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What’s it all about?
The Annihilation Score is Book 6 in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, so probably not a good place for new readers to start, but very exciting for old hands like me 🙂
This time around the focus is on Mo O’Brien, an agent for the Laundry, which is the secret government agency which deals with occult powers and the threats they present. Mo has a very special set of skills alongside wielding a bloodthirsty possessed violin as her main weapon.
Ordinary people are developing superpowers and the Laundry needs to work with the mainstream police force to contain the potential threat. Of course it’s not as simple as that and there are consequences (with a capital C).
Why did I want to read it?
I have been reading this series since it started and enjoy watching the characters develop and the shift in tone as different threats are dealt with; everything from megalomaniacs wanting to take over the world, Lovecraftian entities from other dimensions, underwater beings and, of course, vampires. Wouldn’t miss new entries in the series for the world.
What did I think about it?
I really enjoyed this entry in the series, with its shift in focus away from Bob, our normal protagonist, to his wife Mo. The story stands or falls on whether you like Mo as a character or not and I do. I particularly liked the fact that a significant number of the leading characters in the story are women, and that they aren’t spending all of their time snarking at each other, but find a way to work together despite tensions in their working and personal relationships.
But the great joy in this series for an old civil servant like me is the accuracy of the bureaucracy that always arises when different bits of the public sector have to work with each other more closely than they would like, and the jockeying for position and advantage that results. Setting aside the whole occult thing (obviously) some of the situations will be recognisable to anyone who has worked in an office environment, especially within government. Gives an added depth to what’s already a good story.
I already have book seven in the stacks, and book eight has been pre-ordered, so more Laundry shenanigans to come.
I really really did intend to write proper full reviews for each of the books below (and still will for my actual final read of the year because I will be linking it to something else) but life sort of got in the way and I want to start the new year with a reasonably clean slate so the fact that I have chosen to do mini-reviews for each of these is no reflection on the books themselves; I really enjoyed all three of them.
And when you write a paragraph-long sentence you need to stop and breathe 😀
Bryant & May: London’s Glory by Christopher Fowler
I’m not going to go on again about how much I love these books, but will just say that this short story collection was a real treat and I had only read one of them previously so that was even better. The additional pleasure was to be found in the extras:
- an introduction which gave us CF’s insights into crime fictions, always fascinating
- additional information on each of the stories; and
- a synopsis of each of full-length cases so far (there’s another one coming in a few months)
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Again, brilliant notes from the author and the two stories I had read before really stood up well to a revisit.
I think King’s short works are often overlooked and this had some real goodies. If you haven’t tried them you really should.
Slade House by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks was one of my favourite reads of 2015 so when I found out that Mitchell was bringing out a short book set in the world of that novel then I know I was going to read it as soon as I could, and I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from the fact that it has one of the most beautiful book covers of the year, it is really very creepy and disorienting and reinforced my feeling that Mitchell will become a regular on my to buy list. Luckily I have a couple of his novels already on the stacks as I am on a buying freeze. This is a goodie and one I intend to re-read. Still thinking about it weeks after I finished reading it.
I had such fun taking part in the 2015 version of this challenge (I wrote my wrap-up post only the other day – you can find it here if you are interested) that I decided to take part again this year.
I’m going to stretch myself a little bit more this time around, and aim for the Fearless category, which means I have to read 11-15 horror books and if I succeed I will get a nifty badge.
I’m not doing a reading list for this as such, BUT because I’m planning to read along with and hopefully attend meetings of the Horror Book Club, I already have some books picked out which will fit in with this challenge, and these are:
- January – The Troop
- February – The House of Leaves (a re-read)
- March – Anno Dracula (a re-read)
- April – My Work is Not Yet Done
- May – The Heart Shaped Box (a re-read)
If I succeed with these I’ll be well on my way to meeting my goal, and I have a couple of unread Stephen King novels I can throw into the mix if I need to; should be good!
As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year. My first quarterly update can be found here, the second one is here, and the third one is here.
How did I do?
My reading slump lasted almost until the end of the year, which was a real shame, but I did manage to read another three horror novels (two of which I haven’t reviewed as yet):
- The Uninvited by Liz Jensen (light horror but creepy as hell)
- Slade House by David Mitchell
- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King.
That brings my horror total for the year to 16 which is well above my goal of Brave Reader, so very pleased with that.
My membership of The Horror Book Club means I already have four horror titles slated for 2016 reading 😀
About The Shining
(which I originally typed as The Shinning which isn’t at all frightening unless you played hockey at school, that is)
Anyway, about The SHINING:
Danny was only five years old but in the words of old Mr Halloran he was a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father became caretaker of the Overlook Hotel his visions grew frighteningly out of control.
