Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Book Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Unless you have lived under a rock (or in a hole in the ground), you will have heard of The Hobbit! So there isn't much point in me giving a brief synopsis, but for the sake of completion... The Hobbit focuses on the adventures of a hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, who is invited to take part in a journey to help some dwarves travel to the Lonely Mountain in order to reclaim their treasure. However, the treasure is currently being guarded by the dragon, Smaug.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

And so began my journey back into Middle Earth. This book has always been one of my favourites since childhood. However, it does bring back some dark memories of losing my uncle's beautiful leather-bound edition he had let me borrow... but the less said about that, the better. If I'm being honest, I much prefer The Lord of the Rings to The Hobbit, possibly because LOTR is the adult story, and The Hobbit is pretty much a children's fantasy tale. I almost think of The Hobbit as the appetiser before the main course.

First of all, it was good to be back in Middle Earth. I watch the LOTR movies constantly, I often have them on in the background while I do some work or even read, and I recently watched The Hobbit movies, so I do visit Middle Earth quite regularly, but I haven't read these books for years. The Hobbit is a strange book in that not much really happens when you sit back and think about it. Like, sure, there's the Battle of the Five Armies towards the end, but really it's all about the literal "journey" of the group on their adventure, as well as the development and maturation of the main character, Bilbo Baggins. He starts off as a hobbit used to his comforts and routine, and quickly finds himself in unfamiliar, and often scary, surroundings. The dwarves give off this impression of being brave and proficient, when really it is Bilbo who is the most capable and heroic. He even ends up taking on a leadership role over the dwarves, much to their surprise.

A lot of the excitement in this book is meeting all the different creatures in Middle Earth, and learning about their particular traits or quirks. From the goblins to the trolls to the spiders. However, it's really Gollum that steals the show for me, as in the movies.

It's a simple story really, tracking the journey of Bilbo and the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug inhabits, but it's what happens along the way that matters. Often like in life - we should focus less on the destination, but on the journey there instead. This will always be a five star read for me. The nostalgia and sense of adventure is overpowering, and its a story that will always be passed on throughout the ages.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Book Review: Night Shift by Stephen King

Night Shift was Stephen King's first short story collection, released way back in 1978 and it contains quite a lot of his more popular short stories that ended up becoming movies. The prime examples being Children of the Corn and Sometimes They Come Back.

“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”

King is often hailed as the master of the short story. Prior to this collection I had only read Nightmares & Dreamscapes and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and I did really enjoy them, but found it odd when people would comment things like "Oh it was good, but it was disappointing compared to earlier ones". Well, now I get it, guys! Now I get it. You can quite literally feel King's hunger for story-telling throughout the entirety of this collection and given these stories were written at the very start of his career, the material is all so fresh with absolutely amazing, outrageous ideas.

I feel like I should reveal that I am not a huge fan of short stories. I want to get lost in a story with the continuing development of a story and its characters. I want to get to know my main characters inside out, back to front. I want to spend days/weeks thinking about the story and the characters and where it's all going, with the anticipation of getting into bed each night to see what happens next. You don't get this with short stories - they're short, that's their nature. You often don't get to find out what happens or why...there's cliffhangers that are never explored again. There isn't that same pull to keep reading and it can take me longer than usual to get through a short story collection. However, Night Shift has completely changed my perspective on short story collections. I WAS thinking about the book all day, but instead wondering what crazy story King has coming next. I DID have the same urge to keep reading. Some characters were memorable, even though I only got to know them for 30 pages or so. This collection was simply out of this world.

I almost don't know where to start reviewing this book, but I guess I can start with my absolute favourites in the collection. I can quite honestly say that there was not a bad story in this entire collection, but the much-anticipated Children of the Corn was as impressive as I imagined and is probably the greatest highlight for me. It was creepy and unsettling and even more terrifying than I could have predicted! Sometimes They Come Back was also a great story, alongside I Am The Doorway, The Mangler, Grey Matter, The Lawnmower Man...okay, I think I'm actually starting to list every single story in the book.

The Last Rung on the Ladder was also surprisingly emotional and almost brought a tear to the eye. Only King could evoke such a reaction in such a short story. I had previously read One for the Road as it was included in my edition of 'Salem's Lot, but it was great to read this story again. The only problem makes me want to revisit 'Salem's Lot!!

Some stories were downright hilarious and just a joy to read, such as Battleground and The Ledge. It's difficult to even pinpoint my least favourite, but if I absolutely had to chose, I'd probably pick The Man Who Loved Flowers - but even then, I really enjoyed this story. It's unusual to not be able to find a flaw in a short story collection, but I've tried and I literally can't.

Night Shift is trying very hard to squeeze into my top 5 King books and I might have to just let it, but which book gets the boot? Gah! Why is life so difficult?!!


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Top 10 Stephen King Books...So Far

It's a question I frequently get asked on instagram - what is your favourite Stephen King book? And inevitably, I give them my top 3 and these 3 picks just roll off the tongue. No thought involved. So then I thought...why not challenge myself to pick a top 10? And here we are! I decided not to include the Dark Tower series in my consideration, it's hard to compare single novels in this series to other standalone books, so just remember that the Dark Tower is quite literally, the best reading experience I've ever had (will probably ever have) in my entire life. So I have not forgotten about Roland and co. Let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree, or if a certain book is missing (perhaps I just haven't got around to reading it yet!).

1. Pet Sematary
In all honesty, I'm not sure this book will ever be topped. There was just something very unique about this reading experience for me. As a fan of horror movies, I'm often left lying awake at night long after the movie is over, breaking out in a cold sweat once I hear what sounds like a creak in the attic above me. So when I decided to read horror books I was under the impression that words couldn't scare me, I need that visual/auditory experience. Then I found Stephen King. Yes, my first King book IT was pretty scary at times, but Pet Sematary was a different level for me. I remember being so engrossed for the last quarter or so of that book, at times I was actually scared to turn the page. I kept thinking "No, King won't go that far..." and then he did! The characters themselves were all unforgettable, from little Gage Creed to Jud Crandall. Sometimes my memory gets the better of me and I forget how a book ends - but there's no chance of that happening with this one!

2. 11/22/63
Jake and Sadie forever and ever and ever... Possibly my favourite couple in literature. There was something so enchanting about their love and their relationship. Sadie herself is my favourite King character ever. A strong woman who has been through, and goes through, so much but still retains her dignity and that spark inside her. The JFK storyline was great, but most of my focus was on the love between these two. Also, one of King's best endings, surely? It was absolutely perfect and had me reaching for tissue after emotional.

3. IT
You never forget your first! And IT was mine. A mammoth book that is really worth investing your time in. It also has what I believe to be King's best villain - Pennywise (sorry, Randall Flagg fans). The friendships between those in the Loser's Club are so reminiscent of childhood friendships, nobody can write that coming-of-age story quite like Mr King. The horror and suspense and tension built within this novel, in addition to the feeling that things just aren't quite right in Derry, results in a book brimming with terror. Sheer brilliance!

4. Desperation
This book is an apocalyptic drama of God and evil, madness and revelation. There is a constant sense of tension that King holds over you relentlessly. And it's a proper horror book, full of gore and blood and guts! With scary animals everywhere from coyotes to scorpions to buzzards to recluse spiders... This was one of those books where I often imagined what it would feel like to be stuck in a situation like this, and it's definitely one of King's most scariest works, in my opinion.

5. Lisey's Story
Lisey's Story was an emotional one for me. Having lost my father at a young age, any piece of writing that explores loss and death can hit me quite hard (a prime example being A Monster Calls).  Of course Lisey's sense of loss refers to the death of her husband, and not her father, but the themes are similar. There's nothing quite like reading parts of a book and realising that you're not alone in feeling this way. It also includes one of my favourite ever excerpts from a book:

"And then sometimes a day would come, a gray one (or a sunny one) when she missed him so fiercely she felt empty, not a woman at all anymore but just a dead tree filled with cold November blow."

Gah, this book has so many stunning quotes like this! A lot of people seem to dislike this one, but no two people read the same book. I just have a personal attachment to this one.

6. Needful Things 
Needful Things really shows how King is the master of characterisation and being capable of weaving numerous stories together into one ultimate pay-off. It's just brimming with excellent characters and an equally brilliant big bad in Mr Leland Gaunt. A very under-rated King novel. Half the fun of this novel was trying to work out where King was going with would it all link together?! A great read.

7. Salem's Lot
When I think of Salem's Lot, I think of the underlying tension looming just beneath the surface for the majority of the story. This is how vampires should be! Scary and deadly, not beautiful immortal creatures that you romanticise and want to fall in love with... fuck that shit! So many parts had me feeling uneasy and quite creeped out. No one writes small town America like King, especially the death of a small town.

8. The Stand
Possibly surprising that King's "masterpiece" is so far down my list. I sometimes wonder if this is because this was one of the first King books I read and I somehow just forget how good it was? We shall see if its position moves on subsequent re-reads. The number of brilliant characters in this book is pretty impressive - Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, Stu Redman, Harold Lauder...I could go on, and even the Walkin' Dude himself, Randall Flagg. Now that I've written that list and thought about the characters I'm questioning myself why this book is ranked so low... I definitely need a re-read!!

9. Doctor Sleep
Yes, it is better than The Shining. Don't make me fight you. Yes, The Shining had its moments, but overall I feel that this is the better story. Dan Torrance has grown into a fine young man, and the character of Abra is one of my favourites written by King. She is such a kick-ass little girl. Rose the Hat and the True Knot are absolutely horrific, some scenes were just hard to read. The murdering of children makes for uncomfortable reading. I'd love to see this book made into a movie.

10. Revival
Revival gets major points for having such a memorable, harrowing ending. Unforgettable! Now that I've read quite a bit of Lovecraft, I can definitely see the inspiration for this story (in particular that ending). It felt like the story moved along at a moderate, but enjoyable pace, before building up to its crescendo ending. So good!!

So that's my top 10...for now. I'm sure as I read more King (and re-read some) the list will continually undergo slight changes, so who knows when I'll update this list. I'll keep you all posted!


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Book Review: Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay

Disappearance at Devil's Rock tells the story about a family's ordeal following the mysterious disappearance of thirteen-year-old, Tommy Sanderson. Creepy occurrences follow as his mother, Elizabeth, and his sister, Kate, try to unravel exactly what happened out at Devil's Rock...

"But Tommy isn't a ghost. He can't be, because right now Tommy is the opposite of a ghost. He is nowhere."

After seeing Paul Tremblay all over bookstagram with rave reviews, I have been eagerly waiting for one of his books to come out of my TBR jar...and finally, it happened! And this book did not disappoint. Initially, it took me a while to get properly into the book due to the slow-building at the beginning, but then all of a sudden, I was HOOKED.

Tremblay's writing is so effortless, it's easy to breeze through 80 pages or so without even noticing time has gone by. His characters are well-written and most importantly of all, believable. Like my good friend Sadie has pointed out, he is very good at writing teenagers, who are often misrepresented and inaccurately portrayed in fiction. Reading their conversations and interactions with each other is almost like listening in on conversations behind the bike sheds near school. It just works! I believe it.

As for the story itself, it has some wonderfully eerie parts. To me, nothing is more petrifying than the thought of someone staring in your bedroom window while you sleep... even the thought just makes the hairs on my body stand on end. The story was totally unpredictable, I really didn't see it going down the route that it did - and that's exactly what I want from my books. To be surprised! To turn each page wondering what the hell is going on, what will happen next. This book also really brings home how gut-wrenching and heartbreaking it must be for those who have to suffer through the disappearance of their children (or their siblings), the not knowing where they are, what happened to them, are they okay? Will they ever come home? As for the ending, I really was left guessing until the final 30 pages or so. 

Stephen King has hailed Tremblay as one of his favourite "new" horror authors and I can see why. I'm looking forward to reading more from him! 


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book Review: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

As an advance warning, this review may turn into a pure fan-girling post. But if you love The Boss like I love the Boss, then this is the review for you! Or similarly, if you're not sure why I love The Boss and want to know what it is that makes him special...then, again, this is the review for you.

"In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream..." - Born to Run.

Born to Run is Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, named after the iconic song and album released in 1975. This autobiography is honest and candid with Springsteen exploring topics he didn't really need to, but felt like they should be addressed. He writes this autobiography like he writes his music, it's beautiful and heart-rending and most importantly of all, it's relatable. He explores his lifelong battle with mental health, from growing up a father who was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, to battling with his own demons, ultimately needing to see a shrink. He's self-deprecating, whilst also knowing that he is good at what he does.

Learning about how Springsteen made it and got to the top is so inspiring. A man who came from nothing and would not stop until he had everything. In the music scenes these days, the majority of acts just get their career handed on a plate to them. Back then, it was hard fucking work. Springsteen was sleeping on beaches, in surf shops...anywhere he could lay his head. All in a bid to achieve the elusive American dream.

