Archive for the ‘Terry Pratchett’ Tag

Best Books of 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is a bit late coming, given that we’re already halfway through February.

Every year I set up a ‘Goodreads’ challenge to read so many books in a year. On average it takes me about a week to read one average-length novel. Most of this is down to my long commute – I spend the best part of 3 hours a day every working day on public transport, travelling to and from work, and I use most of that time to read. I am also quite a fast reader, especially if the book is exciting, and I find myself turning pages faster to find out what happens next.

In 2017 I set myself a goal of reading 68. Happily I exceeded that goal and a read a total of 70 books last year. Six of those books I gave a five-star rating to, and this my criteria for the ‘best books of the year’ list.

In no particular order, they are:

Pet Sematary: Stephen King
Heart-Shaped Box: Joe Hill
Behind Her Eyes: Sarah Pinborough
X: Sue Grafton
Bones Never Lie: Kathy Reichs
Soul Music: Terry Pratchett

No real surprises here – these are all authors whose books I enjoy, and three of my four all-time favourite authors – Stephen King, Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs – are in this list. The only one who isn’t is Sara Paretsky, and that was only because I did not read her 2017 release (though I bought it, at Bouchercon in Toronto) last year.

More details about these books and why I enjoyed them can be found below.

Pet Sematary:
The first time I read this book was over 25 years ago. I had to re-read it last year for my horror book club, and I had forgotten just how good it is. This is an almost-perfect horror story that contains all of the characteristics of King that made him my inspiration.

Louis Creed, doctor and Ordinary Guy moves his family to rural Maine when he takes up a job as resident physician on a university campus. The road outside the house claims the lives of many pets, so many that a pet cemetery has been set up by local children. But there’s something much darker lying beyond the cemetery, and Louis’ descent into madness is creepy and downright disturbing.

Heart-Shaped Box:
I got to meet Joe Hill at Fantasycon in Scarborough a couple of years ago, and end up buying a few books of his which he signed. This was one of them. It involves a fading, self-absorbed rock star with a fascination for collecting macabre items who ends up buying from the internet a suit that allegedly has a ghost attached to it. The suit turns up in a heart-shaped box and the promised ghost does indeed come with the suit, but as always the story is far more complex and it soon takes a sinister turn.

Though not in the same league as his famous father, Stephen King, Joe Hill is still an accomplished horror writer in his own right, and this is a creepy and rather disturbing tale.

Behind Her Eyes:
I know Sarah Pinborough personally through both the crime and horror convention circuits, and I am always impressed with both her versatility and her writing style. The author of 20-plus published novels, this is the one that seems to have moved her up into the big leagues, and well deserved that move is to.

‘Behind Her Eyes’ starts out as effectively a love triange between David, Adele and Louise. David is a doctor, Adele his apparently fragile wife, and single mother Louise his secretary. But she meets him in a bar and shares a kiss with him before she starts her new job and realise that he’s her boss. Meanwhile Adele offers a hand of friendship to Louise and she finds herself getting closer to Adele, whilst feeling guilty about carrying on a relationship with David. Alternating between Adele and Louise’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that this is not a typical psychological thriller, and it has an ending that will blow you away.

X:
I was not to know, at the time I read this book, that it would be Sue Grafton’s penultimate novel and she would tragically leave us before getting to the end of her ‘alphabet’ books. I have been with Grafton’s couragious female PI since ‘A is for Alibi’. Kinsey Millhone isn’t married and doesn’t seem to be able to commit to relationships, has no kids and no desire to have any, doesn’t cook and doesn’t play particularly well with others. I think she’s wonderful. In ‘X’ Kinsey ends up crossing paths with a particularly vicious villain, and the encounter will have long-term repercussions for her.

I am aware that Grafton’s writing style, and her character, has influenced my own crime series. Sue Grafton is the only one of my favourite crime writers I never got to meet, and I wish I could have.

Bones Never Lie:
Kathy Reichs is another one of my favourite crime writer, and one I’ve had the privilege to meet. Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan shuttles between Montreal and North Caroline, uncovering murders in her examination of bones, and with a long-standing on-again off-again relationship with Montreal cop Andrew Ryan. She also has a daughter, Katy, whose chronological age marks the passage of time in the series, though by now Katy is grown up and off doing her own thing.

