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Book Review: ‘Haunted’ by James Herbert

Book review ‘Haunted’

by James Herbert

Rating: 2/5

ISBN-13: 978-0330451574

First Published 1988

 

The book follows the simple idea of a haunted house. David Ash is a psychic investigator who uncovers fake hauntings and has doubts as to the existence of ghosts. His sceptical view stems from a dark childhood secret. He travels to Edbrook, a remote country house, to investigate a haunting and stays with the Mariell family and begins to unravel their family secret.

Ok, so I have not read James Herbert for a while as I was getting fed up with his books. I got this book cheap in a charity shop, which is the best place to get books in my opinion. Or at least until I am an author and my royalties are affected. I had an open mind. Maybe with the passing of time, I would like his books again, maybe I had just read several duff books and this would be the one to bring me back.

The blurb in the dust cover promises that ‘he has taken on the haunted-house mystery story and re-forged it in his own uniquely brilliant and terrifying way.’  Sadly, the book is different to other haunted house stories in that James Herbert uses all the themes that he uses in all of his books, as well as every theme that haunted house films and books have used ever since, well, since houses were haunted.

James Herbert has very limited characters, which was the main reason that I was alienated from his books. All of his major characters in his books are late thirties to early forties, at least in ‘feel,’ if not implicitly stated. The character is always male, heavy smoker and drinker, hiding a bad past. The first pretty female encountered WILL end up in bed with said male character. She will have little character development and be very two dimensional.

Then there is the haunted house; the book reads like a check sheet of what to include. There is the murky pond haunted by a girl, life endangered one moment, then there is no threat, the house owner hiding information about a dodgy past, crazed people hidden from others, the violent dog, the ghost detectors that are not set off, child-like giggling, seeing someone, look again and they are gone, telephones not working, the local pub knowing something dodgy happens at the big house. Ok, you get the picture; there is nothing original in here at all. We’ve seen it all before!

Then there is the mitigation. James Herbert has the skill to form the story. His words leave deep impressions and vivid images. I did keep reading it; there were interesting parts, sadly not enough, and not enough originality. The haunted house is done to death, and it would take an incredible idea to revive it, sadly, ‘Haunted’ does not deliver.

 

Vedict: Unoriginal and disappointing.

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Book Review: “Dying Inside” by Robert Silverberg

Review: “Dying Inside”

By Robert Silverberg

(Sidgwick and Jackson 1972 ISBN 028398577I)

Davis Selig is a Jewish New Yorker in the 1970’s but has an incredible power of mind reading. He can enter minds and see what they know and think, seeing it as images. He has few friends, and the person he is closest to is his sister, and they do not particularly like each other. She is one of the few people who know of his power. However, the power is dying; he is finding it harder and harder to enter other minds.

As the book progresses, we learn of how he has used the power and the few people who have been close to him. It shows that he has identifies himself as ‘different’, and why this made him sad and lonely.

What to say about this book? Well it is hard going, the timeline jumps about, and there is a theses in full (He writes them) which does not contribute to the story at all, except possibly illustrating his character more. This chapter is long arduous and irrelevant.

            Yet the book is fantastic. Books about superheroes are about people who have fantastic powers and use them to save/takeover the world. Get real! If most people could read minds why not use it to get laid or cheat or have an easy life. David is too lazy and insecure to use his powers to get immensely wealthy or get a career, but he uses it to ‘bum about. Hey this is the 1970’s after all. The book is depressing about how much damage being different is, and Selig goes from applauding his powers to cursing them.

            The characters are strong, especially David, who despite being a bit of a loser, is lovable. The story is enjoyable and raises many questions, such as what we would really do if we had superpowers, and what is it like to be different in society. The ending is good, but not how I would have expected it. The content is very adult, and sometimes sexually disturbing.

            I had never heard of Robert Silverberg before, but found out with Google that he is normally a Sci-Fi writer and is a prolific author, and in 1958 had 80 stories published. He had been having 5 published a month previously. I will be seeking out more of his works.

Verdict: Fantastic book, I recommend it.

Book Review: Robert Moffat: The Story of a Great Missionary

Robert Moffat: The Story of a Great Missionary

By Hubert Williams

Published approx 1883 by National Sunday School Union

When I picked this book up at a car boot sale, I had no idea who Robert Moffat was, and although I admire missionaries, I know very little about them. The book was old, tired around the edges, yellow edged pages and fantastic plates illustrating the inside of the book. It was an old book, smelling of age, beautiful in its simplicity and naïve look, from a time long before e-books.

It was only £1, and loving all books and interested in Victorians, having recently finished Redvers Buller biography (see other review), I had to have it.

Robert Moffat (1795-1883) was a missionary and father in law to Dr Livingstone. He spent fifty years in Kuruman, (South Aftrica), and wrote the first book in the local language of Setswana;  “Bechuana Spelling Book and A Bechuana Catechism.” He then translated the entire Bible into Setswana.

The book has no date but a copy on the internet is marked as 1883 just after his death. The inside cover has a prize label marked 1934/5.

Reading the book, published by National Sunday School Union  and of this age shows, and writes for the audience who would be mainly British and Christian. The book is for a younger audience, and details his hard life and good Christian work. It appears sanitised for the audience, and more detail of his hard life would have been better.

By the end of the book, one is fond of the old man who gave his life to spread the Good News, and shared his sadness of family deaths and sees him as a good caring man.

For me, the book is too short, I feel and could have had more detail. I wanted to learn more about him, more about the conditions he lived, and even more information about the people he lived among. It would read as too heavy for modern children but too sanitised for adults.

Verdict: Good book for those with little or no knowledge of Moffat but not for all readers.

Review: “Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller” By Charles Henderson Melville CMG

Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller

By Charles Henderson Melville CMG

 

There is a statue on the Crediton road on the edge of Exeter of a soldier mounted on his horse, an inscription on the plinth reads; “He saved Natal.” This is Redvers Buller VC, a personal hero of mine who served in the Zulu Way of 1879, one of my favourite periods in history.

‘Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller’ is a biography about the Crediton VC recipient. The book was available only on Print on Demand (POD) by Bibliolife who try to keep old, out of print books alive.

Redvers Buller was a son of a Devonshire squire, who made his way in the army, winning a VC in the Zulu War by saving several men while under fire, was sent to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, led the army to victory for the Relief of Ladysmith, which subsequently allowed for the final victory in the Second Boer War. In Ireland, he reorganised the police to try to stem the rise of discontent and possibly one of his most important success, was the formation of the Army Service Corp (ASC) which allowed for better supply of weapons and food for the army. This has now become the Royal Logistics Corp and historians say, that without the ASC the Great War would not have been possible.

The book was written in 1923 and the age of the book is its advantage as well as disadvantage; the author interviewed the Buller family, including his wife and sister for information, and tries to use Buller’s letters and notes, and also those of his contemporaries. The downside is that one must remember when reading the biography that so much has not happened. The occasional comparison’s to the ‘modern army’ is in fact an army that has not experienced World War 2, and is the army of the British Empire at it’s most powerful. The events in of the book happened only twenty to seventy years previously.

The language can be difficult and to some reading today, offensive, showing just how much the English language has changed over the last ninety years. There is a use of the ‘N’ word but this is not used to be offensive but used correctly for the time. The spelling of some place names have changed too, such as ‘Kabul’ spelled as ‘Cabul’. The author of the book is an ex-soldier and the vocabulary draws much from the military area, which can be and obstacle for those less militarily minded.

The book is almost a historical source in its own, and written very personally. Originally written by a Brit for the British market, British items are often referred to as ‘ours’ (Our army, our men etc). The author does not state his opinion or judgement on the actions of the time, but does compare them on occasion to his own experience. The use of ‘I’ in many historical books is not common in modern books and in Biographies, only when the author knew the subject.

The biggest complaint of the book must be the ending. Or rather sudden stop. Reaching the end I was at first angry that the publisher had failed to print the whole book and was readying an e-mail of complaint. Searching the internet I found that they had included the book as originally written. The book ends with Buller’s successful reforms in Ireland.  However the book fails to continue. After Ireland, Buller served in the Second Boer War, having several defeats before achieving a string of major victories. After that, he had humiliating press coverage and was forced to resign his position. Why the life of Buller does not continue, I do not know. Maybe the author wanted to remove Buller’s humiliation of defeat and resignation. This fails to give a full overview of his life and excludes one of his great victories, that despite defeat he won in the end and the masses loved him, so much so that they erected the statue mentioned earlier and in Crediton church there is a large memorial to him.

For all its foibles, the book does give much detail on Buller’s life that is not available elsewhere. The picture of Buller that is so often seen is a portly gruff looking Victorian soldier. This biography tells a different story. One anecdote tells of his time at the military training school where he got up to pranks that would not look out of place with today’s young or even the ‘Inbetweeners’. His letters tell more of his heart and opinions. It is interesting to see his view of the ‘enemy’. He never hates them and there is no sign of racism. Indeed, he says of the Zulu’s as ‘fine fellows’ despite narrowly avoiding death with them, and he dislikes fighting the Boers as they had served alongside him in the Zulu wars. These views were never made for public consumption as a soldier is expected to do his duty, regardless of personal opinion. Havnig read quite widly on Buller, this level of detail is absent, and other writers only concentrate on his military successes and failures, and there are also very few biographies on Buller alone at all, even in his home town of Crediton.

The other important note that can be drawn from this book is that there are many parallels that can be drawn with modern life. The army held up by dithering politicians, and Egypt, was taken into British ‘protective custody’ but then the British cannot withdraw as Egypt has to have a serviceable army to stop Islamist extremists invading from the south (Afghanistan anybody?). Buller complains about the press coverage and liberal armchair generals who do no know what it is like to be a real soldier. It seems some lessons are never learnt.

So is this book a good read? It is not an easy, casual read, only for a committed reader with an interest in Redvers Buller or Victorian generals. The biography is good, but is let down by the lack of coverage of the last few (but important) years of his life.

 

Verdict: A hard read, informative but somewhat incomplete.

Review: “The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

Review: “The Last Kingdom,” By bernard Cornwell

(HarperCollins -ISBN 978-0-00-721801)

Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg is orphaned as a young boy by invading Danes who take him into slavery. However, impressed with Uhtred, he is adopted by the Danish leader, Ragnar. Taught the Viking way, Uhtred struggles with who he is – English or Dane, Christian or Pagan. The world is changing around him, the four kingdoms of England are dying until only Wessex is left, held by the weak King Alfred. Soon it will be invaded to become a Danish kingdom.

But Uhtred says ‘Fate is everything’ and all is not as it seems…

Every Englishman should know that Alfred the Great is the only English monarch to take the ‘Great’ suffix, and that he united England into a single nation. (if you don’t then Google it now!). “The Last Kingdom,” is the fictionalisation of this struggle, told from the view of Uhtred.  This being the first novel of eight (according to Cornwell although only six at present) it sets the world up. We learn who Uhtred is, and it introduces many characters, both real and fictional.

In Bernard Cornwell, I have come to expect heroics and horror, bravery and savagery wrapped up in a gritty novel that I can’t put down. This does not disappoint.

Uhtred’s character is much of the time, ignoring modern niceties and morals, he womanises and kills with the best of them. Despite this, he is still a lovable character to connect with. He has his struggles with faith and loyalties, he would love to go home but duty calls. In his younger days in the novel, he sees his religion less to do with faith and more with what he can get out of it. To him, an early teenage warrior, the Christian god is weak and worshipped by weeping men on their knees. Thor and Odin are worshipped by great warriors and an after life of maidens, drinking and fighting awaits.

The character of Alfred could have been saccharin, but Cornwell is no sycophant.  Alfred is not a great warrior, not a strong, or moral saint. He is portrayed accurately, such as womanising in his early life and weak through illness later on. His strength as a leader is faith, education and vision. The story is not a pretty mythical story of heroic English against savage Vikings; it is a struggle of fierce warriors, pillaging, shield walls and death.

The book keeps the reader gripped, as when one problem is about to be solved a sudden twist steals the reader of gratification of completion and keeps the desire to continue reading. It is filled with intentional irony, as readers know the historical outcome, yet the Danes are confident that the last English nation will fall and be theirs. To them, Alfred is a weak and useless king, and Wessex has no decent warriors. The Christian god has abandoned them and that is why they will fall…

Yet what of the downsides of the novel? I struggle to find any. Some characters have similar names (Odda and Ubba) and unusual place names. The storyline is about him growing up from becoming an orphan to a great warrior rather than any set quest, but this is intentional as there is still much more story to tell.

 

 

‘The Husband’ by Dean Koontz

‘The Husband’ by Dean Koontz tells the tale of a regular hard working man, Mitch Rafferty who one day receives a ‘phone call telling him he needs to pay $2million or his wife will die. He is a gardener and does not have that money, but the kidnappers insist he will be able to find the money; he just has to do what they tell him.

This is not the story of a superhero, a special agent, this is just a regular American guy and it shows. Koontz crafts the story in a a believable way. What would you do if your wife was kidnapped and they threaten to kill her? Mitch’s knowledge of guns is only what he gets from Hollywood, and often that is wrong. He realises he is no trained killer, but those he is dealing with are. As the story progresses, Mitch gets more and more desparate and take mores more and more dire action, but never does he suddenly become James Bond.

There are plot twists, and I was glued as I was reading, as often as I read, all seemed settled and would turn out fine, I was wondering why there was so much book left. Then it went wrong and the situation was more desparate. My favourite part of the book involves Mitch being in the boot of a car, which, in my opinion, is a classic episode, but I will say no more. read the book to find out what i mean.

Dean Koontz has written many fantastic books, and this book must be among my favourites.

‘Sharpe’s Triumph’ by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Triumph is the second in the ‘Sharpe’ series but the first that I have read. It does not rely on the reader having read the previous book and is a complete book in itself. The story follows Sgt Richard Sharpe up to the Battle of Assaye in India 1803. As with many Bernard Cornwell books, it mixes real events with fiction.

The book is fantastic, creating a great atmosphere in the British army of 19th century India. The characters are all believable and there are many likable ones. I was disappointed and upset when one character died, showing how expert Cornwell is at making real characters. The ‘baddies’ are not the totally evil guys that frequent Hollywood and lesser novels. They are real people, some misguided, some nasty but all with balanced believability and with other interests. They are driven by duty, lust, money, hatred or power. Sharpe too, is not all good. He has doubts some nasty thoughts and acts in a believable Victorian way.

The historical facts bathe the book so tiny details that a reader may not notice add to the flavour – such as the blackened faces of riflemen from firing flintlocks constantly. I did find one mistake which i was disappointed at. The 74th Highland Regiment was actually called Campbell’s Highlanders until 1845. A simple fact maybe, but when he has put so much detail in the rest of thebook, a minor and easy to find detail should have been ironed out.

Do i have criticisms? Not really, but if I search for them, there is possibly too much detail in the real world. I wanted more of a fiction story rather than so much time spent decribing the battle. As much as i enjoy history, I would rather this was in historybooks and not fictional books.

‘Burning Land’ by Bernard Cornwell

‘Burning Land’, by Bernard Cornwell is the 5th book in the series about Uhtred of Babbenberg. It is a stand alone novel, referring back to the previous but not relying on them, which i believe is a strong point, especially as i have not read the other four novels. Set in 890AD, it pitches Vikings against Saxons, and instantly, Cornwell transports us back to the dark, violent and dirty times. No niceities here, this novel is hard hitting, creating a desperate struggle for survival. The names of the places are in Old English, rather than modern English, but there is a short translation at the beggining. I could not put this down, it was enthralling, and the characters believeable. Cornwell has excelled himself once more.

What I’m Reading…

I always read lots of different stuff at the same time. One book for lunch time, one for before bed etc. So here is a list of books i am reading:

‘The Dark of the Sun’  Wilbur Smith. This is going very well, although I went into it with scepticism, following the disappointment of  ‘Assegai’. Set in modern days, following a group of mercenaries in Africa, I have been impressed. A review will be up soon.

The Bible: Part way through the Old Testament, difficult going, but very interesting and helping my Christian journey.

‘Young Fur Traders’ RM Ballantyne. Tried this when i was younger. Very old book, but never completed it. Have only just started and it is great so far. Written in 1856 so the style is unlike much written today.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40K Rulebook. Not novels, but i read the rules over and over especially Warhammer as they have only recently come out and so i am not up to date with them. Great game to get into as it has been a great inspiration to me across the years.