Elysian Wonderland by Stuart Ayris

Elysian WonderlandThis is another extraordinary creation by Stuart Ayris. It begins with a painfully accurate observation of a couple who still live together, but no longer communicate. On a whim they set off in their long-neglected campervan, Flo, who takes them to a music festival. An odd character, Purple Alice, persuades them to try a curious purple drink and their adventure begins as they find themselves in a world of talking animals, bizarre people and strange happenings.

There is a similarity to the theme of Alice in Wonderland, (hence, of course, the play on words in the title), but that similarity is only superficial. In this wonderland we find the author at his exuberant, whimsical best in a place where language is a flexible toy for creative play. If the word he needs doesn’t already exist, he invents it – and we instinctively know what he means. If a phrase sounds particularly fine, he’ll repeat it. His trademark pop music references abound – is there another author who would give us a character called Judy Judy Judy? Vivid images are thrown at us in rapid succession. From time to time he addresses the reader directly to make sure we’re still involved.

As they progress through the wonderland the couple see glimpses of their own and each other’s past lives and come to an understanding of their relationship in the real world.

It took me ages to read this book. I had to keep re-reading passages for the pure enjoyment of the writing that frequently feels more like poetry than conventional prose.

Highly recommended.

Available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.



Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Mythago Wood.I really don’t understand how it has taken me so many years to finally get around to reading this book. I’ve come across references to the book from time to time and been interested enough to look into buying it, but then complications have arisen. Holdstock wrote a short story, then a novella, and then a full length novel, all with the title Mythago Wood. He then wrote six more novels in the series, some being set before the events in Mythago Wood, and some after, and some having the words Mythago Wood in the title.
Publishers increased my confusion by bringing out collections of some of the books, but the original novel seemed to be out of print for a long time. So my rather pathetic excuse for not having read it is that I was never sure that I would be buying what I wanted. I eventually bought a secondhand paperback I found in a charity shop.
I’m glad to say that the position has simplified. A new edition has just been published by Gollancz and is available in print and ebook formats.
If, like me, you are a fan of fantasy then I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is simply brilliant – a worthy winner of The World Fantasy Award For Best Novel.
It is set in Ryhope Wood, which appears on maps as a small wood covering some three square miles, but it is a magical place where dwell the mythological creatures of ages long passed – the mythagos. Go into the wood and you enter a wild labyrinth which leads you through zones representing all the ages of mankind, and in each zone you’ll find (or they’ll find you) the mythological creatures created by mankind in that era.
In the finest Celtic tradition the story takes the form of a quest as two brothers each follow in the footsteps of their father, all of them searching for the enchanting woman they all believe left the wood to visit them in the family home that stands at the border of the wood.
Wonderful stuff!
You’ll find the new edition on sale on Amazon Mythago Wood (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)

The Devil Will Come by Glenn Cooper

The Devil Will ComeI’ve read lots of positive reviews of the work of Glenn Cooper, but this is the first of his books that I’ve actually read. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think I’m going to be able to say much about it.

I did get through to the end. It’s clear that he is a more than capable author in that the writing is crisp and well-paced. The problem with this book is that the plot is so utterly preposterous that I can’t be bothered to talk about it.

I will, however, give Mr Cooper the benefit of the doubt and read another of his books. It’s bound to be better than this one.

If you want to see what others think of it, you can read reviews on Amazon The Devil Will Come.

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Lisey's StoryIt’s been a while since I’ve read a Stephen King novel. He’s such a prolific author that I’m now a lot of books behind with little likelihood of catching up. I picked out Lisey’s Story because it sounded different.

Well, it’s certainly different. Unfortunately, it’s the worst Stephen King book I’ve ever read. The structure is chaotic, jumping backwards and forwards through time and from place to place so often that I’m sure the author himself was confused. The constant repetition of made-up words (‘smucking’ for example) became infuriating, as did the trotting out of homespun philosophy that was at best trite, but more usually meaningless nonsense.

There’s at least one significant plot flaw and, on top of all that, I didn’t find any of the characters even remotely likeable, so I didn’t care what happened to them.

I felt sure that my views must put me in a tiny minority, but when I looked on Amazon I found that there are more 1* reviews than 5*. Lisey’s Story

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsI’m just back from a two-week holiday where the weather washed away all the planned long walks and I spent much of the time in front of a log fire, glass in hand, making serious inroads into my tbr list.

I began with ‘American Gods’. It’s a big book (650+ pages) and I’d had a couple of false starts with it, reading enough to realise that to do the book justice I needed to set aside a big slice of time. I was right: given that time I found the book truly remarkable.

One of the things I like about Gaiman’s work is that, as an Englishman who has lived in the States for years, he can set books in America in a way that I find convincingly authentic while remaining accessible – unlike many American writers whose work I’m finding increasingly impenetrable as American-English moves relentlessly away from British-English.

The basic idea behind this book is that gods exist as long as someone believes in them and that while they exist they will do anything to maintain their power. The book is fairly slow paced, but I found that the succession of strange events drew me in until I was desperate for an explanation. The occasional diversion into the history of migration into North America was interesting, building understanding of the diversity of gods. I found it an ambitious, intriguing and challenging book.

What I found particularly interesting is that the later edition I read contained additional passages that the author had persuaded the publishers to insert. It says a lot for the author’s conviction in his theme that he wanted to return to an already highly-successful book and make what he considered to be enhancements. This edition is the one with the cover image shown. You may have to shop around to find it. At the time of writing, this edition wasn’t listed on Amazon, but other editions are. American Gods

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI read the hardback edition and the first thing that struck me when I’d finished it is that it’s short – much shorter than a glance at the hardback might suggest. There are 248 numbered pages, but 4 carry the acknowledgements and, by starting each new chapter on a recto, 11 blank pages are introduced. The space between lines is abnormally large, as are the margins all around the text. New chapters start one-third of the way down a page. I have no objection to reading novellas, but I’m not happy when a publisher uses every trick in the book to make a novella look like a novel in an attempt to justify a £16.99 hardback cover price.

None of which is anything to do with the author and does him no favours; which is unfortunate as he seems to me to have done his job very well. Initially the narrator is an adult who slips away from a family funeral to seek out the scene of half-remembered strange happenings in his childhood. Narration then switches to the seven-year-old boy that he once was. The prose flows beautifully. Locations are described vividly and characterisation is sharp. Sibling and parent-child relationships are captured with painful accuracy.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although afterwards I couldn’t have told anyone the basic message. Is Gaiman just saying that children have powerful imaginations and are capable of escaping into wonderful imaginary worlds; or, as in other books, is he telling us of different worlds that exist below the surface of this one? I’ve no idea what the answer is, but it was a fun read and, at the time of writing, the Kindle edition is available on Amazon for only 99p. At that price it is unmissable. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore

Cover imageI’ve no idea why it’s taken me two years to get around to reading this book. From all the comment about it I knew I’d enjoy it – and I did. I took the author’s word for it that this is a book ‘for children of all ages’, set aside any grown-up inhibitions and simply went along for the ride with the unquestioning enthusiasm of a ten-year-old. This has all the ingredients for a great children’s book – heroes, villains and a pacy plot with lots of twists and turns. The children, 13 and 11, are beautifully captured (I wonder if they are to age as the series develops), the heroes heroic and the villains highly villainous. This isn’t just an action adventure; the author clearly has an impish sense of humour that shines through, but more than that, serious issues are tackled – such as the loss of a parent, with a child’s desperation to return life to how it was. I bought the Kindle edition, but thank goodness it’s available from all good bookshops as a paperback for gifting to grandchildren The Time Hunters (The Time Hunters Saga Book 1)

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Cover imageAm I the last person in Britain to find the work of Jasper Ffforde? It may be belated, but the discovery has been a joy. Reading some of the other reviews the word ‘romp’ is used frequently – and very appropriately. This book is an undisciplined, original, good-humoured romp. I suspect that those who have given negative reviews have tried to apply the normal standards of literary review, but this book defies such analysis. Go with it, don’t over-analyse and most will find it a breath of fresh air that is a lot fun. This the first in a series of books featuring Tuesday Next, an investigator living a curious version of our world where, for example, the Crimean War rumbles on. Literary crimes are afoot. Not only do we have time travel but also literary travel. The arch-villain enters the text of classic novels and kidnaps the characters.

Some reviewers have described the books as pretentious, but that wasn’t my impression. I found it a good-humoured work that should be especially enjoyed by book-lovers.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon, but it should also be available in print format from all good bookshops. The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next)

Dark Tidings by Ken Magee

Cover imageThis is a comic romp of a book with a mix of slapstick and more subtle humour, set partly in medieval times and partly in the modern world. Ancient magic collides with the power of the internet in an atmosphere of corruption and conspiracy. I recommend it as an original, fun read with a serious underlying theme to offset the humour.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. Dark Tidings: Ancient magic meets the Internet Book 1

A sequel called The Black Conspiracy has now been published.


The Boy Who Kissed the Sky by David Haynes

Cover imageThis is an out-of-the-ordinary book that provided a very enjoyable read. It has a wonderful collection of vividly-drawn characters. I loved them all – even the cringeworthy Van. And there’s a warm, engaging, very human feel about the story. It takes the reader on an entertaining journey in delightful company. I find it impossible to place in any particular genre; it’s part road trip, part fantasy, part family drama, part humour. That often seems to be the way with independently-published books. Whatever the genre, treat yourself; negotiate The Great Clap Outbreak of 1991 and join George in his two-tone Ford Fiesta on his European mission in a search for the truth behind a childhood experience when he is convinced that he flew from his bedroom window to the ground.

I bought the Kindle edition from Amazon. The Boy Who Kissed The Sky