Book Reviews, Books

September Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

Free image courtesy Anrita1705 on Pixabay

My favourite time of the year is back. Spring has finally arrived! It’s a good opportunity to get outside and enjoy the sun before sneezin’ season well and truly kicks in. With all this rain we’ve been getting lately, it’s perfect conditions for weeds and hay fever.

These past few months I’ve been reading and listening to a mix of horror and Gothic fiction – two of my favourites. I’ve also found some new authors. 😊

Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

I really enjoyed this ghost story, set in a coastal town of Wales, with its combination of superstition and the art of ceramics. I enjoyed how the plot and Elinor’s grief combined to create each unique immortelle to decorate the graves of the dead.

This book starts off with two different viewpoints, but it is ultimately Elinor’s story, which is of a mother’s love for her child. There are hints of Elinor’s past, which I would have liked to have read more about, tragic deaths, ghosts, a mysterious character, and the occult.

This story is beautifully written, and some phrases you need to stop reading just to admire them. The ending is both surprising and touching. This is a deeply moving story, and one I highly recommend.

Many thanks to fellow author and blogger, Priscilla Bettis, for the recommendation! 😊

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I’ve read this book half a dozen times now, and it has become one of my favourites, placing it alongside The Turn of the Screw.

Eel Marsh House is an unusual, but eerie location, isolated and surrounded by marshland, creeping fog, and has its own graveyard. Strange noises frequent the marshes and the nursery, and while the woman in black appears on occasion, her presence is constant. As Arthur Kipps works alone at the house, it is refreshing to read of the dog, Spider, keeping him company. Spider is a lovely addition, and the reader also becomes concerned for her welfare.

I think listening to the audio version helps draw the reader in. It is told in the style of an old-fashioned ghost story, where Arthur tells his experiences as one would a friend in front of a warm fire on a cold winter’s night. It feels intimate with a slow build and the narrator does a great job of reading the book, which culminates in the shocking final scene, making it both chilling and heart-wrenching.

Well written, suspenseful, and atmospheric, it is highly recommended for readers of Gothic horror.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

For me, this book started slow, but it wasn’t until the main character, Beatriz, began walking the house alone in the dark, did it really draw me in. The author creates an eerie atmosphere with some beautiful phrases, so that the house itself becomes a character, and the ghost is more than a shadowy figure.

I listened to the audio version, which alternated between Beatriz and Andres. The narrators did a wonderful job. They helped make the characters come alive, so that in the end I could have been mistaken for believing they were Beatriz and Andres. The only downside to the audio version was not knowing the meaning of some of the Spanish words. After hearing some of them being repeated, though, I got to understand their meaning, while at other times I was so drawn in by the story, I let them go.

I can understand the comparisons to Rebecca, but I think the setting and some of the characters helps make this unique within the Gothic genre. This is a wonderful debut, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

The BEK Curse by Jonathan Pongratz

Early retirees, Richard and Maria Wilcox, have settled into life on a farm, but talk of strange children lurking the neighbourhood shatter their privacy. The author does a good job of building the suspense as these children visit Richard and Maria at night, their intentions escalating. The children are creepy, especially the young boy, who I found capable of anything.

The ending surprised me. I wanted more and left me with questions. I am unfamiliar with the legend of black-eyed children, and I’m curious to find out more. The ending felt rushed, but that may be because I needed to keep turning the pages. By this stage, I was suspecting everyone!

A quick read that sure packs a punch, it is the first time I have read a book from this author, and it won’t be the last.

What have you been reading these past few months? Have you found any new authors lately? Do you have any book/author recommendations to share?

 

Movies/Television

A Return to ‘Crimson Peak’

I originally watched Crimson Peak on its release some years ago and had always considered giving it another viewing. This time around, I managed to pick up on a few things I hadn’t before.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers*

The setting of Allerdale Hall (Crimson Peak) is situated in a remote part of England. Despite its dereliction, it’s a visually stunning house with its tall ceilings and grand staircase. Yet it is the gaping hole in the roof that gives the viewer pause for concern. The hole is uncovered, bringing with it the elements of the weather, including autumn leaves, chill, howling winds and winter snow. The red clay that lies beneath the house, seeps into the floors, walls, and water pipes, and is both unusual and ominous.

Butterflies and moths have also made Crimson Peak their home, entering through various open spaces and nestling within the rooms. It is a strange arrangement of co-habitation, and butterflies feature heavily within the film, even before Edith steps foot in the Hall. Butterflies are a symbol of transformation, change and rebirth, and this theme features in other aspects of the film.

