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Mark West (Kettering, Northants United Kingdom)
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Fortunately, the Milk . . .
Fortunately, the Milk . . .
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.69

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read, 10 Jan 2014
Dad (looking remarkably like Gaiman himself) is left to look after the house and kids when Mum goes to a business conference, though he's given a long list of things to do. His priority is not to forget the milk - which he does - and so the next morning he has to go and get some from the corner shop. The story is his explanation, to the kids, about why it took him so long. I had a lot of fun with this book, which I read to Dude (who's 8) over two nights and his response, when we'd finished, was "That was awesome!" And he's absolutely right, it's a terrifically funny and inventive tale, of a Dad making up an ever more unlikely story that his kids - even though they don't really believe him - thoroughly enjoy (and that struck a chord with me too). From green globby aliens (lots of snot) to Priscilla, Queen of the Pirates, Professor Steg and his wonderful Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier to Splod (a god), brightly coloured ponies and wumpires (vampires who talk with a pronounced accent that is amusing to try and read aloud) and police dinosaurs on space bikes, the pace never lets up. Taking in time-travel (and peculiar breaks in the time space continuum), two pints of milk that can't touch and the perils of eating dry cereal, this is great fun from start to finish. Lavishly illustrated by Chris Riddell (whose style Dude recognised, as he'd drawn the characters for the Creepy House Reading challenge last summer), this is a great read that both of us really enjoyed and I highly recommend it.


Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B-Movie
Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B-Movie
by Chris Nashawaty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A mine of information, 10 Jan 2014
Your enjoyment of this book - a detailed trawl through the output of Roger Corman from the early 50s (and including a quick bio) up to date - is going to depend entirely on your ability to enjoy films where you can sometimes see the zip on the back of the monster suit. In fact, Chris Nashawaty sums this up perfectly in a caption to accompany a picture of the eponymous Creature From The Haunted Sea - "...one of the worst looking (or greatest, depending on your sweet tooth for schlock) monsters in movie history". I loved the book, which probably tells you just how big and strong my sweet tooth for schlock is.

Thoroughly illustrated with beautifully reproduced film posters (and wow, they knew how to sell movies then!) and clear screen grabs, this is effectively an oral history of the Corman "factory", told by the people involved. From Corman himself, his wife Julie and brother Gene, through writers and directors and actors and crew personnel, this is frank and often amusing and never less than illuminating. Working to tight budgets (and often tighter schedules), Corman pushed people to be creative and yes, whilst some of the output is stupid, it's often very entertaining. He also served as a kind of unofficial film school, giving the first chances to many people who are now Hollywood A-listers - from Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Dern, through Ron Howard, Joe Dante and Jim Cameron, Gayle Ann Hurd, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Bill Paxton, all of them have their say and none of them utter a bad word about their mentor (other than how cheap he was).

The book is broken down into 5 chapters, each dealing with a different decade and I have to confess that my favourites were the sixties and seventies and moving into the early eighties - that's when the format seemed to hit its stride, when the talent being supported (Dante, Nicholson, Dern, Howard et al) was on the cusp of greatness and when they seemed incapable of doing a bad job, even when the material wasn't always as good as it could be. The later eighties is interesting (I was a happy supporter of the burgeoning home video market myself and loved scanning the shelves in our local video shop) but the nineties and to the present day is a bit more sobering, with the market drying up and a stream of films that seem to be directed by the same two blokes (contradicting everyone else's mantra that once you got your start, you moved on). From what I read, none of the SyFy films currently being made will stand up in 30+ years time, as something like Joe Dante's "Piranha" has. In fact, I was so impressed by the write-up in the book of that film, I bought it on DVD and watched it with my wife and we both loved it.

Roger Corman is a legend, finally recognised by the Oscars for his contribution to films and he's shaped a lot of culture that we now readily accept today, believing in genre films even when others didn't appear to. This book does him perfect justice, a thorough, wonderfully written and researched slice of movie history that I think is essential reading for those who like their films (on occasion), to be on the cheap, cheerful, sleazy and gruesome side. I loved it, I wish it was twice as long and I highly recommend it.


