Man vs Bookshelf: Harry Potter and the case of the Duplicates

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

There are plenty of books on my shelves a lot of people won’t know.

This, I guess, will not be one of them.

Let’s be honest, at this point Harry Potter is bigger than Jesus.

Maybe even bigger than the Beatles.

People are mad on the bugger, despite the fact he’s not the most compelling protagonist going. (Harry Potter that is, not Jesus)

Certainly not as exciting as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, so where’s his theme park?

Okay, I suppose it wouldn’t be easy to make a ride about murdering prostitutes, and there may be some legal issues…

He’s also not all that kid-friendly.

But still.

What I’m saying is you all know about Harry Potter, and you’ve all made your mind up how you feel about him.

So, what’s the point in me doing a review?

None.

Still, now we’re here, there’s plenty to discuss.

So, settle in, and let’s talk about an aspect of this challenge that’ll make most think I’m insane.

Sound good?

The Nature of this Challenge

When I decided to do this challenge it was to get every book on my bookshelf read with no exceptions.

See, I put no exceptions in bold, so you know it’s serious.

That’ll be important later.

However, there were some exceptions.

These 12 exceptions outside of the no exceptions (shut up, it does make sense. They’re the exceptions that prove the rule, ha!) were the books on my bookshelf I had read in the couple of months before starting the challenge.

But that was it.

Other than those 12.

No exceptions.

That meant I would read business books, like this one, script books, and even the tome 1001 Days that Shaped the World.

Plus, duplicates.

That’s right.

Duplicates.

Should that be in bold?

Duplicates.

Now, if you’re not wondering why you’re reading this rather than doing something important. Say, catching up on Peaky Blinders (which you must do.) Then you’re probably wondering why anyone would make a habit of keeping multiple copies of the same book.

Well, I don’t make a habit of it, of course.

But, I do have three copies of one book.

You can probably guess which.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Why? Well, it’s not that weird.

Only quite weird.

The first copy is the copy I first got (duh). It’s the old design from when the books were first released, and it makes up part of a set of seven (see pic).

The second, the copy I read this time, is a hardback version with fake J.K. Rowling signature inside and out (see the banner at the top of the page for that one)

And when I say fake, I mean it’s a printed copy of her actual signature. Not that my dad faked her signature because obviously, he didn’t do that.

I hope.

Finally, there is the twentieth-anniversary edition of Philosopher’s Stone (see pic). This copy my girlfriend bought me so she could buy both the Slitherine and Gryffindor versions without feeling like a super nerd.

Totally worked.

Okay, by now you’re thinking – if you’re not already enjoying the first episode of Peaky Blinders – “wait, you’re not really going to read three copies of the same book for this bloody challenge are you?”

And to this I say, you obviously weren’t paying much attention above, were you?

No exceptions.

But also, no.

As luck would have it, the twentieth-anniversary edition of Philosopher’s Stone comes under the 12 books exempt from the challenge.

As for the other two. Yes, I bloody well am going to read both.

You have to remember this is a four-year challenge, end to end, and I’ve just knocked off the first of the two early on.

It could be a couple of years before I pick it up again and I know some people who read the whole Harry Potter series of Harry a couple of times a year.

So, when you think about it, not that weird.

So, um, are you actually going to review this thing, or what?

Short answer.

No.

Long answer.

Yes, eventually.

Like I say, it’s going to be silly to review Harry Potter in the same way I review a lot of my books because it’s so ingrained in the public conscience. Everyone’s already made their minds up about it, so I’m not going to waste my time or yours.

Well, unless you count reading the above as a complete waste of time.

Which you should.

But, beyond that, here’s what’s going to happen.

There will be no review today. When it comes to picking up the Harry Potter series again someway down the line, I will do a joint review then.

I’m already having lots of thoughts about the things I want to write about. Things beyond the ordinary review type stuff.

So, look forward to that.

But for now, no review for you…

Next Up

At the time of writing, I have read four out of five of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

So, next time out expect a joint review of all five of those.

That’s right, five in one.

Should be enough to make up for no review here, right?

No?

Well, sod you then.

Until next time.

Man vs Bookshelf: John Dies at the End

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Okay, this could be a tough review.

Not in an emotional sense, you understand, or because I’ve got nowt to say.

Not even because it’s not a good book.

It’s actually, spoiler alert, a great book.

The problem, in this instance, is more to do with timings.

See, although this blog is coming out on 11th January, I finished it almost a month before that. 17th December, to be exact.

Since then, we had that Christmas thing which, as is its prerogative, threw everything up in the air. Laughing with childish glee as it did so.

Or so I imagine.

I began this review on the 27th December, and I’m now rewriting it on the 28th.

For ten days before this, though, I spent very little time writing at all.

Such is Christmas.

But, while my writing came to a screaming halt, my reading ploughed on come rain or shine.

So, as I write this, John Dies is far from my most recent reading memory. In fact, since finishing it, I have read five more books, and am a few pages into a sixth.

This makes for the most substantial gap between the book read and the book reviewed.

And it’s made my mind all jumbled as I go into this.

Still, the longer I put it off, the worse the situation gets.

So, I suppose I’d better try do this thing.

David Wong/ Cracked and me

Recently, I’ve been a bit crap about doing this ‘author and me’ section.

Last time out I didn’t mention the writer, and with Silence, not so long ago, I didn’t know anything about our author.

Not good enough.

I want to fix that today. But I can’t talk about David Wong alone. Not when there is an organisation with which he is so entangled. At least in my mind.

You see, I wouldn’t even know of David Wong if it wasn’t for that great institution – Cracked.

For the uninitiated, Cracked is a comedy site.

In fact, if their slogan is to be believed they are “America’s only humor site since 1958”.

This is bullshit, of course, and not least because they can’t spell humour.

But it does sum them up.

The site consists of content that is both interesting and hilarious. They cover all sorts of media but are best known for their list articles. i.e. ‘14 gaping plot holes in the fabric of the Star Wars universe‘.

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Cracked, but I’ve been a huge fan for many years now.

Many hours I’ve spent trawling their articles, and it is for this reason I became aware of David Wong. Executive editor and writer of some of my favourite pieces.

Knowing David Wong, I was always going to buy John Dies at the End when I saw it in a bookshop in America.

Even if the blurb had been shit – which it wasn’t – I would have assumed it was going to be a great book.

Which, incidentally, it was.

John Dies at the End

Even if I didn’t know David Wong, how could I not buy a book described as “a cross between Stephen King and Douglas Adams”.

At least, I think someone described it as such.

I can’t now find this particular review.

But anyway…

John Dies at the end is a horror/ comedy (horredy, if you will) about two twenty-something slackers who discover a plot to destroy the world by some seriously evil… uh, stuff.

It involves exploding people. Monsters made of meat. Monsters made of insects. Black goo stuff that makes you super intelligent, and much much more.

There’s so much going on here that it’s difficult to write a plot summary.

So, I’m not going to.

Let’s talk about some of what makes John Dies at the End exceptional, instead.

The Funny/Scary Blend

Comedy and horror are two of the hardest genres to write but, when done well, they are also the two best genres around.

Hence why Stephen King and Terry Pratchett are two of the best writers going (or gone, in Pratchett’s case).

What Wong does is seek that rare beauty of a novel that is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time.

And he succeeds.

Here is a photo of the inside cover of my copy of John Dies at the End. Notice how most of the reviews cover how it manages to be both funny and scary at the same time.

See, I wasn’t making it up.

This is, without a doubt, the real strength of John Dies.

It makes you laugh every few pages while keeping up the suspense at all times.

Throw on top of this some gruesome scenes and scares and you wonder how Wong managed to blend all these genres into one novel and get away with it.

But he did, and it works, and it’s one of the real strengths of his book.

One of.

The Plot

To succeed in getting the scares, suspense and comedy right, you could be forgiven for thinking the plot can’t be great.

Except, I don’t forgive you.

And you are wrong.

Very wrong.

Aside from being funny and scary, John Dies is also clever.

See above, where I fast gave up on writing a plot summary.

I couldn’t do it without giving things away and I didn’t want to give things away.

From the first page, the book sets up twists and turns.

When it’s not making you laugh or scaring the shit out of you, it’s making you think.

This book is a page-turner. Honest. The plot races along, and you want to find out what is going on, and see how it unravels.

When the twists start unfolding, later on, you are never disappointed, and the biggun at the end is outstanding.

I didn’t even guess it.

John Dies is not just an excuse to make jokes and throw scares around. There is a genuine plot which the laughs and scares are always in support of, not the other way around.

The End

But, let’s talk about the end.

I have, in the past, spoken about the problem of massive sets up regarding endings.

Much of the time, a writer will allow grand ideas to get away from them, and the ending won’t quite live up to the hype.

In John Dies, the end is sufficient (the twist is brilliant, as I said before) but doesn’t live up to the rest of the book.

The worst thing is, after the story ends, the book keeps going for much longer than it needs to.

This is often a problem with great books.

They don’t know how to end.

But, in the end, this end is not a downer enough to ruin the rest of the book, which has been so funny, scary and exciting from page one.

So that’s okay.

The Cast

The plot is excellent, but the real strength of this book is it’s two main characters.

David Wong (yeah, the author’s name is the primary characters name. Although, actually, the author’s name isn’t the author’s name. It’s a pseudonym. The real name of the author is Jason Pargin, but… well, it doesn’t matter. Let’s carry on) and the titular John are brilliant.

They’re both uniquely funny and engaging and help carry this plot the entire way. Neither of them is trustworthy, but both have their hearts in the right place.

We route for them throughout.

Throw two different leads in here (like Harry Potter and John McClane), and this book would not be the same book.

Neither would it be as good.

Though a film with Harry Potter and John McClane… that could be interesting.

I’d watch.

Sum Up

This book was a four out of five on Goodreads.

It was funny, scary, with a plot that keeps you engaged and guessing throughout.

The pace is excellent, and there are loads of twists and turns to keep things exciting.

The two main characters are brilliant, carrying a plot that doesn’t even need carrying.

If you love scary, funny things, get out, and get this book.

Like, right now.

Next Time

Next up is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Need I say more?

National Novel Writing Month: Days 1-5

This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY ONE

Written: 02/11/2017 for: 01/11/2017

When getting into a new task or challenge, there’s nothing more important than getting off to a good start.

I said as much in Man vs Bookshelf. In fact, it was the reason I changed my mind about the book I was starting with at the last moment; to give myself the best possible chance of a good start.

I knew I was in equal need of a good start here. A first day of 2,000 words would have done it. A real chance to set down a marker and say, yes, I’m going to make NaNoWriMo mine. I am going to win.

So how did it go?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 1: 1,666

Words written: 901

Words off target: 765

Total words: 901

Average per day: 901

Remaining: 49,099

Aye, not great.

Not great at all.

But it isn’t my fault. Who starts National Novel Writing Month on the same day as Apprentice and my trip to Ikea? Talk about poor planning.

You’re going to say that National Novel Writing has to start on the 1st of November because November IS National Novel Writing Month.

But “the 1st of November” as a concept is pretty transient, don’t you think?

Anyway, doesn’t matter. We are where we are, and at least I wrote something in the fifteen minutes I had sandwiched between dinner and The Apprentice.

I still hit nearly 1,000, despite the fact that I had a crisis about what I was going to write.

In fact, if you consider the fact I switched over and started writing something else halfway through the above mentioned 901 words then I would, in fact, have about hit 1,000.

But I changed back. It was only a wobble. I’ve been planning this book for the last two weeks and thinking about it a lot longer than that, and I’m going to get through it.

Tonight there is no Apprentice, and no Ikea (although, actually they didn’t have what I was after so I have to go back at some point, sigh!) so I’m going to take a big old run at it.

Today’s target: get up to 3,000 words total.

We’ll see how I do.

 

DAY TWO

Written 03/11/2017 for 02/11/2017

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones.

This is causing problems.

Time was I would come home, watch half an hour of telly and start writing. I would hit up to 5,000 words an evening, and I wasn’t doing so much blogging, tweeting or Facebooking either.

After my terrible start to Nano on the first it looked like it was going to be another shit day yesterday. I came home, cooked and watched Game of Thrones. By the time that was done it was quarter past eight.

Now, nine o clock is reading time and I have to do that for my Man vs Bookshelf series, so time was already running short. Add in the fact I then had to schedule some tweets and Facebook posts, and I was sure it was going to be another terrible day’s work where I’d be lucky to hit a thousand. Mainly because I wasn’t feeling the writing at all.

Then I sat down and started, and you know what? It all turned out alright.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 2: 3,333

Words written: 2,270

Total words: 3,171

Words off Target: 162

Average per day: 1,586

Remaining: 46,829

So that’s alright then. I wrote till half nine in the end, but I’m now right under par. Much better.

Come tonight I want to get above that par. That’s the target.

 

DAY THREE

Written 04/11/2017 for 03/11/2017

Habit is vital for everyone. It’s what lets us get out of bed in the morning to go to work with only five or six minutes of screaming and do all the other crap we have to do after that.

Habits are particularly important for writers (almost important as they are to nuns, hehe).

For me, when I get into writing, and I’m doing it consistently every day, my output is incredible. I’ll knock out several thousand words a day (as I mentioned yesterday, I think), I’ll race through first drafts like nobodies business.

But, when I allow the habit to break… that’s when trouble arises.

Finishing my last first draft when I did, I was left in a quandary. Usually, I jump right into my next novel. Keep that momentum going because I know that if I don’t, I’ll get out of the habit, and then my writing efforts will fly off the rails, and that way disaster lies.

This time, however, I finished my first draft just over a week away from November 1st, and I was ahead of schedule for writing anyway, having smashed out 60,000 words in four days on that novel over a week off.

So I made a decision. A quite terrible decision.

I took those days off so I could take part in bloody NaNoWriMo.

It’ll be okay, I reasoned, like some sort of idiot. I love writing, I’ll just get straight back into it.

Twat.

Now, I’m on day three of November, and it’s just not clicking. I’m forcing myself to knock out some words every day (which is vital by the way, even if you’re not in the habit) but I’m not doing enough. I’m supposed to write between 7:30 – 9:00 every evening but the yesterday, as with the day before, I didn’t start till way too late. In fact, last night (Friday) I didn’t start till gone ten o clock.

I thought I would just write a few words (the bath was running, after all) but in the end, I managed to get in more than a few words.

I ended up with over a thousand words and a flooded bathroom (a double win, you might say, although that wouldn’t be very nice of you).

It’s still not enough. I’ve fallen further off target, my average words per day have dropped, and I’ve still not got into any kind of writing groove.

It’s becoming rather frustrating.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 3: 5,000

Words written: 1,027

Total words: 4,198

Words off Target: 802

Average per day: 1,399

Remaining: 45,802

Today is Saturday, day four. I don’t usually write on a Saturday but today will have to be an exception. I need to smash out a good three thousand words, get myself back on track, and see where I can go from there.

Let’s get habit building.

 

DAY FOUR

Written 05/11/2017 for 04/11/2017

Finally!

If I can, I like to write every day, but a lot of the time, I have Saturdays off. Sunday is my BIG writing day – I try to do a full working day from 9 till 6 – so I can get away with having Saturday off.

However, I knew I was going to have to get at least something done yesterday for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it had been another bad day for writing on Friday, and I was in danger of falling even further behind in the NaNoWriMo stakes and, secondly, because I was going out last night, and I know I can never write when I’m hungover, so it was very unlikely I was going to be able to write for a whole hour, let alone a whole day.

So, I sat down yesterday morning, and I got to it. Finally fitting a good amount of words and, for the first time, going above the target for the total word count at the day, as you can see below.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 4: 6,666

Words written: 3,569

Total words: 7,767

Words over Target: 1,101

Average per day: 1,941

Remaining: 42,233

Today, Sunday, is going to be a difficult day because of the aforementioned hangover and the fact that I’m writing this entry at twenty past seven and I’ve yet to write any words on my novel, so, the target has to be to reach the par of the of the day at the very least and, if I can get to 10,000 words.

I’ll do that now.

 

DAY FIVE

Written 06/11/2017 for 05/11/2017

I predicted yesterday when writing about the day before yesterday but talking about yesterday that I wouldn’t do much writing on account of being hungover.

This was not unfounded, although I did far better than might reasonably have been expected given how I felt earlier in the day.

The principle of writing though is that you always write. EVery day, no matter what. Or you will fall out of the habit.

So I got on my computer and, in the hour and a half I had, I actually managed to bang out a respectable amount. Just less than the day before, in fact.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 5: 8,333

Words written: 3,336

Total words: 11,103

Words over Target: 2,770

Average per day: 2,220

Remaining: 38,897

So now we’re in a good place. I’ve built up over 2,000 words safety which means I can afford to drop a day further down the line, although I certainly don’t plan to do that. Today we are back to work, and tonight the aim is to reach at least 13,000.

Let’s see if I can get this week off to a better start than last.

The Morton family awaits

Hey, guys,

My book just landed on Amazon.

Joining literally billions of other books, all seeking your attention.

All trying to grab your money because the authors want to be rich.

Not me.

I don’t want to be rich.

I just want the Morton family to be heard.

 

Their lives are quickly tumbling out of control. They’re making bad choices left right and centre.

Blood will be spilled.

Honestly, you’ve got to see it.

So come on.

The Morton family awaits…

Man vs Bookshelf: Lisey’s Story

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

So here it is. Book two of 210 in my Man vs Bookshelf challenge: Lisey’s Story.

As you’ll know from the introduction and last entry, I had intended Lisey’s Story to be my first read.

Then I wussed out.

I was afraid I wouldn’t finish Lisey in a week (no pun) and would be behind as soon as I started. A nightmare scenario.

To combat this fear I turned to Horowitz Horror, a short read I knew I could blast through in a couple of days. As I did.

That done, it was time to turn to Lisey’s Story, a 647-page beast.

As it turned out, it took me only six days to read anyway, but that’s beside the point.

Point is, what did I think?

I’ll get to that but, first off, let’s discuss my relationship with the book’s legendary writer. Stephen King.

Stephen and Me

As a teenage reader there was one name I always knew was missing from my bookshelf: Stephen King.

I loved horror. But at some point, it becomes criminal to say such a thing and not be able to follow it up with your favourite King. (Henry Tudor, FYI, is not an answer anyone is looking for.)

And I did try to get into him. I remember that. I picked up my first King at the local library – The Dark Half – and was sure I was on my way. There was one problem.

I didn’t finish it.

Not even close.

The truth was as a younger reader I wasn’t ready for the heavy, expansive writing style. The books that focused more on character development and less on a plot that rattled along, as I’d been used to.

So even when someone gave me Lisey’s Story and Duma Key, I couldn’t get through them. I made it halfway through the latter and didn’t even bother with the former.

But, of course, our reading tastes develop over the years. Towards my later teens, I read ‘Carrie’, ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘The Shining’ and enjoyed at least the first and last of those. Then I started on the Stand and stopped once again. (Let me off, it’s bloody long)

Since then I have read ‘The Long Walk’ and the first four Dark Towers novels and enjoyed them all. But it was only this year (2017) that I got into a King in a big way, and startled rattling through them.

Since January I’ve read ‘The Stand’, ‘It’, ‘Christine’, ‘Bag of Bones’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ and have enjoyed them all.

I had finally caught the bug, and so, when I started this challenge, a King novel was always going to come early on.

And with book two, it was here.

Lisey’s Story

Enter Lisey and her story.

Confession first. I’ve had Lisey’s Story a long time. If not a decade then creeping fast towards it.

But, like so many of the books on my shelves, I’ve never actually read it.

Why?

Well, I didn’t think it looked any good. Not from the blurb and, in all honesty, not from the first 200 plus pages.

But I persevered – because of this challenge, more than anything – and boy, was I rewarded.

If Goodreads used a ten point scale (which they should), I would have given Lisey’s Story a 9. It’s in my top three King books with ‘It’ and the fourth Dark Tower book, ‘Wizard and Glass’. Although this may change throughout the challenge.

In the end, I gave it a 4/5.

Not too shabby for a book I didn’t think I’d like.

The Story

In essence, Lisey’s Story is the tale of Lisey Landon coming to terms with the death of her husband, Scott, who is (as is customary in a King book) a famous author.

That’s pretty much it, and the great thing is, while you might think 647 pages is too many to deliver on a simple concept. It isn’t.

One of my biggest criticisms of King in the past has been that his books often contain (or are stuffed with) ‘extras’. Subplots that don’t relate to the main plot. Character backstories for cameos. The kind of stuff you could skip without it detracting from the novel as a whole.

Not so with Lisey’s Story. Here we have a story where every page is essential. Every line adds to the story. And, in the end, every strand of every subplot is pulled together, so you can see that it was all necessary.

I didn’t see that at the beginning. It leads you into believing the story will be about the professor who has hired a madman to claim Scott’s unpublished papers.

I fell for that and was frustrated. King introduces these unpublished papers and the man who wants them almost from page one. But it’s not until around page 100 that Lisey receives a threatening phone call from the madman. Then not until page 219 that she finds a dead cat in her mailbox and a letter from the maniac.

By page 318, when the madman finally shows up at Lisey’s place, however, it’s starting to make sense.

Because, while the time spent with Lisey’s catatonic sister and her memories of her relationship with Scott had seemed pointless at first, we were now starting to see. It was all starting to come together, and as it did, the story began to take off.

Scott, having foreseen his death, was looking out for his wife, and from the midway point it begins to come together, and you realise all of it was relevant. The memories she is unfolding allow her to save her sister, as she had once saved her husband. Saving her sister gives her the help she needs to defeat the madman – who we now realise is a deranged fan of Scott who wants to hurt her more than he wants to help the professor with his little problem. And in the end, all that comes together to help Lisey achieve what mattered most all along.

Getting over Scott.

This is what makes brilliant storytelling. The way all those storylines converge in a way you never saw coming. This is what makes the last 300 pages of the book so gripping. King drags you along in his wake and makes those last 300 pages seem like 50. You can’t believe the way you’ve shot through them.

That kind of trick is hard to pull off – I know, I’ve tried – and you can see what a master storyteller King is in the way he handles it so brilliantly.

Memory

Having read ‘It’ not so long ago, I know how King can use the power of memory to build suspense.

In Lisey’s Story, he uses it again, and to even greater effect.

Here, we have three storylines unfolding at once where memory is concerned. There is Lisey in the present, with Scott leading her from beyond the grave to start facing her repressed memories.

There are those memories, which detail some of the darker moments in Lisey’s relationship with Scott.

And finally, there is Scott’s childhood, told by him to the Lisey in the past.

What we end up with is like Inception for memory. At one point Lisey is remembering a time when she sat with Scott who was in a catatonic state. Within this memory, Lisey is remembering a story Scott told her from his childhood and, as he tells her this, we, the reader, are taken further, to experience it first hand.

Confused?

Yeah, I’m not surprised. But within the narrative, King switches deftly between the different levels of memory. He takes us between present Lisey and two past Lisey’s as well as Scott telling a story and Scott in the past. But we never get lost. King, with all his writing mastery, makes sure of that.

Done so well, it makes for the perfect device for carrying the narrative forward. Right to the end of the novel.

And speaking of endings…

Endings

I read recently that King doesn’t like endings, and having read ‘It’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ I can see that.

But here, what we have works perfectly.

In Scott’s past, his story comes to a close with his father’s murder and his departure from the only home he’s ever known. In Lisey’s past, Scott dies with her at his side.

These events are not surprises. Scott is two years dead at the start of the book, so we knew he was gone. And Scott had told Lisey some 300 pages ago about the death of his father.

Yet, when we get to read about these events first hand its perfect. Both stories are heartbreaking for Lisey and for us. The last piece of the memories that have been unravelling throughout.

Finally, in the present, we experience the last memory of Lisey and Scott together. While the final story from his childhood is new to her. The final piece of the puzzle, it turns out, to help her move on. Not just from Scott, but from his other world and the malevolent force there that has marked her.

This, along with her finally clearing out his study (the study she started off trying to clear but being unable to), is the perfect way to end the novel.

Scott and Lisey’s Story.

Fantasy

One more thing.

I’ve written this review and (aside from one allusion right at the end) have not mentioned any fantasy.

But, of course, this is a King book, so it is present (otherwise it would be a Bachman book). There is another world (Scott calls it Boo’ya Moon), and there is a big monster (Scott’s Long Boy). That’s not to mention the dark curse of Scott’s family which manifests itself as a monstrous possession (referred to in story as “the bad gunky”.

All these things do feature and are key parts of the plot, but they aren’t the point. They exist only to move the plot forward, and the plot, as I said, is about Lisey and Scott.

So read this story. Give it a real go. But understand that. This isn’t ‘It’ or ‘Salem’s Lot’. There is no focus on destroying some big evil.

It as, at it’s core, about a woman, getting over the death of her husband.

And that feels just as it should be.

Next time

By the time this blog lands I guess I will almost have finished my next book. And it is:

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (Writing as Ian Flemming)

See you then.

