sjhstrangetales

MAY 2018 BOOKS ROUND-UP

Posted on: May 31, 2018

Lately I’ve enjoyed the way some BookTubers on YouTube do a monthly round-up of what they’ve been reading, so I thought I’d have a go at doing the same in blog form.  I’ve not done an Amazon-style star rating, as I think books aren’t always easy to categorise in that way.  A bad book for instance may well have enough about it to keep you reading to the end, so in that sense it has succeeded.  So here is my books round-up for May 2018, a bit of a mixed-bag really (nothing new there):

The Curse Of Ah-Qal’s Tomb by Amy Cross

Amy Cross is an extraordinarily prolific author, and this month she added to her output by reissuing some books from a few years ago which were new to me, including this one.  The problem with an author as busy as Ms Cross is that she can be a bit uneven.  When she is good, she is one of the most imaginative authors around, but on a bad day her attention to detail can slip drastically, and she also descends into cartoon-ish violence, such as characters having limbs hacked off, or being disembowelled, and yet somehow still managing to fully function!   Ah-Qual’s Tomb is one I thoroughly enjoyed, simply because it was different to her usual locales, which tend to focus around hospitals, grim London streets, or vampires.  A small party of archaeologists are in the South American jungle, looking for an ancient pyramid, which comes complete with a curse.   I found this both creepy and a page-turner, and it was like harking back to the Golden Age of pulp fiction, such as the stories of Seabury Quinn (which I hope to review soon).   It is unpretentious adventure horror.  Some modern authors would make a right meal out of this scenario, but Cross just gets on with it.   Soon after this I tried reading The Haunting Of Hardstone Jail, another Cross re-issue.  I managed about 50% of it, but I was starting to find it too depressing and repetitive, so I gave up.   Also the ghostly little girl at the centre of the story, far from being frightening, just became intensely tedious.   I got fed up to to the back teeth with her constantly appearing in the corners of rooms, like the 2001 monolith, and staring at people.   And some of it was just too far-fetched.  OK, you expect that with an Amy Cross book, but are we really meant to believe that a little girl managed to single-handedly slaughter the entire occupants of a women’s prison??  Perhaps I’ll go back to it at some point.  The Dead Souls series – 12 books in all – has also been reissued in its entirety.  I love reading about the island of Thaxos, although these stories can also bring out the pedant in me.   I picked up the series again in Book 7, Cursed Across Time, where Kate has been thrown back to 1918.  This is an interesting idea, but I found myself having to rein back my pedantic urges (a bit like Dr Strangelove’s arm really), when she refers to duvets on the bed, and a Greek shop-owner a hundred years ago using expressions like “goddamn”.   And that’s one thing that bugs me about Thaxos beyond all reason, is why there are so many on this island who all seem to have British names, and talk in modern Americanisms.  BUT, if you like gothic horror complete with vampires and werewolves, then these should be up your street.  I’ve already asked on my Amazon review page if she can release the final part in the Broken trilogy, but I’ll repeat it here.  You never know.

My Fifteen Lost Years by Florence Maybrick

I actually read this in April, but let’s not be too pedantic here.  Florence Maybrick was the wife of James Maybrick (and a possible, if somewhat far-fetched, contender for Jack The Ripper), a prosperous Liverpool businessman at the end of the 19th century.  She was convicted of poisoning him with arsenic, and sentenced to death.  Only a few hours before her execution, she was reprieved and given a life sentence instead.   She served 15 years before being released.  This is an economical account of her time in jail, much of it spent in solitary confinement.   It is a fascinating insight into life in a women’s prison at the turn of the 20th century.  Grim stuff, and you do end up marvelling at how the human spirit can survive even the most soul-destroying of environments.

Everything To Lose Diaries 1945-1960 by Frances Partridge

Frances Partridge was one of the bohemian Bloomsbury set in the first half of the 20th century.   This volume of diaries starts in May 1945, soon after VE Day.  This is an era of British history which fascinates me, so I was keen to read another diary set in it.  At first I enjoyed it, but then, as the years rolled on, I found it increasingly gloomy, self-indulgent, and lacking in much light relief.   I found it very hard to relate to these comfortably-off chattering classes and their constant dour attitude, and I abandoned it around the 1953 mark.  This is a great pity, as I was expecting to enjoy it more than I did.

The Slenderman Mysteries: An Internet Urban Legend Comes To Life by Nick Redfern

I’ve read several of Mr Redfern’s books over the years.  Some of them work for me, and I find them fascinating, such as FINAL EVENTS and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife, (which was very satisfyingly weird) and others … not so much.   This one falls into the second category.  To be fair though, the Slenderman is not a subject that interests me terribly much, I mainly bought it because it was by Redfern and I wanted to see what he had to say about it.  But in all honesty, I think this topic was a struggle to build an entire book around.   I was intrigued by the idea of a tulpa, a thought-form, being generated via the Internet, but I keep coming back to the fact that this sort of hysteria is nothing new and predates the Internet by quite a bit (as he writes, to be fair).  One example is the Gorbals Vampire of the 1950s, which I’ve written about on this blog.  That one was group hysteria whipped up by kids reading horror comics.   The CreepyPasta stories of cyberspace are just the modern-day version.   He  does also cover stories from other eras, such as the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, and there is some interesting stuff on the Parker and Hulme murder case in New Zealand (which was the subject of the Heavenly Creatures film), but frankly I am absolutely bored to death with tales of the Mothman, and I would be happy never to hear about it again.  So all in all, it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed, but it certainly won’t stop me buying his books in the future.

