample I have sampled thus far) very different  stylistically so whilst excited to read the next in the Stevie King Canon, I was  also intrigued as to how this collaboration between Father and Son might come to bear in this new novel penned by them both. I am happy to say I could not see any rips in the seams here.

I think SK excels at writing ordinary folk in extraordinary circumstances and this book is no exception. There are the basically good folk with dark hidden recesses, there are the truly pure souls whose fate is not always happy reading and there are the out and out bad apples whom you silently curse. Several times in the reading of this characteristically lengthy tome I called one or two people some very unladylike names... I hid my expletives because ladies do not act that way

Therein lies the vital themic hook of this slow building but satisfying book. Femininity, grit and strength combine in every woman I think and it seems the King boys agree.

The plague that hits only the  Global female population is the turning point here and the premise allows for examinations of many of the issues afflicting the world, but particularly the USA today.

Conservatively inclined men want women to be mother maternal, comforters , appeasers  and whilst ever present not to vocalise or exhibit the other attributes that are traditionally attributed to men.  They are expected to be gentle and beautiful. The gossamer web that grows from within each woman is such a clever device. This is not a punishment inflicted upon them forcibly but in fact a matter of choice - do they submit to slumber  or fight to remain who they are physically?

It is the simple and yet horrifyingly vivid imagery of masking both the face and blurring the image of the feminine body that makes this so awful. A pathogen from within that grows from a woman’s very being and obscures her individuality making all women to all intents and purposes personality devoid blobs.




Encased in their cocoons without a physical voice, it is left to the men to advocate and strike out for the future, divisions soon appear, those who want to protect them in their vulnerability, those that use their absence and the confusion it causes for self enrichment  and even  more troubling those that suddenly feel vindicated to act out the impulses of the misogyny and hate for women that has always been bubbling beneath the service but held in check by social morĂ© or good face. The cynic in me sees many correlations in the way that the current government has allowed a permissiveness of rhetoric to allow Nationalism to rear it’s head in the USA.

Immolation Of cocoons vividly juxtapositions the increasing regularity in the real world where men hurl violent and sexually explicit abuse at women using twitter handles and photos to hide identity. Here victims cannot see their attacker so weaker men are able to act out things they would never do if an open eyed,living breathing woman were before them.

Whilst seemingly helpless,those woken by menfolk trying to remove the cocoon  suddenly become enraged, unstoppable killing machines ...the biggest fear of all, physical strength that matches and in some cases exceeds that of men. No wonder some act in fear. The clever use of the women's Penitentiary as the place of the final stand and the pool from which most characters are harvested allows for women to be able to act against type, be the aggressor rather than the damsel and some of the best action comes from some of the loopiest ladies in town!

The story becomes one of choices. The sleeping women are given another choice to literally start again  in “Our Place” with the help of the enigmatic (and frankly terror inducing) figure of the moth spewing and aptly named Evie Who is at the epicentre of this cosmic gender reset.


Dare the women stay in a world with no men, where a child born might, just might be programmed to see women as capable and strong? Even the heroes of the piece begin the story making decisions to 
shield and protect. Despite Lila being at the top of the ladder in a male dominated career. Clint hides 
the darker aspects of his formative years from her leading to anger and recriminations which might 
have been avoided and setting up a divide that could be the lynchpin of what might happen when 
freedom from men is offered to her in a place where she is respected and needed beyond the role of Wife and Mother

Women are given power and space, but still at the mercy of the actions of men back “home”
The men soon result to violence and brute force to try to return things to their normality, this reversion to type seems to be the note of caution here. The women are forced again to be conciliatory and generous despite the obvious benefits of their situation.





Overall I found the supernatural elements to be interesting and visually arresting in my mind’s eyeandthe characterisation was of the high level I expect from a King book, be that Senior or Junior. There was The was the inevitable final confrontation of Good versus Bad and the indescrimant death from both camps were again par for the course, but more so than in any of his novels, the Kings have allowed their social conscience to permeate the story making it more than a gripping yarn, something meatier and somehow worthier.