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Friday, 7 December 2018

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

If you see it – you die. The world is overcome by a mysterious force that sends the population descending into madness and eventual suicide.

“The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.” 

People of Instagram/goodreads – please put your pitchforks away, because this is not going to be a good review. The concept behind this story is GREAT, it’s very Lovecraftian – and I’m all about my Lovecraft-inspired fiction. If you see these creatures you will descend into madness and possibly go on a killing rampage, finishing up by killing yourself. Great. I love it. I just thought this was poorly executed and poorly written. If this story was handled by another author *cough KING cough* it could have been amazing! Okay, maybe not King… I am slightly biased, but basically any author who can craft an incredible story with stellar writing (Kealan Patrick Burke, perhaps?)

This was the second book in a row I’ve read where the protagonist is a boring and bland woman, who repeats shit over and over. I’ve got the picture, Malorie. Please stop. “I’ve trained them well”… yada yada yada. My patience wore thin! And I can fully comprehend her mindset, the panic setting in etc, but it becomes very boring and tedious to read.

The story flits back and forth between describing events in the past when Malorie goes to find a house full of strangers that are tackling this terror together, and the present where she’s trying to make a journey on a river to… somewhere else – potentially a safe haven. The part of the story set in present day was PAIN-FUL. I just didn’t care, the development was so slow and drawn out. I was mostly enjoying the flashbacks only because I was dying to know what exactly happened to lead to the present situation.

I’m disappointed because although the premise was crazy exciting and the book was pretty addictive at the start, it just ended up falling apart. And that ending?! Has anything been any more anticlimactic? (Apart from the ending to The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay – another huge disappointment for me this year). HATED IT. I would also have liked just a bit more explanation with regards to the creatures themselves. Usually I’m of the mindset where I don’t like to know EVERYTHING about the big bad monster. Sometimes seeing the big bad too much can lessen its effect (see The Nun movie released this year), but in this instance I think it would have benefited from SOME kind of detail. 

Some parts were creepy, but again these could have been improved upon by a much better writer. There were glimmers of potential, fascinating little sparks of imagination, but they were never fully realised. I’m actually looking forward to the movie more because it’ll have the story but not Malerman’s style of writing/prose. Sorry, not sorry.

I know a lot of people do love this, so if you haven’t read this yet, don’t let me put you off it! You might love it – but unfortunately I can only give it 2 stars.

Johann
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Monday, 3 December 2018

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The newly married Mrs de Winter realises she is walking in the shadow of her husband's late wife - the beautiful and perfect Rebecca - in their home at Manderley.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

This was my first time reading du Maurier and it was certainly worth the wait. I didn't fall head over heels for Rebecca unfortunately, but one thing I cannot fault is du Maurier's writing. It's so beautifully atmospheric and elegant - it's very easy to just get lost in her prose. She is clearly a very skilled storyteller, it all seems quite effortless.

It's a bit of a slow build at first, but I'm a huge fan of a slow build. The characters are introduced, as is Manderley itself, and we learn more about the different backgrounds and relationships of the characters. Du Maurier is setting the scene. Then around the halfway mark or maybe even two-thirds of the way in, there's an abundance of twists and turns and I'm constantly messaging other readers after each big reveal, exclaiming "Oh my god! I can't believe X just happened!" However, if I'm honest, I did actually prefer the first two thirds of the book as opposed to that final fast-paced third, where all the secrets are quickly unravelling. I was surprised by the direction the story took, but ultimately preferred where my head thought the story was going to go? If that makes sense?

I love how du Maurier wrote a book wherein the most memorable and fascinating character is actually dead (that isn't a spoiler). Rebecca herself never has any lines, yet her presence is felt throughout the entirety of the novel. She's actually a lot more interesting than our protagonist and narrator, the new Mrs de Winter. At times her insecurities and doubts became quite tedious to read about. There was quite a lot of "Oh he doesn't love me... he just loves Rebecca... why would he love me?!" over and over and over again. She's such a limp, bland character that I really couldn't even blame him if he didn't love her, to be honest. And her fawning over her husband (no matter what he did or had done) left me feeling frustrated as well. I just didn't believe their relationship at any point.

My other issues with Rebecca are probably more to do with my own expectations. I thought Rebecca would be more of a ghost story? And, in a way, yes, Rebbeca herself lingers in Manderley as a haunting presence... but just not in the way I had hoped.

But that's not to say that I didn't enjoy this, because I really did! Those are just the little things that niggled at me and stopped me from giving this one 5 stars. I'm very excited to read more du Maurier in the future though - hopefully with a more exciting protagonist or narrator...

4 stars.

