Tag Archives: blogging

About a Reset and Rebirth: A Personal Blog

It’s been a while, right? Regular visitors and subscribers may be wondering where I’ve been since the beginning of the year. Certainly those writers and publishers for whom I’ve promised reviews may have been tapping their fingers impatiently, saying to themselves that was a waste of time and energy. In fairness, I did let some of them know that I was taking some downtime. Some, but not all, and for that I apologise.

In truth, since the end of last year, just after Christmas I guess, I went into hibernation mode. You could call it a funk, too, I suppose. We had so much going on behind the scenes at home and across the Pond that I let a lot of things that brought me personal joy go by the wayside. I stopped reading as much, and I spent a lot of time doom-scrolling Twitter and media publications (as many of us are doing right now). I moved clinics at the beginning of this year for my dialysis session, and went from three hours on a chair to four immediately. The extra hour connected to a machine that is saving my life took more out of me than I was willing to admit at the time. Currently I’m transitioning from a line connected to my chest to a fistula in my left arm. Anyone on dialysis will know that this is a LOT.

The upside of the new clinic, apart from its wonderful and caring staff of nurses and doctors (God bless the Irish health service), is its WiFi. My previous clinic had a woeful service, so all I could do was read. Now I can stream shows on my laptop, listening to them on the headphones my wife got me for Christmas. So, basically, instead of reading to my heart’s content, I was now catching up on all the shows I don’t watch when I’m at home. As a result, I’ve barely read four books this year. And you know what? I’ve felt this loss deeply.

I can also admit to feelings of mild depression, nothing clinical, just the sads, since the beginning of the year. I even stopped listening to music, even though when I do, my mood always brightens. I wasn’t baking as much–another activity that brings me lots of pleasure. So you could say that I became inert and passive, when the ideal me loves to create, be active, and enjoy the little things in life. What I found, though, was that the ongoing pandemic (people I know are still becoming infected with Covid), and the failing health of a loved one, and concerns about my own and my wife’s general well-being became all-encompassing. In the end, I started catastrophising, and that is not a good place for anyone to be. There’s a lot going on that I and those around me have no control over; but the corollary is: there’s a lot we can control. Our own outlook is the main one, I think. What we do in any given moment; how we approach a situation that requires attention; and how we communicate our needs, fears, thoughts, and emotions to the people who care about us is the one important step any of us can take in times of personal crisis, big or small. We. Need. To. Talk.

It’s the middle of March now, and the world is as shit now as it was this time last year. But you know what? Apart from looking after ourselves and taking care of the people and space around us, and trying to be as kind and considerate as possible, there’s little we can do unless we run for office ourselves. Many of you are active in your activism, and I genuinely applaud you for that. I hope you succeed for all our sakes, but I know if I attempted to take this route, it would destroy what peace I’m trying to find for me and mine. Twitter, as much I love and hate it, sends me on a spiral at the best of times. This as much as my health and mental well-being has taken me away from what I love to do. I need to read. I need to write. I need to bring joy back into my life.

So I’m taking some fresh steps, starting now. I’m not bringing my laptop into my clinic for a while. Instead, I’ll bring my Kindle and get back to reading again. If I fall asleep at the wheel, well and good, but that won’t always happen. I have a pile of books I need to read. I need to make good on my promises to my authors, publishing companies, and my wife. I need to do better for me and get what pleasure I know I can achieve from what I enjoy doing. I also need to exercise more, and so when the weather gets better, more walks and more music. It may take me a couple of weeks to get back to my best (whatever that is), but I’ll get there.

Thank you for reading.

Gotta Read A Classic

Back in 1982, Adrian Gurvitz, a British singer-songwriter, recorded a song called Classic. If you remember the 80s well (and I do), you might know this tune. In it, Gurvitz says he’s going to write a classic novel, in his attic, as a way of dealing with his broken heart. It’s a nice song, and it sat with me at the time. I too longed to write my own classic, having had my heart broken so many damn times. I may still do, though my heart is set fare, fully mended and settled with Her Ladyship.

Going back further in time, I’m sure most of you had to read classic novels as part of your curriculum. I recall drudging through Charles Dickens’ Hard Times in particular. But one English teacher recommended the class read John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and Richard Adams’ Watership Down as side exercises. I enjoyed these better. Since school, though, I’ve found it difficult to read literature from bygone eras. My attempt to read Moby Dick failed more than once, and the less said about James Joyce’s Ulysses the better. I hadn’t the stomach for either of these classics.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I would like to, at some point, read Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m sure we’re all reasonably familiar with the basic story. Edward Dante is wrongly accused and convicted of treason by jealous rivals, and sentenced to life imprisonment on the island of Chateau d’If. Following a brave escape, he comes into great wealth, takes on a new identity, and then spends a number of years plotting revenge against those who betrayed him. I’ve seen the 2002 movie version and I enjoyed it. Now, 18 years later, I’m about to take on the book itself.

