Green Book

If you haven’t seen the movie Green Book, I’d like to recommend that you do.

It’s been both lauded by the film critics and also panned for historical inaccuracies. However, I believe that it IS worth watching. It’s based on real life events…real people. I’ll put a link to the trailer at the end of this post.

It highlights the racial tension of the 1960’s in the southern states of the USA and follows the life of Donald Walbridge Shirley – born in Florida in 1927 to Jamaican immigrant parents. But Don is no ordinary black man. He is something that people particularly in the deep south don’t understand…..he is a musical genius AND more importantly a highly educated, intelligent and sophisticated black man. He held doctorates in music, psychology and liturgical arts and could speak 8 languages fluently as well as being an extraordinarily gifted pianist who started playing the piano at the age of 2 and was invited to study music theory at the Leningrad Conservatory of music at the age of 9. He was also a talented painter.

The movie begins with Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga – a New York nightclub bouncer applying for a job as a driver for Doctor Shirley. He is shocked to find out that Doctor Shirley is a negro and that he wants Tony to be not only his driver but also his protector for a tour of venues in the deep south of the USA, where the Don Shirley jazz trio will give a series of musical performances…….to rich white folks. There’s a scene early in the movie in Tony and his wife’s apartment where a couple of black work men are given a drink of water by Tony’s wife and Tony puts the glasses that the guys have used into the trash rather than washing them and using them again. He accepts the job because he needs the money and reluctantly sets off with Shirley armed with the “Green Book” which gives the movie it’s title.

The Green Book in question is a guide for blacks who travel in the south and lists motels and restaurants where they will be welcomed. There are not many…..and those that do accept blacks are shabby and run down.

The movie highlights the racial problem and also the differences between the northern united states and the south. The people of the south are willing to shake hands with this musical genius and are eager to be entertained by him, but don’t want him eating with them in the same restaurant – even though he is better dressed than most of them, better educated and better mannered. Nor do they want him using the same toilet as them.

It’s funny how blacks used to be employed by whites to prepare their meals and even look after their kids…..but they weren’t allowed to use the same bathroom. I forget who said it, but someone once said that you knew when the great depression really hit the white folks…..it was when they used to have to look after their own children.

The police in the south, just like those in the north, are meant to “serve and protect” and by the terms of the US Constitution – to treat everyone equally. “No State shall… abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” BUT it seems that in the deep south, “any person” doesn’t apply to blacks and we see Dr Shirley obstructed and abused by both the good old white folks and the police.

Racism is bred from ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. In the movie we see Tony’s attitude toward Don Shirley change as he comes to know him better. It’s a life lesson.

I’m not going to spoil it for you by giving away the whole plot, but it is worth watching just to see how the relationship between the two men – from totally different backgrounds – changes as the movie progresses.

Don Shirley is a misfit. He’s black…..but doesn’t fit in with black society because of his education and sophistication. BUT neither is he accepted into white society due to the colour of his skin. This feeling of isolation drives him to drink and he becomes an alcoholic. It is also insinuated that Dr Shirley is a homosexual which only adds to the tension and prejudice against him.

Here’s the official trailer of the movie to tempt you.

Official Universal Pictures trailer – Green Book

It’s a movie that both entertains and informs. Sad and frustrating in parts and funny and uplifting in others. It’s a relationship movie….a road trip movie…a lesson in life….it has action, great music, great actors and a good script (written partly by the real Tony Lip’s son……who incidentally also plays one of Tony’s family members in the movie). I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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The Slacker returns.

Forgive me father…it’s been 2 weeks since my last Blog post. The Chaos of Christmas and New Year are finally behind me and I can get back to some serious….and some not so serious blogging.

I’ve been reading a book called “Armageddon in Retrospect” by Kurt Vonnegut and it’s got me thinking about things. What sort of things? Well civilisation for one thing. Looking up the meaning of civilisation (I’m using the English spelling rather than the American) – I’m told it means the following:-

the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced. Or the process by which a society or place reaches an advanced stage of social and cultural development and organization. OR the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area.

And of course is derived from the word Civil – meaning courteous and polite.

I’d like you to really think about those definitions and consider if it applies to how we treat our fellow human beings and how we are as a society today.

We in the western nations consider ourselves to be civilised and have in the past, and some would even today, claim that we are more civilised than the communists of Russia or China and certainly more civilised than those who ran Nazi Germany before and during WW2. By the way these days the word Nazi is taken to refer to those who express extreme racist or authoritarian views or behaviour. But are we actually any better? Have we learned anything during those 74 years since the end of WW2 to today? Are we a more civilised society…..can we even claim to be civilised at all in view of the various definitions above? Judging by the number of wars and armed conflicts that the western nations have been involved in in the last 74 years, I don’t think that we can.

Let’s take the USA for example – I don’t like to pick on one country when many are guilty, but the USA is a prime example of what is wrong with the world today. The USA was built around immigration. It’s not known as the “Alien nation” for nothing. The early settlers had a chance to live peacefully with the first nation peoples, but as more outsiders arrived land was taken by force and the original American people were pushed on to reservations and even today are still struggling to be heard by the all conquering uncle Sam. Now we have President Trump in charge (who going by the earlier definition of Nazi …… you finish the sentence, you know where I’m going with this…..) – who’s pledged to make America great by stopping immigrants (particularly Mexicans) from entering the country and kicking out all illegals. He knows that this doesn’t make any sense because it’s the illegals, doing all the low paid jobs, that white Americans don’t want or can’t be bothered to do, that keep the country running. Currently he’s not paying “unnecessary” government employees – this includes the likes of air traffic controllers – who among many others are hardly unnecessary (think about those pissed off air traffic controllers next time you fly somewhere in Air Force One Mr President) – and his actions are putting many families to the wall. There’s a standoff between the 2 major parties who’s leaders are trying to prove who can piss the farthest up the wall – the one that Trump wants to build presumably. BUT meantime, while others suffer and are expected to work unpaid, those making the decisions in Congress and the White House are still being paid. The powers that be are simply looking after number one and sod the rest of you. This is hardly civilised behaviour.

But I’m not here to bash Trump and his rich political buddies – there are plenty in line before me to do that. The USA still has the death penalty (is that civilised?) – does it work? No it doesn’t – how many of those executed by lethal drug injections last thoughts were “Well I guess that will teach me a lesson?” Probably none. Has the threat of the death penalty stopped people committing crimes that will mean that they will get the death penalty? Does a mugger worry about death row when he shoves a gun in your ribs, is prepared to pull the trigger, and demands your wallet? Nope. Is it civilised for one human to kill another by hiding behind “the law” to administer a lethal injection? Is it civilised to spend a trillion dollars on arms and armaments and go blowing up and destroying thousands of people in foreign lands each year just because they are the “wrong colour” or follow the “wrong god”? A civilised society would insist on that money being spent on things like health, education and welfare for its own people, who are in desperate need – instead of on war. But America, like the majority of western nations, is a capitalist country and will always put big business and profit for shareholders over the needs and well being of its own citizens. These are not signs of a civilised country. The USA still tortures prisoners of war and “suspected” terrorists – something banned by the Geneva Convention but being the strongest military might in the world, rules don’t apply to them. No proof of terrorism is needed, just suspicion. It’s a very slippery slope folks. Kind of reminiscent of the days of witch hunts and witch trials – suspicion of being a witch brought you the death penalty. Have we made any progress since the Salem witch trials? Don’t we know any better……really?

They – the USA – are backed up by the members of Nato and the United Nations. Surely all who support the acts of criminals are themselves as guilty as those committing the acts. Warfare is not something that civilised peoples subscribe to.

We as citizens of these countries, we who vote in the idiots who make the big decisions, could be deemed equally guilty of being uncivilised. But what can we do to stop the insanity? Sign a petition? Take to the streets and protest like “we the people” have done in the past – marching against war, marching for peace, marching for equality of race, gender or sexual orientation? I’ve done it all. Sometimes we make small gains, but mostly it’s like throwing custard pies at an advancing enemy armed with tanks…..(to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut when referencing the futility of protest marches against the Vietnam War). Peaceful protest seldom works, violent protest as with the Yellow Vests recently in Paris also doesn’t work. Hey we’re pissed off with the government – let’s burn some poor schmuck’s car or trash their shop – oh yeah that’ll work! The entire system as it stands doesn’t work.

