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Gwendy’s Button Box June 6, 2017
Gwendy's Button Box Book Cover Gwendy's Button Box
Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Horror
Cemetary Dance Publications
16th May 2017
Hardback
171

Gwendy’s Button Box is the latest offering from Stephen King. Co written by Richard Chizmar its the tale of  a young Gwendy Peterson  a resident of King’s regular stomping ground of Castle Rock, Maine. The year is 1974 and Gwendy is twelve when we first meet her, on the day that will change her life irrevocably.  She meets a mysterious man named John Farris who presents her with the titular button box. The box is studded with a series of colored buttons and has a lever that dispenses “pure” chocolate treats and silver dollars. Not only do the chocolate treats taste incredible, eating them changes Gwendy’s fortunes dramatically. At school her grades improve, she becomes a star athlete and captain of the ladies soccer team. Does the box have anything to do with it though, and if so will there be a price to be paid? And then there are the buttons. What happens if you press the buttons?

Small but perfectly formed, regular readers of Stephen King may feel a little short changed, as this is a slim volume at just 170 pages. Its a tale of temptation, opportunity and responsibility. It’s a testament to Richard Chizmar’s writing/input that the joins in this collaboration are seamless. The story will certainly make you want to check out his solo material. Not quite as dark a tale as you might imagine and there are a few plot holes here and there but Gwendy’s Button Box is a glorious addition to the Castle Rock cannon. Well worth checking out if you can find a copy.

A Game of Ghosts April 22, 2017
A Game of Ghosts
Charlie Parker
John Connolly
Defective Fiction, Thriller
Hodder
April 2017
Hardback

A Game of Ghosts

Charlie Parker first appeared in John Connolly’s debut novel Every Dead Thing almost 20 years ago. Seventeen books later , Parker is still going strong, older, wiser and still ably supported by Louis and Angel. One of the strengths of the Parker series is the author’s ability to infuse his novels with a sense of supernatural dread. Some of the novels, The Reapers for example make little or no reference to this supernatural undercurrent and work perfectly well without it. Connolly himself has said that he is often criticized by detective fiction purists for mixing genres as he does, but for this reviewer it is one of the strongest elements of the series. The good news is that A Game of Ghosts is one of the best so far. It’s a cracking piece of detective fiction in its own right but also steps up the supernatural back-story a notch or two.

A Game of Ghosts sees Parker on the hunt for a missing private detective Jaycob Eklund. His investigations bring him into contact with the Brethren a secretive society whose founder Peter Magus has sold their collective souls to the Devil to prevent a final judgement for their sins. At the same time Parker finds his private life in turmoil with his ex partner suing for sole custody of their daughter, Sam.

Reading A Game of Ghosts, it’s hard not to marvel at Connolly’s ability as a writer. By his own admission Connolly didn’t start out to create a supernatural mythology. Connolly, like his protagonist has had the true nature of his destiny, slowly revealed as the series has progressed. All the more impressive then that the different strands of his story lines never feel forced or contrived.  His prose as ever is flawless. The real trick for Connolly will be to maintain the quality of the series as it continues. This is the 17th book in the Parker series, a series which is set almost entirely in Maine. Given the location and the darker themes explored, this reviewer often finds himself thinking of Stephen King while reading the Parker books. King’s 17th novel was IT, subject of a soon to be released (and much anticipated) new film adaptation. IT, is arguably King’s last great novel. He has written may more since then of course, many of them fine in themselves, but none have quite recaptured the brio of his earlier work. The trick for Connolly will be to sustain the quality of the series going forward. On the evidence of A Game of Ghosts its a challenge he’s up for. The role played by his daughter Sam finally feels like its gaining traction. Connolly has teased us before with insights into Parker’s true nature only to step back from it in the next book. There is a real feeling in the last few entries in the series that (supernatural) events are gathering momentum. This reviewer for one can’t wait for the next book.

It’s true to say as with most of the series, that you could read A Game of Ghosts as a standalone thriller, but if you haven’t read the series before, don’t start here. Do yourself a favour and go back to the beginning and start with Every Dead Thing. You won’t regret it.

