Nobody is more surprised than me but I am the winner of the 2013 Book Awards for book reviews at the New York Journal of Books.
The Book Awards have been run by ‘not for profit’ publisher Acclaimed Books Limited since 2008 and, in that time, tens of thousands of voters from over one hundred countries around the world have shown their appreciation by supporting and nominating books in the competition.
“We have run the awards for over five years but last year was the first time we featured the, often unsung, stalwarts of the literary industry, our supporting professionals. Without the help of these talented individuals and organisations, many of our much-loved stories would never have seen the light of day. Steve has received particularly warm support. It really is quite an accomplishment for a ‘behind the scenes’ professional to inspire so many to get online and vote in such numbers, and Steve is a very worthy winner!” The Book Awards Managing Director, Peter Lihou
The Book Awards are the only international awards that are open to all professionals offering services to authors and titles distributed in Kindle or printed formats by Amazon.com sites around the world. Anyone can nominate or vote for a professional without charge or registration. Dubbed The People’s Book Awards, this openness attracts large numbers of visitors to the awards site www.thebookawards.com
Julia Kavan’s brilliant short story is re-released today. If you missed it last time, catch it now…
Dreaming, Not Sleeping
Some nightmares are simply too good to resist…
So, I’m here. There’s no turning back.
A few steps farther off the path and I will be consumed by the dark. A few steps farther and I will be embraced by the forest, wrapped in the musty smell of decay, held in its damp caress. A few steps farther and I will be lost forever.
Fallen twigs snap beneath my feet. Leaves whisper conspiratorially as I brush past. Twisted branches snatch at my face, scratch my cheek, draw blood. I press my fingers first against the wound, then against my lips, tasting the ferrous stain on my skin. I can hear my own breathing, my own heartbeat, over the wind whipping through the canopy of trees above me.
Not long now and I’ll see him. Not long now and I’ll be held softly in his arms and loved in a way I have only briefly tasted but often imagined.
What would you do if you believed your child was in mortal danger? How far would you go?
Lucy’s two young children have been gone for nine years now, an unbearable burden that haunts her even more because of her role in what happened.
You can hardly glimpse that carefree girl Lucy was before she married Matt. She was a magnet for men who were bad for her—men like Griffin. With shattering, unthinkable turns that will wrench every mother’s heart, this suspenseful story probes the issue of how well you know the person you married. How much can you trust them with your heart—and with your future?
That’s what the publisher’s blurb promises, but does the book deliver?
Without doubt it is a good book and quite an achievement for a 67-year-old debut novelist. The writing is confident and eminently readable, though not extraordinary. But whereas the blurb suggests this is Lucy’s story, it is most definitely equally Matt’s. And why will it wrench every mother’s heart and not every father’s?
Lucy is a bit of a bad girl. She has a penchant for drugs and rough sex, so falling for a cop might not be the best idea in the world—but she does just that while recovering from an emotional break up with Griffin, a nasty piece of work to say the least. Matt offers her steady reliability, and she takes it.
They get married and have two children, but during a bout of postnatal depression things take a turn for the worse. Matt’s perfect parenting skills begin to annoy Lucy, and their marriage comes under intense strain as she grows to resent him.
Feelings of inadequacy overwhelm her, and she starts an affair with old flame Griffin. Matt and Lucy split, and there is a tussle over the kids. Matt reckons— and no doubt readers will agree—that Lucy’s behaviour is endangering the children, so faced with losing custody of them he kidnaps them, changes all their identities, and starts a new life.
Dr. Thomson raises the thorny issues of separation, divorce, and the presumption in favor of granting custody to the mother, and he does it well enough. The story alternates from Lucy’s point of view to Matt’s and back again, giving the reader an insight into both sides, but the case in Lucy’s favour is not convincing—if indeed that was the intention.
So does the book deliver? Well, kind of. The marketing suggests something darker and far more disturbing, but perhaps that wasn’t ever the author’s intention.
This review appears in the New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
American archaeologist John Russell and his son arrive in a small British coastal town. Russell plans to investigate the death of the woman who meant most to them – his British wife, Isaac’s mother. At first, the town of Besselham seems eccentric and old-fashioned but, as John and Isaac dig deeper, they discover a gruesome secret. Behind the net curtains of a neat seaside house, behind the chintz-covered sofa, there lies a headless body. Blood covers the ceramic figurines and framed photos, soaks into the doilies and cushion covers. The good people of Besselham, the holidaymakers, shopkeepers and schoolchildren, have no idea that this is the beginning of a wave of unexplained deaths that will strike terror into the heart of their prim, conservative community.
As bodies pile up in the panic-stricken town, Russell makes a strange and sinister discovery on the beach at low tide. Is it just an ancient monument, or evidence of a blood cult rising from the distant past to engulf Besselham?
GRIM is Rupert Smith’s first venture into horror (he has written ten novels in all, plus a number of successful TV tie-ins). Dr Smith says that his inspiration for Grim was low-budget Hammer-style horror, and Stephen King’s big social canvases. Having visited the Norfolk coast over many years he felt he had to write about it, and the only way to evoke its weirdness was through horror.
