Top Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

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Various things have caused me to be pretty inactive lately, so I thought I’d do another Top Ten Tuesday. Here are my top ten authors I’ve read one book from but need to read more… (In alphabetical order).

Margaret Atwood
Book read: The Penelopiad. I wasn’t completely mad about this book, but it made enough of an impression for me to want to read some more of her stuff. A Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin in particular are very high on my reading list (I even have a copy of the former ready!) I guess The Penelopiad suffered slightly due to me not being too familiar with The Odyssey.

Samuel Beckett
Book read: Waiting for Godot (that counts as a book, right?) Really loved this play, even getting inspired enough to write my own take on it, and want to see what Beckett’s other stuff is like. I generally love stuff that goes against the mainstream. I have a copy of Endgame ready to read and am really eager to see some of his stuff on the actual stage too… If I get the chance.

Gillian Flynn
Book read: Gone Girl. Gone Girl was a great read, there’s no doubt about that. It wasn’t thought-provoking or anything, but it was a proper page-turner with interesting characters and witty dialogue. Sometimes it’s nice to read something you can just enjoy without having to think too much. As well as seeing Gone Girl’s film adaption next month, I’d really like to see if Flynn’s other books match up to the one that made her famous.

Joseph Heller
Book read: Catch-22. When it comes to old Heller, it seems like everyone only talks about Catch-22 (it is great) despite him having quite a few other published books. I’d like to give at least one of them ago to see if the author’s first novel was a one-off stroke of genius or just one part of a fantastic body of work. Closing Time in particular sounds great.

China Miéville
Book read: Embassytown. It’s been almost a year since I read Embassytown and I’m appalled with myself for not getting round to any of Miéville other books. I’ve got a copy of The City and The City now though, and I’m very excited to get stuck in!

Chuck Palahniuk
Book read: Fight Club. I didn’t expect to love Fight Club quite as much as I did and as a result I’m interested in seeing what other twisted stuff Palahniuk has to offer. If any of his books end up being half as enjoyable as Fight Club, then I’ll be very satisfied.

Sylvia Plath
Book read: Ariel. Okay, okay – I’m not too big a fan of poetry, most of it just goes swish over my head. Ariel is pretty damn fantastic. You can just feel the emotion pouring off the page. I’d love to delve into more of Plath’s poetry, maybe even her novel, The Bell Jar, or, heck, just read Ariel for a second time.

Thomas Pynchon
Book read: The Crying of Lot 49. Wasn’t too sure what to make of Lot 49 and it would probably do me well to read it through a second time. It was interesting enough for me to want to delve further into the world of Pynchon though – and get thoroughly confused all over again.

Samuel Richardson
Book read: Pamela. I started reading Pamela out of literary interest but a few hundred pages later it transformed into a bit of a hate-read. I wanted to see how Richardson could honestly stretch out so little plot for such a long time. It was crazy. Knowing that Richardson’s other famous novel, Clarissa, is heralded as one of the longest books ever, I can’t help but be curious to see whether he learned a thing or two from how poor Pamela was.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Book read: The Hobbit. I’m probably going to end up getting lynched for not reading Lord of the Rings, aren’t I? I found The Hobbit to be enjoyable – though the thought of three three hour-long movies is very frightening – but not enough for me to rush out and buy the famous trilogy that succeeds it. Of course, it’s on my reading list or I wouldn’t be mentioning it here… just not too high up.

Downtime

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This week I reworked the plot of my novel, sticking every major scene onto flash cards. I’m raring to go, I want to go in and squish all those issues in the first draft. But I’m forcing myself to wait a full-month and still have another week to go. Sigh.

I’ve mainly been using this downtime to get some reading done – which I will go into more detail about in another post – including the Fight Club and the seemingly adored Save the Cat. It’s surprising how much of an effect these books have had on my plan for the next draft. Fight Club has made me realise that short, punchy chapters might serve the story better overall. The chapters in the book never feel like a chore and I would very much like mine to feel the same. While I’ve found Save the Cat to be a mixed bag, there is definitely some gold in there. In the first chapter Snyder argues how important a logline is – having the ability to sum up your story in a sentence. And it made me really think, ‘yeah, what is the story?’

I’ve also started writing another big piece. I’m not sure if it’ll be a novel or a novella yet, but I’m going at a much slower pace this time, aiming for a page a day. It’s a ghost story- one of my favourite types of tales. I don’t know if I’ll see it through to the end though, given my track-record.

Review: Deadwood Season 3

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Dammit, HBO. There are so many shows I can list that feel as though they had a season or two too many. Deadwood is a show that got too few. I wish I could take the largely dull first part of The Sopranos’ final season and give the episodes to Deadwood. This final season was terrific but it just made me want more. It’s pretty conclusive as things go but at the same time there was so much left to explore. There was definitely a couple more seasons of material left. What’s even more a shame is that a lot less people know about Deadwood than Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire and other great dramas because of this. This final season establishes it as one of the finest TV shows I’ve ever seen.

Season Three focuses on George Hurst’s push for further power in the camp, trying to gain its many gold claims – Alma’s especially. He proves ruthless in his pursuit, forcing the camp to come together against him. The elections for the positions of mayor and sheriff are also officially held. All of the cast is fantastic like usual. Gerald McRaney is fantastic as George Hurst and makes a big addition to the cast. Any time he interacts with another character you know it’s going to be good (especially Farnum). There are a few more new characters that pop up such as Jack Langrishe and his acting trope and George Hurst’s cook Aunt Lou, but none of them stood out as much as Hurst. The main issue with all these new characters is that some of the old ones get a lot less screen-time. Cochran comes to mind with regards to this. While he does have a storyline, it kind of feels like the writers forget about it halfway through the season. There’s also a few other storylines that feel like build up to the fourth season. Again, it’s a bit frustrating not being able to see where it would all go next. While I would say there are a few more so-so storylines than the last two seasons, it does feature some of the show’s best moments.

In my reviews of the past two seasons I noted that there wasn’t really a clear villain. In Season Three it’s George Hurst. You can definitely see the end-goal the season is building towards, making it feel a bit more focused than the first two seasons (not that their lack of focus was bad). Up to this point the show has mostly been about building up the camp and in this season we see it face its first true threat. It ends up being the strongest storyline in the season, acting as another reason to bring the camp together. In terms of the weaker storylines, most of these revolve around the new characters. Apart from Jack, none of the acting trope are particularly compelling and a plotline focusing on them takes up far too much of the latter part of the season. The best thing I can say about them is that their presence leads to one of my favourite sequences in the season in the episode ‘Amateur Night’. Similarly, other than her relationship with Richardson, Aunt Lou doesn’t stand out too much. The storyline with her son in particular feels very ‘eh’. Knowing this was the last season, it’s hard not to wish that the writers chose to spend more time with old favourites rather than these new characters.

Despite being the most uneven of the three seasons, I feel this one was the strongest. It had most of my least favourite moments but also most of my favourites.  I’ve had a lot of fun watching this show and it’s definitely one of my favourites now. The Wire and Breaking Bad probably just edge it out, but it’s still a show that everyone should watch.

10/10

 

And now for some more spoiler-y thoughts:

-Best moment? Seriously, there are way too many to choose from. Jane telling her story to the school children, Hurst mutilating Al, Alma and Hurst’s meeting, Dan’s big fight, Bullock taking Hurst by the ear, the town meeting, everyone showing their talent in ‘Amateur Night’, Richardson comforting Aunt Lou, Al and the handkerchief seller, Alma being shot at, Al kicking the crap out of Hurst’s man, Joanie standing up against Cy, Ellsworth’s death, Trixie shooting Hurst, Johnny talking about the ants inside the wall, Hurst checking Jen’s body, Al cleaning the blood off of his floor… Yeah, way too many.

-Plotline I’m most sad not to see followed up on: I was really looking forward to seeing Merrick receive competition from Hurst’s own newspaper. It also would’ve been interesting to see how The Gem’s fire would’ve panned out on the show.

-I haven’t bothered with any of Milch’s other shows yet, but am fairly eager to give Luck a go. The only thing that makes me hesitant is its very short amount of episodes. It seems like it’s going to end just as I’m getting into it.

-What was with the whole Wyatt Earp storyline? It literally went nowhere and just seemed to eat up time. The same with Odell.

-The whole Steve/General plot also felt really strange. While I liked some parts of it, I still feel like it ate up too much of the middle-part of the season.

-As I mentioned above, I loved the moment when Joanie, Jane and Mose stood up against Cy. Given how heart-warming a storyline Joanie and Jane’s relationship has been and how irrelevant Cy’s presence has felt this season (although he’s still interesting to watch) it seems fitting.

-Best episode: ‘The Two-Headed Beast’. I could’ve gone for almost any episode this time around but the fight between Dan and The Captain and Bullock taking Hurst by the ear were just two really fantastic moments.

Review: Charles Dickens’ Christmas Novellas

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I’m currently stumbling through some literary classics for the first time and thought I’d share my thoughts on each of them as I finish them. Today I’ll be reviewing a selection of Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories. First up…

A Christmas Carol
Okay, this is the one that everybody and their dog knows so I shouldn’t have to tell you what it’s about. The story plays out more-or-less the same way it does in its hundreds of adaptation. I liked how the tale managed to blend in some genuinely dark moments despite it being generally light-hearted. It oozes that Dickensian charm you instantly recognise when you pick up one of his stories. However, I found this to be a bad thing as well as a good thing. While Dickens’ narrative voice can be entertaining (the narrator here is pretty funny), in places it’s slightly annoying and a bit too whimsical (or ‘fancy’ as the author likes to call it). Luckily the story is just the right length and doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome one bit. So yeah, this one is worth reading as long as you don’t expect to see anything new.

The Chimes
This one was… less memorable. I think it’s telling that A Christmas Carol is seen as a classic and The Chimes is a story I hadn’t even heard of before stumbling upon this collection. Just cut the first three ghosts and replace the last one with a bunch of goblins and the structure is pretty much the same. This isn’t a bad story per-say, just nowhere near as good as the rest of Charles Dickens’ books that I’ve read. I also found the Dickensian voice a little bit more grating this time around, although it’s possible that it’s because I started reading this one straight after A Christmas Carol. While there is a moral this time around, it feels a bit less clear than in the last story which had a straightforward and universally relatable one. The protagonist is friendlier and poorer (and  more annoying) than Scrooge so the visions he’s presented with seem a bit more pointless. I can’t help but feel that this was just a cash-in on the success of his first Christmas tale.

Crickets of the Hearth
Although I enjoyed this one more than The Chimes, it still felt like it was lacking. Again a mythical being (this time… a cricket?) visits the protagonist and convinces him of the error of his ways. It’s beginning to seem like Dickens is a one-trick pony when it comes to Christmas stories. However there were some elements of the plot that I enjoyed. The relationship between Caleb and Bertha was sweet, with him lying about their lives to protect her, however it didn’t feel that relevant to plot in the long term. Other than that, there isn’t much here. John’s troubles towards the end of the story seem to come about in a fabricated manner just so the story has some kind of conflict. It’s also slightly irritating how each of these stories has to achieve a perfect happy ending where everyone is content and any character that was a villain in any sense has been converted to the side of good. Again, my reaction to these stories may partially be because of how closely I’m reading them after each other.

The Battle of Life
Like the last story, there were bits I liked here but overall the novella felt messy and pointless. It really does feel like Dickens wrote Christmas stories just for the sake of writing Christmas stories. The first chapter and a half is pretty much just exposition and the final one feels a lot like an epilogue… As a result there isn’t much plot here. I enjoyed the metaphor linking the battle that took place one-hundred years ago and the battle of affections that takes place during the story. Snitchey and Craggs were also fun characters that I thankfully didn’t grow tired of by the end of the story. These positives can’t stop the central storyline from feeling very flimsy though. Marion gives up her marriage so her sister can take her groom-to-be instead? What? Sometimes I don’t know what goes through your mind, Dickens.

 The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain
The problems I had with this story are generally the same as the ones I’ve had with the others ones. The ending tries too hard to be happy, making it feel horribly forced. In the end Redlaw’s curse is lifted because he hears something moving – even though the ghost said there was no way to undo it? Dickens’ writing style has often been the strongest parts of these stories but it’s not enough to counteract the half-baked feel of each of them. Each are populated with amusing side characters – who often talk for far too long – just to draw attention away from the stories’ central issues. As I loved Great Expectations I feel bad for criticising Dickens’ work as much as I have here, but – apart from A Christmas Carol – these stories are very forgettable works.

Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read But Don’t Own Yet

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Thought I’d participate in The Broken and Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday! Let’s go:

1. Broken Homes/Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
I’ve reviewed the first two Peter Grant books on this blog and have read the third one – super quick review: it’s just as great as the first two! – so the fourth and fifth ones seem like no-brainers. I don’t really read much crime and fantasy and this novel seems to have quenched my thirst for both genres pretty well lately. I love spending time with the series’ characters and can’t wait to see where the storylines go next… (I included these as one entry to avoid Aarnovitch saturation!)

2. The City and The City by China Miéville
I read Miéville’s Embassytown last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Combining science fiction and linguistics was just a genius move. Unfortunately I’ve had so much other stuff to read that I haven’t been able to justify buying any of his other books yet. From what I’ve heard though, The City and The City is one of his best books so it seems sensible to seek that one out next. Though really you could place any of his novels in this slot because I’m sure they’re all great.

3. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
This one has less reasoning behind it… Basically I saw a glowing review for it on another blog and thought it’d be nice to branch out and read something I wouldn’t normally go for. Yeah, I don’t know too much about the author and the novel but I’m always willing to try something new and this seems to fit the bill.

4. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I watched the film a few months ago and really enjoyed it – despite feeling that the twist at the end was slightly unnecessary. Upon finishing it though, I couldn’t help but wonder what the book the film is based on is like. Of course, I could end up absolutely hating it but part of me thinks that I’ll love it.

5. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
Assassin’s Apprentice had been sat on my reading list for a long time and I only recently got around to it. It was okay. My main issue with it was that it mainly felt like set-up for the sequel. Now that the necesary exposition and world building is out of the way – and given that the sequel is significantly longer – I think Royal Assassin will definitely be a satisfying read.

6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
Ah, Vonnegut, it feels so good to know I have so many of your novels left to read… Out of them The Sirens of Titan definitely seems like the most intriguing. The storyline sounds bizarre and hilarious in a way that only Vonnegut can manage. Given how much I enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle – one of my favourite novels ever – I have no doubt that I’ll love this.

7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Although I enjoyed Jane Eyre, I found it to be a little bit meandering at times. After hearing a few extracts from Wuthering Heights I can’t wait to see what Charlotte Brontë’s sister has to offer. From what I’ve heard it’s much darker – which is definitely a good thing in my book. Hopefully it’ll live up to my expectations!

8. Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan
So last year at University Gerard Donovan taught me creative writing and it ended up being incredibly helpful to me in a multitude of ways, having a lasting impression on how I write. So yeah, I don’t think I need to explain why I’m eager to see what his novels are like.

9. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve gone through half of this one already, though in the form of audiobook. Unfortunately I found the slow pace of reader slightly annoying and kinda gave up. While I didn’t find what I listened to mind-blowingly awesome, it was good enough for me to want to find out how the novel ends.

10. A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Given how acclaimed an author Atwood is, I feel like I need to read some more of her books – I only own one, The Penelopiad. The premise of A Handmaid’s Tale and the amount of acclaim its received makes me very eager to make it the next of her books that I read. I have very high hopes for this one.

Review: The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

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I’m currently stumbling through some literary classics for the first time and thought I’d share my thoughts on each of them as I finish them. Next up – The Italian. (Some spoilers)

There’s a recurring joke in The Italian where one character tries to convey a story to another character, making it much longer than it needs to be. The story often contains some very important information, such as someone’s death. The second character will frequently interrupt them, saying ‘just get on with it!’ but the first one will tell them to calm down and continue to tell their story at a meandering pace. Not only is joke very annoying – and even more-so once it happens for the fourth or fifth time – but to me it also seems like an apt metaphor for the novel it appears in. The Italian, to me, is annoying, repetitious and generally frustrating which is a massive shame seeing as though it was inspired by one of my favourite Gothic novels, The Monk. It just feels like a missed opportunity.

The Italian centres around Vivaldi and Ellena, a pair of youths who fall in love. Vivaldi comes from a very well-esteemed family while Ellena from the opposite, causing Vivaldi’s mother, the Marchesa, to try and put a stop to their relationship with the help of her Confessor – Father Schedoni. Much like The Monk, the most interesting character here is a monk. While I can’t deny Vivaldi’s servant Paulo has some genuinely funny moments, his master seems to be nothing more than a stock ‘follow your passion and listen to your heart’ do-gooder. Ellena, while showing some glimmer of agency, spends most of the novel being kidnapped and freed… and kidnapped again. In Gothic novels it often seems as though the villains shine the most. There have been many villains better than Schedoni, but Radcliffe at least manages to put a nice spin on him with the twist of Ellena being his daughter (and then not really). Most the characters however, are forgettable. Even Paulo – who stood out as a favourite – is someone that I just wanted to shake and tell to shut up some times. A lot of the story’s emotional weight hinges on me caring about the characters. I just can’t though. The good guys are too goodie-goodie for me to relate to or worry about.

Let’s discuss the major themes of the novel then, shall we? (Sorry fans of The Italian, but it looks like the positives are going to be far and few in this review.) Passion is Vivaldi’s driving force in the novel and instead of making his relationship with Ellena more romantic, it just makes him seem like an idiot. Sure, true love wins in the end and they get to live happily ever after, but I find it hard to believe that he’d want to commit his life to Ellena after only knowing her for a few hours. Ellena tries to sway him off because she knows things are going to go sour, but he ignores her and… Hey, guess what? He gets her aunty killed, her kildnapped by a band of nuns (who try to force her to become a nun), threatened with murder and even more stuff down the line. Gee whizz, Vivaldi, I bet Ellena is glad you followed your heart? The other major theme, I guess, is corruption as shown through the Marchesa and more prominently with the church. This is where the parallels with The Monk are most obvious, with the church being portrayed as the most powerful organisation, having the ability to do away with anyone they want with a snap of their fingers. I enjoyed how their power was rarely addressed directly by the novel, looming in the background, and found it to be one of the more positive aspects of The Italian. (Okay, there’s my one positive.)

Repetition is often one of the things that irritates me in novels the most. If a novel finds itself going over the same plot-points and character moments repeatedly, then it shows that either the writer doesn’t know what to do next or are trying to make their story longer than it should naturally be. This is why Richardson’s Pamela is my least favourite novel. For a novel that’s over 200,000 words long (a fair chunk longer than the last Harry Potter book) there is virtually no plot. Similarly, The Italian seems to spend too much time on the characters simply travelling, as well as them getting kidnapped repeatedly. Maybe if Radcliffe had a good editor I would’ve enjoyed reading her book a bit more. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt like such a chore.

I feel like I may have been overly mean in this review, but I thought I’d just be honest. I’m not a fan of The Italian. Let’s hope the next review I post is at least marginally more positive.

 

Short Fiction: That Little Grey Area

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The place was alright as far as waiting rooms go. They had a tight policy about noisy children, the chairs were nice and cushiony and the magazines were only a couple of months out of date. Ryan took a seat next to the generally average looking man sat in the corner of the room. He had short brown hair and a thin expressionless face. He was flicking through a car magazine. That could work as a conversation topic.

‘So you like cars, eh?’ said Ryan, leaning towards the man.

‘Oh.’ The man seemed startled. The looming silence that had occupied the room led him to believe that conversation was forbidden. ‘Yeah, they’re okay. I sell them for a living so I can get a little bit tired of them.’

‘Aha!’ Ryan let out a roaring laugh and clapped his hands together. ‘I knew it, you’re one of those sleazy car salesmen. You just have that look about you, you know?’

The man checked his coat anxiously. ‘No, I don’t know. I give people fair rates of their cars and wouldn’t call myself sleazy in the slightest. I’m just here to donate blood so if you would…’

‘So what’d you do then?’

‘Do?’

‘Oh, you know what I mean…’

The man offered a look that, if anything, seemed to say ‘no, I do not know what you mean’.

‘Like…’ Ryan rubbed his face thoughtfully. ‘Did you set fire to a neighbour’s house when you were younger? Do you like to give children a little kick when their parents aren’t looking? Did you accidentally get somebody fired at work? Oh, oh, wait – you got somebody fired on purpose, didn’t you? I can tell from your face!’

‘No. I did not burn down a house, I do not like kicking children and don’t think I’ve gotten anybody fired at work.’

‘Then why are you here?’

The man flicked his magazine back open and started reading. It wasn’t where he had left off, but he just wanted Ryan to take a hint and leave him alone.

‘Well,’ continued Ryan, ‘I design nuclear warheads for a living. Yeah, it’s tough balancing things out especially because of how enthusiastic I am about the job.’

The man didn’t look up from his magazine. ‘I think you’re in the wrong place.’

‘No, I’m here to donate blood. I do it every year.’ He turned and talked quietly to a woman a couple of seats down before returning his attention to the man. ‘Yeah, see, she says I’m in the right place. I always make sure I donate blood, throw a barbeque for the neighbours every now and then, help out old ladies struggling with their shopping… Keeps me in the grey.’

The man shut his magazine. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You know, the grey area. Good, bad, that little area in between them.’

‘Is Mr. Jenkins here?’ The two men noticed that the doctor had appeared. Ryan shot up gleefully.

‘Oh yes, I’m Mr. Jenkins,’ he said. The doctor nodded and led him beyond the double doors. Just before Ryan passed through he offered his new friend a little wave. The man inclined his head slightly as a response. He then returned to his magazine, looking for the article he had been reading earlier.