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Thursday, 5 December 2019

Book Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. She is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort - a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny”. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon”...

“The poets brace themselves for imminent, overeducated poverty.”
Wickedly funny and deliciously dark, Bunny is a messed up fever dream that I did not want to wake up from!!

It’s best to know as little as possible before starting this one. I really had no clue what was coming, and it was a helluva ride! It gets very dark and pretty brutal at times, there are some violent scenes. However, this contrasts nicely with Awad’s often hilarious writing and the saccharine characters in their beautifully patterned dresses and heart-shaped sunglasses.

There’s lots of “what the fuck just happened” moments and at times when I think back over it, I’m still unsure exactly what was going on at points. This would certainly benefit from a reread in the future! However, Bunny lives up to its reputation of a book described as “The Heathers meets The Craft” - I truly can’t come up with a better selling point than that! I’ve also seen it described as “The Secret History meets Jennifer’s Body”, which also seems absolutely perfect!

Set at an Ivy League university in New England, this ticks a number of boxes in terms of location for me. It’s a book that also seemingly pokes fun at prestigious MFA programs and I feel like Awad has a lot of fun with that!

It won’t be a hit for everyone, but I’m a tad obsessed with this book and would recommend giving it a shot if it appeals to you in any way! One of the most unique and enjoyable books I’ve read this year. 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

The sixth book in King’s Dark Tower series, wherein the ka-tet are split up and sent to different “whens” and “wheres” to achieve their goals.

“It got so I couldn't tell if you were the hero, the antihero, or no hero at all.”
Song of Susannah was one of those instances where a reread proved to be very informative... as what I thought happened in this book did not actually happen in this book... I was getting ahead of myself. And for that reason I understand the complaints that not much really happens in here plot-wise, it does serve as more of a build-up and a bridge to the final book in the series.

There are three separate storylines running simultaneously as the ka-tet is divided, and all feel very fraught and tense in their own ways, but I do miss the interaction between all the characters. Susannah’s strand is probably my least favourite, which is a shame as it should be the most thrilling, but at times it felt bogged down with these hallucinations and the three voices conversing together - it wasn’t always clear what was happening.

Not everyone is a fan of how meta the series gets, but I for one, am a fan of this! Although on this reread I did find some parts a little... cringeworthy? But I understand why King chose to write this into the story, as it makes sense in the grander scheme of his entire body of work, as a lot of it is connected to this series. (If it seems like I’m not making much sense, I am trying to remain spoiler-free for anyone who may come across this review but hasn’t got this far yet) But I know fans’ opinions vary widely on this!

The end of the book is thrilling as everything comes to a head and we are left on an almighty cliffhanger as we proceed into the final book of the series. Song of Susannah is probably my least favourite book in the series, but there is still much to enjoy and appreciate, and I won’t be waiting too long to delve into that final book again!

“As for you, Constant Reader... One more turn of the path, and then we reach the clearing. Come along with me, will ya not?”

4 stars.

Johann
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Monday, 18 November 2019

Book Review: You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke

Nothing has felt right since Elle rented out her house to a family through Airbnb. Since coming home from her vacation in France, she feels like she is being watched...

“I am no trespasser, I remind myself. You let me in.”
Some of the lessons I learnt whilst reading this book:
- drinking and driving after one or two large glasses of wine is okay apparently (sidebar: IT IS NOT)
- noting all your passwords in one location is a great idea (again: it is NOT)
- it might be a good idea to visit your doctor if your insomnia has gotten to the point where you’re going batshit crazy (it bugged me that she didn’t do this)
- it’s not a good idea to constantly post clues suggesting the location of your home on social media when you’re a famous author (or even if you’re not famous, for that matter!)
- don’t fucking walk home drunk alone on the beach at night
- if you have a glass room at the top of your house (pfft, don’t we all), maybe you should invest in some blinds or curtains

With all that being said, I did finish this 400 page book in less than 48 hours - it’s a page turner, for sure, but it is accompanied with a lot of eye-rolling. There are far too many red herrings and strands of the story that just don’t get any resolution. A lot of it is also very repetitive.

But it wasn’t all terrible. It was a breezy read, and I particularly enjoyed the setting on the coast of Cornwall. It was also shocking at times as I didn’t predict what the outcome was going to be! Some parts were kinda creepy - but that might just be because being alone in the house and hearing weird noises and freaking out about it is something I do on a regular basis, so I relate hardcore.

This book reinforces that most thrillers just aren’t for me. Only one or two of us in the book club actually liked it, so tomorrow’s meeting will probably just be spent ranting about the idiocy of the protagonist whilst indulging in our salted caramel brownies... can’t wait! 2 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a facility where kids, abducted from all across America, are incarcerated.

“Great events turn on small hinges.”
Oh man, starting a new King just feels like coming home after a long day and wrapping yourself in a huge blanket... It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about King’s writing that evokes such feelings, but if I could bottle it up and sell these feelings, I would, because everyone needs to experience it!

We all know that King does kids best. From the Loser’s Club in IT, to the boys in The Body, he always seems to nail it! And the kids in The Institute were no exception - Avery was my personal favourite. Add in superpowers and a mysterious Institute and this has all the makings of a binge-worthy story!

It’s a little slow at the beginning, but this is usually the case with King as he introduces the characters and the setting, before he puts his foot down and increases the pace. The parts within the Institute were my favourite, I loved getting to learn more about what was going on, whilst simultaneously worrying for those poor kids. King executes all these parts so perfectly.

The cons, for me: it just felt a little TOO much like Firestarter in some ways. Don’t get me wrong, The Institute stands firmly as its own unique story, but I kept thinking of Firestarter similarities and it put me off slightly. Also, Tim and Wendy were two typical cookie-cutter good guys, who’s names I will undoubtedly have forgotten in a week or two. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I feel like these types of characters are more memorable in his older novels.

Lastly, wasn’t a massive fan of the ending - it felt somewhat predictable. I’m not one who usually gets frustrated with King’s endings, but this one left me a little more on the dissatisfied side.

That being said, I did really enjoy it overall, but unfortunately I just didn’t LOVE it. I do think it’s one of his stronger works in recent years though.

3.75 stars - I’m introducing a new star rating for the occasion.

Johann 
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Saturday, 9 November 2019

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founded the town of Macondo, a fictitious town in the country of Colombia.

“There is always something left to love.”
I have been hesitant about writing this review as I will never be able to do this book justice - it is simply that incredible. So, please bear with my fangirling and inability to put into words how truly magical, beautiful, breathtaking and heartbreaking One Hundred Years of Solitude is.

The movement of the story over one hundred years is mesmerising. New characters are constantly being introduced as the family expands, which can be overwhelming at times, but if you have a family tree and give the book the undivided attention it deserves, the pay off is worth it. This is not one to be picked up on a whim, you need to be in the mood to peel back the layers of the Buendía family.

And a multitude of layers there are! Crazy things are constantly happening - civil wars, uprisings, hauntings, a little familial incest... This is truly a book to reread and revisit many times, as there are such a vast amount of details and events that it is impossible to remember them all.

The writing itself is unbelievable. If I was one to highlight sections of books that I loved, this entire book would be bright pink (my fave highlighter shade)! This novel reminded me in many ways of East of Eden, another all-time favourite, in the sense that history constantly repeats itself - families are sometimes doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

Yet I would not freely recommend it to everyone. You’ll either love it... or want to bang your head off a wall. I can’t predict which camp anyone would fall into, all I can say is give it a chance if it sounds like a book you’d enjoy!

Thanks for the amazing buddy read @cemetery.of.forgotten.books - I am now obsessed. 5 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Brother by Ania Ahlborn

The Morrows are a family residing in a secluded farmhouse, far in the Appalachians — far enough that nobody outside of the family can hear the screams...

“A party ain’t a party without a splash of red.”
If you asked me to describe this book in three words, I would choose the following: brutal, disturbing and tense. So basically any Ania Ahlborn book, right?! 

If you think your family is fucked up... meet the Morrows. Families who commit heinous acts together, stay together - is that how it goes?? Ahlborn develops her characters so well that we actually feel sympathy for one of the family members, because you can see right away that he is different - he isn’t straight-up evil like the rest of the clan! And boy, are they evil. What a cast of twisted, depraved individuals! I loved it!

I can’t recall the last time I read a book where the tension was just so palpable... the dread continually builds throughout the entire novel to a dizzying finale that is spattered with blood. Just how I like it!!

Not every horror book can easily elicit a range of different emotions and allow you to form those emotional connections, but this one put me through the wringer. I was angry, frustrated, sad, heartbroken... This one ticks all the damn boxes!

Ahlborn goes to the darkest places imaginable, she has yet to disappoint me and that is why I will continue to hail her as the Queen of Horror! If I didn’t know she was one of the most genuine and lovely people, I would be shit scared of her.

A must for horror fans! 5 stars.

Johann
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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Noah Turner sees monsters. His father saw them - and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates. The rest of the Turner family has experiences with the monsters too, but Noah chooses to let them in...

“I started collecting my sister Eunice’s suicide notes when I was seven years old.”
Are you a fan of Stranger Things? How about weird fiction? Or Lovecraftian stories? Or literary horror? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then you need to pencil the release date for A Cosmology of Monsters into your diaries! (it’s September 17th, FYI)

I don’t always need to care about my characters in order for a horror novel to work - sometimes I just really enjoy a slasher with indiscriminate characters - but when you really care about the outcome, the stakes are raised. The Taylor family were well-developed and incredibly interesting, and I still miss them after having turned the final page. Eunice, in particular, was a standout. I found her story heartbreaking.

I’d put this book in the tame category in terms of horror, it’s not created to terrify you, but there are monsters and murders galore, as well as a menacing dread that builds as you progress through the novel. It also ticks a few Lovecraftian and Stranger Things boxes as we have this inter dimensional city that wants your soul!

Speaking of Lovecraft, all the little nods and references to his work had me fangirling like crazy. Each part has the title of a Lovecraft story! However, you do not need to have read any Lovecraft in order to appreciate this one!

Hamill is one hell of a writer, so beautifully descriptive at times, and I look forward to devouring more of his books!

In summary... GET THIS BOOK! 4.5 stars.

Johann
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