Random Book Club

What an amazing idea. I will receive a hand-picked book once a month from the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

Are you sitting uncomfortably? It’s time to leave your literary comfort zone and join the Random Book Club. Sit back and enjoy a book, hand-picked entirely at random from the shelves of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop, delivered with a dull thud, right to your door.

Every book you receive will be selected by the owner of The Bookshop, Shaun Bythell.  Books will be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction; paperback and hardback. And, of course, you get to keep the books.

I had first read about the RBC a few years ago in the first of Shaun Bythell bookshop diaries. However, at that time the club was fully subscribed. I tried a few more times and then completely forgot about it until me and my lovely wife spent a week in Wigtown, home of the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

Last week, after an address hiccup, my first book arrived. It was Mecator: The man who mapped the planet by Nicholas Crane. I have read one of his other books, so this was definitely a good introduction to the RBC. I wonder what book I will receive next month?

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Two Stephen King book reviews in a row. Elevation was the most recent book that I’ve finished, and If It Bleeds is the least recent book I finished but hadn’t reviewed.

If It Bleeds is a collection of four shorter stories.

The first novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is classic Stephen King. The story follows a young boy who becomes obsessed with his late employer’s iPhone and discovers a terrifying connection that blurs the line between the living and the dead. With his keen understanding of human nature, King delves into themes of obsession, mortality, and the consequences of tampering with forces beyond our control.

The second novella, The Life of Chuck, is a thought-provoking exploration of life’s meaning and the interconnectedness of our existence. King employs a nonlinear narrative structure that adds a layer of mystery and intrigue to the tale. The story unravels in reverse chronological order, revealing the life and impact of a seemingly ordinary man named Chuck. The story is poignant and introspective, leaving readers pondering the mysteries of life and the legacy we leave behind.

Next, we have If It Bleeds, the titular novella that features one of King’s most beloved characters, Holly Gibney. Known for her appearances in the Bill Hodges trilogy, Holly takes centre stage in this thrilling detective story. When a string of mysterious child murders rocks the city, Holly’s investigative skills and intuition come to the fore as she uncovers a malevolent force at work. King effortlessly blends elements of crime fiction and horror, creating a suspenseful narrative that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. If you enjoyed the Bill Hodges books then you have to read this.

Finally, Rat concludes the collection with a tale of a teacher who takes a sabbatical to write a book, out in a remote cabin in the woods. The potential author rescues a rat from drowning, which then starts talking to him. With its dark humour and razor-sharp commentary on human nature, Rat serves as a fitting finale to the collection.

If It Bleeds showcases Stephen King’s versatility as a writer, effortlessly transitioning between genres and exploring a wide range of human experiences. His characters are richly developed, and their struggles feel authentic and relatable. King’s prose remains as captivating as ever, drawing readers into each story’s world and refusing to let go until the final page.

If It Bleeds is a must-read for fans of Stephen King, although if you haven’t read any of his books, this probably isn’t the one to start with. With its blend of suspense, horror, and thought-provoking narratives, this collection will leave you both entertained and haunted. Prepare to lose yourself in the twisted and captivating worlds created by one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

Elevation by Stephen King

A book I picked up from when we stayed in Wigtown, this time from Well-Read Books, who organised an excellent talk on the persecution of Scottish Witches.

Elevation is a fairly short book and hence there isn’t too much to write about. Set in one of Stephen King’s usual made-up small towns in Maine, Scott is losing weight. He isn’t losing mass. He is still as large as he ever was, but each day the scales show that he’s lost another pound or two. He has new neighbours who have opened a new restaurant in the town, but haven’t been welcomed. There is also the annual Turkey Trot Thanksgiving race to raise money for the town. One of Scott’s neighbours has entered and is expected to win as she used to be a professional runner. Hugely overweight Scott challenges her.

Elevation is almost not like a Stephen King book, as there isn’t anything gruesome or any horror. It is a friendly little tale with an unusual twist. One of his better books in recent years, and all the better for being so short. I gave it five out of five and would recommend it to fans of Stephen King and to people who’ve stayed away from his books.

The Appetite Factory by Jon Gingerich

If you’re looking for a book that defies convention and offers a refreshing departure from the norm, The Appetite Factory by Jon Gingerich is a captivating choice. This novel boasts an intriguing combination of unusual aspects and a narrative that unfolds in unconventional ways, leaving readers with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

One of the most striking aspects is its departure from a traditional, linear narrative structure. Instead of following a straightforward plotline, Gingerich weaves together a collection of interconnected stories, each with its own distinct voice and perspective. This non-traditional approach can initially be disorienting for readers accustomed to more traditional storytelling.

