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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Book Review: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Louis Creed and his family have recently moved to the town of Ludlow, Maine. Behind their house there is a path that leads to a 'Pet Sematary', where the children of surrounding areas have buried their beloved pets in years gone by. Deeper in the woods there lies an ancient Indian burial ground, that Louis discovers has some sinister properties when their family cat dies...



"Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own... always comes home to you."

It's no secret that Pet Sematary is my favourite King book, but this is the case for a number of different reasons. When I first started reading horror I couldn't imagine words on a page actually scaring me, I always felt like I needed something visual to keep me up at night. Then I found Pet Sematary... I'd never had an experience before where I actually felt scared to turn the page - this was  of course in the climax at the end of the novel. My heart was racing, my palms felt sweaty, I just kept thinking, "There's no way this book is going to go THAT dark" (clearly I didn't really know King yet!!). And then it did. And a King junkie and Constant Reader was born. IT was my first King, but Pet Sematary was where I became hooked.

**NB Plenty of spoilers ahead**

Now it's time to get personal... grief and loss has been a huge part of my life. When I was younger, my dad was diagnosed with MS, a debilitating disease that quite literally drained the life from him in front of our eyes. I guess this is similar in some ways to the Zelda and Rachel storyline, apart from the fact that my dad was never angry or resentful over his illness - or if he was, he never showed it in front of me. He progressively got more and more ill, over time losing his ability to speak, walk, eat. Death was ultimately a relief. But what about those who are left behind? It's strange because even though I was only 10 when he died, which is around 18 years ago, there are still days or times when the unrelenting grief can come out of nowhere and floor me. The loss of a parent is something you never get over, it is simply something you learn to live with. The only thing that can possibly be worse is the loss of a child. King's depiction of the grief and loss that both Louis and Rachel go through is so accurate it hurts. This book really resonated with me on a deep level, as I had never before read such a harrowing and realistic outlook on death and loss. There are so many passages that I've made a note of and will revisit over and over again.

The way King crafted a book that is terrifying and heartbreaking in equal measures will never fail to astound me. Because this book IS terrifying - to lose someone is terrifying, to have to try to move on is terrifying, for them to come back "different" is also terrifying. Sometimes on instagram I will see people criticising Louis' decisions or making out that he's a bad parent and it makes me want to scream. Grief and loss does not allow for rational thinking. It does not allow for good judgement. It can be all encompassing to the point where you feel like you can't breathe. I defy anyone to tell me that if in a similar position you wouldn't even consider it (not forgetting the fact that there are other forces at work here). I know I would. Couple that with the overwhelming devastation and loss and your decision is pretty made. So to label Louis as a bad parent is absolutely ridiculous to me. Don't get me wrong, there was Ellie to consider, he still had that to live for, but in those heady initial days following such a heartbreaking loss, rational thinking ain't happening.

It's a bit of a slow-build this book, but the pay-off is worth it. I enjoyed getting to know the Creeds, watching them form friendships with the Crandalls across the road. All the good stuff, you know, before shit hits the fan. And when shit hits the fan, it is almost too much to take. Gage's little Star Wars shoe in the middle of the road... the cap full of blood. Images that send chills down my spine. Then the unbearable dread as Louis digs up that coffin, not knowing what exactly he is going to be presented with. The way Louis initially thinks that Gage has no head as there is a dark moss covering his face... THIS IS THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES. The little figure appearing in Louis' room as he sleeps, the child's laughter that Jud can hear... Ellie having these vivid dreams and knowing that her family is in danger. This is really a masterclass in how to craft well-written, piss-your-pants horror. I bow to you, Sai King. 

Some of King's best writing in here and one of his best endings too. There's also some unforgettable characters in Louis Creed, Jud Crandall, Victor Pascow and Zelda. PUH-LEASE can I find a Jud Crandall that can act as a father figure to me?? The adaptation for this book is also pretty decent: Louis is a hot dad, Fred Gwynne was born to play the role of Jud, Zelda will trigger a cold sweat to run down your back...

I could quite honestly write an entire thesis on Pet Sematary, so I'll end it here. All I'll say is this: if you didn't feel something when reading this book...... you need to check yourself *insert sassy emoji* Always my number 1 King book. 5 stars from me - obviously.

Johann
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Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Book Review: The Hellhound Heart by Clive Barker

In a quest to satiate his darkest pleasures, Frank Cotton obtains and opens Lemarchand's box, summoning the cenobites who instead of granting him pleasure and entry into this promised new world, torture him and trap him within the box. However, his brother's wife, Julia, who had a previous dalliance with Frank, has found a way to bring him back - and it involves blood.


"No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering."

Well, I had to use that quote, didn't I? Even though there was literally a plethora of amazing quotes I could have used. Having seen Hellraiser before having read this book, I would not have predicted that Clive Barker was a beautiful writer. When you experience all the guts and gore and disgusting sights and fucked-up ideas in Hellraiser,  you just don't expect the creator to have such a wonderful way with words - although I guess the same can be said for Stephen King. 

I straight up LOVED this book. It's a relatively small book, a novella in fact, but it packs a PUNCH. There were slight differences from the movie, of course, but nothing too drastic. In the movie, the cenobites are better developed and have more dialogue, but I still think their presence in the novella is effective. These sadomasochistic beings don't differentiate between pleasure and pain - something that Frank learns pretty quickly. The way Barker depicts the cenobites is terrifying and my only real complaint with regards to this story is that I'm left wanting more. I'm literally dying to learn more about the cenobites and what happens in their realm, more specifically what horrifying torture is inflicted upon others. What can I say, I'm a sicko!? There's a substantial amount of violence and sex, mirroring that fine line between pleasure and pain. Frank and Julia seem to suit each other in that they're both pretty unlikeable and selfish individuals, with Julia willing to go to extreme lengths in order to get Frank back.

I can already tell that Clive Barker is a master story-teller. He left me feeling unsettled, intrigued, and most importantly...wanting MORE. I found this to be an addictive read and couldn't put it down, even though I already knew the general story. It's a great introduction to Barker's work as I'm already getting extremely excited for my next venture, which will be the first Books of Blood - highly recommended by every Barker fan on instagram. So, if you're a hardened horror fan and love all things gory and disturbing, this would be a starting place for getting into Barker - maybe you'll start to become obsessed like me! This gets a 5 star rating!

Johann
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Monday, 23 October 2017

The Nocturnal Reader's Subscription Box: 1 Year Anniversary

First of all, Happy 1 Year to Vince and Jessi at Nocturnal Reader's Box! I think I've gotten all the boxes apart from the first 2. And they've all been amazing - in fact, they just keep getting better. They said they were gonna go all out for their 1 year anniversary box and they most certainly have delivered. So let's take a look at this month's box...


So we got three books this month - THREE - that's two new releases and one previous release. One of the new releases is What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong, the third book in the John Dies at the End trilogy. We were lucky enough to get the second book in a previous box, but apparently they can all be read as standalone novels. The synopsis for this one is as follows:

"It's the story "they" don't want you to read. Though, to be fair, "They" are probably right about this one. To quote the bible, "Learning the truth can be like loosening a necktie, only to realise it was the only thing keeping your head attached." No, don't put the book back on the shelf - it is now your duty to purchase it to prevent others from reading it. Yes, it works with ebooks, too; I don't have time to explain how. While investigating a fairly straightforward case of a shape-shifting inter dimensional child predator, Dave, John, and Amy realised there might actually be something weird going on. Together, they navigate a diabolically convoluted maze of illusions, lies, and their own incompetence in an attempt to uncover a terrible truth that they - like you - would be better off not knowing. Your first impulse will be to think that a story this gruesome - and, to be frank, stupid - cannot possibly be true. That is precisely the reaction 'They" are hoping for."

I always think these books sound so unique and intriguing! I also hear they're pretty hilarious too - I'm looking forward to getting to them... eventually. The other new book this month was The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume 2 - a collection of short stories by a variety of different authors. The description on the back is as follows:

"Spanning two hundred years of horror, this new collection features fourteen gems of the uncanny, ghostly, and macabre, including two original tales and many others that have never or seldom been reprinted, by: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, John Buchan... and so forth."

The perfect collection of stories for October! The third and final book we got this month is a previously released book: Cold Moon over Babylon by Michael McDowell. Vince and Jessi are huge fans of this book and I trust their taste, so this will most certainly be a good one! Synopsis is as follows:

"Welcome to Babylon, a typical sleepy small town, where years earlier the Larkin family suffered a terrible tragedy. Now they are about to endure another: fourteen-year-old Margaret Larkin will be robbed of her innocence and her life by a killer who is beyond the reach of the law. But something strange is happening in Babylon: traffic lights flash an eerie blue, a ghostly hand slithers from the drain of a kitchen sink, graves erupt from the local cemetery in an implacable march of terror... And beneath the murky surface of the river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. And when the full moon rises over Babylon, it will seek a terrible vengeance..."


So excited for all these new reads!! And check out this month's artwork by Ivan Belikov in the above pic, inspired by the NRB logo. One of the coolest we've got so far (alongside the Cthulhu one, of course).

As for the rest of this month's items, we got an awesome glass inspired by the funeral parlour in American Gods (which is also on my never-ending TBR pile), a patch featuring the terrifying Sadako Yamamura aka the creepy girl from The Ring, some bookmarks and stickers, and a candle inspired by Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which smells GLORIOUS. 


Subscribers also got the opportunity to chose between a tee and a tote bag for this month's box. I was lucky enough to receive both the tee and the tote, featuring a design inspired by Stephen King/Richard Bachman's The Long Walk. It's just TOO. COOL. You can see my tee below:


Each month we get an awesome enamel pin, which has quickly became my favourite part of each box and something I look forward to every month. Having recently just started my Edgar Allan Poe journey, I was very happy to see that we got a pin inspired by Poe's "The Raven". Look at how beautiful it is!!!


So, as you can see, this month's box was JAM-PACKED and everything in it was amazzzzing. Looking forward to November, where we'll see a cenobite and items inspired by Shirley Jackson, Stephen King and Richard Matheson... DYING. Boxes are currently sold out, but December boxes will go on sale November 1st - SO BE READY. Use my code DRJOBIS15 to save yourself 15%! Until next month...

Johann
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Book Review: The Walking Dead Compendium 2 by Robert Kirkman

Compendium 2 is made up of issues 49-96, i.e. volumes 9-16. Following the loss of the prison and the devastation that followed, Rick and the group must move on. They very quickly come upon a community protected by walls, but the solace does not last long...


"After everything we've been through, all the people we've lost... I suddenly find myself overcome with something I thought we'd lost... hope."

It's difficult to review these comics as they're so fast moving and so much happens!! That's one of the major positives of The Walking Dead - it doesn't really get stagnant. Even when the survivors settle down in one location for a while, there's always new dangers and new characters constantly being introduced.

The general outline and journey of the survivors is similar to that of the show, but there's still huge differences with regards to individual character storylines, so even as a fan of the show, I'm kept on my toes.

This compendium was exciting because characters such as Abraham, Eugene, Rosita etc were introduced, as well as those who reside at Alexandria. And then towards the end we get to meet Jesus and those over at Hilltop! And Negan is mentioned!

But amidst all the excitement of meeting those characters I know from the show, ultimately... The Walking Dead is bleak. So bleak. It can be exhausting and relentless, but a zombie apocalypse ain't gonna be all sunshine and rainbows! But this compendium really drives the message home that humans are he real danger. Rick and co know how to deal with the walkers now, that's easy (most of the time), it's the people are also just trying to survive that are the problem.

Perhaps a bit slow at times but it never lost my attention. I give it 4 stars out of 5! Taking a short before Compendium 3, but I'll be back!

Johann
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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book Review: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

The second volume in The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers focuses on the disintegration of the Fellowship, as Frodo and Sam go off on their separate journey towards Mordor whilst Merry and Pippin are taken captive by some Orcs. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli decide that they will attempt to pursue and rescue Merry and Pippin.

"It's like in the great stories, Mr Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end... because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing... this shadow. Even darkness must pass."

As a child, The Two Towers was always my favourite movie, and I think I used to say it was my favourite book too, but as I've gotten older my favourite movie is now The Return of the King. I'm still unsure as to whether my favourite book will change as well, we'll soon see! I loved this reread though, there's so many great quotes and events jammed into The Two Towers, but I do have my complaints too.

Firstly, the positives! My eyes brim with proud tears as I reflect over how Aragorn has grown - it is in The Two Towers that he really starts to demonstrate his leadership skills at the Battle of the Hornburg. You can quite literally see me standing at the sideline waving my huge Aragorn flag. MAKE THIS MAN KING. I fear that every LOTR review will basically just be me rambling on how about how much I love Aragorn, but the heart wants what it wants. I mean, can we just...


*sighs*

Another positive - in the second half of the book we get so much Gollum and that greatly pleases me. He is such an incredible character that no scene can possibly be boring when he's there. He cracks me up by how he constantly refers to Frodo as the good master, whereas Samwise is the nasty one! We've already observed how strong and brave Samwise is, and that's built upon in this volume, where at times he literally carries and drags Frodo onwards in their journey. Also *potential spoiler alert* the scene where he thinks Frodo is dead and decides that he'll carry on with the mission of destroying the ring... MY HEART. Samwise just wants to be at home with his feet up, but here he is, with the whole weight of Middle Earth on his shoulders.

Also, young Johann was a complete moron. I used to complain all the time about how much I hated the Ents and how those chapters were so boring that I wanted to cry. It's strange to observe how your reading tastes change as you get older, because I was ALL OVER those chapters this time around. The Ents are awesome! You also can't talk about The Two Towers without referring to Shelob's lair. I find that chapter so uncomfortable and unsettling to read, because... spiders, man. But the tension and dread that Tolkien builds is terrifying. 

I guess my main problem with this book is the separation of the two storylines into Book 3 and Book 4. I mean, we don't get to see what Sam and Frodo are up to until halfway through, and then that also means we don't get to check in with Aragorn etc for the remainder of the book. I personally am not a fan of this, I'd rather we moved back and forth between the two storylines, because I start to miss characters when I don't get to see them for a while. And dare I say it, but it meant the second half of the book can slightly boring at times... it's just Sam and Frodo walking basically - but thank god for Gollum!

If you had to force me to chose, I would perhaps rank The Two Towers over the Fellowship. I think. Gah, this is too difficult! But I'm really intrigued to see how I feel after my reread of Return of the King. This one, however, gets 5 stars out of 5! It's sad that my journey through Middle Earth is coming to an end soon, but we can always go back, can't we?

Johann
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Friday, 13 October 2017

Book Review: Gerald's Game by Stephen King

Jessie and Gerald Burlingame head to their holiday home by the lake in Maine for an afternoon of... certain activities. However, things quickly take a turn when Gerald drops dead from a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed. Jessie is left to face all of her worst fears, as the voices in her head take over...


"Some nightmares never completely ended."

As someone who has a relatively short attention span, the premise of one character trapped in one location for almost the entirety of the novel didn't necessarily excite me, I really thought I'd struggle. However, I have to commend King for writing such a tense, nail-biting, exhausting, unputdownable story. This book played on my mind, it gave me nightmares; for the first time since Pet Sematary, my blood actually ran cold whilst reading a book. I really loved this book, as I finished it I even thought "This is now one of my top Kings"... but in hindsight, it might just edge into the top 10.

Gerald's Game is not for everyone, some people might actually find it boring and some might get upset at the difficult themes that are described in explicit detail, such as sexual abuse. It's an uncomfortable read for sure, but I almost feel like you need to go through that in order to fully understand Jessie. It's extremely gory at times too, which for a hardened horror fan like myself, is something I actually really enjoy, but I know not everyone will feel the same way. It's strange, because although I loved this book, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone. 

My favourite aspect of this book was Jessie, who has shot right up the list to becoming one of my favourite King characters. She is brave, she is strong, she is resilient. What she went through during her childhood is quite simply one of the most horrific things I've ever read about, in any novel. I loved her references to how she was no longer going to be under the control of any man, following what she suffered at the hands of her father, as well as how she was treated during her marriage. Jessie is AWESOME. I was rooting for her the whole way and am literally in awe of her survival instincts. Me, I would have just lay there and accepted death, for sure. King does such a great job in presenting her character development throughout the novel.

A lot of people on instagram were eager for my opinions on the ending of Gerald's Game and here it is... I thought it was brilliant. It actually makes Jessie's experience more terrifying for me. I won't go into too much more detail as I don't want to spoil for anyone, but it was horrifyingly amazing and I'm a big fan.

So, yeah, it's awkward to really love a book and yet still feel slightly apprehensive about recommending it to people! But if it sounds like the kind of book you'd enjoy - go for it! I honestly thought I wouldn't be a fan and I've been proven wrong. Now I get to watch the adaptation on Netflix and I'm really looking forward to it, I'm sure I'll have some opinions on that soon too. Do you even need to ask? - 5 stars out of 5 from me!

Johann
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Monday, 9 October 2017

Book Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

A strange epidemic spreads across the world wherein once all the women fall asleep they become cocooned in an unusual waxy material. Disruption or tearing upon of this cocoon will cause the female inside to act in a homicidal manner. Sleeping Beauties focuses on the events occurring in a small town, Dooling, West Virginia, and in particular Clint and Lila Norcross, Clint being the psychiatrist in the local female prison, and Lila being the town's sheriff. One woman, however, seems to be the key to unravelling exactly what is going on...


"Sometimes you get what you want, but mostly you get what you get."

I'm going to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible, as I know so many people are still reading it. So I'll just present some overall thoughts and opinions. Okay, so, I enjoyed this book, but it's not without its faults. Part 1 was brilliant, this idea presented by the Kings is so unique and interesting and to see how it all unfolds and the effect it has on the world, and in particular, in Dooling, is really exciting. Part 2, however... oh, it was a slog at times. It reminded me of my experience with The Stand where I just thought, "Oh get on with it!!!" I feel like this book could do with some characters being cut out and a number of pages trimmed off it.

Speaking of characters, there is a LOT in this book, but surprisingly I was able to keep up with who everyone was and how they were connected to each other etc. Sometimes I did have that split second of "Wait...who's this again?" but usually within reading a sentence or two I was back on track. So yeah, there isn't too many in terms of keeping up with the characters, but in my opinion, there were a few characters who I could just have done without. King is the King of character development and creating memorable characters that you just never forget - however, I think quite a lot of the ones in here are forgettable for me, apart from Evie and Lila. The rest, meh.

In terms of the collaboration between father and son, it was seamless to me, it didn't feel like it was splintered and all over the place as the voice switches from Owen to Stephen and back again. Of course, some parts felt distinctly Stephen, and others felt non-Stephen (I haven't read any of Owen's work beyond this so I can't comment on his writing style). The first half of the book felt like a Stephen King idea to me and a current-day King read, however the second half just lacked that punch that King usually delivers.

I guess my main complaint that is I didn't really FEEL anything reading this. I felt interested, sure, but I wasn't really expressing any emotions. Each and every character could have been killed off and I'd have been like *shrugs*. I did enjoy it overall, don't get me wrong, it's a great idea, a great premise, but the second half let me down and so I'd give this book 4 stars out of 5. Which perhaps seems high after all my complaining, but that first half of the book was SO good and I still found it hard to put the book down even when I got to the second half! Overall, a decent book!

Johann
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Sunday, 8 October 2017

Book Review: H.P. Lovecraft The Complete Fiction

326 days later... I have finished reading this collection of HP Lovecraft's complete fiction. The master of weird fiction and cosmic horror delivers a range of different short stories and novellas, from chilling tales to the downright terrifying. 


"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."

This complete fiction is chronological, so it's interesting to see Lovecraft progress over the years. Admittedly, it was tough to get through some of the stories at the beginning, but once you get accustomed to the way Lovecraft writes, it becomes a lot easier. Not only that, but Lovecraft himself gets better at writing and the quality of his stories vastly improve. Therefore, quite predictably, my favourite stories are actually towards the end of the collection, when Lovecraft has really mastered his craft.

Lovecraft is not the master of creating memorable characters, but he is the master of building an atmosphere and writing unforgettable tales of dread and horror. As a King fan, strong character development is something I look for in a lot of my books (this just brings me back to a review I read recently for Sleeping Beauties where the reviewer commented on how King has never been great at character development.... hahahahahaha, okay, sure), but Lovecraft has taught me that that's not always needed in order to truly create an incredible story. Ask me the names of the characters in stories such as The Shadow over Innsmouth and I would look at you with a blank stare, but ask me to tell you that story and the dread and fear it instilled in me, and you couldn't shut me up (I actually did tell Matthew that story one morning over breakfast and I'm pretty sure I made a mess of it - Lovecraft I ain't).

Don't get me wrong, there are negative aspects to Lovecraft's writing - it's pretty dense, which I'm sure some readers would love, but that kind of writing requires me to be sitting in a silent room where I can concentrate. Given that I do a decent amount of reading with background noise (as I like to be in the heat of my living room), I struggled at times and would find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again. That also might help explain why it took 326 days! He's a huge fan of going into unnecessary detail, which can be frustrating at times.

I can completely understand that Lovecraft is not for everyone - his stories don't read as easily as King's, there isn't a lot of dialogue, but there is no harm in trying a story or two before deciding if you want to explore further. So! I thought I would recommend some stories to begin with if you want to venture into some cosmic horror...

1. The Shadow over Innsmouth - creepy, creepy, creepy. The tension and dread is built and sustained for the majority of this one, and it also has one of my favourite endings.

2. The Thing on the Doorstep - also, a greatly crafted tale, with another epic ending - Lovecraft knows how to bring them endings!!

3. The Colour out of Space - this one blew me away, and possibly might be my favourite tale. Highly recommend.

4. At the Mountains of Madness - chilling and tense... loved this one!

5. The Call of Cthulhu - come on! You're gonna read Lovecraft and not read about the Great Old One?! That would be unheard of!!

Lovecraft has firmly cemented his position as one of my favourite authors, and I will revisit these stories in years to come. It's been a pleasure. 5 stars out of 5 from me! And just remember.... "ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" which translates into "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

Johann
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