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I suppose a “book blogger” should actually read a few books now and then. Most recently I finished James Oswald’s latest book Dead Men’s Bones (published July 2014) which I had on pre order ever since I finished The Hangman’s Song. It was a nice surprise to receive an update from Amazon to say the book had been despatched as I had forgotten the release date was July. Also July came around pretty quickly for me, I don’t know if everyone else felt the same? I’m pretty sure someone has been pilfering days out of my calendar. I enjoyed it but not as much as the previous books in the series as it seems to be more of a crime novel now than supernatural. Then again, perhaps the majority of his readers prefer crime? I will still be ordering the next book as soon as it is announced just to see what happens next!

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I also have on the go Kevin Smith’s autobiography My Boring-Ass Life which despite the title and doom-filled introduction, is anything but boring. I’m not much of a film buff but I do love his films, in particular Dogma and Clerks 2 which never fail to lift me from a bad mood. The book is an extension of his online blog silentbobspeaks.com although to call it a blog seems to devalue what is there. It’s well worth a look at even if you have not seen or like his films just to read what a scriptwriter and film direction in LA gets up to between filming. 

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In June I went to Malta with my husband (of 1 year just very recently) and the in-laws. Normally I manage to get a lot of reading in whilst I’m lazing around the pool but this year we didn’t seem to have enough time. The in-laws go to Malta year on year so naturally they had a lot to show us of the island. It is a nice place to go but it does seem to cater to the older generations. I don’t exactly crave a night life when I go away, but I do like to sit in a bar or pub and drink and chat until the early hours. In Malta, or at least where we stopped anyway, everyone seemed to be in bed by 12pm! Walking around the tourists look near to retirement age. It was a nice break from the dull routine of a 8.30-5.00pm 6.30pm job and I managed to relax as best as you can holidaying with someone else parents. So on holiday, I managed to read Tess of the d’Ubervilles which was my attempt at reading something intellectual to stimulate the braincells. A very unfortunate and frustrating read. So close and yet so far from happiness. And also I read Choke by Chuck Palahnuick. Not my usual choice of book, it was a recommendation from my husband. Palahnuick also wrote Fight Club so you can imagine the sort of story I was letting myself in for. The protagonist is an addict with an interesting method of paying for his restaurant bills. The story is graphic and twisty exploring mental health issues but not in a preachy kind of way. I would be reluctant to recommend Choke to just anybody, but it was very good. 

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I don’t have anything in line to read next. Normally I have a pile of books that I want to read but this year I just don’t seem to be organised in hunting them down. As much of a cliche as it is, I do blame work for my lack of reading. Our industry seems to be coming out of the recession (woo-hoo!) which means a work spike and lots of overtime. Most nights when I get home my brain is frazzled and more poor eyes won’t read any words that are not the TV Guide or a takeaway menu! Needless to say, I am on a sort of diet to combat my resulting and growing spare tyre!

So, in the interest of getting my mind out of the telly and onto the page (or kindle screen) has anyone got any recommendations on what to read next?

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Forbidden Game Trilogy

L J Smith is more famous for her series The Vampire Diaries which has been adapted for television. But, in the early nineties, she put pen to paper for the Point Horror imprint from Scholastic and created three of my all time favourite books.

This last week, with Christmas drawing in and the dark nights being especially cold and wet I scanned my (new) bookshelves for something to read. I had finally brought over the remainder of my books from my parent’s home, now that my husband had hung the custom shelves, so as I scanned the titles I found myself looking at a fair few books that I have had for a long while.

I made the transition from Point Horror to more grown-up horror stories such as those by James Herbet and Stephen King at around the age of twelve. Whilst the majority of my Point Horror collection got relegated to the dusty confines of my parent’s loft (a.k.a attic to Americans) these three books have always remained on my book shelf. Next to text books about Shakespeare and various Oxford World Classic books they began to look a little out of place but I have always kept them out.

We all have our guilty pleasures. A cheesy song we can’t help but dance or sing to. An outrageous film you know you should scorn for its obvious poor quality but once it’s on your butt won’t move till the credits roll. A book you know anyone in their adult years would scoff to read but whose characters have stayed with you for so long they are like family.

The Forbidden Game Trilogy includes the books The Hunter, The Chase and The Kill. I have always found the titles a little jarring. The first should be called “The Hunt” if it is to fit in with the pattern of the other two titles. However, choices have been made for a reason and I am sure the Scholastic editor knows more about how to title a book than I do.

The Hunter begins with the main protagonist, Jenny Thornton, in the wrong part of town trying to find some entertainment for her boyfriend’s birthday party. She is madly in love with her boyfriend and always has been since second grade. Being English I have no idea how old that would have made her, but I assume it has been a while. Then she meets Julian with his luminous blue eyes. These eyes get mentioned a lot. She buys a board game from him and takes it to the party.

This game is no ordinary game. As you could probably have guessed from the title. Soon after they begin playing, Jenny and her friends realise they are playing for their lives.

It turns out that Julian is in love with Jenny, and has been since she was five years old. Don’t scrutinise the moral implications of that too closely. It’s not that sort of book. Jenny is sixteen before he makes his move so technically, its all legal and above board. Apart from the kidnapping and the attempted murder of her friends of course.

In the Victorian paper house that becomes real around them, the players face their worst nightmares. The area around them reacts to their inner fears, changing as they move up through the floors towards their goal to reflect that terrifies them most.

Whilst her friends struggle to survive, Jenny struggles to remain faithful to her childhood sweetheart. Julian is dangerous and sexy compared to the innocent, safe love she already has. But always she keeps fighting for survival and ultimately freedom.

The second two books extend this chase. Each book is a different game. All of the characters go on their own internal journeys as they face up to their fears (or not) and by the end they have all gained experience whilst losing some of their innocence. As with most Young Adult books this is a coming of age, but with a supernatural twist.

Smith combines the romance genre (which I found pretty boring in my youth) with the danger and excitement of the the horror genre giving a page turning read with enough emotional impact I still can’t part with the characters fifteen years later. And no matter how many times I read it, the ending is still the same…

The Forbidden Game trilogy, I think, has its qualities as a Gothic text. There are firstly the Gothic settings that appear throughout. The dangerous part of town, the game shop with its mystical foreign games, the Victorian house. And that is all in the first book. There is also the Gothic Hero, Julian, who seems to be more ‘real’ than everything else around him. There is also the Norse mythology that underpins all of the magic and explains the existence of the Shadow World. Though this book was written for a mass-market imprint aimed at Young Adult readers, Smith has imbued her trilogy with enough of the Gothic genre that I believe with the support of a well argued essay this series could be a good example of a Gothic text.

Is it possible that there are other books, dismissed as YA fiction with no literary value, that have been overlooked? What are your favourite books from childhood?

I originally came across <i>Natural Causes</i>, the first Inspector McLean novel, by sheer chance. I often check out the top 100 free kindle books to see what I can read for minimum cost. The majority of these titles are self published but every so often a traditionally published author will offer the first book in the series for free in order to increase exposure of their series,

Now, I downloaded this book a few months before I actually read it, I believe I downloaded it whilst it was still self-published but I can’t be certain. The series has since been picked up by publisher Penguin and the series is going from strength to strength. The first two books were shortlisted for the Crime Debut Dagger Award and have received many complimentary reviews on Amazon.

The third book The Hangman is due out February 2014 and Oswald has confirmed a further three books to be published by Penguin over the following eighteen months after that. I am debating preordering The Hangman book as I will be paying full price at £7.99*, something I haven’t done since I discovered amazon.co.uk with the exception of the final installment of Harry Potter although I think Waterstones or Asda discounted the RRP. Because I read so much I find it difficult to justify spending £8 on a book, £4 however is perfectly acceptable but I would prefer them to be free kindle downloads. Writers have bills to pay too I guess.

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So with that out of the way, I should really tell you what the books are about.

The Inspector McLean series is an easy to read crime series set in Edinburgh. The protagonist is a single man who does what he thinks is right, regardless of if he incurs the wrath of his superiors. As with most series, he has his own problems which seep into his every day life of solving crimes. You get to piece together his history and demons throughout the first book but it is the second book where you get to find out the details.

Both books have a twist of the supernatural behind them lending a fresh perspective on the crime genre. It does not stick to the generic whodunnit formula either. As a reader you aren’t constantly trying to figure out who the bad guy is. The main focus is on the characters within the plot and not the plot itself. The only guessing the reader needs to worry about is if there will be a supernatural or natural explanation to the crimes committed.

This series comes highly recommended for people who enjoy crime fiction and I would suggest people who don’t to give it a try as it is does a bad job of sticking to the rules of its genre.

 

*Price correct at time of publication

Impromptu Blog Break

I knew it had been a while since I last posted but I didn’t think it had been three months! It has gone by in such a blur yet it feels like ages ago that I sat and read Wuthering Heights.

Since then I’ve also read Skin by Mo Hayder – a writer who graduated from the same university as me (although she did a different course at a different time so I can hardly claim to know her…) and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

A book a month is pretty good going for me I guess, but I’ve hardly been reading non stop!

My excuse is I got married a few weeks ago and so the last couple of months leading up to the wedding were choc full of wedding planning, dress fittings and general stressing out over irrelevant details like tiny table decorations and who was going to set up the cake.

To anyone planning a wedding – don’t stress. No matter if it all goes tits up on the day (and a few things went wrong for me!) no one will really notice and have a good time anyway!

Although missing someone completely off the sit down meal was a bit of a boo-boo but the hotel managed to sort it. I adamantly claim it is not my fault.

As it has been a while since I read Wuthering Heights and Skin I probably won’t do a post on those – they were pretty good though and I would recommend them. After finishing Natural Causes I went and bought Oswald’s second book in the series straight away. It arrived Saturday and I’ve only managed a few pages in but the quality is all there.

Hoping to write a full post on the first book before I get too into it though as it deserves a write up.

Hope the hot weather is still being enjoyed by all and not marred by the storms!

I started this book early Sunday afternoon and come midnight I was only twenty or so pages from the end. Unfortunately I had to wait all of Monday to find out the ending.

It has been a long time since I’ve been able to claim I nearly read a whole book in a day. This probably says a lot about the reading level of the book rather than how hooked I was by the plot.

Perhaps because it has been out for a while I felt the book already familiar while I was reading it. I don’t think I have read it before but the slow unravelling of Chrissy’s life seemed neither unexpected or surprising.

Just because there is no shocking twist this did not detract from the overall quality of the book. The writing style was easily readable and the structure balanced back story and action to create an interesting story and believable characters.

I’m not a fan of amnesia as a character development technique. It’s not something I have come across in everyday life and I find the concept hard to believe. Chrissy suffers from the same condition as Drew Barrymore in the film Fifty First Dates and every time they go to sleep they lose any memories they made that day. For the purpose of the story it is best to “suspend disbelief” and just enjoy the plot.

Whilst an enjoyable read and an impressive debut novel I don’t think it brought anything new to the table. I pretty much guessed the ending but it was well written and worth reading to see how it all played out. A good holiday read if you have not yet read this one.

Finally!

I feel like I have been reading for years. In fact, it has only been a couple of months of marathon reading. Since January I have read seven books. That  averages at what, 2.3 books a month? (I did read books in the space of four weeks which killed my brain for a while!)

When you try to quantify reading it sounds pretty unimpressive. But it does take hours to read a book, even more so if the words trip you up and you have to read back a few pages to remember which man is leading which faction! Of course I’m referring to Tolkien here … Howell’s writing was much easier and fun to follow.

The first time I tried to read Lord of the Rings I was about fourteen. I had watched the first film knowing nothing else about it except that Elijah Wood was in it – one look at those hairy feet cured me of my young obsession I might add. I was most disappointed to get to the end of the first film and realise he was nowhere near the mountain. I had absolutely no clue it was a trilogy and that I had another two films to sit through to find out if he managed to destroy the ring or not.

Unable to wait until the next instalment I went out and bought the trilogy, as one complete paperback. A huge mistake! The book was far too heavy to read comfortably and I always painfully aware of how far I had to go. I ploughed through the first book and got stuck midway around the second. I tried vainly over the years to pick up and restart but never could I get anywhere. I think I managed to get to Shelob’s Lair after watching the second film but that was the extent of it.

Then last year I talked myself into trying again. I finally had all three books on my kindle which gives a handy % to spur you on reading and the book was never too heavy to read in bed.

Again I struggled around the Entish part of the second book and the names started to get a little muddled but I powered on through, supported by simultaneous watching of the films in order to keep the names in my head. Then I got a little distracted with a side reading project and by the time I returned to the third book I had pretty much forgotten all of the names.

However I kept reading and most of it was about war anyway so the names were not paramount to understanding the action. I did eventually pick up who was who and who fathered who else. Then I was relieved to realised that the last 40% of book three were appendices!! I’m hoping no one expects me to read all these in order to claim I have finished reading Lord of the Rings as I will most likely break down into tears, pummel my fists against the floor and vow never to read again.

Although I do like the story of and the never ending ending, the book is simply too hard for me. There is too much detail and too many names for me to remember. But I did enjoy reading and feel fully satisfied with myself for sitting there to the very end. Of the book. Not the Appendices!

Now … what do I read next? The Fractal Prince or another unknown ebook from the wonders of Amazon’s free kindle book list … ?

In Waking Dreams

I once read that your brain is more active when you’re asleep than when you’re watching TV. Do I believe it? Absolutely! Sleep can be fun, exciting, terrifying and truly exhilarating.

Let me back up and explain.

People dream many times a night and only remember a fraction of them the next day, and then only until they take their first sips of morning coffee. By then, even the most intense dreams, both good and bad, are rapidly fading into oblivion.

Considering that we spend approximately one third of our lives asleep, wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually use that time for something more than just resting our bodies? After all, in dreams, we often go places that we can only… well, dream of.

This is my first-ever guest post, and considering that Laura has already spent a full month reviewing my books on this blog, I see little reason to turn my post into a blatant self-promotion of my novels… so I’ll do that later. First, I would like to introduce one of my stranger pastimes: lucid dreaming.

Put simply, a lucid dream is a dream in which you are consciously aware that you are dreaming. The crucial difference between a normal dream and a lucid one is that if you are dreaming of being chased by a tiger and unaware that you are in a dream, then you will of course run for your life, but if you are aware that you are safe in bed and that the tiger can’t really eat you, then you have a multitude of options, much like being in a total virtual reality simulator.

I did touch very lightly on the topic of lucid dreaming in my first novel, in which the protagonist is forced into a lucid dream. As I describe there, it is indeed “the strangest feeling, being in two places at once,” knowing that you are in your dream and knowing that you are, at the same time, in bed, asleep.

Unfortunately, you can’t really appreciate what that truly feels like until you experience it firsthand. And many people do. It isn’t entirely uncommon for people to have a lucid or semi-lucid dream every few years, but with some simple training, the frequency of these can be increased to once every few days.

But why learn how?

Why read fiction, watch movies or take vacations in exotic locations? Because it’s fun! And not only that, with lucid dreaming, it’s entirely free! No purchases, no passports, no lost luggage. Admittedly, no souvenirs or photographs either, but as long as you’re just lying there in bed, why not? Unlike normal dreams, lucid dreams often remain in your memory just as clearly as waking-life experiences. Using no behavior-altering drugs, you can choose to take part in completely non-addictive, mostly enjoyable and often exhilarating hallucinations tailored to your own wildest fantasies: your brain, your game.

So, how do you learn to wake up inside your own dreams?

There are numerous websites dedicated to this and I am not going to offer a detailed training course here, but in short, the key is to become more aware of your own dreams so that you know it when you’re dreaming.

One commonly used method is to keep a dream diary. Yes, the exact same thing some psychologists tell their patients to do. But let’s assume that you are not in need of therapy at the present time. Keep a dream diary nonetheless.

When I first started, I made it a habit to quickly write down my dreams as soon as I woke. This didn’t work. I write too slowly to retain half of my dreams. They fade away before I can get them down onto paper. What eventually worked for me was to keep a voice recorder by my bed. I would grab it and speak into it in the present tense as soon as my eyes opened. Then, later in the morning, I would transcribe the contents into my word file.

Here is one example of a dream diary entry: I am standing in a wide, arched tunnel lined with oval doors. There is someone standing behind me, telling me that I have to do something quickly, but I can’t understand what he wants me to do. He gets angry, and says something like, “If you don’t, I’m going to have to call the face.” I turn toward him, but now he is running away from me. I follow, drifting slowly into a dark pipe. There is a door on my left, and I enter without opening it. I am in a square room with many people, some of whom I recognize but can’t name. I think they are from my high school. They are drinking something. I ask them what, but they don’t know.

Weird? Not really. Not by my standards, anyway. This one was actually pretty tame, and some of my dreams are much too embarrassing to let anyone read.

Here is one that became lucid midway: I am walking in a park. There are benches to my left and right, very long and partly covered in sand or possibly snow. I see a man with a knife. He says he needs to cut down all the trees because they are poisoned. I tell him that he’ll need a bigger knife. I look down at my right hand, and notice that three or four of my fingers are too long for this to be my real hand. I realize that I’m dreaming. I jump high into the air and ask gravity to reverse itself. It works, and I continue to fall upwards, faster and faster. The man with the knife says, “Hey, you can’t do that.” I reply, “Yes I can. It’s my dream.” Slowing down, I float higher, but now I’m deep beneath the surface of a dark ocean. I swim up to the surface, surrounded by a swarm of brilliant lights that are pulsing to the rhythm of a song I once knew in my youth.

You get the idea. Once a dream turns lucid, you are the leading performer of your own personal fantasy movie. Note that you won’t get total control over your dreams, but you will have comparatively more control, which is what makes lucid dreaming so enjoyable. In fact, if you gained total control, it probably wouldn’t be as fun.

If you go searching through the internet (just Google “lucid dreaming”), you will learn a number of tricks aside from dream-diary writing. There’s even a strange goggle-like contraption that you can buy and wear at night that checks your face for REM (Rapid Eye Movement – a sign of dreaming) and tries to “shock” you into consciousness with a flash of light. My advice: Don’t buy it. You probably don’t need it if you follow the rest of the free tricks. (I certainly didn’t.)

Yes, I read fiction. I watch movies. Sometimes I even travel for real. These are all enjoyable pastimes in their own rights. But none of these can be done whilst asleep. Lucid dreaming adds to the day (or night), since you get to go out on little psychedelic adventures as you quietly snore. I also found that becoming more aware of my dreams (and hence theoretical subconsciousness) made me a happier person in the daytime and possibly even a more creative writer. Thus, while my first novel isn’t actually about lucid dreaming itself, I couldn’t resist throwing it in as a minor plot element… a sort of fantasy within the fantasy. I suspect that many writers (particularly fantasy fiction writers) occasionally turn to their own dreams for inspiration.

If I’ve managed to perk your interest, do give your own dreams a try. For more information on lucid dreaming, this might be a nice place to start: The Lucidity Institute (Check out their FAQ)

And now for the blatant self-promotion part of my post: My first novel, Wild-born, will be available for free download this weekend (March 16th and 17th, PDT). Find it here at Amazon.com or here at Amazon.uk.

For more information about my writing, find my blog here, and if you haven’t seen them already, find Laura’s reviews of my books here: Wild-born, The Tower, Lesser Gods, The Quest and Guardian Angel.

Happy dreaming!

Adrian Howell