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Deadweight by Nick Crutchley – 5/5 Stars – Book Review and Free Kindle Codes

‘This autobiographical novel is therefore not about me, it’s about you.’

The close emotional personal experiences of author Nick Crutchley – many painful – were not easy to write about in this review, never mind for the author. I shall try my best.

Deadweight by Nick Crutchley - front cover

Initial impressions

I didn’t know what was happening at first, or why, but it was a serious Incident (no spoilers here). The following chapters give us an insight into why it may have happened, but nothing is clear. What I did grasp afterward was that beyond Nick’s initial positive interest in the spiritual and fantasy there’s a lot of pressure on him, evoking great sadness. My interpretation of Deadweight early on was that trouble in family and in teenage friendships/relationships may have had an impact on the Incident, but it’s difficult to be certain.

We move on, and though Nick is often with friends his isolation grows, like a fracturing away. I noticed fewer new positive friendships were mentioned later on, and it’s more awkward with those he already has. I’m unsure how I felt about this fracturing away when reading. As far as I know, there were elements of a few mental illnesses involved. And Nick sought a solution to his problems himself. There was a memorable point in the book after the Incident when he said, ‘the deadweight compresses memories and feelings as I realise no one will ever listen’.

What’s it about?

It’s an autobiography about serious mental illness, pressure, betrayal, friendship, desperation, and hope. To elaborate, Deadweight is author Nick Crutchley’s journey from teenage years to adulthood, covering his friendships, his experiences, and his hard times.

The subject matter is serious, yet I found the delivery addictive as we dive into personalities and situations that move the ‘protagonist’ forward, and so to me it reads like interwoven short stories, with some characters reappearing or getting mentioned again and others fading into obscurity without conclusion; that’s life, I suppose. Part II held most of my attention, being focused on strong bonds and revolving around a spiritual game. In the way it was written I foresaw two possibilities occurring, and one did.

What did it remind me of?

Initially I thought – not being a big autobiography reader – that Deadweight dives into personal experiences in vivid detail that reminded me of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. Soon I realised it was not like anything I had read, unlike a fiction story with a beginning-middle-end structure, and compressed with lots of subtle hidden meanings; with a magical, spiritual, and conspiratorial edge.

Is there something to learn from Deadweight?

I think there is. The following thoughts are my own conclusions. I gathered that the author grew up in a time when mental illness was less understood and accepted. When communication with family fails, and when friendships fail and become more distant, there is no support. There is no open channel of communication with those you do know, and none from any external provider. You’re treated as if you have a disease, left alone to find your own solution, and I think this must make things worse. The aim of Deadweight is to promote a more compassionate society, and I think it certainly does this by showing what happens when there is no compassion. A reader only displays a smidgen of the author’s bravery: the author who recorded his close, personal, and painful experiences to the public to help others. It brings a tear to my eye.

Nick Crutchley’s Website

Free Kindle Codes

Fantastic news for readers: I’ve available one US Kindle code and one UK Kindle code of Deadweight by Nick Crutchley. The first two readers to comment on this post will be sent the link to their email address.

 

 

 

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden – 4/5 Stars

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

What’s it about?

It’s a twisted dark game: a battle between good and evil after an unknown sense-messing explosion. Kattar takes refuge in a building, taking granted ‘what is’, and he only wants to find the exit, for there is danger lurking within the tower.

First impressions

I did find the premise to be interesting: someone trapped in a glass tower looking for the exit, and I wondered if I was reading some form of visionary crime thriller, though the reviews told me otherwise. First impressions were of surreal oddness, smacking of retro science fiction style. Something was happening, and I wasn’t sure what, beyond a sense of chaos and crazy irrelevant characters made relevant by such statements as ‘there’s not much sense around’, and objects made convenient by their bizarre lack of convenience, with an old man’s glasses for example. I rather think this style continued throughout, and it was unusual.

Next, we behold a sense of wonder. What situation is Kattar in exactly? He’s trapped in a building because of a black cloud caused by the explosion of a white van, causing the building to be in lockdown, and he can’t get to the areas he usually does. It turns out he actually works in the building as a cleaner. Kattar was already a part of the building and whatever happens in it before the start of the novella. Surely, it can only be in lockdown for a temporary period of time, and so we’re introduced to a fascinating series of events that may play out, but we’re still not sure what exactly. Will there be a mass killer on the loose and he has to find the exit? Have they no rooms for him to stay in during the night?

Praise

Imagery in Sea of Glass could make you cringe, hide, vomit, or gaze in stupefied, fascinated terror. And that’s before you’re introduced to what may be happening in the tower. There is fear, pervasive inability to escape, and ruthless punishment. The rest is the reader’s surprise!

The author should write more of this fiction, being unique, entertaining, stimulating, and macabre. The premise was excellent, which helped. The imagery and description was the most gruesome I’d ever read. Kattar’s experiences were eye opening, all the better described and imaginative for being nonsensical and of dubious relevance.

I’m feeling two things about the existence of Rebecca Gransden’s fiction: elation it exists, and concern.

Criticism

As a novella, I’m unsure how well the story worked. My impression was one of vivid, yet fleeting images, much of it deliberately nonsensical as a result of the style. It could be that I was not used to the symbolism and the metaphorical language, leaving me in the dark. There were a few passages I had to reread, and this didn’t always bother me unless I couldn’t fathom the subject. I believe this was personal taste; I don’t know how the existence of the symbolism and metaphorical language could be changed.

We weren’t given opportunity to explore some aspects as much as I’d have liked. Some reviewers commented on how the places could have been described with more clarity, and I think I agree. In the theatre, I still wasn’t sure what was where. A bit more time for Kattar to take his bearings before the author describes them may have helped me develop a clearer image.

Author’s message

There was, I believe, with the poetical and metaphorical language and digressions, a corporate thread or message in Sea of Glass and I wasn’t sure exactly what was being shown, but perhaps the twisted, hellish, sadistic, broken-relationship that can exist in such environments. There were characters with their own selfish agendas and realms within the building that differed enormously. That theatre was sinister! I’d quite like to hear more about author Rebecca Gransden’s message.

Conclusion

Sea of Glass was an experience in reading a style I haven’t come across, with writing that has a sense of shocking immediacy and scenes that bend so far away from reality it makes you wonder why it is you’re so engrossed in them. Author Rebecca Gransden is wielding some powerful writing material.

Read more of author Rebecca Gransden’s writing

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock – 5/5 Stars

Elric by Michael Moorcock - Front Cover
First impressions

I was expecting an anti-hero ruler with a measure of villainous strength. However, the story actually begins differently, giving the reader a premonition of tragedy as we’re introduced to the main characters of Elric’s court: Elric, his enemy Yyrkoon, Dyvim Tvar, and Elric’s love interest Cymoril who happens to be Yyrkoon’s sister. You can already imagine the tension surrounding Cymoril in the court.

We step in the shallow end with the origins of Elric, showing him to be a benevolent ruler more preoccupied with morals, mercy, and wisdom than with following the aggressive military traditions of Imrryr – a city inhabited by a god-like race of those who can practice sorcery. Elric’s physical weaknesses and unconventional approach to being a ruler brings him enemies, typically Yyrkoon who wishes to make Imrryr great again and to wage war on the Young Kingdoms — kingdoms composed of ordinary folk — as per Imrryr tradition.

It’s something old, but is it anything new?

What’s most admirable about Elric is that he won’t be swayed by the advice of Cymoril or Dyvim Tvar, even when they have his best interests at heart. It’s admirable, yet at the same time it was difficult for me to see Elric as anything more than a weak figurehead obsessed with pacifism and ideals … he was almost asking for something tragic and eye opening to happen. Suffice to say there is something of destiny and a reliance on gods, goddesses, and sorcery. Sounds like your typical sword-and-sorcery or heroic fantasy, and it is punchy and pared down compared to something like Tolkien. The introductions aren’t lengthy, and the plot barrels forward with the use of ideas and devices that will fascinate and intrigue the reader, and I’ll not say any more than that.

No spoilers but what can I expect later on in the story?

As the story progresses Yyrkoon tests Elric’s power further, trying to manipulate him into remaining at court while he goes to confront the bold Young Kingdom fleet. Later on, it’s a battle of wits as much as sorcery, magical objects galore, and on who the gods favour more. Both characters can see through one another’s plans, though Elric is wiser and less reckless.

Overall

The best fantasy writing I’ve ever read, from renowned author Michael Moorcock. The character Elric and those surrounding him infuse his quests with moral dilemmas and tragedy, and there is enough fighting and ground-shaking conflict to remind you Elric is able to take care of himself and there is a lot at stake.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – 5/5 Stars

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions

I couldn’t remember the Golden Compass film well, but I did suspect I’d start with the impression I’d be reading a book only for children. I was wrong on this, finding Northern Lights to be intellectually satisfying for adults, with some of the most beautiful in depth descriptions I’ve ever read (see below). I did eventually get the impression I was reading a story authored by a teacher. There are scientific elements, inventions reminiscent of the steampunk genre, and religious influences in the form of institutions and verse. There were strong themes of the promise of mental discovery and the threatening yoke of conformity. Where beliefs are a good thing, it’s in the presence of magical fantasy and wonder.

Premise of the story

Lyra is a child living in the prestigious Jordan College, though many of her habits are less than prestigious. She’s adventurous, and naughty, with a keen sense of curiosity that can get her into trouble. When all the children are going missing, the Gobblers are blamed and Lyra is determined to go north. In fact, whatever the reason, Lyra seems determined to go north.

Criticism

Some of the passages of Lyra interacting with the bears were the most fascinating and engaging in the story. I did wonder how she was able to trick some of them as easily as she did when they were known for not being tricked. Did I miss something?

Beautiful descriptions

‘Looking up at the stone pinnacles of the chapel, the pearl-green cupola of the Sheldon Building, the white painted Lantern of the Library.’

‘Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine, and they sweep us all into the current.’

‘The bleakest barest most inhospitable godforsaken dead-end of nowhere.’

‘Then, with a roar and a blur of snow both bears moved at the same moment. Like two great masses of rock balanced on adjoining peaks and shaken loose by an earthquake, that bound down the mountainsides gathering speed, leaping over crevasses and knocking trees into splinters, until they crash into each other so hard that both are smashed to powder and flying chips of stone: that was how the two bears came together.’

Concluding comments

It’s as wonderful as Harry Potter and as bewitching as Terry Pratchett, covering misfortune, tragedy, outrage, and heroism. I’d certainly feel enriched continuing with the series.

I was super impressed by the magical feeling of turning of every page, and my estimation of Philip Pullman’s writing is high. I’m confident his other books are also stellar reads!

Philip Pullman’s Website

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells – 4/5 Stars

‘There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.’

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells - Front Cover

First impressions

I wasn’t sure on opening the book what sort of story I was letting myself in for – I didn’t even know what vivisection was and I supposed I imagined some island with strange monsters akin to Planet of the Apes. The fact it was written by HG Wells was enough for me, and there were times as in his other works, when his flair for description really increased the pace of the story and got across the character of things: ‘over the taffrail leaned a silent black figure, staring at the waves …’

What’s the story about?

I thought it was about cruelty, foremost, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with the author: the thought that a human could be ‘vivisected’ is seen as abhorrent in the book, but less tragic if it were an animal, which was a presumption I did not feel I agreed with. There were other instances displaying the superiority of man, with a whip or weapon, next to lowly beasts. Until after the end of the story, when I felt I’d missed the point. Perhaps author HG Wells was challenging these assumptions about the superiority of ‘man’, showing us we’re no less fallible than those creatures we seek to control. What are our primitive instincts when seen from another?

‘That another’ in the story is main character Prendick, who on arriving on the island observes the bizarre creations of notorious Doctor Moreau, often fearing for his life or succumbing to rapid pacing or fitful rages; a characteristic I see as typical of HG Wells’ main characters.

Criticism

Some of the initial descriptions of the monsters and Prendick’s response to them could have been more snappy and impactful. I think the reason was that the general descriptions were meant to provide an air of mystery and the unknown, which the author did elaborate on afterward.

Conclusion

The end was the reason for the entire book, covered in less than four pages, and proved, in case you had any doubt, you were not simply reading wild fascinating adventures on an island with beasts, but a classic story with a powerful end. It contained a quote I found to be meaningful and special: ‘There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.’

Editor Wandering Out – November 2019

Alex James on social media

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Latest photos

On Facebook – ‘Editor Wandering Out – November 2019‘ album

Instagram (search manually)

Previous albums

On Facebook – ‘Editor Wandering Out – October 2019‘ album

On Facebook – ‘Editor Wandering Out – September 2019‘ album

Editor Wandering Out – October 2019

Be sure to check in on my recent social media at www.facebook.com/alexjameseditor and www.instagram.com/alexjameseditor or @alexjameseditor ‘handle’ on both. You can find the relevant albums and highlights if you search manually, though I’ve included links to help find them below.

On Facebook – October 2019 album

London trip

I accompanied my brother to London, and I was fortunate enough to explore the British Library St Pancras. I loved it there. It was my home away from home. There were historical treasures aplenty, busts, spacious seating areas to chill out, café/study area, and even bookshops (in a library?). There was this massive bookshelf that climbed … well, you need to see it for yourself. There may have been times I forgot to keep my mouth shut when browsing books, though nobody pointed it out.

There are bookshops on Picadilly. We checked out Hatchards bookstore, which had a spiral staircase leading to many floors. It was the sort of staircase that reminds you of the temperamental one in Harry Potter that changes its mind based on passwords, remember? Hatchards had a nice ‘books aplenty’ feel to it. Waterstones London was nice and spacious. We were tired by this point and I felt it was much similar to the Leeds one, not appearing as new to me.

I was shocked by the sheer volume of people, though thankfully I had time to relax and read in a hotel with one of the best green teas I’ve ever had.

At the end of the day we ate at Itadakizen, a Japanese all-vegan restaurant that had a lovely feel.

We nearly got stranded in London because the trains acted up due to works. I was panicking I’d have to stay and we didn’t have a plan for the next days. We were thankful to get a train to Doncaster, and then a lift to Leeds.

Ilkley Literature Fringe Festival

I returned to Ilkley for the Ilkley Fringe Festival, to listen to spoken word poets Ella Sanderson and Alex Asher about Ella’s life with Asperger’s and unhelpful labels and stereotypes by Alex. I found the talk alleviated my stress and bad feelings about issues related to my condition, and it was nice to experience spoken word for the first time in person.

The Ilkley Manor House I explored afterward is a ‘creative heritage hub’ which is nearby and with artwork and historical artefacts. Its ‘mid 14th century stone manor house and courtyard sits within the footprint of a Roman fort’.

Cafes and doughnuts (or ‘donuts’ as per Temple Donuts)

Temple Donuts is a place for doughnuts and coffee in Kirkstall, though they also sell their own merchandise: mugs, t-shirts, etc. Me and my friend got there just when it was doughnut rush time and we were shocked by the long queue and the cars coming in and out constantly. The place also has a quick-fix counter for those in a hurry, where there is a smaller selection of doughnuts, and I opted for this in October. My favourite was the pumpkin, which had a cinnamon taste, for Halloween. It’s now been discontinued, I believe. There is a colourful and delicious range of flavours: maple, galaxy (?), jam and peanut, caramel (I think), to name a few. I tried in November and the main queue went down quickly. It’s worth the short wait to select your favourites.

It’s a unique experience to be among the doughnut-eating subculture, and we observed them eating doughnuts with sticky fingers. I didn’t feel completely safe holding the camouflaged merchandise doughnut box in the car on the way back, and a few looks over our shoulders reassured us nobody else wanted them, they’re that tasty. I will be sure to salivate over the promise of new doughnuts next time.

Check out the photos, of the cappuccino I had at Fettle Café, the small bookshop the Village in Leeds I visited to have coffee, and my trip to Middleton Railway where Star Wars invaded. There was something nice and quaint about travelling in the wooden confines of a train; it was a treat. There is also a photo of my walk in Harrogate.

New acquisitions
  • I was kindly gifted a copy of Harsh Realities by CG Hatton, third book in her Thieves Guild series, which I will look forward to. Check out my reviews of Residual Belligerence and Blatant Disregard.
  • I purchased autobiographical book Deadweight about borderline personality disorder, written by Nick Crutchley who is a fantasy author who has struggled with mental illness, and has a background in teaching and environmentalism. Check out my review on the blog next month.
  • I bought some books in the sale at HMV: Friends From Frolix 8 by Philip K Dick and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The HMV was apparently closing down. I did wonder why there were only dystopian and political books there.
  • Dreyer’s English has proved useful on at least two occasions, which I picked up at Waterstones when I went with a friend. It’s a style guide and I hadn’t heard of it before.

Editor Wandering Out – September 2019

I’m starting by looking back a few months covering some of my experiences as an editor ‘off the job’, as it were. Be sure to check in on my recent social media at @alexjameseditor on Facebook and @alexjameseditor on Instagram. You can find the relevant albums and highlights if you search manually, though I’ve included links to help find them below.

Facebook – September 2019 album

On milestones, I had my first good pub meal on the 9th September, in Ilkley, which I was pleased about. Check out Bar T’at. I was astounded by the level of choice of eateries in Ilkley.

Not to repeat

I happened to blast open the door of somebody on the toilet in a café in Leeds. I don’t think anything could have stopped my relentless determination to get in, only to find myself in this predicament. It was awkward, and I’m blessed to still have my face intact.

Charity shop invasion

I was fortunate to find The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells – an author I’ve been meaning to return to. Check out my review in the next month (or later, being the Christmas period and all that).

There was also The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M Banks that I just had to pick up.

New acquisitions

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, I purchased on recommendation. I didn’t know there was a series coming out on TV, His Dark Materials. The book I love reading; it’s so much more than a kid’s book, and I suppose it’s a little bit like Harry Potter, but also not. In other words, it has depth and magic.

 

 

Blatant Disregard by CG Hatton – 5/5 Stars

Blatant Disregard by CG Hatton - Front Cover

Format, premise, and first impressions

Each chapter is introduced in a similar format to first book Residual Belligerence, with the Man and NG’s conversations discussing interstellar affairs around their Guild and rival factions, this time not just with the sloshing of wine in goblets but with the moves of a chess game.

Guild agent LC Anderton has a bounty on his head … and I could be forgiven for believing I was reading the same story as in the first book when an agent had a bounty on his head. Indeed, I had a bit of déjà vu/confusion. Wasn’t it ‘Hil’ who was the guild agent with a bounty on his head in Residual Belligerence? And yes, there were two such agents, and we never saw what LC went through.

Main character LC

LC is a little different from Hil. He has these special mind-reading implants, and can see into the thoughts of fellow crew, often making for humorous insights. LC is not a team player, which is something author CG Hatton reminds us of a lot early on until we read further and realise he really isn’t. On board the ship, the Duck, he’s surrounded by crew he begins to care about after the death of his Guild handler, and they humanise him. This makes him vulnerable, having to care about their whereabouts on missions, and he’s getting emotionally closer to female bounty hunter Sean, who is determined to return him to the Guild. Sean was a fascinating character with many sides to her: seductive, bargaining, and dangerous; and able to compartmentalise feelings. She does change a bit. LC has an advantage over her, with mind-reading her thoughts, and his holding off only makes her want him more.

Improvement on book one Residual Belligerence

There is a lot of macho ironic humour, about near-death experiences, unintentionally drinking with drugs, and use of language such as a ‘s**t-eating grin on his face’. We get close to the characters of the crew: drunk DiMarco, weary Gallagher, creepy tech. Also, LC was less useless than Hil was, perhaps because of his implants, gadgets, and fewer serious injuries. You could be forgiven for believing you’re reading about wacky and entertaining space opera misadventures until it hits you there really are bounty hunters all over the galaxy looking for LC, Hil, and ‘the package’. Gallagher puts it succinctly: ‘I’ve been shot down by b*****d aliens, set up by double-dealing b*****d mobsters, attacked by corporate b*****d mercenaries, and hijacked by b*****d pirates. Is there a pattern here, do you reckon?’

Author’s Website

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle – 5/5 Stars

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle - Front Cover
‘Jurassic Park’?

Not the exact same as ‘Jurassic Park’ by any means! There is much adventuring in The Lost World observed by Watson-esque ‘Malone’, who is a journalist waiting to do something heroic for his romantic interest Gladys. As you can expect of a classic written in the early 20th century, there is much description, delivered with the investigative interest you’d see in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle - Back Cover

Who is Professor Challenger?

The Lost World (TLW) is a unique story with imposing, yet culturally outdated, characters you can’t help but be fascinated by, in particular the bombastic overbearing Professor Challenger who is violent to journalists he despises. Why? Challenger claims to have seen prehistoric life in South America and nobody believes him. He’s at the mercy of the press, and the scientific establishment thinks he’s a loon.

There is a more tolerant side to Challenger, though his intelligence and inventiveness don’t redeem him. He sees most people and races as inferior due to their non-European education and upbringing, I suppose, which would not be acceptable now. Challenger is a fascinating character simply because we observe his crude ways and sense of humour, and his expedition to prove his reputation is the reason for the story. He’s admonished by his wife for his violence, who he sits on a high table from which she can’t get off, for punishment, which I found odd and confusing. I only realised after reading there weren’t any important female characters on the expedition itself.

Do we see actual dinosaurs?

Yes, I confirm there are dinosaurs. It’s not the crazy dinosaur extravaganza or the human hunt you’d expect, but we certainly get a vision of what The Lost World is and how wondrous it is. The ending is the best part of the story, and you have to go through the entire adventure to truly appreciate the moment. The whole story was fascinating, and the ending made it sublime. Definitely worth reading!