Friday, 31 May 2013

Meeting Joe Hill

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I went to our local Waterstone's to hear Joe Hill talk about his new book 'NOS4R2'. We've both read some of his work and are huge fans of his famous dad (I'd mention him but this post is supposed to be about Joe). And so of course, we couldn't pass up this opportunity.

When we got to the store, probably an hour before the event started, there was already a bit of a queue forming so we grabbed a copy of 'NOS4R2' (a full-priced hardback copy for the pricey sum of £18.99 - shame on you for cashing in on Joe's fans Waterstone's!) and joined the back of the rapidly growing queue. And yes, this is Britain so of course every so often you could hear somebody asking what the queue was for. You know us Brits and our obsession with queueing.

Eventually we were seated and I started to get super excited. It's not everyday you get to meet a legend now is it. And then suddenly, this bearded bloke in a Hemingway tee shirt shuffled up the aisle asked us to smile for Twitter, took our photo and said he had to leave now and headed off back the way he came. It was then that I realised what a genuinely funny guy Joe Hill was going to be.

When he came up to the lectern and read the prologue from his new book, I felt a little like a child being read to by her father. Joe did the voices of the characters and even some weird little actions. I actually didn't want him to stop reading. I could have listened to him all night. But he had to move on to the question and answers session, which was pretty interesting. He talked about 'NOS4R2', the process of writing it, the re-drafting and the editing and then he told us about a comic book he's planning that is linked to the plot. He told us about the 8 foot tall Tardis he has in his living room that opens onto his study and about why he will never write for Doctor Who (they've never asked an American to write an episode).

And of course somebody had to ask about his dad and why he chose to drop his famous surname and write as Joe Hill. He was open and honest, telling us about how he didn't want a publishing house to accept a mediocre manuscript because he had a famous Daddy, that he wanted to be published on his own merits. Which is exactly what happened. He told us about how he originally steered as far away from horror and speculative fiction as he could, choosing instead to write New Yorker style pieces about suburban families and their troubled teenage kids. And how it wasn't until he accepted that he needed to write what he wanted to write that he wrote something good enough to get published.

It was a great night that ended with a chance to get our books signed and have a photo with the guy who I've now decided is one of the coolest writers around.

*My girlfriend wasn't really wearing a mask, she just doesn't want to appear on my blog*

What I've Been Reading:
'Horns' by Joe Hill

The "New York Times" bestselling author of "Heart-Shaped Box" returns with a relentless supernatural thriller that runs like Hell on wheels . . .

Merrin Williams is dead, slaughtered under inexplicable circumstances, leaving her beloved boyfriend Ignatius Perrish as the only suspect. On the first anniversary of Merrin's murder, Ig spends the night drunk and doing awful things. When he wakes the next morning he has a thunderous hangover . . . and horns growing from his temples. Ig possesses a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look--a macabre gift he intends to use to find the monster who killed his lover. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. Now it's time for revenge . . .

"It's time the devil had his due. . . . "

The blurb on this book really intrigued me. I love horror, in fact it's probably my favourite genre. There's just something about a book that creeps you out and has you checking the room before you go in that I love. Maybe it has something to do with the flight or fight thing, adrenaline pumping through your veins. Horror writing does for me what sky diving does for other people. It makes me feel alive.

This was a stunning read. It had everything I look for in a good novel. There was horror (of both the human and non-human kind), there was a good mystery, a bit of romance and a huge helping of suspense.

Ignatius "Ig" Perrish wakes up to find he has grown a pair of horns overnight. And as if that wasn't weird enough, they seem to have some strange effect on the people around him, causing them to tell him their deepest secrets and darkest desires. In just the first 24 hours of having the horns, he finds out more about his family and friends than he ever wanted to know. And he begins to realise that there may just be one advantage to the horns. They could help him find out the truth about who murdered his girlfriend and help him clear his name.

And so begins an adventure into the dark minds of his loved ones as he tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding his girlfriend's death, while entering the no man's land of evil that lurks within man's heart.

This was one of those deep and meaningful horrors, the kind that doesn't set out to simply scare you but instead creeps inside your mind and takes root there, making you think of things differently, contemplate your own mortality.

I loved this book and can't wait to read more by Joe Hill, especially his latest novel 'NOS4R2'. I'd recommend his work for any of you who are fans of his dad (the infamous Stephen King in case you didn't know).

What I've Been Watching:
'The Moth Diaries

As I said in my last post, my partner got us some free tickets to see the film version of Rachel Klein's novel 'The Moth Diaries'. After reading the novel, I was really excited to see this but I'll admit I was more than a little disappointed.

One of the things I liked most about the novel was the Psychology of it. Is Ernessa a Vampire or is the narrator sliding into a form of madness? This was kind of abandoned in the film. The plot became your basic Vampire story. Ernessa being a Vampire was less of a question, more of a fact. And as a result there was a lot of the plot that seemed to be unresolved. 

Take the moths for example. While reading the novel I began to see the moths as a psychological representation of the moths the narrator and her father would sit up watching for at night. In the film, they were linked solely to Ernessa and yet it was never explained why they were there.

I'm not going to labour the point because basically I have better things to do, but the characters in the film were incredibly 2D. I didn't care about them, I found them frankly quite irritating. And when the film finished I was kind of glad.

I wouldn't recommend seeing this film if you've read and enjoyed the novel. It might work for those who haven't yet read the book but I'm not even sure of that.

What I've Been Reading:
'The Moth Diaries' by Rachel Klein

A copy of this novel has sat languishing on my book shelves for the last few years. I bought it, attracted by the stunning cover, started it straight away and then got distracted and put it on my shelf un-read. It might just have stayed that way if it wasn't for the fact that my other half got hold of two free tickets to see the film adaptation. I'm one of those people who absolutely hates to see the film of a book without having read the book first and so the day before we were due to see the film, I grabbed my copy of this book, curled up on the sofa and read all 256 pages in one sitting, barely pausing to look up.

'The Moth Diaries', as you might have gathered by the title is presented to us in diary form, an interesting concept that really works with the premise. The story opens with a kind of foreword, the now adult diarist giving us a bit of background to the diary she kept as a sixteen year old girl. She admits that she suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder complicated by depression and that her Psychiatrist has requested her permission to publish the tormented ramblings of her formative years. We never actually learn the identity of the girl we come to know so well. She is nameless to us and yet it doesn't hinder the story at all.

The diary opens at the beginning of a new school term. The sixteen year old narrator attends an exclusive all girls boarding school which over the past few years has become more of a home to her than the home she has shared with her Mother since her poet father killed himself. School is where Lucy, her best friend and secret obsession resides. Home has become the suite she shares with Lucy. But all that is about to change with the arrival of new girl Ernessa Bloch.

Ernessa is a mysterious addition to their world. Pale, foreign and a total loner, she is at odds with the world of school. But Lucy is drawn to her. Sweet, innocent Lucy who can't see the bad in anybody is sucked into Ernessa's world. But since Ernessa arrived on the scene, strange things have been happening. Death and destruction seem to plague the school and our narrator is convinced Ernessa is at the heart of it. She becomes obsessed with the idea that Ernessa Bloch is a Vampire.

But do Vampires really exist outside of the macabre stories she has been reading for her English class, or has her fevered imagination run rampant? We don't really find out and I'm reluctant to say too much in case it spoils the story for any of you who wish to read it. I will say however, that for me, 'The Moth Diaries' was psychologically taut, a brilliant painting of mental torment and teen angst. There were some lines that were incredibly poignant, that reminded me a little of my own teenage years.

It was a great read, an amazing little journey inside the mind. I'd recommend it to anybody who likes Psychological Horror with a dash of teen angst.


Thursday, 23 May 2013


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What I've Been Reading:
'Rage' by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman

“When you're five and you hurt, you make a big noise in the world. At ten you whimper. But by the time you make fifteen you begin to eat the poisoned apples that grow on your own inner tree of pain.” 

'Rage' was the first novel published by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It's a deviation from his typical Horror novels but that doesn't make it any less horrifying. Published in 1977, it was withdrawn from publication by Stephen King in the late 1990s due to it's connection to a number of real High School shootings, 'Rage' recounts the story of Charlie Decker, a teenage boy pushed to the limits by his father and society itself and shoots two teachers before taking a classroom full of students hostage. 

But 'Rage' is more than just the story of a High School shooting. It is an examination of society, of teenage culture. While Charlie holds his school friends hostage, we get a glimpse at the ennui of teenage life, and as they sit in the classroom, waiting for Charlie to let them go or take their lives (we are never quite certain in which direction Charlie will go), they take turns at analyzing their lives, the things they have done, wish they hadn't done. They pick apart their connections to each other, the childhood experiences that made them who they are. And it becomes apparent that perhaps Charlie Decker isn't as crazy as he might seem, that this isn't simply a murder spree. Instead, this forced coming together of a group of teenagers who might otherwise fail to give one another the time of day is a teaching exercise. Charlie is showing these angst-ridden teenagers that it's not too late to take control, to right the wrongs done to them by others.

