Saturday, 4 April 2020

Book #25

Anna and the Moonlight Road by Thomas Welsh

Broken, beaten, and exiled to the Sump, Anna has battled her way back to reality, but she returns to find her friends scattered and her enemies have grown in strength and number. Though she’s learned that in the world of Dreamers, sometimes the darkness is just a different type of light, she still hasn’t found her way out. And just like in nightmares, every time she runs away, the monsters lie in wait ahead.

Anna’s only hope for survival lies with new friends and a desperate plan to walk the Moonlight Road—a ghostly passage of frozen moonlight through worlds she can never touch—straight into the arms of the most dangerous Dreamer alive.

But no one, neither friend nor enemy, is prepared for the power Anna now wields. Her flame has kindled, and when they threaten those she loves, she’ll burn them to the ground.

I read Anna Undreaming back in 2018, and loved it. The world Welsh built, alongside his characters, was something so unique and engaging. I couldn’t wait for the sequel, and now I’ve finally found Anna and the Moonlight Road in my hands.

There’s something to be said about authors falling under the curse of the sequel, but the opposite is true for Welsh here. Moonlight Road is, quite inexplicably, even more compelling, and even more heart-stopping, than Undreaming. His plot is tighter, his characters deepened, even the insane worlds and impending terror felt a lot more real.

Although there’s a definite complexity to the idea of Hazes, Undreaming, Periapts, Praxis, and a host of other new concepts, Welsh’s writing skill imbeds these into our vocabulary easily, with explanations coming through prose and dialogue naturally. He pulls us in, spits us out, then reels us in again. It was impossible to stop.

And the characters! They’ve grown immensely from the first novel, and we can see more of their histories and motivations, yet still with a degree of mystery. Welsh feeds us information as though we were small fragile birds, and the pace is perfect to inject suspense and ignite imagination.

I’m so in love with this series. It’s something quite unlike anything I’ve read before, something difficult to categorise. My only real problem is that, now I’m finished, I find myself in exactly the same place I was in when finishing Undreaming - bereft and waiting. I need more Anna. 

Monday, 30 March 2020

Book #24

Lot No 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

From the master of the detective story and creator of Sherlock Holmes, the first ever tale to feature a supernatural Egyptian mummy.
This is an odd little tale of three Victorian students and an Egyptian mummy bought as Lot 249 at auction. As one of the three considers himself an aficionado of Eastern cultures, he becomes immersed in studying the mummy, often locking himself in his room at night. Soon, strange sounds are heard from his room, and he is found in an unconscious state. Afterwards, various attacks begin to happen on the streets. Could it be … the mummy?!?!?!

Although I enjoyed this, there was a severe lack of suspense considering the premise of the plot. Despite being a horror, there was nothing particularly ghastly, and I felt as though I were just coasting along with the story. No shock, no tremor, no intrigue. 

There is something to be said about Victorian fascination with Egypt (or, quite fantastically, ‘Egyptomania’). It’s something I hadn’t previously realised existed, but the idea of the Victorians learning of a new culture, becoming obsessed with it, and incorporating it into its own arts and literature, is very interesting. My commentary on that probably isn’t best placed here.

I expected more from the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and in fact I realised partway through that I’ve never read a Doyle story that hasn’t been part of the Holmes canon. A worthwhile read if you have a spare hour, but I’m glad this remained a short story. 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Book #23

Killer Soul Mate by Ken Hicks and Anne Rothman-Hicks

Jane Larson is back, and trouble abounds on New York’s Upper East Side! 

A new client, Jasmine, hires Jane to undo the terms of a matrimonial agreement with her ex-husband, the owner of a prosperous hedge fund who does not like to lose. At the same time, Jane’s landlord is working to evict her from the storefront law office where her mother had practiced for many years, and Jane is forced to fight to save her mother’s legacy. However, it seems there is no way she can win. 
All too soon, the bodies begin to pile up and Jane has to figure out who is responsible before she becomes one of the victims. Meanwhile, a guy named Gary is trying to worm his way into her life, and, even though she thinks he is much too young for he, she starts to fall for him. The problem is that he has a habit of showing up where the murders occur. Can she trust him? 

I do love a Jane Larson mystery. Ken Hicks asked me to read Weave a Murderous Web back in 2018, and I really loved getting to know Jane and being propelled along in her hectic lawyer lifestyle, particularly when she becomes embroiled in some seemingly unsolvable crimes. 

Although, admittedly, I don’t have the best memory, I don’t remember being quite as absorbed in Weave a Murderous Web as I was in Killer Soul Mate - I can only assume the author power couple are getting better and better.

