A Sentimental Education: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
Dutton Books (hardback), 1980
192 Pages

Author Website

Amazon (UK)

What It’s About
Six short stories about love: a love cruel, violent and often destructive, which does not admit hesitation and compromise: that love is a shattering experience, an explosion, an attack that shakes the spirit and the body. In the stories of Oates life is a battle fierce, no holds barred, for success but also for the need to be recognized, accepted, remembered and loved.

Opening Paragraph
This is how Claire Falk’s marriage of twenty-six years, which accounted for more than half her life, ended one humid Saturday afternoon in June: she blundered into overhearing a conversation (QUEEN OF THE NIGHT)

What I Thought
A Sentimental Education is a collection of strong stories. The stories aren’t brilliant but they were all really enjoyable.

I’ve never read any of the stories in this collection. This made a pleasant change. JCO has written so many stories that they tend to crop up in multiple collections. If the story is amazing like, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? this is a good thing but not so good for weaker stories. I liked reading some brand new stuff.

I enjoyed every story in A Sentimental Education. The stories all deal with similar themes – essentially love, cruel, obsessive, destructive and brutal love. My kind of love. I don’t like love that is twee, all holding hands while skipping through the daisies singing tra-la-la. I like love that hurts so much it feels like you’ve been snapped in half. This collection offers this type of love in spades.

The title story is the longest and the best in the collection. The Precipice is the second best story. I found it really dark at times and incredibly sad. Queen of the Night is a great story, beautiful, chilling and disturbing at times. The Tryst really unsettled me. The other stories were all really good but didn’t have quite the same impact.

A Sentimental Education is an excellent collection of JCO’s earlier stories.

Stories included:

  • Queen of the Night
  • The Precipice
  • The Tryst
  • A Middle-Class Education
  • In The Autumn of the Year
  • A Sentimental Education





Anonymous Sins And Other Poems By Joyce Carol Oates
Louisiana State University Press (hardback), 1969
79 Pages

Author Website

Amazon (UK)

What’s It’s About
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the best-known writers in America today. Her recent novel Them won the National Book Award, and two of her other novels have been nominated for the award.

Anonymous Sins and Other Poems, her first published collection of poetry, represents a distinctive new voice and will evoke a strong response from the discerning reader.

The Dark
A wood breaks to immense flower in blossoms.
The blossoms break to small, fragrant faces.
Above their careful eyes lift a flock of birds
To whom the air is water, layered air,
The texture of clouds lowered.

What I Thought
I thought Anonymous Sins and Other Poems was excellent, another shining example of JCO’s talent as a writer. This woman can turn her hand to anything.

What I loved about these poems is the fact they convey as much meaning as a short story of a decent length or in many cases (Gravity, A Drawing of Darkness, A Girl at the Centre of Her Life and Of the Violence of Self-Death) as much as a novel. There is skill is conveying so much in so little space. JCO has this skill in spades. The longest poem in this collection is about 50 lines and JCO could have written a novel.

I enjoyed so many poems including those listed above: Lines for Those to Whom Tragedy Is Denied, Unborn Child, The Ride, On Being Borne Reluctantly To New York State, By Train, And So I Grew Up To Be Nineteen And To Murder, Anonymous Sins and A Crowded River, Sunday are just a few that resonated the most.

Anonymous Sins and Other Poems is a great collection of poems. Highly recommended.