This one was very typical of Kathy Reichs’ style. But I freely admit I love the formula, and I found this one a proper page-turner.

Soul Music:
I’ve been re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a while, and I expect it to take me quite some time yet, since there are over 40 books in the series and this is #16. And eventually I will get to books I haven’t read before, since I didn’t get through them all the first time around.

My favourite books are the ones about the witches, but Death comes a close second and this one features the latter. In this chronicle of the fantasy world, the inhabitants discover Rock Music, and the spirit of teenage rebellion it inspires. Pratchett’s books are always entertaining, and are always a good thing to read when I need my spirits lifting.

So there we have it for the best books of 2017. For 2018 I’ve decided to play it safe and set a goal to read 70 books. Nearly 7 weeks in I have read 7, which puts me a bit behind schedule. But I am sure I shall catch up!

And if anyone is on Goodreads and wants to link up there, this is my profile page.

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Best Books of 2016

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Sometimes people ask me how I deal with the commute to work. I spend a good three hours a day – often four – travelling by public transport, into London and back again along with hundreds of other commuters.

The singular thing that keeps me sane on my commute is that I use the time for reading. Losing myself in a book allows me to find some pleasure in this daily ordeal.

For the last few years, I’ve participated in the Goodreads challenge by setting a goal for myself on how many books to read in the year. For the first time in some years, I did not complete my challenge in 2016 – I set myself a goal to read 70 books and only read 68.

Generally this time of year I list the best of the previous year’s reading, which is guided by which books I gave five-star ratings to. And in 216 there were four, as follows:

Defending Jacob – William Landay
Witches Abroad (Discworld #12) – Terry Pratchett
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
Try Not To Breathe – Holly Seddon

There’s one comic fantasy, one crime thriller and two psychological thrillers. Further details, as well as a link to the Goodreads page for each book, are listed below.

Defending Jacob
I had to read this one for my book group, and it left me utterly gripped. The story is told from the point of view of Andy Barber, district attorney, whose life is rocked when his fourteen-year-old son is accused of the brutal murder of a classmate.It throws up an interesting moral dilemma: what is a father to do when he suspects his own child might be a murderers?

Witches Abroad
I’m still working through my re-reading of the Discworld books, and I have to admit that the books featuring the witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick – are my favourites. In this book the witches have to venture to much-suspect ‘foreign parts’ to stop the happy ending of a well known fairy tale. Because there’s so much more to the story than the one that we’ve heard. I love the witches and their very different but forceful personalities.

13 Minutes
I tend to run into Sarah Pinborough at most of the conventions I attend these days, and know her well enough to say hello to. Not only is she a lovely person, but she’s a phenomenal writer, and one of those people that occupies a spot on the writing career ladder that’s much higher up than me, and I can only look up and hope that one day I can get to the same spot.

Sarah Pinborough writes in many different genres. This novel is pegged as YA, but I really hate that label because when I see it I assume it’s referring to a kids’ book. The main character of this novel happens to be a teenage girl, but the genre is most definitely psychological thriller. The main character is rescued from a freezing river and revived after being technically dead for 13 minutes, and this is where the title comes from. How she got there is the main plot of the story, and it soon becomes evident that all the main characters are hiding secrets. As well as being a gripping story, this also serves as a reminder as to just how bitchy teenage girls can be. I’m so glad I don’t have to go through all that again.

Try Not To Breathe
Another psychological thriller, I had to review this for Shots and I found it utterly compelling. It involves the story of Amy, who was attacked and left in a coma when she was 15. Fifteen years have passed and she is still in the coma, but the story of how she got there is gradually revealed through three viewpoint characters, one of which – disturbingly – is Amy herself, who still has active brain function within her coma although she is tragically unaware of how much time has passed.

For this year, I have set myself a target of reading 68 books – the same number I managed to read last year. However, due to the fact that there are a lot of problems on London transport at the moment and I am spending four hours a day on trains, buses and underground trains I have been getting a lot of reading time in and I am already two books ahead of schedule.

If you’re on Goodreads and want to compare books with me, or even check out some of mine, connect with my profile here.

