Battle with the TBR Tower: October Reads

I’m a bit late with posting this as I’ve hit the ground running for November, but I’m still here, continuing my reading challenge, and in October I chose to read spooky novels, and ended up sneaking in a couple of titles that were not on the original list. See HERE

I only managed to read 3 and not 5 novels, as I had hoped, but no apologies, and no excuses – time has a mind of its own! Also, as you know if you have been following me, I’m not in the business of slating other writer’s work, and I only post about books I have enjoyed. Luckily, all three from October’s pile have gotten the thumbs up!

 

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The Nightmare: F.B. Hogan

This collection of 7 short stories contains themes of horror and tales of the unexpected. A great little book to dip in and out of on a cold, dark night be the fire, or tucked up beneath the duvet! The ghostly in the everyday is acutely observed, my top 3 favourites being, Ventry, the hauntingly sad, yet retributive Always, and the wicked I’ve Got My Eye on You. These stories will keep you suitably chilled!

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The Lingering: SJI Holliday

A couple with a disturbing secret enter a spiritual commune, their aim, to make a fresh start, and to get away from their dark past. The commune just happens to be located in a rambling, haunted manor house, which also used to be an asylum. All the ingredients for a fairly spooky read, The Lingering is a disquieting blend of suspense and horror.

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You Let me In: Lucy Clarke

Chilling and compulsive reading, I didn’t want to put this down until I had read the very last page. Lots of twists and turns, but so expertly structured that I followed along seamlessly, and woah – I’ll bet that there will be authors out there who identify so much with the character of bestselling writer, Elle Fielding and her social media persona! This was my first Lucy Clarke book to read, but it won’t be the last.

 

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Caroline E Farrell is a writer, blogger and filmmaker. She is the author of the award-winning novel, LADY BETH. Her short film, FRAMED (2018) is currently screening at festivals worldwide, and she is also the writer of the multi-award winning short film IN RIBBONS (2015) and ADAM (2013). Caroline was a finalist in the 2018 Blog Awards Ireland.

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Reading Challenge: Progress on my battle with the TBR Tower!

I’m sure I am not alone in rarely being able to resist the temptation of buying new books, despite the growing To Be Read tower already tilting over on the floor of my spare room. To combat my addiction – and it is one folks, it is an addiction – at the beginning of September, I decided to take 20 titles in total, most from the physical book tower, and the remainder from my Kindle, also bulging with waiting to be read works.

See my original post HERE.

I figured if I read 5 books per month between September and December, I could finish the list by New Year’s Eve, though I give myself permission to replace any title that isn’t grabbing me in the first chapter. So far, I haven’t had to resort to that, and am proud to say that I have finished the 5 books I set aside for September. So, here they are, with comments on each:

Her Name Was Rose: Claire Allan

Lonely Emily witnesses a terrible accident when a car mows down a young mother, killing her. Convincing herself that it should have been her who died that day, Emily becomes obsessed with the dead woman’s life through social media, and in particular, with her widowed husband, Cian. No spoilers here, but this is a gripping murder mystery, peeling secretive layers from an ensemble of characters as Emily moves further and further into danger…

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The Collector: John Fowles

Published in 1963, The Collector grabbed me from the very first paragraph and kept me consumed with the story until the last page. Switching between the narratives of the captor, the socially inept Frederick Clegg, and the captive, pretty middle-class art student, Miranda Grey, the darkness of the subject matter is subtlety, yet powerfully conveyed through the author’s acute study of the foibles, gender and psychology of these compelling characters. A truly dark chiller, I loved it!


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Sweet Little Lies: Caz Frear

Detective Cat Kinsella is working on a case, a case in which she suspects her own father of a terrible crime! A very popular debut from Caz Frear with lots of twists, intrigue and clever intertwining of family drama! A sharply written procedural crime novel, Sweet Little Lies is elevated by the witty dialogue that peppers a dark story with some light relief as we follow a very human and ‘over empathic’ main character as her personal and professional worlds collide.

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House of Spines: Michael J Malone

Struggling author, Ranald McGhie, has suffered from mental illness, a result of trauma and disappointment in his early life. When he inherits a rambling mansion from a deceased uncle he had never known, Ranald’s life changes dramatically. Although there are many tropes in this chilling mystery, Malone weaves the story rather well. A thriller bound with supernatural elements, House of Spines is a page-turner.


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The Dead Girls: Derek Flynn

Inspired by real life accounts of highway murders in the US, The Dead Girls is a well-crafted, dark thriller that features an often used, stalwart component of crime fiction, the flawed ex-cop turned private detective, in this case, John Ryan, hired to find a missing girl. The subject matter is harsh, dealing with sexual violence, murder, alcoholism and drug abuse, with a cast of characters that feel authentic to the world. This is the second book to feature Ryan, the first being Broken Falls. The ending of this one suggests a third novel in the making, and I certainly hope so, because there is unfinished business for John Ryan!


 

So there you have it, my progress so far. Now wish me luck for October – and since it is the month of all things ghoulish – so too will be my reading material!!