Poems included:

  • The Dark
  • Lines For Those To Whom Tragedy Is Denied
  • Five Confessions
  • American City
  • Three Dance Of Death
  • Tinkly Song
  • At An Old Downtown Square
  • Unborn Child
  • Gravity
  • A Drawing Of Darkness
  • The Ride
  • A Girl At The Centre Of Her Life
  • Of The Violence Of Self-Death
  • Marriage
  • On Being Borne Reluctantly To New York State, By Train
  • Foetal Song
  • Alarms
  • Sleepwalking
  • Centuries Of Lovers
  • To Whose Country Have I Come?
  • And So I Grew Up To Be Nineteen And To Murder
  • A Woman In Her Secret Life
  • Women In Love
  • A Rising And Sinking And Rising In My Mind
  • An Internal Landscape
  • Cupid And Psyche
  • In The Night
  • Transparencies
  • Like This… So This
  • Anonymous Sins
  • Dead Actors
  • A Crowded River, Sunday
  • Vanity





Blood Red by Paul Kane
Short, Scary Tales Publications (ebook), expected publication: December 2015
334 Pages

Author Website

Publisher Website

I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for a review.

What It’s About
Evil takes on many forms. This is something Rachael Daniels, a lowly care worker, is about to find out . . . personally. Because something is roaming the streets of the city where she lives, something with a taste for human blood: sweet, red blood. Something that can be anything it wants to be. Soon Rachael will learn that not even friendly faces can be trusted. But, as she makes her way across that city at night on an errand of mercy, she discovers this terrifying creature will definitely have none for her.

Blood RED
In the aftermath of the events in RED, the hunt is back on—but who is the hunter and who is the prey? As a team of trackers—fuelled by revenge—attempt to take down the monster that has been causing havoc in its wake, they are forced to seek help from an unexpected source. And after the resultant struggles and battles, things will never be the same ever again.

A modern, urban reworking of a classic fairy tale, the novella RED & novel Blood RED put the horror spin on an old favourite. If you dare to open these pages, you’ll find a terrifying trip into the unknown courtesy of bestselling and award-winning author Paul Kane (the sell-out Hooded Man series, Lunar, Monsters). With an introduction from bestselling author Alison Littlewood (Path of Needles, The Unquiet House), cover art and design by Dave McKean (Cages, MirrorMask), plus a whole host of extras exclusive to the Signed Limited Hardcover Edition—including an extract from the award-winning movie script adaptation of RED—this is a collector’s item not to be missed.

Opening Sentence

What I Thought
This was a brilliant novella, just dark and gory enough without being extreme. The opening prologue is fantastic. Kane grabbed me by the throat from the first page and refused to let go. I liked everything about Red. I thought Rachael was a great character and she carried the story well. I loved the creepiness and the dark atmosphere. I loved Red.

This was a brilliant short novel and an excellent conclusion to Red. Even though Blood Red is a sequel to Red it can be read as a stand-alone-piece. You don’t need to have read the original novella to follow what’s going on. I loved the way this short novel developed and how the gaps from Red are filled. This is proper horror, creepy and unsettling but brilliant. I love the twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood. Who doesn’t love dark and twisted tales inspired by disturbing and unsettling fairy-tales? I loved every page.

I had a great time reading Red and Blood Red. Paul Kane’s work has impressed me so far (I reviewed his story collection, Monsters recently.

I’d highly recommend Blood Red.





Music In The Bone And Other Stories By Marion Pitman
Alchemy Press (ebook), 2015
200 Pages

Publisher’s Website (Book Page)

Publisher’s Website (Author Page)

Amazon (UK)

I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for a review.

What It’s About
Stories poised to send you over the edge… He had been looking for sunlight, and there wasn’t any. He was much too young to remember before the dust got between the earth and the sun… Beneath the turbid ocean, the kraken slept with one eye open. …the skin drawn tight on the skull. She smiled, and beckoned to me with a skeletal hand… Sami had a theory: “Speed beyond a certain point isn’t natural. It upsets the waves of reality.” But when I know – ah, then what shall I know? “(Marion Pitman’s) stories are about people who discover that the floorboards of reality are much thinner than they had supposed, and in some cases have been removed altogether.” – John Dallman.

Opening Sentence
The ballad finished, the woman sat down, and a man with a guitar stepped to the front of the room (MUSIC IN THE BONE)

What I Thought
Music in the Bone and Other Stories is a great collection of stories. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

I enjoyed every story in this collection. There’s a good mix of stories here. Some stores are downright chilly and un-nerving (i.e. Music in the Bone, Looking Glass and Overnight Bus). Other tales were quite amusing but no less enjoyable (i.e. Indecent Behaviour and The Cupboard of Winds).

I have a few favourites from the collection. The title story is one of the best stories I’ve read in ages. I found it unsettling, creepy and plain brilliant. I had this little voice repeating yes, this is great over and over as I read. Disposal of the Body and Out of Season were excellent. I found Looking Glass delightful. Overnight Bus and The Cupboard of Winds were fantastic. I really liked the other stories but these shone a little brighter.

The collection concludes with the author giving a little summary about where the inspiration for each story came from. I’m the kind of reader who loves this insight so this was a little treat after reading so many good stories.

Included stories:
 Music In The Bone
 The Seal Songs
 Amenities
 Sunlight In Spelling
 Disposal Of The Body
 Out Of Season
 Washing Of The Waters
 Saxophony
 Looking Glass
 Christmas Present
 Overnight Bus
 Indecent Behaviour
 Forward And Back, Change Places
 District To Upminster
 The Cupboard Of Winds
 Contamination
 Eyes Of God
 Dead Men’s Company
 Meeting At The Silver Dollar





Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
Harper (ebook), 2013
305 Pages

Author’s Website

Book Website

Amazon (UK)

What It’s About
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a haunting and humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, in a compelling tale of unsolved murder and Internet prostitution.

One late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert, after running through the oceanfront community of Oak Beach screaming for her life, went missing. No one who had heard of her disappearance thought much about what had happened to the twenty-four-year-old: she was a Craigslist prostitute who had been fleeing a scene–of what, no one could be sure. The Suffolk County Police, too, seemed to have paid little attention–until seven months later, when an unexpected discovery in a bramble alongside a nearby highway turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced, all wrapped in burlap. But none of them Shannan’s.

There was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen at Penn Station in Manhattan three years earlier, and Melissa Barthelemy, last seen in the Bronx in 2009. There was Megan Waterman, last seen leaving a hotel in Hauppage, Long Island, just a month after Shannan’s disappearance in 2010, and Amber Lynn Costello, last seen leaving a house in West Babylon a few months later that same year. Like Shannan, all four women were petite and in their twenties, they all came from out of town to work as escorts, and they all advertised on Craigslist and its competitor, Backpage.

Opening Sentence
To most travellers, the barrier islands of Long Island are just a featureless stretch between Jones Beach and Fire Island – a narrow strip of marsh and dune, bramble and beach, where the grassy waters of South Oyster Bay meet the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

What I Thought
I’ve resolved to read at least one non-fiction book every month. I will likely read a biography, autobiography, memoir, travelogue (i.e. Bill Bryson) or true crime. This my first attempt at this new reading outlet.

Lost Girls is one of the saddest, moving and most touching books I’ve ever read. I cried several times reading it and my eyes still feel damp. I have a vague memory of seeing a programme about these murders a while ago on some TV channel. I don’t remember when or which show or channel.

I found this book heart-breaking at times. The murders have never been solved. No one has been arrested and served time for so mercilessly ending these lives. This book makes it clear there can never be any real closure for the families. Even if someone was arrested and sent to prison there wouldn’t be real closure but the families would get a sense of an ending. This has been denied.

One of the most striking things about Lost Girl and the crimes discussed within is how little regard the police seemed to have for the missing girls, even when the bodies started turning up. The attitude of disregard because the girls were missing and later dead prostitutes chilled me. Why should a dead or missing prostitute matter less than a dead or missing child? They victims were completely dismissed because of their profession which disgusted me.

I liked how the book focuses mostly on the families of the victims, four in particular and Shannon’s family, especially when her remains are finally found. I wouldn’t have felt so emotional if the crimes were discussed from the perspective of the police. This really tugged at my heart-strings.