Man vs Bookshelf: Horowitz Horror

This entry is part 2 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Last Thursday, when I began my Man vs Bookshelf challenge, I said I was going to start with Lisey’s Story by Stephen King.

This turned out to be a lie.

Not that I intended to be dishonest with you so early into the challenge.

I even had Lisey’s Story out ready to read.

Then I wrote my intro post and went through to my bedroom where I had left the book, ready to begin.

And I stopped.

There it was, back cover pressed against the bedside table and front stretching towards the sky. Almost touching the ceiling.

Okay, not that far, but it’s a big book, is my point. Some 667 pages (give or take) and I was afraid.

The point of this challenge is to do 210 books in 210 weeks, and I am not fool enough to think it will fall simply as that. Some books will take much less than their given week. Some (like The Stand or Game of Thrones) will take much longer.

Lisey’s Story, I knew, could well fall into the latter category. This is fine in principle, but not from the start.

I had visions of being down by week two, and how I might react. I hate losing and could see myself tearing down my bookshelf and setting fire to it. A much more dramatic end to the series but one less satisfying in the long run.

No, this series was going to be Sam Mendes, not Michael Bay.

So, leaving Lisey’s Story where it was, I returned to my bookshelf and looked for something I could read in a couple of days. Something which would earn me the time I needed to finish Lisey’s Story without falling behind.

In the end, I went for Horowitz Horror. By, surprise surprise, well known English author, Anthony Horowitz.

So, let’s talk about that, shall we?

Anthony and Me

Before I dive into my thoughts on the book, I’d like to talk about my relationship with the author. As an author that is, not as a person.

In short, it’s variable.

Like a lot of guys who grew up in the 90s, I’ve been reading Anthony Horowitz for a long time. His Alex Rider series began when I was 8 and ran through my teenage years. I read (but no longer own) the first six of those and always had mixed thoughts about them.

The plots were good. They were exciting. They always finished with a bang. But I considered them to sag a little in the middle. I’ve often found that in a Horowitz series, the descriptions can seem a bit slow and overwritten.

I remember one scene (and I no longer remember which Rider book it was from) when Alex spent a whole chapter walking around a boat doing not much.

I almost fell asleep.

Then there was the Gatekeeper series, which started in 2005. I loved the first of these (Raven’s Gate) but after that struggled with how slow they were. I think I got part way through four and quit.

But it’s not all bad. Recently I read The Switch, which was fast-paced, smart, and a great read all through.

And of course, we have the Diamond Brothers Series, the first of which came out before I was even born. These have been on my shelf for over a decade, and are still there now.

As they will become part of Man vs Bookshelf, I won’t talk too much about them. I will just say, they’re brilliant. Quick, clever, and funny, whether you’re twelve, twenty-five, or ninety. I’ll be reading and re-reading them my whole life I imagine.

Horowitz Horror

Given this breadth of enjoyment across Horowitz’s books, I went into Horowitz Horror (which I’ve not read before) unsure what to expect, but excited to find out.

In the end, I gave Horowitz Horror a 3/5 on Goodreads. It was an easy read. The pacing was good with nothing unnecessary thrown in.

The problem was there often wasn’t much substance. You can say it’s down to length but plots often felt rushed, and this isn’t the case in all short stories.

My other general problems with the series were that it wasn’t frightening, and was often predictable.

Maybe it’s not scary because it’s for younger readers, but I remember being 12. I would have wanted this book to scare me. As I wanted it to scare me as an adult.

As for predictability, each story ended with a reversal or twist. The problem was you could usually see these coming a mile off. Again, I’m an adult, but I’m not sure these would fool many 12 year-olds either.

But, I don’t want to put the series down. There were some decent tales in here and a couple of twists that did take me by surprise.

So, let’s get into it, starting with…

  1. Bath Night

We open with a story that is well written and paced. Two arguing parents buy an antique bath which turns out to be evil. Isobel (our hero) realises this and attempts to destroy the haunted object.

The story employs a well-worn horror cliche: an object haunted by a killer who once used said object when murdering his victims. How a killer has come to haunt an object they owned is rarely explained by horror writers. Horowitz is not an exception.

There is also the classic YA/Children’s fiction cliche on show here. The evil object only acts up in front of the child, never the parents.

In Bath Night, Isobel is bathing in blood but, when her mother enters the room, it’s back to water.

Dick move, bath. Dick move.

This doesn’t make sense from a plot point of view. The killer is a killer. He has no reason to torment only the child. However, you can understand why writers have so long been using this trick. It keeps the kid isolated, and helps build the suspense. If you can suspend your disbelief, it works well again here.

What doesn’t work so well is the lack of roadblocks the character faces. In fiction writing, they say you should put your character up a tree, throw rocks at them, then let them down. In Bath Time, and many of the stories in this collection, there aren’t enough rocks.

For Isobel, a couple of horrible incidents (including the above) are enough. She heads back to the shop where they purchased the bath and, lo and behold, the first shop assistant she speaks to gives her what she needs. No fight. No needing to check. No lies. He just tells her the bloody history of the bath and sends her on her way.

Of course, this is to keep the story short and helps to contextualise the climax that follows. A climax that, while exciting to an extent, offers little surprises or obstacles for Isobel.

