I’m terribly aware how heavily skewed my reading is in favour of white men. It must have an impact on my writing, and my language, and my worldview, and I’d like to have more diversity in my reading. I read widely in terms of genre, but not so much in terms of author. There are blog challenges similar to the ‘100 books in a year’ challenge which I could do, except that it’s a tough year and I don’t want to take on anything I know I will turn into a chore. That doesn’t mean I can’t pay more attention though.
Whenever I look for contemporary female SFF writers Lauren Beukes is always at the top of the list. The Shining Girls is a story about a time-travelling serial killer. Harper stumbles across a house in the 1930s and to stay in the house he has to match girls with the trophies in the house. Kirby was attacked by Harper but got away. She becomes obsessed with finding out more about her assailant. What she discovers can’t possibly be true. Until he comes for her again. She got away and Harper has to correct his mistake.
The time-travelling element is an interesting twist on the serial killer horror story and the construction of the novel means that you don’t get all of the pieces until the end. It’s cleverly done. The characters are interesting. Harper is complex. Beukes conveys him in a way that shows how he is compelled by house. You could almost think he doesn’t have any choice. But she also shows how his personality makes him so compatible with the house, as if it drew its own to it.
Kirby is a brilliant heroine. She’s likeable, dogged and smart. Her previous traumatic experience makes part of her want to hide away and part of her want to fight back which I found very realistic. I thought it was a sensitive depiction of the complicated and contradictory feelings people have after being made a victim. And Kirby has more trouble in her life than that. It doesn’t define her and she still has to cope with all the other shitty things life hands her.
It was really good. I enjoyed it, would recommend it, and will be reading more work by Lauren Beukes.
Lately the urge to review books has sprung up again. I’ve read some good stuff lately (and some not so good stuff) and I’d like to record it.
So, first up is Poppet by Mo Hayder. I’ve only read one of her books before, Pig Island, and it was ok but not great. What really made me want to read this book was the cover art. I saw a couple of posters on the tube and it stuck in my mind. It is arresting. I love the face of the poppet. It’s creepy but also kind of beautiful. (I’ve just put the picture in the post and I can’t stop looking at it).
Poppet is the seventh of Hayder’s Jack Caffery series. I haven’t read any of the others but it doesn’t matter because Caffery is only one of several POV characters. The main character is AJ, who works in an institution for the criminally insane. Two of the inmates die and some others harm themselves in horrific ways. It is initially set up as a supernatural horror, but then segues into the horror of what other people do to each other. That’s my favourite kind.
To start with the patients are afraid of the ghost of a former matron who punishes the wicked with biblical quotes and does horrible things to them. AJ is annoyed with himself for starting to believe this stuff and decides to get to the bottom of it. His investigation points to one of the inmates, who makes poppets of the inmates and staff, who has horrible personal habits, and who murdered his parents in an especially gruesome manner. This inmate is released and AJ goes to the police, fearing he will try to kill the head of the institution.
Jack Caffery is working on a missing person case that a colleague has covered up and is trying to find a way to give closure to the family whilst protecting his colleague. His boss insists he takes this case but it’s so weird that doesn’t take it as seriously as he should. The actual evil is something else again and Hayder puts in a couple of other plausible red herrings before the big reveal.
I’m so glad I picked it up. This is a better book than Pig Island in terms of characterisation and writing. It is an equally easy read but is more gripping. The twists and turns are exciting and surprising, yet make complete sense in the context of the book. I liked it a lot and will read more of her books.
I picked up The Dead of Winter by Christopher Priestley in the 99p kindle sale. Priestley has a column in the British Fantasy Society magazine and I was interested to read his work.
This is a classic style ghost story. A young boy, Michael, is orphaned and sent to live with a mysterious benefactor in a creepy, isolated house in the fens.
Michael’s benefactor is a sickly man whose wife died and who now lives there with his brittle sister, and some humble and friendly servants. From the start, Michael sees things that can’t be explained, scary things that others don’t see.
As he tries to work out what is going on, he unravels the terrible secret at the heart of the house.
I found this novel short and not very scary. It was ok, but very much a Victorian ghost story which isn’t really my thing. When I went looking for the picture for this post I stumbled across another review that said the book was aimed at children, specifically eight to ten year olds. Seriously, these things should have some sort of label on them. But, with that perspective, the things I didn’t like about the book make a bit more sense. If you know someone with pre-teens who like a bit of horror, this would be very suitable.
I said in a previous post that I would share the artwork that was used for the cover of Fragments. So, here it is.
It was designed by my co-author, C. R. Smith, whose other work can be found on his DeviantArt page. I really like it and I like it more each time I look at it.
And, because this is a shameless self-promotion post, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you it was available at DriveThruFiction.com for 99p. 🙂
I’m so very excited. Fragments was published today and is available for download or as print-on-demand from DriveThruFiction.com.
Fragments is a collection of eight short stories of the macabre and creepy kind, of which I have contributed four. It is available to buy for 99p which is incredibly good value. The format is pdf which can be read on kindles or smartphones or ipads or laptops so you can read it on whatever device you like best.
Later in the week I’ll add a picture of the lovely cover art produced by my fellow contributor.