Book Series — and Film Remakes — Menace or Miracle?


Lately, book series and film remakes have haunted my mind. One of the triggers was re-reading the Earth’s Children series. However exciting, however unusual the subject, it is devastating to see the deterioration of style, and accuracy, going through the series. No doubt Ms Auel’s research is pristine, but her writing becomes increasingly lazy and, in the later volumes, there are too many pointless repetitions. After a while, it becomes impossible to ignore the numerous paragraphs, easily recognized from volume to volume, mostly word to word. That, together with the endless and repetitive descriptions mars the reading experience. True, Ms Auel may not expect her readers to have the stamina to read all the books in one go, but there will always be those who do. The excessive repetitions show lack of respect for her readers’ intelligence and ability to remember what they’ve read.

Is it fair to say that many authors who mainly write series also tend towards using one or two tested and successful templates for their narratives? Sometimes with excellent results, sometimes with less convincing outcomes.

Film remakes often face the same problematic. It isn’t that simple to follow a successful rendition with excellent performers. It’s been done, and there are some remakes that are better than their inspiration. That situation repeats in book series.

That doesn’t change a few facts. Undoubtedly, there is an element of hygge in recognizing characters and storylines. On the other hand, people, and maybe especially readers — as well as film buffs — tend to get fidgety if a plot gets too obvious. Who can blame them? Readers want to be surprised. No matter how gorgeous a frame is, there must be something more. What do the readers want? What is the secret longing when film-buffs recline in their seats?

I believe that they want food for thought.

We all love and know Poirot and Jane Marple, but we also know that the stories use the same plot with variations. Some are inspired, some are less so. There are numerous authors who write one book after another . . . and their fans love them. Barbara Cartland springs to mind. As well as Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie, and several others, often authors in the crime genre (Ngaio Mash, DL Sayers, Georges Simenon, Maria Lang etc. the list is endless). All are entertaining, some are excellent, but they all have one thing in common. They have one (in a few cases more than one) main character that decides the flavour and the narrative arch. There are stock ingredients like Poirot’s moustache and patent-leather shoes, Miss Marple’s pink knitting, Sherlock Holmes pipe, violin, and syringe, Agent 007’s gun and fast cars. That reminds me that Lord Peter Wimsey also has a fast car, but he rarely shoots.

Has it become too easy? Who can tell? It is true that this is a period that sees more releases every day. There is no weekend without at least three new films opening. Indie publishers have reached over a million titles astoundingly fast. No wonder that it became necessary to re-use old subjects. On the other hand, that isn’t a new trend. Could this explain a rumour that keeps cropping up? Is it true that several successful authors have writing teams to churn out their fare, the faster the better? Maybe — maybe not — but there is a lingering suspicion that something is rotten in the publishing world.

Whatever made me put my fingers into this potential hornets’ nest? Perhaps it’s time to say something positive? That’s easy. While somethings may be rotten, which is the case in every wake of life, there’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of talented writers who take their art seriously. These are the emissaries who seek new ways of expression. They write with their heart and their intelligence and become a fresh breeze in the literary world. Their ideas may spark new visions among their peers. Thus, there’s still hope. Without a doubt, this is the situation in the film world too. If there is a steady stream of pioneers in the arts, we have nothing to fear.

© HMH, 2019

Phenomenon

Are we then likely to reach a conclusion?

Must we accept the most basic defeat?

Can sweeping statements and primeval landscapes

Account for the strangeness, the passionate nature

Protecting and challenging glorious bliss?

Would life become simpler in subtle tranquillity?

Can we achieve such miraculous feats:

Claiming insight in marvels beyond our reach?

Is love that easy on those individuals,

Who worship or value one person for life?

Sentiments change when old fancies grow tired

But must we regard this as failure or sin?

Love is the fountain of deepest emotion

Dividing the minds but compelling the hearts

Nobody questions oblique fascination

When passions and prudence traverse a blank sheet.

Strangest of all is the blissful oblivion

That enters the heart falling deeply in heat

Nothing prepares us for greatness so forceful

That all painful facts fade away in the mist.

Yet:

Irreversible joy precedes and prevails,

Throughout mischief or trouble, to light our days.

Thankfully harmony enters with wisdom

Winning the battle, that unhurried yearning

Never concedes to renounce or surrender

Even when stakes reach their consequent brink.

Courage and gallantry ever abound

Where heart and perception set forth hand in hand.

One core will certainly always remain

Where ardour, endurance complete our aim.

Accepting as true this one point is compelling:

The greatest of passions convey one real worth

Devotion grants all to the bravest of humans

Who dare to commit to the wonder of love

From Aspects of Love


Not long ago, Tim Taylor featured this poem on his blog. I want to thank him — and share the poem here

© HM Holten, 2014 (2019)

Ignoring the obvious

A curious event

I shared a video clip about racism some time ago. The reactions were numerous and went from approval to the opposite, although most of those who bothered to comment were in favour of the share. What made me think — and think again, was one sanctimonious comment. The content was that those who speak about racism are the only racists.

In a way, that states one thing only. If we bury our heads in the sand nothing bad will happen. That is something I must write about, I think. In my opinion, the clip was touching and couldn’t offend anybody. There I was mistaken. Did this person want a mud-slinging contest? If so, I managed to stop it. I wrote an exceedingly polite answer, saying that people are entitled to their opinions, but that I found the piece relevant and touching. Then I wished this person a pleasant afternoon and evening. That answer received a couple of likes. It seems that there are more people, who find it important to speak about problems, than those who want to give trouble of any kind the silent treatment. I had more than my share of that in my childhood. Maybe that’s why I find it so inappropriate now.

How are we supposed to make changes for the better, if we always swallow our opinions? Without debate, solutions to problems and misunderstandings won’t materialize. Silence kills: sometimes it kills millions. Is that acceptable? I think not. Was this an attempt at trolling? Perhaps, but even trolls can express their thoughts on important questions. They have a right to say what they think about anything: from fashion to genocide. That is the basic principle for maintaining a democratic society. Even if democracy is complex and hard to manoeuvre, it is by far the preferable concept until we are ready for Utopia.

It isn’t easy for humans to live together. If family quarrels abound, how can we expect that countries among countries can find a common denominator? The sad part is: if we don’t, we must suffer the consequences, which could be anything from revolutions, military or plutocratic dictators, world — or local — wars, to murder and mayhem, suicide or any other forms of killing. Who wants to live in such a world? I don’t. I admit to being part of a privileged minority: I’m well-educated, I have a place to live, I can buy food and drink fresh water. Many people don’t have such advantages, but it won’t help them or change the world to ignore that there are inequalities that must be addressed. In every civilized nation, it goes without saying that every man, woman, and child has a right to a humane life. So far, most of this world’s people live in appalling circumstances. As far as I can see, this is the source of hatred and racism. We fear those who can take away our privileges. Those who we fear, we fight. Wouldn’t it be better to work towards a benevolent change?

I’m getting carried away. But it is important to open one’s eyes to these problems. There may not be an immediate solution to any of this, but real change must come from within. If we bury our heads in the sand and deny the problems that inevitably riddle an unjust society, we mustn’t wonder, if all hell breaks loose. Look around and accept that we humans have created a flawed community. Are there any solutions to these issues? The paradox may be that we aren’t able to live in peace. Should that stop us from doing what we can to create a better world? Personally, I think that this isn’t an option. We must do whatever it takes to improve — first ourselves — and then the world. This is a challenge that we must meet with open eyes.

© HMH, 2019

Post-Valentine’s


There’s a day: it’s filled with roses.

There’s a day of hopeful bliss.

There’s a day for pure romances, there’s a day for broken hearts.

Will the broken hearts be mended?

Will the flowers wither soon?

Will a romance grow and prosper?

Will that bliss be crushed through life?

Are the hopeful days soon ended?

Or can tenderness endure?

Who can fault a secret longing that may never find relief?

Who can mend a weakened heartbeat?

Who will live to find succour?

Is it time to call the fools out?

Let them celebrate the dream.

This I know, each hope rekindles, when the year has turned again.

© HMH, 2019

Still Catching up. New Reviews

With another eight reviews to go, there isn’t much to say, except that I hope my thoughts on these books will whet your appetites in reading them yourself.

MJ Rocissono, Beyond the Wicked Willow

A rewarding read

MJ Rocissono knows his myths and uses them deftly in his poignant coming-of-age story. It is a delight to read a well-written saga that weaves in and out of various historical periods in an effortless way. The young adult characters come across believable as well as amiable — their mythical mentors and adversaries are powerful symbols for learning to understand the everyday world they live in. Highly Recommended.

Nina Romano, A risky Christmas Affair.

A well written (crime) caper.

Serena must think on her feet and take uncalculated risks in this literary romp that takes the reader from Rome to London and to Spain in less time that it takes to say fiddlesticks. The gallery of characters includes Serena’s unfaithful husband, a luckless robber, and an English MP. Naturally there are diamonds galore as well as big wads of money. Nina Romano pulls all stops and hits bullseye with this Christmas romp. The book is light and tempting: a perfect meringue. Recommended for escapist reading on a dreary day. 

Serena lives in Rome. Married. Unfaithful husband. Attempted robbery. Shooting the robber in the hand. Transporting diamonds to London. Selling them for her husband. Scampering off to Spain.

Roger Bray, Blood Ribbon

Serial Killer on the loose

A thriller with a feisty heroine. That being said, part of the thrill lies in experiencing fragments of the plot through the serial killer’s eyes. Add to that, his foible for red ribbons and dunes as well as his long-enduring success. His prospective victim survives and dedicates her recovery period to find her would-be killer. Only a PI, a former criminal investigator, goes all out to help her. He suspects that several unexplained murders may be connected. Bray shows his psychological insight in the way he handles his main characters. Highly recommended

Kathryn Gauci, The Carpet Weaver of Usak

Poignant and well-researched

Anatolia at the beginning of the Great War. The Greek and the Turks live in peace in a double village. They work together but there is a clear divide. Then the assassination in Sarajevo pivots their world into the war that would kill a generation of young men and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This is the backdrop for the Carpet Weaver of Usak, a heart-wrenching saga, of loss and war, but also of great love. To be precise, it’s more than that. Gauci shows a deep knowledge, both of the historical events and the carpet weaving procedure and trade. Her narrative illustrates how the trust between two peoples that lived in harmony was destroyed. This is a poignant narrative that touches on humanity in its many forms. Love and hate, the horrors of war, friendship and neighbourly help is part of the warp and weft of this highly recommended novel.

Katie Mettner, Meatloaf & Mistletoe + Hotcakes & Holly

Mettner has a gentle voice

Two Christmas books. Two love affairs (that end in happy marriages) between scarred and insecure humans. One small town, a diner with a difference, inspired by the legendary Florence Nightingale.

Likeable and insecure, our first protagonist must take over from her employer in the Nightingale Diner. She doesn’t believe she can win love from her childhood friend and knight in shining armour. He has similar doubts (not for the same reason) but takes up the challenge. Her past, especially her mother, prevents her from thinking clearly.

In Hotcakes & Holly two employees in the same diner, a waitress and the cook, experience their personal brand of heartache. She because of her horrendous childhood etc. Moreover, she’s ill and depressed because of an untreated thyroid defect. It takes trials and tribulations for the two to find their balance.

Both books are touching and heart-warming. Ms Mettner writes easy-going, lilting prose that fits her theme. Two enjoyable reads.

Charles Peterson Sheppard, Flint of Dreams

Dreams and Reality Intertwined in a Dizzying Plot.

A reluctant hero.  A young man who must find his feet between the easy choices that his background offers him (a criminal career) and the harder, spiritual path that he’s predestined for. His counterpart is Breezy, a voluntary fiend who works with chemically induced second sight and enjoying gratuitous violence. Pare it down to these elements and you have the traditional good versus evil epic. In Charles Peterson Sheppard’s hands, it becomes much more than that. There’s nothing generic about the plot, and the Native American scenes and dreams give a rare insight into a magnificent people. Flint’s abilities propel him into unchartered territory, but his self-doubt hampers him until it’s almost too late. On the other hand, his counterpart has all the cards in his hands — and he plays them.

