Sunday, 14 December 2014


A small town is brought to it's knees. A statue of the crucifixion hangs on a wall. A bucket of pigs blood falls from the ceiling and covers the Prom Queen. It could only be Stephen King.

Here is where I stand on this one. I'm a life long fan of the Master of Horror but I've never quite got round to reading this one until now. It's such an iconic book and it probably comes to the mind of anybody when they hear Stephen King's name mentioned. I remember watching the film when I was about 14 and being mesmerised and infatuated by Sissy Spacek. King fans like myself have a lot to thank this book for. It was his first published book and maybe if it wasn't for Carrie we would never have had such a collection of fantastic books.

However putting aside my fan loyalty I have to say that this is one of his weaker books. It was written at a time when Stephen King was still developing his style and voice and it is pretty average. There are flashes of genius in there but the writing isn't up there with his best works. It's scary and twisty and warped but he has written far superior books. Iconic but not my favourite.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

'One morning in the dead of the winter three German soldiers head out into the frozen Polish countryside to find one of them - a Jew.'

This is a perfect example of the phrase 'sometimes less is more.' To write a really good book you don't always need a plot the size of The Spanish Armada. Sometimes a book can contain too many fanfares and whistles. Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor, this packs a strong punch. It invites the reader into a world not long gone. A world where 'cruelty' is sadly much more than a word made up of seven letters.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Virus by Mary Chapman

'Every aspect of Penna's life is controlled for her: a computer programme tells her when to get up, eat, sleep. But one day the programme goes wrong.'

This is fabulous! It's quirky, dark, creepy and right up my alley!

It can't be easy writing a quick read like this but as far as I'm concerned Mary Chapman got it all perfect. This has ticked all the boxes for me. It is original and imaginative and full of fun and excitement. But I think the best compliment I can give 'Virus' is that it's just the kind of book I want to write!

Go read it!

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Smoking Room by Julie Parsons

'Jack didn't mean to fall in love with Grace Lynch that morning- or any other morning for that matter. He didn't mean to fall in love with anyone.'

This is a neat little book. My favourite so far of my 'quick reads' sprint. As a middle aged bald bloke I don't read many romance books at all. But this is great. It's like Mills & Boon with a dark twist! It's the perfect way to pass an hour. Enjoyed.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Atonement by Ian Rankin

This is one of Ian Rankin's short stories in book form for Shortlist.

It's a pretty decent story and a good way of passing half an hour to 40 minutes. It's the first Inspector Rebus story that I've read and maybe I should read more from Ian Rankin.

A decent short story or short book, whatever you want to call it.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Today Everything Changes - Andy McNab

This is another example of a book that isn't really aimed at me.

If you are interested in the military then this might be right up your street. It's a personal account of Andy McNab and how he went from being a juvenile delinquent to playing a major role in the Gulf War and the SAS. His account is both fascinating and a real eye opener. Although I'm not interested in anything military in any shape of form, this book is quite educational and I can appreciate it from that perspective.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Do you switch off the life support or do you wait for a miracle?

A brother and sister lock horns in the saddest of battles.

It feels like Jodi Picoult books are everywhere I look these days, whether it's in W.H Smiths, ASDA or my local charity shop. But she's one of those Authors I've either avoided or just never got round to reading. I don't know which.

And if ever there was a book that was just OK, this would be it. It manages to be very readable without out being anything special. OK is the best word I can use to describe it. The story is OK, the plot is OK, the writing is OK. It's a steady 4 stars.

I liked the main plot and Jodi Picoult weaves a decent tale and it's got all the ingredients needed for a good book. There are a few plot holes and a few unrealistic and convenient moments along the way but overall they didn't interfere with my enjoyment too much. I am a nature lover so all the wolfy bits were my favourite bits and maybe that's a bloke thing. Because at the end of the day this isn't really a blokey book. The cover almost screams out women's fiction and although I usually prefer books written by women, it did feel very much like this was step too far for me!

