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Thursday, 20 December 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling

As Harry Potter prepares for his battle against Lord Voldemort with the guidance of his headmaster and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, the backstory of the Dark Lord is revealed.


“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

This book is a goddamn heartbreaker! I’ve become a big fan of listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks during my daily workout (Stephen Fry’s narration is FAULT-LESS) and there I was... bawling my eyes out during those final few chapters while getting on with my lunges and burpees... quite the sight, I’m sure!!

The first three novels just feel like a different story. It’s all so light-hearted and enjoyable, then we hit Goblet of Fire and from then on Rowling is just tightening her grip on our hearts and bringing the FEELS. This one in particular crushes me. I remember on my first read I was just so freakin’ SHOOK by the events towards the end. I’d love to say it’s easier when you know what’s coming, but it isn’t!!

I’ve seen complaints that nothing really happens in this book, but that’s almost what I love about it. It’s the build-up to the big finale, we’re learning about Voldemort’s backstory, we’re introduced to horcruxes... the fun is in the learning and the story progression!

And I simply adore that moment when Ron *sorry, WonWon* tells Hermione he loves her (yes it’s in a friendly manner but it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside) I honestly don’t even know if I fully ship Ron and Hermione, it’s conflicting for me - I think she could do better - but I still love this moment. And also when Ginny and Hermione have a little spat and both were quite sassy with each other.. I love it! However, I do not love how inferior Ginny is in the movies compared to Ginny in the books. RUDE.

I feel like my Harry Potter reviews are just word vomit! “I LOVED THIS. I hated that. This was so good.” and so forth... but I feel like Harry Potter just makes my brain go into overdrive and my excitement takes over. Apologies.

Love Half-Blood Prince. It definitely ranks very high for me in the series! 5 stars!

Johann
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Monday, 17 December 2018

Book Review: December Park by Ronald Malfi

In the fall of 1993, in the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search.


“No retreat, baby, no surrender”

There’s just something very special about coming-of-age tales, isn’t there? I think it’s because they invoke such overwhelming nostalgia and it’s a trope that most people can relate to. December Park fits nicely into the same category as Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life, Stephen King’s IT and even his novella The Body as well.

I wouldn’t classify this one as a straight-up horror novel, it’s intention isn’t to scare or unsettle - it’s more about the relationships our main protagonist, Angelo, has formed with his father, grandfather, brother and the kids in his friendship circle. Malfi has included some really beautiful and touching scenes here, particularly between Angelo and his father. And I’m a goddamn sucker for those child-parent moments!

It’s a slow burn as the kids ride around on their bikes and try to carry out their own investigation into the serial killer in their small town - the one who has become known as The Piper. It’s not action-packed until the last quarter or so, when you simply can’t put the book down as everything comes to a head. And Malfi does actually throw in a few chilling moments in the final part as well!

I cannot let this review pass without commenting on how fucking cool Angelo is and how much we need to be friends. He is CONSTANTLY listening to Bruce Springsteen and he loves reading horror and watching slashers, and I am trying not to be offended by sharing so much in common with a 15 year old boy... The Springsteen references just had me geeking out on another level!

I shed a few tears towards the end as well... This book really had it all for me. I can’t recommend it enough! One of my fave books of the year! 5 stars.

Johann
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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Book Review: A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons

Following his divorce and suicide attempt, Dale Stewart moves back to Elm Haven, deciding to live in the house his childhood friend lived in, to work on a new novel.


“All good things beyond sleep come precisely because we defy gravity while we live.”

How, oh how, was this book going to live up to Summer of Night? Spoiler alert - it doesn’t. But that’s okay, because it’s still a very enjoyable and chilling tale!

I would NOT read this one before Summer of Night, it’s spoiler city in there! It’s not a direct sequel, but more of a chance to revisit Elm Haven and some of the characters we know and love. The story focuses on Dale, but we sometimes have narration from another member of the bike gang and these were often my favourite parts of the book - they were so beautifully written, as I have come to expect from Simmons.

It’s quite sexual at times, which was fine until I was reading it on a plane and I was basically trying to cover the pages from the stranger beside me (ahaha, my phone just autocorrected that to a title since I talk about the Ann Rule book so much). Some of his descriptions of nipples and... other parts... had me rolling my eyes, but it wasn’t too bothersome!

There’s also a lot of references to different authors and works which I LOVED - little shoutouts to King, Nabokov, Arthur Miller etc. And some parts were really quite unsettling and claustrophobic. There’s just something about creepy occurrences in a house - because I too live in a house! This could happen TO ME (I hope it doesn’t).

A Winter Haunting is a lot more direct and to the point than SoN (and Carrion Comfort for that matter), as this one is just over 300 pages long, compared to the larger, and more detailed, novels. My eyes did glaze over during a car chase scene though... good god, how many pages can you dedicate to something like this?! Wrap it up! And one of the characters, Clare, was quite pretentious and unlikeable - but otherwise I have nothing else negative to say about this one!

A really intriguing read with lots of interesting mythology that kept me guessing until the very end! 4 stars.

Johann
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Book/Play Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Based on historical people and real events, The Crucible is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria.


“The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone...”

The Crucible provides such an interesting insight into the mass hysteria and paranoia brewing in Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. Although, perhaps watching a production of this play would be more enthralling than reading it. I was tad bored at times and it took me far longer than it should to get through 150 pages of it!

My major irritation was that a number of the characters had similar names - Proctor, Parris and Putnam, oh my!! And given that these characters would often be interacting with each other, I was constantly doing a double check in my head “oh yep, that’s the reverend... and that’s the rich guy who had a thing with Abigail”... obviously I can’t gripe about this too much as these are REAL character names based on REAL events, but I am complaining because it’s my review and I can! *enter sass emoji*

Speaking of Proctor, I’ve got some issues. I gather that he is being portrayed as the “flawed protagonist” and that we should view him as some kind of martyr? Yet by the end I still didn’t feel that sympathetic towards him. Some of his actions/reactions just didn’t sit well with me, so the ending etc just wasn’t as impactful.

However, Miller perfectly depicts the hysteria, paranoia and fear that brews in Salem in the wake of accusations of witchcraft. It’s pretty mind-blowing that an accusation was as good as evidence, and the only way you could “prove” yourself innocent and escape death was if you confessed?! Insanity! I still find it hard to accept that these witch trials actually happened.

I’m glad I finally read this one, but maybe should have read it before I went to Salem, I might have appreciated the history even more! The Crucible is definitely worth picking up if you have any interest in the witch trials. Giving this one 3.5 stars!

Johann
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Friday, 7 December 2018

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

If you see it – you die. The world is overcome by a mysterious force that sends the population descending into madness and eventual suicide.

“The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.” 

People of Instagram/goodreads – please put your pitchforks away, because this is not going to be a good review. The concept behind this story is GREAT, it’s very Lovecraftian – and I’m all about my Lovecraft-inspired fiction. If you see these creatures you will descend into madness and possibly go on a killing rampage, finishing up by killing yourself. Great. I love it. I just thought this was poorly executed and poorly written. If this story was handled by another author *cough KING cough* it could have been amazing! Okay, maybe not King… I am slightly biased, but basically any author who can craft an incredible story with stellar writing (Kealan Patrick Burke, perhaps?)

This was the second book in a row I’ve read where the protagonist is a boring and bland woman, who repeats shit over and over. I’ve got the picture, Malorie. Please stop. “I’ve trained them well”… yada yada yada. My patience wore thin! And I can fully comprehend her mindset, the panic setting in etc, but it becomes very boring and tedious to read.

The story flits back and forth between describing events in the past when Malorie goes to find a house full of strangers that are tackling this terror together, and the present where she’s trying to make a journey on a river to… somewhere else – potentially a safe haven. The part of the story set in present day was PAIN-FUL. I just didn’t care, the development was so slow and drawn out. I was mostly enjoying the flashbacks only because I was dying to know what exactly happened to lead to the present situation.

I’m disappointed because although the premise was crazy exciting and the book was pretty addictive at the start, it just ended up falling apart. And that ending?! Has anything been any more anticlimactic? (Apart from the ending to The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay – another huge disappointment for me this year). HATED IT. I would also have liked just a bit more explanation with regards to the creatures themselves. Usually I’m of the mindset where I don’t like to know EVERYTHING about the big bad monster. Sometimes seeing the big bad too much can lessen its effect (see The Nun movie released this year), but in this instance I think it would have benefited from SOME kind of detail. 

Some parts were creepy, but again these could have been improved upon by a much better writer. There were glimmers of potential, fascinating little sparks of imagination, but they were never fully realised. I’m actually looking forward to the movie more because it’ll have the story but not Malerman’s style of writing/prose. Sorry, not sorry.

I know a lot of people do love this, so if you haven’t read this yet, don’t let me put you off it! You might love it – but unfortunately I can only give it 2 stars.

Johann
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Monday, 3 December 2018

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The newly married Mrs de Winter realises she is walking in the shadow of her husband's late wife - the beautiful and perfect Rebecca - in their home at Manderley.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

This was my first time reading du Maurier and it was certainly worth the wait. I didn't fall head over heels for Rebecca unfortunately, but one thing I cannot fault is du Maurier's writing. It's so beautifully atmospheric and elegant - it's very easy to just get lost in her prose. She is clearly a very skilled storyteller, it all seems quite effortless.

It's a bit of a slow build at first, but I'm a huge fan of a slow build. The characters are introduced, as is Manderley itself, and we learn more about the different backgrounds and relationships of the characters. Du Maurier is setting the scene. Then around the halfway mark or maybe even two-thirds of the way in, there's an abundance of twists and turns and I'm constantly messaging other readers after each big reveal, exclaiming "Oh my god! I can't believe X just happened!" However, if I'm honest, I did actually prefer the first two thirds of the book as opposed to that final fast-paced third, where all the secrets are quickly unravelling. I was surprised by the direction the story took, but ultimately preferred where my head thought the story was going to go? If that makes sense?

I love how du Maurier wrote a book wherein the most memorable and fascinating character is actually dead (that isn't a spoiler). Rebecca herself never has any lines, yet her presence is felt throughout the entirety of the novel. She's actually a lot more interesting than our protagonist and narrator, the new Mrs de Winter. At times her insecurities and doubts became quite tedious to read about. There was quite a lot of "Oh he doesn't love me... he just loves Rebecca... why would he love me?!" over and over and over again. She's such a limp, bland character that I really couldn't even blame him if he didn't love her, to be honest. And her fawning over her husband (no matter what he did or had done) left me feeling frustrated as well. I just didn't believe their relationship at any point.

My other issues with Rebecca are probably more to do with my own expectations. I thought Rebecca would be more of a ghost story? And, in a way, yes, Rebbeca herself lingers in Manderley as a haunting presence... but just not in the way I had hoped.

But that's not to say that I didn't enjoy this, because I really did! Those are just the little things that niggled at me and stopped me from giving this one 5 stars. I'm very excited to read more du Maurier in the future though - hopefully with a more exciting protagonist or narrator...

4 stars.

Johann
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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


A secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to try and fight against the dark forces, whilst Harry must learn how to protect himself from Voldemort’s mind-penetrating assaults.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Probably one of my least favourites in the series, and yet I still absolutely LOVE it. I love all the scenes with Dumbledore’s Army, the introduction of thestrals(!!!), Luna Lovegood... the way Neville Longbottom is so frickin’ brave and loyal at the Ministry of Magic. Just ALL of it!!

Order of the Phoenix also gives us the most DESPICABLE villain ever in the form of Dolores Umbridge. There is nothing redeeming about this monster in pink. Her treatment of Hagrid in particular simultaneously makes me want to both cry and punch a wall. Or her face.

This book is really when the series transitions from being a story for children to becoming more young adult (although I do believe HP transcends all ages, but ya get what I mean!). The storyline gets more dark, our hearts are shattered into a million pieces, we have to face the reality of death and loss. It’s just a lot, okay?! We learn that the world is not black and white, it exists in shades of grey. Even your parents are not perfect (see James Potter), and the adults who we hope will always be our infallible protecters will fail at times too (see Dumbledore and Sirius). It’s heartbreaking but Rowling explores these topics and themes in such a real and resonating way.

This one is just a tad too long, I feel - particularly when a good portion of it is just Harry shouting. I can wholeheartedly understand his outbursts - he isn’t being told anything, he’s kept in the dark, his hormones are running wild, but it does grate on my nerves after a while. Otherwise - I loved this one! But just a little less than the others. Like a SMIDGEN less! 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 17 November 2018

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


A travelling carnival arrives in a small midwestern town one day in October, resulting in a nightmarish experience for two 13 year old boys.


"Beware the autumn people."

Do you like coming of age tales? Do you like beautifully written prose? Do you like your stories to invoke stunning autumnal imagery whilst whisking you away to the carnival? Well then, step right up, because Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Ray Bradbury has been a new favourite for me this year. I read The Halloween Tree last year and although I liked it, I wasn’t completely enamoured. Then I read The October Country last month and it blew me away... I decided I needed more Bradbury STAT so picked up this one, and all of a sudden I’ve got a Bradbury Pinterest board and I’m sitting fawning over Bradbury quotes (this is a clear marker for when I’m obsessed with something!)

This book has it all! A carousel that depending on which direction it spins can either age the rider or turn the years back. A terrifying Dust Witch that has her eyes sewn shut yet can feel emotions with her hands. And she rides in a hot air balloon! Then there’s Mr Dark, the big bad villain who is also known as The Illustrated Man (linked to Bradbury’s collection of the same name, I wonder?)

The two young protagonists, Jim Nightshade (that name *swoons*) and Will Halloway are just perfectly drawn, the two of them running around and getting up to mischief, as young kids are ought to do. Then we have Charles Halloway (Will’s father) who I could listen to forever. His monologues about life and aging are an absolute pleasure to read. Plus he spends an awful amount of time in the library surrounded by books, and I know most of us can get behind that setting!! There's a little excerpt where Mr. Halloway talks about the "autumn people" and it simply took my breath away - it was basically Bradbury's way of beautifully describing those who are evil (see below):

"Beware the autumn people… For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life…For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir in their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eyes? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles- breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them."

Bradbury tackles a number of different themes in this piece of literary magic: growing old, father and son relationships, but most important of all - how laughter and love and being good can help drive out any darkness you may come across.

Not everyone will enjoy Bradbury's poetic prose in this one, and I can fully understand that. But it really worked for me as I was carried away in an autumnal breeze off to the carnival *sighs* This has been one of my top books of the year. Bradbury, you have stolen my heart. 5 stars.

Johann
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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Book Review: The Moor by Sam Haysom

A group of teenagers are out on a walking trip with a group leader, but pretty quickly there is tension within the group and some of them start to disappear...


“A gust of wind blew through the campsite and caused the slowly dying fire to gutter, making their shadows dance in the orange light.”
I’ve never been much of a camper... I was forced to join the scouts when I was younger and I knew pretty quickly that this outdoors shit was not for me. The Moor has reinforced this aversion to camping - it’s bad enough sleeping on a cold, hard floor, and heating up a can of beans over a fire that took far too long to light... but when your camping mates start disappearing, you got a REAL problem! No matter how annoying your camping mates may be (looking at you, Gary)

This was an enjoyable, well-written creature-feature. The thirteen year old boys were very believable in their interactions, Haysom really nailed his characterisation. The setting of the moors itself was very chilling too. And I LOVED the inclusion of newspaper clippings to tell parts of the story - I’m always a fan of this when it’s done well!

The direction that the story took was a little different than what I expected - initially I thought that was pretty cool, cos I like it when I read a book and I’m surprised, but in hindsight I might have preferred if it went down the route I was expecting from the start? It was still a really great twist - this was just perhaps more of a personal preference.

It really did remind me of The Ritual and The Blair Witch at times, but The Moor really does hold its own with a distinct and unique story. I would certainly be interested in reading future books from the author!

Worth picking up if you like a little bit of gore and books set in the great outdoors. 3 stars.


Johann
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Book Review: Dead Leaves by Kealan Patrick Burke

A collection of nine short stories inspired by the witching season!


“When they come out of the corn, they’ll come close enough for him to see their faces.”

Anytime I start reading anything by Burke I am quickly reminded how frickin’ amazing his writing is. Sure, he’s a great storyteller too, but there’s something special about his writing - it’s so incredibly atmospheric and he has a way of describing things that really makes you feel like you’re right there. He really excels in this collection with regards to his depiction of autumn and Halloween. So many quotes left me heart-eyed!

I’d say I really enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection. My favourites were Someone to Carve the Pumpkins, The Toll and The One Night of the Year!

The Toll was particularly great - any story that centres around being buried alive makes me feel so claustrophobic. Although, the standout story for me was definitely The One Night of the Year. This was CHILLING and so unsettling. It made me think of The Children of the Corn and also 1922 by King in terms of both the creep factor and the setting, but it was also quite melancholic too! Absolutely loved this story!

Dead Leaves also has a fantastic introduction by Burke where he discusses why we all love Halloween so much! There’s also recommendations at the back for other horror movies and books to check out as well. It was fun to go through and check off the ones I’ve already watched or read - and now I know what to seek out next!!

Overall, a really fun collection that demands to be read at the best time of year! 3.5 stars!

Johann
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Friday, 9 November 2018

Book Review: Elevation by Stephen King

Scott Carey is steadily losing weight, but he doesn’t look any different. To make things even weirder, he weighs the same in and out of clothes, no matter how heavy they are…

“Everything leads to this, he thought. To this elevation.”

When I’m reading a book, and because my memory is terrible, I will usually make some observations and reminders in the Notes section of my iPhone which are very helpful when I go to write my review. Given the length of this novella and the fact that I read Elevation in two sittings, there really wasn’t a lot of opportunities to make notes. In fact, I only had one note written down for Elevation: “Stop obsessing over legs” – I mean, come on, King!! If he’s not commenting on a woman’s breasts, it’s the legs. And 95% of the time, it’s really not relevant or necessary. There were two lesbians in this story and I lost count of how many times there were references to their legs and/or the running shorts they were wearing. I cannot fathom how Tabby hasn’t pulled King up on this. That woman usually takes no shit. But that is an annoyance I have learned to semi-accept when it comes to reading King – I just needed to get that mini-rant out of the way. 

I read Elevation right away without having read any prior reviews, so all thoughts and reactions were truly my own – I didn’t go into it expecting to hate/love it, whatever. And I believe that’s the best way to read any new King. In my opinion, Elevation is not King’s best, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I did quite enjoy it. I really liked it for what it was – an uplifting story with the kind of message we need when the world is falling to shit around us. I didn’t realise how attached to the characters I had become until the very end when I was tearing up and feeling quite emotional. No other author can make me feel as attached or emotionally invested in a character’s story than King.

It’s not horror and I don’t know why it’s been categorised as horror by Goodreads, but I never expected it to be going by the synopsis or the beautiful, bright cover. It’s more magical realism – and I liked the direction that King took with it. I actually wish Elevation had been developed into a full-size novel, not a chunky book, but something similar to one of his shorter novels. I feel like he could have expanded upon so many things, developed the characters a bit more, spent more time following Scott’s unusual problem. It was definitely good to be back in Castle Rock, even though it didn’t really feel like a typical Castle Rock story. And of course, the Easter eggs were as fun as always!

I have seen complaints about paying full price for such a short story, and I can fully appreciate that annoyance – although I would say that is more down to the publishers than King himself. Elevation would have worked much better if released as part of a collection, similar to Gwendy’s Button Box last year. New releases are great when they’re so regular, but I’d honestly rather wait and just buy a collection!

This is slightly SPOILERY so beware of you haven’t read Elevation yet, but I had seen a few reviews where people had complained about the inference that “Oh these two poor lesbians needed help from a straight white male” and I honestly did not view it in that way AT ALL. Do you really think King has that perspective? Given that his own daughter is a lesbian? In this day and age, nothing is taken at face value anymore, it has to be twisted or interpreted in some way to be negative. Instead of viewing it like that, how about just viewing it as an act of kindness? Of community? Of giving someone a helping hand when they’re struggling? It really baffles me. Same when it comes to people giving off about King being so political – I’m sorry, is this a new thing? King has a history of being political in his writing. I will admit, however, that the politics are a bit heavy-handed in this story and it could have been toned down a bit.

There’s a lot of dividing opinions on Elevation, but overall, I had a good time! 3.5 stars.

Johann
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Thursday, 8 November 2018

Book Review: What October Brings edited by Douglas Draa

A collection of Lovecraftian tales in celebration of the spookiest time of the year.

“”Cthulhu fhtagn!”, I shouted, as I hefted the bloodied axe onto one shoulder and disappeared into the darkness.”

Lovecraft fans! Look no further! (Because I know this is exactly what you were trawling through the internet looking for) I have found the perfect Lovecraftian collection for Halloween time.

I would probably label myself a Lovecraft fangirl. I did drag my boyfriend through a cemetery on an incredibly hot day to find his grave in Rhode Island on our recent vacay. So this collection was a whole lot of fun! There are references to and inspiration derived from all the usual Lovecraftian sources: Cthulhu, Innsmouth, the Necronomicon, Yuggoth, Azathoth, the sleeping gods… etc.

I don’t think you need to have read Lovecraft in order to enjoy this collection, but I would hazard a guess that it does make it more enjoyable? My absolute favourite story was That Small, Furry, Sharp-Toothed Thing, which was so awesome. The main character descends into a spiral of paranoia and madness upon seeing these Halloween costumes inspired by a Lovecraft tale everywhere. The ending was brutal and incredibly satisfying. 5 stars for that one.

A minor complaint is that perhaps it does feel repetitive at times? A lot of the stories share the same ideas and settings, but as I stretched it out over a couple of weeks it wasn’t too off-putting! All of the stories were well-written, even those I didn’t enjoy as much. I wouldn’t say any of them are complete stinkers.

Worth adding to next year’s October TBR if it tickles your fancy! I quite enjoyed it. Average story rating of 3.76, so I’ve rounded up to 4 stars because I’m generous ;)

Johann
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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who attempts to reanimate a dead body. 

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”

Hollywood… you have lied to me all these years *shakes fist* Frankenstein is the complete opposite of what I expected! First of all, Frankenstein himself is a major tool. Second of all, the monster is not some dim-witted fool without a brain. He is actually more well-spoken than yours truly.

My overwhelming reaction to Frankenstein is how the hell did Mary Shelley write this at just 18 years old?! The writing is so beautifully atmospheric, and it’s such a complex multi-layered novel. What I really find fascinating is that this isn’t set in any of the usual gothic settings, like a crumbling castle for example, a lot of it takes place in the great outdoors, which really brings something different to the narrative. Frankenstein is also considered to be the first science fiction novel combined with supernatural terror, which is mighty impressive when coming from an 18 year old girl raised in that time. 

My perception of Frankenstein was that it was about a scientist who uses electricity to bring life to this corpse made up of a conglomeration of body parts, which then goes on to mindlessly kill or hurt people. Bearing in mind, I’ve never actually seen a Frankenstein adaptation. Oh, and even though I KNOW that Frankenstein is not the monster, that link is still in my head for those first few seconds when I initially think of Frankenstein. So to read Frankenstein and learn that all my assumptions about this book were pretty much wrong was a real eye-opening experience! It’s not just a story about a monster, it’s so much more than that. It really makes you reflect on the ethical and moral repercussions of experiments like this. Is there such a thing as going too far in the quest for knowledge? As a scientist I can completely understand the obsession that can come from blue-sky research. 

There is also of course the famous story behind the creation of Frankenstein – Lord Byron and a group of guests spent an evening together on Lake Geneva in 1816 reading ghost stories, which then led to the challenge for each person to write their own ghost story in a writing competition.  The edition that I read gives even more insight into Shelley’s personal life at the time, and I was really surprised at all the heartache and strife she had gone through – and would go through after completing Frankenstein as well. I now have a strong desire to read more about the story behind the book, given how inspiring Shelley’s backstory is.

I never had Frankenstein down as one of those books that would get me all emotional and teared-up! But my heart was breaking during the monster’s recollection of events. Why couldn’t that family just take him in and accept him?! *cries* Although I must admit if a 7 foot tall yellow creature appeared at my door, I’m not so sure I’d welcome him in with open arms either… but I’d like to think I would?! Wishful thinking, perhaps! The loneliness this character goes through… the abandonment. Truly one of the most heartbreaking stories in fiction. And all because of that damned Dr Frankenstein! What an absolute toolbag. You can’t give life to something and then just wipe your hands clean – well, you can, but you SHOULDN’T. I’m team monster all the way, even during those cruel moments when he really tested my compassion for him… but still, I prevailed team monster.

At the beginning I was a fan of Victor, I admired his determination and dedication, the man is clearly a genius. However, once the monster is created he begins to lose his humanity and becomes so whiney, self-obsessed and annoying. Soz, mate, but you brought it all upon yourself. If you had have taken some responsibility for your actions, things wouldn’t have gone so tits-up.

I think I’ve gone on long enough in this review… I didn’t think I would have so much to say about Frankenstein, but I guess this just shows how much I really loved this one! Definitely earned a spot in my top classics list. 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 3 November 2018

Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Four horror authors agree to spend the night in a haunted house as part of a publicity stunt.


"They were human minds set into paper, and Sebastian loved every single one of them, even the ones he considered disposable."

Let me get one thing straight - if I needed a horror book to scary in order for me to enjoy it, I would not be a horror fan. I can count on one - maybe two hands - the number of books that have actually scared me (Pet Sematary, Summer of Night, The Exorcist, Naomi's Room, to name a few), so it's actually a rare occurrence that a book will actually unsettle me. However, if I'm going into a book expecting to be scared or wanting to be - as a lot of previous reviews had hyped up - then yeah, I will be disappointed if it doesn't deliver. But as we've found time and time again, what one person finds scary, another will not. And that's fine, that's all part of reading, we all have different personal experiences that we bring to the table each time we venture into a new book. So in this instance, not being scared WAS a letdown for me, but this is not the case for all horror books I read.

Kill Creek is still a pretty enjoyable read, it's well-written and almost reads like a movie (which I've seen a few criticise), but I don't find that off-putting. If anything, it being written in that way makes it easy to binge and breeze through about 50-100 pages without even realising it. One of my favourite aspects of this book was the interactions and conversations between the four horror authors. It was so interesting that all four wrote such different types of horror and their discussions around horror and the publishing world were probably the highlights of the book for me!

I did have an issue with how the female author, TC Moore, was written. She had a chip on her shoulder from the get-go and came across as this really cold, distant woman who had to be this way in order to thrive in this male-dominated field. It just felt very stereotypical to me and I didn't appreciate it. She was overly sexualised and actually listed "fucking" as one of her essential activities. Oh, and she enjoys writing naked. Of course. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, I am a Barker fan for heaven's sake, where sex literally oozes from the pages! But in this instance, it didn't work for me, I wanted to like her because she did have some badass qualities but overall it felt like a cliche "female-written-by-a-man" character.

As I was reading and enjoying certain parts, I just kept getting that niggling feeling that something was missing? I needed something more. A bit more bite, perhaps. I'm looking forward to the adaptation for this, because I get the impression that it might be more chilling to see the events described on the screen as opposed to reading about them. 3 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 26 October 2018

Book Review: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

A collection of 19 macabre tales from who many consider to be the finest writer of fantastic fiction.



"...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain..."

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the majority of short story collections are hit and miss. Well... this one is all killer and no filler, baby!! (Correction: perhaps a teeny tiny bit of filler as there was ONE story I just didn't vibe with - namely The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse) - but hey, as that Meatloaf song says - one out of nineteen ain't bad! Or...something like that ;)

This was a really fun collection to read during my road trip in New England - it was quite easy to fit in a story or two each evening. I did try and read some aloud to my boyfriend, but he did not remain awake until the end for ANY of them. However, I'm going to blame that on my soothing voice and not the stories themselves. 

