Am I lacking some basic emotion?

alberta's book reviews

Musing Mondays random question today is ‘what is your favourite horror novel?’

I have read a few, mainly because of book group choices.

Horror novels, ghosts stories, chilly, frightening, scary. My favourite? Well I have a great disadvantage here, there is very little scary in the genre which scares me. Real life? yes that can be scary but horror no.
Some of my friends tell me it’s because I don’t believe in ghosts.

It’s true I don’t, however, I also don’t believe in elves, dwarfs and goblins but can happily enjoy fantasy. I don’t believe in magic – well not the man-made kind but I am quite happy reading magic realism or even full scale magic.

So why not ghosts or horror?

I have just now finished A Head Full of Ghosts  by Paul Tremblay for one of the book groups I belong to. A book that according to Stephen King  ‘scared the living hell out of me and I’m pretty hard to scare’

It’s a winner of the 2015 Bram Stoker Award:  garnering words of praise such as terrifying, gripping, suspenseful, bloodcurdling,  Tremblay is one of the greatest horror writer’s today.  Wonderful accolades, and I think for aficionados of horror novels justified.

Am I lacking in some basic human emotion? As I say there are many fearful and terrifying things in our world. Too many if one follows the new or travels the world. I have seen and experienced many in my long life. I cannot remember any novel which has scared me.

A Head Full of GhostsThe lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

I found A Head Full of Ghosts disturbing, but only for the way mental problems were addressed. Because of the way reality TV can rip apart people lives. How humans in their fragility can be bullied, manipulated, failed and destroyed in the name of science, religion and media frenzy.

The story was good I enjoyed (strange word! found it satisfying, maybe is a better choice) the plot and characters kept one on board. I read it in two sessions and stayed up late to finish it. I don’t regret the time to read it, but scary? not for me:)

It also employed a favourite device of mine, the unreliable narrator. That, I like – the feeling at the conclusion that nothing is known, nothing understood, the uncertainty of life ahead and the past behind.

I think I know why it has accumulated the accolades and although I didn’t find it a horror, so I would certainly recommend it to whoever enjoys horror books.

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

Musing Mondays |

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…



The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Musing Monday

alberta's book reviews

When I thought of today I was going to write about a book I was reading, however, I stayed up so late I finished  it so it will be a book I have just finished reading. I must stop doing that, I have such problems waking up and functioning next day if I read until 2-3 in the a.m:(

we have all been there though I am sure, when leaving a book just to sleep seems to be impossible.  Far too often in my life have I done this:)

The Miniaturist

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift; a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household, she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?


Lovely book.

I had had a mixed bag of good, okay’ish and ‘don’t like that much’ books lately. Many of them for the book groups I belong to. None were awful, a couple were disappointing and some I think were just me, or the mood I was in..

So it was with trepidation I approached The Miniaturist, another book group read. Weary from the long reads of Wool by Hugh Howey 500 pages and Citadel by Kate Mosse 1000 pages, I groaned as I reached for it, 400 pages – not so bad:) . It accompanied me to the garage to find out what bad news they would give on the car. It was bad, bad, bad, but the trepidation about the book, the shock of the estimated bill were not enough to dim this book. What a delight it was from beginning to end. A book where the loss is felt after the pages close, when another book is impossible for a day or two.

17th century Amsterdam. A city built on reclaimed land and trade from every corner of the globe. A naive young bride, a rich merchant husband who is reluctant to consummate the marriage, his sour sister, a Negro man servant and a outspoken maid. Living unconventional lives within a conventional and hypocritical society of fabulously wealthy elite and a thundering Calvinistic religion.

And of course a doll’s house.

I discovered after I had finished it that this is a Marmite* book. Rave reviews or scorn. Nothing, it appears, in the middle. For me, the story flowed along beautifully, like an old river. Each character so different, the claustrophobic feel of a society of long ago was, for me, interesting. The unseen but ever present miniaturist is the creepy part. Is she friend or foe, how does she know so much of this fairly closed household, how does she know the secret lives. Is she an insider that she knows so much or . . .or. . . is this a delicious bit of magic realism?