Dark Powers February 16, 2017
Dark Powers Book Cover Dark Powers
Makt Myrkranna
Classic, Horror
The Overlook Press
Out Now
Hardback @ €24.00

We’re really intrigued, here at Roe River Books,  by this new (well as new as a 100 year old book can be) book. In 1900, Icelandic publisher and writer Valdimar Ásmundsson set out to translate Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Called Makt Myrkranna (literally, “Powers of Darkness”)

The Icelandic edition included an original preface written by Stoker himself. Makt Myrkranna was published in Iceland in 1901 but remained undiscovered outside of the country until 1986.

In 2014 a literary scholar Hans de Roos took a serious look at Ásmundsson translation and found that  Ásmundsson hadn’t just translated Dracula but had written an entirely new version of the story.

Complete with new characters and a totally re-worked plot. The resulting narrative is one that is shorter, punchier, more erotic, and some say more suspenseful than Stoker’s Dracula.

Hard to believe Makt Myrkranna has never been translated or even read outside of Iceland until now 117 years after it was originally published. Presented in a beautiful Hardback edition it comes with illustrations and diagrams of Castle Dracula (including a hidden room from an earlier draft of the novel by Stoker but deleted from his final version) and a terrific cover. A must for fans of Stoker and Dracula, an authentic alternate version of the Legend not to be missed.

Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill January 3, 2017
Under a Watchful Eye Book Cover Under a Watchful Eye
Adam Nevill
Horror
12 January 2017
Hardback

Adam Nevill writes horror. He writes very good horror, and Under a Watchful Eye is a very good horror novel. Nothing surprising there, what is slightly surprising, at least for anyone familiar with his last novel Lost Girl, is the scale of the horror on offer.

Under a Watchful Eye is a psychological (and psychic) horror novel. The protagonist is a writer of horror novels whose life is turned upside down by a reunion with an old college mate from years earlier. A loyal fan base, film adaptations of his work in development and a luxury pad on the south coast, life for Seb is good. What could possibly go wrong? Well, Seb Logan’s  latest novel isn’t quite coming along as he would like and at 50 plus he isn’t quite the bright young thing he used to be.

Into his life comes Ewan Alexander, an old roommate from his college days when both were aspiring writers. Life hasn’t been quite as good to Ewan and he’s not happy about it. He sees Seb as his meal ticket and despite his best efforts to discourage him; it’s not very long before Ewan has moved in with a very reluctant Seb as his host.

Ewan sneers at Seb’s work considering it populist pulp fiction and hints at a work of his own that will be important and real, a masterpiece. He wants Seb to “structurally re edit” his masterpiece and get it published for him. Despite his own worsening writers block Seb refuses. From this point on Seb’s life and world start to slowly unravel. He suffers horrific nightmares, threats insinuated and real from both Ewan and subsequently from other members of a cult of which Ewan was a member. His dream lifestyle becomes a nightmare from which he can’t escape.

This feels like a very personal novel by Nevill.  Unlike Lost Girl which was a thrill ride of a novel as much a thriller as horror. All its horrors were writ large, extreme climate change, child trafficking, murderous cults and corporate terrorism. The main character referred to only as the father, inadvertently becomes an unlikely if ruthlessly efficient action hero, willing to do anything to find his lost daughter. The horrors on offer in Under a Watchful Eye are of a more personal nature. Things are turned inward. Seb’s life, home, mind and ultimately his talent are invaded and corrupted. The father rushes headlong in pursuit of his nemesis.  Seb Logan tries to run from his. But where do you run to when the horror invades the darker corners of your mind?

If all this makes Under a Watchful Eye a little sedate by comparison with Nevill’s previous novels, fear not. The terrors in Under a Watchful may indeed be less immediate and horrific, they are though more visceral, they live with you longer. Not unlike Ewan Alexander, they move in with you and won’t leave. I should also make mention of a certain Thin Len, a character who surely deserves a novel of his own. All in all, Under a Watchful Eye is a fine addition to Adam Nevill’s growing and impressive cannon of work.

Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill    ISBN 9781509820405 €15.60  is published on 12th Jan 2017, Anyone mentioning the Roe River Book Review can avail of a discounted price of €12.95 (offer expires Jan 31st)       

One Shade Too Many? June 17, 2015

Tomorrow, Thursday the 18th June, sees the publication of “Grey”, the follow up to E L James trilogy,  Fifty Shades of Grey. Fans will tell you the significance of the date (June 18th is its “hero’s” birthday). It may be a new novel, but it isn’t a new story. The previously published, Fifty Shades trilogy, has already given us Anastasia Steele’s story in all its latex clad glory. This time around James is giving us the same story again, this time from the “male” perspective.So although Grey is a spanking new novel, the spanking is not.

new-el-james-book

On finishing the Harry Potter series J K Rowling cleverly wrote her follow up, not only with new characters, but in an entirely new genre. A Casual Vacancy was an adult novel and was generally well received by fans and critics alike. She further established her non Potter writing credentials under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith with the Cormoran Strike novels. Only now eight years later is she finally talking of a return to the Potter character for a new novel. There is always a danger that authors will go to the well once too often with a well loved character. Rowling recognised this, and has has successfully avoided the danger of being a one trick pony (albeit a hugely successful one)

As someone who hasn’t read any of the previous novels I must admit to a certain curiosity as to how it will be received. Fans will no doubt be curious but will the 70 million who have already read the book, really want to read the same story all over again? The original books although wildly popular were generally poorly reviewed critically. One critic stating that, “they had never read anything so badly written that got published”, further commenting that”it makes Twilight look like War and Peace”.  Its success then is more likely to be the unusual subject matter. Unusual for a mainstream novel that is. That and timing. The world, or the books’ readers at least, were ready for Fifty Shades of Grey. Will Grey be met with a “been there done that” indifference, or will fans slavishly lap it up? The new book certainly doesn’t have originality on its side. Novelty, maybe? Timing?, the publication of the novel three years after the last book and four months after the movie adaptation was released, seems strange. Why not closer to the movie’s release? Author E L James has take quite a risk therefore, in publishing Grey as her first novel since the Fifty Shades trilogy. Will fans feel short changed?

Maybe James is suffering from writers block? Maybe she’s smarting from the critical mauling the originals received and is looking to rewrite the story in an attempt to win the critics over? Either way its a huge risk. I’ll leave it to others to gauge the wisdom of her decision. I have no doubt the book will sell in huge numbers. The real question is where does James go next. No matter how well or how poorly received Grey really isn’t anything more than a stopgap.

Grey is available in paperback from Thursday 18th and can be bought at Roe River Book. It retails at €9.99.

The Indie Bookshop June 6, 2015

One of the pleasures of owning a Bookshop is witnessing the reaction of people when they ask you, “what do you do for a living”. The reaction is seldom indifference. When I say, “I own a Bookshop,” most people react with a “Really? That must be so cool” sort of response. Occasionally you get a perceptive “Gee, that must be tough?” Most of the time, however, the response is positive, even from people who then proceed to tell you that they love to read but just don’t have the time. You also get a fair number of people who tell you that they would love to own a bookshop, or at least, work in one and I imagine most of them mean it too.

What they don’t realise is that owning a bookshop is not so much a career choice as a vocation. Independent bookshop owners certainly aren’t in the business for the money. For anyone lucky enough to own or run a bookshop however, the rewards are immense. There is probably no better embodiment of “life work balance”. It goes without saying you need to love books and to love reading. I make a distinction here because reading, like not reading, can be a habit. While I might occasionally have slipped into the habit of not reading, I never stopped loving books, the touch the feel, the smell of them. Like most book lovers I’ve bought many more books than I’ll ever read. Owning a bookshop means I’ll never have to worry about buying too many (although my accountant might disagree).

Roe River Books is my second stint as a bookshop owner. First time round the imaginatively titled Dundalk Bookshop opened in 1987. Before that I’d worked in civil engineering and when recession bit, rather than emigrate I used my meagre savings and redundancy to open a bookshop. Unfortunately I was never able to generate enough financial momentum to get the stock level to a point where I could see a viable future. After 5 tough but enjoyable years the shop lease was up for renewal and I had a decision to make. Extend the lease and go again for another 5 years or go back to engineering which was picking up again after the recession. I sold my soul. The lure of a regular weekly wage, paid holidays and sick days was too much to resist. I closed the shop in 1992. I was relieved, but sad at the same time, and fell out of love with books for a while.

Fast forward to 2007 and I’m a self employed planning and design consultant. A client of mine has just bought a property and wants me to survey the building. The property houses Carroll’s Educational Supplies, an institution in Dundalk where generations of children have bought their school books. My client informs me that he really only wanted the building and that, most likely he’ll be selling the business on after the summer season. I half jokingly say to him not to sell it without talking to me first and two cups of coffee later, I’m back in the book business.

I was immediately aware of the difference. Bookselling is just a much nicer thing to spend your time doing. The Celtic Tiger years had turned civil engineering into a rat race. Aided in no small part by the advent of the mobile phone, you were never “off clock”. I was glad to be back. I knew it would never pay as well. That didn’t matter, I had a bookshop again. A school bookshop admittedly, but I could change that in time.

roe_river_books-small

It worked, to a degree. Then the recession hit and things began to stagnate. I became uncomfortably aware of the unhealthy parallel between my ownership of bookshops and recessions. Still we maintained the school trade and increased turnover in the first year. Turnover, though, levelled off and while we had some success with general books, developing this side of the business has been much slower than I would have liked.

Despite the difficulties it’s still a wonderful life. 15 years later the book trade is a significantly different place to the one I closed the door on in 1992. The net book agreement is gone, supermarkets sell books as loss leaders, the e-book has arrived and Amazon are doing their best to make sure that just about everybody buys everything, books included, from them. Video shops and record shops are all but gone. Many chain bookstores are also gone (Hughes and Hughes have opened and closed twice in Dundalk since 2003), but independent bookshops are still here.

Independent bookshops survive because they aren’t just about financial transactions. They are about books, obviously, but also about people, people who write books, people who read books and people who like being surrounded by books. They don’t just want to sell you books to make money; they want to sell you books because the books they sell are worth reading.

It looks like my second bookshop has survived a second recession. High street retail may never again be what it once was thanks to on-line retail but I’m optimistic about the future of the shop. The next phase will see it rebranded as Roe River Books to coincide with the launch of our web page next month. The Amazon River is the longest in the world and it’s on line namesake seems to want to take over the world. The Roe River once held the record as the shortest river in the world so in choosing its name, its bricks and mortar namesake may be accused of a lack of ambition. I like the idea of being the polar opposite of that on line giant. I like to feel that we’re just as important. We may not have every book in print but we might just have the one you need.

(This article first appeared on writing.ie)

Why Moscow’s decision to ban Maus is wrong April 29, 2015

Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman has branded Russian bookstores’ decision to stop selling copies of Maus, his graphic novel about the Holocaust, the “harbinger of a dangerous thing”. The Russian authorities have moved to remove Nazi insignia ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Copies of Maus have been withdrawn from Moscow’s major book shops, because it includes a swastika on its cover.

“It’s a real shame because this is a book about memory,” Spiegelman told The Guardian. “We don’t want cultures to erase memory.”

In December, the Kremlin passed a law banning “Nazi propaganda”, and since then authorities have reportedly raided toy stores and antique shops believed to be selling the paraphernalia.

Art Spiegelman and his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus

Spiegelman told the Guardian that it was particularly ironic that an explicitly anti-fascist book should be swept up under the law. “Stalin, after getting us into helping start world war two … was probably responsible for making the Russians liberate a lot of those camps that helped my father survive. A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression,” he said.

Varvara Gornostayeva, the chief editor at Corpus, the book’s publisher, told AFP that major bookstore chains were taking it off their shelves and internet sites.

“There is no Nazi propaganda in it. This is a book that should be on the shelves on Victory Day,” Gornostayeva argued.

Thankfully, Maus is NOT banned in Ireland, and you can buy it in the store. We will add it to the online shop shortly.