It's a decent read with maybe a little bit too much padding for my taste. What starts off as an interesting and thoughtful plot turns into a bit of a legal drama towards the end. And I'm not a huge fan of legal dramas.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

On the outer deck of a North Sea ferry stands Futh, a middle-aged and newly separated man, on his way to Germany for a restorative walking holiday. After an inexplicably hostile encounter with a hotel landlord, Futh sets off along the Rhine. As he contemplates an earlier trip to Germany and the things he has done in his life, he does not foresee the potentially devastating consequences of things not done.

Sometimes when I read a book that has been shortlisted for a major literary prize I find it a little bit off putting and I half expect myself to be disappointed. But I really did enjoy 'The Lighthouse'.

It's not the most exciting book I've ever read and I wouldn't exactly call it a thrill a minute but the beauty lies elsewhere. Rather than being plot heavy it is character driven and cleverly crafted. It pulled me in from the beginning and I found that the pages were literally turning themselves. This is a story about memories and about how bad memories cling to the surface of happy memories like a snow drop sticking to a cold window. It is also a story that gives the reader time to breathe and time to fill in the blanks. I always say that 50% of a book is written by the person that is reading it. Alison Moore makes use of this with a clever use of subtle, yet powerful ambiguity.

I think it's the ambiguity that I like the most about this short novel. It's the story untold rather than the story told that makes it work so well. Whether it is deserving of a Man Booker Prize shortlisting, I'll let you decide.

Enjoyed it.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Clay by Melissa Harrison

Eight year old TC skips school to explore the city's overgrown, forgotten corners. Sophia, seventy-eight, watches with concern as he slips past her window, through the little park she loves. She's writing to her granddaughter, Daisy, whose privileged upbringing means she exists in a different world from TC - though the two children live less than a mile apart.

I have been waiting for a book like this to come along for a long time. It just goes to show what hidden gems are waiting for us in our local libraries.

As a nature lover it's as if this book was written for me. Each page is full of such wonderful prose, it's beautiful, almost edible. It's quite a short book but I found it impossible to read quickly, almost obligatory that I should read it slowly. The setting, an unnamed urban city area is as real as the main characters are perfectly drawn. This is one of those books that has an atmosphere. Or as Paul Farley, Author of The Ice Age: Poems, says, 'it has it's own weather.'

I was wandering through the brambles and the tree roots with TC. I was there. In this book and it captured me. What an impressive debut novel. You can find out more about Melissa Harrison at Tales Of The City

I can't wait for her new book.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Girl on the Platform - Josephine Cox

On a trip to London a young man sees a woman sat on the opposite platform and falls head over heels in love. Then she disappears.

Yesterday I visited my local library and came back with five very different books and I chose to read this Quick Read first. The beauty of Quick Reads is that you have the opportunity to try out something different, something that you wouldn't normally even look at. This is what I would normally call a kitchen sink drama. There's no big storyline or plot, it just follows the antics of a couple of twenty somethings on a night out in London.

It's harmless enough but it left me feeling unfulfilled. The story is pretty unrealistic (especially the night out in London) and the ending is so convenient Josephine Cox may as well have wrapped it in a little cotton bow and finished it off with the famous last line 'and they all lived happily ever after.'

Try flicking through a woman's magazine the next time you visit your dentist and you may find a story just like this. That's all I can say really.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Jacky Boy - Ken McCoy

Set in post war Leeds, a young boy's world is turned upside down when a local man is hanged for a crime he didn't commit. A crime that goes to the heart of everything he believes in.

This could have been such a great read. It's nostalgic, the main characters are well written and the main story is enough for any reader to get their teeth into. But unfortunately this book commits the ultimate crime that has befallen many a book over the years. It tries to be too many things. For some reason the author didn't seem to have a lot of faith in his story (which was good by the way) and the story ends up going off into all kinds of strange directions.

For some reason he throws a rape storyline into the mix as well as a bizarre car chase and then an even more bizarre dead body in the back of a car and caps it all off with a mining disaster! Not to mention a couple of murders and the main character waking up to find a dead boy hanging at the end of his bed! There's too much going on in such a short book that it well and truly borders on the ridiculous at times. And the frustrating thing is that the main storyline is very good and didn't need everything that I've just mentioned.

I fell in love with the main characters and the main storyline was gripping and had everything that a reader would want. But sadly a good book has been ruined by going off into too many crazy tangents. It made the whole book unrealistic.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Anchored somewhere in the Thames, a sailor tells his shipmates a story. A story about savages, a story about an amazing journey, a story about ivory.

Ok I hold my hands up. I read this because Stephen King mentioned it in his fabulously helpful book 'On Writing.' But I can only describe my experience of reading Heart of Darkness by saying it's a bit like reading Marmite. In parts the writing is faultless. Conrad's prose and use of imagery is in places exceptional and anybody wanting to improve their writing can learn so much from it. The book also gives a fascinating and gloomy insight into what atrocities were committed at the hands of the British Empire. Most of us roll our eyes up at some of the terrible things that are happening around the world at the moment but books like this are a startling reminder that were arguably just as bad at one time.

However this was also a difficult read. At times it was like reading a very long and annoying cryptic poem. For such a short book it did feel much longer and I wouldn't advise anybody to read it too quickly. There isn't much of a plot and I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it exactly, although I did appreciate some of the wonderful prose.

To sum up I'd say that reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is like eating a very strange fruit. It's different and it tastes funny but it's not something you'd necessarily want to eat again in a hurry.
Fundamentally this is a story about power and greed. And coincidentally enough I can draw real parallels between this and my last read, The Great Gatsby. Both books revolving around selfishness and featuring mysterious elusive characters who come to a sudden, tragic end.

Did I appreciate it's educational merits? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Essentially books should be fun to read. This has no doubt been used around the world as an English homework staple but that doesn't mean it's fun!

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Ever had that scenario where the whole of Amazon and Goodreads seems to have read a totally different book to you? Well it just happened to me.

Don't get me wrong, this book isn't terrible, I just don't get all the hype! I had high expectations considering the fact that it's considered a classic and has also been made into a major blockbuster movie. But for me I couldn't really get into it. And when I did get into it, the book was almost over.
It's well written and I love the narration and I can appreciate that the book is allegorical for the anti American dream and all that. But it didn't rock my world, the way it seems to have rocked the world of a lots of most people out there in AmazonWorld and GoodreadsWorld.

It doesn't go into my top ten but it doesn't go into my bottom ten either. I can appreciate the style of writing but that's as far as it goes for me. I loved Scott F Fitzgerald's collection of stories, The Popular Girl, but this one wasn't as enjoyable.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Shining - Stephen King


One 5 year old boy (preferably with an an uncanny psychic ability.)
One alcoholic and slightly unhinged father.
A haunted house with lots of creepy corridors.
One dead lady in a bath tub.
A glass of wine of your choice.


Mix together all your ingredients until you create a vintage Stephen King novel that will give you lots of thrills and the inevitable crazy nightmares.

Drink the wine!

I have always been a big fan of Stephen King and have read quite a few of his books over the years but his old ones are the best if you ask me. I don't know how I have missed reading the Shining, but it's superb. Classic King. The movie was great. The book is greater.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Importance of being earnest - Oscar Wilde

Because this is a very old book I didn't really know what to expect when I turned over the first page. I think I was expecting something old worldly and stuffy and difficult to get into but I was totally wrong. It's funny! Actually funny, not just mildly amusing but really funny.
The whole play is based around two men who invent fictitious brothers so that they can get away with living two separate lives. The farcical storyline that inevitably follows has probably been borrowed and stolen by countless TV sit-coms and soaps ever since.

If you want to chuckle away an evening, try this one. Yes the ending relies upon a coincidence bigger that the land mass of the antarctic itself but it won't stop me from sleeping and maybe you'll get over it too.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank baum

When I was a kid I loved the movie and I remember that I used to fight with my sister at Christmas, who always wanted to watch Peter Pan instead. I won, every time, I think. But that's a long time ago!

I have always been aware of the original Oz books but never quite got round to reading them until now, the first one anyway. It's difficult to review children's books. Only children should review them but as I'm a book reviewer I will do a small, quick one.

This is very different from the movie but in a good way. I found myself enjoying it just as much as I would if I were a kid again. Compared to the movie, there are notable differences including the amazing world of china and the hammerhead people and a few gory bits that wouldn't have been included in the movie! Other bits appear from the film but in a different order and the tin man is the tin woodsman and the ruby slippers are silver shoes. Overall this is a fun read that I'm sure lots of adults would enjoy reading too. I did!

This is a proper children's book. There are a few morals and themes that come out of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, namely that by helping each other we can achieve more but also that we can achieve anything, if we just believe hard enough.

I want to go to Oz.


Dream Weaver by Rejean Giguere

What do you do when your sister disappears and all your efforts to find her hit a brick wall?

What about a bit of Voodoo?

This is a mixed bag for me. I really like the hook of the book and it gets off to a blistering start and I was immediately taken on a whirlwind of adventure across several continents into one dark and unsavoury place after another. For a short book it definitely kept me turning the pages and there's lots of action, drama and gore. And you can't beat a bit of gore from time to time can you?

Rejean writes with an imaginative quill, there's no doubt, with great chunks of humour weaved in along the way. This is what I like about the book but I think ultimately it's also it's main downfall. I found that towards the end the story kind of loses the plot and becomes a little bit unrealistic and over the top. At one point it felt like the main character was turning into Tarzan Lord of the Jungle and I was half expecting all the animals in the jungle to come to his rescue! And there were also one or two grammatical errors that made the book difficult to read at times.

Overall this is a fast paced, high speed chase of a book that keeps the pages turning but ultimately it's a bit like a beautiful garden that is overrun with weeds. I can't help feeling that with some clever and careful editing this book could be a much stronger.

I think maybe one of the main problems is that for a quick read there's just so much going on and the reader is taken to so many strange places, you don't really have time to settle into the book. And you are left feeling a little overwhelmed and disjointed.


Forst Time Gardener by Kim Wilde

It's great when you manage to find exactly what you are looking for.

I am a complete beginner to gardening and I was looking for something that would teach me the basics and this book managed to do that as well as wetting my appetite to take my interest to the next level. I am no spring chicken and my front garden is tiny and all I have at the back of my rented house is a small yard, but I am managing to tinker around a little with the little that I have.

It's encouraging too to think that Kim Wilde was once a complete novice too and has managed incredibly to forge a second career for herself. There is hope for us all. My interest in all things horticultural is new and fun and who knows where it can take me in the future.

This is written in an easy reading style, it is helpful, encouraging and there are a few chuckles along the way. It has certainly encouraged me to plod on regardless of whether I will one day manage to get myself a garden bigger than a postage stamp!

If you are interested in gardening, this is just the thing to help you along the way.


Starting Over by Tony Parsons

                            How many chances do you get to make it right?

At 42 George is given another chance in the shape of a new heart. The heart of a 19 year old. But as well as adding years to his life it also appears to be making him younger and younger as his own family continue to get older.

      Where has Tony Parsons been all my life?

 I have been aware of his books for a while but they have always existed in a some strange extra dimension at the corner of my eye. But this one jumped out at me for some reason and to be honest I didn't really know what to expect. It's a really good read! I love Tony Parson's writing style. It's witty, emotional and wonderfully readable. This is one of those books where the pages manage to mystically turn themselves.

I don't really know how to describe this book. I could try and describe it as literary fiction or family literary fiction or women's literary fiction, but none of those do it justice at all. I'm a bloke but I loved it!

I think the best way of describing it is simply to say it is a really great story. That's what I like when it boils down to it. A really good story.

In need to invite Mr parson's into my home more often, as long as he doesn't make any builders tea!