I’ve always been a sucker for set designs. 😉

The clothes are not only gorgeous, but they also show the differences between Edith and Lucille. Edith is a more modern woman, independently minded with hopes of becoming an author, so the clothes she wears are modern Edwardian with puffed sleeves. Lucille is happy within the home, clings to stability and her dependence on Thomas. Rooted in the past, her clothing demonstrates that, as she wears the Victorian bustle (these are the dresses I personally prefer within the film).

Although his machine is designed to help save his home, Thomas reveals his tendencies towards change through his inventions. Creative and forward thinking, he is willing to embrace change by choosing Edith as his wife, and begging Lucille to stop what she is doing – something she has done for years. This then reveals Lucille’s obsession, and a standout performance by Jessica Chastain. Her portrayal is both intense and frightening, and every inch the ‘mad’ woman.

The ghosts within the film are creepy, skeletal figures with long outstretched hands. Edith’s mother is a frightening, black presence (she died of black cholera), while those at Crimson Peak are as red as the soil. They float, walk and crawl throughout the Hall. There is only one white ghost, and they are a sad, lonely figure.

I thought the dog was a sweet addition to the film and I loved to watch it play ball and run through the house, so what happened to it didn’t please me at all. 🙁

I enjoyed the film, but my favourite part would have to be the ending (no, not the gory bits). I love what was said about ghosts in those final minutes where the camera returns to the house. The writing and imagery combine to make something sad, but beautiful. The images during the end credits are gorgeous, and the final image brings a happier, satisfying conclusion.

What was it about Crimson Peak you enjoyed the most? Did you love it or hate it? Do you embrace change? Are you a sucker for gorgeous set design and/or costumes?

IWSG

What Genre Would You Find Difficult to Write?

Free image courtesy 8385 on Pixabay.

Firstly, I’ve returned to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), where writers get together to share and encourage others. It’s good to be back and I look forward to reacquainting myself with fellow writers and meeting new ones along the way. 😊

The answer to this month’s optional question was a bit of a no brainer for me. As much as I enjoy watching science fiction, this is one genre I would find difficult to write. Despite my interest in science in general, I can never get my head around all the terminology and complex workings (the subject was not my best at school). I have a brain that’s wired to what my husband likes to refer to as ‘arty-farty’ (I’ll leave the hard-core science stuff to him).

I grew up in a household where we watched a lot of sci-fi shows on television: – Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space, Space 1999, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, The Twilight Zone. So, it’s not as if I am suffering from a lack of influence! The funny thing is, it was not until after we got married that my husband discovered I was a Trekie (bonus brownie points, I guess).

I admit I have never tried writing anything in the genre, because, if I’m being honest, my interest is not strong enough. By that, I mean I don’t feel passionate enough about it, and realistically, we should be writing in genres where we feel the most passionate. And that, for me, is in the horror genre (The Twilight Zone helped play its part here).

Yes, I remain interested in science, I mean, how cool is the sound of a black hole? Sounds like something out of a horror movie! But I’ll leave the writing of the genre to others. I’m happy to just keep watching it and be introduced to more great shows, like Firefly. 😉

What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why? Which genre do you feel the most passionate about? Do you enjoy watching sci-fi?

 

Life Lessons, This Writer's Life, Writing, Writing Process

Writing with Chronic Pain.

Free image courtesy Enrique Meseguer on Pixabay.

When it comes to my writing this year, I began with optimism; I had another novella to write, and I was full of new ideas. Of-course, life doesn’t always go according to plan, and as the year went on, I found myself facing my biggest challenge yet.

The previous year (2021), I had taken a couple of falls, landing on alternate knees, causing injury, but thankfully no broken bones. Normally a healthy person, this was frustrating, but I managed. However, it was not until the end of the year that another health problem arose.

As the months passed, pain in my legs and lower back intensified. I had trouble sleeping and went to ‘bed’ on the lounge. To make matters worse, our family doctor of twenty years eventually retired, leaving me anxious and receiving three different diagnoses from three different doctors. Eventually, when at my lowest ebb, things worked out and in early July, I finally received my diagnosis. Sacroiliac joint pain – inflammation in my lower back, pelvis, and thighs. Yep, when I get sick, I make sure I do it properly!

