Sunday, 18 February 2018

Wrong Place- Michelle Davies, A Review


I’ve been thinking about this review for a few days (and, yes, I am aware that I am late posting today). I was fully prepared to sit down and write a five-out-of-five-this-book-is-amazing review but then I started to relate this book to others in that genre that I have read, and I have read a lot. When I start a new crime series I can’t help but begin to compare it to my top three crime series that I avidly read no matter what (Post on this coming later). I realised, when I was thinking about how Wrong Place compares to the vast collection of other crime books that I have read, that this book, the main premise of the entire plot, is very very similar to one of my favourite books. I haven’t been able to get over it since I realised this. It’s a shame.

SPOILER ALERT!

Despite its similarities to other crime books, the premise of this book feels very unique. It is not the usual body-in-the-woods plot that has become commonplace among noir and hardboiled crime fictions. It becomes a murder story, but it’s late coming and it works. Much of the story is focuses on DC Maggie Neville and her job as Family Liaison Officer to two very different cases; the first being several distraction burglaries, the latest the focus of her investigation as an elderly lady’s life hangs in the balance, the second; an attempted murder-suicide between a husband and wife. As is typical with most contemporary crime novels, both cases for the protagonist detective come crashing together with some interesting consequences.

Alongside the narrative focus on Maggie Neville, we are allowed to see into the life of Della, granddaughter to the elderly lady attacked in the distraction burglary and; Bea, guilty of the other distraction cases along with her no-good boyfriend (but not, interestingly, the latest one being investigated by Maggie) and Lou, Maggie’s hapless sister. This is a really interesting move on Michelle Davies’ part. The focus is shifted from one sub-storyline to the line at crucial, cliff-hanger style moments. The writing here hooks you in, you have to read on because each story line has you gripped. When the climax of each of these storylines comes, and they crash together all at once, it is a little bit exaggerated but in the context of the story, it works which shows the skill of Davies’ writing; she really keeps you on edge, keeping you cheering for Maggie Neville all the way until the end.

However, when we learn the truth about the case of Della’s missing mother and how the story relates to the attempted murder-suicide case, this is where the plot fell apart for me. The van crash at the start, we learn, is a flashback to the night that Della’s mother died and that it all happened because of a prank gone wrong. I won’t name the book that this reminds me of, because only the premise is similar, the rest is all very very different but the similarity made me sad but it didn’t feel unique, which is a shame. This is also true of the storyline involving Lou and her children; the fire at the house was inevitable; right from the word go with her story you knew it was coming. It wasn’t a surprise and it felt like a cop-out for a plot point.

Back to the positives; this book features a nearly all female cast! Most of the crime books that I read are dominated by male villains, male detectives, male superiors and a weak female victim. It is so refreshing to read a book in my favourite genre that turns the usual trend onto its head. Maggie is an unusual character is that she feels very normal, there is a pretty jarring backstory to her but it isn’t the enormous character flaw that so many other writers force onto their protagonists in order to make them seem more interesting. The presentation of Maggie is lovely to read, it makes for a nice break from some of the backstories out there.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. It’s an easy read, I did it in two days. It is the second part of a growing series so if you’re like me and start with this one you’ll soon realise while reading it that there is a need to start at the beginning, which is where I will go once my uni reading is out of the way. It’s an exciting story with a refreshing set of characters and some interesting plot points.

Four out of five!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Since It's Valentine's Day



Good morning,



Today’s post, although book themed, is something a little different. Since today is Valentine’s Day, the day when, if you buy into it, expressions of love and expensive dinners are everywhere you look, I thought I would do a blog post about A Teardrop of Love; the romance novel that I published in 2010.

For those who saw my earlier post on the time that has elapsed since the publication of A Teardrop of Love, you will know that the self-published romantic novel details the lives of two people, from the time that meet and following them throughout their lives together. I haven’t ventured into the world of romance writing since this venture, I don’t think I will anytime soon; I like working in other genres right now, but I enjoyed it at the time.

