Friday, 5 October 2018

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15th, 1959, four members of the Clutter family are murdered in their home in Holcomb, Kansas. No motive could be found and clues were limited. Capote reconstructs the murder and investigation that led to the capture, trial and execution of the killers.

“I thought that Mr Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”
I’m almost ashamed it took me so long to finally read what many consider to be the first true crime novel. The combination of Capote’s writing ability with a harrowing, senseless mass murder results in an incredibly well-written and terrifying book.

Capote’s writing really cannot be faulted, all of his descriptions of landscapes and different characters etc were exquisite. Often true crime books can lack such writing, one other exception being Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, so it’s always a pleasure to read true crime in such a nice prose.

I had gone into this one knowing absolutely NOTHING about the case. Nada. Which is unusual given how much true crime I read/listen to true crime podcasts. It’s one of those books that really brings home how fragile life can be – things can change in an instant. Home invasion murders are one of my biggest fears and I can only imagine what the Clutter family went through prior to their deaths. And all for 30 to 40 dollars!! It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

One of the things I did not like about In Cold Blood were the “fictional” parts that were added in – the scene at the end apparently didn’t happen, the dialogue between characters that were murdered shortly after said-dialogue took place (and therefore clearly not accurately depicted)... I can fully appreciate the benefits of adding these in for the sake of presenting a more well-rounded story, but as someone who enjoys a lot of true crime it just doesn’t sit right with me, for some reason. When it comes to true crime, I just want the facts or possible scenarios, however, this is entirely a personal preference on my behalf.

Capote often spent a lot of time giving us the backgrounds of different people who were introduced to the narrative and it just felt like unnecessary padding at times. He goes into detail about the crimes of another inmate on death row towards the end and I felt like the book had started to lose some steam around this point.

Once I had finished I read up online about the writing process, and how Capote had gone out to Kansas with Harper Lee (this blew my mind for some reason) to conduct their own research into the murder and, following their arrest, the murderers themselves. I also came across articles detailing how this crime and the novel itself consumed Capote, leading to a downward spiral of drink and drug addiction with Capote never finishing another book. I hadn’t known there was so much beyond the book itself, and it was interesting to read about.

In Cold Blood is a novel that is very worthy of its classic status. A must-read for all true crime fans. 4 stars.


Book Review: Walking with Ghosts by Brian James Freeman

A collection of short stories dealing with both real and supernatural terrors.

“It was still Halloween night, after all, and there were real monsters out there, prowling in the dark.”

This was my first time reading any of Freeman’s work and I would definitely pick up more in the future. He seems to be predominantly a short story writer and it’s easy to see why - he has a real flair for telling a story effectively within a limited number of pages. This collection is just over 300 pages long and contains 30 stories, so all the stories are concise and to the point. And wonderfully written.

There’s a lot of diversity and different settings within the short stories, but all seem to be linked by the theme of things that haunt us. Some stories are chilling, some are touching, some have supernatural forces at work, some don’t. A lot of the stories had twists and turns and endings that left me with my jaw hanging open - the first story in particular was excellent!!

My favourite story in the collection was Silent Attic, which is about a girl who’s mother dies in their attic bedroom after a long illness, and it was just so resonating and really hit home with me. Another story was absolutely hilarious (for me anyway!!), it was about a small community who take their Christmas decorations just a tad too seriously...

There’s really just a bit of everything! There were some stories that I didn’t enjoy AS much (which seems to always be the case with short story collections), but they were still impeccably written.

The average score for the short stories were around 3.6, so a rating of 3.5 stars seems about fair. Worth checking out!


Saturday, 29 September 2018

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When Daniel Sempere is a young boy, his father brings him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him he can choose whichever book he likes. The book that Daniel chooses, The Shadow of the Wind, ignites his passion for literature and unravelling the fate of this book and its author.

“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”

I’ve been blankly staring at my review post for the last 10 minutes - I think a tumbleweed actually blew by. I really don’t know where to begin or how to even put into words how absolutely incredible this book is. When I finished this book, I just sat and cried. Not because of the outcome or the fate of our characters, but because this story was over and I’d never get to experience this for the first time again. And that’s how you know you’ve read a special book!

It’s so easy to get swept up in this story and the intimacy of getting to know a range of characters throughout numerous stages of their life. You become so deeply entrenched in the lives of this cast of characters that it almost feels like you've lost some friends when you turn the final page (I am aware there are further books in this series, but not really direct sequels?) As for the plot itself, the mystery is slowly unravelled through various tidbits from different character perspectives - and on a number of occasions I audibly GASPED and messaged fellow readers in all capitals (which you know I hate) to fangirl over how blown away I was.

The setting is so beautifully gothic that it led me to text Matthew as soon as I finished to say “please bring me to Barcelona”. Barcelona is yet another character to add to the fold. A lot of different genres are covered here: it’s a little bit creepy and dark at times, and there’s romance and mystery and it’s pretty funny at times too (thank you Fermin)! I adored how it was like story inception, a story within a story, and it was really interesting seeing all the parallels between Daniel and Carax's lives. There's just so many layers to this novel and Zafon weaves them all together so seamlessly.

This has become one of those books that I would love to push through everyone’s letterbox and tell them all to READ IT! It’s a book for book lovers in particular and so many of the passages had me swooning and in awe of Zafon’s writing. I obviously cannot directly compare the translation to the original text, but I'm going to assume that Lucia Graves has done an amazing job as the writing is simply stunning and doesn't feel like a clunky translation at all. It's a book that really reminds you why you are a reader - to get truly lost in someone else's story. Truly magical!

5 stars. Although I would give it ALL THE STARS if I could.


Saturday, 22 September 2018

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In their new house, Coraline opens a door that leads to an other world with her other mother and other father, where things seem a little too good to be true...

“It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the bed we wake up in in the morning and it is astonishing how fragile that can be.”

First of all, where the hell does Gaiman get off thinking this book is acceptable for children?! 29 year old me was certifiably creeped out by that scene in the cellar! Younger me, who was a huge wimp, would have been paralysed with fear reading this one! That’s not to say I won’t force this one upon my future kiddos... I also loved Gaiman's introduction at the start of the book, explaining how he started writing it for one of his daughters - but it was put to the side - and so he ended up finishing it for another daughter before she got too old to appreciate it (or rather, provide a child's opinion on it).

I absolutely LOVED this book. I just adored the concept of Coraline going through a door and entering into a parallel universe almost, with the other Mother and other Father. And the vivid imagery was so terrifying too... I mean, buttons for eyes?! And doughy faces?! The illustrations for the Other Mother in my edition are so freakin scary - and I love the figure that @margaritathedrink (instagram user) has on her page too. Other Mother is pure nightmare fuel!! It's such a strange and surrealistic book - before reading I was almost afraid I would have another Alice in Wonderland on my hands (I absolutely loathe that book), but the difference between the two is that Coraline isn't just a pile of nonsense. There's a clear plot and it doesn't nosedive down into the non-sensical. 

Coraline herself is such a fantastic female protagonist. She’s brave, feisty and tricksy - a fantastic role model for young girls reading this and the exact kind of girl I wish had been my friend growing up. She shows so much courage for her young age and Gaiman writes her perfectly! Special shoutout to the cat as well, who was so sardonic and provided some light relief amongst all the unsettling horror (reminder that yes, this IS a children's book).

Short and sweet and one that won’t be forgotten easily. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this one. I’m trying to be more strict with how many 5 stars I give out, but Coraline, not Caroline *wink* deserves them! Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.


Book Review: Everything That's Underneath by Kristi DeMeester

A collection of 18 weird and unsettling tales!

“Sometimes, things are meant to be lost. There are things you aren’t supposed to go looking for.”

*sigh* This was disappointing for me. I had heard such great things about this collection but stories that are very ambiguous and unclear are just not to my personal taste... but if those kind of stories do appeal to you, then I would highly recommend this one!

I’m a sucker for beautifully quotable writing in books, and if it was a case of me physically highlighting the sentences or sections that took my breath away, about 85% of this book would be covered in bright pink highlighter (that’s my fave highlighter colour) DeMeester’s writing has to be some of the most atmospheric and stunningly haunting prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I was floored at times!

It just kills me that so many of the stories bored the life out of me. Beautiful writing can only take me so far, I do need some kind of plot that I can follow and not be left scratching my head over. That’s not to say there weren’t some stories that I did really enjoy. The final story in the collection, To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth, was actually my favourite and the only one that received 5 stars in my individual rankings. It was so raw and heart wrenching. I’d highly recommend that one!

The stories overall are hauntingly dream-like and the general themes seemed to be mother/daughter relationships, illnesses, loss... but it became repetitive for me. Worth checking out though if you enjoy weird, dream-like horror that is beautifully written!

The stories scored an average out of 3.33 for me, so 3 stars feels like a fair rating!


Book Review: The Forgotten Island by David Sodergren

Two sisters, Ana and Rachel, view their trip to Thailand as way to mend their relationship. However, after becoming stranded on an island with no food or supplies, it quickly becomes a fight for survival.

"From out of the shadows it came."

Holy hell, this book was GREAT. It has all the components needed for a fantastic horror novel: great writing, likeable characters (and not so likeable ones too), some well-executed humour, and most important of all... parts that left my skin crawling!!

The start, in particular, was hilarious. Our protagonist, Ana, reminds me a little of myself - her self-deprecating sense of humour and her general attitudes towards life. But, like a lot of old-school horror movies/books, the humour dwindles out to make way for the SHEER TERROR (but don’t fret, there’s still some laughs along the way) And the ending itself was PERFECTION!

Sodergren really brings the scares here, one scene in particular left me feeling quite unnerved. The actual inhabitants of the island (trying to be really vague here) are so fucking awesome in their creepiness. The descriptions were VERY Lovecraftian - almost to the point where I wished I could just google imagery for the “monsters” like I do with Lovecraft, as my mind tried to comprehend the biology of these things!! I just LOVED this book!

I truly felt so honoured to receive a review copy of David's debut novel, and I’m already looking forward to its release so that I can see everyone else freaking out over it too!! Please add this to your Halloween reading list, especially if you’re a fan of proper old-school horror. You won’t be disappointed! Out 1st October!

4.5 stars.


Book Review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

A single drop of blood causes Rose McClendon to come to the realisation that her husband might actually kill her. So she ups and leaves him, setting off to a new city...

"It ain't the blows we're dealt that matter, but the ones we survive."

I always get really excited for the King novels where the main protagonist is a female as I've a pretty good track record with them - Lisey's Story, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald's Game etc. I'm pretty sure these were all 5 star reads for me! So I had high expectations for Rose Madder, but unfortunately we just didn't click *sad face*

My main complaint is the character of Norman, Rose's husband. He's a piece of shit - that much is apparent from the very first page - but as the story progressed, his character became more of a caricature for me? It all became very over the top and exaggerated. I didn't need all the biting... It was enough for me to know that he was an abusive husband - I already hated him, but King kept building on it in a way that I didn't care for. And if Norman had mentioned his ATM card one more time... I think I might have EXPLODED. After a while repetition can become very irritating.

Norman is also not a typical King villain. Often King's characters are quite complex, they exist in shades of grey, people aren't always just good or evil. But Norman has ZERO redeeming features - he's racist, homophobic, batters his wife, squeezes people's intestines until they burst. It was very uncomfortable to read the story from his perspective. 

I also HATED that all the sections from Norman's point of view were in italics. PAGES OF IT. Reading italics for so long hurts my eyes and I can't concentrate - it actually stopped me from picking up the book at times or I would get very easily distracted by my phone instead. I would like to think we're all smart enough to quickly pick up on who's part of the story we're reading without needing it to be made obvious for us.

Now, what I DID like - Rosie! She's the kickass female I want to root for! Her relationship with Bill was truly beautiful and I felt very protective over those guys. They are definitely one of King's strongest couples, they were very well-written and believable. I also loved the usual King easter eggs with references to Misery and the Dark Tower series in particular. So bonus points for that!

The plot does go down quite a weird route, and initially I felt a bit unimpressed and bored reading it, but over time began to appreciate it more for what it was? I just feel like the book would have worked better if it had stayed focus on the domestic violence aspect, and Rose escaping from her abusive marriage, the events involving the painting just felt a tad stupid at times and over-written. It's just not a new favourite for me unfortunately, but I can champion Rose as another awesome leading lady. And I did enjoy quite large sections of it!

3.5 stars.


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