The Appetite Factory explores the depths of human experiences and emotions. Gingerich delves into a range of themes, including desire, loss, identity, and the complex nature of relationships. The characters in this book are flawed and not entirely relatable, with their motivations and actions presented in an introspective and thought-provoking manner.

Gingerich’s prose is evocative and often poetic, displaying a keen eye for detail and a talent for capturing the essence of fleeting moments. His ability to conjure vivid imagery and evoke emotions through his words is truly commendable. The language used throughout the book is lyrical and elegant, drawing readers into a world that feels simultaneously familiar and surreal. On more than one occasion I had to look up the meanings of words that were new to me.

While it may not be for everyone, those who appreciate literary experimentation and are open to exploring the boundaries of storytelling will find themselves rewarded. I was often reminded of the writing style of Brett Eastern Ellis, even though the content is far less gruesome.

I highly recommend The Appetite Factory to those who crave something different and are willing to embrace the unknown, even though some of the actions of the main character can be deeply confusing. I gave the book four out of five, which was possibly a little generous.

Shelby Nichols by Colleen Helme

Carrots is the first book in the Shelby Nichols Adventures series, written by Colleen Helme. The novel follows the adventures of Shelby Nichols, a housewife turned reluctant private investigator with telepathic abilities.

The story begins with Shelby Nichols, a typical housewife with a loving husband and two children. However, her life takes a sudden turn when she is shot in the head during a bank robbery. The bullet only grazes her head, but it leaves her with the ability to read people’s thoughts.

Shelby quickly realizes that her new gift is both a blessing and a curse. It helps her solve a case for a local detective, but it also lands her in trouble with the criminals she is trying to catch. Shelby’s journey takes her into the dangerous world of organized crime, where she must use her wits and telepathic abilities to stay alive.

Helme’s writing style is engaging and easy to follow, and the characters are well-developed. Shelby is a relatable protagonist who struggles with balancing her new life as a private investigator with her responsibilities as a wife and mother. The supporting cast, including Shelby’s husband and the various criminals she encounters, are also well-written and add depth to the story.

The plot of Carrots is fast-paced and full of action, with several unexpected twists and turns. The novel is a great mix of mystery, humour, and romance, making it an enjoyable read for fans of any genre, although it never becomes too heavy.

Fast Money, the second book in the series, picks up where Carrots left off. Shelby is still working as a private investigator, using her telepathic abilities to solve cases. In this book, the Mexican Police tell her that Uncle Joey’s been kidnapped and look to her for the ransom. She knows she’s in big trouble. As if that isn’t enough the police detective she worked with needs her help to solve a case, and she unwittingly becomes a witness to murder.

Lie or Die, the third book in the series, finds Shelby once again in trouble with the law. She is caught in the middle of a drug trafficking ring and must work with the police to bring down the criminals. Along the way, she discovers a shocking secret that puts her own life in danger. Lie or Die is a great addition to the series.

Secrets That Kill, the fourth book in the series, finds Shelby heading to Florida when things go terribly wrong. Shelby finds herself being pursued by a Florida Kingpin for the information he thinks she stole. On her own and in trouble, Uncle Joey sends Ramos to her rescue. As Shelby and Ramos take care of unfinished business, Shelby uncovers information about Ramos and a secret that could change his life.

In conclusion, Carrots is a great start to the Shelby Nichols Adventures series. The novel is a thrilling and entertaining read. Helme’s writing style is engaging and easy to follow, and the characters are well-developed. The next three books in the series, Fast Money, Lie or Die, and Secrets that Kill, are all great additions to the series, with well-crafted plots and engaging characters. Overall, the Shelby Nichols Adventures series is a great choice for fans of mystery, humour, and romance. There are also 16 full books in the series, which should keep people busy for a while. I gave all four of the books that I’ve read so far four out of five as they are a pleasant, easy read.

Running America and Barefoot Britain

Running America by Jamie McDonald and Barefoot Britain by Anna McNuff are two books that will inspire you to push past your limits and chase your dreams. Both authors have previously written books that focus on their incredible journeys of endurance and perseverance and Running America and Barefoot Britain continue to showcase their remarkable feats of physical and mental strength.

Jamie McDonald’s previous book, Adventureman: Anyone Can be a Superhero (read my review here), chronicles his record-breaking run across Canada, where he ran 200 marathons in 275 days. This time, he takes on the challenge of running across the United States, from the west coast to the east coast. Running America is a raw and emotional account of his journey, from the gruelling physical demands to the mental and emotional toll it took on him. Jamie’s resilience and determination are truly inspiring, and his ability to stay positive and motivated despite the challenges he faced is a testament to his strength of character.