A Teardrop of Love is the story of two people at the very earliest stage of their lives together; in fact, it picks up from about ten minutes before they meet. From there the story is about their lives, the good moments and the bad. They progress through their lives together meeting a variety of different dramas, not just in their own lives but in the lives of those that they are surrounded by.

The idea of this book is to explore the lives of a young couple and their families, the ups and down and the back to fronts. There is a lot of drama, and chaos and, dare I say it, some fun as well. It was a lot of fun to write and even more fun to see published; especially since it was my first book to go from idea to manuscript to print.

If you’re interested in this little romance story for this Saint Valentine’s Day then check out the link below!  

So long for now!
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Teardrop-Love-Abby-Howard/dp/1449055036/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518467245&sr=8-1&keywords=a+teardrop+of+love+abby+howard

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Horns- Joe Hill, a review


Earlier this month I uploaded my reading list for February. I’m working on it; Mrs Dalloway continues to be the struggle I anticipated that it would be and Terry Pratchett is both interesting but surprisingly difficult to get into. I also stated that there would be other books I would reading that didn’t feature on the list; today’s review is one such book. Horns by Joe Hill is a double first for me. I’ve never read anything of his before and I’ve never read a contemporary fantasy before. It turned out to be one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year and I can’t wait to get started on the other Joe Hill books I have waiting on my shelf.

SPOILER ALERT!

Horns was a complete surprise to me. I’ve seen the film- most of which I can’t actually remember, which I think says something about the quality of it- and I know that I wasn’t impressed. I wanted to read the book because I was to get into reading Joe Hill’s work and I needed a contemporary fantasy book as a starting point for one of my classes. Horns opens with a passage that will hook you straight away; it’s hilarious with a dark edge that sets the tone for the entire book. What follows is a mash up of dark humour, strange fantasy and twisted story telling that showcases how skilled Joe Hill is as a writer. Hill brings together many outside influences and mashes them into this incredible story that is addictive to the point that it is hard to put down.

Ig’s character is a strange one; in fact, this true of the entire cast of Horns. The setting feels out of place with the characters; they don’t fit with the town that Hill sets the novel in. This disjointed setup parallels the novel as a whole; there is something not quite right about the world in which Ig has found himself thanks to the horns. Everything feels a little bit off. I think this has been done on purpose; although the narrative is third person you very much end up centred on Ig. You are as unsettled as he is in this strange new world. It demonstrates the power of Hill’s writing; you are there, alongside Ig, watching and suffering with him.

Horns reads like a fantasy but it also acts like a crime story. Ig wants to solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s murder. This part of the story is a little jumbled and it’s hard to keep up with the narrative at times because of its non-linear timeline. The focus is primarily on this and the trauma that Ig has gone through as the number one suspect in the case. The writing is emotive but there is a problem; Hill does not set Merrin up in such a way that you feel sorry for her. No, she does not deserve to be brutally murdered- far from it, but there is little in her character that evokes empathy for her as well. Her final appearance is frustrating and flat and I needed more from her. A little more in her character would have really given this book the push it needed to be truly amazing.

The other problem with this book is that it is very predictable and it somewhat cliched. It seemed obvious right from the word go that Lee was the guilty party. The ending was much better that I was expecting but it still aired on the side of precaution on the writer’s part. I’d have liked something with a little bit more to it but hey; that’s just me.

On the whole, this is a very excellent book. The characters are mostly likeable and the writing is brilliant. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Joe Hill in the future.



Four out of Five!



By for now!  

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A Reflection on Self-Publishing- Part 2


Good morning,



Last month I posted a blog about my experiences as a self-published author and I was surprised at home much attention the post gained. It seemed that a lot of people were curious about the self-publishing industry and this got me thinking; why not do a follow up? I’ve been wondering what the best thing to talk about in this post would be. A lot of the talk around self-publishing, particularly the anxiety towards it, seems to be about the work involved after publication-marketing and such- so why don’t we talk about that? 

