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…]

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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…]

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 Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler)

The Long Goodbye is widely considered Raymond Chandler’s swan song to arguably literature’s greatest detective. Often cited as the gold standard in crime fiction, this one snapped up the Edgar Award for best novel in 1955, is listed on countless “best of” compilations, and has influenced a generation of mystery and crime writers. It’s been noted that a few of the characters in the novel were used as a way for Chandler to clear his mind. He used them to express his innermost thoughts on the state of society, his frustrations as a writer and his internal struggle with whether or not he should commit suicide. [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.
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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…]

A Cry In The Night (Mary Higgins Clark)

This is classic MH Clark. She takes the reader to the edge of anticipation, excitement, and makes you feel like you are hiding in a closet/wardrobe/cupboard – take your pick,  peeking in on what’s happening. I like all her older novels but none of the ones she’s written in the last 20 years. If you don’t mind having an unorthodox protagonist then this novel (first published in 1982) is fantastic and eerie–not every book has to have a strong leading character. Our heroine is pretty passive by modern western standards, virtually helpless, and this may upset the feminists and others who are used to women being more pro-active these days. [Read more…]

The Mind Parasites (Colin Wilson)

“The Mind Parasites” came about when Wilson criticized a bloke named H P Lovecraft in one of his works. August Derleth, Lovecraft’s posthumous publisher and apologist, made a challenge to Wilson – saying, essentially “If you think Lovecraft was such a lousy writer, why don’t you do better yourself?” Wilson relished the challenge and set out to do just that. This book is the result. In fact, it can’t really be regarded as part of the Lovecraftian cycle – it takes too many liberties with the canon for that – but in its own right it’s an amazing work. We are not the top of the food chain; we have an energy predator which is feeding off of us and also restructuring the world in its image — this is the new world order. [Read more…]

Hell House (Richard Matheson)

Matheson really was a master of his craft. He took the conventional Gothic structure and threw it out of the window. Assaulting the reader with carnal, palpable terror, from its first page to the very end. Readers new to Hell House will be wondering how far are things going to go regarding the repulsive sexual shenanigans… What would have been shocking and new to audiences in 1971 has become a tad too familiar today, unfortunately. While this speaks volumes to the book’s cultural and literary impact – the fact that it has been copied and imitated by so many on film and on the page detracts from the book’s overall contemporary wow factor. I bet Stephen King used this as some inspiration for The Shining. [Read more…]

From The Earth To The Moon (Jules Verne)

What makes From the Earth to the Moon so enjoyable is it’s sheer earnestness. Entire chapters are filled with debates about figures and equations. Verne loves to write about all the details of his little thought experiment. This is very clearly his fantasy, and had he the money, I could imagine him attempting something like this. There are some charming details. For example, they launch from southern Florida, which at the time was a large swamp with forts to guard against the indians. Also, when packing their capsule for provisions, they load up 50 gallons of brandy, because that’s how a gentleman spaceman travels.  [Read more…]

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