Although I could go the quicker route to recovery by having a cortisone injection in my back, I’ve decided to go the slower route (an injection some months earlier in my left hip left me with a bad experience and I swore I’d never go through it again). Now, I have the right dosage with my medication, I am regularly seeing a chiropractor, and having regular acupuncture and massage. Some days are better than others, and after sleeping on the lounge for three months, I am now back in my bed again! 🙂

Throughout all of this, I naturally backed away a bit from social media, and as you’d expect, my writing has been seriously impacted. I have always been a slow writer, and living with chronic pain has made me accept that it’s part of my writing process.

I’m normally not one to talk about such personal issues, but I mention it to demonstrate that setbacks do happen; nobody knows what’s going on behind the scenes in a writer’s life. Not everyone can write fast, whether it’s through circumstances and/or their genetic makeup. You shouldn’t have to feel like a ‘failure’ if you don’t (and I’ve been there too many times to count). If you can write fast, that’s great, too! Everyone is different. It’s okay to write at your own pace, you shouldn’t have to feel shame either way.

Right now I’m on the slow road to recovery, and that also means the slow road when it comes to writing. We all have our own paths. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take dramatic changes in our lives to come to terms with it.

Has 2022 turned out differently to what you had planned? Have you come to accept your own writing process? Have you ever felt pressured to write faster?

This Writer's Life, Up Close & Personal

Have You Ever Felt Cursed?

Have you experienced so much bad luck, you felt that you were cursed?

This is exactly how I felt on my tenth birthday, believing that I must have done something terribly wrong. Okay, so I was prone to having an overactive imagination and seeing the dark side in everything even at a young age. 😉

The day had gone well, despite having to spend it at school, but I guess that was the calm before the storm. I had some friends over to help celebrate in the afternoon, and wanted one of them to stay overnight, but they were not allowed. Despite my disappointment, as it would turn out, that was the best decision.

I was on the bed playing with my new toys, when what sounded like stones were being thrown against the side of the house. I thought it was the kids next door, but thought it strange, as they had never done such a thing before. When I heard the same sound on the roof, I went to ask my dad what was going on.

It was the beginning of a hailstorm, which would go on to cause major damage to our home. Our roof was so bad, you could look up and see the sky from our lounge room. My sisters and I moped the kitchen floor to no avail; the water just kept coming, and the hail was deafening.

My concern was for my guinea pigs. The mother had recently given birth to two little ones. They were outside under an awning, and I had wanted to bring them inside for the night. My mum thought they’d be fine under there.

When the storm was over, we crossed the white, icy road, where the hail was as large as golf balls, to our aunt’s house. We ended up living with my aunt and uncle for some months while our house was being repaired. The following day, I sat in my auntie’s lounge room in front of a heater with the mother guinea pig in my lap, trying to keep her warm. Cold and in shock, she died, joining her two babies that had died during the storm.

It was a night I will never forget.

That day I felt cursed, but at least that was something I eventually grew out of. These days, however, hailstorms are something I have come to dread.

Have you experienced a lot of bad luck? Did it ever make you feel so overwhelmed you thought you were cursed?

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Ghost of Lady Elliot Island.

Free image courtesy ImaArtist on Pixabay.

Lady Elliot Island, located off the coast of Queensland, is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Known for its diversity of seabirds and marine life, the island is also the site of a small graveyard, situated near the imposing lighthouse.

Susannah McKee, a native of Ireland, accompanied her husband, Tom, and four sons to Lady Elliot Island, where Tom took up the position of lighthouse keeper. Due to its location, food and medical supplies would arrive late, and living conditions were cramped. It was an isolated and desolate existence and would eventually become too much for Susannah.

In April 1907, Susannah dressed in her best clothes, walked to the jetty at the end of the lighthouse and threw herself into the ocean. Rumours circulated that her husband, Tom, had pushed her, but this could never be proven. He buried her next to the lonely grave of the daughter of a previous lighthouse keeper, who had died of pneumonia some years prior.

Image courtesy Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

Over the years, sightings of Susannah would appear to visitors and staff; the first sighting taking place in the 1930s. The lighthouse keeper at the time, reported to have seen a woman in white ‘half walking, half-floating’ between the lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage. His daughter encountered a presence in the lighthouse, fearing it wanted to push her down the stairs.

In the mid-1980s, when the lighthouse became automated, the disturbances intensified. In one of the three empty cottages, the resort manager heard phantom footsteps, but could not locate the source. Two resort staff would later occupy the cottage, one being hurled from his bed with great force, and onto the floor. Some nights later, he woke to see the transparent figure of a woman standing by the front door.

There have also been stories of a woman’s face peering through cottage windows, and a white clad woman wandering the island’s airstrip.

It’s uncertain if sightings of Susannah continue to this day, but being a tortured soul, her spirit may well still wander the island she once called home.

