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.



Beneath the Boards by David Haynes

Beneath the BoardsI’ve read and enjoyed the horror/ghost stories by this author that are set in Victorian times. This one is set in current times and the impact is all the greater because of it. The thought that this may all be happening, right now, in a house not far away, makes the horror more intensely disturbing.

A young man with a failed marriage behind him has to retire from the police on medical grounds suffering PTSD-driven hallucinations after receiving serious injuries. He tries to start a new life by buying a run-down country cottage. The scattering of locals make him welcome, but as he starts the renovations he is troubled not only by his own past, but by a sensed history of evil within the cottage.

Are we witnessing at close hand his descent into madness, or is he uncovering past deeds of dreadful horror?

This is written with a vividness that forces sights, sounds and smells into the reader’s senses. Those who have already read it will know what I mean when I say that I’m having difficulty shifting from my brain, “Scretch, scretch, scretch.”

Recommended – if you think you are strong enough.

It is available from Amazon for Kindle.


Top Banana by Kath Middleton

Top BananaThis came as a welcome relief after the last three books I’d read proved such heavy going that I’d given up on each of them.

No such problem here. This is the third book I’ve read by this author and although they are very different, they have something in common; they are all well written. The writing flows smoothly, introducing well-formed characters and carrying the reader through plot developments in an undemanding way.

This is the story of 24-year-old Steve, an under-achiever still living with his parents – and therein lies his problem. His mother controls his life rigidly, routinely undermining his self-confidence as if any sign of success on his part would be a personal affront. But things change when Steve is bitten by a tropical spider, an event that has a curious effect on his attitude to life.

Will his new attitude enable him to escape his mother’s control and turn his life around? How will his mother, and his put-upon father, react? You’ll have to read the book to find out. In doing so you will find that this is a pleasing tale told with humour that at times verges on farcical slapstick, but below the layer of humour there’s a warm empathetic understanding of human relationships.

It is available from Amazon in print and ebook formats.

Rose by Martin Cruz Smith

RoseMartin Cruz Smith is probably best known for his stunning series of novels featuring Russian investigator, Arkady Renko. The series began with the award-winning Gorky Park set in the Brezhnev era and has continued over the years authentically capturing the atmosphere within Russia during and after the break-up of the Soviet Union. World-weary Renko doggedly pursues the truth despite the barriers put in his way by corrupt officials.
‘Rose’ isn’t a novel in the Renko series. In some ways it could hardly be more different, but there are similarities. The main difference is obvious – rather than being set in modern-day Russia, this is set in Wigan in 1872. Once again MCS has clearly done his research and the reader is carried back convincingly to the heavily industrial Victorian scene where most of the population work in appalling conditions in the coal mines or cotton mills – except, of course, for the rich owners of the mines and mills.
The central character is Jonathan Blair; born in Wigan, father unknown. His mother and her toddler son boarded a ship for America. During the crossing she either jumped, or fell, to her death in the ocean, so young Jonathan arrived in his new country as an orphan. After an unusual upbringing he became a mining engineer and has spent recent years in Africa where his close relationship with the native population made him unpopular with his colonial masters.
He arrives in Wigan suffering with malaria and desperate to return to Africa, for reasons that become clear. He needs the help of Lord Hannay, who is also a bishop and head of one of the most powerful families in England with extensive mining interests in Africa and Wigan. That help comes at a price. Hannay will only help if Blair finds John Maypole, a young cleric engaged to Hannay’s daughter, who has disappeared without trace.
Blair finds himself having to act as a reluctant detective – and this where the similarity with the Renko novels lies. Blair acts just like a Victorian version of Renko, showing the same persistence to discover the truth. He is treated with suspicion and hostility by everyone, even Hannay’s daughter. Everyone that is, except for the mysterious Rose, one of the controversial pit girls who shock society by wearing trousers and doing men’s work sorting coal. They are accepted by the pit owners because they work for less pay than men.
Even without the intriguing story line and the strong characterisation, this book would be worth reading because of the vivid capturing of working life below ground with the constant threat of explosion and roof fall, and of the injustice of the class system.
Another gem from Martin Cruz Smith. It is available from Amazon in hardback (secondhand), paperback, Kindle and audio formats.

Deep Water, Thin Ice by Kathy Shuker

Deep Water, Thin IceThis is the second book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it: so much so that I was sorry to reach the end. I’m not at all surprised that other reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads have reacted similarly. I see that one described it as a love story, and so it is – but it’s also so much more.

We begin with an apparent suicide, but the description creates a lingering doubt that stays with us as we move into what follows. The cast of convincing characters, led by a vulnerable young widow, are beset by a psychopath with diminishing self-control. Stirred into the pot we have the unravelling of an unsavoury family history, social injustice, sexual deviancy and a haunting. All this is cleverly set against the contrasting background of a peaceful Devon village and the nurturing of a new nature reserve. This very well written, and satisfyingly long, book is highly recommended. It’s available from Amazon in both paperback and ebook for Kindle format.

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)

Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts by Kathy Shuker

Silent Faces, Painted GhostsI found this well-written novel most enjoyable. It’s a current-day tale of human relationships: sometimes loving, sometimes jealous, sometimes violent. There’s a strong cast of well-drawn characters and the world of the reclusive, but famous, portrait painter felt authentic. The central character is driven by the basic human need to belong and to feel at peace. It all takes place under the shadow of a past tragic event, the truth of which slowly emerges.
The Provence setting is captured beautifully; I could smell the lavender and feel the mistral blowing through what’s left of my hair.
It’s a satisfying read and it’s available in both print and ebook formats from Amazon Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts



Message in a Bottle by Kath Middleton

Message in a Bottle (2)I have to say that this novella is not of a genre that I would usually choose. I’d read and enjoyed another novella by this author and spotted this one being discussed on a couple of book forums. The brief blurb persuaded me to splash out 99p, but then I found that this is the sort of relationship story that I imagine fills the pages of women’s magazines and really not my sort of thing.

Guess what – I surprised myself and enjoyed it.

The writing flows smoothly along making this an easy, undemanding read with convincing characters and an absorbing storyline. Maybe I should be subscribing to womags.

You can read more reviews and buy the book at Amazon Message in a Bottle.

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.

The Magical Tragical Life of Edward Jarvis Huggins by Stuart Ayris

edward jarvis hugginsHere we have a fine collection of characters: some heroes, some villains, but mainly people doing what we all do – getting through life as best we can. A supernatural element runs through it and we are led to a finish that is signposted at various stages in the book. When the expected end duly arrives there was no sense of anti-climax; instead I nodded with approval and thought, ‘Yes, that’s how it had to be.’

If you haven’t yet read a Stuart Ayris book then I urge you to do so. But you need to set aside any preconceptions about what a novel ought to be, then relax and let the author take you on an adventure where you will laugh, cry and sing – possibly all at the same time.

Both the author’s exuberance and his concern for his fellow man shine through. If the precise word that he needs doesn’t exist, either for meaning or to simply sound right in the context, then he creates a new one – and we know instinctively just what it means. He breaks away from the storyline to have personal chats with the reader. Although this tale is set in 18th century England, lines from 20th century songs appear. This may sound like chaotic literary anarchy, but it’s hugely entertaining. In amongst the humour and pathos are very perceptive comments on what is generally referred to as the human condition.

It’s a unique style and one that really works for this reader. More reviews can be found on Amazon The Magical Tragical Life of Edward Jarvis Huggins