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Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Holy crap. Believe the hype surrounding My Dark Vanessa! This is one of the best and most compelling books I’ve read all year - or perhaps, ever!

“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”
My Dark Vanessa is almost overwhelming with how relevant and powerful it is. It tells the story of Vanessa Wye, and the relationship she had with her English teacher which started when she was only 15 years old and he was almost 30 years her senior. The story goes back and forth, flitting between detailing the beginning and development of their relationship, and present day, where Vanessa is now 32 years old, and her former teacher is being accused of sexual abuse by other students.

I’m in awe that this is Russell’s debut novel - the writing is simply incredible, there were so many parts that just floored me. She deals with the topic at hand in such a raw and visceral way, at no point does she shy away. As a result, it makes for a highly uncomfortable read, but that’s exactly what it needs to be.

There are a lot of comparisons to Lolita, but I personally found MDV to be a much more enjoyable and accessible read. It’s from the viewpoint of the victim, so you’re not privy to the predator’s unsettling thoughts - although he still makes me feel ILL. This is important as it really lets you see how such a vile person can groom someone to come around to their own way of thinking. There are of course trigger warnings for sexual abuse and rape.

It’s a frustrating read at times - you want to shake Vanessa and scream “THIS ISN’T LOVE!” but once the frustration wears off, you’re just left feeling overwhelmingly sad. When I wasn’t reading this one, I was thinking about it or talking about it... and itching to get back to it. MDV will live long in the memory.

Seriously cannot recommend this one enough! It’s poignant and important, whilst also being heartbreaking and haunting, thank you so much to @ab_reads for lending me her review copy!

5 stars!

Johann
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Book Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

I love a good cult, whether it be in fiction or in real life. Within These Walls made me think of both the Jonestown Massacre and the Manson Family - what a winning combination!! But it’s more than just a book about a cult - it has a dash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure!

“And there was nothing more precious than family.”
Lucas Graham is a washed up crime writer whose marriage on the rocks, so when an opportunity comes up for him to gain exclusive access to notorious cult leader, Jeffery Halcomb, he can’t let it slip by. There’s just one little caveat - he has to stay at the scene of the crime.

The book goes back and forth between present day, where Lucas and his daughter are living in the house, and back to when the cult first formed years before. Admittedly I enjoyed the cult storyline a little more. That might be due to the fact that I found Lucas and his daughter pretty unlikeable - although they were still very interesting to read about! I also felt it was perhaps a little longer than it needed to be.

If you’ve read any Ahlborn, you’ll know that she can really tell a story - and they’re usually incredibly well-written too. She also has a talent for always NAILING her endings and she doesn’t disappoint here! Within These Walls is not your cliché cult story, Ahlborn puts her own spin on it and the result is a unique blend of the supernatural with a cult setting.

Recommend if you enjoy reading about cults or creepy houses - or a combination of both! 4 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Book Review: Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler

If you’re a fan of Mindhunter, then this is one you need to pick up, especially since Agent Tench in the show is actually based on Robert K Ressler! Incase it isn’t obvious, as is the premise of the show, Whoever Fights Monsters follows the beginning of criminal profiling and its introduction into the FBI. And it’s truly fascinating!

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” (Nietzsche)
Tonnes of cases are covered, but special attention is given to some criminals, like John Wayne Gacy, Richard Chase, David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, as well as some lesser known cases. It’s very well-written, but as is the case with the majority of true crime books, can be quite dry. That didn’t stop me flipping through the pages though, as it was incredibly readable.

One of my main complaints about the Mindhunter book was how egocentric John Douglas came across, and even though Ressler contributed hugely to the way criminals are profiled today, he seems very humble in comparison. I wasn’t rolling my eyes every 5 seconds, let’s put it that way... There is also no new information past the 1990s, so it’s perhaps slightly outdated in some ways, but for a history of the introduction of criminal profiling, it’s solid.

Keeping this review relatively short as people are either into true crime or they’re not - but if you are, this is worth checking out! As with all true crime, there are graphic descriptions and disturbing scenes, so beware! 4 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

A worthy sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep revisits Danny Torrance as an adult, where he has unfortunately inherited his father’s alcoholism, but also retains his ability to “shine”. He encounters a young girl named Abra, who needs his help to fight the vampiric cult, the True Knot.

“There came a time when you realised that moving on was pointless. That you took yourself with you wherever you went.”
There’s so much I love about this book that I almost don’t know where to begin! The book opens strongly with throwbacks to the ghosts from The Shining, as we follow Danny and Wendy after their stint in the Overlook Hotel. These references to The Shining are scattered throughout the novel and I couldn’t help but revel in each of these moments. Doctor Sleep can easily stand on its own merit, but those little tie-ins truly enhance the experience.

It’s heartbreaking to see Dan struggle with the same illness that haunted his father. But I also appreciate that Dan has his own flaws and is not presented as a purely heroic figure. The fantastic characterisation follows with the introduction of Abra - another solid King child character. This girl is an absolute badass. I LOVE HER.

Admittedly the True Knot aren’t my favourite villains... I think Rose the Hat is brilliant, but a lot of the others became interchangeable for me. Although I wouldn’t even classify this one as being scary, some parts were pretty unnerving. The baseball boy parts in particular cut me up, they’re brutal.

Incase it isn’t obvious, I truly loved this one just as much on my reread. I just loved getting to revisit Dan Torrance as an adult and he feels so true to young Danny. Even though this one is a relatively recent King, the writing style etc did feel more akin to old King for me!

Love, love, love! 5 stars.

Johann
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Sunday, 5 January 2020

Book Review: Prosper's Demon by KJ Parker

A short and sweet review for a short and sweet novella! First of all, thank you so much to @torbooks for sending me a free copy! I dug the hell out of this one. This is not a horror book, by any stretch of the imagination - although a few parts are somewhat gory - it’s more of a fresh take on demonic possession.

“And belief, like love and sleep, is something you can’t do anything about. You can’t make it come if you want it, and you can’t make it go if you don’t.”
Our morally questionable narrator is capable of exorcising demons from those who are possessed. His methods are effective and he really doesn’t care about the mess he leaves behind whilst doing so. He encounters Prosper of Schanz, who is a man of science aiming to raise the first philosopher-king - it’s just a shame Prosper is possessed.

The writing alone blew me away. The prose is absolutely beautiful, yet manages to be both witty and satirical. The narrator’s dry humour simply had me cackling out loud at times! I would say it’s quite an intellectual read as well, it leaves with you lots to ponder and consider.

It’s so incredibly short, clocking in at just under 100 pages, but so much is packed in here. There’s impressive world-building and an intriguing storyline, it’s truly impressive when an author can be this effective within so few pages!

The less said the better! This is one to sit and binge in a couple of hours. Look out for it early 2020. It was a lot of fun! 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 3 January 2020

Book Review: Hell House by Richard Matheson

Hell House is basically The Haunting of Hill House on steroids. Both books centre around four characters who stay in a haunted house to try to investigate what is happening. We have Doctor Barrett, who’s intention is to prove his theory - he also brings his wife along cos she just can’t bear to be left alone... And then we have two mediums - one of which is Fischer, the only survivor of a failed investigation attempt 30 years earlier.

"As he crossed the entry hall, he had the feeling that the house was swallowing him alive."
Hell House is certainly disturbing. The kind of book where you send snippets to people accompanied by comments like “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK” I’m glad I was buddy reading this with Gemma @cemetery.of.forgotten.books as I needed someone to share in my disbelief! I can just imagine how controversial this book would have been back in the 70s, it’s pretty wild! The history of the Belasco house is vile and depraved.

One or two parts creeped me out - figures entering the room and breathing at the bottom of the bed... *shudders* There’s also a lot of sexual violence and for that reason I would not necessarily recommend this one to a newbie horror fan. That’s also a trigger warning! It gets pretty graphic and detailed at times!

Also, a note to authors - please don’t give your main characters names that start with the same letter. I recently reread ‘Salem’s Lot which had a Mike, Mark and Matt... This one wasn’t as bad with Fischer and Florence... but I still found myself having to stop and think sometimes? I’m not sure if this is just an issue I have - perhaps I’m easily confused!

Overall, an entertaining yet incredibly dark haunted house story. Proceed with caution! 4 stars.

Johann
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