There is a gallery of minor characters surrounding the hero and the villain. They’re fleshed out and believable, especially the Chinese girl whose encounter with Breezy almost sends her over the edge. Add a cast of agents, parents, scientists, insects, students, drunkards, siblings, and you have a fast-paced, from time to time terrifying and violent sit-on-the-edge-of-your-chair, modern tour de force.

SS Bazinet, Michael’s Blood

A Vampire with a Difference

A reformed vampire, guardian angels, friendly humans, philosophy, questions about humanity, ethical awareness, and blood. Not human blood but the essence of an angel. These are some of the elements that make Michael’s Blood unusual. Arel, the protagonist vampire, lives on rats when we first meet him. This is the only allusion to Anne Rice and a certain interview. From the rat encounter, Bazinet takes the reader into a new experience. Here, killing rats may well be a symbol of Arel’s fall from grace. His guardian angel follows him through every humiliation and offers a way to redemption. For a vampire, it’s hard to go through such a transformation, especially as it is a gift bestowed by an angel. Why? An angels’ blood forces the vampire to confront his past. Through this experience, painful as it is, Arel gets to know a brave new world for vampires, one where it is possible to grow and maybe regain an element of lost humanity. It takes struggle, an alternative struggle between angels and this strange derivation from humankind. Clearly, the angels never lost their love for other beings. Is this the kind of love they once displayed for the daughters of men but refined so that it will transmute angels as well as men?

Bazinet writes with assurance and panache in this rare treat.

RH Hale, Church Mouse

Horror, Horror, Harrowing, and Compelling

Is this a horror story, a vampire novel, or something else? It is a modern myth, steeped in cynicism. The Church Mouse of the title is a young and gifted girl, who’s given up on life. Homeless, she leaps to the chance of becoming verger in the church of her childhood. It doesn’t matter to her that she has seen and heard horrors there already. It may seem to be an easy job and a hideout from a too complex world. When she crosses the threshold, she enters a nightmare: things go from bad to worse in quick succession. The reader gets drawn in, and it isn’t easy to disengage. Step by step and increment by increment, the true owners of the church’s underbelly creep up on the protagonist and RH Hale’s readers. Cleaning a church after weddings and church coffee sounds like an easy job, but this is just a cover for the nightly workload. Are her new employers what they seem? Are they cultured and knowledgeable, sometimes charming bohemians, or is there more to them than meets the eye? The question will find an answer as the reader moves through several rings of a Dantesque hell in the maze under the church. Rona is an outsider, but her flirtation with vampires transforms her from an isolated youth (every man or woman is an island) to a mighty power and, finally, she may become part of a deadly covenant. Did RH Hale choose the protagonist’s name with this in mind? Highly recommended.

Everybody agrees that it is important to support indie authors. Everybody agrees that buying a book and writing a review for it, makes all the difference for the author. Why does it then seem next to impossible to get reviews, unless one begs?

If begging is required, here is my plea. I believe that Snares and Delusions is well worth a read. I know that some people must’ve read it but very few have taken a few minutes to write about it. It is true that I’ve received some interest lately, and that has made an impact on sales. What could, would, and or wouldn’t happen if people left a review? If you hated the book, write about it. If you loved it, write about it. If indifferent, well, maybe you can’t be bothered, but write about it anyway.

Authors don’t want to live in a vacuum. They love words. They would adore your words about their book. Maybe the market is swamped with books by unknown authors, but it is possible to see that as something positive. A cornucopia of books, what’s not to love about that? Rescue an author today. Write a review. Short critiques will be accepted with gratefulness, long and in-depth ones, with greed: vociferous and drooling. Make an author happy. Make my day?

© HMH 2019

Moments

There are always those split seconds

When time stands still and mysteries

Come into being.

No-one can deny or undo precious

Memories or pictures that became

Stamped to the inside of the mind.

Every man or woman carries

This sweet burden

Whether they try to diminish or forget

That, which was.

Kneeling together on a cold floor,

A single kiss on the neck:

Holding on to one another

So tight that both knows

They never want to let go.

Lying together, sharing

Kisses so deep that small bits of

Soul enters the beloved

There to stay forever.

Such are the laws:

Nothing can change or lessen

The impact or

The truth

From Aspects of Attraction

© HMH, 2014

Catching up with my Reviews


It’s been too long since I published a new batch of reviews. I suppose life caught me unaware: I thought I’d done more than I did. Now, in 2019, it could be an important New Year’s pledge to remember that posts don’t multiply on their own. It doesn’t even help to write reviews and publish them on Amazon or Goodreads: they don’t jump across to my blog of their own accord. Without further ado: here are some books I’ve enjoyed, some books I admire, and some book that grabbed my attention.

SL Baron, Vanilla Blood

Feeding the myth: Vampires love blood

What is it that brings people to write about vampires? Is it the age-old blood cult that rears its head? Once the Danes sacrificed horses’ blood in large silver vessels. Also, Hebrew demonology has its examples: Lilith, feeding on babies’ blood. Vampires are part of folklore since forever. The nineteenth century fostered what we recognize as today’s vampire, beginning with The Vampyre by John Polidori and continued by Le Fanu (Camille). Dracula and Nosferatu entered the scene and cemented the genre and inspired authors like Anne Rice. In this case, SL Baron’s Vanilla Blood represents the genre.

Vampires are the ultimate human predators. They’re charismatic and ― undead. They survive from century to century, as glamorous, intriguing characters, who feed on their prey’s blood, discerning the taste and quality of their meal as any gourmet would do. Contemporary vampires don’t die easily. No silver bullets, Garlic, or stakes can harm them but falling in love might become their undoing.

Baron writes an absorbing modern-day version of the old myth. Her narrative stirs up emotions when the protagonist loses her brother and her lust for life. From there the plot unfolds until its climax of revenge and reconciliation. Highly recommended.

Barbara Monier, Pushing the River

Poignant: Barbara Monier’s family saga poses important questions

A sprawling narrative about a house full of ghosts. A dysfunctional family on one side: a fifteen-year-old mother-to-be and her mother. On the side, our protagonist finds a new lover that, to the reader, seems too good to be true. He moves in, with his entire possessions in a paper bag, and leaves when things get overly complex. In the wings, sons and daughters with more, or less, successful lives. In the centre, a woman willing to be there, willing to be everything for everybody. That gives her much heartache — and much happiness. This sums up the plot, but what binds it all together? The central character? The proverbial mother-creature? Is this book turning the spotlight on motherhood? Is it questioning when it is time to let go? Or, is it questioning the way we treat our families? Taking everybody for granted is a recipe for disaster, but so is being unwilling to take responsibility. To me, Pushing the River raises several important questions. It is refreshing that Monier doesn’t force the answers down the readers’ throats.

Daniel Kemp Why, A Complicated Love

An emotional rollercoaster

Why starts with a sex-obsessed protagonist and develops into a tragic love story. There’s every possible element of a mafioso set-up, but it goes further. The story has certain elements that remind me of Rigoletto (the Duke of Mantua, his court jester, and a young innocent woman, caught in the power game belonging to a medieval court). It’s brought forward to a contemporary period, but the essence is similar, and the victim is female. There are some differences: two female leads, the young woman and her mother who suffers a similar fate, except that she’s left her innocence behind years ago. Why is well written and believable. The protagonist survives to lead a new life of sorts, but he is damaged beyond repair. He knows this but is able to make the best of a lousy deal. The book starts at the end: the love-object has already died, and Kemp rolls out the narrative on this background. This isn’t a book that lives through the writing as such. It is the heart-wrenching plot that stays with the reader. Still, the writing brings across the characters’ agony. Nobody exists without suffering. Not in the world, Daniel Kemp opens up for his readers. The strong element of crime and sordid humanity makes the love-story even more devastating. It is a surprisingly thoughtful book. Highly recommended.

Loraine Conn, Sentinels

Carling is destined to save the world. A compelling read

Fantasy. A fight between order and chaos, vaguely set in Britain around the Roman invasion. Ms Conn plays with the idea of a secret domain, which could be Logres of the Arthurian myth. This realm is hidden within the country, but contrary to the Arthurian legend it’s probably located in Scotland. The sentinels, guardians of the old way of life, present an interesting idea as well: a play with colours – representing the rainbow. Could they represent the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology? No doubt, Ms Conn knows her myths and has an affinity with the occult history of Britain. She shares that with authors such as CS Lewis, AE Waite, and Charles Williams. This is no scientific thesis though: it is a captivating story about the One True Child, the heroine and a strong female protagonist. She lives and learns to fight and love through her connection with an extensive gallery of individuals. Highly recommended.

Leslie Hayes, Not Like Other People

Not Like Other Stories

A collection of short stories. Weird and wonderful characters flit across the pages There’s the lonely traveller, the troubled teenager, the overprotective mother as well as actors, writers and, misfits: all in condensed form. Ms Hayes uses each short-story to create a precise impression. There’s skill as well as fantasy in her writing. An admirable achievement.

Ben Westerham, Too Good to Die?

Crime Doesn’t Pay — Addiction Kills

Westerham efficiently describes an eighties’ private detective at work and leisure. Sometimes he mixes up both, sometimes he gets into trouble, sometimes he has a lucky break. This is a bleak story about troubled people, but Westerham lightens up the mood with his, sometimes ambiguous, wit.  Recommended.

James Glass, Stone Cold

An Assertive Novel

A courtroom drama ― a criminal investigation. A tortured criminal investigator forced by her circumstances to come to terms with childhood trauma. An ambitious novel from the hands of J Glass.

Karl Holton, The Weight of Shadows

The Past lies in Shadows.

Sophisticated Thriller that, in my opinion, touches on elements of Dante’s Hell and the Seven Deadly Sins. A weight of shadows is possibly what connects the large cast of characters, especially the protagonist, Benedict, and the ‘grey eminence’, Hanson. These two both struggle with their pasts and work to overcome former sins. Their counterpoint is the mysterious hunter who features in the first chapter. Again, this is my opinion: he is the Doctor, although the Doctor could be like Jupiter, the Greek god, in his thousand manifestations.

On the surface, there are several coinciding crimes: a jewel heist, several assassinations, and abductions that involve international crime rings, a complex team of investigators from the regular police to CIA, MI5, MI6, Interpol, and NCA. Everything links up, with the crimes complementing each other like Chinese boxes. Highly recommended

Jessie Cahalin, You Can’t Go It Alone

A sweet and thoughtful book

You Can’t Go It Alone is a wistful ― and wishful ― narrative of how humans can help to bring out the best in one another. It advocates community spirit but doesn’t shy away from showing how troubled we can be. The female protagonist goes through a painful and uncertain IVF treatment, which threatens to estrange her from her husband. Throughout the work, Cahalin illustrates how people could come together and make the world a better place. Is this a romance with roots in everyday life or merely an expression of hope? Wishful thinking? These are the questions the reader must ask, but there are no easy answers.

Doug J Cooper, Crystal Deception

Science Fiction with Emphasis on Science?

Crystal Deception might well build on some of the ideas in McCaffrey’s books. The idea of sentient crystals is part of the trilogy. The author of CD has taken this idea further. Unfortunately, he gets himself involved in technicalities at the beginning of the book, giving in to a natural wish to explain the theory behind the idea. Initially, that reduces the excitement. Once Cooper has set the scene, the book grabs your attention, but some readers might give up before reaching the plot crystallizes. The sentient crystal becomes a believable and pleasant acquaintance, maybe because it possesses the most fleshed out character. There are sections in the book that read like a computer game (random violence in a closed-in area), but the plot comes together towards the end.

I have one final thought to share with you: if you read a book, if you enjoy it — or maybe hate it — never hesitate to tell the author. I know, some authors only live in their books these days, but there are plenty who live and write out of their hearts and guts. Give them a hand up: they deserve it.

© HMH, 2019