This novel is fairly philosophical, it raises a lot of questions and doesn't pose too many answers. It's a shame that it is no longer in print as I think it's a pretty enlightening piece of fiction. Although I can understand why it was withdrawn from sale. If you do want to read the book, it can be found in the marketplace for a couple of pound as part of the Bachman Books collection.


What I've Been Reading:
'The Benson (Experiment in Terror #2.5)' by Karina Halle

'The Benson' is a 50 page novella in the 'Experiment in Terror' series by Karina Halle. I'll admit that it was a short, easy read but that definitely did not detract from just how good it turned out to be.

Perry Palomino and Dex Foray are spending the night at The Benson, an up-market hotel in Portland, Oregon. There have been a whole host of ghost sightings at the hotel and the intrepid duo are determined to catch something on film. Armed with their usual camera plus an infrared camera for Perry this time, they check out the ghostly goings on at the hotel.

There are a few creepy moments in this novella and a clever little twist involving a maid (I'm trying not to say too much). All in all, I'd say it was the perfect accompaniment to the series, and it would make a great starting point for anybody who hasn't yet read any of the series.


What I've Been Reading:
'Red Fox (Experiment in Terror #2)' by Karina Halle

'Red Fox' is the second novel in Karina Halle's 'Experiment in Terror' series and continues the story of Perry and Dex's investigations into the paranormal world. This installment sees Perry and Dex travelling to New Mexico to the home of Will and Sarah, a Navajo couple who are being taunted by some kind of supernatural entity. Rocks are falling on their roof at night, their sheep are turning up dead, mutilated beyond recognition and creepy animals walk through their house at night. After Dex's College friend Maximus, a self-proclaimed Ghost Whisperer tries to deal with the problem and fails, he calls in the big guns, and Perry and Dex turn up in the town of Red Fox with their video cameras, determined to solve the mystery.

As with the first novel in the series there was plenty of sexual tension between Perry and Dex plus a good shot of the crazies from a medication-withdrawing Dex. The motif of secrecy, of hiding things ran through the book, adding a deeper layer to Perry and Dex's relationship and also providing the constant question of who was safe to trust and who might just be ready to rip your throat out.

This was a gripping read full of Native American mythology and some clever answers to some of the stories mysteries. It wasn't as full out scary as the first book but it didn't really matter as the novel was strong enough without it. If you haven't already checked out Karina Halle, then do it, please.


What I've Been Reading:
'Paper Towns' by John Green

This is the first novel by John Green that I've read (I know, I'm a little behind the trend but oh well) and I am definitely planning on reading some more of his work. 

I was initially attracted to the beautiful cover art of this novel. I'm a sucker for a good cover and this one really caught my eye. Plus, I fancied an indulgent Young Adult novel, something that would suck me in and keep me absorbed. This was exactly what I wanted.

Quentin "Q" Jacobsen is mere weeks away from graduating High School. He's got a place at a decent College lined up and his life seems to be on-track, well as much as it can be when you're eighteen years old and trying desperately to avoid the horrors of your High School Prom. And then one night, the mysterious and beautiful Margo Roth Spiegelman, the next door neighbour he's loved since he was a child, waltzes in through his bedroom window and whisks him off on a tour of the neighbourhood to complete a series of pranks she has lined up for her cheating boyfriend and his entourage.

And then, just like that, Margo is gone. She doesn't turn up for school the next day or the day after that. There is no note, no phone call, no explanation whatsoever. Margo has simply vanished, leaving a trail of mystery behind her. Knowing that on previous escapes from her suburban life, Margo has left clues as to her whereabouts (the letters M, S, P, and I left uneaten in a bowl of Alphabet Soup), Q and his friends begin a search of Margo's life for any possible clues.

But when it comes down to it, did Margo really want to be found? Did she really expect Q to find her? And just who is Margo anyway? As he creeps around her life, following the paper trail that Margo has left for him, Q begins to doubt that he ever knew the real Margo, the Margo she is inside her heart. And as he gets closer to finding her, he must reconcile the two version of Margo Roth Spiegelman and what they mean to him.

This was a beautiful, deep read. Once again, and I know it's a theme with the Young Adult titles I'm reading lately, I really wish this novel had been around when I was a teenager myself. The characters are exquisite, especially Margo, who is secretly the girl I wanted to be at eighteen and failed. And the idea of paper towns is cleverly worked into the plot and imbued with such subtle meaning (I don't want to go into detail on what paper towns are because it's a crucial plot point and I hate spoilers!). I adored this book and want to re-read it, want to see if there are any little details I missed, or cleverly inserted foreshadowing that would be identified only on a second read.

If you like a cute little mystery and 3D characters that will stay in your mind, then check this out. You won't be disappointed.


What I've Been Reading:
'The Shining' by Stephen King

This is the third novel in my personal Stephen-King-a-thon challenge. I first read this novel when I was fifteen years old. It was also the first Stephen King novel I ever read. I came back to this book to re-read it as a twenty-seven year old excited and convinced I would gain more from the book as an adult. And I was right. What was simply a horror story about a haunted hotel when I was a teenager became much more as an adult. The horror was still there but so was the haunting psychological terror of the ghosts of our pasts invading our presents, the torture of memories we think we can escape and the people we hope we'll never become.

Danny Torrence is five years old. He knows things that no child should have access to. He knows his parents were considering Divorce, that his father has a drink problem. And he knows that there's something horrifying behind the beautiful facade of The Overlook Hotel. Danny's father, Jack has got a job as winter caretaker of The Overlook. He needs this job - his last one didn't end so well - plus the distance from the real world will give him plenty of time to finish the play he's been working on. And so he packs up his wife and kid and drives high up into the Colorado mountains where once the snow comes, there's no going back. They will be stuck there until the snows thaw.

But five year old Danny has the 'shining', a rare ability to sense things, to read minds, to see the dark images that play out in The Overlook. His vivid dreams and psychic trances reveal the dark secrets The Overlook has kept hidden for decades. Who is the creepy dead woman in Room 217? What is that blood stain on the wall of the presidential suite? Who is riding up and down in the elevator at night? And just how do those topiary animals move around on their own? 

'The Shining' is a chilling read, not overtly scary but it definitely raises the hairs on your arms. It has much more substance than most horror novels out there and really defines Stephen King as the forerunner of the genre.


What I've Been Reading:
'No Plot, No Problem' by Chris Baty

So, I've been trying to write a novel on and off for the past decade. Without even a hint of success. I've tried to do the event known as NaNoWriMo several times but never achieved anything. So when I found this book in  my local library, I was pretty intrigued. This is a guide to writing a novel in 30 days, written by the founder of NaNoWriMo.

This is a giant kick up the arse for anybody like me who has the ideas but lacks the motivation to write a novel. It's full of tips on getting started, keeping the momentum going and how to get rid of your internal editor for the month.

It was a fairly quick read but I came away from it feeling like I had the drive to write and complete a novel and sat down at my desk straight away. I'd recommend this book to any budding writer.


Friday, 10 May 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1) by Karina Halle

I had seen a lot of great reviews about this novel on and when I discovered it was free to read on Kindle, I couldn't resist checking it out. To be honest, I started reading this with low expectations. I'm not sure why but I did. However, within the first 30 pages, I had my expectations seriously raised. I had been sucked in instantly. The protagonist, Perry Palomino really spoke to me. She's this flawed hero kind of character - she's been through some crap but she's come out the other side and is trying to turn her life around. It was refreshing to read about a character with some humanity, some pathos. It was also a breath of fresh air to read what I'll term an Urban Fantasy novel with a protagonist who isn't otherworldy. Perry is your average 22 year old who left University with hopes of a job more meaningful and better paid than the job she's currently in as Receptionist for an advertising firm. So she has these weird dreams sometimes and has been known to see things that may or may not really be there, but she's as human as they come. She's not a vampire, a witch or a werewolf and that is so refreshing in a market saturated with supernatural beings.

On a weekend trip to stay with her Uncle, Perry decides to investigate the old abandoned Lighthouse on his property. It's late at night, she's got a bit of alcohol in her system and she's on her own. Or so she thinks. Stumbling through the creepy old lighthouse, she bumps into Dex Foray, a strange but attractive guy with a camcorder who says he's checking out the apparently haunted lighthouse for a web show he's working on.

Perry and Dex soon find themselves thrown together, determined to solve the mystery of the Lighthouse. They're an interesting pair and there's a lot of sexual tension (mostly on the part of Perry) that weirdly doesn't detract from the plot.

I'll admit that as much as I hide behind the cushions while watching a scary film, I do love the horror genre, whether that's films or books. I love to be scared. But usually I'm disappointed with books that claim to be scary. They usually don't affect me at all. 'Darkhouse' seems to be the exception. This book had goosebumps raising on my arms and it's made me think twice about using a public toilet when there's no one else around. There's one particular character, a creepy old lady, who just sends chills up and down my spine. You'll know what I mean if you read it.

This was a brilliant start to a series that holds a lot of promise. I'm definitely going to check out the next book in the series and would recommend anyone who likes a good scare read 'Darkhouse'.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman

It seems at the moment that I have a slight thing for Young Adult novels that I can read in one sitting while bawling my eyes out...