As capitalists, as fully signed up members of the consumer economy, we endorse unlimited growth and to hell with the environment, to hell with the planet. We allow the corporate’s to lay waste to the planet, to destroy habitats of other species simply to provide more stuff for us greedy humans and to make money for company shareholders. Our support of this system is definitely not civilised.

But we also claim to be the most intelligent species here on earth – how can that possibly be true? We are the only species on the planet capable of wiping out of existence not only ourselves, but every other living thing on planet earth, thanks to our “superior intelligence” – and we’re the only species stupid enough to allow the people in charge to put us all in this position in the first place. The system is broken, it doesn’t work and we need a new plan.

Getting back to Vonnegut’s book – Armageddon in Retrospect.

Image result for kurt vonnegut armageddon in retrospect

It’s a book made up of selected essays/short stories all centred around war. Some of the stories are based on his own personal experience as an American soldier – prisoner of war in Germany. One of the stories concerns the bombing of Dresden toward the end of WW2. Although many other major German cities had been bombed by the US and British throughout the war, Dresden was not considered to be a target because it had no military, industrial or strategic purpose – did not manufacture steel or armaments. It was a city of universities, churches, hospitals, theatres, museums, libraries, the arts and beautiful architecture. It had become a haven for the weak and displaced. BUT someone high up in the US military decided that the rail-yards at Dresden needed to be bombed. It should be pointed out at this time that every able bodied male aged between his mid teens and late 40’s had already been conscripted into the German army and were fighting on the various “fronts”. The city of Dresden was populated by the very old, the very young, the infirm and women. In bombing the rail yards, what actually happened was that the entire city was flattened. Up to 200,000 ordinary people were murdered by the bombers during that time. And if the massive loss of life is not enough, so much history, art and heritage was also lost for ever. The rail yards however were repaired and up and running again in two days. Two days! Was it worth it? Was it the civilised thing to do?

Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners of war had the gruesome task of pulling the bodies of those dead children, wives, mothers and grandmothers out of the twisted wreckage of what had been the beautiful city of Dresden. This very much turned him against war and warfare. War should at best be an absolute last resort when everything else has been tried to keep the peace – not the first consideration, nor should it be a way to settle a political argument, or to simply prove who is strongest, or as a means to take what “we” want from other, weaker nations. The murder of innocents and the destruction of beautiful things is not what a civilised society condones.

Like I said earlier I am not bashing America in particular – just using it as an example, as did Vonnegut in his book. I know many Americans – even have some as family – and they are wonderful, warm, kind people…..but the decisions of those leading them….!! NOR am I bashing the military or those who serve or have served. Many of my own family have served in the military including my father, uncles, cousin and grandfathers. They were fighting for what they considered to be a just cause. It’s not usually the military who bring one country into armed conflict with another – they just have to go where they are told and do what they are told to do – it’s usually politics and political leaders who are at fault…..and those who provide finance to the political parties. Big business runs politics by financing political campaigns and therefore buy and own the politicians. It shouldn’t be allowed. As I said before, the system is broken and does not work – certainly not for the average Joe. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. The system is rigged that way.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the silver bullet is. But we could start by being kinder to one another. We can start by trying to reconnect with our neighbours, our community. We could start by simply smiling and giving a friendly greeting to a stranger. Welcome people instead of shooing them away. Offer the hand of friendship instead of holding up the fist of fury. We could bring back things like trust, integrity, understanding and peace. We could, and should, be civil and civilised. But do we want to be?

What we did on our Holiday.

No I’m not going to bore the pants off you writing about our fun old-fashioned family Christmas. I’m writing about a British made, 2014 movie called “What we did on our Holiday” – which is one of the funniest, yet at the same time poignant, movies I have ever seen. There are 3 young kids in it who are simply brilliant. The primary adult stars are David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly and Ben Miller, sterlingly supported by Amelia Bullmore, Annette Crosby and Celia Imrie. But it’s the three children who steal the show and are superb. Their names are Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull. If you haven’t seen the movie – try to watch it on line or borrow it from a DVD store/library – it’s a real treat to watch.

Official trailer of the movie.

The story centres around the kids and Tennant and Pike who play their parents and live in the south of England. I should say at this point that the parents are on a trial separation and living in separate houses. BUT Tennant’s father, – Billy Connolly is about to celebrate his 75th birthday at his other son’s home in Scotland. In order not to upset Connolly, Pike and Tennant put on a united front to pretend that they are still together and that everything is absolutely rosie between them. Of course kids being kids – let the cat out of the bag.