One of my favourite stories he told in this book was about the first time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played in London. They arrived to find posters everywhere claiming that Bruce and the band were THE NEXT FUCKING BIG THING! This enraged Springsteen, as shown in the following quote:

"The kiss of death! It's usually better to let the audience decide that one. I'm frightened and I'm pissed, really pissed. I am embarrassed for myself and offended for my fans. This is not the way it works. I know how it works. I've done it. Play and shut up. My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING...not TELLING. You don't TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide. That's how I got here, by SHOWING people."

That quote just sums Springsteen up. His passion is always very clear through this entire book. He knows he is great, he knows he is special, he knows he can out-perform any other artist/band out there. However, this doesn't come across as cocky or unattractive. I get it - when you're good, you know you're good. No apologies.

So many parts of this book made me feel so emotional! Particularly when Springsteen discusses the death of Clarence Clemons. You can feel the love he has for the Big Man just lifting off the pages and understand how his death broke him. I felt similar emotions when he talks about Patti, his redhead, they are just relationship goals! He even talks about how fatherhood changed him and those emotions you feel after you've introduced a new life into the world. There's so many amazing parts that I just want to re-read!

Bruce Springsteen is a guy that will always empty the tank in everything he does. Luckily I've witnessed this unrelenting passion firsthand. The E Street Band and Bruce will play for at least 3 hours every night like it's the last concert they'll ever play. Like he says, the fans are paying their hard-earned money and they want a show. That is showmanship. That is passion. That is Bruce Springsteen.


The Nocturnal Reader's Subscription Box: From Beyond The Grave

It arrived! It finally arrived! I am beyond excited to finally get my hands on this subscription box, lovingly created for those of us who prefer the more dark and sinister things in life. I always felt like subscription boxes were a "waste of money" and I didn't need to pay to have someone else choose books for me?! How do they know what I would like? Well...I have been proven WRONG. The creators of this box are huge Stephen King fans and it would therefore follow that whatever they love, I'm probably gonna love too. So here we go...let's delve into what was included in this month's box, the theme being "From Beyond the Grave"!

Firstly, the books! That's what we're all here for, right? One of the books is The House on Cold Hill by Peter James. Peter James has been having a bit of a moment recently on bookstagram - everywhere I look, there his books are! So I was very excited to get my hands on my first Peter James book - let's see what all the fuss is about! The synopsis for this book is as follows:

Moving from the heart of Brighton and Hove to the Sussex countryside is a big undertaking for Ollie and Caro Harcourt and their twelve-year old daughter Jade. But when they view Cold Hill House - a huge, dilapidated Georgian mansion - Ollie is filled with excitement. Despite the financial strain of the move, he has dreamed of living in the country since he was a child, and he sees Cold Hill House as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, the perfect base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment. Within days of moving in, it becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren't the only residents of the house. A friend of Jade's is the first to see the spectral woman, standing behind her as the girls talk on FaceTime. Then there are more sightings, and as the house seems to turn on the Harcourts, the terrified family discover its dark history, and the horrible truth of what it could mean for all of them...

That sounds good, right?! Even thinking of seeing a presence in the background while FaceTiming someone just sends shivers running down my spine... ah, I can't wait!

The second book is Five Stories High, focusing on one house with five different hauntings and stories. This book is also very intriguing to me, bringing together five up-and-coming authors. The synopsis for this book is as follows:

Irongrove Lodge - a building with history; the very bricks and grounds imbued with the stories of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms. These are the tales of an extraordinary house, a place that straddles our world and whatever lies beyond; a place that some are desperate to discover, and others to flee. At one time an asylum, at another a care home, sometimes simply a home. The residents of Irongrove Lodge will learn that this house will change them, that the stories told here never go away. Of all who enter, only some will leave.

Chilling! And it sounds like it's right up my street. I totally trust these guys and their book choices!

Now for the rest of the box. Possibly my favourite inclusion is the Edgar Allan Poe tote bag. Wow. Heart eyes for days! This is definitely going to be my new laptop bag. It's bound to get a few envious glances in Starbucks or in the lab. Another awesome edition is the 3D skull double shot glass. Pour in your drink of choice and admire the 3D skull that lies within. As a King fan, I'm also excited about the 1408 hotel keychain, in reference to the short story "1408" in Everything's Eventual. I wanted to attach it to my keys right away...but also don't want to potentially damage it! Does anyone else suffer from this internal conflict?!