Johann
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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


A secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to try and fight against the dark forces, whilst Harry must learn how to protect himself from Voldemort’s mind-penetrating assaults.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Probably one of my least favourites in the series, and yet I still absolutely LOVE it. I love all the scenes with Dumbledore’s Army, the introduction of thestrals(!!!), Luna Lovegood... the way Neville Longbottom is so frickin’ brave and loyal at the Ministry of Magic. Just ALL of it!!

Order of the Phoenix also gives us the most DESPICABLE villain ever in the form of Dolores Umbridge. There is nothing redeeming about this monster in pink. Her treatment of Hagrid in particular simultaneously makes me want to both cry and punch a wall. Or her face.

This book is really when the series transitions from being a story for children to becoming more young adult (although I do believe HP transcends all ages, but ya get what I mean!). The storyline gets more dark, our hearts are shattered into a million pieces, we have to face the reality of death and loss. It’s just a lot, okay?! We learn that the world is not black and white, it exists in shades of grey. Even your parents are not perfect (see James Potter), and the adults who we hope will always be our infallible protecters will fail at times too (see Dumbledore and Sirius). It’s heartbreaking but Rowling explores these topics and themes in such a real and resonating way.

This one is just a tad too long, I feel - particularly when a good portion of it is just Harry shouting. I can wholeheartedly understand his outbursts - he isn’t being told anything, he’s kept in the dark, his hormones are running wild, but it does grate on my nerves after a while. Otherwise - I loved this one! But just a little less than the others. Like a SMIDGEN less! 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 17 November 2018

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


A travelling carnival arrives in a small midwestern town one day in October, resulting in a nightmarish experience for two 13 year old boys.


"Beware the autumn people."

Do you like coming of age tales? Do you like beautifully written prose? Do you like your stories to invoke stunning autumnal imagery whilst whisking you away to the carnival? Well then, step right up, because Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Ray Bradbury has been a new favourite for me this year. I read The Halloween Tree last year and although I liked it, I wasn’t completely enamoured. Then I read The October Country last month and it blew me away... I decided I needed more Bradbury STAT so picked up this one, and all of a sudden I’ve got a Bradbury Pinterest board and I’m sitting fawning over Bradbury quotes (this is a clear marker for when I’m obsessed with something!)

This book has it all! A carousel that depending on which direction it spins can either age the rider or turn the years back. A terrifying Dust Witch that has her eyes sewn shut yet can feel emotions with her hands. And she rides in a hot air balloon! Then there’s Mr Dark, the big bad villain who is also known as The Illustrated Man (linked to Bradbury’s collection of the same name, I wonder?)

The two young protagonists, Jim Nightshade (that name *swoons*) and Will Halloway are just perfectly drawn, the two of them running around and getting up to mischief, as young kids are ought to do. Then we have Charles Halloway (Will’s father) who I could listen to forever. His monologues about life and aging are an absolute pleasure to read. Plus he spends an awful amount of time in the library surrounded by books, and I know most of us can get behind that setting!! There's a little excerpt where Mr. Halloway talks about the "autumn people" and it simply took my breath away - it was basically Bradbury's way of beautifully describing those who are evil (see below):

"Beware the autumn people… For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life…For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir in their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eyes? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles- breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them."

Bradbury tackles a number of different themes in this piece of literary magic: growing old, father and son relationships, but most important of all - how laughter and love and being good can help drive out any darkness you may come across.

Not everyone will enjoy Bradbury's poetic prose in this one, and I can fully understand that. But it really worked for me as I was carried away in an autumnal breeze off to the carnival *sighs* This has been one of my top books of the year. Bradbury, you have stolen my heart. 5 stars.

Johann
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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Book Review: The Moor by Sam Haysom

A group of teenagers are out on a walking trip with a group leader, but pretty quickly there is tension within the group and some of them start to disappear...


“A gust of wind blew through the campsite and caused the slowly dying fire to gutter, making their shadows dance in the orange light.”
I’ve never been much of a camper... I was forced to join the scouts when I was younger and I knew pretty quickly that this outdoors shit was not for me. The Moor has reinforced this aversion to camping - it’s bad enough sleeping on a cold, hard floor, and heating up a can of beans over a fire that took far too long to light... but when your camping mates start disappearing, you got a REAL problem! No matter how annoying your camping mates may be (looking at you, Gary)

This was an enjoyable, well-written creature-feature. The thirteen year old boys were very believable in their interactions, Haysom really nailed his characterisation. The setting of the moors itself was very chilling too. And I LOVED the inclusion of newspaper clippings to tell parts of the story - I’m always a fan of this when it’s done well!

The direction that the story took was a little different than what I expected - initially I thought that was pretty cool, cos I like it when I read a book and I’m surprised, but in hindsight I might have preferred if it went down the route I was expecting from the start? It was still a really great twist - this was just perhaps more of a personal preference.