The road trip from England up to the Scottish highlands is an eventful and argumentative one – with several amusing incidents. On arrival – finally, at Tennant’s brothers house – which turns out to be a huge mansion in park like grounds – we are shown that the relationship between the two brothers is a competitive one…..this is highlighted by the family football match on the lawn.

The birthday party for Connolly is oldest son Gavin’s (Miller) idea, who has to do everything extravagantly as a demonstration of his wealth and to show little brother (Tennant) who is the most successful of them. He has invited hundreds of guests and the party will be in a huge marquee on the main lawn. All Connolly is interested in though is spending time with his grand children – so he takes them off in a 4 wheel drive across the moorland to an isolated sandy beach until it’s time to return for the party.

It is revealed early in the movie that Connolly’s character is very sick with cancer and isn’t expected to see his next birthday – which is partly why there is a lot of fuss being made over this one – his 75th. The drugs he is on to fight the cancer are bad for his heart…..which is not as strong as it should be. This makes Connolly even more determined to get away to the beach with the grand kids and just watch them at play. They have some very deep and meaningful talks with him sitting on the beach. Some of which apparently is scripted and some ad-libbed. The kids are brilliant!

SPOILER ALERT!

They bury grandad in the sand and he pretends he’s dead. The kids become concerned and lean in close to check on him – he bursts out of the sand and scares them half to death. The chatter and play continues for a while and the kids talk about death with Connolly and he tells them that when he dies he would hate the sons to arrange his funeral as there would be arguments and things would be blown out of proportion and that what he’d really love is to have a Viking funeral. The body placed on a flaming boat and pushed out to sea. He tells the kids that they should try to enjoy life and be happy and content with their lot and not get drawn into petty arguments because “people are ridiculous and in the end nothing really matters”. After this he sits on the beach and the kids go off looking for crabs etc…..only to return to find that grandad (Connolly) has really died and is laying motionless on the sand.

Oldest grand daughter Lottie (Emilia Jones) – after checking grandad’s pulse, listening for a heart beat and checking that he is indeed no longer breathing – leaves the two younger kids to watch over grandad’s body while she races across country back to the mansion to alert the family of Connolly’s demise. When she gets there though everyone – the adults that is – are arguing. She realizes what a mess the adults will make of things when they find out that Connolly is dead, so she turns round, runs back to the beach and the kids decide to give grandad his Viking funeral.

Only after they have built a makeshift raft from bits and pieces found on the beach and rolled grandad onto it, set it alight and let the tide take him out to sea………do they return home to tell the rest of the family that grandad is dead.

This naturally coincides with the arrival of all the guests for his birthday party and how the kids break the news to the family is hilarious! I’ll add a link to that scene for you to see for yourselves….below.

So there you have it. It is honestly one of the best movies for laughs, life lessons, scenes showing typical family disagreements, family bonding in a crisis – and brilliant acting especially by the 3 younger actors. The scenes I have linked may be spoilers, but I hope that they actually inspire you to watch the entire movie. I’ll definitely be watching it again. It’s fairly low budget but a great comedic script and exceptional actors.

After all that I can’t give it any less than 5 out of 5.

Christmas is over for another year…

I’m not going to go into depth about what I do or don’t believe in about Christmas…..except of course that Santa really does exist….(cough cough). Christmas is a magical time of you have little kids to share that magic with……..otherwise, it does all seem to be a lot of work for one day of stuffing our faces and damaging our livers.

At our home, in the build up to Christmas, my wife had reeled off a list of things that “needed to be done before Christmas” and we sweated and toiled in order to get most of them done before the big day. We live in New Zealand so Christmas falls in our summer-time meaning that usually we can bask in sunshine with temperatures in the high 20’s or low 30’s Celsius. Christmas lunch is taken in the garden…..usually…..which is why a lot of the tasks tended to centre around the garden and lawns – making everything as neat as a pin and putting up an awning for a sun-shade and of course fairy lights – although with it being a lunch time feast, no one will see the lights against the bright daylight. BUT they were on the list so had to be put up and switched on.

So after a week of hard work and fraying tempers, completing our garden tasks, of course it absolutely poured down the day before Christmas and on the day itself. Oh JOY! As the front lawn gradually became a shallow lake, we dined inside and it was a bit of a crush squeezing 11 around the tables in the dining room. We had to arrange the tables diagonally – corner to corner – in order to fit everyone and everything in, as a rather large Christmas tree occupied much of one side of the room.

We all ate more than we should – naturally. AND one or two of “us” definitely drank more than was sensible….but we survived the day.

Honestly – next year I wouldn’t mind just disappearing to a Pacific island for the week instead – to chill out and recharge the batteries. My wife even suggested flying to Norway for Christmas…..about as far as you can get from NZ – where we would be completely off the radar….not to mention freezing cold.

It’s now 2 days later – the 27th and finally I am kicking back, chilling out. I’ve just had a coffee with a large chunk of Christmas cake and am contemplating either opening a beer…..or finishing off one of the many bottles of wine that were opened and left unfinished on Christmas day. Why do people do that? Why open a new bottle when there is already another one of exactly the same wine already opened and has only one glassful missing. Does anyone else find that frustrating or is it just me?

Anyhow…getting back to chilling out – I’m reading a book put together by a lady called Penelope Rowlands of 32 essays / short stories by 32 different writers, of a variety of nationalities, who have all lived, or been seduced to stay longer than they should have, in the European City of Lights – Paris. It’s called “Paris was Ours” and I picked it up second hand. It’s in very good condition and I was drawn to the book by the beautiful moody black and white photo on the front of a dimly lit, rainy street with people walking -mostly wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas – lots of shadows but also reflections and rain spattered glowing pavements. By reading the inside back cover of the book it appears that the photo is from flickr by a Julien Brachhammer. Who-ever you are Julien, I love the photo.

Awesome photo on the cover and an interesting and entertaining read inside.

Inside the book the essays range from 3 pages long up to a maximum of around 16 or 17 pages, so it’s very easy to pick up and put down when you have spare moments…..or you can sit and binge read the essays – much like I was trying to do until I had the urge to share my experience of the book with you all – on here…WordPress.

All of the writers had been seduced by “the city of love” and all or almost all profess to still love it although some also claimed to have a love/hate relationship with a city that they found both passionately alluring, yet also one that theft them feeling lonely and blue. As one writer put it “Paris is a good place to be young and melancholy.” Another says “Paris steals in on you like fog.” Others refer to it as “the world capital of memory and desire” or insist that they were seduced by …”that siren, Paris.” I just love all these quotes – most are so poetic and I wished that I had written them first.

But living in Paris even for a short time – as a resident rather than a tourist – has been beneficial to the inner writer in all these essayists. As one put it “to be a writer you MUST come back to Paris.”

In her introduction to the book, the editor Penelope Rowlands speaks for most of the writers in this enthralling collection when she professes, “We hated Paris and loved it all at once.”

As writer and journalist Walter Wells wrote in his essay “I knew already that living in Paris would not be like visiting Paris, but I hadn’t appreciated what that really meant.” OR as Marcelle Clements attested – “Paris is a great place to fall in love, to eat, drink, and be merry. But it’s also the perfect city in which to be depressed or, even better, melancholy……You don’t have to be French to smoke a Gitane and notice the falling leaves drifting by your window.”

More than half of the essays have never appeared in any other publications and were written especially for this book. Some are well known writers, others – if you’re like me – you will never have heard of before, but all are intrepid men and women writing about their personal encounters with a magical yet uncompromising place – one that changes them indelibly and will stay with them forever – PARIS!

Most of these essays left me wanting to read more by each writer – to delve deeper into their backgrounds – and of course made me yearn to live for a year or more in that seductive city of lights, love and melancholy.

I’m not really a giver of stars to recommend books, as a book is a very subjective thing – what I love – you may hate. BUT if pushed….I would give this at least 4 out of 5.

My top 10 Stephen King books.

I’ve been a reader of Stephen King books for about 30 years – his first book Carrie was written even longer ago, back in 1973. It was a book that may have never seen the light of day. He threw the first draft of the book into the bin. It was retrieved by his wife…..he persevered with the story and sold it to Doubleday. His advance was a miserly $2,500 and he later earned over $400,000 for the paperback rights alone. Not bad for a book that had been thrown in the garbage.