Grim is not, therefore, a runaway slasher thriller, despite the copious amounts of blood and the sometimes brilliant depictions Dr Smith provides, but instead is a slow, brooding tale of terror that insinuates its cold fingers into the reader’s nerves little by little. One of its endearing qualities is that Dr Smith has populated Besselham with lots of weird characters, each one equal to the infamous Stephen King creation, Annie Wilkes.
“The room was dark and overheated and smelt even worse than the hallway, as if hundreds of thousands of cigarettes had been smoked in here, the ashtrays never emptied, and something had died behind one of the radiators.
A three-piece suite upholstered in faded brown velvet, far too big for the room, defined a small triangular space of dirty green carpet on to which Isaac stepped…Mr Muir lowered himself on to the sofa, taking up most of the space. Isaac tried to avoid looking at his gaping pyjamas…Mrs Muir rattled into the room with a tea tray. The cups were chipped, the teapot, once white, almost uniformly brown. Some biscuits sat on a plate that may once have doubled as an ashtray; they looked elderly.”
This all too familiar picture of Britain’s run down seaside towns will bring a smile to many readers’ lips, at the same time as making them shudder:
“He (Isaac) leaned against the sea wall, looking inland. The street was dirty, the surface sticky with whatever was running down from the gutters and into the sea – spilt beer from last night, perhaps, or urine, canine or human. It had not rained for a while, and in places the concrete was shiny with spilt liquid.
There was something between his feet, some piece of litter that seemed to be stuck to the ground. Isaac leaned forward for a closer look. A used condom, like the shed skin of some fat snake, lay where it had fallen. Here, against this very wall, under cover of darkness, or perhaps in the first light of dawn, a couple had been together. He felt a shudder of revulsion, and moved away, certain that the soles of his trainers were sticking to the tacky residue on the pavement. Half way down the stairs that led to the beach – filthy stairs, the edges cracked and broken, metal banisters rusted away by salt air – there lay the torn, discarded remains of a porno mag, tossed over the wall by a guilty reader, the pages now thick with sea water, the ink faded, but the images still clear, huge women pressing their breasts together with their upper arms while their hands foraged around below.”
Grim is a tale of the supernatural and macabre, set amidst the caravan parks and amusement arcades of a typical English coastal resort, in which Russell must risk everything to save his disturbed, lonely son Isaac before insatiable powers of evil claim and consume him. A damned good read it is, though it may not go down well with the Norfolk Tourist Board.
This review was written for the New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission
1334 BCE: Akhenaten the Sun-Pharaoh rules supreme in Egypt. The young Tutankhamun is groomed to be his successor. But then Akhenaten disappears and his legacy is seemingly swallowed up by the sands that lie under modern Cairo and the great pyramids of Giza . . .
ACE 1885: A half-crazed man appears claiming to know of a vast lost labyrinth beneath modern Cairo, of canals and palaces and tombs. His story won’t be believed for almost 30 years, with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1924.
Present day: Jack Howard and his team are excavating one of the most amazing underwater sites they have ever encountered. They hear the story of the crazed engineer. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of adventure and action, as they dive into the Nile into a world three thousand years back in history, inhabited by a people who have sworn to guard the greatest secret of all time. . .
If only. Anyone who has read previous books by Dr. Gibbins will be left wondering what has gone wrong. The title of the book—and indeed the blurb—suggests a story very much about a pharaoh and amazing underwater encounters. The reality is quite different.
Yes the pharaoh Akhenaten does make an early appearance in a rather confused scene with Nile crocodiles and unwanted priests, and he comes in a for a mention here and there throughout the book, but his role is no more than an adhesive to try to keep the other tenuous elements of the narrative from unravelling altogether.
Only after wading knee-deep through the 400 pages does it become clear that the reader has been sold a teaser for the follow-up novel, leaving the book in hand without a satisfactory conclusion. This may work from a sales point of view—assuming readers are willing to dish out yet more money to learn about the pharaoh—but surely in a novel of this length from an illustrious archaeologist and author the public can expect something more?
If there is a story in Pharaoh, it is about British soldiers in the desert. Great swaths of text as expansive and seemingly endless as the sands themselves provide a surfeit of detail including—but not limited to—weaponry, war, and camel handling. There is more information about the waste products of the camel’s digestive system than about the ancient Egyptians.
Joining the pharaoh in not making much of an appearance are the Nile crocodiles, and since the entire “plot” relies on the leviathan it beggars belief. Even as the intrepid hero Jack Howard and his trusty sidekick Costas contemplate diving in the treacherous waters, the reader anticipates a much needed fillip.
The crocs, however, have gone on vacation. Not one encounter with a live set of jaws while diving in the Nile? Suspension of disbelief sinks rapidly behind the distant dunes.
The explanatory notes at the end of the novel are without doubt the best bit. Dr. Gibbins knows his stuff. It is just a shame that the title of the book is full of ancient Egyptian mystical promise. If it had been presented as a military story about the downfall of General Gordon of Khartoum it would have been more accurate. As it stands, Pharaoh is a mystery for all the wrong reasons.
This review originally appeared at New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission: