Carmilla Reads

My name is Carmilla Voiez and I am a book addict. I write, mostly horror and urban fantasy, and I read across a wide spectrum of genres.

Uncomfortable truths written in easily understood language

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide - Carol Anderson

The thrust of this easy to read and highly informative book is that power structures in America and disenfranchised whites have one thing that bind them together, a determination to prevent African-American success. The chapters take us from the end of the civil war and the reconstruction through to the first black president in the US, Obama. It studies the gymnastics, sleight of hand, and frequently extremely violent terrorist acts involved in maintaining segregation after in was legally outlawed in the 1960s, and how a coup in Nicaragua was tied into criminalising black communities in the US. The more left-wing of us might wonder at the restraint of African-Americans at times, and this book delves into the history of that and how every act of resistance in the last 350 years has been met with disproportionate, murderous punishment in order to protect white communities against even the discomfort of black success. It's a great book if you're wondering how we arrived at the BLM movement today.

I wish it had better characters.

Cold Moon Over Babylon - Michael McDowell

Apologies to Char who I know loves this book, but...

I didn't enjoy it.

On the one hand, as with The Elementals, the sense of place that McDowell evokes in his writing and the pervasive wrongness is extraordinarily effective. For that alone I would have offered a solid four or five stars. However, the characterisation was poor in this book and I love being able to empathise with characters and understand their motivations. Without those aspects I will always struggle to truly engage with a book. None of the characters felt real or sympathetic in any way.

The sheriff was lazy and stupid beyond belief, and the villains were Laurel and Hardyesque caricatures of evil, as portrayed by the moustached villain in a top hat laughing as they tie their victim to train tracks, there was nothing there that made them feel real at all. The other characters were just annoying.

The ghost was another bugbear, and the way this "mystery" was wrapped neatly with an earlier thread made me yawn. I have seen people rave about this book, especially fellow horror lovers, but it simply didn't move me. In fairness I was almost gripped near the end, but part of that might have been an eagerness to start my next read.

Posting this review on Booklikes was a Herculean test of my patience. Why is the site so slow and buggy???

Reading progress update: I've read 174 out of 292 pages.

Cold Moon Over Babylon - Michael McDowell Am I the only horror lover who finds the baddies in Cold Moon over Babylon ridiculous? They're like Laurel and Hardy caricatures.

Power and Fear

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin

This book was recommended to me on Twitter. I’d replied to a thread about SciFi and said I thought I didn’t like the genre until I read some SciFi by women, and cited Margaret Atwood, Ursula K LeGuin and Octavia Butler as writers whose work I’d really enjoyed. One person suggested I try this trilogy by Jemisin, and I’m glad I did. Personally I am surprised this is classed as SciFi. Is it the alternate world setting that qualifies it as part of the genre? It felt like fantasy to me but, either way, I loved it.


It’s a tricksy, twisty narrative, but to explain why would be to spoil some of the fun, so I’ll attempt to write a spoiler-free review. The narrative is split between three POVs -Syenite, Damaya, and a second-person narrative Essun. All three are orogenes, people with the ability to manipulate the earth and rock to create or stop earthquakes. Because of this catastrophic power orogenes are feared and shunned by the rest of society known as stills.


It begins with the death of a child and a quest for revenge, but this is woven into a wider story which questions the fundamentals of a society which is constantly threatened by mass extinction. The main characters are beautifully drawn and the world-building is rich and vivid, with brilliant expletives and fascinating customs and politics. It is absolutely not somewhere I would wish to live.


I’ll be ordering the next book in the series with my next paycheck and if you enjoy alternate worlds and (what ostensibly feels like) magic, I would suggest you grab a copy and lose yourself in 449 delightful pages.

Motherhood angst x 1,000,000

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

The novel is written as a series of letters from the mother of mass murderer Kevin Khatchadourian to her husband. The mother is Eva Khatchadourian, and Armenian- American woman who loves to travel the world and built a business empire from travel books.


The letters begin in 2000, two years after Kevin murdered class-mates and school staff in a carefully planned massacre for which he harbours no regret.


As the chapters unfold we build a picture of a woman pressured into motherhood by her all-American husband, Franklin. The prose style is indicative of a pretentious and self- involved snob, who thankfully becomes more sympathetic as her story unfolds. It looks at how society blames mothers (but not fathers) for the crimes of their children, and a mother’s generalised fear that any lack of parental skills on their part, might create a sociopath.


