In what’s supposed to be a slightly alternate 1983, Susan Arkshaw is about to start university, but first she wants to find her biological father. Before she can even begin to start her new life in London, Susan’s life is turned upside down. She meets up with a man who may know something about her dad, crime boss Frank Thringley, but before anything can happen, Frank is dead at the hands of Merlin, a left-handed bookseller, and her life will never be the same again.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a 2020 fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. I’m not much of a fantasy reader, that stage passing me in my early teens after the Harry Potter urban fantasy trend died down. But I was on Borrowbox, which is like Libby, and this audiobook rekindled something in me. I’m certain I read Nix as a child, so I decided ‘Why not? Why not read his fiction again?’ Left-Handed Booksellers, in its plot, sounded similar to Pages & Co by Anna James, and while it wasn’t that similar once I got into it, I still surprisingly enjoyed this 11-hour audiobook.
Ellen Saint, by pure chance, sees a man on top of The Heights, a fancy, exclusive apartment building in London. He’s subtly different, older now, but she’d recognise him anywhere. Which doesn’t make sense. Because he’s been dead for over two years. She knows this because she’s the one who had him killed.
The Heights by Louise Candlish is a 2021 psychological thriller about an unlikeable protagonist—aren’t they all?—called Ellen Saint who devolves into madness and hate after the death of her son Lucas Gordon at the hands of the aforementioned man at The Heights, Kieran Watts. Most of the story is told through the lens of Ellen, in excerpts of her book ‘Saint or Sinner’, but interspersed in the middle and at the end with third-person narrative of her ex-partner Vic Gordon, and in parts a review by Sunday Times Magazine journalist Michaela Ross.
Amanda is just your typical thirtysomething middle class semi-successful architect, married to Ed and having moved into the house of her dreams in the middle of a desolate, abandoned neighbourhood. Then begins the scratching at the walls. The voice in her head. Missing time. Dreams of blood seas. Memory lapses. Outlandish behaviour. As Amanda struggles to take control of her life, she comes across stories of demon possession and Adam’s second wife Naamah. Is she possessed, insane, or is there something more to the story? Time’s running out, and if Amanda doesn’t take control soon, she won’t have anything left.
Come Closer is Sara Gran’s 2003 short horror novel. I can’t remember how I came across this novel, but I couldn’t find this book at my library, and was interested enough in the premise that I bought it on my Kindle as soon as it was possible. One of the elements in this story is similar to my current manuscript, so I wanted to see how Sara Gran wrote it, and hoo boy, I was surprised. Being a novella, I finished Come Closer very quickly, and was surprised when I opened it up on my Kindle as to how short it was and wish it could have been longer, delved more into Amanda’s mental state and her descent into madness, but this book is almost twenty years old. What can one do?
When her sister is injured in a freak rhinoceros accident, Katherine Fontenot is forced from her decades-long, self-imposed exile in New York back to her hometown in Lousianan Cajun country. Katherine, or Katie-Lee to her family down South, is laughing along with the rest of her co-workers at the wacky news, filed briefly away as the weird news of the day for everyone, until she realises her baby sister Karen-Anne is the one who was harmed. Fifty years old and in fear of the constant stream of layoffs, Katherine eventually decides it’s time to return to the place she escaped from three decades ago, and to confront the events that sent her packing halfway across the United States in the first place. Will she be able to bury the demons of her past? Or will she discover if that’s even necessary?
Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tearsis a 2014 fiction novel by Ken Wheaton, and is something I’d never normally pick up. But in the name of research, and a plotline that seemed interesting enough, I bought this on Kindle and decided to try it out. I started on a slow read-through last year, in the midst of the pandemic, reading like a page a week when I could manage, getting roughly forty per cent through, but it wasn’t pushed to the forefront until this year. I had a bunch of library books waiting for me (the rest of the Hannibal Lecter series, among them) and I decided to pull out my Kindle, considering its portability and how I could just pick up any of the dozens of books I’d downloaded and read whatever took my fancy. Unlike a physical book, I could just decide I wanted to read one book, and it’d be there for me, even if I’d wholly intended on reading another. So I picked up Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears, and read it at a much faster pace this time, immersing myself in the life of Katherine Fontenot for a week. And well, you know what? I actually enjoyed it!
Three years after quitting his job as an FBI profiler, Will Graham is brought out of his early retirement in Florida thanks to a new mass murderer called Tooth Fairy who massacres entire families in one go. His ex-boss Jack Crawford is stuck and knows Graham is the solution to the stalled investigation: Graham has an innate ability—some might call it a psychic ability—to empathise with the worst kinds of killers. It nearly killed him last time, when famous cannibal Hannibal Lecter almost finished him off, but will Will be able to overcome his past demons and stop the Tooth Fairy from claiming another innocent family?
Red Dragon is a 1981 novel by Thomas Harris and chronologically the first book in the series that first introduced the world to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, before the second book Silence of the Lambs was made into the classic film with Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. After having watched and enjoyed all the movies and the TV show Hannibal when it was in its prime, I finally decided that 2021 was going to be the year I would finally read the book series. And what a perfect book to start with!
The year that started off with such promise, except if you were in Australia, because there were some of the worst bushfires on record, or California in the U.S. where the same thing was happening, and by March, thanks to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, every hope we had for Future 2020 seemed to be in tatters. Don’t cha wish we had 20/20 vision to predict what was about to happen? There was the incredibly divisive United States Election and its fallout; Julian Assange’s imprisonment threatening to destroy press freedom across the globe; thanks to Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, breaking news across the board came out saying social media was brainwashing us into being Zombie Zuckerberg and Billionaire Bezos’s perfect little algorithm-created money-making automatons; there were a dime-a-dozen stories about How I Escaped The Alt-Right; Disney seemed to be hellbent on taking over the world through its zillion reboots; and a video game that criticised late-stage capitalism and megacorporations was smeared and decimated by late-stage capitalists and megacorporations. Whew. What a year.
This blog reached its eighth year of existence, and has kept up its steady pace of at least a post a month, so thank you to everyone for staying along for the ride. While I’ve still been writing—and editing, and daydreaming, and submitting to agents and publishers—this blog has focused more on books and reading, and criticising toxic elements of BookTube and Baby Boomer comics and how Capital-R reading purists who think only books can be a real hobby are making it harder for the rest of us to enjoy reading. I watched a lot of cheesy ’80s slasher movies, watching some standout movies—Joker, Halloween, Prom Night, Honest Man; The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, and Sleepaway Camp, and some complete trash—Truth or Dare, Random Acts of Violence, I Spit On Your Grave 3, 8 Days and Slumber Party Massacre 2. I became obsessed with the original Roswell and binge-watched all three seasons and rediscovered my love of Dido’s Here With Me (also known as the Work Safe ad song in Australia), and now there’s a limited release reboot of Dexter in the works to fix the Season 8 finale (I finally forced myself to watch the second-half of Season 8 in 2020) due for release in 2021; it is perhaps the most anticipated release!
Lois Wilson is smarter than all the other kids in her school, more of a science whiz than even her pharmacist father. She cares about behavioural science so much she’s built up a lab in the pantry, experimenting on rats while her seven year old brother Billy watches on with awed worship, her mother is disturbed, and her father doesn’t know what to think. But after her father suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves him bedridden and her pantry laboratory is taken away from her, Lois decides—with unwitting advice from college professor Kevin McShane—rats are so passé and she can cure her father and advance the future of behavioural science all from the four walls of her very own home.
So goes the 1981 horror novel Brainchild, written by V.C. Andrews ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman. I found this book in a stack of books given to me by my mother, and judging by the bookmark in this copy, this tome hasn’t been picked up since the 1980s. That was no bother for me, waiting for a bunch of new releases to pick up from the library, and I started reading it purely to pass the time. Brainchild hooked me from the start, and I found myself pausing YouTube videos and pulling out this book to continue reading randomly, pulled in by this psychological horror that was the Wilson family’s life. I was expecting cheesy horror, like the slew of trashy ’80s horror movies I binged on streaming sites a while back. Brainchild was a surprise—the horror in Neiderman’s book relies more on psychology, on the psychology of human behaviour and behavioural science, and I found myself recalling high school psychology information I thought I’d long forgotten about, especially when Lois is talking with community college professor Kevin McShane.
When their grandfather dies, siblings Beth, Portia and Eddie, who haven’t seen each other in years, are forced on a road trip around the United States that mimics the same road trip they went on with him when they were younger. Will the second road trip replicate their disastrous, dark first incarnation, especially when nobody is willing to tell the truth, everyone has secrets, and everybody’s a suspect? Murder isn’t off the agenda when there’s a million dollar inheritance to be gained!
He Started Itis Samantha Downing’s second book, after last year’s My Lovely Wife, and it was released in July of this year. Her debut, a memorable thriller about a murdering couple with a letdown ending, was good enough that He Started It was at the top of my anticipated 2020 reads. Because of a certain worldwide pandemic, I ended up reading this book later than I thought I would. But was the wait worth it?
Ponyboy Curtis is fourteen years old. He’s also a Greaser, and that makes all the difference in the world. It’s 1960s Oklahoma, and the rich and poor are divided into two social categories: you’ve got the rich, well-dressed, Corvette-driving West Side Socs, and you’ve got the poor, leather jacket-wearing, oily haired, “hoodlum” East Side Greasers. The Curtis’s are doing it tough: Ponyboy’s brothers Darry and Sodapop dropped out of school to make ends meet, his rag-tag gang of friends are all doing it varying levels of tough, especially his closest buddy, sixteen year old Johnny. But over the course of a couple of days, Ponyboy’s life changes irrevocably. He’s beaten up (“jumped”) by a group of Socs, and Johnny Cade saves the day by killing one of the Socs, Bob Sheldon, to protect him. Before long, things have spiralled out of control, and soon both suburban Oklahoma and society in general will learn just how blurred the lines are between Greaser and Soc, rich and poor, civilised and uncivilised.
I first read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders for high school English, when I was the same age as Ponyboy, and it was one of the few stories that had a lasting impact on me (the other being Elie Wiesel’s Night). I wanted to be an author and S.E. Hinton being a teenage success story was an inspiration. I ended up losing that edition of the book, much like my original copy of Night, handing it down to a younger sibling, forgetting about it until very recently when I bought it on a whim off Book Depository with a nice, fancy hardback cover, and decided to reread it for the first time in over a decade. Has it held up since the mid ’00s?
Sasha’s best friend Xavier is finally getting his life back together, and it’s all thanks to her. It’s his birthday, and she takes him out to celebrate. Sasha’s planning on asking him out. But then his evil, scheming, cheating ex Ivy comes back into the picture and whisks Xavier away, and everything Sasha had built up with Xavier is over in an instant. Unknowing to Xavier, Sasha’s got a plan. She’s got to stop Ivy before she ruins her innocent, naive friend She needs to protect him. Without really thinking, she creates a plan: pretend to be a guy online to show Xavier the dirty truth. But that’s when things go completely out of control. Now Sasha doesn’t know who she it and what’s next, and is everything really as it seems?
Bad Girls with Perfect Faces is a 2017 young adult thriller by Lynn Weingarten, and it was one of the many books I hurriedly borrowed out from the library the day before everything was about to close way back in March. While I’ve read a lot more this year than I have in previous years, it still took me ’til the end of last month to finally get through to this book. I needed something quick and easy after I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and while, yes, it was quick and easy, but was it worth it?