It really did remind me of The Ritual and The Blair Witch at times, but The Moor really does hold its own with a distinct and unique story. I would certainly be interested in reading future books from the author!

Worth picking up if you like a little bit of gore and books set in the great outdoors. 3 stars.


Johann
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Book Review: Dead Leaves by Kealan Patrick Burke

A collection of nine short stories inspired by the witching season!


“When they come out of the corn, they’ll come close enough for him to see their faces.”

Anytime I start reading anything by Burke I am quickly reminded how frickin’ amazing his writing is. Sure, he’s a great storyteller too, but there’s something special about his writing - it’s so incredibly atmospheric and he has a way of describing things that really makes you feel like you’re right there. He really excels in this collection with regards to his depiction of autumn and Halloween. So many quotes left me heart-eyed!

I’d say I really enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection. My favourites were Someone to Carve the Pumpkins, The Toll and The One Night of the Year!

The Toll was particularly great - any story that centres around being buried alive makes me feel so claustrophobic. Although, the standout story for me was definitely The One Night of the Year. This was CHILLING and so unsettling. It made me think of The Children of the Corn and also 1922 by King in terms of both the creep factor and the setting, but it was also quite melancholic too! Absolutely loved this story!

Dead Leaves also has a fantastic introduction by Burke where he discusses why we all love Halloween so much! There’s also recommendations at the back for other horror movies and books to check out as well. It was fun to go through and check off the ones I’ve already watched or read - and now I know what to seek out next!!

Overall, a really fun collection that demands to be read at the best time of year! 3.5 stars!

Johann
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Friday, 9 November 2018

Book Review: Elevation by Stephen King

Scott Carey is steadily losing weight, but he doesn’t look any different. To make things even weirder, he weighs the same in and out of clothes, no matter how heavy they are…

“Everything leads to this, he thought. To this elevation.”

When I’m reading a book, and because my memory is terrible, I will usually make some observations and reminders in the Notes section of my iPhone which are very helpful when I go to write my review. Given the length of this novella and the fact that I read Elevation in two sittings, there really wasn’t a lot of opportunities to make notes. In fact, I only had one note written down for Elevation: “Stop obsessing over legs” – I mean, come on, King!! If he’s not commenting on a woman’s breasts, it’s the legs. And 95% of the time, it’s really not relevant or necessary. There were two lesbians in this story and I lost count of how many times there were references to their legs and/or the running shorts they were wearing. I cannot fathom how Tabby hasn’t pulled King up on this. That woman usually takes no shit. But that is an annoyance I have learned to semi-accept when it comes to reading King – I just needed to get that mini-rant out of the way. 

I read Elevation right away without having read any prior reviews, so all thoughts and reactions were truly my own – I didn’t go into it expecting to hate/love it, whatever. And I believe that’s the best way to read any new King. In my opinion, Elevation is not King’s best, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I did quite enjoy it. I really liked it for what it was – an uplifting story with the kind of message we need when the world is falling to shit around us. I didn’t realise how attached to the characters I had become until the very end when I was tearing up and feeling quite emotional. No other author can make me feel as attached or emotionally invested in a character’s story than King.

It’s not horror and I don’t know why it’s been categorised as horror by Goodreads, but I never expected it to be going by the synopsis or the beautiful, bright cover. It’s more magical realism – and I liked the direction that King took with it. I actually wish Elevation had been developed into a full-size novel, not a chunky book, but something similar to one of his shorter novels. I feel like he could have expanded upon so many things, developed the characters a bit more, spent more time following Scott’s unusual problem. It was definitely good to be back in Castle Rock, even though it didn’t really feel like a typical Castle Rock story. And of course, the Easter eggs were as fun as always!

I have seen complaints about paying full price for such a short story, and I can fully appreciate that annoyance – although I would say that is more down to the publishers than King himself. Elevation would have worked much better if released as part of a collection, similar to Gwendy’s Button Box last year. New releases are great when they’re so regular, but I’d honestly rather wait and just buy a collection!

This is slightly SPOILERY so beware of you haven’t read Elevation yet, but I had seen a few reviews where people had complained about the inference that “Oh these two poor lesbians needed help from a straight white male” and I honestly did not view it in that way AT ALL. Do you really think King has that perspective? Given that his own daughter is a lesbian? In this day and age, nothing is taken at face value anymore, it has to be twisted or interpreted in some way to be negative. Instead of viewing it like that, how about just viewing it as an act of kindness? Of community? Of giving someone a helping hand when they’re struggling? It really baffles me. Same when it comes to people giving off about King being so political – I’m sorry, is this a new thing? King has a history of being political in his writing. I will admit, however, that the politics are a bit heavy-handed in this story and it could have been toned down a bit.

There’s a lot of dividing opinions on Elevation, but overall, I had a good time! 3.5 stars.

Johann
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