Book Review – The Woman in Black by Sandra Hill

2015-02-02 18.28.46The short version of my review of The Woman in Black: Well, it didn’t shit me up as much as the film did!

In one way, that encapsulates most of what I want to say about the book. Because I had watched the film when it came out in the cinema, I was expecting something more directly scary than the book turned out to be. Watching the film influenced my expectation of the book. I suppose I could have guessed that the two would be different because books and film are different. Where The Woman in Black is concerned, each work to the strengths of their respective mediums.

The film was scary, but it affected you more because it made you jump than anything else. Tension built to a crescendo, then something very sudden happened. It is hard for a book to accomplish the same things. A book can surprise you if you don’t know something is about to happen, but in horror, and in The Woman in Black as an example, if something is going to pop out of a door, you know what it will be, therefore the impact of the shock is reduced. A book needs to play to its strengths, or more it’s USP! I recently heard a great description of a book as; A jumble of markings on a page that can induce visions and emotions across any distance of time between writing them down and them being read. So, a book can speak of depth of emotion and understanding that could never be understood from a film. This is The Woman in Black‘s redemption. The book uses emotion instead of shock. The main events that truly affect our protagonist while in Eel Marsh House are very intensely emotional to him. No jumping, but caution, tension, sorrow and hatred. With these tools Susan Hill deftly illustrates a tragedy stuck in time, repeated over again to the detriment of all who see it.

The book did a wonderful job of describing two main themes. Firstly the landscapes and scenes and secondly, almost everything about our main character. In both cases the positive, healthy and up beat was emphasised to provide a foil for those times when things went bad. I do have to admit that despite the quality of Susan Hill’s prose, I was not completely satisfied with the story by the end of the book. I loved the way that the final twist hung on until the actual physical last page of the book, but I think more could have happened, there was unfinished business in Eel Marsh House. That said, I think that a feeling of un-ease may be a fitting end to a book of subtle emotions like The Woman in Black.

The Woman in Black on GoodReads

Rating 8/10

Book Review – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

wpid-20150109_144108.jpgLet’s start this review by saying that Lord Foul’s Bane is a really good book. I tweeted and wrote progress updates on goodreads while I read the book and while suffering from bouts of descriptive amnesia, “it’s good” was all I could muster. OK, maybe not the most in depth descriptions in the world, but most definitely true.

The flow of Stephen Donaldson’s wonderful prose is one of the things that keeps you reading the book. Forget the story lines and characterisation, his descriptive ability, especially of the forests of Morinmoss is great, on a par with the best I’ve read elsewhere. Stephen’s prose is spot on, although some of his choice of vocabulary didn’t sit quite so well with me. I have to admit that this is at least in small part due to my own vocabulary evidently being somewhat smaller than his! I could have found Stephen’s use of interesting words off putting or jarring to the flow of the prose, but his writing is so good that you pretty much know what the new word means without having to check. I just found that in places it detracted slightly because there wasn’t a need for it. Unfortunately, I think I will still have to check what each word means if I find any of them in other text 😦

I have to say that I can not fault any of the main story arcs in the book. I found myself reading yet another book that starts off in the normal world and moves somewhere else. This is interesting in that I thought they were pretty rare, and here is another. I, like many have a book idea burning smoldering quietly in the back of my head, and that also has a bit of location hopping. On writing now, more and more examples are coming to mind; His Dark Materials, Stardust, the Jon Shannow series and of course The Sword of Shannara. What Lord Foul’s Bane does that most of the others does (except mine!) is use the move between worlds as one of the main plot hooks. Thomas Covenant is a complex character. They say give a character at least one flaw and that can be the making of them. Well, Covenant has quite a few! I think they are the making of him as a lead, but there are many who found him just a bit too much. He is grumpy, violent, self centered and in at least one significant event unexpectedly evil. I found myself wondering why he acted the way he did in some scenes, but as mentioned, Stephen Donaldson did a fantastic job of characterisation throughout the book and Covenant is true to himself. There are many times when the emotion of an individual or of a whole group is very effectively conveyed to bring the story alive against your own emotional experience, and you cant ask a lot more than that.

It has been said that the Unbeliever books, of which Lord Foul’s Bane is the first, follow the LOTR story. I started the book thinking that I was going to get a repeat of The Sword of Shannara, but I didn’t, possibly because my knowledge of LOTR is not tip top anyway? This might be a good juncture to introduce the fact that my memory is *slightly* on the poor side. It does what it needs to, and it appears to work relatively well for both my job and excruciatingly odd facts, but occasionally when I need the normal use of a memory, it falls woefully short. This has both positive and negative effects. In the negative are all the obvious things that a lack of memory is known for. My absolute worst is names. I can attempt to have a conversation about a film and people become “the one that jumped off the building” or “the one that wasn’t Batman!” (I joke you not!) On the positive side, I do have a very good memory for plots and detail (I’m a stickler for continuity errors) as long as someone reminds me I have seen the film it usually only takes a few queues and I’m back in the game. Anyway, I let you into that particular mental issue because I don’t really remember the finer detail of some of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I haven’t read the others yet (strike me down with hellfire and brimstone instantly!) The Sword of Shannarah definitely registered on the LOTR alarm, but although I had been warned that Lord Foul’s Bane was also quite closely related, I didn’t notice it. After about 3/4 of the book I finally managed to link the “important ring” story arc and when the Ranyhyn appeared at the end, what with the mountain and all, yeh, well, that was pretty familiar too!

In the almost conclusion to this review, I think that it is suffice to say that; I own the first trilogy of the Thomas Covenant books… I also own the second trilogy of the Thomas Covenant books, and if they are all as good as the first one, then I am looking forward to reading them. For a multi-volume story Lord Foul’s Bane even managed a good ending. It’s not knock your socks off brilliant. You don’t get an “I never saw that coming. WOW!” moment. But all the loose ends tied up, it provides a strong enough reward for the build up and it does make you want to continue the journey. That journey will happen for me in between other horror, comedy books and the usual genre mixing that I am trying to chaotically follow.

So to the actual conclusion: I started my reading of Lord Foul’s Bane by finding a dog ear on page 308 that had evidently been put there by the previous owner of the book. The page contained what I now know to be one of the best pieces of verse in the many that the book contains. It is about death and I end the review with it because I think it is quite beautifully written and, well, because this is the end (of the review.)

lordfoulsbaneverse

Rating: 8/10

Link to Lord Foul’s Bane on Goodreads

Book Review – The Man in the Water – Ali Sparkes

41f9YtSdjbL._BO1,204,203,200_Well now, this review is a little over due as I finished reading The Man in the Water on the 16th Dec. That was last year!!! The book took me 2 days to read and 2 weeks to get round to writing a review. I have read and reviewed Tuesdays with Morrie since then, and am probably going to finish Love all the people today if I have any choice in the matter.

The Man in the Water is a young adult book that successfully tells a strong story simply. The book is set in Jersey and follows a family on holiday. It has two main plot lines. One concerns the man in the water that uses some of Jersey’s war history to tell a well realised ghost story. It’s a bit spooky without being over to top for the target audience. The second story arc is about the family and relations with their holiday neighbours. It touches on class divides and some related themes, but to maintain my ethos of not giving away the plot in my reviews I won’t give any further detail 🙂 Suffice to say that the two main arcs come together very successfully at the end.

This book was written by Ali Sparkes for charity. I described some of the background and about the charity when I announced that I would read it. All proceeds from the sale of the book are going to help a very worthy cause ( Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Southampton General Hospital.) I know that a huge amount of work went into creating, editing and publishing the book by everyone who was closely involved. I have shamelessly plugged this book a bit on twitter to see if my HUGE influence could contribute in some way to sales before Christmas. I’m sure that orders flooded in, but in one (or two) last ditch attempt(s), I’m sure you know a young reader who has some Christmas money or an Amazon voucher burning a hole in their pocket? This would be a very good use of their money from both a literary and charitable angle.

In conclusion, this is a very good book (did I mention that?) I enjoyed it, and I know that young readers will like it even more. Go buy it!

Rating 8/10

Link to The Man in the Water at Amazon (because it isn’t on goodreads and unusually I want you to buy this one!)

Book Review – Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

This is a VERY quick blog post! My family and I stayed in Kew, London last night as a treat between Christmas and New Year. Our hotel room had various nice things in it, including a basket of books 🙂 A quick look at its contents bought me to Tuesdays with Morrie by MitchAlbom. 6900I have previously read The five people you meet in heaven  also by Mitch and I really liked that and I knew that it wouldn’t take me too long to read. I was however maybe pushing it with a single night in the hotel and a Christmassy illuminated walk around Kew Gardens to fill my time. My kids were relaxing in front of the goggle box after a long day, so I had a first crack at the book. It was very good, in a similar way to ‘5 people’ without being too close. I cracked through it at that wonderful speed where you have a reason to finish a book quickly, but need to properly take in all of the info. My estimates of time take are:-

  • 45 mins first stab before dinner
  • 20 mins after dinner
  • An hour and a half sitting with a pint after the kids were in bed

So, that’s just over two and a half hours, and I was finished. I had achieved what I set out to, had snuck in an additional book between the ones I had planned and it was a really good read!

To give it a quick review, it is about Mitch who has allowed work and “things” to take over his life since leaving university. He was very close to one of his professors and they get back in touch after the prof (Morrie) is on TV having been diagnosed with ALS (a neurodegenerative disease.) After a first visit, they meet on Tuesdays and the various untangling of both lives with lots of meaning of life advice forms the main body of the book. Some reviews seem to find the book too saccharine sweet, but I think Mitch nailed it. It fitted particularly well with the Bill Hicks material that I am currently reading (reading slightly slower I might add!) If Bill had toned his act down a little, the message (and by Bill’s own request “listen to the message and not the words”) from Bill and Mitch is pretty similar. Look inside yourself to remove the blinkers of the world and understand what should drive you and how you should act. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing there, but you get the gist?

Rating 8/10

Book Review – Raven – Charles L. Grant


I finished Raven by Charles Grant last night and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started the book, but given the genre and the cover picture, I think I more or less got it! My only criticism is that I think the story deserved a stronger ending. The question in the back of your mind  throughout the read is “who or what is the raven?” I won’t spoil the book by suggesting any options, but suffice to say that I would have like to see an “oh my God, really!?” ending opposed to the bitter sweet “which do you think it was?” ending that you actually get. If you read this review then the book, hopefully this information will prompt you to pay that bit more attention to the hints and cues. Maybe there is only one dedicate outcome and I just missed it.

Raven was one long build up of tensions not least aided by the absence of chapters! I have to admit that I didn’t actually notice there was no chapters until I read a review after I had finished it, but that’s not the point. Maybe under the circumstances, it is better and even more powerful to say that this book is so tense that you don’t even notice whether there are chapters or not! But I digress… The story built from a relatively relaxed start to an end where the atmosphere that could be cut with a knife (and a couple of people had a go too!) Here lies the strength of the book. It manages to slowly build, in the longest section for about 1/4 of the book, without feeling slow. Back stories are quietly wound into the events and conversations that occur in the motel, before long Charles Grant has you wondering when something big is going to happen while at the same time quite enjoying the build up and character reactions.

The main thrust of the book is based around the owner of the motel, Neil. It’s his 40th birthday that is being so severely interfered with! This fact is not really a central theme, but it’s mentioned enough to make sure it is regularly bought back into your mind. I got the feeling that although you never get a conclusive understanding of the reason behind the nights events, Neil’s birthday may have a lot to answer for! Maybe I’m being over sensitive as I am almost 40 myself? It feels weird to identify with that aspect of a book that I was lent it to read when I was 20! Maybe I knew I had to wait to get the best out of it?? That’s a long shot as far as excuses go, but I’m sticking with it!!

Raven was not a long book. I could say that this stopped the book losing pace, but I think Mr. Grant (Charles is to familiar and I hate it when articles go with surname only… Full Name or Mr.G, although I can live with dropping the L.) Has manages to condense what could have been a longer book, and for this fact I am extremely jealous…

A long time ago I came up with a concept that I never managed to write (no surprise there then.) I wanted to write what I think of as half way between a script and a book, using the readers own visual queues to paint a vivid picture for a story by only hinting at settings and feelings with minimal short sentences. For example:

Tropical island, beach, parasols, hotel bar, crystal clear water.

I wanted to invoke images with the minimal amount of intervention therefore keeping each readers pure memories or imagination instead of influencing them too much. I never managed to find a way to satisfy that goal and keep writing in a way that retained the required flow. I kind of assumed that’s why English has all those extra words in!! For me, Raven has come closer to that ideal than I have seen in any other book, and annoyingly Charles Grant has still managed to produce an evocative, readable text. My previous front runner was Neuromancer by William Gibson. That book is so visual and evocative of the environments that it portrays, but I always describe it as hard to read. My experience was one where I struggled for the first paragraph or so until I got into the book and “watched the film”. Each time I picked it up; clunk, clunk, clunk, then I was in. I experienced none of that with Raven. On the other hand, Raven was painting it’s story on a much smaller scale than Neuromancer. William Gibson’s book will always have a special place in my heart where Raven was just really good.

Review reviews

There are reviews on the back of Raven, so I thought it would be fun to comment on them for accuracy now that I have read it:-

“Grant’s style of horrors takes hold of your spinal cord and plays it like a violin. His prose leaks with moody atmosphere… And the pace never lags”
Mystery scene

I can’t agree with the first sentence of this comment, but the second is bang on.

“Smooth, sophisticated and frightening”
Publishers weekly

I’m not sure whether this comment was a a quick response when some likely words were asked for, or a very considered response by an impressed reader who took Charles Grant’s lead and removed as many superfluous words as possible. Either was, all of them fit a description of the book.


Rating: 8/10
Raven on Goodreads

Book Review – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

Introduction

I chose to read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists because my Mum read it at her book group and recommended it. I also found it as a free eBook on Kobo which helped! Mum didn’t really describe what it was about at all, and for that I am grateful. It was brilliant to discover the book as I read it. That said, this review is going to contain one or two spoilers. If you end up being a regular visitor to this blog, you may be able to allay this problem by reading the books at the same time as I do (or probably considerably faster!)

It appears to be fate that made me choose this as the second book to read for my blog. The book’s purpose is to illustrate the problems with the capitalist system in use in the early 1900’s. The descriptions of the issues, hardships and the socialist idea seen as the solution are the main reason for the book. This therefore pushed me further into asking questions about where we are in 2014, how far we have come and where we now need to go.
I want to keep this book review as just that, a review, so I will be creating various new pages to hold information about the topics listed below that have been highlighted or become part of my post consumer picture due to this book. These pages will not be blog posts as they will grow and be completed over time as I manage to work out what each one really means and how everything fits together. These will be linked from the main menu under the title “The ISMs”:-

  • Communism
  • Fascism
  • Capitalism
  • Consumerism
  • Socialism

The Book review

My edition of the book, as it appears there have been many, starts with a forward describing the way that the book was received and bought into published form. The forward is written by Jessie Pope. A background of where the book came from is neatly described in this Wikipedia article. The story of how the book was created and who Robert Tressell was is a fantastic tale in itself. 
Because the book is at least semi-biographical, I went to see if Google could find me a picture of the real Robert Tressell. I found one on a site containing Robert Tressell’s Biography. I have not read it all yet, but it looks very interesting now that I have read the book, here is a picture of the man himself taken from the biography.


No, really, now it’s the book review…

I was impressed with the quality of the writing in the book. It is succinct and easy to read, but with some astoundingly descriptive paragraphs. I got a real sense that I understood what it was like to be there, some of the character descriptions are amazing. Tressell practically details the length of their eyebrows and the depth of the lines on their face! These are strong descriptions that add to the story, not detracting from it as long descriptive passages sometimes can. I also found that the phonetic speech very well executed.

The book is a beautiful illustration of the way that the British Empire was created and run. We (humans) are not a nice race when we get access to power. You can see how the few oppress the many, and how that was maintained. The startling thing about this book is the way that it manages to articulate the problem. What could have been a very dry subject is given life through its characters. The wikipedia article says that the original manuscript was around 250,000 words. These were judiciously edited down before publication. I can imagine that the original version was slightly less accessible?

At the time the book was written there was already significant change underway. One that jumped at me from the depths of my memory (murky indeed!) was Bourneville. This is a village in England just outside Birmingham. It was created by the Cadbury’s family who were Quakers. They housed and fed their workers in the village, but they also educated them, provided recreational facilities and took the whole workforce on holidays. Bourneville was being built and completed at the same time that Robert Tressell was writing The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The stark conflict between the way that Cadbury’s were treating their workers and the way workers are treated in the book highlights how perception was changing.

I was surprised that a lot of the issues and how people dealt with them in 1910 have not changed to today. My previous blog post lists the notes I took while reading the book. Even references to how the newspapers work could have been a piece of contemporary writing! In other situations there were obvious and stark differences. I’m glad to say that a lot of the poverty and inequality described in the book has gone, at least in the first world. It is still there, but in a minority. The story of stuff brings back the fact that in a lot of cases we have just ‘off shored’ most of this poverty; out of sight, out of mind. I plan to investigate some of this myself a bit further into my post consumerist odyssey


I am actually going to shy away from diving into the detail of what the book is about, partly as I said at the start, so that the experience is preserved if you do read the book. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a book that I didn’t expect. We know that it has been heavily abridged, but the edition that I read flowed well and gradually built towards a fitting and possibly predictable conclusion. I was taken along with the other Philanthropists as we were educated in how life should be, and how we were not just accepting a very bad deal, but defending the very people who perpetrated our destitution. At times this book does edge towards a magnum opus for socialism and looses some of its charm, but for a work that tackles this subject, and being as it was written by one who lived that life, it is a very readable book. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists provides a slice of life in 1910 while reminding us of how far we have come and how far we still need to go, even if that is not towards the Socialist utopia.

Rating: 7/10
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists on Good Reads

Book Review – Peter Pan – J.M.Barrie

So here is my first Post Consumer Book Club post, and it is a book review of Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie. The book is one of the reasons that I started the blog and a bit of a cheat because I only acquired it recently, so it is not one of the stack of books that has been languishing in my house or on my digital devices for a long time. It was also free. A free e-book, but I feel that this is worst kind of modern consumption, get it because it is free…

Well, in this case, I downloaded Peter Pan to my Kobo not just because it was free, but because I had read this article. My friend found it on tumblr and sent it round. Very interesting reading, who would have thought that Tinkerbell had orgies!! You naughty Tink! I admit that I found that revelation more interesting that Peter killing some of the lost boys… One curry later, and my two friends and I had agreed that “when we three meet again” (for curry) we should have all read the book and be able to comment on the validity of the arguments in the web article.

My take on the article

I think that “supernaturalshadowhunter” is about right. It is obvious that they are very passionate and knowledgeable about the book. I wonder though whether Sup’ hasn’t taken the whole thing a little too far. Given the fascinating background from J.M. Barrie’s childhood the reasoning may well be right, but I felt that Peter was portrayed as someone who honestly didn’t want to grow up. He knows the main things you loose when you grow up, but has no understanding of what you gain (he has obviously never had any deep and meaningful conversations with Tink!) 
Barrie manages to create a very ethereal feeling throughout the book, so even when Peter thins the larger boys and goes off to blood his sword, it is very definitely suggested that this is make believe. The fact is that make believe is real in Neverland (I feel like I need to make a Michael Jackson reference here, but I will resist. Maybe Enter Sand Man instead?) Pretend food sustains everyone, enemies switch sides as often as Peter and the boys to make the fight fun. The realism in the book seeps around Hook. He is still very much a part of the Neverland, but he is grown up. He fears getting old as much as Peter fears growing up.
All in all this book was very good. It has good pace and Barrie does a great job to expand the reality of life in Neverland by suggesting on more than one occasion that this was just one of the many stories that could be told. Thanks to nowyoukno.com for the article and all the contributors for the reason I read the book.
All that needs to be sorted out now is that second curry and some other people’s opinions!