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Caroline E. Farrell is a writer and filmmaker. Her novel, LADY BETH was awarded BEST NOVEL by the Carousel Aware Prize in 2017. She has also written and directed the short film, FRAMED (2018) currently on the festival circuit, and has written and co-produced the award-winning IN RIBBONS (2015) and ADAM (2013). She is currently working on her latest novel. 

The Librarian’s Cellar: Five Chilling Reads for Christmas

I must admit, I’ve always loved the chillier side of the Christmas madness. Not just the ‘wrap me up in a big auld cardigan’ type of chill, but the atmospheric quietness of those ‘in-between’ days, when you just can’t take any more tinsel television or jolly fa la la la la malarkey! What better time then to curl up in your armchair, shins roasting by the heat source of your choice – with a bit of candlelight for effect if your eyesight can take it! Simply add a glass, or mug, of your favourite tipple and lose yourself in a good spine-tingling read. And if you are short on reading material, here are five of my suggestions:

 

SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell. (no credit)

Every nine years, a guest is summoned to Slade House, behind the small black iron door, with no handle and no key – and every nine years, that guest narrates their experience as they enter into the strange and bewitching world of a house that isn’t really there, or is it? Where shape and time shift, and no-one is who they seem to be. Or are they? A quick and entertaining read, filled with a delicious mix of horror, suspense, a little of the science bit and some good old-fashioned ghostly goings on in a creepy mansion where twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer, ravenous for immortality at any cost, dwell in the twilight …

 

HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill

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Atmospheric, creepy and entertaining, this accomplished author’s debut novel tells the story of Jude Coyne, a cynical, aging rock star with a penchant for collecting all things macabre, who goes online to purchase the suit of a deceased man – a suit that he has been assured, is haunted. Delivered in a black, heart-shaped box, little does Jude know that he is buying the ghost of an angry, vengeful old man…with a very personal – and profound – vendetta. A quick read that does exactly as you might expect, thrills and chills to the bone!

 

THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

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In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found dead in a field behind her farmhouse just months after the horrific death of her little girl, Gertie. In present day, living off the grid in the same farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mother has gone missing, and under the floorboards, Ruthie has just discovered a diary belonging to Sara. There are elements of psychological thriller and folk horror to this story as it moves from past to present via Sara’s diary and Ruthie’s investigations. The Winter People is also hauntingly heart-breaking…

 

LITTLE SISTER DEATH by William Gay

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To find his muse, writer David Binder, under pressure to produce another successful novel, moves his pregnant wife and daughter to a renowned haunted farmhouse, where the legend of the Bell Witch still rankles with the locals. Set amongst the landscape of a rural farm in Tennessee, the house is filled with secrets that Binder envelopes in his quest for research and the spark of a bestseller. Cut between the horror of experience of the previous inhabitants of the house and Binder’s unravelling, the novel has been described as Southern Gothic, as was the style of the deceased author. The descriptions of the landscape, the isolation, the people and the hauntings are vivid and mystical. I found Gay’s novel to be themed as much about mental health as it is about hauntings – and that’s cool too as the two go hand-in-hand anyway, especially in gothic fiction.

 

THE PALE BROWN THING by Fritz Leiber

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A collector’s item, in my opinion, the shorter version of Leiber’s work, Our Lady of Darkness (which I have not read) this novella is a gothic, atmospheric chiller. Set in San Francisco in the 1970’s, the Hippie culture and architecture layering in the city’s character, the narrative is a classic, old-school horror. Franz Westen, a widowed writer of supernatural stories, purchases a second-hand book by occultist, Thibaut de Castries, and bound to that book is a mysterious journal…with the ghostliest of cracklings the page came apart into two, revealing writing hidden between…and just where is the mysterious place, 607 Rhodes as referenced in the writings of de Castries? A beautiful hardback edition, this would make a wonderful gift for a diehard horror fan.

 

The Librarian’s Cellar: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

When I choose to purchase a book, it is because I connect with it in some way, and often for reasons that I can’t quite explain early on. Put simply, the magic is in the writing, and I’m captivated. I’ve read a lot of books on the craft of writing, and while some remain classic bibles and helpful tomes, I’ve learned to avoid the formulaic drones from the ‘experts’. You know the ones – telling us how to ‘DO IT’ but actually, ‘DOING’ fuck all themselves. [Other than keep flogging the ‘how to’!]

Now and again, I discover a book that gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling, like I’ve made a new friend. A frisson of connection that makes me look forward to getting back there, spending more time there, all cosied up between the pages as sentence upon sentence layer up to enlighten and soothe my senses. Opening up new ideas to me while also affirming what I know, what I feel, and articulating it in language that appeals to me; in language that matters to me.

Bird by bird, some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott is one such book. It’s funny, it’s helpful, it’s a kick in the arse and it is honest – probably the most important quality of all. As a self-confessed perfectionist, I balked, squirmed but ultimately laughed out loud at the following passage…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” 

And hallelujah to this brilliant insight!

“The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt. Also, there is hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you may have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.”

Bird by bird

Whether you are just starting out, or like me, have been scribbling away for years, you are bound to get something meaningful from this book. So do yourself a favour – don’t pass it by, and of course,  it will be all the easier to spot if you quit looking at your feet!

Bird by Bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott. Anchor Books. A division of Random House, Inc. New York. 1995