Thursday, 23 July 2015

John Silence: Psychic Investigator by Algernon Blackwood - A Review

Today I’d like to introduce you to John Silence Psychic investigator the creation of Algernon Blackwood. It’s almost impossible in describing John Silence to avoid allusions to Sherlock Holmes but he is something of a psychic Sherlock. He uses reason and logic and combines them with his psychic training to help people suffering from psychic afflictions. In the sense that he is curing maladies rather than solving crimes he might be better compared to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesser known Dr Martin  Hesselius whose cases feature in the collection’ In A Glass Darkly’ .

There are only 6 John Silence short stories which are available in various Kindle of paperback versions together or separately as parts of other Blackwood collections.

The John Silence stories have the good doctor investigating the case of a writer of humorous tales who has lost his sense of humour and so too his income due to ‘A Psychical Invasion’  I like this one though it does bear some similarities to Le Fanu’s ‘Green Tea’ . In this case, however, the stimulant involved is not quite as innocent as tea!

Other stories deal with fire elementals, schools where the monks aren’t as pious as they once were, feline magic in a small French town, a man who is ‘A Victim of Higher Space’  and even something akin to a werewolf story.

These are a fun twist on the supernatural tale for fans of the short story and worth a read. There are also plenty of other Algernon Blackwood stories out there to try too.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Tir Na Nog Trilogy by Ali Isaac - A Review

It’s not often you see modern books based on ancient myths, I exclude King Arthur here because he is an exception. You might be shouting that I’m wrong and  there are loads; so, I should say that I at least haven’t found many, apart from Greg Van Eekhaut’s The Norse Code (also a good book.) So, I was curious when I discovered these books.
The two books so far released are Conor Kelly and the Four Treasure of Eirean & Conor Kelly and the Fenian King.

These books have the modern-day hero getting thrown into the world of Irish myth and legend and he’s taken on a journey of discovery. He learns that Ireland’s ancient past and his own present are not entirely what he thought they were. He is forced to question what is true and where the real myths lie. Yet despite the literal and personal battles involved in Conor’s story there is one major obstacle standing in his way, which is somewhat unusual for the hero in a fantasy novel…..

Conor is in a wheelchair and cannot speak nor does he have the strength to push his own wheelchair. Now this is something new, and at first you have to wonder how on earth he is going to do everything a hero is required to do, but you know what? It works.

The author apparently drew on her own experiences of raising her daughter so you always feel that there is a truth in this story. This is the story of a boy who learns that he is so much more than he or anyone else could have imagined. He must learn not to define himself by his disability.

If you like Arthurian legend you will probably like Celtic myths and legends too. There are certain elements which are reminiscent of the Arthurian legends; their are distinct similarities in places but I’ll let you discover that for yourselves.

I recommend these books they are like a whirlwind tour of Ireland’s ancient history. You will be very glad, however, to make use of the pronunciation guide at the back of the books as the Irish language looks nothing like how it sounds. :)

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury - A Review

Now, the last thing I want to do is insult someone else’s work so I don’t often do negative reviews but I also want to be honest. I didn’t really like this book and I’ll try to be fair as I explain why:

The premise sounds good. Four horsemen dressed as knights Templar ride up to New York’s metropolitan museum during the opening of a Vatican treasures exhibition and launch a raid, one of the stolen items is a medieval decoder. FBI agent Sean Reilly and archaeologist Tess Chaykin set out to discover who is behind the elaborate attack and what they want with the decoder.

Sounds good right? But the book completely fails to live up to the promising blurb. Looking back on the book now I’ve finished it I’m asking myself why I didn’t enjoy it. The storyline itself isn’t bad but the writing style meant I was willing myself to finish reading it so that I could write this review and never have to look at it again. I found it really uninspiring and boring.

What went wrong?

The main problem, I think, is the characters. They are two dimensional and dull. The female lead does something stupid and dangerous, tells herself off for being stupid and then goes and does something even more stupid. At the beginning of the book we are told she doesn’t know the effect she has on men, a few chapters later she’s commenting on how good she looks! The most irritating thing about Reilly? No matter how stupid Tess is he forgives her because he fancies her.

The writer has decided that Reilly and Tess’s pasts are affecting the choices they make now. OK pretty standard, however it isn’t dropped in here and there, subtly and woven in with skill, it’s just the opposite; there are times when you feel like he’s saying ‘Right, lets all take a break from the story while you read this character bio I prepared earlier detailing the characters entire back story. Have you finished? OK then lets carry on where we left off.’

Also there are times when I found myself wondering if I’d picked up a novel or a gun magazine (pun not intended). The only thing he did describe well and in detail were the guns, every last one of them, repeatedly.

There is a scene, I wont mention which, that if cut out or edited could have made a later scene more surprising. Instead in conjunction with other later scenes it resulted in the obviousness of what was coming being laid on with a trowel. In fact the only person it wasn’t obvious to was Tess. Unsurprising really; did I mention she was stupid?

Good points?

Well as I said the concept isn’t a bad one and the big secret is a bit different to the usual religious conspiracy novels. I think the book did improve a little towards the end.

I realise this review has come across quite harsh but there really were some interesting ideas in this book and of course the things that didn't work for me might not be an issue for others; it's all subjective.

The Lady Chillers: classic ghost and horror stories by women authors (15 complete stories by Victorian and Edwardian mistresses of the macabre) - A Review

When talking about ghost stories the writers whose names get bandied about a lot are often men. So it was nice to find an entire volume dedicated to the often overlooked lady ghost story writers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I actually discovered during the course of reading this book that I had read a couple before as part of various anthologies. You know how it is though, you read a story think 'that was good' and then can’t for the life of you find it again to re-read it because you’ve no idea what it was called!

Anyway all the stories in this book are very worthy in their own right. Some were creepier than others; some not altogether satisfactory but that’s all subjective and I hope to get around to finding more stories by some of these ladies. So, here are my personal favourites:

1.The Open Door by Charlotte Riddell- Not so much a locked room mystery as an open door mystery! I really like this one; it’s got a touch of humour, suspicious deaths, missing wills, strange nocturnal visitors and a door that wont stay closed, despite the best efforts of many people.

2.The Shadow In The Corner by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – A good old fashioned haunted room story, complete with innocent young girl, cynical servants and sceptical master and family disgrace. Good and spooky this one.

3.The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell (of Cranford fame) – Guilt, immorality, shame, snow storms, a haunted organ and a ghostly child. Oh and it’s Christmas!

Of course these are just three of the 15 stories in the book, I enjoyed reading all of these stories, though you could probably skip the first couple of pages of the haunted organist or Hurly Burly by Rosa Mulholland. Personally I found the opening dragged a bit. I thought it detracted from an otherwise pretty spooky story.

Anyway I’d recommend a look at this book if ghost stories are your thing. I’m not sure that there is a physical version of this book but I’m sure if you haven’t got a Kindle you can find the stories in other anthologies.

Uncle Silas by J.S Le Fanu - A Review

what is the books about? :

The book is the Story of Maud Ruthyn; Maud lives a solitary and quiet life, but a happy one. She lives with her father, a quiet  man of unorthodox religious opinions and solitary habits. Her mother died when she was young and so the main female influences in her life are the maid and the housekeeper, both of whom she is very fond of.

But Maud’s peaceful life is interrupted suddenly when her father decides she is in need of a finishing governess. The woman he chooses brings terror and mystery to the nervous Maud. Another female influence also enters her life early on, cousin Monica, a wealthy widow who speaks her mind and does as she pleases.

Early on in the book we learn of Maud’s fascination with the portrait hanging in her home of a handsome young man of fashion. The portrait is of her Uncle Silas in his younger days. Her fascination with the mysterious character of the uncle she has never met grows with the reticence of those around her to talk of him. What she does learn is told in half disclosures and hints.
Eventually she comes to learn the story of Silas Ruthyn and the events surrounding his isolation from his family. All these events go on to play a part in Maud’s future life; When Maud eventually comes into the path of her mysterious uncle she is faced with many dilemmas of trust and loyalty.

Is it worth reading?


What did I like about it?

The story itself is a good one, aside from writing style and other considerations. I liked the character of Milly, Maud’s cousin. She is less educated than Maud and clearly neglected by her family. Although the book is a little bit harsh on those not trained to reserved Victorian society such as Milly, she is one of the warmest and most genuine characters in the book. At the other end of the scale is her cousin Lady Monica, she is well versed in the social graces but she takes no prisoners once she sets her mind to something.

There is a creeping sinister feeling throughout the book, peoples motives aren’t always clear and the isolated houses involved add to that feeling that Maud is totally at the mercy of others.

What didn’t I like about it?

It may have served the tension in the story well for those in the know to not reveal everything at once to Maud but rather to drip feed half disclosures but it does sometimes lead to frustration. I found myself being annoyed with the characters from time to time. They would tell Maud just enough to frighten her but not enough for her to be able to prepare herself to face what was coming. As a result it did sometimes feel like she was left flailing around in the dark while someone was hiding the candle.

What are the main elements of the book?

A locked room mystery, a mysterious uncle, a family scandal, a vulnerable girl, a large inheritance and an isolated house.
A good old fashioned Victorian gothic novel this; One that’s worth a good read. Don’t look it up on Wikipedia first because it tells you the entire plot and that really spoils the fun doesn’t it?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill - A Review

Firstly, this book isn’t a novel; I’m not really sure you could even call it a novella; it’s more like an extended short story, which is fine. I’m a pretty slow reader but I read this in a couple of hours. Printer’s Devil Court is home to four medical students. One night when they are gathered around the fire talking the conversation takes a sinister turn. The narrator, Hugh, soon finds himself being drawn into some dark goings on in dark corners of basements and disused mortuaries.

There are obvious overtones of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in this book and it reminded me slightly of the 1970’s film ‘The Asphyx’ The book is also illustrated, which does give the feel of a Victorian/Edwardian book. Currently it’s only available in hardback or Kindle versions. I have the Kindle version but the book cover looks very nice and it probably looks beautiful as a hardback; but for a book with such iffy reviews I couldn’t justify the rather unappealing £7.49 price tag, essentially just for a pretty cover. I enjoy Susan Hill’s writing style; she has a knack for descriptive language which really helps you settle into the mood and atmosphere of a story. Where this story fell down for me was in the same place that  ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ did, the end.

I have been accused of being ambiguous in the endings of some of my own ghost stories; but ghost stories are supposed to be ambiguous. It isn’t necessary for us to understand the mechanics of how someone returned from the dead or how exactly they got their revenge in a locked room unseen by the reader, off screen as it were. However, there is a crucial, and perhaps subtle, difference between an ambiguous ending that leaves scope for the reader’s imagination and a frustratingly open and unnecessary ending.

I can see that Hill is most likely trying to maintain the tradition of the twist ending. But if there is a twist ending in all of your books, surely the element of surprise is lost? Now, instead of catching you by surprise you’re reading the book waiting for the twist. I wouldn’t object to this if the twist was satisfying, but I didn’t feel as though it was in this case. It read as though she reached the end of the book and realised she was a few hundred words short so tagged on a completely random scene that wasn’t well enough explained to allow you to speculate over it properly. Other people may find that the explanation was obvious, but to me, although I have a couple of vague ideas what she might have been trying to suggest, I didn’t really feel I had enough information to go on.

That’s what felt wrong in this book. It did a great job of creating the right atmosphere but it was light on plot details. I felt this especially when one character, who presumably is only there at all as a counterpoint to the other  in the early pages, was written out with no further mention, presumably because he had fulfilled his purpose. Then there were moments when the narrator kept asking what two other characters were doing when they had just told him what they intended to do; It occasionally made it feel a little contrived in places.

All in all not a bad book, some good classic gothic themes and imaginative take on the ghostly aspect of the story; but I personally would have enjoyed it more if it had ended before the epilogue, which didn’t really work for me. Either that or had a more substantial epilogue.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - A Review

Northanger Abbey is infused with Jane Austen's usual wit and charm; but unlike her other works Northanger Abbey is also a delightful tongue in cheek satire of the early gothic novels. The book begins by pointing out how unsuited the young heroine Catherine Moreland is for the role by her failing to be possessed of either the appearance or the distressed circumstances required of a literary heroine.

Catherine's over active imagination fuelled by the reading of gothic novels leads her astray and she eventually begins to understand that fiction and reality can be worlds apart.

Of course there are also the usual Austen themes of  romance and marriage market scheming. If I have one criticism of this book it's that Catherine's innocent naivety towards certain characters is pushed to the point of disbelief. I found myself wondering how she could be so fooled for so long. Perhaps that's because I'm viewing the book from a cynical 21st century standpoint but I did find Catherine's total naivety a little unbelievable; but then some of the male characters are apparently just as foolish.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Selkie Pact by Judith Fullerton - A Review

Technically this is a children's book but having a long held fascination with mythology I was intrigued to read it. This is a glorious adventure that weaves the mythology of the Antrim coast throughout the story.

The hero of the story is Finn whose quiet summer holiday by the sea with his kindly grandparents is turned on its head when he starts to be drawn into a strange adventure that raises questions about everything he thought he knew and challenges his ingenuity.

A lovely book and I imagine it would be a nice way to introduce kids, who weren't already familiar with them, to some of the Celtic myths and folklore.

Cirque Du Mort by Anastasia Catris - A Review

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

An intriguing notion; this is a collection of short stories each relating the macabre and sometimes gruesome origins of the members of a haunted circus.
On the whole this is an enjoyable read. The stories are short making it a good book to dip into when you've got a spare five minutes and the unified setting of the haunted circus generally works well. The stories are imaginative and well told; sometimes you find yourself wondering how Catris got so much into so few words!

If I was to be really picky the one slightly discordant note for me was the bearded ladies story which I felt didn't quite resonate with the theme of the rest of the book. Other readers may, of course, disagree with me on that point and I did, however, enjoy it as a story in its own right.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout. The only drawback in the book's combined text and illustrations is that it isn't a comfortable reading experience on the old Kindle touch; but even if, like me, you own a slightly older Kindle there's always a kindle for pc app so it's not a major problem; for the sake of the beautiful illustrations and graphics it's worth it.

All in all I can definitely recommend this book. It's a beautiful, well-crafted book and a welcome addition to the genre