Book Review – Zombie Dawn #RRBC

So the joy that is Nanowrimo is upon us once again and as such there isn’t really the time to indulge in a big read – this is when short stories can fill the bill. Last night I read:

Zombie Dawn by Rhani D’Chae

And this is what I thought…

zombieBlurb:  In the late hours of a warm summer night, the residents of a quiet little street find that things are not so quiet, after all.

Rating: 5/5

My thoughts: For a short read this story certainly packs in a lot of action. In around an hour (for the reader) a nice quiet street turns into a nightmare as one by one residents fall prey to the zombie curse.  I enjoyed how the different characters discovered what was going on – and how each encounter with a zombie is different. A fun read – as long as you enjoy a good zombie tale.

Book Review – Stuart: A Life Backwards

This is a book I have had on my shelf for a number of years but for some reason I never got around to reading it (till now of course). I bought the book after watching the film as the story really interested me. I can’t say I remember the film any more so reading this book was like coming to Stuart’s story new – and it didn’t disappoint.

StuartBlurb:  ‘Stuart does not like the manuscript. He’s after a bestseller, “like what Tom Clancy writes”. “But you are not an assassin trying to frazzle the president with anthrax bombs,” I point out. You are an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath, I do not add.’

This is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer (‘a middle-class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander’), and Stuart Shorter, a homeless, knife-wielding thief. Told backwards – Stuart’s idea – it starts with a deeply troubled thirty-two-year-old and ends with a ‘happy-go-lucky little boy’ of twelve. This brilliant biography, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, presents a humbling portrait of homeless life, and is as extraordinary and unexpected as the man it describes.

Rating:  5/5

My thoughts: This is a very powerful story of the life of a very complicated man.  I really loved the honesty in this book, not just from the author, but also Stuart’s own honesty about himself, he knew he was mixed up, dangerous (at times) and a mess (most of the time) but he never pretends to be anything other than what he is.

There is a great sadness in this book as well, despite being homeless (at times, often by choice) and a drug addict there is clearly a lot of intelligence and, given different circumstances, Stuart could have achieved a much better life.

This is certainly a book well worth reading. Stuart’s story stays with you long after the final page is turned.

Book Review – The Merest Loss by Steven Neil #RRBC

Well I appear to have another book review ready for you – I guess there are some advantages to this unemployment lark – now if only I could find the motivation to use the time to write as well as read!  But in the meantime let me tell you about:

The Merest Loss by Steven Neil

lossBlurb: When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet? Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father? The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery. The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.

Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts: I was given this book for an honest review and as this is not my normal genre I wasn’t sure if it was something I was going to enjoy. I found the first couple of chapters a little slow as I settled into the era and got to know the characters but before long I was hooked by the story and eagerly devouring each new chapter.

The story is generally split between two themes – Martin Harryet’s search to discover the identity of his father, and also the life of his mother Eliza Harryet and how she became Harriet Howard one time actress and one time mistress to Louis Napoleon.

This is a well crafted tale with believable, sometimes unlikable, characters, secrets and lies, and lost loves. One of the overwhelming feelings this story left me with was a real sympathy for Harriet Howard, a young woman who had dreams and love, and then had them taken from her at the whim of men who had other uses for her.

If, like me, you didn’t think this genre is for you I would suggest you still give the book a try as it is far more than just a period piece and is a brilliant and enjoyable read.  I would certainly happily read more by this author.

Book Review – Open, Shut by Nonnie Jules #RRBC

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I have hurt my back! So what else is there to do but get out the sun lounger and relax.. and of course, read!

I started this afternoon’s reading with the short story Open, Shut by Nonnie Jules

OpenshutBlurb: Darcy Lynn has a few problems: her sister, Lola, killed by a drunk driver, leaves her with an eerie message right before her death; her parents are atheists; her father drinks a little too much, and her brother, Bud, is just annoying. But, her most pressing issue is that things are mysteriously opening and closing around her and she hasn’t a clue as to why…or how.

In this short “sad but uplifting story with a wonderful message,” as one reader tags it, Author, Nonnie Jules flexes her writing chops once again, by introducing her readers to a normal, everyday family, whose lives are altered, not once, but twice by unexpected and unusual circumstances.

