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.


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.


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!


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.


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 ;)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


Book Review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

A single drop of blood causes Rose McClendon to come to the realisation that her husband might actually kill her. So she ups and leaves him, setting off to a new city...

"It ain't the blows we're dealt that matter, but the ones we survive."

I always get really excited for the King novels where the main protagonist is a female as I've a pretty good track record with them - Lisey's Story, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald's Game etc. I'm pretty sure these were all 5 star reads for me! So I had high expectations for Rose Madder, but unfortunately we just didn't click *sad face*

My main complaint is the character of Norman, Rose's husband. He's a piece of shit - that much is apparent from the very first page - but as the story progressed, his character became more of a caricature for me? It all became very over the top and exaggerated. I didn't need all the biting... It was enough for me to know that he was an abusive husband - I already hated him, but King kept building on it in a way that I didn't care for. And if Norman had mentioned his ATM card one more time... I think I might have EXPLODED. After a while repetition can become very irritating.

Norman is also not a typical King villain. Often King's characters are quite complex, they exist in shades of grey, people aren't always just good or evil. But Norman has ZERO redeeming features - he's racist, homophobic, batters his wife, squeezes people's intestines until they burst. It was very uncomfortable to read the story from his perspective. 

I also HATED that all the sections from Norman's point of view were in italics. PAGES OF IT. Reading italics for so long hurts my eyes and I can't concentrate - it actually stopped me from picking up the book at times or I would get very easily distracted by my phone instead. I would like to think we're all smart enough to quickly pick up on who's part of the story we're reading without needing it to be made obvious for us.

Now, what I DID like - Rosie! She's the kickass female I want to root for! Her relationship with Bill was truly beautiful and I felt very protective over those guys. They are definitely one of King's strongest couples, they were very well-written and believable. I also loved the usual King easter eggs with references to Misery and the Dark Tower series in particular. So bonus points for that!

The plot does go down quite a weird route, and initially I felt a bit unimpressed and bored reading it, but over time began to appreciate it more for what it was? I just feel like the book would have worked better if it had stayed focus on the domestic violence aspect, and Rose escaping from her abusive marriage, the events involving the painting just felt a tad stupid at times and over-written. It's just not a new favourite for me unfortunately, but I can champion Rose as another awesome leading lady. And I did enjoy quite large sections of it!

3.5 stars.


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her hometown, where one girl has been brutally murdered and another one is missing.

"I just think some women aren't made to be mothers. And some women aren't made to be daughters."

Dark and twisty and fucked up characters are my FAVE, and Gillian Flynn seems to be the absolute queen of creating them. Although one of the issues with having such car crashes for human beings in your stories is that you often don't have a character who you really root for or relate to. Usually I like having this sort of character in my books, but sometimes reading a book just for the sake of getting engrossed in the storyline and disentangling all the threads running throughout is all you need! Also known as… the perfect poolside read - which this was for me.

I'm a huge fan of Flynn's writing. Some of her descriptions and prose really wow-ed me. One woman she described as having "hips like antlers" in the way that the bones jutted out, and I just really liked that simile. There were a lot more instances like this where I would read a sentence or a paragraph and think "Oooh, that's GOOD!" I also loved a lot of the dark imagery that she included, it felt like quite a visual book and some of the scenes created will leave a lasting impression for sure.

Sharp Objects is full of twists and turns, a few of which I had predicted before they happened, but there were still a few that surprised me. The ending in particular! I thought I had it figured out, then it went one way and then another and I was just like WOOOAAHHH this is awesome.

Although that's not to say I had some issues. One of my major annoyances with this book was that it was extremely over sexualised at times. I am not a prude by any means, but it just felt like everything had links to sex in some way. EVERYTHING. And a lot of the time it seemed completely needless and tacked on. One event in particular… which I can't really talk about as I never include spoilers in a review, but it involved Camille's relationship with someone and it was just… completely unnecessary. In my view, anyway.