'If I Stay' is another one of those teen books battling big issues that I wish had been around when I was actually a teenager. A quote on the cover from the Daily Mail states "read it and weep" and that is exactly what I did.

This novel began as a light, airy glimpse into what seemed to be the perfect family life - cool parents who are into rock music, the adorable hyperactive little brother, and the protagonist Mia, a talented Cellist, well on her way to Juilliard. 

And then it hits. A tragic car accident turns Mia's life upside down. In one life-changing moment, Mia's family are ripped away from her and her own life hangs in the balance. Left somehow outside of her comatose body, Mia watches herself being operated on, hooked up to life-saving machinery while her friends and family will her to survive.

Mia has a choice to make. Will she go or will she stay? Going would be easy. She could be with her family, she wouldn't have to face the gaping hole in her life. Staying will be the hardest thing she's ever had to do. Is she brave enough to step up to the challenge?

This novel was heart-wrenching. I held on bravely for nearly half of the book but there came a point when I just simply could not hold it in any longer and the tears came. And they weren't just the pretty silent tear that rolls down your cheek kind of tears. No, these were the wracking sobs, the giant tears that obscure your vision. These are the tears from emotion so strong that I was tempted at one point to put the book down unfinished as I simply couldn't handle it any longer. But, my need to know what decision Mia came to won over and I carried on to the last page.

And I'm so glad I did.

This is another one of those books I'd recommend you go and read. And seriously, if you can afford it buy a copy for any teenage girl in your life because I'm sure she'd appreciate it.


What I've Been Reading:
'Memory's Wake' by Selina Fenech

I've been a fan of Selina Fenech's artwork for quite a few years and when I found out she had written and published a novel, I was desperate to read it. And now that I've finally got around to it, I can say that it definitely lived up to expectation. 

Memory has no idea who she is, where she comes from or how she got to the land of Avall. As the result of some magical accident she has been torn from her own time and thrown into a land full of Princesses on the run, Dragons and Fae creatures. There's a strange savage man following her, there's a whole gang of men trying to capture her and all while she's trying to figure out what the hell happened to her memories. Luckily she's got Eloryn, a girl with a very familiar face and a dangerous secret to help her out.

This was a fantastic start to a trilogy and I seriously can't wait to read the second installment. The characters are strong and loveable, the setting is different and the plot is something new, a welcome addition to the fantasy canon. There are also some stunning drawings in the book, all done by the author herself.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes Young Adult fiction r fantasy of any kind. Give it a go, you won't be disappointed.


What I've Been Reading:
'A Storm of Swords Part 1: Steel and Snow' by George R.R. Martin

I don't really want to say too much about this novel as I think it would be very easy to trip into the realm of plot spoilers. What I do want to say is that I adored this installment in the series. These books just get better and better and just when you think you have your mind made up about a character, your opinion of them is bound to change. Something will come to light or they'll reveal a part of their personality you didn't know existed and you'll start to think of them differently.

This is a fantastic series that i wish I had the talent or drive to write. I can't wait to read the next part.


Reading Round-up:

17. 'Heart-Shaped Bruise' by Tanya Byrne: [5/5] A stunning novel about revenge and the price we pay for it.

18. 'Salem's Lot' by Stephen King: [5/5] Old School Vampires taking over small town America. One of my favourite Vampire books ever.

19. 'Death Didn't Want Me... Now I Have Life' by Hannah Dee: [4/5] A heart-wrenching memoir of life lived with Borderline Personality Disorder.

20. 'Sing You Home' by Jodi Picoult: [5/5] A tear-jerker of a novel about life, love and family.

21. 'Blood, Sweat and Tea' by Tom Reynolds: [4/5] The memoirs of a London Paramedic. Funny, poignant and thought provoking.

22. 'Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades' by Rick Riordan: [3/5] A fill-the-gap story. Fun but a little too short.

23. 'Love, Aubrey' by Suzanne LaFleur: [5/5] A children's novel tackling some big issues with a protagonist who gets inside your heart and stays there.

I had a good reading month this month. Seven books - a big improvement on March. I enjoyed everything I read this month (there are a few 5 star reads here) and it's hard to choose a favourite. It's definitely between 'Heart-Shaped Bruise', 'Sing You Home' and 'Love, Aubrey'. All three tugged on y heart-strings and had me close to tears which seems to be something I'm enjoying this month (a little strange maybe?)

Goodreads is suggesting that I increase my target of 40 books in a year to something higher as I seem to be well ahead of schedule. I'm contemplating it. But what number would be achievable?