The story isn’t solely about Kevin. Eva’s dislike of American culture and her complicated relationship with her own mother, and the effect of mass media on our society are all important themes. However, when Eva does write about Kevin she describes a forceful and indignant baby, which she feared even before his birth, and failed to emotionally bond with as an infant. A boy who delighted in torturing his mother, vandalising her study, refusing food, toys and attention. What builds through this constant rejection is an erosion of self that mothers too often experience, but writ large, because Kevin is a terrifying, calculating, lying and abusive boy. Franklin assumes that any failure lies with Eva, and that Kevin is a bright and loving son. She continues begging her estranged husband to believe her two years after their son was arrested.


Eva may be vindicated by history, but her fears were ignored or explained away by Franklin, throughout Kevin’s childhood, while Kevin’s dark influence grew more oppressive in Eva’s imagination. A family tragedy involving a bottle of drain-fluid might elevate Kevin to quick-thinking hero in his father’s mind, but Eva finds it easier to believe Kevin is to blame when his little sister loses an eye.


A question asked after real life school shootings might be, how did the parents not see it coming? Eva does see something coming, perhaps not exactly what happens, but something unforgivable; the trouble is no one believes her. And this gas-lighting of women’s fears and the assumption that a mother, however accomplished, will put her life on hold for her children is at the heart of this novel.


Why did Kevin do it? No one knows, not even Kevin himself.

Class war and magic

Gilded Cage - Vic James

Gilded Cage is a bit like Animal Farm with magic. It's told from the perspective of seven characters, and set in an alternate Britain where the ruling class are called Equals and have magical powers, while the non-magical populous must submit to a decade of slavery.


It's the first book in a series and while most of the threads are neatly concluded by the end a couple remain. The characters are varied, although most represent a type rather than a fully realised individual, however that seems to work in the depths of this them versus us narrative.


I enjoyed it and will probably pick up other books in the series at some point. Vic James is particularly talented when it comes to describing settings, all of which feel very real in spite of their strangeness.

Absolutely wonderful

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

A brilliant book. Reading it is like hanging out with a very morbid and witty friend. It covers everything you might want to know about corpses including decomposition, how they are used to advance science, investigate aeroplane crashes, improve car and machinery safety, and test weapons; the history of body snatching, modern cannibalism, and the attempted recreation of the Turin shroud.

Of course it won't be for everyone, but I lapped it up.

Short stories about working class males in Queens

Slapboxing with Jesus - Victor LaValle

At last! A book I've read that's listed on Booklikes. I was wondering whether I'd have to manually add all my recent reads, but I have to admit I just didn't bother adding the others.


This collection of short stories was powerful and sometimes upsetting. They seemed in many ways autobiographical and give us snippets (almost but not quite anecdotal in nature) of the lives of boys and men living in Queens. It's a hard life and the ties between the characters seem easily breakable, as if their own and each others lives are cheap. But there's an honesty about the warts and all revelations that gripped me as a reader. I've read three of LaValle's novels and I enjoyed those more than this debut, but enjoy this collection I did.

Things you didn't even know that you didn't know.

The Universe Next Door: The Making of Tomorrow's Science - Marcus Chown

While a little out of date, starting operations at CERN in 2006 in discussed as a future event, this is the best book I've read so far on quantum physics and parallel universes. Apart from some sections on plancks and branes that went over my head, I got a lot from it as a lay-person and it made me want to learn more. Mirror worlds and particles; tricksy atoms that can be in more than one place at once; the likelihood that our universe is teeming with life, originating from asteroids that seed any planet with enough warmth to have liquid water; and that six missing dimensions that must exist for wave theory to be correct, might be folded so small that we cannot perceive them.

Refugees in Britain

The Other Side of Truth - Beverley Naidoo

I will attempt to write a spoiler free summary of this book before I tell you why I loved it. After a politically motivated, family tragedy in Nigeria those who survive are forced to flee for their lives. Two young children, Sade and Femi, are sent to England with a stranger under false identities. When things become more complicated in England than expected the two children, aged ten and twelve, are abandoned in the capital city. A lot of things happen, descriptions of which might spoil the story, but throughout the fear, shame, love, strength and ingenuity of the children is displayed.

I love this book. I felt for the children, for their wider family and their foster family very deeply. The challenges they face feel very real and how they deal with each, while sometimes causing more problems for themselves, is always understandable and evokes sympathy and empathy in the reader.

While it might have easily been a tale of hopelessness and despair, it manages to rise above both and leave the reader with at least a measure of optimism. We are led through the story by Sade, a girl of twelve, who has to navigate them both through stormy waters.

Impressive children's book

Emmy in the Key of Code - Aimee Lucido

I rarely enjoy children's books, but I thought this was very clever. It's a narrative poem that combines a story about a young girl trying to fit into a new school, and computer coding as a form of music. It's a quick read. The layout means there aren't many words on most of the 393 pages, but it is an enjoyable read and offers insight into different ways of being true to oneself.

I hope the link works. It's me reading chapter one of The Venus Virus on Facebook Live.

It seems that this book is like Marmite. I like Marmite, but I didn't enjoy this book.

Ash - James Herbert

David Ash is a woman-magnet, a scruffy middle-aged, alcoholic, ghost-hunter, sullen and emotionally closed off - except when he isn't (he does have a tendency to fall in love quickly and deeply throughout the trilogy). One reads the book suspecting that Ash may be a fantasy projection of James Herbert himself.

This book, while longer, isn't as good as the previous two. Most of the characters are tropes and there is no further development of the central character. Instead it's full of conspiracy, violent haunting, and revenge.

Knowing what I know now, I probably would have finished the series with book two. For anyone who wants unrelenting action and doesn't care about character arcs, the book will provide all you need.

I read some other reader reviews after posting mine on Goodreads, and some people think this is the best book EVER! Thus the Marmite comment in the title.

Tense Young Adult Thriller

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

A terrorist attack on San Francisco brings the Department of Homeland Security to the city. Four teens are wrongfully detained and only three of them are released. This compels one of their number, Marcus Yallow, to wage a cyber war on the DHS.


The novels considers what freedoms people are willing to sacrifice in the name of national security, and of course this varies widely from person to person.


It's a tense YA thriller with a strong political message that I found compelling and fascinating. Reading the sequel first didn't spoil the story, thankfully.

How not to treat a favourite child.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng

It was compared to "The Lovely Bones" on the cover of my version, and in some days it has a similar feel - the characters feel trapped and desperately unhappy and a teenage daughter dies for a reason the reader cannot fully grasp until near the end. I would argue that if you take out the sexual abuse aspect it reminds me more of "The Diary of Laura Palmer", but it isn't really either of these books and deals with many things the above named books do not touch on.


In a nutshell, for me the book was about a family of five who want different lives. They stagger around the house together (emotionally not literally), leave each other bruised at times, but are unwilling or unable to communicate the reasons for their unhappiness.

It's set in the 1970s in a small American town. The father James is Chinese. The mother is white, and the children rather obviously are mixed race. For a variety of reasons none of them really fit in to the community, and all of them are lonely in spite of their love for each other. The parents, for reasons that would require a spoiler so shall not be explained here) pour all their energy and hopes into Lydia, the middle child and elder daughter.


Hannah is the youngest, born to late to have shared the trauma of her elder siblings, but not immune to its aftermath. She hides, watches and listens, and from clues she picks up along the way sees more accurately than the others the danger the family faces.


It's beautiful, poignant and sad. The language is simple enough to appeal to a young adult audience, while the ideas expressed are complicated enough to appeal to mature adults. I loved it, as you can see by my rating.

Neither comedy nor horror for the most part

Dead Funny - Robin Ince, Johnny Mains

I had very high hopes for this collection of horror stories by comedians. Sadly, my high expectations were largely unfulfilled. For example, Sara Pascoe's book "Animal" was enjoyable and I love her comic timing on screen. Stewart Lee has produced some of my favourite comedy sketches (after Rob Newman). With both of them listed as contributors, I was thrilled to find this book.

There are decent stories, but as a collection it doesn't tick either the great horror or comedy boxes for me.

My favourite story was "Filthy Night" by Charlie Higson, and it was also the most humorous. While it's a stretch to define it as horror, Stewart Lee's "A View from a Hill" was familiarly irreverent and entertaining. "A Spider Remember" by Sara Pascoe was weird and clever; she didn't let me down. "Dog" by Reece Shearmith was the most sinister of the lot. "For Everyone's Good", by Al Murray, held my interest. "Most out of Character" by Robert Ince was a self-aware and rather disgusting first person narrative about someone infected by a rage virus, however many of the images were repeated later in "All Warm Inside" by Neil Edmond, which marred the impact of both. Another satisfying read that wasn't horror was Katy Brands's "For Roger". I liked the circular form and enjoyed the style. I loved Tim Key's 56 word story "Halloween", definitely a highlight of the collection and hilarious horror.

I summary, if I had gone into the collection with lower expectations I might have enjoyed it more, but even so there were good stories in this anthology.

Currently reading

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb