Book Review – The Terror by Dan Simmons

Epic, harrowing and glorious!

I came across this book when I did a bit of googling for a good horror read. It got some great reviews, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was complete coincidence that a dramatised version has recently been screened on the BBC.

At first, it seemed long, slow, overly technical, and descriptive, and frankly, a bit weird and boring. Basically, life in the navy in 1845, stuck in the Arctic with a big, scary monster.

I am SO glad I persisted. By the end, when it all came together beautifully, I absolutely loved it. So much so that I read the last chapters between 1 and 3am – I couldn’t put it down and I went to sleep with a warm fuzzy feeling and a satisfied smile on my face.

I didn’t like:

The first half when I was reading it – but I have long since got over that as the second half was outstanding and I get it now!

The excessively detailed descriptions of the ships and all the naval procedures and rules and regulations – again all is forgiven now – somehow the seemingly long drawn-out first half actually contributed to the epic nature of the story and the slow build to the dramatic conclusion.

The vast number of characters – I’ll be honest I lost track of who was who, and who died when and how – maybe Crozier’s rather anal, mental list-making of who had lived and who had died, rank by rank for both ships, as he hauled his sled across the ice for weeks on end, was a gift from the author to help us with that?

The disgustingly vivid descriptions of violent deaths, gruesome injuries, frost-bite, scurvy, filth and squalor and cannibalism. By nature of the fact that I didn’t like them, it is evident that they were well-written and provoked the desired response in the reader. I was looking for horror and I got it!

Honestly, now that I have finished, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about this book. I almost feel the need to read it all again.

I liked (loved):

The whole story and its wonderful conclusion.

The way it built up the sense of desperation and inevitable tragedy.

The way it all came together in the end and all the mysteries were explained.

That it was so much more than a horror. It was a historical novel, based on a true story. It was a horror story. It also had a touch of the mystical fantasy about it. It was a factual account of the features of an Arctic climate, the Eskimo culture and the navy in 1845. It was also a romance.

That it had a bit of everything! Madness, murder, sex (straight and gay), love, loyalty, courage, despair, death and disease, scurvy, botulism, suicide, traditional myths and stories, mystery, horror, cannibalism, nature and much, much more.

The *SPOILER ALERT* end. The happy, happy end!

I bloody loved this book. One of the best I have read during the Time of Covid!

Barbados Lockdown – Friday, March 19th, Year 2 of our Covid-19 Experience.

We’ve had our first vaccination!

A quick update!

After my last post, we both got the vaccine!

Exactly one year, to the day, that we both went into self-isolation.

Maybe, at last, there is an end in sight to this whole sorry business.

M went down to see his doctor in the morning for a routine check-up. He asked what he should do about the fact that he had registered on the 17th of February, (a month ago!) but had not had an appointment sent through yet. She said to go to the local (St Philip) polyclinic and wait on line. He was to take his letter from his UK consultant that outlined his medical history and his Barbados ID Card.

Unfortunately, by the time he got there at 1pm, they had given away their last ticket for the day and there were already long lines of people standing in the sun. But, we had heard of a few people that had managed to get the vaccine fairly easily, a few miles further north at the St John polyclinic. One friend had walked straight in, late in the afternoon, and another had only waited three hours – a slight significant improves on the average four plus hour wait.

Travel is a funny little feature of life in Barbados. Generally, local people don’t like to travel far outside their own parish. But, Barbados is a small island. 21 miles long by 14 miles wide (at the widest part). So nowhere is really very far away. The northern parishes are the least populated and so it figures that their vaccination centres are less busy.

So M made the arduous 10 minute, 6 mile journey to the St John polyclinic. He arrived to find on man in the queue ahead of him. He waited longer in the observation area after he’d had the vaccination, than he did to receive it. Then, because they had opened a vial, they asked him and the other man if they knew anyone who would like the vaccine as they didn’t want to waste the remaining doses.

Fifteen minutes later, we were both in the car heading back up to the clinic for me to have mine! There were a few administrative shenanigans’ when they realised I didn’t have an ID number but we managed to get around that. By ten past four we were back in the car heading home! I was a bit stunned by how quickly it had all occurred after weeks of waiting a worrying about whether M was going to get his or not.

We had the AZ vaccine, some of which, was gifted to Barbados by the Indian government a few weeks ago. We are due to have our second dose on the 25th of May, so, by the time we return to the UK in July, we will be as immune as we can possibly be!

That was Tuesday. Today is Friday and I have had absolutely zero side effects. M had a sore arm for a day and that was it.

Happy, happy days!!!!

Barbados Lockdown – Tuesday, March 16th, Year 2 of our Covid-19 Experience.

Further easing of restrictions.

It’s exactly one year since M and I went into self-isolation!

Things have the “feel” of getting back to normal here.

All shops and business have been allowed to re-open. Indoor dining is permitted in restaurants. Curfew has been pushed back to 9pm.

Still no large gatherings or “liming”. No congregating at the bar! Beaches still only open from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm. Social distancing (stay six feet away from people not from your household or social bubble when in groups) and mask wearing are still required.