ALSO, also. I just do not buy that Amma is 13 years old! I just don't. I can completely understand that some kids are very mature and almost behave like adults at such a young age, but 13 was a bit of a stretch. Especially when you go on to watch the TV adaptation. I'm just not buying it, maybe 15 years old would be more believable? Some of Camille's opinions also rubbed me up the wrong way (that phrase would totally be made into some kind of innuendo in the book *rolls eyes*). In particular, there was one part where she discusses how women get "consumed" due to the "sheer amount of traffic" a woman's body experiences. I understand that this is merely Camille's opinion and I can't hold that against the book itself but the implication of it just grated on me.

That actually sounds like I had a lot of issues… but I still enjoyed the story a lot!! It's a page turner and it was exactly what I needed for my holiday.

4 stars.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Book Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent. He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with. His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom.

"I've forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where."

Where to begin... first of all, let me preface this review by giving a trigger warning for almost every possible trigger you can think of: rape, animal abuse, torture... this book is not for the faint of heart! This book stands head and shoulders above the rest as the most disturbing book I've ever read. But, I absolutely loved it. Not because of how disturbing it was (although I did find that mostly entertaining), but because I've never laughed out loud so much whilst reading a book.

I LOVED getting inside Bateman's head, a true glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. He is severely deluded, shallow, neurotic... and yet I could happily read about his beauty routine and gym workouts forever (whilst making some notes of course - if only I had multiple hours to spend in the gym each day!!). In particular, I was sincerely impressed by Bateman's ability to identify exactly what designer you're wearing by sight alone - I mean, surely he is wasted in his job as an investment banker?! There must be some way he can make use of this incredible talent!

People had previously commented about how annoying it was when the book goes off on random tangents where Bateman breaks down different musical artists' careers. I found this weirdly enjoyable - particularly the chapters where he discusses Genesis and Whitney Houston in great detail. Although I was not too impressed when Bateman described Bruce Springsteen as overrated (but he made up for it by later telling a stranger on the street that Brilliant Disguise by the Boss was the happiest song he could think of - how depressing and sad is that song... LOL). Bateman's obsession for serial killers also reminded me of myself, he would slide that chat in anywhere he could. Although he did get one of his quotes wrong, attributing a quote by Ed Kemper to Ed Gein - easily done I guess *shrugs*

I can understand why the repetitive nature of this book would be annoying for some - Bateman's life is basically a cycle of brutal murders/torture followed by him and his fellow investment bankers trying to decide where to make reservations for that night - but ultimately I found it strangely captivating. It's just so funny and full of satire that I couldn't NOT love it, it really appealed to my dark sense of humour.

American Psycho also provides a really disturbing social commentary on the upper-class in Manhattan in the 1980s, a society full of racism and sexism, where a lot of emphasis is placed on image and wealth. Bateman has a crazy obsession with Donald Trump - a real representation of the times - and it honestly baffles me that this man is now President of the United States. Ellis really succeeds in painting a rather despicable picture of consumerism in America.

The murders and torture are brutal - consider this a warning! It's graphic and detailed, and the creativity and originality that Ellis manages to bring to some of them is staggering. The sex scenes are pornographic in terms of the level of the detail included, and I actually found these much more uncomfortable to read than the murders.

This book won't be for everyone, and it's one of those books that although I enjoyed almost every page, I would feel cautious recommending it to others. Just prepare yourself if you decide to pick it up! And please don't think of me as one sick puppy for enjoying this satirical masterpiece.

4.5 stars.


Monday, 27 August 2018

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow is serving out the last days of his prison sentence when he learns that his wife, Laura, has died in a car accident. Upon his journey home he encounters the mysterious Mr Wednesday who offers him a job as a bodyguard.

"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous."

Okay, so American Gods and I got off to a rough start. I enjoyed the first 50 pages or so, I was intrigued, excited to see what was coming next... and then for some reason, the following 150 pages started to bore me slightly and I felt a lot of confusion as to what the actual point of the story was. BUT THEN, BUT THEN!! It really picked up and I was sucked into this world that Gaiman had created. This is why I don't DNF books - I easily could have tossed this book to the side and missed out on an incredible book.

