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?

 

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?

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?

This Writer's Life, Writing

Writing: Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Stop signIn a recent blog post by Anne R Allen, guest blogger, Nina Badzin discusses how she realised she enjoyed writing non-fiction more than fiction. Her idea of being a writer turned out differently to the one she had originally envisioned. Since reading that post, I was beginning to wonder the same about my own writing.

Despite coming up with new ideas for fiction stories, strengthening plots within the drafts of two novellas and working on character development, I feel there is something missing. Lately I have taken to writing more blog posts, which I have enjoyed so that, ultimately, my fiction writing has taken second place. It has stopped me in my tracks and left me wondering what kind of writer I really am.

During my studies, I had grown accustomed to writing non-fiction, yet in the back of my mind the fiction always demanded attention; now the two have decided to go ‘head to head’, so to speak. My husband told me that only I know what kind of writing I want to do, and now my instincts are telling me I have a foot in both the fiction and non-fictional worlds.

When it comes to non-fiction, over the years I had often dabbled with the idea of writing personal essays. It was after all, a personal essay I had to write for an assignment once, where I received a distinction and my lecturer wanted to know if I was going on to do my Master’s degree. That’s when I realised I just might be on to something.

At the moment, I feel I clearly need to express myself more through writing non-fiction than through my fiction. I have every hope that by doing so, this will ultimately lead me to continue with my fictional projects. I now find myself taking a different path with my writing journey – after all, every writer’s journey is different.

Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction? Do you also find yourself in both camps? Have you found yourself writing differently to what you had originally intended?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

* As a side note, I will now be returning to Slow Blogging. I will blog on an intermittent basis.

Crime & Mystery, Movies/Television

Wolf Creek & Ivan Milat – A Backpacker’s Greatest Nightmare.

Wolf Creek undoubtedly has to be one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time. John Jarrett did a brilliant job in the creepy role of Mick Taylor. If anything was to put off potential tourists to this country, one would only need to watch this movie.

Every summer, in my local caravan park, back-packers arrive to work as fruit pickers. Last summer, I watched as many of them stood by the side of the road and began hitch-hiking.  This became a daily routine of theirs.  I thought to myself ‘haven’t  these people heard of Ivan Milat and Wolf Creek? I don’t know about you, but it would certainly stop me in my tracks! I know for some it is their only means of traveling, and they were fortunate to have been given rides, yet one cannot always be too trusting.

The words ‘Ivan Milat’ and ‘backpackers’ have become synonymous in the Australian psyche. It was during the late 1980s that Ivan Milat began murdering backpackers in Belangalo State Forest in New South Wales. He abducted, sexually molested, tortured and murdered seven people and concealed their bodies, making him one of Australia’s worst serial killers of the 20thcentury. Fortunately his killing spree came to an end in the early 1990s, however his legacy still remains. Which is why it is so creepy watching Wolf Creek.

Now there is the prospect of John Jarrett reprising his role as Mick Taylor – a seriously spooky thought!

Have you ever done any hitch-hiking? Did watching this movie put you off visiting Australia? Are you looking forward to a Wolf Creek sequel?

Images copyright South Australian Film Corporation.

Books, Monsters, Myths & Mayhem, Writing

Raising the Stakes – More Vampires in YA Fiction?

Whenever I had visited the local bookshop these past few months (okay, Big W, I admit I’m cheap), I would be dismayed at the sight of so many paranormal romances within the Young Adult section. Back in July, after reading the discussion post on Wonderous Reads Are You Over Paranormal YA? it made me consider my options as a writer of the paranormal. Here’s some of what people had to say:-

  • Young adults are becoming tired of paranormal romances.
  • Young adults might want paranormal, but no more vampires, werewolves, fairies. (Note to self: what other paranormal is there?)
  • Young adults would like to see paranormal from the viewpoint of different countries.
  • Young adults want strong female protagonists (think Hunger Games).
  • Fantasy and horror genres may be the next big ‘thing’.

Now, admittedly this is just a handful of people’s opinions (with some handy information for a writer), however, it made me wonder that perhaps my very own YA vampire novel would have to remain in the bottom drawer for many years yet. Then came the announcement of a teenage writer landing a six-figure deal for a vampire story. Was it right or wrong in believing that readers were ‘over’ vampire stories?

Considering the positives of this announcement it is good news for writers in the paranormal/horror genre.  It gives new writers the opportunity to get published.  As writers, we need to come up with new ideas, as clearly evidenced by the reader’s comments.  With genres becoming more and more intertwined, the possibilities are becoming limitless.

When Harry Potter was released, there was a surge in the popularity of fantasy fiction, which was good news for fantasy writers.  Like everything else, trends come and go, and when it is the time for our chosen genre we just have to ride it out, until it is some other genre’s turn.  We write in our chosen genres because we love it, not because we want to write whatever is popular and this passion will come through in our writing.  Ever since the publication of Dracula back in 1897, vampires have stayed in the public’s imaginations, so they will always be a part of our psyche. They have evolved over the years because there were writers who were willing to do that for them.

I’m prepared to raise the stakes and breathe life in my vampire novel once again – are you?

Are you over paranormal for young adults? Do you see this announcement as good news for the future of the horror/paranormal genre? What do you see as being the next ‘trend’ in young adult fiction?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

Writing

My Sweet Imago – 2nd Campaigner Challenge.

Throughout the Platform Building Campaign, Rachael is holding a couple of challenges.  I didn’t partake in the first challenge, so I thought I’d try my hand at the second challenge.  And what a doozy it is!

Here are the rules:-

Write a blog post in 200 words or less, excluding the title.  It can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc.  The blog post should:

  • include the word ‘imago‘ in the title
  • include the following 4 random words: ‘miasma‘, ‘lacuna‘, ‘oscitate‘, ‘synchronicity

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional and included in the word count), make reference to a mirror in your post.  For those who want an even greater challenge (optional), make your post 200 words EXACTLY!

So after searching frantically in the dictionary, I came up with something using all the requirements in the challenge.  Here’s my entry:-

MY SWEET IMAGO

I struggle not to oscitate as I watch another one being wheeled in.  It has been a long night; this will be the last.

I gaze upon the face of the man in front of me and my hands become clammy.  The miasma emanating from his body fills my nostrils.  His mouth is open; a dark lacuna releasing its final scream.  That mouth had kissed me longingly; hungrily, the touch of his hands a sweet caress.

Childhood memories flitter through my mind of lazy summer days and melted ice-creams, of promises to be together forever, always.  Recent memories of drug abuse and alcohol induced stupors; promises that they would never happen again.  Tears do not form behind my eyes and cloud my better judgement.  They did not a few months ago when I last said goodbye.  They will not fail me now.

A slow smile creeps upon me; he would have loved the synchronicity of this moment.  It’s like holding up a mirror; only his choice of drug was different to mine.  Were they really the cause of all his lies, deceit and ultimate betrayal?

I take a firm grip upon the scalpel and begin to cut.

* * *

Winners of this challenge will be determined solely on the basis of your votes.  If you like my entry you can vote for it here, (I’m No.102), where you can also check out others.  Best of luck everyone!

Writing

A Breath of Spring Air.


It’s my favourite time of the year once again!  Spring is in the air, and there is a definite bounce in my step.

The season has gone off with a terrific start.  Signing up for the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign has proved rather hectic with all the groups I have signed up for, but it has been fun meeting a whole bunch of wonderful writers I would never have met otherwise.  Thank you to all my fellow campaigners who have stopped by here to introduce themselves and/or subscribed to my blog.  Throughout the campaign, I aim to visit each and everyone of you, comment (although I find this difficult with some blogs I visit), and subscribe.  I would have to admit, visiting some of these other blogs has made me feel a bit of an amateur!  Because of the season and the inspiration I am getting from other campaigners, I’ve even changed the look of my blog/website.

For the past couple of weeks I have made some progress with the re-writes/edits of my first YA novel, Deception.  I was having difficulties with getting the voice right for one of my main protagonists, but with some tweaking, I think I’ve got it now.  I have managed to add about another 6,000 words during that time.  When I eventually finish with these re-writes, I hope to find some critique partners/beta readers.  If I recall, Rachael Harrie has mentioned something about this on her blog, so maybe I could be critiquing with some of you. 🙂

As always, with the arrival of spring, I go over my progress for the past twelve months and re-assess my goals.  I have plenty of ideas for novels and short stories (what’s writer’s block again?) and I have three complete novels to re-write/edit; my problem, as always is juggling my time.  I need to get my priorities right and make some sacrifices, but I’ll talk about that next week.

How has your writing been going lately – have you made good progress?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

Up Close & Personal, Writing

Writing from Experience: Bringing it Home.

2011 is shaping up to be a personal year for me.  Events have taken place that I feel compelled to write about them and others throughout my childhood.  Writing personal essays has now become a part of my writing agenda.

I have been reading books on essays, including Writing from Personal Experience by Nancy Davidoff Kelton and Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Homes.  I have found them both helpful and motivating and I have since compiled a list of possibilities to write about.  Reading these books have also helped with my novels.

My first novel begins with a hit and run accident.  I was left wondering if my writing sounded convincing enough when revealing the emotions of my characters.  It was not until I was going over my personal experiences that I discovered I must have had some kind of repressed memory.  I was in primary school when my grandfather was hit by a truck.  He died instantly.  Images and emotions of the days that followed flashed through my mind.  I did know about such an event; I know how that feels.  I feel I can now do my re-writes with more confidence.

It’s also funny how timing comes into our lives.  Through my husband’s work, he forwarded on a link to a Victorian Roads commercial.  This video is both graphic and confronting, yet it brings the message home.  It, too, has allowed me to focus on the emotions and the people who are left behind.  Since watching this video, I have discovered that looking outside the box is a helpful tool.

As Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes in her book:  ‘Writing isn’t about going far.  It’s about going far within’.

How far are you willing to travel?