Invent-10n
Invent-10n
by Rod Rees
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A dark future view, 6 Dec 2013
This review is from: Invent-10n (Paperback)
It's 2030 and Britain is a controlled state - the use of PanOptika surveillance equipment leaves room for no secrets and ensures no citizens have any threatening or un-pc thoughts. Following a One-Day-War, which turned the Middle East to glass, Russia controls the oil production and Britain is suffering - no fuel for cars, hardly any heat, not much light - and with overcrowding a real issue, the Prime Minister wants all the Gees (religious and political refugees) sent back to Russia.

Within this environment, people are trying to buck the system, from both inside and out but with most conversations being recorded, this is getting harder and harder to do. We are introduced to Jennifer Moreau, a 20 year old "journalist and ink-slinger", who is a denynik Nu-bopper and blogs via her pseudonym Jenni-Fur (in which personna she also fronts and plays sax for the Joy Poppers band) - "The ChumBots want a society without any ragged edges, without any snags or glitches. Well, they ain't gonna get one, a least not without Jenni-Fur doing her mostest to raise the decibel level." Contrasting her is Sebastien Davenport, a Grade Two analyst for the National Protection Agency who's been passed over for promotion but because of his role with the Gees (who are packed into seaside resorts, which have become no-go areas for everyone else), is chosen to find out what the Invent-10n product is. This was developed by the Nitko's - political dissidents in Russia, who are now both dead - and used by their son Ivan to win a skimming competition in the Lake District (which leads to him being interviewed by Jennifer (who he takes her on as his PR) and snooped on by Davenport). Invent-10n is a new form of energy generator that could revolutionise the earth, which is slowly being strangled by over-population and farming and the government quickly realises - as does Ivan - that whoever controls it will tip the balance of world power.

This is a terrific novel, that teems with ideas and is shot through with a streak of furious anger and a nice dose of political satire. 2030 Britain is cleverly and quickly established, with brand names from today anchoring the futuristic ideas (communications especially) whilst wallowing in the claustrophobia that over-population brings and the depressing reality of a life lived under the lense. This Britain is seedy and dangerous, but Rod alludes to plenty of current malaises to ground it in reality. The characterisation is concise and well handled. Jenni-Fur talks in nu-bop slang, a mixture of 40's and 50's hepcat, dashed with Raymond Chandler noir-isms and droog-inspired slang and her sections are typed on a manual machine (and presented in courier font), to keep them away from PanOptika's prying eyes. Davenport, meanwhile, compiles reports in Arial font, that are clearly written and quickly convey a man trying to break free of the structures around him. I don't know if the science and technology used is at all feasible but it certainly reads that way, with Invent-10n accepted quickly - by character and reader alike - without too much preamble.

With my only niggle a curious last chapter (which I won't spoil for you), I thought this was a great read with fluid writing, cracking pace, characters you can root for and a wonderfully developed sense of place. It's also helped tremendously by the design work from Nigel Robinson, with plenty of inserts from various (fictional) digital media, updating the news, presenting interviews with characters and also explaining some of the weirder terms (Nu-boppers, Slappers, ChumBots, Gooners and Paretos). I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it.


The Language of Dying
The Language of Dying
by Sarah Pinborough
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.39

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully moving, 5 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Language of Dying (Hardcover)
A woman sits at her father's bedside watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters - all traumatised in their own ways, their bonds fragile - have been there for the past week, but now she is alone. And that's always when it comes.

Quite simply, this is a beautiful novella, a deeply felt and very moving exploration of family bonds and the ways they can be twisted, strained and - maybe - broken by death (even if that event hasn't happened yet). On a personal level, I found some of it difficult to read and I'm not certain it's something I could re-read, but that's not to the detriment of the craft on display. Indeed, Sarah's writing is so assured, the flow of the language is so right, that you read on even when you desperately want to look away or wipe at your eyes.

The unnamed narrator is the middle of five children. Paul is feckless, a man who goes with the flow and shuts down or runs away when life turns on him and Penny is glossy and keen on appearances, someone willing to suffer just so long as she doesn't make a scene. The younger siblings, Simon and Davey, are twins who have taken a different path to their brother and sisters, becoming addicted to various things. The narrator weaves amongst them - she's telling the story to their father, who is dying of cancer - as everyone gathers at the old family home for their Dad's last days and old bitternesses and comradeships are rekindled. The narrator feels kinship with her Dad, a man whose life never quite worked out how he wanted it to and even though we only get to see glimpses of him pre-cancer, he's vividly portrayed. In fact, the characterisation is the books key strength, with even minor players - the narrators ex-husband, the various nurses - so clearly defined that they remain vivid long after their part in the story is over. Paul is a fleeting character, present more by name and memory than physical being (as is Simon), whilst Penny is sad and funny and scared and strong. Davey, addicted and conflicted, really comes through as the story progresses, a kid who took a wrong path and the adult who's still trying to make better.

But the story stands and falls by its narrator and she's a wonderful creation. Still tortured by the abandonment of her mother when she was ten (with a childs perception of the event - "we all know in our hearts that it's our fault for not staying little for long enough.") she patiently awaits the return of a wild unicorn she believes she saw on that night, whose pounding hooves and breathing she keeps listening out for. She's also very aware that everything is in flux and that once their father goes, things will change forever and not necessarily the better -"Buried in the scent of fresh sheets and the warmth of my sister, I store each second safely away so that I can savour this time in the years to come."

With her own life - and innerself - in a state of turmoil (her failed, abusive marriage is painfully detailed and the image of her lying, bleeding, at the bottom of the stairs is one that'll stay with me for a long, long time), the book ratchets up the tension as the siblings leave and their father grows ever weaker. Trying to help him as he lies in bed, the narrator moves her fathers arms under the covers and worries she's hurting him - "Sorry, Daddy," I whisper, "I'm sorry, Daddy." - and that did it for me, even though it's not the end.

Not a novel for everyone, certainly, this is poignant and raw, loving and tender, brutal and beautiful and it will reward the reader who engages with it and, I think, it'll stay with them for a long time after they've put it down and cleared their throat and wiped their eyes. I can't recommend it highly enough.


Is This Love? (Choc Lit) (Middledip series Book 4)
Is This Love? (Choc Lit) (Middledip series Book 4)
Price: 2.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is This Love? is a corker, 24 Oct 2013
Tamara Rix, a yoga instructor, has a disabled sister called Lyddie who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident when they were teens. When Jed Cassius comes back into her life - Lyddie's old boyfriend, from before her accident - and says that his father was the driver responsible, it throws everyone's lives into chaos. Then Tamara's boyfriend Max leaves, just as she is approached to become a private yoga teacher for Emilia, the stay-at-home wife of a very rich businessman for whom Jed happens to be first lieutenant.

A welcome return to Middledip and Sue Moorcroft does it again, skilfully blending romance and passion (this is probably her raunchiest book yet), with a keen eye for family life and coping with disabilities and topping it all off with pacey thriller elements. I liked Tamara a lot, she's a strong character with real depth and her interplay with Jed is a real highlight, just as her relationship with Lyddie is moving and touching.

Great characterisation, a keen sense of location and time and a gripping pace all add up to another winner. Highly recommended.


The Shelter
The Shelter
Price: 0.77

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great tale, 23 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Shelter (Kindle Edition)
During the long summer of 1989, thirteen year-old Alan Dean hung around with three friends - Mark, Tom and Duncan. Mark was a charismatic bully, a bad seed who was used to getting what he wanted and when he suggested the four of them explore an old shelter, they all agreed. At the same time, a local boy called Martin had gone missing and the newspapers are asking if a killer's on the loose but once Alan and his friends find the shelter, they experience something strange and horrifying that will change all their lives forever.

I love coming-of-age tales and I love eighties nostalgia and so, as my introduction to the writing of James Everington, this couldn't have gone much better at all. Although he's at the opposite end of the decade to me (in terms of points of reference), he perfectly evokes a long boring summer to the extent that the reader can almost feel the prickly heat and hear the flies buzzing and there's nothing that knocks this illusion at all. The characters are well drawn, though Alan - who narrates - is probably the only one most people will identify with - Tom and Duncan are herd animals, not quite smart enough to strike out on their own and instead happy to be the muscle, whilst Mark is almost chilling in his relentness need to be in control, though Everington spotlights his vulnerability well as the story progresses. The peer pressure too is well evoked, with the other boys being two years old than Alan, so he goes along them with because he's too scared not to, plus he likes the increased social status their comradeship gives him.

The shelter itself is a superb invention, very real and with a claustrophobic atmosphere that is almost tangible. When Alan sees what he sees, we're there on the ladder with him and equally desperate for release.

