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Saturday, 14 July 2018

Book Review: Misery by Stephen King

Paul Sheldon, the best-selling writer of the Misery novels, finds himself rescued from a car accident by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. As the former nurse takes care of him in her home, she finds out he killed off Misery in his latest novel and decides to keep Paul as her prisoner as he writes Misery back to life.


"I am in trouble here. This woman is not right."

I read a number of Stephen King books pre-bookstagram and pre-goodreads, therefore I have never written a proper review for these books. Revisiting these books through readalongs and listening to audiobooks while running or at the gym gives me the opportunity to do so! Unfortunately when I revisited Misery it was in the form of the audiobook... and I was not a fan (and most certainly NOT its number 1 fan). The narrator did such a brilliant job of conveying the truly insane character that is Annie Wilkes, but otherwise it was very monotonous and boring at times. BUT I know that's not really the case for the book itself.

Similar to Gerald's Game, the events of this book primarily take place in one location. Ordinarily that would bore the life out of me, but King has this ability to grab your attention and keep you hooked anyway. That being said, there are still some boring parts in this book - but they are very few and far between. It is literally quite impossible to look away during the interactions between Annie and poor Paul Sheldon. Anytime Annie is on the scene, she steals the show - it's those parts where it's just Paul's meandering thoughts that I would tune out of sometimes. This is much better portrayed in the movie for me.

Something else that the movie benefits from is cutting out the parts where Paul is writing his new Misery book. I honestly have never cared less about anything in my entire life. I just DO NOT care. This is fair enough when you're reading the book and can just quickly skim over these parts - however, this is much more difficult when listening to the audiobook. I quite honestly feel like this is one of those rare scenarios in which the movie is much superior to the book. It takes the GREAT story that King tells and trims it down to a really effective movie.

Annie Wilkes is one of King's most iconic characters and the story is one of his most terrifying, because there are no scary monsters or supernatural creatures, Annie is all human and 100% crazy. She also brings a lot of humour to the story (for me anyway), I can't help but crack up when she goes on rants about different things. And the scene with the axe... one of the most nail-biting, stressful and cringeworthy events I've ever read in a book.

I really like Misery, but I don't seem to regard it as highly as lot of other Constant Readers. I can't pinpoint what is exactly, I just know it wouldn't make my top 20 list. I guess I never really connected with it on a personal level, and so many other King books DO make me FEEL so many emotions, so... it just slides down the list a bit. I do think it would be a great starting point for new King fans, as it isn't particularly scary, it's more of a psychological thriller. A nice way to introduce yourself to Mr King's works.

4 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: The Dark Tower Omnibus by Stephen King

This omnibus is comprised of the first 5 graphic novels in the Dark Tower series. It is basically an adaptation of Wizard and Glass, so the story starts chronologically in this format.

"That's how it always is when star-crossed lovers first lock eyes. And they are like stars, they really are... burning hot and bright, and then flaring out. For all I know, they may even be the same ones, do ya kennet? The same souls, always meeting, always hoping to beat the long odds... and always failing."

Let's get one thing straight: these will never be anywhere near as good as the books. Obviously. But once you accept that, you can enjoy them for what they are. I LOVED seeing the story told in this format - the illustrations are fucking incredible and the writing has all the Dark Tower lingo that we've come to know and love.

This omnibus has the basic events of Wizard and Glass, but also has the bonus of certain happenings being expanded upon - like The Fall of Gilead and The Battle of Jericho Hill. And those were actually my fave two instalments in the omnibus - I GOT SHIVERS.

I also got shivers and mayhaps shed a few tears at the story of Susan and Roland <3 one of my favourite love stories. I would say it isn't as fleshed out here as in the book, but it's still beautiful. And it's so nice to see Cuthbert and Alain again, the original ka-tet.

I'm a Dark Tower junkie and I did thoroughly enjoy this adaptation. Some parts dragged on slightly... The Long Road Home was fucking long indeed. But overall, I really liked it. Excited to get to the next omnibus shitting on my shelf.

4 stars.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The story of a closely knit group of six classics students at a small, elite college in Hampden, Vermont. One of the six students is Richard Papen, who reflects upon and narrates the events that let to a murder within the group.


"There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty - unless she is wed to something more meaningful - is always superficial."

Please excuse me while I fangirl over this wonderfully dark story that appears to be heavily inspired by the Greek mythology and tragedy that our characters bonded over in the first place. Let's get this straight - I'm almost 100% certain you won't find any of these characters endearing in the slightest. They are all literally THE WORST. And as someone who often needs to fall in love with characters in order to really enjoy a story, I was surprised at how taken I was with this group of preppy Ivy League college students. Our narrator, who is the outsider of the group being on financial aid and such, is even pretty deplorable. Yet that doesn't matter here, I still felt deeply involved in the events that slowly unravelled over the course of the novel.

A murder has been committed and from the very first page, you know who was responsible. But the entire premise of the book is to find out WHY this happened. Tartt's writing is simply spell-binding, as she weaves all the different threads of the story and allows all of her fully-fleshed characters come to life. Each member of the friendship group is so individual and distinct from the others, and I appreciate that because sometimes it can be difficult to keep track when you have a number of characters in constant interaction with each other. Tartt's descriptions of the setting of the story - Vermont - were also fucking LUSH. She almost had me on the next plane over to New England (although not much convincing was really necessary). 

The pacing of the book was perfect for me. It moved along at a relatively consistent pace until a lot of shit started hitting the fan and the downward spirals of different characters began - I WAS HERE FOR IT. I absolutely adored the academic setting of the story, it personally felt relatable in a lot of ways (apart from, you know...the murder) and the discussions the characters had surrounding Greek mythology legitimately had me getting really into it and nodding along. I sometimes like to learn stuff when I read, guys. I also really resonated with how they were all super into their literature - because, same.

The Secret History is relatively chunky (around 650 pages) and the text is quite small, yet somehow I managed to get through this in about a week - truly a sign of how consuming it was. Getting hyped for my next Tartt read!

I recommend this if you're a fan of slow-burning suspense stories and a stunningly dark aesthetic. The hype is real!

5 stars.

Johann

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who was born without his own scent but with a heightened sense of smell. Set in Paris in the late 1700s, Perfume tells the tale of his search for the perfect scent.


"For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn't escape scent."

Perfume has to be one of the most unique stories I've encountered, at times it is as equally beautiful as it is grim and disturbing. The story focuses on the life of Grenouille, right from his birth up until his later adult years. It's absolutely captivating and unique in that Suskind uses scent and smells as a way to explore so many different themes, such as power, obsession and the strong desire to obtain perfection. The character development of Grenouille is incredibly well-written, you can't help but feel sorry for him as he becomes quite a loner in his quest (he literally fucking lives under a mountain for a number of years, for gods sake!!). But then... he's also kinda creepy at times too. 

Don't go into this book expecting a fast-paced murder-mystery thriller - oh no, this book is so much more subtle in its execution. The story travels along at a relatively slow pace, but you will NEED to know what happens next as events unfold. Perfume reads like a classic, but without being incredibly verbose or dense. The writing is simply beautiful, one of those books where you feel like you want to constantly highlight every section.

The scientist in me was geeking out majorly over the different processes described in the production of perfumes, such as distillation etc. I am also a huge fan of perfumes in general, so I did find it really interesting to learn more about the process. How do you capture a scent? How do you bottle that scent? Those parts were really enjoyable to read.

That ending though... WHAT THE HECK WAS I READING? It was fucking off the wall! It felt like it came out of nowhere and initially I wasn't really on board... but when I thought about it and certain explanations were given I wasn't only on board, I was steering the goddamn ship! That ending is pretty crazy but makes perfect sense within the story.

Overall I highly recommend Perfume, particularly if you are looking for something a little different, a little dark, and a completely unique reading experience.

4 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Book Review: Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old, Cory Mackenson - a place where monsters swim the river and friends are forever.


"See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our ages. Told to grow up, for God's sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they'd allowed to wither in themselves."

If you haven't read Boy's Life yet, if you don't even have a copy, drop everything you're doing and get a copy and read it. It's not everyday when a book comes along and burrows itself into your heart and soul. Stephen King couldn't have put it better when he said "Books are a uniquely portable magic" and this book IS magic. It's right in there, glittering between the pages.

Nothing I have read has so accurately and poignantly portrayed growing up. There's (hopefully) lots of joy and happiness and magic dispersed throughout your younger years, but unfortunately there can also be some heartbreak and loss, and McCammon beautifully presents all these different emotions seamlessly.

Cory's coming-of-age tale is intertwined with the unravelling of the mystery of a dead body in his small town. The two different threads are woven together so intricately and McCammon does an incredible job of moving both storylines along at a pace that feels natural. Boy's Life is not ABOUT the mystery, but it's about Cory as an adult looking back at the magical place where he grew up. McCammon's writing itself is some of the best I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and he manages to cover so many themes with such ease - childhood, realism, racism, fantasy, death - I am truly in awe.

You will laugh and you will undoubtedly cry (unless you have a cold black stone residing in your chest instead of a heart). And when I say cry, I mean UGLY cry. There's no beautiful solitary tear rolling down the cheek. There is full-on sobbing. There was a particular scene towards the end involving Cory's father that was really personal for me and what I took away from it will stay with me forever.

Not only one of my favourite books of 2018, but one of the best books I've read in my life.

ALL. THE. STARS.

Johann
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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Book Review: Come to Dust by Bracken MacLeod

After Sophie is abandoned by her mother, Mitch takes on the role of looking after his niece. After Sophie tragically dies, his life is flipped upside down. But then across the world, scores of children inexplicably rise from the dead, and Sophie is one of them...


"He knew from experience, it only takes a single night for the whole world to change."
Come to Dust was a bit of a mixed bag, the start was really promising and had a few chilling scenes that would unsettle even the most hardened horror veteran. However, around the middle it becomes a tad stale and drags on for longer than necessary. It also becomes more action heavy, which is not to my personal taste. Towards the end it became more of a crawl to the finish line, than a race, which is always a letdown.

Horror set against a backdrop of grief and loss can be bookish heaven if executed correctly, but this one just fell short of the mark. He does a great job of tapping into every parent's worst fear, the loss of a child. The author has a note towards the back where he explains his inspiration for the story and although it's particularly poignant, it isn't enough to save it. One redeeming factor is McLeod's writing - it's polished, heart-wrenching and effective - however, (fully aware that every good thing is followed by a negative, oops) there was quite a lot of description, too much at times. But at least it was written well!

Another complaint is the use of character names that are too similar - why do authors insist on doing this? (Also looking at you, King). A Mitch and a Mike? Half my time is spent clarifying which character is being referred to and that just takes me out of the story. So to all budding authors: don't do this.

Overall it's a unique take on the "zombie" genre and does have a lot of positives, so it's worth trying to see if it's more to your taste. I'm also very open to reading more of MacLeod's work, as some of his writing was truly breathtaking.

3 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 15 June 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

An eleven-year-old's body is found in a park following a brutal murder. Eyewitness accounts and fingerprint evidence point to the popular Little League coach and teacher, Terry Maitland. But Terry also has an alibi for the time of the crime...


"Reality is thin ice, but most people skate on it their whole lives and never fall through until the very end."

MY BOY'S STILL GOT IT. I straight up loved this book from the very first page until the final words. King proves once again that he is the master when it comes to horror and suspense. This book had me feeling disturbed and unsettled on a few occasions, whilst also having me sending frantic messages to my BG friends like "What the eff just happened?!"

Those first 2-300 pages were simply unputdownable. It was so addictive that I was seriously considering booking days off work so that I could just fly through it. But it's also so good that I wanted to take my time and really savour being in a great King book. There were twists and turns galore, and at no point could I really predict what route King would go down. I love King most of all when he is completely unpredictable. 

One of my favourite things about King's writing is those scenes that really just feel so simple. And by that I mean different characters or family members just chatting in the kitchen over a coffee. He has a way of making seemingly "bland" parts of the story really damn interesting. He just knows how to craft these characters we care about and have them interact in a way that feels real. He doesn't need to be building constant suspense or throwing scares our way to hook your attention. It's the more quiet moments in his books that I live for. And there's plenty of those in here as well as the crazy, exciting, unsettling parts. A couple of scenes in particular had those little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. He's STILL killin' it.

I really liked these characters a lot more than those presented in Sleeping Beauties, these ones actually did feel more memorable. We also got to see the reappearance of a certain King character that I found very exciting. I was just fangirling all over the place. Connections and crossovers within the King universe will always please us Constant Readers.

I've warned everyone on my instagram numerous times... but if by some chance you're reading this and you haven't read The Outsider yet OR the Bill Hodges trilogy, I strongly recommend reading the Hodges trilogy first. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't. If you have zero interest in ever reading the trilogy then work away, but if not... you will be MAJORLY spoiled. And no one enjoys that shit.

I just feel so happy that King is still writing and releasing books of this quality. I get a bit pissed when people throw shade on King's more recent stuff and say things like "Oh I much prefer classic King". Would you want your favourite band to keep releasing albums over and over that have the same kind of sound? No, I want my bands to evolve and change, just like I want King to. He is constantly trying different things, or different genres. He doesn't rest on his laurels, he's always trying to challenge himself and I respect that. Thankee-Sai.

Probably my favourite book of 2018 so far - all the stars!

Johann
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