All These Condemned (John D MacDonald)

Written in 1954 before environmental issues became big in the public consciousness – this is very different than his later works. If I didn’t know I would never have guessed it was by JDM. In the hands of some lesser writer, the two chapters per character-narrator would have come off as a cheesy gimmick, but not for the MacDonald. In just pages, MacDonald fashions whole biographies, not of these character’s histories, but of who they are in body and soul. I rarely come across a book filled with such depth and such distinctive characters.  [Read more…]

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The Owl Service (Alan Garner)

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book until now. I read it when I was little, and it scared me quite a lot at the time. Now that I am not as much of a scaredy cat I can see it for what it is: an impressive novel originally intended for a juvenile readership but, as these things tend to do, ended up being just as popular with adults. A remarkably subtle and complex fantasy that could also be classed as weird fiction for young adults. The style is fast-paced, sparse, and doesn’t patronize the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting. (By the way– it may be bad luck to gaze at an owl. That’s why I chose such a bland cover above instead of the more striking ones featuring our nocturnal feathered friends. Don’t want to tempt fate…) [Read more…]

The First Men In The Moon ( H.G. Wells)

Oh, for the good old days when men believed that the moon was inhabited by “Selenites” who lived in deep caves underground! If your only knowledge of this book is the 1964 motion picture, this novel will surprise you. This is no romantic comedy, although there are humorous moments. H.G. Wells, in his The First Men in the Moon takes two Englishmen, the eccentric inventor Cavor, and the ne’er-do-well Bedford, to the moon in a spherical spaceship using an antigravity substance called Cavorite. Fortunately for these ill-prepared astronauts, the moon has plenty of oxygen, so they don’t need a spacesuit with breathing apparatus.  [Read more…]

Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce Vol 1 (read by Charlton Griffin)

Named after a hanged felon, Ambrose Gwinett Bierce (1842–1914?) fittingly turned his literary gift to the macabre. In this he became the successor to Poe, adding to the master’s repertoire a distinctly American style of Gothic, and the horror he witnessed on the battlefields of the American Civil War. Charlton Griffin reads eight of his chillers here, including his masterpiece, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” His other classic, “The Moonlit Road” is part of this collection too. In a resonant and well-modulated baritone Griffin employs a curious detachment; although he skillfully negotiates some difficult locutions, he undercuts suspense and ignores a tale’s trajectory. This is not really a criticism – Bierce’s tales are sparse and uniquely solitary, living by the maxim: less is more. He packed so much power into so few words. A smattering of creepy music and sound effects that conjure up being lost in a forest, rounds out this audio performance, although it gilds the lily rather than adds anything of real meaning. I do recommend this as a worthwhile audio book.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)

One of my favorite “semi-horror” reads. I suppose it could be called “horror” but it doesn’t fit neatly into the mold. The point of view is that of a boy on the brink of manhood as he gets to know more about certain concepts of “good and evil” than he ever really wanted to…the traveling carnivals that moved from town to town, showing up at county fairs, sets the background for this tale–with their mysterious denizens, noisy rides, lights that filled the night while leaving pockets of darkness. The barkers and their “side shows”, the fixed games of “chance” are now a thing of a bygone era. Bradbury paints such a vivid picture of a now-lost bucolic rural life here as to be almost heartbreaking to contemporary readers.  [Read more…]

Mr Norris Changes Trains (Christopher Isherwood)

“He had an animal innocence,” Isherwood sums up Mr Norris — no, I mean Gerald Hamilton (1890-1970), the flamboyant and flabby rogue who inspired Mr Norris. The two met, presumably, in Berlin where Isherwood lived from 1929 to 1933. The author had gone to that city because of the favourable money-exchange. He caught the tormented, self-destructive spirit of Berlin which Broadway excised in favour of un-zippered frolics and Doctor Rugs (yes, I mean….drugs, not hugs and definitely not rugs). Coming from a strangulating British environment where you faced jail if caught in the bushes with a boy, he read that anything went on in Berlin. As Gerald Hamilton said, “We live in stirring times. Tea-stirring times.” [Read more…]

The Amulet Of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1) (Jonathan Stroud)

This novel is set in a modern-day London that is ruled by Magicians. It is written from the perspective of a djinni (demon) and an undervalued magician’s apprentice. It’s tempting to compare the book to the Harry Potter series. Young boy. Magic. Sneaking around. Breaking the rules. Stern teachers. But the similarities really end there. What’s obvious is that Stroud can write about a complex world (and one I want to know more about) and making it interesting and funny. I’m used to slow beginnings in fantasy but this one started with a bang.
[Read more…]

Falconer (John Cheever)

So here then is John Cheever’s great penal novel. Or should I say, penile novel. Yes, yes, the pun is too obvious to be anything but unfunny. But it’s just shouting from the eaves to be thrust into the spotlight. This is primarily because one cannot turn a page without finding cocks, balls, erections, ejaculations, peckers, dicks, tumescences, foreskins, pissings, and yes, at least one anal intrusion by a phallic object. What would I expect, I suppose, from a prison novel? I’ve heard that song by Tool. I’ve seen Oz. I know what goes on there (or so I’ve heard). [Read more…]

The Wine-Dark Sea (Robert Aickman)

Dipped into this short story collection as the mood struck me. Each story was 30-40 pages of horror, called more exactly supernatural or “strange”. Each concerns a character or characters who meet with a strange, otherworldly person, thing or events and their reactions to what they come upon. Endings are open-ended, not neatly tied up. The horror is subtle and creeps up on you. Aickman is a master in this genre; not for him the bloodfests of recent horror literature and movies. The writing conveys just the right amount of creepiness. [Read more…]

The Passenger (Lisa Lutz)

book cA fun 304 page romp. Tanya Pitts husband is dead at the bottom of the stairs. She assumes he fell down them, because she had nothing to do with his death. Instead of calling the police, she decides to “cut and run” as the Americans say. She packs a bag, grabs what money she can find and takes off into the night. It becomes apparent early on that this isn’t the first time Tanya has had to run. After making a phone call to a mysterious man, she requests a new name with credentials and some cash. Hair coloured, disposable phones in hand, Amelia Keen is born and off to find a new back roads town to start over in. The big question is why?
[Read more…]

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