With an afterword that explains where the story came from, which is interesting in itself, this is an excellent novella. It has good pace, believable characters, a nice use of location and a sureness in the telling that pulls the reader through. A wonderful exploration of powerful, quiet horror, this is well worth a read and highly recommended.


Guns Of Brixton (Best of British)
Guns Of Brixton (Best of British)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A terrific novella, 16 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
London, New Years Day and it's started badly for several people. Big Jim Lawson has accidentally blown the head off Half-Pint Harry Hebbs and now he and his partner Kenny Rogan need to dispose of the body and deliver a suitcase that holds something which threatens the security of the nation. Richard Sanderson has woken up with a jarring hang-over and is sent out to pick up some wine by his complaining wife Camilla. And Lynne Calloway, trapped in a thankless job, over forty and divorced, is recovering from a night on the karaoke. The lives of these characters - and their situations - are just the start of a non-stop, black-comedy, noir thriller that rockets along at a terrific pace and is never less than readable. Populated by a big cast of larger-than-life characters, with histories as broad as their nicknames, all of whom are linked in one way or another, you're never quite sure who you're supposed to be rooting for but that just adds to the wonderful anarchic air. Filled with terrific descriptions (my favourite is "The air in The Dirty Digger was as thick and sickly as a tin of oxtail soup that was well past its sell by date."), occasional bursts of jarring violence, scathing opinons on various pop-culture references (though I agree with the Katie Melua comments) and a sense of chaos and impending doom, this is well-constructed and written with a sure, clear style. More to the point, it's a terrific amount of fun. I like crime fiction but I've never read anything quite like this before and I'll be looking out for more work from Paul D. Brazill! Great stuff and very highly recommended.


Shiftling
Shiftling
Price: 2.02

4.0 out of 5 stars A great novella, 16 Oct 2013
This review is from: Shiftling (Kindle Edition)
In 1985 the funfair arrives in the sleepy town of Ashthorpe and what promises to be a great summer for a gang of teenaged boys quickly turns into one of menace and tragedy. Years later, one of the boys - Drew - is called back to the town and realises that the past can never be forgotten - `for the past wears many faces and some of them are drenched in blood'. One of my favourite types of story is the coming-of-age tale and, with this, Savile (who, I should mention, I am friends with) has crafted one that works perfectly as a paean to the innocent loves and strong friendships of youth, whilst also examining how those states change as we get older. The cast of characters is relatively small - everything is told from Drew's point of view - but all of them are clearly defined, even if it's something as simple as a kid having freckles and red hair. Scotty was Drew's best friend back in the day and it was those two that ventured onto The Batters (the town waste-ground), trying to find out where Old Man Harrison was dumping the dead cats and, instead, finding something much, much worse. With some impressive set-pieces, not least a kid called Spider on a big wheel and an ending that takes place in what appears to be Mrs Bates' cellar, this has a pace and craft that literally pulls you along. As a respite from the story - it's split between past and present day, with Drew also being interviewed by the police - he finally gets a chance with Rachel Corcoran, his unrequited love from his teens who now appears to be as damaged as he is and their tender moments are touchingly written. At one point she calls him "love" in a throwaway moment and there's a wonderful passage where Drew imagines his teenaged self hearing it and I knew just how he felt, Savile had captured it perfectly. In addition, nostalgia is used wonderfully - and since Savile & I are the same age, our cultural reference points are the same - and builds a real sense of safety and comfort around the characters. In the 80s, who didn't try to raise money by cleaning cars, who didn't know the dance to Prince Charming or understand Blakes Seven and - around Rothwell, at least - who didn't get called "you pilchard!" when they'd done something stupid. But all of this is just masking the fact that things are going to get very bad indeed and it's nice to see the personification of that evil, the Shiftling of the title, being so well realised (is it really there?) with as much of its presence and physicality not told as is explained. A cracking story, told with great skill and affection, this is highly recommended.