It is a story with some endings predictable and others left hanging. A book to weep over and to wonder at after the event. For a debut novel it was impressive.

  • Marmite for those who do not know is a dark brown yeast and salt based food paste with a advertising slogan ‘Love it or Hate it’ and is now used generally as a metaphor for polarized positions on any subject

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

Musing Mondays |

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Approximately how many books do you usually read per week? Per month?

How many a week, a month. It is so dependant on how much time, how much work, how many social commitments or appointments. On my mood, health, family’s mood and health. Is the sun shining, is it pouring with rain or blowing a gale . Some weeks I read book after book then I may go for a week without picking one up.
I can report that my Goodreads challenges for the past few years come in at

2012 = 64 books

2013  =  120 books

2015 =  106 books

2016 so far = 23 books

I don’t remember why 2014 is missing I would have read but I was in the middle of a great depression so maybe didn’t register on the book challenge. 2012 I was ill most of the year with massive migraine type headaches which had to operated on, so reading was difficult.

I used to read a lot more when I was young and cutting edge – late night sessions didn’t bother me so much – massive books were easier to hold before wrists gave out and I spent a lot of time on public transport so reading times were extended:)

Two Books which will stay with me.


lifetime passionI have read two extraordinarily debut novels this Christmas. You know the kind – they make one wonder why anyone would bother trying to write!:(

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey and The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Both explore with compassionate and delicate understanding the disintegration of minds. Both deal with past memories, loss and grief. However there could not be such disparate characters; the first deals with dementia and the second with schizophrenia. Elizabeth is Missing has an 82 year old woman as a very unreliable narrator and in The Shock of the Fall the narrator is a young man.

Both protagonists are trying to negotiate the alien world that their mental illness has created. How they achieve this and manage a reasonable outcome for themselves is told through muddle, confusion, anger, depression, frustration, medication and a darkish sense of humour which bubbles through. Leavening what could be beyond bearing.

Elizabeth Is Missing

In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, who she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth? (Goodreads)

Maud struggles to remember the everyday, lives by the uncertain aid of written notes which spill from pockets and bags. They are out of order and so is she. The fixation which drives her to seek answers and drives her daughter, her carer, Elizabeth’s brother and the police to distraction is the idea that her friend is missing, she will brook no denial. But in the way of things although the present is a jigsaw of mainly missing pieces her memory of childhood is sharp, clear, full of distinct detail and troubled.

The Shock of the FallI’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’                                                                                  
    There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.  (Goodreads)

Whereas I know quite a bit about dementia and associated complaints; have helped and assisted various elderly relative and friends in my life time; I know nothing at all about schizophrenia but Nathan Filer sounds authentic and he has been a mental health nurse. I found the account as believable as I did the account of Maud’s mental decline.

Mathew’s narration wanders, backtracks and  although is sometimes vague it is mostly sharp and observant. He is plagued, also, by a childhood memory, when his brother died. We know about this within the first few pages,he also sees and converses with his brother. Matthew is sometimes controlled by his drugs or deliberately refusing to take medication. He writes his account in various places and in different mental states.

Neither subject is what one immediately thinks of as a ‘good read’ however I would recommend both of these as such. Both books will remain with me for a long time.

I hope to read more of both authors in the future.

Reading Groups and Musing Mondays

musingmondays51I have been away far to long, have missed these Mondays. Visitors, the garden, colds and coughs all led to a shut down of on-line activity during August. Many apologies.

I have throughout this time read and read – so many books since I was last here. A wonderful word fest and escapism. So the last book I commented on was The Earth Hums in B Flat a book for one of the reading groups I attend each month. Since then I have had more reads for the groups.

The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is intrigued by a portrait of Richard III. Could such a sensitive face actually belong to a heinous villain — a king who killed his brother’s children to secure his crown? Grant seeks what kind of man Richard was and who in fact killed the princes in the tower.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey an old old favourite of mine. I think I first read it between 1956 and 1960 – I know I was still at school and arguing with the teachers! It was when I fell for Richard 111 and became one of his champions. It is, reading it now, very much of it’s time in writing and structure , delivering a quiet read and sometimes these books just hit the right spot in our hectic lives. I know many do not like quiet reads, but this blood thirsty old lady does:)

Another book group read was A Case of the Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. The title intrigued but I wasn’t sure when I read the blurb, but highly recommend this one. I find it difficult to remember names at the best of time but foreign ones even more so, but I manage, I manage. This is not a book to dip in and out of, every seemingly insignificant action has a huge meaning in the climax. Concentrate and enjoy this great tale.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

There is an ancient saying that when lovers fall out, a plane goes down. This is the story of one such plane. Why did a Hercules C130, the world’s sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul Haq, go down on 17 August, 1988? Was it because of:

1.Mechanical failure

2.Human error

3.The CIA’s impatience

4.A blind woman’s curse

5.Generals not happy with their pension plans

6.The mango season

Or could it be your narrator, Ali Shigri?

Teasing, provocative, and very, very funny, Mohammed Hanif’s debut novel takes one of the subcontinent’s enduring mysteries and out if it spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar’s dream.

I also had to read Merivel by Rose Tremain. This could have been, for me, an enjoyable read – Charles the 11 reign is one I find very interesting but I have a great dislike in reading fiction in which the author takes a real person, in this case Charles, and invents scenes and dialogue for them, posits motives and reactions for which there are no historical facts. Ruins a perfectly good book for me. Don’t mess with dead people and change them. Don’t invent and present as fact. Its disrespectful. It is not a book I will willing read again. However, having said that, Tremain is a good writer, for those who do not have the same scruples as myself it will be a very enjoyable read.

Merivel: A Man of His Time
The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone. Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to Charles II, loved for his gift for turning sorrow into laughter, now faces the agitations and anxieties of middle age. Questions crowd his mind: has he been a good father? Is he a fair master? Is he the King’s friend or the King’s slave?
In search of answers, Merivel sets off for the French court. But Versailles—all glitter in front and squalor behind—leaves Merivel in despair, until a chance encounter with Madame de Flamanville, a seductive Swiss botanist, allows him to dream of an honorable future.
Yet will that future ever be his? Back home at Bidnold Manor, his loyalty and medical skills are tested to their limits, while the captive bear he has brought back from France begins to cause havoc in his heart and on his estate.With a cascade of lace at his neck and a laugh that can burst out of him in the midst of torment, Merivel is a uniquely brilliant creation—soulful, funny, outrageous, and achingly sad. He is Everyman. His unmistakable, self-mocking voice speaks directly to us down the centuries.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
 Now in case I wasn’t reading too much already, I decided to try out two new book groups. They are being held in a nearby town. The first to catch my eye was a sci-fi/fantasy one – sounded interesting, the two I already belong to don’t have these two genres in their remit.
The first book was Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence,  – very enjoyable. I’m not sure if I was supposed to like the ‘hero’ but I did – okay – a nasty piece of work really but no worse than everyone else in the book it really was a violent tale! However, he has reasons – perfectly understandable reasons, for his behaviour even if magic in the way of mind control isn’t factored into the story, which of course it is (it’s fantasy) Its a dystopian take on this world a thousand years + into the future, which seems to have put us back into medieval type living conditions. I had a few reservations in the time line, not altogether sure enough time has elapsed since the catastrophe which has overtaken us for this setting. But that is really my only quibble. And it is book one of a trilogy so more delights to come:)
 Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)
Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse.

From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.


Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

I haven’t been to the second group yet but I have read the book Time and Time again by Ben Elton. I have to my shame not  read any of his books before -I will be reading more of them to be sure. I liked his style very much. This story is a time travel one. I have never been a fan of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ in life. Changing something in one’s past is not a recipe for happy ever after. So its great to read books which play with this theme. Time and Time Again seems a straight forward event avoidance. Hugh Stanton, sent back in time to stop the beginning of the First World War. Save the world from the future terrible events the war put into place.


Of course the changed events become worse! So can this  new future be changed. Try again. However, Hugh is not the only one meddling with the events of the 20th century. There is a nice twist at the beginning and the end. Very satisfactory.