I’d highly recommend Lost Girls to anyone looking to read a true crime book that’s not full of blood and gore.





Death Is A Welcome Guest by Louise Welsh
John Murray (hardback), 2015
384 Pages

Author Website

Amazon (UK)

What It’s About
Magnus McFall was a comic on the brink of his big break when the world came to an end. Now, he is a man on the run and there is nothing to laugh about.

Thrown into unwilling partnership with an escaped convict, Magnus flees the desolation of London to make the long journey north, clinging to his hope that the sickness has not reached his family on their remote Scottish island.

He finds himself in a landscape fraught with danger, fighting for his place in a world ruled by men, like his fellow traveller Jeb – practical men who do not let pain or emotions interfere with getting the job done.

This is a world with its own justice, and new rules.

Where people, guns and food are currency.

Where survival is everything.

Opening Sentence
London was hotter than Mumbai that summer, hotter then Beirut, hotter than hell, or so people said.

What I Thought
I loved Death Is a Welcome Guest, the second book in Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy. I loved the first book, A Lovely Way to Burn as well.

This novel reminds me of the TV series, The Walking Dead. I’m a huge fan of the programme so this is meant as a complement. While there are no walkers in this novel, certain elements such as groups of survivors forming a community remind me of the show.

Death Is a Welcome Guest isn’t connected to A Lovely Way to Burn. The books and presumably the final book are linked by the plague but the stories are self-contained. I find this really interesting for a trilogy. Welsh makes this work really well.7

I enjoyed Death Is a Welcome Guest from start to finish. The characters are really good. I thought Marcus and Jeb were great characters. I liked the fact they’re so different from Stevie in A Lovely Way to Burn. I found the second half much stronger when things go a little crazy.

I’d highly recommend Death Is a Welcome Guest and can’t wait to see what Welsh produces in the final book in the trilogy.





Look At Me by Jennifer Egan
Corsair (ebook), 2001
447 Pages

Author Website

Amazon (UK)

What It’s About
A fashion model named Charlotte Swenson emerges from a car accident in her Illinois hometown with her face so badly shattered that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble it. She returns to New York still beautiful but oddly unrecognizable, a virtual stranger in the world she once effortlessly occupied.

Charlotte’s narrative is interwoven with those of other casualties of society’s infatuation with the image. There’s a deceptively plain teenaged girl embarking on a dangerous secret life, an alcoholic private eye, and an enigmatic stranger who changes names and accents as he prepares an apocalyptic blow against American society. These narratives converge in this intellectual thriller of identity and imposture.

Opening Sentence
AFTER THE ACCIDENT, I became less visible.

What I Thought
I loved Look at Me.

I’ve become quite a fan of Jennifer Egan over the past few months. I’ve read all her novels except A Visit from the Goon Squad (to read in 2016 for my repetition of the Popsugar Reading Challenge) and The Keep (on my list of books I intend to borrow from the library at some point).

Look at Me has all the elements of a great thriller; mystery, intrigue and drama. All of the elements work really well together to create one of the most interesting and well-written thrillers I’ve come across in ages.

The novel switches narrative point of view every few chapters. Some chapters are told from Charlotte’s perspective and are written in the first person. Other chapters are written in the third person from the perspective of other characters including the teenage daughter of Charlotte’s old school friend Ellen, also called Charlotte. This works really well.

The characterisation is spot on. Every character is vivid, well-written and so real they step off the page and come to life. Charlotte, both of them was my favourite. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a main character who was a model recovering from reconstructive surgery. I expected (stereotypically) for her to be vain and spoiled and I couldn’t have been more wrong. She’s one of the most complex characters I’ve ever come across. I could relate to what teenage Charlotte was going through as well.

I enjoyed every page of Look at Me. I felt real sympathy for Charlotte as she struggles to find her place in her old world with her new face. I liked all of the people she encounters as she tries to carve a new identity for herself. I thought the ending was great.

I’d highly recommend Look at Me.