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?

IWSG, This Writer's Life, Up Close & Personal

IWSG: How are Things in Your World during Caronavirus?

These past few weeks have been surreal. It’s certainly been an emotional roller coaster for many of us.

In late February, I had to see to a family issue. My mother has dementia and is going downhill fast, struggling to cope with even the basics. On my return, I had some minor surgery which then became infected and took a little while to get better. During all this, the coronavirus was in the background.

Where some people had difficulty in fully grasping the situation, like those on Bondi beach, we also had the complete opposite where shopping hoarders made it look like something out of a zombie apocalypse. Fear does strange things to people.

Since then, in Australia, things have been moving fast; social distancing, travel banned, state boarders closed. News can change on an hourly basis. Here in New South Wales, there are now fines if someone is caught outside their house without a ‘reasonable’ excuse. Reasonable is essential grocery shopping, exercise, a medical reason, compassionate grounds, or work or education which cannot be done in the house.

Only this week, my husband started working from home after trying to make it happen for some time. It has been during this past week that his offices began taking things more seriously, due to Government intervention.

During this difficult time, people need hope and humour to help get them through.

This made me wonder about my writing and my chosen genres, which are not exactly happy places. And yet, my muse tends to go down dark alleys. Lately I am once again plunged into darkness. Of-course, I like to come out into the light every once in a while!

As writers, right now we have the opportunity to write and share our stories with the world. Whether they are of love, hope, comfort, or to help others face their fears, we need tales of humanity and connection. Now more than ever, more people will want to delve into the world of fiction*.

These times are tough, but we need to remember to just keep going, one day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day and a chance to start afresh, we will make it to the other side. Stay safe everyone!

How are things in your world during caronavirus? How have you been coping during this time?

*Amazon’s Kindle is currently offering two free months to its unlimited e-book service to new users. Both my short stories, The Ghost at Willow Creek and Legacy and Other Short Stories are available through Kindle Unlimited for FREE. Now could be a good time to try stories from new authors. 😉

The purpose of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

Main image courtesy Pixabay

Books, Gothic Fiction

What Book Made You a Reader?

During my childhood, I would spend most of my time playing out of doors and watching television of an evening, so I never really spent much time reading. It was not until I discovered one book, in particular, that happened to change all of that.

That book was Dragonwyck by Anya Seton. This book would lead me to read within the Gothic genre, as well as horror from Stephen King and mysteries, such as Sherlock Holmes. Combined with my film and television viewing, where my interest was with horror and suspense movies and police dramas, it was inevitable my choice of reading material would be in the same vein.

When I discovered Dragonwyck, I was not looking for that book, let alone a book to read. Before that time, I cannot recall even reading an adult book. I came across this book merely by chance.

Frequently we would holiday down the south coast and it was when I was about ten years old that my parents eventually bought a caravan while we were down there. The previous owners had cleaned the caravan out, however, when perusing the cupboards, I stumbled upon a book lying in one of them. I don’t know if they left it behind intentionally or by accident, but the book title and description caught my interest. I began reading and I was hooked.

I enjoyed the romantic aspects as well as its dark themes, such as family curses, hauntings, and murder. Dragonwyck introduced me to the Gothic genre, and it was also through this book that I became familiar with Edgar Allen Poe.

I knew that Nicholas Van Ryn was a dark and menacing character, but as a child I was unaware of some of these darker topics until I grew up. When I saw him again through adult eyes, I was even more horrified, which only heightened the terror of the novel.

Some years after reading this book for the first time, I happened to come across the film version on television. The film stars Gene Tierney of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir fame, and one of my old favourites, Vincent Price. I only saw it the once, but I do remember the ending of the film version was somewhat different from that of the book, which disappointed me. At the time I was also disappointed with Vincent Price being in the lead male role, but all these years later when I think of it, it seemed appropriate. Now whenever I read the book, I can’t help but hear his voice in the role of Nicholas. Chillling! 😉

There are a number of things I owe to this book, for not only did Dragonwyck make me a reader and introduced me to the Gothic genre, but it cemented my decision at the age of ten, that I wanted to be a writer. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

What book made you a reader? What is your favourite genre to read? Have you ever read Dragonwyck? If you’ve seen the film version starring Vincent Price, what did you think?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Books, This Writer's Life

Getting Back into Reading.

 

Free image courtesy Sophkins on Pixabay

As writers, one of the things we really should be doing is reading a lot, but it was around this time last year that I found myself giving up on reading. Try as I might, I just couldn’t do it; perhaps the closest I had ever got was reading the newspaper online. Technically I guess I was still reading, but it was the reading of fictional works that I was having trouble getting into.

Perhaps I was so caught up in my own imaginative world, that I found it hard to concentrate on others. Or maybe, I just found myself focusing on Neflix. 😉

With the new year, I have been trying to rectify the situation and began reading an old favourite to try and get back into fictional books. I’m planning on reading up to thirty books this year and have recently got onto Audible as a way of getting through my ‘to read’ pile. Of course, I have created a wish list, which is getting longer by the day!

One of the good things about Audible is hearing a sample of the narrator’s voice and I have found this to be important. Your choice of book can come down to this factor and I have seen book reviews where the book doesn’t fare too well simply because of the narrator. So, it can be a case of hit or miss. Even though I have all the Harry Potter books, I have begun getting these books on Audible read by Stephen Fry. I just love the way he narrates them!

Because I’ve slackened off on reading, I have also neglected the social site, Goodreads, so I have a bit of catching up to do there as well. So if you’re on Goodreads, I’d love to connect with you there and it will be another incentive for me to get my act together. 😉

What do you do to get back into reading? Have you discovered Audible? How important is a narrator’s voice to you? Do you binge on Netflix?

This Writer's Life, Writing Process

When a Writer Stops Reading.

For years, I’ve always considered myself a bookworm. Yes, one of those people who, despite having a pile of books on their shelves just can’t resist buying more, then wonders how they’re ever going to get all that reading in. In a household of gamers, I’d rather be curled up with a good book. In more recent months, however, my reading habits have dwindled.

Usually I have bouts where I’m an avid reader, but then I feel I’ve read too much and I need to take a break. The need to read returns once again and the cycle continues. This time around, I stopped reading and am finding it difficult to return. I’m currently alternating between two non-fiction books, but it has been a slow drip feed. My bookworm status has declined.

This is the longest I have gone without having a book or Kindle in my hand, so what’s gone wrong? I think there are two things at play. One is the fact that by getting Netflix, I have been getting my stories from a different medium. I have been watching both movies and television series, along with using Netflix to help with my research. This has helped me with my own writing, both in terms of ideas and craft.

The second issue I think is that by reading less, it has given me more time to focus on other things – like writing my own stories. This of course comes with its advantages and disadvantages. I am spending more time working on my current WIP, both in the writing and the planning process, as well as making plans towards self-publishing. Yet, as a writer I should also be reading, in order to help with my craft and discovering new books within my chosen genre.

Yes, this seems like a rather long hiatus, but I know that I will return to reading eventually. Perhaps it’s because this particular story I’m currently working on really needs to be written. Besides, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder? 😉

Are you a bookworm? Do you have long breaks between reading books? As a writer, do you find reading can be a distraction from your own writing?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Books, This Writer's Life

Listening to Audio Books.

After finishing reading a book on my Kindle recently, I decided to try something a bit different. I wanted to read more books, but minus the hassle of physically reading one. I visited the library and grabbed a couple of audio books (okay, four to be exact).

I’ve listened to audio books once before, but they involved CDs, which made it a bit awkward when it comes to being portable. This time around, all I need to do it put in one AAA battery, my headphones and I’m off and running. Much easier to operate, so I guess it’s a matter of finding what kind of device is more suitable to our needs. What I also like about this new selection of audio books is that on one side it has all the play buttons, while the other has a book cover (so cute) – and it fits perfectly into the palm of my hand.

So, why audio? As I am currently working on re-writes of two of my own novels, as well as outlining and researching for a new short story which will pan out to become something bigger, I felt I needed to read a book that was easier on my time. With audio, I can either sit and listen, listen to it while I go for a walk or listen in while doing household chores. I enjoy the flexibility of audio, and as a writer there is also the added bonus of actually hearing the book being read. Using our sense of hearing, rather than continually seeing the written word helps with our own use of words, especially when it comes to imagery.

At the moment, I am still at the experimental stage when it comes to audio books, but so far I have found them to be a great alternative to physically reading a book. After all, Frank Zappa did say:

Do you listen to audio books? What do you like about them? As a writer, do you find listening to books helps with your own writing?

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Books, Life Lessons, Writing

Has Being a Writer Changed You as a Reader?

Some years ago I read a book that was popular at the time. It was not normally one that I would go out of my way to read, but there was so much talk about it, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I borrowed the book from the library.

The book began alright and I gradually worked my way half way through it, when after a while, I felt the need to put it down. I began to wonder. ‘Is this it? How much longer does this go on for?’ The problem was – nothing was happening. There was no conflict, just people going about their business. I knew something had to happen eventually, so I picked it up again and persevered with it some more, but still, nothing was happening. There were no ‘blips’, just one long endless flat line. Boring! I didn’t waste any more time with it and returned it to the library.

A few years after this incident, another book came out that once again, people were raving about. My husband had become curious and eventually bought the book. He began telling me about the plot and thought the characters (made out to be intelligent people) must have been incredibly stupid if he could solve the problem before they could. Of-course the writer in me paid attention to that one straight away. My husband suggested I take a look at it. In all honesty, I could not make it past the first chapter. It was full of clichés and my writing brain couldn’t take any more. I began to wonder how this ever got published.

From these experiences I’ve come to learn that it is in our own best interests as writers to read widely. These two books may not have been ones I would usually read, but it made me aware of particular trends. It also gave me the courage to continue writing and work harder at my craft.

I quickly discovered that when a book doesn’t do it for me, to put it down and move on. Perhaps the real lesson here is that I shouldn’t fall for books that generate a lot of ‘hype’ and follow my instincts. 😉

How has being a writer changed you as a reader? Do you read books that ‘trend’? Is there a book that you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t finish? Do you see some published books as a way to improve your own writing?

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Main image courtesy of Pixabay

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Writing, Writing Process

Emulating Other Writers

anne-hathaway-in-becoming-janeYears ago when I started taking writing seriously I wanted to emulate a particular author I was reading at the time. By this stage I had done a fair amount of reading and I was doing a couple of writing courses by correspondence. It may sound silly now, but back then I was a Jane Austen wannabe.

In High School, some of my reading involved books such as the Sweet Dreams series (which I bought by the truckload) and borrowing Mills and Boons romances from one of my girlfriends. I was smitten by the ‘love bug’. I began writing my own romances, but I soon abandoned them as my plots were paper thin.

After leaving school, I persisted with the romance genre, despite my poor writing efforts. Romance novels were popular; there must be something I was doing wrong. So I sent away for a tape from Mills and Boon on how to write a romance novel. I went over that tape a number of times; trying to work to their formula, but still I couldn’t master it. It was around this time that I had moved on to different reading material, such as Richard Laymon and Catherine Cookson – I even struggled through Lord of the Rings (and struggle I did, but I eventually made it to the end). I even read the Brontes, re-visited some Stephen King and an old favourite, a gothic romance named Dragonwyk.

I soon discovered I had moved away from being a Jane Austen wannabe. I could never really write a Mills and Boon; there was no ‘passion’ in it for me as a writer (although these days I may still try writing romance – never say never  😉 ).

It took a while, but I found that there’s no harm in emulating other writers when we start out. It helps us to learn our craft through reading; we discover our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, our genre or genres, as well as finding our own voice. That’s the time when we need to stop emulating others. Just like there is only one Jane Austen, there is only one you. Let your voice be heard.

Have you found your voice by emulating other writers? Who was your ‘wannabe’ author? Have you tried writing in a genre that just wasn’t really your ‘thing’?

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