If you came into this story only believing in things seen with your own two eyes, and things heard with your own two ears, you walk away with a new and refreshing added sense…the ability and the courage to change, based on where your heart leads you.

Rating: 4 / 5

My thoughts: For a short story this certainly covers a long time period, despite that it seems to still flow well and the time jumps don’t feel jarring at all. After the loss of the eldest daughter of the family lives are changed forever.  Despite this being a story of a family finding their faith, not being a religious person myself, I also saw it as a family finding each other again after such a traumatic loss. Lola had done what she could to ensure that happened. A quick, easy read, with an uplifting message.

Book Review – Memoir of a Mad Woman #RRBC

It’s time once again for a review of my latest read – this time it is the short novelette Memoir of a Mad Woman by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

MemoirBlurb:  A novelette from the award-winning author of The Fall of Lilith and Son of the Serpent, Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

Who can explain how madness begins?

This is the story of Emma. Reared by a religious fanatic, orphaned at a young age and sent to a mental institution and an orphanage. Molested and betrayed by the people who should be watching over her…

Who can say that madness has no logic?

During a fight, Emma’s best friend punched her in the abdomen. Since then, Emma has believed there’s something damaged inside of her.

Every month… she bleeds.
She tries to fight it all her life, but the pain and the blood return twenty-eight days later… and the cycle begins again.

But Emma, even in her madness, knows how to take care of herself.
She knows how to make things right…

You may not agree…
But, who can reason with insanity?

Read this tragic but fascinating tale and traverse the labyrinthine passages of madness.

Rating:  5/5

My Thoughts:  This is a well written, but often painful, portrayal of the tormented life of a young woman. With a life consisting mainly of abuse and neglect Emma is driven to the fight for survival with horrific consequences.

While this tale contains many difficult moments I was left with the overwhelming feeling that things could have turned out so differently had she been shown some basic human compassion.

Not an easy read but a well crafted story that is certainly worth reading.

Short Story -Platform Three

I was having a look at an old blog where I used to post my ramblings and writing and there are a few short stories that I might try and polish up and post here… The first was written for a prompt – the prompt word was “stranger”

Platform Three

trainLooking up at the departure board I sighed, closing my eyes for a second in the vague hope the glowing orange words would change when I looked again, but of course when I peeked out from beneath my lashes the news was still the same. “Delayed”.

It was late, I was cold and I had just had the day from hell. I wanted nothing more than to get back home, maybe have a nice hot bath, but definitely get into the comfort, familiarity and security of my bed, so of course my train was going to be delayed. Stands to reason doesn’t it, on the one day you really need things to run smoothly it’s sods law everything possible will go wrong.

“Sometimes I really hate this country,” I muttered to myself as I slumped into the hard plastic chair to wait for the train that would, I silently prayed, turn up eventually. “A few flakes of snow and everything grinds to a halt… the rest of the world must piss itself laughing at us!”

Wrapping my arms around myself in some vain attempt to hold in the heat the draughty station platform had leeched from my very bones I shivered and tried to find some comfort in the worlds most uncomfortable of seats. How was it possible to design a moulded plastic chair that was almost the entirely wrong shape to fit a human body? There are some days you know the world really does hate you.

From the moment I had got out of bed that morning my instincts had told me to get right back in there and skip the day, there was no way it was ever going to be a good one after all. But I had somewhere to be and something to do, something I had already been putting off for days, weeks really, something that couldn’t carry on and I had decided today would be the day. A decision that had been a lot easier to reach a few days earlier when it was still something in the distance, not so easy once I was leaving the house for a journey I’d made countless times before but never planned to make again.

When he’d first got the promotion and moved we had said it wouldn’t change things, we had said we would make it work and the distance wouldn’t break us. I think we meant it at the time, I’m sure I did, but time and distance proved too great in the end and while I waited for that old adage to kick in, you know the one about distance making the heart grow fonder, I started to realise I wasn’t missing him, I wasn’t waiting for his call and I wasn’t wishing he was back with me. That’s when I knew I had to end it; it wasn’t fair on either of us to carry on. There was no point lying to him and pretending I felt things I no longer did, if I ever had. Being apart made me unsure of even that, how could I have loved someone if it had been so easy for those feelings to fade?