Necromancer: Necropolis Rising II
Necromancer: Necropolis Rising II

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and claustrophobic, 16 Oct 2013
Opening with a bang, as two people succumb to `something' in wonderfully gory ways, this picks up some time after the events of the first book (the excellent `Necropolis Rising') that left Birmingham a walled city, following the experiments of Dr James Whittington whose Lazarus Initiative aimed to create and control zombies. He died in the blast that wiped the city but his experiment, a young man named Thom, survived and he's now a Necromancer, capable of communicating with the dead. He and two ex-soldiers, Suze & Gaz, are holed up in Wyoming, trying to stay under the radar of Phoenix Industries, who funded Whittington originally. They now have his daughter, Dr Barbara Cope, working for them, in a well funded zombie laboratory on a huge oil tanker called the Ulysses. I was a big fan of the original, which mixed brisk writing with good pulpy horror and thrills and it's a delight to return to the universe and find the writer producing stronger work. Whilst this does still have those 70s-throwback rock-`em/shock-`em sequences, there's more at stake here with the richly written characters suffering at every conceivable step of the way. The Thom story-line is gripping from the off, as the claustrophobia sinks in before moving through the wide open spaces of Wyoming to Miss Molly's diner. There, in a tautly written and prolonged sequence, they and the diner patrons have a deadly encounter with a Phoenix Industries funded five-person SWAT-type force, all armed to the teeth. The action is brutal, the characterisation just right and the atmosphere is detailed and concise - you can see the diner and its furniture and feel the dust on your face as the characters walk around. The parallel storyline, as Cope conducts her experiments, revels in the claustrophobia of the ship location, in the middle of the ocean, with a zombie army gathering in the hold. It's this section which features some of the best writing, as two characters - manager Harding and security chief Boyce - are forced to hide their love for one another, whilst the observance of such leads to the spectacular climax. Moving at a cracking pace and never once letting up, this is filled with characters you quickly care about and it's safe to say that nobody comes out of the chaos unscathed in one way or another. The zombie action is minimal but it works better for that, the sequences where they're on the rampage being brutal and brisk, whilst The Risen's ability to retain information is well explored. Beyond all this, Jeffery knows how to write action and his major set pieces are all superbly staged, dragging the reader along in a tumble of incidents. A must for fans of zombie fiction, definitely, but also for those who like their horror to be well-written good fun. Featuring a suitably bleak ending, I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it.


House of Small Shadows
House of Small Shadows
by Adam Nevill
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great novel!, 16 Oct 2013
This review is from: House of Small Shadows (Paperback)
Catherine Howard is a valuer for Leonard Osberne, Auctioneer of antiques, an old fashioned firm that suits her down to the ground. Escaping from an incident in London - which resulted in her losing her previous job, home and friends - she's determined to get her life back on track and with a new job and settled relationship, things are starting to look brighter. When she's asked to catalogue the estate of M H Mason, a renowned taxidermist, she's excited by the possibilities, especially when she understands the extent of his cache of antique dolls and puppets. Upon visiting Red House, Mason's country mansion which is now occupied by his eldery niece Edith and Maude, the mute housekeeper, she discovers that it's very close to where she grew up and suffered a terrible, bullied childhood. And when Edith introduces Catherine to her late uncle's dark art, shadows from those dreaded days begin to close in.

This is another stunning novel from Adam Nevill (following last years "Last Days") and this time he uses the supernatural and unnerving possibilities of old dolls and puppets to great effect (and gives Hartley Hare, from Pipkins, a heads up in the afterword), mixing them with an out-of-the-way location and a ruined, deserted village. On top of this atmosphere - and the book is dripping in it - he weaves the story of confused and oppressed Catherine, badly bullied as a child - "Smelly Cathy Howard, dopted, dopted" - who hasn't managed to escape the pain or taunting which has followed her into adulthood. In fact, the target of her uncharacteristic violence in London, Tara, manages to create ripples that run through the whole book. Nevill creates a wonderful sense of otherworldliness about the house and some of his set pieces - looking around the village, the small faces at the window, the beekeeper where there are no bees - are genuinely unnerving whilst a sequence with Catherine, who may or may not have been drugged, trying to find light in the house is brilliantly written, playing well on our claustrophobic fear of the dark. As with "Last Days", he has created an intense and intricate mythology - cruelty plays - that constantly nips at the narrative and adds weight to the fantastical elements of the plot.

Superbly constructed, with vivid and often unnerving characters, this suffers a little in the pacing around the start of the final act but is otherwise a creepy masterclass of supernatural writing and, for a horror fan, highly recommended reading.


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