It goes without saying that it is hard work to market a book. Even traditionally published authors must find that. There are billions of books in the world and everyone who writes one is fighting to get theirs noticed. When I first self-published, I wasn’t in a position to plough the time or the money into marketing my book that was necessary to make a real difference, and realistically I’m still not, so I have to do what I can on my own. Things like running the blog, advertising on social-media, harassing the university to let me put up a poster for it; anything to get the word out. It does make a difference, people start to become aware of the books. This is what I mean with self-publishing; you have to do it yourself but every little thing makes a difference to you and your books.

One of the most surprising things, when it comes to self-publishing, is the lack of presence books from that market seem to have in your average high street bookstore. I had to fight tooth and nail to get A Teardrop of Love into an unnamed high street bookstore and even harder to get BACKSTAGE PASS: Debut and Broken Record into another store (also unnamed). This doesn’t exactly make life any easier for self-published authors; the reluctance to take our books on the high street is a very difficult thing to overcome.

I’d also like to see more self-published authors being represented on reading lists. I once sat in a classroom listening to a teacher tell the class that self-publishing is vain and not real publishing. Being fairly new at the institution I didn’t challenge this then, but I wish I had and ever since then I have been confronting attitudes like this one. As I said in my previous post on this; there is no difference between the amount of work that goes into a traditionally published book to a self-published book, so why are they treated as though they exist on some kind of hierarchy that excludes self-published authors from many reading lists? Maybe this is part of the hard work of marketing that I need to pick up on more? Who knows!

I maintain that I’m glad I chose self-publishing. Writing is my life and I love seeing it in print and I love working to promote it.

I’d be interested to know what other people’s experiences are with self-publishing so hey; why not leave it in the comments below?

Bye for now!

 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Candor- Pam Bachorz, A Review


Pam Bachorz- Candor
It’s been a long time since I read a proper YA novel. They are a form of writing I seem to have drifted away from in the last few years. It’s not happened on purpose, there are just other genres that I have floated towards instead. Candor, today’s book up for review, has been a swift return to the area of fiction I used to love. It was recommended to me for a project I am writing at the moment and when I heard that it was a YA novel I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much. But Candor turned out to be much more than I could have expected, and I couldn’t not post a review. Be aware, spoiler alert!

If I were to explain this book to anybody without wanting to give too much away; I would say that it is 1984 meets Stepford Wives. It is set in a town in Florida where the teenagers are robotic, over polite people pleasers who live for homework, studying and doing good in their community. Everything about their good behaviour is taken to the extreme; we see that they are ultra-brilliant and whenever the urge to act out creeps into them, it is swiftly wiped away by the over powering urge to better themselves and help out the wider community. It’s uncomfortable because the robotic nature with which they are overpowered by the need to do good feels unnatural and orchestrated; it does not feel like they are doing it because they want to.

This is, or course, the case. We learn very early on through the slightly arrogant narrator and protagonist, Oscar, that the town is being controlled by secret ‘messages’ that are played constantly through the music that is pumped into every inch of the town. The messages break into the subconscious and destroy all desire to rebel, fight back and generally misbehave. Our protagonist is the exception; he’s worked out where the flaws are and how to get around them and he makes it his mission to help others beat the system as he has.

The story opens with Oscar Banks meeting Nia Silva. This is very much a love-at-first-sight scenario and it drives the entire plot. Oscar doesn’t want to lose Nia to the messages, he wants to help her get out of Candor before the music turns her into the Candor parent’s ideal child; perfect and obedient. It doesn’t take much for the plot to get going from here, and I can honestly say that I was hooked right from the off. The plot moves at an easy to deal with pace and everything that happens feels important. Readers learn with Oscar what is about to unfold and this makes the novel exciting and tense. I found the book hard to put down because of it.