I have seen numerous top ten lists for King’s books, but mine is purely based on the books that I have personally read. I don’t pretend to have read all 59 of his novels plus other short story collections. These books are all on my bookshelf.

Counting down in reverse order…..

10. The 1992 thriller Gerald’s Game is my choice for number 10 on my top 10 Stephen King books list. I just enjoyed the twisted mind of King in this one. The idea that a married couple go away to a remote cabin by a lake in the back of beyond for a weekend of kinky sex. What could possibly go wrong???  Well, how about as soon as the husband has handcuffed his wife to the bed head ready for a little debauchery….he drops dead from a heart attack. What happens to the wife? Does she get out or does she lay there until she starves to death? Does someone else find her there helpless – if so do they set her free or have their wicked way with her? Is she attacked by wild animals?  Read the book and all will be revealed. 

9. Cell – written in 2006. This book is a story about an apocalyptic event, caused by a pulse sent through the cell phone network, that turns cell phone users into rabid monsters. Far fetched yes…..but what King book isn’t. Most of his books are written starting with the idea of “what if?” And through the actions of the primary characters he lets the story pretty much write itself. It’s a return to King’s horror roots after years of dabbling in other things. Some of his stories up to this point had seen him wallowing in elaborate character building and long drawn out scenes that have you screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” – but not in this book. He grabs you by the balls in the first few pages and drags you screaming all the way to the end. An homage to the old Zombie movies!

8. The Dark Half – 1990. I just had to include The Dark Half as it was the first King novel that I ever read, so has a special place in my literary heart. Without this book I may never have read or collected as many of King’s works as I have. It’s a story of a writer, who creates an evil, wicked character for a story he’s writing……but the character manifests itself, turns up on the writers door step and begins to take over his life. He creates mayhem in the small town where writer Thad Beaumont resides. Murder after murder follows and Beaumont realises that things have gone way out of control. How does he put the character of George Stark back into Pandora’s box once he’s released him? Is there any way back? Great story – Really enjoyed it.

7. Thinner – written under the name of Richard Bachman in 1984 as a stand alone novel. BUT I recall first reading it as part of a collection of stories… Any story that begins with the main character, a very overweight guy, getting – how can I put this tactfully? – sexual gratification, from his wife, while driving a car should probably make this list. It’s what happens while his wife is “busy” and HE is distracted that sets the scene for the incident that really starts the story. While distracted by his wife he accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman. He goes to court but gets off the charges (pun intended!) because he knows the judge. Case dismissed! BUT as he leaves the courthouse an old gypsy man walks over to him, taps him once on the arm and says the word “thinner”. Just that one word. Initially puzzled by this, the very next day our “hero” realizes that he’s lost weight. At first he’s quite happy about it – he could do with losing a few pounds…But the next day he’s lost more and continues to lose weight at an alarming rate –  victim of a gypsy curse. Can he track down the old gypsy and get the curse removed before he disappears completely?

6. Dream Catcher 2001 – a story about 4 friends who head off to a cabin in the woods for some R & R but end up encountering an alien invasion and a crazy – I mean really really crazy – military man. Covering eliments of horror, suspense and alien invasion/abduction….not to mention a fair chunk of lavatorial humour…..and an unlikely hero who has Down’s Syndrome. As I look at what I’ve just written it sounds like a ridiculous story but King has a way of carrying the plot along and to make you believe in what you’re reading. King himself was recovering from a life threatening traffic accident when he wrote this book…so maybe the plot line had something to do with the pain killer medication? Ha-ha! It made the list at number 6.

5. The Regulators – again written as Richard Bachman. 
In the beginning, we learn about the residents of Poplar Street, a normal Ohio block. There is a singular “token” black couple, another guy who is an alcoholic, his wife is the local busy body who no one can abide. Another lady lives with her autistic nephew, who’s family was murdered in a drive by shooting……and then a newspaper delivery boy is murdered by a mysterious shooter in a van. It seems that maybe Poplar Street isn’t quite as normal and idyllic as it first appears. Death and destruction follow at an alarming rate. 

And 4. Is the sister book to the Regulators – Desperation. The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel’s world also exist in the other novel’s reality, albeit in different circumstances. Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolate highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from which he came. But do they????