There's also a NerdWick Candle, "The Hideous Heart", which does not smell hideous AT ALL. It's beautiful! And I love my candles, so I was very happy about this item. I'd be tempted to order more from their website. Lastly, there's a beautiful bookmark with artwork by Sierra Bancroft, as well as a postcard and another piece with the artwork done by Saranit Klinklaykun.

Absolutely amazing box this month! Looking forward to next month's box which has the theme "Paranoia". I'm intrigued...


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a story narrated by Death, and when Death tells a story, you really have to listen. In WWII-Nazi Germany, following the death of her brother and being separated from her mother, Liesel Meminger goes to live with a poor foster family on Himmel Street. In such dangerous times, the family hide a Jew down in their basement and a beautiful friendship based on books and reading develops.

"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

I absolutely loved this book and devoured it in 4 days (well, really 3 since one day I didn't get to read at all). It was unputdownable at times. One of my favourite things about this book (which was often cited as a negative in goodreads reviews) was the narrator of the story being Death. I thought this was a very unique idea from Markus Zusak and I really enjoyed the beautifully poetic way in which Death narrates the story. You can almost feel Death lingering over the story, similar to how Death lingered over those who lived back during WWII in Nazi Germany - you knew death was coming, you just didn't know when or for whom. Death sometimes spoilered certain characters' fates, but I felt that this only heightened my dread and anticipation.

So many beautiful favourites being Hans, Rudy and Max. All very interesting and rich and well-developed. Hans in particular stood out - his relationship with Liesel was simply beautiful. As a reader, you never forget the bond you form with the person who encourages your love for words and books, and Liesel received this encouragement not only from Hans, but also from Max. It really reminds you how important words are and what power they have.

The format of this book was interesting, with random interjections from Death. I felt this actually helped the story flow and broke up the text into more manageable chunks. Sometimes if I see a wall of text it takes me that much longer to get through it, but this format was much more suited to my way of reading.

I honestly can't think of a negative for this book...apart from the fact I wish there was more? I didn't want it to end, even though it felt tiring and heavy at times with such a dark theme as the Holocaust. I cried so much at this book, I could almost feel my heart splitting down the middle. Last year I got to visit Auschwitz and my memories of that harrowing place really contributed to the heartbreaking parts of this story. A beautifully written book that I feel everyone should read at least once. Often I read books knowing I'll never pick it up again (unless it's King, of course I'm reading those again!), but this is one I will definitely revisit, and one that I will recommend constantly to people. 5 stars out of 5 for me, if i could give more stars I definitely would!

"She was saying goodbye and she didn't even know it."

I'm off to cry again.......


Monday, 2 January 2017

Hi guys! Welcome to Johann's Library...

Hi everyone, I thought I'd start my blog with a quick introduction. I'm Johann (obviously) and I'm currently in the process of obtaining my PhD in Pharmacy...however, when I'm not in the lab, there's one thing I love to do - and that's read!

Having been an avid reader in my youth, life soon got in the way and I became a casual reader, often taking months to finish one book. Then a couple of years ago, I became obsessed with the horror genre, and one day I was searching online for ideas for new books when I kept seeing this Pennywise the Clown pop up. I was intrigued...went online to Amazon and ordered IT by Stephen King. The rest, as they say, is history...

I devoured IT and fell in love with King's style of writing. It felt like he was writing just for me - and I think that's pretty special when you find that in an author. I had only finished IT when I jumped online to order even more King books. Quickly I decided that I wanted to embark on a mission. I wanted to read EVERYTHING King had ever written! First, the books must be bought. I completed my collection in 2016 and am currently in the process of upgrading a few remaining paperbacks to hardbacks - because hardbacks are just book porn, am I right? Now I'm making my way through his entire bibliography and have read over 30 of his books - quite impressive given that I also have  undertaken the massive task of completing a PhD in Pharmacy. But reading is my release, my way of escaping from test tubes and bacteria and organic chemistry... It's the perfect stress-reliever.

I somehow fell into bookstagramming on instagram, introducing others to my King journey and chatting with like-minded Constant Readers. My best friend said to me "Why don't you start a blog?" and I thought "Why? Who the hell would wanna listen to my ramblings?" but given my following on instagram, I began to realise that plenty of people cared what I think! And here we very first blog and my very first blog post. I intend to use this blog to review King books and other books I happen to fall in love with. Join me and subscribe to my posts to keep up-to-date!


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