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.


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her hometown, where one girl has been brutally murdered and another one is missing.

"I just think some women aren't made to be mothers. And some women aren't made to be daughters."

Dark and twisty and fucked up characters are my FAVE, and Gillian Flynn seems to be the absolute queen of creating them. Although one of the issues with having such car crashes for human beings in your stories is that you often don't have a character who you really root for or relate to. Usually I like having this sort of character in my books, but sometimes reading a book just for the sake of getting engrossed in the storyline and disentangling all the threads running throughout is all you need! Also known as… the perfect poolside read - which this was for me.

I'm a huge fan of Flynn's writing. Some of her descriptions and prose really wow-ed me. One woman she described as having "hips like antlers" in the way that the bones jutted out, and I just really liked that simile. There were a lot more instances like this where I would read a sentence or a paragraph and think "Oooh, that's GOOD!" I also loved a lot of the dark imagery that she included, it felt like quite a visual book and some of the scenes created will leave a lasting impression for sure.

Sharp Objects is full of twists and turns, a few of which I had predicted before they happened, but there were still a few that surprised me. The ending in particular! I thought I had it figured out, then it went one way and then another and I was just like WOOOAAHHH this is awesome.

Although that's not to say I had some issues. One of my major annoyances with this book was that it was extremely over sexualised at times. I am not a prude by any means, but it just felt like everything had links to sex in some way. EVERYTHING. And a lot of the time it seemed completely needless and tacked on. One event in particular… which I can't really talk about as I never include spoilers in a review, but it involved Camille's relationship with someone and it was just… completely unnecessary. In my view, anyway.

ALSO, also. I just do not buy that Amma is 13 years old! I just don't. I can completely understand that some kids are very mature and almost behave like adults at such a young age, but 13 was a bit of a stretch. Especially when you go on to watch the TV adaptation. I'm just not buying it, maybe 15 years old would be more believable? Some of Camille's opinions also rubbed me up the wrong way (that phrase would totally be made into some kind of innuendo in the book *rolls eyes*). In particular, there was one part where she discusses how women get "consumed" due to the "sheer amount of traffic" a woman's body experiences. I understand that this is merely Camille's opinion and I can't hold that against the book itself but the implication of it just grated on me.

That actually sounds like I had a lot of issues… but I still enjoyed the story a lot!! It's a page turner and it was exactly what I needed for my holiday.

4 stars.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Book Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent. He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with. His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom.

"I've forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where."

Where to begin... first of all, let me preface this review by giving a trigger warning for almost every possible trigger you can think of: rape, animal abuse, torture... this book is not for the faint of heart! This book stands head and shoulders above the rest as the most disturbing book I've ever read. But, I absolutely loved it. Not because of how disturbing it was (although I did find that mostly entertaining), but because I've never laughed out loud so much whilst reading a book.

I LOVED getting inside Bateman's head, a true glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. He is severely deluded, shallow, neurotic... and yet I could happily read about his beauty routine and gym workouts forever (whilst making some notes of course - if only I had multiple hours to spend in the gym each day!!). In particular, I was sincerely impressed by Bateman's ability to identify exactly what designer you're wearing by sight alone - I mean, surely he is wasted in his job as an investment banker?! There must be some way he can make use of this incredible talent!

People had previously commented about how annoying it was when the book goes off on random tangents where Bateman breaks down different musical artists' careers. I found this weirdly enjoyable - particularly the chapters where he discusses Genesis and Whitney Houston in great detail. Although I was not too impressed when Bateman described Bruce Springsteen as overrated (but he made up for it by later telling a stranger on the street that Brilliant Disguise by the Boss was the happiest song he could think of - how depressing and sad is that song... LOL). Bateman's obsession for serial killers also reminded me of myself, he would slide that chat in anywhere he could. Although he did get one of his quotes wrong, attributing a quote by Ed Kemper to Ed Gein - easily done I guess *shrugs*

I can understand why the repetitive nature of this book would be annoying for some - Bateman's life is basically a cycle of brutal murders/torture followed by him and his fellow investment bankers trying to decide where to make reservations for that night - but ultimately I found it strangely captivating. It's just so funny and full of satire that I couldn't NOT love it, it really appealed to my dark sense of humour.

American Psycho also provides a really disturbing social commentary on the upper-class in Manhattan in the 1980s, a society full of racism and sexism, where a lot of emphasis is placed on image and wealth. Bateman has a crazy obsession with Donald Trump - a real representation of the times - and it honestly baffles me that this man is now President of the United States. Ellis really succeeds in painting a rather despicable picture of consumerism in America.

The murders and torture are brutal - consider this a warning! It's graphic and detailed, and the creativity and originality that Ellis manages to bring to some of them is staggering. The sex scenes are pornographic in terms of the level of the detail included, and I actually found these much more uncomfortable to read than the murders.

This book won't be for everyone, and it's one of those books that although I enjoyed almost every page, I would feel cautious recommending it to others. Just prepare yourself if you decide to pick it up! And please don't think of me as one sick puppy for enjoying this satirical masterpiece.

4.5 stars.


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