 

 

 

 

Best Books of 2015

(Cross-published on the WriteClub blog)

I usually start each year with a round-up of all the books I read in the previous year, and highlight the ones that I thought were the best. To clarify, my ‘best books of the year’ includes the ones I have read – not necessarily those that were published – in the relevant year.

Those who have been following the blog a while will know that I keep track of this via Goodreads, which allows me to log all the books I read and give each of them a star rating. The ability to do this appeals to my overdeveloped sense of law and order. Generally the way I pick out the best books of the year is to select all those I gave a five-star rating to. I can be quite critical when it comes to books. Not many get a five star rating.

In 2015 I read a total of 70 books (reaching my Goodreads target, hurrah!) and I rated six of them five stars. Only two of them, however, were books I had not read before.

I started the year re-reading Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and throughout the year not only completed all the previous books, but read the latest one, SKIN GAME – purchased as a signed copy at EasterCon in London this year – for the first time as well.

They all warranted four stars or higher. Four of them I gave five stars to. They are, in chronological order:

Dead Beat (#7)
Proven Guilty (#8)
Changes (#12)
Skin Game (#15)

So why did these ones rate higher than the others in the series? These are the ones that left me breathless. That had me gripped from beginning to end, turning pages faster and faster to find out what happens next, even on the second reading. But if we want to a bit more specific – and if you don’t mind spoilers (if you do, stop reading this post now) – there are specific incidents in each of these books that warranted that extra star in my mind. For DEAD BEAT, it was the T-Rex. No question. PROVEN GUILTY adds an extra complication to the series with the introduction of Molly Carpenter as a rebellious and confused teenager, who just happens to have burgeoning magical ability. A whole load of magical ability, and enough angst and anger to have her teetering on the precipice to the Dark Side. Harry just has to try and stop that from happening.

CHANGES is possibly the darkest book of the series. Jim Butcher says he likes to make Harry suffer, and he pulls no punches in this one. Harry loses everything. Literally. Starting with his office, which is blown to smithereens early in the novel. As the story progresses he pretty much loses everything else as well, including – at the end (SPOILER ALERT) his life.

But this is not the end of Harry, and the series carries on. SKIN GAME I was anticipating for a long time. I actually got to meet Jim Butcher himself at EasterCon, after standing in the signing queue for what felt like an age (and then babbled idiotically like a fangirl when I finally got to the front of the line). I had high expectations for this book. It did not disappoint. The series has taken a decidedly dark turn now, as has Harry. He is still as charismatic as he ever was, and still on the side of good, but due to various reasons is not quite as nice a guy as he was at the beginning of the series. But this means you never really know what to expect when you pick up a new Harry Dresden book. And that’s not a bad thing.

My only regret is that now I’ve re-read the series and the new book, I’ve got to wait a while for number 16 in the series to come out.

So, that’s four of my six ‘best books of the year’. One of the others is also from a series I’ve been re-reading.

I started re-reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books a little while ago. I take comfort in the fact that there are rather a lot of books in this series – over 50 is the official count, I think – and I’ve only got to #7 in my re-read so there are still lots more to go. Number six, however, has made this list because I think it is the best one in the series.

Hence the next book on my list of ‘Best books of 2015’ is –

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett.

I know there are factions of Pratchett fans, divided by the sub-categories of the various characters whose stories make up the Discworlds. The Watch have their loyal fans, as to the wizards. I have to say I have always favoured the witches – the crotchety Granny Weatherwax (the Crone); the earthy Nanny Ogg (the mother); and the spinsterish Magrat (the Maiden, though this latter category is represented by various characters throughout the series after Magrat gets herself married and can no longer be classified as a Maiden). And this book sums up why I love the witches. It parodies Macbeth; it features Shakespeare as a playwriting dwarf, regicide, dastardly royal politics and even magical time travel. What’s not to love?

Finally, last but not least, the sixth book on my list is one I read for the first time this year:

NOS4R2 – Joe Hill

Son of Stephen King, Joe Hill proves himself here to be a horror writer in his own right. Featuring a supernatural and spooky car, rather like his famous father’s novel CHRISTINE, NOS4R2 may appear to cover familiar territory but it soon becomes evident that this novel is not just a retelling of CHRISTINE. It’s creepy and disturbing, and original enough to be a classic all by itself.

I have set myself a goal of reading another 70 books this year. I’m already working on the first two.

Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?