Killer Soul Mate absorbed every moment of my time, so it’s a damn good job the world’s in lockdown. The plot is so wonderfully engaging, with many plot threads happening at once, just to finally come together in the end. The characters are beautifully crafted, intriguing, and set up to make you entirely desperate to hear more.

The setting of gritty New York really appeals to the plot. The mazes of streets, the crazy traffic, a dodgy character on every corner; both author’s knowledge of the city rendered their words utterly and completely perfect.

There was no predictability here. I usually like to think of myself as a bit of an amateur detective when reading mystery novels, but there was nothing here I could guess at. The twists shocked me, and I was consumed by the tiny clues and hints peppered throughout the pages.

I hadn’t realised there were a few more Jane Larson stories I hadn’t discovered yet, so those will be my next port of call when I’m looking for a captivating mystery novel. 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Book #22

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

When she was only twenty-three, Carson McCullers’s first novel created a literary sensation. She was very special, one of America’s superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition. This novel is the work of a supreme artist, Carson McCullers’s enduring masterpiece. The heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town, the cosmos universal and eternal. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, the rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, some with sex or drink, and some— like Mick— with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.

This is a novel of misunderstanding.

A certain kind of hopelessness seeps through the pages here. McCullers makes clear the poverty of the town, the lack of prospects for its inhabitants, and the effects racism and capitalism has on both of these things. As the novel is set in the South in the 1930s, there’s a lot of oppression to explore, and a lot of it heartbreaking and furious.

Our protagonist, John Singer, is deaf-mute. He communicates by writing messages, and is able to lip read. His silence gives him a calm, understanding aura, which encourages people to gravitate towards him. We meet four characters in particular who take comfort in having Singer as a friend, and who proceed in making him into exactly who they want him to be. As he listens, yet rarely responds, the characters feel he understands and agrees with them. 

It’s a very important note on how we see people as we want to see them, and shape them in our minds into exactly what we need at that moment in time. Whether it’s someone to understand, someone to admire, even someone to hate, we create perceptions of people which don’t necessarily reflect the whole of the person we’re perceiving. It’s everyone misunderstanding everything, all at once.

McCullers shows us how this behaviour drastically impacts the relationships in the novel. Although there is very little plot, everything revolves around the four characters and their relationships with John Singer. It’s a brutal look at how we love and behave, and it’s done masterfully.

Not only do the characters misunderstand Singer, but they frequently misunderstand each other. This can be in the form of two men, one black and one white, who have read and respect Marxist theory, they cannot see the other’s agenda, nor their aspirations on mobilising change. It can be in the form of a young girl who believes an older restaurant proprietor hates her, but really he holds a deep unexplainable love for it. Or it’s in the form of a daughter who cannot see her father just really wanted her to open her eyes.

This novel has crumpled my heart, has taught me moral messages, has made me examine my own behaviour in life, and has, ultimately, left me awe-struck. Another great American novel. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Book #21

The Watch List by Joseph Mitcham

68 dead and nearly 300 injured in a hostile vehicle and bomb attack on a community festival in Birmingham, the country is in shock. 
Battling the mental turmoil of the aftermath, Alex, a former Army communications specialist, stumbles across the UK Terror Watch List - he cannot resist the challenge of stealing the list from under the nose of his contract supervisor, Lucy Butler, a razor sharp and headstrong Intelligence Corps corporal with big ambitions. 
Wrestling with his conscience and the ethics of tackling unconvicted suspects, Alex enlists the help of famed former UK Special Forces Warrant Officer, Craig Medhurst. Alex struggles to win the respect of Craig’s core team, but together they hatch a daring plan to act on their selected targets. 
Can Alex use his charm to persuade Corporal Butler to join them? 

This isn’t my usual genre, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Mitcham, but I found myself propelled along in an engaging tale of terrorism, community, and some serious ex-soldiers.

Alex spends his post-Army time in IT solutions, and one day finds himself working a one-off job for the Intelligence Corps. As he inadvertently comes across the UK terrorist watch list, he’s forced to make quick decisions on whether to make a copy, and then what to do with it.

It’s a real eye opener into a world many of us are utterly oblivious to. There’s a real sense of the behaviours and thought-processes never leaving those who have served; a lot of the narrative is knowledgeable and insightful, and has some really interesting commentary on how being in the forces can affect someone.

My favourite chapter in the novel was the first one. Mitcham begins his novel beautifully contrasting calm with chaos, innocent with evil. It was truly masterful and completely pulled me in. 

The story itself is packed full of pace and tension as Alex and his team take action on the list of dangerous individuals in their hands. There are some serious moralistic and ethical implications here and Mitcham explores them well.

An excellent novel for someone who’s interested in the forces, the people who serve, and what could happen if you stole a confidential document from the Security Service.