As winter closed in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seemed to develop a life of its own. It was meant to be empty, but who was the lady in Room 217, and who were the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why did the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow there was an evil force in the hotel – and that too had begun to shine…
What age was I? 15
How many times since then? Apparently this is the third time I’ve read this and the first time since 1983.
Thoughts about the book:
By the time I read The Shining I was a committed Stephen King fan, and the idea of a small boy trapped in an old hotel with his parents for a whole winter troubled by things that go bump in the night (but also in the day, let’s not forget those hedge animals) was intriguing to me. I think I expected a classic ghost story and that’s partly the case, but as always with King there is so much more there – the sensitive child with the troubled father and the mother who is not sure about the security of her family, the spectre of alcoholism and writer’s block all brewing in a building with a long and frightening history. It was bound not to end well.
I think The Shining is a good example of a child protagonist who manages to be convincing, not understanding what’s going on in the adult world but able to pick up on the complex and contradictory emotions of his parents, knowing how important the job is to his father and so not wanting to talk about the stuff he is experiencing until it’s all too late. I had forgotten how evenly spread the story is between Jack and Danny, and with big chunks being devoted to Wendy and Halloran as well. A properly haunting story with limited amounts of gore and some really frightening and dread-inducing imagery.
It’s very interesting to go back to a book after a film version has been released. I have lots of issues with the Kubrick film (and most of my friends disagree, at which point it becomes clear that they have never read the novel, so what do they know?). First off it’s worth saying that in many respects it’s a great Kubrick film, but not a great King adaptation. I find it just too unbalanced, focusing so much on Jack (Nicholson) Torrance that you forget this is largely Danny’s story. I had forgotten for example that one of Jack’s irritations at the Overlook is that it is using him to get to Danny and doesn’t really want him at all, and I don’t remember that coming across in the movie. The biggest problem I have of course is with Wendy, who has so much more agency in the book than she does in the film, and I just hate the ending of the movie.
So although it took me longer than intended to re-read (I was doing so for The Horror Book Club but realised I couldn’t make the meeting and so slowed down) I really enjoyed it, especially the last 25% when the tension really builds up.
And of course there is a sequel, Doctor Sleep, which I read and reviewed here.
How am I doing?
I hit a real reading slump in early August and I’m not out of the woods yet. That means I only managed to read one horror novel, but it was a classic being Stephen King’s The Shining (which I haven’t written the review for yet but will soon).
I started but just couldn’t get on with I Am Legend this time around; like The Shining it was a re-read.
But it’s nearly October and I’m on holiday for 3 weeks and expecting/hoping to get lots more reading done, which means more scary books!
So the blog was on hiatus for a few weeks while I was dealing with some health issues which means that I have ten, count them, TEN book reviews to write and publish. But as part of my post-illness strategy is to not put pressure on myself, plus adjusting to the meds I’m now on during this period means things are a wee bit fuzzy, I’ve decided to write two posts, one each for fiction and non-fiction, with my short impressions of the books. So I can both satisfy the nerd part that wants everything recorded, while keeping the anxious part quiet. So here we go with *drum roll* fiction.
I read the bulk of this on a very pleasant train journey from Edinburgh at the end of May. It’s one of those books that everyone but everyone has been reading and reviewing so I’m not sure that I can add much that’s meaningful to all the words already out there, except to say that I really enjoyed it, Teddy is a wonderful character, it’s beautifully written, the parts about Teddy’s war service are astonishingly good and it was very moving. I’m not entirely sure that I understood the ending, and I think I may still (very slightly) prefer Life After Life, but this was a goodie.
This is sort of a sequel to The Three which I read and enjoyed last year. It’s another creepy horror novel, this time with a group of people stuck on a cruise ship where Something Goes Terribly Wrong in an is it aliens or something else we don’t understand but is out to mess with us kind of way. I liked it a lot.
There were lots of characters with no redeeming social features who got what they deserved but enough reasonable people to root for, and it was nicely done. And has reinforced my view that cruises are simply not for me.
The structure is the same as always, alternating viewpoints between Byrne and Balzano and the perpetrator, and there is definitely something to do with an asylum and their personal lives develop further and I know that I enjoyed reading at the time but that’s all I’ve got for you, sorry.
The eighth and as far as I’m aware the latest Byrne and Balzano story, this is the one with the dolls, obvs. And Byrne buys a house which used to belong to a convicted killer from a case he was involved in before. And the POV of the killer(s) is even creepier than you might expect from this series, which has been consistently enjoyable.
But again the details are a bit vague which is probably just as well as you really want to come to these fresh. By the way, I hate this cover SO MUCH.
This is the second in the Plague Trilogy; I devoured the first volume last year (my review is here) and was looking forward to this one being published and got my hands on the e-book as soon as it came out.
Different set of characters trying to deal with the sickness that has decimated the population and the impact that it has had on society. Violence and peril and alliances and danger and sacrifice. beautifully written, very compelling, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m already hankering after the third volume which I understand from a Twitter exchange with the author will have lots of jeopardy.
The novella by Clive Barker which was the basis for the Hellraiser moves, I was mildly astonished that I hadn’t read this before (honestly, call myself a horror fan?) and this was actually a book group read for a meeting I didn’t manage to attend. It’s a nasty little story full of blood and guts and torture and I thought it was great. Quite different from the film version though and *whispers* I think the story is better.
The most recent of the Laundry Files (well at least until this week when the next volume is published and before you ask, yes I have ordered it), this is basically about the bit of the civil service which deals with occult nonsense as described previously, but this time involves vampires. In the City of London. And other weird stuff.
I liked it a lot. I just really love Bob, the main protagonist, and his wife and the stuff he has to deal with and the endless bureaucracy and the fact that he doesn’t always have an answer for everything and bumbles along. I’ve seen a couple of mentions on Twitter and elsewhere that suggest others had problems with this entry in the series but I don’t exactly know why and I’m not sure I care enough to look. I am anxious about the fate of one of my favourite characters though…
So that quick canter through recent fictions reads brings me up to date. I feel a little guilty that I’m not giving these books the full treatment they probably deserve but the alternative was just to ignore them and I would have felt even worse about that, so there we are.
How am I doing?
Not too bad considering that I’ve been struggling with health issues and my reading has been patchy to say the least. My blog has been on hiatus and I’m still deciding how I’m going to handle reviewing the books I have read since late May, but where I have already reviewed I’ve provided a link.
- The Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge – shortlisted for the first James Herbert Award
- Day Four by Sarah Lotz – a sequel to The Three which was a favourite read from last year
- The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker – astonished I had never read this before given that it’s a bit of a classic
- The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross – the fifth in The Laundry Files series – vampires!
I’ve still got a few horror novels on my TBR list so fairly confident I’m going to exceed my target for this challenge 🙂
Triss wakes up after an accident which resulted in her being pulled half-drowned from a river near the cottage where she is staying with her parents and her younger sister Pen. But something isn’t right, Triss has changed in ways she doesn’t understand, and she needs to travel to some dark places to find out what’s going on and, more importantly perhaps, who she is.
Why did I want to read it?
I’ve had Cuckoo Song on my eTBR for a while but it was only when it was nominated for the first James Herbert award that I pulled it forward to read. I was intrigued about what could be in an ostensibly children’s book that got it onto that nominee list.
What did I think of it?
This is definitely a slow burner of a read, but incredibly atmospheric and once the world that Triss finds herself in has been established the plot really kicks off and builds to a very satisfying climax. Without being too spoilery, it’s clear from very early on that our Triss isn’t the real Triss but some form of changeling, and the question is how and why that has happened and to what ultimate purpose. So we get into some complicated family dynamics, parents who have become overprotective of their children because of the death of their only son in WWI, resentment between siblings, frustration at being hemmed in and the bargains people will make to get what they think they want without any real thought for the consequences.
It’s set in a version on 1920s England that has a steampunk aesthetic (at least that’s how I thought of it) but also a sense of there being another world of strange creatures sitting just to the side of the real world that our characters inhabit. There’s cruelty and kindness of all kinds, but the main impetus of the story is not-Triss trying to establish some form of identity for herself while trying to put right the things that have been done with her as an unwitting participant. And it has a really cool bad guy.
It took a little while for me to get into the story, and I actually set it aside for a bit until I was in the right frame of mind for this dark and unsettling fairy tale, but I’m glad I went back to it because it is a really well-written and effective story with some genuine horror at its heart.
I am counting this towards both Once Upon a Time IX (for the fairy tale and fantasy elements though it wasn’t on my planned reading list), and 2015 Horror Reading Challenge (because of the James Herbert nomination).
I have at least two more (possibly three) of Hardinge’s books and I will be sure to read them given how much I came to like Cuckoo Song.
As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year.
How am I doing?
Really well actually! I have read and reviewed the following (assisted by signing up for the King’s March challenge so this is a bit heavy on Mr K’s work):
Short stories (individual and collections)
- The Wide Carnivorous Sky by John Langan – which includes Mother of Stone, one of my favourite satires of the year (and possibly ever)
- North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Balingrud – which I didn’t enjoy quite so much
- a couple of short stories by Stephen King & Joe Hill
- The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – some might not call this horror but I thought it dealt with some very dark issues and it had huge impact on me
- Revival by Stephen King – King meets Lovecraft
- Carrie by Stephen King – where it all began, an important re-read for me
- Cell by Stephen King – King meets (sort-of) zombies
I have been reading the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross for several years and have now (almost) caught up. Many people consider these sci-fi but all the Lovecraftian stuff puts them firmly in horror for me.
So not bad at all. I really didn’t expect to do so well so early but that King challenge came along at the right time 🙂