My absolute FAVOURITE story was The Emissary. This was a sweet story about a sick young boy and his dog... that turns a little dark. I love it when stories turn dark unexpectedly. If you combine emotion with my horror, then I'm gonna be on board about 93% of the time.

There's just so many memorable tales that I won't forget in a hurry! The Small Assassin, which is about a mother who is convinced that her newborn baby is out to kill her. The Scythe, a chilling tale about a man who comes into the possession of a powerful wheat field and an even more powerful scythe. The Lake (which was my other favourite story) is about a man revisiting his childhood home and recalling a friend who drowned in a lake during their childhood.

Bradbury's writing is beautifully poetic and his stories incredibly inventive. I'm reading these stories quite a few years after they were written and they are just as impactful and unique. Bradbury is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

Can't rave about this one enough! One of the best short story collections I've ever read - it's up there alongside King's Night Shift and Clive Barker's Books of Blood. All the stars!! Or 5... if we're using the standard rating system.

Johann
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Book Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eric and Andrew are staying in a remote cabin on a New Hampshire lake with their seven-year-old child, Wen, who is catching grasshoppers in the garden when a large man appears. He is friendly at first and is starting to win Wen over when he abruptly says, "None of what is going to happen is your fault." Three more strangers then appear in the driveway holding deadly weapons...


"Too many people have smiles that don't mean what a smile is supposed to mean."

This has probably been my most disappointing read of the year - my rage is fuelled further by the fact that I wasted a precious October read on it! Writing a review like this is more difficult when the author is quite active on bookstagram etc, especially when they are a pretty cool guy, as Tremblay is, but I do believe it's of the utmost importance to always be honest in your reviews. This book was majorly hyped on bookstagram but unfortunately it really fell flat for me.

The first 50 pages or so were incredibly promising - I was HOOKED and needed to know what happened next. But then nothing really did... for the next 250 pages. I mean, sure, perhaps events did occur but I felt like the story itself didn't really move forward. It was basically 250 pages of a group of characters arguing with each other and no one really taking a minute to calm down and ask the intruders to explain everything from the very beginning to the present moment. OR if they did ask (I honestly can't remember, it's all a blur), the intruders couldn't answer such questions "yet". Can you imagine how infuriating that was. And then the ending itself... *explodes* I really hated it. It just emphasised that this book felt like a waste of time to me.

On the plus side, it was refreshing that the main family unit was made up of two dads and their adopted child, Wen. Maybe it's just the books I've been reading recently, but I don't often come across gay couples with children in my fiction and I really did appreciate that! Representation is important. It's just a shame I didn't give a flying toot about the actual characters... There was a huge scene that I know was meant to be really emotional and I didn't even bat an eyelid. And I'm a crier!! Oh, and some of the violence scents were pretty brutal... which was good. But that's all I got!

The idea and concept is really quite interesting, but I feel like it just fell apart after the first 50 pages. Maybe this would have worked better as a novella or short story. Who knows. Just not for me, unfortunately! 2 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Seed by Ania Ahlborn

Jack Winter fled his rural home when he was just a boy, thinking he was leaving his nightmare behind forever. Now, years later, him and his family are in a car crash and he sees glowing eyes that he recognises... the evil thing that had followed him as a child has found him again.

"Jack knew those eyes, and it terrified him that they had found him again."

This is my second Ahlborn book after The Devil Crept In and I'm already hailing her as my Queen of Horror! It takes a lot to leave me feeling unsettled before bed, and Ahlborn definitely delivers with this one. I was going to sleep in strange hotel rooms imagining shadows in corners... thanks for the restless nights!!

One of my favourite things about Ahlborn's books is her writing, she has a way with words, and writes dialogue between characters in the most believable way. She is also a fan of pop culture references (much like Joe Hill), which I dig very much - there were a few King references in here that I particularly appreciated.

Ahlborn isn't afraid to go to DARK places in her storytelling, and as an avid horror reader, I really appreciate that. Too often when I read horror I can predict the upcoming ending, or you can tell that a horror author is holding something back... afraid to write something TOO polarising? Ahlborn doesn't do that, she doesn't chicken out of pulling some punches. There's nothing I enjoy more than reading a book and thinking to myself "holy shit...they won't go THAT dark" and then they do! I think this is why Pet Sematary is still my favourite King book. I was pretty new to reading horror and I was SHOOK that King went down such a dark path. Seed is also delightfully dark!

My only minor annoyance with Seed is some of the decisions that Jack made as a husband and as a father... but hey, if characters didn't make dumb decisions every now and again, we wouldn't have half as many great books as we do!

Already looking forward to my next Ahlborn - she has yet to disappoint. 4 stars.

Johann
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Sunday, 21 October 2018

Book Review: Firestarter by Stephen King

Andy and Vicky McGee take part in a top-secret government experiment, gaining psychic powers. Then they have a daughter - Charlie. Charlie demonstrates even more power than her parents and they must keep her abilities secret, as the government wants Charlie back.


"You're a firestarter, honey... just one big Zippo lighter."

Firestarter was one of the few "classic" Kings I had left to read (I had never watched the movie either), and yet I wasn't particularly excited about it, it seemed like a Carrie-knockoff almost! When I pulled it out of my King TBR jar for my October read, I was admittedly slightly disappointed... but this is one of the very few instances where I'm happy to admit that I was DEAD WRONG. Firestarter is fucking awesome!

King is no stranger to writing about abusive child/parent relationships (Jack and Danny Torrance in The Shining, Bev and her father in IT, to name a couple), so it's a nice change when King explores a sweet and loving relationship between the two. The connection and bond between Charlie and her father Andy was really sweet. However, if I'm honest, I found Andy's psychic abilities more interesting than Charlie's, so I really enjoyed those parts where Andy could show what he's capable of (even if it was detrimental to his own health - but again, this just perfectly demonstrates his paternal love for Charlie). 

A lot of King novels can be slow-burners (which I am a fan of) but this one moves at a relentless pace from the very first page. It really demonstrates that whilst King can be a tad wordy at times, he is also capable of writing page-turners with very little filler! I loved how the mental powers of telekinesis and pyrokinesis were used in the story - when you set these against the backdrop of a nasty government trying to protect its secret, Firestarter really packs a punch!

I can't help but wonder if this book would have worked better if it was structured in chronological order, as opposed to jumping back and forth between the past and present day. It might have worked better if it built up to Charlie and Andy being on the run. But that's just a minor nitpick.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. This would be a good starting place for people trying to get into King - particularly if you're a fan of Stranger Things. 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 5 October 2018

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15th, 1959, four members of the Clutter family are murdered in their home in Holcomb, Kansas. No motive could be found and clues were limited. Capote reconstructs the murder and investigation that led to the capture, trial and execution of the killers.

“I thought that Mr Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”
I’m almost ashamed it took me so long to finally read what many consider to be the first true crime novel. The combination of Capote’s writing ability with a harrowing, senseless mass murder results in an incredibly well-written and terrifying book.

Capote’s writing really cannot be faulted, all of his descriptions of landscapes and different characters etc were exquisite. Often true crime books can lack such writing, one other exception being Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, so it’s always a pleasure to read true crime in such a nice prose.

I had gone into this one knowing absolutely NOTHING about the case. Nada. Which is unusual given how much true crime I read/listen to true crime podcasts. It’s one of those books that really brings home how fragile life can be – things can change in an instant. Home invasion murders are one of my biggest fears and I can only imagine what the Clutter family went through prior to their deaths. And all for 30 to 40 dollars!! It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

One of the things I did not like about In Cold Blood were the “fictional” parts that were added in – the scene at the end apparently didn’t happen, the dialogue between characters that were murdered shortly after said-dialogue took place (and therefore clearly not accurately depicted)... I can fully appreciate the benefits of adding these in for the sake of presenting a more well-rounded story, but as someone who enjoys a lot of true crime it just doesn’t sit right with me, for some reason. When it comes to true crime, I just want the facts or possible scenarios, however, this is entirely a personal preference on my behalf.

Capote often spent a lot of time giving us the backgrounds of different people who were introduced to the narrative and it just felt like unnecessary padding at times. He goes into detail about the crimes of another inmate on death row towards the end and I felt like the book had started to lose some steam around this point.

Once I had finished I read up online about the writing process, and how Capote had gone out to Kansas with Harper Lee (this blew my mind for some reason) to conduct their own research into the murder and, following their arrest, the murderers themselves. I also came across articles detailing how this crime and the novel itself consumed Capote, leading to a downward spiral of drink and drug addiction with Capote never finishing another book. I hadn’t known there was so much beyond the book itself, and it was interesting to read about.

In Cold Blood is a novel that is very worthy of its classic status. A must-read for all true crime fans. 4 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Walking with Ghosts by Brian James Freeman

A collection of short stories dealing with both real and supernatural terrors.

“It was still Halloween night, after all, and there were real monsters out there, prowling in the dark.”

This was my first time reading any of Freeman’s work and I would definitely pick up more in the future. He seems to be predominantly a short story writer and it’s easy to see why - he has a real flair for telling a story effectively within a limited number of pages. This collection is just over 300 pages long and contains 30 stories, so all the stories are concise and to the point. And wonderfully written.

There’s a lot of diversity and different settings within the short stories, but all seem to be linked by the theme of things that haunt us. Some stories are chilling, some are touching, some have supernatural forces at work, some don’t. A lot of the stories had twists and turns and endings that left me with my jaw hanging open - the first story in particular was excellent!!

My favourite story in the collection was Silent Attic, which is about a girl who’s mother dies in their attic bedroom after a long illness, and it was just so resonating and really hit home with me. Another story was absolutely hilarious (for me anyway!!), it was about a small community who take their Christmas decorations just a tad too seriously...

There’s really just a bit of everything! There were some stories that I didn’t enjoy AS much (which seems to always be the case with short story collections), but they were still impeccably written.

The average score for the short stories were around 3.6, so a rating of 3.5 stars seems about fair. Worth checking out!

Johann
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Saturday, 29 September 2018

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When Daniel Sempere is a young boy, his father brings him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him he can choose whichever book he likes. The book that Daniel chooses, The Shadow of the Wind, ignites his passion for literature and unravelling the fate of this book and its author.


“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”

I’ve been blankly staring at my review post for the last 10 minutes - I think a tumbleweed actually blew by. I really don’t know where to begin or how to even put into words how absolutely incredible this book is. When I finished this book, I just sat and cried. Not because of the outcome or the fate of our characters, but because this story was over and I’d never get to experience this for the first time again. And that’s how you know you’ve read a special book!

It’s so easy to get swept up in this story and the intimacy of getting to know a range of characters throughout numerous stages of their life. You become so deeply entrenched in the lives of this cast of characters that it almost feels like you've lost some friends when you turn the final page (I am aware there are further books in this series, but not really direct sequels?) As for the plot itself, the mystery is slowly unravelled through various tidbits from different character perspectives - and on a number of occasions I audibly GASPED and messaged fellow readers in all capitals (which you know I hate) to fangirl over how blown away I was.

The setting is so beautifully gothic that it led me to text Matthew as soon as I finished to say “please bring me to Barcelona”. Barcelona is yet another character to add to the fold. A lot of different genres are covered here: it’s a little bit creepy and dark at times, and there’s romance and mystery and it’s pretty funny at times too (thank you Fermin)! I adored how it was like story inception, a story within a story, and it was really interesting seeing all the parallels between Daniel and Carax's lives. There's just so many layers to this novel and Zafon weaves them all together so seamlessly.

This has become one of those books that I would love to push through everyone’s letterbox and tell them all to READ IT! It’s a book for book lovers in particular and so many of the passages had me swooning and in awe of Zafon’s writing. I obviously cannot directly compare the translation to the original text, but I'm going to assume that Lucia Graves has done an amazing job as the writing is simply stunning and doesn't feel like a clunky translation at all. It's a book that really reminds you why you are a reader - to get truly lost in someone else's story. Truly magical!

5 stars. Although I would give it ALL THE STARS if I could.

Johann
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Saturday, 22 September 2018

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In their new house, Coraline opens a door that leads to an other world with her other mother and other father, where things seem a little too good to be true...

“It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the bed we wake up in in the morning and it is astonishing how fragile that can be.”

First of all, where the hell does Gaiman get off thinking this book is acceptable for children?! 29 year old me was certifiably creeped out by that scene in the cellar! Younger me, who was a huge wimp, would have been paralysed with fear reading this one! That’s not to say I won’t force this one upon my future kiddos... I also loved Gaiman's introduction at the start of the book, explaining how he started writing it for one of his daughters - but it was put to the side - and so he ended up finishing it for another daughter before she got too old to appreciate it (or rather, provide a child's opinion on it).

I absolutely LOVED this book. I just adored the concept of Coraline going through a door and entering into a parallel universe almost, with the other Mother and other Father. And the vivid imagery was so terrifying too... I mean, buttons for eyes?! And doughy faces?! The illustrations for the Other Mother in my edition are so freakin scary - and I love the figure that @margaritathedrink (instagram user) has on her page too. Other Mother is pure nightmare fuel!! It's such a strange and surrealistic book - before reading I was almost afraid I would have another Alice in Wonderland on my hands (I absolutely loathe that book), but the difference between the two is that Coraline isn't just a pile of nonsense. There's a clear plot and it doesn't nosedive down into the non-sensical. 

Coraline herself is such a fantastic female protagonist. She’s brave, feisty and tricksy - a fantastic role model for young girls reading this and the exact kind of girl I wish had been my friend growing up. She shows so much courage for her young age and Gaiman writes her perfectly! Special shoutout to the cat as well, who was so sardonic and provided some light relief amongst all the unsettling horror (reminder that yes, this IS a children's book).

Short and sweet and one that won’t be forgotten easily. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this one. I’m trying to be more strict with how many 5 stars I give out, but Coraline, not Caroline *wink* deserves them! Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

Johann
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Book Review: Everything That's Underneath by Kristi DeMeester


A collection of 18 weird and unsettling tales!

“Sometimes, things are meant to be lost. There are things you aren’t supposed to go looking for.”


*sigh* This was disappointing for me. I had heard such great things about this collection but stories that are very ambiguous and unclear are just not to my personal taste... but if those kind of stories do appeal to you, then I would highly recommend this one!



I’m a sucker for beautifully quotable writing in books, and if it was a case of me physically highlighting the sentences or sections that took my breath away, about 85% of this book would be covered in bright pink highlighter (that’s my fave highlighter colour) DeMeester’s writing has to be some of the most atmospheric and stunningly haunting prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I was floored at times!



It just kills me that so many of the stories bored the life out of me. Beautiful writing can only take me so far, I do need some kind of plot that I can follow and not be left scratching my head over. That’s not to say there weren’t some stories that I did really enjoy. The final story in the collection, To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth, was actually my favourite and the only one that received 5 stars in my individual rankings. It was so raw and heart wrenching. I’d highly recommend that one!



The stories overall are hauntingly dream-like and the general themes seemed to be mother/daughter relationships, illnesses, loss... but it became repetitive for me. Worth checking out though if you enjoy weird, dream-like horror that is beautifully written!



The stories scored an average out of 3.33 for me, so 3 stars feels like a fair rating!

Johann
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Book Review: The Forgotten Island by David Sodergren


Two sisters, Ana and Rachel, view their trip to Thailand as way to mend their relationship. However, after becoming stranded on an island with no food or supplies, it quickly becomes a fight for survival.

"From out of the shadows it came."

Holy hell, this book was GREAT. It has all the components needed for a fantastic horror novel: great writing, likeable characters (and not so likeable ones too), some well-executed humour, and most important of all... parts that left my skin crawling!!

The start, in particular, was hilarious. Our protagonist, Ana, reminds me a little of myself - her self-deprecating sense of humour and her general attitudes towards life. But, like a lot of old-school horror movies/books, the humour dwindles out to make way for the SHEER TERROR (but don’t fret, there’s still some laughs along the way) And the ending itself was PERFECTION!

Sodergren really brings the scares here, one scene in particular left me feeling quite unnerved. The actual inhabitants of the island (trying to be really vague here) are so fucking awesome in their creepiness. The descriptions were VERY Lovecraftian - almost to the point where I wished I could just google imagery for the “monsters” like I do with Lovecraft, as my mind tried to comprehend the biology of these things!! I just LOVED this book!

I truly felt so honoured to receive a review copy of David's debut novel, and I’m already looking forward to its release so that I can see everyone else freaking out over it too!! Please add this to your Halloween reading list, especially if you’re a fan of proper old-school horror. You won’t be disappointed! Out 1st October!

4.5 stars.

Johann
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