I ordered a copy online and it arrived yesterday. The edition I have was published in 2013 by Canterbury Classics, and is 1,055 pages long. The book contains 118 chapters, and if I get through it, it will be among the longest titles I’ll have ever read. (I think the longest book I’ve read is Stephen King’s complete and uncut edition of The Stand, which clocked in at 1,152 pages.)

So here’s the plan, dear reader and follower: I would like to read The Count of Monte Cristo along with you, if you’d like. I will read at least two or three chapters at a time, then post my thoughts and review each time. It’ll be a challenge that will kickstart 2021, and if I’m successful in my endeavours, I will continue the trend with another novel, many one that some of you will chose for me. There will be a post at least once a week, aside from my regular reviews and articles. I’m looking forward to it, as well as being slightly daunted by what’s ahead. But at least it’s not Ulysses. Come along for the ride. I would appreciate the company.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a safe, merry, and healthy Christmas. Watch out for each other. Don’t do anything foolish, and I’ll see you all on the other side. Take care and be well.


My Year in Books and Sudoku: 2020

As we’re just weeks away from throwing 2020 into the trashcan, many websites and media outlets are doing what they can to throw a positive spin on what has been a tumultous time for citizens of this planet of ours. It’s a hard task, I know. Many of you reading this will have been directly affected by the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the way we live our lives. Some of you will have lost someone dear, and are still unable to grieve properly because of national and international social restrictions. Life hasn’t been fair, and while we see a chink of light in the near distant future, we’re still anxious as hell.

(Image: Literary Hub)

But we found ways to cope. For me, while I was apart from my family in the US, I gained solace in three things. I put a lot of effort into cooking and baking, not just for me but for my family in Ireland. Cooking for others is a sure-fire way of showing love and gratitude, and it’s something I’ve done quite a lot of this year. The second thing to give me comfort just when I needed it is a YouTube website called Cracking The Cryptic. Thanks to an article from The Guardian in May, I came across two English gentlemen, Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe, who live solve complex puzzles twice daily. During the course of this year, they picked up so many subscribers to their channel that they now have over 303,000 followers, with one particular video attaining over 2.1 million views. They work hard on their content, and are a joy to watch. Because of them, I now attempt theNew York Times Hard Sudoku a few times a week. We take our comfort where we find it, and if it ends up being good for our brain, well, all the better.

Thirdly, and just as important, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I started the year finishing off Stephen Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and began my journey to more than 40 books read in a calender year. Not a record, though: a few years back I managed over 50. One of the highlights of my reading year was James S.A. Corey’s science-fiction series The Expanse. I read books two through eight consecutively, touching nothing else until I was done. Now, like all Expanse fans, I wait for the new season to drop on Amazon in a matter of days, and the release of the ninth and final book in the series, Leviathan Falls, next year. Right now, I’m reading Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark‘s new novella. I’ll post a review of this brilliant piece of dark fantasy in a future blog.

Throughout the short life of this blog, I’ve written about many of the books and authors I’ve encountered this year. Very few, if any, let me down. And I read everything I started, including the bad boy of the bunch, Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery, a book with a reveal so racist and disgusting, it will be a long time before I try anything from that era again. But it did lead me to Martin Edwards and his Rachel Savernake series, so at least some good came out of it. I enjoyed books mainly in the mystery, thriller, and sci-fi/fantasy genre. It was the kind of year where I needed the escapism, and I doubt 2021 will change my approach. Hooking up with NetGalley allows me to request books pre-publication, and I have Caldwell Turnbull’s hotly anticpated follow-up to The Lesson, No Gods, No Monsters, to look forward to early in the New Year.

So, do I have any favourites, any book I would urge you to read right now, out of all the ones I’ve read this year so far? Well, I’ve written about Anthony Horowitz twice already, so his books and series are always a good place to start. Mary Robinette Howal’s Lady Astronaut series will always have a special place in my heart, combining science fiction and alternate history with some whip-smart and hard-hitting social commentary. Get on these if you haven’t already. Steve Cavanagh continues to knock it out of the park with his Eddie Flynn series: Fifty-Fifty was yet another stunning legal thriller that very much kept to the high standards of previous instalments. Shout-outs to Kellye Garrett and Rachel Howzell Hall for providing me and their fans with a hefty dose of LA-centred crime fiction. Their characters and prose kept me up and entertained many a long night this year. I especially loved Rachel’s And Now She’s Gone, but I can’t wait to see what Kellye has in store for us in 2021.

For the year that was in it, Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe quartet was a dream to read, and a nightmare to contemplate. I still want Rudy to cook all my dinners, though.

I hope to read at least 50 books in the forthcoming year, and it will give me great pleasure to talk about them on this website. I would appreciate the company, but with the world being the way it is right now, we’re all we’ve got and we need to stick together. Let’s live, love, read, and enjoy, and never stop caring for each other. Well done for making it through so far. I’ll see you on the other side.