Book Review – Different Seasons by Stephen King

Different Seasons by Stephen King (Hodder Paperback, 2012)

This book is a collection of four Stephen King Novels; Hope Springs Eternal (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Summer of Corruption (Apt Pupil), Fall from Innocence (The Body), and A Winter’s Tale (The Breathing Method).

Hope Springs Eternal

This is my favourite of the four stories. It’s a beautifully written novella that first came to my attention through the film, Shawshank Redemption.

Hope Springs Eternal is the story of Andy Dufresne’s stint in Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, told through the eyes of Red, a fellow inmate. At times, Hope Springs Eternal is horrific to read as we see Dufresne attacked by The Sister’s, a gang of prisoners who prey on the vulnerable, and his treatment at the hands of the guards and the Governor, especially when Dufresne uncovers evidence to prove his innocence. Essentially though, Hope Springs Eternal is a story about hope as Dufresne clings to his innocence and the idea that, one day, he will get out of prison.

Summer of Corruption.

This has also been made into a film called Apt Pupil starring Sir Ian McKellen.

Apt Pupil begins as thirteen-year-old Todd Bowden uncovers evidence to suggest a neighbour, Kurt Dussander, is actually a fugitive Nazi war criminal. Instead of turning Dussander into the authorities, Bowden manipulates and blackmails him into sharing stories about the horrors and atrocities he committed in the Second World War.

As the story progresses, the pair form a sort of friendship or bond that brings the worst out in each other. Being reminded of his past reignites Dussander’s dark side. In turn, Bowden’s destructive bond with the Nazi encourages and grows Bowden’s own dark side. The result is horrific.

Summer of Corruption is horrific, but also strangely absorbing.

Fall From Innocence

This was my least favourite of the four novellas. As with the above two stories, this novella has also been made into a famous film called Stand By Me.

Fall From Innocence is set in 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, and follows a group of boys as they set out to find the body of a twelve-year-old boy, Ray Brower, who went missing and is presumed dead. The story is narrated by the adult Gordon Lachance and is told from his point of view.

This is a coming of age tale. A story of boys from dysfunctional families coming to terms with where they come from and the harsh realities of life and death.

Personally, I found this story a little bit boring (sorry, not sorry) but I know many of you will disagree.

A Winter’s Tale

Now, this little story tucked at the back of this large novella is a bit of a strange one to review as it seemed to be vastly different from the three preceding stories.

The Breathing Method follows David, a Manhattan lawyer who is invited by a senior partner of the law firm to join a mysterious Gentlemen’s club where the participants are encouraged to tell stories.

On one such occasion, Dr Emlyn McCarron tells the horrific story of a woman who is determined to give birth to and raise the illegitimate child she is carrying, whatever the cost. The Breathing Method refers to the technique that McCarron teaches her to keep her calm during childbirth and which has an unintended and gruesome consequence when the woman is involved in an accident.

A Winter’s Tale is very atmospheric, a chilling tale which really is a story within a story. I just wish it had been longer!

Conclusion

This anthology collection is well worth delving into. I would give it 4 1/2 stars out of five simply because I found The Body a little boring (however, I know many of you will disagree!)

Great for those who love to read about real-life horror. Not so great for those wanting some of that supernatural horror King writes so well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dragon Rider, so far, so good? – A review

I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting my very first novel, Dragon Rider. Some of it is making me cringe but, overall, I’m actually really proud of what I’ve written. It’s also allowing me to see how far I’ve come with my writing.

And, if I can progress in my writing, so can you!

What I don’t like:

Cringey, cringe – I’ve noticed a few errors. For example, I have used the word took when it should have been taken (eek! That’s embarrassing).

I’ve also noticed that some of the sentences are a bit stiff and long.

I do like to connect separate sentences with commas! (I did it so you don’t have to! Do not repeat my mistake!!!).

Falkor

How I picture Falkor.

And, maybe the story is a tad confusing? That’s one of the pitfalls of writing a story; sometimes because you’re the one in charge of the plot and you know the whole story you don’t know for sure if you’re actually explaining it to the reader properly (this is where beta readers come in handy).