Book Reviews, Books

June Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

Free image courtesy lisa870 on Pixabay.

Another winter has arrived in Australia. On the first of June, we received our first snowfall, and the weather has been chilly ever since. Perfect conditions for staying indoors and doing some reading (as well as writing)!

For a few years now, I tend to read mostly from my Kindle or listen to audio books. It’s rare for me to read a paperback these days, and even then, it’s usually an old favourite. Speaking of which, I recently listened to the audio version of an old childhood favourite to lighten up my usual darker books of choice. 😉

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

This is a favourite classic that I sometimes like to return to, and I really enjoyed this audio version. Narrated by Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame, he does a great job. Each character voice is distinct, his performance of Victor Frankenstein is filled with anguish, and his portrayal of the monster is particularly moving. These are two characters that I both pity and despise; Victor who plays God yet avoids responsibility for his actions and suffers the consequences, and his creation who seeks revenge, but yearns for love.

Beautifully written, this is a sad and tragic tale. A remarkable piece of literature, penned from the author at such an early age, it is highly recommended.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine (Merricat) and her older sister Constance live with their Uncle Julian, survivors of a family tragedy and outcasts within their community. Eighteen-year-old Merricat has a childlike quality, but there is another side to her. The reader is drawn in by this unreliable narrator, so that they feel the tension and fear as Merricat visits the town. Her home is a safe haven, one where the reader gradually learns about the tragedy and the effects it had on the rest of the family; Constance who is agoraphobic, and her Uncle Julian, crippled and suffering dementia. When their cousin, Charles, arrives, their sanctuary is shattered, taking on a darker, menacing tone.

This is a beautifully written, eerie, psychological horror story. A story with characters that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It’s been a long time since I read this book, so re-visiting Anne Shirley and Green Gables is like visiting old friends. Anne is a lovable character, despite her faults, but it is these faults that help make her so enduring. Her tragic past does not hamper her enthusiasm and outlook on life, which is contagious. It’s also a pleasure to spend time with other characters, such as Marilla, Matthew, and Diana Barry. Gilbert Blythe hovers in the distance, but he is a constant presence, and it’s pleasing to see the blossoming of his relationship with Anne.

The descriptions of Prince Edward Island and nature throughout the various seasons, as well as Green Gables itself, creates a nostalgic image of a simpler time. It’s a place the reader is drawn to and would happily inhabit.

This is a heart-warming story, which will make you laugh and cry, but it is also one where you would happily return to to spend more time with these characters.

What have you been reading lately? Do you have any recommendations? How do you prefer to read these days?

This Writer's Life, Writing

Creating Your own Writing Retreat.

Free image courtesy KatjaFiona on Pixabay.

Recently, I spent several days in the Blue Mountains, a location that inspires some of my stories. Rather than splash out at attending writing retreats specifically tailored for writers, I create my own.

I’ve been doing this for some years now, which initially started with me going it alone, but these days, now that the kids are older, it’s whenever my husband and I go away. I’m now in the habit of packing my laptop and writing notes with me, so I can continue writing and gaze out the window admiring the different scenery.

The past three trips away, I’ve worked on the first two novellas in my Marsden Hall series in their various incarnations. I’ve thought about plot outlines while soaking in an outdoors hot tub, edited by the beach, as well as editing while being snowed in in a log cabin.

This is not to say that I won’t knock back the opportunity to go on a writing retreat to meet other writers if ever I get the chance (I was lucky to have been chosen to participate in one back in 2009), but it’s having that control of where and when I choose to write. Being alone or with one other person, also allows me to focus and not be too distracted by others.

New places and experiences are always great fodder for stories. We may look forward to a bit of R&R, but then, a writer never truly switches off! 😉

*And the good news is, the first draft of Marsden Hall 3 is done!! Watch this space!*

Do you create your own writing retreats, or have you ever been on a professional one? Have you found them beneficial? What’s your idea of an ideal writing retreat?

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Phantom of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

Image courtesy Mat Connolley, Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

In the early 1990s, I visited the Princess Theatre in Melbourne for a performance of Phantom of the Opera. It was a memorable evening, and the theatre itself is a magnificent building, but behind the glamour lies a different story. The theatre’s history has a tragic past, one that has its very own ‘phantom of the opera.’

Federici was the stage name of English baritone Frederick Baker, who enjoyed success in musicals such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. In June 1887, Federici arrived in Melbourne, with his wife and children, to give a series of performances.