So, as the first flurry of snow began to fall, I made the three-hour journey that would end a four-year relationship, only to discover my unannounced visit was somewhat ill timed as the man I had travelled all the way to dump had already found my replacement.

I won’t say I wasn’t hurt, I would have hoped he would have treated me better than that, had more respect for the years we had been together, but after the anger and the tears I had to admit the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. At last we could both move on with our lives, lives that no longer included each other.

And moving on was exactly what I planned to do, if the train ever turned up.

Sighing loudly I glanced up towards the departure board again but my attention was pulled to one side when I was gripped by the feeling someone was staring at me.

My breath caught for a moment, it wasn’t that the man a few feet along the platform was stunningly handsome, but there was something about him that made my pulse race abit faster. His eyes were the colour of molten chocolate, dark and intriguing, holding the promise of something forbidden in their liquid depths. And he was staring at me. Me! What was that about?

My hand rose self consciously to my hair, I knew it would be damp from the snow and I inwardly winced as my palm brushed against lank locks that must have surely looked as bad as they felt, no wonder he was staring, I must have looked a mess. The earlier meeting with the man who was now my ex had been emotional to say the least, and the flow of tears had smudged or washed away most of my makeup, the remains being touched up as best I could in the station toilets half and hour earlier as I squinted into my cracked compact. Yes it was safe to say I wasn’t looking my best.

The man smiled, only a small half smile, but its full force was pointed my way and I shivered, this time not from the cold. The smile made a bright glint of light seem to dance in the darkness of his eyes and I couldn’t stop my gaze from flickering back to the obvious softness of his mouth, my mind already imagining the feel of it against my skin.

Cursing myself I dragged my gaze away from him, suddenly finding intense interest in the damp ground beneath my feet as my face flushed with embarrassment.

It was crazy; I was feeling like a silly schoolgirl over a single smile from a stranger, I was in serious need of help!

He was nothing special, I told myself over and over, sure he was good-looking, the dark overcoat wrapped around him appeared to embrace a tall and gently muscular physique and his dark, possibly black, hair was casually styled with just a hint of some product or other, but he was a far cry from an Adonis. So why exactly was my heart racing simply because I could still feel his eyes on me?

I was aware of him approaching even before I heard his footsteps, something told me he was moving, getting closer, and my interest in the mottled cracked concrete of the platform floor grew in its intensity. How could I look up? I felt too embarrassed, too shy, too confused and too many things I couldn’t put a name to.

“Could they make these chairs anymore uncomfortable?” He asked me with a laugh. The sound trickled over me like molasses, rich and sweet and thoroughly seductive. And I won’t lie because right at that moment I was more than willing to be seduced.

“Yeah,” I said in what was possibly the weakest most stumbling voice I had ever used in my life, making my cheeks flush an even deeper shade of crimson, but at least I wasn’t quite so cold anymore.

“You don’t remember me do you?” The gorgeously sensuous man asked, a man who I could not possibly have met before, men like that you don’t easily forget.

“Remember you?” Gathering up my courage I lifted my eyes to his, the force of his stare enough to knock me off my feet, thank god I was already seated. He must have mistaken me for someone else because I know I will never forget those eyes for the rest of my life, and possibly beyond. “I don’t think we…”

“We went to the same school…”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m not surprised you don’t recognise me Alison, I’ve changed a lot since then… but you haven’t!”

I smiled quizzically as I tried to place the man who was still taking my breath away. He knew my name, that couldn’t be a lucky guess, but why did I not know him? I haven’t changed… was that a compliment? Normally I would have thought so but there was something in his tone that seemed a little cold, bitter even.

Before I could comment further the rumble of an approaching train vibrated through the station, and he got to his feet with a confident smile.

“This one’s mine… Goodbye, Alison Moore.”

“Wait,” I said weakly, the sound lost beneath the noise and bustle of the platform as I watched the mysterious man walking away. He didn’t once look back and within minutes the train pulled away, and he was gone.

When I finally got back home I spent hours pouring through old school photographs, but I never saw him in any of them.

I never did find out who he was, that stranger who wasn’t a stranger.