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Monday, 29 May 2017

Book Review: Roadwork by Richard Bachman

Roadwork tells the story of Bart Dawes, a man suffering from grief following the death of his young son. To add to his woes, he is to lose both his workplace and home as a consequence of the extension of a nearby interstate highway.


"I know something else as well: there's a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters."

Let me give you a little background into my history with the Bachman books... before Roadwork, I had read The Running Man and Thinner. I thought The Running Man was okay, I liked the idea and I enjoyed the ending, however it felt like it dragged a bit in the middle. I had a better experience with Thinner, it felt more like a King book to be honest and that's probably why. The Bachman books seem to have a pretty bleak outlook with dark endings, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, I like that sometimes. It just feels a bit depressing at times and I much prefer reading King when he is actually King - I prefer his general writing style and the types of stories we get. So I went into Roadwork feeling a bit apprehensive and not really looking forward to it.

However, I'm happy to say that I enjoyed this one way more than I thought I would. I didn't love it, but it was a quick, addictive read. Some people on bookstagram had said they had struggled to plow their way through it, but I didn't find that to be a problem. The character of Dawes was very easy to sympathise with. Initially my thoughts were, "This guy is annoying, just get over it", but this swiftly turned into feeling a lot of sympathy for the character once you learned more about him and his history, as well as the reasoning behind his actions. The loss of a child can very easily send you into a downward spiral, especially when combined with the knowledge that you're going to lose your house. It's very understandable that you'd want to hold onto whatever is left in your life.

When reading more about Roadwork, I found out that King wrote this book as a way of dealing with the grief after losing his mother to cancer. Once I knew that, it really did make me view it differently and you can see the pain and heartache entrenched in the pages, and the inability to let go. This is clearly King trying to work through the pain and try to make sense of it all. I believe that over time it has become one of King's favourites of the earlier Bachman books.

Usually I don't rate books using half stars, but I was so stuck deliberating between 3 and 4 stars for this one, that I've had to introduce half stars! So I give this one 3 and a half stars out of 5. An enjoyable Bachman book for me personally, but I can understand why others may not have enjoyed it as much.

Johann
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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Book Review: Different Seasons by Stephen King

Considered by many to be King's best collection of stories/novellas, Different Seasons contains two stories that were ultimately developed into two of the greatest movies of all-time: The Body, which became Stand by Me, of course, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption - the movie is obvious, no?


"Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free."

Sometimes I really hate reading an awesome Stephen King book... no, I'm not crazy. I just get stressed about where I'm going to rank it in my top books list and what other books are gonna get pushed down the list!! Different Seasons is simply a masterpiece. Having read most of King's epic stories, I thought I'd seen King at this best - but no, this is his best. The writing, the characters, the storylines, it feels like everything is turned up a notch here. This is a prime example of how King is so much more than just horror.

Let's start off with Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Now I've already seen the movie, along with the majority of the population, but somehow that didn't matter. I still raced through each page, eager to see what comes next, even though I already knew the outcome! It's a story ultimately about hope, resilience and survival. Set against the backdrop of a bleak prison, these themes shine through even more prominently. A touching, emotional story and now one of my favourites.

Next up was Apt Pupil. Now I really liked this one. A former Nazi finds a willing student in young Todd Bowden and what follows is pure horror. The most unsettling parts of this novella were those wherein Dussander relays stories from the concentration camps in WWII. Having visited Auschwitz only last year, the atrocities that happened there just feel more real. This novella is a terrifying look at evil and the darkness that resides in these evil humans. Todd has to be one of the most hateful characters I've ever encountered in literature, a sexual sadist, a psychopath, just downright disgusting. Nevermind Dussander himself! Yet this story is absorbing, once it hooks you in, you can't get back out.

The horrific nature of Apt Pupil is swiftly followed by the nostalgic novella, The Body. Reading this novella is similar to being transported back in time to when you were a child, when all you wanted to do was hang out with your friends. You'd leave the house early morning and not come back again until it got dark. It's a beautiful story, and yet also quite tragic. Each of the boys come from homes or backgrounds that aren't entirely supportive and they are able to find true friendship and support within each other. In particular, the friendship between Gordie and Chris is touching, Chris is such a great character - wise beyond his years and he really cares for Gordie. Overall, this is a great look into those years where you "grow up" and relinquish your innocence, symbolised by the dead body out in the woods. Simply amazing!

Lastly, The Breathing Method - I actually read this one first as Abbie recommended to me. It is considered to be the "stinker" of the collection, and therefore I decided to read it first, so as not to end the collection on a bum note. But to be honest, I quite liked it! I liked the gentleman's club and their penchant for telling stories, it kinda sounded like a cool set-up that I'd love to be a part of. Miss Stansfield herself was a pretty badass woman, determined and strong. I don't really understand why people would forget about this one, or just cast it off as the "other story" in this collection. Granted, it's not as brilliant as the others, but it still left a lasting impression with me.

Overall, this book was just unbelievable. I lost count of the number of times where I just felt completely blown away by King's writing. This is a great, GREAT collection and now one of my favourite King books.

Johann
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Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Nocturnal Reader's Subscription Box: Corporate Overlords

Another month and another awesome box from Vincent and Jessi over at NRB! This month's theme was Corporate Overlords. Initially when I heard this theme, I was literally clueless and had no idea what to expect, which kinda made this month a little bit more exciting. And I was right! It is exciting. It's not really a "genre" (if you can call it that) that I've had much experience with in the past, and yet I'm still obsessing over everything in this box.


Just look at all of the awesome things!! But firstly, let's begin with the books. I must admit, I've never heard of either book before... as I say, I'm predominantly a horror fan so a lot of this kind of stuff would be new to me. However, these books sound great and I'm open to trying new authors and different books - that's what I love about this subscription box! It'll make you pick up books you might otherwise miss. The new release in this month's box was Borne by Jeff Vandermeer, with 1 out of 5 copies signed, but all copies having a signed bookplate - amazing! I love bookplates, my good friend Sadie always puts bookplates in when she sends me books and I love that. So the synopsis for Borne is as follows (if you're interested, I know some people like to go into books blind...I don't!):

In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company - a biotech firm now derelict - and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump - plant or animal? - but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world, any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts - and definitely against Wick's wishes - Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken, that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford. But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing will ever be the same.

That sounds really interesting, doesn't it? I'm digging it. And the book itself is so stunning. The dust jacket is a beauty and even underneath is beautiful too. The previous release in this month's box is Normal by Warren Ellis, synopsis is as follows:

Some people call it "abyss gaze". Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you. There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geoengineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks. For both types, if you're good at it and spend your days and nights doing it, then it's something you can't do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if abyss gaze takes hold, there's only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest. When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from a locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis' Normal, Adam uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future - and the past, and the now. 

Okay, I am SOLD on both of these books! I feel like I might actually be educating myself when I read these.  So yeah, this looks like two great books this month, can't wait to read and review them!

Now the rest of the items. We got the most awesome pair of NGen socks (Jurassic Park related), an amazing smelling bamboo charcoal soap with coconut oil and palm oil (Paper Street Soap Co. -Fight Club related), a Megadodo Publications "Don't Panic" hand towel (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy related), as well as a custom notepad of the Southern Reach Expedition 12 (Southern Reach trilogy related) - you guys know I love a notepad! Also, check out the velociraptor DNA pin from Jurassic Park...


I gotta say though, my favourite part of this entire box was the Dark Tower print of the Shardik. This art was done by Justin Wisniewski and apparently they have also done the art included in the King box?! Which is gonna be awesome, I bet! I think this is my favourite artwork so far that I've gotten from NRB. This needs to be framed on my wall...


Look at it!!! I have so many heart eyes right now... Speaking of, June's box is gonna the All Hail the King box and I don't think I've ever been more excited for something in my life...not even exaggerating. I'm dying to see this alternate cover for Gwendy's Button Box as well as all the other King goodies these guys have got planned for us.


Eeekkkkkk!!! Not too long to wait now..... I am ready.

Johann
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Monday, 15 May 2017

Book Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A mesmerising and enchanting look into the excess and decadence of the 1920's, The Great Gatsby focuses on a mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and his obsession for the rich and beautiful (and wed) Daisy Buchanan. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a bond salesman renting a small house on Long Island, right next door to the illustrious Gatsby, with whom he forms a friendship.


"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Okay, I think I'm becoming a tad obsessed with The Great Gatsby. I couldn't remember if I had read it before or not, and to be honest, I'm still not sure...BUT I had seen the movie before reading this book and I would say it actually enhanced the reading experience. It really helped with the visualisation of Gatsby's grand parties and the associated excess and debauchery. It would almost be impossible to imagine all the beauty and grandeur that this book revolves around.

I love this story, it's heartbreaking and tragic and beautiful and a really interesting analysis into one cross-section of American society. It makes me want to live in the 1920's (just as long as I'm stinkin' rich!), no matter how shallow and materialistic the people are...the decadence is just stunning! I'd then want to leave again before the stock market crash in 1929...

The characters in this book are largely unlikeable, yes, but Jay Gatsby is now one of my favourite ever characters in literature - and no, it's not because my love Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the movie - it's because he is such a heartbreakingly tragic character. He's mysterious, he's a dreamer, and very quickly we learn that he is trying to recapture the past and most importantly, recreate his previous dalliance with Daisy. But what Gatsby doesn't realise is that you can't repeat the past, which Nick tries to tell him, to which Gatsby replies, "Can't repeat the past?... Why of course you can!"

Gatsby's story is inspiring, he achieved the American Dream, that typical rags-to-riches story, all for the woman he loves. To be able to care for her, to provide for her, to protect her. Then to see her with someone else, a man who is VILE and is constantly unfaithful, must be heartbreaking for Gatsby. Although, let me be clear, in no way do I understand Gatsby's love for Daisy, she is a shallow, selfish, self-centred hateful character. But love is blind and you can't question his devotion to her, it's merely a situation where Gatsby is more in love with the idea of Daisy, than Daisy herself. Gatsby is living in a dream world, caught up in the fantasy of Daisy.

Okay, enough about Gatsby... time to talk about the other characters. Daisy is vile, Tom is vile, Nick is quite bland, Jordan was interesting. During our buddy read, Abbie and I both discussed how we always see so much hatred for Daisy, but not nearly enough for Tom? A horrible man. Gatsby steals the show basically!

I can't review The Great Gatsby without commending the absolutely stunning and beautiful writing that Fitzgerald produces. Numerous times I just had to pause and absorb the wonderful prose. This has definitely made me want to read more Fitzgerald books. I could quite literally talk about The Great Gatsby for hours...but no one wants to read an essay on my thoughts! Clearly I give this book 5 stars out of 5. So I'll end with one of the most beautiful parts I read in this book...

"If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about... like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees."

Johann

Friday, 12 May 2017

Book Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, one of the patients, Chief Bromden, narrates the sequences of events that follows after RP McMurphy, a rebellious character who fakes insanity to avoid prison, is institutionalized. What follows is complete anarchy as McMurphy attempts to antagonise Nurse Ratched, the head administrative nurse who rules her ward with an iron fist. This story is an intriguing insight into mental health institutions and conformity back in the 1960's and the need to control those who don't quite fit into what is considered to be "normal" in society.


"But it's the truth, even if it didn't happen."

Okay, I'm really going to struggle with regards to writing a review for this book. I actually left it a couple of days so I had time to think about it. I watched this movie years ago and really enjoyed it - another one of my favourite movies of all time is Girl, Interrupted, so you could say I really love books or movies set in mental health institutions. Therefore, I was very excited to start this book... but I don't know, it fell flat. It took a while for me to get into the book, and I wonder if it's because of Kesey's style of writing. It just felt a bit all over the place... This book was also narrated by one of the inmates themselves, a potentially unreliable narrator, which meh...I guess I don't really like. Personally, I just don't think this style of writing works for me, I got very bored at points and would find myself procrastinating numerous other ways. However, the last 50 pages or so were absolutely amazing and built up to an unforgettable ending, which left me feeling even more frustrated because I wish I had loved it that much during the entire book!

After a few days of thinking about it now, the story itself was pretty incredible. The battle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched was one of the greatest I've encountered in literature. Both were constantly upping the ante, trying to outdo the other. In fact, the scenes focused on the two of them were the parts I loved. I wanted more of that, I guess. McMurphy himself is a conflicting character - this is a guy who has been found guilty of battery and statutory rape, yet at the same time we find ourselves cheering him on once he's on the mental ward. He becomes a martyr for the other patients, pushing them to enjoy themselves and LAUGH again, to fight back against Nurse Ratched. He pretty much sacrifices himself for the good of the other patients. He is someone who doesn't conform and that in itself is admirable.

As for Nurse Ratched...it bothers me slightly that she is depicted as the hard-nosed, stern female, but then again, she is working in a ward full of men and she has a job to do at the end of the day. However, she is also manipulative and controlling, beyond what is really required for her to perform her duties. She makes the men spy and report on each other and then uses these weaknesses to manipulate them in the group meetings - it's pretty difficult to not vouch for McMurphy in this scenario. So yeah, I'm not much of a fan of Nurse Ratched.

I don't know, I think this will be one of those books I try and read again in the future. Perhaps it just wasn't the right time for me to read this, as I think there maybe was the potential for me to love it. The statement it was making in terms of the condition of mental health institutions back in those days was really thought-provoking and scary to consider, particularly the fact that a lot of these patients were drugged and electroshocked into submission. The ending alone was great though, really emotional and hard-hitting. But overall, I feel like I can only give this book 3 stars out of 5!

Johann
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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dr. Montague, an investigator of all things supernatural, invites a small group to join him in staying in an eighty-year old mansion, Hill House, where strange and unusual events have been known to occur. Within this group is Eleanor Vance, a recluse having spent most of her life looking after her ill mother; Theodora, an outspoken artist; and Luke Sanderson, the heir to Hill House.


"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

Have you ever read a better opening to a book than that? BLEW. MY. MIND. I have to say, I absolutely love Shirley Jackson's style of writing. There's something about it that just sucked me in and wouldn't let go. Again, I feel like this is the kind of book, if you haven't read it already, that you need to go in knowing very little about the plot. Therefore reviewing it is kinda difficult because I feel like I have so many different things I want to talk about, but also don't want to give away too much for new readers.

So I'll generally talk about the things I loved... I loved the underlying sense of terror and dread throughout the majority of this book. It takes a certain kind of talent to be able to create such an atmosphere for so long. And the parts that were meant to be scary...they were freakin' scary. I didn't like reading this one too close to bedtime as it definitely unsettled me, particularly the knocking on the doors. As I was saying to Abbie, this is something that terrifies me. My boyfriend will often hide on me and start knocking gently on walls or doors and it just freaks me the hell out. As well as that, I love how Jackson comes from the old school of horror - she doesn't need gore and guts, and she doesn't need to be "shocking" in order to create a reaction. Sometimes the old, simple ways of scaring people is the best. Jackson is clearly a master of this. And the ending? Perfect. PERFECT. Executed brilliantly! One of those endings you truly won't forget.

As for the characters, I felt like I wanted to punch quite a lot of them, particularly Theodora and Mrs Montague. Eleanor also started to grind on my nerves at times... That's one of my very minor complaints about this book - I didn't LOVE any of the characters or vouch for them, if anything I was rooting for Hill House itself. The descriptions of Hill House were stunning, chilling, unnerving... I could perfectly picture it in my head. Hill House is the real MVP (or building?) of this tale.

Overall, I really loved this book and would highly recommend it to fans of all things horror. I can see why King is such a huge fan. This one gets 4 stars out of 5 from me!

Johann
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