It needs a good edit.

What I do like:

I still love how I have set the story up. Right from the opening lines, the tone is  dark and mysterious:

“A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?”

Personally, I think that works but what was your impression of the beginning of the story?

Drake Blackthorn, my main character is, in my opinion, written well (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Willow was going to be my main character. This all changed when I began writing; Drake just kept popping out at me, almost begging me to use him as the hero. I did as I was asked and I don’t regret the decision. He’s angry, he’s distrustful of people and faeries, he’s hell-bent on revenge, stubborn, and a general pain in the ass but I love him!

Willow

This is a picture I did of Willow Ravenwood.

I like the way the story begins with a chase scene as Drake and his dragon tease the dwarves as they compete to capture Pyro, the fire-djinn, who has a massive bounty on his head. When I wrote this scene I was using action films as inspiration. Most good action films begin with some sort of chase scene, don’t they?

And, Falkor, Drake’s dragon; where have I got his name from? Does anyone recognise it? It’s from one of my favourite childhood films; A Neverending Story.

My favourite character by far though is pyro. I think, even to this day, he’s probably the best character I’ve ever written. He’s so funny and I wish I had a friendly fire-djinn just like him to keep me company.

The setting is working too. The dark brooding city of Devilsgate compared to the wondrous magic of Nowhere. I do worry about myself sometimes though when I reread some of the weird and wacky ideas I’ve come up with!

Blackthorn - Revenge of the Dragon Rider

The first cover for Dragon Rider with its old title “Revenge of the Dragon Rider” under my pen name Nikki Morgan. I don’t use the pen name anymore so I can blame her for the awful book cover. Wtf was I thinking? That cover is shockingly shit, lol!!!

I’m actually quite chuffed when I look back on what I wrote all those years ago. If anything, this has actually put a fire in my writing belly. I think I might get it edited all over again and try and improve it because, for my first attempt, I don’t think it was half bad at all.

sketch of Drake

A really bad, unfinished, drawing of Drake

But, I’m not the one that matters. What do you, dear reader, think of Dragon Rider? What do you love and, perhaps more importantly, what do you hate?

Please, let me know!

 

 

Book Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014)

David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks has been a difficult book to read and review. I think this is partly to do with the fact that it’s actually a series of six interconnected novellas that vary a great deal in terms of tone and genre.

The first novella, A Hot Spell 1984, is, in my opinion, the strongest. It focuses on Holly Sykes, a very likeable character, who decides to leave home after an argument with her mother. I think if David Mitchell had stayed with Holly Sykes’ story I would have loved this book right until the very end.

That’s not to say I didn’t fall in love with some of his other characters – Ed Brubeck, and Crispin Hershey (despite their flaws) were favourites of mine – but I would have preferred more on each of them.

I found myself completely lost in The Horologist’s Labyrinth, but not in a good way. The science fiction and concepts in that novella went completely over my head, although this is probably more to do with my lack of knowledge in this area rather than anything lacking in Mitchell’s writing.

I felt overwhelmed by all the different words and ideas in this section but continued reading anyway because of Mitchell’s talent.

I felt that the last novella, Sheep’s Head, was a little too preachy about the environment and man’s destructive side, although I did enjoy the fact that it was told from Holly Sykes’ perspective as she was my favourite character. I didn’t like seeing her grow old though; I would have preferred the book to end on The Horologist’s Labyrinth, whilst Holly was still in her prime rather than having her face the Apocalypse scenario as well. Not that I don’t like reading about older characters, but it was just a step too far for me in this particular novel. Too much had happened to Holly and I just wanted Mitchell to give her a break!

I did like this book (I must have because I read it quite quickly) but I didn’t love it. It was too much of a genre-bending novel for my taste. Therefore I would probably give it 3 ½ stars out of five.

Great for those who like genre-bending thoughtful and provocative novels. It’s certainly a great adventure!

Not so great for those who like a little bit of light reading that doesn’t take too much thought. Be warned – you may end up with a headache! Also not a good read if you don’t like to be introduced to too many characters.

Book Review – Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown (Doubleday Books, 2013)

As a huge Dan Brown fan (love The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons) I was really excited to get my copy of Inferno.

However, for me, Inferno was a big disappointment, and reading it, at times, felt like I was descending into the bowels of Hell myself.

I get the impression that whoever edited the book was just too much in awe of him to say “Dan, very pretty prose but you really need to cut it”. I get his passion for architecture and history – I love it myself and find his passion contagious – but there is just too much description which only serves to jar the flow of the narrative. For example, Langdon is racing to find the place that the virus is stashed before its too late and we are given a page and a half description of the Hagia Sophia before the chase resumes.

The architecture is stunning, Dan’s description is beautiful but this is the wrong place for so much description – it’s not a travel guide! Dan get back to basics, put the pace back into your novels and remember, sometimes, less is more.

2 out of 5 stars

Not sure it’s a great book for anyone (sorry Dan :() but if I had to push myself, it’s great if you like beautiful descriptions of places and architecture and don’t mind it slowing the pace of the novel down to the point where it practically stops. Not so great for those who like pacy novels.

 

Book Review – The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile by Stephen King (Orion Books, 1998)

I’ve very late to the party with this book! I must also say that I have watched the movie loads of times and it happens to be one of my favourites.

The Green Mile is narrated by Paul Edgecombe, the superintendent in charge of the death row section of Cold Mountain Penitentiary – known as the Green Mile – in 1932. The book is a recount of his days on E-block and the strange events that took place in that year.

In particular, the arrival of John Coffey, condemned to die on ‘Old Sparky’ for the rape and murder of two young girls. But, it soon transpires that everything isn’t quite what it seems with this gentle giant who cries a lot and is deeply afraid of the dark. Paul soon comes to question whether Coffey is innocent of the crimes he’s been convicted of especially when it seems that Coffey has been gifted the powers of healing.

This book is beautifully written and, at times, heartbreaking. I can’t remember the last time I cried reading a book but The Green Mile managed to break me. It’s easy to see why Stephen King is hailed as a master of writing.

This is a weighty book filled with themes such as damnation, salvation, racism and atonement. It’s an exploration of power, or lack of it, and the illusion of superiority. It’s a book about death, morality and death used as a punishment. But, it’s also a story about love, compassion and healing.

It goes straight into my list of favourites. I would give it five out of five stars,

Great for those who like deep, unsettling and dark narratives. Not so great for those who don’t like magical realism and want a light read.

My Faves – Book Review – The Lie Tree by Sarah Hardinge

So, I thought it would be good to go over some of the fiction that has inspired me whilst I’ve been on my writing journey (oh, that sounded a bit cliche, didn’t it?). I don’t have a list in order, as such, of my favourite books because that would be like asking me to pick a favourite child; it just wouldn’t happen. Besides, I’d end up with about one-hundred books in my top ten, lol!!!

I’m going to start with The Lie Tree, by Sarah Hardinge, just because…

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2015)

This book won the Costa book of the year in 2015 but I only read it last year so, not for the first time in my life, I was behind everyone else.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel – with a smidge of magical realism – focusing upon Faith, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose family is uprooted from Victorian England to live on the small island of Vane because “one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried” Faith’s father “as a fraud and a cheat.” Faith has no idea why this would be so as “his bleak and terrible honesty were the plague and pride” of her family.

When Faith’s father is then found dead under mysterious circumstances, she decides to investigate. She goes through his papers and belongings and finds a strange tree which only grows and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. Not only that, eating the fruit of the tree allows one to uncover truths. “The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered” (from the Amazon Blurb).

Faith decides to use the tree to root out her father’s killer by spreading lies across the island of Vane but soon she realises that lies and truths can hurt as well as heal.

This book is so well written, I devoured it in record time!

A thoughtful and provoking read which delves into a vast number of issues including class, good and evil, lies and truths, the treatment of women in Victorian society, the limits of science, the power of religion and family loyalty.

Faith, for me, was a great protagonist and her story arc was satisfying. She progressed from a timid girl to one who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her arc was refreshing given the male-oriented times the novel is set in.

I loved the fact that the only ally Faith really has isn’t human at all. And, is the tree really her “friend”?

I found The Lie Tree to be a beautifully written and dark tale. And how I wish I’d written it!!

Great for those who love intricate, escapist tales filled to the brim with the supernatural and mysterious. Not great for those who want something easy and light to read.

 

 

Book Review – Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta Books, 2014)

I put this book on my Christmas list after seeing it recommended on a literature page on Facebook. I can’t remember why it piqued my interest now because it’s not a book I would usually choose for myself.

Bodies of Light is a historical novel set in Victorian Manchester and revolves around the two Moberley sisters, Ally and May and their parents, the evangelical “Mamma” and their painter father.

It’s a difficult and thought-provoking read about family and familial abuse. We start the novel with the marriage of Elizabeth to Alfred Moberley and the domineering presence of Elizabeth’s mother who likes to assert control by doing things such as putting a stone in boots and lacing them up tight so that “each step will remind you how you have disappointed us.” She even keeps a basket of stones in the hall just for the purpose. “Mamma’s methods,” remarks Elizabeth, “are not exactly violent but she does believe in the salutary effects of pain.”

I thought this first section of the novel was slow and rather drawn out but, it is rather important as we see the cycle of abuse continue when Elizabeth has her first child, Ally. As Ally grows we see Elizabeth transform into her mother and in turn, inflict pain upon Ally. I was slightly troubled that Elizabeth is shown to have post-natal depression – not because I think we shouldn’t talk about it (we definitely should!) but because I didn’t want it to seem as if the depression was an excuse for the violence inflicted on Ally. It wasn’t used as an excuse and Moss handled the subject brilliantly.

Alexandra Harris states, in her review of Bodies of Light, (in the Guardian, 19th April 2014), “Moss is too challenging a novelist to allow us simply to despise Elizabeth. We must respect her tough commitment to her work as she pushes into the brothels and asylums of mid-Victorian Manchester’s dismal underworld.” I don’t agree. Whilst I admire Elizabeth’s work, I despise Elizabeth more for knowing that she can show more kindness, more generosity to those who aren’t of her own flesh than to her own children. Not to say the “fallen” shouldn’t be helped, of course, just that to not show your own children love and affection and then to show it to others is something I have a great deal of difficulty with. At one point, Elizabeth takes in a child who has been exploited as a prostitute, but then Elizabeth seems completely oblivious to the fact that her own daughters could be in danger. One of them is even coaxed into taking her clothes off by her father’s painter friend so that he can paint her. As you can probably tell, this novel messed with my head in several ways!

Ally manages to escape Manchester and moves to London to study as a doctor. This section was riveting for me, as a woman, seeing how Victorian women had to fight to achieve anything. Although, the ending did seem a little rushed as she meets and marries, Mr Cavendish. Ally still has intentions to study as a doctor, but, it just didn’t sit right with me for her to marry quite so easily (not that there’s anything wrong with marriage). Perhaps it was just the way it was slotted in at the end. It does give the novel a “coming full circle” feeling as it begins and ends in marriage. I just hope Ally doesn’t go on to transform into her mother!

Even at the end, Mamma casts a shadow over the marriage proceedings even though she doesn’t attend. There’s an over-arching sadness that broke my heart in this novel. A child, even as an adult, still desperate for her mother’s affection and acceptance. I have a particular interest in the motherhood myth and the way mothers are presented in society and what happens when a mother has a personality disorder. I have written about it myself in my Bones, Ashes and Dust Trilogy. It’s also the subject of another novel I’m working on.

And yes, these types of mothers do exist!!

Overall, I’d give Bodies of Light 3.5/5. The historical detail is fabulous and even taught me a few things I didn’t know about the plight of women in Victorian England (and Paris). The subject of family and familial violence was handled well, although, sometimes it was drawn out a little.

Good for those who don’t mind thought-provoking literature and discussions on familial abuse with a great dollop of historical fiction. Not so great for those who want a little bit of light reading.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/19/bodies-of-light-sarah-moss-review-hard-working-novel-hard-working-women