The numbers are going down and the death rate has slowed. Despite the recent outbreak, compared to the UK, the picture is better now, and has been right from the start. Although we haven’t been able to get the vaccination here yet, and we would have both had it by now in the UK, we definitely made the right decision in coming here.

Cases per million population: UK 62,573 Barbados 11,967

Deaths per million population: UK 1,843 Barbados 132

Even in terms of vaccination rates, Barbados isn’t doing too badly! Up there at number 11 in the world rankings! UK 38.6% of population. Barbados an impressive 18%! I was actually quite surprised by that figure.

On a personal note, we have now entered our 3.5 month extension. We moved house at the weekend and are settling in to our new home. It’s a spacious two-bedroomed, first floor apartment with a wonderful outside space and beautiful view of the sea. Compared to the last place; smaller with no pool, less expensive, but much more comfortable, cleaner and tidier, and far better equipped.

I’m up to 3.5 K on my Couch to 5K journey. Never thought I’d get this far!

We are even starting to have a social life again!

Tonight we are actually GOING OUT to meet some friends for dinner in an open air, roof-top restaurant with a sunset view.

Tomorrow, the same friends are coming over for lunch as they go back to the UK on Saturday. Local aubergines are in season and absolutely delicious, so I’m cooking a Moussaka.

Next week I’m even getting my toenails done, and going to try and get my hair cut!

Book Review – Feed by Mira Grant

Blogging and American Politics with Zombies.

Because I kind of enjoyed Into the Drowning Deep, I gave this a go. Zombies are much more my thing than Mermaids, and I love post-apocalyptic fiction in general, so I had high hopes for this one.

If I had taken a moment to try and remember why I started it a couple of years ago, but didn’t get past the first couple of chapters, I might have saved myself the disappointment.

But, let’s start with what I did like!

I did like the world that Grant created 20 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, where people had learned to live with the Zombie threat through segregation, bio-scans, rigid security protocols and “clean-up” procedures. I might go so far as to say I loved this aspect of the book.

I did like the main characters, even if they were a bit cliched and cheesy at times.

I did like the “believable” premise for the Zombie Apocalypse.

I did like the tight brother/sister relationship between the two main characters, that appeared gruff and narky on the surface, but was based on a deep and mutual, love and respect.

I did like the end. Not just because it meant I had managed to finish the book, but because it was surprising and actually quite moving.

I’m struggling to think of much else that I liked.

I didn’t like:

The story! It wasn’t about Zombies at all! It was about a load of young bloggers (who took themselves far too seriously in my opinion) and American politics (yawn). Essentially, it was a political “thriller”, set 20 years after a Zombie Apocalypse. If I’m honest, I felt a little conned.

The repetitive, and overly detailed, descriptions of screening procedures, blood tests, scans, security systems and “clean-up” operations.

The repetitive references to George’s eye problems and migraines, and Shaun’s continual desire to “poke dead things with sticks.”

For me, far, far, too much opiniated expositioning and info-giving, and not enough action.

I found the whole book very, very dry. Maybe, it was just me. Maybe, I’m just not serious enough. I read Zombie Apocalypse and post-apocalyptic fiction for fun. I read to be entertained, and sometimes moved. This just didn’t entertain me. I struggled to finish it. Thank goodness we had a bit of drama in the last few chapters. They helped to carry me through to the end.

Book Review – Z Notes by Shawn Lilly

Bill and Ted with Zombies!

(Contains spoilers!)

Reading and reviewing this book has been a genuinely interesting and learning experience for me. It has required me to examine my personal prejudices and biases about writing, as well as reconsider my criteria for what makes a good book.

And this is a good book! I enjoyed it far more than many books I have read by “successful” and established writers.

A huge factor for me, when making a judgement about a book, is what I refer to as the writing quality. Convention dictates that a “good” book should exhibit perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation. This book does not. The text is littered with spelling mistakes, incorrect and missing words, and various typographical errors that, at first, made me think I was not going to be able to read it.

But I persevered and was richly rewarded. Z Notes is a GREAT story!

It is book 2 in a series and picks up linearly from where the previous book ends and finishes at the point where the next will begin.

There is so much to like about Z notes:

  • The fast-moving, imaginative, and exciting plot. The author manages to create some real moments of tension that had me so on edge I found myself reading as fast as I could to find out what happened next.
  • The witty and authentic dialogue.
  • The brilliant characters – Matt and Frank remind me of a mix of Bill and Ted and Ben and Mickey from The Battery.
  • The humour that made me laugh out loud in parts.
  • The ZOMBIES! Oh, my goodness, we have fast ones, slow ones, big ones, small ones, blind ones, super-strong ones – we even have giant zombie crocodiles!
  • The romance – both of our protagonists have romantic interests, but poor Matt seems to have fallen for a girl who … let’s just say … is not really interested in an exclusive relationship.
  • The locations. One of the things I love reading (and writing about) is how familiar locations take on a new and unfamiliar feeling after the world has ended. I also like to entertain myself by imagining how different settings would lend themselves to the purpose of escape and evasion, or survival, in a Zombie Apocalypse. Z notes does this exceptionally well. Matt and Frank find themselves in a variety of different everyday settings and the author plays with how the features of these settings might come into play in a Zombie conflict scenario. We have a farm, a ballpark, a construction site, a multi-story car park, a train yard and many more.
  • The vivid and atmospheric scene setting and images.
  • The hilarious chapter titles – “Farm House e-i-e-i-o.”
  • The use of some excellent metaphors and descriptions:
    • “they could swear they heard the grass squeak under their feet.”
    • “you could hear a mouse peeing on cotton.”
    • “the smell of hot trash in summer.”