Time and Time AgainIt’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Nothing to do with book groups Elton’s book was made more interesting by the fact I had just finished The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – which was about never dying but being reborn time and time again, time travel in the quest through time to discover and destroy the man killing off these born again people and who is bent on destroying the world itself.

For me the discovery that Claire North was the self same Kate Griffin one of my favourite urban fantasy authors. A double pleasure.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustNo matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

These were only five of the books I have spent August with, I have been reading Urban Fantasy,with Ben Arronvitch Foxglove Summer and Benedict Jacka – Chosen and Hidden; Fantasy with Rebecca Alexander The Secrets of Life and Death, Charlie Fletcher and The Oversight. Managed to read and enjoy The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross despite not understanding any of the computer ‘thingies’; Non fiction with Martin Manser with his Scapegoats, Shambles and Sibboleths, gardening books as well. A month when no writing was achieved but a refreshed mind indeed.

As to the random question – which I would prefer if I had to live my whole life in one place – it is of course a library. Museums are interesting but tend to concentrate on one thing, so which would one choose. . . And I disapprove of zoos but a library – what a dream come true:)

1) In an old fashioned one – books only – well, there we have entertainments, knowledge, facts and a chance to learn
2) In a modern one with computers as well as books all of the above plus the Internet to keep up with the present.
3) One could learn new stuff, research old. Read so many new authors, new genres, stretch beyond a comfort zone or two. Explore so many new worlds, science, nature, history, geography, politics etc etc.

A no brainer for me – give me the Library any time – but not one without books in reality as well as electronics:)

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

 + a random question of the week – If you could only stay in one place which would you choose A Library, a Museum or a Zoo?

Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlow: Feb Literary Movement Challenge

literary-movement-reading-challenge-buttonThe first book I read for February was Christopher Marlow: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.

Although I have known this story since forever I have never actually read the play. Mainly because I have always had an aversion to reading plays. I have to admit that after having read Faustus I still have this aversion to reading them

However I do not need to enjoy the form, it is after all quite a short work. The brief is to place it in a literary time, and it does fit well. Written soon after the demise of the Roman Catholic Church and in the dawn of Protestantism, it follows, or maybe echoes would be a better description, the early medieval morality plays, but Marlow writing from the Renaissance period is representing the newer modern man. Highly educated Faustus thinks he knows it all – and it is said a well-educated person of that time could know a little about almost anything!

Faustus wants more .He is dissatisfied, arrogant, greedy, proud and to my mind a throughly unpleasant fellow. Just my opinion:) but then I never like Heathcliff either.

Faustus believes if he masters the realm of necromancy he will have mastery over everything. He manages to summon Mephistopheles and feels he has great powers, the thought that Satan maybe designed this meeting never seems to cross Faustus’s mind. In exchange for 24 years of a great life he sells his soul to the devil. It has always seemed a pretty poor bargain myself, but there you go.

Faustus rejects many chances to repent and be saved, he appears to believe that after his first act of betrayal he was damned anyway , there could be no forgiveness. So he clowns, philosophizes, struts and begs his way into eternal damnation.

There was, at the time of the writing of Dr Faustus, a controversy in the Church between the Calvinistic doctrine of absolute predestination, in other words God has decided at birth who will be saved and who wont be. No one has control over his or her fate, and the  anti Calvinists who  rejected the notion that man lacked the free will to come to God, and argued it caused the ordinary man to  be more likely to despair and fall into sin because – why bother?.

It was a clash of great importance and had reached its peak by the time Marlow penned Faustus. Since then there has been endless debate as to which side Marlow was on. Was Faustus damned because God had already decided he was never to be saved. Or was he damned because he willfully, of his own free will, chose not to come to God.

It is also the time of an explosion of learning, knowledge. Science and logic were on the ascendancy. Thinkers of the day, Marlow included were feeling the dissatisfaction and impossibility of being able to decipher all, and this included religion, into this new way of viewing the world in the short lifespan they had.

It is a pity Marlow had such a short life as I think he would be remembered as well as Shakespeare. His writing is powerful and his themes adventurous. I am also extremely pleased I have read Faustus at last.