3. Number 3 in my list is the JFK book – 11/22/63. A high-school teacher is a regular at a run down diner in small town America. One day the owner of the diner reveals a supernatural secret to the teacher…..in the back of the diner is a kind of time portal – a worm hole if you like – back to the late 1950’s. If that’s not weird enough, Al, the diner owner, tells Jake, the teacher, that no matter how long you stay in the 1950’s world at the other side of the portal you are only away from the current world for a maximum of 2 minutes. You can be gone for days or years, but pop back to the side you came from and poof only 2 minutes have passed. There are other rules relating to this “time travel system” – but you’ll have to read the book to find out about them. The whole pretext of the book is the idea of going back in time to change a vital event. If you could go back and alter one thing that could change history, what would it be? King in this book chooses the assassination of John F Kennedy. Can Jake, under Al’s guidance save Kennedy…..starting a change of events that could then also save Kennedy’s brother Robert, save Martin Luther King, prevent the race riots, maybe even prevent the Vietnam war?

2. Number 2 is the extended/uncut version of the dystopian novel “The Stand”. It’s an interesting book to read from a modern day “Prepper” point of view. Would you react the same way as the lead characters in this story if faced with a similar situation? The scenario is that a strain of influenza, which has been modified as a biological weapon, is released, by accident, into the atmosphere causing an apocalyptic pandemic killing off most of the human population and causing a complete breakdown of society. It’s an epic story with a stellar cast of characters, who are for the most part quite believable – in such an horrific situation. Human frailties are highlighted by King – as is the tendency of “man-kind” to repeat the same mistakes over and over without learning from them. It is without doubt one of Kings finest stories. The only reason I have not made it number 1 is that I feel, after the wonderful work done throughout the story – it’s as though he had to hurry the end – which incidentally I think was a very weak and disappointing ending. I read later – years later – that King admitted having writers block while writing The Stand – which could account for the ending. It’s still an amazing book though – a MUST READ!

Fanfare and drum roll please…………..

NUMBER 1. On my list the top spot goes to King’s classic ‘bump in the dark’ novel “IT”, which reminds all of us of our childhood fears of bumps in the night and monsters under the bed. King first had the idea of IT in 1978, started to write down notes in 1981 and published in 1986…..so it was a long time coming. BUT worth the wait. IT is a classic horror story and one that deals with themes that have become in many of his books King’s staples…..I’m talking about the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a facade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. The evil being in this story appears in the guise of Pennywise the Clown who preys on small children…..and hides in the storm drains under the streets of small town America. This is only one of IT’s manifestations however, as it shape-shifts and feeds off the children’s fears. Our heroes in the story are a bunch of 7 misfit kids nicknamed the LOSERS. Of course where there are misfit kids there are also the town bullies – who add another dimension to the story. The timeline of the tale runs over many years and follows the Losers into adulthood – where they re-unite in a bid to rid the town of IT forever. It’s just a classic scary novel and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read IT, you’re missing a treat.

Other novels that could have made my list but just missed out are the serialised novel “The Green Mile” and another epic story “Under the Dome” (which like The Stand – I feel had a very weak ending). 

Never judge a book by its cover…

I bought a few books…..well 16 actually….at the recent “Friends of the Library” book sale. Our local library had a stack of discarded books to get rid of so a book sale was the order of the day. Only NZ 50 cents per book. So I grabbed a few bargains –  having only a quick look at the covers and thinking “yep I’ll have that one…..and that….and that”.

One such book was “Nightscape” by David Morrell.  I have read a lot of his books in the past and mostly they are of the espionage/assassin genre. The first 3 books of his I read were “The Brotherhood of the Rose”, “The Fraternity of the Stone” and “The League of Night and Fog”. All were brilliant books predominantly about assassins. Full of twists and turns, action and adventure, destruction and mayhem.  Morrell is probably most famous though for writing the Rambo novel “First Blood”. I have, since then, read many more of his books – all of them extremely well written and fast paced. He has a way of writing that propels you at speed to the very last page.

Anyhow I broke the cardinal rule about never judging a book by its cover and assumed from the moody night in the city shot on the front of the book that it would be more of the same (a story about assassins). WRONG! It’s actually a book of short stories. I cast aside my initial disappointment though, opened the book and started to read. I absolutely barrelled my way through the intro and 5 of the 8 stories in the first sitting. This guy writes nail biting assassin stories, but his short stories – none of which are about espionage or assassins – certainly had my eyes glued to the page.

The intro is about Morrell’s life as a child and his stormy relationship with his mother and his step-father. The step-dad was a complete arse by the way!

The short stories are a mixed bag of subjects ranging from “Remains To Be Seen” – about a trusted soldier being tasked with spiriting a crate (contents unknown) out of a beseiged city to finally deliver it to his Excellency, after having to change plans several times enroute……to one called “ELVIS 45” in which an English Lit professor decides to run a course of lectures about the culture of Elvis Presley – a very dramatic ending to that one!

All of the stories have “interesting endings” – so even if you are able to guess how a couple of the stories will turn out, there is enough intreague in how the story develops to keep you reading.

The blurb on the back of the book says ” By and large the kind of tales an author writes are metaphores for the scars in the nooks and crannies of his/her psyche. In David Morrell’s youth, thrillers and horror stories provided an escape from his nightmarish reality. Is it any wonder that, as an adult obsessed with being a writer, he has compulsively turned to the types of stories that provided an escape when he was a child? In his own words, perhaps he is eager to provide an escape for others. Or perhaps he is still trying to escape from his past.”

Written with a haunting emotional intensity and lightning pace that has made Morrell the master of action/suspense writing. The short story collection includes the short novel “Rio Grande Gothic” – and will leave you wanting more. It certainly has with me.

DEADLINE….you can’t beat a good Zombie novel.

I love an exciting Zombie story

Two weeks ago I bought about 15 books from the local Lions Club charity book sale, one of which DEADLINE – by Mira Grant – I have just finished reading.

The book in question DEADLINE – the second book in a series of Zombie “Newsflesh” stories by Mira Grant.

Right now you probably have the same look on your face as my wife did when I showed her the front of the book I was so engrossed in – a look that said – Meh,  another Zombie book….they’re all the same.

But this one was different. Although it’s the second book in what is currently a series of 4 books (the first book was called FEED), it can be read as a stand alone story as you get to know about what happened previously very early on in the story. From then on you’ll be running hell for leather to the final page. Which incidentally has a double surprise at the end. For once, a Zombie story with an unpredictable ending. I literally said out loud – “Wow I was not expecting that!” – but it has set things up nicely for the next book in the series “BLACKOUT”.

It’s written from the perspective of former Blogger, now official journalist Shaun Mason, who’s blog about living with Zombies morphed into a major news organization called “After the End Times”. It’s set in 2041….after the initial Zombie outbreak of 2014 – which sparked, the end of the world as we knew it. It’s not just another Zombie story though. It’s not “the Walking Dead” – there are guns and bombs – but there is also political foul play, horror, miniature bulldogs (yes you read that correctly – miniature bulldogs),  the interplay or relationships between the main characters, journalism, suspense, action, science “Facts” to back up what was happening, mad scientists, sane scientists who appeared slightly mad…..and of course who could forget Shaun’s dead sister Georgina (who he refers to as George and whom I assume gets killed in the first book of the series) speaks to him, from the grave, in his head – and he talks back to her. Oh yes…this story has it all.

Described as “Perfect Summer Apocalypse Reading”, it is one of the few well written Zombie novels that I have come across and I ended up caring what happened to these characters. Sci-Fi Magazine praised the first book FEED as “The Zombie novel Robert A. Heinlein might have written”.

The blurb on the back goes as follows….”Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as (much) fun when you’ve lost as much as he has. BUT when a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of Zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news – he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead. Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun”.

All of which sounds quite exciting – if slightly incorrect – you should never EVER use a shotgun on Zombies -potential contamination from blood splatter is increased by using a shotgun as opposed to a bullet from a pistol or rifle…. (as you’ll find out if you read DEADLINE).

Mira Grant  – the writer – lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and suggests you do the same (not to ward off Zombies – this is California after all!). Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire – winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for best new writer.

The 3rd book in the “Newsflesh” Series “BLACKOUT” was nominated for a Hugo Award…..and there is a 4th book FEEDBACK released in 2016 that I now feel I have a duty to track down and read.

The end of DEADLINE has me not knowing what direction the 3rd book, BLACKOUT will take. Must get on to reading that very soon. 

Meantime….my machete and baseball bat are beside my bed and this little lot are hanging behind my bedroom door…..just in case.

Are you prepared……for the Zombie Apocalypse?