All in all a good story but not much thinking necessary. Don’t expect this to change further down the line.

Out of the collection, this is our Bronze Medal story.

2. Killer Camera

Recently I read Goosebumps’ Say Cheese and Die (released six years before Horowitz Horror).

Killer Camera is in much the same vein as that and is as predictable.

From the moment our hero, Matthew, sees the camera, you know it’s going to be evil. It doesn’t take the seller of the camera saying the owner’s disappeared for you to know bad things will happen to the subject of any pictures.

Like the first story, this is fast-paced. The problem is we want to see the camera in action, and Horowitz goes to some lengths to avoid a human subject. To the point that it just doesn’t ring true.

When Matt first buys the camera and wants to test it out, he doesn’t pick a person at random to photograph; he picks a mirror (which promptly smashes).

When Matt then gives the camera to his dad as a present, the latter professes it is too dark to take a picture of younger son Jamie. This would be fine if not for the fact he then takes a picture of a tree in the garden and the family dog.

Is the tree filled with lanterns? Does the dog have a radioactive glow?

It isn’t explained why it is too dark to take a picture of Jamie but not a dog and tree, and it was a point I found jarring.

However, if you can suspend your disbelief (a common theme in this collection), then there is a lot to like here. Not least the well-executed race against time climax which sees Matt return home to find his parents and brother have gone out with the camera.

Desperate to save them, he races to find them, and the story ends with a nice twist which is clever, dark, and suitably surprising.

3. Light Moves

The first of two first-person stories. A lot here is the same as the first couple of stories. What’s different is that the object of focus does not appear to be inherently evil. In fact, it begins as downright useful.

This time our object is a computer, given to our hero (Henry) after it’s owner (a racing correspondent) has died at his desk.

Not being an axe murderer (Bath Night) or a satanist (Killer Camera) the possessed computer seems less interested in murder. Instead, the ghost of journalist Ethan starts spitting out the winner of one horse race a day.

Why does the columnist’s death give him precognitive powers?

Who knows, maybe the afterlife is timeless. It’s never explained, so we suspend our disbelief again.

In doing this, we have a story that rattles along. The tips work, but Henry is too young to bet. Because of this, he enlists the help of deranged older kid, Bill, to place the bets for him, splitting the winnings.

This, as Henry’s smart friend Leo warns him, is a terrible idea. It is clear from his first appearances that psycho Bill is not someone you want to do business with. But Henry, blinded by greed, is not apt to listen to the warning bells in his head, or to Leo.

Such disregard for the warning signs leads to a climax in which Bill comes to steal the computer. Not much happens here, and the disappointing thing is that our hero steps aside and lets it happen. All this to facilitate a twist we saw coming.

This story is not awful, but neither is it as good as the first two. It has a weak ending, and as in previous tales, some of the devices for moving the plot along are clunky.

How does Henry find out what the word ‘Casablanca’, the first to appear on his screen, means? He walks past two teachers, one telling the other he won money on the horse Casablanca.

Hmm, very likely.

4. The Night Bus

One of a couple of tales where the story is the twist and the twist very good.

Two boys trying to get home after a late night party jump on a night bus which is, alas, not the one from Harry Potter.

The story is nothing more than one of the boys – Nick – watching people get on and off the bus, each arrival further spelling out the twist we got from their first conversation with the conductor upon arriving at the bus.

As such, when this twist is finally ‘revealed’ by the mother, no one is very surprised or interested.

5. Harriet’s Horrible Dream

As above, we all know what’s coming here from very early on. This story has more substance but signals the first of three unbearable POV characters.

In a row.

Now, I’m all for an anti-hero, and characters we ‘love to hate’. Frank Underwood and Patrick Bateman immediately spring to mind.

This story, however, gives us Harriet. A spoilt snobby little girl who revels in getting her nannies fired and who is happy to leave her parents for a stranger the moment her father loses all their money.

The intention here, presumably, is to get us to hate Harriet for reasons that become clear at the end of the tale.

It works, but sitting in Harriet’s head for 18 pages is still an intolerable experience. Especially when we know where we are going the whole time and are not surprised when we reach the end.

6. Scared

The second of three stories with a thoroughly unlikeable main character.

This tale’s only saving grace is that we are stuck in Gary’s head for just 11 pages – making it the shortest of the book.

In those 11 pages, Horowitz treats us to a laundry list of terrible things our ‘hero’ has done. Ranging from being generally awful to his mother and grandmother, to opening a farm gate in the hope the cows will escape.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Gary admits to having stolen his favourite jacket from AN OXFAM SHOP.

Yeah, Horowitz really wanted us to hate this one.

The story itself is about Gary getting lost after going for a walk. You may not see the ending coming, but neither is it enjoyable. There is no climax, no excitement. Just an underwhelming end.

I would give this tale the esteemed Worst Story Award.

7. A Career in Computer Games

The final (thankfully) hateful character. Here we have an idiot thief whose crimes include (but are not limited to) stealing from his mother and throwing a brick at a cat for no reason.

What a champ.

The story involves our ‘hero’ – Kevin – signing up to test a new game.