It's quite funny how my opinions changed throughout reading this one. Initially I wasn't a fan of the random interludes with stories about how the old gods came to America, mythology is not one of my favourite things to read about. However, by the half way mark these parts became a highlight for me and I found them fascinating. The concept of a war between the old gods and the new gods (like television, internet, technology) was a really unique one and once the ball really got rolling I was fully invested in the outcome. The old gods are under threat from the new, people don't believe in them anymore, they don't make sacrifices to them, so the old gods are fading away. They need to step up to the new gods before they become completely obsolete.

One of the disappointing parts for me was the main protagonist, Shadow - I liked him, but at the same time he was just a bit...bland. It felt like he was simply there to serve the purpose of the story and he was surrounded by many characters that were a lot more interesting and charismatic than he was - but perhaps that is point?

Some of the storylines felt a bit random and disjointed throughout the course of the novel, but as they met their climax towards the end, my mind was exploding all over the place! I fucking LOVED the last 100 pages or so. I was shook on more than one occasion. I'm actually really glad that my edition had an extra American Gods-related novella called The Monarch of the Glen, because I just wasn't ready to leave this semi-fantastical world that Gaiman has created.

I ended up loving this book but had to deduct a star for the rocky start!! 4 stars.


Book Review: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

312 days later and I have completed this mammoth collection of Poe tales and poems. Considered to be the master of tales filled with mystery and/or the macabre, Poe delivers a range of short stories and poetry that are all contained within this collection.

"Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door - only this, and nothing more."

My rating for this collection may seem harsh, but let me explain... When Poe is good, he is GREAT. But when he is not... it is torture and absolutely unbearable at times. I have zero intention of revisiting about 75% of this collection. In comparison, I'm pretty sure I would be happy to revisit the majority of Lovecraft tales at some point in the future. A lot of readers will compare the two, but for me, when comparing their complete bodies of work, there is no competition.

I was actually surprised by the number of non-horror stories I found. I had assumed Poe primarily wrote these chilling stories filled with dark nights and graveyards, and haunting residences. What I actually found was a great number of mystery and crime stories, which I did not care for. At the beginning of the collection there are also a few stories that focus on hot air balloons. Yep. You heard me right. Safe to say you can avoid these like the plague. So many of the stories were meandering and pointless, it's really quite shocking to me the range in quality across Poe's work. 

But enough negativity... the highlight for me, if I had to choose just one, would be The Raven. It is hard for me to even think of this poem without simultaneously considering the corresponding Treehouse of Horror episode in The Simpsons. But thankfully I got past this by listening to the Christopher Lee narration whilst reading along. I would highly recommend doing the same as the narration is so haunting and chilling with accompanying sounds of falling rain and church bells tolling. The grief and sorrow for his lost love Lenore is so heavy in this one, as the raven acts as the embodiment of rationality - reinforcing the fact that Lenore is not coming back through that chamber door. The melancholy tone really sticks with you (once again demonstrating my love for any writing related to grief and loss).

I also loved the poem Annabel Lee. It's a really gorgeous poem that was a joy to read (and by gorgeous I mean quite melancholic and depressing at times - hey, it's Poe!). I'm not really a big fan of poetry, but I appreciated the simplicity and beauty of this one.

In terms of the stories, the following stood out for me:

  • The Fall of the House of Usher - a perfect gothic tale with its quintessential features, such as a haunted house, a dreary landscape and a mysterious sickness 
  • The Masque of the Red Death - a wonderfully written allegory about life and death, and no matter how rich you may be or what you have in the world, you can't avoid death
  • The Tell-Tale Heart - quite a disturbing story focusing on paranoia and mental deterioration
  • The Black Cat - this was horrifying and disturbing and I would highly recommend reading

As you can see, my highlights from the collection are the well-known ones. So if you're interested in checking out Poe, I would strongly recommend sticking to a "Best of" collection. You'll get all the good stuff without the dead weight. It was a long and trying experience reading everything Poe has ever written, but I'm glad I did it. Even through the incredibly boring stories, it was still nice to immerse myself in the works of Poe. I'll just stick to my smaller collections when I revisit in the future.

3 stars.


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