I don’t feel that the character’s in Candor are particularly unique. Oscar’s farther feels like the average YA sci-fi villain. But maybe this is the point; the idea of the town of Candor is to turn everybody into everybody else so maybe the unextraordinary appearance of the antagonist is purposeful? If so, nice move Bachorz, if not then well; it still works and I like it a lot! Oscar is similar in that his rebellion has roots in backstories that have been done in dozens of other books, and comics, I might add. This weakens this book a little but because of the nature of the story I am willing to forgive it.

What I’m not willing to forgive is the ending. I was not expecting it. Bachorz doesn’t exactly keep you guessing what is going to happen but what she does do is let you believe that this will have a happy ending; that free will will out! There are a few minor twists, that on reflection could warn you of what is coming, but at first glance they don’t. I wanted Oscar to overcome the system, I wanted Nia to remember him but right when you think that the ending you desperately want is coming Bachorz throws you a curve ball and gives you an ended that nobody expects. It echoes 1984 in a way that I love. It’s powerful and devastating but it suits the novel brilliantly. For a YA novel, it’s maybe a little dark but that’s fine. It reflects what has happened throughout the rest of the book. 

I would have liked a little more exploration of the backstory in Bachorz writing. There is enough in there to get you through but if you are a curious reader, as I am, and you like to know the full extent of the history behind the story, then you may leave this novel feeling a little bit cheated. We are given everything that we need to know about Oscar, his father and his family, but not necessarily everything that we want to know about the Banks’ and how they ended up in the situation that they find themselves. The same goes for Nia. It’s easy to miss the details of her backstory because they are given to us so briefly.

On the whole, this book is great. But it is flawed. There are places where we haven’t been given everything that a reader should be given and there are sections of plot that need to be fleshed out in order for the reader to glean everything that they can from the book. I would recommend this if you want an easy read that will make you think even after you have put it safely back on the shelf. I will definitely be looking out for more books like this.



Four out of five!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

February Reading List!


Greetings!



Somewhat unbelievably, we find ourselves already at the end of the first month of 2018 and ready to begin a new month. It’s been a positive month for me so far; no major hiccups and somewhat miraculously I am keeping on top of this blogging lark!

February is closing in, and for students the second semester is well and truly off to a start. So, this blog is about what’s coming for me this month, book wise. There are only four books on this list but no doubt I will read more but for now I leave you with the four you find here as these are the one I know I will be reading this month:



Candor- Pam Bachorz

I’m sort of cheating with this book; I have already started reading it. Candor was recommended to me by one of my lecturers, it closely relates to my dissertation topic so, as well as being immensely fun to read, it is also acting as a form of education as well! If I'm being honest; I think I would have picked this book up if I saw it on the shelf anyway; it sets itself up as an intriguing and dark story about what happens when the need for control is taken to far. It feels relevant and that makes it scary to engage with, although it am enjoying it. It’s a sinister sci-fi YA novel set in Candor, Florida. From what I have read so far, it feels like a mash-up of Stepford Wives and 1984. I will keep the blog updated as I progress through this book!




Mrs Dalloway- Virginia Woolf

This is compulsory reading for university. I’m not picking this book up by choice. I find Woolf tough to read, I struggled with A Room of Ones Own when I attempted it a few years ago so I am a little worried about what Mrs Dalloway will bring. But, because it’s for my degree I will give it my best shot, and maybe now I am a bit older and have read more books that were tough, this one won't be as bad as I am expecting. We will see. I doubt that there will be updates here but I would keep an eye on Twitter for rants about it, if you’re interested.



The ABC Murders- Agatha Christie

I’m looking forward to getting started with this one, in fact, I may even make it the next one to read after I finish Candor. I am an avid reader of crime fiction but much of it modern, gritty and probably falls in the category of noir fiction thanks to the grisly nature of some of the content. I want to try classic crime now. I've read a bit of Christie's work before, the Miss Marple books kept me guessing pretty much the entire way through. I've not had much to do with Poirot before but I am excited to get started on this one. I like the concept and, I won't lie, I am pretty much sold on this book just from the interesting title! I’m excited to read this one. I’ll keep you posted! 

Mort- Terry Pratchett 
I’m looking forward to this book. I’ve started it before but maybe I wasn’t ready for Pratchett then because I struggled and eventually gave up. I am immersing myself into the fantasy and science fiction world at the moment; they are genres I haven't explored much before and that I would really like to get into. Pratchett has always been difficult for me to read; there is far to much to deal with in his novels. But, according to a number of sources, he counts as a classic fantasy writing so I have decided to give him another go. I like the concept of Mort, so I am looking forward to reading this. Watch for updates!


So, there you have it; this months reading as it stands. As I say, I think there will be more which I will of course discuss as the month progresses. But, for now, I leave these ones here.

Have a good month all!

See you soon!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

IT (2017)- A Review


Horror movies are not my thing. Let me start by making that very clear. It’s not that I find them particularly scary, it’s just that a lot of them, especially the modern ones, bore me. The recent trend towards jump scares and implied gore makes most horror movies a real chore to watch. I understand the idea is that it’s scarier if you can’t see what’s really chasing them, or what’s eating them, because you’ll always imagine something worse, but when every horror movie from the last few years feels the need to set themselves up like this, it just gets repetitive and boring and I can’t be bothered with it. This is why I mostly avoid horror movies. 

BUT!

As most of you know; I am a huge Stephen King fan (que Cathy Bates impressions; ‘I’m your number one fan’) so I was always going to see the IT remake, even with my scepticism of horror films. The book, which makes a handy doorstop when you’re done with it, has moments in it that are genuinely terrifying to read and the Tim Curry TV movie, although a bit laughable now, was brilliant for the time that it was made. Tim Curry was a great Pennywise, so much so that I was almost willing to boycott the film because he wasn’t in it, which would have been a huge mistake!  It’s exciting that IT got the remake that it deserved; Stephen King adaptations often didn’t come out as brilliantly as they deserve because the technology didn’t allow for it. Now we can make them look how they should. Which makes IT brilliant!

The opening scene was released in trailer form shortly before the film was released. I don’t think you need to have read the book or even seen the original movie to recognise it; young Georgie chasing a boat down a street in the rain before it disappears down a storm drain and then BOO, IT appears. I don’t feel that showing this scene in the trailer did any damage to the film itself; everything about it is perfect; the sinister music, the build up to the clown jump-scare, Georgie’s scream when he realises his boat is going to float off into oblivion. This moment in the film set up what followed brilliantly; and it also summed up the Pennywise character, now played by Bill Skarsgard, perfectly.

I was worried about Skarsgard when I heard he was taking on the role; I thought he might be a bit too young and not capable of playing the sinister storm-drain villain to its full potential but I was wrong; he does it perfectly. When I first blogged about the film I stated that I was worried about the fact that they clown had been shown in the trailers, but having now seen the full version I can safely say that it didn’t hinder the horror in any way; the clown is still as chilling and as scary as it was originally intended. There are moments, particularly in the second half of the film, where Skarsgard’s acting becomes uncannily like Jim Carey when he was playing the Grinch and certain parts of the film that feature Pennywise are funny rather than scary but it doesn’t impact the whole film all the time and you could argue that the comedy breaks it up. The clown costume stops the film from becoming too comical; it almost seems to make it more sinister because of the completely serious expressions that Skarsgard maintains while in the role.

Skarsgard isn’t the only successful casting in IT. Those playing the members of The Losers Club are all so well cast; each one of them suits their role amazingly and they each pull it off with precision acting; it’s like they jumped off the page. The brilliant cast, perfect script and the imagery of the horror, perfectly balanced with the light-hearted moments, make this the perfect Stephen King adaptation.

Another thing that is brilliant about this film is the soundtrack; it’s wonderful. The score sets up each jump scare perfectly and the songs that accompany the lighter scenes almost feel as if they were written for the film. They fuse the scenes together into an amazing film, all helped by the great acting and scripts.

I love this film. I can’t wait for Chapter 2. I would recommend reading the book before it comes out; it’s definitely worth it.


Enjoy!