As well as all that, it has everything you would expect to find in any good Zombie tale, including gore, violence, heroism, and a wide variety of lethal weapons.

The ending was both intriguing, in terms of what they find on the other side of the fence, and shocking, when Matt finally gives Kimberly her comeuppance and an uncharacteristically brutal act of revenge.

I know it’s not the same, but when someone like Bernardine Evaristo writes without capitalisation and punctuation, she can call it prose poetic patterning and win a Booker Prize. I doubt that writers like Shawn and I could carry this off.

The debate about whether grammar and spelling are “elitist” rages on, and I don’t want to get into that here. Not do I want to make assumptions about the author of Z Notes, other than to say that it would be a sad day if a few issues with grammar, punctuation and spelling were to have prevented this highly entertaining story from being told.

Let me just end by saying that a good story is a good story and leave it at that!

Barbados Lockdown – Wednesday, March 3rd, Year 2 of our Covid-19 Experience.

As we approach a year since we first went into lockdown back in the UK, here in Barbados, the decision has been made to ease some of the restrictions that have been in place since the 3rd of February.

I was a little surprised as the numbers still aren’t great. However, I think it comes down to a mix of economic concerns, and (we are told) that all the new cases are coming from just a few identifiable clusters, limited to a few distinct households.

As you can see from the graph, the curve is moving in the right direction. The first half of the recent double peak reflects the prison outbreak back in January. If you “ignore” that peak, you can see a steady increase followed by a steady decline. Fingers crossed, that this trend continues.

Unfortunately, deaths continue to rise, as is always the case as people infected 2 or 3 weeks ago succumb to the serious complications of the virus.

Anyway, we are now permitted to visit the beach between 3pm and 6pm as well as our 6am to 9am slot. The nighttime curfew between 7pm and 6am remains in place but the weekend curfew has been lifted.

Some shops have been allowed to re-open, and restaurants are allowed to provide curb-side pick-ups (takeaways). Supermarkets are still operating under restricted hours but can open on Saturdays now.

It means a lot in terms of what we can do! We can exercise in the morning slot and maybe go for a swim in the afternoon, rather than cramming it all in in the morning. This means we don’t really need to get up at 5am every morning, but so far we have found it hard to break the habit. We seem to have discovered the joys of being out and about at sunrise. It’s cool and the light is incredible. There is something to be said for having spent 3 hours exercising at the beach and still have the whole day ahead of you as you enjoy a coffee on the balcony at 9am!

Sunrise on Pebble Beach

Shopping wise the implications are tremendous. Because the vegetable street vendors are open again, we don’t need to go to the supermarket as often and stand in the long lines in the sun. But, because, like us, other people don’t need to go to the supermarket as often now, and we don’t have the pre-weekend panic buying, the lines are shorter anyway. The fish market is open again now too, so we’re going down to buy a big fish today and get the freezer re-stocked!

For me, it’s just nice to know that I don’t have to cook every single meal, every single day, if I don’t want to now. The option of picking up a roti or something special from one of our favourites eating places is something comforting to have in my back pocket. It’s the little things.

The vaccination programme seems to be well underway, even if it does seem to have been a little chaotic in it’s implementation. M registered on the 17th of February for an appointment but has heard nothing since. They said that once all the over 70’s had been given theirs, they would start working through younger people with underlying medical conditions, like him. However, it seems that the general public have been turning up at vaccination centres without appointments and are being given the vaccination regardless. Meanwhile, the people they say they are prioritising, wait at home for appointments that never materialise.

Whether you have an appointment or not, if what we have been told is true, you are looking at a wait in the sun of 4 or 5 hours.

On a more positive note, Immigration called me during lockdown to tell me that my citizenship has been approved and, when the office re-opened this week, I was able to go in and pay my fee. Now I just need to wait for them to send out my certificate and I’m good to go for an ID Card and a Passport!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been trying to keep fit during our time here and I recently decided to start a Couch to 5K programme. So far, I’m up to running for 20 minutes in two intervals with a short walk in between, and its going surprisingly well! Today, we also took part in an aqua-robics session in the sea!

The only other bit of news is that we’re moving next week. This house is far too big for us and we don’t really use the pool as much as we thought we might. We have found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment, walking distance from a gorgeous little beach, for a fraction of the price we are paying for this place. When we booked this, we were expecting that some friends and family would have come out to visit us in the new year. Of course, this has not been possible so when we decided to extend our stay, we also decided to look for somewhere smaller. We will stay there for anther three and a half months before we come home on the 1st of July – all being well