The last few chapters of the book are all about Jamie’s attempt on the 7-day treadmill world record. Jamie ran on a treadmill for seven days straight, covering a distance of 523 miles, breaking the previous record.

One of Anna McNuff’s previous books, Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000 Kilometer Running Adventure Through the Wilds of New Zealand, is a hilarious and heart-warming account of her journey running across New Zealand. In Barefoot Britain, Anna takes on the challenge of running the length of Great Britain, from the very top of Scotland to the very bottom of England, all while running barefoot and raising awareness for Girl Guides. This book is a beautifully written love letter to the United Kingdom, as Anna takes us on a journey through some of the country’s most stunning landscapes and introduces us to some of its most interesting and kind-hearted characters. Her wit and humour shine through in every page, and her descriptions of the challenges she faced are both honest and inspiring.

On top of all this, Jamie and Anna are a couple with two small children.

In Running America, Jamie faces numerous setbacks, from blisters, getting lost and sleep deprivation. He refuses to give up, and his unwavering positivity and gratitude for the support he receives from his team and from strangers he meets along the way are truly inspiring. His writing is both vulnerable and uplifting, and you can’t help but feel like you’re right there with him every step of the way.

Similarly, Anna’s writing in Barefoot Britain is so vivid and engaging that you feel like you’re running alongside her, feeling the grass between your toes and the wind in your hair, as well as the dangers of stepping in dog poo. She is refreshingly honest about the ups and downs of her journey; from the physical pain she experiences to the moments of doubt and fear that threaten to derail her.

In conclusion, Running America by Jamie McDonald and Barefoot Britain by Anna McNuff are two books that will leave you feeling inspired and uplifted. Both authors have previously written books that showcase their incredible journeys of endurance and perseverance, and these latest offerings are no exception. I gave both books five out of five.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey is a chilling and captivating story that tells the tale of a world that has been destroyed by a fungal infection. The book is a refreshing take on the zombie genre, with a unique storyline that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. The novel combines elements of horror, action, and science fiction to create an unforgettable reading experience. You all know ho much I love a good post apocalypse book.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of humanity has been destroyed by a fungus that turns its victims into hungries, zombie-like creatures that are driven by an insatiable hunger for flesh. The remaining humans have barricaded themselves in a military base, where they are conducting experiments on a group of children who are immune to the fungus. One of these children is Melanie, a young girl with a curious mind and a love for learning.

As the story unfolds, Melanie and three other survivors become embroiled in a desperate fight for survival as the base is overrun by hungries. The book is a fast-paced page-turner that is filled with action and suspense. However, what sets it apart from other zombie novels is the depth of the characters and the underlying themes of love, sacrifice, and what it means to be human.

One of the strengths of the book is its vivid descriptions of the world that has been ravaged by the fungal infection. The author does an excellent job of painting a picture of a world that is both terrifying and fascinating. The reader is transported to a place where danger lurks around every corner, and nothing is as it seems.

Melanie, the protagonist, is a complex character who is both sympathetic and terrifying. The other characters are equally well-developed, and their relationships with each other are a highlight of the book. The author does an excellent job of exploring the themes of love and sacrifice in the context of a world that is falling apart.

Overall, The Girl with all the Gifts is a well-written and engaging novel that is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. The book is a refreshing take on the zombie genre, with a unique storyline and well-developed characters. While the book has a few minor flaws, such as some plot holes and a slow start, these are easily overlooked in light of the book’s many strengths.

As for other books by M. R. Carey, he has written several other novels, including The Boy on the Bridge, which is a prequel to The Girl with all the Gifts. In this book, Carey explores the origins of the fungal infection and the events that led up to the events of the first book. He has also written Fellside, a horror novel set in a women’s prison, and Someone Like Me, a supernatural thriller about a woman who is possessed by a malevolent entity.

In conclusion, The Girl with all the Gifts is a must-read for fans of horror, science fiction, and action. It has also been turned into a film, which I haven’t seen. The book is a well-crafted and engaging story that explores themes of love, sacrifice, and what it means to be human. While the book has a few minor flaws, it is a highly enjoyable and satisfying read that is sure to leave readers wanting more. I gave the book a score of four out of five

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a novel that effortlessly weaves together different stories and timelines to create a gripping and thought-provoking tale of survival and hope in the face of a catastrophic global pandemic. The novel, published in 2014, many years before Covid, has been widely praised for its lyrical prose, rich characterization, and imaginative exploration of the human experience.

The story begins on a winter night in Toronto, where the famous actor Arthur Leander collapses and dies while performing the role of King Lear on stage. On the same night, a deadly flu virus begins its global rampage, wiping out most of the world’s population within weeks. The novel then jumps back and forth in time, tracing the lives of several interconnected characters before and after the pandemic, including Arthur’s ex-wives, his best friend, a paparazzo-turned-paramedic, and a traveling Shakespearean troupe. The plot unfolds like a puzzle, with each character’s story fitting into a larger mosaic of human resilience and survival.

One of the most striking aspects of Station Eleven is Mandel’s ability to create fully realized characters, with their own fears, hopes, and flaws. From Kirsten, a child actor turned post-apocalyptic performer who clings to the memory of Arthur Leander like a talisman, to Clark, Arthur’s lifelong friend who must confront the fact that his old life is gone forever, each character is memorable and sympathetic. Mandel’s prose is equally impressive, with a poetic quality that adds to the novel’s dreamlike atmosphere. Her descriptions of the empty streets of post-pandemic Toronto or the beauty of a sunset seen through a telescope are hauntingly beautiful and stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

In addition to Station Eleven, Mandel has written several other acclaimed novels, including The Lola Quartet, The Singer’s Gun, and Last Night in Montreal. I will be keeping my eye out in second hand bookshops for them. The copy I have was purchased from one of the many bookshops in Wigtown.

In conclusion, Station Eleven is a novel that deserves all the praise it has received and more. Emily St. John Mandel has created a haunting and beautiful story that is both a meditation on the fragility of human civilization and a celebration of the enduring power of art and community. With its memorable characters, evocative prose, and intricate plot, Station Eleven is a book that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished it. I gave it a score of five out of five.


A much needed holiday. My lovely wife, Helen, and our silly pooch, Nelly, are staying in a lovely little cottage in Wigtown. Scotland’s book Town.

Less than three hours from Lancaster, we passed the Devil’s Poridge Exhibition on the way. The aforementioned exhibition is all about the largest munitions factory in the world, which made cordite during World War I. Huge vats of lumpy grey cordite were mixed by thousands of women, and was given the name, the Devil’s Poridge by Arthur Conan Doyle.

When we arrived in Wigtown we realised that the spring festival was on. We booked tickets for a talk about the Scottish persecution of witches, and the ongoing battle to have them pardoned. Really interesting.

We went for a walk with Nelly and the stone where a “witch” was tied to and allowed to drown as the tide came in.

We walked through the graveyard and the ruins of an 8th century church. It felt like the start of a horror film, grey skies, ruined church in an old churchyard with crows squawking noisily.

There was a tent in the main square for a charity blind date with a difference. Books wrapped in paper with a cryptic description. Make a donation and take home a random book. I unwrapped my “date” to find The Lightkeeper’s Daughter by Jean Pendziwol.

We perused The Bookshop, Scotland’s largest second hand bookshop, owned and run by Shaun Bythell, who has written a number of humorous books about his life running a second hand bookshop.

This morning it is raining heavily. A short walk with Nelly, bookshops, cake and coffee sounds like a good relaxing day to me.

Offspring by Jack Ketchum

If you’re a fan of horror novels, you might have heard of Jack Ketchum. He was an American horror fiction writer born in 1946 and passed away in 2018. Ketchum has written several novels, including The Girl Next Door, The Lost, and Off Season. Offspring, published in 1991, is a sequel to Off Season, which was released in 1980.

Offspring continues the story of the feral cannibals introduced in Off Season. The book follows a family who vacation in a remote island off the coast of Maine. The family soon finds themselves hunted by a group of savage cannibalistic humans who have lived on the island for generations. The family must fight to survive against the brutal attacks of the cannibals.

Ketchum’s writing style is graphic and visceral, making the reader feel the terror of the characters. I would say that his style is similar to Richard Laymon. The pacing of the story is fast and intense, keeping the reader engaged and on edge throughout the book. The characters are mostly well-developed, and the relationships between them are explored in-depth.

One of the most significant strengths of Offspring is its ability to evoke a sense of primal fear. Ketchum successfully creates a world where the rules of civilization no longer apply, and the reader is left to confront their most basic instincts. The book does not shy away from graphic violence and gore, but it’s not just gratuitous; it serves a purpose in advancing the story and enhancing the horror.

However, there are a few negatives to the book. Some of the scenes in Offspring are hard to stomach and might not be suitable for all readers. The story also lacks a clear resolution, leaving some loose ends untied. While this is understandable in a horror novel, it might leave some readers feeling unsatisfied.

Overall, I would give Offspring a score of three out of five. The book is not for the faint of heart, but it delivers on its promise of horror. In conclusion, Offspring is a worthy addition to the horror genre and a solid entry in Jack Ketchum’s bibliography. While it may not be a perfect novel, it succeeds in delivering a visceral and terrifying story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.