It’s evident from the get-go something dodgy is going on, but Kevin isn’t bothered. He hears two grand a week, and signs on the dotted line.

The story from here is as you’d expect. His life becomes a game, and this gives Horowitz the chance to have some fun. He treats us to the most action-packed plot so far as Kevin tries to stay alive against numerous faceless killers on foot, bikes and in helicopters.

There’s not much more to it than that, but the ending involved an enjoyable twist. Yes, he’s in a game, as you expected, but perhaps not in the way you expected.

Not a great story in all, but the action and the last lines bring it well above the two that preceded it.

8. The Man with the Yellow Face

The second of two first-person stories. A boy waiting at a platform gets some pics at a Photo Booth. Upon printing the photos, he finds the third of four pictures is not of him at all, but of an ugly man with a yellow face.

This story proves that lack of pages does not mean a lack of suspense. Horowitz foreshadows the climax brilliantly here, and my heart pounded as I read towards it.

The twist I guessed, but only moments before the reveal, and it was still satisfying.

This story proves it is possible to be clever and build suspense, even over only a few pages. Although the twist is not quite as good as the one to follow, this is still my favourite story.

Our Gold Award Winner.

9. Monkey Ear

A take on the classic tale ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (which is referenced here, albeit attributed to Edgar Allen Poe rather than W. W. Jacobs) but with a nice twist.

The story starts with a family on holiday and not enjoying it. Looking for a taxi rank, they step into a shop. Here the shopkeep’s nephew sells them a Monkey’s Ear, saying it will grant four wishes.

At home father, mother and son, place three wishes, although they don’t believe they will work.

In a way, the ear vindicates their disbelief. Something does happen after each wish, but it seemingly has nothing to do with the request made.

I confess this one got me. I could not for the life of me see how we were getting from wish to result. It was driving me mad.

In the end, and for the first time in this book, I needed the hero to spell it out to me. And, when the child Bart obliged, having worked it out himself after three wishes, I was impressed.

And there was still one wish to go!

Now, with the trick behind the Monkey’s Ear revealed, there is one more surprise in store as father and son fight over who should get the final wish.

Here Horowitz ends on a high point, with the best twist of the series coming right at the end. And this story, following our Gold Award, wins the Silver Medal.

Verdict

Nothing here will linger in the memory for long. But the series was an easy read and at least somewhat enjoyable throughout.

An excellent way to start the challenge (I started this on Thursday and finished Friday morning) I gave it a 3/5 on Goodreads.

Up Next

Okay, this time, I promise, it’s time for Lisey’s Story.

As a big Stephen King book, I imagine this could be a world away from what I’ve just read.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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A candle, stolen by accident

An affair, against all the rules

A mugging, with an inconvenient victim

An overreaction to the ‘L’ Word

The Morton’s were unassuming, unexceptional, boring

Now, as they try to rectify their poor choices, they slip further and further into dark and dangerous places…

And it won’t be long before blood is spilled

Grab your copy now by clicking here

My attempts at a novel cover letter

Here’s a fact: I hate writing cover letters.

It’s the worst.

People think you should be good at it because you’re a writer, but it’s not the same. I know a lot of writers have trouble with it, too.

So I’m not going to say too much. I wouldn’t want to give advice because I don’t even think my attempt is any good. I’m just going to share it below. You can make up your own minds on how good it is.


Dear [Agent],
 
Please find attached the first three chapters of my new novel, Poor Choices, which is approximately 140,000 words in length.
 
Poor Choices is the story of a middle-class family “The Mortons” who begin to unravel following a series of poor decisions. In their attempts to rectify their mistakes the family (dad Alan, mum Jenny, son Jake, and daughter Alice) find themselves falling into darker and darker places until finally blood is spilled. The four POV characters initially embark on what seems to be four different journeys, but as the story progresses they weave together, colliding at the climax of the book.
 
The target audience for this book is likely to be men and women in their twenties and thirties who are interested in fast paced family novels with a dark twist.
 
I am a Reading based author who has been writing for most of my 25 years across many genres and mediums. Now seeking to progress my author brand, I am focusing on fiction set in the real world with dark undertones. Poor Choices is my first novel in this vein, and I have been working on it for the past 18 months.
 
Many thanks for taking the time to look over this submission. If you would like a full copy of my manuscript, please notify me, and I will be delighted to send a copy through to you. I look forward to hearing your response.

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A candle, stolen by accident 

An affair, against all the rules

A mugging, with an inconvenient victim

An overreaction to the ‘L’ word

The Morton’s were unassuming, unexceptional, boring

Now, as they try to rectify their poor choices, they slip further and further into dark and dangerous places…

And it won’t be long before blood is spilled

Pre-order now and good luck!

Meet the Morton’s

A candle, stolen by accident

An affair, against all the rules

A mugging, with an inconvenient victim

An overreaction to the ‘L’ Word

The Morton’s were unassuming, unexceptional, boring

Now, as they try to rectify their poor choices, they slip further and further into dark and dangerous places…

And it won’t be long before blood is spilled


Poor Choices is coming this November!

Get your 12 chapter FREE sample now for Kindle, PDF or ePub below. No email sign up necessary.

Yes, give me the sample

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