In March 1888, the production of the opera, Faust, premiered at the Princess Theatre, where Federici was to play the role of Mephistopheles. During the final act, Mephistopheles wrapped Faust in his scarlet cloak, surrounded by smoke, dragging him into the fiery depths of hell. A trapdoor had been created on stage for the dramatic effect, but as the trap was reaching the cellar floor, Federici collapsed and died of a heart attack. Despite efforts from a doctor, and yes, even the use of galvanic batteries, he could not be revived.

Interior of the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1865. Samuel Calvert. Published in The Illustrated Melbourne Post. State Library of Victoria. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after he was buried, stories began to circulate of cold spots on and beneath the stage, and people being touched by invisible hands. Over the years, there had been numerous reported sightings of a man’s dark figure within the theatre, either on stage or seated in the dress circle.

One sighting was by a wardrobe mistress and a fireman who was patrolling the theatre in 1917. At 2.30am, they saw a man in evening dress sitting in the middle of the second row of the dress circle, staring at the stage. He sat motionless, his white shirt glowing. They watched him for some minutes before returning to work. About an hour later, the wardrobe mistress returned to the dress circle to find the man still sitting there.

Throughout the years, numerous staff and performers have had encounters, leaving some investigators to believe there may be more than one ghost.

In the early 1980s, The Princess Theatre closed and was eventually bought and restored to its former glory. Despite continued incidents, the owner is happy for Federici to stay, believing he’s a friendly ghost and is considered part of the family.

These days, for every opening night performance, a third-row seat of the dress circle is left empty for Federici, as a sign of respect.

Book Reviews, Books

March Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

Free image courtesy Peggychoucair on Pixabay.

This year, as I’ve decided to spend less time on social media, it has meant I have more time for reading. As much as I love books, I’m a slow reader. Try as I might, the number of books I read each year can be pretty low (this is one of the reasons why I enjoy audio books so much)!

To help spread the word on what I’ve been reading, I thought I’d share my reviews here on the blog, and hope you’ll be interested in reading them too. These past couple of months I’ve been reading shorter works, which are a mix of audio books and e-books. My taste is usually eclectic, but lately, it comes as no surprise, my books of choice are of the Gothic/horror persuasion. 😉

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Even though I had seen the various film versions, this was the first time I read the book. I really liked it and was surprised by its humour. I pictured the Disney version of Ichabod Crane more than any other.

I enjoyed the setting and descriptions, especially those leading up to the introduction of the headless horseman. I listened to the audio version, which I also highly recommend. This is such a fun, quick read, and a perfect story for Halloween.

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

I know Priscilla Bettis through blogging, so when I heard she was releasing her first book, I had to get myself a copy. The Hay Bale is a quick read, and it’s one that hooks you in from the very beginning. Her use of imagery places you beside the main character, Claire, so that when we reach the final scenes, we are in suspense and horrified in equal measure.

The ending I suspected, but the events leading up to that conclusion was altogether creepy and disturbing thanks to the peculiar quirks of the local townspeople. This story packed an emotional punch and stayed with me long after I had finished reading. Highly recommended for horror fans. I look forward to reading more from Priscilla.

Later by Stephen King

I’ve always enjoyed reading Stephen King’s shorter works, and this one certainly packs a punch. Combining crime and horror, it’s a coming-of-age story, where young Jamie Conklin can see dead people. He’s a sensitive, intelligent child with a good sense of humour (I had some laugh out loud moments). I felt drawn towards this character, so that when his naivety is gradually chipped away, it is truly heart breaking.

This is a story with memorable characters, some frightening scenes, and one that you can’t put down. I listened to the audio version, read by Seth Numrich. His reading helps draw the reader in, especially when Jamie is confronted by the character, Kenneth Therriault. Highly recommended.

Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard. Edited by Rayne Hall

This collection of short stories is a lovely mix from new and established writers, as well as from classic authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. Each story takes you on a journey to graveyards throughout the world, so readers can experience different cultures and various forms of burial.

There are 27 stories in this collection, which range from creepy to unusual, as well as humorous, so there’s something for everyone. At the end of each story are the author’s comments, which is a nice way to find out more about them.

As with any collection, some stories will stand out more than others and demand a re-read, and there are many in this book. For me, some of these include The Shortcut, Another Oldie but Goodie, Lucretia’s Hum, The Legend of Merv the Swerve, The New Catacomb, Respects, and Heart Music.

If you enjoy a spooky story, this collection does not disappoint.

What books have you been reading this year? Do you have any recommendations to share? Are you a slow reader?