Marilyn Revealed: The Ambitious Life Of An American Icon by Ted Schwarz

This book has had a bit of a drubbing on Amazon, and it’s easy to see why.  Mr Schwarz is clearly not a fan of the lovely Marilyn Monroe, and at times is extremely hard on her, calling her a “slut” for instance.  I’ve been a fan of Marilyn for as long as I can remember, but I found it interesting to get a critical analysis of her.  Frankly, I think her legend can survive it.  I do take issue with him when he dismisses her as just another dumb blonde.  This isn’t true.  Even directors who had a traumatic time working with her, acknowledge that she was a gifted comedienne.   Watch the Running Wild clip from Some Like It Hot, that wasn’t just some pouting sex-bomb at work.  She had a real sense of the mischievous scamp about her.  I did actually welcome getting a different viewpoint on her.  Too many recent authors have had a tendency to go down the plaster saint route.  (The same goes for ones who write about Princess Diana).  I don’t think we do anyone any favours – living or dead – by trying to turn them into saints.   The negatives make them human, along with the positives.  I think Schwarz is absolutely right to point out how much harm Marilyn had done to her own body towards the end, although I’m more inclined to think her death was more a tragic accident (that troublesome enema possibly carried out by Marilyn’s eerie housekeeper, Eunice Murray) than suicide or murder.   I recently saw a photo taken of her a few months before she died, where she is posing wearing only a large necklace.  She had lost a considerable amount of weight for Something’s Got To Give, and her face has a distinctly ghostly aura to it.   Sadly, this was someone who simply wasn’t well.  She still exerts a strong fascination for many of us, more than 50 years since her death.  It would be nice in future to either get a biography of her that didn’t take out a hatchet on her, OR try and canonise her.

Who Is Meghan Markle by Christopher D Spivey

I have no idea why I keep buying Chris Spivey’s books as he never seems to make any sense to me, but something about him keeps drawing me back.  Spivey is an extreme conspiracy theorist.  He writes in a ranting, stream-of-consciousness way, which veers off into wild tangents, and splatters his writing with sweary abuse at anyone who can’t see his point of view.   I’m never entirely sure what point he is trying to make sometimes, other than that possibly Nobody Famous Is Real.  Yes you read that right.  They are all masquerading as each other, or made up personalities.   I thought his book about Theresa May – Walk Like A Man – was an absolute hoot, but some of his others, such as his lengthy analysis of the Westminster Bridge attack, left me feeling “you what? meh”.   I must have downloaded this one as a desperate antidote to all the tiresome and hugely oppressive Royal Wedding guff.  Seeing it was over 700 pages long, I thought I would at least be getting value for money, but huge parts of the book are padded out with low-quality photographs, which seem to usually consist of  two people’s faces splurged together to try and prove how None Of What They Are Telling You Is Real, interspersed with the odd paragraph from Mr Spivey, often saying “you want more?  Course you fucking do”.  By the end of it I was still at a loss as to what point he was trying to make about Meghan, other than that, like everybody else it seems, she isn’t who we’re told she is.  This is a shame, as I actually think he might have some interesting points to make, particularly regarding the whole Fake News phenomenon … if only he would stop ranting long enough to tell us clearly what they are.

Lady Killers – Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer

An enjoyable tour of some of the most notorious women to emerge over the centuries.   I’m more interested in the ones from centuries back than more recent ones, and I liked her chapter on Darya Saltykova, whom I’ve written about myself on here, and she gives some fascinating looks at the unreal world of the 18th century Russian nobility and their serfs.  There is also a chapter on Erzsebet Bathory, the Blood Countess, including some information which was new to me, such as that when the Countess’s final resting-place was investigated, centuries later, no remains were found!  Mm, now that’s intriguing.

Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple

It took me a couple of goes to get into this, as I initially found the characters a bit too prim and 1950s middle-class, but perseverance paid off.   The comfy existence of the North family is threatened by the arrival of Louise, a narcissistic young French woman, who is hired to work as a companion to Amery North’s elderly mother.   It’s safe to say that nothing is ever the same again, and the painful break-up of Amery and Ellen’s marriage is done superbly well.  There are also intriguing insights into the austere, ration book life of early 1950s England, such as Ellen’s joy when a local grocer lets her have a box of Custard Creams!  Dorothy Whipple has a new fan in me.  This is one from the Persephone Books collection.  They are a small publishing-house who specialise in 20th century books by female authors (and some male) who have now largely vanished into obscurity.   The books are distinguished by their elegant pearl grey covers, and are very collectable.

Happy reading.  See you in June.

 

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