Not a Good Year for Reading

I’m not sure what I’m doing differently but I seem to be picking a lot of bad books at the minute. I don’t know if I am getting harder to please as I get older. (This does seem to be a genuine problem for some readers. My father in law has been like this for some years and now seems to just read tried and tested authors or books that he already knows.)

For the last few years, I have tried to read different genres more and to expand my reading behaviour. I was stuck in a rut. Now I feel like I have the opposite problem. There is no end of reading choice but a lot of it sounds dreadful.

Following big sellers such as the Hunger Games series and thrillers such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, publishers seem to be grabbing at any opportunity to gain the same possible success. Most of these books are dreadful. It is the same in cinema, a proliferation of genre fluff  follows every a big success until eventually the genre is drowned in a sea of mediocrity. It’s making me wary of choosing anything.

Maybe I read too much literary fiction to ever be fully happy reading popular fiction. Maybe I am an intellectual snob. (No maybe about it, some would say.) Undoubtedly this is where my longing for more comes from – more depth, more characterisation, more distinctiveness. Like with watching Indie films and then trying to go back to watching blockbusters, maybe I’ve just spoiled the mainstream for myself.

It’s very easy to wax nostalgic about books and films – “but blockbusters were better when I was young” and so on. Maybe that is true. Or maybe it is just that tastes change and refine and what you like when you are twenty is inevitably going to be different when you are forty. Or maybe the search for the next big money spinner is genuinely ruining the  viewing and reading experience.

Top Ten Tuesday – All About the Villains


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is villains which is pleasing in a number of ways. We may all wish for the hero to survive but it is villains that really stick in the mind. A poor villain ruins a book much more readily than a poor hero.

Here is my ten – in alphabetical order because I couldn’t decide who was the most villainous.

  1. Joffrey Baratheon – Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin – There are many potential possibilities for the most villainous GofT character. Joffrey gets my vote because he is unequivocally bad. There is no ambiguity. And his death was perhaps the most satisfying in the whole series.
  2. Patrick Bateman – American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. This is not an easy read and is probably the most brutal book I have ever read. In the end, it may be that the killings are a desperate attempt by Bateman to create some sort of identity for himself in a world of designer labels and meaningless fashion trends.
  3. Big Ger Cafferty – The Rebus novels – Ian Rankin – Cafferty is Rebus’ nemesis in a number of the novels. Rebus has a suitably morally ambiguous relationship with the ageing gangster.
  4. Count Dracula – Dracula by Bram Stoker – Dracula is the archetypal vampire and upper-class villain. He has a mask of respectability that often slips when his plans are frustrated.
  5. Mr. Hyde – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Mr. Hyde represents that part of all of us that would wish harm on people. Here the bestiality of man is given a free range with suitably horrible results.
  6. Hannibal Lecter – Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I’ve read the third book in the series but I didn’t like it so much. Lecter is fascinating in a way that makes you question your own morals. It’s hard not to imagine Anthony Hopkins but the books stand up well against the movie versions.
  7. Long John Silver – Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another morally ambiguous character, Silver constantly tries to judge which side is going to win and then place himself on that side.
  8. President Snow – The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins – It is hard to imagine Snow in the books without thinking of Donald Sutherland in the films. He manages to show exactly how creepy and controlling Snow was. A ruthless tyrant responsible for many deaths.
  9. Voldemort – Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling. There are other Potter bad guys but ultimately Voldemort is relentlessly evil throughout all  of the books.
  10. Annie Wilkes – Misery by Stephen King. Who will ever forget Paul Sheldon’s misfortune at being rescued by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes? I’m glad I had read this before I saw the film as Kathy Bates was even more frightening than the character in the book.

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – Small Island – Andrea Levy


Genre: Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: A variety of first person voices

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004unknown

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Gilbert Joseph is finding England after the war is a difficult place to be. No one cares that he too fought for his country. All they see is the colour of his skin. His wife, Hortense arrives in England expecting to find a golden future. She too is disappointed. Their landlady Queenie is kind enough but is at the mercy of her neighbours who don’t approve of her renting her rooms to ‘coloureds’. When Queenie’s long lost husband returns from the war, tensions reach boiling point. 

Reading challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – Genre Immigrant Experience.

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while. I have read another of Levy’s books (Every Light in the House Burnin’) which I really enjoyed so when this genre appeared on the Eclectic Reader Challenge, it seemed a good choice.

Levy uses four different narrative voices – Gilbert, Hortense, Queenie and her husband, Bernard – to tell her story. All get a section to explain their past – before 1948 – and also explain current events. The voices are all distinctive and all allow the reader to feel if not empathy, then that they at least understand.

The racism faced by Gilbert and Hortense is dealt with unflinchingly. Immediately post-war is not an era I know much about but Levy appears to portray the hardships that people faced successfully. She draws distinctions between American segregation – which the British thought was terrible – and our own particular brand of racism which was in some ways more subtle but just as horrible.

I worked out some of the twists in this novel but not the final one. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read this book but it was heartbreaking. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.


Top Ten Tuesday – All time favourite books from a chosen genre


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.  Every week a new topic is chosen. Today’s topic is  September 13: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre.

There was an immediate problem with this. Not picking all time favourites although I know some people find that hard but picking a genre. I don’t tend to think of myself as a reader of a particular genre. I try to vary my reading experience as much as I can. However, once I started to think about it, I realised that there was one genre that I came back to more than any other and that genre was crime or detective novels. I haven’t ranked the books as I love them all.

Top Ten Crime Fiction Novels

  1. Jackson Brodie series – Kate Atkinson – Although part of me thinks that Jackson Brodie is just a low-rent John Rebus, these novels are very enjoyable and well-written.
  2. Philip Marlowe series – Raymond Chandler – I haven’t read all of these books but it was impossible to pick a favourite from the ones I have read. Easily the best hard-boiled detective.
  3. LA Confidential – James Ellroy – I really wish I had read this before I had seen the film. It was hard to remember all the double crossing though so it was still a very enjoyable read.
  4. Resentment: A Comedy – Gary Indiana – A dark, satirical novel about the trial of two privileged brothers who murder their parents. Indiana spares no one in this dark look at the public’s obsession with murder.
  5. Adrien English series – Josh Lanyon – Adrien English is gay and owns a bookshop. He couldn’t be much further from the traditional American hard-boiled detective if he tried. The way Lanyon plays with the rules of the genre is what makes this series so enjoyable.
  6. Millenium Series – Stieg Larson – Although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is undoubtedly the best of these three books, I enjoyed the whole series enough to include the other two as well.
  7. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane – Another wish I’d read first. However, even reading it with the knowledge of the twist, it was suspenseful and exciting. I couldn’t put it down.
  8. A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin – This is a taut psychological thriller. Levin has the audacity to reveal who the bad guy is but the reader is still on the edge of their seat in order to find out if he will get caught.
  9. A Distant Echo – Val McDermid – An excellent thriller. A murder from the past is reopened causing problems for those who were involved at the time. I’ve just realised that this is the start of a series. I’ll definitely be reading on.
  10. Rebus series – Ian Rankin – I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Rebus books. John Rebus is the perfect antihero, the stories twist and turn and they are set in Edinburgh and Fife. What more could you ask for?


Help! Which publishing platform?

When I published Shattered Reflections through Amazon, I was fairly naive and had no idea of exactly how many self-publishing platforms there were out there. I certainly made mistakes. I was over excited about the idea of being published and that made me hasty. I did virtually no research. I wasn’t about to make the same mistakes again. If I use Kindle Direct or CreateSpace again, I want to be sure they are the best options.

Now, with Choose Yr Future finally looking somewhere near publishable, I want to make sure I get it right this time. There is a proliferation of self-publishing sites. All of which have their advocates, of course, as well as their fair share of doubters.

I admit that Smashwords does seem attractive but then so does Draft2digital. I can’t help but feel bamboozled. I suppose it was inevitable with the popularity of self-publishing that the field would become as crowded as traditional publishing routes. And that is good as they will have to work hard to keep their corner of the market. But it doesn’t help my head which is spinning.

So, anyone who has any experience of these sites, I would love to hear your opinion.  Anything to help me make this most exciting of decisions.


Back to the 80s – What now for Labour?

As the Labour leadership battle continues, I find myself coming back to the same point over and over. Why is there so much admiration for Jeremy Corbyn? I feel a bit like I’m stuck in the Emporer’s New Clothes, having failed to get the memo that would have explained it all. Why can’t they see he’s just an old man who means well but is ultimately hopeless?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that he is principled and that is admirable. And he is an alternative to the spin offered by most other politicians. But not, as far as I can see, a refreshing one. He is the 1980s personified and Labour were unelectable then and I can’t see them being any more electable now.

This isn’t the only problem with Corbyn though. It’s the fact that he cannot unite his own party. Okay, I understand that he has a lot of grassroots support. Great. But the party itself is more occupied with bickering and in-fighting. Not the way to win elections. (Of course, winning is not necessarily the object. Sticking to principles rigidly and making sure you have the moral high ground often seem much more important to the Left.)

Nor should this be taken as an endorsement of Owen Smith who has oozed his way into the public eye from absolutely nowhere. I can’t see how he would be good for the party either. And anyway, he won’t win.

Now that we have a female prime minister who is arguably a lot more able to lead than Corbyn, I can’t help feeling that we are heading for a re-run of  Thatcher vs Kinnock with the well-meaning but ineffectual left being no match for the strength of the Tory party. What a thoroughly depressing thought.


Top Ten Tuesday – Books set in Scotland


Top ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week they have given a little bit of a free rein with the choice of a Top Ten set wherever you choose. After what was probably excess consideration, I decided on a Top Ten set in Scotland.

  1. Emotionally Weird – Kate Atkinson. It’s a while since I read this one. Effie is desperate to know who her father is but her mother isn’t about to give her the details straightaway. What follows are typical Atkinson characters and strange tales.
  2. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks. Perhaps the ultimate Scottish novel. Frank, the narrator is disturbed, describing the strange rituals and killings he has carried out.
  3. White Nights – Anne Cleeves – I’ve only read two of this series so far and I preferred this one to the first because it the main characters seemed more fully drawn. The Shetland setting is important to the story with the constant light of the summer months affecting people’s mental stability.
  4. The Trick is to Keep Breathing – Janice Galloway. Joy, the narrator, is depressed and struggling with her job, her boyfriend and life in general. The narrative reflects her fractured thought processes.
  5. A Disaffection – James Kelman – This is one of my favourite books of all time. Patrick, a teacher, becomes sickened by his job, his life – everything really – and slowly goes about destroying everything he has.
  6. The Distant Echo – Val McDermid – This was the first McDermid I read and it was compelling from start to finish. Four friends are suspected of a murder but there is no evidence. Now, twenty five years later, the case is reopened and a stranger is out for revenge.
  7. Rebus series – Ian Rankin. It is impossible for me to pick a favourite from these books. They are all superb and definitely could not be set anywhere else. Rankin’s descriptions of Edinburgh and the surrounding area are one of the main reasons I keep returning to this series.
  8. The Devil’s Carousel – Jeff Torrington. A series of stories set in a car plant in Renfrewshire, this is as funny as it is depressing.
  9. Morvern Caller – Alan Warner – Okay, so this is only partly set in Scotland but it is still Scottish through and through. Morvern wakes up to find her boyfriend has committed suicide but her reaction to this is not what you would expect. Superbly disturbing.
  10. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh – The first and still the best of Welsh’s novels. This completely blew me away the first time I read it and every time I have re-read it since. There is still nothing like it.